Monday, July 12, 2021

Emptiness Unknown

There used to be a deep-belly emptiness in me, though for most of my life, I did not even know I felt empty. This may be because I insured I didn’t feel...or I didn’t feel what I wasn’t supposed to feel...or at least I didn’t feel too much, whatever that meant in my contexts. In the last 5-7 years, however, a fullness I never knew was possible found me, or was released within me, or…something...? Midlife awakening? Surely. Midlife crisis? For a time, yes. But I had been empty without knowing I was empty, and I’m a woman who is assumed to know a lot

So now I’m curious about this emptiness unknown. One, how could I have not known I was empty? What were the assumptions and practices that filled my life but did not fill me? The second reason is probably part of the first, in some way. Now that I can feel this overwhelming fullness, this grounded peaceableness that opens doors for me and holds spaces for me? I want everyone who will listen to know about it. To know about this groundedness, this fullness, this sacred abundance that is simply everywhere, though hidden in plain sight in a consumerist, market-economy environment. It's like having a felt-sense of the best thing EVER but being basically mute, speechless.

I don’t berate myself for not knowing, at least not as much anymore. I’m learning to trust there is a divine order to things, and life expands when I surrender into what is, just as it is, even as I get to learn and offer my part as I may. I also do NOT want to sound preachy or judgmental or presumptuous, because my own journeying need not parallel anyone else’s. I know that. Yet this yearning to share presses into me more and more... How to proceed? A bit of story context, perhaps.


One rendition of this story is rooted in my own family lineages. I was born into a Pennsylvania-Deutsch Brethren/Scottish-British Baptist weave of family, with well-tended material needs and a highly relational extended family enamored with professional success and intellectual achievement. This means I have striven hard for and earned/been granted an establishment life--seminary professor married to an attorney-become-pastor in a mainline denominational church. We are double-income-no-kids dog-lovers with ease of a quiet life we love. The underbelly of this life however is an inordinate devaluing of emotional experience(s), a confinement of the heart within the categories available to the mind. Without shame or blame, the wisdom of the body and the inarticulate movements of the Heart simply do not factor into how my family connects with itself. Instead, it’s information, social-capital connections, books, movies, and achievements. And some of the most internally lonely people I know. There is a deep emptiness about which we never speak. To even allude to it will bring the conceptual violence of intellectual debate and refusals into speech. The shame and fears of unworthiness (or whatever the bindings may be) are simply too great, too intentionally unconscious. Unbearable. So I no longer speak of the emptiness deeply within my family to my family.

Another rendition can come in terms of the rise of the feminine so apparent today, which expressed itself within my own life in the last 5-7 years. ‘Feminine’ was a bad word in my house, for various mostly unconscious reasons. I remember the sneer on my dad’s face when I was in high school, as he distanced himself from something feminine and my mother looked away. The implicit curriculum in my family line was clear: feminine is weak, disdained, avoided. Voice in my family was granted through connection to the father, the brothers, and I maximized that pathway to agency for at least four decades. Blessedly so, I might add--a great gift to me and to my life today. But something began to break open in me, at first gently and then more and more persistently: I was feminine. I am a woman in body and soul. There are different ways to be who I am than I first knew. It took incredible strength to claim this part of me, the body wisdom so deep in me, so disdained in my family line. The pain of coming to voice in this way, audibly and visibly in my family, was extensive. No one in my immediate family or family of origin was interested in my newfound feminine. Particularly as I was enraged and reactive about its silencing, abuse, neglect. For years. I don’t actually blame them. It was no picnic.

Another strand of this storyline could be explored in the cultural heritages within which I live and am perceived in my life and work: whiteness. My curiosity comes in this term last, latest, because admittedly it is the newest framework within which I’m wondering things aloud. I’m not jumping onto the Critical Race Theory trains, nor am I interested in debating systemic racism (or not). I’m not interested in debates, so why would I be interested in those?

But I am interested in this emptiness unknown, and its emergence in me, a white body. So many strands of European cultures divide the mind from the heart, the spirit from the flesh. A dualism entrenched in Holy Scripture, that gives an either/or habit of mind and a longstanding relationship with shame, guilt, judgment (of the other, or fear of judgment in the self). Any deep feeling that would arise in me? Sublimation into the cognitive. Reticence to feel too much, be too much, say too much. A numbness or a deadness that would be perceived an appropriate response for any societal disruption that makes 'those that be' uncomfortable. Do that every day for nearly fifty years, and you’d have an incapacity for feeling, and an inability to connect with basic human instincts of seeing another as yourself, loving another as oneself. No matter heritage, skin, culture, history...to see another person always with the spark of the divine, however muted or dimmed it may seem to me. To realize when I'm not seeing an other in this compassionate light...even with my best intentions. When I'm encapsulated in a largely white environment, I know to not cross the streams, impose too much emotion into the space. Except I'm starting to play with that line, gently...in spaces that feel open to a little more emotional expression, in a setting that's already rife with emotion.

I’m sure there will be other storylines within which this emptiness unknown could be explored, but for now…  As a result of this proclivity in me for deep feeling, I feel deeply and often, such beautifully awesome and sadly lamentable Life. Because of my tenacity to stay present in my body amidst disregard, refusals, and the conceptual violence of my family, I know a fullness, a groundedness, a peaceableness that I never knew was possible. It does not depend upon my immediate family, nor upon my family of origin. It does not require anything from my extended family, nor does it need affirmation from beyond. It has a life of its own, always available to me, when I do not separate from it or isolate myself from it...


There used to be a deep-belly emptiness in me. For most of my life, I did not know I felt empty. And now I want everyone who will listen to know this groundedness, this fullness, this sacred abundance is available to one and all. But how do we begin? How do we let this fullness speak for itself, again and again, inviting us ever inward, outward, IN? I do not know, really.


Consider this Post One of a series then. I invite the fullness to find me in these next days or weeks, and then offer the words it may, in its own time...

 

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