Embodied Intimacy, Transformative Inquiry, Creative Emergence

Stepping Forth ~ moved by a deeper listening

Posted by on Nov 23, 2020 in Featured Writing, Lifeletters & Articles | 0 comments

Stepping Forth ~ moved by a deeper listening

I receive a lot of emails from people these days saying, “I hope you are doing well, in these challenging times.” I feel something in my body soften when I feel this need that lives in us, to acknowledge the depth and breadth of the challenges, that we are all swimming in this ocean together. And sometimes it feels like drowning.

In my own inner and outer journeys over the last while, I’ve been drawn into a much deeper listening. A listening that happens with the whole body, with the resonance of the heart, leaning into something that may be right here, and I’ve never heard it before. I hear the world inviting me to do this, to enter into conversations with people who hold very different views than mine, who live in different places, who have wildly different backgrounds. This listening can feel very edgy. In certain moments I feel like jumping right out of my body. I am learning to care for these parts of me, so that I can honour the commitment I have made to stay, to turn towards what I have been turning away from, for so long.

In this deeper listening, which leads to deeper feeling, there is a lot of fear, and grief, and anger, and also moments of love, compassion, tenderness. Listening to what people struggle with, to what they have suffered, to what this earth has endured, has touched very deep places of grief in me. I believe that we need to feel more and more of this grief together. This river of grief is not an accident-if we can offer it a space to breathe, it will help to melt the frozen places of trauma that live in our individual bodies and also in our collective body. More recently, the grief and sorrow have spoken to me, have whispered a strong invitation to become more engaged, to participate more fully in life. Grief is strong medicine-we can allow it to move us, to step more deeply into the world. Realizing this has drawn me into exploring what Otto Scharmer calls “building our action confidence.”

Over the years I’ve worked with a lot of people who have struggled with feeling held back in their lives, who could not find a way to embody their action confidence. I have listened to them speak of a deep sense of being called into a new and unfamiliar way of being–how difficult it is to say yes to this, as if something large and enduring stands in the way of entering into this deeper current. As we get older, a sense of urgency about this can accelerate; we live with a sense that life could be over, that we have missed the chance to respond to this creative living impulse arising from somewhere deep inside.

These deep impulses feel incredibly precious, like living filaments from the future, reaching back to touch us. They need our protection, vigilance, and care. In a world where so much is disintegrating, these movements toward something new and alive ask me to break free of the rules I have been following, to admit that what once gave me meaning doesn’t ignite me anymore, doesn’t really touch my heart. Behind this impulse to participate, to speak, to share, is often a deep longing, which can be both painful and liberating to feel. A desire to share myself, to know what intimacy and passion are, to belong more deeply to life. A longing to surrender, to give myself to something much larger.

What holds us back, when these beautiful living impulses and longings arise in us? When they keep us awake at night, when they enter our dreams? I’ve been exploring this recently with clients, friends and colleagues. Together we have touched into all kinds of very strong protective responses from our early survival systems, structures in us that arise when we feel the invitation to move into unknown territory.

These are not mental responses. If we slow down, we can start to feel how these survival structures live in the body-they are how we learned to feel safe, a long time ago. It’s very natural and appropriate for them to arise when what is calling us will disturb the known and habitual rhythms of our lives, shake them right up. We can struggle with these parts of us for a long time, and shame ourselves for not having the courage, the initiative to take the steps we are deeply longing to take. I’ve followed this path many times, trying to force myself forward, and it ended up in overwhelm, shame and heartbreak.

What I’ve realized, now that I’m an elder with a bit more humility, is the impossibility of doing this alone. I thought I knew this before, but now I know that I did not. My mind knew this, but my body did not. I was burnt out from trying to do things myself, but not fully cooked. The seeds, the imprints of being strong, going it alone, being independent and in control are so deep in our culture. My sense is that they are even deeper in those of us with white bodies. The colonial conditioning is built on a cellular sense of separation, and action confidence does not belong to the separate isolated self. Whenever we are stumbling around, struggling in the dark, feeling lost and stuck and helpless to move, we need connection, and we need a lot of ongoing support. My way of describing this right now is with the prefix ‘co’, from the Latin, ‘to join’ or ‘with.’ I don’t want to do anything like this on my own any more. Being inside a relational space is the medicine that allows me to be courageous, transparent and willing to take real risks. I need co-regulation, collaboration, community, and co-creation. It’s such a relief to admit this; and it’s taken me most of my life to get here.

