Falling Through: One Man’s Fear of Feeling February 22, 2013
(Note: In keeping with my latest theme of the wounded masculine, I’m pleased to share this piece by guest blogger, Rick Belden. Rick is an author and a poet who has struggled to get in touch with his feelings throughout his adult life. As you’ll see in this post, he’s learned how to use his creative imagination to heal the wounds of his childhood. Below, I’ve included comments that were made to his original post. Please feel free to add your own. Rick and I will gladly respond. Enjoy. Jeanie)
Today’s poem on video, “falling through”, is from my upcoming book Scapegoat’s Cross: Poems about Finding and Reclaiming the Lost Man Within.
The subject of today’s poem is grief, or more to the point, my fear of feeling and expressing my grief. Actually, fear is much too mild a word for what I feel when I get close to my grief, sadness, and pain. A far more accurate word would be terror.
The source of this terror is not a mystery. I clearly remember the words I heard countless times as a child: Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about. This was not an idle threat, as I had the great misfortune to discover many times when I was unable to “control myself” in time to avoid the consequences of my own tears. Crying only brought more pain. Tears only meant more tears. Any open expression of grief, sadness, and pain was a potential threat to my very existence, and over time I learned to hold those feelings tight, deep inside myself, to survive.
This conditioning against explicit expressions of grief and sadness didn’t end with home and family. It continued in school, with teachers and coaches, on the playground, and with friends. Like every other boy, I knew that crying was the worst sin I could commit in public. On those few occasions when I was unable to avoid doing it, the shame, the isolation, and the horror I felt were beyond words.
By the time I was into my teens, I pretty much had the crying thing well under control. It just didn’t happen anymore, not around others and not when I was alone either. But I still had one more defining experience ahead of me.
When I was almost 23, I was going through a very long and difficult breakup with my first girlfriend. We’d moved across the country together when I was 19, from New York to Texas, and lived together for several years, but now we were each living in our own places for the first time, and I was finding it very difficult.
One evening she came over to visit, and as we were talking, I began to cry. I’d never cried in front of her before, not even when she’d cheated on me, but this time I simply couldn’t help myself. I missed her, I was struggling with school and finances, and I was just so damn lonely. Her response was immediate: “If you don’t stop crying, I’m leaving.” The last thing I wanted in that moment was to be left all alone, so I buttoned right up. And I stayed buttoned up for years afterward.
Those were the lessons I learned about feeling and expressing grief and sadness. I learned that crying brings pain, punishment, violence, shame, rejection, isolation, and abandonment. I learned that crying only makes things worse. I learned to fear my own grief. I learned that tears can be like death.
Many years of hard personal work have shown me that allowing myself to feel and express my sadness and grief is a healthy and necessary part of being fully human. It is liberating. It’s completely natural. It’s cleansing. It brings peace and perspective. It is a source of great strength, an answer and an antidote to anger, and a door to forgiveness.
I’ve cried, wept, sobbed, moaned, and howled through tears many, many times, and it hasn’t killed me yet. To the contrary, I always feel much better, much freer, and much more present with myself afterward. And yet that deep conditioning I described still holds some sway over me. I’m still afraid to cry.
Sometimes that fear stops me and sometimes it doesn’t. As expressed in today’s poem, the key to accessing my grief and sadness, to moving it up and out, is always right here with me in my body. The challenge is to feel the energy below the surface and let it rise even as I am feeling my fear. Maybe someday my tears can come without having to struggle through all that fear. That is my hope.
For more poetry on video, visit my YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/rickbeldenpoet.
Rick Belden is the author of Iron Man Family Outing: Poems about Transition into a More Conscious Manhood. His book is widely used in the United States and internationally by therapists, counselors, and men’s groups as an aid in the exploration of masculine psychology and men’s issues, and as a resource for men who grew up in dysfunctional, abusive, or neglectful family systems. His second book, Scapegoat’s Cross: Poems about Finding and Reclaiming the Lost Man Within, is currently awaiting publication. He lives in Austin, Texas.
The Poetry on video: “falling through” by Rick Belden, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
(Jeanie again: You know how I love synchronicities! As I was scheduling this post I received an e-mail with a link to another dialogue about gender. Do you think someone’s trying to tell us something? Check it out here: http://beyondawakeningseries.com/blog/terry-patten/farrel2-12b/)
Animal Healers January 3, 2012
Recently I babysat a precious golden retriever puppy for three days so my son and his wife could give her to their sons on Christmas morning. During that time she developed some “digestive” issues and by Christmas day she was in obvious distress. Was it my fault? Had she eaten a poisonous plant in our yard or swallowed something she couldn’t pass? The thought that I might be responsible was agonizing and I wondered for the umpteenth time why we get so attached to animals and experience some of our greatest joys and deepest sorrows because of them.
Certainly mammals have body structures, nervous systems, organs, instinctual needs, and even DNA very similar to ours. So when they’re sick, wounded or in pain, we know how they feel. Moreover, although most animals can try to flee from danger, there are always forces—including humans and Nature herself—that are far more powerful. Knowing our own fears and vulnerability, we can relate to that aspect of animals too.
