Facing the Terror of Embodiment-The World of Sensations, Feelings, and Emotions

Monday February 15

In meditation this morning, sitting with Pat in front of the fire, coffee in hand, I noticed a whiff of fear arise as I contemplated letting go of my mind and dropping into the abyss of the unknown – the abyss of my body and what my body holds in the way of unconscious knowing and feeling. I realized that my mind truly stands as the guardian at the gate to this world of my embodiment. No spontaneous feeling, sensation, or emotion is allowed to come forth from this abyss of the unconscious, the abyss of the unknown, before being made conscious and approved by the mind. I noticed that when my consciousness approaches the gate to this vast unknown territory, red flags go up announcing danger! danger! I dare not risk entering through this gate to this abyss of the unknown, my body, and thereby risk allowing it to reveal all the secrets that it keeps in check in my unconscious.

At this point in my meditation I backed off a bit and gazed at the gate to the abyss from a safe observer’s distance. What might be there waiting to be revealed by my body and its sensations, feelings, and emotions? Why am I so frightened to enter this somatic space? I noticed that I was pleased in meditation to experience and witness this fear within, this fear that blocks entrance to what might be revealed and made conscious if I entered in.

As I gazed further I became aware of another hidden space behind the gate, a BOTH/AND space. I sensed a need to experience BOTH the thoughts in my head AND at the same time to experience the sensations, feelings, and emotions hidden in my body as they came into my consciousness one by one. I noticed the fragmentation – the split between my mind and my body, with its sensations, feelings and emotions.

Then I became conscious of the profoundness of these splits – I was facing the fact that there was a great deal of fragmentation here. And not only did the fragments have to come into my consciousness one by one, but then the fragmentation itself had to be healed as all the now-conscious pieces come together into an integrated whole. At this realization of my need to bring all the fragmented pieces together, I froze. Here, at the thought of an integrated whole, I experienced real terror.

Terror of what? The first words that came up were the terror of annihilation. My being, it seemed to me, could simply not hold all of these fragments of mind, sensations, emotions, and feelings together in an integrated whole. The image of an atomic bomb came to mind, a bomb of “critical mass” that would explode if the pieces were brought together. Yes, it seemed to me that explosive energy would be unleashed if all my unconscious and conscious aspects came together in an integrated whole. It seemed it would be utterly impossible to bring these currently unconscious fragments to consciousness, and then, in consciousness, integrate them together into a conscious wholeness.

And once again I noticed that I was so glad to come to this awareness of underlying explosive energy. While I would not allow these unconscious aspects to reveal themselves and then come into an integrated whole, I could at least feel pleasure in this awareness that this was the challenge I needed to face.

But the morning meditation was not yet over. I next became aware of another aspect of my being, my pervasive need to appear special. This awareness of needing to appear special did not seem to relate to the fragmentation image, the bomb, at least not immediately.

As I sat with these arisings, I realized that if I lost my specialness – a specialness achieved mainly through the workings of my mind while dismissing experiences of sensations, feelings and emotions – I would become ordinary. This lost specialness in becoming “an ordinary Joe” would be a great deflation to my pride and sense of who I am, or rather, my sense of who I had to be to survive. The image of a litter of newborn rabbits came to mind. If I were simply an ordinary rabbit in the litter, no one special, I would again be terrified. It seemed that to be ordinary, to be just “one of the litter,” would be intolerable. I could feel the strength of this terror at the thought of being merely “one of the litter.”

Next I realized that, from birth onward, the only way I knew how to be loved, connected, and blessed was to be somehow special! If I were not special I would not feel loved — I would not be picked up and held.  I have no idea if these thoughts were from actual experiences growing up or just my interpretations of my parents’ and family’s behavior toward me, or merely imagined. Whether real or imagined, somehow the meaning of “being loved” was distorted from love being “the simple warmth of connectedness with others” to love being “one who stood out and was recognized by others as special and above others.” Intellectually I saw the fallacy of such childish thinking, that standing out was not true love, but, my thinking notwithstanding, I realized that my emotional side holds a very distorted definition of love, an image of, “I need to be special, and when I feel special I feel loved.”

And I then realized, and felt embarrassed over, the fact that the more special I tried to be in order to get more and more of the love I longed for, the more separated I would become, not only from the litter but also, eventually, from “mom.” I saw that by striving to connect by being special, I would in fact be driving myself out into the cold, away from both “mom” and the litter.  I could feel a whiff of coldness as I pondered this imagined scene in the world of “the special one.” So while I am longing for “the warmth of connection” on the one hand, and knowing that this feeling of warmth is love, on the other hand I seem to believe somewhere in my being that  love is “being special,” even if that being special brings with it the coldness that I sense I experienced with mom.

And  then I saw that my need to be special feeds my fragmentation – I can be “most special” by limiting my life to those areas where I can perform “better than others.” And that area I believed would be my mind! This sharp focus on my mind leaves out my body with its battle with obesity and its very limited athleticism, coordination, and awareness of sensations, emotions, and feelings.  So all of these non-mental aspects of my being would be split off in order that I could focus on my mental specialness.

And even this focus on “mental specialness” was challenging, because my mental apparatus processes things in its own way and actually struggles to learn in ways most other people learn. This special way of learning results in a “special” way of seeing the world, but it takes far longer to arrive at such a special way both of seeing the world and of knowing.

This meant that to be special mentally, and even to pass classes in school, I had to study and ponder things much more than most other students. Fortunately I have always loved learning, so this extra time required for study was not a problem for me. In fact, the extra “study time” that was required of me allowed me the excuse to leave the other aspects of my being in their “subnormal” undeveloped state. I would not have to engage in other activities, such as sports or socialization, activities where I would be special, but special on the wrong side of normal. These “subnormal” aspects in me stayed undeveloped, and this contributed to my fragmentation. So yes, for me I saw that specialness and fragmentation have always fed each other!

All of this arose within a half hour of sitting in silence with Pat in front of the fireplace sipping coffee before we would have our morning sharing time.

As our meditation time ended, I could feel my caffeine-affected high energy and excitement as these felt-insights arose in my meditation experience. I was most grateful for the meditation time and for the opportunity to then share these experiences of self with Pat – and to hear her experiences from her side of life.

I titled this posting Facing the Terror of Embodiment. I now ask myself whether the word “terror” is not overstated. Do I really feel terror when facing my embodiment?  Probably not, but the new awareness of what I feel here is, in fact, “feeling what I feel” on a more visceral level than previously, and this heightened awareness of my fear of facing my embodiment led me to give this posting this title of “terror.” And again, I feel my gratefulness for having this deeper awareness of just how much I fear the important life-shaping secrets held in my body and in my feeling self!

One last comment.  I notice how frequently I was aware of my “thrill of insight” in this meditation. I am glad to notice how I am energized by insight. However, I can also see that the “thrill of insight” can be an escape from the “thrill of the actual experience” of which the insight now has a possible understanding. So I can have the “thrill of insight” about the likely existence and possible cause of “the terror of embodiment” without risking to dare to enter the abyss of the embodiment itself. In such a case, the thrill of “insight about a possible experience” becomes an escape from the “actual experience of the experience.”

And of course, I am thrilled about this insight as well.  All of the tricks of the ego go on and on to keep us from the experience of Life! What a hoot! And, as the Guide encourages us to do, we just keep on groping!

Shared with love, Gary

Resources:  In addition to Pathwork Lectures as my framework for integrated spirituality, here are possible references for those interested in deeper body awareness:

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk

Sensorimotor Psychotherapy: Interventions for Trauma and Attachment by Pat Ogden