A few weeks ago had a great session with the man I’ve referred to as “Matthew” in these posts. We’ve been working together for quite some time and have uncovered layer upon layer of false beliefs that are contributing to his unhappiness. But in this particular session we uncovered what I believe to be the core belief that is keeping him stuck.
I began as we always do, guiding him an inner process by helping him drop down into his emotional body and encouraging him to take several deep breaths into his solar plexus. With eyes closed, I asked him to sit with whatever arose from that emotional place. Immediately a wave of sadness emerged. I asked if the sadness was past or present and he said present. Then I asked, “Are there any thoughts that are creating this sadness?” To which he responded, “Just the same one, that I’m in not in love with my wife.”
Now, I help my clients work with this thought every day. It’s one of the core false beliefs that needs to be replaced before people can accept their relationship and continue to move toward marriage. I’ve written extensively about the difference between real love and infatuation and have dedicated an entire lesson to it in my Conscious Weddings E-Course. And Matthew and I have talked about it in nearly every session we’ve had over the past eighteen months.But there was a deeper layer to the belief that emerged in our session, a tenor in his voice that led me to inquire further. In one of those moments of therapeutic intuition I said to him, “Your commitment to this thought indicates that you believe that someone else is responsible for your pain and joy. The belief that your pain means that you don’t love her points to the fact that you haven’t assumed full responsibility for your well-being.”
He took a deep breath. His breath quivered as he inhaled and exhaled again. He didn’t say a word. He just breathed this way for several minutes. At last he said, “Yes, that’s true. I don’t know how to take responsibility for my happiness. It’s always come from someone else: approval from my parents, teachers, or bosses, the high of a new romance, the first eighteen months with my wife. I don’t know how to do it.”
He’s right; he doesn’t know how to do it. Matthew has been so dependent on others’ approval for his sense of self-worth that he’s failed to develop a healthy adult and a spiritual connection that would provide him with his own internally derived sense of well-being. We work each week to help him with this aspect of his growth, but the work is slow and difficult. It’s like growing a whole new self while simultaneously extracting the wounded self by the roots. The process is made more challenging because Matthew is a very smart, left-brained lawyer who feels almost completely disconnected from his spiritual self. In making others’ responsible for igniting his inner spark and without the spiritual connection, he feels adrift and lonely.
Still, there’s always hope. He faithfully shows up at our weekly appointment with good will and a desire to heal. He’s open to trying to connect to his own source of inner wisdom which he envisions as a “Wise Man” or a lightening bolt. He understands what needs to occur and he knows that no one – not his parents, his boss, and certainly not his wife – can ignite the spark that makes him feel alive and purposeful.
A few nights ago I read a poem that reminded me of Matthew – and many others who find their way to my work and are attached to the belief that someone else can “make me happy” (which, again, often comes in the form of, “I’m not in love”, which really means “If I was with a different partner, I would feel more alive, less anxious, more passionate.”) Poetry can often express more succinctly and truthfully what prose cannot, so I would like to share it with you today. Perhaps it will help guide you back to trusting in your capacity to own your inner spark:
That he might find his flint
lost years ago;
slipped from his pocket
when he climbed into the limbs
of the great oak
to meet his first love.
He did not miss it then.
Her light was enough.
And he could not have known
that he couldn’t warm herself
at the fire of another forever;
or that standing in her light
he would cast so large a shadow.
It was the sorrowing season that brought him to his knees.
Even the oak bowed low
beneath the weight of that winter.
Some of its limbs broken
and his own heart,
fenced behind its icicled cage of ribs,
twisted like a bow drill between his frozen fingers.
Twisting, twisting and still no spark.
This is my prayer then:
that he bend his face to the frosted ground,
his falling tears
the first spring thaw,
unearthing what he’s thought he’s lost
from its muddled sleep.
This is my prayer:
That he might find his flint.
Strike it against steel.
Burst into Holy Flame.
– J. Esme Jel’enedra
I know of another poem in the same type of path. A girl who ha problems with her boyfriend sent it to me once. Each time I threatened to make my partner responsible for my own happiness, it came to mind. It’s also perfect to send to someone after a break-up. It’s named “Love after love” by Derek Walcott:
I love your use of the word “spark.” So many people use that word to describe their connection with a potential or current spouse, especially when giving reasons to be with that person or why that person may be “perfect” for them.
I have been realizing this lately; that I have so often in my life relied on someone else for my spark. I often have felt alone and miserable if I havent had someone to supply that spark for me. My fiance hasnt and doesn’t always give me that spark, and I am slowly learning that I need to supply that for myself. He is not responsible for my happiness.
In coming to this realization, I started really trying to figure out what this spark was. I believe that sometimes this spark is an instant connection, but not necessarily a healthy one. It is often the result of finding someone who has a quality that we do not have – finding someone who fulfills us or completes us, or so it seems. This is not a real connection, it is merely a sense of feeling fulfilled by someone else – which is certainly not a healthy characteristic of a relationship.
The real connection is made up of someone whom you value, respect, and admire and vice versa. You have the same values and same goals, you are compatible and you know that they will love you and take care of you and you can return that love (action, not feeling). If we are relying on that spark (which will never be there forever), then we are doomed. We have to learn to provide the spark for ourselves and bring it into the relationship (not the other way around). I like the vision of three candles. One candle represents the relationship or the coming together of two people, the other two each represent one person in the relationship. The 2 candles are lit, and together they light the third candle.
When both people learn to ignite their own spark and they bring it to the relationship, love and intimacy will bloom and the real, deep down, true love will bloom. This is a long process to be sure, but worth it.
Selena – That’s a beautiful poem as well. Thanks for linking it.
Cori – Wow – so beautifully said! And I’m thrilled to hear that you’re getting this crucial realization. It’s such a tough one for most people in the West to assimilate as the conditioning is just the opposite.
Is the problem though living in western culture? Maybe growing up in a tribe close to nature helps people feel naturally connected and more puporseful. Maybe it’s not fair to expect westerns not to feel bad and lost in anxiety? maybe impossible to be emotionaly healthy living in this culture?
This gives me the chills. I relate a lot to Matthew and have struggled with the same issues around other validation vs. self validation. At age 27, married and on the verge of motherhood, I am only just beginning to find out what I truly enjoy doing, whereas for most of my life before I only did what was expected of me and what seemed to please everyone else. I have become what I used to consider a “boring” person, but I have never been happier.
Realizing and remembering that my husband is not responsible for my happiness is a huge part of it.
I have felt this most of my life, and sometimes have the anxious thought that my partner would be better off with someone else who has a clearer sense of self and knows to provide herself and others a sense of happiness and calm.
This takes me down the rabbit hole of shame, guilt, self loathing even, being scared to lose my partner yet feelinv unworthy. I am also a new mom, which stresses me out on a daily basis for how can I teach my daughter to fill her own cup and provide a feeling of safety and happiness, when I am so anxious and unhappy?
Struggling with needing others’ approval is so widespread; I see it with almost everyone I work with. The fact that you’re learning to rely on yourself for your own joy at the age of 27 is wonderful! You’re legions ahead of most… (which doesn’t surprise me : ))