I hope this note finds you well and enjoying the spring (autumn for my friends down under!). Below you will find the story of a courageous woman that I spent some time with who has given permission to share some of her journey. Her experience moved me and I found it to be powerfully illustrative of this work of the heart that so many of us are drawn to.
We just returned from a deeply moving retreat, The Place the Light Enters, and I want to thank those of you who attended for your great courage, love, and befriending, and to honor the healing power of the field that you so bravely and vulnerably explored. It's incredibly heartening for us to be able to participate in the presence of that level of commitment to the path.
My next event is a weekend intensive - The Path is Everywhere - in the beautiful mountains of Loveland, Colorado, from June 15-18. You can find more information here.
The purpose of the intensive is to come together in the relational field and to explore the nature of a contemporary spirituality and path of healing, which includes the shadow, our bodies, our emotions, and how our deepest realizations might flow down into our relative lives of love and work. We'll meditate and rest together, create a home for the lost parts of ourselves, step back into the unknown, touch the mystery, and remember what is most important. For a fuller description, please visit the program's website.
I'm looking forward to seeing many of you in June in the mountains of Colorado!
All my love,
The following is my recollection, in words, of an experience I had with a woman who was struggling with overwhelming feelings of unworthiness, hopelessness, and despair. She had dedicated the last decade to spiritual practice and community and had come to a real turning point in her life.
While details have been changed to protect the identity of this courageous person, I have been asked by several readers of my book, The Path Is Everywhere, to share this story which was originally published in the book's Appendix ("The Love That Assembled the Stars").
Before printing the story in The Path - and again before sharing it here - I received permission (and the blessing) to do so, from the woman who is the subject of the encounter. I hope you find her journey inspiring, interesting, and helpful.
A Love That Assembled the Stars, part 1 of 3
I spoke recently with a friend who shared with me how her spiritual life had given her so much: the many ways it had helped her open her heart and experience a depth that she had been longing for since she was a young girl. She had also become aware of how her engagement with spirituality, in subtle ways, enabled her to avoid aspects of her emotional life and unmet pain from the past and kept her split off from feelings she did not want to feel.
While her practices at times brought her closer to herself, which she was deeply grateful for, she saw that at other times she was actually using them to escape from herself and abandon some of her most vulnerable experience. She was in such a raw place with it all: such appreciation on the one hand while also knowing that she needed to look anew at everything, be willing to start over fresh with beginner’s mind and the amateur’s heart, as she was being called deeper. I just listened … and felt honored to be able to bear witness to such intelligence, such unfolding wisdom, such genuine passion for the truth, such darkness, such raging light.
As she continued her inquiry in the relational field unfolding around us as we sat together, she noticed some grief that she had touched at an earlier point in her life but, for whatever reason, had not been able to stay with at the time, and as a result had covered it over along the way. As the grief (and accompanying shame and sadness) poured out, it was like a firestorm of energetic possibility, all of this unmetabolized material in her psyche and in her heart, unleashed in an eruption of reorganization.
She wasn't sure she could do this; she would dive in for a couple of minutes and then retreat, only to head back in once she felt it was safe enough to return into the fire. I told her I knew she could go deeper, that I trusted the intelligence of her process, and assured her we would stay close regardless of what appeared, with no shame, no blame, and no pathologizing what emerged into the holding environment we had found ourselves in together.
We made the commitment to go wherever she was guided, into the utter darkness and emptiness if that was what was required, into the black hole inside her that she was beginning to touch, as well as into the light that was attempting to break through. We would dare together to hold all of her symptoms and experiences as pure information and guidance, honoring them as the attempt by her psyche and her heart to reach her and reveal wholeness.
While she had quite a bit of doubt and fear about how much she could actually hold, I felt confident that she could tolerate and contain a lot more. She trusted that I would push her in a way that was provocative and on the edge, but not so far that she tipped into overwhelm or fell too far outside her established window of tolerance. I explained that, in my experience, confronting anxiety, groundlessness, and uncertainty could be supportive as long as we stayed close and attuned in real time to what was unfolding. She remained unsure and shaky, acknowledging that some fear was present. But somehow she kept going.
