Acupuncture chart from the Ming Dynasty: The P...

Acupuncture chart from the Ming Dynasty: The Pericardium Meridian of Hand-Jueyin

This weekend I attended an illuminating workshop taught by Sarah Thomas of  Clarity Acupuncture. She described, from a Chinese Medical perspective, what happens to our bodies when we experience trauma.

Trauma, she explained, is so overwhelming that we simply cannot experience all of it in the moment.  As a result, the un-felt feelings get buried or frozen in the body.  How does this happen? Listen to this heartbreaking story:

The pericardium is the guardian of the heart.  Its job is to protect the spirit, the center of our ability to communicate and bring our light to the world.  The pericardium’s ability to open and close the gates of the heart is what allows us to love a friend deeply, yet take it in stride when she has a bad day and snaps at us.  It allows us to feel empathy for another’s tragedy, yet not cry at every cat food commercial.

But when there is trauma, something or someone attacks the pericardium with such might that it collapses and can no longer guard the heart.

The pericardium experiences such a deep sense of shame and failure for its inability to protect the heart that it journeys down to the kidneys (the seat of wisdom and life experience) and tells them that it has failed, that it didn’t do its job and the only way to redeem the situation is to start over with a whole new lifetime.

Hence the self-hatred, the self-blaming and shame, the internalization that goes so deep we might not even remember the moment of trauma; the way we might dissociate from the person we were when the trauma occurred.

Oftentimes these buried traumas pop up in repeated patterns of relating to others.  With each renewed experience we attempt to access that frozen memory, to fully feel the original moment of trauma and release it from the body.

A few weeks ago I had a blazing Road-to-Damascus moment.  I’d had a difficult conversation with a friend that left me feeling rejected.  This perception was totally out of proportion to our actual conversation, yet that terrible, overwhelming weight in my belly and heart persisted.  I have noticed this pattern lately, a pattern of growing very close with someone, allowing something they say or do to activate a deep sense of rejection, and then closing myself off completely. It is almost as though I create situations in which I will feel rejected so that I can protect myself from ever getting too close to anyone.

I was riding the bus to Boone, preparing for a presentation I was to give on Gestalt theory.  One of the exercises I had decided to do with the class involved projection, the way that, as Anais Nin so elegantly put it,

we don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are.

This exercise instructs us to make two lists.  The first is a description of the traits of a person you cannot stand–their most repugnant and unforgivable qualities.  The second is a list of what someone with all of the dirt on you, someone who does not like you, would say about your weaknesses.  My two lists matched perfectly.

Sometimes the world is a white screen onto which we project our own shadows. As I thought and wrote about projection, it came to me with precise clarity: it was not rejection I was feeling from my friend.  It was my longing for the part of me that is allowed to reject, the long-lost capacity to claim clearly what I do and do not want.  I was experiencing the longing for my own rejection.

All the pain fell away instantly.  This was mine.  I saw over the span of years how many times I had failed to stand up for the things I most wanted, not wishing to reject other people, other ways.  I saw how I had accepted situations that I knew were utterly wrong so as not to subject others to feelings of rejection. I saw how my refusal to claim the power of rejection had hurt me and those I love. I made so many interesting noises of discovery that the bus driver stopped the bus to walk back and check on me!

So what is this energetic of rejection?  For me it is the heaviest emotion—a deep, gray, clawing-out of the heart, a solid weight burying any sense of joy or self-worth, coloring not only each interaction in the present but also seeping unpleasantly into the past and future and infecting those moments too with miserable new interpretations.  That’s how I feel it, certainly, when I experience someone’s rejection of me.

But, separate from that, what is rejection?  It is, at the most basic level, a choice.  It is a choice for one thing and against another.  It is a decision not to involve oneself further in something.  It is, sometimes, a personal judgment about what one does and does not value.

What an empowering tool to wield in life!  To be able to discern, with clear eyes and heart, what to nourish and what not to nourish with your precious energy and time.  To say, as the crow taught me, NO.  To stand firm on definitive values and beliefs and know when to draw the line.  To choose, firmly and without looking back.  No wonder I missed this part of me so, longed for it when my friend’s words reminded me how completely I had excised this power from my life.

I had the chance to test my new theory again this week, when yet another interaction with yet another friend set off that familiar grey experience of rejection.  Thankfully I’d been writing quite a bit about what I’d learned, and so this time I was able to recognize quickly what I was doing. The fact that I fall into this particular pattern so often suggests to me that there is something of worth to be resolved here.

