A Journey from Head to Heart A Statement of Testimony December, 2004 Toby Quinn Girdwood, Alaska
I came to the White Raven Center in mid-August of 2004 in one the most desperate emotional, mental and spiritual conditions of my life. Months later a now fellow colleague of the White Raven Centerremarked that when I came through the door he thought that I was terminally ill. Such was the toll that the emotional storms raging inside of me had taken on my physical being. I had lost 20 pounds in a matter of 3 weeks, wasn’t sleeping and at that time wasn’t able to keep solid food in my body. These symptoms were not new to me. The specific circumstances, relationships and emotional themes that had so completely broken my heart and sent me into fits of panic and rage last summer mirrored, in many respects, events in my life that occurred in the late winter and early spring of 2000. Part of what was so absolutely devastating and horrifying was that I felt that I was re-living those extremely painful events. It was as if I had hit the reset button on my life. I just couldn’t believe that it was happening again. But it was, and very quickly, like 4 ½ years before, I began watching myself become that utterly broken, defeated and annihilated shell of a human being.
The 13th century Sufi poet Jelalludin Rumi wrote that “The spiritual path wrecks the body and then restores it to health. It destroys the house to unearth the treasure, and then with that treasure builds it better than before.” I would later come to understand that this nearly incapacitating heartache was the stage of destruction coming to fruition. With the help of The White Raven Center I would also come to discover the treasure, but that comes later in the story. The pain was overwhelming and I was aware of the depths of despair and hopelessness to which I was capable of descending. Depression had been an adversary, tormenter, teacher and companion for 20 years. I knew that terrain well and the memory of where that pain and despair had taken me 4 ½ years before had not faded as much as I might have liked. Two hospital stays totaling 9 weeks, nervous breakdown, lost 40 pounds, insomnia, straight jackets, padded rooms, self-inflicted injury, Electro-Convulsive Shock Therapy, more psychiatric diagnoses, more medication, alienation from friends and family, financial collapse and very little if any true healing other than the natural dulling of feeling that comes with time and distance. As I became more and more aware of the similarities between the events of this summer and those 4 ½ years ago it was clear that a pattern had emerged. It was time to get to the source. I needed to heal completely and on August 1st I shaved my head of the hair that hung to the middle of my back as a commitment and dedication to this path of healing. I pledged to myself, Mother Earth, Father Sky and the Spirit within me, beyond me and all around me that I would free myself from what seemed to be a hopeless cycle of karmic torture.
I knew that there were lessons that life was imploring me to learn. The time for subtle suggestions was over. No gentle nudges from life to encourage me to re-evaluate my choices. This time it came not as a request, but as an ultimatum. This pain had cracked me open so wide that it exposed and touched every open wound of longing and loss in my life. It gathered all the pain that had been spread across time for so long and concentrated it in a crushing tightness and burning in my chest and stomach. Of course I had felt those sensations before, everyone has, but this was different. On some level I knew that there was an enormous opportunity here to truly heal. But the pain, anger, despair, feelings of betrayal, abandonment and rejection were so overwhelming that I wasn’t able to ‘own’ my experience and what I had created in my life enough to clearly see what needed to change. Once again a woman who I felt love for, but for a variety of reasons did not allow myself to fully embrace, had chosen a relationship with my best friend and that best friend, after promising me not to pursue a relationship with her, embraced that relationship while growing very distant from me. I had been on a path of healing for long enough to see the pattern and ‘know’ that all that I was experiencing in my life was a projection, a reflection of the beliefs, contracts with life and quality of relationship with myself that I had claimed within. And yet there I was, day after day beside myself with grief, literally devouring myself as I desperately tried to figure it all out. My attempts to wrap my reality in a blanket of illusory control and reason came even as I recognized the futility of such an exercise. My locus of control had always been my intellect. It was a protective device that served me well. It enabled me to survive. But now I knew that as much as it had served me throughout my life, it could not help me now. I saw the pain of these events was calling me back to my heart; calling me to truly embrace and trust myself and life. Simply intellectually recognizing this pattern and being able to write a logical story in my mind that connected the dots between the past and present wasn’t enough this time and I knew it. T.S. Elliott wrote “In order to arrive at what you are not, You must go through the way in which you are not, And what you do not know is the only thing you know, And what you own is what you do not own, And where you are is where you are not.” I had to enter the wilderness of my heart and mind. I had to drop into the abyss and trust that by embracing the darkness I would arrive at my light. With that resolve in my heart and mind I called the White Raven Center.
