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Unravelling The Gods Of Childhood

By Lisa Meuser.  

I have a story to share

This story starts with a Facebook post I made after finishing a session with a client.

“When our parents aren’t safe, available, loving gods, we become vigilant and over responsible gods, thinking it’s all up to us, with wounds in our hearts.”

It’s been a long time coming, sharing this publicly. I’d experienced it in myself, and had been seeing it with my clients for years. It has been such a pivotal part of my embodiment journey that I’m currently writing a book about it – yet never blogged about it.

This is my abbreviated story of how I learned of my own religious wounding, and how it set me free.

 

Our relationship to the world

Religious wounding is not talked a lot about in spiritual circles, and yet I think it is imperative that this territory be explored on our journey of becoming deeply intimate with ourselves, because so much of how we view the world, ourselves, and our place in the world can be impacted by religious belief systems.

From an early age I had been aware of “something wiser” than my own personal self, but I didn’t know what that meant or how to talk about it. Jesus was sometimes part of that, but I didn’t really understand that either. It felt significant and important, and confusing at the same time. Being part of a “do as you’re told household”, I didn’t feel any space to talk about things that confused me, or that were “different” than what the authorities in my life were talking about. My religious upbringing (Lutheran) was linear, practical and doctrine-oriented, and, well, that just didn’t fit in with the rather mystical and supernatural experiences I was having. I suppressed and disconnected from most of those experiences, rendering them meaningless in my mind, forgotten to my heart.

I left Christianity midway through my years at a Lutheran Missouri Synod University (oh, the irony). Being from a white, republican, middle-income family I hadn’t explored racism, classism or entitlement, but from an early age something in me knew that the Christian doctrine I was being taught was deeply unjust. When I discovered that the chapel of the University didn’t allow women pastors at the same time I was starting to learn about the oppression of women (thank you Professor Jody), I was livid. That my church did not allow a female pastor was the last draw. I could no longer believe in “God the Father”, or his violent and oppressive rules. I was sickened by how this god judged and decided who was worthy of his love. This god was just as bad as my parents, with their republican and conservative pronouncements. I wanted no part of it. I became adamantly anti-Christian, and anti “God.”

It was a profound and huge step in my personal evolution to step away from the tradition in which I was raised. I didn’t consider what rejecting Christianity meant for me, I just knew that the beliefs of heaven and hell, sin, and rejection of certain people based on geography and gender didn’t make sense to me and never had. It felt too hypercritical for me to do anything else but walk away. I was glad to “get rid of” the label.

“That’s that!” I thought. I assumed that consciously recognizing that I didn’t align with the tenants of Christianity was me working through my religious upbringing. “I’m not that,” was the subtext. Time to move on.

Move on I did. I didn’t have anything to “replace” Christianity until a few years later when I found a spiritual practice that became an intrinsic part of my being. It was a bhakti and heart practice that nurtured the connection with god/awareness/spirit/love, etc that I’d felt when I was young. I moved on with new practices and perspectives, but what I didn’t realize was that I had not cleaned out the old before moving into the new.

 

Me and god, god and my parents

If I had been paying closer attention I might have slowed down a bit. I might have considered what giving up Christianity meant for me, or what was so infuriating for me. I might have considered that my bitterness for Christianity (and god and my parents) had some rich territory to explore, i.e. that I had some unhealed wounds. I’m in awe of the young people who make it to my door to connect to their wounds, because that was the last thing I would have considered back then.

Instead, lost in unseen self-righteousness and anger, while unable to connect to the extremely painful truth, I shut off from my feeling self and turned towards self-reliance. I thought all the problems existed outside of me “in those people” and in those beliefs, and that all I needed to do was walk away and find better ways of thinking. (This is such a common theme in our culture: we think harder, so as to feel less.)

I didn’t understand the psyche, how belief systems work, how much pain I was in, how strong my use of mind over spirit had become, or how dysfunctional my relationship with the ideas of love had become[1]. As many seemingly invincible teenagers and early 20 year olds feel, I thought I was “just fine.” And even better, thought that I was more in control and safer now that I’d moved further away from my beliefs of my family.

I didn’t realize that underneath my intellectualizing I’d felt rejected by god, and by my parents, and that the pain of that was too much to feel, so I rejected them first.

And, since I’d rejected him, I hadn’t considered for a moment that my relationship with god was anything but “just fine.”

 

When denial no longer works

I don’t know about you, but I was full-on in pretend mode when I was young. It was a way of life, and it seemingly kept me pretty safe in some crazy situations. As I woke up, lots of that pretending fell away. But then the real journey began – that of embodiment. In my reality tunnel, embodiment cleans one out, until only truth remains. But it’s not an easy process. There can be lots of sacred cows, and for me, my relationship with god was one of them[2].

It wasn’t until I was in crisis, recovering from an addictive relationship, that I stumbled upon my unhealed relationship with god. I literally collapsed into a sobbing pile of goo as a realization clunked into recognition: I still believed in a punishing god, a god that did not love me, a god that I had failed, 20 years after thinking I had given up that belief system and moved past “all that bullshit”.