As she allowed her experience to unfold and remain for short periods of time inside the core of the intensity, things slowed way down in a way neither of us fully understood and she touched something she had not quite known before. Something new was emerging from deep within her body and her unconscious apart from what had historically revealed itself. In this place, she discovered a cosmic sort of permission in which she could allow herself to go into the unknowing, despite the fear, and allow herself to fall apart a little, removing the pressure to hold it all together and maintain any image or idea of herself. This felt somewhat risky, but despite the trepidation she was curious and almost excited. For the first time, she was able and willing to see clearly the ways that she did not feel seen and loved at the most primordial level. She had thought she had been to the depths of this wounding and was surprised to find even more. And even more.
And so it goes on the path of love … always more. We realized together that there is no ending to the depth of the heart. No final landing place in which all of its wisdom has been given. Always another layer, another revelation.
She sensed that it was possible for her to meet and directly experience these long lost soul-parts of grief, hurt, unlovability, and abandonment—and that until she worked through this material in a deeply somatic way, the realizations she had experienced would always remain on the surface, never able to fully penetrate her most deeply embedded conditioning and somatic armoring. As part of her inquiry, she also had a deeply embodied intuition that she could never truly love another until she offered a home and sanctuary where the perceptions, emotions, and bodily sensations could become conscious and be illuminated in her loving awareness. She saw so clearly how this yet-to-be-metabolized material was not and had never been “obstacles” to her healing and awakening but each a certain type of ally on the path.
As she continued to share all of this with me, I couldn't help feeling such awe and love for her, for her (our) journey, and for the immensity and implications of what it truly means to be a human being.
As she continued to open—not all at once, but in many short bursts, followed by periods of quiet and rest—she discovered that she could meet this ancient sorrow directly rather than orbiting it by focusing solely on her thoughts about it. And that it took a lot of awareness and concentration to make this discernment in her immediate experience. What appeared as “moving closer” was often not that, but more of a conceptual approach to her experience that was still serving to keep her out of the fire and at a distance.
As we went deeper into this, she discerned that she could practice intimacy with her feelings while not falling inside them, not tumbling down the rabbit hole, and not becoming fused or identified with them as who she was in an ultimate sense. Intimacy, without fusing—that was the alchemy she was exploring. She was experimenting with sending awareness and warmth into what was happening in her body at the level of felt sense and raw sensation, and how these affective and somatic experiences colored her perception by way of a subtle narrative that grew around them.
Additionally, she had deep insight into how these various levels of experience (perception/emotion/sensation) intertwined and interpenetrated one another. Without our conscious awareness, they tend to fall into a looping pattern, playing off one another, on automatic pilot with a seeming life of their own. But as she slowed down and made experiential contact with each level of the spectrum, something else revealed itself. What this was we could not name, necessarily, but it seemed to catalyze a wave of freedom, as well as compassion for the tender complexity of the human experience. More than anything, more than needing to pin it down into some conceptual framework, at least for this moment, we wanted to touch the mystery of what she was in its entirety. A partial communion was just not going to do. Not for her!
In some ways, what she was encountering was so very personal, but in other ways she was touching the sorrow that dwells in the collective, that all sentient beings have met at some point. In this way, inner work is never for the individual alone and is intergenerational and transpersonal in its implications, reaching back into the past and forward into the future to untangle the knots of the cosmic heart and reveal greater meaning and purpose.
As she continued her exploration in an embodied way, descending beneath the density of the narrative about why the sorrow was there, who caused it, how it originated, and the urgency around transforming it, she began to cry, shake, and tremble. Her breath became shallow and she was struggling to hold it all together. Something was reorganizing and she wasn't sure she would make it through to the other side. Even though she was feeling anxious and fearful, I reminded her to breathe deeply and ground her awareness into the earth, and that together we could go a bit further. At times she pulled back and we rested together, feeling our feet on the ground, looking up at the sky, listening to the birds nearby. When she approached that place of near overwhelm and shutdown, we would stop the active part of the work, sink into the sensual world together, look at one another, and reaffirm that everything was actually okay—and then she would return into the fire.
