Now listen to your broken heart. Fall into the wound and bathe in the balm of midnight. Don’t follow a star. Let your root find sap in the blackest loam. What are countless golden petals or the fragrance of myrrh compared to the yearning of the shadow for its cause? Birthless seeds are singing beneath all that rises and falls. When you are truly silent you will hear them bursting through the long good night, until you are healed by your loss.
When winter comes to a woman’s soul, she withdraws into her inner self, her deepest spaces. She refuses all connection, refutes all arguments that she should engage in the world. She may say she is resting, but she is more than resting: She is creating a new universe within herself, examining and breaking old patterns, destroying what should not be revived, feeding in secret what needs to thrive.
Winter women are those who bring into the next cycle what should be saved. They are the deep conservators of knowledge and power. Not tefor nothing did ancient peoples honour the grandmother. In her calm deliberateness, she winters over our truth, she freezes out false-heartedness.
Look into her eyes, this winter woman. In their gray spaciousness you can see the future. Look out of your own winter eyes. You too can see the future.
“Talk therapy” gets a bad rap these days, from caricatures of analysts and couches in cartoons to the shaming of “one’s story” by certain forms of spirituality, quick to label any hint of narrative or subjectivity as evidence that a person has lost their way.
Clearly articulating our story, the way we have come to make meaning of our lives and experience, into a field of empathic, non-judgmental, attuned, right-brain to right-brain connection can be incredibly healing, reorganizing, and transformational. While the reality of the power of a true I-Thou relationship has been known intuitively for a long time, the field of interpersonal neurobiology has discovered the mechanisms of what is actually happening during moments of empathic attunement, and the neural integration that is fostered within this field. This is not some sort of airy-fairy pseudoscience and positive thinking. Read the research and see. Or just open your heart and feel.
Often when I speak with someone who is deeply invested in their spiritual life, they will preface their communication with, “Well, I mean, not to get into my story or anything…” As if “having a story” was somehow evidence of not being spiritual. Something to be ashamed about. Some obstacle to transcend, “get over,” or do away with, some clear manifestation of being “lost in the ego.”
This is madness.
I love what Maya Angelou has to say on the matter, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” I find this to be so true.
Of course, it is important that as friends, therapists, counselors, and healers we work at multiple bands of the spectrum, also including the emotional, somatic, and spiritual. That we send breath and life into each level, using whatever skillful means at our disposal to attune to what area might most need attention at any given time.
As many of us know all too well, it is easy to drown in our stories, to fuse with them, and be flooded or engulfed; to forget that no story will ever fully encompass the entire majesty of what we are. But that is not indication that story is impure or an obstacle to our healing and awakening. There is pure wisdom buried in the story if we will take the time to allow its meaning to unfold. It is the fusion that is the issue, not the story. We must make this discernment in the fire of our direct experience.
The appearance and navigation of story is not evidence of some spiritual failure or that you’ve fallen short. But evidence that you are a human being. Welcome. We human beings are storytellers. It is a very valid, creative, and honorable aspect of our holy brains and nervous systems, of our souls. Rather than shame and attack our storytelling capacity as error, let us embrace it as a gift from the Gods, and engage it with our hearts open.
Get to know in a really clear way the story you are telling about yourself, others, and the world. Get curious. Listen closely. Travel inside the story, with breath, into its very core and secret places. Illuminate it with awareness and with compassion.
From this ground, you can then decide if you’d like to update the narrative, re-craft the story of your life, re-envision a new perspective, re-enchant the plot and cast of characters, bringing forth a more integrated view, perhaps one that is more up to date and a reflection of the deepest truths that you’ve discovered, not just inherited from an earlier time.
The goal is not to “not have a story,” but to have a flexible relationship with story, playing and dancing and dreaming with the lens through which you see yourself and engage reality. As a creative, open, and luminous pathway in which you journey as the hero or heroine of your own life. And to use your story as a way to connect with others, to truly meet and touch and be touched by them, to love and be loved. To help them with everything you have within you.
Go ahead. Tell a story. Dream a new dream. Author a new poem of your life. The Gods are listening. Your heart is listening.
A home is not simply a building; it is the shelter around the intimacy of a life. Coming in from the outside world and its rasp of force and usage, you relax and allow yourself to be who you are. The inner walls of a home are threaded with the textures of one’s soul, a subtle weave of presences. If you could see your home through the lens of the soul, you would be surprised at the beauty concealed in the memory your home holds. When you enter some homes, you sense how the memories have seeped to the surface, infusing the aura of the place and deepening the tone of its presence. Where love has lived, a house still holds the warmth. Even the poorest home feels like a nest if love and tenderness dwell there.