It’s not rational, but those hidden beliefs had subtly kept me from feeling truly safe and at home in the world, and it kept me more in my head than in my body. How could I possibly feel safe in the world, and at home in myself, if I believed I was inherently faulty?

This can be earth-shattering territory to journey into, which is why many people never do. After all, if we don’t have to, why would we consciously look for or go into uncomfortable core wounding? Quite to the contrary, we generally hide from it at all costs. Our psyches are constructed to protect us from this wounding. And anyway, where do we even start? It can all be very overwhelming.

Yet there I was. It had became clear that there was something under the hood, as it were, that was not just being explored, but was having a tremendous influence over how I felt about myself and how I felt being in the world. It was my shame and self-loathing, wrapped up with god.

 

God, the thorn in my side

This stuff doesn’t have a road map so, using somatic inquiry, somatic therapy and a few other tools, I just kept on **slowly and gently** exploring deep into my being. Trauma has its own timeline, and said simply, we are not in charge of how it works itself through. Loving support from others and myself was vital.

Almost always tendrils would lead to wounds connected with an early childhood medical event (which also involved my parents) that were still integrating. I had been exploring this territory on and off for years, but something was different this time. As I kept exploring, something deeper finally started to emerge that didn’t seem to be about my parents. I then deeply recognized that my wounds with god, as I knew god, had hidden behind, and were often interwoven with, the wounding I’d experienced with my parents.

What had initially been experienced as feeling rejected by my parents revealed a belief that I had been rejected by god. Where as previously it felt like my parents had abandoned me, it now felt like I’d been abandoned by god. What that left me feeling was not just rejected and abandoned, but bad and wrong to be someone who would be rejected and abandoned.

Oh the shame! And self-loathing. And creation of self-reliance and an inflated sense of responsibility to cover it all up.

 

Me and god, god and my parents: deeper in

Some of you may be asking, “How was it that god came into all of this? How was this all made about god?”

Recall back to where I referred to God as a father:

I could no longer believe in “God the Father”, or his violent rules. I was sickened by how this god judged and decided who was worthy of his love. This god was just as bad as my parents, with their republican and conservative pronouncements. I wanted no part of it. I became adamantly anti-Christian, and anti “God.”

In my innocence I thought all I had to do “see the truth” and walk away. This is a common mistake amongst those who have spiritual awakenings as well. We see something, clarity comes, and we think we are “finished.” And then comes the process of embodiment, where we find the energies of those beliefs. My system had “taken in” all those beliefs about good and bad, right and wrong, sin and salvation. My body, mind and spirit had been infused with linking love and god the father. If god rejected me, I’d be unloved. There is nothing more shameful to a human being than being unlovable. These early teachings, as simple as they were, had woven into my system, and were desperately looking for reconciliation.

 

But it’s richer than that

What I’ve discovered in my own journey but also with hundreds of clients is that our parents often act as our first gods. Obviously this isn’t conscious, but it’s in the subconscious stratosphere of the psyche. My friend explained it well: “My parents were gods to me. I depended on them to live.”

Our parents give us life and we are at their mercy for safety, love, food, and nurturance – on every level. They also reprimand and punish us. And so they become synonymous with how our culture often portrays god – the life-giver, the disciplinary, the mother, and the father. My friend continues, “From that I learned that god was loving, and joyous, and terrifying, and confusing. God was everything. God also dies.”

This isn’t rational, and quite frankly is too much for our child self to make sense of, but our beings pick up this information and make make conscious and subconscious beliefs based upon these ideas. It is only later in life that we can journey back through the layers of our conditioning to see the formation of deficiency stories that have influenced our whole life.

 

Deeper still

As I felt safe to journey into the medical trauma and prior traumas, and the imagined roles god (and my parents) played in those traumas, I was able to connect to various debilitating belief systems. I had believed that I was bad, and that I had been abandoned and rejected by my god (and my parents) because I was bad. Said another way, and more from the perspective of a child: god had let me down, I wasn’t good enough for god, and so ultimately I wasn’t good enough or worthy of god’s love. That meant I had to become my own god, so to speak. It was up to me to keep myself safe, because god and my parents had failed due to my badness.

The level of shame, self-loathing, and self-reliance (what we commonly see as a false sense of responsibility) that was under all of that was immense and had been following me around for… my whole life. Although I was not consciously aware of it, a sense of shame that seemed synonymous with my being was living under the surface and was wreaking havoc in my life.

Although my life was basically “fine”, I was making unhealthy and debilitating choices in intimate relationships. As I courageously worked through my self-reliance patterning, I innocently made a wrong turn: I trusted others unworthy of that trust instead of trusting that which was worthy. I did this because ultimately I didn’t have a safe and loving relationship with myself, or a healthy relationship with Love. This pattern dramatically revealed itself when I found myself in a narcissistically abusive relationship. The creation of a perfect storm destroyed my sails and crashed me into rocky territory I had been trying to avoid all my life. It literally took me to the darkest and most hidden places within myself that I had never felt safe enough to explore.