Memories streamed in of when she was a little girl, gazing out the window while her mother and father drove away, leaving her alone and helpless at a young age. “You’ll be fine,” Mom admonished; “Stop being such a baby,” said Dad. She remembered wondering what she had done wrong to cause them to abandon her, to reject her, and to need to spend private time without her. She saw images of herself crying in her bedroom, totally alone, longing to be touched, to be seen, to be held, and to be validated as a unique, living, breathing being. It was the most profound feeling of existential aloneness and despair.
After staying with her deep sadness and grief, we were both a little shocked as these feelings yielded to a wild, untamed sort of rage at consistently being discarded and unseen. In an instant she went from sorrowful and sweet and transformed into Kali, goddess of the dark, emissary of the black, representative of the alchemical nigredo. There must be something she was doing wrong that triggered her sense of core rejection but she couldn't quite pin it down. The only truth she could access was that no one was listening. No one wanted to listen because she was so wretched and unlovable as she was. The rage intensified in the wake of this perception.
“Where the fuck was everyone?” she yelled. “And by the way, where the fuck are they now?” She thrashed around and screamed at the top of her lungs, all the while eyeing me carefully to see if I would reject her, invalidating her rage, shame, blame, and turn from her, which had been the pattern in her family during times of emotional intensity. As I discussed earlier in the book, in our families or origin there were certain feelings and ways of expression that were allowed and others that were strictly forbidden. In some families, for example, anger was okay, but not sadness; in others, the expression of dependency led to anxiety and disruption, while showing independence was honored and rewarded. We learned (often the hard way) that certain emotions, styles of vulnerability, and personality structures were safe and led to increased affection and attunement while others were disastrous, triggering withdrawal and profound anxiety in those around us, leading to aggression, rejection, and neglect of all kinds.
In this particular case, she was never allowed to be angry or sad, or to create any sense of disturbance. Dad was too busy with work and Mom was an alcoholic and depressed. Any emotional expression was treated as an attack on the family, and asserting any sort of need was interpreted as an utter lack of gratitude for everything they’d given her. She learned that retreating to her bedroom and burying her feelings was her only chance to stay safe in an environment that was simply not able to contain the intensity of a fragile little girl. The sensitivities get buried, the vulnerability squashed, the emotional intelligence thwarted. It’s not difficult to see the untoward consequences of such dismissal in our lives and in our world today.
Fortunately, she felt safe enough, held enough, and heard enough to continue, though I wasn't’t sure where we were headed. This is always a very delicate time in relational work, when the unknown is clearly in charge, something is breaking through, and there is no clear road map to follow. Psyche is clearly in the lead. During these times, which are liminal in nature and feel as if we are in between birth and death, the intensity can become too much and the temptation is to quickly return to safe ground, a natural response to prevent disintegration and re-traumatization. To fill the space with some meaningless conversation, to cover over the embarrassment, rage, fear, and despair, anything to counteract the open nakedness of the groundless ground.
While there is some intelligence guiding the process of when to pull back and turn from the intensity, at the same time dousing the fire too soon can interfere with the unfolding of some very high-voltage guidance and information, where who we are at the deepest levels is trying to break through an old internal working model of partiality and reorganize in a way that is more integrated and a more transparent reflection of our wisdom nature.
Again, it is uncertain, complex, and contradictory territory, and it doesn't easily yield to conceptual analysis and the timelines we have laid upon the healing journey. Unless we’re careful and in very close touch with what is appearing for integration, we can unconsciously remove ourselves from the cauldron, defending against and splitting off from the jewels that are attempting to emerge from the darkness. It is so easy and natural to slip into distractions of all kinds at this point and it is helpful to remind one another of this tendency and renew our commitment to stay in the fire, if we can.
A Love That Assembled the Stars – part 2 of 3 - Deeper into the crucible...
In that moment of rage, she hated God, she hated me, she hated herself, and she was in total revolution against a reality that refused to see her, left her alone to sort it all out and somehow make sense of a world that didn't care, one that deemed her deserving of rejection and profound neglect.
