Íse Murphy

Stripping back the layers

The only constant is change, and we will find that as the years pass and we continue the inner work, our lives become more enriched. We have connected with the steady flow of contentment that underpins our experience. Yet as the river can be slow, it can also be treacherous when storms arrive. We will have moments of despair, of pain, of suffering. We will forget that our experience will change when we are in the middle of it. Whether we feel up or down, it feels like forever, and we need to develop tools to remind us to maintain our awareness and that this too will change.

As we deepen our inner work, it may seem logical that life improves. In one sense this is correct, however our life experience is not linear and the challenges often increase in difficulty to match our resilience. Just like any good heroic story, the protagonists face small challenges in the lead up to the big challenge, with a few near-escapes from the Evil One’s subjects, before marching head long into the lair of the Evil One itself. As Florence and the Machine sings “It’s always darkest before the dawn”, and we won’t understand what this truly means until we are in it.

This, to me, is the most difficult part of our journey, as it’s the point of no return. It’s the point where something inside us dies to who we used to be, but nothing new has taken its place. Because we are changing, what is new won’t look like how we used to live. It’s a profound heaviness, a sense of disconnect from ourselves, others and the world. A feeling that we have nothing to focus on, no purpose, no reason for being and no meaning to be here. It is the most ungrounded I had ever felt, as I had nothing to latch on to, nothing I could rely on; not my mind (because thoughts aren’t me), not my emotions (because there is no truth in the now for an Emotional Authority), nothing I could hold on to for some sense of what was true. I felt like I had nothing to live for.

At this point of our journey there is nothing to hold on to, we are being thrown about in a stormy ocean and have no idea which way is up. We are consumed by the pain, staring blankly from hunched positions, wondering what is left to think about. The heaviness we feel in our bodies keeps us feeling small. The darkness follows us wherever we go. There is so little left, we don’t even care to be happy anymore as we feel we don’t have the energy for it.

womans face with water droplets This moment happened for me in June 2023. I was feeling angry, bitter, exhausted and worthless. I was due to work a major event and every cell in my body did not want to do it. I had an onboarding call with a friend, helping them set up an online system to for their new business. As she asked me how I was, I burst into tears. She listened, and she heard me, and didn’t try to fix it. She told me I was magnetic, how she believed “everyone wants a part of me” and she guessed I liked and understood systems. Everything she mentioned were Projector qualities, and I immediately felt seen and recognised. All of a sudden I felt lighter. I felt like love was entering my heart. I felt soft and squishy, still vulnerable and sore but relieved that the heaviness and despair had gone. I had finally admitted to another person what was going on, surfacing the issue and exposing the wound for healing.

On reflection I could see just how much I was associating my sense of self worth with my work. It’s a common attribution and some of us attach it to our careers, our role within the family, or our role within society. Whatever it is, it’s a crutch that holds us up because we don’t believe we can stand without it. We inherently believe we are not worthy of love unless we lean on that crutch of role, family, career.

Yes we all have a role to play out in life, but we don’t need to attach to it. Just like a Shakespearean actor fulfils their role on stage, when they come off stage, they detach from it because it’s all part of the play. I witnessed this whole experience of detachment to my role play out in a sequence of layer stripping. The first layer peeled away a few years ago when I left a job working for a mayor. I realised just how much I was associating my self worth to this prominent role within the industry and needed to grieve the detachment to it. The second layer stripped back a few years later, when I completed a contract on a major sport event, realising (again) how much I was associating my self worth with the scale and fame of the events I worked on. This triggered another ground shifting experience of grief in letting go of attributing my sense of self to my work.

Then the third layer happened as I described above, when I finally decided to run my own business. This layer has been the deepest so far (as I don’t expect the story is over) as I had wanted to run my own business since I could remember. This year was the year for me to “launch and succeed”. In reality the complete opposite happened, resulting in scraps of work with nothing aligning to what my business offered. I couldn’t understand why I was failing so spectacularly, until the layer completely stripped away, revealing the raw pink ugly truth beneath.

What was revealed to me was these layers just covered over the deep fear, pain, suffering and confusion of having nothing to live for. This pain wasn’t circumstantial, it had always been there. It had always been an undercurrent of my life, unconsciously driving most of my decisions. I had always felt like I was being thrown about in a stormy sea, but had been denying the truth of it, using my career as a distraction. I was always trying to find ground and hold onto it tightly. How many of us hear ourselves say “when I get this [insert goal], I will be happy, calm and content”

It wasn’t until all these layers stripped away that I could clearly see the trick I was playing on myself, keeping me trapped in an endless fake-happiness cycle of attainment. Stripping back the layers got me to hit rock bottom, removing everything that wasn’t me. It provided me with the opportunity of what I always wanted; to feel (k)enough. Who I thought I was fell away, leaving me floating in a state of confusion.

Yet as I mention above, it is in this confusion where we begin to discover our treasure. It is in this experience we see glimpses of what it feels like to live a life aligned to who we are. It is in this moment of confusion that a glimmer of light emerges, reminding us that we know within every fibre of our being that we are here to forge our own path and to trust every footstep we take. There is something deep within us that reminds us we are safe to keep going, that we are safe to be ourselves and ultimately, there is no other way.

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#awareness #inner safety