I was familiar with shamanic journeying. In my own way, guided by several books I had read on the topic, I had experimented with travelling to the spirit world, but I rarely trusted my experience. I had never been prepared to allow and give permission for my powerfully analytical mind to relinguish control, let go and trust a knowing beyond what my rational mind could comprehend. This had always been the paradox of who I am, since I have met very few people in my life who have had a greater interest in the unseen, the unmanifest, the implicate order crackling with energy, connection and infinite potential as I. But my fear of losing control, my fear of the unknown, my fundamental distrust and apathy towards my life and my lack of faith in myself prevented me from exploring that interest in the mystical ineffable to the extremes that I knew I needed to in order to fully heal. Until now.
I arrived at The White Raven Center with nothing to lose. I felt led by Spirit when I called Marianne at the White Raven Center the week before, so that when I arrived I had no questions, no desire for small talk or conversation. I simply wanted to dive into the shadow and do whatever was necessary in order to heal. We gathered in a circle and Marianne began to talk a little about the type of work that they facilitated. I was one of only two participants at this particular workshop, so Marianne kept her introduction brief thinking that I would get a better sense of the process by watching the other participant do her work. We went around the circle and everyone shared a bit about themselves and their relationship to the Core Emotional Process. When the other participant got a chance to speak, much of what she said “triggered” me. In other words her story mirrored my own enough to touch wounds within me and stir up my feelings. By the time it was my turn to speak I could barely hold it together. Marianne and Floyd recognized quickly that I was already “in process”, laid me down, put a blindfold on me and began to guide me deeper and deeper into my feelings.
That first day was one of the most intense experiences of my life. Many pieces of myself that had been lost in my past were reclaimed, spirit entities feeding off of my shame and guilt were removed from my etheric or energetic body and I lost my voice for 3 days from the rage work that I did. Over the course of the next two months I scheduled 5 individual sessions with Marianne and Floyd and met privately and over the phone with Derek another healer working with the White Raven Center. My love for these people is so powerful that a tear of gratitude comes to my eyes as I write this. Never once did I feel anything less than completely accepted and loved. At the end of my first session I was exhausted, unable to move for a half an hour. I lied in Marianne’s lap with Floyd, Derrick, Diane and Charlotte all close by. As I laid there, my head being stroked by a woman I had only met 3 hours before, having exposed some of the darkest most painful, shameful and self-loathsome parts of myself, I felt more sincerely cared for and seen then I could remember. These people had no judgment of me. They respected, honored and accepted my experience as my truth. They knew and practiced impeccably that change can only come by first completely acknowledging and accepting what is. Each of them carried into their work with me an authenticity and integrity, for each of them had been on their own journey of healing and self discovery and were not asking of me anything that they hadn’t experienced for themselves. I feel this to be in sharp contrast to my experience with countless “healers” of the psychiatric profession who seemed more interested in insurance coverage, naming my “illness” and pathologizing my experience than in creating an atmosphere of love and acceptance where I could, without fear of judgement, explore my truth.
My friends at the White Raven Center knew and trusted that my body held within it the memories of all that I have ever experienced. They knew that by following my feelings, by breathing into them and activating these latent memories, that doors would open and I would be guided to the feeling’s source, encountering along the way all the painful, unfulfilling, self-sabotaging experiences in my life that I had unconsciously created from self limiting beliefs, distorted perceptions and unresolved feelings. They knew that there was nothing to figure out. That all would be revealed when I was ready to see the truth. They knew that sometimes when we open to the truth of the moment, the truth of a sensation in our body as we hold an intention to heal, that the information, the knowledge, the path of our healing is received and unfolds simply in the feeling of the feeling and that it may be unnecessary to translate, analyze, critique or frame that feeling in linear, logical ways through rational thought or language. Ultimately they trusted and fully believed that I had the power to heal myself. They could guide, facilitate, encourage, love and support but I had to be the one to choose to follow the threads of my feelings back to the source and reclaim the beauty, love and light that is my true essence.
