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A Shared Life of Wrestling, Growth, and Discovery

Enlivened by Confronting My Fear of My Self

Yesterday, before supper, Pat and I listened to our most recent couple’s counseling session with Sage and Anthony, the session last Monday (5/16). As we listened we, as always it seems, saw the session as rich in many ways. What most stuck out for me was near the end of the session. There, in my exchange with Anthony, regarding my birth trauma, he pointed out that what happened in my birth and, as important, what happened in my connecting with Mom in the hours and days after my birth as she tried to relate to that “screaming Gary,” that “new being” in her and Dad’s world, likely contributed much to my attachment challenges of today.

Anthony pointed out that we don’t have to figure out what happened in those initial moments of life, but we can support “screaming Gary,” we can hold the Gary who did not know what was going on in those initial moments in this new world that was making him scream. We can hold him and give him spaciousness. Anthony pointed out that this Gary is the same Gary who is now at a loss as to what he truly wants, and that he thinks is missing, in his relationship with Pat. These all seem to be attachment issues. And, he said, nothing has to be solved here in your relationship with Pat either. This Gary who does not know what he really wants with Pat just has to be held in his state of “unknowing.”

My first words in response to Anthony were, “This is My Life! Can I be OK with this life that is mine? YES I CAN!” Somehow Anthony’s reframing had allowed me to embrace more honestly who I really am in this incarnated human body! Yes, Gary can be the fearful screaming one! It is perfectly OK! Anthony picked up on my “YES I CAN!” immediately with, “The more you surrender to what is YOUR LIFE, as you are doing here, not comparing yourself to others or to the expectations of Mom or Dad or others, this action of being OK with your life as it is, opens things up!

I could see that this opening more to my REAL SELF is a wonderful positioning for me as we enter the intensive in less than four weeks (Thursday, June 16, through Saturday morning, June 18). I am eager and curious about what will be revealed in June as it relates to Pat’s and my relationship!

I could also ground this further by saying, “Gary, you are free to be who you truly are, even if you are ‘average’ or especially ‘less than average’ in the cultural and religious values you were born into.” I realized that growing up it seemed always as if “being average” or, heaven forbid, “being less than average” was simply out of the question – to be a “Vollbracht” I had to be special – and special in the way Mom, Dad, other relatives, teachers, and other adults expected me to be as measured by “success” in the world of my environment! And I realized that in this world — culturally and religiously — I, indeed, in my true self, was certainly “less than average!”

AND it seemed to me that that was totally OK. In being OK being “less than average” I was, finally, FREE to be ME, the true ME! No longer did I have to work so hard simply to survive in a cultural and religious environment that does not fit me. I realized (once again!) that I had been trapped by having APPEARED to have SUCCEEDED in the culture and religion I grew up in. Being OK being “less than average” in this culture and religion was to be let out of my self-inflicted prison.

That all came up in me yesterday as Pat and I listened to the session. This morning, as I opened my computer, I was exposed to the title page of Pathwork Lecture 155 for which I am creating the Devotional Format (if I can ever stop blogging enough to get back to it!). I had forgotten even what Lecture 155 is about and was stunned as I read the title, “Fear of Self – …”, and then stunned even more by the opening words in the lecture, “In order to become what you truly are, the fundamental prerequisite is fearlessnessOvercoming fear of self is the key.” I could barely take in the synchronicity of this experience first thing in the morning! It was all building on the session we listened to the evening before — it was as if Spirit is working overtime on my behalf! 

With all of this from Saturday evening and first thing Sunday morning on my mind, I sat down with Pat in our Morning Practice, again beginning with 30 minutes or more of silence. The following thoughts arose out of the silence… I am curious about “Who’s here, really, who is this ‘Gary’?” I did not know who this true Gary is, of that I was pretty sure. I knew what the true Gary was NOT, but I did not know who the true Gary IS. And in my curiosity about what I would discover in this true Gary, I could set aside fear, judgment, and comparison. Who am I?  I am the one who loves writing up self-reflections in my blog and then also the one who is terrified for having been so honest and revealing in my blog. AND both of these experiences were OK! I could be the one who is “below average,” and smile at myself as I find that I am also terrified at being “below average.” I want to live fully into the life I have been given, joys and fears and all! Perhaps I can find happiness in each moment of life – being who I really am ever more comfortably – especially comfortable with my fear at being “below average” in so many ways in each and every moment. I sensed I was not welcome for being simply who I was as a child and that this sense of “un-welcomeness” was carried into my adulthood. From here I could be curious of everyone around me as well, especially curious about Pat, this one who was sitting diagonally across from me right here this Sunday morning in the silence in front of our fireplace in the living room.

Our silence ended, and Pat shared what was coming up in her. What had arisen in her was “dark,” but she was open to exploring that with me. After her sharing, I went on to explore with her what had arisen in me during the silence. I shared that so often I was terrified by being me, being the real me that spontaneously arises moment by moment. I shared how at times I delight in what arises only later to experience a cloud of fear arising in me to dampen down my delight in Life. My blogging is one such experience – it is both enlivening and terrifying.

Then I shared with Pat a current example. In my May 19th blog on Thursday titled, What Purpose Inspires Life’s Forward Movement, I had said in this blog that I was feeling so alive that I celebrated by ordering the complete works of Jack Miles (1- God: A Biography, 2- Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God, and 3- the exhaustive 2-volume set that Miles edited titled The Norton Anthology of World Religions) as well as the set of 13 episodes of the video series by Jacob Bronowski titled The Ascent of Man. I had a lot of energy about these beautiful creations, and looked forward to their arrival.

