Written By: Stacy O’Neill, 500 RYT, CPT
Everything seems just a little more intense in the summer: the grass is softer, the sun is brighter and higher in the sky, the days are longer as are the late day shadows; time moves just a little more slowly.
What’s not to love, right? Yet, all this “more” tips us out of balance energetically, ramping up the inner heat. Without balancing the intensity of the warrior, we run the risk of burning out. There is much we can do as yogis to control it: we can practice Chandra Bhedana (cooling breath work); utilize Restorative and Yin yoga practices, or even meditate on, in, or near the water.
Today, though, I’m writing about a type of heat so intense that these suggestions (finding some Shakti coolness to balance the Shiva fire) offer no real solution from which to escape, nor have I been able to research a suitable remedy for it. I’m learning that heat cannot be confined to the calendar months of summer, or even the innocuous flicker of a flame. It can manifest anytime, anywhere, in the inferno of rage, the passion of love, the obsession of desire, or the monster of jealousy. I know this because smack in the middle of an otherwise perfect spring with signs of new life all around, the white hot backdraft of infidelity turned every fiber of my being into a charred, smoking wasteland.
Just three months ago I was writing about reinventing myself in my article for Shakti Yogi Journal: “DIY: 6 Easy Steps Toward Renovation,” yet here I am standing knee-deep in rubble that used to be the shiny metropolis of my life. I’ve been blindsided. Devastated. Annihilated. I’d like to take my own advice and reinvent myself, but this situation requires more of a complete rebuilding of the foundation before I can even (re)build anything. Nothing looks familiar. Everything is suspect. I feel exposed and abandoned. I am, for now, emotionally frozen in time like an indelible shadow left by the blistering aftermath of a hydrogen bomb.
A bevy of emotions rapidly flood the brain after the initial shock of infidelity. They swiftly take up residence in the fragile space of our sense of self. Think: Alice spiraling down the rabbit hole, psychedelic and out of control. A never-ending loop of disbelief, rejection, pain, fear and anger plagues every aspect of life 24/7. For me, fear and anger are the most prevalent. In a desperate attempt to save myself from slipping from reality, I feverishly turn to knowledge and (Divine) guidance for clarity, order, and understanding.
The Fire Triangle
Three things have to come together for the chemical reaction of fire to happen: oxygen, fuel, and heat. When the heat source raises the fuel source to its maximum temperature in the presence of oxygen, then combustion occurs. As long as the three components are present, fire will continue to perpetuate itself in a pattern called The Fire Triangle (sciencelearn What is Fire).
Infidelity also requires a similar collection of components: three people, secrecy, and desire. The relationship ignites and will continue until one of those three components is removed from the equation, and often this component is the faithful spouse. Like an unsuspecting homeowner who arrives home to see her inner world engulfed in flames, discovering unfaithfulness hits hard and fast, choking the life out of what we know to be real, and forever changing our perceptions of security and love. Attempts to rush in and save anything left inside are thwarted by an inability to see clearly or feel our way intuitively around obstacles to get to the heart of the matter.
Triangles are deemed the most stable structure as their very construction evenly distributes pressure along all three sides. It is my experience that, within a love triangle, this is inaccurate as it appears the deceived party takes the brunt of the pressure in the form of pain, stress ,and trauma. A recent piece in Psychology Today argues that “..a third person allows us to be separate from our primary relationship without having to contend with being alone… We have conflicting desires for togetherness and separateness. We need to be a part of the relationship and also be apart from it, as individuals . . . In romantic triangles, we get to experience our selves as separate from our partners and yet not alone by being with our lover” (Braucher Read This Before).
Welcome to the Club
From Anthony and Cleopatra to Brad and Angelina, adultery has been, and continues to be, in the forefront of world culture and history. We love to gossip about and condemn the unfaithful and at the same time sanctimoniously uphold monogamy as if it could never happen to us. By design, humans are not meant for monogamy. Evolutionarily, men look to spawn in the age-old interest of procreation and self-preservation, while women drift toward partners who provide emotional and intellectual growth that furthers their evolution. Cellularly, this explanation may provide a milquetoast justification for why infidelity has survived, if not flourished, throughout history.
Still, the deceived blame themselves to a greater or lesser degree regardless of all the available psychosocial reasonings to the contrary. But there are many who have experienced marital perfidy decades ahead of me. This can potentially happen to all of us because infidelity does not discriminate. In fact, it has little or perhaps nothing at all to do with society’s perception of idealized beauty and strength of character. Yet this is what the brain (and the heart) hears when infidelity comes knocking.
