Monday, February 18, 2013

Through the doorway of vulnerability…

What is it that we’re organizing our lives around not feeling? For each of us there are certain feelings which, when triggered, can lead to the experience of a near survival-level anxiety. If we're willing to explore this very closely, we might start to sense and intuit exactly which feelings we do not wish to feel, and how we set up our lives so that we do not have to experience them. For many of us, this sort of exploration will have to be very subtle - we'll need to go very deeply into our relationship with intimacy, as well as into our relationship with the spiritual journey itself. When we begin to uncover the very specific ways that we look to intimacy and to spirituality to help us avoid certain feelings, we can then consider the crazy idea of actually inviting these feelings into our lives, so that we may finally come to know what they really are, and what they have to show us about the transformative nature of love.  

As we begin to touch and hold these feelings and their underlying sensations in the body, we often start to realize that these feelings have been with us for a very long time. We may also sense that they might possibly be with us until the day we die. So then what? When we stop organizing our intimate and spiritual lives around how to feel certain feelings and not feel others, when we release our relationships with others and with spirituality from the burden of needing to make us feel better, where are we? What is relationship if not that; what is spirituality if not that? What if, for just a moment, we opened in a really embodied way to the possibility that our most uncomfortable thoughts, disturbing feelings, intense sensations, and surging anxieties were to continue to arise each and every day for the rest of our lives, especially as we allow ourselves to be raw, naked, and vulnerable in the interpersonal field? It can be quite easy to avoid these feelings, as we’ve learned, if we remain outside the utterly revealing realities of intimacy with others - on our meditation cushions, at powerful spiritual events, or in front of our prayer altars worshipping God and Guru from afar; or through whatever innovative strategies we’ve perfected. But if we expose our heart to another (a child, a parent, a lover, a friend, a therapist) and take the profound risk that intimacy always demands, we might realize quite quickly that we will never be protected from the most alive, luminous, and disturbing surges of irritation, fear, confusion, shame, sadness, jealousy, coming into direct contact with everything that is unresolved within us, revealing all of those places that scare us. 

Of course, these challenging feelings do not describe who we are in any absolute sense. I’m merely suggesting an experiment where we invite out into the open exactly what we have organized our life around not feeling. Historically, it was likely a threat to feel these feelings: as little ones, in the face of allowing these feelings to arise and express and move in our lives, perhaps we discovered that love was withdrawn, that they generated anxiety in those around us, or they otherwise evoked an environment of misattunement and invalidation. Many were forced to make a choice: in order to get the love and care we needed, to attach to our caregivers and to receive at least the most basic validation we needed for our brains, nervous systems, and sweet little hearts to develop, we must set these feelings aside; they are simply too risky.  
Much of the suffering, struggle, and conflict in our lives, in my experience, really just means that we’re about to have to feel some feelings we just don’t want to feel. But what will actually happen if we turn directly into these feelings? Will there be a serious consequence? Are we actually in danger? Will we make it? Will the panic or anxiety overtake us? Will we be able to tolerate the anxiety and groundless uncertainty? What could these feelings possibly want from us? Are we sure there’s not a way to quickly set them aside, transform them, heal them, or transcend them with our clever spiritualities?   

We can learn a lot about our lives, our relationship with spirituality, and our fears around intimacy, as we explore those feelings that we do not want to feel. It takes tremendous courage, a deep curiosity, and more than anything a profound kindness to enter our hearts and bodies in this way, to allow ourselves to care enough about this precious life to make this journey. But what I have seen – and continue to see – is that this type of unconditional commitment to kindness and vulnerability offers the most direct doorway into the love that we so long for, that love that keeps the stars from falling out of the sky.