Thursday, April 21, 2011

Butterfly on a Pin 
Predictably, a few weeks after I wrote my earlier post about being happy, I sank into a deep 2-week depression that was worse than normal. It broke, the way a fever does, a little over as week ago, and since then I've found myself at a loss for words. Part of me feels like I'm a fraud for writing this blog about how we need to accept what is and open to our emotions, even when they hurt, about happiness and dancing, when, in fact, I often feel no hope that I'll ever be able to reach any emotional stability in my life. At times like these, I can't imagine that anything I say would help anybody.

I was just re-reading an interview in the spring 2011 edition of Tricycle magazine with John Welwood, a Buddhist teacher, existential therapist,  and author of several books, including Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships . He discussed the concept of "spiritual bypassing" - the phenomenon of spiritual practitioners using their spiritual practice, not as a way of becoming friends with themselves and of opening to all experience, but as a way to wall themselves off from unpleasant emotion, repress painful truths about themselves, or to beat themselves or others up about not being "good" (nonattached, generous, spiritual) enough.

At one point he says "We are not just humans learning to be buddhas, but also buddhas waking up in human form, learning to become fully human." and goes on to say " It can be quite threatening when those of us on a spiritual path have to face our woundedness, or emotional dependency, or our primal need for love." I take this to mean that, by avoiding our emotional experiences, we actually hold ourselves back from growing as spiritual beings. By avoiding our real human needs, we're ignoring the truth about what it is to be human. By trying to be more than human, we deny our right to be merely human.

My depression is invariably rooted in attachment issues. When I feel depressed, I feel a crushing loneliness, a desperate fear that I will never be loved the way I need, a primal need to connect with and bond with others, combined with a deep-seated disappointment in the fragility and fleetingness of the bonds that I do make, as well as a need to back away from those that I feel are too needy or desperate themselves, where I fear I will get lost in the swamp of their deep need. When I sink into depression, it's usually because I feel rejected or unseen, a sense of not being okay, of not being enough. At these times, the child in me cries out: "Why don't you love me??"

I get depressed when someone I care for treats me dismissively, lies to me, or withdraws from me, because to me, it feels like they're taking their love away, and I can't figure out why. Almost invariably, when this happens, even if it's only my perception of what's happened, I fall into darkness and have to let it run its course, like a bad cold or flu, before I can recover.

Welwood talks a lot in the interview about how striving for  nonattachment can be a form of attachment, by denying and repressing our very real human need for connection, and how humans must heed the needs of our souls but also of our psyches. That in order to grow past attachment needs, we need to have healthy attachments first. In this, he compares many spiritual practitioners' attempts to force themselves to be nonattached to "an unripe fruit trying to detach itself from a branch instead of receiving what it needs - which will allow it to naturally ripen and let go."

I love this metaphor of an unripe fruit. For years I've beaten myself up about needing my partners to love me in ways that they clearly could not. Words my exes have thrown at me about how needy, desperate, flawed, voracious, and unsatisfied I am still buzz in my ears. I've always believed them, even, at times, wondered if I'm simply too crazy to ever have a healthy relationship, because something deep inside is so broken that I will never be able to form a deep and true partnership. I still sometimes wonder this, but I can also see that my need for healthy and loving attachment to a partner doesn't mean I'm flawed or unenlightened. What it means, simply, is that I have not received what I need to grow past attachment, to let go of the branch.
It comforts me to know that my need and desire for healthy love- and my striving, however misguided,  to make unhealthy attachments healthy - doesn't mean that I've failed as a spiritual person or that I'm all those things that ex-lovers have called me. Yes, I need to learn to meet some of my own needs in a better, more consistently loving way, but I also don't have to feel embarrassed because I believe that some of these needs will best be met in a relationship with another.  It also comforts me to remember that all of experience is our teacher, which means staying present in the moments of pain, confusion, judgment, anger, avoidance, sadness, or loneliness.

That last part is always the kicker, right? For me, this means even being present in the moments of disappointment at myself for not being present, for not being okay with what's happening. I'm angry and hurt today because I was lied to. Is it okay to be angry and hurt? Is it okay to also doubt myself, to wonder if I'm overreacting, and to believe a friend's insistence that I'M in the wrong? Yes. This is what we don't want to face, this messiness and doubt. This is what some of us try to escape with spiritual practices. But I can't escape it. I'm like a butterfly on a pin, stuck here, and doing my best to accept it all - the stuckness and the fact that the pin doesn't actually exist.

1 comment:

Dann said...

nonattachment is indeed the key to move through the places that are dark and hurt. The "moment " is what we have...nothing else, just that moment which many try to pass by under the guise or promise of a better way or a healthier place. But that takes us away, sometimes far away from the "moment" and that is the death of "all that can be" or the "now".
M. I miss these discussions. Let's get together.