I Trust Our Capacity To Be Shattered: Breaking Open To Racism

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We cannot walk out of the darkness unless we are first willing to immerse ourselves fully in it. It demands a leap of faith, for there are no signposts along the way that will guarantee our safe return. There is only a dark tunnel, leading to who-knows-where. We know the danger, we feel it in our adrenaline, pumping blood through our bodies at frightening speed. We know, intuitively, that we may never come out of the blackness. But there is no choice, for to be fully alive we must die with our losses. This is a moment in time when we succumb to death, so that we may live.

— Stephanie Ericsson, Companion Through the Darkness

I trust our human capacity to be shattered.

When I lost my husband randomly and suddenly, my entire world broke open. Nothing made sense, and my inner world was in a shambles.

With help, I was able to utterly reorganize my inner world.

In the process of that complete shattering and rebuilding, I had to bear intense existential emotions — despair, helplessness, lack of control, mortality, loneliness, anguish. All in the context of a culture and age-group that did not want to know anything about my experience, and in fact encouraged me to skip over my it or hide it from view.

By having help to sustain a thorough breaking-open and re-building, I dropped into connection with the deep river of human suffering and love that unites us all. I came out on the other side of that experience both softened and galvanized.

Surviving the melting-hot center of human suffering made me fiercely compassionate and able to resonate with and sit with the most intense emotions and suffering of others. Able to imagine my way into others’ suffering in a way I never could have pre-shattering.

I emerged intent on both companioning the suffering of others (by being a therapist), and on ensuring other therapists have the training to do this kind of dark and honest work as well (once I saw the shallow, pathologizing, cure-based nature of many therapy perspectives).

***

Because of my passion for both sitting with and training people to sit with suffering, I have spent 28 years reading and studying about emotions and relationships so I can access multiple ways of helping people open to this kind of dissolution and healing.

Part of that study has been learning about how our selves are organized via attachment relationships, inborn wiring, life experiences, etc. And about how growth happens by loosening that self-organization so that it can incorporate new information and become reorganized at a higher level of compassion and integration.

Self-disorganization is always uncomfortable, because it involves disrupting the familiar organization that gives us a sense of security. Traumatic life experience, such as my loss, provides a fucking opportunity for massive self-reorganization because traumatic experience shatters self-organization.

If we have help to bear the suffering of a full dissolution, we can grow into more open, compassionate, outspoken-for-good people through radical self-reorganization.

(Even though some of us don’t make it. Life can indeed traumatize us enough that we are thoroughly broken and unable to fully heal. Nevertheless, even people in that situation respond to being loved and valued by people who can bear to sit with even their unhealed-suffering.)

I am not claiming to be perfectly self-organized or fully-grown. There will always be more self-shatterings, because we all have infinite blind spots, along with an infinite potential for growth by facing what we don’t know or don’t want to know.

Yet our culture supports neither the value of shattering nor the help needed for healing and truly reorganizing our selves.

So after a shattering, the tendency is to try to remain small, reassemble the old self-organization, and look away from the pain that is required to self-reorganize. All of my work is about countering that reflex to look away, in order to help people learn the ultimate freedom that arises from bearing the pain of growth and healing.

***

I see this moment of world-wide protests — where we are gifted with being forced to examine the wrongs, injustices, inequities, and sufferings we’ve piled onto people of color in our community for decades if not centuries — as a fucking opportunity for privileged people to be shattered.

I want to be a voice that calls those of us who have the inner strength and social support to bear being cracked wide open to do so.

Permanently.

By this fucking opportunity to look head-on at what we have continued to look away from as a society.

Together.

To moan and cry and feel discomfort and remorse.

I WANT us to feel the despair, the helplessness, the rage, the lack of control, the anguish that people of color have been bearing at our hands in our society forever.

I WANT the experience of those emotions to shatter our self-organization of comfort-within-our-privileged-lives and force us to go down and through the dissolution of self that will lead to true collective remorse and true reaching for repairs.

Not just this month, but ongoing.

True self-reorganization is searing, but it lasts.

***

I am NOT saying that the shattering I experienced after my husband died is comparable to the suffering racism causes in people of color. In fact, it was also because of privilege that I had the means to have the help I needed to go down and through my time of brokenness, and a safe place to land when I came out on the other side.

Nevertheless, I did learn something there that I can bring to the healing of other heartbreaking forces in our world: I was humbled, knocked to my knees, invited to recognize when I need to shatter once again to deepen and widen my compassion. Which is now.

