Tag Archives: support

Turning Towards

A healthy human being is characterized by a wider and wider capacity to experience [with presence] emotion and blends of emotion.” ~Dr. Keith Witt, Integral Psychologist

This assertion from Dr. Witt may sound simple, but I believe it to be extremely profound in its implications. In fact, I think it is key to understanding truly transformational healing and how it occurs. Dr. Witt and Jeff Salzman discuss this topic in Jeff’s Daily Evolver podcast episode entitled, “Transforming Trauma Into Power.” (I highly recommend listening to it in its entirety.)

What does it mean to have a wider and wider capacity to experience and be present with emotion? What is so challenging about it? And why is this capacity so essential for transformational healing?

Having the capacity to be present with our emotions means we have cultivated the ability to turn towards our unwanted feelings, pain, and other undesired material, as opposed to turning away through denial, distraction, or dissociation. One of the reasons this is so difficult is it goes against our most basic survival and instinctual drives, such as our ability to dissociate when experiencing a traumatic event. If we have used a response such as dissociation in the past and it worked to get us through a traumatic situation, our system will remember this success and use dissociation over and over again whenever it perceives danger (real or not). And this response will happen automatically and often unconsciously. That is, most of us are not even aware when we are dissociating.

Another reason it is difficult for us to turn towards our pain is we are often taught that certain emotions are bad and others are good. When we judge our emotions (and therefore ourselves) in this way, we tend to suppress those emotions which we have labeled as wrong. We do this in a variety of ways. We might dissociate (as already discussed above), go into denial, or use distraction (food, TV, drugs, alcohol, shopping, etc.). We might also shame ourselves in an attempt to control our feelings.

Why is it important to build the capacity to turn towards our pain? When we suppress our emotions or are otherwise unable to be present with our painful experiences, symptoms will eventually arise such as anxiety, panic attacks, depression, psychosis, physical & immune system ailments, and in cases of extreme trauma, PTSD symptoms. The way to truly heal is to turn toward our pain and be present with the associated emotions and sensations. If we are able to meet our pain with compassionate understanding and radical acceptance, the energy of the held trauma naturally begins to metabolize, integrate, and heal.

One way to be present with our painful experiences is through what is called resourcing. This is a way of holding a resourced or healthy, powerful feeling in the body simultaneously with a challenging feeling in the body. Holding the two together in this way allows for integration and healing. Dr. Witt describes a simple practice in the podcast (at around the 36-minute mark) which you can try today that utilizes this principle.

I love what Jeff Salzman said when he describes this process for himself: “Whenever I find myself in a depression or anxiety or an anger vortex, I say, ‘This is good news! Here I have this ball of energy, and I have the opportunity to actually turn towards it and move into it.'” It is that willingness and that capacity to “turn towards” that results in growth and healing. It’s not just that you metabolize the experience and now it’s no longer a “block” or no longer causing symptoms. It’s that you actually heal with a big “H,” meaning you grow and you evolve. And that, I believe, is an important part of what life is all about.

Blessings,
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Necessary Conditions for Transformational Healing

When it comes transformational to healing, it can be helpful to let go of trying to “make it happen” and instead turn our attention toward creating the conditions in which healing is most likely to occur. This idea is similar to what is expressed in the following quote from Suzuki Roshi:

“Gaining enlightenment is an accident. Spiritual practice simply makes us accident prone.”

The idea here is that we cannot make enlightenment happen through willpower. However, we can create the conditions, through spiritual practice, in which it is more likely to occur. And, we can think of transformational healing in a similar way. True healing does not happen through willpower, but it can happen quite naturally when the right conditions are present.

So what are the right conditions for transformational healing? I recently watched a webinar with Cassandra Vieten from the Institute of Noetic Sciences in which she discussed several key conditions necessary for worldview change. (You can watch the webinar here, which I would highly recommend.) I believe that everything she names in the webinar is not only key to changing our worldview, but also key to true healing. This is because healing involves transforming our whole being, worldview and all.

