Dancing with Belovedness

A Mid-Lenten Retreat Experience – Saturday 3/14/15

In this mid-Lenten one-day retreat at Thomas House on the property of the Jesuit Spiritual Center in Milford, OH, Pastor Mary Laymon (St. Thomas Episcopal Church), our facilitator, begins by giving us a rich cornucopia of possible exploration avenues for us to consider for this quiet day of reflection. Many of her offerings are new – most are quite artful; many are from an online Lenten series by Jan Richardson, a Methodist pastor/artist. Mary shares that she resonates deeply with the work of Jan Richardson.

As Mary offers what she has prepared for us, I become overwhelmed, both by Mary’s extensive preparation of pages and pages of beautiful materials (and later, even tasty food for lunch), as well as at my realizing that each one of these offerings gives us potentially profound entrances to deeper inner work, the work for which I long in this Lenten retreat. While each of us will be working independently and in silence during the day, Mary has in mind that we will each try several of her offerings as Spirit moves us. However, I am sensing that most of the avenues offered by Mary could more than fill my day of reflection!

Quickly I feel drawn to the first reflection activity Mary has offered. This offering is simply to pause and reflect on the one sheet from Jan Richardson’s material titled, Beloved: God’s Name for Us.

Before I even begin this time of reflection on Beloved: God’s Name for Us, or simply belovedness, I realize that I fear even considering being called beloved, even if, as the piece I am holding in my hands from Jan’s materials says, beloved is GOD’s name for ME! Seeing my level of resistance to belovedness, I realize that this time of exploration and reflection promises to be rich for me!

I begin at the beginning. I ask myself why I would possibly fear and resist being called beloved? I realize that the word beloved, while familiar to my mind, is strange and unfamiliar on a feeling level in my heart, and also unknown to me as an experience and sensation in my body. And I see that somehow the mere unfamiliarity of “beloved” feelings in my heart and the similar unknown nature of what “sensations of belovedness” would be in my body scare me. The unfamiliarity and unknown nature of belovedness in the feeling and body sensation arena tempt me to run back to my mind where I (delusionally) think I have a “clear” handle on this word beloved to work with.

So I begin my retreat contemplating the word belovedness at a level below my neck. What would that mean, “contemplating belovedness below my neck”?  Initially in my reflections I am reminded of two experiences that occurred nearly 15 years ago.  While the remembering may be mental, the fact that they arise in me on this occasion says that more may be here than meets my mind – the remembering may in fact relate to my feelings and sensations.

The first experience that arises is a time at a 1-week directed retreat when, during one of my sessions with my director for this retreat, she recited a quote to me, a dialog with which she was familiar that she intuited applied to me and my situation. She shared that she was not sure where the quote came from and further that she was not sure herself why she was sharing this with me. But nonetheless, intuiting on some level that I needed to hear these words, she proceeded. The dialog she quoted went something like this:

Young Man to an Old Man: So did you get what you wanted from this life?

Old Man: I did.

Young Man: And what was that?

Old Man: To call myself beloved; to feel myself beloved on this earth.

That was in August of 2000. How striking that the word beloved is central in this remembered quote, AND that it is offered in a feeling arena – “to feel myself beloved.”  I am not surprised that on this day of reflection, nearly 15 years later, I am remembering this quote.

Before going to the second experience, I realize further that in that same directed retreat back in August of 2000, the same spiritual director sent me off to Pathwork – a spiritual path I had not specifically heard of let alone considered. Her sendoff included the words, “Gary, you are very spiritually oriented, BUT you need an incredible amount of help. The only place I know where you can get the level of help you need is the Sevenoaks Pathwork Center in Virginia.”

So within six weeks of my directed retreat I was off to Virginia to see what this “Pathwork” was all about. And the rest is history, as they say. Over the next 15 years I would travel to Sevenoaks well over 100 times, driving 1,000 miles round trip each time. In this way I was planted and rooted and grew in what would become my spiritual path.

