Continued from Part III.
I get about 20 minutes sleep, and it’s time for the group to meet again. We all bring our collages, which are about as different as they can be. E has us put a piece of blank paper with our collage and pass it to the right. We look at the collage that has landed in our laps, and on the paper we write a few adjectives or descriptive phrases that fit the collage: tender, strong, intense, gentle, complicated, fierce… Then we pass it again, until all the collages have gone all the way around the circle.
There’s a break for dinner–wild salmon, middle eastern rice, and roasted asparagus. It’s delicious. Then we head over to the beach as a group and settle on a big log. E tells us to stand up and show our collage, and then to read out the adjectives. The catch is that the collage is about our wise inner guide, which is inside ourselves. So we are to read the adjectives out saying “I am…” This means we find ourselves saying things we would never normally say: I am beautiful, I am loving, I am gentle and protective… Sometimes it is funny or awkward, but it’s also sweet.
We watch the sunset over the ocean. Bright beams of light cut through the clouds in the final moments before the sun escapes to the west.
We wander back to the house and settle into the living room. It’s time for us to share the dialogue between our wounded girl and our wise inner guides. I let the others go first. Some are new to this way of working, and they feel awkward, or they report that their girl is unsure whether she can trust the wise woman.
“That’s normal,” E reassures us all. “After all, this girl has been hurt and hasn’t felt there was someone there for her. Of course she doubts whether there is really going to be someone there now.”
“But so how do I make her trust?” one of the women asks.
The answer, of course, is to just keep showing up. It’s just like meditation; it’s a practice. You keep coming back to this. You write in your journal about it, you talk out loud to yourself about it. You carry it into therapy. You meditate on the emotions.
“Forever?” someone asks.
“No, not forever. For as long as she needs. In some ways, yes, you have to take care of yourself for your whole life. But you don’t have to work on a single wound for ever. There is a point at which it will feel like enough. And you don’t have to work on every single wound.”
I can see from the skeptical looks that it sounds like a lot, to some of the women. For me, I have already learned that healing the deep-seated wounds requires a big commitment. I have been doing it, in a deep and serious way, for two and a half years. I’ve been in therapy far longer than that, but I either worked on other things and/or resisted a lot of this work.
Some of the women have some experience doing this work. They are comfortable with the process, and their girl will talk to their wise inner guide. One woman envisioned her girl crawling into her lap and snuggling close.
Then it’s my turn, and although I’ve done this work before, I haven’t done this assignment; I never managed to pull it together that afternoon. I apologize for that (even though we aren’t required to do any assignments). I also explain that although I feel this work has helped me be much kinder to myself, I often feel I can’t access the emotions of the girl. I talk about what happened, but I’m numb.
“I don’t feel anything a lot of the time,” I say. “That’s why I worry that my heart has turned into a hard, cold stone.”
Somehow, in the next few moments, the mood shifts. E says to me, “Is that your truth then? Turn to Tami, then, and tell her you don’t want to know what your emotions are. Look her right in the eyes, and tell her you don’t want to go any further.”
I look at Tami, and she looks at me. I am at a loss. It’s not true that I don’t want to know what my emotions are. “I do want to know my emotions,” I say, “but I don’t know what to do.”
She keeps my gaze, not saying anything, but clearly sympathetic. I fumble on for a while, saying I don’t know what to do; I’m stuck.
“Look at Ellen,” E says. “Tell her you don’t want to identify your feelings.”
Ellen has a very intense gaze. I’ve already learned that she’s very strong and determined. I tell her, “I can’t find them. Maybe I don’t have any. Maybe I’ve killed them all.”
“They are there,” Ellen tells me. “There’s a treasure chest, and they are locked inside. You just have to take it out and open it up.”
“How can I do this? I don’t have any tools…”
She keeps looking at me, intently. “Your hands. If you have to, you dig with your hands. It’s there.”
“Where though? How do I even know where to start looking?”
“I don’t know, exactly,” Ellen says, “but wherever you see an uneven spot, where the sands are slipping. That’s a sign there is something under there.”
After a while, E says to me, “Turn to Lisa, and tell her you don’t want to dig for those feelings.”
