This story is a brief account of my current journey. While very much about my personal story, perhaps it contains an element of the universal too.
During the past year I have had moments of an overwhelming urge to go to Siberia. I have to explain right away, that I have no real idea what Siberia is like. I use it here as a sort of dream imagery. A metaphor rather than a real place.
In looking more deeply at the moments when this feeling arises, I have come to understand a lot about my current learning curve. By understanding what it is I am struggling with, I have been able to develop some new and useful coping strategies!
Every time I have wanted to go to ‘Siberia’, I have noticed a similar theme playing out. Someone in my life wants something I cannot give. I am going to upset them... I am torn between pleasing several different people - I am going to upset someone. I am overburdened by the (imagined?) feelings of another person and I feel responsible for their happiness.
And so I want to go to Siberia. To be alone, isolated, cold, barren. No responsibility, no attachments, no burdens. But no love or connection either! Do I really want to be there? No! But I feel no option. I can’t handle the burden of other people’s feelings.
I first interpreted this wish as pure escapism. Since I can’t deal with my own mess, I want to run away and hide! And I think this was an important first step - the feeling of “I cannot do this any longer I have to get OUT of this pattern”. The escapist instinct was actually a useful signal that something needed to change. But I wanted real and lasting change, not to run away only to find find the pattern untouched - a story constantly retold with a cast of changing characters.
Perhaps I should spend time in a monastery? A personal retreat in the mountains for several months? A cave in the himalayas perhaps! “Somewhere alone, alone!” Cried one internal voice. While yet another voice spoke with equal urgency “community! Connection! Companionship! Soul-mates! I can’t bear to be alone for one moment longer”. No easy solution then. And so I spent months, yes months, with this battle of internal dialogue. Sometimes it has been a gentle conversation in the background, sometimes a loud and vigorous argument.
At first I felt no permission to put myself and my needs first. I was personally responsible for fixing the emotional states of others. Time spent in meditation or self care or simply alone felt self-indulgent, wasteful. Even deeper down I discovered the feeling that I only exist in relationship to other people. Love, connection, relationship meant accepting someone else’s energy-cloud. Always keeping them happy so I could be happy!
I can’t tell you exactly when the reconciling force entered my awareness and brought another option. It wasn’t all of a sudden with a clap of thunder. It was a little peace from the polarized conversation. It was moments of experiencing the view from a higher place. I caught these moments and helped them to grow and expand. Practiced them carefully and repeatedly until I formed habits.
I am allowed retreat. I can create a place of safety and isolation, a place that is just about me. I started by creating a physical space as I learned to create the emotional and energetic equivalent within myself. I set up a room, with an alter. The space is filled with my sacred objects and my healing colors. I gave myself permission to sit there without solving anything, without addressing any needs but my own. In the midst of feeling overwhelmed by someone else’s displeasure with me, I gave myself permission to leave the discussion and go to my healing space. For the first time in my life I began to really understand in a body-felt* way, that I do not have to ‘deal’ with anyone else’s feelings, even when they are directed at me. I don’t have to solve them (even when someone else thinks I should!) I don’t have to hurl them back. I can simply go and take care of myself.
*understanding something in a body-felt way is substantially different from an intellectual understanding. Perhaps a subject for later.
How is this different to ignoring the suffering of others you ask? How is it different from running away from challenging situations? First there is what I’m not doing. I’m not numbing myself through things like sugar, caffeine or heroine. Im not distracting myself with Facebook and television (well of course sometimes I am...). Second is what I am doing. I take the time out to connect back to my own center, to find my own strength and truth inside instead of trying to fix ‘it’ . It’s through this action of connecting with myself, that the situation can really transform. This transformation may happen in a myriad of ways each of which is likely to be far more useful for all concerned than the impulse of ‘trying to fix it’.
I have needed this time of self-initiated aloneness. I have needed to learn what it feels like to be the only one inhabiting a space. I am learning to feel complete while alone, and to recognize the signature feeling of my own strong center. I am learning to take full responsibility for my own state of wellbeing.
From this this place I know I will be able to connect with others with greater authenticity and true intimacy. I will be able to maintain my center as I surround myself with the needs and wants and feelings of other strong-willed people. The metaphor of siberia is transformed for me, no longer a place of anguish, it is a place of peace and personal retreat. And I can carry a little siberia with me where I go without need for dramatic and total isolation for eternity!