Our attitude toward infidelity has changed dramatically over time. While developed nations have broadened their tolerance of it, there are still countries that take more punitive measures. Globally, though, we are all connected via technology, the very same technology that makes affairs so easy to have, but equally not so easy to hide despite the consequences. We are armed with the ability to gather information via software and electronics that can reveal the web of infidelity and empower the faithful with independence. In light of this, many more couples break up rather than make up because society tends to shun those who opt to reconcile. Society and culture view it as weak or demeaning in light of that same empowerment. It is a sad commentary on our ever-changing moral fabric.
Stop, drop and roll.
Unfortunately, there is no emergency protocol in place to help prevent us from being burned in the event our safe and content life is set ablaze; when the circular unity of marriage is replaced by a triangle. Betrayal, particularly through infidelity, is so catastrophically damaging to the psyche that our way back to the vibrance of trust is a long and tenuous journey. Psychologist and certified sex therapist Dr. Barry Bass states, “The disorienting aftereffects of such a betrayal resemble the psychic disorientation and confusion that we see in victims of earthquakes or other such natural disasters. And like the victims of these disasters, the individuals I treat following the discovery of a marital or relationship betrayal will frequently experience symptoms of post traumatic stress” (Bass The Trauma).
Admittedly, highlighting deception and lies seems hypocritical and taboo coming from a yogi. It’s like an ominous trip to the dark side. These are, by their very nature, ugly and unpleasant topics. Yet, we all lie to a greater or lesser degree and the reasons we do it vary greatly as does the type of deception: the seemingly innocuous “white lie” employed as emotional protection, inflicting hurt through secrecy and deception, or avoidance of reality through denial. According to a poll of 1,200 Americans taken in October 2014, 76% felt it was okay to lie, but the subject matter of those lies varied by gender. Interestingly, the one thing both men and women do equally (21.5% and 21.6% respectively) is lie to someone who knows them intimately (such as family members or significant others )(CreditDonkey Survey).
The fact that lying is so pervasive in our society leads me to believe that examining our own perceptions of trust and truth is essential to healing from the pain and suffering it brings. Dissecting these is a critical step in moving more honestly along the path toward wholeness. Trust and truth are part of our individual, and I believe collective, belief system. Every relationship, whether romantic, social, or professional, is based on the perceived belief system of the parties involved. According to researchers at the University of Alicante in Spain, our beliefs are “… the stories we tell ourselves to define our personal sense of reality. Every human being has a belief system that they utilize, and it is through this mechanism that we individually ‘make sense’ of the world around us” (Usó-Doménech and Nescolarde-Selva What are Belief).
When we understand our own belief system, then we can stop looking to others to validate it. Taking a long, hard look into why we believe what we do is both painful and liberating. For example, most married partners agree to the commitment of monogamy because it provides mental, emotional, and financial security. While current societal norms are challenging the traditional ideas surrounding what constitutes commitment and relationship, the sense that once two partners become mutually exclusive to each other, an agreement to a deeper level of trust and security cradles the relationship. Suzie Johnson, a leading expert in overcoming infidelity, points out that infidelity shatters and undermines that exclusivity and sense of specialness: “Without a commitment to monogamy, there can be no ‘infidelity.’ Without a promise to be satisfied with one, there can be no betrayal with ‘another’ ” (Johnson Understanding the 3 Stages). Johnson’s theory makes sense, but then, is commitment just a cloud of pixie dust enveloping partners until one of them begins to suffocate?
Anger and Fear
Fear often stems from perfectionism. The idea that we are not good enough, worthy enough, or fill-in-the-blank enough, even by just a fractional amount, will prevent us from participating fully in life. Fear wants to be heard so it can say what it needs to say. But we ignore it because if we look at fear for what we perceive it to be, we may actually become attracted or addicted to it. For example, it is far easier to allow ourselves to become infatuated with the stories fear promotes (such as, “He doesn’t love me anymore”) so we can remain a victim, rather than grapple with changing our perspective and seeing through to the truth. So, we do our level best to avoid fear when in reality we should probably just sit down and allow fear to speak.
Anger piggybacks on fear and pain, and arises from a deep sense of hurt. It is a contractive force that we allow into us, particularly in the case of deception. I know this may raise a few eyebrows— the idea that we allow these gremlins into our sphere. Isn’t anger a reactive emotion and a necessary part of the fight or flight response? Most definitely, but attachment to the “default” victim mentality promoted by anger can happen covertly and paralyze us for the rest of our days. The convoluted process of weaning off anger often feels like trying to evict a delinquent tenant: neither kindness or force bring about the effect. A better strategy may be to use the combustion of this fiery emotion to transform anger into fierceness, along with the knowing that you will prevail regardless of circumstance. I consciously know this, but it is still a hard sell when the only accessible weapon against losing yourself in the emotional quagmire is to find moments of peace through meditation and prayer.
