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Two Little Fussbudgets

By Sumitra Burton.  

This morning I was facilitated in an inquiry session where I was feeling “desperate” about needing to earn more money. Old, familiar story!

There’s enough money for today, tomorrow and probably a couple of years. But what about after that? I need to earn more, to save more, to build a large savings account so I won’t be a burden to my family in my old age!

I could feel the pressure of desperation in the left side of my belly, two small balls of energy there that seemed to know this was true – that were actually pushing me to try harder, to do something more, to earn more money. I sat with these energies, the two little balls, and allowed them to be felt, with curiosity. What were they all about?

And then, there they were. I could see these two little fussbudget owls, right there in my belly (I had seen this image of the little owls online earlier in the week). I could both see and feel them, fussing around, trying to stir up some energy. The more I stayed with these little fussbudgets, the more they became like cartoon characters. I started to laugh, and so did my facilitator. Their energies were contagious – so authentically busy, and at the same time going nowhere fast.

The laughter allowed me to relax a bit, and as I brought my awareness back to my body to look for this “desperation to earn more money,” these little owl fussbudgets had softened and become quiet.

It was clear then that whenever I wanted to be a fussbudget and worry a bit about money or anything else, these little owls would be there to “fuss” with me. We could stomp around, fluff our feathers and make squeaky noises all we wanted. And when we grew tired of fussing, we’d become quiet again and rest.

Ah, the wonders of inquiry!

To read more about Sumitra Burton, click here.

Both Individual and Collective: Meeting Rapaciousness

By Fiona Robertson.  

When we engage consistently and deeply in inquiry, our experience of it changes over time. Embodied inquiry develops and evolves, the process itself deepening as we individually and collectively deepen. True to its name, this inquiry is indeed living.

I’ve been inquiring for over seven years now. While self-focused beliefs took up much of my looking in the early years, what comes up now is often collective as well as personal. There’s a sense that what I’m looking at isn’t just mine; sometimes it’s obviously from my family system or ancestry, and sometimes it feels like an aspect of the archetypal human pattern.

Last week, for example, I was aware of some strong energy that felt like a residue from the old beliefs about myself. I sensed that it belonged to my creature-self. (When I’m inquiring, I often find words and descriptions arise that I wouldn’t ordinarily use, and which I may not understand intellectually). As I stayed with this residual creature-self energy, little spurts of emotion or thought sprang up, then quickly faded into almost-nothing.

After a while, the word ‘rapaciousness’ came and fitted the energy perfectly. Not entirely sure of its exact meaning, I looked up the dictionary definition:

Rapacious: from the Latin rapare, to seize. Grasping, extortionate, given to plundering or seizing by force, predatory.

Yes. This was the energy of never-ending rapaciousness, of covert, manipulative wanting, of taking what you are not entitled to, the energy of predation. As I felt it through my body, I sensed how I had cut off from it, how consciously I abhorred it, yet here it was within me, as it is in so many of us. As I felt it, I began to see memories of times when I’d taken more than my fair share, times when I’d lied to get what I wanted or to conceal my greed. I had to acknowledge this rapaciousness had manifested in me over the years in all kinds of ways. Taking that extra doughnut while no-one was looking. Lying to myself that the brief dalliance with a married man was justifiable because we hadn’t had sexual relations according the Clintonian definition. Staying in relationships that I knew weren’t right because having something felt better than the nothing I assumed would result if I left. Minor crimes by comparison to the more extreme expressions of this energy, but expressions of it nonetheless.

After a while, it became apparent that the rapaciousness tries to magnetise things and people, pulling them towards itself. It wants to take things without having to make any effort to earn them. Recognising this rapaciousness as the energy of abusers, predators, conquerors and takers – the energy that fuels capitalism, putting profit above all else – I began to sense that monks, nuns and their ilk withdrew from the world in an effort to control this energy, attempting to rein it back by taking vows of chastity, poverty and simplicity. As we know from the history of the church, both ancient and modern, this strategy didn’t work too well. We cannot simply lock out or deny the rapaciousness, because it gets through in whatever ways it can, and will not be naysaid.