No matter where she looked, she could not locate any “good other” to rest in who would provide confirmation and containment, no one to idealize and look up to for presence and wise guidance, and no one to mirror her experience back to her. And why was she not able to find this good other? Was it because her parents were simply too consumed in their own struggle and suffering, and were limited human beings doing their best with the training and resources they had? No. Not even close.
There was only one explanation that made any sense to a young developing brain and nervous system: she was unworthy of such contact and that level of care. She was wretched at her core, fundamentally flawed and broken. Something was wrong with her and that is why no one was there to witness or be curious about her unfolding subjective experience. It was really that simple.
As the organization of a young girl presented itself in the field between us, she had enough awareness to know that she had stepped into the time machine of the “there and then,” which had replaced the immediacy of the here and now. She “knew” on some level that her parents had offered all they could, that they were not trained in this work; they did not attend mindfulness retreats or yoga classes. They did not have the luxury of a therapist who cared deeply about them and did not have access to writings and teachings by elders on the path who had made the journey before.
Just as she acted in unskillful, unwise, and non-compassionate ways—as the result of her own pain, suffering, and struggle—so had her parents. At this very human level, they really weren't all that different. Just stepping into this reality for a moment sent waves of freedom, forgiveness, and clarity throughout her being, and washed into me as we continued to hold her experience within the healing crucible of the relational field.
This realization in no way excused her parents from the neglect she encountered, but it placed it in a larger context, allowing her to begin to transform the unconscious organizing principles that had colored her perception as someone utterly unworthy of empathic attunement. She could begin to reauthor the narrative of what happened and make new meaning of it, weaving a more integrated and nuanced story of her early life and its relationship to her journey as an adult. The limitation of her parents’ awareness, empathy, and compassion that were the root cause of the misattunement, and not her own wretched, flawed nature that was the culprit. Just allowing this in sent shock waves throughout her body.
This moment of discovery was in no way calm, peaceful, or free of the eruption of very powerful and disturbing feeling states, as together we touched, contained, and held the rage, panic, and fear of a little one on the brink of decompensation. She had enough awareness and self-kindness to allow me to help her titrate the intensity so she didn't fall into a completely dissociated freeze state, which we both sensed was a real possibility if we were not skillful. She had gone there before and remained committed to staying awake.
We did everything we could to keep her within her window of tolerance while still pushing her some, not knowing for sure where the boundaries of overwhelm might lie. Despite the intensity, there was a sense that everything was okay, that even in the face of dysregulation and periodic erupting emotional disturbance, the process had its own intelligence, it could somehow be trusted, and it was being guided from a deeper place of wisdom than ordinary consciousness.
As the fire passed after a few minutes, she came to a deep realization and was able to develop some perspective regarding her lifelong quest to be seen and beheld as a person worthy of love; she saw that she was special and unique, unbroken, and whole as she was. She even saw how this pursuit had played out in her spiritual life and how it filtered down through everything, including her most intimate relationships, and formed a template for how she related to her close friends and family. She saw how it even impacted her relationship with her own body, which had been something she had struggled with since her teenage years.
I was quiet and empty; we were both really raw. We breathed deeply. It was as if we had taken a journey out to the farthest star and returned, only to be shot back out again. In some sense, nothing had changed, but everything was different. We had started with the intention to provide sanctuary for the entirety of what she was, for those parts, aspects, feelings, and limiting beliefs to finally be provided safe passage in a warm holding environment where they could be illuminated at the deepest levels.
We wanted more than anything to stay close and in communion with her unfolding subjective experience in all its messy glory. We met so many perceptions, core self-narratives, emotions, and vulnerabilities along the way as they arose and passed, each an important messenger of held trauma from her past.
Through all of this, she came to know at the deepest, cellular, quantum level of her being that she would not die if she allowed this material in, that if she dared to be who and what she was and stayed true to what she knew was most true, she could trust unconditionally in the validity and intelligence of her unfolding subjective experience. And that even if the panic, the fear, and the dysregulating anxiety, shame, and rage threatened to take her down, it could never truly destroy who she was in an ultimate sense.
