I was lying on a portable massage table in my sister-in-law Marie’s living room in Tabernash, Colorado. If I could turn my head, I would see a beautiful valley before me stretching to snow-capped peaks in the distance. I was aware of the scene, but I was looking up toward the ceiling as Marie was crucifying my toes. Well, that’s what it felt like at times.
Marie is a foot reflexologist and is also very knowledgeable about the uses and application of essential oils. She had graciously offered to give both Mark and I a “treatment” while we were in Colorado a couple of weeks ago, and I went first.
The basic idea behind foot reflexology is that certain spots on toes and places on the foot tie into various organs and areas of the body. I couldn’t believe the pain as she squeezed and massaged the places on my toes that refer to the brain, to my center of though, memory and hormones.
As I groaned, Marie made the comment that I keep everything inside. “Your mind feels like it has to protect your heart,” she said. “You need to try to stop overthinking.” Mark has made that comment to me many times, but he wasn’t playing with my toes at the time.
|Marie and me in Hawaii in July 2013|
The over-thinking I knew about. What I hadn’t known about was the heart thing. I had often felt that something or someone was imprisoned inside of me. He very occasionally gets out for some air when I am less inhibited, but then he goes back into his cage. In this regard, I could relate to something I read about what André Gide felt about his friend, Oscar Wilde: “Gide felt that Wilde was often inhabiting a role, even if the role was himself.” That’s exactly how I have felt.
I pondered what Marie had said and what I had felt as she kneaded my toes, and I eventually came to a couple of realizations. First, my mind doesn’t realize that it no longer needs to protect my heart. From the time I was a small child, my mind learned to protect my heart. As an abused boy, I dissociated myself from what was happening to me (as a survival mechanism), and my mind increasingly directed my actions, particularly after I realized as a teenager that I am gay. A process that began when I was small continued throughout my life. It was only once I came out that I began to live more from my heart.
The second realization I came to is that, in the process of trying to protect my heart, my mind has stifled it, much as an overprotective parent can stifle and smother a child. Through its desire to protect a child, a parent can go way overboard and prevent the child from living life and maturing emotionally (and from learning that the world is a wonderful place instead of a fearful, dangerous place). Similarly, I realized that my mind - in its zeal to protect – has stifled my heart. Because my mind doesn’t realize that it no longer needs to protect me, it has continued this process. (It is the same phenomenon that has sealed off so many of my memories from my childhood, youth and early adult life – i.e., my life before Mormonism.)
A third realization I came to is that if I am going to lead with my heart, I’m going to have to work at it. As I pondered this, I was reminded of something I was told by a very wise, perceptive and intuitive man - my doctor in Vancouver who also served as a counselor. When I first started really dealing with childhood abuse, he once told me: “You have never allowed yourself to have passions, let alone act upon them.”
In the process of working on my Invictus Pilgrim book (based on my coming-out blog), I recently ran across an email that my sister sent to me in those early days. She was describing her memories of me before I joined the LDS Church. One of her recollections was that I used to laugh so hard my sides ached. I hadn’t remembered that. I hadn’t remembered the exuberance of youth when I was going to college and was enjoying life in my fraternity. I hadn’t remembered that, as a child up to the time of my parents’ separation, I was a jokester and laughed easily.
I had forgotten these things because my mind had spent so long creating the Mormon, married, heterosexual me, it had successfully wiped out most of these memories of how I used to be. It’s time to reclaim the youth in me, to celebrate my passion, to help my mind realize that it no longer has to guard my heart. This is going to involve some effort, and it is going to require that I have the courage to allow myself to be exuberant, to let go, to feel, to live.
Just a note to my Australian friend, Loris. Thank you for reading my blog and for sharing. I am sending thoughts, concern and best wishes to your "angels" - Michelle and her partner. Cancer creates a special kind of fellowship. Namaste.