There once was a man in a boat enjoying the serenity of the river at dusk. He sees another boat coming his way and is glad that someone else is sharing his pleasure. Then he realizes the other boat is heading toward him. He starts yelling to the boatman to turn aside, but the vessel just keeps coming faster and faster. By this time he’s standing up in his boat, screaming and shaking his fist, and then the boat smashes right into him. He sees that it’s an empty boat.
This is the classic story of our whole life situation. There are a lot of empty boats out there.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
A stream, from a far-off mountain, passed down through the countryside, until it at last reached the sands of the desert. Just as it had crossed every other barrier, the stream tried to cross the desert, but the stream found that as fast as it ran into the sand, its waters disappeared.
It was stuck and had no choice but to cross this desert. Yet there was no way the water cold flow over the hot sand. Now a hidden voice, coming from the desert itself, whispered: “The wind crosses the desert, and so can the stream.”
The stream was dashing itself against the sand, and only getting absorbed. Then the stream thought, “sure it easy for the wind. The wind can fly, and that’s why it can cross a desert. But I have always been on the ground and streams don’t fly.” The desert voice continued, “By moving in your own accustomed way you cannot get across. You will either disappear or become a marsh. You must allow the wind to carry you over, to your destination.”
The stream replied, “But how could this happen?“ “By allowing yourself to trust in the wind”, the voice responded. This was not acceptable to the stream. After all, it never had to give up control over its direction before. It did not want to lose its independence. And once having lost it, how could the stream be sure that it could ever be regained?
“The wind, “said the voice, “performs this function. It takes up water, carries it over the desert, and then lets it fall again. Falling as rain, the water again becomes a river.”" How can I know that this is true?” thought the stream. “It is so, and if you do not believe it, you cannot become more than a swamp, and even that could take many, many years. And it certainly is not the same as a stream.”
“But if I trust the wind and am carried over the desert, I will not remain the same stream that I am today.” The stream replied. “This is true in both cases, either way you cannot go back to what you once were,” the whisper said. “Your essential part is carried away and forms a stream again. You are called what you are even today because you do not know which part of you is the essential one.”
When the stream heard this, certain echoes began to arise in its memory. Dimly it remembered a state in which it or some part of it, had been held in the arms of a wind. And the stream raised its vapor into the welcoming arms of the wind, which gently and easily bore it upwards and along, letting it fall softly as soon as they reached the roof of a mountain, many, many miles away. And because it had its doubts, the stream was able to remember and record more strongly in its mind the details of the experience. It reflected, “Yes, now I have learned my true identity.”
The flowing stream speaks to us about the journey of life. The seemingly insignificant trickle leading to the world’s mightiest rivers, each drop of water becomes part of an uncontrollable flow that feeds it forward. An individual drop of water cannot flow by itself, its needs other drops of water to join in on its journey. Fed by rain that fall from the sky, it gains strength, contributing to its growth. It cannot reach its destination without receiving from others, but it also gives. Giving life to animals, people, and plants. It picks up the soil and deposits it to enrich the land. No stream flows without obstacles, no stream moves straight to the sea, it faces impediments that hold it back, and its mood alters with its circumstances, rushing down a narrow channel or spreading into a tide pool. With each barrier the stream finds a new solution.
The stream joyful to dance over rocks and pebbles. If a tree falls across its path it has new options. Does it wash the trunk away, does it find a new path, does it lie still and stagnant, doe sit dam up until the weight causes pressure and flows over? Its pace slows as it reaches the ocean. And the oceans become one with all the waters on the planet. The warmth of the sun evaporates the ocean water and it gathers in clouds. And the journey begins again. The stream flows with such urgency fighting with itself, caught up in the destruction, swirling, and clashing energy full of both respect and power. There is a sense of timeless eternity in this experience, for the stream is something that will outlive us all. Still the river is constantly flowing, forever changing and adapting.
Like the stream, we may change, but our identity endures. This means the acts may change with time but the actor is what remains constant. Our choices, lifestyle, appearance all change. It is our very nature. If we do not let ourselves be transformed by the winds of life, we become stagnant. So, with great fear and yet great courage, we let life lift us, shape us, purify us, help us become who we really are. We change every day, sometimes in big ways, sometimes in very small ways, but our essential humanity remains constant. One day we are children, the next it seems we are adults, we are lovers, we are parents and friends and grandparents. Yet no matter what the form of our days may be, our essence is steady. You are always just yourself. You may be a mother, father, sister, brother, husband, wife, son, daughter, friends, employee, neighbor or customer but you are always just you. That is the core of your identity. You are the one who has all these experiences and you are the same person who was a small child riding a bicycle and playing hide n seek. That is what really matters. That is your true identity.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 3 so far )
Jim paused and looked up as Margery walked out of the office. ‘Go home sometime!’ she called at him. She worked hard enough herself, but Jim was in a class of his own. I’ll be off in a minute, he thought. Just doing this bit of email. The security system clicked in and the lights dimmed. Damn, he thought. I’ll be in trouble. He grabbed his bag and left the computer chugging away. It’ll be done by morning.
