Teaching November 2010: Random thoughts around Shock and Trauma, Spirituality and Labelling ourselves
Some bits of this month’s submission may be familiar to some of you. You may have heard me or someone else say something very similar. I do not too much mind this; it has become apparent to me that one can go on and on saying something very similar, in slightly different ways until, suddenly, the right wavelength, attunement, is there and someone clicks, gets it; or I get it myself, finally and understand at a felt sense level, what I have been saying for so long…
This how I started my talk one day, after the regular group meditation. Now, I will give my demonstration of the exquisitely, mind-numbingly boring, experience of watching paint dry. Actually it takes the form of my asking for a volunteer to be a demonstration patient and then demonstrating my suggested treatment called “doing nothing” or, on other occasions, “presence in Stillness. I have to admit that the word volunteer is not quite accurately used, as everyone gets to draw a marble out of a rather smart silk bag. One of the marbles is white; the rest are green. We shall find a volunteer…!
Lets say a few words first. Somebody asked me yesterday, what is Craniosacral therapy: for the purpose of this group, I would like to put in this little definition that I made: Craniosacral therapy at its tenderest, is a journey taken by two or more people in company to a level of being where there is no pathology. It is a journey inwards, it is a journey inwards to the level of psyche where the pathology is not formed yet. In this particular definition, which would not at all be everybody’s definition, we are not energizing pathology by trying to fix it or making it better, but we are looking for the health that lies under or inner to, the pathology. It exists in everybody. That is my statement, I make very few categorical statements, this is one of them.
Presence in Stillness, is the name of a recent course, given to Family Constellation Therapists, as it happens. It is very difficult to be pathological if you are present. Unless the pathology is being caused by something that is present in this moment, it means that the pathology is something that you bring with you. Of course it is possible to have pathology in the present. If somebody suddenly opens that door, with saliva coming dripping from his mouth, and his eyes looking very wild and he has a knife in his hand which is dripping with blood, it is going to be quite a lot of pathology in this room, but it would be in the present. This has not happened on any recent courses of mine.
Animals do not carry their pathology with them. They don’t carry around, as we do, beautifully wrapped trauma in Gucci bags, they don’t do that. You have this analogy, which many may have heard before; I lived in Africa for some years, and I loved to be in the plains in Africa and watching the animals. There you might see a deer being chased by a female lion. I said a female lion, because the women do all the work, the male lion just sits there combing its hair and waiting for the female to bring the food. It is typical. The lion chases this deer. And lions can be very quick over short distances, but they don’t have the stamina to run a marathon. So, if the lion does not catch the deer in the first 2 or 3 minutes, the deer can get away. That is one scenario. Another scenario, the lion catches the deer, and this particular animal is very clever, he goes into flight syndrome – he realises fight is not going to work -, and he flees by going into “death;” he pretends to be dead. Lions do not eat dead meat. The lions only eat meat that they have killed themselves. So, when this lion sees that this animal is dead, he says “oh merde” and he says, “I have to look for another one when I get my breath back”. And that’s it.
O.K. These are two scenarios. One gets away by running, and one gets away by going completely internal, pretending to be dead. Whichever way it goes, when it is over and they have escaped, this time, they stand up and shake all their trauma into the ground. They let it go. We have forgotten how to do that. When these animals have shaken off the trauma, they gave let it go. It is not there any more. They are in the present, they eat grass, the lion is gone. There maybe be a lion tomorrow, or yesterday, but now, the lion has gone.
What do humans do? They go to the telephone and ring up all their friends. “You don’t know what happened to me today” I was having an amazing time going to the office in this morning, and this stupid man in a Mercedes came and cut right across me, and I nearly fell in the ditch, I am lucky to be alive, I can tell you. I need a drink, see you in Harry’s bar in ten minutes. And for the next six weeks this man is telling the story to anybody who is prepared to listen. He is reactive to an undigested fear. He is not hurt; it is reasonable that he had a moment of fear at the time of the incident but he has now embodied the fear and identifies with it. The other way that humans very often go is to bury the trauma, well out of sight, refusing to engage with it and the trauma then lurks in the dark, causing reactivity but never being acknowledged. In either case, he or she is not present. In either case again,, if there is sensitive presence ready to just receive the trauma into acknowledgement, without judgement, it may attempt a surfacing into awareness and from there, elimination. To be heard is to be healed, as we have said at greater length, elsewhere.
Sometimes we hang on for a lifetime. Some old men like me, have had one big experience say, 75 years ago, and they tell it to everybody they meet. Alright, in my case, I usually tell that story in day 3…OK that’s tomorrow, no-one gets away without it!
Alright, we can learn quite a lot sometimes from animals. We have an animal side of course, but we have distanced ourselves from it. The massive development of the frontal brain, particularly the left, is what I call the curse of Descartes. We are out of touch with ourselves, we are out of touch with almost everything that happens except in this narrow band (pointing to the frontal lobe). We want to conceptualize everything. And a concept will never ever be the truth. It is about the truth, but the truth is the felt sense.
Now we can come very briefly to the subject of spirituality, many people in many systems, talk about spirituality, conceptually, in a way that indicates that we somehow need to transcend our bodies. That the body is somehow a handicap, we need to advance beyond our body, we need to get to a higher plain. In that case, what did we choose to be born as a human being? What a waste of time. I think that is actually rubbish. I think that the task of the human being, is to more fully experience being incarnated. Instead of escaping from the body, get more fully into it, experience it. Until, perhaps, we no longer need for it and the lessons it can teach us. That, to me, is the purpose of man. That is the way I see it.
