The last time I did EMDR with my friend Anne I visited someone or something that felt like my soul.
Anne is a therapist and her specialty is internal family systems and so when I do EMDR with her she often tries to help me identify the different parts of myself – the frightened child, the self-hating adolescent, et cetera. It’s like all those parts are who I was at different ages, still living somewhere inside me, and I can find them and feel exactly how they felt when I was those ages, how they still feel, I guess, when I go down the basement steps of myself into my vast airy unconscious. But the soul I seemed to find and feel and be during my last EMDR session -- to try on the way you put on a set of clothes, although in this case it was like remembering a set of clothes that you wear all the time -- this soul wasn’t related to anything in my life as I remember it.
Of course, like everybody, I’m familiar with the concept of the soul. We use the word all the time to mean various things: Soul music is what comes immediately to my mind – to me soul music is music that gets to some deep, longing, soulful part of you. Then there’s the soul referred to in religious writing, the idea, especially in the Catholic belief system, that we all have an eternal soul that survives after death. I grappled with that idea a lot when I was going through what I call my boojie phase, after my fiancé killed himself in 1991 and I was trying desperately to figure out where if anywhere he had gone and what there was left of him there. I hated the fact that the books I was reading about the afterlife usually called dead people “souls” -- I wanted my dead boyfriend to be still himself, not some abstract churchy something that felt more like a concept than a person – even dead, invisible, and in some other world or on some other wavelength he would still be a person, wouldn’t he? The soul comes up often in many fairly recent New Agey books too. One book I read described the soul as a walnut-sized spiritual whatever located around your ribcage, an idea that horrified me. But most books, such as The Care of the Soul by Thomas Moore, talk about it as if it’s, if not exactly an entity, then some deep eternal part of you with certain characteristics and even likes and dislikes.
So, having read and thought about all that, I was interested and kind of excited when I encountered my soul during EMDR recently. What I felt is hard to describe, except to say that it felt like me in some deeply basic way; it felt like some overarching, rock-bottom version of me that has seen everything, experienced everything; that has been around forever. I didn’t get much more from it than that, except for one important EMDR-therapy-related point: My soul is carrying what I call in EMDR the I’m-not-safe feeling.
This is a feeling that I’ve been working on with EMDR ever since I’ve been doing EMDR. Everybody who does EMDR, I’ve been told, has a certain overriding negative thought/feeling that they come back to over and over. It could be I’m not good enough, or I’ve done something wrong, or I’m not wanted, or, as it is with me, it could be I’m not safe. I’ve looked at the I’m-not-safe feeling from many different angles during EMDR – I’ve tried to identify and desensitize from all sorts of traumas in my life that made me not feel safe, and I’m sure every single one of those EMDR sessions helped me heal and feel safer. But the thing I came to when I got to my soul was a sense that I didn’t have to figure out where the feeling came from or how I came by it, didn’t have to pinpoint and re-experience the exact moments in my life when I experienced particular traumas. All I had to do was find the feeling and feel it.
Without getting too farfetched or out there, I would like to say that, in some vague way that I felt rather than heard, my soul communicated to me that it had been carrying around the I’m-not-safe feeling, accumulating it over many lives and many centuries. And that it didn’t matter where it came from anyway because it was just there in the collective unconscious, floating around in the atmosphere, and my soul had picked it up there, absorbed it or whatever. It was everybody’s suffering. Everybody’s not feeling safe. It was people in Africa waiting for the next tribe over to come riding through and rape and kill them and impale their children. It was Jews arriving in trains at concentration camps and being separated from their loved ones, with some people going to the gas chamber and some people going somewhere else. It was prisoners of war facing firing squads, women watching their babies fade and sicken and die. Not feeling safe wasn’t personal to me, because life in this world isn’t safe.
I find this depressing thought oddly comforting. I happen to believe that there are other worlds -- other wavelengths or planes of reality, like the place where my dead fiancé lives – and in those worlds it is safe and it does feel safe. That we come here from one of those worlds and we go back to that world afterwards, and that we're getting something really good from the time we spend in this not-safe world. That this world and everything that happens in it is like a big elaborate pageant that has been designed for our learning and pleasure, that tragedy is part of the pleasure, because life, like the Shakespeare plays, would be no fun at all if it was all just comedies. That we, like actors who don't know we're actors, come here to play our parts in the pageant, and it's all great fun if we can step back and enjoy it. The only thing is, along the way we pick up many feelings, feelings that we carry around in our souls, like I’m not safe.
All I had to do to get rid of the I’m-not-safe-feeling, I also knew -- sitting there in my friend’s house on an ordinary weekday doing EMDR -- was just hold on in my EMDR trance and let myself not feel safe; I had to lean into the feeling for as long and as hard as I could. And so I did. I sat there and felt the feeling and my soul -- I could feel it -- was relieved by that.