Exalt your shadow side: healing a split-self.

Sometimes emotional responses we have to events are desirablee.g. ‘great I achieved something or got something I wanted – let me post a pictureon fb so that everyone can think that is all of who I am’.   But what happens in those times when you seeand feel things that you recognise as undesirable or destructive? Maybe feelinginferior, hurt, unappreciated, or fearful. Do you shut it away and ignore it?. Repeatedly doing this can leave historical potentially dynamic parts ofyou remaining trapped, unknown, unseen and un-exalted.

By exalted I mean seen as a potential source of somethingpositive, something which deserves attention, action and representing a piece ofyour own universal truth.  My Buddhistpractise and my therapy training tells me that there is a place for everyemotion and behaviour in this world and my deep determination and need is toknow everything happening in my inner world has a right to exist and hasmeaning.  So, I pluck up the courage to faceand explore the sides of myself that I shun and discovered they contain a greatwealth of energy and release through creating a bridge with split off parts ofmyself that I rejected. 

It is a long story but in summary, I rejected my father’s violence,my mother’s sense of helplessness and suicidal desires, experiences of sexualand emotional manipulation from the very people who were closest to me.  For many years I shut off their impact – and rightlyso, I needed to; what madness would it be for a child to actively connect withsuch harmful experiences? It totally saved me emotionally at the time.  But there were imprints left deep down thatcaused me great anxiety.  Where was my actionto protect my mother? Where was my voice to say I was being molested and it wasn’tright? Where was my courage to speak truth and voice anger at being manipulated?Where is it now?.

After years of panic attacks at potentially high achievementpoints in my life I decided it is time to acknowledge my inner instinctual animalthat would have acted at crucial times and I consciously empower it to act inthe present.  Rejecting the animality in thoseclosest to me means I reject it in myself, cutting off the flow of energy that arisesfrom acting on my own instincts.  I alsohave the potential to be violent to defend myself or someone else, I might needto abandon someone toxic although I know how it hurts.  My instincts might mean asking difficultquestions.  Hearing and telling difficulttruths. 

As long as my actions are guided from a place of compassion (whichis where 12 years of SGI Buddhist practise helps me), I can exalt these same tendenciescreate benefit with them.  I have hadmany experiences where choosing to embrace this side has stopped destructive situationtowards me and others in their tracks.  Forexample, when I see intimidating youths in my area (within reason), I now approachthem, make sure I show no fear, feel my animal instincts vibrating; I talk withthem – I don’t reject their energy because I also embrace mine and it hastangible impact. 

It might sound stupid but at times when I feel insecure or fearful,over and over I invoke an image of a fearless and wise panther and prepare toact.  It has become a source of groundedenergy that acknowledges every part of me and others without judgement.  Projecting a purely positive image can inspireothers but it can also alienate and intimidate them.  Carl Jung says that the more you supress orreject a part of yourself the more it subconsciously controls and manifests inyour life.  Instead, find support to embraceyour past and the dark parts of yourself as something potentially incrediblygood and healing through exploration.

Learning to ‘do love’ better

As I strive to grow in my identity, my experiences of love with others are by far the most motivating, shocking, exciting pleasurable and inevitably the most painful ones to learn and grow from.  Love puts me in to contact with myself and others through different aspects that I like (I am at a point where I think it’s OK to say that I have some! lol) such as sweet-natured-ness, humour and compassion and passion and then abruptly points to aspects where I need to grow such as anxiety, shame and anger.  Love facilitates inner change all the way through its initiation, maintenance and ending.  Through the loss I am learning to ‘do love’ better.  So, I wanted to share some reflections.

I want to say firstly that some kinds of love set a new standard for me in life.  My first experience of being truly in love was with my son; I can remember looking at him aged about 18 months and every time just welling up with a huge emotional joy at his investigation and enjoyment of the world; it made its imprint on me forever.  That ecstatic feeling still lives in my body with those memories.  The flip side is that through this love I never saw so clearly or cared so much about my egoistic side, the potential harm of my selfishness to take someone for granted, my unresolved issues from my past.  All needing to be worked on and held otherwise the pain I feel at the thought of him being harmed, especially by me, is quite simply unbearable.  Through stages of his growth we have difficulties but because I love him, I must change in order to love him better as an individual.  Awakening the desire for Self-improvement is one of love’s gifts. 

