Building a Relational Feelings Palette from Scratch

When I came home yesterday afternoon from the two days at Sevenoaks where I attended the Board Retreat, Pat was feeling lost in our relationship. At supper we talked about her concerns and sense of being lost  Pat: I do not want to give lip service to our work with Sage and Anthony. If we are going to do this couples’ work with them we have to commit to it and not fall back into old habits of busyness. Something has to give. We can’t do it all.

Gary: I agree, though I’m not sure how to back off. I feel so conflicted in my work at Sevenoaks. I love the framing and strategic work (like we did Friday evening and Saturday morning), but the intricate operational issues – trying to do too many things with too few resources and without a guiding vision or grounded context (the afternoon’s work was full of action items and doling out job assignments), makes me crazy, makes me stand frozen, a deer in the headlights, overwhelmed and exhausted.

Yet  I am on the Board and the operational issues have to be addressed, context or no context. But do they have to be addressed by ME? What can I do to extricate myself from this intense operational activity? What is my role on this Board? Is there a role for me on this Board? Pat: Yes, my dream the other night was about extricating yourself from all of this busyness that keeps us from working more seriously on what we say is our top priority: our relationship, especially our emotional connection. I want to say, Please, Dear, do this, extricate yourself from at least some of the Board activities at Sevenoaks. We can’t go on this way. Maybe you could be a consultant, like you are for other business organizations. Gary: Yes, “consultant” sounds more appropriate – consultant to the Board, to be used as they see fit. But that seems like a far off possibility. Who would take my place?…

That was our conversation last night. This morning in my meditation I went back to the beginning of my emotional development, since emotional connection is what Pat and I say we are looking for. Why am I so disconnected emotionally? It began with Mom (and her mom, and her mom – the lineage of Ritzmann’s — and this is not blaming, just a fact of my life). There just wasn’t a base of emotional connection with Mom (as there was not for Mom in her growing up either it seems), and unconsciously and quite naturally I developed a life of patterned defenses so as to not feel the pain of missing emotional connection. I had no idea anything was missing at all. I would would find pleasure in my many hobbies – electric trains, stamp collecting, chemistry set, erector set, etc. My childhood was not consciously unhappy, not at all. Quite the contrary. I was quite happy. I simply did not find my happiness and joy in relating to people. My relating with people was all about pleasing, performing, and obeying, not about connecting emotionally from the heart, and hence relating at home was a pressure to comply and conform with my surroundings, not a source of joy and pleasure. The latter came from my hobbies.

And so it was not surprising that I felt no real connection with classmates in school, fraternity men in college, co-workers at SDRC, other members at church and people involved with other organizations to which I belonged. And most tragically for all involved, little emotional connection with my wonderful and committed wife and our family. I was at least semi-conscious of this lack of emotional connection going into my marriage, but just not aware of the critical importance of feeling more than I felt in our relationship. This is so sad and tragic. I have such remorse for the pain this brought all involved. And yet still today I still easily accommodate emotionless relationships. And as Pat and I discuss, we both are challenged in this murky world of emotions.

It is daring to face this truth, but how else can we grow beyond where we are and fill our respective emotional palettes with all the emotional colors our respective souls are capable of feeling? So this morning I found myself observing our situation, but without judgment or fear. Where we truly are is where we have to begin: a palette of feelings with but a few colors.

And there was another piece to my history to consider. Driving home from Virginia yesterday after our retreat I began listening to Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxes (Amazon Link). I was startled and filled with fear at first in recognizing the seemingly extreme conservative setting in which the book’s author, the German-Lutheran culture he describes, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer himself is placed.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s dad, Karl Bonnhoeffer, was a professor, Germany’s most distinguished neurologist in fact, a psychiatrist and MD, highly respected among his peers and by his children.  Karl was an empiricist and very suspicious of feelings, emotions, theories about the intangible so-called psyche, use of dream interpretation, or anything that seemed to be conjecture and could not be proven scientifically. Karl was not at all comfortable with contemporaries like Freud and Jung and their work with the psyche. He did not dismiss them, but could not relate to them.

Religiously, Karl was an agnostic, yet gave full reign to his wife Paula to raise the children in an atmosphere of Christian ethics and values, including the importance of values such as loving others, humility, and generosity. These ethical values were not seen as qualities from the human heart but rather something that had to be imprinted from the outside so as to root oneself in Christian faith.

These ethical views would lead to one of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s most popular books: The Cost of Discipleship where he compares “Cheap Grace” (how I live does not matter, God is a loving and forgiving God, and as long as I believe in Jesus’ sacrifice to atone for my sins I shall go to heaven), Legalism (rigid works righteousness where there is no need for grace), and “Costly Grace” (where how one lives matters a great deal and one’s ethical and moral behavior demonstrate the Truth and grounds one’s faith). Costly Grace also has another subtle nuance, namely that through practices of holy living an inner faith is formed and rooted. How one lives becomes a means to faith, by grace.

I believe that Pathwork would make the following distinctions. Costly grace could become a mask if in practicing Christian virtues one denied rather than worked to understand and purify one’s faults and lower-self aspects. In such a masky overlay, ethical behavior and Christian values could be superimposed upon our faults, which would continue to smolder beneath the surface rather than become conscious to us.

