Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Morning Meeting with Ego

The more I manage to successfully align with my soul, the more I’ve come to see the ego as a very neurotic BFF I just can’t shake. The more I try to shake her, the more she clings. Or worse, she disappears and then lunges out of the bushes when I least expect it. She shows up at the party she wasn’t invited to—the soul party where everyone’s happy and peaceful and cool—and steers things in a decidedly negative direction. She’s like the member of the team at work you just can’t fire, maybe for legal reasons, or maybe her dad owns the company. Either way, she’s not going anywhere, and you’ve got to learn how to manage her so that she doesn’t end up managing you. 

What I like to do is have a morning meeting with my ego and hear her concerns. This way I don’t forget about her, which is dangerous, for the reasons stated above. In Shakespearean terms, it’s kind of like Othello having a morning meeting with Iago. Iago continually undermined Othello by planting terrible ideas in his mind and watering them with fear, until Othello was completely undone. This is a profound depiction of what happens when the worst part of us gets on top of the better part of us. 

That will not be happening with you and your ego because you know better. You know your ego is just a misguided character who wants the best for you but just doesn’t really know what that is, much less how to make it happen. 

My particular ego veers toward paranoia. She’ll take something good in my life and try to convince me that it’s bad. “I don’t know about that new guy at work,” she’ll say knowingly. “I think he might be undermining you.” 

"Okay," I’ll say. "Thanks for looking out for me. Anything else you want me to know?" She’ll go on about how much more I should have accomplished by this point in my life, and how dry my hair is getting as I age. 

Now, I wish I could say that this morning meeting is enough to make my ego go away for good, or even for the rest of the day. It isn’t. But what it does do is put me in a greater state of awareness, and awareness is power. The morning meeting reveals to me all the ways my egoic desires will try to get the better of me throughout the day, so that I don’t make the mistake of buying into them. As Machiavelli said, keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” In terms of inner work, I say, keep your soul close and your ego closer.

“Know your enemy and know yourself and you will always be victorious.” 
Sun Tzu

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Trauma Vortex

I recently had a revelation about my own personal trauma vortex, the pandora's box of the worst feelings imaginable that we all seem to have stowed away somewhere in our psyches. I have recently experienced inordinate amounts of upheaval, and loss, and shock, and love, and all of it. I have been "triggered" with such pounding regularity that my trigger might be broken at this point, and perhaps that is why I was able to have a deeper realization about what I used to think of as my pain. I was just too damn tired to feel all that shit again.

I'm talking about deep grief, paralyzing terror, seemingly unending loss, and volcanic rage. Like what comes up when your lover walks out on you, or your boss screws you over in a big way, or your dad doesn't show up at your wedding, again. I was having one of those moments where one of those big things seemed to be happening, and it was as if I could see myself standing on the edge of the vortex. I could feel the power of the dark side, and I was just, yes, I think I was just too goddamned tired to go there. I had things to do that had to get done. And I just thought, no. I'm not going there. And I didn't. And I sat there in the car, talking to my dear friend Palma on the phone, and understood for the first time that I actually had a choice. And that the feelings in the trauma vortex, had absolutely nothing to do with what was happening to me right now.

It's like my therapist says, "You're a grown woman with a credit card. But you feel like a four year old whose just been thrown out of a car and abandoned in the desert on a moonless night." The trauma vortex is full of the horrific feelings that come from being a powerless child, experiencing abandonment, or abuse, and no way out. "It's not like you could hop on your big wheel and check in at the Four Seasons," says my therapist. "You were stuck."

That's no longer the case, though, and so those feelings in that trauma vortex no longer apply. I mean, if you're abducted and beaten by aliens or terrorists, that's different. That was not, nor has it ever been, the case with me. I was just losing lovers or being rejected as an artist, or failing at making money. Garden variety life issues. And yet I was always going there, feeling those dark and awful feelings, and even thinking that I had to, that this was what life was somehow about. I may have even considered myself brave for being willing to feel those feelings. Maybe I was brave. But I was also misguided.

Anyway, I sat in the car, almost stunned, wondering if this was maybe the first time I had ever experienced the present moment within the context of experiencing loss. Trauma vortex or no, there is still pain when you lose someone you love, or lose your job, or your best friend. But without the trauma vortex, it's present moment pain. Instead of falling into a pit of your own despair, you are just standing upright while the person you love most in the world walks away from you and disappears beyond the horizon line. For example. And you feel the loss. And you know you will survive it. That's what you didn't know when you were an infant, or a toddler, or a kid, or an adult trapped in her own trauma vortex. It is not, in fact, unbearable. You can bear it, and you will.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Back to Nowhere

I welcome the breaking of my heart
Same as I welcomed its melting.

