I am my feelings / "I feel therefore I am": Stages in our Journey

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This stage "I am my feelings" feels like a drastic change from the prior stage. Emotions are the sole universal language. It spans across all cultures and societies. It is quite extraordinary when you think about it, so why do we not give much attention to our emotions? It stems from receiving negative signals / messages early on in life that it was not ok to feel and express our emotions (i.e. parented and taught from Stage 1 or 2 parents and society). Therefore, we slowly adapted to operate out of our heads instead of our hearts. We were born with an innate ability to feel and interpret others feelings. To grow into this stage, we must awaken to the language of emotions which can feel both thrilling and terrifying. Because to become aware of our emotions requires us to actually feel our emotions. It can be very intense at first to allow yourself to actually feel. Usually, it has been so long since we opened ourselves to our emotional world that we at first feel off center or overly dramatic. The other layer is then sharing what you feel with others. This is where the rubber meets the road. It puts words to senses / feelings we didn't quite know how to name. If we didn't grow up using the language of emotions, we would not know it is ok and healthy to say "I am sad" or "I feel hurt". This is usually where our attachment styles begin to show up and interfere with emotional connection.  A marker of a dysfunctional relationship is not being able to freely share your emotions nor being able to hear / receive what another feels.

Friel and Friel wrote a great deal on the language of emotions in the 1980's. In their book Adult Children, they wrote that our most core emotions are hurt, angry, sad, fear, shame, guilt, lonely, and glad. These emotions are neither good nor bad but just indicators that act as a compass. The reason we initially think all are negative except glad is that we have been unable to distinguish the emotions to the negative reactions we have associated to them. Anger is not violence. But anger can invoke violence. But if the family and / or society did not teach that anger does not equal violence then we will naturally confuse the two. We cannot control our emotions but we can learn to regulate them. The more we learn to live and honor our emotions, the more we can respond instead of react. Honoring our feelings is not the same as "doing what we feel like doing". We feel so we can be grounded. It is one thing to know our feelings and it is entirely different to experience them. This is the crux of what separates those in Stage 3 from Stage 2. Those who begin to allow themselves room to feel their feelings begin to grow in the capacity to sit in their emotions. Emotions provide us with the energy to live and the gift to grieve. Robert Bly said grief is the privileged emotion or the unfinished hurt. By not feeling our emotions, it keeps us from being in touch what we what we are feeling, with who we are, and what motivates us. 

The gift of emotions is that it allows us to be seen and known. Emotion in Latin means "to move" so its the musical notes to the dance of the relationship. It invites us to connect with ourselves so we can then connect with another. Emotions are a gateway to our soul in that it exposes our needs and vulnerabilities. The gift of showing and expressing them is that it allows others to see you and then connect with you. Tim Keller provides a powerful quote and paradigm as follows:

“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God.

We see this Stage visibly in the politics of our country. This Stage tends to look like the left leaning democratic party. They tend to be more concerned with other's rights and not just their own. Ideally, one that is connected to emotions would then show more empathy but often we hide behind the emotions instead of truly feeling them. Whereby we are prone to just use the words. We saw this recently at the White House correspondence dinner where a left leaning comedian roasted someone on the right side of the political isle. The reality is that all the fighting between the two sides are still pretty immature and mean. The political parties in itself are not the problem. The problem is our interaction in the political discourse and our inability as a society to hold together two opposing views and all the while still have love and compassion for our brothers and sisters.  But, this Stage does carry one aspect that helps it be a little more evolved. The gift it brings is social justice and the ability to begin caring for others outside of one's owns tribe. 

But the shortfall of this Stage can be summed up by the phrase "I feel therefore I am". Our emotions do not equal enlightenment. If anything, it predisposes us to be to self-focused and causes us to do a lot of naval gazing. There is a great risk in being controlled by our feeling world because it causes us to be over-reliant on our emotions. The reality is that there is no way around this. We will have our emotions but will hide behind them for our benefit.  This will not change until we fully experience them and learn to not be controlled by them. I liken this to what Rohr calls "breathing under water". Initially we discover the language of emotions and are perfectly content to live by the beach and even swim in the ocean. It is not until pain and tragedy pulls us under water do we finally realize that we can breath under water. But with it comes with immense fear which will be discussed in Stage 5 and Stage 6. If we allow it, life begins to ask us to loosen our grip on our life and begin to surrender to those things we want and feel. We learn to become more connected to our bodies and our smaller self to be discussed in the next Stage. The necessary step to take in order to evolve and mature is to learn how to sit in our emotions without letting our emotions be "the thing" leading us. This requires the ability to sit and suffer in the associated experiences in having these emotions. We begin to see in the next step that while emotions are great and helpful, they are more about us and not another. We begin to be able to see our emotions for what they really are and what they are not. They are not our be all end all. We begin to find more meaning outside our emotional world. We begin to see that our emotions are not the language of our heart, something much deeper is...that Another (i.e. Voice of God) is!