‘Sorry, love. Urgent work again,’ he mumbled as he hurried in, kissing his wife, who look more concerned than cross. ‘Is there any dinner left?’ Jennifer was already in bed, of course. He crept up and felt that wonderful glow as he looked down at the innocent sleeping there, all curls and cutsie. It was all for her, really. I’ll try and get some time this weekend. They sat down together to watch the late film, Jim on the floor leaning back into Laura’s smooth legs that flowed down from her tired body. She did look tired. We’re both tired, I guess. During the adverts, he skipped out to check voicemail.
The next day he was in early, as usual. Brian’s car was there, too. Strange. His manager usually came in around eight. ‘Jim. Uh.’ Brian looked oddly at him. ‘I knew I’d catch you now. Could we talk?’ He knew. It didn’t take a genius. Things had been tough recently, and even though he’d upped his already full workload, he’d guessed it would only be a matter of time. Grateful for many years of dedication. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Even though he was ready for it, he wasn’t. He thanked Brian. Said he understood how difficult it was for him. Walked out with a frozen smile. Not kidding anyone, really. But the alternative was worse. He met Margery going the other way in the car park. She took one look and her mouth fell open. Obvious, I suppose. ‘Not now, Margery,’ he said, as he hurried to his car.
The house was empty. He made a cup of tea and sat at the kitchen table, not drinking it. He went into the study and looked stupidly at the piles of papers. He went upstairs and sat on the bed. He went outside and sat in the garden. It didn’t change anything. Staring into nothing, the hopeful future gone. Poof. Just like that. After ages, Laura came back. He’d been dreading it, but there was no way he’d be one of those sad fools who pretended and still went out in the morning. She was, predictably, both shocked and determinedly supportive. What a woman. He didn’t deserve her. We’ll get by, she said. I’m earning enough to pay the basic bills.
Jim grew angry, “But that’s not right. I’m the provider. It’s what I do. I work hard and get paid well. There’ll even be a good pension if I can stay the course. Or not.” He noticed his own breathing. Short, tense and rapid. Laura, in a calm voice, said, “You’ll be alright. You’ll get another job. Maybe not as good. But something. Anything. And hey, you’ll get the time this weekend after all.”
Laura went out to get Jennifer from school. When they came back, he was still sitting on the sofa in the gathering gloom. Jennifer came over to him, climbed up and stood on his lap, looking seriously into his face with those deep blue eyes. Without a word she put her arms around his neck and hugged him. He held her tightly. As they sat there, clinging, he felt the ice inside begin to melt. Jim paused and allowed himself to enjoy the reality of the moment. The tender hug from his daughter gave Jim a needed wake up call. This sudden switch in perspective, allowed him to reconsider his priorities. What was important was what he had, not what was lost.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Judgment is the organ of decision making. Our judgment does not operate in a vacuum. We have degrees of judgment and we have attitudes towards ourselves and our judgment. If we respect ourselves, we are likely to trust our judgment and use it constructively for our own behalf. If we hold ourselves as worthless and inferior, we cannot respect or trust our judgment to guide us through life. In fact, we will trust it negatively: whatever it tells us to do, we will do the opposite. The irony is that when it tells us to do something self-destructive and consistent with our self contempt, we will trust it! We lose either way.
Most young people take their cue from their parents and teachers. If they are called “stupid” every time they make a mistake, they come to hold their intelligence and judgment in the same contempt they hold themselves. They take these insults personally, as a reflection on their worth as a person. They don’t know how else to take it. The reverse process does not occur. The child rarely hears himself being commended for his good judgment in solving a problem. The parent may have the attitude that he doesn’t want success to go to this child head. “It will spoil him.” The irony is that he is spoiling the child with his good intention to avoid spoiling.
The child without self respect cannot win for losing. With his judgment knocked out, he is predisposed to fall back on his unconscious attitudes towards himself. He feels he doesn’t deserve to succeed. If his judgment yells him yes, he will outsmart himself and say no in order to avoid the negative outcome he predicts for himself. His good intention to save himself will be counter productive. If his attitude tells him yes, he will do it. But his attitudes have no brains. They cannot steer him in the right direction. They are in the service of his self-destructive self contempt. The child who respects himself does not feel he deserves to fail, does not predict failure, does not over ride his appropriate judgment, does not arrange to fulfill his prophecies of disaster. He does not stand in his own way. He deserves to succeed in life, no more and no less than anyone else.
