For summer solstice, our community gathered on the lawn inside a broad ring of wild flowers with a fire pit in the center, singing and smudging and burning our limitations. We each called in our deities and guides and ancestors, and they danced around the flames together. Someone slipped a crystal into my hand and I intuitively received a sacred, secret ritual to ground my energy. I felt my body moving, my energy solidifying, the vibration swirling and cleansing every layer of my being despite my fatigue. The night was deep with gratitude, connection, and celebration. The next morning, a stray word from a well-intended resident stung so deep inside me, I found my new love and sobbed. I told him I feel like I am being split open down the middle by our connection, my bark peeling back, heart exposed raw to the world because I am ready to love in the way I have always longed to, but I don’t know how to do it – not in this imperfect world where our wounds rub against each other.
As much as I have believed myself to be someone who lives to dive hand-in-hand into the abyss, reality has been proving otherwise. The prospect of really allowing myself to be loved is bringing a new, acute sort of pain that shows me just how guarded I have been for so long despite having mastered how to behave warm and open. Welcoming new intimacy brings a lightness and softening to my life, and nourishment my heart has ached for, as well as the realization of how I have adapted to manage my addiction, my trauma, and my anxious attachment style. To avoid being taken advantage of physically, to protect my heart from rejection, and to live content without physical and emotional closeness, I have developed avoidant tendencies characterized by erratic boundaries, an overly ambitious work ethic, and some questionable interpretations of spiritual practice.
In her podcast on De-Conditioning the Hungry Ghosts, Tara Brach validates our deeply human need for safety, bonding, and to be valued. When those needs aren’t met, we turn to surrogates such as food, sex, technology, work, fantasy, etc. Addictive cycles that are more or less socially acceptable develop because these sources are ultimately unfulfilling, but we lack alternatives that bring us more lasting happiness. Many spiritual teachings share that the only acceptable desire is for reconnection with our source. Whatever constricts and separates us from that will lead to suffering, and whatever expands and connects us will provide sustenance. Our devotion to anything – our love for it with a committed and single-pointed focus – can bring us to lasting fulfillment if we align it with our ultimate source.
What is it that I seek with a committed and single-pointed focus? Since I was a young child, that has always been romantic love. My attempts to anchor that longing on an abstract, divine source have always failed and because of that, I have felt ashamed of my lack of true spiritual motivation. I can, however, begin to root it in my best and highest self and send it through the one I am drawn to toward our divine source. Between today and that lofty aspiration is a horde of pitfalls. So many of my friendships and partnerships have evaporated from lack of care. I start out enthusiastically and then recede into uncertainty over how to show care, my inability to sustain it, a sense of being used, feeling overwhelmed and critical, and finally settling for the painful, but familiar sense of solitude. I had always believed my anxiety made me fall for and bond with people who weren’t right for me. Now I realize I always push away whatever gets inside. I know how to long. I know how to heal a broken heart. What I haven’t learned yet is how to do is look deep inside someone and still say, “This is mine. That is yours. And I love you.”
As cautious and disoriented as I often feel, I am hopeful because of all the ways it feels different this time. This man and I have lived and served side by side for months and have already developed trust through engaging each other’s gifts and short-comings. I have been able to overcome my fear of rejection and speak up about the small things, asking for space in a way he can honor because I understand how it feels to be anxiously attached. I have done enough work with presence to not believe all of my thoughts and feelings, breathing instead into the twisting in my belly and chest, giving it time to share its wisdom instead of reacting impulsively. Grounding and reconnecting alone enables me to feel fed by something besides his attention and affection. And when I am ready to return to him, it is from a place not of longing, but of celebration, and he is always there, open and ready.
I have been willing to risk sharing feelings I often withhold in an attempt to feel fully self-sufficient and in control. I have also been able to interrupt moments of compulsion with bursts of will rooted in my determination to honor my inner voice. He understands addiction, supporting and validating me by seeing it working in me the way no other partner has. He respects the process and is willing to learn from my feedback. And I am slowly learning to look past perfection towards gratitude for our easy, mutual understanding, the uplifting calm of his presence, his loyalty, patience, and honesty, and the expanded sense of strength I find in being a part of something broader than myself.
A familiar recurring dream of mine has taken a new turn. I am usually running late for a plane or train because I have so much luggage to pack or other people are running behind or I have gotten the departure date mixed up. This time I realized everything I owned had been thrown away. Rummaging through the dumpster, I was relieved to find my wallet intact, and understood that was all I needed for the journey: proof of who I was. I rushed to the gate, confident I could prove my plane ticket with my ID and credit card, and the flight attendant just waved me through.
What am I finally letting go of? What am I finally learning? The lesson isn’t as simple as focusing my mind and heart solely on god so I can resist all temptations and distractions and just pray, meditate, and chant myself to divine union. And it isn’t as easy as letting my days dissolve into silly jokes and cuddling and fantasies, and deluding myself into thinking that will make me happy. It’s about owning everything I am and engaging with it in a new, lighter, and more open way. I love beauty, grace, kindness and sacredness. I enjoy crude jokes and slap-stick humor. I can be both incredibly caring and cold. I long for intimacy and it frightens me. I work too hard and I’m lazy with my energy and attention. I am serious and frivolous. And I have found someone as dynamic as I am – someone I would be wise to believe when he tells me I have nothing to apologize for, and when he reminds me that everything can be perfect just as it is, while we still have a long way to go. It is not will power that changes us, but our willingness to love what we are given.
“Love says, ‘I’ve seen the ugly parts of you, and I’m staying.'” – unknown