Friday, August 14, 2015

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

We love our egos, don't we? We get along so well together. And what a relationship! It’s been life-long, predictable, we’re safe—more or less. 

OK, fine, we get angry, we feel hurt, we challenge our constraints but, oh, the seduction of familiarity. 

And, typical of any long-standing relationship, breaking up is difficult—no matter how strong the desire to end it.

I’ve coached many clients to observe and break free from habitual patterns. But I must admit, for them and for me, ego much prefers to wear its mask.

Years ago I was scheduled to be in a workshop where I'd be videotaped describing my lifelong change process, and one of the questions would be about Enneagram style Nine’s fundamental belief: I don't deserve to exist. Though I didn’t consciously feel this way about myself, I knew the story was in there somewhere, and spent weeks prior to the workshop being mindful of clues to that belief. Slowly, I began to see evidence.

As a small example, I became aware how fast I read, even when enjoying fiction or poetry for pleasure. I heard, as if magically radioed in from my past, Mary is such a good girl. She does exactly what she’s told and she does it quickly. I remembered being praised for how many books I could read in a week. That expanded to memories of being praised at work for how quickly I completed projects. I saw how this fed my unconscious story: If I do things quickly, people will praise me, I’ll feel worthwhile, and deserve to exist. 

But I didn’t experience the belief, it was still an idea. This continued up through and past the workshop — interesting insights, a deeper level of awareness, a new perspective on coaching clients by looking for their fundamental stories. Still, I hadn’t yet experienced the truth of my story.

Several weeks later, I received the DVD of my interview, eagerly turned it on, and boom! I saw myself as fat, old, and BLAND. I was completely crushed. I could not identify with that woman on the screen!

For a full day my ego danced around looking for ways to accept the external evidence that contradicted my self-image. I read about strategies for embracing growing old. I considered following the path of aging boomer artists Alice and Richard Matzkin (The Art of Aging: Celebrating the Authentic Aging Self) and painting a self-portrait, warts and all — still feeding the story by trying to refute it: I am worthwhile as I am! 

Then, on the second day, I experienced the fundamental story that had been deeply unconscious until that moment. I am worthless. I don't deserve to exist. I felt it down to my bones, my heart was full of shame, and I knew it to be true.

On the third day, I fell through. The phrase fell through is inadequate to capture the experience. I can, however, describe my reaction when I again viewed the DVD of my interview. I felt compassion and even delight, a feeling akin to Oh, so that’s the body and mannerisms my soul is riding in

Since then I've seen significant changes in myself. My defensiveness dissolves more quickly — and in a way that’s very different from tamping down feelings — a sensation of lightness, each molecule more alive. 

I’m not saying I’m transformed, of course. In the immortal words of Valentine Michael Smith from Stranger in a Strange Land, “I am only an egg.” 

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