The Bastard Child

‘I was only going to say that heaven did not seem to be my home; and I broke my heart with weeping to come back to earth; and the angels were so angry that they flung me out into the middle of the heath on the top of Wuthering Heights; where I woke sobbing for joy. That will do to explain my secret, as well as the other. I’ve no more business to marry Edgar Linton than I have to be in heaven; and if the wicked man in there had not brought Heathcliff so low, I shouldn’t have thought of it. It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him: and that, not because he’s handsome, Nelly, but because he’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”—Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights

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Last week, I watched a rendition of Wuthering Heights while cradling a tiny black Chihuahua on my lap at my parent’s house in Ohio. I watched Heathcliff and Catherine survive their traumatic childhoods by loving one another on the violent, beautiful moors. This tragic love affected me deeply when I witnessed it for the first time as a fourteen-year old girl. It took on a new meaning for me last week.

Wuthering Heights is a book about unlived life. Catherine Earnshaw, the book’s protagonist, is an earthy girl growing up on the rugged English countryside in the 18th Century. Catherine’s father brings home an orphan boy named Heathcliff (who may be Mr. Earnshaw’s bastard child) home to live with the family when Catherine is a young girl. Over the course of their childhoods, Catherine and Heathcliff form an intense, wild bond while reckoning with the uncivilized natural landscape and Mr. Earnshaw’s anger. Despite Catherine’s love for Heathcliff, she eventually denies this  love in order to marry the safe, kind, and financially stable Edgar Linton.

Wuthering Heights got me thinking about the things we cover over.  The Earnshaw men push Heathcliff away by explicitly abusing Heathcliff, while Catherine emotionally abandons Heathcliff in order secure her own safety and security. Catherine attempts to live in ‘heaven’ by marrying Edgar Linton, but her love for Heathcliff keeps popping up. Catherine’s brother and father try to abuse Heathcliff out of existence. In the end, they only end up becoming consumed with anger and addiction and strengthening Catherine and Heathcliff’s connection.

Throughout the novel, Heathcliff is the abandoned son who keeps hanging around, begging to be allowed to stay. By refusing to acknowledge her love of Heathcliff, and the dark, strange parts of herself, Catherine ruins her own life and denies who she is.

Everything we try to cover up comes back and asks for attention. We often don’t even know what we’re pushing away, but we have clues that we’re resisting. We experience tightness, headaches, or we suffer from obsessive thoughts or compulsive and behaviors. We may over consume, keep ourselves really busy, or treat others in ways we’re not proud of.

When we push our experiences down, they bubble up to the surface like a beach ball that we’ve been trying to push underwater.

In this moment, what is popping up, asking for your attention?

This may seem difficult to answer. Sometimes we are disconnected from our bodies because we have tuned out our ability to feel. Shutting down is how we adapt to pain–it’s how we avoid difficult emotions and sensations like aches, a fast heartbeat, or heaviness in our limbs. But when we shut down we also cut ourselves off from feeling joy, gratitude, excitement, and love. We rob ourselves of life like Catherine did.

Tune into your body right now and see what sensations arise. Many people feel tightness, aching, tension or discomfort. If you feel these sensations in your body, ask yourself what you’re believing that your body might be tightening against. Our tension-causing beliefs are usually limiting and harmful, and they involve negative thoughts about ourselves.

“I’m a failure.” “I’ll always be alone.” “I’m not a good person.” “The best years of my life are over.” “If people saw who I really am, they would never love me.” Or, like Catherine, “It would be degrading to let myself be who I am.”

Whatever belief rises up, no matter how negative or irrational it sounds, let it sit there for a moment without analyzing it or judging it. It’s just a belief, something our minds generate constantly. The belief you’re having isn’t who you are, and many people have had this same belief. Notice what you’re thinking without identifying with it or becoming attached to it.

Then ask yourself what it would be like to truly realize that the unhelpful thought you’re having isn’t true. We know a belief is unhelpful or harmful if it keeps us locked in a small conception of who we are or, or if we wouldn’t want the people we love to believe it about themselves. Our harmful beliefs ignore the possibility of our potential. They are simplistic, narrow, and they never take all of our experiences into account. I can promise you that whatever the harmful belief is, it isn’t true.

Walt Whitman said, “I am large; I contain multitudes.” We all know this about ourselves. The practice of mindfulness reveals how we’ve forgotten our largeness and complexity, and it helps us to come back home to the truth of who we are.

Imagine yourself freed from the harmful belief. If you truly believed that you were loved and that there was nothing deficient about you, what would life feel like? What might you do? Imagine that life–imagine its openness and possibility. That life is laid out, wild and unknown, ahead of you.

In Wuthering Heights, Catherine doesn’t awake on the moors, sobbing for joy. This is the main tragedy of the book–and a tragedy of many lost moments in our lives.

But you have the ability to awaken in this moment. Any bastard child clinging to you is a messenger, asking for your love. Run with him on the moors, and recognize that he is a part of you. He is inviting you to realize the spacious freedom of your existence.

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 Emma Kobil is a licensed professional counselor practicing in Denver, Colorado. Her philosophically informed therapeutic approach focuses on helping creative and perfectionist individuals practice self compassion. Learn more about Emma, or schedule an appointment, at mindfulcounselingdenver.com.