I am my tribe / I am my behavior: Stages of our Journey

"You may drive out nature with a pitchfork, yet she'll be constantly running back." - Horace
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Stage 2: "I am my tribe / I am my behavior" is the time in our lives where we find much of our identity from a group. This is the most natural place to land in life. To arrive here, it requires believing, agreeing, and behaving according to the group, church, and community you want to join. Richard Rohr observes that the majority of the world's population resides in Stage 2. This is when one navigates life through the lens of black and white thinking. It is dualistic thinking whereby you are "with me or against me" and "either / or" thinking. It is also a time where one begins to gain identity from those behaviors. It may sound legalistic and it is, while strangely necessary. We just don't want to stay and live there. 

The beauty and gift of this stage is that you learn to grow up some and follow rules and order. We need this early on in life. If not, we tend to struggle with addictions of every sort. That is why its necessary when we struggle with addiction of any sort to first focus on behavior and community.  The problem is we just don't need to keep living in this stage.

It is our nature to be and stay in our tribe. You see this happening every Sunday. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once said "it is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o'clock on Sunday morning." We must evolve in order to get out of that way of living. Otherwise we will remain in this stage most of our lives. Jonah Goldberg the senior editor of National Review in his newly released book "Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics is Destroying American Democracy" speaks directly to this. His premise is that never before until the 1800's have we evolved into a society as quickly and rapidly as we have in the last 250 years. In fact, it was a miracle that we were able to evolve into a democratic capitalistic society. The problem is that we are not aware of how precious and precarious our society really is and if we fall back into tribal thinking we lose any sense of democracy. As a result, our virtues become our vices. Thus, we become an oppressive society. Civilization is simply the story a society tells itself about itself. Whereby, when we are apart of a group and we only see life from that group lens we tend to have a very black and white viewpoint of either you are in or you are out.  Or we become very focused on protecting our group only.

As a result, this stage ends up being reactionary and creates cultural wars.  But the end result and goal is not a "us / against them" mentality. "They" are not the problem, nor do "they" need to be fixed or controlled. That way only leads to more power. The goal is ascending above the black and white thinking. It is in finding a new way or view life from a third perspective. For true lasting change, the ego has to die (individually or as a society) for this to occur and will be discussed more in Stage 5, 6, and 7.  The problem is we are numb to ourselves and stay in a denial of ourselves by focusing on our behavior, turning away from ourselves due to our wounds incurred in Stage 1. We end up living out of the compass of who others tell us to be. It is life lived as a human doing not a human being.  

The most extreme result of this stage is the tribal fundamentalism of any religion, sect, or group. You see this in religion whether it be islamic fundamentalists or far-right wing evangelicalism. Generally, the motivating factors in these groups are power and fear and trying not to lose something. On an individual level, people are generally living out of the thinking / rational brain. They are living out of their head and are not connected to their emotions or bodies. This predisposes people to be more narcissistic and self-centered, leaving little room for empathy and compassion. The way out of this is reconnecting ourselves to emotion and compassion.

I fell into this stage from my freshman year of college till about 30. It was the time in my life when I focused on my behavior and trying to "be a good Christian". Prior to college, it certainly was all about me and all about being seen as cool and popular. But then I entered college and fortunately came across newly formed friends that were more focused on their spiritual beliefs and faith than they were just on themselves. At the time, it was a crisis of faith because I was trying to reconcile my life with my beliefs. In so many ways, I am thankful for that period of my life because it helped me form a stronger belief system. And it kept me from running wild. Back then, I knew that it was "grace" that saved me but honestly it was still about being good.  I just learned to mask it. In reflection, I lived with the belief that if I could behave and live as my group lived the more I could be affirmed and liked. Unfortunately, the two unspoken requirements into the group (as with most) were beliefs and behaviors. If you did those well, you rose in esteem and good will within the group. That continued for me till my early 30s. What I inevitably did was perform, which ultimately caused me to lose and not live out of an authentic self. Instead, my compass was oriented in being appropriate and good instead of authentic and human. Fortunately, I was shown that I had to connect to my emotions and feelings. I remember when I first came across emotional language such as sad, angry, shame, hurt, etc. that it felt like I found a new language. I discovered that using the language of emotions allowed me to become more authentic and invited more emotional intimacy with others. It was the language of emotions that helped me move to Stage 3.