Sometimes even strong love reaches a point where it can grow more and this can bring conflict.  I had an experience with one of my best friends who ‘adopted me’ as family almost instantly when we met on a night out at university, we connected through our love of dancing, sex with hot men and having fun!  She was already capable of deep love and showed me this consistently, eventually I was able to trust and love her back – the laughter kept us going on the way.  We only hit obstacles after many years when the deepest line between friends and family became apparent through our children and I felt hurt.  Despite this, allowing the feeling of trust and companionship to enter my body was a force for growth and the tension was a sign I was striving to love and trust myself more than I felt she did although she may not have understood.  Was conflict avoidable? Probably.  But authenticity is crucial when it comes to love.

In terms of romantic love; it is a hard process to understand the different parts of it. Many times, in the beginning I have felt the excitement, the buzz of feeling wanted; sex and orgasms that rocked my world and I thought well this must be it – ‘love’!  But in those connections, we didn’t really love each other in any depth although the pain of breaking the attachment was sometimes intense.  There was not enough consistent and genuine care on either side to hold us together.  I don’t regret these times but I am learning to hold the initial ‘buzzy love’ feeling without investing in it as something which could endure the truth of what it is to be human with each other for a lifetime.  Now I want to people in their bigger picture, not just my fantasies of them before making decisions; I am now more willing to give and receive truth and honesty to avoid more pain.

I am surprised that all of my experiences with love have nothing or very little to do with sex besides enhancing the intensity.  I forged many connections through lust and believing in a fantasy future, who’s actions were not matched in the present – usually the stronger the fantasies, the more deluded I was!  Sometimes it even felt like destiny pulling me to someone – and maybe it was, but hormones + fantasy + ego = a destination of disappointment and then a little learning.  Sometimes we can love people for the things we feel they reflect in us or how it looks to others, but this is more to do with vanity and the choice to love is a decision which highly protects the integrity and individuality of each person, this is something I’m really grounding myself in currently.  Carl Jung said “companionship thrives only when each individual remembers his individuality and does not identify himself with others”

My first experience of someone loving me meaningfully made me freak out and break the connection.  It emerged in a particular man who was a close (but I thought platonic) friend in the form of courage to protect me one in a home situation one night.  At first, I was just shocked.  It led to an admission of softness between us and a gentle light that did not want to switch off.  I had no fantasies about this man and this makes me think that maybe if someone wants me to know they love me I have to be quieter and able to listen to signs.  On that note, I have also learned that the love I take most for granted is often the most profound, most aspects of it are boring, everyday occurrences of care, tolerance and compassion and small, consistent efforts and it is easy to forget when chasing a more stimulating fantasy.  This tendency makes me sad and I am reflecting on it deeply.

In whatever form you experience love it’s a big deal.  If it doesn’t last, trust that you are strong enough to both hold the pain of loss and treasure the love and move forward.  Love makes us vulnerable and humble as we shudder at the thought that we might be insignificant in someone else’s eyes who we see as important.  But I’m seeing that the best way to find it is to be full of love before I get there.  As Will Smith said (yes Will Smith really has some wise words AND well, he is married to Jada!) ‘we need to find our individual, private, separate joy and present ourselves to a relationship and to each other already happy, not coming to each other begging with our empty cups out demanding that she fill my cup and demanding that she meets my needs.  It can be destructive to place responsibility for your happiness on anybody other than yourself”

Love makes us vulnerable as does the pain it brings but we need to experience vulnerability to allow us to feel alive and strive for deep change. All I know at the moment is that what I want is to feel love for an independent person, to enhance happiness with that person and then project it unselfishly in to the environment.  The next step is as mysterious and innocently taken as the first and last.

Russian Doll inside: Holding the trauma of our past to live more fully in the present.

