La-La-laughing boundaries…

There are so many joys of practicing as an EMDR therapist, and one of them, selfishly, is that I’m convinced the therapeutic effects generalise to me, especially when I’m tapping on my clients.

I had five clients today, and as with a lot of if not all attachment-traumatised people, we inevitably ended up reprocessing experiences of boundary violation, powerlessness to act or speak up, and excessive responsibility for others.

As a recovering codependent, learning to articulate and hold boundaries didn’t always come naturally to me, and at the beginning of learning how to do it, my behaviour was undoubtedly clunky and often bordering on spiky if not down-right aggressive. Eggs and omelettes…

Elementally, I understand that creating and maintaining boundaries requires all of the elements; the earth and sometimes the fire is the boundary itself, or else the fire is the force to hold it in place and respond when it’s encroached upon; the water keeps the boundary-setting flexible and creative, and the air ensures we have perspective and clarity about when and why…

Of these four, allowing and mastering my fire probably still presents my greatest challenge. I’m the girl who wants to put slippers on everyone’s feet. I’m not a natural at issuing a warning growl or small plume of dragon fire from my nostrils. I’ve learned, but it was deeply in my shadow for years.

But today I was reminded of something I’ve known for a while, and that’s that fire is also humourous and playful, the Dervish energy, and that whilst humour needs to be watched for as an unconscious defence, it can also be deployed skillfully, and in no situation better than when a boundary needs to be pointed at with a loved one.

After working with five beautiful people today, each one exploring these themes in their own ways, I was at the bus-stop on my way home, it was late, I was tired, and a colleague I’m very fond of joined me. We jumped on the bus together, starting to chat. Imagine my surprise at myself when he started to offload (his word) – still in a chatty tone – about his day and a temporary difficulty encountered, and I held up my hands, pulled a daft face, stuffed my fingers in my ears and quipped “la la la oh no no no – there shall be no EMDR-ing each other on THIS bus ride – I’m totally done for the day!”.

We both laughed together about it and continued talking “sports news weather”, as one of my friends likes to say, until my stop, where we parted ways warmly and promised to do a mini CPD session together on Thursday.

I felt light, entertained, even skillful, shame free and also entirely free of any of the resentment or heaviness I recognise when I behave, martyr-like, as if it’s always my job to always be there for everyone in matters large and small.

Would this have happened if I hadn’t just processed with all my clients? Maybe. Maybe not.

We need to beware of secondary trauma. But let’s not forget to relish it when therapeutic effects generalise!

The secret damage of lying

Is it me?

Today, I asked my Facebook friends to help me get a handle on whether I could trust the gut feeling I had that someone was lying to me. The thread ended up amusing me a lot more than I’d expected, but there was also something non-trivially healing about hearing a chorus of voices come back to me confirming that I wasn’t imagining things.

I’ll spare you the “he said she said” detail of the event; suffice to say I was messaging with a dear friend and in one of her messages she used one particular phrase, and when I read it I experienced a strong ripple of unpleasant surprise and anxiety. The tone I read into it was hostility. I went back to her to say that I wasn’t expecting her to be angry, and the reply came “I’m not angry at all”.

Lying and attachment trauma

Once upon a time, this would have felt very complicated and confusing, and I would have experienced strong anxiety, powerlessness, and impotent anger. Like many attachment-traumatised people, it’s a really familiar experience for me to be highly disturbed when what my gut is telling me is directly contradicted by what a loved one tells me.

Fragmentation into “parts”

I can almost feel the psychic fragmentation happening as parts of me separate themselves out – the part who knows what she knows and has appropriate feelings about it, the part who needs to please and appease, the part who wants to be open-minded and willing to be wrong, similar to the part who knows she can sometimes see and feel things that aren’t there (anymore). Until relatively recently, the Pleaser Appeaser would win.

Today I got the best out of the online community, and posted the phrase sent to me and asked for an assessment of the writer’s probable mood. I can’t repeat most of the replies, so let’s just say that there was a pretty clear consensus that the phrase read as an angry one.

