Life comes on like a drunken tornado.
We’re daredevil butterflies riding the storm.
What’s your plan, what’s your plan,
If you should lose yourself?
Keep your wings open the wind might blow you
Not long ago I was telling a friend about my relationship fast-the year in which I chose not to date or to be in relationships with women. My friend asked me if I’m happier now, having gone through my relationship fast. I told her that my purpose had not been to become happier but to see how much I could really come alive, fall in love with life, and give my best answer to Mary Oliver’s question: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” I knew that one of the things that holds us back from coming alive is our unresolved past. So, an important part of coming alive for me would be facing things from my past I’d been hiding from. I also believe that an important part of coming alive is having a deep sense of purpose, and though I had a sense of purpose in the work I was doing, I knew it was time to deepen and hone that purpose, to make it more personal. Yes, I had some lofty intentions for my relationship fast. And, though I like to dream big, I knew I wouldn’t completely fulfill my intentions in just one year. My hope was that I would take some strong steps toward a deeper commitment to my one wild and precious life.
What I learned is that it’s no small undertaking to deepen one’s commitment to life. It’s no wonder I was hiding from doing so for so long.
I began my year with facing more of my past, which was an adventure in humility and opening. I used to think I could just leave the past behind but now understand that unresolved painful events from our past get stored as unintegrated neuro-networks in our brain. Most of us learn to cope with our unintegrated neuro-networks by blocking them from consciousness through various addictions: food, work, spiritual practices, the internet, power, TV, alcohol, drugs, shopping, gambling, exercise, being “happy” and “strong”. There is no shortage of addictions for blocking the unintegrated neuro-networks that store our unresolved pain (even healing work can become an addiction). For more about addictions and unintegrated neuro-networks, I highly recommend Gabor Mate’s In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts.
We turn to addictions for a very good reason: because we didn’t get the support we needed to resolve painful experiences and to develop neuro-networks for embracing and regulating stronger emotions and more intense experiences.
As Gabor Mate writes in In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, in order for a brain to develop well, we need three things: nutrition, physical security, and consistent emotional nurturing from our parents and caregivers. In the western world, many of us received adequate physical security and nutrition but did not receive nearly enough emotional nurturing (parents can love their children deeply and fiercely but not have the capacity to attune with them and offer emotional nurturing). So we lose the capacity to feel strong emotions, to be emotionally close and vulnerable with others, to trust ourselves, to trust others, and to be deeply inspired and know what feels good to do or not do. These are huge and painful losses. These are some of the most important ingredients for a rich and rewarding life, so no wonder when we lack them we try to block our pain with addictions. Unfortunately, while addictions help us cope, they also keep us from healing so that we can open up again and come more alive in our precious lives.
Once we open up to our unintegrated neuro-networks, whether that happens by choice or as the result of what life brings us, it’s important to have lots of support, such as counselors or friends who can attune and empathize with us and help us integrate our past pain. A regular self-empathy practice is also very helpful. During my relationship fast I faced a lot of strong emotions while exploring my past: grief, lots of grief, fear and terror, numbness and dissociation, anger and rage, anxiety, longing, excitement, gratitude, lots of gratitude, inspiration, peace, strength, contentment, confidence, and joy. With my self-empathy practice and with support from others, I did my best to embrace it all.
I don’t know if I’m happier than before my year off, I don’t find myself asking that question. What I do notice is that my emotional world is becoming deeper, wider, and richer, as is my capacity to meet others with their strong emotions. Instead of asking myself if I’m happier, I try to remember to ask myself if I am embracing whatever feeling is coming up for me. I don’t want to spend my life floating in an eddy by the shore; I want to glide through expansive valleys and shoot down steep, sheer canyons; I want to launch over waterfalls and surrender to crashing waves; and I want to hoist my boat on my shoulder for the grueling portages (hopefully not too many portages). Time and time again I find that when I fully embrace what arises, it brings me closer.
Did you love your grip, when you were trying to hold it all together?
Did you love being lost, when you didn’t have a clue?
Did you love unraveling when everything was falling apart around you?
(And falling together.)
I’m happy to report that I am doing more of what I love, more writing, music, dancing and exercising. I’m recording some new songs, with my sister adding her sweet voice (stay tuned for those).
Perhaps most satisfying of al is the deeper purpose I’m finding with my work. I now give Prepare For Love workshops and programs for singles who want to deepen their commitment to themselves and to life. This is some of the most meaningful and inspiring work I’ve done. I have Prepare For Love workshops for February 15-17, March 1-3, and March 22-24, all dates for 2013.
Also, I have the great fortune of co-facilitating programs and retreats with my dear friend Sarah Peyton. We are offering a five-day retreat on Bowen Island, February 3-8/2013. This retreat will offer rich opportunities to learn about and heal unintegrated neuro-networks with somatic-based resonant empathy. Through group dialogues, partner and small group processes, family constellations, games, creative expression, and self-reflection, we will explore how Nonviolent Communication, Interpersonal Neurobiology, and Attachment Theory can help us all deepen our commitment to life.
Wishing you a very alive 2013,