More insights came as I continued to feel the energy of rapaciousness. Envious of others, it is underhand and conniving, finding loopholes, justifications and get-out clauses, sneakily framing events or situations in ways that allow it to believe its actions are okay, or even noble. It has no idea what or where ‘enough’ is. It is very different to desire; desire feels simple, natural, gentle. Rather, this energy is greed and avarice, unchecked appetite which knows no limits. I saw that some people who are bad at controlling their rapaciousness end up imprisoned or vilified, while others, equally bad at controlling it but afforded privilege by dint of their class, race, gender or background, end up in powerful positions, feted around the world. A question came with a wave of emotion: How did it come to this, that we are run by our rapaciousness?

Suddenly, I noticed: the rapacious energy is utterly desperate for attention. Its mantra is like me, like me, like me, with the emphasis on me. But however much attention it gets, it remains insatiable; in fact, giving it unquestioning attention seems to make it even more pronounced. I sat with the energy for a long while, unsure how the session would unfold. Even though it was deeply uncomfortable to feel, I began to feel grateful to have identified it, to have seen it for what it is. Gradually, another part of me emerged, a part that can’t bear the pain the rapaciousness causes. My sense is that more and more of us are connecting with this part within us that cannot countenance what the rapaciousness gives rise to, both within ourselves and the world.

Over the next few days, the rapacious energy itself began to change. An insight into its origins came; when I was young, my creature-self needed support to be itself but no support was forthcoming, so it became rapacious as a way to support itself. The rapaciousness developed as a way to deal with the pain of not having my dependency needs met. It is a distorted outgrowth of that original, natural need for support. Only by becoming more fully conscious of it, and meeting it as it is – neither denying it nor feeding it – can we hope to integrate it and so end its excesses, however great or small those excesses may be.

Fiona Robertson is the author of The Dark Night of the Soul: A Journey from Absence to Presence and a Living Inquiries Senior Facilitator/Trainer.

To read more about Fiona Robertson, click here.

Life Is For Me

By Sumitra Judith Burton.  

Life is for me (not against me).

There was a moment a few months ago that this realization began to dawn on me, and it feels like everything in my being is now shifting to make space for this truth.

I had been running in an unconscious fog much of my life, with a sense of being chased by some kind of darkness that I couldn’t understand. It truly felt (if I’d ever really stopped to think about it) that life was against me, that it was creating roadblocks and terrifying situations that caused me to struggle to try to change things. Nothing was going as I thought it should, and I felt like a victim of intense unseen forces.

Through many years of struggling to make sense of “the story of my life,” which wasn’t unfolding at all as I had hoped and planned, I fought these unseen forces, trying to pull the scenes back in line with my original dream. To no avail. The more I fought, the more I failed. Eventually I just gave up. And that giving up seems to have laid the groundwork for this new understanding.

In the past few years of working with the Living Inquiries I’ve been gradually learning to relax into allowing things to be as they are. What a huge change from the earlier battle to bring things in line with my personal desires! I’d been taught as a child that I could create my own destiny – could accomplish anything I set myself out to do. Sounds noble, right? But, in fact, all this trying and doing led me into the fog of confusion.

Now it feels more like “something else” is in charge, a force bigger than this little me. And I don’t have to resist and fight everything along the way. It feels safe to let go, to stop fighting, and to relax into life as it flows through me.

I simply need to Rest, Inquire and Enjoy Life (as Scott Kiloby has often advised). Rest out of the mind as often as possible, even for very short periods, inquire with curiosity and tenderness into anything that seems to argue with what life brings, and enjoy what’s already here.

It sounds easy, though it’s not always so. Waves of emotion still come through me when something feels blocked. I don’t always remember to take time to rest, to really relax into “what is.” And I still find myself fighting with reality sometimes, afraid that relaxing into life is too easy a way out of the suffering.

But there’s a growing sense that Life is for me; is here to help me, not to harm me. And that’s amazing!

To read more about Sumitra Judith Burton, click here.

On Shame and Sharing

By Fiona Robertson.  

“The shame of being me was a frequent visitor during my dark night…It felt shameful to have all these feelings. The shame was difficult to feel, not least because it felt endemic to my whole being. Every cell of my body, every memory, felt shaped by humiliation. It had misshapen my whole being.”

The Dark Night of the Soul, page 81.

