Bigger than words

I just read a blog about a person’s struggle with therapy and with the pain they deal with on a daily basis that needs to be worked through in that context of therapy and with their frustration over the use of certain words and terms.   I understand exactly how they feel.  I get frustrated at times with concepts, intellecualisations, formulas, and descriptions or pidgeon holes of psychic suffering, the map is not the terrritory and what we suffer cannot always and easily be placed in these boxes.   And yet in a world where we have to communicate and interconnect such terms or words or diagnoses are used to make sense of suffering….the problem comes when we identify with them too much and loose that natural spaciousness that is part of our deeper being, soul and who we are in experientia….

I feel the most comfort when I can float within my own ocean and on the days when the seas are not made too choppy by to many mental winds sending up storms of criticism and judgement within then I can, on a day like today just sit quietly feeling myself in the room while being gazed at lovingly by my dog Jasper and feel myself surrounded by peace and love.   But only half an hour prior to this my inner critic or ego was on the rampage and I was crying about how I am not a very good mother to this dog, which is not true, what is truer is at times I abandon our world of love and peace for a world and relationships which are often fractured or jarring to me.

I used to think that the problem was in my being ‘too sensitive’ and needing to adapt, to try harder, to be more pleasing but what I am seeing is that when I try to adapt outside of my natural pace then I get lost and because I am highly empathic and intuitive I do absorb energies in the ether which are non physical, such as emotions.

Anway I have had experiences and times when I have turned up at my own therapist feeling frustrated when I was deeply feeling something and being asked to explain what it was.  Just how do you find a word for deeper feelings and exactly how can you fully communicate the abject terror, despair, sadness or elation and joy that you feel in response to certain events?  Feelings can have such layers and are even not the same as emotions which are never only pure and simple when we try to make sense of them for such an emotion as grief may have sadness in it but also anger and despair.  When we start telling ourselves stories about those feelings then we have moved from the deeper felt sense of ‘my heart feels like its in a vice and I cannot breath’ (which is an experience in which tears are being held so deep inside) to thoughts such as : ‘this should not have happened, would not have happened if I had not done x y or z!’ which just ends up making us feel much much worse and may end in depression or even suicide.

Sometimes I feel its best just to sit with ourselves and try to touch base with our inner world quietly, tuning in.  In my experience all of our restless seeking out there for the critical support or emotional connection which may be lacking can a lot of the time, detract us from the source of inner peace inside.  That is not to say we should isolate and never connect with other humans, at times when we do it works and we feel connected but of course at others it does not and then we may need just to withdraw and return within in order to befriend our own aching heart.

Being our own best friend, may sound like a truism to some but if we don’t have our own love and ability to be present to what is arising inwardly even in abject pain (which I KNOW is very hard at times) we won’t ever really find true healing, comfort, and peace.

Sadness for the lost child

Child 5.jpg

I think it is a real sign of growth when we can weep for the child in us who never got to fully live, who often had to be buried or hidden deep inside or who was forced to don a disguise of coats of shame or soot and ashes to survive the invalidating, unfacilitating environment of childhood.  Images of this soot covered slave or servant child appear in the book Leaving My Father’s House by therapist Marion Woodman.  In it, along side stories from several of her client’s lives and psychological recovery stories, she shares a psychological interpretation of the fairy tale of Allerleirauh a young girl who running in flight from her family becomes a servant girl to the King, cooking in his kitchen a number of different soups.

In time in the course of this fairytale she attracts the King’s attention and dons three different dresses, the final one being made of Stars.  This is an allusion to how in the course of our psychological work to recover the child covered in soot and ashes we also reclaim and begin to fully live and express our inner radiance and being, that sense of true self that just could not live in our family of origin, was buried, covered in neglect or shame or nearly destroyed over time by internalised, killing voices.

I know that when I feel and shed tears for the years of living covered in soot and ash I have expereince ever since I was a young adolsecence at times I have felt like I could not possibly cry to the depths of it.  However, over time, the undeniable emotional truth becomes very apparent and real – all that we lost, all the ways in which we suffered and were dismisse, all the anger we felt but were not allowed to express.  With the tears shed in grieving we are, in some way, washing away the soot and emerging clearer and cleaner.   We cannot make up for those lost years, ever. But we can emerge into our true radiance if we just trust that we have depths of goldenness and star stuff inside just longing to burst forth, to ‘be’, to express in this life.