How do I find these relational spaces, containers, sanctuaries? I know, from years of experience, that there are all kinds of these spaces we can enter, if we are clear enough about the need for them.

Here is one small example:

When I came back to Canada after twenty-three years in the Himalayas, I started a coaching and facilitation business. To say that I was facing major challenges is an understatement. When I first came back from India, I didn’t know how to use a bank card or fill my car up with gas. I was awash in culture shock and trauma. I knew I needed help, so I worked with coaches, teachers, and mentors. One of them, a coach named Michael Neill, was a well known, successful, and expensive coach, more expensive than I could really afford. I hired him anyway, and I’m glad I did. He had a lot of fierce clarity which he delivered to me cheerfully and without apology.

At one point my partner and I moved into a house I had purchased and began a renovation process. For the first year we were there, the house was in total chaos, and I could not afford to rent an office for my work.

“How will I work?” I asked Michael. “I don’t have an office anymore. All I have is my bedroom, and I can’t coach in my bedroom.”

“Why not?” he said.

“Who is going to come and work with me, if I am coaching in my bedroom?” I asked him.

“Who knows?” he said. “I just know that it’s not a good enough reason not to do your work.”

“What do you mean?” I asked him.

“Well,” he said, “I’ve noticed we dream up all kinds of reasons to explain why we aren’t doing the things we really want to do. But if we really want to do what we say we want to do, why should those reasons stop us? Why are you waiting for everything to line up perfectly for you? That’s not how life works–you’ll wait forever. Just do what you want to do, right where you are. Things will keep unfolding if you take action. Nothing happens if you don’t.”

“Okay,” I told him. “I get your point.” Now I realize I got the point because he made it so clearly and because I was paying him a lot of money to deliver that insight to me. On my own, this never would have happened.

My bedroom was actually kind of lovely, with a gable roof and a window looking out on our back garden. I set it up for coaching, and continued with the work I had already started. People showed up for sessions in my bedroom, instead of in my office. They continued to come, for many years. I saw a lot of people in that bedroom–our renovations took much longer and were more complicated than we thought they would ever be. We almost built ourselves a whole new house. During all those years of coaching in my bedroom, I kept imagining just how wonderful it was going to be when I had my very own office.

Finally, the moment arrived. The final stages of preparing my office involved a strenuous painting project: it took eight coats of paint to turn one wall of my office Chinese red.
On the day it was ready, I took my client, a man I had been working with for some time, up the stairs to my new office. It was right across the hall from my bedroom, so he was not expecting to turn right instead of left.

“Oh,” he said, “We’re not going to sit in your bedroom?”

“No,” I said, “I have a real office now.”

“Great,” he said, sounding much less excited than I was.

At the end of the session, as he was leaving, I walked with him into the hallway.

“How did you like working in my new office?” I asked him.

“Do you really want to know?” he asked.

“Of course,” I told him.

He looked wistfully across the hall. “I liked it a lot in your bedroom.” he said. “The office is okay, but there’s something really special about that bedroom.”

“Are you kidding me?” I asked him.

“No,” he said. “I mean it. I’m really going to miss that room.”

I felt the presence of Michael Neill hovering over my left shoulder, whispering, “See what I mean?” and I wanted to kick him. Over the next month, I heard the same response from many of my clients. None of them seemed to be impressed by my new office. They all struggled to explain to me that there was something very special, an energy, a feeling in my bedroom, that was missing in my office.

It feels important to return to this story, to remember again how wrong I was about what I really needed at that time, in order to do the work I love. I would not have been able to move forward at that time without the support of my coach. It doesn’t have to be a coach-it could have been someone or something else: a women’s circle, a practice partner, a healing community, a peer counseling group, a sangha, a mentor. We have to find a way to make ourselves available to this kind of relationship, in which we are deeply supported, seen, felt, and challenged when it is appropriate. Sometimes I feel awe about how endlessly creative our system can be, when it is trying to protect us. These structures that hold us back were born from our own creative intelligence when we were young, and they are not going to disappear so easily, as long as we are trying to do it alone.

These times are asking more of us than we ever imagined. Not once in a while, but every day. In the midst of Covid, of isolation, of social distancing, of lockdown, it’s more essential than it ever was to join our energies, hearts and minds, to come together, to give and receive our love, our care, our wisdom, our fragility, our willingness to feel, to be with what we have been running from. Even one tiny step into the unknown, one moment of real feeling, one deep breath down into the body, is a blessing, a signal flashing into the night that tells us we are not alone, we can be here together, and find our way.

with love,

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