My chest tightens. My shoulders tense up. My whole inner world contracts, but somehow, I go on breathing that thinner, more shallow air.
Fight or flight, some say, feels like a punch to the gut. To me the punch is somewhere at the base of my sternum. Yesterday, in a seemingly random event I attended, I learned that this feeling is an actual physical mechanism. It is the result of the pericardium, a layer around our hearts clinching the heart. “This blocks Anahata,” says Erica Jago, my favorite kundalini yoga teacher, “It shuts and cuts off our internal supply of love. And without this access to the internal supply we get into power struggles.”
‘Run!’ is literally the first thing that goes through my head as I reread your text message. ‘Let him go. He does not hear you. He does not see you!’
The way I usually flight is through silence. I withdraw. I disconnect. And I got really good at it. Practice has made me perfect – I can go a lifetime without ever speaking to a person again. But with you, I don’t flight, without putting up a fight first.
“Good luck with finding that woman!” I write in response to your words that say, “I want a woman that loves me because of the magic between me and her. That wants to turn the magic into something simply loving, kind and beautiful.”
‘I am that woman,’ is what I scream internally. And I am here. But you wouldn’t know it if it hit you in the face. I do simply love you for the magic between us. And yet, you still don’t seem to know what to do with me.
So this is what comes next. The disconnect. ‘Hello, familiar friend! Hello my refuge!’ But nowadays, disconnect no longer feels like a sanctuary. It feels like a punishment. Like the biggest contradiction to all that I am, to all that I feel, to all that I want right now. Why do we do that? Why is our answer to our deepest yearning for connection the complete opposite of that? Why is pain the response to our longing to be loved?
‘Hurt people, hurt people’
You cannot turn a corner without bumping into something or someone that teaches you to hurt the people who hurt you. Game of Thrones. Vikings. etc., are all cinematic shrines of this ‘eye for an eye’ philosophy. Is it any wonder that at least half of the world is hurting?
There are many philosophies, many theories out there. I know them all. I’ve done that all. I have dug into my past. I’ve sat with my childhood wound. I soothed the trauma. I know how to evaluate. Examine. Connect the dots. I know exactly where I learned this behavior and the parts my parents played. But I don’t want theories this time. I don’t want more “understanding”. I have had enough of that. I don’t want to drag the souls of our poor parents into this. Why don’t we leave our fathers to rest in peace in their graves and our mother to be well, wherever they may be!? Why don’t we leave them out of this war between us? Just for this one time. Let it be just you and I. What are we left with then? When there is no one to blame? Who are we without our traumas? Without our wounds? What are we? Would we still be angry? Or hurt? Would we still want to run? Or fight? Or would we lay down our weapons, capitulate and surrender to this inescapable pull between us?
‘Stay open…Stay open…Stay open…’ this is the secret to resolving conflict, the gurus say.
“That is too difficult for you,” your message goes on. “Because you like to replay this theme over and over. The man is not coming for or after you or he is abandoning you. It’s not the case, I wanted to be there all the time.”
“Where are you now?” I ask, but you overlook the invitation. Your own words hold the key to resolution. The clue to our peace. Whether consciously or not, what you are saying you “really wanted to do” is exactly what every woman always craves her man to do when she is in a state of fright, “Be there”. Be there for me. Now. Not later. Not in the past. Not in the “wanting”. Not in your promises. In the present. In presence.
“Let’s forget about this,” you write referring to “us”. And if we were any other couple, I would let you have your way. I would let you go without a second thought. People come together and they break-up all the time. But while for you this may be a matter of losing a woman you love, just another failed relationship; For me this time is different. This time I don’t feel that I am failing a relationship, I feel like I am failing a life’s mission.
I council couples now. How ironic, I know! I am a relationship coach. I coach beautiful souls who love each other but are tumbling down underneath the weight of exactly the same challenge that you and I face for the “I-lost-count-how-manyeth-time” today. What are the odds that these beautiful souls would choose me? And at the same time it all feels fated, given that since I was a small girl, I have been doing just that.
It started with my parents. I tried so hard to reconcile them. I spent 7 years in the middle of their violent battles, observing, learning and perfecting the art of war. And even as a small girl, I knew already then what it would take to practice the art of peace instead. “You’re my psychologist. The light at the end of my tunnel!” my mom used to say, unaware of the damages that parentifying me was causing; Blind to my own inner cry for their love.