Acting–all of the arts–is about observation. As Tennessee said, it is about being a witness. Very few people can do this. Very few people care enough to do this. The actor, the writer, the artist, the musician witnesses the world and its people–and then he tells the stories he has remembered, overheard, surmised. Always attempt to be a witness.
The most exhausting thing in life, I have discovered, is being insincere. That is why so much of social life is exhausting; one is wearing a mask. I have shed my mask. I find there is a quality to being alone that is incredibly precious. Life rushes back into the void, richer, more vivid, fuller than before.
Paradoxically to the mind, but in ways the heart knows natively, inside the core of our vulnerability, our shakiness, our not-knowing, is a nonordinary gold, a jewel that is found only there. This gold is accessible all times, though it will often appear in unexpected forms as our life circumstances, feelings, symptoms, symbols, and the others who come into (and out of) our lives.
Through this appearance and disappearance of form, we come to discover that healing and awakening are not only processes of creativity, but are oriented in dissolution as well. While we may have a bias for the creative and the bright, the gods of wholeness will employ either energy equally in fulfilling their mission here. What that mission is, we can only know through primary experience, bearing witness to the numinous as it pours through us and into the relative world.
As we peer beyond the veil just a bit, we may sense something longing to emerge out of the mess and the chaos, surging up from the dark, rich soil of the psyche—right out of the core of our deeply embedded sense of unworthiness, disconnection, and loneliness. Even spinning out of moments of anxiety, hopelessness, confusion, and despair.
In the depths of the soil, the question isn’t how to stop this material from arising, for it is its nature to do so. But whether we will provide a home for it when it arrives. A sanctuary. Safe passage for the disguised light to emerge.
Will we receive it with curiosity, interest, compassion, and warmth? Or will we pathologize it, conclude it is evidence that something is wrong with us, that we have failed, that we are not okay?
Of course, it is an act of kindness to care for ourselves in whatever ways we are able, and to bring relief during difficult times. But there is another invitation that co-emerges with the one oriented in relief, one that is more alchemical in nature: to turn in to the symptom, the feeling, and the symbols as they appear, for they are carriers of profound wisdom and guidance.
As Rumi reminds us, it is inside the wound where the light is to be found, a light hidden inside the darkness, that when entered into, reveals itself to be brighter than a billion suns.
Over the next few days, I’ll be sharing the story of an afternoon I spent with a woman who was struggling with overwhelming feelings of unworthiness, hopelessness, and despair. She had dedicated the last decade of her life to spiritual practice and community and had come to a real turning point in her life. While details have been changed to protect the identity of this courageous person, I have been asked by several readers of my book, The Path Is Everywhere, to share this story which was originally published in the book’s Appendix (“The Love That Assembled the Stars”).
Before printing the story in The Path – and again before sharing it here – I received permission (and the blessing) to do so, from the woman who is the subject of the encounter.
A Love That Assembled the Stars, part 1 of 3
I spoke recently with a friend who shared with me how her spiritual life had given her so much: the many ways it had helped her open her heart and experience a depth that she had been longing for since she was a young girl. She had also become aware of how her engagement with spirituality, in subtle ways, enabled her to avoid aspects of her emotional life and unmet pain from the past and kept her split off from feelings she did not want to feel.
While her practices at times brought her closer to herself, which she was deeply grateful for, she saw that at other times she was actually using them to escape from herself and abandon some of her most vulnerable experience. She was in such a raw place with it all: such appreciation on the one hand while also knowing that she needed to look anew at everything, be willing to start over fresh with beginner’s mind and the amateur’s heart, as she was being called deeper. I just listened … and felt honored to be able to bear witness to such intelligence, such unfolding wisdom, such genuine passion for the truth, such darkness, such raging light.
As she continued her inquiry in the relational field unfolding around us as we sat together, she noticed some grief that she had touched at an earlier point in her life but, for whatever reason, had not been able to stay with at the time, and as a result had covered it over along the way. As the grief (and accompanying shame and sadness) poured out, it was like a firestorm of energetic possibility, all of this unmetabolized material in her psyche and in her heart, unleashed in an eruption of reorganization.
She wasn’t sure she could do this; she would dive in for a couple of minutes and then retreat, only to head back in once she felt it was safe enough to return into the fire. I told her I knew she could go deeper, that I trusted the intelligence of her process, and assured her we would stay close regardless of what appeared, with no shame, no blame, and no pathologizing what emerged into the holding environment we had found ourselves in together.