In the Christian tradition I see that embodiment was the extraordinary example of Jesus. I know that the Buddha said: “There is one thing that, when cultivated and regularly practiced, leads to deep spiritual intention, to peace, to mindfulness and clear comprehension, to vision and knowledge, to a happy life here and now, and to the culmination of wisdom and awakening. And what is that one thing? It is mindfulness centered on the body” (Tara Brach).
What the Buddha said roughly, was: Enlightenment is in the body. We need to look at all these words. He said “is” ; is in the body, is in the present tense, you will notice. Not maybe found, but IS in the body, right here, now, we don’t have to go somewhere else to find it. So what do we have to do? I work a lot with images and analogies, and I see the task that we have at the beginning has to be to become aware, become aware of what we are doing, become aware of this increasingly thick and all encompassing suit of armour that we have put on, which we call me. That is not me, me is the observer of all this, we became fixated on the suit of armour, on the habituations. Which we add layer by layer, and each layer, is how we separate ourselves from each other. We have a more and more firmly established ego which is separated from everybody else´ ego. And what is the result of that? As soon as that happens, either I am better than you or you are better than me. That is the immediate result of reinforcing our ego. The competition between people: in psychotherapy groups you have enormous competition particularly if it is a group of beginners, as to who is the most neurotic. “No, no I am more neurotic than you.”. That is the way you get favour, of course, from the teacher. You must be more neurotic than the teacher, but in my case, that is not possible. So please give up trying to compete with me.
Awareness; awareness leads us to realizing that we are reactive. We are reactive to habits that we bring with us. We may have received a trauma like the antelope, should we say, about 46 and a half years ago, but unlike the antelope who shook himself and earthed himself and let it go into the ground; we have not let our trauma go, we are bringing it forward into each and every situation. We identify with it, it has become us. And we are reactive to it. So in essence we are very rarely present. We are either reacting to the past or we are reactive to the future. Typically, “I will write a book when I have more time”, “I shall be happy when I have a wife and 2.5 children”, etc.
Coming into the present. First there needs to be awareness, awareness that this is what I am doing: I cannot say in this moment that somebody is making feel inferior by their attitude. Nobody in this room is at the moment making me feel inferior. I bring that with me, it is not the truth, it is not who I am. It is an habituation.
Awareness, habituation presence, awareness, all in a continuing cycle until the embarrassing, shocking, very surprising, revelation that I am doing this to me. Not someone else. That can be very painful, but, at the same time, precisely there, there is a doorway to change. Nobody can change you, no, you have to change yourself. The doorway to change has to be an awareness. Awareness gives options, the awareness of all this is not going to come by searching in the intellect. It comes in my experience, come from getting more fully in touch with that level of who you are, that we call the body. We’ve been abstracting, taking ourselves out of the body, trying to get above the body, tying to be superior to the body; it is when we really get into the body, and start to listen to it, that we get the revelation.
What I am doing right now, of course is building up a concept, and we’ve agreed that the concept is not it. But I don’t know other way to go. So we have to have the concept in order to let go of it. So that is where we are at right now.
I like to tell this little story about Tom. I was listening very carefully to everybody yesterday, listen to what their profession is, and what they do, and this little story may well appeal to you. Tom was a lovely boy of about 6years. He came with his mother, and he sat beside my table, and I decided to talk directly to him, not through the mother, and I said, “Hello Tom” “What are you doing here today?” He said, “I’ve got OCD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and it is incurable”. And I said, “Tom, who told you that it was incurable?” He said, “The hospital”. I actually didn’t know at that moment whether to cry or being extremely angry; that someone had told this six year old boy that he had an incurable disease. So, we talked a bit. And I asked, “What are the symptoms?” and he told me that he had very bad headaches. So I told him, “OK, I know something about headaches” “Tom, why don’t you lie down on my table, and I will put my hands on your headache”. So he laid down on the table. Her mother didn’t quite know what was going on. So, the boy was in the table, and I laid my hands in his head. I will show you what do children of six years do. They sit and go bahhhhhh, and pull strange faces, and say “mom, how long are we staying here?” and continue “is it nearly finished; can we go soon home, mom”. So I said, “Tom, how are you feeling, how is your headache?” and he said “is not there” So, I said, “I don’t think it is incurable, and you?” And then we started laughing, and he laughed and laughed and I laughed and laughed about his incurable disease. And his mother was extremely mystified and I said, “Tom, I don’t think that you have an incurable disease. I don’t think that you have OCD come back and see me in a week and we’ll see how it is”. He didn’t have OCD, he hadn’t had OCD. I am not saying that I cured the OCD, he had been given the idea that he had got an incurable disease. He had been labelled. That is what needed to come into the present. No body cured anything. He came into the present. We limit people- we do it to ourselves most often – by putting labels on that say “I am this, you are that, I am somehow different to other people..” And then, I start being reactive from that place that I’ve been given. Not from whom I am, but from my label, I am not reacting from me. That is what the intellect can do to us. Before everybody goes completely crazy, I am, of course not saying, that we should get rid of our intellect, that would be ridiculous. It is a fantastic and useful tool, and it is getting bigger and bigger, that is a fact. We have more available, than was available a thousand or two thousand years ago. But it is a tool, it is not who we are. We need the body to help us a out a bit more, we have left it behind, lets become aware of it and be more complete.