On Saturday, while Pat was home with me, they all arrived from Amazon in two good-size boxes! I immediately panicked! Should I take them down into the lower level and hide them in my office until Pat is gone? What will Pat think about my boyish exuberance expressed by this newest acquisition!? But instead with my boxes in hand I went into the kitchen where Pat was working. I appeared nonchalant as I excitedly opened my boxes from Amazon at the kitchen bar where Pat stood across from me. Inwardly, of course, I was terrified, somehow “knowing” that Pat would be sternly judging me for my innocent boyish excitement over this “still another” acquisition. But, as I opened the boxes, Pat said nothing positive or negative about them. Nevertheless, my anxiety, though pressed down and denied, was still spoiling and dampening the excitement another part of me, the boyish part of me that had been so enlivened on Thursday when I ordered these great books and videos, felt.

As I now shared this experience of getting the books on Saturday in our Sunday morning coffee time, Pat said that yesterday she could feel her ever-present vigil judging me when the books arrived, but she had chosen not to act on her judgment. Rather, she shared, that while her judge was there she, in her heart, could feel my “coming home to Mom” in my exuberance, saying, “Look, Mom, what I have!” I quickly added, “And with Mom at such times, all I got from my exuberance was a blank detached look that reflected Mom’s preoccupation with so much else that was ‘so important’ going on in her life at the time.” The message I took from Mom seemed to be, “Gary, why are you bothering me with such boyish excitement, you really don’t matter to me just now. Can’t you see I’m busy?” Again, it matters not what was actually going on in Mom, just that this was my experience with her.

Pat saw the key word in my sharing as “blank.” Initially I had corrected my description of “blank” by adding that Mom gave no response at all.  But Pat noted that really “blank” is a response, it’s not “no response” to my boyish exuberance! A “blank” response says so much.

Pat went on to talk about Matt Kahn in his Whatever Arises, Love That, saying that it is our enthusiasm, spontaneity, and original innocence that has to be healed and reclaimed as we come to love what is. She said that when the packages came yesterday she could recognize the tenderness of my exuberance in her heart, but did not feel my fear. She could recognize something in this place in me was very tender. But, as she said before, she also saw something in herself that could be very harsh. It was a conscious choice on Pat’s part not to allow her harshness, really her hate, to come forth.

I spoke to Pat about the need to take correct action, as she did by holding back her harshness, but also the importance to recognize the hate and harshness in her at the same time. Pat said she was aware only that she did not “act out” the harshness but did not really allow herself to feel her harshness and hate. Her challenge she said was to be in relationship with her harsh one, her hate. She saw that anything that is not love is in fact hate.

I offered for her consideration that the harshness she felt toward me could possibly be her harshness toward her own liveliness, toward her own exuberance in her own young one, projected onto me. She has spoken in the past of being jealous of my ability to act on what is so enlivening to me, as I had done with the books, whereas she thought she had to hold her own liveliness down. She could not have bought the books simply because they “enlivened” her. Pat allowed that all of this could be going on in her subconscious. And I noted that my fear of being judged by her would likely evoke from her judgment and harshness. The Pathwork speaks of how our unconscious attitudes and feelings interact with each other. All of this unconscious material is in “the field of us.” All that is going on in our subconscious is pretty wild, actually, and affects our ability to relate with one another.

Pat remembered some times, for example in work scenes and at our intensives with Sage and Anthony, where she experienced her “killer energy,” especially toward men. And I noted that my terror of my own exuberance, the terror of my own self, the terror that Pathwork Lecture 155 describes toward one’s real self, evokes the killer energy in Pat. This seems to be how our subconscious selves interact in “the field of us.” And I have certainly killed my own life force, killed my own eros, in my relationship with very significant women in my life. Now I am terrified that I am killing my own eros toward Pat, and in the process, I realize, I am evoking her killer energy toward me.

We each have a set of unconscious positive and negative energies in us, and these get evoked by corresponding unconscious energies in the other. These bounce back and forth and they are hard to unravel (as is so clearly expressed in Pathwork Lecture 140 Conflict of Positive Versus Negative Oriented Pleasure as the Origin of Pain on pages 41-47 of the Devotional Format).

There were many other insights about ourselves and our relationship in our hour of conversation Sunday morning. We so look forward to exploring these relational avenues in our upcoming intensive in June. We find Sage and Anthony so skillful as they dance this dance of intimacy with us! And we allow that they do not have to be in a prison of our expectations for their “perfect” skillfulness! We are all humans doing our work!

And we noticed that we increasingly do not view this “hard work” of self-confrontation as “work” at all but rather find the work of self-confrontation, the work of PathWork, if you please, enlivening in its own right!

After our coffee conversation time on Sunday mornings it is our practice to get a copy of the New York Times and begin reading it over breakfast at our favorite breakfast restaurant, the Sleepy Bee. Afterwards, back at home Pat pointed us to a new book featured in the New York Time Book Review – Unforbidden Pleasures by Adam Phillips. In the review a quote is included that seems to fit what we are doing in this “work” of self-confrontation: “If, instead of the words ‘good’ or ‘right’ (or ‘sacred’) we use the words ‘beautiful or ‘pleasurable’ or ‘enlivening’ [noticing that these are the very words I have been using to describe my life these days in these blogs] … how would our lives be different?” Yes, our lives are changing!

Shared in love, Gary

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Gary Vollbracht