When we can fully feel it all through, and that includes our terror, rage, sadness, shame and anger, we will feel buried inside all of those feelings the truth of our spirit which longed over all those years for our recognition, realisation and championing.  We must feel all of these feelings most fully in a body that may have been neglected or filled with shame, for are these not also feelings which will lead us to realise the inner love that our body and soul longs for: a feeling of the fully conscious feminine deep inside of us both man and woman, girl and boy.   The suffering we buried in our body is felt and released as we nurture the spirit, soul child we know ourselves to be most fully from within.

Conscious femininity is living the redeemed body of Eve, regardless of the gender of the human being.  This body is conscious of itself as an intelligent instrument, a living system that actively participates in the divine unfoldment of planetary life.  While finding the harmony of its own natural laws of being, it is at the same time finding the harmony with all forms of life on Earth… Conscious flesh knows that its function (when fully awakened) is the consciousness of this Earth.

We are not separate from the Earth and our inner child knows this, as does our vital lived spirit.  We must do all we can to fully express this truest part of our being.

(Quote taken from : Redeeming Eve’s Body by Mary Hamilton : in Leaving My Father’s House : A Journey Toward Conscious Femininity, by Marion Woodman)

Letting go of numb

The following extract comes from Tara Brach’s book True Refuge : Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart.  Interestingly it concerns a woman who Tara was working with in therapy who as a young child had her long hair cut off by her mother as it was too much bother. I was sharing in a post a few days ago how this also happened to me and the trauma of it was felt when I went to the hairdresser late last week following my Mum’s death.   The woman in question, Jane, had also had her mother die a few years before the time she was seeing Tara.  In therapy she was sharing how the pain of this event had awakened in her heart through intense feelings of fear, felt as a claw “pulling and tearing at my heart”.  What followed was an outburst of anger towards her mother for subjecting Jane to this ordeal.

The anger soon turned into deep sadness as Tara worked with Jane encouraging her to feel the pain and grief deeply in her body, and in time it transformed into peace.  Jane had reached some deeply powerful realisations as a result.

Brach writes the following in her book :

Carl Jung wrote, “Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment, and especially on their children, than the unlived life of the parents.”  The outer domain of our unlived life includes all the places where we’ve held back from pursuing and manifesting our potential – in education and career, in relationships and creativity.  But it is the inner domain of our unlived life that sets this suffering in motion.  Here we find raw sensations, the longings and hurts, the passions and fears that we have not allowed ourselves to feel. When we pull away from the energetic basis of our experience, we turn away from the truth of what is.  We make a terrible bargain.  When we separate from the felt sense of our pain, we also separate from the visceral experience of love that allows for true intimacy with others.  We cut ourselves off from the sensory aliveness that connects us with the natural world.  When there is unlived life, we can’t take good care of ourselves, our children, our world.

The feelings you are trying to ignore are like a screaming child who has been sent to her room.  You can put earplugs in and barricade yourself in the farthest end of the house, but the body and the unconscious mind don’t forget.  Maybe you feel tension or guilt.  Maybe…. you are baffled by intimacy or haunted by a sense of meaninglessness. Maybe you fixate on all the things you need to get done.  You can’t live in a spontaneous way because your body and mind are still reacting to the presence of your distressed child.  Everythingy ou do to ignore her, including becoming numb, only strengthens your link with her.  Your very felt sense of who you are …is fused with the experience of pushing away a central part of your life or running from it.

In shutting down the passion, hurt and pain she had experienced as a young girl whose precious hair was butchered, Jane had locked herself into a numb and anxious fragment of who she was.  Yet something in her was calling her to live more fully.  By beginning to contact her body’s experience, by touching ground, she was opening the door to what she had been running from.

