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The Living Inquiries Blog

Releasing Strategies, Finding Life

By Lisa Meuser.  

I’m driving, and all of a sudden it goes dark, and the road becomes enclosed. I know how to work the breaks, the gas, and the steering wheel, but everything is different so I’m completely disoriented. I‘m not sure what **to do**.  I no longer see ahead of me, and I can’t get back to where I was. I’m just here… in the dark, where almost nothing is familiar. All the previous tactics I’ve used to drive effectively are suddenly out of context. It’s scary. I don’t know what to do or where I’m going, and yet I must keep driving. I keep hoping this is a bad dream, but I don’t wake up out of this nightmare.

Does the above feel at all familiar? There has been a theme emerging amongst clients lately, and when enough similar experiences are shared, I tend to write about it because I know others are likely experiencing it too.

Although it feels like it was lifetimes ago, my own dark night[1] (ha! I wish it were just one night) will always be a part of me. It is hard to describe what it was like, but for those who have journeyed through such nights, or are currently journeying… we know.

We know what it was like to suddenly lose a kind of functioning that we had taken for granted… strategies that had once become our way of life, snatched away.  Replaced with a knowing that we simply could not go back from whence we came, no matter how much we wanted to.

 

A Way of Life

There is nothing wrong with having strategies – or approaches that help us to deal with life. To be human is to have strategies – little things we do to help us feel safe and comfortable. Most of our strategies got formed when we were young, and they usually formed to help us adapt to dysfunction. Over time, those strategies became how we lived in the world and, well, who we were.

Most of us have survived through varies strategies such as: Pleasing others. Care-taking. Making jokes. Being stoic. Eating too much, or not enough. Playing dumb. Stealing. Invisible-ing ourselves. Rebellious behavior. Obsessive reading. Over-sexualizing others and ourselves. Attention-getting. Isolation. Day-dreaming. Thinking and not feeling. Fanatic studying. Skipping school. Being numb. The list goes on, and on.

Many of these strategies are simple, but they can stack on top of each other. They can limit our full expression, and put us on trajectories filled with harmful relationships – inner and outer. They can cover up pain as well as beautiful aspects of ourselves. Even though they can make our lives miserable, they can make life tolerable, and give us a sense of identity, safety and familiarity. Until…

 

An Egg Cracked Open

Some people’s strategies will be maintained their whole lives. But for others of us… something will happen[2] so as render our strategies ineffective, or not as useful as they used to be. When this happens, it can feel like everything is falling apart, because, on a certain level, it is.

In my experience, those strategies will never again work like they used to. And yet, without proper guidance, we might try to keep using them. Eventually the dam will break, it’s just a matter of how mangled up our lives will get in the process. Traditional psychology or other approaches may try to help individuals reclaim those strategies or find other strategies, in an attempt to put things “back together” for a client. Or, individuals may keep trying to find refuge in their tried and true strategies of the past. There may sometimes be a temporary “fix,” but it’s short-lived. In my own experience, my life got more and more unmanageable as I held onto the familiar yet unhealthy strategies, which elongated the change process, making it more painful, confusing and torturous. At some point, I hit that point of no return.

 

What is Left after we Crack?

The good news is that there is something else beneath the surface of our strategies. In my experience in working with clients and traversing through my own dark night, there is true well-being beneath the layers of strategies that were originally created to adapt to dysfunction. There is Wholeness, and it is waiting for us.

One challenge is that we have to be patient enough to live through the chaos and discomfort of no longer having those strategies that made “everything ok.” There are other invitations that weave in alongside patience. As a friend shared with me:

…it seems to require courage, hope that {things will} change, openness to experimenting with choosing differently – plus a growing capacity to sit within the discomfort, pain, fear and shame and tolerate it. 

In my experience, these resources developed over time, and were not automatically accessible, but something my system learned over time.