If you are looking to create an environment in which transformational healing can more easily occur, providing these “conditions” may be a good place to start:

  1. A community of support: This is perhaps the most important condition necessary for transformational healing. The community doesn’t have to be huge; in fact, it can be only two people. The key point here is that trauma occurs in relationship and so does healing. One important aspect of a community of support is that it must allow for vulnerability and truth-telling — the expression of doubts, fears, uncertainties, realizations, challenges — without anyone in the community trying to change, suppress, make wrong, or “fix” the person expressing his/her truth.
  2. Practices that help grow the personal capacity for acceptance of what is. Acceptance does not mean we necessarily like what is. It doesn’t mean we won’t take any action to change our circumstances. It simply means that we are able to be fully present with the truth of what is actually happening now rather than going into resistance, denial, or distraction.
  3. Practices that reliably lead to a direct experience of healing… even small experiences. Watching other people transform or reading scientific evidence assuring us that we can heal will not convince us that our own healing is possible. We must have repeated direct experiences to build trust in the healing process.
  4. Encouragement and ways in which to engage creatively in a scientific process of forming hypotheses, creating experiments, and exploring our findings. It’s also important to provide scientific explanations and data related to your particular approach to health and healing to help open and settle the mind.
  5. Tools, training, and education in practices and ways in which people can participate in their own transformation and healing. Truly transformational healing is an inside-out job, and the miracle is that we can be empowered to participate in and catalyze our own healing!
  6. Space and opportunity to identify and name intentions, dreams, wants, desires, and motivations around healing.
  7. Frequent reminders that:  a) Healing is a process, not an event, and b) things may feel overwhelming, but everyone absolutely has the capacity to rise to the occasion and be present with all arises in the process.

Of course, how to provide these conditions is the real art… and the endless joy! I have been fortunate enough to be a part of communities like this which provide all the conditions necessary for my own transformation and healing. And now, this is what I am working to provide both in my personal practice with clients, and also at the School of Inner Health where I assist with biodynamic craniosacral therapy trainings. At the school we work to provide the kind of environment described above in all our classes, with a focus on the body as the main “way in” for catalyzing healing and transformation. The result is an experience of healing in ourselves while simultaneously learning how to help others on their healing journeys.

Interested in learning about the trainings offered at the School of Inner Health? Check it out here.

Depression/Bipolar Part 2 – What’s Working for Me

In Part 1 of this series (Depression/Bipolar Part 1 – Why Traditional Western Therapies Weren’t Enough for Me), I explained why the traditional western therapeutic approach to treating mood disorders (in my case, depression and/or bipolar II, depending on which psychiatrist you ask) wasn’t enough for me.  With the traditional approach, I was merely surviving, but not thriving.  In this post, I’d like to share what is working for me.  But before I go into that, I’d like to make clear that I don’t mean to imply that I am now happy at all times with never a moment of depression.  Yes, it’s true I can now say that I finally understand what it means to truly live and that I have experienced and continue to experience true joy, creativity, passion, gratitude, and love to depths I had never dreamed of before.  Yet, I still have times when I will sink into the depths of depression.  Even now, my mind sometimes falls into those old habitual thought patterns that have been engrained over the course of 35+ years.  These times are much less common and don’t last nearly as long, but they still happen.  So maybe it would be more accurate to say that the approach I’m about to describe is simply a process that I suspect won’t end at some final destination where I am eternally blissful in every moment of every day.  Perhaps that state of being is possible, but I’m not holding my breath.  My sister, who is the CEO of a small business, recently shared an insight which illustrates this idea.  She has been noticing that many young people fresh out of college have the expectation that they should be able to find a job in which they will be happy all the time.  She pointed out that this is simply an unrealistic expectation, and that no matter how much you love your job, not every day will be perfect.  There will be days when you wonder why you didn’t just stay in bed.  (My sister is wise.  That’s why I call her Yoda.)  The same is true for me with my mood.  I’m a work in progress.  Still, the approach I’m using now has been so life-changing and so much more effective than the traditional approach that I feel it’s worth sharing in hopes that it might resonate with some of you struggling with similar issues.

Everything started to change for me during my training in the therapy I now practice called Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy (BCST).  This training wasn’t your typical class.  It was organized into ten, five-day modules spread out over almost two years, which means there were about two months between each module in which to integrate what we experienced/learned into our everyday lives.  I quickly learned that in order to be an effective practitioner of this therapy, I needed to live the teachings myself.  To be honest, this was the only way I could prove to myself that this therapy really works.  I wasn’t going to practice a therapy based on someone else’s stories or just accept without question the underlying theories.  I needed first-hand experience.  And so I decided to dive in head first, allow myself to embrace the experience, and see where it led me.  It was over the course of those two years — with support through my group training and from individual BCST therapists — that I began to transform.  I discovered that the therapy I was learning to give to others was the key to addressing my own issues, most prominently the debilitating depression I had been living with since I was a young child.  Below is an explanation of the three main components that have been vital for me in this process.

