<continued from Part I – Facing Myself for the Very First Time>
A Radical Shift in Perspective
As this process continued, I began to have these moments of insight and clarity that were deeply profound, each one lifechanging in its own small way. I called it ‘the popcorn popper’ and every day I was seeing new kernels blossoming into form. And then came the day when I finally faced the childhood trauma that started it all. I called my mother and spoke with her, at length, about my life, my suffering, and what I’d been going through for all these years; and I asked her what happened. You see, when I was about 7 years old, my father was in the navy and we were living at the naval base in Cuba. My parents divorced and we moved to Florida to live with my aunt. It was just me and my little brother, thrown into the turmoil of parental discord – with no control over anything that was happening.
One day, we were heading to New Jersey to visit my grandparents – a day I remember vividly. We spent a week or two there and had a good time being together as a family. Then, when it came time to leave, my little eight year old heart was shattered. My mother kneeled down in front of me and told me that I wasn’t going home. That she was taking my brother back with her to Florida, but I’d be staying with my grandparents in New Jersey. And then she left. So here I was, eight years old – I’d just lost my father and now my mother had given up on me to. No one wanted me. No one loved me. I was stuck with my grandparents and my other aunt – and as much as they tried, there was nothing they could do to put humpty dumpty back together again.
I lived in New Jersey for a year. By the time my mom had me come back home again, the damage was done. What I began to refer to as ‘the oldest wound’ had been opened and become infected. As I spoke to my mother, at the age of 42, about this experience, she was completely devastated. For her, it will forever be the greatest mistake of her life – but there, in that moment, in our sharing, we began a process of healing that nothing else could have touched. She told me that none of it had anything to do with me – told me how much she had loved me, how dear I was to her and how hard it had been to leave me behind. She admitted to her own reasons for doing so – and she set the record straight on everything that I’d been holding onto for all those years.
When people talk about catharsis, I understand what that word means now. In that one conversation, 35 years of darkness began to fall away. And something new opened up in me – a new kind of willingness and understanding – a new call for love within myself – something completely different from anything I had ever experienced before. In the days that followed, the popcorn popper went into overdrive, until it finally exploded. There were a number of other things happening in my life at the time, and healing was coming from every possible direction, but that one phone call got right to the root of everything – to the sense of abandonment that became my insecurity and my unworthiness – that became my entire inner world and all of my protective mechanisms.
Entering into the first couple of weeks in October, I was a changed man. I started to challenge myself to rise to every occasion – and to let go of my old patterns of thought and behavior. On 13 October of 2104, I was bringing that newfound sense of intensity to a couple of important chores that needed to be done around the house. There was a floor transition that needed to be installed in the entryway of the house, and there was some work that needed to be done to readjust a doorframe in the bathroom. No matter what, I was going to get these two tasks completed while my girlfriend was at work. I started to work on the floor transition – it was difficult work – and historically, when I encountered ‘difficult work’, I would just quit and go watch TV or play video games; but not this time.
The floor transition needed to be installed in concrete, which was quite challenging. I did everything I could, tried every trick I could imagine, watched a lot of YouTube segments, and yet nothing I tried worked. I was getting angry with the project – feeling a familiar sense of rage rising up within me. It was a telltale sign of my old emotional content. If there was something I couldn’t do, or something that made me feel ‘lesser’ I’d skip right past angry and into an earthshattering rage. The reason I often quit doing things that were difficult was in an effort avoid this rage, because it was not something I wanted to experience. It was easier to give up than to feel things. But this time was different, because, somehow, I was experiencing this rage at a distance, mindfully; a mindful bodily rage.
And so there I was, doing my best to complete a project that was obviously beyond my skill, but unwilling to give up until it became clear that there really wasn’t any way for me to finish the install on my own. I needed help, which of course just made things worse – but I wasn’t really concerned about it – I just needed to do what I needed to do. And so I switched to the door frame. It had shifted out of alignment and needed to be reset. Continuing to be with my mindful bodily rage, I began to take everything apart and engage in the adjustment process. As I was trying to shift the frame into its final position, it cracked. My rage doubled – and yet it did not consume me. I calmly assessed the situation and determined that we’d need to replace the frame. But my rage was right there – being witnessed.
With both projects ending in failure, and this intense, mindful, bodily rage burning on the inside, I decided that I needed to find a way to deal with my rage. I tried a couple of things, but they didn’t work out, so I went to the bookstore to get a book on rage. It was quite common for me to buy a book on any topic that interested me or was troubling me, but as I was walking into the bookstore, seething with rage, my only hope was that no one would talk to me – I wanted to be able to hold on just long enough to get out of there without losing myself to the monster. Luckily I did find a book on rage, but then remembered that a friend had recently recommended ‘The Work’ from Byron Katie, so I found an audio CD of hers called ‘Your Inner Awakening’.
I made it out of the store and back to my car. I was still completely caught in my mindful rage, but I’d met my goal. I put the CD in and started driving around. As I listened to Byron Katie talk about her own life before her ‘Inner Awakening’, I heard her talking about my life. What she was describing was exactly what I’d been experiencing – albeit hers had its own unique flavor – but it tasted the same. All of the pain and anguish, the self-loathing, the shame and guilt, the inner and outer struggle – it was all right there. As I drove around, I felt like I’d found kinship with someone who knew what it felt like to be me – and I was listening intently to what she was saying. All I remember now, is that I was turning the corner, a block from home, as she was talking about her family’s problem with socks.
By the time I walked in the door of our home, my rage had subsided – replaced by sheer exhaustion. All told, I had spent a full six hours in a state of mindful bodily rage that was on the verge of consuming me at any moment. So I went outside, into the back yard, and sat down under our small covered porch. Without thinking about it, I closed my eyes and settled into a state of deep absorptive meditation. Suddenly, everything inside of me fell away. There were no thoughts, no sense of identity, no sense of self. There was simply awareness – and awareness of awareness. My mind was completely empty – my inner and outer worlds had both disappeared – the ‘me’ was gone – there was only this awareness – and me, as awareness, aware of my awareness. That’s all there was – awareness, aware of itself, as awareness.
I have never been the same since that moment. That was the end of everything and the beginning of something completely new. Who I had spent my life as, suddenly and irrevocably, died in that moment. Something wondrous was reborn in its place. It was an experience of such incredible and profound intensity that it will be with me for the rest of my days. It was my initial opening into what would become my life – the first real and tangible step into Self-realization; something I knew nothing about at the time. I was not a spiritual person and spirituality had not really been of any interest to me. In fact, I joke, to this day, that I was both an atheist and an asshole. So imagine my surprise when I found out just how wrong I really was.
<Read Part III – Emptying Myself of Myself>