As a teacher in a psychology graduate school where the emphasis is on personal growth and healing, I have had ample opportunity to come in contact with multitudes of women of every stripe, shape and color. From time to time one of them and I will resonate over a wide range of harmonic chords. When we do, that’s often initially a sign that both positive transference and counter-transference are running pretty high, i.e. we’re both overlaying emotionally charged memories onto one another of significant people from each of our personal pasts. Invariably, over the time we spend together, some powerful relationship dynamics will show up inviting healing trying to happen. And in the best of all kind worlds, it will.
Tori was one of those “harmonic” students. Deeply interested in trauma and the brain, she became an informal graduate assistant. Over the weeks and months we began spending more and more time together collaborating on a number of research projects, co-creating highly energized times filled with all kinds of exciting, applied research possibilities.
One day Tori brought me a brochure describing a seminar at Esalen: The Body Keeps the Score. Bessel van der Kolk and Peter Levine were co-presenting a weekend on healing trauma through Somatic Experiencing. “Want to go?” Tori offered. “Sure,” I said. “Book us a couple of rooms.”
When we got to the highly charged environment that is Esalen, somehow or other the room reservation got bungled: they only had one room with two beds in it. “What do you want to do?” I asked. “We’ll take it,” Tori told the woman at the desk.
We walked over and dropped off our bags in the room, looked around at the two beds, one single and one double, and then headed over to the dining room for dinner.
Over garden salad, pilaf and pecan pie, Tori and I began talking about the room and the change in sleeping arrangements. At one point in the discussion, she became quite serious, looked at me and said: “Here’s the deal. I know myself pretty well. We can sleep together tonight and make love – and it will be some of the most sublime, ecstatic sex you’ve ever had – and we might continue our relationship as lovers for a year or two, but then I’ll be moving on. I’ll probably never have anything to do with you again after that. Or, we can not sleep together tonight, in which case the odds of us remaining lifelong friends increases substantially. The choice is yours.”
What followed then was one of the most memorable nights of my life.
Back in the room fresh from the hot springs, we both changed into pajamas. Tori crawled into the double bed and got under the covers. I came over and propped up a pillow and got into bed beside her … on top of the covers. Along with me I’d brought my Inspiron laptop computer. I slipped in a Netflix disk and for the next ninety minutes Tori and I spent an unforgettable evening watching Napoleon Dynamite. When the movie was over, I kissed her on top of her head goodnight, and then went over to the single bed to sleep alone. Driving home from Esalen we both experienced more love, connection, innocence and joy than either of us had ever felt with sex.
Every few months, these many years later Tori and I email or talk on the phone. We didn’t buy into the powerful Illusion of Separation that becoming lovers and then breaking up often orchestrates. Occasionally we collaborate on projects, or spend time visiting together when one of us shows up in close proximity. When we do, our secret, smiley, heart-connection phrase is: “Vote for Pedro!”
Self, Repecting Women
I offer up this story for several reasons. As a brain educator and trauma researcher, I was more than familiar with Tori’s personal trauma history. As with many students training to be healers, hers was particularly painful, filled with multiple violations and betrayals by important people in her early life. Knowing how trauma, in an attempt at healing, will often draw us back into situations that replicate early overwhelming experiences, I was more than aware of that possibility unfolding between Tori and me (The poetic irony wasn’t missed by us that we were at a seminar focused on healing just such trauma as Tori’s. Reenactment between us would most likely not have led to healing in the least).
Over the years I have borne personal witness to untold suffering visited upon other graduate faculty who have succumbed to such enticing offers as Tori’s. Not only did such faculty add yet another traumatic reenactment to the already over-encumbered neural real estate of the student, but they inevitably added more trauma to their own storehouse of suffering. Promising careers became ruined, self-esteem plummeted. I’ve seen police get involved, lawyers, prosecutors … trauma upon trauma leading to suffering on top of suffering.
Even in a permissive, super-charged sexual environment like Esalen (and external environs can play a big role in such dynamics), Tori’s offer of erotic nirvana held little draw for me. My interests have long been in something greater, something much, much different. It’s something evoked by the easily remembered, child-like innocence that unfailingly arises every time I hear the rallying cry, “Vote for Pedro!” As Napoleon Dynamite himself would say … “Sweet!”
NOTE: Having each done the work of embracing our own dark heart material as it emerged in the wake of our offering on the topic last spring, Jeanne Denney and I are once again ready to reprise the online Embracing Mother’s Dark Heart webinar for a limited number of people. Click here to find out more information about the upcoming offering.