I hated talking about my feelings. Ugh. Sharing my inner world. It was awful. This is how I felt up till my early thirties or so.
But I would have times of intense depression and desperation and the psychiatric medications I took weren’t enough to completely numb it. There was this idea I had that when you have an emotional or mental problem you “get help”. Like some kind of magical solution happens when you “get help”.
At that time “getting help” meant therapy to me. Going to some kind of expert, a professional. So despite the dread, I would motivate myself to seek out a therapist. This happened a few times over the years. I would go to someone and hate the sessions and then leave feeling worse. After a few sessions I just couldn’t bring myself to go back. When I stopped seeing that person I felt I had failed at “getting help”.
One main reason I felt worse after these sessions was because I had so much repressed pain that would start to surface and I had no idea how to talk about it. I didn’t understand it at all.
But there were other reasons. I felt like a sick patient in those sessions. It was also awkward because I would be blocked and it was hard to talk and the therapist would stare at me waiting for me to say something. The pressure was difficult for me. Sometimes I would share what was happening in my life and would feel I was being psychoanalyzed and would get further labeled or diagnosed. They wanted to pick apart my childhood and my relationship with my parents and that was excruciating to me.
I was intimidated by them. But I could sometimes sense their fear of me too, of my self-destructiveness, of how traumatized I was (even though I didn’t really know it then myself). Other times I would feel the person’s projection on me and I knew their solutions and ideas had nothing to do with me, it was their own unresolved stuff.
But then one day I attended this short workshop on dream symbolism at a local holistic health fair. I was immediately drawn to the woman who led it. I’m going to call her Nan (not her real name). Nan radiated a certain presence. After the workshop I looked up her website and found out she gives therapy sessions in her home in my neighborhood.
I started seeing her once a week and this went on for several months.
I loved it. I loved her. I started to open up. I was coming out of my shell a little. I felt lighter and happier than I had ever felt up to this point.
Interestingly enough she seemed to have no desire to fix me or label me or even try to help me solve my problems. In fact, sometimes I would tell her about the latest health problem I suspected I had and wanted to obsess over it. She would refuse to even discuss it saying “No, we aren’t talking about that”. I would be confused and disappointed at first. Isn’t she supposed to help me figure this out? Doesn’t she see I could be sick, maybe even die? Doesn’t she see something is seriously wrong with me?
Other times I felt relieved and elated with her permission in letting go of guilt and doing what made me happy. But then I would start to blame the other person for guilting me. Again she would say “Nope, not doing that”.
I didn’t realize it at the time but I was forced to let go during those sessions. Nan refused to indulge my fearful obsessive mind and my tendency to swing from blaming myself to blaming someone else.
Sometimes on the way to our session I would feel there was no point to going. I had nothing to talk about and nothing was going on. Those times we would just sit silently together, no pressure or expectation for anything to talk about. Out of nowhere I would start talking about something seemingly random that happened to me recently. And then I realized that yes, something did happen and it bothered me. Nan would listen. She sometimes shared a story. Sometimes just reflect what she noticed in my sharing.
After a few months, she moved away and I instinctively knew it was time for me to move on even though I struggled with losing her. (After this I went on to the work I'm doing now which has given me a depth of knowing that was unimaginable and unattainable for me at that time of seeing Nan)
So why was Nan’s approach to therapy so helpful to me while all the others weren’t? Some therapists I went to had successful careers, books published, and advanced degrees in psychology. Nan didn’t have these things, she was a retired social worker.
It took me years to understand why this woman had such an impact on me.
The two things that stand out to me:
She Respected Me
She Was Present
It seems so simple. But it is profound. Why? Because in order to give these things to me she had to have done it for herself first. That takes focused inner work and wisdom. Can that come just from learning psychology? Can respect and presence come by studying ourselves or another solely through mental concepts and elaborate mental explanations and strategies, no not in my experience is this possible.
I see it as a deep, very honest, and mystical personal exploration inward. It’s facing the unknown, over and over. And over and over. Until it begins to be more of a way of life. In the unknown we inevitably come to layers of fears and pain from the past. Transforming what we come across frees us and we no longer need to project that onto others.