Ultimately, we must move out of our thinking / rational mind in order to be connect more to our emotions. It is not that we abandon our thoughts but instead find a way to feel more helping us connect more.

 

I Am About Me: Stages of our Journey

This initial and first stage of the human journey can be known as "I Am About Me". It is familiar to all of us because we have been there and we often go back. I am about me is the most basic and elementary stage of development and maturity or should I say immaturity. The fact of the matter is that it is also a necessary stage.  The description of this stage has the continuum of a toddler to a teenager. It is typically from the age of birth to about 15 to 16. I think both ages still fit into the stage because both are still about oneself. They just use different mechanisms to try to negotiate what it is they want. Simply put, it is our screaming child and / or our angry adolescent. It is the toddler screaming on the floor of Target mad because they are not getting the toy they wanted. Or it is the adolescent on the iPhone taking selfies and posting with the hope of receiving a lot of likes.

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These are age appropriate behaviors. The problem is when our age doesn't match our behavior...i.e. an adult raging by hitting walls or adults trying to relive their high school years. If one received consistent nurture, structure and security in the home, then they are usually able to move to the next stage. In this stage, it is vital one receives consistency and dependability. If we don't receive that loving support then we find that we are stuck in this stage going often to illegitimate ways to get these needs met. During our early years of development, it is important and good to have the space to be I am about me. But when we grow up too early, parts of our(selves) never get and receive the appropriate attention. The problem arises when we shift to over-thinking / over-functioning too early instead of having the space to "go about being about ourselves" whereby we eventually outgrow it. The results can lead to addiction, severe depression, psychosis, narcissism and other dysfunctional behaviors.  It is due to not having the support needed to grow and move into the next stage. Also, a pattern begins to form and this fundamentally marks an ongoing struggle for the rest of our lives that we learn to undo in our latter years. It is the need and desire to change and control situations and emotions instead of honoring them. We begin to experience an emptiness / wounds that we desperately want to manage. Thus, our ego also known as our smaller or provisional self begins to form. The solution is that we need to receive love and understanding in this stage in order to begin giving love in the next stages. But when one didn't receive it (by ourselves and others), he or she goes to artificial means to get that love and keeps going back until the pain gets so intense that he / she hits a rock bottom. That is where they find themselves looking and needing behavior modification to help them get to the next stage which is about behavior / morality code.

All of us regress to this stage at various moments in our life even when we evolve and mature. I have found it to be helpful and more authentic to think of ourselves as various parts. It is through these various parts that some grow to become more assertive and managerial while other parts of us lag behind and remain wounded. This is where the idea of our inner child / children begins to make sense. Some of us grow up to become adult children where we learned to take on various survival skills such as over-responsibility or helpfulness all the while never receiving the attention one needed during those developmental years of life. Thereby, never fully being nurtured in all parts of oneself (i.e. inner children needing to grow up). As a result, these child like parts are abandoned and forgotten. It is out of these wounded parts that others have formed in order to protect our(selves). These protective parts/personas show up in the form of power, image, beauty and the like, all trying to receive, control love and attention in the way those parts know how. The problem is that it is not whole. It’s a split part therefore it will not fulfill or be whole. The healing has to go back to those wounded parts so there is no longer a need for the protective personas.  But it is vital to know we could not have done it any other way. We had to utilize certain survival skills (over-responsibility, avoidance, dissociation, lying, workaholism, perfectionism, people pleasing) so we could navigate through our family, friendships and communities. This is also how we begin to see our our unique ego (or Enneagram number) beginning to develop which I will discuss in more detail in the following posts.

Rohr had called this stage I am about my body and recently referenced a quote I want to share. It was given in a different context but speaks beautifully to this stage.

