spirit flows thru -- Alison Rittger's spiritual reflections on finding the holy in the daily

Big Red


PicturePush/Kristina D.C. Hoeppner
We all have buttons. Mine is red primarily because the pain is intense. It is the color of danger and detonates (from Latin detonare, to expend thunder) when pushed. This button is hooked up to shame. I can’t think of anything good to say about this button except that it is mine as a gift of my upbringing. For me, shame is a hundred times worse than having the rug pulled out from under me. It is me as a child, reaching out for love and seeing my mother’s frowning face and instead of being held, I am told I smell bad. Feeling shamed undoes trust.

My shame button packs a wallop bigger than any event in the present might warrant. And the resulting blast can blow back the deliberate or inadvertent button-pusher at the same time as I am reeling. Eventually I recover and the pain abates, but the button-pusher may take longer to recover, maybe never. When “never,” a friend is lost.

I had occasion to share an impromptu drawing of this big red button with Corky a day or two after we got back from our Wednesday through Monday trip to Ashland. I wanted her to visualize what got triggered when she responded to my joke about my parking by reacting angrily, bringing up similar moments from our trip. I felt blindsided. I had been imagining we were getting along well.

Blast! Off went my button. I am sure Corky had plenty of reasons to find me annoying and to get her own buttons pushed during our seven hour ride to Ashland, the six days we were together seeing theater and the long ride back.

But the time she chose to air resentment was days after the offending behavior. We were on our way to a movie in the city when I remarked on her choice of a parking place. True, it wasn’t smart and she does drive her own little Mini quite well, but rather than limit her objection to my present remark, she hooked her rancor to all the days we were in Ashland behind the wheel of her son’s car. Oops, the rug was being pulled out from under me. I felt shame that I hadn’t been aware of how she was really feeling.

Larry’s car, the one we drove to Ashland, is a manual shift car. It is fairly new and in pristine condition. Thus both Corky and I were hyperaware of driving carefully, and we were both inclined to be always behind the wheel regardless of who was driving. Needless to say, many suggestions were made, some in voices of alarm. Under the circumstances, I welcomed her help because I don’t usually drive a manual car.  

Two years ago I fled the scene of a red-button pressing. This time, I stood on the street and breathed mindfully, hanging out in my prefrontal cortex and not running, although I could hear my reptile brain calculating the distance to the nearest bus line. Meditation practice has made it possible for me to pause and feel miserable for shorter periods of time without trying to flee from the pain.

Don’t get me wrong. Corky’s complaint was legitimate. If she has trouble with comments on her driving, as many people have when their loved ones backseat drive from the passenger’s side, I get it. It’s the older complaints that push my button. I know I can be annoying. And I don’t mind being told in a timely way so I can apologize and make amends. I even thanked Corky once when she told me I was annoying, minutes after she was annoyed. I like knowing where I stand and hate thinking I’m on solid ground when that isn’t the fact. 

As Buddhism teaches, holding on to certainty is going against the truth of life as it is. So I am wondering if a time will come when with continued practice, this big red button will shrink or fade even further. No one will need to be different and I will not seek solid ground. Losing my footing will not trigger shame. 

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