A Love That Assembled the Stars – part 2 of 3 (continued from yesterday) - 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.
Final part continued tomorrow…
My new book – The Path Is Everywhere: Uncovering the Jewels Hidden Within You – is now available
The next event, The Magic of Being Fully Human, to be held in Ojai, CA on October 14-15.