Thursday, November 29, 2018

A small light of hope

One of the most important aspects of inner work is to illuminate the unconscious beliefs that shape the way we see ourselves, others, and the world. We carry these beliefs in a narrative that originated as our brain and nervous system were developing, in our attempt to make meaning of early relational experiences and how they affected our emerging sense of self.

If our early environment did not provide adequate holding as well as sufficient space for us to rest in unstructured states of being—if our unique subjectivity, emotional experience, and basic goodness was not effectively mirrored back to us—we found ourselves in a very precarious place. Because it is just too psychically unsafe to see this failed mirroring as resulting from a lack of capacity in those around us, we place the blame inside ourselves. We come to believe, in our attempt to make sense of our experience, that we're just not worthy of that sort of attention, affection, love, and attunement. As painful as this realization is, it provides a temporary refuge from overwhelming anxiety.

The chronic sense of shame that so many experience seems in large part to have its origins in environments lacking in empathic attunement, where there was no adequate holding environment in which the little nervous system could unfold, rest, and explore in a way that would foster true self-love. The narrative of the unworthy one is deeply embedded and spans multiple levels: cognitive, emotional, neurobiological, somatic, and behavioral. We must send breath, awareness, and love into each of these areas in order to transform the compensatory identity structure and to untangle the wounds of the body and the heart.

While it may feel to be too much, this narrative can be re-authored. It can be re-written. It can be updated. A wilder, more vast, more imaginative, accurate, integrated story can be told in the here and now, replacing the time machine of the “there and then.” A new dream can be dreamed. New cloth can be woven. It is possible. I have been honored to witness this reorganization in the lives of many courageous women and men over the years. It is not easy work and asks everything of us.

Let us remind one another of this revolutionary possibility, especially during times of profound suffering, that there is hope. That while the narrative of shame and unworthiness can feel so entrenched—and the corresponding feelings so overwhelming—it is possible to replace the pathways of abandonment and aggression with empathy and kindness. Over time the traumatic narrative can be re-crafted, new meaning can be discovered, and new life can be found. New breath can be breathed. Even in the core of the most profound hopelessness, a small light of hope is buried there, the flame is still alive.

Art by Jonny Lindner

My latest book – The Path Is Everywhere: Uncovering the Jewels Hidden Within You – is now available 

The next book, The Unfolding Heart, will be published by Sounds True in early 2020, details to come

The next event is The Healing Shame Retreat: Spiritual Awakening and Transforming the Core Wound of Unworthiness, April 24-29, 2019 at Sunrise Ranch in Loveland, Colorado, with co-facilitator Jeff Foster