She had faith that she could return to that true nature that had never been in need of healing, that had never been broken, and that was never untransformed—if and as such inquiry was in service to her, and not in a way that denied or bypassed the very alive emotional and somatic wounding or the developmental effects of chronic and consistent empathic failure and misattunement.
She realized in a deeply embodied way that she had capacities as an adult in the here-and-now that were simply not available to her as a young girl in the there-and-then. She saw that beneath the compensatory and deeply embedded stories and narratives that held it all together was the direct experience of the darkness of not being loved: the black hole in the center of the heart that we have all spent so much of our sacred life energy turning from at all costs and covering over with our defenses, addictions, numbing, and avoidant strategies of all kinds.
While it was intense and disturbing and even shocking, she came to see, finally, that this material was not an enemy coming at her from the outside. It was her, all of the lost pieces and aspects of herself that had become split off at an earlier time, now longing to be integrated and allowed back into the inner family.
She further discovered that not only could she tolerate the intensity, but she could practice honoring it: moving toward the fear, the sorrow, the grief, and the rage, not because she “liked” it or it felt good, but because it held a tremendous truth that had the potential to untangle her body and her heart like no other. While at times it seemed as if she could not stay, that she would be taken down and overwhelmed, she knew she could practice and return over and over again for short periods of time. She did not have to go in all at once, urgently scrambling to understand or shift something.
This holding was the work of a lifetime, ever deepening and more subtle, and there was no urgency to transform the feelings, to replace them with some other more “spiritual” experiences, or on the deepest levels even to “heal” herself. She saw that the mere presence of previously unmet rage, sorrow, shame, and grief was not evidence that something was wrong with her, that she had failed, or that she was “unhealed.” Rather, the direct, heart-guided confrontation with this material was evidence that she was alive and whole, and that who she was at the deepest levels would always be seeking this wholeness in greater depth, including its integrated, embodied expression in her outward life.
She trusted that she could find the right balance, with my help and that of other attuned friends, between staying in the alchemical fire of metabolization for contained periods of time and coming back out to rest. She could alternate, pushing herself to the edge where growth takes place but without any agenda that she storm her body and psyche in the name of “healing.” She could engage in this work in a way that challenged her; it was provocative and growth inducing but not in a way that pushed her outside her window of tolerance and into dysregulating, sympathetic arousal on the one hand or parasympathetic freeze and dissociation on the other. There was another option, a sacred middle territory that is unique for each of us. She had touched it and knew she could return to it at any time, no matter how intense the inferno that was burning within her.
Once she had soothed the fire some with the cooling waters of her own presence, attunement, and loving self-compassion, she was able to return and inquire into the overall situation from a more centered place, exploring the organizing narratives that had formed the lenses through which she had been perceiving herself, others, and the world. Because she had worked through the highly charged emotions and feelings first, she was able to come back to the narrative in a slower, more grounded, and less urgent way.
By first calming her sensitive nervous system—which had been spinning in fight-flight for relief and to ensure its own survival—she could then rely on and orient from the spaciousness of other, wiser, more integrated capacities as she inquired into the limiting beliefs, templates, and working models that had been shaping her perception.
As her exploration deepened, alternating between clarifying and updating the narrative on the one hand and periodically going back into the feelings and sensations on the other, she very organically circled back to her relationship with her spiritual life, which was where this had all started. She wanted to clarify how she was relating to her beliefs and practices and how they fit into the entirety of her life. Even the language she used was deeply influenced by her relationship with her spiritual path. It had become such an important part of her identity, how she spent her time and energy, who she spent that time with, and the way she had been making meaning and finding purpose in her life. She felt a lot of gratitude for her community, her teachers, and the ways the journey had facilitated new levels of awareness and had helped her open her heart.
Along with this, she also started to see that her beliefs and practices were serving a defensive function, working alongside her earliest protective strategies in helping her avoid certain parts of herself. She wasn't blaming the teachings or the traditions or even the teachers for this, but saw that there were certain aspects of her journey that were not most skillfully addressed—were sometimes even devalued—by her spiritual practices. Her body, emotions, intimate relationships, meaning and life purpose, her uniqueness as a separate being.
