Making the darkness conscious

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January 12, 2015

Much is being said these days about spiritual awakening, and the causeless joy, clarity, and peace that are inevitable milestones of the inner journey. Not all that much is mentioned, however, about the disappointment of awakening, or of the ways it can break our hearts, cracking us open to the reality of the crucifixion, the resurrection, *and* the transfiguration we are likely to encounter along the way. In the full embrace of life—right inside the yucky, messy, shadowy nether regions of the heart—we are invited to meet the wholeness of what we are, which includes the dark *and* the light, the movement of separation *and* union, and the entirety of what it means to be an embodied human being.

As Carl Jung so poignantly reminds us, we do not become enlightened by “imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” He went on to say that the integral journey of the dark *and* the light is one that is often “disagreeable” and thus would never be popular. I believe Jung is offering very important guidance for us and the voyage of the heart in contemporary times.

The ancient path of love may never conform to our hopes, fears, dreams, and fantasies, for it is emerging in the here and now as an emissary of the unknown itself. Let us rest in the aching truth that one of the primary roles of the beloved is to seed deflation in the field of separation. Yes, awakening may always be a disappointment, from the perspective of egoic organization. In this sense, the journey is eternally hopeless, but it is in the creation of a home for our hopelessness—and allowing it to be illuminated within us—that we are finally able to step into a world beyond our wildest imagination.

As we journey together as fellow travelers, let us find a way to embrace both the joy *and* the heartbreak of spiritual awakening, and bear witness to the wisdom shining out of our immediate experience, whether it appears as sadness, bliss, despair, or great joy. It is true that grace will appear in both sweet *and* fierce forms, but regardless of its particular manifestation, it is still grace, sent from beyond to open us to the radiant fullness of being.

– Matt Licata, from the Preface to the forthcoming, It’s Okay to Be Broken: Embracing the Joy and Heartbreak of Spiritual Awakening.

sunset_itsokay

Matt Licata

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The Simple Magic of a Book

One of the gifts of isolation, solitude, and social distancing is the opportunity to reconnect with pieces of soul and strands of vision that have become lost in the busyness of our ordinary lives.

Reading for many has become a lost art. We can become so used to turning on the news, scrolling through Facebook, becoming lost in hours of YouTube or Netflix, or fused with one electronic device or another. Nothing wrong with any of these, but at times an alternative portal will open.

To take a book and find a place within your home or under a tree or out in the park and go on a pilgrimage with it. Ask the stars to help you to find a place to just be for a while and open to revelation.

It need not be a “spiritual” book, though of course those are fine, too. A book of poetry, a novel, a book of art history, or of mythology.

Allow its images to come alive, its metaphors, its characters… step into the poetic landscape with the figures and enter a state of receptivity and play. Sense what they are sensing, feel what they are feeling as these correspond with the internal others dancing within you.

healing space blog graphic

Not necessarily reading for “information,” but for communion. Allow the language to open you, to uncover a feeling you haven’t felt for a long time, an ache in the heart that longs for tending, a dream you had forgotten, a vision that you sense circling around you.

Read a paragraph or two and close the book. Enter the interactional field – with the natural world, with the visions, figures, moods, feelings, and images that seek your attention, your curiosity, your care, and just a moment of your being-ness.

We can so easily forget the magic of this place, of the imaginal realms, of those liminal places in between the physical world of matter and the transcendental realm of pure spirit. In the liminal we can dance and play and see and perceive and sense and intuit something holy.

A good book can help us do this, can serve as a companion as we step into uncharted territory.

Reading has been such an important part of my life. My books are my friends, lovers, allies, guides, and they also challenge me, break me open, tenderize and marinate me in the Unknown. They reveal how little I know about this world, this soul, this heart, this place, and the unique opportunity to be here. I find this so lifegiving.

I fantasize that perhaps in other worlds there are no books. That is sad to think about. For me, at least.