Eventually it took me to my unfinished business with god. After that torturous terrain was faced, I found myself experiencing a level of safety I didn’t know was possible, and a Love I had never known. My world had changed.

 

The rest of the story

There is more to say. Healing religious, parental and attachment wounding takes commitment, time, love, compassion and support. The rest of the story includes sharing practices I have developed with myself and others that help us let go of old beliefs, and in their absence fall into the experience of a safe body (and life) to reside in.

Life fundamentally changed for me as I cleaned up my past but it wasn’t an overnight change – it has been slow, steady, and eventually sustainable. Not having to be a vigilant and over-responsible god has relieved me of a burden that was not mine to carry. Groking the benevolence of Love has altered my way of being in a world that I do not have the power to control, but feel safe residing in nevertheless.

I have shared only parts of my journey here, and look forward to sharing more. I’d love to hear from you. What was particularly helpful? What was confusing? What do you want to know to know more of? I look forward to journeying together.

[1] See my Deepening Course starting in February, “Discovering the Embodiment of Love,” to learn more about that!

[2] After working with hundreds of clients, I now see that one’s relationship with “god”, however that is perceived/experienced/named, is most sacred (this goes for atheists too, although the language is going to be quite different)- even more sacred than that of one’s parents. And, it is also often very hidden within the psyche. For various reasons it can be one of the last places one “wants to go” when inwardly journeying. There is good reason for this, which I explore in my book.

To read more about Lisa Meuser, click here.

Part 2- Social Justice, Heart-Work, and Evolution; It’s Time.

By Lisa Meuser.  

I wrote a blog post back in August about the importance of doing heart-work for social activists, lest we become burned out on despair and/or anger. Titled “Part 1, of 2: Social Justice, Heart-Work, and Evolution”, it shared my own journey of heart-work, which took me straight into anger and then back out into deep and radical love. As I journeyed, this wisdom found me:

“I value my own heart so much that I must pause with and for her health before I do anything else.”

There was much left to be said, so at the end of that post I promised a part 2, which would continue to explore the radical act of heart-work, why it’s needed for evolution, and how to keep heart-work and social justice a sustained part of your life.

But I got a little delayed.

The overwhelming feedback from part 1 was that I needed to write more about anger; people were afraid of their anger, not sure how to handle it, and had some blockages to allowing anger, and so I wrote “The Gift of Consciously Connecting to Anger, aka Social Justice, Heart-Work, and Evolution Part 1.5”. In part 1.5 I shared my own journey illustrating how anger is an appropriate and healthy response to injustice that can actually empower us. I went onto explore how allowing ourselves to journey into anger doesn’t mean we necessarily disconnect from love. Love is big enough to hold it all.

Then I got delayed again, as my clients and Gathering Group members were sharing their experiences with sleepless nights, and so I wrote “Sleepless Nights: When a Curse Becomes a Gift”.

It’s time to return to part 2. This is a stand-alone piece, but in order to grok “heart-work” see my first piece, for an experiential sharing.

Thanks for your patience. ❤

 

Part 2

Heart-work, mysterious work

Sometimes our greatest “doings” come from within our deepest Being. In my experience these impacts can be profound, albeit mysterious.

Perhaps a part of what makes heart-work challenging is because it is somewhat mysterious, and maybe in that, a bit risky. In part one I shared the discovery that when I gave myself permission to hate, love found me. Deeply found me. While this may make sense in some ways, it likely seems more counterintuitive.

By giving myself permission to hate, love will find me? Are you sure?

This is my lived experience, as counteractive as it may sound. I’ve found that there is a mysterious sense of redemption that happens when I go deep into the caverns of my heart and into whatever is there, even hate. It’s not always easy – sometimes I have a lot of resistance and need the support of others to help guide me. Other times there is simplicity and a readiness to step right in on my own.

While it may not often be easy, after doing many years of intense embodied self-study my system has learned that it’s safe. This is important. It is my experience that when there is safety, there is an inexplicable knowing that makes surrendering into life – into Love – possible. Safety is a huge part of this journey. If this is a new topic for you, or something you’d like to learn more about, please contact me or see my KISS list at the end.

 

What is heart-work?

Heart-work, simply said, is starting with, or at the least, always including, energy of the heart. While our culture is largely intellect or mentally based, heart-work is body and wisdom based. While our culture is mainly past or future based, fixated on complication, heart-work is present based, connecting with what is simple.

Heart-work, generally speaking, is not easy: it’s actually counter to what our capitalist culture teaches. Heart-work is life giving and life fulfilling in its honoring and allowance of the individual, where I am free to be my fully human self. My hate and rage is welcome in the heart space within me. Tears of grief and trembling releases of fear are welcome here. Joy, celebration and happiness are welcome here too. Heart energy includes the entire being – from the toes to the head and everywhere in between. Somehow the heart space holds it all, until, if we are patient to go deep enough, there is nothing left but love or Beingness.

Sometimes the ‘doing’ that comes from deep inner journeying is enough. Other times it is the springboard or foundation which births more externalized doings. It is no easy thing to blindly stay with the present moment and go into discomfort and socially stigmatized emotions, but in my experience heart-work, or the path of love, invites just that.

