QUESTION: The woman with whom I had a very dysfunctional (read: my first) relationship - moving to another country to be with her after she had just gotten out of a four-year relationship herself, traveling and moving in together, allowing myself to be taken care of by her, leading to being cheated on, and left to be with her ex - has now, three years later, contacted me (after cutting all communicative ties), I believe in the hopes of finding some forgiveness.

For myself, this unhealthy relationship brought about the joining of an ashram, studying Vedanta, Ayurveda, and Jung for nearly two years. I was closed to the idea of spirituality before this upheaval, and I consider it a blessing to have had myself shaken at such a young age (I was 21 at the time of joining). During my monastic tenure, it became incredibly evident that whatever my deep-rooted traumas may be, they showed up as relational addictions.

Living as a staff member - someone who was supposed to have more knowledge than the many students paying to learn yoga - I found myself becoming emotionally attached, and eventually heartbroken, to visitor after visitor. The fact that this ashram saw numerous beautiful women from all over the globe did not help matters. Around this time, I was fighting the strong urge to leave a place that did not seem emotionally healthy to be in (made especially frustrating as I slowly learned of each of the male swami’s - all senior members in this organization - use of their title to abuse and take advantage of the young women who came looking for a guru to heal their own pain). When I spoke to my personal teachers, namely an Ayurvedic doctor who had taken me under her wing as an apprentice, I was met with hostility (to the point where the most senior swami, a man many consider to be self-realized, told me that if I left I would incur terrible karma). This was when I also found your book, Abdi. Shadows on the Path helped play an immense role in my eventual leaving, and current studying of Eastern psychology.

But back to the point, this message sent to me by my ex almost immediately brought on a familiar systemic anxiety of which has caused me pain and strife almost all of my life. Over the years, I have learned tools to help combat this anxiety I often feel, sometimes even from a job that might make me feel uncomfortable, but the underlying anxiety seems always present. As a child, I remember waking up in the middle of the night with the strangest sensation that my surroundings were both moving too fast, while also painfully too slow. As no doctor has been able to diagnose these events, I took to believing they must be some form of anxiety attack or hypersensitivity.

The most pressing question I have is whether writing back to my ex would even be of much help to myself. I was somewhat content in my belief that I had overcome that painful relationship, but seeing just how much this message has affected anxiety to bubble up out of my unconscious, I am no longer so sure. A part of me, I think, still blames myself somehow for the way the relationship continued and ultimately fell apart. Still, I do not believe this particular relationship holds as much importance as do the underlying reasons for my actions - my addictions - and I wish to delve deeper into finding what it is that causes me so much pain.

ANSWER: Your clarity is wonderful and powerful. Give yourself credit for that. The fact that you underwent so much pain at such a young age is a testament to your soul’s yearning for healing. You got a fast track look at the dark underbelly of spirituality, which is worth its weight in gold. Painfully amazing how that kind of behavior among spiritual communities is so commonplace. Hostility towards people who question the group hypnosis is always the stench of the underlying rot of the group. Some “self-realized” teachers seem to really carry the archetype of the shadow teacher to another level. A sad and painful event, yet one that plays a key role in reconnection with our internal compass, as yours did. This is not to give them a pass for their behavior, and yet everyone on our path plays their part in our awakening. This also extends to your ex who broke your heart so completely that it left you open.

It is also great that you realized in your bones the difference between spirituality and psychology. The two do criss-cross, but they both have to be approached with the awareness of whether one of them is being used as a band-aid to cover issues with the other. Sometimes we wrestle with our spiritual life when, in fact, we need to be addressing our core psychological wounding; sometimes we are at a dead end in our psychological exploration because we need to delve into spirituality. Only trial and error, and a brutal honesty with ourselves, is our guiding light. Life speaks loudly here, as you’ve found out, and it is not a pleasant experience. But waking up never is. Until it is.

If we agree that all big events in our life are a message from our unconscious to guide us to awakening, then this message from your ex is another sounding of a foghorn in the misty sea of your psyche. It really does not matter whether you write back to her or what you say. You are correct in asserting that you “do not believe this particular relationship holds as much importance as do the underlying reasons for my actions - my addictions”. The healing is done by you with yourself. The important thing here is to go within and heal what is left to mend. As you wrote, this anxiety is something that you have carried since childhood. Blaming yourself for the relationship and its demise is also not helpful. Understanding what the pattern is that opened the door to the relationship in the first place is a good place to return to. Relationships are always 50/50. All we can do is to examine our 50% and understand that piece.

I can tell you this: if your ex had a twin sister that did not have the wounding that your ex had, you would not have entered into the relationship. We sexualize our early childhood wounding, and hence find people who activate that wounding - with theirs irresistible. That is how our unconscious helps us heal the original wounding. It is just that our conscious mind is not privy to that piece of information, so we are constantly going for that painful ride until we heal. Most of us repeat that wounding many, many times without realizing that we are unconscious co-creators in that painful dance. So examine how the unavailable piece in your partner triggered you. That will be the smoke that leads to the fire.

You are on the right path, you are asking the right questions, and your heart is beating correctly. The rest is just work: one foot in front of the other. We are all works in progress.