This blog post originally appeared on Matt Licata’s blog, A Healing Space. Redistributed with permission.

matt licataMatt Licata, PhD, is a practicing psychotherapist and hosts in-person retreats. His work incorporates developmental, psychoanalytic, and depth psychologies, as well as contemplative, meditative, and mindfulness-based approaches for transformation and healing. He co-facilitates a monthly online membership community called Befriending Yourself, is author of The Path Is Everywhere, and is the creator of the blog A Healing Space. He lives in Boulder, Colorado. For more, visit mattlicataphd.com.

 

 

 

 

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Why We Need To Live the Full Spectrum of Human Experie...

Metabolizing Experience

In order to know and befriend ourselves at the deepest levels, one of the core foundations for true healing, we must cultivate a new way of relating with ourselves that allows even our most difficult and challenging experience to disclose its meaning, intelligence, and purpose in our lives. To do this, we have to slow down and shift our relationship from one of thinking about our experience to fully embodying it. We have to allow ourselves to truly touch it and be touched by it rather than merely orbiting around it, where we are sure to continue to feel some degree of disconnection. Just as we must properly digest the food we eat to absorb its nutrients, we must also assimilate our experience to receive the wisdom and sacred data within it. All through the day and night, we are receiving impressions—through our mental, emotional, somatic (i.e., body-based), imaginal, and spiritual bodies. Life is a constant stream of experience—conversations with friends, caring for our kids, cooking a meal, wandering in nature, practicing yoga or meditation, engaging our work and creative projects, reading a book, shopping for groceries, running errands. But to what degree are we experiencing all of this? How present are we to our moment-to-moment experience, embodied and engaged, allowing it to penetrate us, where it can become true experience and not just some passing event? To what degree are we on autopilot as we make our way through the day, only partially connecting with our friends and family and engaging the sensory reality of what we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch?

I’m pointing toward a way of “metabolizing” our experience that allows us to touch and engage it at the most subtle levels, where it is able to disclose its qualities, intelligence, and purpose. By evoking “metabolization,” I am making use of a biological process in a metaphorical way to refer to working through and integrating our experience, especially those thoughts, feelings, sensations, and parts of ourselves that historically we have pushed away. Other words from the biological sciences, for example “digestion,” “absorption,” or “assimilation” can be used to point to the same idea, indicating that it requires concentration, attention, and a certain fire or warmth to “make use” of our experience and mine the “nutrients” contained within it.

Just because we “have” an experience does not mean we properly digest and absorb it. If our emotional and sensory experience remain partly processed, they become leaky (a psychic version, if you will, of “leaky gut syndrome”) and unable to provide the fuel required to live a life of intimacy, connection, and spontaneity. This inner psychic situation is analogous to not properly chewing and breaking down the food we eat and thus not being able to mine the energy and nutrients our bodies need to function optimally.

Although the desire for change and transformation is natural, noble, and worthy of our honor and attention, if we are not careful, it can serve as a powerful reminder and expression of the painful realities of materialism and self-abandonment. One of the shadow sides of spiritual seeking and the (seemingly) endless project of self-improvement is that we never slow down enough to digest what we have already been given, often much more than we consciously realize. In some sense, most of us have been given everything in terms of the basic alchemical prima materia required to live a life of integrity and inner richness, but not the “everything” the mind thinks it needs to be happy and fulfilled, found by way of a journey of internal and external consumerism. And not the “everything” that conforms to our hopes, fears, and dreams of power and control and that keeps us consistently safe and protected from the implications of what it means to have a tender (and breakable) human heart, but the “everything” already here as part of our true nature, the raw materials for a life of inner contentment and abundance, revealed by way of slowness and humility, not unconscious acquisition.

