Thursday, October 26, 2023

Relational alchemy and the internal Other

Usually when we speak about the “others” in our lives, we are referring to those on the outside who we are in relationship with, that we care about, that matter to us.

It’s important to attune to them and to what it’s like for them - to see the way they see, feel they way they feel, listen to what keeps them up at night, and what opens their hearts.

While we each bring our own unlived life into the psychic space where our subjectivities intersect, there is also a third thing, the field itself, that has its own autonomy and intelligence, and is an equal partner in the relationship.

Whether we call this the interactive field, the analytical third, or the mystery of the Friend, this one is there with us in the liminal in-between.

This is the realm of Hermes, the one who guides the alchemist in her work, which is one of devotion and love – love of the materials in the vessel, and of the vessel itself.

In addition to the external other, there is also an “other” who is moving inside us, an unknown piece of soul who has become split off from the totality. Just like the external others, these ones also long to be known, held, and loved.

They are shape-shifters and will manifest in an infinite number forms – as vivid emotions, dream images, somatic tenderness, even as color, music, and poetry as they seek us as a vessel in which they can come alive.

In this way, relational alchemy, unfolds not only with an external other but simultaneously with the dissociated figures of psyche and soma, who carry light-pieces of our wholeness and essence.

It is to the degree we are able to empathically attune, listen to, feel, sense, and hold the emerging inner Other that we will be able to truly accompany those in our lives.

If we’re not able to attend with devotion to the inner darkness, chaos, and contradiction, we will never be able to practice intimacy with these same qualities as they inevitably emerge in our most intimate relationships.

Photo by Pietro Merola

Monday, October 23, 2023

Inside the secret places

Inside the body the lost ones travel, carrying our dissociated experience and unfelt feeling, taking up temporary residence in our muscles, cell tissue, organs, and breath.

Scattered pieces of soul gather in our eyes, shoulders, and bellies, and in the secret places within our hearts.

They’ve become frozen and crystallized there, and display their longing to come Home by way of our dreams, bodily-felt emotions, and the variety of symptoms we experience.

If we’re unable to access them, to feel what they feel and tend to their tears, they will make their way deeper into the underworld and into the soma, awaiting a future moment when conditions are ripe.

Even if our primary interest is in spiritual transformation, we can’t separate out any unresolved relational trauma, attachment wounding, and narcissistic injury we may have experienced.

This unheld and unmetabolized material shapes our perception and forms a psychic template through which we’re able to imagine ourselves, others, and our world. But this happens outside our conscious awareness, from within the depths of shadow.

As we’re invited to “just be in the present moment,” we have to remember that in the present moment the ancestors are there with us.

They not only take up residence in our bodies, our hearts, and deep in the soul, but they are our bodies, hearts, and souls. Psyche is multiple and polytheistic.

They arrive invited or otherwise, along with the lost, crystallized orph
ans of psyche and soma, the spinning figures of our unlived lives, and the rich landscape of our implicit memory.
We’re not alone in that “present moment.”

What does the Other have to say about us and our meditation practice? Have we asked them and listened carefully to their response, with devotion and care?

Have we lamented their tears and grieved their pain?

To what degree have we met them, and accepted them with love? And sought their wisdom on the nature of past, present, and future.

Photo by Paul Davies

Saturday, October 14, 2023

Slow and safe

We’ve all been given experience that we’ve been unable to process consciously. This is one of the basic characteristics of trauma, unendurable emotional pain that hasn’t been able to find a relational home in which it can be held.

There are times in my clinical work when I’ll meet with someone who is really suffering, but they can’t actually feel that pain. They’re not able to make contact with the felt quality of the open wound.

Instead, there’s a protective numbing, a dissociative shut down and collapse into the somatic unconscious. From here, the lost orphans of psyche and soma burn, ache, and long for holding.

This response is coherent and makes sense based on what happened earlier in their lives, and was an adaptive response in the face of survival-level anxiety and annihilatory panic, to the very real threat of psychic disintegration.

Trauma is the experience of de-linking – left and right, top and bottom, limbic and cortical, body and mind – and linkage occurs through the felt sense of safety.

Where we find a way, guided by mercy and grace, to touch that experience, hold it in love, make sense of it, and integrate it into a new cohesive narrative.

Slow and safe. I’m with you, and you’re safe. I’m with you a
nd you’re safe. You’re no longer alone. And you’re safe.

While insight and clarity can be supportive, it is right-brain immersion in fields of safety which fosters cellular restructuring.

The psyche will reassemble when it feels safe.

The body will reorganize when it feels safe.

Friday, October 6, 2023

Into a vessel of light

When we meet with someone who is feeling melancholic, empty, shaky, or down, we can quickly become convinced that something is wrong, and that our role is to (urgently) fix the situation. To provide techniques, spiritual theories, and advice to get them out of their experience and into a different one.

It’s natural to want relief for those we care about and do whatever we can to help. We can hold a larger intention that they feel better while simultaneously staying open to the intelligence that is moving through them.

Perhaps it is something more subtle, more soulful, more holy than relief they’re longing for. And that advice, techniques, and theories are experienced by them as misattuned and yet another failure in empathy.

And then on top of the difficult emotions, they feel unseen, unheard, and alone, which is shattering. They look and cannot find the Friend, and shatter more.

There is wisdom in the images and emotions which arrive as a complex is constellated and incarnates in the body, an important dispatch from the soul serving an initiatory function beyond ordinary perception.

If we slow down, we might discover how much of our need to fix, heal, and relieve arises not from true compassion, but from an unresolved, dissociative relationship with the darkness within, from our own untended vulnerabilities and sensitivities, and spinning ghosts of our own unlived lives.

It is possible that the most skillful and kind thing we can offer the other is to sit in the charged energy with them, in that claustrophobic or restless space, and stay near; to remove the burden that they come out of their experience, “feel better,” or heal in order for us to stay close.

Perhaps they don’t need to be healed, but to be held, to be heard, and to feel felt and understood, for someone to companion them as the hidden wisdom unfolds. To extend a soothed nervous system and a field of love in which they can meet the reality of their own heart.

And be there with them to gather the shattered pieces, collecting them into a vessel of light.

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Into the autumn...

To walk in the early morning on what appears to be another ordinary day, with the summer and the fall still in dialogue about who will take it from here.

Wandering between heaven and earth, it is clear how little I know, unsure of what love wants of me until she whispers it through the birds and falling leaves, the orange, the yellow and the red, as it makes its way here into this flowy world of time and space.

I really hope to make it all the way through this day and to have another chance to be in awe at what might be shown tomorrow. But if not, for now I am left only with a simple gratitude to have be shown even a tiny sliver of love. I have been given so much.

It is early morning in the forest – and fall is arriving. Something new is preparing to emerge, to express its qualities, and play in awareness.

It is breathtaking, really, to watch as love emerges as the senses, as pure feeling, as these colors, as this imagination, all laid out as one rich feast for lover and beloved and their union.

Not a union transcendent of separation but one which includes it as we fall to the ground in humility knowing that the vast activity of love is never going to be resolved, beholding the spirit within matter and the holiness not only of oneness, but also placed inside multiplicity.

To be here in this world is the only miracle. We've been given the primary materials to make the journey: a beating heart to feel, arms to reach out and hold another close, words to speak kindness, and eyes to look into the depths.

Behold the harvest that is this life and the creative bounty of love as it emerges out of the unknown and takes shape as the miracle of autumn.