It can scary to be without a road map. It can be terrifying to find oneself in a dark tunnel, with no end in sight. In my experience, it felt like death itself: a death while living that felt utterly unbearable. In fact, it was during this time that I lived with constant suicidal ideation. Shame and self-loathing was immense. Isolation and hiding, my learned patterning, made it that much more unbearable. It was only when I found a trusted guide who really heard me, who had been there herself, that my nervous system started to find hope and was able to start the long journey of repairing itself.

In my experience, we need guides during this time – so that we can fall apart, but be supported while this is happening. No one can experience someone else’s terror, but someone can be present while the terror happens. This support communicates deep wisdom to a nervous system, and prepares the being for sustained evolution and deep communion with life.

Through habitual patterning of my life, my attention had included certain aspects of my humanity, but excluded others. My guides helped me include that which I had excluded and they helped me direct attention towards reservoirs in myself that I had never known. This also paved the way for me to experience true self- compassion for the first time in my life. Over time, my neurology changed, and my nervous system’s relationship with life changed as my being was able to open up to discovery, instead of getting lost in hiding and protecting from life.

I didn’t know it at first, but eventually I found that there was something waiting to be found – true well-being. This discovery changed my life, and became a sustainable expression moving forward.

 

Moving Forward

I am sharing this short blog for a few reasons. I hope that sharing some tidbits from my stories and journeys with my clients will help let you know that, if you are journeying in this territory, you are not alone. I hope that it will communicate that there are those who can help shine a light during this pathless time. Lastly, I hope that it may drop at least a single drop of hope and light into your Being.

Please feel free to reach out for support. [3] There are those who have journeyed before you, who are journeying with you now. You are not alone.

[1] often referred to as the dark night of the soul

[2] This life changing event can vary from person to person. It could be from something that seems random, or tied to something very specific.

[3] I also recommend Fiona Robertson’s book, The Dark Night of the Soul: A Journey from Absence to Presence.

To read more about Lisa Meuser, click here.

The Sceptical Art of Inquiry

By Fiona Robertson.  

I read today that the ancient Greek word for ‘inquiry’ is skepsis, hence the word sceptical. Sceptical philosophers, from around the world in both ancient and modern times, have doubted our ability to know, either partially or completely. Their view is some variant of the idea that we can’t know anything for certain, and we can’t even know that we can’t know anything for certain.

We inevitably come to inquiry with a knowing or belief that feels certain. In fact, we don’t usually call it a belief. We don’t generally say, “I believe that I’m not good enough”, but rather state it as a fact: “I’m not good enough”. There often comes a point in a session when a slight crack appears in the certainty, and we begin to entertain the possibility that what we thought we knew for certain may not, after all, be the case. Even though the belief in question has been painful, there’s a kind of security in the certainty, so it can be disorientating to open up to the possibility that maybe we don’t know what we thought we knew. There’s often a sense of fear – if I’m not this, then what? Or the realisation that we may have spent many years trying to solve an issue only to discover that it’s not the issue we thought it was. Inevitably, we end up feeling emotions or sensations that the belief or knowing has somehow shielded us from.

In a session, I once had an image of seeing the outline of an island through a telescope from on board a boat. I saw that I was seeing the hint of the possibility that maybe what I thought was the case wasn’t. And even in reducing the certainty to 95% (rather than the full 100%), there was some relief in my system. Even in asking the questions – including questions like, “how do I know that?” or “what’s telling me that?” we open up to the possibility of uncertainty, that maybe we don’t know for sure. 

For the ancient sceptics, the idea was that having an experience of not knowing led to the possibility of calm, which feels deeply familiar from our perspective. It’s good to know people have been inquiring in this way for thousands of years.

To read more about Fiona Robertson, click here.

Being in the world and being of Love

By Lisa Meuser.  