  • Listening to my body with a perspective of appreciation.  One of the most important steps I took was to simply feel and listen to my body with curiosity and appreciation.  This is easier said than done, believe me.  To do this, I first had to let go of all the analysis about why I was depressed.  My teachers called this “letting go of the story.”  After many years of therapy, self-help books, and personal growth seminars, I could easily name all of my underlying belief systems which I was sure were contributing to my depression.  I could list my childhood traumas or talk about my parents until I was blue in the face.  Unfortunately, that approach was largely ineffective for me.  I also had to let go of the idea that there was something wrong with me that I had to battle and eliminate.  The key for me was a change in perspective from one of judgment and pathologizing to one of appreciation.  I began to recognize the incredible intelligence behind how I manage my experiences.  I realized that I had made it this far for good reason, and that whatever I had been doing worked.  Otherwise, I wouldn’t be around to debate it.  I’d be dead.  So with this perspective, I started to listen to my body in a way I never had before.  I let go of the story and started listening and looking for the intelligence in my system instead of the problems.   A whole new world opened up.  I was (and continue to be) amazed at the incredible intelligence at work behind my so-called detrimental “patterns” and “belief systems.”  Bit by bit, simply by listening to my body, I experienced more and more ah-ha moments where I realized certain patterns I had always hated in myself (e.g., shyness) are very intelligent responses to my particular life circumstances.  These reflexive patterns are how I managed and currently manage my experiences to survive and to fulfill specific vital needs — and they work.  This change of perspective was a huge key for me because my bind of self-hate was finally released.  Once I stopped fighting and hating myself, other possibilities I could not previously see began to open up.
  • Connecting to my underlying healing forces & who I really am.  One of the focuses of BCST is supporting the underlying intelligence/healing forces/healing ability of the body.  As a practitioner, I can actually feel these forces at work in the client’s body.  But in order to feel these forces in someone else, I needed to feel them in myself first.  And as I started listening to my own body with curiosity and appreciation, I started to palpably feel these forces at work within myself.  This connection to the underlying intelligence of my system led me to felt-sense connection to who I really am at a core level — the one underneath the depression — the one who could heal my own heart and mind.  I suppose some people might call this core level the “soul” or “spirit.”  Whatever you call it, this connection to that center of who I am somehow led me to the insight that I am the one with my own answers.  In fact, I am the only one with my own answers.  I have found that, for me, working with my depression is not about fighting it; rather, the work is about staying connected to my core or center.  For me, this is a tangible experience with incredible results.  The more I focus on staying connected with that core part myself rather than on fighting my depression, the more my state of being is one of joy, love, gratitude, beauty, creativity, and inspiration.
  • Surrounding myself with proper support.  The most critical part of this process for me has been having the right kind of support.  Basically, I need people around me who can recognize and reflect back to me who I really am at the core level.  In addition, these people all share the following crucial qualities:
  • They recognize that I am unique and complicated.  They know that what will work for me will be unique to me.  There are no cookie-cutter solutions.
  • They realize that I have my own answers.  They are not there to give me answers.  Instead, they support me in finding my own unique path to health.
  • They have a perspective of appreciation rather than pathologizing.  They are not interested in fixing me or making me better.
  • They trust and recognize the underlying intelligence at work in my system and know that they do not “know better” than that intelligence.
  • They trust my process and are neutral as to the outcome or results.
  • They can see who I really am at the core level.

Of course, many of these people were classmates in the BCST training, my teachers, or therapists who had done the training.  I have also found a few amazing friends who share these qualities.  Having these people in my life is vitally important because they can see through all of my crap to who I really am, even when I cannot.  Oftentimes, it is that reflection of my core self that helps bring me out of my states of despair and back to a connection with my center.  These people are rare, but they’re out there.

My hope is that some of you reading these posts might resonate with some of what I’ve shared of my own experiences.  If so, I’d encourage you to first find people to support you who have the qualities I listed above.  It’s easy to find all sorts of people who think they have your answers and want to fix you.  You might even feel like you need to be fixed!  But for me, the trick was to find those people who recognized that I have my own answers and know that the keys to my own healing are inside of me.  That is true empowerment.  That is how I learned to take real responsibility for my own health.

Aloha,

Penny