And of course, my friend may have been angry but entirely unaware of it. Or genuinely not angry and the tone was not the one intended. Of course.

Lying to children

Nevertheless, I’ve been reflecting on and off all day, about the damage done by lying. I don’t really mean my friend’s possible lie. I’m thinking more about the kinds of attachment ruptures to do with the sensing and denial of truth when we’re younger and when the person lying is also the person we depend on, the one we love, the one who knows better.

And not that it feels like it at the time, but I’ve come to see the dilemma of the child in that moment as the dilemma of a child having to choose between two relationships: the relationship with their caregiver and the relationship with themselves.

“If I believe you, that means my sense of the truth must have been wrong; ergo, I can’t trust myself” (and eventually “I will no longer listen to myself/I will no longer even HEAR myself”).

Trust

The worst damage of lying to a child – who is an acutely sensitive little radar for the subtleties of mood – is not that you might damage the trust between you and them. It’s not even that you damage their ability to trust others now and in the future. The secret damage of lying to a child is that you damage their relationship with their own gut knowing of reality; you actually interrupt their ability to know themselves, and the world, and you leave them prey not only to intense confusion, especially interpersonal confusion but also unable to sufficiently police their own boundaries and ensure their own emotional safety because the detection of behavioural red-flags is usually overridden; like a smoke-alarm that we’ve so long assumed was malfunctioning that we don’t leave the building when it’s on fire.

Dissociation

These children often grow up into adults dissociated from their physical bodies, regularly unaware of, or unhealthily capable of enduring or ignoring physical pain, confused about who they “really” are, what they really think, or even LIKE. Any internal information about the state of the organism is treated with mistrust and disbelief or just simply never consciously received.

And the worst damage of lying to an adult who was an attachment-traumatised child is that you reintroduce the self-doubt and confusion that most of them have worked so hard to uninstall.

Awkward honesty

Whilst today’s experience was a relatively trivial one, it reminded me of the preciousness of honesty about the big things and the small, and especially about subtle perceptions of mood that are so easy to deny because we have no direct access to the other person’s subjective experience. The relationships I’ve come to treasure are relationships with people who, when I check whether my sense of their mood is accurate, will tell me the truth no matter how inconvenient or awkward it is.

A few years ago, a client told me she thought I was angry with her in a particular moment in a previous session. We explored the experience from lots of different angles, but before the end of the session, I realised it was essential that I tell her the truth, because I had been angry at that moment.

Reconnecting to ourselves

I don’t think it’s enough to stop at the (always rich) explorations of “and what was that like for you?”, “and what if I said I had been…?”, “and what if I said I wasn’t….?”, and “and is that a familiar experience to you?”. We have a window of opportunity to assist our clients to reforge the relationship between them and themselves, to discover they are trust-worthy to themselves. I think these moments call for the highest ethical standards of congruence, authenticity and judicious self-disclosure.

Poetically put, and paraphrasing Khaled Hosseini, I’ve believed for a long time that lying is stealing a person’s access to reality; but these days I’ve also realised that it risks vandalising their relationship with themselves.

Stop trying to be good…

We all know it.

It is perennial, the common seed, the golden rule, the jumping-off point for every possible path of enlightenment.

We are called to forget ourselves. To practice radical kindness, forgiveness, and non-judgement. This is the only way of Being In The World that will yield sustainable and satisfying peace and joy, and that will redeem our sorry, war-torn, unequal, division-riven world.

However.

Whilst the road to transformation for the arrogant, the superior, the unkind, and the selfish person may be a straight one, it cannot be so for everyone.

For the ones who always had to be good, whose only alternative was to be kind, who could not afford the price of a quick temper, a bad mood, a selfish demand or a moment of laziness – the road of transformation is a dark and overgrown one through a thorny forest away from the sunlight.

