Two months ago I had my last session of psychotherapy. After 5 years of regular analysis there was a deep reluctance to let go and to move on. We had been through so much together. The last few sessions were both awkward and anxiety producing but an ever growing part of me was becoming aware of my desire to embrace my own personal inner calling. Although I had discovered so much about myself during analysis, I needed to emancipate myself from this mental duality with my therapist and work alone.
Going it alone reminded me of an experience I had when I was 12 years old. I was hiking on the moors with a boy scout group on a survival exercise. We were reaching the stage where a few of us would eventually have to depart from the leaders, and the rest of the pack, and camp on our own for 2 days and nights. I was both anxious and excited at the same time. As soon as we waved goodbye to the pack and went our own way, my eyes seemed to widen and I took on this new type of energy, I knew that I was solely responsible for myself and the other boys, and each step that I took after departing was mindful and steady as I realised that I had no-one to fall back on. I had a similar feeling after leaving analysis.
It is only you who can create awareness in yourself. A master, teacher or psychotherapist can help you to initiate the change you are seeking, but for genuine transformation, you must walk your own path. To start with we have to have enough of a ‘self’ to ‘help’, so initially walking our own path can be aided by a teacher of some kind. After therapy, I began to practice yoga and meditation once again. Almost every morning I would wake up and begin my practice without fail. I realised that my ego and my continuous self-talk, as well as a tendency to live in the past or future, were a evasive force and I needed to counter that peace breaker with something opposite, present and real. This daily practice also included mindfulness in many small ways. Many times during the day I would bring myself back to my breathing and the present moment. I knew that this was all I had to do and the future would work itself out. A new faith emerged from my practice and when I meditated I invited the dark thoughts and fears in to ask them what it is that I could do to to help.
An example of this practice happened when I was meditating about my son. I began psychotherapy after my son was born, and for the last 5 years I have been through a long and painful struggle in order to gain more access to him. I became aware while meditating that there was also a 5 year old boy in me that I needed contact with too. I spoke to that boy and asked him what I could do to help. He told me he had no-one to play with and that no-one cared for him so I held his hand and promised he would never be alone again. With this experience, I realised that I had a strong desire to save myself, in turn, by saving my son. My intention became clear after that, I knew what I had to do.
Only the moment you reject all help are you freed ~ Buddha
I want to leave therapy knowing that I have done the work. I want to leave having covered all the bases, spanning right back to my early childhood. I want to leave therapy blossoming, knowing that I understand myself so much more. This notion of mine is probably the reason why I haven’t left therapy and why I am now approaching 5 years with my current analyst. Part of ourselves can trap us in this search for perfection and complete understanding. How can we possibly know ourselves fully when we are continually changing. We cannot ever know ourselves fully, and searching for some kind of ‘completion of oneself’ is a form of controlling behaviour, as part of us is not willing to accept that life is chaotic. The mystery of life is acceptable as far as the heart is concerned, but the head will always try and think it’s way around the bumps and curves, and for the mind this constant thinking exercise will be never ending. You can’t blame the thinking mind for doing what it does as that is it’s job. You could say that all that is real happens in the heart, and all that is not happens in the mind. However, the mind has to think sometimes so that we can complete certain daily tasks and our heart may need to stay out of the way, especially living in Western society. A harmonious balance between both worlds feels correct.
My thinking and philosophical mind has certainly expanded and deepened over the last 5 years, and in my therapists words he has said; “You are an extremely creative thinker”. I left that particular session (thinking once again), that if I am a creative thinker, I must spend much of my time thinking and not feeling, which is what I tend to do. Thinking is very protective. Thinking can shroud our emotions and feelings like a non-porous membrane. An obvious example of this constant thinking is when we think of a person in our lives who is dear to us. We can all be guilty of attempting to work this person out by thinking about the thousands of possibilities they may be thinking or feeling. What is more important is how that person makes us feel. Once again the mind is trying to control things, it even attempts to control another’s thinking and feeling.
The reason I entered therapy in the first place is that I was lost. A part of me had overshadowed another part and I was out of balance, lop-sided and anxious. At that point in my life I needed some help and support and our therapeutic journey began. However, by staying with a therapist, teacher or master for a long while, on some level we are enabling the kind of self talk that got us into difficulties in the first place to continue. We are once again engaging in another pattern of reasoning and debate, focusing on our sad and bad issues. I am not saying that therapy is damaging or that it is not conducive for awareness and happiness. What I am saying is that too much of anything can be counter productive, and the difficult part of our therapeutic work is knowing when both the heart and mind need to move on and go it alone. Perhaps when we leave, that is where therapy really begins.
