“The cities, the roads, the countryside, the people I meet—they all begin to blur. I tell myself I am searching for something. But more and more, it feels like I am wandering, waiting for something to happen to me, something that will change everything, something that my whole life has been leading up to.” ~ Khaled Hosseini—And the Mountains Echoed
Her voice spoke with urgency. A pressing need to accomplish a number of tasks and build new ventures prompted this coaching client to hire me. During our initial session, she shared with such a clip that it was hard to truly feel and thus hear her. The buzz of words was like a lightening storm surrounding and protecting something that felt like a quiet, deep agenda stirring, wanting slowly to emerge. Yet, she did not sense within what I was intuiting from the outside due to the enclosed thick layer of cloud. She soon would, however.
After hearing her list the varied entrepreneurial goals in rapid succession, I kindly pointed out the speed at which she was speaking. Quick talking is often a sign of a spinning mind—a mind addicted to busyness; an individual ungrounded in the body. I then got curious, and explored with her what was really going on behind her frenticism.
Over the next 30 minutes a soft space opened amongst the dark clouds, and the first rays of light were felt, guiding her down into a sweet surrender into her heart, her feelings, her fears, and some tears. She descended from her swirling mind into the body, and into the beginnings of beautiful vulnerability and more honest dialogue. The pace of her words slowed, and in the emptiness between them we both felt and heard her for the first time.
Towards the end of the session I told her I would not coach her on what she thinks she wants, for that was not the real agenda at hand. I would, however, coach her on who she was afraid to be, and more specifically, on what she was afraid to feel.
During the following week, she cried more than she ever had before. She wept over little things and big things, sometimes for unclear reasons. She faced what she had run from her entire life, courageously feeling in ways her family, let alone society, had neither modeled nor supported.
After this cleansing week, the nature of our sessions changed dramatically towards more inward “goals”. Her desire was no longer to conquer the world, but rather to slow down and create space to simply be in it in healthy and authentic ways. Specifically, she aimed to practice more self-care by saying “No” more often, relinquishing the need to care take and be responsible for others, and to continue nurturing the stirrings of her emotional body.
She also wanted to spend more time connecting with her children, and was surprised at how her relationship with them quickly changed. In the same way I began to feel more of her, so too did her kids. She became easier going, more approachable—in a sense, safer to be around, safer because she made being with herself safe, instead of running from what was perceived as unsafe. Intuitively her kids felt this in the same way an animal, such as a horse, can feel anxiety or calm, and will restrain or approach accordingly.
Busyness—an affliction of society, an addiction of the mind
Propelling ourselves into ideas of productivity, achievement or success has become second nature to us, yet so much is rooted in blind circumvention. In countless self-deceptive ways we chase life to avoid what we were conditioned not to be with, or feel. This acculturated need to surge into the outer world and away from the quiet inner world is, in large part, a complex response to having primary and secondary caregivers struggle to model emotional wellbeing, and to create safe, loving environments for the tender places in our hearts to be met. Instead of being able to safely be with them, we were taught, on some level, to rise above them; that they were not okay, lovable, or worthy of kind attention.
Rising above is a common way of coping, but it also becomes a means of distraction. In our later years we distract ourselves with the duties and pursuits of life—losing ourselves in tending to the kids, cleaning the house, having sex, watching television, and filing our reports on time; and we charge forward with ambitions to enter and erect the worlds of skyscrapers, media conglomerates, coalmines, and sports stadiums, and to get lost in managing their complex bureaucratic frameworks.
We do well to rise above inwardly, and externally in the monoliths that layer our communities. But forgotten, and left far behind and below, are the wounds we run from that define our aspirations and actions from the shadows, the ones that eventually catch up to us in countless ways. Health and wellbeing soon suffer, and so too does our planet.
Trauma—a disease of rhythm
Feelings unfelt and tears unshed stop the flow of valuable life force energy from running free through our fragile systems. It is these blockages that form trauma.
Somatic psychotherapist, Mariah Moser, states that trauma is a disease of rhythm. Trauma, and specifically developmental trauma, arises, in part, when we do not give ourselves over to what wants to naturally move through our bodies. Children do well in demonstrating how to fully emote—to ride rhythmic waves of laughter, anger, joy and sadness. They remind us how not to suppress our humanity, and in doing so, how to be fully alive.
And so do certain indigenous cultures where grieving is practiced as a means of not only expressing and transitioning through loss, but of releasing the strains and stresses built up from daily living. Through regular grieving the body cleanses, and space is created to feel and live in harmony with the ancient rhythms of the land and life.