Edward John Poynter (1839–1919), “Orpheus and Eurydice”

For these, the journey must be Orphetic. They must descend into the underworld, find the banished self of indolence, selfishness, ill-temper, judgementalism, and blame, then grasp her by the hand and live her up into the light of day.

No turning around to see her hideousness and so shame her back into the ground, but tramping on faithfully through wasted days and god-forbidden tempers. And every time the reasonable voice says “now that must be enough” the reply must be “not yet, perhaps another year or two to go”. Until one day we have finally caught up with all those bastards who have lived this way with none of our own compunction, have overtaken them, by at least a nose, and have found, finally, the genuine emptiness of being only self-absorbed, resentful and lazy. And like a man reaching an oasis after forty years in the desert, we truly want to drink the water that four decades ago we only knew we were supposed to drink.

Only redeemed selflessness, forgiveness, tolerance, and charity has the power to transform. If we have never touched the shadow, those attitudes of spirit are nothing but corrupted lines of programming; living out from them only further twists our insides, and there will be no fruit.

Bad times?

When I was very ill with Panic Disorder six years ago, I was unable to maintain my default position of having it all together, being a source of strength and nurture for others, and being professionally successful. I was a lot more vulnerable, and with it, I was softer, quieter and needed love from other people more often. Being able to receive that love was so heart opening, and let me drop even more deeply into softness and quietness.

When a client – especially one like me: well-defended and high-functioning – comes for a session in particular distress, needing particular love and kindness and support, there’s usually a very beautiful atmosphere that descends on the session; a sweetness and a sense of gratitude and warmth.

Likewise, when someone we love is suffering, as much as we’d give anything to take that suffering away, nevertheless there is an unusual space that opens up for something much more tender and connectful; between us and the suffering person, and between the people present for their loved one.

Traditionally disconnected or distant relationships often experience a temporary break in the clouds while closeness and support become more necessary; while there is a tangible and immediate reason for hearts to be more open.

It seems as if crisis and suffering offer a doorway that allows people to step out from their more familiar or entrenched positions in family, friendship or professoinal dynamics to stand in the street together and look around to simply see what is needed, and offer it.

Some of the kindest things I’ve ever done have necessarily been in response to the suffering of someone in some way close to me, and the experience of being in that position, to give and to be of use, is an experience I treasure. It’s sweet and tender. And the most connectful moments I’ve had with other human beings have been in my own moments of deepest need and pain: like the time I was wrapped up in a duvet and held whilst laying on the living room floor of a house where I was having a major panic attack, or when the director of my training institution came across me sitting outside a shop crying on my own, sat down next to me, put his arm around my shoulders and promised that the college would help me get through what I was going through.

Would I be without the panic attacks? Obviously.

But would I be without those moments of vulnerability, connection and love?

I’ve realised that it’s harder than it seems at first glance to separate the bad times from the good times. Some of the most precious experiences depend on some of the most painful ones.

My sense is that most of the world’s spiritual traditions encourage us to stay more permanently in this experience of openness, connection, vulnerability, and need-met-by-generosity. What experience shows me is that more typically, when the danger has passed, we tend to head back behind our doors, our defenses, and our hard noses.

At best, perhaps our relationships with one another do remain fundamentally changed for the better, knowing that we at least were there for one another, and that we have shared a bittersweet journey.

And so whilst this is the case, it feels important to not miss the deep value of difficult times and to appreciate the open-heartedness that we experience when they come, knowing that the extended and beautiful moment will eventually pass.

Freeze!

I really love the work the NICABM does. Here’s their smart infographic on trauma responses and how the freeze reaction is neither a cognitive decision nor a failure to do the best thing but an evolutionarily adaptive response.

Interesting in particular to note that “freeze” and even the possible “flop” response (so we now know it’s not just fight-or-flight but flight, flight, freeze or flop) is an automated response to the perception of the danger being inescapable.