It always amuses me when I look back to around 4 years ago when I entered therapy for the second time. I had just become a Father for the first time and I desperately wanted access to my son, he was all I could think about. I accept now that I had a pretty firm script in my head about how my new analytical process would proceed. All I thought that I needed was six sessions of CBT, to rid my panic attacks and curb my anxiety over my new responsibilities, and I would be back on the road again. I mean, I had already been through five years of analysis before, and during this time I had gone back over my younger years with a fine tooth comb. In retrospect, I think I must have been using an afro comb with rather large gaps in between each bristle. Much of my first 5 years of analysis was spent avoiding the darker shadows of myself.
My family, friends and my analyst all say that I have changed since then, and I do feel like a different person. I am more aware of my compassion for others and myself and my thought processes are more mindful and steady. This brings to the surface the whole question of legitimate change and whether it is possible, but I will leave that for someone else to write about. What I can say, is that change for me was not a choice, something just happened, and I became different. Over the last 4 years much of my time was spent doing exactly the same things as I had always done, while analysing my behaviour, thoughts and processes simultaneously. This circular process continued undisturbed until real life events happened. My Father and best friend passed away within an 18 month period. Initially this created huge regression, where anxiety rang like bell, and I could have drowned in the combination of all my tears. Somehow those long days passed and eventually I was left very much alone with the dreaded nothingness that I always unconsciously feared. This was one of those periods where I was so grateful to have my therapist alongside me, someone who seemed to have walked a similar path. By facing and living in this desolate and remote land of tumbleweeds and sand, eventually something shifted. All things eventually come to an end.
During this time I experienced various forms of spiritual awakening. One time, I awoke one night to find everything crystal and clear. I visualised my whole life flashing before me and I understood why I am the way I am, and what events had caused me to suffer over the years. I realised we were all connected in a very loving way and I realised how pain and fear were feelings that were crucial to us all and that they all contained necessary energies that we can use. I thought I had finally been enlightened and I actually jumped out of bed and danced under the moonlight. I would love another hit of spiritual awakening but they are illusive, they come when they come. I remember having my very first consultation with a psychotherapist in London in my early twenties and she explained that when the psyche had difficulties, like a tennis ball that had gotten wet, the mind takes it’s own time to dry out. I left that session and never returned, but perhaps in retrospect she was right. Something just happens and you feel different, it is very difficult to explain but on this new phase of my path I became curious once again. I began to venture out and see new things and feel new experiences. That was the biggest change.
Then somewhat out of the blue, something stirs inside once again as new uncomfortable sensations and feelings come to the surface. You hold onto your previous experiences, knowing that nothing lasts forever, but begin to use these awkward emotions as a chance to discover something new about yourself. It enables one to gently pass over scenarios, that happened before your change of feelings, where you may discover a link to something, sometimes something very small, that potentially triggered these new emotions or fears. Change involves faith, faith not only within yourself, but faith in others and in the whole process of living. If you view uncomfortable feelings as bad you will experience them so. I believe that the influence of other people and intimate relationships are fruitful and can enable you to share your depths but ultimately, I am what I love, not what loves me.
The art of love… is largely the art of persistence ~ Albert Ellis
As long as I can remember I have always been searching for true connection with others, and I knew in my heart that something vital was missing. Discovering that most of my relationships were of a dependant nature was quite unsettling. Attachment to others in this way is perpetual, as you never truly have your needs met, and can end up continually eating crumbs. Both parties have their agendas, and both may end up feeling half full much of the time, carried with the need to go back regularly to refill their plates. It is very much like overeating in as much as there is never a particular type of food that satisfies, as the food itself will never fill the empty space inside, and so acts as a substitute.
Again and again I have found that these unfulfilled needs originate during our first special relationships with our parents or guardians. Most of us have to believe that our parents were good parents, as to think otherwise would be terrifying. Parents can be good with their intentions, but if they are not connected with themselves how are children to assimilate connectedness inwardly. A parents love may be intermittent, conditional or possessive which creates a longing in the child for love and recognition. The child will never feel enough.
As a substitute for legitimate connection I choose being noticed externally during my younger years, initially through sports, and then through playing in bands and Djing. Although I may have been playing music in front of thousands of people, and hobnobbing with the so called elite and celebs, I never felt truly connected to others in ways that I desired to be. I would role play and created an externally confident identity. When I entered therapy for the first time in my early twenties I had a glimpse of what true connectedness felt like and it was both scary and exciting at the same time. To share your deepest thoughts, fears and feelings with another in a safe environment was liberating at the same time as being very threatening for the ego self. I began to notice a pattern where during one session I would be intimate and during the next I became aloof and cocky and a general know it all. Hence what followed was a kind of peeling back of the ego defences and an awareness of the darker aspects of my psyche which initially left me even more vulnerable than before.
In the words of Eckhart Tolle “When another recognises you, that recognition draws the dimension of being more fully into this world through both of you.” During my current work with my therapist intimacy has become lighter and almost divine in its form. True connectedness also contains paradox and duality where the painful realities of life can be shared but not judged, like seeing things just as they are. This new awareness feels very much like coming home.
