Friday, October 20, 2017

A re-envisioning of healing and integration

There’s a lot of talk about “integrating” or “healing” traumatic experience which I believe has led to a lot of confusion.

It's important to re-envision words like “integration” and “healing," as they have lost their relevance, aliveness, and magic. They have become worn-out, second-hand, and no longer filled with life. Additionally, for many they have become further tools of shame and blame, new ways to attack themselves when they (we) do not live up to the demands of a conceptual spirituality. We must breathe life back into these ideas in an imaginative, grounded, and creative way.

Often what is meant by “integrating” or “healing” unbearable experience is that one day we will “get over it,” “transcend” it, meditate or "manifest" it away, or otherwise purge it from our psychic-emotional-somatic being. Or that somehow we are to blame for the feelings, the emotions, the raw sensations that have come; somehow, their mere presence is crystal clear evidence that we have failed, "attracted" the material, or are in urgent need of some "secret" to win an illusionary battle.

In my experience in sitting in the fire with many courageous men and women with the most heartbreaking histories, this view of trauma is in large part inaccurate, aggressive, misguided, and at times even dangerous and violent. There are some things that happen to us that we will never “get over” nor would this even be an appropriate goal or lens to use in approaching the sacredness of the human temple. Our vulnerability and our sensitivity is not something to "get over," but to enter into relationship with, to explore, to hold dearly as our link to the sacred world.

Let us set aside any spirituality or “healing” which is (unconsciously or subtly) rooted in self-abandonment, self-attack, and self-hatred and replace it with slowness, empathy, and a grounded, relentless compassion. Otherwise, the project of self-improvement becomes yet another re-enactment of an early environment lacking in empathic attunement.

But if what we mean by “integration” is discovering a place inside us where we can hold and contain our experience, make sense of what happened in new ways, and discover deeper meaning, then these concepts can come alive again. Slowly, over time, guided by new levels of kindness, clear-seeing, and multileveled awareness, we can begin to bear that which has been unbearable, providing sanctuary and safe passage for the pieces of the broken world to re-organize.

As we train ourselves - with the help of our fellow travelers - to re-inhabit our bodies even in the face of profoundly disturbing perceptions, feelings, and sensations, we can begin to weave a more "integrated" narrative of our lives, re-authoring the sacred story of who we are, our purpose here, and what is most important to us. We can gather the pieces into a coherent whole and begin to trust in the validity of our experience again.

The goal then is not some fixed state where we have successfully purged an aspect of our self-experience from what we are, as if it were some wretched foreign substance, but rather to find a larger home for it within us. Slowly, we can allow what has become frozen and solidified to thaw and become flexible. Ultimately, it is love that will soften the wounds of the body and the heart, for they will never unwind in an environment of self-aggression. It's just not safe or majestic enough there. This "love" is not merely some sort of sweet feeling, but is full-spectrum, at times fierce, creative, and alive.

Over time, beyond merely holding and containing the sacred wound, we are invited to practice intimacy with it, to come even closer than we imagined possible to the lost children of the psyche and soma … discovering that they have not come to harm, but only to return home, to resume their instinctive place in the inner family.

In this way, perhaps we can salvage these concepts such as "integration" and "healing," at least for today, re-envisioning and re-enchanting them with the force of an uncompromising and unapologetic compassion, soaked in the native wisdom of our true nature, as we open into the mystery together.

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

My next event will be a five-day retreat, with Jeff Foster, April 4-9 at Sunrise Ranch in Loveland, CO. Please stay tuned here for additional information/ registration.  

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Metabolizing our lived experience

Just as we must properly digest the food we eat to absorb its nutrients, we must also metabolize our experience, as it is received by way of our senses, our nervous systems, our minds, and our hearts. If our rage, grief, disappointment, shame, and pure joy remain partly processed, they become leaky and unable to provide the fuel required for a life of intimacy, connection, contentment, and aliveness.

While the longing for transformation is noble and can be honored, if we are not careful it can serve as yet another re-enactment of the painful realities of materialism and self-abandonment, a clear reflection of the ghosts of the unlived life. One of the shadow sides of spiritual seeking and the (seemingly) endless project of self-improvement is that we never slow down enough to digest what we have already been given… which is everything.

