"I want to feel closer to you, but I don't know how."
A story of healing
Context: this is a short story about my own healing journey. Initially, I only intended to jot this down into my journal. Yet there is an urge to do more than just that.
I'm not just writing to heal myself. I know, with faith rather than with actual blog views (which is rather meager haha), that this matters to more than just me.
I hope you find resonance here, and that you in reading, like me in writing this, are also enlivened.
"We are born in relationship, we are wounded in relationship, and we can be healed in relationship" - Hendrix Harville
My right chest still hurts. It feels like being drilled a massive hole there. A seemingly bottomless hole, rough on the edges, spiky on the way down. I'm doing a kind of inner surgery, bringing affectionate attention into the hurting place.
Rumi was almost right when he wrote
"Your task is not to find love
But to merely seek and find the barriers within yourself
that you have built against it".
Actually, your task is to find love. It's just that along the way you realize that you've got to look for it differently, by letting go of all these barriers. "Where is the love?" is not a bad question at all, but a better question is "In what ways am I blocking it?"
I know that rings a bell because my strategic, rational mind almost jumps out to scream "F*ck! I hate this answer" It's fair to say that the mind has a love-hate relationship with what's true.
Why do we block love then?
You can give all the reasons from childhood wounds, trauma to lack of skill, etc..
Personally, the reason that I am enjoying these days is "Wow wow wow, it's too much, slow it down, I can't yet handle it!"
It doesn't matter what your favorite reasons are. They probably will keep changing.
What matters is that you are sincere about asking and living that question. Then, answers may begin to reveal themselves in subtle, sometimes uncanny signs.
It may pop up in your shower, commute, writing, or as in my case, in the middle of a heated conversation.
Holding the Bomb
I was having a casual conversation with a friend whom I have become close with recently. It was all pleasant and nice until I asked what she looked for in a person. What would usually seem like curious interest dialog turns into a field of mines.
As my friend got upset, I noticed myself tensing up and beginning to cave inwards, stonewalling.
The whole chain reaction happened in a split second. It felt like the past hijacking the present. Suddenly it was not two adults having a conversation, but two kids acting up, fumbling.
That was the old me, freezing upon what I saw as rejection and threat. I almost wanted to fight back with reasons to justify myself too. On her side, it probably felt like an intrusion of boundary.
Paradoxically, time also felt like slowing down. As I was about to collapse into myself again, I felt the pain in my chest.
The pain was a wake-up call. Like a drowning person in panic, I somehow managed to say "Okay. Old stuff is coming up. Could we pause and take a few breaths".
By what Victor Frankl once writes, "between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies freedom", I had a little taste of genuine freedom. I was, even briefly, free to choose, unencumbered from habitual reactions from a long long past.
It was simultaneously painful and exhilarating.
"I want to feel closer to you, but I don't know how."
When asked why was I asking the question, I fumbled.
Then I said, "I want to feel closer to you, but I don't know how."
That was the intention. The rest was my cognitive mind fumbling for a way.
The mind, as the helpful and loyal servant, wants to help, but it doesn't know how besides the way it has been doing everything else: to figure out.
As such, its awkward question to the other person "what do you want?" was read as an attempt to control, even though its intention was to support the yearning for connection of the heart. OH BOY, SUCH DRAMA!
In that, I saw my own helplessness. I've skipped the most important part - what I want - where I could have just expressed it.
This situation is the quintessential relationship dilemma between autonomy and connection, or the dance between oneness and twoness as the couple therapist Esther Perel puts it. One person wants to feel closer, and the other wants to be oneself. Tricky...
This was another missed opportunity to remember the wise words of Thich Nhat Hanh, that "every communication is either a loving response or a cry for help"
Mine was clearly a cry for help.
Now to a brief detour into some important ideas
Why the pain? A childhood inquiry
It is tempting to want the pain to go away, or to fault ourselves with our unwanted behaviors. Yet oftentimes the pain, especially emotional pain, is not the problem but an invitation. Our unwanted behaviors are solutions that previously worked to meet certain needs but no longer do so.
For example, a deep need for connection also comes a fear of being left alone, of being rejected.
Where did that old wound come from? One area to look into is childhood story, which I am diving more into through the Compassionate Inquiry work of Dr Gabor Mate.
While the details of your story might be different, it is possible that you too as a child felt the pang of separation somehow. It will pop up in our adult lives, often in uncanny ways.
For me, I suddenly saw a piece of my childhood that I never thought was relevant.
When I was 2 years ago, my dad's health was rapidly declining with cancer. Given the difficult circumstance, my mom sent me to my aunt to take care of me for a whole year. When asked, my mom said I only returned home on the day of my dad's funeral.
Whoa. I shed tears at my own story.
Suddenly my need for connection and fear of being left alone made so much sense!