More and more couples now come asking me to save their relationship. And how can I hold my head high in front of them when I cannot even save us? How can I be the beacon of unity and love for other people’s relationships, when I cannot seem to get our relationship to work?
Did I choose this mission? God, No! I have rejected and resisted it for the longest time. I ran from relationships that needed work (read: I ran from them all). After having spent the first quarter of my life in a broken home, I learned to choose “breaking” over “love” every single time. I am still, not fully ready to accept it now. I am still digging in my heels, closing my eyes real tightly, hoping that when I open them again all this relationship dramas and nightmare will be gone and that I will somehow escape, get away from it all and get by living a pedestrian life, with a likable-enough-but-uncomplicated man, doing something perhaps less meaningful, but a lot easier, such as offering Emotional Intelligence trainings to corporates, or coaching women to be leaders. But try as I may to escape, I end up at exactly the same point where it all started. For what is Emotional Intelligence if not the art of relating? And what is leadership if not the art of connecting?
I see it now. I can keep on running, but I will not escape. It is not something I chose. It chose me. Or we chose each other? I am not quite sure anymore. But resisting it has not worked out so well. So I surrender. I embrace it. Time to buckle up and march to the beat of this drummer. Bring it on! And if I have to do it anyway, I might as well do it with poise and grace.
I remain open. I won’t disconnect this time.
“With every small shift that we make in our own relationships,” told me Erica when I came to the stage to thank her for her, oh-so-relevant and necessary discourse on Pain as a Catalyst, “the whole world shifts.”
There it is again! The mission! Staring me in the eyes. Only this time it is looking at me through a comforting, compassionate, sisterly gaze. With Erica’s hands on my shoulders, I do not feel so alone. Learning about her own struggles in her own marriage is on the one hand disheartening, but on the other hand it gives a sense of relief from this feeling of being flawed. From the feeling of having failed my mission. Knowing that this impressive yogini is working though the same hurdles as me, as many of us, gives me a little more optimism that together we can prevail. I know now that this is not an individual challenge, but a collective opportunity. If I manage to break through a pattern, it may seem like a small step for this relationship, but it is a huge leap for the humankind.
So I woke up this morning a little more ready than yesterday to share these lessons that I learned in Erica’s talk.
Where the rubber meets the road
When you are in the thick of it, she explained, when the rubber meets the road the only way to break the pattern and escape the betrayal-victim cycle is this equation: compassion + extreme forgiveness.
“But what about fairness?” someone in the audience asked. “Am I supposed to do all the work? Am I not letting the other person get away with being complacent in that case? Am I not reinforcing their lack of self-awareness?”
Erica’s answer is simple, yet deeply meaningful: “When you match the other person’s low energy, it is your lesson. When you manage to maintain your frequency high, it is their lesson.”
In other words, if your emotions get the best of you, there is a lesson for you to learn. If you contract, feel like running, feel like fighting, then roll up your sleeves – you’ve got some work to do, and the best place to start that “work” is in self-compassion: “I forgive myself for being so sensitive,” Erica advises us to mentally repeat for 5 to 10 minutes when we feel compelled to react, or retaliate. Pause. Breathe. Remain quiet and internally chant that mantra.
If you, however, manage to remain present, remain open, remain loving and connected while the other person is raging a storm, then it is their work. Their “karma”. Their lesson. The most loving thing you can do in that moment, is hold the space for them as they go through that turmoil, just like you would hold and soothe a child in pain. Stay. Hold.
The main “secret” I teach my clients, is to choose to be happy over being right every single time. Feel into the meaning of those words. There is no concept of losing or winning in that. No “me” versus “you”. No eye for an eye. Do whatever it takes consistently, time and again to remain committed to that choice. The practice becomes especially powerful when the going gets tough. But then, when you brace yourself and break the pattern one time… two times… the third time you are free. In doing so, you choose freedom over (a phantom and fleeting) safety.
We think of love in terms of “getting”. In terms of “What is it going to bring me?” But love is not about getting. On the contrary, it is about how much you are prepared to give. True love, just like a life of purpose and passion T.S. Eliot teaches us, “costs not less than everything.” It demands everything of you.
But without it, you have nothing at all to begin with anyway.