This work is intense and life changing. Going deep with Feelingwork requires good support and a strong commitment to completing the process. It is an arduous journey but perhaps the most satisfying thing you will ever do. What follows in the next few posts is the story of Louise, (not her real name), who worked with me intensively for about three months in 2011 and was gracious enough to write the story of her journey. What follows is in her words, with my commentary from time to time in italics.
They say that you find love when you stop looking. I found understanding when I stopped searching for it.
I have always been frustrated by the limits of my own mind. I longed for true knowledge and understanding. I struggled through the complex texts of history’s brilliant philosophers and great writers hoping to unearth the secrets within. Realizing the answers were out of reach, I finally put down the books and looked around. The world is a vast and confusing place with so much constant information it felt completely overwhelming. I had no idea where to begin so I just let life take me where it would. I spent a year traveling in Europe and two years working on commercial fishing boats in Alaska and the coast of California. I drove down to Mexico and spent two years living on the coast drinking coconut milk and eating mangoes. I wrote enough to keep a roof over my head. I listened to people’s stories. I solved my shyness problem by learning how to ask questions and listen. I soon realized that people love to talk about themselves and I soaked up their stories. I went back to school and finished my degree. I realized I had achieved the things I wanted. I was traveling, writing and I had a college degree. I had no ties to anywhere and my time was mine to fill. Still I felt like something was missing.
Sense of self is what I was searching for and it is what I found so elusive. I wanted to be confident and outgoing and focused and engaged fully in my life. But I always felt self-conscious and shy and I always held back. I held back in social situations; I held back in my work, I held back my opinions. The subconscious reasoning was that the less I put out there, the less attention I would attract and the less criticism I would inspire. If I said nothing at all, I would be spared saying something possibly stupid, misinformed or something that could be misinterpreted. It’s logical but it’s not a very fulfilling way to live.
I socialized superficially and I always kept people on an acquaintance basis, rarely letting anything develop into a friendship. I also felt I had to be perfect. People notice flaws, but they look past perfection. I showered a lot. I was on a constant mission to find the perfect sweater, or pair of boots that would dispel the feeling of unworthiness and transform it into a feeling of confidence. I bought beautiful boots and soft sweaters but I still felt unworthy, insecure and shy. I got rid of the old clothes, the ones that had failed me. I bought new ones. They failed me. Out of touch with myself, I found it nearly impossible to spend time with other young women. I rejected female authors and felt frustrated that everything I read was so masculine oriented. I was living in a functional world of disconnection. I would feel overwhelming sadness, desperation, and depression. There were good times too but they seemed unstable and fleeting. I started to wonder if I was clinically depressed which soon led to the certainty there was something seriously wrong with me. I started worrying about my health. This was also very time consuming.
Making the first Step
I met Joe Shirley in late April, 2011. I had moved back to Port Townsend after living in Mexico and had broken from a five-year relationship. I returned to Port Townsend as a place to perch while I sorted out the next place to go. I had a few ideas but nothing specific. I still had no idea what I wanted to do. I was immediately intrigued by his work though I didn’t really understand what exactly it involved. As I started going through the process of mapping and moving emotions began to get a clue about how profoundly the work would change my life.
During the first meeting I started out by talking, and talking and talking. I talked about the resistance I felt around my work. My constant struggles with follow through and focus, my fear of rejection. I thought about details and explanations and reasons for everything and I tried to fill him in on all of it. I guessed rightly that he would pick up a thread that was useful and relevant. The details and the reasons all seemed so important when I started talking but even during that first conversation, or monologue really, I came to realize that the details aren’t important. What matters are the feeling states. I think too often we cover up our feelings with words and explanations and abstract thoughts. The actual feeling is something else entirely.
Beginning the Process
“A solid focused career and a life’s work I could feel passionate about”
– that is what I wanted most when I began this process. I know I want to write; it was the getting started part that I struggled with. Once I got started I didn’t have a clear idea of where I was going which made follow through nearly impossible. Endings were not a problem because I rarely got that far. Talking with Joe about the process I realized that my work was where I felt the strongest sense of frustration and it was the area I most wanted to improve. I realized right away that work is part of life and it is intertwined with love and relationships, self, home and play. You can’t really separate it out, but it was still good to have a specific place to start. It was the most logical place to start too. I wanted to write about the process I was experiencing with Joe, and to write about it I would have to experience it. I set out on the journey with a sense of excitement and hope, and like any journey, the trials along the way were nothing I could foresee from the beginning.
Searching for Threads
When I began, my life felt like disconnected fragments. I couldn’t see the threads that held it all together and I couldn’t see where I wanted to go. I wasn’t living in the moment, I was living in fragments without a clear sense of my life. I could see a future full of possibilities but I didn’t know how to make the possibilities into realities. I had already been earning an existence as a writer, it was definitely an existence rather than a living because I could barely live on what I made. What was missing, I realize now, was the ability to believe in myself and feel confident about my work and my place in the world.
To be continued tomorrow…