Lesson #1 – An Alien on My Face
‘Lessons from the Road’ is a series focusing on what I learnt about myself as a man, whilst walking almost 600 kms through Italy with my wife Deborah.
The Way of St Francis was a beautiful and uplifting journey. But along with the joy we also experienced tears and pain. As we walked I discovered things about myself and our marriage I could no longer push away.
I’m glad to say my twenty-five year relationship with Deborah grew as a result. These stories from the road recount the lessons I learned. I hope they entertain, illuminate and even help in your relationships with the people you love in life.
Here is Lesson One.
Do you remember how the extra-terrestrial creature from the film Alien would latch on the face of an unsuspecting astronaut? That’s how I felt on Day 1 of our pilgrimage; an alien was on my face and would not let go. As I recount in the video, for most of the 32 km's we walked that day I was consumed by anger and frustration, all because I thought my wife was going too slowly.
Before coming to Italy I would not have described myself as an angry person. I’d have said I was compassionate and kind. Many of my friends and family would have agreed.
For thirty years I’ve been trying to squeeze the ‘bad stuff’ out of me, like the toothpaste out of a near empty tube. In the Eighties I signed up for personal transformation courses like The Landmark Forum. Soon I was teaching the principles to others in seminars. It was good stuff. My relationships and confidence improved dramatically.
In the Nineties I embraced Christianity, which brought a spiritual dimension of forgiveness and healing into my life. Then Deborah and I took The Marriage Course to learn tools to improve our relationship. We soon began leading the course for others in our community. We counselled dozens of couples on their marriages. We’ve had marriage guidance ourselves. Last December we celebrated our twenty-fifth anniversary, both feeling very much in love.
So I was feeling pretty enlightened. If there was ever a guy who could claim he was sorted, it was me.
My illusions were shattered, however, once I began walking in the quiet countryside, re-tracing the steps of gentle St Francis and having time to reflect. I could see myself getting angry with Deborah over a trivial thing.
The anger seemed to take me over. I couldn't stop myself. When it dissipated I experience terrible regret, feeling like I was back at square one again.
“How often does this happen?” I asked her.
“Often enough,” she said. “Until now you’ve always denied it.”
A friend suggested I think of anger as simply another form of violence. Under the law it’s not as serious but is perhaps part of the same moral and spiritual domain.
At first I could not accept her argument. But when I see the impact of my anger on my wife I realise the two are not as separate as I want to believe. For the sake of argument, I would rate the impact of physical violence on a scale at ‘10/10’, and then rate the effect of harshness and raising my voice at ‘5/10’. Anger is lower, but even if less bad, it’s still bad!
I don’t like seeing this about myself. But it’s strangely comforting finally to name something I have not wanted to admit to during forty years of adulthood. As a colleague once told me, “Awareness is curative.”
Will I ever be able to change? I don’t know. Yet accepting my shadow side allows the light in. Even if now it’s only through a tiny crack.
I haven’t spoken to many people about this. Am I an outlier or one of many?
I know others before me faced the same problem. I just read about a hermit called Ammonas who lived in the Egyptian desert during the fourth century. He spent fourteen years praying to God day and night to be delivered from anger. So it’s unlikely I’m going to get rid of my shadow side any time soon. Instead it would be good for me to come to an understanding and allow it to be there.
I know I’m also capable of being compassionate, kind, generous and other good things. I suppose I must get used to being a paradoxical creature.
The good news is, right now, the alien’s grip on my face is loosening a little, step by step.
Please feel free to share this article and video with others who might find it helpful.
Watch out for Lesson number two on Grace. It’s coming soon.