The School of “Heart” Knocks

I went for a walk today through places I used to know while growing up as a child, places that held heart-wrenching memories of the tsunami of tyranny and trauma that was my childhood. I had last visited these places in my 30’s, after walking away from a burgeoning career as a prominent criminal trial lawyer to find something that I called ‘true-path’. Back then, walking away from law was a most difficult thing to do. I was so eager to be a lawyer and make my family proud. I so wanted to join the world after years on the outside. I longed to eat lunch at the Law Society and get as far away as possible from where I came from – all those nagging memories of poverty and pain. The ego has such a wonderful way of erasing the past (if only for a moment…). 

  But a little voice deep inside me kept pulling me away from trial law, pulling me in another, initially hazier direction. This little voice carried a karmic blueprint for my destiny and whispered sweet somethings in my ear whenever I dared to walk a “false-path”. I heard it when I was planning my law practice, involved in an unhealthy relationship, sitting in traffic on the way to work: “No, not that way Jeffrey…walk this way.” Although it came through in hints and whispers, it had an odd sense of authority to it. A distant flute with the energy of a symphony.

  After stepping back from law, I immediately began fixating on my future. Like many conditioned male warriors, I was determined to narrow the mystery of “true-path” down to career identity. If I could just explore every career that interested me, if I could just DO it all, I would clarify my identity in no time. 

  I soon learned. After only a few days of exploration, my unresolved emotional material burst through the defenses that had held me safe since childhood. I began to cry, and then rage, as one wave of emotion after another pushed on through, eager to be released from its primal bondage. My inner landscape was obstructed with congealed holdings, carryover remnants from an embattled, unresolved childhood. The Mystery began with my history. How to walk the path ahead, when our feet are still stumbling along old pathways? (Ah, the power of then).

  After a nervous breakthrough of startling proportions, my focused warrior lay down his (bloody) arms, and surrendered to the reality that I had to go back down the path and re-claim my broken heart before I could begin to consider the question of career identity. Soon thereafter, I began to revisit my childhood, beginning at the hospital where I was born. I visited old schools, bakeries, racetracks, people I knew. I walked old neighbourhoods for hours at a time. I sat on old park benches. I bought and read old comic books. I went to the university library and looked through newspaper microfiche. I listened to old music. I stared at family pictures for hours.

Wherever I was, I went for the feeling. It wasn’t enough to know that I had been somewhere, I had to feel it in my bones. When I resisted, I meditated. I closed my eyes and envisioned the person or place. I kept at it until the veil came off and the emotional memory emerged. Then I would turn the page.

  One of the primary issues that came clear during this phase was my fear of homelessness. I would sit across from apartment buildings that we had lived in and feel into the memories. Throughout my early life, my sense of security was undermined by evictions and by my mother’s repeated assertion that I wasn’t welcome in my own home. My muladhara- or root chakra- had never felt grounded and safe on Mother Earth. 

  With this in mind, I devoted many years to building an economic and domestic foundation for my life. That phase included the buying of a house in downtown Toronto, the growth of my student business into a solid enterprise, and a determined effort to fortify the boundary between myself and the chaos-mongers I had grown up with. Within this stable cocoon, I was able to ascend to the next stage in my evolution, exploring myself as a psychotherapist, completing an MA in Psychology, and beginning a career as an author. But, of course, the journey doesn’t end there. Just when you think the monster has died, he shows up on your doorstep begging to see you.

  Last month, I made the decision to sell the house that I have lived in for fifteen solid years. With the publicity phase for my book at an end, I am ready to start writing a new book and I prefer to do that in the country. So I sold my house at a price that made living in the country affordable. All Go(o)d, until I purchased a new home that won’t be ready until three months after my current house closes. 

  Right after signing the waivers on the new property, I drove back to Toronto. While driving, I was overwhelmed by archaic anxieties, the emotional memories associated with a childhood with no fixed address. I pulled over to the side of the road to calm myself, but it was to no avail. The waves of anxiety deepened, as I was swept under by immobilizing fear. I flashed to memories of my Grandparents helping us pack, time and time again. My witness observer jumped to the fore “Just watch, just watch”, but he was swept under too, his meditation cushion bobbing in the shadowy depths. 

  I was right back in the heart of the primal terror, imagining myself in bus shelters, sleeping in my vehicle, riding a Greyhound across North America until the house was ready. Never mind the fact that I have the money to sublet an apartment, never mind that I have a whole soulpod of supporters to stay with, never mind the rational mind. I was awash in an ocean of hopelessness.

  Sleepless in Toronto, I have surrendered to the wave for two weeks, alternating between packing up the house and unpacking my emotional baggage. 

  When I had begun to clear my emotional debris all those years ago, I swore that I would heal everything. My warrior did not understand the embodied nature of trauma, the ways that emotional material becomes cells in the bones of our being. Let alone did he understand the beauty of the shadow, the ways that repressed emotions can become actualized, spiritual lessons, the grist for our soul’s expansion. For him, for me, it was just a question of fighting our way through everything. 

  He was so wrong. Not to say that we cannot heal many of our wounds, but we cannot heal them all, not in one lifetime. As part of the journey, we may have to accept that certain wounds may never fade altogether. Perhaps healing is not always about killing the monster when he comes. Perhaps it is also about learning how to move forward despite him.  

  Today I briefly caught a glimpse of the gift of this moment. With my creative work moving so strongly into the world, I have been taking my press clippings to heart. I have been imagining myself beyond the fray, beyond the challenges and lessons of humanness. Something about this wave of emotional memory is pulling me back to (h)earth, and connecting me to the heart of the matter- my emotional life. This is where I lived for so long, at my familiar desk at The School of Heart Knocks. Sit down, Jeffrey, there is lots of home-work still to be done. 

A former criminal lawyer and psychotherapist, Jeff Brown is the author of “Soulshaping: A Journey of Self-Creation,” endorsed by authors Elizabeth Lesser and  Ram Dass. It is Brown’s autobiography; an inner travelogue of his journey from archetypal male warrior to a more surrendered path.