This morning, I felt the breath of my ancestors on my neck, their hands on my shoulders.
The sensation was of a supportive and affirming nature, yet it carried weight. There was a pressure that conveyed a warning.
It felt like this:
“Listen carefully to what I am saying.”
It felt like something was about to be revealed.
I wasn’t afraid, but I did feel edgy. I had awoken feeling cranky, restless, and uncomfortable in my own skin.
What did it mean?
I had no idea, but I have learned over the years to wait, rather than excavate.
So I began to look at old family photos and I wrote.
I already had a breath work session scheduled this afternoon with Susan Shehata, and the synchronicity of that timing was spot on.
Revelation being what revelation is,
I knew that there might be a bit of a bumpy ride ahead.
I thought, with a sardonic kind of amusement, “Well this should be quite a day.”
This afternoon while I breathed, one of the images that came to me was of my adult self kneeling on the floor–child’s pose style–silently accepting one twine-wrapped brown paper package after another, as they were piled gently on my back.
Some of the time what I saw was my small child self, silently sitting on the floor–legs crossed à la crisscross applesauce–placidly accepting the same packages as they were placed in my lap, creating a wall as they piled up around me.
It became clear to me that the packages and bundles represented the struggles of my ancestors and family members. I had felt their pain as if it was mine, even from a very young age. I intuitively understood their struggles, long before I had had any similar struggles of my own.
Here comes the revelation:
I am, even today, still carrying these loved ones’ suffering, as if it were my own. Even the suffering of those who have passed on.
I have come to know that even as an infant I cared painfully, profoundly, about everything and everyone. Family, foe, friend and stranger. I even readily accepted the burdens and responsibilities belonging to God.
While I sat quietly, not attracting any attention, my child eyes continuously roved around the room. Even with my eyes closed though, with every breath, my cells expanded to take in each and every emotion of each and every person. When conflict or unfairness became apparent between one emotion or one belief system and the next, the restless crowd and the struggle became part of my physiology. My insides became heavy and tight.
The weight was too much for anyone; much less a child.
I experienced this heaviness as a deep sadness and ever-present anxiety nearly every day of my life until approximately 7 years ago (I was nearly 40.)
At some point, I was old enough to make a choice about whether or not I wanted to continue to carry these burdens. But I didn’t yet have the tools to know how NOT to do that.
Perhaps I thought that the carrying was necessary to show how much I cared,
similar to the impulse to watch the media coverage of a tragedy as a means of participating in it.
Or perhaps I thought that this willingness to carry another’s burden was what made me valuable.
If I ran alongside, carrying someone’s baggage, wouldn’t they feel lighter? And then wouldn’t I at least be needed, if not necessarily wanted? So…to be found essential–or at the very least, helpful–was a central drive for me.
I continuously asked myself how I could make someone else’s burden lighter, even if it meant that my own load was unbearably heavy.
The problem was that at a subconscious level, I deeply resented that every other burden in the world was given more importance than my own.
Oh, I secretly thought:
“What must it be like to be catapulted into the lightness and freedom and playfulness of simply being a child! What must that feel like?”
I felt guilty about my deep craving to be released from it all. After all, shouldn’t I be striving to be free of all selfishness?
And occasionally I felt angry.
About feeling burdened so young. About continuously telling myself that I didn’t deserve to be carefree. About even contemplating not spending 100% of my time gladly, selflessly, choosing to carry another’s burden.
Isn’t this what a “good” person should do?
I was also deeply afraid that carrying all of this weight was going to be too much for me. How could my small little arms possibly be expected to carry a weight that rightly belonged on an elephant or an ox? What if I collapsed under the weight of it all? What if I failed?
No matter, I told myself: If the impossible was what was needed, that was what I must do.
I dug in deeper. Doing, trying, working harder, being more.
To try to get to “enough.”
While I became comfortable early on with expressing sadness as an emotion, I continue to struggle to express any semblance of anger. Using the breath and with God’s help, I’m committed to getting there, wherever “there” is.
So far, it has been a process of starting and stopping,
the goal being to get a little further each time, until one day I will fully release it in a healing way.
As I continue to explore the breadth of emotion my body holds within, my awareness goes deeper.
While breathing today, my arms became heavily weighted and immobile at my sides. My shoulders and neck tensed, ached, pinched, and turned to stone. I was physically exhausted, as if I was breathing through early labor pains.
I brought photos with me of some people I care and carry for.
I set an intention to let the carrying go, while holding on to the caring.
I spoke the words in my mind that it was time for me to put those burdens down.