I feel you gone,
Same as the way you came--
Out of nowhere.
And now, are you going back there?

I search my empty hands
and try to understand
that this is the Way.

Life gives and takes and lives
and breaks, like waves.
When something goes out to sea,
you never know if it will come back.
And if it does, how.

Is there a trick to receiving loss?
A posture, a breath, a mantra?
Or is it just a matter of lying down
on the green grass
or the wet sand
or any piece of earth that will hold me
and allowing it to happen?

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Grey Bride

In the dream I had several nights ago, I am attending a large wedding. Two good friends of mine are the bride and groom, and the bride takes center stage. I have been invited to attend but not be in the wedding. The bride is dressed in grey toulle and she has a large number of tall, thin bridesmaids dressed in full-length, shimmery white satin gowns that nearly glow in the dark--beautiful and dreamy like moonlight. The bride is a small, active nucleus in her grey puff of a dress, like a cloud or a grey, fluffy bird. I am relegated to the sidelines and I am green with envy, wanting to be more involved, wanting, really, to be one of the bridesmaids. I love those dresses. 

Instead, I am in the audience, in the dark, aware that I am being punished somehow by the bride. It feels as though the grey bride is twisting the knife of alienation in my side. It's painful to be there, to want so much to be a part of something. This only gets worse as we move to the ceremony itself, which takes place on stage, as an elaborate theater production, very avant garde. The bride and groom have written a play that somehow fills the function of the more traditional exchange of vows, rings, etc. I am once again filled with envy for the brilliance and originality of the spectacle. 

Well, I think Jung would say that any dream about a wedding probably references the conjunctio, the archetype of the holy wedding in alchemy. This is the symbolic marriage of the feminine and masculine within an individual. The fact that I am outside the ceremony, looking in, indicates that I am not ready for this unification of "opposites" within myself. The bride's greyness, to me, means that she has unified black and white, shadow and light, unconscious and conscious. She has owned her shadow. In the dream, I want to be a bridesmaid, though, not the bride. I want to still be a girl--a maiden--not yet an individuated woman.  I long for simpler times. And this part of me, that wants to be a girl, is shunned by the more mature bride, who has accepted and embodied the inherent contradictions in life, as symbolized by her grey dress. 

The grey may also symbolize old age, grey hair. The bride has no time for primping and preening. She leaves that to the shimmering bridesmaids. She is all vision, action, and execution, as they follow on her heels. I have thought a lot about this as the ideal image for growing older. Vanity fades and is replaced by vision and action. 

As I stand at the threshold of a new life, defined by the achievement of my Masters, the grey bride is the way-shower on the path of becoming a full human being, with responsibilities. That may be why she didn't choose me as a bridesmaid. That's no longer my role in this ritual. 

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Hapless Bohemian

I've been off the radar for the last couple weeks, unable to write anything on the blog. My anxiety has been off the charts. Off the radar, off the charts, and over the edge. Inner work does not progress under these conditions, except, perhaps, in the form of nightmares. My anxiety is the result, in an immediate sense (as opposed to a depth sense) of the looming question, "Now you've graduated--now what?"

I've gotten into the habit of referring to my former incarnation (who I've been the last ten to twenty years) as a Hapless Bohemian, or, sometimes, a Reckless Bohemian. This is the persona that has been mostly at the helm of the ship that is my life. I feel certain that if I am to proceed on this journey in a way that will make the next twenty years meaningful, the Hapless Bohemian must step down. For a little while, I was having extreme thoughts like, "The Hapless Bohemian must die." That was the anxiety talking, I think. The Hapless Bohemian just needs to take a load off and realize she's not in charge any more. 

So in the wake of these kinds of thoughts, I had a night filled with dreams, all of which seemed to be about crowded spaces and a big, ramshackle run-down historical house. In the part I most vividly remember, I found myself alone in a room full of relics and artifacts--a dress Joni Mitchell had worn on a record cover, and a suit of Neil Young's. I felt a sense of awe, excitement, and nostalgia upon seeing them. My three-year-old daughter was with me. As I was leaving the room to go back into the main part of the house where I knew there were other people, a man with long, straight brown hair, a mustache, facial stubble and a black leather jacket was suddenly there forcing me back into the room. A struggle began. I was trying desperately to cry out loudly enough to be heard by the other people I knew were out there, but I couldn't form a word or make a loud enough sound and as much as I pushed, I couldn't get him off me. I kept trying and trying and finally yelled loud enough that I woke myself up. 

