My work is designed to bring out the hidden potential in individuals, couples, families and organizations. This blog is for posting my latest writings and articles, occasional ramblings, and info on my work. I have studied traditional psychodynamics, object relations theory, addictions treatment, and multiple spiritual traditions. The work is spiritual, not religious, while being grounded in practical life.
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Practical Spirituality: Living in the Modern World
There is an ancient and well-kept secret to happiness
which the Great Ones have known for centuries. They rarely speak of it, but
they use it all the time, and it is fundamental to good mental health. This secret is
called The Fine Art of Not Being Offended. In order to truly be a master of this
art, one must be able to see that every statement, action and reaction of another
human being is the sum result of their total life experience to date. In other words,
the majority of people in our world say and do what they do from their own set of
fears, conclusions, defenses
and attempts to survive. Most of it, even when aimed
directly at us, has nothing to do with us. Usually, it has more to do with all the
other times, and in particular the first few times, that this person experienced a similar
situation, usually when they were young. Yes, this is psychodynamic. But let’s face
it, we live in a world where psychodynamics are what make the world go around. An
individual who wishes to live successfully in the world as a spiritual person
really needs to understand that psychology is as spiritual as prayer. In fact, the word
psychology literally means the study of the soul.
All of that said, almost nothing is personal. Even with
our closest loved ones, our beloved partners, our children and our friends. We
are all swimming in the projections and filters of each other’s life experiences
and often we are just the stand-ins, the chess pieces of life to which our loved
ones have their own built-in reactions. This is not to dehumanize life or take away
the intimacy from our
relationships, but mainly for us to know that almost
every time we get offended, we are actually just in a misunderstanding. A true
embodiment of this idea actually allows for more intimacy and less suffering throughout
all of our relationships. When we know that we are just the one who happens to be
standing in the right place at the right psychodynamic time for someone
to say or do what they are doing—we don’t have to take life personally. If it
weren’t us, it would likely
be someone else. This frees us to be a little more
detached from the reactions of people around us. How often do we react to a statement
of another by being offended rather than seeing that the other might
actually be hurting? In fact, every time we get offended, it is actually an opportunity to
extend kindness to one who may be suffering—even if they themselves do not appear
that way on the surface.
All anger, all acting out, all harshness, all criticism,
is in truth a form of suffering. When we provide no Velcro for it to stick, something
changes in the world. We do not even have to say a thing. In fact, it is usually
better not to say a thing.
People who are suffering on the inside, but not showing it on
the outside, are usually not keen on someone pointing out to them that they are
suffering. We do not have to be our loved one’s therapist. We need only understand
the situation and move on. In the least, we ourselves experience less suffering and
at best, we have a chance to make the world a better place. This is also not to be confused with allowing ourselves
to be hurt, neglected or taken advantage of. True compassion does not allow
harm to ourselves either. But when we know that nothing is personal, a magical
thing happens. Many of the seeming abusers of the world start to leave our
lives. Once we are conscious, so-called abuse can only happen if we believe what the
other is saying. When
we know nothing is personal, we also do not end up
feeling abused. We can say, “Thank you for sharing,” and move on. We are not hooked
by what another does or says, since we know it is not about us. When we know
that our inherent worth is not determined by what another says, does or
believes, we can take the world a little less seriously. And if necessary, we can just
walk away without creating more misery for ourselves or having to convince the other
person that we are good and worthy people.
The great challenge of our world is to live a life of
contentment regardless of what other people do, say, think or believe. The fine
art of not being offended is one of the many skills for being a practical mystic.
Though it may take a lifetime of practice, it is truly one of the best kept secrets
for living a happy life.
In the context of our modern lives, many of us have become confused about the nature of love and the nature of giving. We have been taught that giving to another or helping or loving means giving up our life energy. We have been taught that a "good" person "gives to others" and does "good things" for others. In their truest definitions, I believe this is exactly what the sacred text and great teachers of the world have been saying for many centuries. But somewhere along the way it seems we have lost our understanding of what 'giving' really is. Ironically, there is a paradoxically different way to understand giving. What if giving has nothing to do with fixing, changing or helping another, but rather receiving the love of another that is hidden in their own heart?
This is one of the paradoxes of practical mysticism--that in relationship the "giver" should receive as much as the "receiver," since in this paradigm, giving and receiving are the same.