"The body is a sacrament...a visible sign of invisible grace...All our inner life and intimacy of soul longs to find an outer mirror. It longs for a form in which it can be seen, felt, and touch. The body is the mirror where the secret world of the soul comes to expression. The body is a sacred threshold; and it deserves to be respected, minded, and understood in its spiritual nature...The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. - John O'Donohue.

The point of all this is that we need and require others to help mirror what it is our soul is calling forth. We need help calling it forth. We fundamentally need compassion from others and for our(selves) so we can heal. Once we receive this...we can then move onto I am my behavior and I am my group.

Stages of our Journey: Preface

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As mentioned previously, I have reflected a great deal on the various stages in life. The whole point of writing on these stages is that we often don't know where we are, much less where we are headed. Usually, it does not even occur to us to think about our path until we have tripped up and injured ourselves or been injured...i.e. pain / life tragedies. This path is so long that we can't see the end of one stage because we are just trying to get around the next bend. As humans, we tend to want what we want when we want it and life just doesn't happen that way. 

Life is not linear but often a series of ups and downs, backwards and forwards, or just stalled out in a stage of life. Some choose: to keep going, to keep fighting, and to keep growing. Others are stuck where they and are not able to grow. Moreover, some are asleep and numb to life because of the pain. Hence, there is goodness in suffering because its the pain that awakens us. I am reminded of something Rohr said that life is about order, disorder, then reorder. C.S. Lewis said it best: "But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world." And I might add a megaphone to our deaf world (ego / smaller self) we create for ourselves which is common to everyone one of us.

We find that our path is much less about pushing through it (at least it is this way until stage four) but that we find we are taken there, pushed there, or just fall into it. At the end, we realize that it is much less about us doing the work and more about the unfolding of life itself. I think our task is to stay awake to what is transpiring and to see the goodness and necessity of each stage. A musician friend shared a quote yesterday that encapsulates the hope of naming these stages. My hope is to name these stages without blaming (or at least not wave my finger as much)!

“To describe [the present age] is to challenge it.  Isn’t that really what artists are supposed to do?  It’s not their job to solve the problem.  It’s their job to describe the problem.  And part of the description is to realize that this is very attractive.  And to admit one’s own attraction to it....so the job is to describe what’s going on, describe the attention, and be generous enough to not wave your finger at it as it’s going by.” - Bono

It is important to note...especially in our culture of achievement that the goal is not transforming into some exceptional person (as strange as that may sound) for life is more about subtraction than it is about addition. Instead, it is in coming back to who we have always been by having our false self fall off. For in the end, the most transformative and self-actualizing arrival is becoming fully human. It's in our full humanity that glory of God gets to be most on display!

 

Stages of our Journey

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It has been a while since I have posted...but hope to get back to consistently writing down the things along the way that I come across that are helpful as well as the things I'm learning personally. I plan on writing a series of blog posts all around this idea of specific stages in our journey. Much of this material comes from Ken Wilber's and Richard Rohr work. The impetus of this series was inspired by an email series Richard Rohr posted several years ago called "Evolution of Consciousness". There has not been a week that has gone by that I haven't reflected on his work around this concept. 

The reason behind knowing these stages is that it provides some markers about where each of us might be in our journey of development as well as a map of where we are going. I have found that without it...there is a real sense of being lost. 

  1. I am about me
  2. I am my tribe / I am my behavior
  3. I am my feelings / "I feel therefore I am"
  4. I am my(smaller)self
  5. I am my shame
  6. I am powerless
  7. I am much more than I thought I was...I can trust my(Larger)self
  8. I am Connected (to myself, to God, to others, to intimate partner)
  9. I am me!

I want to be clear that these ideas are taken from Rohr and Wilber. In many ways, I am taking what they said and expounding on them from my own reflection and experience. I once thanked a mentor of mine for all the wisdom he sent my way and he simply said, "I'm just sending the things I have learned downstream". Rohr and Wilber's work has done this for me. I want to keep sending what I am learning downstream so I'm not burying talents (parable reference) so to speak.

