Forms of life are like  waves, rising and dissolving moving up and down; developing …and dying…emotions are like that too. When I see the gulf only, I am likely to feel loss when it is gone or struggle against it when it is coming, and when I feel the ocean, I see the unavoidable union of life and death which meet in one existence

 

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A dream comes back to me many times and each time brings a deep feeling which creates a powerful movement in myself. This movement feels real and vital, gives me a sense that I am approaching something profound yet undefined and scary. The dream has different versions, but the theme and its emotional flavor is the same. In my dream I walk at the sea shore. There is a vast ocean in front o me. A large horizon, a spacious blueness. Sometimes there are other people at the shore. Ones I walked there with my husband feeling a shared emotional space, another time there was a man who was collecting shells wearing gray long clothes with a face of a wizard. Sometimes I was alone standing in front of the vastness of the water and the sky. After a while a powerful wave grows on the sea and moves towards me with a high speed. There is no possibility to escape. It is high, broad and powerful. It is followed by other waves joining it. I see them approaching me and I know that they move quicker than me. Strong anxiety comes over me when I see them and imagining that I will sink in a while. I am having a feeling of a disaster approaching me. I expect I will be lost and die soon.

{quotes}When the gulf is almost touching me I jump into its direction and dive deep into the ocean, I can swim in its depth{/quotes}, feeling sudden relief and peace. I move together with a slow and powerful movement of deeper layers of the ocean. I am finding there a feeling of peaceful power.

This dream stayed in my mind, because it became like a retuning message which I should read, but I could not understand. It reminded me the view of Jung who said that dreams are letters from the soul.

 

The wave becomes real.

I experienced these waves in my own self. They were strong emotions which were difficult and overwhelming.  Sometimes I wanted to keep them quiet, sometimes they were too strong.

It was a dramatic moment when I visited my father in Poland but I could not get in touch with him. He was weak and angry. It was not possible to enter a dialogue. There was a wall which was built partly by his past and maybe partly by his physical and psychological condition. My father was a divisional tank commander in the Second World War. He left his parents’ house when he was 16 and went to the front. I think that his experiences were more than he could bear, and left sadness and anxiety in him. When he was weak he could not accept it and he tried to stay independent, however he could not any more. He was still as if he would stay in his old position of a commander often instructing me what should be done and how.  This evening was full of painful emotions, however not shared. The heaviness of the evening was multiplied by the his experiences of the war, by his weakness, his dramatic protest against it and maybe anxiety to die while being not ready.

I knew that maybe it is the last chance to have a contact with him, more open contact. I was also aware that if he will die soon, he will not leave in peace. It was the most painful from all of the situation.

As the evening progressed I felt more and more powerless and sad, not being able to go through this wall in him, the same wall which was also separating us in a painful way. I felt hurt when confronted with his anger. It was also like feeling some pain of the tragedy of war, unbearable heaviness of life as it can be, hopelessness of encountering energy of past distraction, killings, pain, broken dreams and lives.  It was unbearable all together. My wish to do something, to help somehow was crashed against sharp edges of past reality which was alive there as if the ghost of war entered the room. I was sitting in a chair feeling powerless, pain and deep sadness. It felt too much…Knowing that trying to change the situation was hopeless, I decided to be with all what I felt, not running away from it. Escape from pain is often more hurting then the pain itself…I  thought so… I decided to be with all my emotions, not trying to change them, not trying to make them smaller or more positive than they are. There were slow, increasing, waves of sadness, like lava from a volcano and a muddy feeling of powerlessness, which was pulling me into some unpleasant space and evoked anxiety to sink into it. Then gulfs of sadness came and brought some tears, but the muddy field of powerlessness made me feel unable to cry. The emotional darkness, grief, being lost, and a deep pain which was much more than me and which felt like collective suffering, came and I only wished to not to feel anything anymore. What happened today and what happened in the past was unbearable. At the same time I talked to myself: “let it, be, let it be, if you cannot change it.” Some part of me wanted to escape, but the other said stand still, let it come. I kept feeling and meditating on everything what was there. Time was flowing, it became late at night.