The secret to this process is to reverse the usual concept of giving and receiving. To know in fact, that we heal another by breathing in the love in their being, by drawing out their ability to love, and by drawing out the Divine Light that is inherent in each soul, whether it is apparent or not. By consciously breathing in the love in the other, we are drawing out their capacity to love in a different manner than we traditionally understand. Rather than saying "I love you," we say, "You love me." We call forward the other's capacity to love and to heal the world and themselves by shining our light on the light already in them. We reverse the flow that most of us consider to be the way of loving kindness and at the same time we ourselves receive not only a healing, but a deeper level of contact with the other.
Love, healing, connection, or contact in relationship should never be depleting. If it is, we are misunderstanding something. Love is like the perpetual motion machine. It generates more energy as it goes along, not less.
Hidden within every negative feeling is the gem of its opposite. As human beings, we tend to do everything possible to avoid feeling bad, and legitimately so. Why on earth would we want to continue to suffer? When pain occurs, we resist, we struggle, we act out, we defy, we avoid, we grieve—all because we think we shouldn’t feel this way.
Yet it is the feeling itself which has the information for us about how to feel better. A practical mystic knows this. A practical mystic knows that a seemingly illogical action is required in response to negative feelings---the action of leaning into the discomfort. This change in direction is a difficult one, and one which seems counter-intuitive. Why would we ever want to lean into something that hurts so much or feels so bad? Unfortunately, much of our suffering is from the resistance to the reality of the moment. Stress is exactly that—resistance, fighting, or struggling with the overload of the current circumstance. But in one of the unusual paradoxes of emotional health, by merely allowing a feeling, by giving it space in our body, mind and soul, we are gently brought to the distant shore of its opposite, to the revelation of what is hidden within. If alchemy is about transforming something of lesser value into something of greater value, this is truly emotional alchemy.
The physical and emotional worlds are worlds of duality. This means that everything can have a positive and a negative use. A knife can be used to inflict harm or perform life-saving surgery. The essential element is intent, our response, what we do with it. So it is with the emotional world as well. Our challenge is to discover the other side of the negative feeling. This is not done by “thinking positively,” which actually covers over or represses emotion, thereby creating more content for the unconscious mind. Rather, we discover the beauty in the emotion by allowing it to be present long enough for its opposite to be revealed. We ask what the gem is in the grief, what the hidden treasure is in pain.
All fear can be transformed into excitement. All neglect can be transformed into freedom, all anger transformed into choice and right action. Not until we develop the ability to bear the feelings in their raw state first, not by dumping them on others but by tolerating them within ourselves, can we then carry what we wish to avoid. When we do this, we slowly develop emotional muscles. We make ourselves big enough to bear the emotion and get to the other side more quickly. If we do not, avoidance, repression, and postponement only prolong the suffering. As they say the in the twelve step programs, the only way ‘out’ is ‘through.’ Isn’t it ironic that we are so afraid of leaning into the discomfort because we think it will be prolonged, or that we will be wallowing? Yet in reality it is the avoidance that prolongs the discomfort. Who would have thought this? It does defy all reason.
You might ask, “How does this happen?” I have no answer, other than it is one of the great mysteries of the universe and how it happens can only be discovered in the doing. You might ask, “How do I know the difference between wallowing in negativity or ruminating over something, and carrying a negative emotion to make space for it in my being?” While there is no easy answer to this either, we have some clues. Wallowing and ruminating are actually a form of avoidance. They are an indulgence in self-pity based on a belief that something should not be happening for some reason. It is a very subtle and tricky form of resistance. But it is resistance, coming from a place deep down inside which believes an injustice has been done and this event or feeling should not have happened. In this way, wallowing and ruminating are what some have called “secondary pain,” an easier pain to bear than the pain of the real thing. Secondary pain is a brilliant way to avoid the real thing and we humans have remarkable ways of creating it. When we discover our tricks, we are again challenged not to engage in self-retribution or judgement, but to be willing to just shift our attention and find a place to hold the real thing we have actually been avoiding.