Many people including myself have had experiences that make feeling vulnerable or intimate a bit more overwhelming than it needs to be.  Maybe you had experiences at school being bullied, with parents who were unavailable for support, an abusive or painful heartbreak which left a trail of mistrust and fear.

RussianDolls AnAccidentalAnarchist.blog
Image courtesy of Bradley Davis (CC BY-ND 2.0)

When we encounter a current situation that might resemble one of these experiences, those past feelings can get stirred up and leave us feeling confused, anxious, angry or feel that we want to keep people away.  For myself at times like this I usually don’t feel ‘like my-self’, with feelings that seem unsafe to express to anyone except those I feel close to and they aren’t always available to talk.  I have found that the feelings can affect my immune system, my digestion; supressing my appetite or make me clumsy (although to be fair I’m not usually that graceful anyway!).   These bubbling feelings can affect every day functioning at work where I need to feel focused, positive and confident but they leave me wondering how to pull myself together emotionally when I feel like liquid inside.

At those times I have found it helpful to visualise my life contained in a series of layers in time, like a Russian doll; each layer marking a point in my life where a particular feeling was very strong, such as an experience of family loss, betrayal or feeling alone. The layers go deeper, backwards in time until finally at the point of birth where are my first experiences of being with my parents; the most tiny and vulnerable Russian doll layer.

Connecting overwhelming feelings as belonging to one of those layers has been a helpful way to bring me to a sense of safety in moments when the emotional layers of past and present start to merge.  A way of both owning my emotions (- it is often tempting to blame outwards on the person triggering them!) and knowing that because they arose from my past and are seeping out in to my present that I can contain them; at least until they reduce and until I am able to talk to someone I trust (this is vital).

Finally imagining myself as the outmost layer of the Russian doll as I am now and drawing a boundary around my emotions helps me to stop and take a breath, ground myself in the present and to understand the difference between my feelings and what triggered them. I feel more able to respond the way I want to rather than just react and most importantly brings me back to the self I want to create right now.

We are all so vastly unique and complex, having experienced unspeakable things that creating a structure to help us identify what layer is operating within us can allow us a vital space to climb out.

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Repost: The relationship lie; primordial pain

 

 

Primordial pain refers to a fundamental basis of human existence and our unavoidable dependant relationship with another being; our dependency on our primary care giver; our parent.

Photo thanks to Lucas Hermann cc
Picture courtesy of Lucas Hermann (cc 2.0)

It’s a fundamental truth that is present from the moment of our birth, that our relationship with mother (or father) is thus:

  • I need you to live.
  • Without you I will die.
  • I cannot be without you.

This is a fundamental basis for relating; at the very core of our being.  It’s both physiological and psychological.

And, it’s something that we then carry into our later lives.  It’s not something we can necessarily shake off.  It can generate feelings of fear and insecurity alongside utter despair, desolation and annihilation.

Have you ever felt completely alone?  Have you had a relationship with a loved one that ended? By death or by choice?

I raise my hand, I have had this happen, oh boy have I, again and again, and it has this feeling of utter dread – it has this feeling of primordial pain, the fear of destruction.  If I lose you, I lose myself.  But, as adults though, that’s simply not true.  We are fully self dependant.

It’s also a huge lie to enter into a relationship under the false belief that they will complete you and that you cannot be without them.  Doing so is acting from primordial fear.

So the next time I lose someone special, the next time I feel that primordial pain, I’ll know what it is, and in knowing gain some perspective and control. I’ll recognise and greet the feeling, acknowledge it and in doing so lesson it.

Peace and love.

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Primordial fear - AnAccidentalAnarchist

Self care; be the perfect parent to yourself

Self care, looking after ourselves, doing or giving ourselves what’s best in each moment, it sounds so simple, so why then can it be so hard to do?

Wait! Hard to do? That’s getting a bit ahead of things, even finding the notion of an inner voice of self care is difficult at times yet alone actually doing the thing we really need to look after ourselves. Self care is that thing we need, not the something we do out of responsibility for someone else or something out of duty to some other; none of those should and shouldn’t. What I am referring to here is having compassion for ourself.

