I always thought of ‘heartbreak’ as a metaphor. A word that I would never use because it didn’t feel true. In fact, I always wondered why people use metaphors.
Why to say something in such a way if you can just say it as it is? Outside the aesthetic pleasure of beautiful words, what is there to it?
Maybe there are no real metaphors at all. Last year at an ayahuasca ceremony I felt my heart covered in ice and then I felt it melting. I literally felt the coldness and the warmth radiating from within. Suddenly I knew what an expression ‘frozen heart’ meant.
Suddenly all those song lyrics and poems that I have ever heard started making sense. I wonder if all artists then are feeling so deeply? I wonder if the real appreciation of a painting, a poem or a song lays in the ability to feel through it and not just grasp the mental concept behind it?
I always had great appreciation for art. Yet more often than not I come to it from my head. I look at the painting and there is a story to it. And it is the story that I like. What art represents is what makes it so appealing, not what it actually is. Not the colours, emotions, and depth of feeling. Those things you can only feel from the heart, but what if you cannot feel your heart?
About a year and a half ago I flew to see an old friend in San Diego, who was also there on a vacation visiting family. We went to a gallery where most halls were filled with the kind of paintings that I enjoy — the paintings with the story, the story about the artists, their time, the context and everything their art represents.
My friend was moving very quickly through them, unlike me, who had to stop almost at every painting to read the little caption underneath and pause for a few minutes trying to imagine myself as an artist painting it.
I was trying to grasp the feeling, but in a very different sense. I was in my head trying to get into their head through this piece of creation they presented to the world.
When we reached the last hall, I was ready to leave as it was filled with those paintings that have nothing in them but colour. It was what they call abstract art and the worst kind –a canvas of colour sometimes only of one tone.
My friend however paused and stood in front of one of such paintings for a good five minutes. If she was a stranger, I would have thought she was pretending. What was there to look at?
Yet I know my friend for a long time to know she was actually feeling something.
But I couldn’t see what she saw. I couldn’t feel what she felt.
For me, it was just the canvas with some colour. It was unfinished. It was the beginning of something, but there was nothing in it. No concept for my mind to grasp.
It reminded me of classical music. The bare melody, the sound that just goes on and on, but there is no resolution, no words, nothing to bounce off to create a mental image in my head.
I remember going to such concert once to make my grandmother happy. I was so bored and disconnected I had to put on my earphones and listen to something else entirely.
I don’t know if it was all the ayahuasca I did in the last half a year that opened my heart up like that, or perhaps I have finally found enough courage to feel through my emotions and not run away.
The other day I was helping to feed an elderly woman at home for the aged. She loves classical music so whenever I feed her I play a concert for her on my phone.
But this time it was different.
I couldn’t hold back my tears.
There was some deep sadness to that moment. The sadness that I was carrying within and putting on pause, and the sadness of that very moment.
I felt my heart aching again.
It is very difficult to feel through all this pain. Especially when for years I haven’t felt through it. I wondered why it hurts so much right now the way it never did in the past.
Part of me wants to romanticize it and connect to the specific person who triggered this pain. But I think it was just a trigger, a final push at the right button at the right time, and here it is all flooding in. The years of all the pain that I have been avoiding to feel.
I always used to run away, distract myself. Sometimes, quite literally, whenever I would feel that unsettling feeling I would get on a treadmill and blast out Skepta’s Shutdown on repeat. Without actually knowing it, I was cueing my feeling side to shut down.
The pain was too much to bear.
A couple of weeks back was the first time I broke down crying in my therapist’s office. I felt such intense pain that after a few seconds I stopped, told him I feel better and just switched. It is almost like a different person came in. I was all social and bubbly and telling him how we should do something else. He said, “Perhaps the pain is too much for you”.
“Or perhaps, it is all gone and done”, I thought.
He was right this time, though. It was too much. It still is too much. It comes out in little bursts there and here, and then my mind comes in and takes over.
There is more space now, however. It is easier to let myself cry and heal when my Masculine side provides that holding container, where I am able to be present for myself without the judgment.
Prior, my Masculine was hypercritical of any expression of emotion. It would come in and be like: “What the hell are you crying for?”. It always needs to know, it wants to find solutions or rationalize.
“A 2018 national survey of over a thousand adolescents found that boys felt there was only one narrow pathway to successful manhood. They still equated the display of most emotions as well as vulnerability, crying, or appearing sensitive or moody, with “acting like a girl”.
What psychologist William Polack calls “the boy code” trains guys to see masculinity in opposition to, and adversarial toward femininity: a tenuous, ever shifting position that must be consciously policed”, writes Peggy Orenstein in her book “Boys & Sex: Young Men on Hookups, Love, Porn, Consent, and Navigating the New Masculinity”
This opposition of femininity and masculinity exists not only within the social gender dynamics but deeply in our psyches internalized from family and society at large.
However, gender is not the only factor.
Culture too influences how we view emotional expression. In certain cultures, the common attitude is ‘to suck it up and get through it’.
The emotional display and expression are not valued and even looked down upon. The predominate energy of the whole country is Masculine, and the toxic version of it — the one that cuts off the Feminine and puts itself on a pedestal.
The patriarchy is the consequence.
The root cause however is the cycle of generational and ancestral trauma.
