Everyone’s journey into the feeling mind is different. Mark began with a focus on his desire to move beyond habitual ways of being that he had begun to perceive as holding him back from fully inhabiting his life. This post and the next are taken from our first session together.
In preparation for starting his work with me, Mark wrote in his journal the evening before, including the following passage.
I have been “sad” for a long time. I put it in quotes, because in many ways I am a very happy person, perhaps happier than most. Optimistic. Looking for the bright side. But underneath this, there is the belief that the “truest” version of myself is melancholy. Whenever I speak into this melancholy with positive words, it reacts. It says, “I’m the true version of the universe, and don’t you dare challenge me. Because if you challenge me, you are going to just get disappointed again. It’s safer this way. If you believe that you are bad, that you aren’t worthy, that you’re broken, then you’ll never have to face the pain of learning this lesson again – you can go on isolated, ineffective, and apathetic, which is a sort of peace – no one will intrude on you then.”
So this is the little cell I’m comfortable living in. It has a very strong “Do Not Disturb” sign hanging from the door.
We began Friday morning and Mark settled his lanky frame into the ocean-green recliner that had held people through thousands of hours of deep diving and exuberant resurfacing as they traversed the territory of the feeling mind. The scene outside was gray and cold, and on the naked apple tree in the back of our yard a persistent blue jay worked his way into some kind of nut. Mark shared the following as we probed his sense of his “true” reality.
“When I was a kid, I had a great deal of empathy, was very in tune with other people’s emotions. My dad was very disassociated from his own kind of tender, empathetic heart. He was a negative, judging force in my life at a very early age. So there’s some kind of sense of alien-ness to myself, like I don’t belong here in the world, like it was made for others, not for me… That was really reinforced as a kid. I was really strategic about who I spent time with as a teenager in particular, and I worked my way up the social ladder, very purposefully. But I felt like an impostor the entire time I was doing it. ‘I don’t really belong here, sitting with these people.’ I think that has largely followed me into adult life. It’s funny, too, because I think I’ve worked through a lot of these issues to the point where I can be effective in the world, and connect with others, and etc. But I’m realizing that all of this stuff is underneath the surface of that. As soon as I say that, I think of a well, and it’s like the water that comes up out of that well is not clean. There’s work to be done to clean it up.”
He continued, “When I was six and seven I used to draw planets in the margins of my notebooks, and I used to write poems about science. I remember writing this poem when I was six, about how the wind is gentle. And I actually remember having this feeling of the wind as being this character in itself, almost that it had an intention. But I was writing this poem about how the wind was gentle, and the last two lines of this poem were ‘like you, and me.’”
“And who was the ‘you’ do you think?” I asked.
“Just this vision that I had of other people,” he replied. “I saw people and myself as being gentle, and kind, and good. And then somewhere along the way, I don’t have a specific memory, but I just have a general sense that no longer was true. Somewhere along the way that became, ‘Oh, no. Other people are not good, kind, gentle, true. I am. But actually those are not good qualities. Those are weaknesses.’”
Later in our session, Mark continued. “When I think about entertaining a version of the world that is what the child believes, or used to believe, I get this emotional warning bell that goes off. It says, ‘Don’t believe that, because you’ll be disappointed. It’s just a story you’re telling yourself. It’s not true. The bleakness is the truth, not the rich, positive world that you used to believe in.’”
He described a sense of “emptiness, emptiness, emptiness. The void. A cold structure inhabited by nothing, signifying nothing. I imagine myself walking through this empty stone mansion. It’s cold, granite, marble. Everything is drawn, it’s dark.”
Mark named this stark feeling The Empty House. As we turned our attention to mapping it, he became suddenly aware of a stronger, more overwhelming feeling. “There’s some kind of a sense of giving up that’s really present with me right now. Like, ‘Oh my god, why do I bother? Why delve into this? Why do this work any more? I’m powerless to change anything. This is the way it’s always going to be.’ God, I can feel it coursing through my body, this really felt sense of just powerlessness and giving up. [big sigh] It feels like sickness.”
He named this feeling The Sickness, and we turned our attention to it.