It is only logical that as human beings, we all want to be happy. We want to avoid discomfort and suffering. We label certain feelings as bad and others as more desirable. But this belief becomes like emotional quicksand. The harder we struggle, the deeper it gets. Resistance makes it worse. Yet, few tools are given to us other than criticism, self-hatred, avoidance, or emotional tirades. This is another great quandary of being human. Where is the manual for dealing with emotions in a healthy way? Where are the classes for being a great parent? How are we supposed to learn these things without so much suffering? Our parents and teachers are only doing what they were taught by people who were doing what they were taught. Perhaps someday we will see free parenting skills classes and emotional skills classes as part of every school curriculum. Until then, we must learn on our own and teach each other. Practical mystics do this as well. But they teach by invitation only and never impose their knowledge onto someone except by request. When asked or invited, we are happy to share everything we know. But without that invitation from another, we do not have permission to try to teach even when we see others suffering. They must find their ability to seek out guidance or the so-called ‘help” will only be experienced as intrusiveness.
The world is filled with fixers, people who want to make everything right. Though the intention is a beautiful one—to alleviate suffering—fixing only cripples people. It is like going to college for someone, taking all the classes and then presenting them with a degree. They learn nothing. Most fixing is born out of the incapacity to bear the suffering of another. A practical mystic knows they must learn to bear the suffering of others as well as their own. Not because they are masochistic or because suffering should continue, but because within all suffering is a gem of knowledge. We must find the teachings of our suffering if we are to create a different world. We must allow our children and our loved ones to learn their lessons without doing it for them or removing the pain temporarily because we cannot bear it. That is ultimately a selfish act. It is an act the alleviates our own anxiety but brings nothing positive to the other. They may even encourage this because they experience a short term relief, similar to a drug. But very quickly the issue returns. Without the internal skills, the suffering shall remain.
The selfless alternative is to teach the skills we speak about and become a model in the world by doing this ourselves. While it is essential to bear the struggles of another, this does not mean that we abandon our loved ones. When it is their time in the desert, we can hold their hand, we can stand by their side and be completely with them. We can be a beloved to them, we can give them support and encouragement (not tell them what to do!), we can give them gentle soothing words of the heart and let them know we understand how hard this must be. But they must walk out on their own power. If this seems illogical, the proof is in the doing. In the end, we must all walk out of our own desert by bearing own pain and finding the distant shore.
Ideally, we will have the privilege of being surrounded by loving companions. But sometimes we are alone. This is not a reason to stop walking. If we walk long enough we shall encounter new companions who have been waiting for us on the other side. Without continuing to walk, we shall remain alone.
A practical mystic is ultimately interested in what works in the world. Emotional alchemy is one such paradigm. Logic states we should avoid discomfort at all costs, yet we are asked to do the unthinkable and bear the unbearable. We are asked to see the value in negative feelings. In the carrying of our suffering in a true way, we discover its hidden gift that could not possibly be known in any other way. We are able to redeem the light, not only in what is beautiful, but in what is not so beautiful as well. Therein lies the challenge of humanity. The work of life is to be in our imperfection and be alright with it. In the richness of that acceptance, emotions are transformed and life in all its ups and downs can find a place to rest.
If there are secrets to happiness, one of them is this. It is not in the elimination or removal of all that is bad or unhealed, but in developing the capacity to bear those parts and find the beauty in them in the process. This is emotional alchemy at its best.
May you find the beauty in your own imperfections and carry them with ease and grace until they reveal their hidden secrets. This is the work of a lifetime.
Living as a practical mystic in the world usually requires the ability to hold and tolerate the "tension of the opposites." The Middle Way means standing at the center and consciously choosing after having explored both sides completely. As human beings, we have a tendency to want to resolve our anxiety by choosing one side or disowning another side in order to experience relief. But this relief is at best temporary and truly an illusion, since inevitably the energy of the other side begins to build again.
One very important spectrum of opposites in this dynamic is the spectrum of love and power. Individuals who are primarily based in the material world tend to utilize power to gain what they want in order to alleviate their anxiety, usually at the expense of love and fulfilling relationships.
But spiritually-identified people are equally imbalanced when they always go to thinking positive thoughts and love and light, seeing power as 'bad' or 'unspiritual.' Both of these extremes are equally destructive in their own way and can lead to great challenges if not brought to consciousness. Every beautiful creation in the world, even the creation of a new child, requires both love and power. Love is the sustaining essence, but power is the life force, the movement, the action in the world. Power is the creative energy that builds the vision. Love without right use of power leads to illusion, delusion and frequently a sense of victimization. Power without love leads to destructive relationships, abusive patterns, and sometimes violence. If we disown our power side, it will have to come out in a more hidden way, usually taking the form of judgment and criticism in order to place a boundary. Judgment becomes a false substitute for power, and rather than creating a protective boundary, it creates fear, self-hatred, worry and doubt which separates us in a false way from the perceived problem. Right use of power, on the other hand, eliminates the need for extreme judgment and criticism. Power says, "You cannot do that." Period. It is neutral. There is no hatred, no criticism, no judgment, just "no."
