I’m introverted, so I only have a few close friends. I have three girlfriends who live in the same city as me. All of them now have boyfriends. I don’t. One of them just started a new relationship. Last week, she said that she might have to cancel the girls’ drinks we’d discussed, because she was feeling like she had too much on and she needed some quiet time in her cave. A perfectly reasonable request, especially given I’m also an introvert – right?

So this bit is embarrassing: part of me threw a tantrum. “I bet she finds time to see the new boyfriend. Everyone else has a boyfriend except me” the part whined. Close behind that observation came the story: “She’ll never have time for me now. I’m alone again. I’m always alone”. I felt a familiar sensation – big stone sitting in my stomach, tightness across my chest and behind my heart. And then the response: “Fuck the world. I don’t need anyone. I’m fine on my own.”

I pretended everything was cool, but I didn’t call her for a week. Not because I was angry with her… I knew I was triggered about something that was nothing to do with her. I didn’t call because I’d retreated so far into my own cave, my arms simply weren’t long enough to reach out.

And all week, I knew something was up. But I wasn’t able to sit with it – I felt restless. I did clearing work on it but it didn’t shift. I did clearing work on a whole bunch of other stuff and it still didn’t shift.

So my Soul kept up the pressure in a few soft, subtle ways. There was the follow-up email to a friend in the US that once again went unanswered, triggering a tiny avalanche of self-doubt. “Why isn’t she responding? Did I do something wrong? Dammit – I want to talk to her… why won’t she talk to me? What if she never talks to me again?”

There was the homework exercise for my new coaching job, where I had to identify my needs in the context of the new team and the new role. The first need I identified – and the only one on the list that I felt like I hadn’t ever recognised before – was belonging. I realised I’d never really felt a sense of tribe… never been sure of my ‘place’ in the world. I could feel there was a lot of emotional charge around belonging, but I couldn’t put my finger on the root cause.

There was the photograph on social media of my ex-boyfriend that somehow, subtly suggested it had been taken by someone who was intimate with him. Which triggered a small waterfall of “oh – so he has someone new… why don’t I? What’s wrong with me?”

And there was the realisation that my breathing had gotten very shallow. Again, I could feel it and see it, but the cause wasn’t revealing itself. All I could do was sit on my yoga mat and notice my diaphragm was contracted and put my hands on it and send it love.

So I finally asked for help. With company, I was able to sit quietly and investigate the feeling. And I understood why I hadn’t wanted to go there alone.

Because it was nasty. I quickly saw that the “I’m always alone” story lay on the surface. Underneath it lay an energetic move – it felt like my heart collapsed into a black hole and to cover that over, I immediately constructed armour all around my body. It felt (and looked, in my mind’s eye) like a metal exoskeleton. It was the image I presented to the world, but inside it was nothing. Black space. A vacuum. And inside there, I simply didn’t exist. I was nothing.

I don’t know where the “I don’t exist” story came from or how it started – it was just there when I dropped beneath the other stories. And it was not a fun place to visit. I didn’t stay there long. I stayed long enough to see it and feel it and acknowledge the part of me that believed the story.

And I understood that if I didn’t exist, I couldn’t possibly belong anywhere. This little traumatised piece of me was partly responsible for the pattern I saw running through almost every personal and professional relationship in my life: not fully in and not completely out. Wanting desperately to trust but always anticipating betrayal. Moving towards the world and away, at the same time. One foot on the accelerator, one foot on the brake. (No wonder I don’t have a new boyfriend!)

There is a physical signature that supports the mental, emotional, energetic and karmic patterns. I’ve described it before – my chest collapses and then puffs out to compensate, it gets tight behind the heart to hold it all together, the diaphragm goes into spasm. When that core contraction is in place, I can’t feel my body. I can feel its edges – where the air meets my skin – but I can’t feel the life inside my body. It literally feels dead… like empty space inside a suit of armour.

When I can tune into that contraction and do whatever clearing is needed to help my body let go, the armour softens. My heart opens, front and back. I can breathe again. I can feel the blood in my veins. I feel alive. I am here.

My practitioner friend and I talked about how I could anchor the experience of being here in my body. She suggested I make a plaster cast of my chest armour and then break it into pieces and bury it. I preferred the vision of turning it into a thing of beauty. So I’ve made the cast and I’m going to cover it with something like this…

We talked about the need to find some regular practices to help me to feel alive, in my body. I nominated dancing as my favourite. She suggested a song and I loved it so much, dancing to it has become part of my day.

And then we talked about something very simple: it’s about making the invitation. Continually repeating the invitation to the world – and my own Soul – to come closer. Making the invitation to all the parts of me that are still hiding to come into the light… in their own time, as they are ready.

And even more so, it’s about being the invitation. So I’m living with this thought: what does it feel like – in my body – to be the invitation for life to find me? Sometimes, it’s terrifying. Increasingly, it feels fabulous. Almost like I am a universe, wrapped in skin.