The child who does not respect himself reaches the point where his self contempt and his self blame for being such a “loser” ferment into depression, anxiety and self-destructive behaviors. Here is a conversation with a young man who, like many imperfect human beings, has trouble trusting his in the present. We had been talking about his memories of himself. The things he remembers are consistent with they way he feels about himself.
Client: “I remember my dad catching me and my brother Simon taking money out of his wallet. I ran out the back door, but Simon got caught. He got the crap beat out of him. When I came home, my dad had calmed down, but I felt terrible about what happened to Simon. He was still sobbing.”
Therapist: “You felt guilty for abandoning your brother. You should have stayed and taken your punishment like a man, but you didn’t. Your judgment propelled you out the back door and you have regretted it ever since.”
Client: “I haven’t thought about that for years.”
Therapist: “This escapade also includes the lament of exemption from the consequences of your behavior. Simon was not immune, like you. You got away with it.”
Client: “I was quick on my feet and I could talk my way out of anything.”
Therapist: “That ability gives us a fictitious sense of power and control over the circumstances of life. We end up defining our self worth in terms of this very minor, superficial trait.”
Client: “What’s wrong with that?”
Therapist: “It’s only the gift of gab; it is hardly a prescription for a healthy, gratifying existence. For instance, it does nothing to relieve you of your underlying contempt for the limits of your judgment. You end up being all mouth no brains.”
Client: “I had everybody fooled, didn’t I?”
Therapist: “You even succeeded at fooling yourself. Your weak spot was your judgment. Your great trick was to overcompensate for the unworthiness of your judgment.”
Client: “How did I do that?”
Therapist: “By imagining that your judgment was superior to the judgment of everyone else, that you knew in advance that you could take things and emerge unscathed. By believing that you could talk you way out of anything, you predicted the future and knew that you would be immune to any consequences thrown at you.”
Client: That’s stupid isn’t it?”
Therapist: “There you go again. It is not a matter of stupidity. It’s a matter of learning things about yourself that are not true.”
Client: “What do you mean? What is true?”
Therapist: “That you were a little boy and you made little boy mistakes. You compounded these human childish mistakes by taking them personally, as if they were a reflection on your intelligence and your self worth. When you got through compounding this pain, you didn’t have any self worth left. You grew up feeling worthless and stupid.”
Client: “That’s how I have always felt; I just didn’t want anyone to find out.”
Therapist: “When we try to conceal our secret stupidity in ways that don’t make any sense, the secret usually comes out one way or another.”
Client: “I’m always screwing up.”
Therapist: “When you do, you mistakenly perceive the screw-up as if it were a confirmation of your stupidity, which is an error in thinking because there was no stupidity in the first place.”
Client: “What other mistakes did I make?”
Therapist: “You made the mistake of perpetually blaming yourself. You imagined that your childhood ignorance was permanent and would last forever, which of course it does not.”
Client: “So I overcompensated by proving myself to others to get their approval. That’s stupid.”
Therapist: “Nope, that wasn’t stupid either. Stupidity has to do with one’s level of intelligence. The efforts you made to prove yourself to relieve the pain of your self-contempt did not arise out of your intellect. They arose out of feeling that you have about yourself. If these emotional conclusions are mistaken and unrealistic, you will have trouble coping with reality.”
Client: “I believed that my judgment couldn’t be trusted.”
Therapist: “That’s right. That was something you have come to accept as ‘fact’. You didn’t question it rationally or objectively when you were a child. And you never went back to check it out.”
Client: “I’ve been struggling ever since.”
Therapist: “That belief of yours is a double edged sword. One side is that you cannot trust your judgment positively. The other side is that you cannot trust it negatively.”
Client: “What does that mean?”
Therapist: “It means you can only trust your judgment to be wrong and let you down.”
Client: “So when I come up with a good decision, I doubt it will work, so I go ahead and do the opposite.”
Therapist: “Exactly. What happens when you doubt your judgment?”
Client: “It’s always a disaster. I could kick myself for not trusting my gut. I was right the first time, but doubted what I was thinking.”
Therapist: “This is how you confirm over and over again that your judgment cannot be trusted. Your self doubt kicks in and overrides your initial approach. It is this doubt that sabotages your happiness and success in the real world. It is entirely consistent with your identity of self-contempt.”
Client: “It proves that I am just being me doesn’t it?”
Therapist: “Yes. This is how you maintain the consistency of your childhood role as the stupid five-year-old that you used to be. It’s a payoff in a way. It is reassuring to know that you haven’t changed, you are still you even if it a stupid, unhappy you.”
Client: “Well it feels awful.”
Therapist: “It is awful. But these choices are not judgments at all. They are negative beliefs. They have nothing to do with your intelligence. They are emotional. They come from the heart, not the head. You keep overriding your mature adult judgment in the present with this childish belief from first grade. This approach makes sure that you don’t get any happiness, which you feel ‘stupid’ people do not deserve.”