Especially in the area of emotions, she discovered that in her relationship with spirituality she had learned to diminish—and thus dissociate from—powerful feelings such as anger, fear, jealousy, and heartbreak. In some way she had come to believe that these were “unspiritual” and obstacles on the path that must be meditated or prayed away and converted as quickly as possible to more “awakened” emotions and feelings. She wasn't overtly asked to distance herself from these feelings (well, maybe anger, which is the king of all “unspiritual” feelings in many traditions), but in subtle ways the emotional and somatic landscape was not all that honored, nor were the body or relationships or even her unique life purpose. Somehow the feminine principle had been neglected, abandoned, even abused in a more masculine rush to transcendence.
She longed at an intuitive level to integrate more yin energy into her practice, as it had become overly yang in its movement away from her sensitivity and vulnerability, in the quest to transcend the messiness of the human condition. She sensed that an integration was possible and that her spiritual life had to include the entirety of what she was. This was an important contemplation for her. She sensed there was something here and she wanted to get to the core of it.
She let all of this sink in and we took a short break from where she had been and from the intensity of her inquiry. We rested together, reconnected with the natural world and our senses, and just took some time to come back together to the here and now, providing some respite from how far she had traveled.
A Love That Assembled the Stars – part 3 of 3 - The outrageous intelligence of the human heart...
After some time, she asked if we could continue for a little while longer. Something was bubbling up and she didn't want to lose the thread. She was discovering that in her family she had so rarely experienced being loved or appreciated as she was. In order to receive love, affection, and attention, she first had to adopt a secondary, compensatory identity structure. Without this substitute identity, she felt ignored, unseen, and abandoned, convinced that she was unworthy in her nature. Unless she could figure out who others wanted and needed her to be—and quickly shift and adjust her outward expression—she concluded that she was without value and uninteresting, and deserved to be discarded.
As a result, like many of us as young children, she learned very quickly which feelings, emotions, and behaviors, even which body language and manner of speaking, were most likely to result in the receipt of affection, attention, and the emotional holding that she so longed for. On the contrary, she also learned which of these same manifestations would result in responses of neglect, mis- or malattunement, and even abuse. Her ability to sort and spin and shape-shift was both intelligent and creative, but it came with a price tag: splitting off from half of what she was, leading to chronic anxiety, feelings of flatness and depression, and a deeply embedded conviction that there was something wrong with her.
In a way that didn't blame her parents—while at the same time allowing and integrating the profound rage and grief that surfaced in reaction to aspects of their behavior—she saw the ways in which she was an object in her parents’ reality and rarely held as a subject in her own right, with her own feelings and ways of organizing her experience. She and I shared that it was important to not hold these memories as some exact, objective recovering of the past but more about the way she had come to make meaning of her early life. Whether the memories and associated details were objectively “true” wasn't what was most important; rather, what was germane was the way she had come to organize what happened to her, and even more importantly, how she was continuing to live out this organization in the present.
This is hard for any of us to do, as it requires that we step beyond the role of victim and take responsibility for ourselves, as adults in the here and now. Of course we were influenced by the past, but now the invitation is to stand courageously in the reality that we are no longer young, powerless children in a misattuned holding space. We have capacities we once did not have, and we are being called into new levels of organization and perception.
We consciously long to move forward, to step out of the tangles and limiting perceptions of our early lives, but we may also have an unconscious investment in holding on, in a strange way, to the familiar and the identities we have spent so much energy maintaining. Paradoxically, they still serve a function and protect us from our vulnerability, our sensitivity, and the painful feelings of unworthiness and abandonment that have been buried in the body and the psyche. Holding the tension of these opposites—of genuinely wanting to heal and not wanting to confront what we know that healing would require—is a critical art to learn on the path of wholeness, and an important alchemical milestone along the way.