So who is this scary seventies dude who doesn't want me to leave the room of rock n roll relics? One possibility: he's a powerful force in my psyche--a constellation who wants to keep me in an idealized, outdated dream world, filled with other peoples' stage clothes; and I'm fighting hard against him. I love the costumes, and they fill me with awe, but I also want out. I have a daughter now. I can't get lost in here. In the dream, he's so strong. He's also humorless and seemingly heartless. He's trying to push me back into that room with all his strength. It just occurred to me that he looks a lot like Sonny Bono. It's entirely possible that this illicit masculine constellation may have formed when I was a young child, raised in a household that tacitly disapproved of Sonny and Cher. 

The people our parents shunned, whether they said it or not, are prime source material for our Shadows. And I can feel that even as I recognize this figure, it's very difficult for me to imagine reasoning with him. I feel that he wants to kill me, in a weird way, but maybe he's just defending himself against my injunction that the Hapless Bohemian must die. 

This dream reveals an inner conflict. As I stand ready to cross a threshold from my old dream of rock stardom into a new dream of being a counselor and teacher, Sonny Bono says, "Not so fast, chica. You have to deal with me first." So much of dream work demands that we honor our disowned parts. If I simply try to discard my rock n roll past, I will not be doing the hard work of integrating this essential aspect of who I have been into who I am. 

In some ways, getting my masters and entering into a real life, actual, verifiable profession, feels to me like going straight--my last chance in life to say, "Okay, okay, I want in after all." I'm catching the last train out of the station leaving for the real world. That's how it feels anyway. I want to leave Sonny behind like some homeless guy panhandling in the station. But I can't do that. I have to own that part of myself symbolized by Sonny Bono, who represented the world beyond my parents' comprehension and approval, the rock and roll performer world I fell in love with and longed for, and worked at, so much of my life. Wherever I go from here, I have to take Sonny with me. 

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Masculine

About a month ago, I had a dream about a man who was being hunted by an assassin. I loved this man very much, and I sat in his presence in a mountain hide out that contained only white futons on the floor and large windows looking out on mountain ranges. Being with him felt blissful, as if I had found some lost family member. I just wanted to sit with him and hold his hand. He was a slight man, young, and quiet. He was not typically masculine, by which I mean that he was not a strong man, physically, or swarthy or aggressive in any way. He had a profound stillness about him, a calmness you would associate with a saint. All I can say is that I loved him with all my heart. That's what it felt like. 

This dream seems to me to represent an important development in terms of my animus--my inner masculine. I want to make a book for this dream figure, and also for Uncle Gary. 
I think that Uncle Gary's heart problem will be the subject of the left side of the book, and this new hunted holy man will be the subject of the right side of the book. He seems to be a healer. As for the assassin, always lurking in the shadows, I'm not sure what to do...

Friday, June 26, 2009

Are You Okay?

In one of my yoga classes last week, we went out for a walk in the middle of doing yoga. The whole class walked around the block. I noticed I was walking by myself, not talking to anyone. I heard other people talking behind me, including my teacher. I was suddenly aware that I felt really uncomfortable and that I was trying to pretend that I was not uncomfortable. I was trying to pretend that I was super self-sufficient, having my own experience, very comfortably. And I felt how familiar that pretense was and how, underneath it, I really felt lost and was longing, really aching, for some kind of attention from my teacher. I was able to drop the pretense and just feel that unmet longing, like a kid feels when she can't get her mom's attention for a really long time and she's starting to give up. Or when the teacher never says anything nice to you in class; never praises your work, or gives you special attention. 

Remember that?

In the end, feeling the ancient/current sadness was a hundred times better than the fakery I've put over, on myself, for who knows how long. There was a book on my parent's bookshelf when I was little called I'm Okay, You're Okay.  Elizabeth Kubler Ross once quipped that a better book would be I'm Not Okay, You're Not Okay, And That's Okay. 

Half the value of psychotherapy is seeing someone once a week who will remind you that it's okay not to be okay in this crazy world. The other half is perhaps leading you to feel so okay about not feeling okay that you actually begin to feel okay without changing a thing. You become at ease with the suffering that is a natural part of being alive and human. And, because paradox is the rule of life, this ease with suffering leads to feeling joyful. 

And the next step is to feel at ease with the shifting from one to the other so that you stand your ground as joy comes and suffering goes and vice versa, and you begin to appreciate the dynamic quality of being alive without being so attached to a particular feeling state. There's some kind of freedom in that--so much less oppressive than the breathless, anxious struggle to be happy, happy, happy. It's bizarrely controlling, in a way, and narrow, this obsession we Americans have with being happy.