I turn to Lisa, who is raw and tender from discussing her own situation. She looks at me and has tears in her eyes. We do more of the same. Bit by bit, I go around the circle, doing the same with Astrid and Tina. I am not sure what I am supposed to be doing, exactly. This is confusing. But when I finish the circle, I take a breath.
Too soon. E has me go around the circle again. She pushes me to say my truth. What is true? Do I not want to look at my emotional life?
I’m more and more uncomfortable. Is E expecting me to discover something I’m not seeing? Am I supposed to start crying? What is the expectation? How does this end? I am stuck, stuck, stuck. And why are we spending so much time on me? What exactly is going on?
The second time around the circle, Astrid tells me, “I think I see you differently than you see yourself. Can I tell you how I see you?”
“Yes,” I say, looking directly in her eyes.
“I don’t believe you don’t have emotions. You are very caring, very empathic when the rest of us tell our stories. You have a mindfulness practice and know how to pay attention to yourself,” she says.
“Yet I can’t feel anything…”
“Maybe you can,” she says. “Pay attention to your body. What is going on inside your body? What are you feeling?”
This is helpful. She has reminded me that noticing what is going on in my body helps me reconnect to myself. “Um, my arms are tingling. My heart feels like it’s beating faster. I’m kind of agitated.”
“You’re upset,” E says. “Tell her you’re upset.”
“I feel wound up,” I say, continuing to reject the words E supplies. We keep going. I can’t remember exactly what else she proposes to me, as I continue to move around the circle of women. But my words are changing. “I don’t know how to deal with this situation. I feel I’ve been left alone…”
“Tell Tina you feel alone,” E says. I am not used to her like this, pushing and pushing.
I look to Tina again. She’s on the couch next to me, “I feel I’ve been abandoned.”
“I’m so sorry,” she says.
E asks, “Why don’t you want to say you feel alone, that you feel deeply lonely?”
“I don’t know,” I say. “I guess I think if I show this, it will be too much. People will be repulsed by what they see.”
“Turn to Tami again. Ask her, ‘do you feel repulsed by my loneliness?'” E doesn’t stop.
I ask Tami, “Do you feel repulsed by my loneliness?”
Tami shakes her head, her round eyes serious, “No, no, I don’t.”
We look at each other for a long time. I don’t know if I am shaking outside, but inside I am.
“Ask Ellen if she feels repulsed by your deep loneliness.”
Back to Ellen, with her same warm, intense gaze. “Do you feel repulsed by my loneliness?”
“Not at all,” she says. Maybe she says other things; I can’t quite remember it all.
“Now Lisa,” says E. “Ask Lisa if she is repulsed by your deep loneliness.”
I look at Lisa. Her story was about feeling rejected and unloved by her family. I say, “You know what loneliness is.”
Her tears spill over, and I even feel tears start at the back of my eyes. I feel very connected to this woman; we recognize something in each other.
And so it goes: Astrid is not repulsed. Tina is not repulsed. “What can I do for you?” Tina asks.
“Give me a hug,” I say, and she does.
“Now thank each woman,” E says. So I go around the circle one more time, eyes burning into eyes, vulnerability and compassion passing between us.
And somehow, we are soon done. It is midnight, far later than we were meant to run. E thanks everyone and says we’ll meet again for breakfast at nine; no assignments for tomorrow.
The others get up and start to head off to bed. I stay on the couch for a minute, unable to move. E moves over to me. “My brave woman!” she says, hugging me tight. I am still stunned, but her embrace feels wonderful. Even though I feel I was confused and stumbling, not even knowing where I was going, she tells me I did really well.
“I don’t think loneliness is all that’s in that treasure chest,” she tells me. “But I do think it’s part of it.”
I agree with her. I feel like there is a lot to say, but we are all too tired. I pull together my things–my journal, my cup of tea, my little bag of cards, my shawl. Feeling raw, but also relieved, I drop the stuff off in my room. Then I run a hot bubble bath in the shiny, deep bathtub. I lean back in the tub and let myself sway, half-floating, in the lavender-smelling water.