Who are you?
And why? What are the forces that have created the person that you have become — not simply the person that you’ve been?
It’s easy to take for granted that we are who we are.
I’ve heard parents say that it’s clear from the moment they met their kids that there were elements of their personalities that were present from the beginning. I believe that for sure. And yet, there’s more, isn’t there? While we live individual lives, we are shaped by the society around us. The very small societies of our families, and our community, our schools, the city/town we live in, the state the country. We are shaped by media, but trauma, by happenstance. We are constantly shaped and being shaped.
The idea of who we are — of our identity — is broader than simply what we think of when we have to answer that question: who are you? Or, as it’s often asked at dinner parties, what do you do?
It seems to me that feeling our way into the why that’s behind the who is a way of getting to a deeper understanding of this life.
Perhaps this is where purpose really begins to reveal itself.
Into the dark
What does darkness mean to you?
What images come to mind? What are the feelings that come? What meanings do you make?
For many, the answers to these questions fall on what we might call the ‘negative’ side of the spectrum. Darkness is scary. It’s void of light. It’s where we go when we are depressed or angry. It’s a lonely place. A place where we withdraw.
Perhaps it’s bad — evil even. The Prince of Darkness comes to mind. From some religious perspectives, darkness is the realm of the devil, Satan, the anti-Christ. We tend to think of people who do awful things as being ‘dark’. We talk about horror movies or literature that depicts the depravity possible by humans as being ‘dark’.
And all of this is true. And, I think, there’s more.
What emerges for you when you read this poem — in the dark i see fireflies – by adrienne maree brown?
The poem closes with:
in the dark i see the moon
saying ‘nothing is constant’
even a rock caught in light’s orbit
even these constellations are
a flash across infinity
that brightness doesn’t last
but the dark is forever
Yesterday, I read this poem in a men’s group I facilitate. My intention was to call forward that which surrounds us, which makes our life possible, what is eternal. Can we connect to the thing that holds us all? I was a bit surprised to hear a couple of the men tell me that the poem put them in a negative space. To hear that light is fleeting — a flash across infinity — and that dark[ness] is forever left them feeling something undesirable.
I get it. I really do. Especially when we live in a culture such as ours, a culture that prizes positive over negative, light over dark. I’ve lived in this space myself. I’ve dipped into what we might call the space of ‘love and light’. A space that, on one hand, feels like it is trying to invite in the highest good of what it means to be human. It can feel really good. It can be an uplifting space. This can really be true when we find ourselves feeling down in life. To find a space — a community, really — that tells us that light is the answer.
The thing is, what I found was that the ‘love and light’ space was actually pretty limiting. In fact, in some ways it kept me encased in the very ‘negative’ feelings that I was having — partly because I was convinced that I should be feeling all the love and light stuff people were going on about. I’ve come to see that when I feel I should be doing something, shame is usually pretty close by. And where there’s shame, there’s not much possibility for movement.
Adjacent to the ‘love and light’ crowd, I began to see something else.
I found it through a couple of different gateways. One of those gateways was the tantric teachings of Kashmir Shaivism. These are teachings that say that all things are part of the divine experience — the good and the bad, the sacred and the profane. Then there was Integral Theory. From an ‘integral’ perspective the same is true: a spectrum of positive to negative is just that, a spectrum. To hold a story that one side of that spectrum is ‘better’ than the other is just another perspective. And perhaps a limited perspective at that.
This isn’t to say that some things are more desirable than others. Of course they are. But what happens when we bump up against the darkness and choose to push it away? Where, exactly, is away?
A third space that I came in contact with was Core Energetics. Core is a somatic therapeutic process. It’s all about engaging the energies that are held in the body in order to release our trauma’s and come in contact with our full life force. When we move in this way, all kinds of energies emerge — joy, pleasure, rage, despair. It’s all there. And it’s all energy. So, we move it. In these processes, we’re able to move the energies that we pushed ‘away’ (which, it turns out, is really just into the recesses of our mind, and into to muscles of our body).