So why do we spiritual people so frequently judge power as bad? Probably because it is too often used in its extreme without the balancing force of love. But every sacred text known to man is filled with stories about the powerful side of the Divine. We cannot reconcile this by turning our backs on every sacred text and, as Carl Jung says, creating figures of light in our minds. This only pushes it further underground. Some of us cringe at that thought of such power being written into a sacred text, or we rationalize the writing as a document for a different time or generation. But in reality, every great mystical teaching has various qualities of God that are about strength and might and power. The Kabbalistic tree of life has a Mercy side of the Tree, a Severity side of the Tree and a central column. All three columns in equal balance are what defines well-being in this modality. So why is it that we have so much difficulty with this aspect of the Divine? Probably because we see it used and abused without the balance of love and mercy. This does not make power unspiritual, but merely imbalanced.
If we are to be practical mystics, we must make peace with the fact that we live in the physical world, a world that requires the right use of power in order to heal and survive. We cannot just escape to the mountain top. We must live with our feet on the ground and look at life squarely in the eye. Yes, with mercy, yes with love...and also with strong, balanced power and the ability to say no and have clear and direct boundaries. We must walk the terrain of understanding the disowned power voices inside our head or else we risk the possibility of those aspects being expressed in much more difficult and traumatic ways. If we do not explore these power aspects of ourselves, we will have to hide them and find ways to cover them over and keep them from being known to both ourselves and the people in our lives. Yet if we explore these aspects with our eyes wide open , we can come into the center and truly create a strong vessel that can carry the tension of the opposites. We will find we do not need to choose one or the other, but can remain in the center, embracing both, seeing the value in both and utilizing those qualities in amounts that fit the situation appropriately without feeling that the power streams are bad or need to be somehow eliminated, which in fact is not a possibility, at least on this earth anyhow. We can develop and practice the quality of being lovingly direct.
Power with Love is the most life-affirming, life-giving quality we can embody and manifest. Only when we can value the exquisite creative force that power brings, the safety of the 'no' that power brings, the ability to protect and take care of that which we love and cherish that power brings, can we be practical mystics living in the modern world of the 21st century. When a ferocious animal is about to pounce on our children, love alone does not suffice. This is not to be understood as a teaching around creating fear, but around understanding the energetics of the world we live in. Some day, as we evolve as a planet, the side of love/mercy and the side of severity/ power will come together in the center. The mystics believe this is what happens in the higher realms of spirit. But we do not live there and we must not confuse those realms with the realm of the physical world. Power exists in the physical world and is necessary. It is not better or worse, and we must find a way to hold power and love at the same time. This creates a third state. A state that is not one or the other, but a state that can hold both, and can live in way that is productive, nourishing, satisfying and creative.
For as long as we live in a physical body, we are rooted in the life of duality. To ignore such a fact is the cause of great suffering, illness, turmoil and misunderstanding for those of us who identify ourselves as spiritual people. But there is another possibility. That possibility is to live in the world of bearing and carrying opposites, by going to our hearts, bringing all of that beauty and love that we have inside and wrapping it around our inner power. When it is time to say no to what does not feel right, safe or in the highest good for ourselves or our family, we can use both love and power to be direct and strong and compassionate at the same time. Our inner heart always knows the truth...always. We must learn to differentiate between our lower self and the true heart, and once we know that, to have the great courage to listen, to act, to take our capacity to be powerful, wrap it in our heart of love, and say 'no thanks.' When we have the full ability to say no, we also have the full ability to say yes, and we can dissolve ourselves in the true surrender of a life that is safe and solidly constructed. With that strong vehicle and that capacity to have complete permission for no, we can have complete permission for a yes as well, thereby living in the world with a deep ability to love while also feeling strength, health and safety.
Wishing you deep love and nourishment, and the ability to carry the tension of the opposites with courage, grace, and strength.