Several weeks ago, shame visited me again. Even though I am now usually able to meet emotion with minimal judgement, the density and intensity of it were stunning. Bodily feelings and vivid memories flooded in. As I looked and felt, I wrote:

The shame feels so deep. I am utterly mortified. Being this – me – is so utterly mortifying. I see everything through this lens. I’m mortified by everything; my body, my life, the house. Every inch of me, every memory. I’ve lived from this place of utter mortification. I am mortified at how my life turned out. So much of what I have or am is mortifying. My whole life has been built around this. I don’t know if there’s any disentangling from it. (I suspect we would almost rather kill ourselves than feel this.)

How do I get unmortified? How do I recover a shred of dignity?

By abiding and persisting. By sitting upright, breathing, and still being here.

I sat upright, music on, and kept breathing as the waves of mortification came and went.

So far, so familiar. I have tapped into this well of shame many times, a little deeper each time. Then came something I had not been conscious of until the moment it appeared: self-mortification. I began to see all the ways I mortify myself. Having been brought up a non-conformist protestant, I was only dimly aware of the role of self-mortification in Christianity, but when I read a little, I saw that I had unintentionally practised self-mortification in a variety of ways. The dictionary definition resonated strongly:

To mortify: to make death. To subdue by abstinence or self-discipline; to humiliate, to chagrin, to wound.

This is what has made me ill. I see all the patterns are self-mortification.  Now I feel like I can be here until it all comes home. I see images of my twenty-eight-year-old self, blown apart by traumatic events. I needed to become who I am now to be able to go back to her. Even with all the inner work I’ve done, I couldn’t get back to her until now. It’s a little shocking it’s taken this long. I have a sense of all the fragments coming together.

There is so much pain and shame in telling our truth. Yet it is in telling our truth that the pain and shame can finally be met. Shame (or mortification or humiliation) hides, believing itself to be guilty of heinous crimes or wrongdoing. When we are in the midst of it, we are convinced that what we are or what we have done is beyond redemption, as I have described. In reality, the sentence we have passed on ourselves rarely bears any relation to the supposed crime. At some point in our past, we were shamed or humiliated, made to feel bad for being ourselves or for some aspect of our being. Such shaming, coming as it does from outside ourselves, leaves us trying to cope with what has been imposed or projected onto our young selves without recourse to support. We develop a skewed and imbalanced view of ourselves and our imperfections. We believe there is something fundamentally wrong with us, and that we have no choice but to cover it up as best we can. Shame is convinced that we are on our own with our wounding, that it is inconceivable we could tell anyone else what is within us. Feeling shame evokes further shame. Trying to avoid or distract from shame sometimes involves activities or compulsions that bring about even more shame. And shame thinks the world sees it as it sees itself; it cannot imagine we could be seen from any other perspective.

Shame is a kind of death. Crippled by humiliation, utterly mortified (from the Latin mortificationem, meaning killing or putting to death), we die inside. How can we really live if we are unable to be ourselves? How can we survive when shame implies our complete isolation? Particularly if we were shamed as very young children, shame strikes at the very heart of our being, making it virtually impossible to be our true selves. We have a sense of how shame curtails our aliveness, but it feels as if feeling the shame would kill us. Indeed, people die of shame, either taking their own lives or via addictions or some form of self-neglect.

As I sat in my shame, I looked around the room. Everything was mortifying except for a set of headphones. I clung to them and sobbed. But it was in finding this one object – which for some unknowable reason was not tainted with shame – that it began to feel okay to sit and breathe and be with the feelings and images. The presence and touch of the headphones allowed a small aperture, a space through which the possibility of not-mortifying could emerge.

Shame believes that if we tell our truth, we will be rejected, ridiculed, hated, killed, or shamed further. We need to take it slowly and gently, allowing shame to feel its way towards safety, to find something or someone that will hold it as it comes fully into consciousness. Indeed, it is of paramount importance that we tell our truths in places of safety and equality. Places where our truths will be heard, honoured and respected. Places where our shame will be witnessed with love and understanding. The antidote to shame is sharing, telling the truth to ourselves or each other. When we listen to each other’s woundedness, when we hear each other’s stories of messing up, ending up in destructive patterns, not being perfect; when we hear the truth of each other’s lives, our shame begins to realise it is not alone and isolated. Our shame realises it can tell its truth and survive. Our shame realises it is deeply human, one amongst many. We can share our shame, and live again.

