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A Shared Life of Wrestling, Growth, and Discovery

Dancing with the Work of PathWork, Take 2

In Pat’s and my 30-minute initial silent time in our Morning Practice this morning (Friday), remembering my Wednesday May 18th blog Dancing with the Work of PathWork, I chose to reflect more on the inquiry contained therein regarding my experience of anxiety that arose in me in my responding to Sage’s email on Tuesday, May 17th. The issue for inquiry explored in this Wednesday May 18th  blog was my anxiety after responding to an email from Sage, a response in which I shared a blog entry I had made earlier. I was not totally satisfied with my May 18th blog and wanted to dive back into that inquiry. After our 30-minutes of quiet time I shared with Pat, during our following morning Coffee conversation (one that would run to nearly 2 hours), what had come up in my continuing inquiry.

Here is what arose in me and in Pat’s and my following conversation.

In Pathwork “Daily Review” parlance my anxiety in sending Sage the email response was certainly a disharmony to recognize and inquire about. Again I explored, “What exactly was my anxiety about in my email response to Sage?” I had mentioned what came up again this morning in my earlier May 18th blog, but this morning I realized more profoundly than I did in my May 18th blog that the main cause of my anxiety mostly dealt with my earlier experience with Sage and Anthony – it went back to the time several months ago when, in one of our sessions, Sage and Anthony asked me why I had communicated with them via email a couple of times between recent sessions.  While it may have been a simple question and interest on their part, I realize I had taken it as a “slap on the wrist” for having done something “inexcusably wrong.” After their questioning I concluded that sending them emails was some kind of unforgivable mortal sin! Now on May 17th  I had committed this unforgivable sin once again by sending Sage an email related to a blog entry I had written.

Again in Pathworkese, we are invited not to resist painful experiences but to let them simply flow through us and dissolve (see, for example, Lecture 140: Conflict of Positive Versus Negative Oriented Pleasure as the Origin of Pain). Resisting negativities such as this pain of anxiety with my response to Sage fixates the pain and intensifies the pain into true suffering. I realized that I had let the pain of my May 17th email to Sage become true suffering! We are invited to count on the pain being temporarythe pain shall move and change, as we are reminded in Pathwork Lecture 119 Movement, Consciousness, Experience: Pleasure, the Essence of Life.

Pat has been reading and this morning spoke to Matt Kahn’s Whatever Arises, Love That. We explored the question, “How am I to love the ‘slap on the wrist’ if that is what I felt earlier with Sage and Anthony?” Or, more recently, how am I to love the anxiety that I felt in my May 17th email to Sage? Pat said that Matt Kahn would say not to love the pain per se but rather, with an open and compassionate heart, to love the Gary who is feeling the pain. By being present to “anxious Gary,” truly present to him, Gary could feel supported in his his anxiety and in his resistance to the anxiety, and let the anxiety flow through him and out of him. I saw that as another way to approach my anxiety. I chose to look at my resistance to feeling this anxiety.

We chatted more about resisting pain and turned to how I resist pain in our, Pat’s and my, relationship specifically. I dared to slow down and let such moments of pain in my relationship with Pat arise so I could feel the pain and together we could explore these experiences.

The first pain in our relationship that arose in me was my waking up each morning feeling physically and emotionally alone and separated from Pat, though she is lying right next to me in the bed. I realized that I long for more spontaneous warmth in our connection in the morning as I wake up. Long ago Pat shared that the morning time is not a good time for her; it takes a while for her to wake up and be fully present. She does not want to be present to me in the morning before she is present to herself! While her rationale makes sense to me and I want to support her in these needs, I was still longing for this morning connection with her. And I realized that I had resigned myself to not having that warm connection with her in the morning years ago, but this morning in our conversation I was able to feel the pain of my sense of coldness and isolation as we wake up together each morning.

We explored further. Lecture 140 speaks to negative pleasure, pleasure we experience by connecting pleasure to various pains in our childhood. As I have shared in these blogs many time, I felt emotionally and physically separated from Mom as an infant. What was an infant to do in that preverbal-precognitive time when there was a bodily sense of emotional and physical separation? The Pathwork Lectures say that to survive we redefine that unbearable pain as “pleasure” and thereby we turn the unbearable pain into a negative pleasure. I had made my emotional and physical separation from Mom a distorted form of pleasure in my body, the “negative” pleasure of the familiar lack of physical and emotional separation from Mom.

And so here with Pat in the morning time, I could feel my negative pleasure from “enduring” emotional and physical separation from the warmth of connection I, on a  more conscious level, said I longed for.

There were other instances from much earlier in our relationship, times in the very beginning of our acquaintance when Pat was simply (and quite rightfully!) not ready or open to the closer primary relationship with me that I longed for. She would offer words like, “I am simply not attracted to you,” and in other ways stay distant. Today I see the wisdom of her resistance, but then I could not. While I sustained my relationship with Pat, as with my morning time awakening, I fixated on her words of rejection. So here too, as in the morning time, I could “endure” her not being attracted to me, and that endurance again was experienced as negative pleasure. And I made this “I am not attracted to you” a permanent lens through which I saw Pat. There was no way I could let her change in my mind! This was all becoming more clear as we talked.