This is one of the key features of an experience that increases the likelihood of the individual being traumatised by it. And this makes a lot of sense in the context not just of ‘single-incident adult-onset trauma’ but also relational trauma or c-PTSD with a childhood onset. Children are regularly helpless in the face of threat and especially threat from their carers. They are more helpless physically, and particularly helpless for psychological reasons if the dangerous person is also needed for the child’s survival and nurture.

And I’ve been wondering, for those of us with c-PTSD, whether freezing becomes the most likely response as a global survival strategy throughout our lives if it was consistently the most appropriate response in childhood, even if we’re not actually helpless in a situation. If part of what we learn and then don’t unlearn is that we are helpless. Which puts me in mind of the much older research of Martin Seligman into “learned helplessness” as a redescription of depression (Seligman, M.E.P. (1972) “Learned Helplessness”. Annual Review of Medicine Vol 23 p407-412).

And this also puts me in mind – as everything seems to! – of the importance of working with ‘parts’ of the self and learning to distinguish between a surfacing child-part who remembers feeling helpless, and the functioning adult part who, if she can be kept “on-line”, can be facilitated through therapeutic experiences of rediscovering, especially in her body, her potency.

Keeping this functioning adult part online is effectively achieved in two ways. Firstly by maintaining relational engagement with the client during a moment in therapy when a strong experience with historic origins begins to surface. Secondly by encouraging so-called vertical-integration in the brain by having the client observe or ‘notice’ and report their experience, rather than being taken over by it.

I have two vivid memories of sessions with my c-PTSD therapist, working through old experiences of helplessness in the kinds of ways described in the wonderful book “Healing the Heart of Trauma and Dissociation with EMDR and Ego State Therapy“. In one session I described the situation as vividly as possible, and the accompanying feelings and sensations surfacing, but with an emphasis on visually imagining the child I was as seen from the outside, through the eyes of the adult I am now, and then creating a continuation of the event in which I as the adult intervene and take the child to safety and provide her with soothing and reassurance. In the other session, my therapist facilitated me to move between a body posture congruent with the feelings of helplessness and impotent rage and an upright standing position culminating in me placing my hands firmly on a wall and pushing hard against it, to give myself proprioceptive feedback about my own strength and size.

So if freezing or even completely shutting down are familiar responses for you, firstly know that this is an effective survival response initiated automatically by your nervous system. Secondly, it may be a current way of coping now because it was the only way of coping a long time ago, and by engaging with your body and your imagination it is possible to generate new experiences of potency as opposed to helplessness which may well mean that over time, your nervous system will use new and alternative survival strategies in moments of stress and threat.

 

Letting myselves finish…

On Monday night the Guild for Analytical Psychologists hosted the fascinating lecture “Freeing Up Thinking – Sport, Psychoanalysis and Everyday Life” by Michael Brearley OBE, ex-captain of the England cricket team and a practicing psychoanalyst. It was one of those delicious moments of convergence, and I left feeling very excited. In the last five years, my work as a client, as well as a therapist, spiraled in on a way of understanding the self that is shared by practitioners of Ego State Therapy, Internal Family Systems, and sub-personalities work.

The self – that ‘centre of experience and source of action’ – is not one but many; consisting of parts – who knows the number – who frankly often disagree, fight for control, override one another. To quote the poet Walt Whitman – “We are multitudes”.

Michael opened with the final verse of William Ernest Hemley’s poem “Invictus” –

It matters not how straight the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

and spent the next hour exploring the brilliant idea of ‘self-captaining’, where the self is made of Aristotelian parts ‘speaking with like voices’, and where happiness is given the Greek name ‘eudaimonia’ meaning literally that one is in friendly communication with ones inner ‘daimons’ or spirits – plural.

Like all the most inspired and inspiring leaders, Brearley, as a captain in the world of cricket, believed that being a captain wasn’t just about telling, directing, and controlling. He believed in providing support, for the individual and the collective. In maintaining interested contact and relationship with all members of his team. He was involved. He even went as far as talking about having provided love – tough love sometimes – for everyone. He strove to understand, to value, and also to confront, not for punitive reasons, but for the sake of the development of the individual and the team.