Each person’s journey is illuminated by the desire of the one walking it. We have to want it. We have to choose it. I wanted it. I chose it. Guided by the beautiful people at the White Raven Center I have found my self-respect, my self-love. I have forgiven myself. Ever since I was a small child I have believed that I am unimportant, unworthy of love, undeserving of happiness, generally inadequate. I believed that there was no place for me in this world and that the only way to get someone to love and accept me would be to care for them in some way giving rise to extremely co-dependent caretaking patterns and a martyr complex. I have struggled with depression for 20 years. Ten of those years I drank alcoholically. I had become so full and concerned about what was right that I couldn’t see what was good. I didn’t know what I wanted. I had spent my whole life waiting for salvation to come from outside of myself and particularly through the romantic love of a woman, or through the love of the father who I never had that I had little faith in my ability to create the life I wanted. If you heard me talk you would’ve thought that I had it all figured out, but that was my well-rehearsed monologue. I knew what people wanted to hear. But in my heart was a little boy who believed that nobody loved him, that nobody wanted him and that he didn’t matter.
The emotional storms of this summer showed me the way to acquiring the tools needed to heal myself. The Core Emotional Process is the most valuable tool I have ever found. I am no longer afraid of my feelings. I now see them as my teachers and my guides. They evince a deeper truth within me and to the extent that I embrace them, regardless of how painful they may be, I create within myself the love, safety, sense of purpose and self-honoring and validation that I have, for so long, sought outside myself. I now take full responsibility for my feelings. I do not blame my ex-girlfriend or friend for the pain that I have experienced along this healing journey. Ultimately, their choices are reflections of their inner process and have nothing to do with me. I now see that the pain was called to me by my spirit’s intense desire to gather myself into the present, cleanse myself of self-limiting beliefs and heal distant wounds of my past. I have held this perspective in my mind for many years, but now, through my work at the White Raven Center, I feel it in my heart. I now see and feel that their choices and feelings for each other and more importantly, the way that I perceived, framed and reacted to those choices constituted the necessary medicine for me to heal. I could have perceived the events of this summer in an infinite number of ways. But, ultimately my perspective was limited by the blocked energy of unresolved feelings.
Life is not what happens to us, it’s the story that we write in our minds and hearts about what we experience. As long as we hold within us the blocked energy of unresolved feelings our perception of the events in our lives are distorted and we have little choice but to perceive them in such a way as to evoke the same sets of feelings; guilt, shame, rejection, abandonment, betrayal, anger, envy etc, that were first deeply embedded and recorded in cellular memory during emotionally traumatic events of our past. Until we dissipate and release the stored energy of unexpressed feelings we will re-enact, re-create and re-live the types of relationships and circumstances that existed when our core beliefs were put in place. This is because the mind wants to be right at all costs. If fundamentally I had a belief that I was unlovable then until I released from cellular memory the feelings that gave rise to that belief, I would unconsciously call to myself all sorts of opportunities for me to perceive myself as unlovable. In that way the mind would be correct in its belief, but I end up miserable, once again feeling unlovable. It’s a war within. However, once you see that your perspective literally creates your reality and that your perspective is shaped by beliefs that were adopted unconsciously and in a state of fear or dictated to us by other people, then you have reclaimed the power to change your reality. For me, it all began by choosing and allowing myself to feel my feelings without judgment. I believe that if we deny our pain, we deny ourselves true joy and that if we deny our truth long enough then that truth will erupt into being through some trauma in our lives. Because we are generally unconscious to what we are in denial of, the trauma becomes an opportunity to become conscious to the beliefs and unresolved feelings that shape our perspective. Ultimately through the process, we learn to love ourselves again.