I understand that this is not everyone’s path, and for that I’m grateful – because thank goodness to those on the front lines. I know not everyone has the luxury and/or the time and/or the know-how or desire to deeply feel, but instead know how to deeply act. I cannot bow down to them enough, and I am in full support of outwards actions. As for me, I don’t have that resilience anymore, unless I tend to my heart first.

“I value my own heart so much that I must pause with and for her health before I do anything else.”

Then I can, and I do, act outwardly.

 

A new way

If you are the kind of person who can have the most impact by jumping to action first, then JUMP! Again, I honor your role in this life.

AND, dare I say to all of us who want to move from the toxicity of our culture towards something completely different: We can’t push through and avoid ourselves – not love ourselves – if we are truly wanting to make change. So please, include your own well-being, as you work for the well-being of others.

Disconnecting from our true well-being is the old way. That is the way of the patriarchy, of powering over, objectifying, and monetizing everything, of valuing thinking, thinking, thinking! over the heart. The old way doesn’t support love, intrinsic worth and value, inclusivity, and the unity of interweaving life.

The old way is life taking – it is death itself. The new way focuses on doings, actions and humaning that are truly life giving as it moves further away from the dysfunction of our current cultural paradigm and into creating something sustainable and loving.

Controlling and killing others is no longer what I want to participate in.

Utilizing internal resourcing, along with clear head and heart energy, ushers in the wise use of creativity and curiosity in living together on this planet. This is what calls me, as opposed to using control and force.

 

The heart path

When I say heart path, I’m not saying – “let’s just all sit around and feel into our hearts all day!” whilst singing Kum-ba-yah. I’m saying, let’s include heart energy all day, or as much as we can muster, as we go about our activism or social justice activities.

Our current toxic culture insists that the head or the intellect lead. Yet, the space of the mind alone is limited and is often absent of good intent, or what Buddhists call right action. The mental route is often exclusive, based on limited notions of right/ wrong/ good/bad. It is restrictive, rigid and dual.

The heart path invites heart energy to lead, knowing that the mind and wisdom will follow. When I start with the heart, what makes its way to the mind will quite often come easily, creatively, and with a new and renewed sense of empowerment because the space of the heart is limitless and abundant. The route of the heart is inclusive, curious, compassionate… and courageous.

It is also a route that has within it uncertainty and unfamiliarity. While the mind promises that it will solve problems, the territory of the heart isn’t linear, nor does it guarantee. It’s risky, open-ended, and wild. And that is why the path of the heart is considered the path of the courageous warrior – who doesn’t use a sword to kill and destroy, but to gently open and create.

It’s why, when I was confronted with opening my heart deep and wide (See Part 1), an existential fear arose… Going into the heart requires a leap of faith of sorts, because it is the territory of expanse, of ‘more’, of newness… and that requires a letting go and surrendering – two things almost all human beings struggle with.

 

Love is not neat and tidy, nor is the heart

Going into the heart can be messy. We humans like to know what we’re doing, why, and what for. If we know we’re going to get something out of surrendering, then we’re down for it. But surrendering without a promise of something? It starts to feel like going down into a sewer tunnel, with no knowledge of what the hell might be in there, and if it will ever end. That’s where a certain kind of trust, faith, or Knowing comes in.

The more one explores from the present moment and the heart the more one knows s/he will live through it and the more safe it feels to do so. Knowing, trust, or having faith doesn’t always make it easier in the moment – but maybe it’s lingering just close enough to make a difference. What is more motivating perhaps, is the understanding that I know what the alternative is – it’s our current culture: it’s death.

Taking a step into our own hearts provides us with an opportunity to deeply connect with our planet, with each other, and with ourselves. Feeling these deep connections, we are prepared to creatively, curiously and sustainably find new solutions to old problems – solutions that are not founded in the very same toxic approaches that have created the problems at hand.

 

Heart-work for the future

It is my experience that we must step outside the old paradigm to find new solutions on a macro level, and so it goes on a micro level. If we can, we must take a moment to pause, and go inward, before we go to automatic pilot and charge outwards. Countless numbers of us have tried that route, and it is not sustainable or healthy. The life of our planet and of humanity depends on not repeating the old, but communally engaging in something new.

You might say you don’t have time to take care of yourself, however, this mindset is part of the old paradigm. If we don’t take time to honor and love ourselves, we unwittingly add to the current state of affairs. Heart-work is political: our current culture hopes we will never take time to honor and love ourselves, it doesn’t want us to be healthy and resourceful human beings.

Heart-work is political, and also practical. We all know political activists, or have been them ourselves, who have gotten burned out. We care so much, and there is so much to feel, that it becomes too much. We get bogged down by our anger, lost in our outrage, and find ourselves bitter and/or hopeless. Sometimes we find ourselves giving up or shutting down. Other times we may disconnect from the world and isolate ourselves.

If one does not allow one’s emotions to be felt, internally expressed, and validated, then the amount of flow one experiences is impacted. Without the movement through there is a stacking up, which can easily result in overwhelm, leading one to simply give up or shut down.