Brearley talked about the importance of participation and freedom, about flattening the hierarchy and inviting input from everyone, no matter how contrary the opinions. Of all speakers being “allowed to finish” without interruption. He was genuinely willing to reconsider assumptions and to learn, and he trusted that any tension and contradiction between members of his team could be held and valued as creative rather than destructive tension and that from such fertile chaos might emerge new and exciting possibilities.

Having written books (“On Form” (2017) and “The Art of Captaincy” (1985)) that explore the psychology of performance and effective leadership, Mike realised that his perspective on leadership could be applied powerfully to the world of internal relationships – with and between the parts of the self. Which takes us firmly into the realm of Jung’s perspective; self-captaining by giving house-room to all the secret parts in order that we might become more whole and experience a deeper sense of our fullest self – of all that we might amount to – and in order that from the tension between necessary orthodoxy and creative disruption might be born new perspectives and new alternatives for action.

During the Q&A, someone referenced Steve Peters’ Chimp Paradox and asked how on earth we are to decide between a course of action favoured by ‘the inner chimp’ and one proposed by what he referred to as ‘the rational part’. Notwithstanding the assumptions in the question – that the chimp’s preference won’t be rational, and that these are the only parts to be considered – this exploration really caught my attention.

I loved Michael Brearley’s first thoughts which were along the lines that it all really depends on which of the two parts one usually gives precedence to and that for the stalwartly rational person, a bit more chimp would probably be a good thing, whilst for the habitually chimpy one, engagement with the so-called rational part is most likely what that person needs to practice more of to get the most from themselves and their life.

But what excited me even more about this exploration was the way the speaker moved the exploration on from being quite “schizoid” and insistent on certainty. His consideration was a real-time example of engaging with the unknown with curiosity. It emphasised the risky, radical but deeply alive nature of allowing all voices – whether they’re internal or external – to be engaged with and to have their say. To be allowed to finish.

It prompted me to think about how we go about ‘othering’ – people, groups, and especially parts of ourselves. How we exile them and how, if exiled, they have little choice but to mount their own resistance movement, fuelled by the frustration of exclusion. There’s nothing more likely to make the chimp even more chimpy, surely, than shoving it in a cage and showing it contempt.

Earlier the same day, I’d watched an excerpt of a documentary about the footballer Ian Wright. In this few-minute-long video he talks about the first positive male role model in his life, a teacher called Mr. Pigden, and how when Ian was acting out aggressively Mr. Pigden would talk to him, engage with him, try to understand him. And how that teacher started involving him and giving him responsibilities around the school, and then when the teacher saw that he was a talented football player, Mr. Pigden started to give him some coaching.

I’ve been left thinking about how scared we can be of engaging with a person who we’ve experienced as only destructive or negative in some way, how we avoid them if we can, and what courage, wisdom, and skill it takes to look through behaviours to see the positive tendency buried inside them. To look through aggression to the power, fire and drive the person has, for instance.

And I’ve been left reflecting on the exact same fear we usually have of engaging with a part of ourselves which we have never considered could have any value and is only to be reined in and held at bay. How frightening it is to consider making space at the table for that part on the assumption that it will ultimately make us more whole if we do. That the part will integrate into the whole system in a way that opens up new experiential and behaviourally creative options for us. That it won’t simply disrupt, and that its dangerous nature is at least to some extent a reaction to having been othered and exiled.

In the end, I walked away more convinced than ever that my role in the therapy space is to provide the invitation, welcome, and space for all of the multitudes in my client, with trust that ultimately if I can be in friendly communication with my client’s inner spirits then one day so can my client. Or perhaps more strikingly, that all of those inner spirits are themselves my clients, striving to be allowed up into the light to find their place at a safe table where they might join together with a captain who wants and needs them to participate, and who knows how to get the very best out of them individually and as a family system.

What a radically different family system that would probably be from the ones so many of us grew up in.