Already my conscious decision to not to escape brought me some sparkle of feeling that I could survive and that was the way for me. After some time something changed in the middle of my experience. It was like a fissure in the middle of the field of my experience. It became broader and created a kind of a small empty space in the midst of the whole emotional storm. I realized that I was partly in this space and the whole storm was dancing around me. I was there, standing still in the middle of movements of my emotions. I was like a centre of a wheel standing still while the wheel was moving, I was like in the eye of the storm, but not taken totally by the storm. My experience became divided into the movement and stillness. One was coexisting with another. There was a space and silence in the middle: untouchable by the movement of emotions.  At the same time the painful emotions were moving in a restless way, reminding me about limitations, impossibilities, loss and heaviness of suffering. They were both at the same time, two sides, but the silence in the middle gave me more strength to bear the pain without avoiding it, without denying.

I see a strong similarity between my dream and this experience. It was scary to see the waves of emotions, but an another dimension appeared at the same time. It did not mean that the waves disappeared, they were there still there for a long time and came back in the future.

Similar experiences of space happened more times in my life. A space which opened itself in the mid of the emotional storm and chaos, not removing the chaos itself, but gradually influencing it. For me these experiences are of an existential value, they change the way I see myself and others. They bring me a sense of being which goes beyond any though or emotion. This space feels like an essential part of me, of my existence. It is powerful and gives a sense of freedom. Sometimes when I have a sense of this space, I can allow my painful feelings without being afraid of them.

Having this experience motivates me to share it with others as something precious. I am convinced that it is accessible for many people especially while stimulated by a relevant practice.  It could be related to what many authors described as awareness (Deikman, 1999), bare attention (Epstein, 2007).

The eye of the storm

In a study titled “’I is awareness,” Deikman (1999) argued that awareness should be distinguished from any content. It is “that which witnesses- not that which is observed” (p. 421). The author maintains that awareness is prior to any content, it is rather “the ground in which the mind’s contents manifest themselves; they appear in it and disappear ones again”. (p.421) Awareness has been often confused with forms of experiences, but it is on the contrary “featureless, lacking form, texture, color, spatial dimensions”(Deikman, p. 422). Seeing awareness as devoid of form is very close to the conception of awareness as “formless,” as described by Tolle (2006). His main point is that people are often preoccupied by form but loosing the contact with the formless ground. In Buddhist texts this ground has been described as a “mother ground,” “sky-like essence”  (Sogyal, 1992). A similar view can be found in texts of Meister Eckhart, who talks about the “ground of the soul,” or the “most inner space,” which is unchangeable and silent, like a desert or an ocean (McGinn,2001).

{quotes}The process of awareness is not only known to spiritual traditions or mystical experiences, but according to Winnicott it is a basic, natural state, which can be hidden or forgotten.{/quotes} However, its discovery is connected with a sense of recovery (Epstein, 2007). Awareness can manifest itself in different ways in a person’s life, starting from glimpses of awareness until the experience of pure consciousness (Forman, 1999), like in the case of St Teresa of Avila, who experienced pure space deprived of any content. It seems to be a matter of choice or purpose that determines to which extent the process is stimulated and developed in a person’s life. For a person who follows a spiritual path practicing meditation or leading a contemplative life style, this process becomes more and more prominent (Shikpo, 2005).

I think that Dialogical Self Theory offers a very relevant theoretical ground to explore this dimension. The notion of the depositioned I (Hermans, Hermans-Konopka, 2010) seems to be here especially relevant. The I which goes beyond any position and any content becomes disidentified from positions and participates in some broader field. {quotes}Personally I think that we are preoccupied by the content of positions but they are not everything; the self is much more. The I of the dialogical self can be felt on itself as “being”. The concept of I- position is particularly relevant. It consists of two words: I and positions.{/quotes} When the I is distinguished from the position, the space of I can be possibly felt itself. Being in the space between positions, it is “depositioned.”

When I work with my clients in dialogical coaching, we create a composition of stones which represent I-positions. We work not only on the experience of these I-positions, but also exploring the space between them. Did you try yourself experience space, just space? For some clients it is a very new and innovative experience. I think that the dialogical self offers a basis for taking into account: positions and space in between, positions and I, voices and silence. In the everyday life of most people, the content is more often taken into account then the space itself, positions more often then I and voices more often than the silence.  I am convinced that the experience of the witnessing space of I (which can be developed in work with composition based on the dialogical self) has an innovative potential, because it helps to go beyond existing patterns of thoughts and emotions and gives a safe space which helps to bear even the most difficult emotions. Diving into the empty space can allow a new organization of the self because it interrupts a habitual pattern of thought and emotions. One of my clients said: “From this space I can allow them all, even playing with their energies”. Somehow things and experiences become more relative, but relations, other people and the self receive some new deeply meaningful dimension. The space of I helped me to survive an emotional pain during the last evening with my father.

