Embodied Intimacy, Transformative Inquiry, Creative Emergence

Living with Heartbreak ~ The Awakening of Our Feeling Body

Posted by on Jan 16, 2018 in Featured Writing, Lifeletters & Articles | 6 comments

Living with Heartbreak ~ The Awakening of Our Feeling Body

I had a conversation that impacted me deeply this weekend, with Keith Witt, an integral psychotherapist, teacher and author. We were talking about the  #metoo movement, and his  perspective on the root cause of the sexual violence, harassment and inequality that have been a part of so many women’s lives. “We haven’t taken care of our children,” he said. “A good parent raises a child who becomes a healthy adult. A healthy adult does not treat other people like this.”

His perspective on this was so deeply resonant with mine that it took my breath away. Like Keith, I have been waking up to the simple truth of how we can really change our world: we need to help parents show up and respond to the basic needs of their children. These needs are so simple, primal and non-negotiable. If we neglect them, there are profound  consequences, both immediate and long term. Our culture is brimming over with those consequences right now–just take a look around. How many healthy, fully functioning adults are showing up in our world? How many of our leaders display the qualities of emotional maturity, stability, attunement?

Children need to feel that their parents are really there for them. In order for a child to feel safe, he or she needs to feel a stable caring presence, a deep sense of connection. Our children don’t need this once in while. They need someone that is attuned to them, holding them, in a tangible, ongoing way.  A child who feels alone, uncared for and unseen will face serious challenges on the way to their own maturity. Children also need good food, not fast food, not food delivered by machines. Basic nutrition is essential for the development of their brain and nervous system.

What we are dealing with is a systemic problem. Our whole culture participates in the neglect of our children. Take a look at many our schools, and the day care centres where children are parked while their parents are at work. Not to mention the televisions and computers that are now substitutes for caring human beings. If we changed this dimension of our collective life, I believe we could make a significant impact on our whole culture in one generation.

The really interesting thing, as Keith said, is that we now know what is necessary in order to raise a healthy child. The information that has emerged over the last two decades, in the fields of neuroscience, childhood development, addiction, trauma, attachment theory and nutrition, make it very clear what works and does not work. The news is out! We have the information, we have the knowledge, and on a systemic level, we have the capacity, in terms of money, to make these changes.

Other countries, like the Netherlands, Denmark  and Finland are much further ahead than we are in North America. Is what they are doing perfect? Not at all–they are making mistakes and learning from them. But they have the will, the interest, the intention. We don’t have that same level of consciousness here in North America. We are asleep, when it comes to our children; we are driven by other agendas. In my view, we have lost touch with our real priorities. Without another level of consciousness, there is no political will to do anything different.

I wanted to know how Keith felt about all this, the current state of affairs in North America. “How do you deal with this emotionally?” I asked him.

“I’m heartbroken,” he responded. He told me that when he gave a recent presentation on the #metoo movement at an Integral conference, he cried. Not just a few tears, but a lot. “I’m a happy person,” he said, “but I am not going to deny or minimize my heartbreak.”

Living With Heartbreak

Keith’s response to me was a tangible transmission of what it is to be human, and live with an ever widening circle of care. This is what life asks of us, if we want to be a global citizen. It takes a lot.I felt my own deep heartbreak when Keith spoke to me, and it took me right back to a very similar moment with the Dalai Lama, years ago. The Dalai Lama was speaking to a huge crowd one day, when he was asked how he was able to deal with the suffering o f humanity. He paused, put down the sacred text he was reading, took off his glasses, and said, “Like this.” And he cried. He sobbed deeply, in front of thousands of people, without the slightest inhibition, for over five minutes. Then he wiped away his tears, put on his glasses, and cheerfully resumed his talk.

I’m deeply engaged in facing these challenges in my life right now. I work with them day by day, hour by hour, as I learn to embody this way of being fully human and alive. I don’t feel I have an option anymore; this is the way forward, if we want to create a future that’s worth living into.

It’s astonishing to feel the actual living texture of this: how we live when our heart and our feeling body have not been numbed out, closed down. The Dalai Lama is one of the happiest people on the planet, and Keith Witt is full of passion and enthusiasm for life. Both of them demonstrate how the path to our maturity takes us into greater and greater complexity. Opening to this complexity is a radical path: it calls forth our capacity to walk through the world with a broken-open heart and a passion for life that is full of joy and delight.

There is some strange intimacy between grief and aliveness
Between what seems unbearable and what is most exquisitely alive.

~Francis Weller

art credit: Ana Teresa Barboza

with love,



Join the conversation and post a comment.

  1. Priyanka Sinha

    Hi Shayla,

    It’s been a while since I read one of your life-letters. This one has a deeply sad and grounding quality to it. Infact, it takes me back to a phase when I was grieving the loss of my grandmother about two years ago. The overwhelming sorrow of her loss gradually became a precursor to heightened awareness, insight and sense of purpose. As my former Radiant Mind Coach, you may be glad to know that I’m on the verge of becoming a Certified Life Coach; I would like to add the nondual component to the coaching services I would offer in the coming months. I’ve included my website which is basic and in the works. Love, Priyanka

  2. Stan Hunter

    I was so grateful we ran into the work of Sears and Sears (re attachment parenting) – raising our kid was healing to me and softened the effects of how I was raised. It was so wonderful, and fun, not holding back love and attention and respect. The “no child left behind” policies my son had the misfortune of tasting (softened by good teachers) was so god-awful backwards and horrific – more like “no childhood left intact”. I think the home environment trumped the school environment, and he found his way.

  3. K E W

    Good timing on your Living with Heartbreak post, Shayla. I’m waking up at 3:30 in the morning feeling the pain that my son feels when he spends every day at school without friends. I know he has stuff to learn, for sure. But I don’t know how to accept that pain, to surrender to it. He’s showing me his beautiful and open heart when he tells me that he’s lonely. I respect his journey with this, and I know I can’t take it away from him. Sometimes I wish I could cast a spell and make it all go away. The best thing is that he says he feels loved at home, that he’s happy when he’s at home. That’s my work as a parent, to be attached in the ways that ensure he knows he is safe and loved and free to walk his own path. Without me removing the obstacles ands moothing the way… But it’s hard!

    • tal

      Kew, i want to reply, to say that i know that heartbreak deeply. to be a parent is such a burden, in that we are not only holding our own life to fill, but the longing and hope and deep love for the ones that we bring into this world. My son also, has been dealing with deep loneliness and i so know the heartbreak of this, and still do not know how really to deal with it, other than to continue to love him the best that i can. peace

  4. K E W

    Thank you for sharing this with me, TAL. For some reason it helps to know that I’m not alone, that I’m not neurotic to feel the pain of another. I’m doing my best to experience it without succumbing to despair or neurosis, and to know my anxiety is mine, and not his legacy. He’s teaching me resilience, as he is modeling resilience. Many of my fears are projections and reflections, and right now I’m inundated with my own prejudices and experiences of rejection. But I’m open and willing to learn–how to help myself first, which might help him too. And yes, to love him the best that I can.

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