Pathwork became a unique key that fit the lock to my heart and soul. Over time Pathwork was the tool that opened avenues to both feelings and sensations. I became more fully human and more fully alive, alive intellectually, physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. Again it is not surprising that this awareness of the importance of Pathwork surfaces in this day of reflection.

The second experience I am reminded of this day with Mary is that of sitting at breakfast at the Sevenoaks Pathwork Center near the end of my first year of Pathwork. A Pathwork counselor came up to me and, out of the blue, said, “Gary, I am not sure why, but as I was coming up from the river this morning I was told to tell you, ‘Gary, you are my beloved son, in you I am well pleased.’”

I was stunned.  Again, the word beloved was central here. Of course I was very aware that these were the words given to Jesus by the voice from heaven both at his baptism and at his transfiguration sometime later. Back in 2001 at Sevenoaks, while the words made an impact on a feeling and sensation level, I quickly moved on from such words.  I heard and remembered the incident – significant in its own right – but it was hard to integrate these words “beloved son” into my feeling and bodily sensations. Besides there was a caution from my mind – would taking these words in for me, words spoken to Jesus Christ, not be blasphemous? But here 14 years later, for whatever reason, the words come up again this in my retreat time.

I continue my reflection, but slowing down to take in these experiences and memories while at the same time being aware of just how fearful I am even to consider these words: “Gary, you are beloved.”

Continuing in my reflection, and not sure how this relates to being beloved, I become aware that I am afraid to be free – free from all the tasks that I feel, at a deep deep level, are necessary for me to be “worthy”. Worthy of what I am not sure. But I know on some level of consciousness I am afraid of getting off the treadmill of life, my lifestyle of earning any worthiness I might have, yet, ironically, not knowing worthy of what. If I stop, ever stop, even for a moment, I will fall into the pit of flames –  pit of flames, yes, this is the term that comes up, though I know not what the “pit of flames” might be.

I pause for a moment. I see in my reflection a kind of narcissism in this treadmill image of life. I see its self-centeredness, making all of life, all of how I spend my time and energy, about ME and MY earning MY worthiness.

I see that thus far in this reflection that while I see my treadmill life as being one to earn an only vague sense of worthiness, I do not even get to the idea of earning love, for, as with beloved, I know not what love is apart from worthiness. A goal “to be loved” or to “be beloved,” is more than I know as an experience to seek or long for. Yet, in some abstract way, seeking worthiness, rather than love, seems accurate for where I am.

No, not so quick, Gary. You just said you did not know for what you were seeking worthiness. We must go there next it seems. As I go deeper I see that instead of seeking worthiness (of this unknown “what”), my tying myself to my life on the treadmill comes out of fear of what might happen if I stop and get off the treadmill. I am not on the treadmill to earn worthiness, but rather on the treadmill because I’m afraid of something if I get off!

And so I now ask, “What do I fear that keeps me on the “doer” treadmill of life?” I realize I do not allow myself to stop the treadmill long enough even to consider what the “what” is that I seem to fear so dreadfully if ever I get off the treadmill.

Keeping busy just seems somehow necessary for me to feel safe! So this clarifies the worthiness – it is not the worthiness FOR something positive, but rather worthiness so as not to experience some tragedy.

In fact, to my surprise, I see I have made the treadmill – my “doing” life, my busyness – into one of my main pleasures in life! Busyness is not even a burden for me! Busyness gives me a sense of purpose and fulfillment!

And, I now see, my “doing” life and busyness keep me away from discovering what I may be seeking on the one hand or, on the other hand, what I may be fearing if I stop the treadmill. And besides a doer’s life certainly fits the culture I live in. And the culture I live in reinforces a kind of numbness toward seeking meaning of it all, the ultimate meaning of this life of mine.

I read the Jan Richardson material given to us by Mary on the subject “beloved.” The first words under the title, Beloved: God’s Name for Us, strike me. They are: “Belovedness is our birthright.” These words invite me to consider that I have the “right” to belovedness simply because I was born, simply because I am. Whatever this belovedness is, it is not related to my earning it through my treadmill existence.