Client: “Why don’t I stop?”
Therapist: “People, who feel they are guilty of being stupid, need to be punished for making mistakes. They don’t believe they have earned the right to be happy. Every six-year-old knows that when you are wrong, you deserve to be punished. So by denying yourself happiness you are just righting the wrong. When you fill yourself with doubt, it relates to the potential of being punished, which must be avoided. But since you don’t trust yourself to make a good decision anyway, you end up in painful doubt. This is the closest you come to finding happiness; it’s a painful pleasure in a way.”
Client: “Can I turn this around?”
Therapist: “Not by yourself. You can not be objective about your own mistaken feelings and beliefs. You are just going to agree that what you are thinking is right.”
Client: “I’m tired of this painful pleasure. I want to quit.”
Therapist: “Wanting to quit is nice but it is not enough. People who are drowning in self-contempt do not deserve to get what they want. They deserve to be punished. First you have to feel that you deserve to get something better.”
Client: “How do I do that?”
Therapist: “It’s done by doing your homework.”
Client: “What’s my homework?”
Therapist: “Instead of giving you an assignment for tomorrow, let me see if you have done some homework already.”
Client: “How could I do homework without even know it?”
Therapist: “Well let me see…How do you feel about coming to see a therapist?”
Client: “I feel it was a good decision.”
Therapist: “In what way?”
Client: “I feel like I am learning something about myself.”
Therapist: “That is a feeling of accomplishment. Would you call it a success?”
Client: “Yes, it was hard to come and ask for help, to admit that I couldn’t do it myself.”
Therapist: “Do you feel stupid?”
Client: “No I feel smart.”
Therapist: “How smart is smart enough?”
Client: “I don’t know?”
Therapist: “As smart as you are right now, that is smart enough. Did you have a choice in coming here today?”
Client: “Yes. I could have chosen not to come.”
Therapist: “So how do you feel about the choice you made?”
Client: “It was a good choice.”
Therapist: “In order to make that choice you had to use your judgment didn’t you?”
Client: “I guess.”
Therapist: “How good was your judgment in making the choice to come here today?”
Client: “Good enough”
Therapist: “This ability to recognize how good is good enough speaks to your own standards. By living up to our own standards we have feelings of accomplishment, success, maturity, security and self-respect. By coming here today you already did some homework for your own good, not for your parents, or for me, but for yourself.”
Client: “I always thought it was selfish to do things for me.”
Therapist: “It’s only selfish if it ends with you. Self-preservation means you take care of your self so you can help others. But if you don’t take care of you who will?”
Client: “I don’t know who?”
Therapist: “No one and you will come to resent those who you help since they take away from your ability to care for yourself. You are an equal member of the human race who is equally entitled to care for himself, no more or less important then anyone else. “
Client: “Actually, it was kind of scary to come here.”
Therapist: “But you did it anyways. Do you feel liberated?”
Client: “From who?”
Therapist: “From the old you. You came here and took responsibility for your own happiness. You made an independent choice and you can do it again. It took courage to try something new and do it anyways, that was quite a risk, but you did it anyways. You have earned the confidence and competence that come with courage. You took control by making a choice in the real world, according to your own standards. How do you feel now?”
Client: “You know, I can’t remember the last time I said that and meant it, but I feel happy.”Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
One day a farmer was inspecting his property, and as he walked, he came upon eagle that had been shot. With caution and hesitation, the farmer climbed the tree and saw a there was a nest with a single egg. He carefully carried it down the tree, back to the barn and slide it under one of the hens. The eagle hatched along with the other eggs and was raised along with the other chicks. It spent its time scratching the ground for seeds, searching for worms and clucking senselessly.
One day a dark and ominous shadow fell across the barnyard. In terror, the eagle fled for shelter with his companions. Looking up, the eagle saw the outstretched wings of a huge bird, effortlessly gliding through the air. Captivated by the graceful power of this sight, the eagle asked, “What is that?”
His companion said, “That is the eagle, the king of the birds. Its realm is the sky. It controls the air. But we are chicken and we belong to the ground.” The eagle looked up at the bird and saw their similarities. It looked at the chickens. And for the first time, he saw how different he was from them. The eagle now had a choice. It could live and die as a chicken in this backyard coop or it could with some effort, spread its wings and soar into the air.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
We all lament the inconsistencies of everyday life. We are rude to the people we love, yet civil to people we know nothing about. We make the right choice and then over-ride it to our own disadvantage. However, when we consider the complexities of our civilized existence and the complications of the human personality, it’s a wonder we are as consistent as we are.