So I dove in. I noticed the way I wanted to universalize this one painful interaction, the way I wanted to shut down and bury myself in the comfortable defensive reaction of running away and smoothing over the hurt.  But this time I caught myself.  I saw what was going on.  I was rejecting myself, shutting down my own experience and reactions, freezing the trauma once again into my body.

So, very gently, I asked myself what it was that would feel best.  And the answer was to go ahead and let myself feel, this time.

I did. It was terrible. It ripped through my whole body and it went on and on.  I lay on the floor of the forest and covered myself with leaves.  I sipped tulsi and lemon balm.  I held tight to centering stones.  I wrote, and walked, and communicated, and hurt.  This time I was feeling the very old, the very frozen, and I did not stop.


And then it ended, with the clear clean feeling that perhaps this pattern can change now.  I wondered, with this new clarity, if perhaps I have sought out experiences of rejection so that I can externalize the deep rejections of self that I perpetrate every day.  What a big, awful, wonderful mirror this world is!

I love these friends for telling the truth and showing me how to tell my own. I love them for their firm clarity in rejecting what does not serve, and I love myself for it too.

The more I learn, the more exciting and daunting this journey of becoming a therapist grows.  Giacometti wrote:

The more I work, the more I see things differently. That is, everything gains in grandeur every day, becomes more and more known, more and more beautiful. The closer I come, the grander it is, the more remote it is.




October 17, 2013 · 3:03 am

12 responses to “rejection

  1. This meets and chimes precisely, something I am feeling today. Thank you for the wonderful insight on trauma.

  2. Reblogged this on janeadamsart and commented:
    This is a wonderful piece about trauma, its discovery, its breathing-space and earthing. It comes right to where I am now.

  3. Again, you speak directly to me. Thank you for bringing this full circle for me. You manage to bring beautiful insight to situations that I often blunder around in darkness with. What a beacon of inspiration you are!

  4. Thank you, all, for taking the time to comment and remind me how connected we all are. SUBLIMATION OR BUST! 🙂

    This story has a lovely postscript: after I wrote this last night, I had taken some tea out to the deck to watch the rain falling. The phone rang, odd for so late at night, and I answered it to a shocking stream of curses and bile. It was my children’s father, (see lists #1 and #2 above!) whose sheer unremitting hatred is usually enough to shake me off course. But Sarah said this, too, about trauma: when you see a program you’ve been unconsciously living out, THAT’S THE FINISH LINE. All you have to do is recognize what you are doing. I must admit I felt both hopeful and skeptical about these words. But there I was on the telephone, calmly listening, and I realized I CAN REJECT THIS. And I did.

    I put the phone down and went easily to sleep. Pattern recognized…pericardium functioning…progress.

  5. I think part of the problem of modern society is the distinct impression that you have to be everything to everyone. You have to be “perfect” and “capable” and never have flaws (not that you admit at least 😉 ) and whenever someone says “no” or doesn’t agree with us we tend to take it personally because they are breaking the rules. The rules are STUPID folks. They aren’t real. I am constantly amazed at how wonderfully liberating my year of living honestly was. I stopped trying to cram it all inside me and seethe with resentment over perceieved wrongs and just up and got on with it. I am still where you were on the rejection thing though, I still take it somewhat personally and that’s going to be hard to break because self worth is a learned thing and I never learned it. Maybe time to take some “me” time with a few walks (not with Earl though…a walk with Earl is like dropping acid at a house party 😉 ), lots of warm tea and letting spring time mellow me out. I love your posts, they give me permission to think about “me” 🙂

    • what an incredible idea…a year of living honestly. have you written about it? would love to learn more…i did an honesty project a few years back where i told brutal truths in letters and then hid them in library books and parks, with an email address for honest responses. I got in over my head right quick! but it was exhilarating…

      • I just chose to stop bullshitting myself. I was honest with “me”. I stopped pretending to be happy and started to actually BE happy. I simplified my life, I stopped doing some of the destructive things I was doing and I pared myself back down and eliminated all of that garbage that goes with telling fibs to yourself. I had just had a very stressful 3 years, lost both parents, had to deal with my fathers horrendous estate (cheers dad for making me executor 😦 ) and was stressed out of my brains and rapidly approaching 50. Time for a life overhaul! I did it at 34 and again at 48 and cleared out my “closet” so to speak. We only get 1 ride of this carousel and I fully intend to make mine last and be the best damned ride at the fair 🙂

  6. This is one of the best things i have read all year and I thank Jane for reblogging it! Immensely valuable.

  7. Pingback: Mysteries of Master R – Part 7: Apprentice to Mystery & Science | Aquariel

  8. Beautiful, clear and so valuable! Thank you for this gift. And thank you Jane for discovering it and sharing.

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