Traumas of this kind may seem inconsequential, but really they are not.  Something was done to us we didn’t want or need and had no power over and feelings do remain.   The true self in Jane probably loved her long hair,  it wasn’t all just about ego and looking a certain way, hair does hold our power and is connected to our heads which are such a vital part of our being. To be subjected to something that upset us and then to be laughed at for reacting (as Jane was) leaves a scar and a powerful subliminal message.  Going numb to it does not mean the feelings go away, they need to be dealt with, with compassion and sensitivity.

On the thorny issue of ‘being alone.’

Alone

I picked up an interesting book at the library on Sunday, as my close followers will know I often do.  The title is How To Be Alone and its on the issue of how so often in modern society we are told that it’s not good to be alone or to spend too much time in solitude, that it is more natural for us as human beings to socialise or be sociable.  If you think about it a lot of how we feel about spending time alone does relate to how we were related to when young, but we might not also have come in with a bias to be more introverted, or is that just something that happens to us when significant early relationships fail?  The book has really got me thinking.

I don’t know how many of you have been in relationships where you were told it wasn’t natural for you to be introspective or need your alone time.  I went through one significant relationship like this and it was also something I was told a lot by family members.  They did not seem to realise that when certain traumas and separations hit me both in early childhood and later adolescence/early adulthood I was left to cope alone.  So I can just naturally get on with my life in solitude, I do spend a lot of time in that solitude though thinking about others, its not just all self obsessive thinking I engage with when alone.

The author of the book Sara Maitland makes convincing arguments for the healthy and soul nurturing aspects of solitude or being alone.  Of course solitude is a choice for some of us and one we use both to nurture ourselves and make an inner relationship and so its a different kind of alone time to that which may be imposed on us if we are exiled or find ourself isolated emotionally or physically in some relationships, families or groups, which can happen we are not like the other’s temperamentally or have suffered abandonment or abuse.  Then being alone can be deeply painful but also set us on a quest to know and love ourselves more and to understand the forces that shaped us.  We can get all kinds of messages about how there is something wrong with us for being alone or liking solitude, and those messages are bound to make us feel worse about ourselves if we swallow them wholesale.

In my last major relationship, my partner accused me of being agoraphobic simply because at that stage I was choosing solitude, that said there may have been a degree of social anxiety in my unsociability.  I had been abandoned and hurt and misunderstood very much in the years leading up to that introversion.   Yet still as a person I know I do gain benefits from alone time.  I am highly empathic and I find when I am around certain people I do absorb and tend to gravitate toward them at a feeling level.

I had this experience yesterday when I was driving to my first therapy appointment of 2018 of being reduced to tears at the intersection where a homeless man was offering windscreen cleaning and being refused by nearly every driver.  He said the ‘F’ word sotto of voice without a hint of outer aggression, and as he did I felt his exhaustion and pain and something about him being rejected really triggered me.   I just found myself sobbing.  I am aware that a lot of what I was feeling may have been banked up grief as I had seen my therapist only once since my mother’s death on 12 December and holding in the feelings I noticed they were bubbling up as I drove toward the appointment.  I thought of how hard Mum tried to give or do things for us and of how much she needed emotionally and was refused by certain family members, yet introversion and solitude helped me to process all of this and become more aware.

I noticed too that on the last two days I took myself out for a morning coffee when I ran into friends part of me was pleased to see them, but part of me wanted just to have a solitary moment enjoying my cuppa.  I find I am less conscious of the taste and mindfully experiencing it, drinking my coffee while distracted in conversation.  Conversation can be either interesting and engaging or a bit detached and that all depends on what is being shared.  Being pulled out of ourselves when we need that alone time to recharge can be a bit disturbing to our energy and I don’t always find it easy in that situation to say ‘listen I would just like to sit quietly on my own for a while.’

The danger I think in all of this, though, is pertinently pointed out by Sara in her book.  It’s not just pathology to want to be alone.  In one chapter she reminds us that it’s when we are alone in nature that so many of us have peak experiences of connection : physical, emotional, spiritual and transcendent.   It is in silence we can hear the still small voice of creativity that is often drowned out by too much excessive stimulation or ‘noise’, its in solitude that we can touch with the base of our soul through the use of imagination or reverie.   However, it is also lovely to have those moments when we touch or are touched by other humans, times of connection that fill us up and add to us, rather than drain our life energy away.  Sorting out what we need in terms of connection or solitude and alone time or in relationship is an ongoing balance of polarities.  What is right for one person may not serve someone else and what we need on one day may change on another.