The experience of having these energies move through me in a way that led to a release was hugely impactful for me. I could really feel how it was all one thing that was taking different forms. Each part played a role. The ways that my body held onto the energies that were overwhelming to me when I was a child (and, quite frankly, not given the skills to deal with them), created all kinds of holdings. These are things that I’m still processing today.
Plenty of those energies, we could call dark. We could call them negative. And they are. It’s true. They are also something else, though. They are teachers. They are an opportunity to heal — not just for myself, but for my family. For the world. When any one of us heals what is in us, we heal some part of the world. In Judaism, we call this Tikkun Olam .
So, back to darkness.
What if we hold the idea of darkness from this place? What might it be?
Here are just a few thoughts:
Darkness is what makes the light possible. It holds the light in an embrace, giving it the container to shine, bathing us (and everything) in its glow.
Darkness is a space of healing. The room we step into to look deep within. In some traditions, they think of this as the ‘cave of the magician’.
Darkness is the place of growth and creation. The womb is dark. Before there was light, there could only be darkness. The creation itself is light. The space is dark.
When I think about what it means to embrace the fullness of life, I immediately go to embracing the darkness. In fact, I want to start there. I get that this isn’t the norm. I get that it’s not comfortable. But what if it was a step toward the light, from a place that allowed us to appreciate it all the more?
So, now, from here, what does darkness mean to you?
There’s been a lot that I’ve wanted to say in this past week. The events of last Wednesday — the Insurrection of January 6th, 2021 — are historic. I doubt we can really even grasp just how historic. I suspect that we’ll need some distance from them to full get there. And I hope that they prove to be a turning point, and not the beginning of something bigger; something worse. My body tenses just considering.
The thing is, these events didn’t happen in a vacuum. They didn’t come out of nowhere. They were shocking, but not surprising. Personally, I was expecting them. I’d long thought we were heading there. But, as I told a friend in an email, the nervous system is more powerful than the imagination. Nothing I’d imagined prepared me for what I watched unfold.
Right now white manhood is on a suicide mission. It is standing at the edge of disaster with a gun in its hands, and it’s willing to take us all down with it. For centuries, violent definitions of white manhood have cost countless lives of women, disabled people, queer and transgender people, people of color—and plenty of cis, straight, abled, white men themselves. Now, as we reach the apex of hypercapitalism that makes it harder and harder for white men to hold out hope that all they’ve been promised will actually be theirs, we see their desperation lead to terrorism, self-harm, and the catastrophic destruction of our environment.
~Ijeoma Oluo, Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America, p. 276 - 277
As a cis, hetero, abled, white-bodied man, it’s important for me to slow down the experiences that we are experiencing, and look into myself. I have to understand how the energies that were unleashed in DC last week live in me. I have to understand my relationship to those trauma stories. Without that kind of inquiry, I’m afraid that we won’t be able to eliminate these oppressive forces.
What are all the ways I see myself in the men in the countless photos? Where are my violent impulses? Where am I dangerous?
The conditioning that lives in us runs deep. It’s part of who we are as men — who I am as a white-bodied man.
It’s my hope that this moment proves to be a turning point toward something new, something brighter. That, however, requires those of us in bodies like mine doing our work.
Since I woke up this morning, there’s been this lyric from the song Nothing Better by the Postal Service bouncing around my head. If you don’t know this band, they are wonderful. I’ve long thought that this song is the best heartbreak love song I’ve ever heard. Mostly because it offers both sides of the story, which is refreshing.
Any way, the lyric:
Don’t you feed me lies about some idealistic future Your heart won’t heal right if you keep tearing out the sutures.
It’s the last part that has me — Your heart won’t heal right if you keep tearing out the sutures. Over and over again it has me.
Not because I’m heartbroken. Well, not in that way. Sure, I have been. Haven’t we all? No, it’s something else. Something bigger.
I’ve been feeling the pressures of this pandemic more acutely in the past month or so. I think my system had about 8 months in it before it started to fry. The ninth month was rougher. Heading into a new year with relief on the distant horizon brings up a deep well of pain and grief in me.