In the course of her inquiry, she shared memories of how hard she tried to be seen as special, as unique, as worthy of being loved just as she was, all centered around her profound yearning to receive the empathy, mirroring, and attunement that she did not believe was available unless she became someone else. And how she had transferred this very same relational template onto her adult life and relationships with lovers, friends, family, coworkers, and spiritual teachers. And in the spirit of classical transference, how she related to me from this template and how this organization colored our relationship. She and I spoke about this always being a two-way street with the therapeutic couple, as my own unconscious organizing principles and complexes interacted dynamically with hers, forming my own countertransference contribution to the intersubjective field and crucible that existed between us. We had talked about this before, but where we both were now—vulnerable, shaky, a little fragile, but so alive—it took on new, embodied meaning.
As we explored this template together—and the ways it was impacting her current relationships, including our own—in a really embodied way, she met this deep wound of unlove in the center of her chest and felt it expand out into her throat and into her belly. She touched it in a full-spectrum way, sending her awareness and holding into its cognitive, affective, physiological, and behavioral manifestations. This was not easy for her and we had to stop and start as periodically she would begin to travel outside her window of tolerance into overwhelm. But slowly, over some time, she was able to tolerate, then contain, and then in the most miraculous way practice kindness toward this old material. It was personal, yes, but also had transpersonal and collective implications, describing how she (and all humans, and perhaps other sentient beings) had come to organize her life around avoiding or remedying this wound of unlove, including her relationship with her spiritual life and community.
She went on to share with me that it strongly felt as if she had lost a part of herself, a piece of her soul, to this trauma of unworthiness, that it had been taken from her by some sort of being who represented the qualities of shame, wretchedness, and unlove. At times, she took this image literally, describing to me these archetypal beings of unlove and what they looked and felt like, which I associated with the wrathful herukas of Tibetan tradition, such as Vajrakilaya or Yamantaka.
At other times she related to it metaphorically as a bundle of thoughts, feelings, and emotions that had become tangled within her. But what was most fascinating to her in the course of this part of her inquiry was that she clearly saw how an important part of her intention to be an “awakened” person and to become “enlightened” was avoidant in nature, organized around defending against this primal wound of unlove. Of course, this avoidance didn't account for the entirety of her spiritual aspiration but it was a part that she had never recognized, and from her perspective it was significant and worthy of further exploration.
In some ways, it explained so much and made so much intuitive sense to her; this realization really unlocked something in her psyche and deep within her body. It was exhilarating for her to see, while simultaneously raw and painful. It was as if she was completely naked before the universe, with no idea what was to come next. Who would she be without this compensatory identity as the unlovable one? How would this change her intimate relationships, her work in the world, her friendships, and her relationship with the spiritual journey?
Rather than attacking her defensive organization as “unspiritual,” neurotic, or evidence of some sort of “personality disorder”—being careful not to reenact the misattunement she had felt so often growing up—she and I worked together to reframe the realization and open to being grateful for the protection and feeling of safety that her avoidant strategies provided, while at the same time acknowledging that she was ready to take the next step: organizing her experience in a new way.
Yes, she would have to come face to face with all the unmet emotions and aspects of herself, those hidden core vulnerabilities and feelings of unlove that her protective strategies had more or less successfully defended her against. But she knew that this was where she was being called. And while it was unlikely that she would be “perfect” at it or would be able to feel safe all the time or in a consistent state of flow and joy as she did this work, this was her journey. She believed that this was why she had come here, to do this work, not just for herself but for all beings everywhere. I was in awe of her courage, dedication, vigilance, and her relentless love of the truth.
As she re-embodied those feelings, sensations, and soul parts that she had lost touch with over the years, and allowed them to penetrate the deepest levels of her body, psyche, and heart, I could feel the opening and expansion in and around her. Just being with her allowed me to touch many of these same places in myself, and I was grateful.
As she led me through the open door, we touched the preciousness of this life together, the sweetness, the chaos, the heartbreak, and the glory. We had traveled into the darkness and the light and the pain and the bliss, where stars and galaxies were born and died. We were left in awe of the unbearable magnificence of this human body, these senses, the fragility and sensitivity of this brain, heart, and nervous system, and with a raging gratitude beyond words for the mystery that is this journey, for the love that assembled this universe, star by star, cell by cell.
My latest book – The Path Is Everywhere: Uncovering the Jewels Hidden Within You – is now available
The Path is Everywhere: A Weekend Intensive, June 15-18 in Loveland, Colorado