For most of my life, I have worked with people struggling with chronic illness, emotional discomfort, addictions, and relationship difficulties. Over the course of this time, the consciousness movement has presented some interesting theories about the cause of suffering. Many of the current teachings propose that the mind and distorted beliefs are the source of most illness and that in fact we “create” our own illnesses by our thinking.
I beg to differ. Unfortunately, this philosophy itself can contribute to even more guilt and suffering by imposing an additional measure of self-blame and self-hatred.
This is not the direction we want to take. While I do believe that most illness has a mental and emotional root, often that root is preverbal, primal, and beyond
the reach of the everyday conscious mind. The path to finding that root involves courageous work with the unconscious mind and is often a very complex path to wellness.
Before many people even arrive at that starting point, they often misunderstand the idea of “creating your own reality” and use it as another source of guilt and self-hatred. Perhaps there is a different way to start the path to well-being. Perhaps it is a matter of asking a different question. Rather than asking, “What am I doing wrong?” or “How did I create this?” we might rather ask, “What is this issue bringing into
my life?” There is a great and profound difference between blaming ourselves and asking what a situation is here to bring us, yet this subtle difference is rarely stressed.
Too often, a loving, kind-hearted person has sunk into self-hatred and greater suffering by believing they have done something “wrong” to bring about their illness. They are told that they have brought it upon themselves in some way. The tragedy here is that the result is greater suffering, not relief.
We are here on this earth to learn. We are given many avenues for this learning to take place. One of them is through the body. The body is the miraculous learning ground for the soul. For those of us who believe in a Divine Intelligence, this is even more profound, since every great tradition in the world teaches a variation of the following: “God gives to whom S/He wills and God takes away from Whom S/He wills.” The implication here is that we, in our humble humanity, can never presume to know why we are given certain challenges. The minute we do, we are playing God.
Therefore, the best we can do is ask what reason this challenge has been given to us. Perhaps it is merely to keep the scales of humanity balanced. For example, isn’t it amazing that many great human beings with an exceptional gift have been given an equally difficult challenge, impairment or burden? And it seems the greater the gift, the greater the cross to bear in some other way. Beethoven was deaf. Roosevelt was crippled. Mick Jagger has bad hair.
The point is that no human being is exempt from suffering and the scales are always balanced. To spend our lives fighting what we have been given because we believe it is “bad,” (or worse, that we are bad) is a waste of our time and energy. Maybe the solution lies in looking elsewhere, possibly even a radically different philosophy. What if we were to turn and embrace every single thing that we hate about ourselves and our lives? What if we were to make peace with our cross to bear rather than try to change our belief system so it will go away? There is a secret here in understanding right use of will. We return once again to the philosophy and question of what healing really is. Perhaps healing is the relief of suffering rather than the relief of symptoms. What if every symptom, challenge, difficulty and disease remained exactly as it was but we stopped hating ourselves for having it, stopped questioning what we were doing “wrong,” and therefore the suffering of the struggle were ended? Most of us believe that if we are struggling, it means we care. Can we stop struggling and still care? Can we stop worrying and still know we are concerned about those we love?
Many years ago, I was suffering deeply from serious and life-threatening chronic illness. I had been to every traditional and non-traditional specialist I knew, from energetic healers to Columbia Presbyterian specialists. One morning I woke up and decided I was going to stop running around spending all of my time and money trying to “fix” what was “wrong” with me. I decided to arrange my life to accommodate the fact that I was always going to have this disease, I was always going to be uncomfortable to some degree and I was going to live with it. I decreased my work hours, I kept my environment impeccably clean, I tried to get enough rest and eat the right things. I adjusted my life to accommodate this “terrible” illness. The change was very slow, but subtle and profound. It was like watching the grass grow. One day I realized that although I was still often uncomfortable, I wasn’t suffering. I wasn’t hating myself and I wasn’t depressed. I was happy and having a reasonably functional life. To this day I do not do everything that “normal” people do. But I do not suffer. (And truly, what is normal anyway? Isn’t it usually just other people’s outsides being compared to our own insides? ) I accommodate my life—end of story.
Maybe some day I’ll find the deep-seated reason for this condition, but frankly I was born with it and perhaps it’s just plain genetics. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes illness is just plain whatcha got from your ancestors.
And sometimes whatcha got from your ancestors is not always a bad thing.