It’s important to name here: I’m blessed. Perhaps a better way to name it is that I’m privileged. I have a home. I have income. I have the resources that allow me to type this, to be on Zoom meetings, to connect with loved ones. To work from home. To stay safe and healthy. I get that. And, as I’m sure you’re aware, it’s hard.
This pandemic is taking a toll that is deeper and greater than we are fully capable of understanding right now. We are all going to be paying a price, but what that price is probably won’t fully reveal itself for some time. I was talking with a friend who is a therapist. She was saying that, beyond her practice being at capacity, she is fully expecting there to be a massive need for trauma therapy over the course of the next two to five years. We’re all in a massive trauma event.
We’ve lost so much. Weddings. Birthdays. Human lives. We’ve been barraged with numbers for months. Sometimes they gave us moments of seeming relief: the hospitalizations are down. Deaths are down. But that was short lived as it all rises again.
And here is the vaccine. Yes! We are almost there! But are we? Most of us stand near the back of the line. I doubt I’ll be eligible for it until June or July of next year. And even then, what’s next? I don’t think any of us knows.
The idea of another six months (nine months? twelve?) of few hugs, of hearing about more death, of not being able to see friends and family. It weighs on me.
My heart keeps breaking.
The thing about grief is that it’s not a single event. It’s a process. I’ve heard Francis Weller describe it as a practice.
To be alive is to have your heart broken. Again and again. This can be a weight we carry, or it can be something that connects us to greater and deeper truths.
Sure, we can try to ignore it. We can paper over it with false positivity. This is a common practice, especially here in the US where “It is what it is” has become kind of code for, “let’s stop talking about this before it becomes too painful to bear.” Or we can numb it. That’s another popular approach. Alcohol, drugs, TV, Instagram. There are plenty of ways for us to numb.
Or we can be with the heartbreak. Which means to grieve. That’s harder.
Your heart won’t heal right if you keep tearing out the sutures.
Grieving is about healing. It’s about letting our (emotional) bodies do what they do best, process, heal, revive. We can be rejuvenated in a grieving process — but only if we give ourselves to it.
There’s so much to say here. And perhaps one day soon I’ll say more of it. For now, as we inch closer to the darkest, shortest day of the year, I feel my entire being pulled toward that grief. Toward the depths of longing in my soul.
Toward another layer of healing.
To heal right.
Voices and things to say
It’s easy to think of the voice as something that one just has. That what sounds like you in writing is just what comes out of the fingers when, well, when you write something. But, no. That’s not really how it works. The voice takes time to cultivate. It takes experimenting. It takes looking for the ways that words stack up in the way that you would stack them up.
I’m beginning to think that it’s that exploration that makes, even, for the very thing that a person has to say. And by ‘beginning to think,’ I meant that quite literally. I just had that thought as my fingers were moving across this keyboard, as I typed those words.
I wrote in this space a fair amount over the last two plus years. What’s interesting (to me, anyway) is that I have slowed way down in the writing department as this pandemic has dragged on. There are a number of reasons for this, but they aren’t really important. What I’m trying to do here and now is reach back, because in reaching back, I feel like I can connect — at least a bit — to the voice that I had been in touch with. Today I tried to write some stuff, and the voice sounded off. And I got stuck. And I was like, ‘yeah, of course. This isn’t mine to say.’
So I stopped.
But I was committed to reconnecting to the voice. It’s here in some ways. The question is, can it help me get back to the things to say. I know they are in here. I’m looking to connect to them.
I started writing today…
…not just in a notebook, but here, in my text editor, and I had to stop. Because it was garbage. I’m not one to shy away from the SFD (generally), but this was particularly bad (though the idea is still one that I want to continue to explore). So I stopped. I stopped and I started again.
In the men’s group that I facilitate, we had a conversation about this last week — about starting over. Again and again. At every moment, even. We can always start over.
No matter how shitty that draft is.