In bringing these negative aspects and our negative intentionality to the light of consciousness, as they are in Pathwork, one can see, accept, and dissolve these lower-self aspects.  As they are dissolved our divine rays from our higher self, rather than masked make-believe “goodness,” emerge. Our divine rays are manifested from our natural Essence and include our natural divine capacity to create, and love, and to access inner wisdom, Truth, and peace.  Pathwork would be closer to Matthew Fox’s concept of Original Blessing vs. Original Sin. Having made these comparisons, costly grace seems much closer to Pathwork ideas than are either cheap grace (which seems to be a part of so many new-age ideas) or legalism (true of some conservative religions).

But while this theology is all interesting to me, what stood out for me the this audio book is perhaps the apparently uniquely German qualities of never trusting or giving expression and influence to our emotions. So, the author would point out, the German psyche is very Reason/Will oriented and gives little room for emotions and feelings, which, as Pathwork reminds us, is where our life force lies and where our experience of God and our spiritual self reside.

Martin Luther and Lutheranism contributed to and reinforced this German reason/will orientation. The author points out the significance of Luther’s translation of the Bible into German. This had the impact of creating a common German language and vocabulary out of a diverse set of dialects. A common German language helped unite Germany. All of this set the stage for Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s upbringing. And his family of origin where he was the third last born of eight children plus mom and dad is described by this author as one would see the Von Trap family as depicted in The Sound of Music – lots of music in the house, eight kids, etc. And I could see how my own German-Lutheran roots played such a significant place in my development. Absent, however, the family singing and other family activities the Bonhoeffers enjoyed.

So this German-Lutheran upbringing was a perfect setting for me to develop an emotionless life and to find this emotionless life to be a very safe life. Perhaps this is how I ended up with very few relating-emotions on my feeling palette and how 13 years ago a shaman counselor could observe in me that with so few colors on my relating-emotional palette I would have little chance of knowing  how to connect with a woman or determine a suitable match for the connecting and growth of our respective emotions and feelings in a mutually experienced emotionally connected primary relationship.

So all along in my life I have had a choice: I could have taken the risk to feel my feelings OR I could have numbed out feelings. I did the latter by filling my life with activities, hobbies of every sort, and the non-relational feeling world of music, wildflower photography, and even Pathwork, all of which left no room for having and sharing feelings with a woman, or with anyone else for that matter! So here is how I come to Pat. Here is where I have to start.

In this awareness immediately I’m faced with fear. Is it OK to have a palette with so few relational feelings? How will our respective palettes emerge and develop together? And there is another fear. A key concept in Pathwork is that Eros is that energy, that expression of the Life Force, that gives humans the initial capacity to relate in a way that they have not known.  After Eros matures into love, fine. But Eros is necessary to jumpstart the love process between a man and a woman. And I felt that Eros in me early in our relationship, but Pat said she did not, and unanswered, my Eros seemed to wane over time. And Eros cannot be manipulated or artificially brought into being by wishful thinking. So can I be open and trust how our relationship is developing under the tutelage of our Couples’ Counselors Sage and Anthony? Can Eros happen? Is it necessary? All of this uncertainly brings up fear. AND YET, having openly uncovered this inner fear, I see that my fear dissolves. In Truth, I open to new possibilities, the theme of our intensive earlier this month.

At this, Pat joined me for our morning coffee time.  I was surprised by her opening words…

Pat: As I awoke this morning it is increasingly clear that fear and worry live here within me. I can, as I have done much of my life, kid myself and say that they do not, but they do. Gary: Where I sit this morning this awareness seems great. You can see your fear and worry, and know that this is not you. You can see it without judging it. You can feel it without getting lost in it or swallowed up by it or denying it. A true Rumi example of the Guest House (open): Welcome all guests! Pat: I see how much of my energy it takes to keep the door closed to these feelings of fear and worry. The challenge I have is when you say: “OBSERVE your fear AND yet FEEL your fear, without getting caught up in it. That seems beyond me! Gary: I say AMEN to that. I have the same challenge.  But I find myself excited as we share where we are here.

I shared what came up in my meditation this morning to show how I am on the same page, struggling with feelings and welcoming any guests on the feeling palette. I was reminded of and shared a small section of a quote from Pathwork Lecture 203 Interpenetration of the Divine Light Spark into the Outer Regions – Mind Exercises.  (open quote — this is a long quote, but very much worth working with for us emotion-challenged folks.) I am especially drawn to paragraph 36, which gives my state of having but a few feelings on my emotional palette:

It will not be difficult for you to see that people who are very contracted, restricted, and alienated from their core are unable to produce any feelings — or only a very limited amount.  They are numb and paralyzed on that level, while the people who are already much more liberated from the constriction and defenses because the residual feelings have been dealt with are much more flexible and can easily decide to be angry, sad, or be in whatever emotional state they wish to be at the moment.

So I am at the beginning of developing my feelings palette. It is at least good to know and accept this about myself, without self-judgment. Gary: I feel freer just seeing all of this and sharing it with you!

Pat: I feel exhausted. I see this sharing this morning reflecting the effectiveness of the Couples’ Intensive three weeks ago.  I feel like I’m shaking loose. Gary: I agree – such freedom in knowing our starting point, and accepting it without judgment! Here is where we can begin in our Skype call with Sage and Anthony on Wednesday.

Shared in love, Gary