A perspective from another parent

My wife forwarded an article by Jen Hatmaker regarding parenting especially of young children. I found it to be encouraging, normalizing, and authentic. Three things that all of us parents need. I think I most appreciated the sense of "me too". It has been said that when it comes to parenting we just need to be good enough and to know we are not alone. Here is the link to the article..."I Wish Someone Would've Warned Me About These BIG FEELINGS" 

 

Suffering, Pain, and Surrender

There is so much to be said, lived, and processed around pain and yet we rarely talk about it in our daily lives. Instead, we find that society invites us to avoid it through some invitation that subtly says, "this will bring you happiness" or "this will take away the pain". The reality is that true joy must be lived through the pain not away from it. The means that we must surrender or fall into it not from it. This is why Step 3 in the Twelve Step program is so powerful which says, "Made a Decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as I understood Him".

The paradox to our pain is in the surrendering to it. Life is found once we surrender to the struggle albeit emotional, physical, and mental. There is life on the other side though it cannot be known or understood until we grow through it. Richard Rohr writes is so well in a recent daily mediation that I have linked that he titled Luminous Darkness

 or click here http://conta.cc/1qTCBdt

The Hope for Group and Community...

I am more and more convinced that healing must take place through the vehicle of relationship. I view relationship holistically from that standpoint of relationship with ourselves, with others, and with God. That being said, I find that the most growth happens in the context of community. A healing community doesn't just happen because people meet together. It happens when we feel safe. It happens when we know that what we say or do will be held within the group and we won't be judged, rejected, or corrected. It means that those in a group allow each of us "to be as we are" and to experience acceptance for our being. It requires an implicit knowledge of "being with". Meaning that you know because you know that others "feel" your pain. It is in the place of experiencing "being known" that we begin to be healed. When we are known by others, we experience the most fundamental and core needs that we matter, that we are understood, and that we can count on another to be there with us. 

Group therapy invites us to start taking the risks of being known both currently and historically. Trust, security, and safety has to be earned by a group but not demanded. It is once you get a sense of that security that you can begin to open up. Group gently invites us to be authentic by seeing others authenticity. I have heard it said that "vulnerability begets vulnerability". Our group motto is "come as you are, be as you are." Which means that there is no time table / pressure to this process other than showing up. The reality is that group is just a microcosm for a larger sense of community.

Parker Palmer says it well when he says:

"The Soul is like a wild animal -- tough, resilient, savvy, self-sufficient, and yet exceedingly shy. If we want to see a wild animal, the last thing we should do is to go crashing through the woods, shouting for the creature to come out. But if we are willing to walk quietly into the woods and sit silently for an hour or two at the base of a tree, the creature we are waiting for may well emerge, and out of the corner of an eye we will catch a glimpse of the precious wildness we seek." ~ quoted from Let Your Life Speak.

 

The Gift of Children

As a child, you are less concerned with the future and are able to just enjoy that very moment. A child in many ways, "doesn't have a worry in the world" other than what he or she is doing right then. Children live with their emotions on their sleeve and have the ability to be fully present. They serve as a reminder to be present. 

Honestly, this is really hard for me. My default is to start thinking about the future which causes me to have anxiety, fear, and can turn into control. So the first step is to just notice; where you are, what you are doing, and what you are feeling. That will then usually bring up other other emotions such as fear, anxiety, etc. If that happens, let it run its course and call somebody. Call a friend and tell them exactly what is happening. Children do this much better than we do. Watch what a child does next time a tornado warning is given. They will be afraid and will let you know but they draw near to you. That is how we are made. We need others and we need the ability to draw near to somebody else. The greatest damage we can do to our soul is when we try to do it alone. 

Children bring so many gifts and one of the gifts they bring is to help us see life through the lens of a child. It is through this lens we see joy, honesty, and hope. 

The Power of Words

I recently came across this poem and it resonated with me regarding each of our stories. I believe that so much of the therapeutic process is learning to find the words that connect us with our past and present. It is in finding these words that we grieve in a new way. A new way that helps us reorganize our pain. The poem is titled "The World Seems" by Gregory Orr. The link to his poem is below. 

http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/world-seems…

 

 

Vulnerability

I am constantly recommending the following link to clients regarding shame and vulnerability. Brene Brown explains through her research on shame what exactly shame is and the way to live through it, with it, and how to use it. Here is the link...


Grieving A New Way

Grief is all too often limited to pain, tears, and suffering. This is certainly a part of grief but it doesn't have to be all of it. A great exercise is to think back to a time in your life when you have had intense grief? What memory comes up? Were you alone? Did you feel better afterwards? More often than not, the memory is negative because we were alone and did not feel better.

