New Fires


Yesterday, I mentioned how I will often work through things I’ve taken on as my identity to determine whether I want to keep them, and I wrote about a time when I went through this process in the presence of my (then) partner. She actually wrote about that moment, and I loved what she had to say, so I thought I’d share it here. As this is not an article written by me, I am only sharing an excerpt and then I’ll add my own insights along with hers:

When she told me she felt guilty, it made me upset. I mean, why would she feel guilty? And what did that mean, exactly? All I wanted to do in that moment was to change that feeling for her. After all, in my opinion there was nothing to feel guilty FOR. But here she was, wrapped in the covers, sitting on the bed with an intense look on her face. I grew in frustration as I changed into my pajamas. I just wanted to go to bed peacefully, but I had to do something. I had to think of the right thing to say to help her process this emotion and make the monster go away.
But no matter what I said, it all seemed to fall on deaf ears. My frustration grew, eventually turning into anger, and I began to do the worst thing imaginable toward her: withdraw. Sensing this, she attempted to explain:
“I need to sit here with this guilt,” she said.
Sit with it? Well, that didn’t make much sense. Why sit with this emotion? Why let it make you feel this way? Again, I reminded her that she had nothing to feel guilty about, so why sit and feel it? She explained further:
“You don’t have to fix what I am feeling. I need to see what this guilty feeling is made of. Who gave me this guilt? Where did it come from? Who said that I had to feel this way?”
And I was in shock. You mean you want to feel guilt so you can kill it? Man, what a revelation! Talk about taking the tall, overshadowing monster and reducing it to ashes! Picture this for a moment: she was actually going to take an emotion and turn it inside out. As if she was filleting this monster down to nothing. Who does that? How did she learn to do that? Wait, how come we never KNEW to do that? Was she saying that instead of trying to ignore the emotion or take days to get over it, she was going to grab it by the throat? And if she can do that, we can too? We can change our thinking? We don’t have to carry some of this baggage around we’ve been carrying? This really was a revelation….

She goes on to write that after this moment, she began to hold some of her own thoughts and experiences up for evaluation. She writes about how she came to understand that we tend to take information, think we understand the fullness of it, and then share it with others. This can certainly be a beautiful thing (I do a lot of that on the blog), but it becomes a problem when we build, as she writes, “little camps around that truth and sit by it,” inviting only those who are in agreement to sit there with us and never allowing room for further revelation. She writes that she is beginning to understand that she must leave room for revelation that doesn’t “look, smell, or feel the way I THINK it should.”

This is a beautiful realization, and one I’m thankful to have been some part of.

Yes, we really can change our thinking.

No, we really don’t have to carry around all that baggage.

But, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, doing that means changing our conceptual framework. It means digging deeper, becoming willing to consider new truths, and finding a different “other.” Because what neither my partner nor I understood enough to articulate at the time is that we are psychologically hardwired to not only remain comfortable in the warmth of our campfires, but also to remain safe in the company of those we know and love best. We are hardwired to value the opinions of others, and especially those of our closest people (in fact, this is where the term “significant other” came from, and the opinions of these “significant” others carry much more weight and become much more incorporated into our sense of selves than the “generalized other” I wrote about, yesterday). As long as those people make up our “significant other,” there will be aspects of ourselves that we cannot change. This is why, as I have recently learned, many people are literally not capable of healing until their parents or partners pass away. Because casting off actions and beliefs that no longer serve us requires that we move away from the warmth and safety of that which we have always known and step fully into the unknown.

We must seek out new fires. Or maybe a better way to say that is…

We must construct our own.

“True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness.”
—Brene Brown

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