Swimming in the wave.

When I look at my emotions I realize that the relation between my emotions and myself can be so well expressed in my metaphorical relation with the wave. It was deeply meaningful to discover the space which is deeper than the wave. However I realize that the wave of feelings has its own wisdom and not always it is enough just to look how it grows and dissolves. There are moments that I need to be that wave, to be positioned in the emotion, letting it carry me. When I want to achieve something, to fight for something this wave gives me much energy, gives me the passion and power. When I want to be in contact it gives me a flow of emotions which wants to reach the other. The wave can be sometimes very constructive, however other times it can be dangerous. This emotional energy which is both striving for self enhancement and contact, refers to the existence of basic motives (Hermans, Hermans- Jansen, 1995). {quotes}It feels like is a basic motivation power, I can only live a passionate and authentic life if I can allow this flow.{/quotes} But I can only feel freedom from my emotions if I can discover the space which goes beyond them. The two processes: of being positioned in emotion or even being identified with emotion and a process of transcendental awareness are central in my life. I see them as important processes in the dialogical self. Being fully positioned in an emotion means to really use and follow its energy to learn from it, to experience it from within. It happens when I let my feelings speak or I follow my emotional impulses. It is a basis for a passionate life, I think. On the other hand being depositioned, finding a space beyond emotion, experiencing a space which surrounds an emotion gives another kind of freedom. There is a moment of choice when you want to follow the emotion or not.

In the dialogical self the relation between the self and the emotion is a central issue (Hermans, Hermans-Konopka, 2010). This relation is bidirectional. Emotions can transform the self and the self can answer to emotions. This relation between self and emotion determinates the development of the person. Life takes place in a dialogue or monologue between self and emotions. In my past I learnt to suppress my strong emotions, trying to control the wave until there was an overflow and I was often lost in it. Now I am gradually learning to develop the relation with my emotional wave in two ways: sometimes I look at it and feel it, I meditate on it, listen to it, but not follow it at the moment. Then I can find a space which goes beyond it, but hearing its sound and sometimes a message. Other time I want to be carried by it, to let it transform me, to carry me into the direction of achievements, expression or contact with the other. In this way I answer from different I -positions to my own emotions: as contemplative and spiritual or as impulsive, ambitious and active. In the first case I am a witness of my own feelings, in the second I am organized and transformed by them strongly. In the first case I learn to accept in the second I want to influence the environment and act. For both of these answers one thing seems to be crucial: letting the emotion flow. In the first case I do not immediately follow it. In the second I go with it. In the past I learnt to stop this flow building a monological relation with my emotions, now I am learning to let it flow again and it feels vital, sometimes scary but enriching.

 

References

Deikman , A. J. ( 1999 ). ‘I’- awareness. In S. Gallagher and J. Shear (eds.), Models of the self (pp. 421–7). Thorverton, UK : Imprint Academic .

Epstein, M. (2007). Psychotherapy without the self. A Buddhist erspective. New Haven & London: Yale University Press.

Hermans, H.J.M., ( 2002 ). The dialogical self as a society of mind: Introduction. Theory and Psychology, 12 : 147–60 .

Hermans , H. J. M. , and Hermans-Jansen , E. ( 1995 ). Self-narratives: The construction

of meaning in psychotherapy . New York : Guilford Press .

Hermans, H.J.M., Hermans-Konopka, A. ( 2010). Dialogical self theory: Positioning and counter-positioning in a globalizing society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hermans-Konopka , A. , and Hermans , H. J. M. (2010). The dynamic features of love: Changes in self and motivation. In J. D. Raskin , S. K. Bridges , and R. A. Neimeyer (eds.), Studies in meaning 4: Constructivist perspectives on theory, practice, and social justice . New York : Pace University Press .

McGinn, B. (2001). The mystical thought of Meister Eckhart: The man from whom god hid nothing. New York: Crossroad Publishing Company

Rinpoche, S. (1992). The tibetan book of living and dying. London: Random House.

Tolle, E. (2006). A new earth: Awakening to your life's purpose. New York: Penguin Group.