It is important to remember that for most of us, healing happens gradually, slowly, over time when we begin to perceive ourselves and our lives in a new way. Each micro-moment of new insight, understanding, and perspective must be integrated and digested on its own, honored and tended to with curiosity, care, and attention. Before we “move forward” to the next moment, we must fully apprehend and open our hearts to this one; this slow tending (metabolization) is one of the true essences of a lasting, transformative, and deep healing. If we are not able to metabolize even our most intense and disturbing experience, we will remain in opposition to it, at subtle war with it, and not able to be in relationship with it as a healing ally.

In Tibetan tradition, there is an image of the hungry ghost, a figure of the imaginal realms with a large, distended belly and tiny mouth. No matter how much food (experience) is consumed, there is a deep ache and longing for more. Regardless of how much is taken in, the ghost retains an insatiable hunger. Because this one is not able to digest, make use of, or enjoy what is given, a primordial hole is left behind that can never seem to be filled. One invitation, as this image appears in our own lives, is to slow way down and send awareness and compas- sion directly into the hole, infusing it with presence and warmth, and finally tend to what is already here, not what is missing and might come one day in the future by way of further procurement.

Just as with food—choosing wisely, chewing mindfully, allowing ourselves to taste the bounty of what is being offered, and stopping before we are full—we can honor the validity, workability, and intelligence of our inner experience, even if it is difficult or disturbing. The willingness to fully digest our own vulnerability, tenderness, confusion, and suffering is an act of love and fierce, revolutionary kindness. There are soul nutrients buried in the food of our embodied experience that yearn to be integrated, metabolized, and assimilated in the flame of the heart. But this digestion requires the enzymes of presence, embodi- ment, compassion, and curiosity about what is here now.

Let us slow down and become mindful of the ways we seek to fill the empty hole in the center, whether it be with food when we’re not hungry or experience when we are already full. And in this way, we can walk lightly together in this world, on this precious planet, not as hungry ghosts desperate to be fed but as kindred travelers of interior wealth, richness, and meaning.

This is an excerpt from A Healing Space: Befriending Ourselves in Difficult Times by Matt Licata, PhD.

Matt LicataMatt Licata, PhD, is a practicing psychotherapist and hosts in-person retreats. His work incorporates developmental, psychoanalytic, and depth psychologies, as well as contemplative, meditative, and mindfulness-based approaches for transformation and healing. He co-facilitates a monthly online membership community called Befriending Yourself, is author of The Path Is Everywhere, and is the creator of the blog A Healing Space. He lives in Boulder, Colorado. For more, visit mattlicataphd.com.

 

 

 

 

 

Healing Space

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Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Bookshop | Indiebound

Matt Licata, PhD: The Alchemy of Befriending Ourselves...

Matt Licata is a practicing psychotherapist, a co-facilitator of a monthly online membership community called Befriending Yourself, and the author of The Path Is Everywhere. With Sounds True, he has written a new book titled, A Healing Space: Befriending Ourselves in Difficult Times. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon speaks with Matt about what it is to be a healing space, that is to hold space for ourselves and others, as well as how we can feel held by something greater than ourselves during challenging experiences. They also explore our inner wounds and self-abandonment, spiritual bypassing and the ways in which many practices allow us to gloss over the real healing needed, and how coming into an embodied state can open us to greater inner depths. Finally, Tami and Matt discuss becoming an alchemist of your own life, discovering the inner gold that each of us has within, and befriending all of ourselves.

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Tune in for an inspiring call to become a “spiritual warrior” at this precarious time in history, with profound insights on how life exists in cycles—and why this is important to understand; putting our energy and desire to contribute in the right places; compassion and insight; seeing clearly so we can act wisely; removing the filters of hope and fear; grace, synchronicity, and serving your purpose; being faithful to the work you’re called to; the dark night of the soul; working for change at the local level; joy and togetherness; the antidote to despair; the practice of “I’m not lost, I’m right here”; and more.

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How to Mental Stack Your Way to a New Chapter in Life

Most people feel trapped in a thousand ways. But more often than not, this sense of entrapment us into putting our heads down and getting the things we are expected to get done, done. We can’t often see the entrapment, especially if it looks like the result of our own choices in life. But were they truly our own choices? What if some of the choices we made in life have never really been ours to begin with? 

