Engaging My Sadness
It will be hard to summarize what I want to share in this post, but here it goes. In the past several days I have experienced profound shifts in awareness and consciousness. Part of this included a Pathwork Helper session I had with my helper in which she led me see that part of my challenge in feeling my feelings was that I resisted negative feelings such as helplessness, hopelessness, loss, and sadness. I denied these feelings in myself and raised huge walls of resistance against feeling them.
I spoke of not feeling my anger, not expressing my anger. She helped me to see that my unexpressed or expressed anger could be my defense against feeling what was underneath my anger, namely my feelings of vulnerability and sadness. She pointed out that anger was often a secondary feeling covering and defending against painful primary feelings such as helplessness and sadness.
I had been concerned that in my relationship with Pat I do not express anger. I assumed that in a healthy relationship I would express my anger at Pat. “No. No. No.” My helper said that this would be acting out my anger. Yes, feel my anger, and, if necessary express it safely in my privacy or with a Helper, but not in out-of-control rage at Pat. It would be strengthening, rather, to express to Pat what was underneath my anger, namely my vulnerability, helplessness, disappointment in needs not being met, and sadness. Yes, I agreed with my helper, feelings of sadness, helplessness, or disappointment would be harder to express, or even to feel and accept in myself, than would be anger.
I am wandering. Let me get back to feeling sadness. In considering sad times in my life I knew I had had some. I had experienced the death of my parents in a car crash when I was 29. But I did not grieve. I went through a divorce and did not grieve. I experienced the ending of a deep emotional relationship with a woman, and realized that, again, I had not allowed myself to feel my profound sadness at this most painful incident. I had simply numbed it out.
Why did I not feel my vulnerability, fear, disappointment, and sadness in these painful points of my life? I could surmise that part of the issue was how I took in my Christian upbringing. I was taught, or at least took in as dogma, that Jesus died for our sins, and if we believed on him we would go to heaven when we died, so that our faith would give us hope, a hope, I had assumed, that would overcome all sadness and fear. So if I experienced sadness, it would be because my faith was weak. This was terrifying, because I knew my faith was much too week to save me. A willful intellectual proclamation is not what was being called for. Real faith was needed and this I knew I did not have! I can see in retrospect how young and immature this child’s reasoning was, but it had held a grip on me for most of my adult life. My child’s belief system said: “Feeling sad meant lack of faith meant going to hell!”
As I sat with this thought this morning, another issue arose regarding my Christian faith. It’s not on the subject, but it arose and feels important. I was taught, or took in, that I was a sinner deserving nothing but temporal and eternal punishment for my sin. My being was evil to its core. But not to worry, God loved me, and in spite of my undeservedness sent his son to die for my sins so I could go to heaven. So what does this version of the Christian message mean to a child? To understand this I thought of a filthy smelly unkempt boy coming to me, a wealthy king. If I as king told the boy he was filthy and smelly, as the boy certainly knew, but nevertheless I would give him a million dollars because I loved him, how would he feel? Very grateful at first, I would imagine. But over time would such a message ever help such a child grow up into an emotionally healthy and responsible adult? I would say not. Such a person would stay a child, not living life fully and purposefully but rather waiting for death and heaven. And I would feel even more guilty and unworthy if, in my gratefulness, I did not live a righteous life. The “good news” of the Gospel, again turning into “bad news” for the real live human on this planet. Yet this childish wrong idea, again, is another way I had for so long been taught, or at least how I perhaps wrongly interpreted, the Christian salvation story. As I sit with this, I can feel my anger at this damaging distortion. Ah, anger. And what is my anger covering? My sadness, disappointment, and feeling of helplessness in the face of church authorities who present or imply this distorted message, thereby disempowering the members of their flocks.
But again I have drifted. This, too, is not central to my experience of feeling my sadness in life. In all of this reflecting over recent days I simply realized that I was conditioned not to feel my sadness, fear, or vulnerability. It would mean a lack of faith or gratefullness on my part or violate my sense of being a responsible adult. Now I was letting go of these false beliefs blocking me from my negative feelings of vulnerability, pain, and sadness. My sadness is part of my human condition. Just be the human being your are, Gary.
Pat and I babysat her grandson last night. The house we were at had access to any video one wanted, and as we scrolled through those available we came to a PBS one titled The Wayfarer’s Journey. I was dumbfounded to read the description explaining that the video was the story of Gustav Mahler and his music. Specifically how music was Mahler’s way of coping in life and how his music was so helpful to so many of us in the 21st Century. What is so special about Mahler? The extreme range of emotions he experienced in his life and his genius for expressing these feelings in his music. I became riveted to the video, including its depictions of true experiences of doctors working with terminally ill patients and particularly with the featured conductor Christoph Eschenbach, recently appointed Music Director of the Kennedy Center and the National Symphony Orchestra. Eschenbach’s life, full of tragedy like that of Mahler’s, was so fed by the music Mahler composed. All of Eschenbach’s feelings were invited forth from his soul by this music! Yes, profound sadness is allowed!
I have loved Mahler’s symphonies since I first experienced them 20 years ago. I did not know why, but I was always moved by their towering highs and crashing lows, expressing a full range of emotions. I also recently got hooked on Leonard Bernstein’s relationship with Mahler’s works. So much tragedy. So much richness. Perhaps these artists were expressing what I was suppressing. How synchronistic was this juxtaposition of my Helper session and this engagement with Mahler.
But there is more. Pat is exited. At our couple’s counseling session three days ago Pat had introduced the idea of she and I doing authentic movement together. She has been doing this in women’s groups for over ten years and I’ve participated in mixed groups with her maybe five or six times. I have enjoyed it, but when in our counseling session Pat expressed her desire to do this together on our own my resistance went sky high. “No, I do not want to do this.” Then spontaneously the tears came. I was inconsolable. All three of us were shocked at the strength of my resistance. As I sat with my tears I came to a deep place of pain. I was projecting Mom onto Pat. Mom would never want to see me, not really see me, which is what the witness does in authentic movement, and what Pat would be doing for me when I was the mover. And of course this was my own self rejection being projected onto Mom. Bottom line, I have been rejecting my body and its strong feelings and projecting these shadow sides of me outward. Authentic movement would bring all of this up and my guarding ego would have nothing to do with such exposure of my deepest feelings to Pat.
My resistance to authentic movement came up in my Helper session the next day, and my Helper led me to see how entering into this authentic movement space with Pat would perhaps be a good way to get in touch with my feelings, those of hope, joy, and faith, as well as those of fear, sadness, and disappointment. Let me experience these feelings, all of them, deeply in my body, and in authentic movement let me gift my feelings to Pat. “Yes! Yes!” Pat responded, “I want to see you and all of your feelings as you and they really are, the joy, the fear, the sadness.”
All of this between Wednesday and today, Saturday. Powerful days for me. Four days of waking up to myself and to the world around me. Perhaps I am beginning to see the spiritual growth principle that says the way to transcend pain and sadness is by going through it and experiencing it fully. And also, if I do not feel fully the pain, I shall not fully feel the joy that is also present in me. All I know right now is that earlier in the week I was in a funk, I felt a tight dark mass in my stomach, and today I feel light and full of life. I’m a little raw, but so much more alive! And yes, I am sad. Fully sad, and fully alive. And perhaps maybe some day I’ll be fully all those other feelings that make me human.