Here in North Carolina it has been raining nonstop for close to two weeks. Long walks of exploration through newly roaring creekbeds and exciting leaf-boat journeys down gutters aside, it gets depressing. When we assembled last night for joy circle, I could feel it in the room. We were all out-of-sorts.
I have learned through hard experience that when I am facing turbulent or charged or discombobulated energy, the only way out is through. I can’t pretend it’s not there or fake it until I make it or put on a glossy mask and act as though I’m utterly self-possessed. I have to jump into the messy emotions and the fear and the not-knowing until things change.
So I threw what I had planned out the window. Next week is our herbal high tea, and there was loads of planning to be done, but none of us were in a “planning” kind of space. I took some deep breaths and did a quick internal scan of what had been coming up again and again this week. And what emerged was relationship. Disintegrating relationships, or painful confrontations, or loneliness, or longing, or miscommunication. So many friends had been calling to talk about this, so many articles and conversations and books had turned up to shed light on it. We would explore relationship tonight.
We started with some very slow, deep hip openers. All of us store emotional tension in our hips, but for women especially the practice of hip-opening stretches like thread-the-needle or pigeon can be very intense and cathartic. We warmed up with cat-and-cow and slow vinyasa, then took our time in pigeon, using the breath to expand on the inhale and fall down on the exhale, compressing the third eye on our doubled fists or the floor. From this place of release we slowly resumed a seated position and went through a guided meditation.
In the meditation I asked everyone to identify a pattern in their relationships that has caused pain. It could be a pattern of abandonment, or betrayal, or loneliness, or a sense of unworthiness…any painful experience that seems to repeat from lover to lover or friend to friend.
When we think of these patterns it hurts. We followed the pain within, to the place in the body it seemed to originate. There, in the body, we stayed, feeling the pain, noticing the sensation it caused. I asked: if this feeling had a voice, what would it be saying to you? What is its message?
I could see the messages on faces lit by flickering candlelight: you’re impossible to love. you’re not good enough. you try too hard. you don’t try enough.
I asked everyone to identify the age of this voice. Was it a little girl speaking? A teenager? A grown woman? And I asked each woman to return for a moment to her breath, to her own power and centeredness. From this place of adult self-assurance, I asked each woman to extend her love and power to that voice, to contradict the message that caused such pain, to envelop it in love and warmth and safety.
And then I asked for each woman to conjure up within her body the feeling of being loved. The feeling of being adored, cherished, cared for. I asked for each woman to draw this feeling through her body with the breath, filling each cell with that sensation of warmth and bliss. I asked each woman to imagine her ideal mate sitting before her, regarding her with complete love and acceptance, and to notice how that felt.
I put a paper and pen in front of each woman and, still in a space of candlelit silence, asked that they write down how it felt to be loved this way, what thoughts and resistances emerged from this feeling. I asked them to write who they were within this relationship of love, how they walked when they were loved this way, how they spoke, what changed in their lives, what they let go of, what they learned.
Some women had to leave the room, overcome by trying to imagine a love like this. We are a circle of strong, self-assured women who juggle very meaningful work, studies, care of others, and personal evolution, and yet through each of us runs this fault line of self-acceptance. We have difficulty creating for ourselves what we effortlessly give to others each and every day. I never fail to be blindsided by this paradox.
When we gathered again over tea and lavender scones, the energy was subdued. We had touched on something deep and vulnerable. I talked a little about vulnerability, how it is the only way into communication, how the high gloss of self-sufficiency repels every attempt at connection. I know a lot about this. That doesn’t make it any easier. I spoke about ways to use what we had learned: taking what we’ve written and using it to create a sense of expansiveness and love in our own lives, now, making the changes for ourselves that we sensed would happen only when we were loved.
Finally, I gave in to the quiet and turned on the music. We danced, and outside the rain poured down and lightning flashed in quick illumination of our bodies letting this out, this unutterable paradox of strength and vulnerability, self-assurance and self-doubt. This feels very important to me. I think that the unraveling of this question will have a bearing on questions of environmental damage and social injustice and right living and mental health. I know that our self-relationship has a bearing on our relationship with everything and everyone. I don’t know how yet. But I am beginning to be clear on the question.