Letting go of the outside search and turning within

Just as we tend to assume that the world is as we see it, we naively suppose that people are as we imagine them to be. Although the possibility of gross deception is infinitely greater here than in our perception of the physical world, we still go on naively projecting our own psychology into our fellow human beings. In this way everyone creates for himself a series of more or less imaginary relationships based essentially on projection.

C. G Jung

We can often feel divided and conflicted. We wish to integrate all the contrasting parts inside ourselves and develop a greater harmony within, a sense of direction that is solid and does not change from week to week. The first step in achieving this is to listen deeply to our own interior intelligence and find out what it is seeking.

Sometimes we notice that we are projecting onto others, or onto some outside  things,  the search for happiness which need to be anchored within first. We can see this  if we pay attention to our daydreams or our fears. It can happen that  an interior need becomes attached to another person or to our job or some plans and ambitions. In other words, we expect that the other person or the outside event fill in the missing parts of ourselves, rather than looking to do that work within ourselves first. We project the unconscious stage of our development onto another, and then act as if that person is what we imagine him or her to be. Frequently, however, the person is actually a mirror of our needs, which we have not yet come to recognize in ourselves. And as I have said before, our relationship with others reflects the current level of our relationship with ourselves.

It can be a great liberation to become aware that  our projections actually represent our interior unlived capacities. We turn within for what we sought outside, recognize our needs and hold them gently. We start to grow, because a part of us which was hidden is now coming to light. Sooner or later in life, we all have to come face to face with the question of who we really are. If we do not run away but  hold this question in ourselves, it can be the beginning of the greatest adventure in our lives. We can find the missing pieces inside ourselves, and in this way let go and move on to becoming whole.

On not running away in times of difficulty

Building on yesterday’s post about staying with the fears and difficulties that are prompted by relationships and manifest themselves as emotions or feelings in the body. As I have said before, the essence of our practice is learning to stay, and in concrete terms this can mean simply staying with the feeling in the body. Running away – into distractions or compulsive activity, or in a more decisive way such as  starting a new relationship or initiating sudden changes of lifestyle – can take us away from the growth which a crisis often offers. Our sitting practice is the place where we work at learning how to do this. It is where we gradually strengthen our capacity  for faithfulness to our actual daily existence, no matter what arises.

The problem with running away when a relationship becomes difficult is that it’s also turning away from ourselves and our potential breakthroughs. Fleeing the raw, wounded places in ourselves because we don’t think we can handle them is a form of self-rejection and self-abandonment that turns our feeling body into an abandoned, haunted house. The more we flee our shadowy places, the more they fester in the dark, and the more haunted this house becomes. And the more haunted it becomes, the more it terrifies us….. Naturally we want to do everything we can to avoid this place, fix it, or neutralize it, so we’ll never have to experience such pain again……This is a vicious circle that keeps us cut off from and afraid of ourselves.

John Welwood, Intimate Relationship as a Spiritual Crucible.


Two Jungians writing about the fact that we often see people repeating the same story in their lives, over and over again.  Sometimes these repetitions are of a neurotic nature: returning again and again to what Jung called  “the practice and repetition of the original experience” which was laid down in childhood, even though that experience is not necessarily healthy. We see people drawn back to repeat relationships which echo the one they had with wounded parents who could not meet their needs for consistency and care. They create self-sabotaging patterns and repeat these as they are familiar, sometimes,  ironically, believing that they are the opposite of what was happening when they were little.

However, gradually, if awareness is brought to these repetitions,  a second process can take place. A deeper natural energy within us begins to challenge these choices and allows for a healing to take place. God enters through the wound, Jung said, and so if we start to make conscious these patterns, we start to grow. If left outside of awareness they will continue to haunt our lives. Thus often we are learning the same story in our life, being brought back again and again to the place where we most need to grow, where we need to find our deepest meaning. As Jung further said, a neurosis is the suffering of a soul which has not discovered its meaning, and thus repetitions  are an expression of our desire for healing, and the process by which our real Self comes into being.

The individuation process – the way of development and maturation of the psyche – does not follow a straight line, nor does it always lead onwards and upwards. The course it follows is rather stadial, consisting of progress and regress, flux and stagnation in alternating sequence. Only when we glance back over a long stretch of the way can we notice the development. If we wish to mark out the way somehow or other, it can equally well be considered a “spiral”, the same problems and motifs occurring again and again on different levels.

Jolande Jacobi

The coming of consciousness is not a discovery of some new thing; it is return to that which has always been

Helen Luke

Our sense of self and our early experiences

Our early experiences strongly shape our sense of self.  They become hard-wired into our unconscious system and then are triggered easily at important moments in adulthood. Because they are so deeply ingrained in our cells they can influence us when we are drawing conclusions about the kind of person we are. Frequently they are concerned with laying down a blueprint as to how reliable or safe the world is, and to what extent others can be trusted. This influences the broad autobiographical narrative which tends to be established by our late teens, colouring our expectations about life and about people. We are balancing our experiences of attachment or closeness with our experiences of unreliability and disappointment. Early disappointment affects our  ability to trust or feel safe, or to fully give  ourselves in adult relationships. Consequently we often approach a relationship in the hope that it will be the one which will finally heal these early disappointments –  hoping to rewrite the relational blueprint which caused us problems as a child – or behave in a way that our negative expectations will be confirmed.  Sometimes the repair happens, but often we are looking outside for something which needs inner work to be fully achieved.

