Part 1 of a continuing series documenting and reflecting on a set of states I mapped and moved in 2008. The set revolves around a deeply buried, internalized violence taken on in childhood and adolescence in response to experiences with my father.
What follows is a deep dive, mapping and moving a full, nine-part set in January of 2008, a year or so after having established the nine-part architecture. It was around this time that my personal work began to make giant leaps forward with each deep dive, rather than the incremental, two-steps-forward-one-step-back progress I had become accustomed to.
I wrote about this dive in my 2011 book, The Feeling Path, so much of what follows will hew closely to that text. Assume that reflections on the journey are from the book unless I identify them clearly as current comments.
I’m sharing this here now partly to satisfy a need arising from publication of my partner Spring’s new book, The Resonance Code. In that book she includes a chapter on Feelingwork in which she shares excerpts from this section of my journey as a way to illustrate the Feelingwork experience. Because she had only enough room to share part of the work of this set, we decided to offer the complete documentation here, so people could see how everything fits together.
Another reason for me to share this now has to do with my current journey. In recent years I’ve been regularly engaging full, three-set constellations in my personal work. This past fall I worked on a constellation I called Displaced, having to do with a sense of orphanhood extending back into my earliest years, an experience of being perpetually displaced from the place to which I properly belonged, (which as far as I could tell, never existed). This was a truly deep dive, and the repercussions of working the constellation contain echoes of this set I am about to share with you here from eleven years ago.
One of those echoes has to do with my relationship with my father. As you will see, (or perhaps have already begun to see if you’re coming here from Chapter Six of The Resonance Code), some of the worst aspects of my father took up residence deep inside me starting from a very young age. I intend to share this most recent constellation at some point in the future. More than for any other work I’ve done, I documented the entire process step by step, including the ups and downs and in-betweens. When I do share it, I’ll bring it up to date, to this point here as I write, where I make the connection with the past, with this set I’m about to share with you now. I’ll leave further illumination of the connection for that future time.
For now, let me commence. What follows is, in normal text, my reflections from The Feeling Path in 2011, and in italics, my actual mapping text.
[NOTE: A couple of the memories I share, including this first one below, are graphic and may be upsetting. Tread lightly if you have a similar history to mine.]
A simple setting: dinnertime, summer, a row home in Northeast Philadelphia, 1964. I was five, my sister three. As was typical, the tension and angst in the house were thick enough to need a chainsaw if you were to have any hope of cutting through it. My sister picked at her food. Maybe it was the vegetables she didn’t like, or maybe it was the atmosphere that made the lump in her throat too big to get the food down, I don’t know for sure. But this small tinder was enough to set the angst ablaze.
After threats, after intimidation, after shouting failed to get the job done, my father snapped, wrenched her off her chair, and spanked the living hell out of her. Her screams pierced like the cry of a tortured cat, and I was sure the entire neighborhood could hear. My mother sat there paralyzed, her own distress spewing hot black billows of wretched emotion. After the beating, my sister still did not eat, but only cried. This little drama played itself out with minor variations that summer, on nights my father was home.
I cried too, helpless to do anything to help her, perhaps confused and angry at the failure of my mother to lift her voice to stop the insanity. I don’t remember feeling angry at my father at this point in the story; perhaps I had already learned to suppress that, or maybe I was mostly just terrified. His violence and the constant threat of violence were a given, simply one of the conditions of life. And any expression of anger about it was a sure way to bring instant retribution and a multiplying of any punishment or humiliation that was being delivered. By the age of five I had learned to shut down a wide range of impulses.