Despite all this I know my own soul would be far poorer were it not for the creative alone time I have experienced in my own life.   So I will not be ever demonising anyone for loving their solitude.

There is no evidence whatsoever that even prolonged periods of being alone are detrimental to physical or mental health, so long as that solitude is freely chosen…. (according to Anthony Storr – author of the book Solitude) “the fact that isolation can be therapeutic is seldom mentioned in textbooks of psychiatry.  The emphasis is on group participation….(I) regret that the average mental hospital can make little provision for those patients who want to be alone and would benefit from being so.”

Maitland makes the point consistently throughout her book that often people who chose alone time or solitude can be demonised as sad, mad or bad.   But not all evidence supports this, for those who are able to endure and navigate the alone space can bring back treasures both for the self and for others which just would never have been discovered or birthed in the absence of solitude.

 

 

 

Giving Back Responsibility to Others

For the good guy, taking responsibility for other’s emotions, well being, finances, etc., is a way of breathing.  This comes from a deep seated belief that he can only call himself a good guy if he is always being there, being present, being attendant to the needs, desires and happiness of others.  Changing this belief is vital.

Beliefs change slowly over time due to experimentation with an alternate belief.  Generally speaking, the belief that we are not, and indeed, cannot be responsible for others comes slowly due to the lifelong bargain with trying to take responsibility for others.  Eventually the body and mind begin to scream their exhaustion and the person begins to listen.  When that happens the person might be willing to begin to experiment by deliberately choosing to give responsibility for other’s lives back to them.

But if we implement a practice meant to lead to a process, perhaps we won’t have to wait to get to exhaustion before we can yield the floor of responsiblity for someone else’s life to them.  Therefore, the practice goes something like this.  Every time you find yourself worrying about someone else’s stuff, you say to yourself, “I’m giving that back to them for them to carry.  It does not belong to me.”  Every time you feel guilty for saying no, for thinking no, you say to yourself, “I’m giving that back to them to carry.  It does not belong to me.”  Every time you realize that you are carrying someone else’s stuff you say to yourself, “I’m giving that back to them to carry.  It does not belong to me.”  In this way you are training your mind to accept the belief that it is not possible for you to be responsible for someone else’s life.  You may also come to understand and therefore believe that when you take over someone else’s responsibility, you are actually robbing them of one of life’s most precious jewels – for it is in taking responsibility for our lives that we give ourselves permission to become whole.  As you practice this more and more over time, it begins to become a process in which you recognise immediately when you have taken on someone else’s stuff and you surrender it willingly to them as a precious gift of love.

Creating Boundaries

The practice of ceating boundaries starts internally.  First you recognise that you are doing something or engaging in something that is not authentic for you.  Then you can decide where to put the boundaries so that you can stop betraying yourself by violating your own boundaries.  So many times we think that we put up boundaries to keep others out. But actually, we put up boundaries to keep ourselves in – within our own bodies, our own authentic life structure, our own power to respond, and our own personal responsibility.

The practice of creating boundaries begins by checking our energy levels, desires, passions, and compassions against our patterns of behaviour.  When the thought of doing something for someone makes us feel a deep sense of exhaustion or tiredness, that is a signal from the Self to say no to doing that thing.  When being around a particular person trains our energy, that is a signal from the Self to stop being around that person.  When we are asked to do something but our compassion is not in it, that is a signal to say no to doing that thing.  When we are charged with a job that we have no passion or desire to do, that is time to delegate that task or to talk to our boss about reassigning it.

Making these kinds of decisions on a regular basis means that we develop a process of being led by the internal messaging system rather than by the shoulds, have-tos, ought-tos, obligations, and loyalties of the culture, family, or social agenda in which we hapen to lve.  This procss is genuine and it offers the potential of manifesting an authentic life.

Andrea Mathews : Letting Go of Good : Dispel the Myth of Goodness to Find Your Genuine Self.

