Love is dark and light – How struggle invites you to work and heal
14. January 2020
Love has two faces: Dark and light. Yet what does that mean? And how do you work with it?
Popular culture says love is only light. I tried hard to be only a (de)light. That’s how I found spiritual practice. My goal was to be forever peaceful and loving. I thought if I meditated hard enough, my being would invite only light, and my relationships would be pure harmony.
Hm… that didn’t happen. Yes, I found useful insight and transformation through spiritual practice. And no, I wasn’t peaceful and loving all the time, much as I tried to fake it (more on that here). So I re-doubled my effort. Which led to a host of very valuable changes, yet I still struggled, particularly in relationship, and I still frequently got controlling, critical and angry. The same seemed to be true for my fellow practitioners and most of my spiritual teachers.
The missing place of practice that helped me make real progress here was relationship. My meditation cushion and my yoga mat were helpful solitary places, yet finding the ability to work with myself in relationship was the springboard to where I had wanted to go. One big entry point into that highly effective place of practice are times of struggle.
“Relationship is work!” or “Do the work!” these are common phrases, but what does that actually mean? Here are three steps of working with dark times that constitute one major route toward healing.
The first step of the work is noticing the impulse to distract. Dark times are painful times. Times we do not enjoy. Bored times, scared times, sad times… Those are the times we want to distract. We seek comfort in our distractions. They can be little, such as zoning out, eating a cookie, drinking a beer, or big, such as going outside of our relationship and having an affair.
Noticing the impulse to distract becomes far easier when you know your favorite distractions: coffee, sugar, drinking, social media, drama. What is your favorite way to get out of your experience? One main way I distract from uncomfortable feelings is jumping to analysis, cracking a joke and criticism.
The more you know yourself here, the easier it becomes to use your distractions as reminders to pause and proceed to Step 2.
Step 2 is simply: Checking in. What am I feeling? Drop in to yourself and feel how you are doing. Take a deep breath. If you are interacting with someone, be transparent: “Hang on, I need to pause for a moment.”
Notice the uncomfortable emotion. Allow awareness of your experience. Yikes, who would want to do that? I think you probably are crazy enough to try, because you understand that hard paths lead to exciting places. So: What is your experience?
Perhaps you are feeling bored, tired, hopeless, hurt or scared, or a wild mixture of all of that. Just notice. You may develop a favorite way for this, like Dan Siegel’s SIFT practice, or your own unique little check-in routine.
If you were able to become aware of your distractive behavior and are now checking in with your felt experience, that is a big win!! Take a celebratory breath. You have used struggle as an opportunity to “do the work” and that is a major achievement.
Now you can choose to do something new. You know that new choices bring new results. So, choose to not distract, but instead do step 3.
Step 3 is choosing to stay connected. Connected to what? First and foremost, to yourself. This is another fundamental element of what “doing the work” means: Hold your experience in warm regard and stay with it for a while.
Take your experience seriously, because if you don’t, no-one else will. This is no easy feat, because most of us got the message that what we are feeling is wrong, unimportant or dangerous to notice.
We may have gotten that message from our elders, for whom in fact it may have been a matter of survival to not feel (e.g. in times of war). Also, they didn’t know what we know today: Our emotions can and will transform, if we take care of them. If we do not, they lead to unwelcome “complications”, like withdrawal, discontent, restlessness, overeating, rage, depression etc. Holding down your emotions will deplete you and suck the life out of your relationships.
So, keep practicing step 3: Stay connected. To yourself, and hold yourself in warm regard. Allow your emotional experience to be essential information, just like other essential pieces of information you check in with all the time, such as your thoughts, your bodily sensations or what your ears are hearing.
If you are practicing the three steps while you are with your partner or a friend, you can choose to stay connected to them, too. A start for that would be to share your experience. “Right now I feel…” And all sorts of interesting things can happen from there.
So, here is the work:
- Step 1: Notice the impulse to distract.
- Step 2: Check in with yourself.
- Step 3: Choose to stay connected.
Healing means coming to terms with what is (Jon Kabat-Zinn). These three steps alone are one main portal for healing. They will transform your relationship to yourself and others. A second major portal of healing is loving relationship. As you train up your ability to notice, be with and share your experience skillfully, your relationships will deepen, and become an incredibly effective place of healing. They will also become deeply fulfilled.
Choosing to stay with your experience and to stay connected to another person is the work that invites healing. It will transform your life. It can get tough and scary, and it requires tools. However, these tools can be learned, just like other skills. One way to learn and practice is to find likeminded and skillful friends (like my friend Jennifer Morrison from The Relationship School® in the picture above: white hat is Jennifer, black hat is me).
You can find likeminded practitioners in our free Relationship Training Community. This group comes with guidance from two experienced Relationship Coaches and teachers: Myself and Jolandé Heppell. Here we practice, offer tools, help you find practice partners and announce free webinars and chances to join our paid practice community (“The Relationship Students”), if you are ready to take it to the next level by regularly studying the art and work of relationship.
Practice right now and share one favorite way you distract in the comments below. I am curious!