Though it may seem obvious, there is a huge difference between feeling our feelings and engaging with them at a more interpretive level, caught up in the subtle narrative which can so easily get spun around them. Staying embodied to profound sadness, as feeling and sensation, is not the same as talking to ourselves about why we’re sad, when it’s going to go away, who caused it and how it is evidence that we are not enough, unworthy of love, and that something is wrong with us.
For many of us we can say – “Oh, I’m fully in my body. I’m in direct, intimate contact with the raw feelings and sensations of anger, sadness, grief, shame, and hopelessness. Don’t tell me I’m not feeling all that! I’ve ‘been sad’ for so long!” But if we will pause, slow way down and get curious about what is true, we may discover that what we are mostly in touch with is a subtle narrative that we have wrapped around our feelings.
In this discovery it is important to not shame ourselves, go into a secondary narrative about how we’ve failed and will never ‘get it right,’ but to return with kindness into the body and meet what is there. We may have to return over and over and over again, committing to stay w/ the burning for short periods of time – not so long that we re-traumatize ourselves or become totally overwhelmed, but long enough where we continue to build our tolerance for intensity. We can push ourselves just a little, with a fiery sort of kindness.
The invitation is to shift your awareness out of the storyline and into the body, not as some ‘goal’ to get it right, but as a practice, because you are committed to kindness and to caring for yourself. Not because the storyline is ‘bad’ or ‘wrong,’ but because it is one level removed from the fire of direct experience. It is within the center of this fire, in the alchemical crucible of the body, where healing emerges. In this sense, healing is a somatic process, rather than ultimately a cognitive one. This is not to say cognitive insight and awareness is not helpful; of course it is. But it is through a full-spectrum approach to caring for yourself that the wounds of the heart are best unwound over time.
As we make the commitment to staying with our immediate experience, we are creating a new neural groove of self-care. This radical sort of attention and attunement was not available to many as young children, as their caregivers were often just too preoccupied or dissociated from their own experience to provide a holding space for another’s. It is a tremendous act of kindness to train ourselves to stay embodied to that which we were not capable of staying w/ as a young child in our family of origin. This is how we can love ourselves and in turn be present, attuned and loving to another.
I know I have posted this poem before, but it feels so important to me right now to go over and over the meaning of it again and again.
You do not have to be anything society tells you to. You can just breathe, and pause, and listen to that soft whisper inside of you – or that roar. My mind is so often occupied with others. I can’t tell you how automatic it is for me to worry about what other people will think of me. How long an innocent, spur-of-the-moment post on Facebook haunts my thoughts, because who will see it and what will they think of me?
This poem is like a breath of fresh air, reminding me of my place in nature – you too belong here, with the wild geese and the trees and the changing weather. You belong here, there is a place for you. For people like me, who have so much trouble taking up space sometimes, this is a very welcome, relieving notion.
Self-doubt comes creeping in, self-hatred too sometimes for not living up to a certain standard I set for myself, wanting to appear a certain way. But the poem tells me, my instincts are good, wise…oh, there is so much wisdom in you! I need the reminder that I’m not alone, that there is wisdom and creativity from beyond flowing through me, seeking access to this world, connecting me with others. I’m not special or different, and that idea, after feeling so different during my youth, not seeming able to break the wall between myself and others, breaks down some of the isolation I feel. Yes, there are people I don’t get on with, but there are also people who delight my heart, who make me feel part of something – a tribe, a family. Then again, there is this part of me that doesn’t want to belong, doesn’t want to get lured into feeling safe, and so the journey of going deeper within, sitting with and making friends with all the different parts of us never ends. It is a constant dance between isolation and daring to connect, to reach out, and to being able to stand getting burned, rejected, always keeping in mind our own innocence of simply wanting to be loved.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Wild Geese – Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Just because you are willing to stand naked in your truth
does not mean that others will suddenly ‘get you’
and play by the same rules of integrity
Stripping away the false images of hype and strategy
leaves you naked and open to to those
who would scratch and claw away at your raw
But draw your sword and mark your line in the sand
There are others who are standing strong
unwilling to compromise and sell their souls
and these are the ones
that your soul will meet and
be nourished by and
these are the ones whom you will feed
The feminine is meeting the masculine within
and the warrior-ess is making her way forward
She has the instincts of the mighty lioness and can smell
the small minded thinkers even when they have donned the
masks of trickery
She is keen to the games
chooses to drop them all.
She is on a bigger mission.
~ Flora Aube
I went inside my heart
to see how it was.
Something there makes me hear
the whole world weeping.
Then I went to every city and small town,
searching for someone who could speak wisdom,
but everyone was complaining about love.
That moaning gave me an idea: Go back inside
and find the answer. But I found nothing.
The heart acts as translator between
mystical experience and intelligence.
It has its own inhabitants who do not talk
with someone just wandering through.
And remember that Muhammed said of the place
in human beings we call the heart,
This is what I value.
If I hold you with my emotions,
you’ll become a wished-for companion.
If I hold you with my eyes,
you’ll grow old and die.
So I hold you where we
both mix with the infinite.
So what compromises the Wild Woman? From the viewpoint of archetypal psychology as well as in ancient traditions, she is the female soul. Yet she is more; she is the source of the feminine. She is all that is of instinct, of the worlds both seen and hidden – she is the basis. We each receive from her a glowing cell which contains all the instincts and knowings needed for our lives.
“… She is the Life/Death/Life force, she is the incubator. She is intuition, she is far-seer, she is deep listener, she is loyal heart. She encourages humans to remain multi-lingual; fluent in the languages of dreams, passion, and poetry. She whispers from night dreams, she leaves behind on the terrain of a woman’s soul a coarse hair and muddy footprints. These fill women with longing to find her, free her, and love her.
“She is ideas, feelings, urges and memory. She has been lost and half forgotten for a long, long time. She is the source, the light, the night, the dark, and daybreak. She is the smell of good mud and the back leg of the fox. The birds which tell us secrets belong to her. She is the voice that says, ‘This way, this way.’
“She is the one who thunders after injustice. She is the one who turns like a great wheel. She is the maker of cycles. She is the one we leave home to look for. She is the one we come home to. She is the mucky root of all women. She is the things that keep us going when we think we’re done for. She is the incubator of raw little ideas and deals. She is the mind which thinks us, we are the thoughts that she thinks.
– Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves, 11.