But as we separate from the natural rhythms of our inner world, we invariably separate from those of the outer world, causing both to suffer. The outer world, and how we relate to it, becomes an expression, or reflection of, our separation from Self—our inner disease of rhythm. This is played out in the insensitive and, often harmful, ways we engage in social, economic and political arenas, and in the destruction of the natural environment. This separation consciousness forms the accepted ethos of the times, or what we call “reality”—a reality largely built from traumatized people unconsciously running from themselves and engaging in corrupt government-construction deals, chemically spraying our food, abusing school children, and fracking the earth. It is a reality comprised of swelling numbers of bereft, lost and lonely souls wandering through life without any sense of belonging.
In desensitizing inwardly, people struggle to find a sense of home. Home is where the heart is, after all. In desensitizing outwardly, people can act with ignorance, narrow-mindedness, entitlement and cruelty with little, if any, remorse. They have forgotten how to feel.
I am not saying that all of humanity’s endeavors arise in unhealthy ways from trauma. We have countless examples of talented painters, inspiring writers, passionate cooks, caring teachers, loving parents, empathetic business owners, and eco-conscious scientists. We have songwriters and filmmakers following their bliss and turning pain into art, a beautiful path of healing and redemption. Our world abounds in people making life-giving choices that bridge the creative and compassionate rhythms of their hearts with their communities and surrounding nature.
What I am suggesting, however, is that you consider how many things my client thought she wanted to do before she turned inwards; how many projects and businesses she would have added to the fabric of “reality” that suddenly were no longer important. Now times this by billions, considering how many people from across the world were raised in unsafe environments, and how many proliferate their trauma in variegated actions, small and large, and manifest forms.
You may understand more readily why many of our school systems plague kids and teachers with a clutter of curriculum in congested classrooms of 30, sometimes 40 students; why parents overschedule their kids with after-school programs and are desperately afraid that their child may underachieve, or be bored; why we have alarming rates of anxiety and depression amongst kids, and why so many feel lonely—separated.
Western society is afraid to sit in the still silence of solitude. What might we feel? We then unconsciously project this fear onto kids by keeping them busy in and out of school, preparing them for “reality”. In doing so, we separate from them, and keep them separated from themselves.
You may now understand why we teach ideas of being strong, of “never giving up”, of being resilient—of rising above. Maybe weakness is the empowering choice, vulnerability is strength in disguise, and letting go or unraveling into deep uncertainty and heart-breaking grief (as certain indigenous people demonstrate) is the needed medicine to break through.
You may understand more clearly why we greet others by asking, “What are you up to? Keeping busy?” and why we like to answer, “Yep, keeping busy”, as if busyness is a badge of honor.
In Omid Safi’s beautiful article entitled, The Disease of Being Busy, he shares an alternative way of greeting one another that lends itself to slowing down, and connecting more intimately and authentically:
“In many Muslim cultures, when you want to ask them how they’re doing, you ask: in Arabic, Kayf haal-ik? or, in Persian, Haal-e shomaa chetoreh? How is your haal? What is this haal that you inquire about? It is the transient state of one’s heart. In reality, we ask, ‘How is your heart doing at this very moment, at this breath?’ When I ask, ‘How are you?’ that is really what I want to know.’”
Creating a World with Heart
For something to be sacred, a sacrifice must be made.
You may find that the heart is found in the spaces between the many things of our busy lives. And that it can only be felt in the here and now. My client discovered herself when she slowed down into the reality of this moment that would not stop following her—into her heart and the movements of her emotional body—rather than chasing elusive futures projected by her mind.
It’s only in the sacred here and now that we find what we are searching for. It’s only from here that we can begin the life waiting for us. But often is the case that something must end for us to begin. Something must die in this moment for something new to be born from it.
If we look at the word “sacred”, it is wed to the word “sacrifice”. For something to be sacred, a sacrifice must be made. That is the true meaning of sacrifice—to be made sacred.
My client made a brave sacrifice by offering who she thought she needed to be to the crucible of fire searing in her heart. She burned away fragments of old beliefs and stories keeping her locked in her mind and disconnected from her body. And by doing so, she made room for a more sacred part of herself to be born, one that offered greater peace of mind, deepened her relationship with her family, and aligned her with a more empowered business vision.
The raw, wild, creative and sacred heart is what the world needs now. To offer it, each of us must carve out the space and time needed to make an inner pilgrimage. It is not easy, for it is a long walk into the vast unknown. For in moving into the heart, we step into the mystery of who we really are. We take the courageous step to venture away from—to sacrifice—the “secure known” of where our distracting and deceptive minds want us to go, and perhaps from whom others expect us to be. Yet, as we retreat inwards, we find our creative reason for being here, the life waiting for us, the one we were born to live.
As more people walk this pilgrimage, the existing structures of our social, economic and political systems, and more, will continue to shift, and in some cases, crumble, for they were built upon the same foundations we no longer give our power away to. This is what we currently see happening in the world. The chaos is part of the great turning from fear to love.
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Check out Vince’s book: Let the Fire Burn ~ Nurturing the Creative Spirit of Children, A Children’s Book for Adults