Heart-work, because it is based in allowance and inclusivity, welcomes the anger, welcomes the despair, and welcomes the overwhelm and says, “rest here for a while.”

Heart-work allows fighting energy, tired energy, as well as the peaceful energy. It is sustainable because it is inclusive, based upon the moment, and on the needs of each unique individual and where they are on their journey. It is sustainable because it allows for respite and nurturance.

 

KISS: Keep It Simple Sweetheart

Heart-work is practical and simple, and at the same time new to most of us. If you are new to connecting to your inner terrain there are options for learning this new paradigm. They all include getting to know yourself:

  • Attend a mindfulness or meditation class
  • Hire a professional to assist you in navigating your emotional wellbeing
  • Learn how to somatically inquire into your experience
  • Take a yoga class
  • Spend some time outdoors
  • Eat good food, and drink lots of water
  • Explore journaling
  • Join support groups
  • Ask a friend to hold space for you
  • Explore your sense of safety in your body/being; learn how to feel and be safe
  • Build your curiosity muscle Here is a blog that talks about curiosity. Learn healthy ways to release emotions/support your emotional wellbeing
  • Exercise can be a powerful way to connect to repressed or active emotions (running up hills is a favorite of mine)
  • Work through your trauma with a skilled somatic therapist or facilitator

 

It’s time

Heart-work has given me the courage to be a change agent. Waking up is a political act, and in my experience heart-work is a crucial part of embodied wakefulness. Journeying into my heart has given me tremendous freedom to act, create, to be. Heart-work has led me to discover my true nature, and has allowed me to be more available for the hearts of others.

It seems to me that we have been preparing for a new heart-work based culture for a while. Mindfulness classes are taught in many schools. Bodywork is now recognized as an important part of physical health. Yoga and body consciousness have become mainstream. Even science confirms that it’s important to slow down, breathe, and take care of our internal mechanisms, as stress is linked to the six leading causes of death.

Should we accept the mission, heart-work might just be the next step in human evolution. Will you take it?

To read more about Lisa Meuser, click here.

Social Justice, Heart-Work, and Evolution. Part 1, of 2

By Lisa Meuser.  

In every moment, new life.

I was going for a run this morning, on a new trail, in a new place. I came upon what looked like an extra large water pipe, but it was human sized- meaning I was to go through it. It was dusk. It was pitch black in there. And I had no idea what was on the other side. I started through, stumbling along the way, hoping I’d not lose my footing because there was stagnant and smelly water on one side of the dirt path that I really didn’t want to fall into. In the dark. I made it to the other side, and onwards I went, into more unfamiliar terrain, onto more trails that were new to me. I ran blindly, not knowing where I was going. At every step, there was new territory. In every moment, new life.

It dawned on me: these runs I take into the wild, they are like the journeys I take into my heart. Sometimes my pacing is awkward… sometimes I’m not sure where my heart is. Sometimes my body is stiff or out of alignment… sometimes my heart feels closed and hard. But I go on these unfamiliar runs, and I continue to go into my unfamiliar heart. Sometimes it feels risky, uncomfortable, and just plain hard. But I go, because I always experience new life in my body, soul and spirit when I do. I go, because I know what the alternative is, and of that I am not a fan.

The alternative is, by and large, our current cultural structure. I will be writing more about that in part 2, but in short, our current cultural structure is pervasively led by the head, not the heart. As such, it is not life-giving, nor life-sustaining, but more likely life-controlling and dominating.

I am a fan of the heart, which honors curiosity, creativity, and expansion. I am a fan of the mystery. I am a fan of the unity and quality of all life.  I am a fan of new life – and that is why I run on paths unknown, and travel into inner territories not yet traversed.

 

Something is better than nothing

A few weeks ago, in late June, I was sitting in the place I spend most of my Sunday mornings – in my Unitarian Universality Church with my daughter. It was the week we started to learn that the US government was taking infants, babies, and children away from immigrants without proper documentation.

That morning Rev. Mary Ann spoke about what was happening on the front lines with regards to immigration. It was not a playful [1] sharing of information – it was horrific. The room was exceptionally sober. People throughout the congregation were sobbing, and many others had tears in their eyes, listening to the words she was speaking, trying best as we could to not only keep our ears open, but also our hearts.

She encouraged us to do something. She then spoke about the many options of ‘somethings’ we could do; attending marches, making phone calls, sending letters, donating funds, and so forth. She knew that a lot of people were weighed down by the insanity going down on the front lines of our government. She knew that many people felt powerless, and hopeless. She knew many people wanted to just ignore this, until it went away, because it was just so big.  “Please do something,” she urged. She asked us to refrain from being complicit. “Nothing will yield nothing,” she said, “but something will always yield something, even if you don’t know what that is.”

Even if you don’t know what that is.

I thought that was profound. When it comes to political action, nothing will surely yield nothing.

Under the weight of what the government was doing, it was easy to think that actions might not have much of an impact. Rev. Mary Ann’s words were not only inspiring, they were also empowering. Even though we can’t know what that something will do, we know it will yield something.  And that gives cause to opt for something, any act, over nothing.