Its not easy for me to take on board the advice above.  I read this out to my therapist today in session and she clapped her hands, she told me it is what she is hoping that we are working towards in therapy.  It seems in my family I have always placed myself in the position of emotional caretaker.  I did it with my older sister who died and then with my Mum and now at times it could also happen with my sister who is the only one remaining here in my home town following my mother’s death and is struggling with depression.  I just know as much as I love her I cannot take on board her suffering as mine.  I feel for her, I try to ring her every second day but more than that I cannot do and I have finally made the tough decision that I will no longer sacrifice my life in caring when that care goes down a drain of endless sadness.

Believe me I know how much suffering there can be in life.  I see how much we live as a culture divorced from deeper values of self care and care for the feminine as well as the natural environment, but I also know that its up to each of us at some point to make a strong choice for solid values to invest our energy and time in.   I cannot live for another person.  I can feel for their problems but often I am powerless to do more than just care and over caring when it drains me leaves me in an empty place.

Today I was thinking of the line from a poem of T S Eliot “teach us to care and not to care”.  I dont know if I can ever ‘not care’ but I can detach to a degree with love.   I can make an active choice to say that I am human and this is my limit over which I cannot cross.  It doesn’t mean I am abandoning you, I am here if you want help and will take the steps to help yourself but if not, there is no more I can do.  I watched my Mum overcaring at times and struggling to keep her boundaries and failing at times.  Often she was punished by my older sister for that care.   I dont want to travel down the same road so my new years resolution is to care for me, and my dog this year.   I know I am now an adult enough to do it.  And its not anyone else’s job.  If you care for me that is wonderful and I am so grateful but care is only a given and cannot in the end be demanded.   I am going this year to work to take the advice of Andrea Mathews which I quoted above.

Taking responsiblity for other people’s feelings is often learned in a childhood in which the parent’s needs came first and/or took priority.  We learned it wasnt okay to have needs and desires of our own.  We end up not knowing what we want and need or feeling guilty if we do want or need what runs counter to other’s wants and needs. We then suffer anxiety if we dont think of others all the time.  We then learn to chronically self abandon.  It may be a long road to learn to know, value and champion our own needs but if we want to regain our emotional help we must learn this, or else we will suffer much anxiety and depression in our lives.

On fear, some reflections

It seems that these days its not politically correct to feel fear.  I wrote a post the other day about fear versus love and it may have been a trifle simplistic.  For the fact is fear serves a purpose, it prevents us from engaging in a behavior which may end up hurting us, such as putting our hand in a burning fire.  The problematic side of fear is when it dissuades us from doing something that may actually be good for us that we have learned it was unsafe to risk from earlier experiences which hurt us but dont apply now. In this case we are dealing with learned fear rather than fear as a protective message from our inner self

I just read these excerpts from the chapter My Friend, Fear, in a book by therapist Andrea Matthews which were enlightening to me:

.. fear (is) a message, a signal, and could be very useful to us.  Fear is our friend because it can inform us as to when something or someone is dangerous.   …..(it) is a message to me, for me, and about me.  It tells me to watch out, duck, run, decide.  Fear can tell me to slow down so that I can see and feel all of the signal alerting me to things going on around me, so that I can make appropriate decisions.  (For example a fear of leaving an old full time job to go freelance) can be very helpful…. (in this situation) fear could be a good guide.  (leading us to ask questions about how much money we need to sustain our life, how feasible will it be to be able to make it going freelance etc).

Some of our fears are related to change – fear of change, fear of failure, fear of success.. But even these fears can guide (us) along the way.  The fear of change can tell (us) to go slow, map it out, sort out the fine distinctions… in limitations of all kinds – time and energy in order to help us make better more feasible decisions.  The fear of failure helps (us) to maintain a conscious vision so that we don’t risk when playing it safe may be a better options..