“Deepen, that is where your reality lies. That is how you will find your place, and how you will find your true center.  You are created matter… You are part of the great plan, an indispensable part. You are needed; you have your own unique share in the freedom of creation.”
Madeleine L’Engle, “A wind in the door”

I have been quiet lately. By quiet, I mean I’ve not written much on FB, or much in general. This has been a time of deep listening, learning, and engaging from that place of learning.

This has been a very rich time. I’ve been saturated. More than normal.

In addition to my already full life of clients, students, family and inner work, I’ve been participating in a diversity intensive[1], engaging in more social justice in my community, and furthering my experiential learning of Relational Cultural Theory/Therapy with people in my community.

 

From Quiet, to Engaged.

After spending years quietly focusing on family, clients and students, and self-study, my scope for 2019 widened. I didn’t know what I was moving towards; I only knew that I had been separate from engaging with life, and that my nervous system was ready to be more of a participant with life.  It’s not that my life had become easy or even boring, but there was certainly complacency on some level that was keeping me from fully partaking as a human being on this planet, and something in me could feel this. It was time to grow up, and out. Easy to say, but no small step for me! Moving out of the nest of familiarity can often be challenging, as it requires a willingness to be in new terrain and in beginner’s mind. Hello uncertainty! Hello discomfort!

I tend to gravitate towards the familiar – to what is known. A friend from my ashram days – where I spent some of my 20s and 30s – recently reminded me how insular we were. We lived in a tiny town, focused on our own internal growth, and were disconnected from the well-being of the world. Disconnected indeed.

As I look back from what I see now, I recognize the dysfunction and the privilege – and I also see how we were rooted in the dominant narrative. In our chosen deniability and separation, we did not consider intersectionality, inter-dependence, inclusivity, collaboration, or a global sense of community. As my friend reminded me, “we were rather self-interested.”  Moreover, the practices were rooted in hierarchy, competitiveness, secrecy, and us/them thinking.

Of course, I didn’t know anything about that then. It has been over the last few years – the last one particularly – that I’ve awoken from a deep slumber of cultural denial. As shared in my blog post “Loosening the Grip of Oppression,” it is so easy for us to cling to these dominant narratives when we’ve been born and bred to accept them as truth. My various teachers always moved from this paradigm, collecting many followers along the way who were eager to fix themselves and be told how to do it using various linear approaches.  Yup, that was me.

Although things are different for me now, I still am discovering how to embody a different way. Luckily I am surrounded by people who are interested in similar evolutionary trajectories. We stumble and learn in practical ways together – returning again and again to beginner’s mind, collaboration, transparency, inclusion of all people, and focus on connection and relationship.

 

Waking Up out of the Dominant Narrative

Life brings us just what we need, and for me Brig Feltus, my Heal Thyself teacher, was just that. I had been eyeing the Heal Thyself Diversity Training for months, but was too immersed in teaching my own courses. When summer came and I found myself in between training groups, something in me knew that although I was still busy, it would be the perfect time to do this course.

I was only days into the course when I started to realize how the dominant narrative had a hold on me in very subtle yet impactful ways. I saw my insecurities, I saw my fears, and I saw my strategies. I watched myself trying to “do it right” (a binary approach), rather than embrace the vulnerability and curiosity of beginner’s mind. I found myself ignoring my own truths and adapting to others so as to decrease conflict and make things “easier” for the group, forgetting that with integrity, conflict can be growth-fostering. A few times I noticed I was being competitive with myself, trying push myself to meet deadlines, rather than admit that I was struggling and needed to engage in self-care.

I was able to notice all these things rather quickly because I already have a practice rooted in self-awareness, but also because Brig had lovingly created a beautiful container for us to explore and grow in.

As tends to happen, what I was learning in her course immediately became applicable all areas of my life, allowing me to participate from a deeper level of honesty, and from a deeper place of connection and Love. I was able to get more real with all of the engagements of my life, as well as be more in integrity with how I was participating.

 

Deeping Into My True Center

Patterns get in the way of us being in true integrity with ourselves, and keep us from being connection with Love. Connecting to these patterns in myself was exactly what I needed, to deepen even more into what Madeleine L’engle names as my “true center.”