As long as I didn’t love myself, love from another had no home within my heart. Their love was almost like a commodity that I unconsciously used to try to fill an emptiness within me that I could never seem to fill. Inevitably, I would come to resent that person and their love because not only didn’t it fill my emptiness, but for not filling my emptiness they also expected my love in return. Now that I feel the love that truly fills me coming from within I no longer need people in that way. And not needing them, not being dependent on their perspective, has opened up tremendous space within my heart to want them, be curious about them and share myself openly and without fear. I have reclaimed my power. Needing other people’s love and validation in order to establish my basic worthiness as a human being meant my entire life was about figuring out what I needed to do or who I needed to be in order to secure their attention and love. I had given people so much power to determine my worth, value and purpose that I feared them greatly. Anxiety attacks have been commonplace for most of my life. But, I can now say that I do not fear people in that way anymore. For the first time in my life I can say and more importantly feel what love is (I write about it below). I now feel and believe that it’s o.k. to just be me. This is the treasure that Rumi spoke of. I have unearthed my treasure and with it my gift to the world. There is no more valuable gift that I could give to the world then doing my best on a daily basis to honor being me and in so doing to create the space for others to do the same. The gifts and ways in which I have benefited from my work with the White Raven Center are many and would take volumes to fully convey. In fact, my thoughts and feelings since beginning the work have filled hundreds of journal pages. To conclude I share a couple of those entries with you now.
“A human being is an expression of life, bringing light, reflecting love across whatever dimension it chooses to touch, in whatever form it chooses to take. Humanity isn’t a physical description, it’s a spiritual goal.” – Richard Bach – I’m simply here to be me. Not to save anyone or anything. I’m here to share my love, my attention, my joy – to be Toby. In the desperation of not believing that that is enough we hand our lives over to fear and our days are filled with the anxiety of trying to figure out what we should be doing or what needs to happen – what we need to do to justify our being. We need do nothing. Our existence is justification for our existence. Accept that and we are capable of creating infinitely beautiful expressions of love and compassion. Deny that and we are limited by the rigidities and limitations that stem from the need to be right. It’s all a choice. We can choose to learn and grow; spread our spirit wings and fly through our heart’s skies of trust, faith, compassion and acceptance or we can choose to cling to immediately gratifying illusions of comfort and validation that “make right” incorrect perceptions of the unpleasant, undesirable and frustratingly unfulfilling circumstances of our lives, thus further entrenching the unconscious beliefs that have drawn the boundaries of our lives and rigidly defined the only roads available to travel. It is our choice. We are “clever enough” to avoid the many opportunities given to grow towards freedom, true empowerment and awakening. We can choose to interpret those opportunities as life oppressing us. It’s our choice. In the end we have to want it. We have to want to spread our wings badly enough that we are willing to own the entirety of our suffering. To realize that it is of our own making, that it is no longer necessary and that we have the choice to let it go.’
This next entry was written the day after a workshop. ‘During the work this weekend, there was much talk of “sponging”- basically having poor boundaries, becoming a caretaker and taking on other people’s feelings thus depriving them of the chance to take responsibility for their experience and claim the personal power necessary to change. I feel that as my self-love grows and I become better and better at maintaining good boundaries I am redefining and recreating how to love. Love, which for me, until now, has always been a fear based, self-centered means of contradicting the belief that I was unlovable, undesirable and fundamentally flawed, has had less to do with the object of love than it has with trying to fill an emptiness in my heart. Now I see, feel and am coming to know more each and every day that love is a feeling within that naturally, spontaneously and effortlessly radiates in every direction with no concern for return for it is completely full within itself. Love is self-generative like the sun. Only a light brighter and more brilliant than the light from the sun could penetrate into the heart of that source of all earthly life. Likewise, only a power stronger than love could be received by love; could be desired by love, and since there is no power stronger than love, love is absent of desire. Love wants for nothing for it is full within itself. One could consciously or unconsciously attempt to fill the emptiness that they have felt in their heart their whole life with anything their mind could conjure; jobs, relationships, material possession, status, image, position, title, fame, fortune and any pleasure one could conceive of and it would still remain empty. For, in reality, there would be no place for these projections of the mind to go since, in fact, the emptiness is not empty. It is the child who closes his eyes, believes the world has disappeared and in his moment of darkness, upon feeling alone, afraid and forgotten, forgets how to open his eyes; forgets that the world is still there. The emptiness is in fact, full of the love forgotten, the love unseen, and all we need to do, to choose, is to open our eyes and see ourselves – our true Selves; something that is difficult to do for those of us who felt unseen as children. But, once we remember to open our eyes, the world ceases to be a threatening land of need and deprivation where we all must compete with each other for attention, love and validation and becomes a mysterious adventure and a gift that is received by being given.