Illness results in a very subtle sensitivity in the world that allows for intuitive understanding at a very deep level. I don’t know if I healed today if I would lose my high sense perception, but I do know that the physical state I was born into provides me with tremendous sensitivity to the subtle workings of the world. Do I need this illness? Maybe, maybe not. I suspect there is a primal wound that happened in infancy which I have not yet been able to uncover. Maybe some day I will get to it. But in the meantime, why suffer? There is enough struggle in the world already. Believe it or not, we can be happy in spite of and including the fact that we have not healed every imperfection and physical/emotional/spiritual
difficulty—by allowing them to be what they are while they are still around. This does not mean that we don’t care or we don’t try to improve the conditions of our lives. We must continue to seek every possible means of help and to follow up on every option for healing. We must not confuse acceptance with resignation or despair. In fact, despair is about NOT accepting what is. Making a place for the less-than-wonderful things in our lives does not mean we give up.
It just means we don’t have to suffer while we are still learning.
Some people are born into this world with a natural and strong vessel of resiliency. Whether due to genetics or a more intangible cause, they are strong in their body and mind right from the start. We all see this with little babies who are no more than a few days old. When later combined with a network of family and community who accept them for who they are, who provide the capacity for contact and intimacy, the result is strength and the ability to act and create a life for themselves that is ‘good enough.’ These people seem able to handle the winds of life and change, the instability of the world in general. They have an inherent capacity to continue on, regardless of the challenges presented to them. Their health and spirit have been strengthened over time by loving parents and family. Even if one parent is severely damaged, the other and the community, or extended family around them are able to make up for that loss. Their underlying constancy of life is sufficiently strong to allow them to bear the chaos and change of life. And once in a while, a rare few seem to just be born with this resiliency despite a destructive environment and perhaps less than healthy body.
But many of us are not so fortunate. We seem to have been born with a fragility or sensitivity to the world from the very beginning, or it was torn apart by the family vessel, by wounded or lost parents and insufficient family members to repair whatever damage may have been done. Some of us are in a constant state of shock, despair or frustration. Some carry this fragility without it being known to the world. Others show it constantly. However it is manifested, be it a broken body or desperate soul, most with this fragility also have a fragile capacity for intimacy. Intimacy and contact is experienced as too painful. It has been so wounded in the beginning that as we go through life, we cannot seem to have healthy relationships no matter how much we try.
At some point, some of the deeply fortunate ones discover or create a new web of resiliency. We find lifemates or community or mentors who are able to hold us in such a way that this fragile net begins to be repaired. Ironically it does not begin by ‘loving ourselves’ but through the patience and love and nourishment of an other, that we are able to rebuild this net that has been destroyed in many places. The underlying fabric of life begins to be repaired in adulthood at some point through the discovery of others, of community or even a single person who unknowingly is resilient enough in themselves to sustain the constancy of intimacy for another.
Sadly, some in this fragile category just end up on the fringe of life, damaged irreparably, often addicted, incarcerated, institutionalized, or alone. Yet even for these people, with some exceptions for sure, there is the possibility of repair. But in these circumstances we are presented with a tremendous challenge, as it is only for God to determine the timing and conditions of that repair. One individual is never the answer, though many try and believe they are the one who can heal the other. This is rarely the case and is rather a trap that ends in even greater misfortune as the helper slowly discovers they are not able to be ‘the one’ to save the another person, often leaving them feeling empty and inadequate. It is so easy for good-hearted people to believe that with enough love, someone else can be healed. But this is truly not the case, or at least it has never been my experience. People, sadly, cannot be loved into health and resiliency and well-being unless they are a willing and active participant.
So what is the solution for those who live a fragile existence? It usually begins by self-identification. We must first be able to face and accept that we are in this category of human beings despite our wish to be otherwise. Many of us have built a false artifact that we present to the world, an artifact of something we are not, an artifact of total strength or confidence or the opposite- an artifact of victimization and helplessness. Either way, we must face that we have created an artificial self that is not real in order to make up for our fragile self. We must also acknowledge that this fragility is not our fault, we did not ask for it, we did not create it and we are nor morally weak for having it. But we must face it straight on. We must give up the false hope that someone will come along and save us and bear the truth….the truth that we must save ourselves. We must save ourselves by first acknowledging and then seeking out the appropriate conditions for repair. There are many variations and options for this repair but there seems to be one quality which is essential…the capacity to build and bear intimacy with another, the capacity for contact that allows a free flow in both directions of love and support and contact and sharing. This building process is usually a slow one. Initially we must resist the pattern and urge to destroy relationships, to run or become such a flame thrower that others are so hurt that they must leave us. We must resist the urge to destroy what is good because it feels so unbearable or we feel so undeserving underneath it all. Bur we must continue on and save ourselves in spite of ourselves.
