Why We Need To Live the Full Spectrum of Human Experience

    —
November 24, 2020

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

Learn More

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

Matt Licata

Also By Author

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.

 

 

 

 

Healing Space

Learn More

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

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

Learn More

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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Embracing Empathy as Your Superpower

What do I do when a loved one is suffering? How do I have empathy if I’m getting a divorce or losing my job? If my family treats me unfairly? Or if I’m emotionally overwhelmed or in chronic pain?

If you’ve ever asked yourself these questions, I’ve written The Genius of Empathy for you. It also includes a beautiful foreword by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

In the book, I present empathy as a healing force that helps you overcome obstacles in your life with dignity, grace, and power. As a psychiatrist and empath, I draw from my insights and present techniques from my own life and from the healing journeys of my clients, students, and readers. As I say in the book, “Empathy softens the struggle, quiets the unkind voices, and lets you befriend yourself again.”

Empathy doesn’t mean being “on call” 24 hours a day for those in need. Empaths can often wear an invisible sign that says, “I can help you.” However, if you want to heal yourself, have better relationships, and contribute to healing our tumultuous world, you must learn how to set healthy boundaries and observe, not absorb, the energy of others.

To start taking a more proactive role in how much empathy you give others at any one time, I suggest that you keep in mind the following “rights.” They will help you maintain a healthy mindset and prevent or lessen any empathy overwhelm that might arise:

  • I have the right to say a loving, positive “no” or “no, thank-you.”
  • I have the right to set limits with how long I listen to people’s problems.
  • I have the right to rest and not be always available to everyone.
  • I have the right to quiet peacefulness in my home and in my heart.

Practice: Take a Sound Break to Repair Yourself

Plan periods of quiet to recover from our noisy, fast-paced world. This helps calm your nervous system and your mind, an act of self-empathy.

It’s rejuvenating to schedule at least five minutes of quiet or, even better, complete silence for an hour or more where no one can intrude. As I do, hang a Do Not Disturb sign on your office or bedroom door. During this reset period, you’ve officially escaped from the world. You’re free of demands and noxious sounds. You may also get noise canceling earbuds to block out noise.

If too much quiet is unsettling, go for a walk in a local park or a peaceful neighborhood to decompress from excessive sound stimulation. Simply focus on putting one foot in front of the other, which is called mindful walking. Nothing to do. Nothing to be. Move slowly and refrain from talking. If thoughts come, keep refocusing on your breath, each inhalation and exhalation. Just letting life settle will regenerate your body and empathic heart.

Embracing your empathy does require courage. It can feel scary. If you’re ready to discover its healing power, I would be honored to be your guide to helping you in overcoming your fears and obstacles, and enhancing this essential skill for long-term change.

Though many of us have never met, I feel connected to you. Connection is what fuels life. While empathy is what allows you to find peace. With both, we can make sense of this world together.

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Ignite empathy as a superpower for personal healing, deeper relationships, and more potent work in the world. New York Times bestselling author Dr. Judith Orloff draws on insights from neuroscience, psychology, and energy medicine to show us how to access our sensitivities, soothe our nervous systems, and embody our most fierce and authentic selves.

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