We often want to avoid grief because of our previous grief experience. Our resistance has some validity to it. It tells us something about our story. If your grief memory was of you being alone then certainly why would you want to go back to a lonely and grief filled place.

The hope is that we can all enter into a phrase of grief that does not equal suffering. Rather it equals a reorganizing joy. Grief and joy can coexist! I have often sat with people who have and are going through recovery where they describe a profound sense of joy in the grief. That is why so many people say that the emotion of sadness is the healing feeling. Recovery of one's heart allows us to feel joy for the first time instead of grief.  For so many, tears were a dead end and lonely street. So for many, you stopped crying because it didn't help. For others, it just led to more despair. 

John Bowlby and Colin Murray Parkes, pioneers in attachment theory, broke down grief into 4 phases: (1) Shock and Numbness, (2) Yearning and Searching, (3) Despair and Disorganization, (4) Reorganization and Recovery. 

There is a treasure at the end of the rainbow. Our story is longing to be seen, told, and grieved in new ways. If you find yourself acting in the same old pattern then take a gracious look at your story. Our negative reactions and behaviors really are unresolved trauma and grief. The invitation is to start thinking and talking about those events of pain so that you can grieve them in a new deeper way, a fresh clean way. These tears lead us to wholeness and joy not despair. We all need help in reorganizing and making sense of our grief otherwise it stays stuck. The beauty is a not only a shared storied but a shared experience. Our stories are too valuable for grief to be shared by ourselves.

The Impact of Relationship

If you are like me, I am so prone to only wanting pleasantries in relationships. My default is to take the positive but shy away, defend, or run from the negative aspects of relationship. The problem with this style is that its really not a dynamic relationship. It is a relationship but it is impaired. It is not fluid and clean. The goal for any relationship is that we can go to those closest to us in both positive and negative ways where they are not only impacted by us but can help filter and embrace us in our pain. Thereby helping sooth our pain. We need this type of relationship and it is when we can't have this that the relationship really starts to suffer.

The truth is that we impact each other in relationship. There is always going to be some positive and negative mixed in. It is just the nature of it. We are made to be impacted by each other so that we can respond not react. The challenge for so many of us is that if our story was one of reacting to our emotions not responding then it is impossible not to continue on in that same pattern. This is where we need our own healing. All of us need to be responded to but not reacted to. A safe relationship is one where you can "be you" responding to your true self not your false self and vise versa.

I have found that one of the best groups and resources is found in the Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) communities. 

Emotions...and its role in relationship

When you hear the word emotion what comes to mind? For me, I used to think of emotion as predominately something to avoid such as sadness, anger, and especially fear. I definitely did everything to avoid fear. I also thought our emotions were not something to give too much weight to because it would dictate what I felt like doing. Thereby, throwing out my ethics and morality. For example, 'I don't feel like taking care of my kids today so I will just go and play golf', etc. The reality and danger is by not recognizing and naming the emotion.

It is important to distinguish between the words "feeling" and "emotion". Emotion in Latin means to move and is a noun. Whereas, the word feeling is a verb and its root means to perceive. Feelings subjectively represent emotion. Emotions are initial / internal attitudes like mad, sad, fear, shame, etc. Feelings, on the other hand, are a product of the emotions and more a "state of being" like joyfulness or depression. 

Emotions are necessary realities. We really cannot control them but we can regulate them. 
Also, they are not the end all. Emotions are fluid so they come and go. These are the gateway to our soul. It illuminates our needs and vulnerabilities. It allows us to then be able to have empathy. Empathy is the gift. We have to have empathy in order to connect. Without empathy, we cannot have connectedness at the deep core level of our being.

The reality is that emotions are the musical notes but do not comprise of the whole dance. We need emotions because it gives us the ability to know how to dance and what step to take next. But we are not the only one's dancing. When we have emotion, we usually have it with somebody else. In fact, we need to have emotions with another person. That is how we are made. We are made to experience this together. We actually need another person to help us co-regulate our emotions. We were never designed to regulate our emotions by ourselves. Our human natures requires that we process emotions through co-regulation not self-regulation. A person with us, a parent, a spouse, a friend is what we need in order to help us breath. I have heard it said that connection is like oxygen. Well, the emotions can either hinder us or aid us in helping us breath this oxygen. With life's tragedies and struggles we need others to help us breath!

