The Empire Strikes Back

April 20, 2010

My life this year has been bereft of personal drama, something for which I have felt quite grateful. It has been filled with wonderful experiences including Mexico, the amazing Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, some excellent skiing, fulfilling spiritual coaching and even a workshop. However I observed that my inclination to write had dissipated. Yes I had kept up with my morning pages but not with much enthusiasm and as far as writing a blog I had written only two in almost seven weeks. So I put out to the universe “I will write if you provide the inspiration.” I am not sure if I fully understood the implications of that intention; the result has been a dramatic shift in my peaceful existence; drama has returned with a vengeance!

It started with a simple forwarding of the details of a workshop that I thought may be of interest to a friend. The response was a personal critique of an unintended error on my part that caused me to feel my wound of being unfairly judged. I let it go. It was familiar; I sensed the limbic body reaction that warns me I will be tempted to respond aggressively; I was able to move into my adult and decided that no response was the best response. A couple of weeks later I sent out an e-mail to some members of a spiritual community of which I am part, offering rooms in my property on Cortes at a time that some relevant workshops were being held at Hollyhock. I immediately received an e-mail from one of the recipients chastising me for communicating with him in this way and taking advantage of my connections to the community for personal gain. I felt an immediate sense of shame exacerbated by a sense of being misjudged as he had made an assumption that just was not true. Once again I felt the body reaction. (It feels like a giant blush that encompasses my whole body.) It was followed by a desire to strike back particularly as he had copied the whole community on his e-mail. However as the energy subsided, I decided the right thing to do was to apologize for upsetting him and not go into any justification of my behaviour or involving the community.

A similar event occurred a few days later over the same incident and caused a greater reaction. I was challenged this time not only for mailing to the community but also on the basis that my attempt to encourage friends to stay with me was contrary to the interests of our leader who was teaching the two courses. Once again I felt this acute sense that this was so unfair, even unreasonable and my generous intention was completely lost. This criticism was not only copied to the community but also to the teacher. My reaction paralleled the first “shaming” but was deeper. This time I felt it was necessary to respond to the criticism but I decided not to involve the group as a whole however I did write to our teacher to ensure he did not think I had compromised my relationship with him. It was so fascinating observing the battle between the child and the adult. The child wanting to respond like the scorpion when it is threatened; the adult able to empathize with the child but make a different decision.

In fact I was feeling pretty good about the way I was handling it; I concluded the universe was testing me and I was responding well; I was taking the higher ground. Then the fourth incident hit. It was entirely unexpected; once again an inaccurate assumption had been made; again I was shocked by the response. A friend had taken offense at what he deemed to be a breach of our relationship and criticized my lack of sensitivity. Once again I felt the sense of shame compounded by feeling misunderstood. However this time I felt a need to make things right between us and called to reverse the activity that had precipitate the rift. I followed it up with an e-mail demonstrating that I had not broken trust and in hindsight felt good about my adult response.

It was the next morning that a new chapter in this particular saga took place. His reply was not what I expected. The words like “odd and inappropriate” triggered a familiar response. Once again I felt misunderstood and in the wrong. I think I was expecting an apology, perhaps some shared responsibility but this did not seem the case. I sat and explored my feelings. Obviously this episode was far from over. As often happens when I am deeply immersed in my unfolding journey I was reading a book that seemed profoundly relevant. I had picked up one of James Hollis’s earlier books The Eden Project. In Search of the Magical Other and that same morning had read these words “activating these charged clusters of energy, transfers the experiences of other times and places to the present, undermining our capacity for conscious choice and holding us hostage to the past.” I knew intuitively that my reaction was connected to the past not the present. I knew this was no time to engage in a dialogue with my friend, I needed some time to explore my own deeper meaning from these recent events. I resolved to go to the gym and hope that some clarity may emerge.

It was while riding my bike en route that I began to review previous events in my life when I had encountered this energy. I knew my relationship with my father had frequently led to this sense of feeling misjudged but this was not new information. I could recall as a teenager feeling badly treated by a schoolmaster who insisted moving me to from centre to the wing in our school rugby team despite my protestations. My reaction to this unfairness was to never play competitive rugby again, thus punishing myself even further. But I sensed there was something new in this current dilemma. Then the next piece of the puzzle slipped into place. I was looking for something that I could never get. I wanted affirmation from the “other” I craved a sense of being understood and when it did not come, it tapped into the deepest wound of all; the fact that my father had never given me understanding. And of course never could because he was no longer living.

I felt a combined sense of sadness and relief. I could clearly understand my own pain and anger at my friend. I had projected on the “other” a need that was permanently incomplete – or was it? As I moved to a weight machine I imagined a conversation with James Hollis. I asked him “Do I assume that I just learn to live with this wound while making better choices now I have unearthed the core issue?” The reply that came stemmed from some work I had done previously with my father image in therapy. I had forgiven my father and seen him in a new light. I realized that using active imagination I could go back and receive his blessing. I sit here humbled. Sixty-five years of age and still learning so much about myself. James Hollis once suggested that he found happiness much overrated. Sometimes it takes the empire to strike back to create an opportunity for new meaning and growth in my life.