The Demon’s Mirror

From my journal:

Wednesday, March 4

I’m feeling very sad and very lonely.

Grief group was painful.

Talked to Erica about how despairing I was feeling about what’s going on in the world.  She was supportive, did not try to contradict me.  In fact she said “None of it is arguable.”  What is there that I can still do?  When I ask myself that, it becomes clear that the most important thing for me to do is the practice of self-compassion.  The first time I tried it, a while back, it went well, I felt compassion.  But then it didn’t happen again, and I didn’t really persist in the practice.  Except to recite the words.  Erica said to recognize my good intention.  Yes, and I feel the softening toward myself.  I am so harsh on myself.

I continued to read last year’s journal, but am finding it boring.  No clear trajectory, a lot of ups & downs, a lot of daily details.

3rd cup. coffee.  I’m pretty totally bummed out.  It’s warm & windy, white clouds flying in blue sky.  Last time it was like that, it lifted my spirits.  Today I just feel sad that I can’t enjoy it.  Reminding myself, I feel compassion for my inability to enjoy instead of anger.  I suppose it’s a worthwhile practice.

Thursday, March 5

Yesterday was one of the worst days of my life.  I don’t remember ever feeling that level of despair.  I felt absolutely alone, absolutely without friends.  I felt totally hopeless for the world, the planetary life support system, the mass of suffering humanity.  It’s too late now to reverse global warming, though I think there is still a chance to slow it down.  I tried to find compassion for my despair, and discovered that I’m really angry at myself for “giving in” to despair.  So then there was nothing I could do but repeat the prayer “May I be held in compassion.”

Later today, I realized I had been angry at myself under all my efforts at self-compassion.  I also had in my head lines from Loreena McKennittt singing Yeats’ poem The Two Trees.

The changing colors of its fruit/dowered the stars with merry light
The surety of its hidden root/ is planted quiet in the night…

All things turn to barrenness/in the dim glass the demons hold
The glass of our utter weariness/made when God slept in times of old…

The two things that were most significant were recognizing that under the despair was anger at myself for being so useless, and that the words of the song were powerful: “The surety of the hidden root” and the demons’ mirror.  Thinking of what they meant I saw that the hidden root was in the “real” world, but the barrenness was in the mirror.  So when the lines about barrenness started in my mind, I made the effort to change back to “The surety of its hidden root..”  I had to keep making the effort over and over.  It felt like it was the only thing I could do, and I had no sense of anything real happening.

Telling my friend Elizabeth about this, she reminded me that the demon’s mirror was my mother, who totally mis-represented me to myself.  That helped break the spell, and then I can see all kinds of things.  I believe that if I can’t “feel” compassion, my practice isn’t working.  I fail to see that the practice is working just fine.  That’s what a practice is.  Something you repeat, not asking that it make any difference, trusting that your good intention is what’s important.  How easy it is for me to be angry at myself for something I can’t change and not notice it.  “You just want to be miserable.”

The old old beliefs that are still my “default” setting.  God is “Capricious, malicious, and willful.”  If I can’t do it, it won’t happen.  I don’t deserve to live.  Of course I’m angry at myself for not being able to do something I actually can’t do — because “My expectations of myself are reasonable, and I am bad if I don’t carry them out, and if I don’t do them right I will be cast into outer darkness” … or, “Sent back to Sears & Roebucks.”

Added today, March 6: I read this over and see that it fails to convey how lost and disconnected I really felt.  In fact, now that I’m out of it, I can’t even remember what it was like, but reading my first words “very sad and very lonely” I wonder what’s the big deal.  I feel like that a lot.  But this was not like anything I’ve ever felt before.  My best guess is that I’m experiencing what it was like to be left alone when I was an infant, without words, without the ability to move my body across the mattress in the crib, unable to feed myself or take care of myself in any way.  That level of despair is a terrible blankness, there’s not even fear.

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