Finally there was a time early in our relationship where I would try to initiate romantic touches, and she would withdraw, seemingly in shock, not at all ready for what I had longed for. And the story was again the same for me: I fixated on these times of rejection and experienced negative pleasure from enduring the pain I felt from her rejection of my longing for being closer to her.

And I could see that these experiences, most over 15 years ago, were the same as I had with Sage and Anthony in their inquiring about my between-session emails. I was enduring the pain of my perception of their “slap on the wrist.” I would not really allow myself to feel the pain but rather go to my defense against the pain with my statement to myself, “Fine, I will never send you another email ever again!” And I would be able to “endure” the pain of not feeling the warmth of connection I longed for with them –here again was the negative familiar pleasure of emotional rejection. As with Pat, Sage and Anthony were not given a chance to have a warm emotional connection with me. I simply would not allow it — and would unconsciously choose to continue living in my negative pleasure of enduring the rejection I projected onto them!

This morning I asked, “Can I release my resistance to feeling this pain of rejection, this pain of not receiving the warmth of connection I longed for from Mom, Pat, and Sage – and from the woman of my first affair? Can I grieve missing the feelings of warmth of connection in all those relationships?”

I paused for a moment to be with this grief. … In surprisingly short order it felt like a dam was breaking loose and letting these blocked feelings flow freely through my being! And while painful they were not permanent but were moving! So the pain of rejection seemed to dissolve or at least lessen as soon as I allowed myself to feel it. Surely there must be more required to embrace all the pain that has been stored here during these many years, but for that moment I was feeling some amount of relief and freedom!

Together Pat and I explored further. What have been my patterns with these deep pains of rejection by women down through these 73 years of my life, especially with Pat these past 10 years or so? I realize that to avoid pain of rejection with Pat I have unconsciously chosen to never again initiate physical intimacy. Even when we have times of closeness I realize, if I am honest, that I have refused to really feel the warmth of connection being offered by Pat, believing that any closeness I dared to feel with Pat would only be dashed on the stones of rejection soon afterwards. My inner unconscious defense against the pain of her rejection has been, I will not allow myself to be hurt by rejection by Pat again!”

And it was likewise with Sage and Anthony.  Unconsciously I told myself that now I will never again risk being rejected by sharing what is so alive in me (as in my emails and blogs), even when my rich life experiences I want to share with them are brought to life by their very work with us.”

It was so great to see this pattern and to share it with Pat. And yes, the only way to break this pattern of never risking rejection is, of course, to now dare to take the risk of rejection. Immediately I realized that taking this risk of possibly being rejected by Pat is absolutely terrifying – perhaps a terror going back to the rejection I felt as an infant with Mom. I am not sure I am yet up to taking the risk with Pat, but I at least know how, by not taking this risk, not risking initiating any physical or emotional connection, I am keeping my relationship with Pat cold and flat emotionally and physically! And I would want to blame Pat for any flatness I feel in our relationship as the easy way out — a way in which I do not have to risk the terror of being rejected by initiating anything. 

Pat, as before, again reminded me of the poem by Thich Nhat Hanh, “Call Me By My True Names,” in which I am invited to see myself both as victim of being rejected and perpetrator of rejecting others. Where have I been the perpetrator of rejection? As I have said, this was very clear in my divorce and also in one of my affairs that I cut off — seeing in both cases that I was not only rejecting these special women in my life but I was also rejecting a significant aspect of myself. Now I saw that I am also the perpetrator of rejection with Pat and Sage! My patterned strategy with them both has been to never risk rejection by never risking initiating the connection that I so long for at all! That “never” is perpetrating rejection toward them!

Pat noted that my strategy of never risking rejection stated, in effect, that Sage and Pat do not really matter to me! At least, she said, they do not matter enough for me to take this risk of initiating emotional or physical connection with them. AND they have to have the freedom to be real, to be human. They shall, consciously or unconsciously, at some times reject me or at least not give me all the warmth of connection I long for. They are human! And this, too, must be OK with me — knowing that any rejection I experience is simply a temporary pain and will pass. Such is living a FULL life on planet earth!

This felt like a lot to sit with for one morning, and, as usual, we closed with the Adyashanti guided meditation. During this meditation I could again open my heart to feeling the pain of rejection – rejection of me and rejection by me.

I was reminded of Jesus on the cross and his feeling rejected by God in his “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” In these words, as Pathwork Lecture 82 The Conquest of Duality Symbolized in the Life and Death of Jesus points out, Jesus modeled so well his own guidance, “Do not resist evil.” In being honest in sharing his feeling the pain of rejection, whether or not that rejection was true (after all he was also truly human), he pointed the way to his own teaching of “Do not resist evil.” And his pain of rejection that he felt, whether it was real or not, ended in whatever was meant by the resurrection.

Shared in love, Gary

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Gary Vollbracht