I also don’t want to denigrate my life.

I value and am grateful for my life and what I have and what I’ve done and where it’s led me. AND I want to hold that value and gratitude side-by-side with the anguish and remorse I feel because I have all this while others are not only without, but are also persecuted.

Holding those disparate emotions side-by-side creates a necessary dissonance within my being that I WANT to cultivate so that I both claim the goodness of what I have AND feel uncomfortable as long as there are others who do not have what THEY need, so that I will never forget to take daily action of some sort — within or without — to do my part to shift society toward equity, justice, fairness, and valuing of all people.

I’m not a woman of color, yet I’m honored to listen to, learn about, and bear the suffering of people of color who come to me as clients, without presuming to think that I “know” their experience. I have done a good job with that, and will continue to strive for that when clients of color come to me, and continue to open to what I don’t know that I don’t know.

The additional contribution I feel called to make is to show privileged people — therapists, clients, and readers — the value of facing their painful and frightening emotions of all kinds.

And to walk with them through those feelings, so that they can acquire the capacity to be shattered by the pain of racism.

Without looking away from it.

So that they can radically reorganize their inner selves, with remorse and not shame, in order to work toward repairs in their own unique ways, large and small.

I welcome any of you to share your shattering with me.

And I welcome people of color to tell me where I’m missing the boat, though I’m not asking you to educate me. The job of learning and growing is mine. I just want you to know that if I’ve said something that doesn’t land right and you want to point that out to me, I’m open and ready to receive your feedback.

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6 thoughts on “I Trust Our Capacity To Be Shattered: Breaking Open To Racism

  1. You are right, our culture does not support self-shattering. As a 60 year old white woman with some privilege, I have told myself my feelings are not important, that I am a self-involved bitch of privilege who can afford to feel sorry for herself and fall apart. Words I would never say to a friend or a patient (I am an acupuncturist and work with trauma patients a fair amount).
    I am 60 years old and not wealthy. I am not often “seen” or “heard” no matter how loud I might yell. That said, I do not pretend to have a clue of what people of color suffer. I have spent years of my life as an activist and so I listen and learn and make mistakes. but I want to learn and grow and help.
    I have shattered many times in my life. I am not fully recovered from some of it but the compassion has grown deep over the years.
    This week, the on-going pandemic pandemonium, compounded now with the volcanic emotions of a society that has had enough of racism and the horrifying response of our “leader,” put me over the edge. I went to a place I hadn’t been in a long time and began to panic, shut-down, disassociate, come back, re-center, only to have this repeat over and over through out the night.
    The real possibility of continued repression, disease, anger, chaos, a cruel dictator creating hell on earth in my country, not having worked in months and unemployment not yet here, not knowing if community acupuncture is even a thing anymore, fears for my elderly and at risk parents, myself — having not long ago gone through open-heart surgery and my partner now on the last leg of chemo — yes, I shattered.
    Writings like this are invaluable to me to clarify a process of healing so I can proceed to an even better place of service and love and healing.
    Thank you for the validation and the path through the darkness.

    1. Karen,
      Thanks for writing. I’m grateful my words reached you, especially during a time of such painful shattering. As I said in my post, I find that when we touch each other in the depths of our shattering and our pain, we connect with all pain and find a willingness to open to and receive/help others with all kinds of pain. So I’m glad you and I are connected in this moment, in your place of pain so that you can feel met there. I send much care, and am glad to know my words are offering you a path.
      Candyce

  2. Love this so much Candyce! Posted a message on your FB wall, and also shared an excerpt (with credit) on my FB page. Thank you. <3

    1. Celeste,
      Thanks for writing. It touches me that you shared an excerpt of my post on your FB page. That means a lot. I’m so glad my writing keeps reaching you in ways that are helpful. I hope you’re hanging in there okay.
      Sending care,
      Candyce

  3. What a powerful concept: How the brokenness and dissolution that come from loss can ultimately lead to new self-organization and evolution into a more compassionate human being. Thanks for posting this, Candyce!

    1. Thank you for writing. I’m grateful that the concept of how the brokenness of loss can reorganize the self into a softer and more compassionate person reached you and spoke to you. I’m passionate about getting that idea out into the world, and it means a lot to hear about it when it lands and makes a difference. Again, I appreciate your feedback!
      Candyce

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