Synchronicity: Before Completion

In less than two weeks I have my final therapy session with L. I have been caught up in a back-and-forth whirlwind of feelings, switching between courage and fear, happiness and grief, adventure and clinging. I cannot exactly say why it is that I know I am done. I just know it in my body somewhere that I am. Yet, I am still sometimes afraid to step into and follow through with the choices I make.

My therapist introduced me to the I Ching some time ago, and I have written about it here before. I do like asking it questions when my mind is scattered in some way, because it helps me to feel a sense of understanding of the greater forces or themes that I can connect with. It helps me to feel calmer, to be in touch with these concepts outside of myself. I relax.

I asked it: “How can I approach the post-therapy phase?”.

It answered with hexagram 64: Before Completion. This hexagram is at the very end of the I Ching, and reads:

above LI THE CLINGING, FLAME
below K’AN THE ABYSMAL, WATER

This hexagram indicates a time when the transition from disorder to order is not yet completed. The change is indeed prepared for, since all the lines in the upper trigram are in relation to those in the lower. However, they are not yet in their places. While the preceding hexagram offers an analogy to autumn, which forms the transition from summer to winter, this hexagram presents a parallel to spring, which leads out of winter’s stagnation into the fruitful time of summer. With this hopeful outlook the Book of Changes come to its close.

I won’t copy the rest of it here, but you can easily look it up. I find it so strange that in asking about the end of therapy, the I Ching answers with the hexagram related to new beginnings. It is true that therapy is ending: but L and I have also talked about new beginnings, paradigm shifts, new ways of approaching both the world, and our journey together, our relationship. We have talked about and have a shared love and drive towards social change, a shift in our ways of thinking and connecting with other people. I have written about this before, the closing of the old, the opening of the new. But I didn’t expect to get this result, now. It feels too perfect.

I also should not forget about the changing lines. The hexagram changes to 16: Enthusiasm.

above CHêN THE AROUSING, THUNDER
below K’UN THE RECEPTIVE, EARTH

The strong line in the fourth place, that of the leading official, meets with response and obedience from all the other lines, which are all weak. The attribute of the upper trigram, Chên, is movement; the attributes of K’un, the lower, are obedience and devotion. This begins a movement that meets with devotion and therefore inspires enthusiasm, carrying all with it. Of great importance, furthermore, is the law of movement along the line of least resistance, which in this hexagram is enunciated as the law for natural events and for human life.

All of it seems utterly clear to me: move in sympathy with the spirit of the people, and don’t fight against the natural law of things. Embrace it. Allow things to develop naturally as they do and will, adjust in co-creation, and do so in togetherness and harmony, not resistance to what is and what will be.

My journey with L is not just therapy. Rather, it touches me personally, spiritually, politically, and in some deep way beyond any given action or word in any single moment. A greater shift emerges – I feel it, I let it take me. My journey with L also appears complete, but in many ways it is not. We are facing an ending, and also a beginning. We find ourselves in the midst of a shift (for us as individuals, but also far beyond) that we can only approach with natural, flowing movement in joy and in enthusiasm, with love and unity.

Safety

Today I told L that I need 3 more sessions, and then I will finish therapy. Suddenly I feel as if I have agreed to go skydiving, and the plane is flying higher and higher. I remember that feeling in my stomach: “What am I doing? What have I agreed to?” and the gasp of my breath as I jumped out of the plane, tandem skydive instructor attached to my back. But skydiving was one of the best things I have ever done, so: time to leap out into the wide open air, and fall.

When I hugged L goodbye today, I didn’t want to let go. I just wanted to lay my head on her shoulder forever, and to just breathe. When I am close to her I feel so safe. My feeling of security with her is something that I have never really felt in my life, except with M. I realised as I stood close to her, that even the smell of her skin is safety to me. My mother was a heavy smoker for my entire childhood, and when she hugged me I always felt a sense of unease, a desire to escape, a push-pull feeling of needing comfort from her, and not feeling comforted by being close to her. She often smelled like cigarettes, a harsh and somehow painful smell, and it permeated everything: her clothes, her hair, her breath. I didn’t like it, it made me feel sick.

With L, I feel safe in her gaze, in her presence, in her arms. I feel so strange when I realise that I feel safer with her than I ever did with any parent. I know that it is one of the many gifts of therapy and her work, but it is also more than that. How can it be so physical, how can I feel so safe with her body, when I never felt that with my own mother, whose body I grew within? It astounds me, the difference.

What does it mean, to begin to walk away from that safety?

