Navigating The Void - field notes from an avid story slayer
Updated: Aug 3, 2022
You've heard me speak a lot about “tearing up the rulebook” when it comes to taking a critical look at the stories we have been told about what we should do with our bodies and what pleasure should mean to us.
It can be incredibly powerful to reflect on where our beliefs originate from, to assess which of these are in alignment with our personal values, and to consciously decide which beliefs to let go of. The empowerment and liberation that can come from no longer living by someone else’s rules, from making choices based on desire rather than fear of being rejected, abandoned, or shamed - oooooof! It can be life-changing. I have seen the precise moments in which clients have realised that they have the agency to make those choices. It’s as though a light goes on inside them and it’s one of the most beautiful sights I think I’ll ever see.
AND I think I would be doing you all a disservice if I didn’t speak to the other side of what can happen as we start to dismantle stories.
See, self-development obsessives like me tend to be avid story slayers. We live for those moments where we catch ourselves under the spell of a story. “Aha! I caught you!” I’ll exclaim (internally) with delight as I realise that the reason why I’m overreacting to something seemingly trivial is something I experienced 30+ years ago. Spend more than a few moments in a conscious community and you’ll inevitably encounter someone “noticing their patterns” as they recognise they’re not relating in the way they would like to.
In my experience - on both the side of the client and the facilitator - the breakthroughs we have in sessions, or the realisations we have during these moments of self-reflection, are not enough in isolation. It’s the reason why life coaches spend so much time training and refining their techniques to increase the “stickiness” of change. They’d probably be out of business (as would the entire dieting/weight loss industry and many others) if change was as simple as someone understanding intellectually what they needed to do to achieve their desired result.
Neuroscience provides unequivocal evidence that we learn and change through recurrent practice yet we lean on hope and idealism that because a new idea has been introduced we will change. This leads to frustration, resignation, and hopelessness.
(paraphrased from Richard Strozzi-Heckler, The Art of Somatic Coaching)
I want to introduce a concept that I’ve been mulling over for a while now called The Void.
The Void is, for me, what often comes on the other side of dismantling a story. When we realise and release the grip that some old belief has had on us, it affects our sense of who we are. After all, the stories were there for a reason, they had a value on some level and at some point in time - whether that was to help us to fit in, be “lovable”, to create a sense of belonging, or purpose. We can recognise that we are better off without the old story and yet, letting go of it can be confusing, can feel like a loss, or being lost, at least initially.
But what does "being lost" actually mean? The definition of lost is "unable to find one's way, not knowing one's whereabouts".
This feeling of being lost is one that I’m quite familiar with. I’ve made some big changes in my life in recent years and during these transitions I’ve found myself having moments of panic - feeling disorientated, confused by all of the options around me, overwhelmed by uncertainty, or unsure of what would be the right decision to make next. It’s often been accompanied by the stubbornness of believing that I need to forge ahead alone and create my own path.
In a recent session with one of my clients, they shared the reflection:
You accept me and so I accept myself... instead of guilt and shame, I feel calm".
It shouldn’t surprise you to hear that my clients are my best teachers!
Often we are told in the self-development world that we first need to accept ourselves before others will accept or even love us. That's great but sometimes we need some extra help, to be compassionately witnessed and told that we are going to be OK as we experience some growing pains.
We need to find a way to feel safe in the new version of ourselves that is emerging. We need to find a way to meet those needs the old story was serving - to be loved, to belong, to have a purpose or path to follow. When we don’t have that safety in place, people to hold us as we bring these new parts of ourselves to light, or when we don’t take the time to integrate our new beliefs fully, that void will be felt. It can be super overwhelming to find ourselves lost in unknown lands, and often it can seem as though the only viable option is to turn back to the comfort of the known, even if on some level it creates discomfort within us. When you choose to seek support for this consciously is it less powerful, less empowered? I don't think so.
What have I learnt so far on my personal treks across The Void?
That the feeling of “being lost” will occur sometimes as I enter The Void after dismantling a story or letting go of an old belief.
That it’s not a reason to panic and run back to comfort but rather a sign that I need to create safety for myself as my body integrates this new understanding.
That going back to old ways is NOT a failure but rather a sign that I need more support around me in order to fully step into the updated version of myself.
That it is courageous to ask for support with this - whether from a coach/therapist, friend, partner, peer, family member - someone who is able to support and celebrate you as you grow.
It’s not always possible to forge a new path alone and it can be really beneficial to be witnessed and validated as you take those tentative first steps.
Sometimes it helps to find the others who have walked the path before you and these people may be outside of your current friendship group.
One of the things that helps me most when feeling lost is - you guessed it - PLEASURE! How, you ask, can I possibly link this back to pleasure. Well, however small and everyday the pleasure is, it is a surefire way to take me:
From THINKING to FEELING (what is happening in my body)
From fixating on the FUTURE to RIGHT NOW in the present moment
And from obsessing over everything OUTSIDE of me that I can’t control to remembering the source of power WITHIN me
And finally, a note on the responsibility of facilitators around this…
We have to be gentle when working with the body. When clients are accessing the origins of stories, we may be taking them right back to child-like parts within who cannot protect themselves in the same way as our ego-defending adult minds. This is why in Sexological Bodywork there is such an emphasis on observing and regularly bringing people “back to the shore”. We only have so much capacity to process and a well-integrated small realisation will always be more beneficial than a massive breakthrough that leaves someone completely stranded.
This work can lead to radical shifts and we need to be mindful and active in their integration.