Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Ahh Eww That Lives In You

Over the summer I went out to see some live music. The performer was talented, even a bit over qualified for the small venue in which he played. He had solid showmanship, quipping between songs and telling little stories. Many of his stories centered around women that had done him wrong. While I, too, am guilty of using romance as fodder for writing, I also know this talented performer and his romantic life over a period of years. One night a girlfriend of his did too many drugs and I had to babysit her while she told me her numerous stories about him. Wrong doing is often a two way street. I see you, broseph.

A long time ago my mama taught me something valuable about personal responsibility: If you have similar problems with a variety of people, YOU are the common denominator in every situation. It's not them, darling. It's you.

One particularly heady autumn evening years ago, my friend Rebecca and I met a handsome stranger on the streets of San Francisco. I was immediately attracted to him, and would only later realize that he's a very charming, yes, very handsome, yes, very alcoholic man. They all are. If I had a "type" it would be emotionally stunted and addicted. During one of my stints in therapy, I cried about how incredibly pitiful I feel not being able to trust myself. Even after the depth of heart work I've done, I continue to experience this uncanny ability to find the most beautiful, broken man in the room. Just as recently as a month ago, amidst a big crowd, I zeroed in on a tall drink of architect who is predictably, yes, an alcoholic. The difference this time is that I recognized the red flags and didn't pursue the impulse. Progress!

This is a worthwhile consideration when one desires to change their experience of life. If you are fed up with the way things are, you have to be honest about what part you've played in making them so. There may be factors outside your control, but as the saying goes, we pray for the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference. We cannot change the circumstances of our birth, or what happened to us in the past, but we get to decide how we are affected by that going forward. Will we continue to let our wounding color how we see ourselves and the world around us? Or will we do the difficult, courageous work of reshaping our sense of self?

This can be quite the undertaking because the wounds we unearth in the excavation are the source of so much pain, shame, anger, sadness, fear. These are not easy feelings to sit with. Whether we compassionately confront them or not, they continue to live in our bodies; they are fugitives being harbored in between muscle fibers and folds of grey matter. They can continue to influence our behavior from the darkness or not. It's up to us.

You can be an emotionally unavailable man, confused by and fearful of the natural need in others for healthy attachment. When this need arises in a romantic partner, you can slur her as needy or, if you withhold love long enough, crazy. You can ache with loneliness, because despite not understanding *how* to nurture others, you retain the need for nurture. You're only human.

You can spin through a series of unfulfilling, disheartening relationships which serve to reinforce how unworthy you are of love. You can pursue the same archetype of person over and over, unwilling to admit that this is but the tip of the ice burg. Deep beneath the surface lies the origin story of your pain. But who would you be without it? Deconstructing this fundamental piece of your identity is mind melting. You can grasp onto your pain like a piece of broken glass; it will make you bleed but you won't have to suffer the tiny death of change.

You can resign yourself to any manner of cyclical unhappiness, not getting what you need because you secretly can't believe that happiness is *for* you. Because that's what this boils down to, isn't it? Whether we cannot give good love, or have trouble receiving it, it's a question of worthiness. We will be drawn to what is familiar, to what reinforces our version of reality, even if that is hurtful to ourselves or others.

The big jewel in meditation is the cultivation of curiosity and compassion for our more challenging feelings. It took me a long time to get this component. I became adept at acknowledging and naming feelings, even digging to their roots, but I couldn't love them. I could not make them welcome. They remained fugitives in my body which I tried to evict with anger and frustration. There is a lot of wisdom and information attached to our feelings. Anger, fear, sadness and shame all have much to teach us about how we're hurt and how we have to heal. They can strengthen and empower us by helping us learn how to move forward. Conversely, they can drain us if we continue to funnel energy their way in our resistance. What you resist, persists. The way forward will always be softness and surrender.

This begins by recognizing patterns, and understanding that no matter what other elements are present, we're the consistent variable in every situation we enter. If every woman you date is crazy or every man you date is an addict, consider that these are all unique individuals. They may have things in common, but the one and only thing they *all* definitely have in common is you. Let that sink in for a moment.

We are the Captains of our own joy...or not. Without understanding and taking responsibility for what lurks around your heart, you may find that some aspects of life consistently disappoint. Watch for patterns. When charged, powerful feelings arise, don't push away. Make them welcome. Honor their presence by asking what it is they have to teach. They may feel like poison, the instinctual response being to purge them. However, with courage and patience, we slowly dissolve them and find that at the heart of the poison is the antidote for it. This is productive suffering.

Your pain can poison you, or it can heal you and set you free. Love it up so it can love you back.

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