Not the “everything” the mind thinks it needs to be happy and fulfilled, found by way of some "secret" on a journey of internal and external consumerism. Not the “everything” that conforms to our hopes and fears, our dreams of power and control, and keeps us safe and invulnerable from the full-spectrum reality of what it means to have a human heart. But the “everything” that is already here as part of your true nature, the raw materials for a life of inner abundance, revealed by way of humility, not unconscious acquisition.

Just like with food - slowing down and choosing wisely, stopping before you are full, participating mindfully, and staying attuned to what is being assimilated - we can honor the validity, workability, and intelligence of our inner experience, even if it is difficult or disturbing. The willingness to fully digest our own vulnerability, tenderness, confusion, and suffering is an act of love and revolutionary kindness.

There are soul-nutrients buried in the food of our embodied experience that ache to be integrated, metabolized, and digested in the flame of the heart. But this digestion requires the enzymes of presence, compassion, embodiment, and open-heartedness.

So let us slow down and become mindful of the ways we seek to fill the empty hole in the center, whether it be with food when we’re not hungry or experience when we are already full. And in this way we can walk lightly together in this world, on this precious planet, not as hungry ghosts desperate to be fed, but as fellow travelers of interior wealth, richness, and meaning.

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

My next event will be a five-day retreat, with Jeff Foster, April 4-9 at Sunrise Ranch in Loveland, CO. Please stay tuned here for additional information/ registration.  

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The dance of the internal and external other

It can be fascinating (and disturbing) to see how we locate qualities in others that we long to be in touch with in ourselves, but for some reason have disowned.

It is no coincidence that we tend to attract and be attracted to (as well as repel and be repelled by) those who outwardly embody a particular quality that we've lost contact with in ourselves. This can be subtle and can take some practice and discernment to see.

At an earlier developmental time, for very good reasons we split off from certain aspects of ourselves, ways of being, feelings, native creativity, and qualities that were unique to us. While we yearn to reclaim these lost soul-parts, it is often too anxiety-provoking to allow them back in directly. By first finding them in another, we can begin to enter into relationship with these abandoned parts, in what appears to be a safer way, at a distance.

Whenever you find yourself surprised at how enraged you become toward a certain person, or activated by some way that they are – or infatuated with them in a way that seems irrational, or annoyed or irritated beyond what seems appropriate for the situation... slow down and pay careful attention.

Be kind to yourself. Be curious. No shame, blame, or judgment. Just slow. And kind. And curious. Again, look for responses that are irrational, overblown, and seem to occur on their own, out of the blue, in a surge of unexpected emotion. We’re not speaking about becoming angry and taking clear, boundaried action if someone is being unkind, abusive, or disrespectful to you – please do that – but about those situations where nothing like that is occurring.

Where in more neutral situations, before you know it, you're drowning in some sort of reaction, whether it be a flood of ruminative thinking or you are hooked into a painful (yet familiar) emotion or feeling. Or lashing out at them, critiquing, judging, attacking (or idolizing, turning them into a savior, irrationally falling in love with them) in a way that, on deeper reflection, just feels a bit overdone. It can feel like it’s coming at us from the outside, some energy which is autonomous and beyond our control.

What qualities in others (positive or negative) have an uncanny ability to throw you into a spin, constellate an avalanche of highly charged feeling, uncomfortable emotion, or surges of somatic disturbance in your body? Slowly, if you are called to do so, bring a person to mind who has a way of inducing these reactions in you...

For just a moment, set aside any interpretation of what might be happening and any details about the "other." Open and see if "internal other" is arising now to be held, to be known, to be contained, to be integrated.

What is being asked to be tended to here? What has the "external" other come to remind you of, not to harm or to seduce, but as an emissary of wholeness? As an invitation of integration.

Enter into relationship with this one, imagine and dialogue with them, provide sanctuary so that they may re-emerge into the light, and to take his or her rightful place back into the internal family. This one is you, longing for permission to return home.

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

My next event will be a five-day retreat, with Jeff Foster, April 4-9 at Sunrise Ranch in Loveland, CO. Please stay tuned here for additional information/ registration.