#fatboy-slim-mindfulness

Angry woman wields baseball bat 50s cartoon style image for fatboy slim Mindfulness and anger postIt tickled me, in the gym today sweating on the cross trainer, to hear a track by @FatBoySlim that I’d not heard before. I was tickled because it was a cracking advert for Mindfulness in a, shall we say, unexpected format!

There’s no way of quoting the lyrics without sounding like someone’s square and very English aunty … But work with me here…

Where u iz iz where it’s at

An’ you can’t beat that with a baseball bat

If Mr Cook is reading, then firstly, amen to that, sir. There are a lot of great reasons to agree that the present moment is the healthiest place for us to be, as opposed to ruminating on the past or the future. That you ‘can’t beat it’ as a hyperbolic recommendation. But I’ll leave it to the real Mindfulness experts to convince you.

But perhaps it won’t surprise you, if you’ve read more than a couple of my blogs to do with anger, to read that I’d like to jokingly take issue with the statement that you “can’t” beat the present with a baseball bat.

Obviously I realise Norman’s just my straw-man here, but it’s a bit of fun.

I’m a big fan of gestalt ways of working, of body-based psychotherapy, and of the Hoffman Process. Anyone who’s done Hoffman knows more than they ever expected to about baseball bats and “bashing”. And at least at this point in my career as a therapist I seem to be specialising in supporting my clients to shed their shame fear and inhibition around anger – which I think culturally as well as individually is still a big taboo in England – and find ways of expressing it with their bodies not just their voices. Especially with their bodies.

Most of my clients, and most of my colleagues’ clients, are people who need help with expressing – with even feeling – their anger, not help containing it. So if where it is for a client involves being angry about something, then these days they get handed the red foam bat  a cushion to beat and invitation to go to it.

The last thing to say about this, in Mr Slim’s defence, is that maybe you don’t need to (rather than can’t) beat the present with a baseball bat, because it’s the past – the where-it-woz rather than the where-it-iz – that really needs beating. What I mean is that it’s the pent up forbidden unexpressed impotent and overwhelming rage of the past that needs beating with the bat. The anger that we’ve chewed choked and swallowed down, watched over by the injunction that Thou Shallt Not Be Angry. And the gift of present-day circumstances is when they open a time-portal of familiarity back to the moments when we were so very very understandbly and overwhelmingly angry but could not afford to be because the interpersonal price was too high. 

And you CAN beat that with a bat.

Destination Reality

Woman pulling off smiling mask to reveal angry crying faceThis week two pieces of inspiration have landed in my lap to meet me exactly where I was finding myself and exactly where I’ve increasingly been meeting my clients.

In reality.

Francis Weller’s utterly beautiful article “The Geography of Sorrow” focuses on the essential nature of allowing ourselves grief – whether it be personal, relational, societal, historical or ecological. READ THIS ARTICLE. And don’t expect only food for thought. I was taken deep into myself and my own reservoir of grief just reading this wonderful piece. It was healing in itself.

The second piece is Susan David’s rallying TED Talk cry to develop emotional agility sufficient for meeting life on life’s terms, exactly as it is, and to shake off the “tyranny of positivity” that has turned the best of the positive psychology movement into the worst “form of moral correctness”.

I feel as if I’ve ingested a line from each of these two as paddles for my own personal navigation of my day to day life, and for my professional navigation of the worlds of the individuals I work with;

“Life’s beauty is inseparable from its fragility,”

says Susan David.

 “The work of the mature person is to carry grief in one hand and gratitude in the other and to be stretched large by them. How much sorrow can I hold? That’s how much gratitude I can give.”

says Francis Weller

And then, on Friday, a longstanding and dear friend pointed out to me this week that Massive Attack’s “Protection” is 24 years old this year, and I was listening to the title track walking through the City on Friday night, and re-registering the line

“You can’t change the way she feels but you can put your arms around her”.

It’s the same message. Radical acceptance. Not fixing. Not avoiding. Just meeting myself, another, life, exactly as it is, with curiosity, compassion, and courage.