.. fears faciliate our awareness of ourselves.  In Western culture we are taught only to look at the external presssure to perform.  We commonly operate out of this pressure, so taht it manages our daily choices.  We perform because someone expects it, rather than because we have the natural and genuine capacities to perform – capacities like time, energy, focus, interest, aptitute, and love of the tasks to be done.  But fear can help us to assess and make decisions based on our genuine capacities rather than that external pressure.  Fear can say, “That’s too much, I can’t do that!”  Fear can say, “I won’t be able to keep my focus on that, there are too many other things calling me!”  Fear can say “I just don’t have the energy for that!”  Fear can even say, “If I don’t really have a desire to do it, how am I going to feel when trying to do that?”  If we listen to and heed these messages, they can save us a lot of trouble.

There is a lot of doublespeak out there from those who would tell us to get rid of our fear – as if fear has the power to act without our choosing.  But when we try to get rid of it, we simply repress it, putting it into the unconscious where it has the power to act without our choosing.  This doublespeak means that those who follow it will remain in an endless loop of trying to get rid of fear, and then being overwhelmed by it, only to try to get rid of it again.  This is not facilitationg the kind of awareness that fear wants to give us.

When fear is listened to, it becomes the voice that tells the good guy where to draw appropriate boundaries, who to trust and who to avoid, and how to maintain connection to the Self.  These are extremely important healing guides.  But if we are pushing fear away because we think, as we’ve been taught, that strong, faithful people are never afraid, then we lose out on all the wonderful benefits that fear can give us.  By listening to ourselves and by honouring what we hear, we eventually earn our own trust and, as a result, more easily live an authentic joyful life.

Andrea Matthews : Letting Go of Good : Dispel the Myth of Goodness to Find Your Genuine Self. 

Real pain and sadness

I wish that so many people who suffer from depression or bi polar could have it affirmed that their pain is real.   I just read a blog of a fellow sufferer who could not get out of bed on Christmas Day,  I know how that feels.  I always force myself out of bed though.  I am not able to stay in bed all day, just cannot do it, even when I am sick and need to.  But I know that deep binding and paralysing depression that hits as a real response to challenging life events of change, hurt or loss, have undergone it in my own life. There were whole days and weeks and months I never got out of my pyjamas all day, I didn’t shower, found it difficult to stomach food and did not see a single soul.

I look back to those terrible crushing days of extreme physical and emotional as well as spiritual isolation and wonder how I survived them.  The pain was just so intense but on another level I was numb.  Critical killer inner voices besieged all my waking hours.   Love had left my life, my marriage was over, I had no home of my own and no employment.  All I did was write all day.

I am here to say though that today my life is not like that.  Sure I am very sad on some days, but those feelings of  complete inner hopelessness and emptiness are no longer as strong.  I reached out to get help and it took me many therapy attempts but in the end I found that help.  I found a therapist who helped me.  I got this blog started.  I started to write how it really was for me.  People reached out to me. I learned to get in my car and go for a walk or a drive when I was lonely to a place where I could be with people.  5 years ago I got myself a dog and then started going to the public dog park with him every day and making some new friends.  Some days I had to drag myself there in the afternoon.

I joined groups then left groups, told by them I wasnt allowed to have certain feelings or express certain feelings.  I had to let certain relationships go.  I had to believe in myself.  I had to keep reaching for validation of my suffering true feelings and pain.

I am here to say that I believe recovery is possible for those of us who are willing to reach for help and become aware of how past emotional abandonment,abuse or neglect may have dogged our lives, our pain was real, it wasnt a figment of our imagination.  We suffered and we bled.   We were not responsible for the emotional neglect we suffered or the abandonment that happened to us.  It left real deep scars in us.  We don’t have to take the blame even though the harsh truth is that our recovery is our responsiblity.  No one else can do it for us, but us, and we cannot do it alone.

So if you are suffering, trust yourself.  Keep reaching out for love, keeping taking those baby steps forward even if you suffer set backs.  Just keep at it one day at a time, one minute at a time, believe in you.  You are worth it?  You are worthy.  There will be days you wish you were dead,  days you feel the pain is too much, those are the days you are probably all alone with no one to give you a hug.  On those days I reach out here and often I am responded to.  I know it’s not the same as a physical hug but it helps.  It has brought me back from the abyss many times.

Life at times can seen so dark and lonely it really can.   But there are those out there who love and care despite their own pain and despair, so keep reaching until you find that connection, validation and love.