SelfCareCat

I am sure we can all think of times when we haven’t really looked after ourselves well, maybe those times are recent, maybe even today! Certainly this week or this month. So how can we find the voice of our inner self care and what does this voice sound like?

Well, I have an idea for finding this voice, finding the voice and then carrying it with you everywhere you go. So here it is, a simple idea to help develop the ability to really self care. All we have to do is to ask ourselves ‘What would my ideal parent say to me?’ The ideal parent is the one that knows instinctively what we want and what we need. The ideal parent is completely attuned to our needs, it knows all that you do, feels all that you do, its a total empath with you. Of course it is, because its you. Let’s forget about our real parents for this (after all, who apart from Jesus had an ideal parent). So we pretend to be our own ideal parent, and you ask that ideal parent ‘what I should do?‘ or ‘what do I really need now?‘ Somehow its easier to hear the words of that imagined parent rather than the words of ourself in our current situation.

So I ask my ideal parent, ‘Hey, I am tired today, I said I would go out with some friends and I don’t want to let them down, but I have an early start tomorrow and I’m tired, what shall I do?‘ What would you ideal parent say? What would the ‘you‘ that’s not caught up in expectations and responsibility say. For me, I would probably be having a night in, a bath, and an early night, and I would feel loved by my ideal parent for taking such care of myself. In other words I would be giving myself love.

Peace and love!

Overcoming ego (Expression or Mindfulness)

I’ve been struggling with two philosophies that I hold dear, that are seemingly in opposition to each other, namely, Gestalt Therapy and Mindfulness.  My initial impression was that the two are similar, but are they?

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https://www.flickr.com/photos/tinker-tailor/ (CC License)

Present moment consciousness suggests we become an observer of the process of thought, without engaging in it.  The exhibition of anger, tears and so forth should be witnessed but not engaged with, e.g.  ‘Oh, I feel angry, Oh I feel happy.’ notice but not engaged with.

Gestalt proposes a ‘here and now’ approach to life, touching what is present fully and making full contact with what is.  This all sounds very mindful.  Part of this approach can involve allowing a polarity of feeling to fully express, that is to explore fully the expanse of possibility that we have for a particular situation (gestalt = situation) or feeling, including expression of that feeling.  The expression bit doesn’t sound so mindful, I am picturing 1970’s therapy sessions, people throwing cushions around the room and screaming, flared trousers, moustaches, beards, shirts with collars for hand gliding. That approach doesn’t sit so well.

So, suddenly there appears this contrast to the practice of present moment consciousness and the gestalt therapeutic process.

Bringing these two aspects together

I think the difference in approach originates from differences in the useful quality of our zones of experience, e.g. the outer zone (trees, flowers, the wetness of the air, sounds) are all real and to be fully experienced, thus be very mindful of them.  The inner zone, e.g. my body sensations, breath, emotions are also all real and thus to be fully explored.  However, there is another zone, the middle zone which doesn’t really exists, we know this as ego.  A nice quote from a group with Fritz Perls (Gestalt founder) solves part of the problem for me.

The neurotic suffering is suffering in imagination, suffering in fantasy.  Someone calls you a son of a bitch, and you think you feel hurt.  There are no bruises, no actual injuries.  Its the ego, the vanity that has been hurt.  When you say you feel hurt, you feel vindictive and you want to hurt the other person.

Fritz Perls

Ego can act fast, often without a conscious process.  A feeling arises and we suddenly feel the need to express something.  Emotional understanding is about observing the feeling ‘oh, I feel angry’ and then ‘where does that come from?’  Going deeper, can we then investigate their sources and their fuel?  Why is there this need for a reaction? Whats actually taking place?  I don’t mean purely intellectualising, but witnessing the middle zone of awareness, the realm of fantasy, those stories that form our reaction to events.

This I think is the same mechanism as conscious aware process, e.g. shining a light onto a neurotic suffering.  However, much of a neurotic suffering is unconscious.  If we have consciousness then we have the power to witness whats taking place and transform it.

