Staying with our selves in the middle of (rather than rushing away from) difficult emotional processes, we dare to feel, release and organically come out the far side of those processes.
Rushing keeps you from feeling the process you're in the middle of.
If the process seems too much or too hard to feel,
it might well be leading somewhere it won't be okay for you to be…
Slow down and listen-in to the deep knowing place!
It was the fall of 1990, six years and three property owners after I'd moved into my first magical, healing cottage. The cottage nestled in the East End of Ojai, a somewhat rural area of orange groves, avocado groves and horse properties with magnificent views of a range of bluffs (the Topa Topa Mountains) that are reminiscent of New Mexico vistas.
The cottage had appeared in my life in a burst of good fortune in 1984 as I was leaving a tortuous seven-year relationship. The search for a new home had also been tortuous, a bleak process during which I despaired of ever finding a right-feeling place for my self. I'd felt stymied in my search, hard up against the end of the month when my about to be ex-partner and I had to leave our shared rental. Out of the blue, a woman in one of my Giving Up Deprivation groups called to let me know of a cottage that had just become available.
That delightful converted two-car garage became the nest in which I came to know, love and provide for the abandoned Little One inside of me. Though I had nested before in my life, this was the first time I was consciously making a home in the world for that Little One. As I reclaimed the neglected, forlorn outdoor spaces around the house, I simultaneously reclaimed the neglected, forlorn places inside of me. I moved tons of rocks, boulders and construction debris as I moved through the tons of emotional debris buried in my broken heart. I used the strewn rocks to build meandering walls, tilled and fertilized the cleared earth and planted gardens. The landscape and I grew and transformed together. Together, the cottage and I became a nourishing home for all the emerging me's of me.
The first property owners had been essentially invisible – an address to which I sent my rent. The second owners were an exuberant couple my own age who, at first, came only on weekends. The husband reveled in construction projects, knocking down walls and extensively remodeling the main house while jovially adding a picture window and bathtub to improve on the basic perfection of my little cottage.
At some point they found a more suitable full-time home in Ojai and sold the property to their daughter and her husband. Things began to change. At first they, too, were only a weekend presence – albeit a more intense, more invasive one than their parents had been. Then, they began planning major reconstruction involving tearing down both the main house and the second small rental cottage on the property. During the construction they hoped to use what had been my cozy home as their roost on occasional weekends. Once the new expansive main house was finished, they'd move to Ojai full-time and my home would then become the husband's painting studio and the wife's home office.
It was heart wrenching to imagine giving up that womb space. The process of searching for a new space was gut wrenching. When I'd first moved to the cottage, I'd had only a few possessions, the bare bones of what I needed to be comfortable: all thrift store and garage sale stuff, nothing I couldn't easily leave behind. Now, as I searched for a new space, I was no longer traveling so lightly.
Over the six years of making a home for my self, everything had gradually been transformed. My various thrift store couches and chair had been reupholstered and slip covered in matching white canvas. I'd made and covered (and then repeatedly recovered) a sizeable collection of large and small floor and throw pillows in changing cycles of brilliant color that reflected the changes happening in me. As sounding and making art had become essential non-verbal healing pathways, first in my own healing journey and then in my work with clients, I'd gathered a collection of second-hand ethnic percussion instruments and art supplies of every description.
Along the way, I'd bought a hot tub that had provided me nightly with safe, warm embracing. I'd need private outdoor space for that in any new place. And, too, in all but rainy weather, I'd grown used to sleeping year round on the ground in a tent. I'd need private outdoor space for that as well. It was overwhelming. This time I'd have to find a place that not only felt right but could, as well, accommodate all this equipment-for-a-healing-life. A daunting prospect, it was one made more challenging by the grief I felt at having to leave the home in which the new me had been born and nourished.
I cried a lot, ranted a lot; felt sad, confused and distraught. I searched from mid-September through December and on into early January. In such a small town there weren't many things available and nothing of what was available felt workable. Demolition began in mid-December. By January first, the electrical and gas lines on the property were capped. That meant no operating refrigerator, lights or phone answering machine, no stove, no hot water or washer/dryer. Since the phone lines were left intact, an old non-portable phone that plugged directly into a wall jack allowed for phone service. I couldn't have done without that. It was all pretty rough. Yet, there was still nowhere to go.
I saw evening clients by candle light, cooked on my two-burner propane camping stove, kept my perishable food in a big Coleman ice chest, washed dishes with cold water and sponge-bathed with small amounts of propane heated water as I had in the old days of living in my van. I was camping-in at my cottage. A kindly local motel owner let me rent a room for $15 for an after check-out/before check-in hour so that, bringing my own towels, I could have a hot shower and wash my hair a couple of times a week. I patched together 500 feet of outdoor extension cords so that I could plug into electricity at the neighbors' on the next property. Besides a phone, the other thing that I couldn't live without was my phone answering machine. Having a three-socket outlet plugged in at my end provided me with the bonus of lamplight to read by at night and a clock radio for more gentle awakenings on mornings when I needed to waken at a particular time.
Over and over again, I'd be tempted to take something, anything to abort the excruciating process of looking and not finding anything that felt right, to get on with life instead of being stalled out in this not here-not there place. It was an awful time. I hated it. Often, I felt like I couldn't bear it for one more minute.