Difficulty at the Beginning

Change is hard. When we want to change ourselves, our behaviours and our lives, the change can be incredibly difficult; often, we remain blind to the patterns that we remain trapped within. As soon as we begin shifting a pattern, the mind resists. Cutting and hacking a new pathway through a thick forest is a lot harder than driving on a smooth well-known highway. Just facing the forest can be hard, even if the highway takes us to a place over and over again that we don’t want to end up: the forest is dark, difficult to go through, and we can only hope it will come out in a sunny clearing. Many times, we do not choose to begin, for fear of getting lost, or what we might find along the way.

When I first started this blog I had no idea how much work it would take to change myself and my inner voices, as well as my perception of the world. I only knew that I couldn’t live the way that I was. Now as time goes by it gets easier: I can still see how difficult the adventure is, but I started enjoying the challenge. Over time I feel much more certain of my ability to figure things out, to look after myself (or to ask for help), and to feel confident that I will be able to handle whatever comes.

I was reading about this concept of “beginner’s mind”, and thinking about how I can maintain a mindset of openness and exploration, without getting overconfident or assuming that I know how things will go. It has been such an important part of my process to feel confidence in myself and to trust this sense of inner clarity that I have, and now it feels like a task to balance confidence with holding no expectations. I told my therapist L. that I want to finish my sessions in the next few months and that I want to wrap things up. Sometimes when I go to sessions now I feel like I have nothing to say, I just sit there mentally searching for things to discuss. I feel this strong pull inside myself that I want to be alone, I want to look after myself on my own, I want to “test” my competence and see how I go. I have hope that it will go well, and at the same time I am trying to keep it in the back of my mind that maybe without therapeutic support, maybe I go downhill again. Who knows? I am nervous to take the next step.

It feels big. And good. And then I keep thinking about how excited I am about everything else I still am working on, and everything that is still to come. What comes next to test my courage, my ability to learn, what will come to open my mind and to expand my world?

Everything That Gives Light Is Dependent On Something To Which It Clings

My children were listening to an audiobook CD of fairytales this morning. The CD kept skipping and stopping, and I listened to them restart the same story (Der Wolf und die sieben jungen Geißlein) over and over. They didn’t understand that the CD was dirty and needed to be cleaned – they just wanted to hear the story, so they tried again.. and again.. and again. I took it out and cleaned it for them, and then the story played all the way through.

I started reading In Praise of Risk by Anne Dufourmantelle as they listened to their audiobook.

I am thinking of what it means, to take risks (or not), and how we experience life unknowingly facing numerous risks every day, tens or hundreds of unknown avoided deaths in a lifetime. She writes about intimacy (though not as we typically would think of intimacy), and in one of the first chapters she talks about dependency. I recently told my therapist that I don’t like being dependent on her. She said that I’m not, and that rather, I am just “channeling” through her what I needed to get: the missing emotional nourishment that I needed to grow and develop. I guess dependency doesn’t have to be pathological in its expression, because healthy reliance on others in community, partnership and society is just a part of the bonds of life.

I realised that I took a risk in allowing myself to believe that I will be supported in some way by what my therapist provides, that I can rely on her, that she will be there when I need her. Over the past years I have allowed myself to take on a much more childlike form, to place parts of myself in her hands, not hoping exactly, not asking exactly, but simply doing it, experimenting with the potential of loss, harm, satisfaction, an unknown future. It’s a way of seeing that I am worthy of care, both by the fact that she offers it to me, and by my allowing her to provide it. Even important is that I take that care inside myself, and allow it to take root in my sense of self: I matter to someone. As therapy progresses, I feel less and less “childlike”, and our relationship grows and changes to one of more mutuality in our interactions. I still like it though, that I have gone through this process of regression in some way, a way to tell myself that I can accept it, that the “child me” deserves it. Dufourmantelle writes:

To take the risk of dependency is a sign of friendship for this body from just after birth.” 

I am thinking of the kids and their CD, playing to the same broken point over and over again, not knowing how a CD works, not knowing what was happening, until I came and cleaned it for them. When we are children our dependency is inbuilt – there is no choice in the matter. But as an adult, when we allow ourselves to depend on someone, to rely on them, our choice is a little more complicated. Shaped and formed by previous experiences, we have sacrificed parts of ourselves in our childhood dependency to ensure that we would get what we needed. These sacrificed parts will never stop banging at the door until we see them and allow them to live again in all their glory, whatever they are: righteous anger, joy, curiosity, tenderness, sorrow. We know that in relying on someone else, we form a bond … but it is not always easy to know if the bond will be one that causes us further harm, losses, or require further sacrifice.