Sometimes we begin by seeking out at least one person who can maintain a constancy with us as we struggle and fight and regress and act out on our self- hatred. This repair usually starts with just one person. Often this one person then reaches their limit and we must let go and begin building with another person. Again and again we make contact and stay…we stay as long as we can. And slowly this fabric of life begins to be rewoven and rebuilt. We must have the fortitude to continue even when we are constantly failing. We must have the capacity to get back up and continue the repair. We can only do this by continuing to acknowledge that we are broken. And this acknowledgement can only come by courageously and fearlessly telling the truth about ourselves and the people around us, by allowing that fragile self to be seen and known by another and by the experience that this other can bear our fragility. Thus, the extreme difficulty of this facing of ourselves can only begin from within and cannot be done by anyone else. It Is truly the path less taken. And it is truly a path that is abandoned by some when the road gets too difficult. I am also speaking here about our personal lives, not our work lives, which fall into an entirely different category for sure.
But let us always be willing to begin again, those of us with fragile constitutions. Let us constantly begin again and know that repair is possible as long as we are alive and breathing. Repair is possible if we can bear ourselves long enough to recognize the people and environments who have that inherent resiliency, or who have at least traveled the path of repair further along than we have. Like Jacob’s ladder, one hand extending down to pull up the next soul, we must reach up for the next hand, seek it out, not flee or destroy, but continue to build. Always continue to build. Always continue to be willing to face our darkest demons. And still occasionally acknowledging that some in our lives have come to the end of what they can contain in us or what we can contain in them. Two people equally wounded in resiliency cannot help each other. Our ego must be able to bear that we need someone stronger than ourselves to show us the way and to put ourselves in that environment and allow them to show us and allow ourselves to bear the discomfort of intimacy. Strangely, it is intimacy that is so very hard to bear for those of us whose underlying fabric is so fragile. For most, it must come in tiny doses and increases from there. And the form is unimportant. Sometimes it is a therapist, sometimes a trusted friend or family member, sometimes a life partner. The form is less important than the willingness to reveal ourselves to at least one human being on the earth whom we know has the capacity to see us.
And including all of this, for most of us with fragile constitutions, we must also be willing to accept that a part of us may never be repaired and that does not make us bad people. It just makes us fragile people who must constantly be willing to accommodate our lives for this aspect of our being. Some parts of us will continue to be strengthened and healed. Some may not. We must be able to also face and bear that reality. And we must teach the world around us to bear it as well. Brokenness is not a moral issue. It is a fact of life. We must continually strive to repair while at the same time strive to bear what has not yet been woven together again. And the key is the capacity for intimacy, true intimacy that holds both boundaries and generosity of heart.
True intimacy is not about a bleeding out of the life force. True intimacy contains deep contact while at the same time the capacity to separate and know that the beloved other shall return. The bearing of separation is as much a part of intimacy as is the bearing of generous expression of love and contact. True intimacy allows for the other to leave and fulfill their own life’s mission, while knowing they will return, and all the while maintaining a sense of well-being and emotional contact even as the other is absent physically. Then again, we must seek out those of resiliency who do have the capacity to return, not just bond intensely and then leave or move on to the next person, never to be seen again.
Thus, the dance of repair of a fragile vessel is a life-long event. We all have places of strength, some more than others, but we all have some. We must build on those places especially those of us who are the fragile ones. By starting where we really are, rather than where we wish we were or think we should be, we can continue to build on the true strength that exists in us. And it all begins by bearing intimacy. This is the manna of life, the true means of fulfillment. We all know that a life of luxury and wealth is an empty existence if we have no one to love and share it with. We all know that when we have love in our lives, the true outer creation and vessel of environment begins to flow and we find the home and work life that is right for us. But only when we have people in our lives whom we know can contain our truest selves. This is the richness and the repair. By becoming more and more honest with ourselves and those we love and who love us, we are never helpless or hopeless.