SHE STILL CALLS IT EAST BERLIN

20 Mar

Berlin. 27 FEBRUARY 2016. 20:30.

The place I stood was unnamable, but it had a name.  We stood in the quiet and cold darkness behind the wall.  The dim glow of streetlights cast soft shadows onto the grass in front of us.  “This is where it was.”  Chills ran all the way down my body, spine to feet. No words.  The thoughts I thought were unthinkable, but they still thought themselves. And the feelings that felt themselves in my body were opaque, hardened.

So I stood still, took a moment to breathe, and let the feelings in.  After all, we had spent our days in work sessions that were all about letting sensation and feeling move through our body.  And our inside joke became the simple words, “Shut up.” As in, stop talking and stop thinking, and let the walls come crumbling down.

Across the way, a couple shadowy figures walked silently past at a safe distance.  “It’s so quiet.”  She led me around the wall.  “We are back in the West.” And then around the corner and into the deeper shadows.  “We are back in the East.”  Over the next couple of hours, we would walk from East to West and back to the East again, simply by stepping over the old boundary where the wall once was.  Finally, we arrived at a broad boulevard. “And Hitler liked to parade down this one.”

Walls and displays of force were the external themes of the evening, yet the internal themes were power through connection, connection through honesty, and honesty through vulnerability.  These are the real winners of the night, and yet the historical legacy we were witnessing was a legacy of fear and contraction.  The Third Reich was built on fear.  And just a few decades later, the Berlin wall was built as the ultimate expression of denial – denial that the eastern bloc political system was a complete failure.

When the people I work with are exposed to chronic neglect, abuse, or situations that invoke pain, they inevitably build walls.  In the privileged, cordoned-off world of psychology, we call them “defenses,” and this term is accurate to an extent.  These walls may serve to protect us from pain, but they also ultimately keep out joy, love, and delight. We cannot build an emotional wall that magically allows some things in while keeping out the bad.  Nor can we build a material wall and expect that the attractive, desirable, non-threatening elements will magically pass through it; or that they will want to walk through the extra-special, small door we open for them.  No matter what system we create, walls turn the “good ones” away and sometimes mistakenly let the “bad ones” come over the top.  I have seen it time and again, only for the wall-builders to later decide that they made a mistake by keeping the good ones at bay.

I spend my days teaching people how to tear down their emotional walls safely, and replace them with more sensible and comprehensive alternatives: observation, vetting, and discernment.  I teach my clients what I have to practice with myself everyday: how to let sensations back into their bodies, little by little.  After enough practice, we learn that the sensations themselves are different from the stimuli, and they can protect themselves from real threats through discernment.  Cutting off the pain does not truly protect us.  Nor do walls. People who build walls still experience abuse and neglect; the pain is just duller at times.  As important as this is for personal healing and consciousness, there is a bigger story here.

For those who know me well, personal evolution is political evolution; without applying social change, personal evolution carries a narcissistic quality.  As a world of nations, we need to act smarter, not bigger and more afraid.  Walls are just weakness and fear hiding inside the schoolyard bully.  But a sophisticated intelligence infrastructure that abides by our foundational values of human rights and individual freedoms shows discernment and prowess. Just as the wounded human must let down his emotional wall and develop a more sane and functional security apparatus, so must we as a nation.  Again, with openness and love, the individual and the nation can develop a system of observation, vetting, and discernment.  The wall simply will not do.

On that cold evening in Berlin I let my wall come down.  I let the pain of history move deeply through my body until I was satisfied that my intuition was back online.  As I let this process unfold, I felt a deep power reawakening inside, the power I have been slowly cultivating after several years of cutting it off and fortifying my positions.  And when my friend and I finally came in from the cold for food, I could sit across the table from her and look into her eyes without the fear that had ruled my house for so long.  As our conversation unfolded, bridging cultures and experiences, I thought, “This is what I want for my nation.”L1017941

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