We made the commitment to go wherever she was guided, into the utter darkness and emptiness if that was what was required, into the black hole inside her that she was beginning to touch, as well as into the light that was attempting to break through. We would dare together to hold all of her symptoms and experiences as pure information and guidance, honoring them as the attempt by her psyche and her heart to reach her and reveal wholeness.
While she had quite a bit of doubt and fear about how much she could actually hold, I felt confident that she could tolerate and contain a lot more. She trusted that I would push her in a way that was provocative and on the edge, but not so far that she tipped into overwhelm or fell too far outside her established window of tolerance. I explained that, in my experience, confronting anxiety, groundlessness, and uncertainty could be supportive as long as we stayed close and attuned in real time to what was unfolding. She remained unsure and shaky, acknowledging that some fear was present. But somehow she kept going.
As she allowed her experience to unfold and remain for short periods of time inside the core of the intensity, things slowed way down in a way neither of us fully understood and she touched something she had not quite known before. Something new was emerging from deep within her body and her unconscious apart from what had historically revealed itself. In this place, she discovered a cosmic sort of permission in which she could allow herself to go into the unknowing, despite the fear, and allow herself to fall apart a little, removing the pressure to hold it all together and maintain *any image or idea of herself. This felt somewhat risky, but despite the trepidation she was curious and almost excited. For the first time, she was able and willing to see clearly the ways that she did not feel seen and loved at the most primordial level. She had thought she had been to the depths of this wounding and was surprised to find even more. And even more.
And so it goes on the path of love … always more. We realized together that there is no ending to the depth of the heart. No final landing place in which all of its wisdom has been given. Always another layer, another revelation.
She sensed that it was possible for her to meet and directly experience these long lost soul-parts of grief, hurt, unlovability, and abandonment—and that until she worked through this material in a deeply somatic way, the realizations she had experienced would always remain on the surface, never able to fully penetrate her most deeply embedded conditioning and somatic armoring. As part of her inquiry, she also had a deeply embodied intuition that she could never truly love another until she offered a home and sanctuary where the perceptions, emotions, and bodily sensations could become conscious and be illuminated in her loving awareness. She saw so clearly how this yet-to-be-metabolized material was not and had never been “obstacles” to her healing and awakening but each a certain type of ally on the path. As she continued to share all of this with me, I couldn’t help feeling such awe and love for her, for her (our) journey, and for the immensity and implications of what it truly means to be a human being.
As she continued to open—not all at once, but in many short bursts, followed by periods of quiet and rest—she discovered that she could meet this ancient sorrow *directly rather than orbiting it by focusing solely on her thoughts *about it. And that it took a lot of awareness and concentration to make this discernment in her immediate experience. What appeared as “moving closer” was often not that, but more of a conceptual approach to her experience that was still serving to keep her out of the fire and at a distance.
As we went deeper into this, she discerned that she could practice intimacy with her feelings while not falling inside them, not tumbling down the rabbit hole, and not becoming fused or identified with them as who she was in an ultimate sense. Intimacy, without fusing—that was the alchemy she was exploring. She was experimenting with sending awareness and warmth into what was happening in her body at the level of felt sense and raw sensation, and how these affective and somatic experiences colored her perception by way of a subtle narrative that grew around them.
Additionally, she had deep insight into how these various levels of experience (perception/emotion/sensation) intertwined and interpenetrated one another. Without our conscious awareness, they tend to fall into a looping pattern, playing off one another, on automatic pilot with a seeming life of their own. But as she slowed down and made experiential contact with each level of the spectrum, something else revealed itself. What this was we could not name, necessarily, but it seemed to catalyze a wave of freedom, as well as compassion for the tender complexity of the human experience. More than anything, more than needing to pin it down into some conceptual framework, at least for *this moment, we wanted to touch the mystery of what she was in its entirety. A partial communion was just not going to do. Not for her!
In some ways, what she was encountering was so very personal, but in other ways she was touching the sorrow that dwells in the collective, that all sentient beings have met at some point. In this way, inner work is never for the individual alone and is intergenerational and transpersonal in its implications, reaching back into the past and forward into the future to untangle the knots of the cosmic heart and reveal greater meaning and purpose.