Some great books that further clarifies and explains this is Dr. Sue Johnson's book "Hold Me Tight" or "The Circle of Security Intervention" by Powell, Cooper, Hoffman, and Marvin.

Childhood Memories

The memories of good triumph the bad,

        But sitting here now invites me to feel sad.

Young, ambitious, naive to the workings of the world,

       How I wish I had some in a bottle to be unfurled.

The days in the woods, the use of the family card, it was all free or so it seemed,

       Now I know the cost, bound by fear or so I've deemed.

Nights on the river bank with the stars too numerous to count,

       How do I regain those carefree moments...it seems so hard to surmount. 

Nostalgia can be tricky because we only see a side,

       But if it helps me live out of heart then I'll take any of it any stride!

But I know I'll look back on these days just the same,

       So it beckons me to grab my loved ones holding them in this present frame.

To live wholehearted is a noble task,

       Because you can't be present, with heart, and live behind a mask.

- James Trone

Guard Rails of Relationship

Relationships are such a wonderful, mysterious, and risky dance.  Healthy relationships absolutely require the sense of safety and security. This breeds authenticity. It requires a lot of courage and vulnerability to ask for help. I have seen and experienced two ways when seeking help from another person. One way is through correction / confrontation with the intent of speaking "truth". The other way is through compassion which breeds connection.

The first way is very prevalent in our society. It is the way of advice giving that is often masked by judgement and "shoulds". Many people default to this route because it is all they know. It ends up being a relationship based on power and authority. It inevitability puts our performance above our being. The focus is put on our actions instead of us. The giver of advice ends up being in a position as if they know what is best for you. It throws being "with us" out the door. Correction is put ahead of connection.

The other way is of a gentle path. The path to healthy relationships is compassion not correction, connection not confrontation. The truth is that we will naturally be confronted by truth because it is already in us. It does not take someone else "speaking into". Instead, we come "out of" when we feel a sense of safety with connection. It is vulnerability over power, empathy over judgement, connection over correction.  

There is a time and place for advice but it is secondary to our being with another person. The guard rails to healthy relationships are compassion and connection which end up being soft, soothing, and secure. Let mercy lead!

Living in the In-Between

The struggle to stay in the moment is a life long practice. It seems like there is a magnet with the polars ends either being the past or future. The polar ends are always pulling at us to leave this present moment. I think this is the same with emotions and attitudes. This gap creates a wake of contrast that can be beautiful. 

This contrast is most visible when you look at moments that create an avalanche of emotions. If you have children, think of the times where they are so full of life that it creates chaos, life, joy, frustration, angry all in a span of 10 minutes. This energy can be enormous and certainly anxiety provoking. It can be beautiful chaos. 

I believe that we start out life with an idea of how it is supposed to work and along the way we begin to see things differently. It either happens gradually or abruptly. Either way, it provides us with the opportunity to regain that childlike faith. I liken this quest to recovery. Recovery doesn't have to be so much about recovery from a certain drug but more about recovering one's heart.

Life and recovery is about learning to live being uncomfortable. It is accepting and living in the contrast. The contrast of glad / sad, joy / sorrow, hope / despair, courage / meekness. We so often strive to have the positive side and flee from the negative all the while missing living in the in-between. Life in the in-between is a picture of surrender.

It is a surrender with hope still at bay. It is grieved gratitude. It is a picture of the already and the not yet. This picture beckons us to wait...as if we are still in the pains of labor...longing for our dream to be realized. The challenge is to see that life is happening and learning to wait and see.

When we become Orphans...

It seems that somewhere along our journey we call "life" we slowly drift away from being childlike. I do not know where it happens and when we do it but we often stop playing and become much more serious. Life starts hitting us and opens us up to become bitter, resentful, and jaded. We stop dreaming so much and instead start demanding. We stop playing. 

In essence, we start losing sight of a our childhood and childhood ways and become an orphan. We learn to adapt by living alone yet with people around. We learn to be self-sufficient and keep our deep emotions hidden. We learn to exchange play for surviving. In so many ways, therapy is about finding the inner child in each of us. Therapy's purpose is about helping each of us find that orphaned boy or girl that we left behind and reconnecting with what Richard Rohr calls our "soul child". I am reminded of  the following poem called "The Little Orphan" by Edgar Albert Guest which speaks so deeply about this:

The crowded street his playground is, a patch of blue his sky;

A puddle in a vacant lot his sea where ships pass by:

Poor little orphan boy of five, the city smoke and grime

Taint every cooling breeze he gets throughout the summer time;

And he is just as your boy is, a child who loves to play,

Except that he is drawn and white and cannot get away.

