The writer found it difficult to reach the end of this deeply moving personal account, because of the extent to which she was crying.
There’s a quotation from James Hillman we tweeted the other day:-
‘..the question of evil….refers primarily to the anesthetized heart, the heart that has no reaction to what it faces.’
Chelsea’s experience is the converse – the profound suffering of the awake and alive heart, perhaps most especially in witnessing the pain of someone deeply loved, and even more so when we have – unintended – contributed to the cause of that pain. The awake heart responds with empathy and love, in presence and authenticity – and so feels a responsive pain, a vibration between self and other. This can be all but unbearable.
We live in a culture where disconnection – the anesthetized heart – is common. From the writer’s perspective this always arises from trauma of one kind or another, and risks perpetuating it. We numb our hearts because we have been hurt, and from that place we in turn cause hurt to ourselves and to others. Many accepted behaviours and social structures are founded on the normalization in our culture of disconnection and brutality – ways of being and doing that will be painful, even traumatic, to anyone with an awake heart. Babies – of course – have awake hearts. And our hearts may reawaken all through life… for example in parenthood (for nothing awakens a heart like love).
Chelsea’s account concerns the decisions that any parent must make for their child, and what might go into those decisions. Whom do we trust? How do we know what to do for the best? How do we live through the love we feel in a way that will allow this other, magical, unique, infinitely precious human being a helpful and enhancing experience of relationship with us?
From the writer’s perspective, the answer is the same as in any relationship, although the responsibility differs because our child depends so utterly upon us, to begin with. It’s about the awake heart, and the core conditions. It’s about exploring choices from a heart-open place of empathy, of authenticity, of deep respect for the sacredness of life and love for this other being. It’s about a willingness to approach the decision with attention to the other’s frame of reference, rather than what we want, or the cultural or familial ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ that may pop up. None of that will save us from feeling and causing hurt – those are inherent in relationship – but it gives us the most safety and assurance that any of us can have, in this uncertain world.
Chelsea’s account is also about trusting our own inward voice: that (sometimes small and uncertain) inward voice that says ‘ Hang on a minute’, or ‘This does not feel right’. We are so conditioned to override this voice, to call ourselves over-sensitive or silly or, or, or….And we may experience so much cultural pressure, and pressure from others, to override ourselves and press on – to adopt an external viewpoint that is not truly, deeply our own. There is a high price to pay for abandoning ourselves in this way, as Chelsea’s account so powerfully shares.
Gratitude to Chelsea for her courage in meeting her own awake heart, her inward sense of what was really happening (in preference to what we are told), and for sharing her experience. It is not easy to encounter those parts of ourselves, or those decisions we have made, which make us wince. Much more tempting to push them into the shadows. And yet it is in a willingness to look into our shadow that the most growth and learning arise; it is in exploring our shadow that we most open the gates to becoming our fuller, unanesthetized selves. As Jung says:-
“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
In having the courage not only to do this, but to share it as Chelsea has done, is to offer a gift of great worth to others. So thank you.
Palace Gate Counselling Service, Exeter
Counselling in Exeter since 1994