We are wired for attachment
in a world of impermanence.

How we negotiate that tension
shapes who we become.

Robert Neimeyer, Ph.D.

Working with our fears and not splitting

Mindfulness practice simplifies things, drawing together the scattered parts of our mind and our life and helping us in the process of integrating our lives. It does this by encouraging us to hold in awareness all the parts of our lives, even those things which we find frightening or threatening. We try to sit with events in our lives – or parts of our selves – that are difficult and then we work on the mind’s tendency to flee. It seems that personal growth happens more quickly if we are open to working with difficulties rather than trying to constantly run away from them. Mindfulness helps us to see that whenever we feel that we are really stuck, it is because we have not looked deeply enough into the nature of the experience.

However, this sounds much easier than it is, especially in times of crisis or when someone we are close to lets us down. It is in these moments when we feel overwhelmed, that we are most likely to judge ourselves or others most harshly. We have a tendency to identify with a difficulty and that affects how we see ourselves or how our life is going. One favoured way of dealing with feelings provoked by this is to split the world into “good” and “bad”, them and us, solidifying our sense of self, maximizing distance in order to increase a sense of safety. Splitting is an early defense mechanism which can be activated in response to a perceived threat, and means that any complexity in the situation or the person is not allowed. It is common in individuals whose early experiences meant that they did not form a healthy bond with their primary caregivers and thus have an impaired capacity to trust in adulthood.  Because of this it is difficult for them to allow that other people are not always perfect and sometimes make mistakes.  It means there is no grey area, histories are frozen into a moment and that moment  defines the other person. We solidify the most negative core beliefs about ourselves or others and let them define our life, seeing it as threatened or hopeless. This causes a lot of difficulty in relationships as it tends to go hand in hand with  intense anger and blaming.

Mindfulness practice can help us be aware of these defense mechanisms arising, see fear and anger forming, and help us to notice when the desire to withdraw appears, normally accompanied by a kind of defensive story-line. If we can spot this happening we may have enough of a gap to see the whole drama.  If so, we can question what is feeling threatened, whether it is really actually me, or some story which I have about myself and my life. If we can resist the tendency to split or identify we can come to see that everything is workable. We can then experience for ourselves that it is ultimately possible to work with everything, and to keep a compassionate heart open to others and to all that occurs in our lives.

Facing ourselves in our relationships

Each day, as we grow older, we are challenged to live as the person we would like to be. This is not always easy when we are stressed or we are hurt or let down. And also we can, at times, choose selfishness rather than genuine care for others. And what I increasingly notice is how much of our behaviour has it roots in fear.

The places where these fears are most often activated is in relationships with others. Frequently we instinctively act in defensive ways to protect our hearts. Relationships have the capacity to trigger our deepest fears, which often reflect patterns established in our childhood. I notice this when a strong emotional reaction is triggered, and automatic,  deeply believed – often fearful – thoughts dominate, which are very easy to take as the truth. Normally my first move is to maximize distance in order to protect myself and act as if the other person is a threat to the security of my deepest self.  Relationships open our hearts and expose our needs. Sometimes we clearly feel that is not safe. And when that happens we all follow some strategy to escape feeling the fears that silently run our life.

However, the truth about relationships is that they reflect closely our relationship with ourselves and reveal a lot about the clarity or confusion in our inner life. In fact our relationships with others can never be better than the relationship we have with ourselves. We often project on to the other what is going on inside ourselves, often what we are unable to manage properly, and this is at the root of our fears, and the reason they are so strong. Thus we can blame the other for confusion which is actually inside ourselves.

I have noticed this often in myself recently. Therefore I am now trying, when strong fears are triggered, to turn towards them and let them in, looking on them as a ‘what’ instead of as ‘me’. Instead of running story lines of anger and blame, I try and just stay with the original feeling of hurt. Even if the fear triggered is strong, if I manage to do this soon afterwards, I notice the fear loses its power quickly and a more open response can emerge. The fear can thus becomes a teacher, hopefully leading to understanding rather than paralyzing.

Fear tells us to stop, to stay within the boundary of our protected cocoon-world. Yet when we feel fear, if we take even one small step toward it rather than yielding to our habitual pulling away, we move one step closer to the vast mind that lies beyond. When we feel fear instead of saying ‘I’m afraid,’ thus reinforcing our identification with our fear as who we are, we can simply say, ‘Fear is present.’  Thus fear’s power gradually dissipates, and we begin to free ourselves from it. When we simply experience fear just as it is — without our opinions, judgments, and reactions — fear is not nearly so frightening.

Ezra Bayda, Saying Yes to Life (Even the Hard Parts)