We need to ask ourselves the right questions: “What determines our consistency in the first place? What are the barriers that keep us from being as consistent and as predictable as we’d like ourselves to be?” Our lives would be smoother and less problematic if we could answer these questions. We wouldn’t have to apologize as much or pay the penalties for deeds we had no conscious intention of achieving. We could stop saying, “I don’t know what got into me.” If we knew, we would not do it all over again next time.
I believe it is our subterranean beliefs from the past that determine how consistent we are. These beliefs keep us on track without the need for our conscious awareness, even if we don’t like the path we are on. In a given situation, our beliefs based on past experiences kick in and draw parallels based on vague similarities. Some people consistently give up heir seat on the subway for a pregnant woman. Others consistently do not. We didn’t have to weigh the merits of the case. We just go along with what is programmed deep down inside of us.
Consistency is not what many people think it is. For example, few of us stop to consider there are two kinds of consistency, just as there are two kinds of success, two kinds of control, and two kinds of communication. There is the healthy kind and the unhealthy kind. We al know people who never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. You’d think they’d catch a break once in a while, but they never do. They claim it’s a matter of dumb luck, or a bad break, or fate. They blame everything but the silent operation of their consistently unhealthy beliefs from their own past.
In my counseling sessions, I look for the consistencies in a client’s life. They could find them if only they knew where to look. For example, I can understand that a man may date or marry the same kind of woman because they are all consistent with his observations of a female role model growing up. He acquired certain beliefs about what a woman is and does. These beliefs shape his expectations of what his wants and needs are in a compatible marriage partner. If a mother is critical and demanding, he will be attracted to women whom act in similar ways. His agenda is not a happy marriage. His agenda is based on a constellation of underlying beliefs, it is to maintain and perpetuate the continuity of these childhood patterns from the past into the present and future. And it all goes on below the level of conscious awareness.
His friends may say he is “consistently inconsistent,” or that he is “predictably unpredictable.” I would say that when it comes to marriage partners, he is consistently unconscious of his inconsistencies. My approach is to reveal these negative consistencies to the individual who, as an adult, has the power to make new choices using his adult judgment to consciously replace his unhealthy beliefs from the past with healthy one in the present. The same processes determine his beliefs toward work, play, success, trust and many other aspects of adult life.
I define the word lifestyle as one’s way of moving through life. This includes the ways we cope with the tasks of love, work, and friendship. Our lifestyle is our way of solving problems of everyday life as they arise. Some of us have been adequately prepared to cope with life. We learned well from competent, self-respecting role models. We acquired some healthy, constructive beliefs such as, “Don’t do unto others what you don’t want them to do unto you.” This sort of belief facilitates the functional interactions of a civilized society. But we have learned many things from people and have been given conflicting information. Thus, we have our inconsistencies too.
There is a range of such learning from healthy to unhealthy. There are minor imperfections, which are the fossil remains of minor setbacks in first grade. They are not the problem. The problem is the major imperfections that derive from the never-forgotten events of our childhood. These events taught us lessons about ourselves, about others and about life. These lessons were built into our emerging lifestyle and became the unhealthy beliefs that predispose us to behave in ways that are not consistent with our overall lifestyle today. They are like raisins in oatmeal. Under the stress of a situation in the present similar to ones in our past, these old beliefs come to the surface and predispose us to behave in ways that seem out of character. We have a temper tantrum. But the situation passes and we resume our prevailing lifestyle, our everyday personality re-emerges and our life goes on until the next bump in the road.
It’s a matter of degree. Some of us have healthy self-respect. We have good judgment and we use it to our advantage. Some of us have a mixture of self-respect and self-doubt to a degree that makes our lives more problematic and difficult. We get in our own way without realizing our mistaken beliefs are kicking in and doing the damage. Some of us have still higher degrees of self-doubt and self-contempt, leaving us with mostly raisins and very little oatmeal. We consistently behave in ways that are self-destructive.
Our unhealthy beliefs are stronger then our healthy ones. We make useless mischief instead of living useful, productive lives. We don’t trust our judgment, it’s not good enough, so we merely react to stimuli and provocation. We do not seek happiness, only unhealthy excitement. We are not equipped to identify and evaluate the appropriateness of our unhealthy, dominant beliefs. We do not even question their validity. We just follow where they lead. An impulsive act of kindness, for example, would be inconsistent with our overall lifestyle. It would be a healthy drop of oatmeal in our unhealthy raisins.
Our unhealthy beliefs do not exist in a vacuum. They are not chaotic. They are in the service of our self-doubt. If the beliefs are so intense, they will overthrow the self-respecting part of our nature and bring about the self-destruction that the insecure part of us believes we deserve. So the pressure to succumb crushes the worthwhile part. It is a battle between two aspects of our personality. Our adult, civilized, mature thought processes are in direct opposition to our childish, immature beliefs from our personal development.
