Into the Cavern We Go
It is important to me to impress upon anyone who reads my blog that I do not claim to be an expert when it comes to anything. All I am doing is sharing my own experiences, and perhaps they will resonate with you. Perhaps they will not. However, I must stress that I am not a therapist, I am not an expert in mental health treatment. Due to going through my 20s in a state of poverty, I was forced to explore alternative avenues for self-healing because traditional therapy (to the best of my knowledge) was out of my grasp. The reason I am saying all this is that, should you choose to imitate or adapt any of the techniques which I employed without the supervision of a licensed therapist you run a varying degree of risk that you might further harm your own psyche. Whatever you choose to do, you do at your own risk.
The formal title of this blog is “Becoming Invincible”, and I must always emphasize that this is a process or practice. I harness teachings from ancient mystics, practitioners of internal alchemy and shadow work, and merge that wisdom with gleaned bits of insight from popular culture to create techniques for managing my mental health. For those of you who are unfamiliar with these concepts, a wealth of information is available in books, videos, and other blogs with a stronger academic lean than my own. Every approach to learning is a bit different, and I am not here to lecture you on where you pull information from or pressure you into using it in a specific way. I will leave that to other writers.
One of the persistent frustrations which comes along with the journey to self-healing is that, as you tackle one feeling or trigger or trauma, you often uncover more work than you initially suspected. Honestly it calls to mind the Myth of Sisyphus, where the boulder you’ve worked to get to the top of the hill rolls back down just after hitting the peak. For many, this can seem daunting and often is the impetus for why individuals choose to abandon the process. Even for all my own work, I discover more after every “victory lap”.
Lately, I have been struggling with feelings of intense social anxiety. I don’t do well in groups larger than 10, which is ironic considering I average more viewers than that on my Twitch Channel. Did I tell you that I went to 11 different schools before I finished high school? Even military brats tell me that I have them beat. I had a different school every year from Pre-K through 3rd Grade, and then from 5th Grade until 7th Grade I changed schools (and even states) every semester. After that I moved once more between my Freshman and Sophomore year of high school before I graduated. Every time I became the new kid, it got harder to integrate into an established social group. When I walked the aisle to receive my diploma I did so with one friend, a year younger than me, who went to a different school and my high school sweetheart.
Don’t get me wrong, I tried every time I moved to make new friends. I didn’t give up because I never saw a point, I just never really found “my tribe”. Believe me, it was always at the last minute that I was informed we were leaving again — I wasn’t operating under a time limit where I knew that in six months we were going to move once more. My luck was best with one or two kids at a time, but on more than one occasion I got burned by said kids. I avoided bringing people over to my house because, as time went on, the fighting between my parents intensified, and I was embarrassed that they might blow up while I had a guest. You can see how this recipe of instability led me to have no long-term friendship making skills. I’m great at the ice breaker, but when it comes to getting to know people I struggle. The more it seems like the surrounding people know each other well, even if they don’t, the more intimidated I become. I start feeling like nobody can hear me or see me, and I get an intense feeling of pressure in my mind which can lead me to elope from social situations.
I once fled a gathering in college to wander the streets of Oshkosh, WI for two hours before the temperature dropped low enough to force me to return. Recently, I locked myself in a bathroom at a party for twenty-five minutes while my head screamed listening to the laughing voices on the other side of the sheet rock. Not very Invincible of me, right? Like I said, this is a process and a practice.
I was resolved to do something about this feeling, though. For the last few weeks I have been doing a lot of introspection. Not just trying to identify the source of this pain, as that was obvious. Not just trying to identify what triggers those feelings. My practice involves a lot of visualization and meditative trance work. What that means is that I use techniques to put myself into a trance-like state, such as breath control, and then creating visuals with my imagination that stand-in for parts of my subconscious. Doing this my way is something that some people literally cannot do because their brains don’t visualize imagery well — if you are one such person I am sorry that I don’t have a way figured out yet to offer help. You have to think of what I am doing as being in the same vein as the movie Sucker Punch, where you create a visual experience to interact with something you normally cannot.
Thinking back, I recall often describing the experience of depression as being locked in a place of despair — like a prison cell or an emotional locker. I was always thrown into this place by my emotional states, and held there “against my will”. Of course, this was vestigial thinking from operating under the false-conflict paradigm which I talk about a lot in this blog. We are not at war with ourselves, there are not two wolves in competition for feeding. At one point or another we are either in states of resistance or acceptance, and our bodies and minds are so connected that both feel the weight of whichever state we are operating within. Whenever I felt locked within this emotional echo chamber, I always responded by being bed-ridden and compressing my body while taking shallow, quick breaths.
Joseph Campbell identifies a phase of the Hero’s Journey called “The Great Ordeal”. This phase comes after leaving the boundaries of the ordinary world and experiencing some trials and training, and during this phase the hero descends into the darkness of their own free will. In Star Wars, this is the part in Empire where Luke enters the Tree on Dagobah. In my favorite Final Fantasy game, the fourth entry, this event takes place at a location unironically called “Mount Ordeals”. For me, I realized that I had never willfully gone into that emotional echo chamber during a meditation or trance. I have had experiences of summoning my “Shadow” to engage with it and work on self-healing, but I had never willfully descended.