To read more about Fiona Robertson, click here.

Making Peace with Peacemaking

By Lisa Meuser.

Hi, I’m Lisa and I’m a recovering peacemaker.

There’s not a 12 step program exclusively for peacemakers, but you can be sure that at every 12 step meeting, in every recovery program, peacemakers and recovering peacemakers will be present. And while being addicted to peacemaking may not have the same stigma or even consequences as being addicted to drugs, sex or gambling, there’s definitely a cost.

If you’re unfamiliar with peacemakers, here are some traits:

Excuse-making for others
Justifying others’ actions
Saying things are “no big deal” or “ok”
Going along with things that don’t feel right
Strategically avoiding conflict

In short, when I respond with this kind of thinking – “Let’s not make problems/make waves…” – I’m in classic peacemaking mode (can also be seen as peacekeeping).

I’ve spent years engaging in these kinds of behaviors, not because I was consciously trying to be a peacemaker. These kinds of behaviors came about innocently when I was quite young. I would do anything to try and earn the love of my caregivers, because my survival literally depended on it. In addition, I learned some of these traits directly from them. To explain it another way, I learned behaviors/associations/interpretations while I was young to try to guarantee my survival, and unknowingly repeated these behaviors so frequently over the years that they became part of my neural pathways, regardless of whether or not they were actually useful or necessary. That’s how addiction and habitual behavior work.

For what it’s worth, neural pathways are neutral in the sense that they don’t care if the behaviors set within them are positive or negative, are healthy or unhealthy, or bring happiness or suffering. A neural pathway is like a groove that gets set, like a groove in a record, because X activity is repeated over and over. It’s simply a mechanism of the brain and it’s all contextual. For example: neural pathways are often incredibly useful, as evidenced by how easy and natural it is for most of us to drive a car. Sometimes we might even totally zone out while driving, and still safely get where we’re going. Neural pathways allow us to do a lot of activities without much conscious thought, which is fine when the behaviors are helping us thrive, but not so fine when the behaviors are unhealthy or even dangerous to our well-being.

This all may sound like we’re slaves to our neural pathways. The good news is that we’re not! Because neural pathways (as well as beliefs and behaviors) are ever-changing and malleable, we’re never truly prisoners. We only need to have mindfulness for change to happen, which means that once we discover the beliefs and the behaviors- once we become aware of them- they are now in our consciousness. And once we are conscious of something, we have choice, which means they no longer control us. Hooray!

Coming back to my own peacemaking addiction- I spent years engaging in these kinds of behaviors without being aware or conscious of what I was doing, and always at the expense of my own integrity. Whenever I compromise my integrity, I basically disappear myself. It’s as if I subconsciously decide that I don’t matter, am not valuable, and lack worth. And I then submit to “other,” because “I” no longer exist. To live this way is to truly put oneself at the mercy of others, which is to say that one’s lovability, worth, importance, safety, and okay-ness are in the hands of someone else. It’s a bitch of a way to live- always clamoring for love and affection from others, myself an empty vessel.

I’ve got more good news, though! Just like any addiction or habitual behavior, or even anxiety and depression,  the way of the peacemaker doesn’t have to be set in stone. Simply by becoming mindful of my patterning and being willing to experience what lies beneath, I allowed my “automatic pilot” behaviors to shift. This was a very powerful discovery for me, and has brought about huge change in my life.

I’ve been on the path of recovering from this peacemaker patterning in a mindful and beautiful way for a while now. There is an amazing difference in my life, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t still occasionally get caught in its seductive and often opaque traps. The wonderful thing about becoming aware of one’s patterning is that the trap can get spotted quickly and, instead of getting caught, something new gets to be revealed and danced with- which breaks the patterning apart even more.

I got an opportunity to further release some of this patterning around the time of my last birthday. A call came in from my brother and mom, and they left me a voicemail singing happy birthday to me. Sweet, right? Well, except that they called to wish me a happy birthday on the wrong date. Um, yeah. I felt the sweetness…along with something else that was not-so-sweet.

It was an innocent mistake. I quickly acknowledged that, and then laughed and made light of it for a few minutes, reminding myself of how loving they were in the recording- until I noticed that this was that old peacemaking pattern, and I was about to sink into the trap. I paused and acknowledged that there was something here begging to be felt and honored, and that it was important to not cover it up with my usual “oh it’s all good” mentality.