In gestalt some of the powerful expressions are about bringing awareness to the unconscious patterns of behaviour.   This could be something potentially powerful, shocking, explosive and challenging.  But, what comes after, is a knowing, a consciousness.  In Zen Buddhism they use a Keisaku  (a paddle to strike you on the back) to bring about awareness during meditation or a Katsu (a shout), both seemingly harsh expressions are about awareness.

So I don’t think that Gestalt and Mindfulness are so diverse.  I think the buddhist approach is to meditate on something to understand it, e.g. to engage with it fully ourselves internally.  The gestalt approach is similar although often involving outwards expression.   Both probably are appropriate means of understanding the middle zone and in doing so becoming less engaged with it and more engaged with ‘here and now’.

I suppose that raw expression can be problematic.  I am picturing a couple in a relationship having arguments again and again about the same stuff, this could represent a lack of processing or worse that something is still unconscious.  This could but a strain on the relationship if both parties are not invested in the process of unravelling unconsciousness, especially as each will be unconscious of different aspects of their ego, thus a large degree of love, patience and acceptance is required.  Meditation can be a more peaceful way, however, such a peaceful approach is not always possible without consciousness.   Sometimes, we are just gonna have to suffer!   As Eckhart Tolle said:

“The ego says, ‘I shouldn’t have to suffer,’ and that thought makes you suffer so much more. It is a distortion of the truth, which is always paradoxical. The truth is that you need to say yes to suffering before you can transcend it.”

Eckhart Tolle

I have a tendency to act quickly, to react, to become unconscious.  My goal then for this week.  To try to bring more consciousness of my process.  To feel but not to act so fast.

And after writing this, I feel, a peace.

 

 

Lenses, blindfolds and bondage

Do we really see, or do we see the image through the lens of the past, the lens of a theory or the lens of our expectations and future.  If we do, we miss the actuality and the uniqueness of the thing.

Oh, another relationship, oh another mean person, oh another utterance of ‘thank-you’, ‘hello’. Oh, its my husband, again.

Knowledge erects a wall; we see the knowledge not the object.  Wisdom is to see the uniqueness.

Perhaps an entry point to this mode of being, is to simply stop thinking and to trust the vicereal.  My practice for the day.  Stop thinking, start seeing.

An ethical dilemma

This is a true story from a few weeks back; a bit of the anarchy perhaps, a musing of ethics and just me trying to consolidate my understanding of a complex issue.  The story goes like this…

A married guy is witnessed by a female friend at a sexual health clinic.  The friend knows that the man goes away on ‘hunting trips’ and that he hasn’t had sex with his wife for a long time; his wife just isn’t interested in sex at the moment.  The man has a family, two children aged 10 and 12.  What does she do? Tell the wife? or keep quiet?  Well, in this case, the female friend confronted him but was not going to tell his wife.  Her rationale was ‘protecting’ her friend and their family, it would jeopardise their family and cause undue pain and suffering, acting out of compassion perhaps.

She was adamant that overall happiness of the family was more important than the truth.  I was adamant that the truth was more important.  This discussion led to me rethinking ethics in an attempt to understand my belief and hers. It also led to a very heated discussion.

Position 1:

We have a duty to truth, because living with truth is hugely important.  Being happy but deluded is, for me, missing the point of being alive.  Ignorance is bliss as they say, but yet we all look down on ignorance as being a lesser realm of existence.  And this view runs fairly fundamental to my view of life.  My view, yes, life can be hard, the truth can be hard, but I want it real, at least with the very important stuff.

A part of this belief comes from something similar to the experience machine of Robert Nozick.  The experience machine allows a person to have any experience in an unreal world, the experience feels just like the real thing.   The experiencer could, for example, be president, an olympic champion, Don Juan or, in this case, the wife of this man, happily married.  The point of this is that we would value the real experience as greater than the fake experience, being in real life is better than being in the thought machine.  We hold this as true, despite their being no palpable difference between them in terms of experience, the fake vs the real.

This doesn’t so neatly apply to the circumstance of the husband and his family.  The wife of the deceitful husband would suffer some damage from inaction as her husband could not possibly be 100% committed emotionally and physically while being deceitful.  Its therefore questionable which course of action actually will generate more net happiness.