Relationship is, at its essence, about connection. We are programmed for it, and without it, life loses its meaning and purpose. When relationship is threatened, we become fearful, which leads to distrust, which in turn leads to disconnection, leaving us feeling scattered and chaotic. Fortunately, though, connection is both human and Divine. Our access to higher consciousness via meditation’s deep concentration and focus is inherent in our DNA. That cosmic Internet signal to the World Wide Web is always available, but when the mind is suffering from severe confusion, meditation alone can be frustrating and elusive. This is where other facets of our yoga practice can come into play like Asana, Seva or even Mantra, all of which give our mind and body a positive outlet for the pent-up energy we are experiencing when meditation becomes difficult.
Even five minutes of mental stillness can feel like an hour and is a much needed respite for the nervous system.
Donna Farhi, in her book, Bringing Yoga to Life interprets Patanjali’s sutra 1:41 as “. . . when the mind is still we perceive ourselves and the world as they really are. The state of mind called Yoga is often compared to a crystal or diamond so pristine that it reflects back exactly whatever is presented to it” (176). From that place of clarity, we can examine Vrtti (mind stuff), and stop identifying with hurt, pain, fear, sadness.
Peace . . . Eventually
With the emotional see-sawing uncontrollably between despondency and hope taxing the parasympathetic nervous system, the mind screams and begs to be let off the rollercoaster to find normalcy. Essentially, staying stuck in this never-ending cycle is a fundamental denial of Self-Love. How then do we find pure peace (Shanti) in the midst of chaos? I believe it begins with deconstructing the ego, along with owning and then eradicating the story we so desperately cling to for security. Santosha (contentment/acceptance) brings us back to the here and now, allowing Prana to flow again. I’m confident from that place of flow, rather than resistant. Eventually, Shanti will seep into every part of my being.
Like looking directly into the sun, dealing with the underlying issues that cause infidelity are blinding and only manageable in small doses. Ironically, that very intensity is an essential ingredient for growth and transformation.
Now two months past the “epiphany” offered me by the universe, I can say that every day I am a little less angry, and however marginal that may be, it is still a forward step toward recovery; one I’ve chosen to initiate with the help of my tribe. I would like to report that I have actively employed techniques to purge my anger, but what I’m observing is that anger is killing itself because the bucketloads of energy required to maintain it just aren’t available to me. I’m unable to feed it any longer.
There is no advice I can offer here (for once), because how someone handles this tinderbox is completely individual. I do know that many before me and many after me will deal with this, but no one can appreciate your specific predicament because he/she is not currently walking in your shoes. There is no research to tell me how to trust again. Ultimately trust has to arise from the bedrock of strength and fortitude that demands I stand back up and open my heart again. In part, because I am a spiritual warrior, but more importantly, because life without trust is no life at all.
1. Let go of managing your emotions. Trying to control the uncontrollable only leads to panic. Crying, resting, getting informed, finding a supportive community all help prevent isolation and foster empowerment.
2. Create a regular practice of silence for 15-30 minutes twice a day regardless of how despondent we may feel. Do it now when life is happy and comfortable (i.e., not while suffering from the trauma of infidelity) so it becomes a natural state of Samadhi that is easy for us to find when emotions do arise.
3. Be patient with yourself. Healing is a process without a time frame. Patience gives us permission to take a deep breath and lean into feelings of inadequacy and fear. It encourages bravery when we want to run away. It holds a safe space for whatever is, and allows us to linger there indefinitely, rather than reacting.
4. Commit this acronym to memory: T time R reflection U understanding S silence T transcendence as a daily reminder that TRUST will prevail and a new beginning is just a breath away.
Bass, Barry. (date unknown). “The Trauma of Infidelity.” <http://drbarrybass.com/services/trauma-of-infidelity/ >
Braucher, David.(September 2, 2014). “Read This Before Having an Affair.” <https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/contemporary-psychoanalysis-in-action/201409/read-having-affair>
CreditDonkey (date unknown). Survey:”Who’s Telling the Truth?” <http://www.creditdonkey.com/lying.html>
Johnson, Suzie. “Understanding the 3 Stages of Infidelity: How Do You Survive and Affair?” <http://www.goasksuzie.com/three_stages_of_infidelity#.VzjDPGPbSFI>
Usó-Doménech, J.L. and Nescolarde-Selva, J. “What are Belief Systems?” Department of Applied Mathematics. University of Alicante. Alicante. Spain. <http://www.vub.ac.be/CLEA/FOS/cfp/what-are-belief-systems.pdf>
“What is Fire?” www.sciencelearn.org.nz
Frahi, Donna. Bringing Yoga to Life. New York, NY: Harper-Collins, 2004. Print.