This is the case for the country I grew up in, this is the case for many countries outside the First World as well as families of immigrants.
“It is about plain survival: when you have to work to feed your family as your ancestors did, it becomes normal and you just get used to it.
From the outside, Russians are often perceived as depressed, melancholy people. But this so-called “depression” is not what it seems, it’s just a state of mind to help us cope with whatever life throws at us”, writes Georgy Manaev in Russia Beyond.
Emotional compartmentalization is indeed a coping mechanism, but not a good one.
This was my reality too.
I even remember feeling proud of myself when I didn’t shed a single tear after a difficult breakup. I managed so well, I thought. Perhaps I did. It took a lot of mental strength to block all those feelings, to resist and to suppress. But at what cost?
“Just as physical injury makes you naturally protective and sensitive to anything that may cause further injury, the same is true for emotional ones. And by relying on cutoffs as the primary way of coping with conflict and hurt, the tendency to do so becomes more and more automatic”, writes psychotherapist Robert Taibbi in Psychology Today.
We think we can run away forever. But it will catch up eventually. The question only is when. When you yourself willingly invite all of these emotions in and work on opening yourself up, or when something happens and it all just floods in.
I wonder if this is how we manifest heart problems — that disconnection and numbness of the heart that block the arteries and create heart attacks. This is in fact the theory behind the chakra system. All diseases are at first manifested on the energetic level.
“When Heart Chakra is blocked we feel lonely, disconnected from ourselves and others, resentful, depressed (due to lack of hope), grief, distrust in ourselves, lack of compassion, unable to accept love given by others.
On a physical level, a blocked Heart Chakra may manifest as heart issues (like congestive heart failure or heart attacks, asthma and allergies, lung cancer, breast cancer, bronchial pheumonia.”, writes Reiki Master Margarita Alcantara.
Yet we tend to think that heart attacks are caused by lifestyle, stress, long work hours, food choices, alcohol and drug consumption amongst other things. But your lifestyle choices are the direct reflection of how connected you are to yourself.
It is the emotional pain that we don’t want to experience that lead us to make certain choices. If you cannot escape yourself in drugs and alcohol, you will escape yourself in work or even helping others. Anything to do but to feel.
I said: What about my heart?
He said: Tell me what you hold inside it?
I said: Pain and sorrow.
He said: Stay with it. The wound is the place where the Light enters you.
If I knew how much this pain had to offer me, perhaps I wouldn’t resist it so much for all these years.
It is in the pain that you experience such depth that lets you look within and find answers to all your questions. It is through the pain that you find parts of yourself that you didn’t know existed. It is through the pain that you remember your humanity.
I am hurting, but I am also healing. It is only by feeling through everything that you restore that connection with your heart and thereby with yourself. And that connection is the most important one to have because it is your inner compass.
It is that inner guidance that knows who you are and what you are here for.
Unlike your mind though, it won’t tell you but it will show you.
And at times it will contradict everything you know about yourself. It will contradict those mental pictures you have attached yourself to of being a certain type of person, of doing a certain type of things but not others. And here is where you have to trust it enough, but as a society we often don’t because we think our hearts lead us astray and our intelligence is what gets us somewhere in life.
Neither is true. Our hearts lead us towards what we desire, towards the experiences that we most need. Even if those are painful. But because our heart is at war with our mind, we are unable to let them co-exist in harmony. It is either one or the other, and that is of course not going to work.
If you follow your heart only, if you rely fully on your Feminine side, there is no safety net, no security, no holding container for all that wildness and emotion.
If you follow your mind only, if you rely fully on your Masculine, life becomes mechanical, there is rigidity, there is constant action underneath which is deep unfulfilment.
Some experience one scenario or the other which makes them further turn against that side of them and swing to the other extreme.
Some of us experience this in childhood. As kids we are more in touch with our heart and our parents are meant to provide that holding container for us to just be. But if the container wasn’t there, or was more of a cage that restricted all movement, then we learn that we cannot trust our heart, that the Feminine within is dangerous.
We grow up with a poor sense of boundaries, unable to connect with our creative and feeling side, while also carrying deep resentment towards the way we have experienced the Masculine — either deeply confining with no air to breathe, or as an unreliable container that sometimes holds and sometimes lets it all spill through.
It is not merely the inner conflict between two. It is the denial of one integral part of self, and the identification with the other. It can fluctuate, of course, but the resentment is there, and it builds up.
If you let your heart lead the way and it ends up breaking to pieces, the Masculine comes in and resents the Feminine even more — not realizing that it too had a vital role to play. After all, it wasn’t there to provide a safe space.
But if this relationship between the two was never modelled, how would it know? How would it know what it is like to be a holding container, to just be and listen and support without fixing, restricting or walking out the door?
In some sense, it models the situation in society. Perhaps this is why gender inequality is still so prevalent. With so many kids growing up resenting their own Feminine and Masculine, they are ought to resent each other in society.
Everything that is without is within.
We all are just re-enacting that which we already carry internally.
Although our internal struggle doesn’t justify the external injustice, bringing awareness to it can help us heal those wounds within. It points us towards inner work, forgiveness and radical self-love.
And to really love yourself fully, and be able to offer that love to others, you have to let yourself feel.
If you don’t cry with all your heart, how will you ever love with all your heart?
Previously published on medium
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