Then there’s the unconditional love some animals give us. It’s so comforting when your dog follows you around, your cat purrs contentedly in your lap, or your horse comes running at your approach. You feel known, appreciated, valued and of value. A happy, thriving pet reminds you that you can be loving, nurturing and morally responsible. We crave these good feelings and love the animals who elicit them, so it’s only natural that we get emotional when they suffer or die.
Repression and projection have something to do with this too. All of us deny some of our unwanted qualities and project them onto people and animals. For example, you might repress feelings of sadness, loneliness and self-pity and dislike people who are always feeling sorry for themselves, yet you can feel painfully sorry for sad-eyed animals who are lost, neglected or abused. And let’s face it: feeling sympathy for an animal is better than feeling nothing at all!
The bottom line is that we all need humanizing and healing, and for whatever reason, animals have an uncanny knack for helping; especially with emotions like love, pain, and grief. For instance, when my parents divorced I cried my heart out. But when my father died three months later I didn’t shed a tear. I was so traumatized that I shut down emotionally so I wouldn’t hurt any more. Denying pain became so important to me that I even refused novocaine when I went to the dentist! For years I couldn’t cry for myself, and my obsessive stoicism wasn’t always easy to be around, but I could practically use up a box of tissues watching an animal movie. I still can!
Over the years Miss Lottie, a sensuous siamese cat; Peri, a perky little chihuahua/terrier mix; Shadow, an elegant, high-strung thoroughbred gelding; and Bear, a handsome and gentle golden retriever, have been my teachers, therapists and healers. Training and caring for them taught me patience and respect for the ways of others. Their simple joy in being alive taught me greater awareness and appreciation for my body and the life in it. Their love and devotion to me helped me feel and express more tenderness and love to everyone, including myself. And the tears I shed at their deaths softened my heart and taught me more compassion.
By the way, Isabella, or Izzy as Matt’s family calls their new puppy, is fine! Apparently her problem was caused by the supposedly “safe” puppy chews I gave her to keep her from chewing on the furniture! So it was my fault. This is tough for me to take, but being the sweet little love sponge that she is, I know she wouldn’t want me to blame myself. I’m trying not to…
The Hidden Lesson of Grief July 22, 2011
I’ve been thinking about grief ever since my last post about the loss of my dog, Bear. I kept wiping away tears as I wrote it, then again when I read and responded to the kind comments I received. Where do these tears come from? Is this only about missing Bear or is something else going on? These questions remind me of something the Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard once said: that much of the grief we feel when someone dies is for ourselves.
This feels profound and somehow comforting. But what does it mean? Consider this: loss and loneliness are about how we feel. The one who’s gone isn’t hurting any more. It’s we who are hurting, and we don’t like pain. Is Kierkegaard saying some of our grief is self-pity? Because something we love has been taken from us and we will never derive pleasure from it again?
Could some of our grief also come from anger at forces over which we have no control which have arbitrarily taken something we want and love away from us? Don’t we express our outrage in words like, “Why did you leave me? Why do I have to go through this pain? It’s not fair!”
And doesn’t much of our pain come from regret and guilt too? Perhaps we think we weren’t grateful or present enough to the one we loved. Or sometimes we were selfish, impatient or angry. Or didn’t try hard enough to understand and communicate. Or weren’t giving enough.
I find Kierkegaard’s insight comforting, partly because it reassures me that everyone experiences similar feelings, and partly because this knowledge gives me things to do that make my loss easier to bear. I can’t bring Bear back to life, but I can feel sympathy for my ego whose desires have been thwarted. I can stop beating myself up for being angry when he had accidents on my rugs, or for sometimes taking his unconditional love for granted. And I can start looking for the unconscious factors which are prolonging my grief.
My tears are messages from my body and psyche that I am suffering. As Nisargadatta says, “Suffering is due entirely to clinging or resisting; it is a sign of unwillingness to move on, to flow with life.” Apparently I don’t believe I deserve release, joy and forgiveness. Apparently I don’t love my whole self. This is the hidden lesson of grief, and learning it can help me move on.
The next time I cry I can ask myself: What am I resisting? To what am I clinging? Do I cling to my Orphan’s self-pity because her sadness brings me sympathy? Do I like my Warrior’s anger and self-criticism because they make me feel wise, stoic and tough? Does feeling guilty make me believe I am a responsible, caring person? Do I need these grief-inducing ego-boosters in order to believe I am worthy of love? And the big question: can I accept my dysfunction as a natural by-product of the human condition and forgive and love myself anyway?
Lest we be tempted to believe we’re being self-indulgent to take our inner lives so seriously, we can remember these wise words from Parker Palmer: “Self-care is never a selfish act, it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others. Anytime we can listen to our true self, and give it the care it requires, we do so not only for ourselves, but for the many others whose lives we touch.”