I’ve been on this journey of spiritual unfoldment for almost four decades now, and what I have noticed is that my learning has a particular rhythm to it. To put it bluntly, I seem to toggle between being really in and then really out of my body. I choose the word rhythm deliberately, especially as a musical concept, because it involves both sound and the space between sound. Both are necessary in order for the rhythm to be heard. Even as you read this, you read the word and then you need the space between the word in order to understand, otherwise it’s just a string of nonsensical letters.
For months, I might go deeply into the stillness of meditation and inquiry, a quiet exploration about the nature of being. Hours will pass as I sit, contemplate, write and reflect, barely noticing fatigue or thirst or hunger. I still care for the people and circumstances of my life, but it has a quality of distance, as if I am leaning away from them a bit - but most everything gets done as it should. Then I seem to get spit out the other end of this contemplative period with intense bodily awareness and relational tension.
The body awareness is usually sparked by physical pain. The discomfort will be insistent and persistent, and interfere with almost every aspect of my life, especially sleep. The relational awareness is triggered by a drama or crisis in my close network. And I ride a wave of intense “reality” while trying to remain anchored in my soul. It is challenging, frustrating, and occasionally defeating. It took me years to realize that every one of these deeply challenging periods of pain and tension has actually catalyzed my deepest learning as to how to serve others. In this line of work, understanding the language of feeling and sensation, especially the subtle ones, is crucially important. I can read case studies all day long, but if I don’t know what deep grief or betrayl or chronic pain feels like, my sessions might be cold and clinical. That is never my desire. Each of the difficult times has forced me to incorporate more and more understanding about the human body and our nervous and emotional system, and how it persists in trying to get our attention.
The relational difficulties and traumas that arise in these cycles have pointed to thorny issues within my belief system, what I allow and what I block, as well challenging my level of compassion, empathy and vulnerability. Each of those intensely human sufferings has increased my library of experiences and further deepened my understanding of loss, chronic illness, separation, loneliness, confusion, helplessness, and even hopelessness, feelings which generally drive people to seek out the guidance of someone like me. At some point, when I have reached a new understanding or a tipping point, the pain or tension or drama will ease, and I will then go back into the contemplative period and sit with all I have experienced, and allow it to settle in. I think of these cycles in teaching terms: I used to joke that the teaching assistants were better instructors because they could still relate to the pain and frustration of assimilating new info, whereas the faculty had too much distance from that experience. It seems my rhythm keeps me grounded in and learning about human suffering.
What has changed over the decades is the ratio of time in and time out. I have a lot more harmony and time in stillness, and a lot less time assimilating painful experiences. And I can see pretty clearly the cause and effect of the painful experiences now. There is a lot less wondering and wandering in the dark.
It's an interesting exercise to look back over the past year and see if you notice rhythms and patterns in your own experience of life. What discomforts and beliefs were challenged before negative events? Maybe you get sick once a month; what were you feeling, what happened before you got sick? Maybe you have a quarrel with someone every few weeks; what was going on inside you before and after that quarrel? Have you switched jobs – or significant others - every 18 months? What feeling led to those decisions? To be blunt, what snaps you out of contentment? Self-understanding not only empowers, it can reduce some of those persistent physical complaints and daily dramas, and ultimately lead to improved overall system health.
What’s your rhythm?