Our beliefs have dimensions. In addition to the healthy-unhealthy dimension, there is also the intensity dimension ranging from weaken to powerful. When we say we have a strong impulse to hit someone, that is a belief kicking in and trying to control our behavior. When we say we are fighting a strong temptation, we are talking about an intense belief that is predisposing us to behave in ways we know we should not behave. The conflict is between our emotional beliefs and our rational thought processes. The intensity of the belief is directly proportional to the intensity of the early recollection in which it is embedded.
My approach to personal problem solving is to help clients identify the sources of their unhealthy beliefs, which arise from their load of thoughts, emotions and behaviors that give rise to the complaints they want to resolve. In my view, the issue is not the complaint, and I do not give advice. The real issue is the constellation of old beliefs that are creating the problem in the present. My task is to find out what these old beliefs are and where they came from. To do this, I ask: “What is the first thing you remember when you think of your childhood?” and a treasure chest of buried beliefs rises to the surface.
Once I see where these beliefs are coming from, half of the mystery of the unwanted behavior is solved. The rest of the solution consists in helping clients find out what they can choose to do instead of what they have been doing. We solve that part of the mystery together by giving people small tasks to do in their everyday lives. This is called doing your homework. Each time they do their homework, they learn a little more about themselves. They experience themselves as competent to take life as it comes. Each success gives rise to stronger, healthier beliefs that crowd out and replaces the negative ones. As a result, the person becomes more consistently consistent.
I have a system of identifying current beliefs from the client’s behavior in the present. For example, Kate wanted to know why she is afraid to be happy. She had been to a party with people she liked, but she couldn’t enjoy herself. She isolated herself and found something to fret about the whole evening. It didn’t make sense to her and she wanted to know where her feelings were coming from. I didn’t tell her, my theories of why she felt they way she did. I didn’t say, “It’s just a case of nerves” or “You were just being self-conscious” or “I was something you ate”. It had to come from her. To identify Jane’s current feelings in the present, I asked her “What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of your childhood?” Jane thought for a moment and said, “I don’t remember anything. I guess what comes to mind is being on the playground, playing alone.”
(Therapist) “How do you feel thinking about being alone on the playground, playing by yourself?”
(Client) “Ok, I guess.”
(T) “Could you have felt all alone and lonely, maybe abandoned?”
(C) “No I enjoyed playing by myself, doing what I wanted to do, no one to get into my way.”
(T) “Would you say you felt happy?”
(C) “Yes, I was happy.”
(T) “What else come to mind when you think of playing on the playground?”
(C) “Getting beat up. I was in second grade and playing alone until two boys came pushed me down to the ground and the some other kids started to hit me.”
(T) “How did that make you feel?”
(C) “I felt awful.”
(T) “It probably ruined the happiness you had, wouldn’t you say?”
(C) “Yes, I guess there is a pattern here, whenever I’m happy something bad happens.”
(T) “How do you think this relates to what happened at the party?”
(C) “At the party I must have had the fear that something would happen to spoil my happiness.”
When Jane came to me for help with her confusion, I didn’t just say, “You are allergic to happiness”, which may have saved a lot of time. But she wouldn’t see the connection between the present and the past. Instead, we were able to ask her to reflect, which evoked a constellation of experiences and feelings that were waiting just below the level of her conscious awareness. It’s like pushing a button on a computer. Talking about the problem stimulates the buried recollection to pop to the surface and she can print it out and look at it. Jane was able to make the connection between these two situations for herself. She could see that there was a clear distinction in her experience between playing happily all alone on one hand and the experience she had with others. They caused her pain and hurt. They made happiness very difficulty for her.
To this day she is happier alone doing her own thing, such as gardening, then she is in the presence of fellow human beings, who are unpredictable, potentially dangerous and totally outside her control. It is hard for her to be happy under this fog from the past.
However, once these connections are made, Jane can break them. She can put her early recollection of happiness being followed by disaster in a more mature perspective. She can see the mistake in her conviction that the happiness in her memory was somehow responsible for the disaster that followed. There was a relationship in her memory of the two events, but not based in reality. The earlier happiness in being alone did not cause the disaster, as she has come to believe. We all have ups and downs in life. The ups do not cause the downs. We cannot prevent downs by stifling the ups. The mistake is to draw inappropriate conclusions. As adults, we can see these mistaken beliefs for what they are and correct them.
I said to Jane, “At the party, you were sabotaging your happiness by living in the future and trying to predict what was going to happen, so you could prevent it from happening. You wanted to control the future, but you couldn’t figure out how. You had an anxiety attack. You didn’t know what was going to happen or when. Not knowing what was going to happen was scary and you felt helpless and out of control. Your old beliefs were used to predict a possible scenario and this expectation predisposed you to feel, think, and act the way you did in the past. You brought something into the present from the past without knowing it was happening or how to deal with it. This reaction was automatic, it just kicked in and spoiled your happiness.”
