By Matt Licata
It is important to realize that the path of opening the heart is not the path of becoming an emotional doormat for the unloading of others’ unconscious, unresolved beliefs, emotions, “teachings,” and behaviors. The only way to care for and metabolize the “other” within us – that which we have previously disavowed and sequestered into the wilderness of the shadow – is by way of profound levels of self-compassion.
For many, this sort of self-love does not come easy, as it was not encoded into neural circuitry in environments that lacked consistent, empathic attunement to a little one’s unfolding emotional world. But it is something you can learn, now. Wherever you are. The pathways are fluid and are awaiting reorganization by love.
The qualities of empathy, attunement, and kindness are not passive, yielding, and always sweet and peaceful. At times they take on wrathful forms, but always remain grounded in compassion. They are hardwired in us, however have become obscured due to misattuned relational experiences and our subsequent ways of organizing those experiences in a tender brain, nervous system, and developing heart.
In the tantric tradition, there are four pathways of relating with unresolved energy: pacifying, enriching, magnetizing, and destroying. Pure, transformative compassion will make use of each of these energies at different times in order to act in ways that are both wise and skillful. True compassion is not always soft, capitulating, and surrendering, but at times is fiery and fierce. But this fire and ferocity emerges from a heart that is wide open, and a longing to dissolve suffering in all its forms, for both self and other.
While perhaps appearing “compassionate” on the outside, being an emotional doormat usually involves the re-enacting of early, unconscious dynamics. We learned that devaluing ourselves, often in very subtle ways, was the best route to get our needs met, to fit in, to receive attention and affection, and to maintain a precarious tie to an unavailable attachment figure.
As a young child, this was very intelligent and creative, and served to protect us from all sorts of overwhelm and dysregulation. From this perspective, these strategies may be seen as a certain form of grace; not wrong, bad, or “unspiritual,” but simply out of date and no longer of service to an adult longing for intimacy, connection, and aliveness.
Because the pathways are luminous – neither solid nor fixed – it is very possible to encode new circuitry that is organized around empathy, kindness, and presence. But this possibility occurs only by way of self-compassion, not by re-enacting old strategies of being a doormat.
Look carefully and see the ways you habitually place others’ needs over your own… not out of true compassion for them, but as a re-enactment of an early environment of shame and unworthiness.
With the beloved as your guide – in whatever raging form he or she may choose to take – pour your holy awareness and loving presence into the beliefs, the emotions, the sensations, and the behaviors which are now arising for update and integration.
Surround your immediate experience with spacious warmth and holding, surrender the habitual abandonment of yourself once and for all, and seed a new pathway.
For it is through this pathway that love will erupt here.