Milking the Lesson

Milking the Lesson(s) is a term I started using many years ago. It describes something that I started noticing during my tour as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Hungary from 1990-92. But this is just the time period when I started noticing. I believe that it has always been there, at least in embryonic form. At that time, I was not Buddhist but I was aware enough to know that my particular situation was extremely stressful for me. During my bouts of insomnia during service events and interpretations would wake me up and then keep me awake as if I were reliving the events over and over again. Some people would call that the hell realm. During the day, I was busy living my life as a PCV while in the background I would hear the thoughts, and feel the emotions accompanying those thoughts… The thoughts had me and I knew it, but there was nothing I could do then, except be angry, and angrily surrender my sleep. If I had been in the army instead of the Peace Corps, I would label what was happening to me as PTSD.

Years passed. It was not until I returned to the US, and even later when I went out with PC again as a trainer that deeper interpretations or understandings of past events would seemingly emerge of their own accord. These understandings helped me see more clearly, and allowed me to interpret the events as the potential for deep-felt learning(s). And over the years, I began to trust. I now trust that whenever I am in the midst of situations that are too intense, and I feel on the verge of being overwhelmed, if I let things be, without trying to force myself to understand, or to fix them, they can and will perhaps teach me something deep.

Many years have passed since I served with the Corps, and now the lessons are some times milked without my having to wait so long. But please notice that I have said “some times”. There are no guarantees. It is in the light of Milking the Lesson(s) that the following understanding emerged.

A week or so ago there were making repairs to the gym where I go. Entire sections were blocked off; and there was paint, dust, sound, but the gym did not close its doors. Instead, classes and training sessions were offered in alternative smaller spaces in parts of the gym where repairs were finished or not needed. Two trainers and their respective trainees, as well as one or two individuals training on their own, were in a small training room with a fair amount of equipment along the walls, floors and ceiling. For me, this was a new space with new stuff. Since my trainer had stated that we would not do our usual training, I just allowed the session to happen as was necessary: moving around others and compensating on the spot for what was not available to us at the moment. At some point, the trainers talked but I don’t remember what their exchange was about. What I do remember is that I felt a shift, a difference that I can only describe as being in the space around me. The other trainer said something to my trainer, and punctuated or signaled the end of what he was saying with: “this is not about comfort”. I looked up at the person talking and I think he took my gesture to mean that I had gotten what he meant. He then smiled and added: “See? She’s got it. This is not about our comfort”. The trainer stressed the word our and with his hand signaled that he meant the trainers’ comfort. I guess I had indeed gotten his intention and I think I laughed with him. But there was more packed into what I got than what was perhaps intended by the trainer who spoke.

When I looked at him, his face looked different than usual: it seemed somewhat hardened, angled. I had never noticed this particular trainer stressed, or tired. For myself I can say that I was exhausted by a hard and dark week at work. I felt ugly, and judged myself accordingly: that I looked tired, not worth looking at or dealing with… Monkey-Brain was surfacing. I had gone to the gym, not to sweat my tiredness out, but more out of a sense of curiosity and of let’s see what happens, if something shifts for me today; let’s see how much can be held by my sense of spaciousness (which goes hand in hand with my spaciness).

I sensed that the word our conveyed: you are seeking your own comfort and not your trainee’s. This is not about us trainers… I sensed tiredness in the speaker’s face, and in his words perhaps even a sense of we just have to make due with what we have; whereas from the start of our session, I sensed that my trainer was saying let’s try to do this together with whatever is available to us. While both trainers seemed to be looking at the same props, they seemed to be dealing with the situation in the gym very differently… (And to be clear, I am not judging their attitudes.)

As their exchange was happening, I felt a tightening of the space around me, probably my own tightening; and then a wordless wave of OK, let’s keep on working with what we have, from my trainer. From my trainer I got the sense that he was simply trying to deal with things as they came, and that perhaps he was also attempting to ease other people’s minds. And from that there was a shift for/in me. My tiredness no longer mattered. My feeling ugly lifted and left space in its stead. And it was suddenly not about me. My comfort and discomfort became irrelevant and gave way to the need to hold or protect the space so that we could all be there, and so that the trainers could have a touch of intangible goodness or space in which they could work, feel and be with whatever they were experiencing. The lesson came when I sensed and perhaps decided that they too needed a break, and I would  give them what little I had. And the lesson emerged because I was able to listen within and outside of me without having to add anything. I am grateful for the teachings that allow me to reframe events and thoughts, and for the teachers willing to share the teachings. May this be of benefit.

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