Each of us is born into a beautifully flawed world, though the balance differs depending on individual circumstances. Some of us, emerging newly slick from the womb, are welcomed into a family full of hugs, smiles, and material well-being. Others are left cold on the table, confronted with immediate, wrenching, long-term physical, emotional, and spiritual challenges. Mostly, we’re somewhere in between. No one is without some childhood sorrow.
Left untended, past hurts, embedded patterns, and ancient biological imperatives remain where they are, a part of our human operating systems. I’ve spent considerable time and money working to excavate deeply held sadness, the kind that steadily leaks into my consciousness and sense of self, poisoning it. I’ve pursued spiritual quests, and searched to understand the unseen reality around us. Along the way I’ve engaged in traditional talk therapy, experienced altered states, stayed in ashrams in India, meditated while heliotropic breathing, had the way I crawl corrected, squeezed my way out of a metaphorical birth canal, and much more.
While not every tactic has been transformational, I believe I’m a better person for pursuing the overall strategy. The self-help journeys I’ve engaged in have served to anchor my integrity, make me more compassionate, and open access to inner wisdom and outer consciousness. I still grapple with long-held destructive relationship patterns and reflexive negativity. I’m quite sure I always will. But, like an amateur athlete who works out at a gym, I’m better able to confront these tests as they emerge.
My experiences have taught me the value of full-immersion therapy, laughter, and the support and presence of others. For me, it’s been essential to periodically take the time and space to dive deep into my inner world, explore hidden emotive caves, reawaken to the pull of emotional eddies and weepy waves. Swimming in a sea of childhood memories, detecting old patterns bred by early feelings of fear or neglect, has nurtured my ability to be more fully present in daily life, and to detach from models of me that no longer work, replacing those elements with compassion, for myself and for others. Meditation, prayer, movement, and wholly letting go of moment-to-moment distractions have been the portals through which I’ve been able to travel to the “bottomless me.”
I’ve found that the best surfboard on which to ride life’s turbulence is laughter. I used to own a black t-shirt with the image of a skeleton dancing – a graphic display of joy in the face of death – until I took it off and handed it to a woman who needed it more than me at Galaxia during last year’s Burning Man festival. On a recent retreat, the participants were asked to conjure up a “spirit guide;” an oft used device in which an imagined essence acts as a protector of self. After a period of shapeshifting, my guide settled into the form of a sumo wrestler, who I often encountered lounging eating a turkey leg before dusting himself off to gently escort me through the next inner passage. I loved the look. It made me chuckle every time it materialized; so much so that I took as one of my mantras, “my spirit guide got drunk and fell asleep.”
While there’s healing power in being alone, grappling with tough emotions is often best done in the presence of others. There’s nothing like a room full of fellow spirits, hammering away at pillows with plastic bats or mallets, to serve as a release button for feelings and archetypes I no longer need. That’s why places of worship, particularly when collective prayer or singing merges into one loud, sustained, chorus, can be so healing.