When we have lost our way, in the midst of chaos or distress, anxiety and wanting things to be other than they are, we can at times find a point of stillness, we can touch the ground and breathe a breath and begin to know where we are, know that we are lost. In knowing we are lost we have started again. We have remembered to be aware. And in being aware we have choice. We can choose to have a different relationship to what is painful and unpleasant. We could choose for example to redirect our energy and attention to a point, a neutral point like the breath, that facilitates us to be calm and come to stillness. In Daniel Siegel’s words:
“When you are feeling stressed or find yourself in situations that trigger past unresolved issues, your mind may shut off and become inflexible. This inflexibility can be an indication that you are entering a different state of mind that directly impairs your ability to think clearly. We call this a low mode of processing… or ‘the low road’ where you can become flooded by feelings such as fear, sadness or rage. These intense emotions can lead you to have knee-jerk reactions instead of thoughtful responses…
The low road experience has four elements: a trigger, transition, immersion and recovery. Triggers initiate the activation of our leftover issues. Transition is the feeling of being on the edge, just before we enter the low road; it can be rapid or gradual. Immersion in the low road can be filled with intense emotions including the frustration and out-of-control feeling of being stuck in the low road itself…
Our childhood experiences may have involved trauma and loss in some form. Resolution of trauma and loss requires an understanding of the low road and its connection to patterns of experiences from the past.” (Daniel Siegel, Parenting from the Inside Out)
There are many ways to approach and heal unresolved issues, trauma or loss:
Our instinctual survival responses to fight, flight or freeze may become activated while on the low road and dominate our behaviour. The body’s response, such as tightened muscles in anger, an impulse to run away in fear, or a sense of being numb and immobilised. Becoming aware of our bodily sensations is a first step to understanding our experience on the low road. Making a conscious effort to alter our bodily reactions on the low road can help to free us from the prison of these ingrained reflexes. The brain looks to the body to know how it feels and to assess the meaning of things; thus becoming aware of our bodily reactions can be a direct and effective means to deal with low road immersion.
Changing the impact of the low road in our lives may require becoming familiar with the origins of these experiences and letting our minds move deeply in the layers of personal meaning that surround them.
Knowing about the brain can allow someone to move from self-judgement to self-acceptance. Our ability to enter into states of self reflection often requires periods of solitude.
Bodily awareness and self-reflection may be followed by other experiences that enhance the healing process. Writing in a journal can be integrative and healing. Having trusted others bear witness to our pain and struggles can also bring a new sense of clarity and coherence to our lives.
How do you begin the process of healing? You can begin by talking about your memories to a trusted adult or professional who can support your growth in this process.
- Adapted from Daniel Siegel’s Parenting from the Inside Out
I am larger, better than I thought,
I did not know I held so much goodness.
- Walt Whitman, "Song of the Open Road"
The solution is never about fixing
but about staying ...
with the fear of helplessness
and loss of control.
The topic of time has always fascinated me, both inside and outside the context of psychotherapy. In modern physics, for example, relativity theory and quantum mechanics have revealed mind-blowing perspectives on time, that have radically changed mankind's world view.
In psychotherapy, time in general, and the present moment in particular, have always played an important role both theoretically and in practice- no matter which school you consider. The Freudians were convinced of the significance of a person's past, as it shows in the presence of a transference relationship. The classical behaviourists considered the power of contigency to be the most influential principle in psychology. And traditional Gestalt therapists agreed with Perls's statement that
Nothing exists except the here and now. The now is the present, is the phenomenon, is what you are aware of, is the moment in whcih you carry around your so-called memories and your so-called anticipations with you. Whether you remember or anticipate , you do it now. The past is no more. The future is not yet.
-Frank-M. Staemmler in The British Gestalt Journal , 2011, Vol 20, No2
Staemmler goes on to say that he would like to include another definition of the 'here and now' in contemporary Gestalt theory, namely the 'hermeneutic now'. I find most fascinating the quotes he uses to define the 'hermeneutic now':
A person who is trying to understand a text is always projecting. He projects the meaning for the text as a whole as soon as some initial meaning emerges in the text. Again, the initial meaning emerges only because he is reading the text with particular expectations in regard to a certain meaning. Working out this fore-projection, which is constantly revised in terms of what emerges as he penetrates into the meaning, is understanding what is there. (Gadamer, 1989, p. 267)
What I find interesting in reading that quote is being aware of which lense I read that quote through. There are many lenses. But predominantly I use a Theravadin Buddhist lense which means that I compare what Gadamer wrote to how I understand Theravadin Buddhism explains 'making meaning' of something. From a Theravadin Buddhist perspective, I agree that 'this' emerges because of 'that' , that phenomena emerges in the 'here and now' but only in the context of what has emerged before. Therefore phenomena cannot emerge independently, but is dependent upon previously emerged phenomena. It is the insight into this process that frees us. Frees us to see independently, not through tainted lenses. This paradoxically require us not to pay attention to the meaning we have made, not to get lost in commentary, not to get lost in the story we make up about this moment right here and now, not to believe in the thinking associated with this pain, this desire, this impulse, but just to see these experiences as they really are: a pain, a desire, an impulse. What is added is extra. What is real is what emerges right here and now without the additives, flavours & colours. An additive free experience.
All sentient being developed through natural selection in asuch a way that pleasant emotons serve as their guide, and especially the pleasure dericed from sociability and from lovong our families.
- Charles Darwin
I heard a story once about a Native American elder who was asked how she had become so wise, so happy, so respected. She answered: "In my heart, there are two wolves: a wolf of love and a wolf of hate. It all depends on which one I feed each day".
- Rick Hanson PHD ,
'We believe that all relationships...can be renewed by restoring the pathways to connection'.
- Jean Baker Miller & Irene Stiver
'Freeing ourselves from the illusion of separateness allows us to live in a natural freedom'
- Sharon Salzberg
Withdrawal from the world is something we can, and perhaps should, do every day. It completes the movement of which entering fully into life is only one part. Just as a loaf of bread needs air in order to rise, everything we do needs an empty place in its interior. I especially enjoy such ordinary retreats from the active life as shaving, showering, reading, doing nothing, walking, listening to the radio, driving in a car. All of these activities can turn oneself inward toward contemplation.
Mundane withdrawal from the busyness of an active life can create a spirituality-without-walls, a spiritual practice that is not explicitly connected to a church or a tradition. I have never forgotten Joseph Campbell's response when he was asked about his yoga practice: laps in the pool and a drink once a day. Anything is material for retreat- cleaning out a closet, giving away some books, taking a walk around the block, clearing your desk, turning off the television set, saying no to an invitation to do anything.
At the sight of nothing, the soul rejoices.
- Meditations on the monk who dwells in daily life by Thomas Moore
The best of modern therapy is much like a process of shared meditation, where therapist and client sit together, learning to pay close attention to those aspects and dimensions of the self that the client may be unable to touch on his or her own.
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
"Human life should be like a vow, dedicated to uncovering the meaning of life. The meaning of life is in fact not complicated; yet it is veiled from us by the way we see our difficulties. It takes the most patient practice to begin to see through that, to discover that the sharp rocks are truly jewels" - JOKO BECK, Zen Teacher