Almost every time we have an insolvable, emotional problem in the present, we can predict that the answer lies in beliefs buried in early experiences. We can predict that after examining the problem that is occurring today, the client’s internal consistencies can be counted on to bring forth a relevant memory or sequence of recollections that put the problem in a useful perspective. This is how our human consistency works. How we make sense out of events from the past is consistent with how we make sense out of events in the present.
We can also predict that once we make these unconscious beliefs conscious, they lose their grip on the individual. Once they can understand where they are coming from, they can choose to replace self-doubt with new beliefs in the context of mature self-respect. “I’m not a vulnerable child anymore, I’m not a victim. I’m a grownup. I’m a worthwhile human being now and deserve to be happy.”
There is nothing unusual about the process of transferring a whole constellation of feelings and beliefs from one person in the past to a similar circumstance in the present. Our emotional system is consistent. We tend to remember painful emotional events and unresolved problems. They nag at us and cause painful discomfort. We strive for resolution to release the tension. When these problems remain unsolved emotions linger. Our memories of unresolved anger, private guilt, secret shame or paralyzing fear do not go away just because they are not expressed. They lay dormant and are triggered when a situation while a similar feeling occurs in the present. However, we can use this consistency to our advantage in our efforts to solve the mystery of where our problems in the present came from and how they can be resolved by using our adult judgment, which we did not have back then.
Once there was an octopus she would wrap her tentacles around firm, solid rocks to feel secure and comfortable. As she grew, the octopus ventured further out, exploring deeper water. One day the large hull of a ship came along and cast its gloomy shadow over the water. This enormous vessel dropped its strong, sturdy anchor from its bow. The octopus lung to this anchor as it plunged down. As it sank the waters grew darker and colder. The octopus could feel the pressure of the water pushing down on her with immense tension, squeezing her apart. She grasped tighter and tighter in her fright with fear from the increasing uncertainty of what would happen next. The terrified octopus cried out with panic and despair. Then a small jellyfish emerged saying, “I can help you, but you need to do something first. First you must let go of the anchor and then I will show you the way out.” The octopus did not know what to do, was this a trap she thought, for surely she was vulnerable enough that anyone could be trying to take advantage of her prone position of weakness. What would happen once she did let go, perhaps she wouldn’t survive, she had heard of other creatures that had swan deep to the sea floor but never returned. The octopus was overwhelmed as if she were stuck in a tunnel, not sure how to go back or move ahead, like coming out of a movie theater the light may hurt when we first see it, but in her core she knew what she had to do. Slowly at first, then all at once the octopus let go. She followed the jellyfish and began to feel a sense of excitement and joyous adventure, stronger and more competent with each stroke, until she was swimming ahead to the jellyfish and heard the creature say, “from here you are ready to go on by yourself.” The octopus continued to swim to the surface and onwards to new destinations, across the vast ocean, seeking new experiences, going with the gentle currents and floating with the soothing tide.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
An old Cherokee chief is teaching his grandson about life. “A fierce fight is going on inside me.” The chief said to the boy. “It is between two wolves. “One wolf is evil. He is guilt, anger, envy, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, self-doubt and ego.” “The second wolf is good. He is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.” “It is a terrible fight and the same fight is going on inside you and inside every other person, too.” The grandson thought about it for a minute and asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win the fight?” The old chief replied simply, “The one I feed.”Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 3 so far )
Once upon a time a king called together his three sons. “It is time for you to make your mark.” he told them, “Beyond our borders are unknown worlds of dragons, maidens and black-hearted nights. Go out and conquer.” And so his sons ate the feast of the departing, donned the green and set out across the world.
After three years, the first son returned and the whole court came out to greet him. “What have you conquered?” asked the king. “I have slain dragons, rescued maidens and vanquished black knights.” spoke the son. “I have conquered lands such that our territories are now doubled in size.” “Boldly done!” said the king, gravely, “That new land shall be your kingdom to rule and protect.”
After three more years, the second son returned, and the whole family came out to greet him. “What have you conquered?” asked the king. “I have parlayed with dragons, negotiated with black knights and made the maidens fair swoon.” replied the son. “I have conquered the minds and hearts of ten kingdoms, and we now have fond allies all of the way to the Azure Sea.” “Well done!” cried the king, “You shall be my most noble lord, ambassador in my stead to all of the lands.”
After three more years, the third son did not return. After three further years, he still did not return. After three years again, a ragged stranger walked alone up the steps to the royal court. The old king was the only person to recognize the stranger. He came down from his throne, embraced his third son deeply, and then asked, “What have you conquered?”