I struggle because my experience is that when I rely on someone they let me down. They hurt me, reject me, and they leave. Usually I would get so panicked that I flip between intense clinging, followed by total rejection of the other. My husband, M. is one of the few people who refused to engage, stating over and over that our bond was good, true, and that I could rely on him always. Sometimes it sticks in my mind the number of times I asked him in our first couple of years together “Promise you won’t leave me?” and his response: “I will never leave you.” Over time, I realised that no matter how many times he told me, something inside me didn’t shift. I had to change something inside myself, to really trust his words. So I began again: in therapy I started testing my ways of relating to other people and how I bond with them, and slowly it settles. I already come to rely on myself more and more instead of people outside of myself. I find the “mothering” part inside myself, teach it using my “perfect parent” models (of which I am lucky to now have a few), and use that part to care for the children inside me. I feel supported by myself, cared for, loved, and my childlike dependency on others reduces.

I come to like a certain kind of dependency now. Whenever we trust someone else, we are holding some part of ourselves out to them, risking it. We hope that we can depend on them not to hurt us, a dance of care and trust that is more balanced and mutual: yes, I want to look after you; yes, I want you to look after me.

“Love—now I risk the word, a bit apprehensively to be sure—is an art of dependency.

The Simplest Stories We Tell

It took me a long time to realise how much shame I hold in my body. So many other emotions, behaviours, actions I take are mislabeled as other things without me taking the time to look the real feeling in the eye. Noticing, being aware of my own shame has a sort of triumph in it. Aha! I see what is happening, now! It sounds odd, to be triumphant about shame. For me the repair is in the knowledge, because without being able to see my feeling and the story I am telling around it, I can’t untangle it. Without feeling it I can’t heal it.

As a child, my parents often rejected me. My mother especially. Not because of me, but because she was overwhelmed. Preoccupied. With a violent marriage to a man she loved, and a mother telling her never to give up on commitment, she lost her power and hope, lost herself in her own despair. It culminated in her trying to take her own life, and I will never forget the moment she stood right next to me and swept our telephone to the ground, ripping the cord from the wall so my Dad couldn’t call an ambulance. I barely remember the rest: did an ambulance come? (I guess so, since she’s not dead). Did I run away? (I don’t know). Did she get better? (Sort of). When I realised as an adult that she had tried to leave us so permanently, the sense of abandonment and fear I felt was unreal. Were we not worth sticking around for? Did she not love us? How could she look right into my 7-year-old face, less than 1 metre away from her, and fight being saved?

These adult musings are just a fraction of the story my young self began to tell, without the words to describe the terror, no outlet to talk to, nobody to mend the pain. I withdrew, became angry and anxious, and the photographs of me from that age are nothing more than haunting, light gone from my eyes. She was out of control, chaotic, cold, and the shame I internalised in response to this behaviour has torn the good parts of me apart for the longest time. The stories children tell are simple ones, because we do not understand the nuances or complexities of human behaviour or abuse. We are totally dependent, and require a steady and stable caregiver who we are biologically primed to attach to. I was torn between the need for closeness, the fear of danger, and a lack of understanding what was going on. With constant rejection and chaos the stories I told were: This is my fault. I am not good enough. I am “too much” for her. I make her crazy. I’m bad, disgusting, no good.

I’m lucky that I had enough in me to make it through that, as well as everything that came after. When I look back at my life and see all this chaos, with this little girl wading her way through the swamp without giving up, I realise I told the wrong story. The story is not that I’m worthless, or bad, or someone causing problems. I’m brave. I’m resilient. I have so much love in me, and I have enough strength in me to feel the feelings, untangle the narrative, and mend it all. Of course I don’t do it all alone. I have many people standing by my side. I asked my mother for some photos of her as a teenager and as a young woman, and I looked at this 19 year old in her wedding dress, love and compassion just pouring out of me towards her. It’s so heartbreaking to realise that she was in so much pain that she didn’t want to stay anymore. And I know from experience that being that chaotic, being in so much pain, makes you believe that you are a burden, that you are damaging everyone around you. She wasn’t trying to harm us. She was trying to save us, along with herself.

I look at all this toxic shame I carry and think about pulling it off my body, out of my skin, out of my heart and ribs and the soles of my feet. It doesn’t belong to me, nor her. I don’t want to keep it inside anymore, so I take it out and release it into the air and the sunshine one bit at a time.

All Things Stand Out In the Light

I could count the things I know about you
on both hands,
with not one door (but four) between us
and the entire world.

I know that you wear fantastic earrings,
That you are particular about teapots,
And that you have far too many hats
(in my opinion).

I know you have made mistakes,
that your heart is gold,
and that the sunlight sometimes flickers
through your curtains.

I also know that with you 
my life has bloomed a hundred flowers over my whole body,
Sweet
And gathering on your floor.