You have an amazing experience. You feel your being expand and accept sensations in. You have a sense of connection as you explore significant landmarks in your internal landscape. You touch in to emotions and memories that you thought were only safe to keep tucked away, and you experience an awakening of your soul as you embrace these previously terrifying parts of you. You feel release. You feel catharsis. You feel emotional expansion. You feel a sense of wonder and a sense of rightness. You love yourself and those around you. Collective consciousness and common humanity are obvious. You cry, you shake, and you feel exquisitely alive. You are open.
And then, you close. As unbidden as the opening, you find yourself feeling isolated, distracted, bored, tired or annoyed. You feel like a lump of carbon again, and the world is very ordinary. The old fears return to the wings of the stage, the regular audience of critics and police files into the show. You look around and feel disconnected. You feel small again. The internal landscape seems barren and uninteresting. You wonder where on earth you were before. You close.
We open and we close. We expand and contract. The pendulum swings from the left to the right. This is the natural law of things. We need to be able to open and close in order to remain safe, in order to titrate our experience, in order to avoid being constantly overwhelmed or constantly shut down.
In therapy sessions, in MSC courses, in spiritual awakenings, we open. We are held by experienced and caring teachers, or we are held by our own inner knowing, our inner teacher. We have faith that opening is valuable, that it is part of being human and part of living life fully. When we sit in a small group during MSC and, feeling the safety of supportive others, allow ourselves to tell our story and to cry, we are releasing some of what we held into a container of safety and healing. When we allow a therapist to guide us toward emotions, sensations, snippets of memories that are usually tucked out of awareness, and we allow ourselves to follow their wisdom and nurturance, we re-write our way into our story from a place of strength. In ecstatic spiritual adventures – what we might call bliss or unity or peak experiences – we give our small selves over to an expansive oneness, to a universe of unconditional love, to limitlessness.
I’ve experienced all of these, and sometimes I wish I could experience these more often, but just knowing that there is this potential in my human experience helps me along when the mundanity of earning a living or cleaning my home threaten to darken my outlook.
And I’ve experienced closing. I’ve also experienced (as I know others have) that panicked state between opening and closing, when I really want to hang on to, to grasp, to cling to that transcendent experience or that sense of exquisite intimacy with my fellow beings, while I feel my experience gradually becoming smaller. Opening can feel like a drug experience, ecstatic abandonment of the mundane, a bliss that I never want to let go of. But let go I must, for my being is not designed to be forever chest out, head back and eyes closed, bathing in the warm light of an eminently open and safe universe. While there is light, there is also darkness. At the end of my therapy session I must climb into my car and navigate traffic for 25 minutes, negotiating a coffee purchase on the way home. I must prepare for a meeting and think about dinner. I must close so that I can take care of my life.
Some people seem to be forever open, but even they must sleep at some point in the day. Some people appear to be forever closed, but, at the end of an MSC course when the frowning, argumentative, seemingly unbelieving group member says, after 8 weeks of appearing bored, “I wish that others could see how much love is inside of me,” a ray of the light of the universe escapes his heart.
Let us listen to the law of pendulation, to the law of opening and closing. Let us accept the cycles of our experience, and listen carefully to our question, “What do I need right now?” Let us close gracefully and appreciatively, for in closing we prepare ourselves for the next opening. And let us be grateful for the times when the grace of opening falls upon us.
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- Trauma Adaptations, Power, and Acceptance - March 10, 2019
- Why We’re Not Self-Compassionate and … There’s a Course for That - March 5, 2019