I want to take us back a little. Back to when we were younger. When we had to rely on the wisdom of our elders, and those who have been in this life much longer than us. In my upcoming book Invisible Loss, I write about that time in our lives when we were at our most rebellious:

Disobedience—as a child, as a teen, as an adult in the world of work and home—is an act that creates invisible suffering. We learn to survive that repeated pattern of being commanded by our elders to be “good.” In order to be good and obey, we may create a life closer to that command but further away from our Original Self. We may work hard trying to be good, trying to please and fit into the mold created for us, but that only helps to build our Waiting Room life.

But time in the Waiting Room doesn’t need to last forever. And you don’t have to die inside it. There are parts within you that can bring forth a life worthy of your human existence. Places within yourself that have no shame.

As long as we have been alive, creating a life that aligns closest to the wishes of our caregivers and protectors blinds us to the life that we could choose for ourselves. That life is completely hidden even if we think we know our wishes. Often, only when we go through tragic or invisible losses, do we start to question those choices. Dare I say, these moments are opportunities to exit the loop of being “good.”

It is time to interrupt our regular transmission. It is time to be clear when it comes to what it is we are trying to communicate to the people in our lives. It starts from no longer trying so hard to fit into the mold that was created for us.  No matter how old we are, we can always break outside this mold and align our choices with our true values and desires.

This is not an easy task. I understand that. At the core of my book, Invisible Loss, I’ve created tjos easy practice to help set you on the right path to your Original Self. I call it Mental Stacking:

What Is Mental Stacking?

Mental Stacking is the ability to intentionally layer your thoughts to replace unconscious, Survivor-based

thinking with Wisdom-based thinking. In doing so, these Wisdom-based thoughts can more easily be converted into real-life action. This Stacking practice allows you to access your true and authentic self (your Original Self) and entrust it with the controls of your life. Here is what a basic Stack looks like:

  • The Cleanse: Transcribing the automatic, routine-based, unconscious thoughts. Write them down. Don’t stop writing until you feel you are done. 
  • The Pattern: Subtracting from that first layer the thoughts of fear and doubt. Once you write everything you are feeling and thinking down, read it back to yourself and find a sentence or two that comes from a place of fear or doubt. For example, somewhere in your long cleanse you may find yourself saying: “I feel trapped in my marriage and I don’t dare tell anyone about it because he is the nicest guy. All of my friends always tell me how lucky I am to be married to someone who takes such good care of me.”
  • The Reframe: Writing the consciously reframed thought layer in the Stack. Take that sentence and reframe it. For example: “I feel trapped in my marriage and feel ashamed for feeling this way because my partner is such a good guy,” to, “even though I may feel shame about how I feel, I need to share these feelings with my partner even though it may not be expected or understood. This is my life, after all.” 
  • The Plug-In: Translating the reframed thought into action. Once you have that reframed thought, think of a low-risk action you can take that can stem from that newly scripted thought. For example, you can suggest to your partner to go for dinner at a brand new place where you can bring up what is on your mind in a new environment. You can act on your right to express yourself regardless of what the response might be or how others view your situation. 

Your Mental Stack leads you to a specific next step that may not always be easy to see without the power of each previous layer in the Stack. 

Here’s to a great new chapter ahead,

Christina Ramussen

Invisible Loss


Invisible Loss
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Bookshop | Sounds True

Christina Rasmussen is an acclaimed grief educator and the author of Second Firsts and Where Did You Go? She is the founder of the Life Reentry Institute and has helped countless people break out of what she coined the “waiting room” of grief to rebuild their lives through her Life Reentry® Model, a new paradigm of grief, based on the science of neuroplasticity. She lives in Austin, Texas. For more, visit christinarasmussen.com.

Author photo © Marc Olivier Le Blanc

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