(Side note. Pausing a moment for a desperate prayer and to state the obvious which is often overlooked by the liberal left, which includes myself: may we please pick our “somethings” wisely. Doing violence, to counter violence, for example, sustains the toxicity of our current death-fixated culture. I will write more about this in part 2.)

 

First, some heart-work

I knew action was crucial. Passively praying, or pretending it is “all going to be ok,” not only seems inappropriate but also morally void in these times. Social justice is a passion of mine, and I find that activism, in some way or another, is crucial.

I wanted to jump to action. I’d already been called to heartfully connect with the victims of the atrocities, but because of the amount of anger and righteous indignation [2] I felt I simply could not. When I tried to bypass that and do something “easier”, again all I could feel was my own arrogance, blame and resentment, and I could not ignore how ultimately disempowering that felt for me.

My heart had been buckling under the weight of these crimes against humanity, and I had been trying to ignore her because it was all just so painful. Not only was she buckling, she was hardening at times, wanting to close at times, and wanting to numb out at times.

It’s not just that I don’t want to live with a hardened or a dissociated heart, it’s that I can’t do my work in the world with a heart that isn’t open.

I knew that I had to address that first – as my initial ‘something.’ I knew I had to go deeper into what was going on for me, and I knew the only place to go deeper into was what wanted to close: my heart. I was in need of some heart-work.

 

Getting honest with myself

I allowed myself some time to honor what I was experiencing. It felt overwhelming and almost too much to bear and I noticed that I was feeling some hopelessness in light of the political decisions being made. I continued to go slow, and as I got clearer I saw that the government taking children way from their families was hitting me on (at least) 3 levels.

  • I was impacted as a human being who has empathy and compassion for other human beings.
  • I was impacted as a therapist because I know how destructive childhood trauma is with regards to the development of a healthy psyche.
  • I was impacted as a mother: the idea of my child being taken from me broke my heart every time I thought of it.

Between the three, I was overwhelmed with emotional responses. I was angry, I was experiencing immense grief, I was afraid and there was some hopelessness under the weight of all that.

It was the hopelessness that cried out for attention, for in the wake of the hopelessness there was despair and wanting to give up. And I could feel that deep in my heart.

As uncomfortable as hopelessness feels, as much as I don’t like to feel hopelessness, I knew that I needed to move closer to that resonance and get more intimate with what I was feeling.

That was my first ticket into my heart: as I allowed myself to let in this feeling of hopelessness, my heart started to crack, and, like Leonard Cohen, I experience the heart breaking as the heart opening. I could feel more as I stayed with the hopelessness, and that led to the next layer, which was anger.

 

Then came Anger

Sometimes I still feel weary and/or afraid of letting anger in, or going down into anger. Couldn’t I just jump to love? (Or, let anger spur right action?)  No, I could not. I didn’t feel love, I felt pain and anger and rage and hate. And it felt like right action in that moment was to feel into it, as opposed to act from it.

As I owned that powerful righteous indignation I let myself fully feel it down deep into my being. My body felt rigid, as if I was holding, or gripping, and my chest was tight. I didn’t try to change or soften any of it, but instead consciously joined with it as it was. I let the righteous narrative be as it was, and before long started to see myself and feel myself as if I were having a tantrum. I was, as I often refer to this state of rage, ‘Hulk Mad,’ and in true Hulk fashion I was throwing things around (in my imagination). As I stayed with the visuals in my mind’s eye, I also stayed with the resonance of anger in my body, and my breath breathed down and into these sensations that were traveling through my heart, my gut, and legs.

Then a different degree of violent images arose in my imagination- first of caged children and cruel adults. Then, of me- gunning down those determent guards (I am pretty sure there were some politicians in there, too) so as to free those kids. I allowed myself to have such awful imagery and sentiments, and felt deeply into my being while doing so. Whilst breathing consciously I stayed with the heart contractions and let them have their way as they moved through my body. The sensations in my heart were painful, as if my heart was being ripped or torn apart.  It wasn’t long before the anger and the rage and the hate started to shift – on their own accord. I started to sob uncontrollably with grief as my heart continued to break open. As I patiently stayed with the anger, and then grief, there was a shift into love and my heart started to open up even more. I could feel the impact of the heart-work I was doing.

The contractions and the rigidity in my body had stopped and were replaced by a deep and wide warmth that flowed through and beyond my body- all around me, and all within me. Love started to pour out to those children, and the guards and politicians, too. The imagery had turned from a killing fest into a love square dance.

The pain in my heart had been replaced by a mysterious yet uncomfortable pulling sensation, as if I was being drawn into the space of my heart. “Come deeper, here,” my heart seemed to be saying. Here.

And that’s when something surprising showed up: Fear.

 

You’re afraid to love, Lisa, really?

Hell yeah – fear was there. I was afraid to really let my heart blindly love. I was afraid of going so deep into my heart that I’d get lost in there, in my ‘hearting.’ There was so much to feel.  Dare I let open my heart that wide? Could I trust my heart? Could I just jump in, without knowing where or what I was jumping into?