The dominant narrative of our culture, in which we’ve all been raised, keeps us separate from life, and separate from ourselves. It does not teach us how to participate with our whole beings; it does not want us to find our true center. When we embark upon a journey to wake up, to transform, we discover a life of learning (1) what we’ve been taught, (2) what possibilities exist, and, (3) if we’re lucky and have good teachers and guides, how to get from what we’ve known, to what we want to know, live, and Be.

I am lucky.

I no longer gravitate towards modalities, teachers or people who move from the dominant narrative of self-improvement and self-bettering in an individualistic or capitalistic way, and I am no longer that kind of teacher or therapist. Instead I am surrounded by people who value and acknowledge that humans are genetically designed to be in relationship with life, and in relationship with Love. We live and learn together.

 

Being in the world and being of Love

My intention for this year – “Being in the world and being of Love”- continues to invite me to deepen, deepen, and deepen some more. Relationships with people are deepening, my level of participating with my community is deepening, the way in which I connect with my clients and students is deepening, the way that I’m being in integrity with myself is deepening, and the way that I’m being “of Love” continues to constantly deepen.

I am always learning. It is humbling to be a forever student, and in my experience, we must constantly assume beginners mind if we are to truly deepen. This can feel counterintuitive and challenging, but when we have support, our nervous systems become more resourced, and we can learn with more ease.

Many of you reading are my clients and students, and I am deeply appreciative that we journey and learn together. What an amazing life this is!  I am profoundly grateful for all those I connect with: I know how privileged I am to have this life.

May we all have the support to deepen, to find our true center, for we are all a “part of the great plan, an indispensable part. You are needed; you have your own unique share in the freedom of creation.” Blessed be.

[1] https://www.intersectionformankind.com/stories/2018/11/28/heal-thyself-a-diversity-intensive-for-healers-and-life-coaches

To read more about Lisa Meuser, click here.

Instead of Making Sense of it All, Sensing How it’s All Made…

By Melanie Balint Gray.  

Some nights I dream.  Often, the next morning I recount the dream sequences to my husband.  I’ve learned to listen to what words come out of my mouth to describe the dream, frequently, not words I’d typically use.  It’s as if, through the dream, my unconscious has gone beyond just using symbols to communicate with me and somehow begins to “speak” through words as well. And it’s not so much that I listen to the words.  It’s more that I feel the words.

I turn my attention to my visceral responses, the bodily responsiveness toward or neutrality toward each word that’s spoken.  Whether it’s the words I’m using to relate the dream or the words my husband speaks as he asks me questions or offers suggested perspectives, I’m almost exclusively attending to the body and how it responds to the conversation.

This morning I awoke from a dream where I was partnered with someone from my past in a contest or competition to free a being from some vertical tube where it was trapped or imprisoned.  In waking life, this man and I have struggled off and on with one another; I’ve not quite been able to completely let down my guard with him of late. So, it was a challenging thing to be partnered with him in this dream.

The trapped being was Lilliputian in size and stature.  The tube was too slender for my partner to reach his hand into, but my smaller hand could fit into it. So, I reached inside, and with some difficulty, extracted the tiny figure.

I handed it to my partner, somehow knowing that my partner was supposed to run with it– to take this tiny being to safety and freedom.

The dream stumped me at first.  Then, my husband asked me what capacity had I been refusing to give my partner credit for?  What quality had I been unwilling to see in my partner that I was now handing back over to him in the form of this little being—so that he could “run with it”. In other words, what had I projected onto this man that I was now willing to retract?

Gong!

I said, “That makes visceral sense.”  Not intellectual sense.  Not in the least.  There was no thinking or analyzing that had occurred.