But I must pause here and go back. Just what is this belovedness that Jan says in my birthright? Why does this word sound so foreign to me? Rightly or wrongly, I realize from all my fifteen years of “work on myself” since entering Pathwork in 2000 that I concluded long ago that I was not, as an infant, eyeball-to-eyeball, welcomed into this world by Mom. I did not experience from her what I might call now a sense of “my belovedness.”

(IMPORTANT: It is key to know that most of us have not experienced such a foundational birthright as belovedness – not others in my generation, not Mom or Dad, not their parents, and not my kids and their kids, and so on – taking one’s belovedness on is just now coming into our consciousness on planet earth. In other words, I am NOT blaming Mom, I am not feeling the victim, but rather simply becoming aware of what 99% of the people on the planet experience in terms of a healthy sense of our birthright of belovedness. A popular word for this ubiquitous malady is attachment disorder.)

And in further reflection I realize that this “not-feeling-welcomed-by-Mom-into-this-world” trumped being welcomed by Dad, at least in some way, recalling such things as his creative bedtime stories that were so full of magic and fantasy, which delighted my brother and me in our young lives.  But I am realizing that without Mom’s love, I missed really taking in Dad’s warmth, missed perhaps his offering me a sense of my belovedness.

Though not experiencing being “beloved” by Mom, I realize that I was not aware of not being welcomed into the world by Mom, not aware of not receiving my birthright of belovedness from her. Rather than feeling “Gary, you are not beloved,” there was simply a void, an emptiness, a no-thingness.

So since belovedness was not experienced, there would not be a longing for it. How could there be a longing for something I did not know from experience? I see, and have seen, that this emptiness where belovedness is supposed to be becomes a big hole in my current relationships as well – even, or especially, with God.  But of course belovedness with God can not be experienced at all if we do not even know the feeling and experience of belovedness with one another!

So let me go back again.  I realize that my treadmill, my “doing-oriented” life, has no purpose but to hold the “unnamed-thing-that-I-fear” away, to hold it in abeyance at all costs, even if it kills me to hold it away.

What is this “unnamed-thing-that-I-fear”? The insight arises in me that perhaps it is ALL of the negative sides of the many dualities of life on planet earth. Confession: Where does such a sense (a sense that I fear the negative sides of the many dualities of life) come from? Frankly this is from my many hours of working with the Pathwork Lectures. This particular idea arises from a lecture I am working with now: Pathwork Lecture 118: Duality Through Illusion – Transference.

Perhaps I do my “doing” and stay on the treadmill of life in order to avoid feeling negative feelings on these various dualistic axes:

Negative vs. Positive Axes:

Pain vs. Pleasure Axis

Not Knowing vs. Knowing Axis

Shame vs. Pride Axis

Disappointment vs. Fulfillment Axis

Grief and Loss vs. Presence Axis

Impermanence vs. Permanence Axis

Longing For vs. Having Axis

Incompetence vs. Competence Axis

Stupidity vs. Intelligence Axis

Death vs. Life Axis

Fear and Anxiety vs. Peace and Equanimity Axis

But maybe in my psyche these dimensions (negative AND positive? – well of course!) all get covered over by fear – meaning that I would rather feel fear, at least on a superficial level – say on the level of anxiety – than feel Pain, Not-Knowing, Shame, Disappointment, Grief, Loss, Impermanence, Longing For, Incompetence, Stupidity, Death, or the deeper Fear itself. And in the process of covering these negative feelings with fear, I cover the positive as well – leaving my feeling palette quite sparse when it comes to feeling feelings in my life.

Having avoided feeling the broad spectrum of feelings most of my life – that is, having a feeling palette with zero feelings on it, as one counselor put it to me one time over a decade ago, perhaps feeling fear – or anxiety (once being diagnosed 15 years ago by a psychotherapist as a person having “anxiety-not-otherwise-specified”) is my defense against feeling what is  actually unknown to me, an unknown feeling that lives in my unconscious beneath the anxiety of which I am at least partially aware.