At that time of seeing Nan, I had not yet learned to respect myself. I had not yet learned to be present with myself. She modeled this for me though. I was not a broken human being that she had to fix and put back together, even though sometimes I wanted her to. She taught me without teaching me. She did what was easy and natural for her. Because of this, I was not a burden to her. I was paying her for a service she provided, yet she refused to take on my worries and fears.
Was she perfect? No. Could she help me understand what was driving my obsessiveness and my guilt and blame? Could she help me see the truth behind my dependence on medications? No. That wasn’t her purpose for me though. That came later when I started working with Mada and the Dalian Method. That’s when I started to uncover in myself the respect and presence that I continue to deepen and grow.
I don’t blame those other therapists for not being able to help me. How could they? They were suffering deeply themselves. In some ways they were also a reflection of myself.
I know now that Love is not what we think it is.
I write this in gratitude to all who have guided me towards the next step, regardless of their level of awareness. Most of all to my teacher, Mada.
Thank you for all your strength. For all the times you had to go into battle and face harm and even death. For all the hard work you have done under the pressure to provide and to protect.
For thousands of lifetimes, you have had to be the strong one. The one who knew all the answers. The one who took charge. Who fixed it all. Who could never show weakness. You have had to stay on guard for so long.
I know it takes time for the armor to come off. It’s not fair to expect you to suddenly rip it all off at once. It will come off when you are ready. You decide.
I know these are confusing times for you. First, you had to carry the job of being the bigger sex. Now there are messages out there telling you to make yourself small and be obedient. That it's wrong to be powerful.
You are seen as both, God and the Devil.
It's not just women. You too have also been manipulated and used. Projected upon. You experience deep pain and fear too.
Personally, I disagree that it’s your job to fix “patriarchy”.
I also know you have been shamed for your sexual desire and yet told it makes you a "real man”.
You feel pressure to perform and know what to do, without any guidance. Unrealistic expectations that no human could satisfy, much less experience love.
Vulnerability is a challenge for me. For you, that challenge is multiplied, many times over.
I think it’s so perfect and beautiful to be a woman. And it's so perfect and beautiful that you are a man.
I don't want us to be the same or to always agree or see life the same way. How boring would that be?
Thank you men. For teaching me to be compassionate and understanding. Thank you men for pushing me to find my strength and independence. To take responsibility for my own thoughts and feelings. And my boundaries. Most of all thank you for teaching me that my choices are my own.
I know the moments of power struggles and those little battles will still happen. But even when it's chaotic and messy, deep down I still remain so grateful for all of it. So grateful for you being you.
I have seen so clearly that we were never meant to save each other and satisfy each other's expectations. But instead to help know and love ourselves. And share our self-knowledge, presence, and love with each other.
I love our dance of interdependence.
Dear Men, you are essential. Essential to everything.
You are one half of this earthly experience. You are one half of me. I'm so glad you exist!
To all men, I just simply love you.
**This one felt too personal to use a stock image for. So I dug out some old photographs that I took and processed a long time ago in a college photography class. The model is my then-boyfriend. Back then I thought being naked was all it took to be intimate.
Dating is totally different for me since doing inner work. It has gone from painful drama to Adventure!
A story to illustrate this.
Several years ago I met a man online. At first it was just a few friendly messages. The conversations quickly became more frequent and we seemed to have a lot in common. I found him easy to talk to. We started chatting on video too (we live in different states).
In our conversations I would have these moments thinking “wow, he says all the right things!”. I felt such a strong connection and trust with him. And this is all happening in the space of 3 weeks or so. I felt like I could really be myself and not worry about anything.
I don’t remember most of the details of our conversations except this one thing he told me: “No matter what, I never stop being someone’s friend. I never cut someone out of my life.” This gave me such a feeling of safety.
So my mind was saying yes to this man. But my body was apparently saying something else entirely. I just wasn’t really listening to my body at first. During one video chat he looked at me curiously and asked me if I was cold. I looked down and I was wearing a sweater with two jackets over it (pretty hilarious actually, it was summer). We were talking about sex during that conversation and as we talked I kept getting up to grab more clothes to wear.
I wasn’t cold. I was uncomfortable.
But I dismissed my discomfort as my own woundedness because I was working through a lot of trauma during that time. I told myself “Keep an open mind. It’s good to discuss these things openly”.
I happened to have a retreat trip planned in California a few hours from where he lived coming up and I was considering adding extra days to my trip so I can visit him. But it was all happening really fast and I started to have mixed feelings. The mixed feelings were the conflict of what was coming from what my mind wanted and what my body & intuition were saying.