It was just that my body had let off a resounding “gong” of recognition of the truth embedded in those questions.  A lump formed in my throat.  My answer came, “I’ve been projecting that he lacks the capacity of ‘being-ness’.”  I saw how I had written off this man’s (my partner in the dream) capacity to sit in presence with me or to have an open-hearted conversation.  Tears and regret followed.

The little being in my dream was like a seed crystal of being-ness—that I was now returning to this man as I withdrew my narrow-minded projection.

Then, a panorama of all the people that I had unconsciously stripped of this capacity of being-ness showed up.  I was shown how often I had blindly assigned the labels of “asleep”, “unconscious”, and “unaware” to various loved ones.

Gong!

Shame arose. It grabbed at my throat.  I sat there, fingers massaging my constricted throat.  There was nothing to be done except digest the felt experience of the gallery of portraits; feeling what it was like to have discounted all these people.

Eventually the tightness resolved. Things quieted.

I was left with a lesson.  A lesson about one way I’ve distanced myself from the people I love most.  A lesson in how I set up a superiority-inferiority polarity.  And how much it hurt for me to do this.  My body told me so.

It seems that more often now, the feelings and physical sensations take the lead over mental explanations.  What I mean by that is that the body “talks” to me and then, perhaps, some words may come that are more of an understanding nature than an analytical nature.

This visceral sensing can offer such profound guidance.

To read more about Melanie Balint Gray, click here.

Blaming Each Other

By Colm Burgoyne.  

A guilt and sorrow arose in me regarding my own, and our collective contributions towards each other’s pain.

While inquiring into a dream I had, I saw memories of how my siblings and I unconsciously contributed to our parents’ pain and our parents unconsciously to ours. I could see an image of my mother in the bottom half of my body, in pain, while looking on in fear at her children getting into trouble. I observed my father’s figure around my head area, with a different kind of feel to his fear and pain than my mother’s. I looked, felt, cried, regretted and questioned.

While my process unfolded, it felt best to use open questions with myself, as it’s less rigid this way for me. I find that it grants my system a remarkable way of flowing, gently loosening my psyche up more to a multitude of depths and answers in a merciful way.

What keeps uncoiling for me as I see and question what I see, is that most, if not all of us, are in a loop of contributing towards the exchange of pain, just as we are also looping the exchange of love. In my mind’s imaginary, perfect world, it would prefer not to be contributing to, or reflecting back anyone’s pain. Neither is the idea of another reflecting mine back to me a jolly one. I have wondered at times “Is the unconscious infliction of pain from one to another some kind of profoundly sick joke from an insane existence to humanity? “Or is there a method to its/our seeming madness?” Oddly, yet not so oddly enough, I get a yes to the latter. My yes comes from experiencing that if it wasn’t for being triggered, I would have nothing reflecting the unconscious pain lurking underneath and ruling my actions. The loop then remains cemented in continuum for everyone to see but me, unless I look. This doesn’t mean however, that when the trigger is being pulled, I don’t curse the puller of the trigger for pulling it. I can and do do this at times. The Living Inquiries have taught me though, there is more to it than meets the conditioned eye of blaming.

This brings me to say that for some months now, I’ve been diving into my relationship as a man towards women and also their relationship towards me. I’ve been seeing the shame and pain that comes glued to my patterns around this exchange of messy humanness between us and how we all contribute. It has been a rollercoaster of both darkness and relief. It’s not surprising to me then, that the dream of my family pain happened. My brothers, sister and myself causing pain and hurt to each other, while blaming one another for starting it. As I look at my own personal journey with this, my looking has reflected that the similarities between the collective and personal are plain to see.

I wasn’t to know that when starting to use these Inquiries I would experientially become helplessly sensitive to the magnitude of sensation that arises from not only my personal pain, but also the generational and collective pain. This work can open you up to it all. And yes, in my experience, it can be a tough journey, yet also simultaneously wonderful. The Inquiries have negotiated a safe pathway towards the pain, where an intimacy with oneself opens in response to my moving towards it.

To read more about Colm Burgoyne, click here.