 

And he would like the open fields, for often in his dreams

The angels kind bear him off to where are pleasant streams,

Where he may sail a splendid boat, sometimes he flies a kite,

Or romps beside a shepherd dog and shouts with all his might;

But when the dawn of morning comes he wakes to find once more

That what he thought were sun-kissed hills are rags upon the floor.

 

Then through the hot and sultry day he plays at “make-pretend,”

The alley is a sandy beach where all the rich folks send

Their little boys and girls to play, a barrel is his boat,

But, oh, the air is tifling and the dust fills up his throat;

And though he tries so very hard to play, somehow it seems

He never gets such wondrous joys as angels bring in dreams.

 

Poor little orphan boy of five, except that he is pale,

With sunken cheeks and hollow eyes and very wan and frail,

Just like that little boy of yours, with same desire to play,

Fond of the open fields and skies, he’s built the self-same way;

But kept by fate and circumstance away from shady streams,

His only joy comes when he sleeps and angels bring him dreams.

"The Little Orphan" by Edgar Albert Guest

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings...

Last week, I was saddened to hear of the death of Maya Angelou. She was an amazing person who seemed to have such an authentic presence that was undeniably attractive. When she spoke you could not help but stop and listen. Her words, thoughts, and ideas carried so much weight. She was a living example of one who had lost her voice but found it again and sought to never lose it again. Her life is such a message of hope that all is not lost. 

Her first autobiography is titled, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings". This title comes from a poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar. The last stanza of the poem reads as follows, 

"I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
      When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore, --
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
      But a prayer that he sends from his heart's deep core, 
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings--
I know why the caged bird sings!"

This poem strikes me with the sense of community. We know another person's pain only by having our own. Pain is the great medium to connecting. 

Secure Attachment (Knowing when your Home)

The term attachment is widely used in psychology circles but not used as much or understood in the general public. I first learned of the concept of attachment around friends who had either adopted or were considering adoption. I thought it to be more associated with infants connecting to mothers and that was the extent of the idea. 

What I have come to realize is that attachment speaks so much to our story and how that connects to relationship. Attachment speaks to the way we perceive, think, feel, and interact with others. Our attachment style directly affects how we control and engage ourselves with others. We either heighten, suppress, or accurately connect with others on an emotional basis. For better or for worse, we were given a template by our parents that literally instructed us in how to emotionally relate to them, ourselves, and others. How we got our primary caregiver to take care of us has directly affected how we currently relate to people in our inner circle.

If you are around a 3 to 4 year old child, watch how they relate. Most of them are still very open and use all their emotions while being fully willing to be "needy". They, in fact, are living out how they were created to "be". The struggle comes for us as parents in relating to these needy, dependent, and often times uncontrollable children. It is just plain hard at times. 

It is in these difficult moments that often define and tell how we were taught to do feelings and needs.  The truth is that we are all needy and we need others to help sooth and regulate us. I heard Kenny Sanderfer say that "we are made to co-regulate not self-regulate."  So the emotions of a 4 year boy are really just signals to us that more is going on below the surface than just a tantrum. The same is true for us. The challenge comes with the attachment style of how we connect. Do we avoid, pursue, become disorganized, or a mixture of these?

So much of therapy is helping us reconnect with suppressed emotions as well as experience new ways of relating emotionally with others. This may sound simple but it is very hard and risky. It requires so much safety. It requires a belief that the other person will be able to not only sit with you but "be" with you in those moments. It requires each of us to go through our own pain. 

I believe we will go through great capacities to connect. Our human capacity for love is astounding. It is in these relentless moments of "wanting to be wanted and understood" that really speak to the beauty of our humanity. But it can't just stop there for us. We need to be known. This means letting those closest to us in the darkest rooms of our soul. It is there that we get to be apart of a very spiritual like experience. The experience of another human being knowing the good, the bad, and all the in between and loving you for all of it.  It is in those moments that you know you are home.