I didn’t know what “here” really meant, or where it would take me, or what it would “do”. I didn’t know anything, other than I was being called into a chasm that was deeper and wider than I knew. Like on those runs I take, I was being called to go into unfamiliar territory. I was being called to go into what seemed like emptiness.

I took it slow, and my dead friend Travis showed up to help me. He held my hand, and he reminded me that I didn’t have to go in deeper if I didn’t want to. I was feeling the deep desire to love, but I also felt some ‘supposed tos’. In the wake of those supposed tos, I paused, and I let myself not love, for a bit. And that was just what I needed because after that the love started pouring through on its own accord.

When I can honor doubt, and just let it be there for a moment, the trust that comes next is inevitably more powerful.  I don’t know how that happens- perhaps it is pure grace.

My heart continued to beckon me into it, and in doing so it softened, filled, and emptied, over and over in a dance that is impossible to describe.

 

Heart-work Motto

As odd as it may sound, I wonder if the first act of heart-work stems from the radical act of self-care.

Maybe this is the heart-work motto:  “I value my own heart so much that I must pause with and for her health before I do anything else.”

For me, in the above life-story, valuing my heart meant that my first ‘doing something’ was to deeply feel, because without doing that my heart was going to close, and then what good am I in creating the social change I believe in and advocate for?

 

Once I tend to my heart, all things become new

After tending to my heart, after following the path of love, then I can be grounded and open enough to be myself. I can attend marches, I can write letters, I can make phone calls, and be a political activist. AndI can continue to work with the hearts and souls of my clients, and I can continue to be a mother, and I can continue to create, and write.  And I do.

When I keep my heart open, I get to live another day in creating change, in creating newness, and in advocating life, not death, as our current political and economic institutions pray to. But once my heart closes down, it’s game over for me – and they win. Believe me, they want my heart to close – they want all of our hearts to close, and stay closed.

They want us to feel too overwhelmed, too depressed, and too powerless to feel, to act, to be alive. They want us to get lost in the horrific images on Facebook and television, and believe that we can do nothing.

Giving up isn’t an evolutionary option, but caring for ourselves is. In fact, the love and compassion that is at the center of self care may be at the heart of evolutionary progress on a macro level. As I tend to my heart and keep it open, I have more space and resourcing to participate in life on all levels. When I tend to my being, I have more available to tend to all beings.

We all must find that which sustains us. Taking care of my heart sustains me. It keeps me truly alive and furthering. Do what keeps your well-being alive, and involved in creating a different, a new, tomorrow. 

Stay tuned for part 2, where I’ll be writing more about the radial act of heart-work, why it’s needed for evolution, and how to keep your heart-work and social justice work a sustained part of your life.


[1]The theme in June was play, and had became a paramount part of her services each Sunday because, despite what was going on in our country politically, she felt we needed to remind ourselves of the importance of play. Rev Mary Ann Macklin had done some research – convicts of unspeakable crimes most often come from childhoods where there was little to no play. Furthermore, she contended, the opposite of curiosity – something utilized in play – is depression. “In times like these,” her words sang throughout the room, “we need play.”

And, she did, thank goodness, later in the service invite us into some experiential exercises so that we could connect with curiosity, aliveness, and playfulness.

[2] FWIW Righteous indignation has its uses, and can be extremely powerful – and perhaps that would have been the perfect springboard into action for me in the past.  Perhaps my new slogan for myself will be, heart work first, then righteous indignation.

 

In Need of Satsang Detox

By Scott Kiloby.  

One reason I moved into the area of addiction treatment at the Kiloby Center was to get away from the satsang circuit. In and of itself, the circuit doesn’t necessarily create a lot of harm. But I remember getting numerous calls, texts or emails from spiritual seekers who had just attended a weekend or week retreat with a teacher. They would say, “The retreat was wonderful – I truly found peace” or something like that. But by Tuesday or Wednesday of the next week, the emails, texts or calls would change. “I’m suffering again right now, what should I do?” I would say, “Investigate for yourself, using the tools you have learned. Awakening is truly an inside job. Going to satsang and expecting to wake up and be free of suffering once you enter back into your normal life is like going to a drug dealer and expecting that temporary high to last forever.” So many times the person would not investigate for themselves. Instead, they would schedule and attend the next satsang or the next three to come to town. Then the cycle would repeat, with the high or peace of satsang replaced by the usual suffering days or weeks later.

I have to admit that I am biased. I never attended satsang back in my seeking days. Sure, I watched a DVD or two of a spiritual teacher giving satsang. But once I extracted some really valuable tools, I put all of that down and began investigating on my own. This made all the difference. When I’m talking to spiritual seekers who are heavily into the satsang world, they often cite “transmission” as the reason they keep going back. The notion behind transmission is that there is some recognition that is transmitted from teacher to student during satsang. I won’t argue with that. Perhaps transmission does happen for some people. However, continuing to go back over and over and over so easily slips into the realm of addiction, treating the teacher kind of like a drug dealer who is doling out the good stuff. In many cases, it stops being about transmission. It becomes all about addictive seeking.

