Vayishlach, Healing the Wounds

I turned to this week’s Torah portion amidst an inner turmoil this morning about my role in a trainer team for an international Nonviolent Communication project.  I realized that I was approaching a team phone call this afternoon with all kinds of feelings of insecurity and edginess and alienation from the team. I connected in with feelings in me of jitteriness and edginess and discomfort.

So I stopped and returned to my breathing and let myself feel all of these vibrations within my body, mostly in my chest and belly, even noticing a bit of lightheadedness, and just allowed myself become one with the sensations, trusting that they would speak to me in their time.

And, like a flash, I realized that I was experiencing a familiar feeling- state of vague anxiety, maybe akin to the generalized dissatisfaction that some Buddhist Vipassana teachers translate as dukka, – unavoidable human suffering.

And I feel deep in my tissues that this is a feeling I had in childhood in my nuclear family of origin, when the four of us – me the youngest and a girl – sat at a table and I somehow felt so confused about my role and how I was seen and a great deal of dismay and loneliness from the disconnect.

Just touching this decades -old experiencing gives me a bit of relief. That part of me that always wants to be seen and known and allowed, just allowed to be, without shame or judging or pressure to understand or improve or even pressure to be known. Just allowed to breathe.

And maybe also because this process of returning to myself is the healing.

And I’m thinking that in this week’s Torah portion – Vayishlach-this is the experience that both Jacob and Esau have. Both show up to meet the other – his twin – 40 years later. Esau arriving with hundreds of warriors behind him. Jacob plotting and arranging and second-guessing how to “win his brother over”.

Both of them triggered back to the original wrestling in the womb, and the wrestling for their father’s favor that continued into their childhood, and now 40 years later, the real wrestling – to unite their two separated paths into one whole being of their manhood, their humanhood.

This is truly the journey of our lifetimes- to fully embrace  the shadows, the twins,  that travel with us from childhood, and to embrace them in a way that brings us into full freedom and highest purpose.

Freedom, because, as I realized  this morning, until I I heal all of who I am,   each person in my Nonviolent Communication trainer team could easily walk into the opening in my gaping wounds from childhood.

And that I could easily slip into living in an old pain-infused story and meaning from that pain, from that unhealed pain, that I’m not treated  “fairly”  ( the blame story), that I’m not worthy of being treated “fairly” ( the shame story), that the world is a hostile place ( the depression/despair story).

Every unanswered email that I sent, the answering of someone else’s email, rather than mine, that someone else’s time zone was known and mine wasn’t (this was the precise trigger that set me on this course this morning) – each of these becomes a reactivation of old unhealed wounding.  This prompts the refrain of my childhood, in school with the teachers and at home with my parents and when I wasn’t chosen for teams among my classmate’s.  And I project myself into a world of alienation, fear and confusion. I retreat into the protection of, “it’s not fair and never will be.” That was how my hurt little girl self would offer comfort to herself.

And this is where we find Jacob and Esau in this Torah portion. Enslaved in strategies meant to protect them from the pain of old family wounds – we armor ourselves with hundreds of warriors as Esau did. We give gifts and we “reason” how to come out on top, as Jacob did.

And of course these strategies at most provide Band-Aids which more or less get us through life, and yet we yearn for a deeper healing. A healing of the dislocated hip socket that Jacob suffers. The healing of being cast off from the family or only accepted when we are in a disguise or give up something core to our  being such as a birthright.

So how do we heal? How do we find and then walk on the path of healing that is right for each of us?

I decided to step out of my old story this morning and, on the trainer call, I shared how uneasy I had felt anticipating the call. How I felt insecure and lost- not knowing my place. And that I realized this is how I had felt in my family as a child. And that in this time in my life, as my 92 year old mother stabilizes into a state of dementia that is shattering for all of us, I am on the edge of the world of today and the world of my childhood. And as I spoke, seeing the faces on the computer screen of my colleagues and friends, I felt such joy and strength and trust to step into my voice and share my pain and my process.

Something I couldn’t do as a little girl.

And my little girl is smiling now, and I have a strong sense of a seat at the table. A seat under a sukkah- a refuge of peace, as did Jacob and Esau when they parted ways.

Roberta Wall     Rina Malka bat Channah bat Rina     

December 15, 2016

About the Author
Roberta Wall offers trainings inspired by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, founder of Nonviolent Communication and by the teachings of Mindfulness. She is a lawyer, mediator, trainer, parent, activist, mindfulness practitioner and coach. She shares her time between Israel and the beautiful Hudson River Valley of Upstate New York and travels the world coaching couples, individuals and organizations and facilitating workshops and retreats inspired by Nonviolent (Compassionate) Communication (NVC) as developed by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg and Buddhist teachers Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama, and teachers and rabbis from her root Jewish tradition.