Upon seeing it, I also felt free. That story is a part of me, and I'm so much more than just that. It could go :-)
The real reason that we don’t know what we want.
If you don't know what you need, moment to moment, you are not alone. Many of us don't. In fact, grown-ups are wired that way.
If authenticity is being in touch with what you really need and want, then in most adults, authenticity is almost always traded by attachment. As young vulnerable children, we had to be cared for in order to survive, so we naturally prioritize secure our attachment with our caregiver by behaving what they want us to do (i.e be nice, don't cry too much, don't make a tantrum) rather than expressing what we really need.
So we either lose touch with what we really need or as in my case, we don't know how to ask for it. Then we find all kinds of distorted ways to meet the need and end up being unsatisfied, let alone causing trouble.
This is a huge insight from Dr Gabor Mate that has made me so so much more compassionate with people, myself included.
Another insight from non-violent communication that has been hugely helpful is "every need is legitimate". It is the strategy we use to get those needs meet often clashes with others and causes unnecessary pain.
For example, I use my default strategy of thinking to talk to people of similar interests to meet the need for connection. That will likely clash with others who want space and don't want to use too much brain. But I can meet the need for connection while someone meets their need for space as we stay together (need for connection) and do our own stuff (need for space).
The arrival of Presence
The silent minute after I expressed my need felt like a slow motion fairy tale.
A sharp pain began to ache in my right chest. As I struggle to stay open instead of closing down, a part of me was proud, like a patient learning to walk again in recovery "Yes, yes, I am not collapsing into myself".
Yet there was simultaneously something larger, like a loving nest that expanded from within. It was as if a greater, more encompassing heart rising up from another depth to hold the turmoil happening up there.
Whether you call that presence, grace, compassion, or any other name, it was large enough to hold it all.
I felt touched from within.
Who would have known that in the place of so much pain, there is also so much love? Where did that even come from but not a sacred gift from the sky? A teaching from the Enneagram came to illuminate: “our Essence arises to support our Inner Work any time we remember ourselves and come back to some contact with Presence.” In this case, the essence of clarity and compassion came to the rescue. In another word, with clear seeing comes love.
It might be weird from the outside to watch someone fumbling with himself like that, but from the inside, it was the most beautiful transformation.
It is possible to meet our own pain in a different way. One that neither suppresses nor overdramatizes but honors it.
Defense and Pain
I went into the night, with my right chest aching more acutely yet also held in great affection.
Suddenly, the gentle words of late Enneagram teacher David Daniels came, "when you work with someone's defense, you are touching their pain".
I truly felt for the first time, just how beautiful it was, that all of my defensive reactions, from flight to fight to freeze to fawn, were perfectly designed to protect me from feeling this pain.
It was beyond a cognitive idea. Pains and defenses arise together, perfectly synchronized like a partner dance.
For me, every time I felt the thought of "urggg, stop it", I also noticed a slight relief. And then another voice in me, the inner knowing, cheers me to go on, to go deeper into that gaping hole on my right chest.
Gosh, I would never think to find that much twisted beauty in suffering like this... As I wrote these lines, my right chest still hurts a bit. And it is welcome here.
I didn't sleep well. Amidst the struggle, there was an intimacy that I have been longing to feel.
I remember what my teacher Russ Hudson once said, "what is most beautiful is that love goes to the place where it is most needed."
Love goes to the place in me that is alone and so afraid of being left alone and says "I'm here with you".
Isn't that the sweetest thing?
As I woke up after a fitful night, I felt as if I just dove into a nightmare and found a great treasure: a wide-open love in my heart, unbounded by circumstance. Incidentally, I saw on my wall the blessing of John O'Donahue. May it be a blessing to you too.
I arise today
Blessed by all things,
Wings of breath,
Delight of eyes,
Wonder of whisper,
Intimacy of touch
Eternity of soul,
Urgency of thoughts,
Miracle of health,
Embrace of God,
May I live this day
Compassionate of heart,
Clear in word
Gracious in awareness
Courageous in thoughts
Generous in love.
An Invitation: Sense around and into the pain
Try it yourself the next time you find yourself reacting against something.
As you sense the pain or discomfort, you can also feel into the texture of how the reactions are protecting you from that pain. Reactions like looking away from the physical place, escaping into thoughts, wanting to scream back etc...
You can hate yourself for not being as open, kind, courageous or focused or anything.
Or you could be in awe by the brilliance and kindness of the design and how they work together to protect you from the pain.
Growth comes as much from seeing what is happening as from doing anything about that.
That’s it for this enzyme. Thank you for riding along my journey, and feel free to forward this to other people who may find it helpful.
To my American friends, happy July 4th! May you bask in the sun and remember all that has gone into the day :-)
Isn't it the sweetest thing?