I am not waging a war against satsang. It has value. But I think it is important to point out that investigation using skillful means is of utmost important, to finally put to rest the seeking that leads one back again and again to satsang. Most good spiritual teachers would agree, even the ones who are doing satsang regularly.

At the Kiloby Center, we truly make no distinction between addiction to drugs or alcohol and addiction to spiritual seeking or satsang. They carry many of the same elements: wanting to avoid or escape the past or uncomfortable thoughts and feelings showing up in the present, continuing to go back to the “drug” even after recognizing the cycle of “high” followed by withdrawal, believing that there is something (a drug) or someone (a teacher) outside oneself that has the answers to life’s pain, and chasing certain states and experiences rather than letting all states and experiences come and go freely.

If you are a satsang teacher or someone who goes to a lot of satsang and this writing triggers you, there is probably something to examine. This writing comes with no ill will towards anyone. No trigger. My body is completely calm as I write this. This writing has more to do with feeling great compassion as I watch people look outside themselves repeatedly for what cannot be found outside oneself. I would say the same thing to either a drug dealer continuing to dole out drugs to addicted people and to the addicted people who are enslaved to those dealers. And I’m not saying that all teachers are drug dealers and all seekers are like addicts. This is mainly just a metaphor. There are great teachers out there who emphasize self-investigation. And there are seekers who do a lot of self-investigation. But, if you are triggered by this writing, chances are the shoe here does fit. So maybe take a look. Again, investigate for yourself.

This post is republished from the previous Living Inquiries website

Inquiring Beyond the Non-Dual: How Deep Are You Willing to Go?

By Scott Kiloby.  

It’s easy to recognize non-dual presence and let it go to your head. The concepts start to replace the direct experience.

At about that time, non-duality becomes like a religion, something to defend, a kind of head game where one’s identity gets wrapped up in the concepts that try to prove that one is awakened, reality is all One or that awareness is all there is or something like that. These are all reductionists concepts when it becomes a religion. Even though these concepts purport to point to a grand and final realization, they actually create their own divisions in the mind and body and in relationships with other people. Quite often, this is done as a way to not have to deal with trauma or some underlying, very palpable, human issue that is still running the show on some level – usually in relationships. Something has not been included in the awakening. It has not been embodied. It is not being lived. Awakening is such a fluid, vibrant and ongoing discovery. It is alive in every sense. It cannot be pinned down with any concepts, including what is said here. It is not a state that one reaches, but rather an openness that just keeps on opening.

If one doesn’t remain complacent in these extreme viewpoints and the propensity to bypass these human issues, there is a magnificent opportunity to examine not only the underlying trauma and issues but also the spiritual concepts that act as a cover-up job or over-compensation for these issues. If this examination is done with as much diligence as one questioned the concepts around self or ego before an initial awakening, what is revealed is truly remarkable. There is a deepening that is undeniable. This deepening can’t truly be mapped out with any certainty or science. It is too fluid and so different in how it manifests for each individual. But the people around you will know it as the deepening occurs. You will know it. You will feel it down to your bones, in every fiber of your being. Awakening is not just about recognizing some changeless present space. There are real changes that happen on the level of body and mind and in all relationships.

The Living Inquiries are tailored-made to keep one from landing in these extreme views and overcompensation. They invite us to examine the trauma or issues that lead to these head games. They challenge us to question everything that we think we know, every landing point, every identity, every trauma, every issue. And this is not work. It is a natural act of love, an act that comes about organically just from being aware and open and not shutting oneself off from all possibilities.

Luckily, what is left when the investigation goes that deeply, is not a blank space or an intellectual head game around spirituality. It is very much an openness to all of life, as it shows up – the good, the bad and the neutral. Literally everything is transformed on every level – mind, body, spirit. There is a vulnerability at the heart of experience, where one can no longer hide in all the old escape mechanisms. Bypassing becomes impossible at some point. Relationships harmonize themselves as acceptance becomes the norm, not something we are striving for. Enthusiasm for the work we do in the world, whatever it is, shines through without effort. At that point, you could just as soon talk about your favorite TV show or music as talk about how you know what reality really is or what spirituality is all about. The awakening kicks the shit out of you on every level, in the best possible way. You embrace your humanness as much as you embrace the divine. They are both quite divine. In this way, you can embrace the very unique experience called you and where that leads you in life. Your purpose, if you will.

Those who have taken the inquiries deeply have discovered that, in the end, the awareness that is recognized is quite freeing, open and peaceful. And yet they also recognize that the individual expression of themselves as human beings is perfect just as it is. There is nothing to turn away from anymore, either through the intellect or bypassing. It’s this turning towards experience that holds the real gifts. In this turning towards everything, even the stuff that scares us or that we would like to pretend is not really there, true creativity and potential show up naturally. There is then no need to try to manifest anything, for life lives itself. It manifests abundantly just because we remained open and did not stop looking when we landed halfway up the proverbial mountain.

This post is republished from the previous Living Inquiries website