The habit of course, in response to unwanted feelings, emotions, fear, uncertainty, panic, and so forth, is to quickly become convinced that our very survival is at risk, that the very integrity of our being is compromised at the most fundamental levels. There is a place deep within us that feels quite sure that if we allow in our immediate experience that we may in fact not make it, that we might actually completely break down and fall apart, in a way that might be irreparable and permanent. And then what would happen? What about our jobs? The kids? The mortgage? Our spouses? Our physical health? Our friends? The bills? Our sanity?
Those of you familiar with research in attachment theory know that when we were infants there were times when life was so overwhelming that we were unable to organize and digest our experience. In order to survive – psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, or even physically – we had to make a critical choice: to unplug, to move away, and to avoid our present experience; or, to panic, following the frenetic energy in the hope we can find a solution, get our needs met, and return to security and safe ground. Adult attachment researchers call these two primary responses deactivation and hyperactivation. We can all observe these movements in our own experience. As little ones, these strategies very often saved our lives. But, as adults, might there another way?
Well, yes, the way of love.
Here, love is that energy of willingness to turn toward whatever is arising in our experience, to not dissociate from it (including through our “spirituality”), and to care about ourselves so deeply that we allow ourselves to fall apart, to stop for a moment avoiding the reality of groundlessness and uncertainty, and to be willing to be burned up in love’s purifying flames. We enter this fire not because it feels good or so that the intensity will disappear. Rather, we do so because love wants to know itself through us, in all ways – through our bodies, our feelings, our emotions, our sensations. In this fearless courage to be fully who and what we are, we are given the opportunity over and over to behold the dance of love in our lives.
And then when we sit with a loved one, a child, a colleague, a client, a stranger, a dear friend who is facing difficulty and challenge, we are able to naturally create a healing space together, like an attuned mother expanding to contain the emotion and pain of her little baby. In this space, our friend is given permission to meet whatever experience that is arising for her, to spin if needed into the groundless, uncertain dimension of being, knowing that you will be there for her if she needs you, to help her to metabolize the confusion and intensity. It is never easy to watch our loved ones suffer, but what they need more than anything from us is validation, attunement, and our presence, knowing that who they are and what they are experiencing is valid and true for them, is an integral part of who they are, and they need not change, fix themselves, be different, or be “more spiritual” in order for us to love them.