As she continued her exploration in an embodied way, descending beneath the density of the narrative about *why the sorrow was there, *who caused it, *how it originated, and the urgency around transforming it, she began to cry, shake, and tremble. Her breath became shallow and she was struggling to hold it all together. Something was reorganizing and she wasn’t sure she would make it through to the other side. Even though she was feeling anxious and fearful, I reminded her to breathe deeply and ground her awareness into the earth, and that together we could go a bit further. At times she pulled back and we rested together, feeling our feet on the ground, looking up at the sky, listening to the birds nearby. When she approached that place of near overwhelm and shutdown, we would stop the active part of the work, sink into the sensual world together, look at one another, and reaffirm that everything was actually okay—and then she would return into the fire.
Memories streamed in of when she was a little girl, gazing out the window while her mother and father drove away, leaving her alone and helpless at a young age. “You’ll be fine,” Mom admonished; “Stop being such a baby,” said Dad. She remembered wondering what she had done wrong to cause them to abandon her, to reject her, and to need to spend private time without her. She saw images of herself crying in her bedroom, totally alone, longing to be touched, to be seen, to be held, and to be validated as a unique, living, breathing being. It was the most profound feeling of existential aloneness and despair.
After staying with her deep sadness and grief, we were both a little shocked as these feelings yielded to a wild, untamed sort of rage at consistently being discarded and unseen. In an instant she went from sorrowful and sweet and transformed into Kali, goddess of the dark. There must be *something she was doing wrong that triggered her sense of core rejection but she couldn’t quite pin it down. The only truth she could access was that no one was listening. No one wanted to listen because she was so wretched and unlovable as she was. The rage intensified in the wake of this perception.
“Where the fuck was everyone?” she yelled. “And by the way, where the fuck are they now?” She thrashed around and screamed at the top of her lungs, all the while eyeing me carefully to see if I would reject her, invalidating her rage, shame, blame, and turn from her, which had been the pattern in her family during times of emotional intensity. As I discussed earlier in the book, in our families or origin there were certain feelings and ways of expression that were allowed and others that were strictly forbidden. In some families, for example, anger was okay, but not sadness; in others, the expression of dependency led to anxiety and disruption, while showing independence was honored and rewarded. We learned (often the hard way) that certain emotions, styles of vulnerability, and personality structures were safe and led to increased affection and attunement while others were disastrous, triggering withdrawal and profound anxiety in those around us, leading to aggression, rejection, and neglect of all kinds.
In this particular case, she was never allowed to be angry or sad, or to create any sense of disturbance. Dad was too busy with work and Mom was an alcoholic and depressed. Any emotional expression was treated as an attack on the family, and asserting any sort of need was interpreted as an utter lack of gratitude for everything they’d given her. She learned that retreating to her bedroom and burying her feelings was her only chance to stay safe in an environment that was simply not able to contain the intensity of a fragile little girl. The sensitivities get buried, the vulnerability squashed, the emotional intelligence thwarted. It’s not difficult to see the untoward consequences of such dismissal in our lives and in our world today.
Fortunately, she felt safe enough, held enough, and heard enough to continue, though I wasn’t sure where we were headed. This is always a very delicate time in relational work, when the unknown is clearly in charge, something is breaking through, and there is no clear road map to follow. Psyche is clearly in the lead. During these times, which are liminal in nature and feel as if we are in between birth and death, the intensity can become too much and the temptation is to quickly return to safe ground, a natural response to prevent disintegration and re-traumatization. To fill the space with some meaningless conversation, to cover over the embarrassment, rage, fear, and despair, anything to counteract the open nakedness of the groundless ground.
While there is some intelligence guiding the process of when to pull back and turn from the intensity, at the same time dousing the fire too soon can interfere with the unfolding of some very high-voltage guidance and information, where who we are at the deepest levels is trying to break through an old internal working model of partiality and reorganize in a way that is more integrated and a more transparent reflection of our wisdom nature.
Again, it is uncertain, complex, and contradictory territory, and it doesn’t easily yield to conceptual analysis and the timelines we have laid upon the healing journey. Unless we’re careful and in very close touch with what is appearing for integration, we can unconsciously remove ourselves from the cauldron, defending against and splitting off from the jewels that are attempting to emerge from the darkness. It is so easy and natural to slip into distractions of all kinds at this point and it is helpful to remind one another of this tendency and renew our commitment to stay in the fire, if we can.
Shaman means one who sees in the dark. In these times of climate chaos and cultural collapse, times bewildering and beyond the narrow scope of our modern minds, we would profit from learning to speak the language of symbol, soul, and Source once again. We need to embrace the darkness of unknowing, experiment, follow our hunches, and become as shamans, able to read the events of our lives as sacred texts in their own right.