Currently, I’m enrolled in a 10-month counseling training program in San Francisco called Interchange. The sessions are comprised of lectures on therapeutic theories and techniques, as well as a lot of practice as both clients and counselors. This update focuses on healing old hurts and getting our whole selves back.
The sound of weeping and wailing was rising and falling like waves from the main meeting room, but the volume decreased with each step I took farther away from the group’s emotional activity.
We’d begun 30 minutes earlier with a shortened version of group meditation that involved three 20-minute segments entirely dedicated to laughter, tears, and silence. I was all game for the laughter portion where, ironically, I laughed so hard I cried. But, when it came time to allow myself to give into tears induced by sadness, not even one would fall from my eyes.
I’d already been sitting in the circle – one hundred or so people bawling theirs eyes out – for about ten minutes when I decided that I couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t bear not feeling anything in the presence of so much feeling. So, I searched for a good reason to leave the room and determined I had to pee. That’s when I started walking away.
The topic of the weekend was healing old hurts.
Before the weekend sessions, we had been prompted to bring a list of old hurts and be prepared to discuss them. Peers of mine reported being totally gutted by the emotions that accompanied their list-making time, but I’d done mine in total apathy. As I heard their reports, and saw their eyes turn glossy, I wondered what the hell was wrong with me. I didn’t feel a thing, and started wondering if I had some sort of dissociative personality disorder…or something terrible like one.
After two day-long sessions without a visceral encounter with my hurts, I began to give up hope that there would be any emotional discharge at all.
On the morning of day three, a smaller group of us were empathically greeting each other with supportive phrases meant to honor the deep rehabilitative work we’d been doing, offering phrases like, “it wasn’t your fault”; “it’s hard being human, I know”; “there’s a really good reason why this is so hard for you”; “you’re here, you showed up”; etc.
I was greeted with: “It must be hard walking around with the weight of the universe on your shoulders.” I denied the assessment with, “It’s not hard when you can’t feel it.”
The day’s session went on tear-less for me, as those around me continued releasing their anger, sadness, and regret with moving displays of feeling. Until, just before the last exercise of the day, the person who had greeted me in the morning returned to share some thoughts about my numbed-out predicament.
He told me a story in which my emotions were equated to Anne Frank hiding from the Nazis.
“You got to call them out of hiding gently because they don’t know if it’s safe yet. But, just so you know, it’s safe now.”
I thanked him for the thoughtfulness, but remained unfeeling.
Finally, while being counseled during the last exercise of the day, my partner noted that I was very observant, astute, and sensitive. Much to her surprise, that was when I began to sob.
You see, sensitive has always been a sensitive word for me because I was led to believe that being it was a bad thing. Rather than a strength, sensitivity was one of my greatest flaws as a kid. I cried about everything. Felt everything. Couldn’t let things go. I would’ve been diagnosed as autistic, if such things were as popular then as they are now. To me, being sensitive meant being incapacitated, misunderstood, and ostracized. The world didn’t know what to do with me, so I changed.
At some point during younger Dane’s life, he traded in sensitivity for apathy and, in more social moments, humor. (He was once the popular class clown.) The world accepted him as calm and, at times, funny. He liked the positive affirmations.
With this change, however, something in him had to die; it was something he once loved and appreciated. It was himself.
The mystery of my apathy was solved when I realized:
If I can’t allow myself to be sensitive, then I can’t feel the things that are needed to heal – feeling feelings is integral to healing.
It’s no wonder that I long to do the work of an artist and poet; they are given vocational permission to be sensitive – it serves their craft and contribution – and have somewhere to belong.
As I’ve been reflecting more on how much of my life has been lived in avoidance of my inconvenient sensitivity, I was reminded of how my becoming an Orthodox Christian serves this return to my true identity.
My patron saint, Porphyrios, is known for saying:
“The soul of the Christian needs to be refined and sensitive…”
Sensitive Dane was a love-filled, wide-eyed child that shame and danger forced into hiding. Now, I want that Dane back.
I am speaking to him gently: “It’s safe to come out now.”
Peace and good,
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