I surmise that what is beneath the anxiety, though what is beneath the anxiety is still unknown – my feeling palette having no or only a few feeling colors on it – is at the same time, though unknown, truly terrifying to me. The unknown feelings that I fear represent an abyss of what I think would be unbearable pain, should I get off the doer treadmill and fall into the abyss of the feeling world.

And yet people who know me, say, “Gary, your feeling palette is not at all empty! In fact, your feelings run very deep!  I hear their well-meaning words, but I realize that I simply deny such comments as delusional. How could they say, “Gary, you are a feeling kind of guy,” and yet I feel so disconnected from any feelings that might be there? Are they right – am I a feeling kind of guy?  And, if this is in fact true, then by thinking I am not a feeling kind guy I am denying who I really am!

And why would I deny that I am a “feeling kind of guy” when so many others say this is not the truth? Pathwork would suggest, in Lecture 66 – Shame of the Higher Self, that this happens, in part, because of the convoluted thinking that went on (and goes on) in “young Gary.” His “young child self,” on an unconscious level, rationalizes (wrongly) as follows: “I really loved and longed for Mom. Mom was emotionally unavailable – I did not feel love or other emotions from her. Therefore, since I loved Mom who was emotionally unavailable, to be loved and longed for, I should be like Mom – that is, to be loved and longed for I should be emotionally unavailable. If I am emotionally unavailable like Mom, then I will be loved and longed for, just like Mom was loved and longed for by me. If, on the other hand, I would be emotionally available, like Dad, I would not be loved and longed for, just like I am aware that I did not love and long for Dad even though he was relatively emotionally available, or at least more available than Mom.” (Now that must be reread to make sense!)

So perhaps my fear of feeling my feelings – negative or positive – is that feeling my feelings – that is, being emotionally available –  would make me less like Mom, and hence less loved and longed for by others. To be loved and longed for, I need to be the emotionally unavailable one. Hence, having a feeling palette with zero feeling colors on it is a good thing! Thus goes the unconscious logic of the young Gary that lives inside of me.

So perhaps my gateway to feeling beloved, though as yet being beloved is an unfamiliar feeling, would be to let go of my defense against feeling all my feelings, both positive and negative feelings, let go of being emotionally unavailable like Mom in her emotional unavailability.  Maybe I could be more like Dad.

As I reflect further I note that I am truly drawn to movies where emotions are expressed. For example, just this past Thursday night Pat and I watched The Broken Circle Breakdown. Why were we so drawn into this movie? Because of the skills of the actors – they were so capable in portraying a wide range of extreme feelings – positive and negative feelings – much of this emotion captured in the bluegrass music that was central to the storyline. The movie exuded emotions, and we loved it!

Yet while so enjoying this movie, I hesitate to enter their world of emotions. Why? Their highly emotional world was a very messy, seemingly unstable, and painful world. Am I willing to take such feelings on if they result in messiness? Mom certainly would not be willing to take on messiness — she was the personification of orderliness. So, like Mom, I can hear my hesitation. “Let me experience emotions vicariously instead, please!”  And from somewhere else in me I hear, “But Gary, this would mean to live life vicariously through movies and through the lives of others. Is that what you want? I think not!

And just WHO is the “I” who “thinks not”? Undoubtedly my Divine Essence! So may I give this, my Divine Essence, my Higher Self, Christ within, Love within, more of a voice, a voice of love!  May I be aware of my feelings. May I accept messiness, even instability, that goes with feelings! This is my Lenten prayer. Amen!

This ending feels abrupt, very abrupt, but time has run out. I also sense my words describing this retreat experience are confusing and messy. Ah, messy. Yes, and messy does not feel safe to my mind that thinks all things, even of the heart, must fit into a nice orderly space. I smile. Clearly they don’t!

So this is where I have arrived at the end of the retreat. We are now gathering for a closing communion service and will then leave Thomas House and return to our normal lives. The one-day Lenten retreat time has been quite rich and revealing. I am full of gratitude.  Thank you, Mary Laymon, for once more offering such meaningful retreats!

Shared in love, Gary