Susan David says

“Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.”

If I want to create something, I have to risk failure and disappointment. If I want to love and be loved, I have to risk heartbreak and loss. If I want to leave this world a better place I have to risk feeling impotent rage at injustice, or a temporally inconvenient surge of protectiveness towards someone in need. If I want to live the most expansive life possible and be all that I can be before I die, I have to learn to contain ambiguity, questions, pain, and uncertainties and allow myself to respond.

All of these reflections have intersected with the questions I’ve been asking myself about faith and the extent to which I believe the things I do because those beliefs buffer me from acute discomfort. Does the act itself of crying out to God protect me from the full extent of my rage or grief by implying that something outside of me will deliver me? Or even just give me strength? Does that increase my resilience or constrict it? I don’t want to step back from my relationship with God to “find out what I’m made of without Her” as some act of spiritual or emotional machismo or anti-dependence/vulnerability. And I don’t want to assuage discomfort that would otherwise mobilise me…

I don’t know.

Roar…

rage firebowlThe kind of trauma that creates c-PTSD. Let alone the phenomenon of feeling-flashbacks. Still so little understood.

Rage; roaring eviscerating howling excoriating rage. Still so entirely unaccepted.

And there is nothing that better feeds the fire of my nuclearly destructive flashbacks than having my roar met with defense, reasoning, alternative perspectives, New Age Being of Light Instant-Forgiveness-Tablet spiritual bypass sh*t, or silent rejection.

I am sorry to every poor soul whose anger I ever tried to assuage, divert or make wrong. I just didn’t understand the necessity, let alone the vitality. And of course more than that, the birth of the c-PTSD I live with was a violent birth. As soon as I could, rage was banished; from me, and if I could, from everyone around me. I was never going to inflict on anyone else what I witnessed and what had been inflicted on me, and I was never going to turn into that. But if you kill the rage you kill the fire: the passion, the drive, the creative crackle, the joy, the intuition, the play, the roaring laughter, the protective instinct, the capacity to forge and hold boundaries and say – and howl – ENOUGH.

I am grateful beyond words to John Lee, the author of Facing the Fire, who showed me how to stop hiding the light of my flames and gave me permission to burn.

It’s said in certain “rooms” that the good news is, you get your feelings back. And the bad news is, you get your feelings back.

Now my rage is back and sometimes it feels like it might burn forever. And hell, but it actually physically burns. When it comes, in the pit of my stomach, it sears and it contracts. It feels just like some batholithic subterranean worm that was slumbering like a fat wet slug of gentle and inoffensive grief and now is turning and heaving grinding plates of stuck earth against each other above it until it lifts my rib-cage and twists my in-detest-ines. I wonder at how I ever kept this monster down for so long. The energy that unconscious feat has been stealing from me is inconceivable.

So tonight after reading a deeply unkind and unjust email, I burst into flames and I let it burn me like a torch. And after howling, spitting, punching kicking and battering (poor pillow, great bat), I dragged my fire bowl into the back garden where I shredded tore and twisted my enormous stockpile of packaging paper and boxes, and felt so sorry that we have all mostly lost our ancient earth-based traditions and rituals, and so glad I could understand my rage as my fire, and my allowing it to burn me as my calcinatio of transformation. I knew with my whole heart that this was nothing to do with wanting or needing to burn away, leave behind, or offer up the anger itself, to be free of it. Don’t take it from me! It may as well be my child stolen away and kept till now in darkness and only just brought home, for the fierce protectiveness I feel for it these days. The firebowl was my honouring of these forces in me – of me – that feel so awesome that it amazes me that I could have that howling around in my gut and yet stand still and have no-one notice.

But I sensed that I was needing to burn away still more of my resistance to my own and other people’s anger, and more strands of those attachment-at-all-costs-vines that keep me tied to people who repeatedly hurt me, as well as those who can’t give me space to roar from time to time. I’d like to start believing that if they can’t take the heat, they don’t get invited to the bonfire party…