Discovering "What Makes Me Tick" Makes Me Tick

The following is a piece I wrote for a 9/17 meeting of a 7-person writing group I have been a part of for over 13 years. Our assigned topic was “What Makes Me Tick?” Our three hours of sharing plus my 2-hour dinner with one of the participants afterwards made for a rich evening.  Here is what I wrote. …

“What makes me tick?” I found this assigned topic for our writing group perfect for where I am these days, and even perfect for where I am just now.  This morning I awoke aware of a profound sadness, perhaps even touching depression. Immediately I saw my pattern of strongly resisting any experience of this sadness, or, heaven forbid, depression, as I do so many other negative feelings – fear, loneliness, and the like.

I have lived so much of my life fighting or denying such negative feelings. This energy to resist pain truly “makes me tick.’  How so? This resistance has led me, even driven me, into super-performance mode, super competence mode, super leadership mode, super busy-mode, supper productive-mode, and so on. Yes, running away from or defending against inner emotional pain has provided many motivators for much of my life!

On another level I could argue that the real motivators that “make me tick” are the underlying negative feelings themselves, and that all the energy and actions I take to avoid these painful feelings or cover them over are merely my mostly unconscious patterned reactions to the unresolved emotional pain underneath, in other words, my pseudo-solutions to dealing with the problems of the emotional pains in my life.

But that was then, and this is now. Increasingly I do not resist or deny negative emotions that arise in me. So this morning I found that I did not resist my profound sadness or depression. Rather, I just sat with what was there. A curiosity emerged as I, in my daily inquiry practice, felt into this sadness and explored what might have given rise to my dark mood. Yes, my weight was up this morning – always a source of emotional pain. And yes, no one had accessed my website yesterday, painful because response to my website in part is serving as my “feel good about myself” pseudo-solution to avoid the problem of pain underneath.

But these were not the deepest causes for my sadness this morning, and certainly would not have led to a mood of profound sadness. The deepest cause was looking at a delicate aspect of my relationship with Pat that occurred yesterday. It related to our sexuality: based upon an incident yesterday I somehow assessed that our relationship was broken in the sexual arena. I further assessed that this brokenness was permanent. Then a resignation to this negative assessment arose. Finally I saw that this resignation, my belief that things would never be different, and non-acceptance of this “fact,” seemed to be behind my mood of profound sadness.

As I completed my inquiry practice, about a 45-minute process, Pat joined me for coffee. We sat in silence, and eventually Pat asked what was up with me. This broke the silence and led to what turned out to be, not atypically, nearly two hours of coffee time where we explore such matters together. I shared the results of my inquiry time and then went on and explored more with her as the coffee time unfolded. I knew it was progress to sit with my sadness and trace it back to its source rather than push it aside – doubly so when it involves vulnerable areas such as sexuality and sharing these deep feelings with Pat.

As I explored my sadness with Pat familiar insights came up – familiar in that my years of Pathwork, our sessions with Sage and Anthony in couple’s work these past 15 months, and other programs down through the years had taken me down this road of self discovery before, so I knew the territory somewhat and could now go deeper from where I had been. Perhaps it would not be deeper, but rather just looking at this painful sexual encounter with Pat from a different angle. It was so helpful to me for Pat to be courageous and open enough to go with me on this exploration.

So here are some of the pieces to this puzzle of sadness in Gary. Many years ago I saw what’s called a strong schizoid character structure in me, meaning a strong resistance to fully incarnate into this life on planet earth, a resistance to surrender to my incarnation and truly “be here.” This is not in all areas of my life, but seemed particularly so when it comes to relating to others in general and women in particular, particularly particular women who fit my patterned belief system. This relates also to another more recent discovery: my attachment avoidance disorder that predisposes me to avoid intimacy and connection, originally with Mom, then with other family members, and finally with pretty much everyone, and of course this everybody has included Pat. In one of our recent counseling sessions Sage had identified in me a belief I held that I had to earn another’s openness to me, that I was somehow “not OK” just as I am and had to don some mask of “OKness” to truly connect to another. The felt experience of being welcomed just as I am – by Mom, Dad, authority, God, peers, or people in general, or here, Pat, was simply not an experience I knew or, more likely, allowed.

Of course this “donning” has been a lot of work – requiring obedience, submission, adopting family, cultural and religious norms that were not my own, and relating to others not from a felt sense of love but only from an “adult” place of competence, being responsible, having outstanding performance – AND staying far away from any negative emotion that would suggest vulnerability. The biggest cost of all this “donning” was that I had to hide myself, especially my thinking, feeling, and experiential aspects of my life. I would especially hide all deep negative, young, “immature” feelings such as sadness, depression, and fear. I would hide from others and, most importantly, from myself.

I allowed myself to feel more deeply into my sadness. I could see that during our time together yesterday where this sexual disconnect pained me I was in a way forcing myself to stay in this painful situation. I shared with Pat that holding space for this painful sexual encounter yesterday was like having a disfiguring birthmark and forcing myself, in a masochistic way, to stand in front of the mirror and endure the pain of looking at my disfigurement. I could really feel the pain of this as I shared it. I was less aware of the obvious pain that would come forth from Pat as she listened to me.