The second point I have about this is based on Kantian ethics:

“Act only on that Maxim through which at the same time you can will that it should become a universal law.”

What happens if we make ignorance for the sake of happiness a universal to all mode of being.  In other words we extrapolate its use for everything.  In Kantian terms, lying to protect others becomes a Universal Imperative (something everyone must do), so we make ignorance to protect others our method of achieving happiness.  Clearly this would be bad.  We need truth, right?  Without truth what do we have that we can trust? Nothing?  So this would lead to a completely irrational view of the world, causality would cease to be useful as the truthful basis of our assumptions and premise would be flawed.  Would this be okay? No! it would not.  If the truth of the world ceased to make sense to us, if we lost trust in the statements of others, then we would trust nothing and keep meeting circumstances that plunge us painfully from unreality into reality.

My final point, is that the person has a right to know. They have a right to make their own judgement about the situation.  Its their life and we have no right to withhold information about the nature of their existence.  To do so, for me, would be to deprive our lives of a fundamental principle of life, the truth of our reality.   My opinion is that the truth allows us to make decisions, perhaps we need to face the uncomfortable truth that marriage can involve infidelity and that we will be challenged to either forgive it, walk away or suffer from it.  But that is the reality, and for me, I want my life to not just be some ignorant bliss of delusion, I want to know something about the nature of life, the universe, myself and others, the real deal; warts and all!

So for me, I would rather know the truth than live in some happy make believe ignorant bliss.

Position 2:

Upsetting the family by revealing the truth of the husbands infidelity would cause a loss of happiness to all of those concerned.  This is essentially a utilitarian view of ethics in which we act in a way that produces more net happiness to everyone.  In simple terms, saving two lives is better than saving one life, or 2 > 1.   Note: the featured image for this post is an ethical cartoon along these lines known as ‘The fat man problem.’

The crux of this argument is that the ultimate goal is happiness or at least reducing suffering.  In doing so it also forces us to make an assumption as ‘the judge’ about what brings about the most happiness.   Do we really know what course of action will cause the most happiness?  Happy now or happy in future?  Perhaps the marriage will breakdown and they both discover knew things about themselves, perhaps they go on to have more successful and fulfilling marriages or relationships in future.  Perhaps their children learn a lesson about the importance of truth, or perhaps they forgive each other and they both understand each others humanity better.  Either way, this is all deprived by keeping quiet and turning a blind eye.  Perhaps they have an unbearable nightmare that none of them recover from.  Perhaps the wife kills herself, who knows!

Say there is a nuclear attack, no-one will survive, the missiles are flying as we speak.  Why burden people with the knowledge, why make them less happy?   Would this be right?  I would rather have the chance to express something meaningful to the people I love, even though it might be laced with tears and sadness. Perhaps others might prefer to live these last minutes in peaceful ignorant bliss.

So, I see some value in the utilitarian ethical approach, but I don’t subscribe to the end point, for my reality, the end does not justify the means, for me the means becomes the end, or rather there is no end, only means.

Disclaimer

Finally, I don’t profess to have a definitive answer to ethics.  Ethics is a value judgement, its ultimately an assessment about what is valuable.  But, this incident has caused me to reflect a lot on my sense of ethics, whats important for me in this life and this world.  I accept that others will have different views, but for me, give me the truth, I’ll handle it.

 

 

My little butterfly (o meu borboletinha)

To say, you are beautiful.

When I say you’re Beautiful
I’m not just speaking in the idiom of mirrors
I’m speaking of your unseen precious core
shaped by fire and ice and centuries of mountain streams
I’m speaking of the ever-present seasons of your being
the scented buds of spring that draw the bees
the petals that shower radiance your fruitfulness
your graceful yield to winter silence
he beauty that I greet in you is like a candle flame
in currents of dim air or like a falcon rising on a thermal
or it is the steadfastness of dawn
rising to delight our sleeping world
I’m speaking of what’s seen with inner eyes<
of what will slip the handcuffs of our best poetic words
I’m speaking both the language of the mirrors
and the language of the heart to say You are a Beauty.’

Poem by Rashid Maxwell (http://www.rashidmaxwell.com/)

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