Updated: Jul 7, 2022
When I think of the household I grew up in I can't help but ache for the emotional famine the younger me had to endure. Emotions were mostly exorcised through silence , never allowed to rise, move, flow and dissipate into rest, according to their natural rhythm, but rather met at the threshold of their appearance with metaphorical shields, brooms, dustbins, cages, jackhammers, incinerators, compression chambers or the blank gazes of the vacant ones.
I was born profoundly sensitive, intuitive and empathic, which made the unconscious marinade of 'emotional numbness, disconnection, shutdown, dismissal and denial' I was constantly immersed in, a difficult and very confusing space to navigate.
Making sense of my emotional world has been a lifelong endeavour: knowing which responses are appropriate when, which emotions belong to which behaviours, what emotional reactions I am responsible for and what I need to give back to people around me; what people are saying and what people are really saying: this has all been profoundly tricky to figure out.
On the road to practicing this, I learned about enmeshment, co-dependency, over-responsibility, over-caring, self-effacement, self-abandonment and many other fruits resulting from not knowing my place, my value, my voice and my reason for being.
Waiting recently for people to arrive to a meeting I had organized, I had the sinking feeling it might be a 'No show'.
I wish I could say I was calm and all zen, floating a metre above all human disappointment - in these instances my head likes to conjure up images of profound inner holiness and detachment - but the irreverent voice of truth, perched like an owl next to my ear, hooted without restraint... Honey, leave those fluffy clouds of avoidance, come back to yourself and your beating heart.
When it was clear I was going to be the only participant for the evening, I closed my eyes and took a look at the players on my inner stage....
Disappointment and Hurt, yanking recalcitrant Anger along; Shame holding its blanket over a droopy child who dragged her feet along, concealing her sobs in muffled sighs; the far-seeing Wise Woman, the boundlessly caring and understanding Nurturer; the acceptance of the Realist who knew how to accept what is, however that is; the Fiery Liberator calling Anger to come over the her side and leave Disappointment and Hurt to their own moping….
In the hours that followed, all the feelings asking for an audience moved though my human and tender heart. And when quietness returned to the stage, my beautiful and caring heart was still open to how life was asking me to show up.
How did I go from the 'unconscious emotional soup' I stewed in, throughout my formative years, to becoming emotionally competent, articulate, aware and awake?
I look back and all I see is a long trail of step by step...
fall by fall,
tear by tear,
inner wave by inner wave of relentless emotional content breaking through the surface of my awareness,
drop of grace by drop of grace... and then...
surrendering to not understanding and not knowing.
and more studying.
Learning to see and hear with my inner senses.
Feeling and allowing some unnameable inner fire to burn through my defences, slowly, while my interior capacity to hold myself together thinned as a tight rigidity thickened around the shame of being me.
As I ended the meeting, given the dense forest of my emotional history, my learned survival response would have been, could have been, to shut down and slip into a very young and very old wounded mode, riddled with the ghosts of invisibility, abandonment, helplessness, debilitating confusion and despair, with self-doubt pouring its corrosive nectar on my tender self-confidence.
However, now is not then.
Now I am not the under-resourced, undernourished, contracted, hypervigilant and guarded human that survival had turned me into.
Now I have developed enough internal space, resilience and safety to invite myself to feel and witness the old narratives, sit next to them with greater understanding, compassion and kindness.
Now I am able to be in their company while knowing exactly where I would land up, should I agree to let them transport me to the oblivion of unconsciousness.
It is at this point - when faced with triggering situations like the 'failed' online meeting - that a whisper often wafts in: so what kind of life do you yearn for?
These perfumed words offer me a clarity about the fact that Life, in its simplest and most fundamental essence, wants to keep moving, morphing, building, ending, freeing, awakening, no matter how uncomfortable it may be sometimes.
It is at this junction, where a part of me - always sensed by me yet safely hidden in the hands of some ancient space - bows to Life …and I feel myself surrendering. It seems to have always been there.... this inner willingness to fall on my knees and bow.
Yielding to a ‘Yes’ longing to be embraced.
An internal nod emanating from a nameless place which joins Life’s gurgling and tumbling inside my breath, my non-physical me.
A choice which feels more like a 'YES' choosing itself through me.
My fight/flight/freeze responses shift into an awake and restful presence enabling me to access the capacity to activate a new way to respond.
Silent and still, keeping myself to myself, suspending all judgement, I wait and rest, knowing from experience that wanting to know and wanting to understand no longer have the energy to support an old need to stay safe.
In my heart and my body I can perceive the many layers of my history in my biology.
The extensive knowledge, gathered and distilled into wisdom through years spent in the inner alchemical cauldron, has built a strong enough container to hold the change I have been consciously and intentionally embracing for quite some time now.
I have learned that intention, without the co-operation of one’s awareness and biology, amounts to very little. It can only scratch and dent the hard crust of century-old resistance, which so many of us, unbeknown to us, hold in our nervous system.
I am preparing now for our next meeting, the more suffused presence of uncertainty still floating around my heart, asking it to please close down a little, just to appease the ghost of invisibility and disappointment still at work in my neural pathways ( they have been playing in my body for so long: relinquishing their hold has made me more patient and loving towards them... it just takes time.)
‘I hear you,’ I say.
The pull of the victimized, frightened child wanting the soothing comfort of her helpless blanket is lodged in my chest, just behind my heart.
‘I hear you and I see you,’ I say again. I feel the little one for a while as my breath travels deep into my stomach and bowels.
My inner smile turns into a grin: my hunger for freedom touches the space in my nervous system where the ‘YES to Life’ can be more solidly engaged with. I can hold uncertainty, apprehension, the faint plea to shutdown and the ‘YES to Life’ in my open, engaged heart and the presence of my body.
All of it.
All at once.
And I am still awake.
And the emotional narratives of the past loosen - more readily now - their grip on my mind and my biology.
One more chunk of what I no longer want to hold on to, lovingly witnessed.
Absorbed into memory.
Now it is just breath holding the hand of a clear inner space, holding the hand of rest which nurtures my heart’s relief flowing from my eyes.
As I wrote this, I thought of you introverts, sensitives, creatives, deep-divers and mystical people, whose inner emotional worlds are both your richest goldmines and your most confusing and challenging companions.
May these bits of my personal journey make you feel less of a Martian and more of the type of human who is here, at this point in time, to shed his or her light into an unconscious world gone wild and offer the voice of your specific inner experience to anyone desperate for your wise seeing and knowing.