And I could see my role in creating this pain! I could feel my resistance to surrender to connecting – first decades ago with Mom, then with others, and now with Pat. As I said, “connecting” to me means donning a “Not Me” me, and having to wear a mask that is not me is painful and draining to endure. Pat: We both are sitting with your sadness this morning, staying with the truth of that young one in you who felt so unwelcomed in the world around him. He was so sad, in so much pain, so lost, and felt so unwelcomed. Gary: Surprisingly, it is so relieving to see this, a part of the puzzle of “Gary” coming into place. Pat: We welcome that piece, that young one; we welcome him with an open heart, full of compassion, allowing our hearts to be broken open by his pain, being willing to allow the sadness – the pain of the child who did not feel welcome – and who continues to not feel welcome. Gary: Yes, our adult selves can be with our own brokenness over this scene.

Pat: And there is that other piece in you, the “donning” one as you say. That energy can also be very strong in reaction against feeling the pain, the sadness. Your spite, your not wanting to feel the pain of the broken child, your strong willed one who can make life look like a Norman Rockwell painting no matter what pain lies underneath. This strong defender part of you, in his pretense, will not allow all of the real Gary to be here, will not allow the young one who feels he doesn’t belong here. Gary: Yes, this defender part of me will go to any length to put up a good front – and this part has so dominated my external life: first with school, career, and church, and then all the activities I’ve embraced since retiring 16 years ago – chaplain intern, massage therapist, creating the Stillpoint and Tourmaline businesses, Pathwork roles, etc. Pat: I notice the energy in you that makes you do what you think needs to be done – like the time your dad made you call a girl for your first junior high dance. Gary: Donning this heavy outer armor shows how I myself do not welcome the real me underneath, the real one with such fear and tenderness. I try with all my might to keep the hidden one hidden!

Pat then shared her experience of our sexual time together – such a pleasant time for her. Gary: How was I taking in your positive spontaneous energy? Was I frightened? Was I not wanting to surrender to that beautiful connecting energy emanating from you? Was I confused? Lost? I think a little of each of these.

Pat and I shared more. We could celebrate the courage it took to take this experience on and enjoy the relief that the truth of the matter brought.  Amazing even to feel the relief that truthfulness and understanding brought. I could see that my pseudo-solution to intimacy has been sexuality, and I could see that this pseudo-solution would only heighten my sadness – realizing, finally, that intimacy had to be its own solution first.  Then, with intimacy grounded, sexuality could emerge as a beautiful part of intimacy, and in its subsequent emergence we could enjoy the pleasure that sexuality is meant to be when it comes as a part of a holistic experiential unfolding of intimacy. Seeing this felt profound and central to understanding some of the deep pains of my life.

By the end of our coffee time I realized that my sadness had resolved. I felt my positive energy, my aliveness that resulted from our diving into all of this. I saw why I so relate to Pathwork as a toolbox of “discovery” techniques and teachings, to my many counselors, advisors, and Pathwork friends, and above all to Pat who, like me, is so committed to this path of self-discovery and growth. Clearly this coffee-time example of discovering “what makes us tick” once again made us tick! Now to carry this “ticking” into the rest of our day!


As all of our writing is well-received by the others, so was my piece. My courage, vulnerability, and honesty were appreciated. But one of the participants challenged me, seeing so much darkness in my piece, and perhaps in many of my pieces over the thirteen years we have been together. This person asked directly, “Gary, can you say anything good about yourself?” I felt pain from her words, as if once more “I got it all wrong.”

And yet while I, too, experienced parts of my piece as painful, I nonetheless had experienced that in facing my pain my mood was transformed. This shift happened in my own inquiry, in my sharing with Pat, and from the writing itself. I went from experiencing my profound sadness and depression at the beginning of my morning meditation and inquiry to a feeling of joy and excitement after significant pieces of the puzzle of my life seemed to fall into place. And this was the point of my piece – seeing that discoveringWhat Makes Me Tick” indeed does enliven me and therefore is what “Makes Me Tick.”

On the other hand I want to take in this comment, “Gary, can you say anything good about yourself?”  I want to explore it more. By surfacing this question the participant became an angel to me. And to the group, because the group picked as our next topic, “What is my sense of the ‘Good’ in me?”  Should be interesting!

Since our writing group on Tuesday I have spent time with Pathwork Lecture 218 The Evolutionary Process, Pat and I have had a deep session with Sage and Anthony on Wednesday, I had a powerful session with my helper Moira on Thursday, and on Friday I had a deep sharing with my son John over an extended lunch on the subject of relationships, all of which have been helpful and enlightening. I hope to capture some of this “Joy is in the Becoming” in subsequent blog entries. This feels very important to my life just now, and Pathwork Lecture 218 in particular seems to hold some of the keys to my subsequent unfolding.

Shared in love, Gary