So I decided to dedicate some time to focus and go inward and go deeper into my intuition. When I let go of my mind and I did this I got very clear very fast: It didn’t feel right to visit him on my trip. Not only that, it didn’t feel right to even pursue a relationship with this man.
I decided to trust this and act on this. Even though I didn’t really know why, I mean he still seemed like a great guy to me.
I emailed him to let him know that I would like to just remain friends. I explained it so he would know I wasn’t angry or had a problem about anything. I also figured if it’s meant to be more than friendship then it can happen with time. I also understood that it might trigger some insecurity in him but that it wouldn’t be that big of a deal for such an emotionally mature man as him.
He replied and expressed shock at my sudden change of heart. But he said he understood and honored my decision.
Then the next day he blocked me from all social media and completely disconnected from me.
Now I was the one shocked. But just at first. I was also actually so glad to see how right my intuition was!
I realized most of the conversations coming from him were lies. He was telling me what I wanted to hear.
I wasn’t angry though. I saw why it worked on me. He made me feel special. He made me feel understood. He made me feel safe. He made me feel important and significant.
He gave me what I was starving for and unconsciously looking outside of myself for. He showed me where my insecurities were.
Experiences like this have helped me transform those starving parts of myself. Each experience, whether positive or negative, brings me a step closer to being whole within myself. I’m also much more self-aware. I can feel when a situation or person makes me feel “special” or “important”. If something feels good, great I enjoy it. But I’m much more alert to the difference of feeling good that is coming from my ego-mind (self-importance) and those of my body (it feels more organic and less like a story of my identity getting fed).
Am I completely done with insecurity, with any attachment to being special or important? No. But I am celebrating the distance I have traveled to this place of being on an adventure. Does the adventure mean no pain? No. But the pain, when it does happen, is VERY useful.
Before doing this inner work there was so much anxiety and pain in dating and relationships. I was at times living out a longing and fantasy and there was no genuine intimacy. It was total bullshit actually (sorry to any exes reading this).
Then I would feel betrayed if I felt the person wasn’t genuine. But I wasn’t even genuine with myself. There was no possibility in those situations for any sincere intimacy.
Our socialized ideas of romance are fantasies that come from our unfulfilled needs and longings. To stay in this is to ride the roller coaster ride of pain and heartbreak. It’s actually insane, if you really see if for what it is. So much drama, and we actually create the whole thing ourselves much of the time.
But coming out of this game has been liberating. Instead of feeling resentful and blame towards anyone I’m glad to have the experience because each person teaches me so much about myself.
Instead of shutting down my trust and becoming bitter or fearful from these learning experiences, I grow MORE trusting. MORE trusting of myself. MORE trusting of whatever life brings me. I don’t need to carry the hurt memories. I don’t need to guard against or worry about other people and their intentions.
I also don’t get too offended when someone lies to me. It’s not personal. It’s their own issue and not for me to figure out. My only responsibility is to see through my own delusions.
I don’t trust because people are trustworthy.
I trust because I am trustworthy.
So what is the difference between self-love and narcissism?
I see them as existing in different universes, that's how different they are.
Narcissism is superiority. Superiority is based on comparison, competition, and insecurity. It is looking outward for who we are. It is needing to prove something.
It is a temporary compensation for the painful feeling of smallness deep down.
Superiority is there only because somewhere inside there is inferiority. Two sides to the same coin.
We come out of this painful game when we change direction and start looking within to transform the root of what is making us feel small or needing to prove anything.
This is not a “fake it till you make it” kinda thing. Not at all. Do we need yet another facade to hide behind? No, I don’t think so.
The first step is to be honest with ourselves about how we really feel.
It’s tricky because we don’t actually need to be taught how to LOVE ourselves. How to TRUST ourselves. How GOOD we are. How POWERFUL we are. How BIG we are. How MAGICAL we are. (but role models and facilitators are a huge help).
We were born already knowing this.
We just have to UNLEARN what we were taught. We need to see through and undo all the lies. All that we took on during our time here on this planet.
A technique to transform the root of insecurities:
Dalian Method sessions by Lila
Do your own Dalian Method sessions
Leela Haris ~ E x p a n d i n g Consciousness