Then I became torn for another reason- I was supposed to run a training call in 20 minutes, and meet with my co-leader in 5 minutes. I could feel that old pattern really wanting to kick in- “You don’t have time to feel this, just let it go. It’s no big deal.”

Here’s the thing about integrity, though. It’s like a muscle- when you start to use it, it gets bigger. It takes up more space, and can become quite powerful. My own integrity was no longer allowing me to bypass what I was experiencing. I messaged my co-worker: “I’ve got something going on and I need to feel it. It feels important.” Because of the type of work we do, she fully supported me and told me to take as long as I needed. (I love my job!)

Little did I know that I had set a crucial tone by saying what I did: “It feels important.” My caregivers had a history of making me feel unimportant, which translated to years of me making myself and my experiences unimportant. It was no accident that I chose those words. My experiences were important, and it was important that I honor them. Even if it meant I’d be late for the training. Whew.

When I stopped pretending it was all okay and instead felt inward, I became honest with myself (hello again, integrity!): that early birthday call from my family had actually anchored me to some childhood experiences I’d already been intimately wading through that week – and it did not feel okay. With those childhood hurts already fresh on the surface of my attention, I opted to forgo the addictive patterning path of the peacemaker, and instead honored what was really coming to the surface for me.

First I allowed myself to experience the pang in my heart and feel the expression of grief. “OUCH,” my heart seemed to say, “My birthday’s not today. It’s tomorrow. The day of my birth is tomorrow.” It felt a bit silly on some superficial level, but deep down I knew this wasn’t about the early birthday call. Grief from so many moments of feeling dismissed, unseen, and unimportant started to flow out of and through my body. I cried and shook as I laid on my bed. My breathing was fully engaging the top part of my chest in heaves, which was a new experience for me. I felt excited about this, as I had been consciously exploring the upper part of my chest/lungs earlier that week. I could feel my system expanding outward as it released the old and allowed the birth of the new. What I was experiencing seemed like deep layers of my internal basement getting cleaned out, and as a result was a wider range of spaciousness than I’d ever experienced. I was accessing new strengths, new stability.

Years of making myself invisible, pretending in order to please, trying so hard to be good, and pushing my true feelings down over and over and over again…they were all releasing, and I was giving them importance and space to be exactly as they were. Let me repeat that, because this is extremely important: I was giving them importance and space to be. Integrity. Internal resourcing. Self love.

The grief had her way with me, and eventually the dance started to move into dangerous territory for a peacemaker/peacekeeper: into anger. Anger was shut down quickly in my household. Hopelessness and depression would go unnoticed, but anger was squashed. I could feel the evolution as my system felt safe enough to go into this taboo realm.

What had been grief over being abandoned and dismissed by my caregivers gave way to rage. I grabbed a towel and let my body release this rage exactly as it wanted- I screamed into the towel and felt my body release and tighten and release and tighten … and release. My somatic system was engaging in deeply repressed expressions that were finally free and safe to reveal themselves. My body shook some more, releasing years of repressed sensations. My mind offered up a panorama of events from my childhood where I felt unimportant. Memories of my last relationship popped up, which mirrored similar dynamics. I stayed with all the memories and felt the energies that arose with them, and I let those energies express themselves through tears and yells as various sensations rippled through my body.

My attention tenderly stayed with the thoughts, the imagery, and the energies that were cascading through my experience. The floodgates were open and my hands were off the wheel. Stories and content that felt true were allowed to be named. Emotions were safe to be felt and expressed. Sensations were fully allowed to exist in their own right.

Eventually something shifted, and the stories magically faded. I was left feeling the aliveness of my somatic system without judgment, fear, or resistance. I curiously brought back up the mental panorama of images that had so clearly been referencing and proving my lack of importance, only to discover that they no longer had any meaning. In fact, nowhere in my experience did I feel unimportant or unseen. The stories of unimportance, abandonment, dismissal, and rejection had fallen away, as had the grief and anger. At that point I was able to look back upon the call from my mother and brother and feel nothing but sweetness without any pretending.

Taking this time for myself was really important. It took about 30 minutes from start to finish, and I was 15 minutes late to the training call, but it was totally worth it. Happy early birthday to me!

