Welcome, dear readers, to another month of taking metta off the meditation cushion and out into the world.
Last month’s article, Metta’s Tree Medicine, found me ready to move on from volunteering at an ancient woodland. However, sometimes when the Dharma closes one door before opening another, there can be a very long corridor between!
This particular corridor was more than a month long.
Truth be told, my new plant-medicine friend’s warning that our host was making fun of my metta homemaking skills behind my back actually made me laugh. However, spending the next month observing just how manipulative our host’s behavior could be, coupled with the increasing recreational drug use of my fellow volunteers, was no laughing matter.
Meditation practice is intended to help us see things as they really are. However, what if that makes you the only one with open eyes to a given situation?
And so began a sometimes painful and lonely corridor of watching people I’d grown to love suffer under the “care” of someone who loved their suffering.
I take people as I find them, and I believe that most of us are doing the best we can to avoid harming others. But I have enough life experience to know that some people are also doing the best they can to deliberately harm others.
The term “narcissist” often gets thrown about these days to describe anyone whose behavior we don’t like or understand. I sometimes giggle to myself that it’s just a grown-up version of the playground declaration that someone “smells.” What was slowly dawning on me, however, was that the increase in recreational drug use around me and my increased homemaking were down to the team being energy-predated by our host.
Self-help author Dr. Christine Northrup coined a term for the bad smell that no amount of baking or burning incense or actual cleaning on my part could dispel, in her book Dodging Energy Vampires: An Empath’s Guide to Evading Relationships That Drain You and Restoring Your Health and Power (Hay House, 2018). Simply put, an estimated one in five people enjoys feeding off the life energy of others, not unlike a cat playing with a mouse.
Often charming and caring at first, these wolves in sheep’s clothing use the emotional data gathered to control, manipulate, triangulate, and hurt the other four out of five of us who often miss the red flags because it feels so good to be seen and heard at long last. Once we’ve provided them with enough drama and life force, the discard phase can begin.
Back in the ancient woodland that was, fittingly, rolling out its spring carpet of wild garlic, I was the first of our core team to be marked for felling. My guess? My metta meditation practice immunized me with too much self-love and peace to be very tasty.
It was subtle at first, with the occasional dig or false gossip to play us off each other, or muddled instructions to trip me up in front of the group. They then escalated to outright blanking me when alone or in group discussions, or inviting everyone but me to join them for a drink at the pub.
Most were laughable playground antics that I could shrug off, or sidestep with authenticity by asking others point blank whether they’d said such-and-such and giving them permission to ask me the same anytime they had doubts. Any readers who’ve attended an all-girls’ school will know these slippery mean-girl tactics.
One of the most comical instances was being accused of stealing our host’s chocolate in front of the group. I calmly went over to the shelf where I’d put it precisely so it wouldn’t disappear overnight from the communal kitchen table, which annoyed them to no end. They then broke it open, offered everyone in the room a piece by name except me, and placed what was left in the middle of the table. I smiled, thanked them for sharing, and reached over to enjoy a taste of what was left.
Our host then started creating a false feeling of scarcity by, for example, blocking the expenses card when we tried to shop for groceries ourselves after they’d delayed an online bulk shop for staple items. They deliberately dropped their discarded clothes and shoes in an otherwise tidy communal area, and used everyone’s vulnerabilities to trigger them. This resulted in more drinking and drug use among my teammates—our host often helping themselves to both without ever contributing—followed by several “low days” of people doubting their own mental health, and a general air of suspicion and hyper-vigilance replacing our normally fun and supportive camaraderie.
Knowing that the drama of a confrontation was exactly what they were aiming for, I simply refused to play the game rather than give them any of my energy. Instead, I topped up any energy shortages they were creating for the team with more metta, in the form of baked goods magicked from whatever ingredients were still at hand, simple kindnesses, and plenty of sincere compliments.
Some days, this situation felt like a full-on invisible “givers versus takers” tug-of-war that only I could sense. All I could realistically do until an exit strategy became clear was to stand my ground by occupying the communal area on the pretext of quietly washing dishes at the kitchen sink—sometimes more than once! Or piecing together a jigsaw puzzle at the kitchen table to intercept any energy predation underway with a comment or a question.