Still, deep inside I knew that I had to trust in the process. I had to stay in the middle of what I was being taken through. I had to not rush my self through it to some other place that wasn't where I really needed to be, someplace that would merely be an escape from this here that I hated being in.
In the middle of the worst of the pressure to rush to some other side, a woman in another of the Giving Up Deprivation groups told me she had an unexpectedly vacated duplex that might work for me. The inside and private yard spaces looked more workable than anything else I'd seen. But, it was in the middle of a neighborhood of tract homes. And, across a field out behind it was an elementary school. That meant loud buzzers that rang at odd times throughout the day and a playground that hosted multiple daily recess periods. It would have been a stretch after living in the quiet countryside of the East End. It felt like a close-but-no-cigar place. Still, it was hard to say a definite "no" at that desperate-feeling moment.
The woman who offered it to me had some work she wanted to do to fix the place up for whomever might be the next tenant. That meant she had room for me to stay in a "maybe, if nothing more right turns up" place for at least another ten days. I made a deal with her and with my self: if nothing more suitable appeared by January 17th I would commit to taking her place, starting February first, on a month to month basis while I continued my search. Camping in might not be workable for as long a time as it might take to get to where I was meant to go next.
On the 12th of January a friend who did house-sitting called to tell me that a house at which I'd once visited her was coming vacant on February first. I remembered the house, a sweet little cottage in the middle of a large orange grove. A converted carport, it was smaller by half than my converted two-car garage, one large room rather than two. I went by to peek in its windows and fell in love. I could see my necessaries fitting inside and outside of it, could envision letting go of what wouldn't fit into the smaller space. I was jubilant. In the complex process of locating and getting to connect with the property owners, I never doubted that they would rent to me. I knew that this was my new home, the one Spirit had in mind for me.
They were delighted with me as a prospective tenant and accepted me on the spot. (On a hunch, I'd brought before and after photos of my soon-to-be-former cottage and yards.) The move happened gently, in slow stages. The money and the contractor I needed to do the electrical work and privacy fencing for my hot tub arrived at just the right moment. The things I needed to sell, sold easily. Every step of the way went smoothly.
It felt good to get smaller again, to have less and therefore less to take care of. In the old cottage, I had expanded to the point that I needed someone to help me keep up with the yard work and someone else to help me keep up with the housework. It had become more of a life than I could handle on my own. It was comforting to downsize house and gardens to a level that I could manage on my own again. I loved having more time to be still and to rest; less time required of me to tend-the-temple. And, it was a blessing not to have helpers around when I wanted to be alone.
The months of suffering through looking-and-not-finding had given me time to grieve the loss of my cherished cottage, to do the work of letting go and of feeling all the complex mix of distresses that were involved in that process. For all my doubting that I'd ever find a place as wonderful as that first cottage, this new one felt even more magical and perfect, as though the first were the rehearsal and this one the performance.
Being slowed down by circumstances (and conscious choices to not abort the painful process) had served me well; even as I hated and ranted and wept my way through the whole of it. The journey transformed me, taught me a lot about navigating through intense and difficult times. All of it expanded my ever-burgeoning trust in Spirit. All of it prepared me for what, as I wrote this tale 14 years later, was yet another cycle of having to leave a home to which I'd become quite attached. I was again in a cycle of going through countless weeks of frustrated, disheartening searching; a cycle of despairing in the middle of simultaneously trusting that Spirit had a hand in it and would surely bring what I need when the time was right.
Everything in our it's-the-bottom-line-that-counts, get-over-it and don't-just-sit-there-do-something culture constantly presses us to keep moving forward; to keep moving away from challenging emotional processes like grief, despair and pain as quickly as possible; to take action or take a pill to get over it now. Very little around us (except Pema Chodron's work) supports or encourages our taking the risk of simply staying with our selves through all of whatever emotional process is unfolding within us until it naturally completes itself. The rushing away keeps us growing ever more fearful of such processes. We worry that, were we to give in to the feelings, we might never re-emerge from their depths. This is exactly the opposite of what is actually so about emotions.
Much of New Age cant (think here of Rhonda Byme's best-selling book, The Secret) would have us leap away from intense so-called negative thoughts or feelings lest they attract more such energy and lead to negative outcomes; a don't-think/feel/say-that-or-you'll-make-it-so kind of distortion of what is true. Holding the faith and feeling the upset all the way through is how we actually heal our wounds without doing the equivalent of spiritual bypass surgery.
When we slow down and listen deep in the middle of our despair, grief, terror, frustration, irritation, rage we can dare to feel, release and heal whatever is moving within us. The knowing place inside us will help to hold us safe through the storms. And, it will help us to find our way to the authentic other side, even when there is a long trajectory to reaching it.
When we run and rush away from the hard places, we don't get to know whether the hardness is a challenge that, if met, will heal us or if the hardness is a warning signal that we are moving in a direction that is ultimately not good for us. Only going slowly enough for the listening-in will let us know which is so at the time.
Consider slowing down and listening in to the deep knowing place within you whenever you're tempted to rush through something that seems too hard to feel.