Carol made a thoughtful, helpful comment on the last post (thank you) which inspired this post. It sent me back to college and my process since. I, too, was very walled off in college and through my 20s. I felt anger fairly easily and some grief, but I was mostly numb. Frankly, I was somewhat in shock, and lived in survival mode, never able to make deep commitments to anything. I unconsciously sought intense, frightening experiences (mostly through travel) because these resonated for me. I felt them. They reflected the unconscious material I refuse. I didn’t see myself as anxious or depressed, and looked down a bit on people who were.
I did yoga on and off, and it felt good on many levels. But I was too itinerant to have a consistent practice, and was busy with other things. Just before I turned 30, I settled down a bit, and practiced yoga more. I began meditating as well, and started to experience more of my softness. I liked that, but was unsure of it. Around that time, I wrote this piece on meeting grief after a Hindu meditation teacher suggested that what I had repressed was best unexplored, that it had been repressed for a reason. She told me not to pick at scabs like a monkey, but to get over my grief and move on. Just. Like. That. It was way past time.
That pissed me off.
(Most things do.)
Since then, I’ve been chipping away at the defense mechanisms that block me from my feelings. Not the sentimental, victim-y self pity or the disassociated anger when a cab almost wipes me out on the street, but what’s underneath that. It’s been slow going.
Because I’ve used yoga in different ways. Ironically, that connection I found in my early 30s led me to a graduate program, which I completed while teaching and working full time. My practice was not about deepening or feeling, but about getting through the day.
After a few years of that, I found myself in a few bad relationships and yoga served the same function. It provided enough to get through the days. I very much knew that if I practiced more deeply, I would walk away from those relationships. And I was afraid to do that. Their dysfunction was at once hated, familiar and comfortable.
I attracted men who refused to look at their issues and their pain, while they simultaneously allowed no space for mine, because, they told me, theirs was just so much worse. I told myself I couldn’t face my pain alone, that I needed support. That’s been a big story of mine. If I could just help him, to be there for him, make him face his pain, he would then be able to see and support me.
My twentysomething self would have disdained such weakness in a woman. Would have torn her to shreds.
But this me, while still avoiding feeling, was more honest than the twentysomething who judged her shadow harshly in others. The deep anxiety and grief over love and abandonment began to surface. My god. I was a needy, weak, emotional person.
I knew what I was doing but the pattern was too intoxicating. The problem was, and is, that I know. But feel? Not so much. Knowing is an excuse to avoid the feelings and the pain. The defense mechanism of our age, distraction aside. But it is a distraction. Knowing.
I always suspected but didn’t quite believe that I attracted people (especially romantic partners) who refused to look at their complexes and pain because I refused to truly feel my own. But it’s so much easier to focus on another’s pain—even to feel it. As I saw just how many ways I avoid myself, I finally got it. I’ll keep attracting this type of person until I face my own rejected feelings.
I had a lucky break or two. Okay partly earned, partly luck. I came to the point that I could not bear the patterns any more.
The turning point, I think, is that I gave up the, “I need support” line. It’s true, we do need support. It’s very difficult to explore yourself while working two jobs to meet your basic needs, to survive. Let’s face it, this endeavor is an act of the privileged.
My defense mechanisms kept me in survival mode. The yoga and the meditation had shown me glimpses of reality without them, and finally I found the inner strength to find the support I need to face myself.
But it’s slow, and feels like peeling back the layers of an onion one shred at a time. Then getting scared and putting them on again. Then taking them off again, hoping they’re a little looser the next time around.
Wednesday something happened and I went into rational protection mode. Thinking thinking how would I survive if I could do this I would do that why did she I think that…for hours and hours on end. I was pretty sure I was fine, I had it figured. Then thoughts. Thoughts. Finally, emotion broke through and I realized I was terrified by what had happened, by what it meant. I was so afraid. I cried and cried. Then I picked up the phone and told the person involved. I was met with empathy, presence, and a sincere apology. He heard and reflected my pain. Though he explained, he didn’t defend himself or his motives. He didn’t twist it or make it about himself. He heard me and he was there. Though it seemed like the most natural thing in the world, I’d never experienced anything like it. I think that maybe most of us don’t.
I spent so much energy and time that day defending myself with endless, pointless thoughts. To protect myself from that? A few moments experiencing my fear and tears?It’s true. I did.
What’s this to do with yoga? Noticing thought patterns and that they mean nothing, that they primarily act as the ego’s defense against threats from the unconscious mind, e.g. unacceptable feelings. My ego isn’t into fear and neediness, so I spent hours and a lot of energy blocking those feelings with my thoughts. Yoga/Meditation can teach you to see this, and help you release the feelings underneath. Yoga is learning to stop the wanton thoughts that protect us from ourselves.
I intended to mention the rage, the steaming, screaming, earth-shattering rage I sense but will not, cannot feel, the emotion you don’t get much honest talk about in emo-yoga tell-alls, the emotion that pushes me around and ruins my day, my days, and, disassociated, makes things hard for those around me. But I’ll leave that for another time. Maybe Daryl, my inspiration, will have some cartoons about that by then.