I must admit, there were times when I questioned whether I was imagining it all. How had our lovely team, as described in Metta’s Snow Days, melted into this in less than a month? And then I remembered a throwaway remark that our host had made when I first arrived back in November: all teams imploded after three months. This was no doubt deliberate and explained both the high staff turnover and why the business was still run by volunteers and barely breaking even after seven years. It dawned on me that everyone (except me, as I’d replaced someone at the last minute) had been handpicked for their vulnerabilities, be it military service PTSD or a recent painful romantic breakup or a reluctance to fit into a more mainstream workplace or just generally being at a crossroads in life. All of these are valid reasons to support and bolster one’s staff, but not to feed off of them.
But there was only so long this activity of protecting the others could work, and only so much I could point out. Heartbreakingly, when I asked the fellow volunteer whom I felt was most at risk why I was suddenly being targeted, as well as warning them that I regularly overheard us all being trash-talked to a third party, they genuinely couldn’t take in what I was saying and even defended our host’s behavior by saying that they were bound to become indifferent, with so much coming and going and being let down by previous volunteers. When I tried to tell another, who was visibly shaking after being triggered, why they were shaking, they admitted that they had noticed that our host spoke to everyone differently, but were then promised exclusive tickets to a recording of their favorite TV show that apparently only our host could secure.
Watching grown adults be outright groomed like this triggered the protective momma bear in me, and, for the first time in years, I had to forcibly rein in my temper. Something had to give other than me.
The, four windows suddenly opened to let in some fresh air until an exit appeared.
The first window was a local volunteer who helped once a week and—with that mental distance—also detected occasional whiffs of the bad smell. I told them some of what I had seen, and they corroborated my impressions. All it took was a quiet offer of a hug one particular morning when they noticed me looking after everyone but no one stopping to look after me.
The second window was the reappearance of another volunteer, who had left the week I’d arrived. Sensing they would be the next target after my eventual exit, I told them what to expect and warned them not to share any personal information that could be used against them.
The third window was asking the same energy-healer friend who’d helped to locate and seal a parasitic energy portal at my last placement—as described in Metta’s Harvest—to sense if anything similar was going on in the woodland, as I felt like I was constantly bailing energy water here too. Interestingly, she identified a specific person rather than a portal as the energy sink this time. She urged me to leave as soon as I could and to trust that I would be more helpful to the others by enjoying my life elsewhere.
And the fourth window was being honest with a potential next placement about my concerns for the team and my reasons for moving on, only to be surprised that both they and dozens of others had been similarly shunned by my host previously!
When the date dominoes finally lined up to help with spring lambing at a nearby farm, I could hardly believe the poetic justice. Blessing myself and the team, sitting and seeing with my eyes wide open what was really happening, and staying honest with myself and others made the month-long corridor bearable.
Interestingly, the returning volunteer whom I was worried would become the next sacrificial lamb, was invited to leave days before I was. And then, after blanking me for weeks, I suddenly received a text from our host asking me to call. As I stepped outside the communal area for privacy, I wondered how best to announce my departure in three days’ time. It turned out that they were at the hospital with their son, and had decided that it was a good time to ask me when I was planning to leave.
I silently high-fived the Dharma for this out-and-out confirmation of our host’s addiction to drama, and for the perfect segue to my exit.
“Thank you for saving me a call . . .”
Moving on for the summer to two nearby farms known to our host had a predictable effect as appearances and social standing mean everything to energy vampires. They suddenly became very polite, and didn’t return to the woodland until my fellow evictee and I drove away a couple of days later.
And so, dear readers, while this last month was anything but peaceful on the outside, and triggered my own momma-bear buttons about when and when not to protect others from harm only I was acknowledging, metta and authenticity escorted me down the corridor between an old reality I was ready to outgrow and a new reality that had yet to birth.
I wish the same fresh start for us all as outdated energy sinks of all kinds collapse around us, and we wait for healthier and more innocent new realities to be born.
Or, to metta-morphose the lyrics of Living Colour’s song “Solace of You:”
When it hurts to be out there
Where no one will care
I’ve got the solace of metta
Frustrated by the people’s lying
But I keep on trying
I’ve got the solace of metta
When I can’t think straight
And there’s no escape
I’ve got the the solace of metta
Gotta go inside back to where it started
Back to the beginning
‘Cause that’s where my heart is
How to spot energy vampires and take your power back (YouTube)
Key steps to spot and shield yourself from energy vampires (YouTube)
Doctor Ramani’s YouTube channel (YouTube)
Surviving Narcissism YouTube channel (YouTube)
Related features from BDG
Metta Carries Wood, Mops Water
Ajahn Sucitto, Down to Earth
Buddhistdoor View: Discovering Oneself in Woodland Solitude
Renaissance or Dead End? The New Debate on Psychedelic Drug Use by North American Buddhists