The other night, I sat down and prepared myself for my inner journey. I have dealt with what folks would consider “inner demons”, facing the traumas and triggers which have led me down the path of substance abuse and addiction by offering them hospitality and space to work through the pain they represent. I am further along the path than most, and I do not recommend this for those who are in the beginning. Going into a trance, I visualized myself before what looked to be a burnt out prison cell at the bottom of the sea (great subconscious metaphors, good job brain). When I entered into the cell, I willed the barred door to close once I had settled into the center in the same position my physical body was seated — this makes the experience easier for me to stay present. Should you choose to do this kind of work, don’t worry too much about what overlays your brain uses to manifest subconscious phenomenon — just roll with it.
When the door closed, I began to feel incredible physical discomfort — my ego’s way of trying to get me out of the uncomfortable position I had willfully entered into. This is a common struggle for people doing meditation or trance work, your body wants to itch or change positions to break your concentration. My work around for this is that I focus my true intent into a circle which I create with my hands resting in my lap. For all intents and purposes, “I” only exist in that circle and the rest of my body is on its own with that discomfort while all it can do is stay seated and breathing. Getting to this point takes considerable practice, but is possible.
The Emotional Echo Chamber was not happy that I was there, and I know it seems weird to ascribe a will to the visualized overlay manifesting phenomena of the subconscious — but everything in the subconscious is you. The physical discomfort was joined by memories of times I had been forced into that place in my mind. Painful emotions associated with those memories began to swirl around me, and I could feel it in my body as the intensity of the feelings had a focal point traveling around my body in a circular fashion. Again, I have been through experiences like this before — you have to learn to surrender and meet them with acceptance or you can experience some nasty side effects. You must be wondering why I would willingly put myself through all this by now, and the answer is simple. I was there to claim the Emotional Echo Chamber.
Internal Alchemy is the process by which you refine your spirit through phases into what can be described as spiritual gold. Alchemy requires an oven to heat its materials to separate out the impurities from the prime material you are working with. My intent in going to this place within myself was to turn it into an oven. Over the years, the Echo Chamber proved a place inside myself capable of withstanding intense emotional pressure, and it occurred to me it would make a great oven if I could make it one. From within the circle I had created to hold my intent, I built up a great heat until the visualized memories swirling about me began to catch on fire. I wasn’t destroying them, you see, you cannot destroy energy of any kind. Fire, from an esoteric perspective, is the element of change and transformation in the same way you would catalyze chemical change in a lab using a flame.
As the fire expanded to the walls of the chamber, they began to scorch away the soot and barnacles of the darkened chamber my mind had created. As this refuse of emotional trauma was scrubbed away with the flames created by my intent to cleanse and claim this space within myself, the walls were revealed to be made of a green substance like emerald. Green is the color associated in some traditions with the Heart Chakra. You may recall, fans of Avatar the Last Airbender, that the Heart Chakra deals with love and is blocked by grief. Fans of Wandavision may also recall the sage words of The Vision in which he says “What is grief if not love, persevering?”
Love is a form of energy, and energy must always flow from a source and back to it — that’s how circuits work if you’re familiar with the principles of electricity. Grief is love attempting to persevere, but it does this by way of our will holding it in an old form or in the form of a counterfactual fantasy. Energy must be allowed to transform, and if we deny that transformation we create blocks. As I burned away the grief in that echo chamber, I realized what I was revealing was a manifestation of what my subconscious must be associating with my Heart Chakra — or at least my understanding of such a concept. It could be a symbol that my subconscious was trying to use to communicate what was going on to my conscious mind.
The truth is that, over time, this grief had created a block in my ability to receive love from other people. I had become closed off after years of traumatic experiences of making and losing friends. One or two at a time could squeeze through the cracks, but large groups triggered my feelings of loss. I felt invisible and unheard because nobody ever tried to support a friendship with me after I moved away, and the emotional labor of trying to keep those up created a lot of space for resentment to breed. Envy of the relationships others were able to form and support with each other became like the grout holding together tiles of these experiences. However, having reclaimed this Echo Chamber and turning it into an oven for Internal Alchemy, I feel more capable of managing these triggers and have space within myself to guide those feelings through a refinement process to become more open to receiving friendship than I was before.
Whether you believe that these visualized overlays were manifestations of subconscious thoughts, or you believe that you can descend into your spirit and make real changes to yourself doesn’t matter. Let results be your guide, at least that is what I have found to be most effective. You can chase the questions of why and what, but what matters most is whether you feel relief and healing with lasting impact instead of diminishing returns. Be kind to yourself, it’s a process and a practice — you don’t have to do it perfect the first time, and there’s more work to be anyways.