When I consciously become intimate with my patterning, I have the choice to shift behaviors and move into new ones…and experience life in a very different way. Neural pathways literally change each time I deviate from old behaviors, and this has a profound impact on my life as I release the old ‘stuff,’ and make space for new and enlivening experiences and relationships that align with the integrity of who I am now, rather than the small un-resourceful child I once was.

It’s not always easy. I have to be willing to feel my authentic feelings, whatever they may be. I have to be willing to not rush past, to not pretend. I have to be willing to make my experiences and feelings important, as they are happening for me. I have to be willing to make *me* important. And that is death to a peacemaker/keeper. Hooray! When I make myself important, when I honor what’s true for me, when I am honest and in integrity with myself, the role of the peacemaker automatically starts to crumble- she just cannot exist anymore when there is mindfulness- the pretending stops.

When we’re aware that we have an addictive/behavioral pattern, we can bring the light of consciousness toward that pattern, toward the reaction that we have, and really study it. Nothing is a life sentence- everything is up for exploration and discovery and mindful meditation.

We are all capable of journeying into our patterned reactions, because all human beings have the ability to be aware of their experiences. All it requires is slowing down, practicing mindfulness, and having a readiness and willingness to notice, feel, and explore. Here are 5 steps to get you started!

 

  1. Notice the common reactive state. We often have quite a few of these. Notice yours. It might look like this: “Oh! I’m doing that peacemaker thing right now.”   Noticing it means that you’re onto it- it’s in the spotlight now.
  1. Acknowledge it. A common response to being in a reactive state is to resist it. What we resist persists. So just acknowledge it. It might look like this: “Hi peacemaker. I see that you’re here. I may not like that you’re here, but you are, and I can acknowledge that you’re here.” This continues to bring it out into the light.
  1. See its innocence. We didn’t decide one day to install reactive beliefs and behaviors into our neural pathways. They were innocently created when we were young, doing the best we could under the circumstances, with parents who were doing the best they knew how. It might look like this: “Hi, peacekeeper. I see you, I notice you. I still may not like you, but I get that you’re just a part of my neurology. It’s not because I’m bad, or I did anything wrong. You’ve just kinda been built into my system.” This continues to diffuse one’s vigilance or resistance that might come with the reactive state.
  1. Feel it- engage directly with it. Do not act from it. Feel into it. This is a huge step, because the way we change neural pathways is by doing things differently. Steps 1-3 are already starting the new neural pathway process, but this step is really laying the groundwork. Instead of unconsciously continuing engagement with the behavior or belief, we’re now meeting it as it is. This is true compassion, and this is true love. We all know how compassion and love can transform. This might look like taking time to pause what you’re doing, and being with whatever it is that you’re experiencing- as I did with my reaction to my birthday call.
  1. Be patient with yourself and get support as needed. Changing our neural pathways, changing our reactions, changing our beliefs and behaviors is no easy job. For many of us it has taken decades for them to develop to where they are now. So it will also take some time to unwind them. We often need help. Be kind with yourself.

 

Being consciously aware of our habitual behaviors allows us to meet parts of ourselves that have been running the show from behind the curtain. In this way we can become friendly with ourselves rather than being critical. It can also bring spaciousness into our lives and relationships, in that we no longer blindly react, but can respond consciously to stressful situations. Part of being human is to have neural pathways. Make friends with them, know that you play a role in their existence, and explore them to discover yourself.

I recently heard someone say, “There isn’t an eraser that can erase the past.” Maybe that’s true and maybe it’s not. I do know that, with the right tools, I can change my present experience of the past. I know that when I honor what is alive in me, and don’t push it aside, I live a different kind of Now. When I honor myself, when I love myself, I experience a life of greater width and depth, a life that feels kind, loving, and precious. I experience a life where stories of being unimportant, not good enough, unlovable, and unsafe cannot loom over me. I am no longer at the mercy of others, desperate to please, or continuously trying to get approval. Instead, I experience inherent love and worth, from an internal resource that has no limit to its capacity. It seems to me that that might be what real peace feels like, and it’s a far better kind of peace to make. Every opportunity to shift into this experience is a blessing. A gift. So… Happy birthday to me, indeed.