The son smiled a long smile. “I have slept with dragons and caroused with knights. I have danced with maidens and sung with the children. I have laughed with old men on the quay and cried with old women left alone. I have howled at the moon and lain in the sun. I have scaled high mountains and seen distant lands of mystery and promise. I have plumbed the depths and met magicians of the mind.
“I lost some fear and gained some wonder. I lost some of myself and found some of other people. I tore down the walls of ignorance and found many more. And I have found my way home. I have no need to conquer or fight or persuade. Today is now enough for a lifetime.”
A deep silence fell over the court as the king thought long and fully about what his son had said. “Wisely done.” he said, eventually, “For you have conquered yourself, and the world and the worlds beyond shall be your playground.”Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
When David Eagleman was 8 years old, he went exploring. He found a house under construction — prime territory for an adventurous kid — and he climbed on the roof to check out the view. But what looked like the edge of the roof was just tar paper, and — you can feel it coming — when David stepped on it, he fell.
Whoosh … Thud.
David was fine. But between whoosh and the thud, something odd happened. As David remembers it, he noticed every detail of his surroundings: the edge of the roof moving past him, the red bricks below moving toward him. He even did a little literary analysis: “I was thinking about Alice in Wonderland, how this must be what it was like for her, when she fell down the rabbit hole.”
All of that happened in just 0.86 seconds. David knows that now because he has calculated how long it takes to fall 12 feet. David Eagleman is now Dr. Eagleman, a neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine, and one of his specialties is exploring how our brains perceive and understand time.
Several years ago, motivated in part by his childhood plunge, David started studying the way our sense of time distorts in crisis situations. He has gathered a huge number of stories from people who have survived falls, car crashes, bike accidents, etc. Everyone, he says, seems to say the same thing: “It felt like the world was moving in slow motion.”
But what is really going on? David started to think that maybe, in a crisis, the brain goes into a sort of turbo mode, processing everything at higher-than-normal-speed. If the brain were to speed up, he thought, the world would appear to slow down. This would work just like a slow-motion movie; in a slow-mo shot of a hummingbird, for example, you can see each individual wing movement in what would otherwise be just a blur.
Taking The Plunge
So David decided to craft an experiment to study this “slow-motion effect” in action. But to do that, he had to make people fear for their lives — without actually putting them in danger. His first attempt involved a field trip to Six Flags AstroWorld, an amusement park in Houston, Texas. He used his students as his subjects. “We went on all of the scariest roller coasters, and we brought all of our equipment and our stopwatches, and had a great time,” David says. “But it turns out nothing there was scary enough to induce this fear for your life that appears to be required for the slow-motion effect.”
But, after a little searching, David discovered something called SCAD diving. (SCAD stands for Suspended Catch Air Device.) It’s like bungee jumping without the bungee. Imagine being dangled by a cable about 150 feet off the ground, facing up to the sky. Then, with a little metallic click, the cable is released and you plummet backward through the air, landing in a net (hopefully) about 3 seconds later.
SCAD diving was just what David needed — it was definitely terrifying. But he also needed a way to judge whether his subjects’ brains really did go into turbo mode. So, he outfitted everybody with a small electronic device, called a perceptual chronometer, which is basically a clunky wristwatch. It flashes numbers just a little too fast to see. Under normal conditions — standing around on the ground, say — the numbers are just a blur. But David figured, if his subjects’ brains were in turbo mode, they would be able to read the numbers.
The Time Blur
The falling experience was, just as David had hoped, enough to freak out all of his subjects. “We asked everyone how scary it was, on a scale from 1 to 10,” he reports, “and everyone said 10.” And all of the subjects reported a slow-motion effect while falling: they consistently over-estimated the time it took to fall. The numbers on the perceptual chronometer? They remained an unreadable blur.
“Turns out, when you’re falling you don’t actually see in slow motion. It’s not equivalent to the way a slow-motion camera would work,” David says. “It’s something more interesting than that.”
According to David, it’s all about memory, not turbo perception. “Normally, our memories are like sieves,” he says. “We’re not writing down most of what’s passing through our system.” Think about walking down a crowded street: You see a lot of faces, street signs, all kinds of stimuli. Most of this, though, never becomes a part of your memory. But if a car suddenly swerves and heads straight for you, your memory shifts gears. Now it’s writing down everything — every cloud, every piece of dirt, every little fleeting thought, anything that might be useful.
Because of this, David believes, you accumulate a tremendous amount of memory in an unusually short amount of time. The slow-motion effect may be your brain’s way of making sense of all this extra information. “When you read that back out,” David says, “the experience feels like it must have taken a very long time.” But really, in a crisis situation, you’re getting a peek into all the pictures and smells and thoughts that usually just pass through your brain and float away, forgotten forever.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
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