The ego creates separation, and separation creates suffering ~ Eckhart Tolle
Most of us are probably aware of the terrible two’s where a child realises over time that he is not the master of the universe and everything in it. That he is governed by another, namely his guardian, and he is not in control of all people and things. It raises a tough question in the child’s psyche; so if I am not everything… I am out of control, and others, have control. Paddy’s often follow with kicking and screaming, until there is some kind of acceptance while he tries to make sense of the world around him. However I don’t feel that there is full acceptance, but more of a storing of the child’s inner wishes, so that someday he may seek revenge and reclaim control of his world once again. The rage that the child feels is red hot and stays with the child throughout adult life and the terrible two’s is one of the many examples of rage inducing disappointments a child may have to endure in his development stage. The more that I delve into my own experiences as a child I deem this to be true.
Rage is hardly attractive, in our culture as we know it, and so the hot coal of rage has to be dampened to fit in with our society and our friends and family. This can be achieved in many ways but on the whole rage is stored inwardly if it is not expressed. I think the same situation arises in adults and toddlers as without the ability to express their needs, instead resort to whatever behaviours they can carry out saying “no” and acting against the world at large and with adults this can mean depression. I remember reading many years ago that depression is anger turned inwards and I would agree with that on the whole. Rage in adult life it may be expressed through delusion and clinging to false hopes and also by letting off steam in ways that are not conducive to our true nature.
Rage has it’s place, however wrong it may feel, and when we acknowledge this we can allow it to breathe and flow like a volcano. It is both natural and damaging and damaging and natural. It is our thought about rage that enrages us, not the existence of a demonic but necessary part of our fuel for life. We seek to rid ourselves of rage and keep it hidden at all costs. The main cost however is a stifling of our energy and time that may be wasted on situations that harm us. Many of us may ask, how can I get rid of this rage, and sadly the answer may not be how we can rid ourselves of it but how can we use it, rather than being used by it.
And die of nothing but a rage to live ~ Alexander Pope
Staying with very difficult and stormy feelings is about as testing as it gets for man. Sometimes a kind voice from another can gently nudge you out of these dense and believable feelings. Staying with the pain and recognising it and investigating it is very hard. We may find that the hurt is old somehow, in as much as it seems familiar, and we may get the sense of our unease having been around before.
When we are surrounded and somewhat engulfed by our sensations we may lean towards keeping them inside as they can be viewed as ‘dangerous’ feelings. The thought of sharing them with others may annihilate the listener or may lead us to believe that we may be outcast or abandoned by the other person. We also have a tendency to believe that we should not be feeling or thinking such thoughts which creates a divide inside of how we should be feeling against what we actually are. Self soothing and acceptance can help and personally I find it helpful to share these feelings with others.
The American psychologist Rollo May said “We are more apt to feel depressed by the perpetually smiling individual than the one who is honestly sad. If we admit our depression openly and freely, those around us get from it an experience of freedom rather than the depression itself.” Another quote from Rollo May which may give our emotions a sense of purpose is “One does not become fully human painlessly.”
If you are working towards a greater understanding and acceptance within yourself with the help of therapy, old stories and ways of viewing the world and ourselves are slowly eroded away leaving a sense of emptiness. When this happens not only do we feel a sense off loss, we may also be left wondering about our purpose in life and who we really are. We may realise that our old patterns of behaviour may have not served us well in the past and it makes sense that we need to grieve and say goodbye to them. It takes courage to say to the world, this is me take it or leave it. It is much easier to conform to ourselves and society and this is what most people tend to do. We may be in limbo with anxiety, who’s purpose is to keep us away from discovering our true selves, but when we can manage to live with anxious feelings by our side, our next step is to face what is underneath, which is yet another difficult and painful task, but a task that is necessary for our personal growth and freedom within.
“Steady, patient growth in freedom is probably the most difficult task of all, requiring the greatest courage. Thus if the term “hero” is used in this discussion at all, it must refer not to the special acts of outstanding persons, but to the heroic element potentially in every man.” ~ Rollo May
Most of us that are on a spiritual journey, who are attempting to get some understanding of ourselves and be more in harmony with our true nature, battle with patience. It takes time to create new patterns of behaviour and thought and to accept and understand those old patterns that we have lived with for so long. Although there are people who claim sudden enlightenment, the majority of people will have to partake in long and often-times painstaking journey’s, where they may have to repeat the same mistakes over and over again until they learn and accept the lessons or truths that they need to. We need to take this long term relationship with ourselves slowly and steadily, and realise that in as much as we have taken years to mis-understand ourselves, it may take the same amount of time to get in touch with our true nature and purpose once again. You can liken this process to learning to play a musical instrument. We can’t play it harmoniously straight away, it’s virtually impossible. We have to learn to play the notes first and then perhaps a chord, then a song, and eventually we can play intuitively.
I once apologised to my therapist for having a ‘nervous day’ and he replied ‘it’s just a day’. How we perceive our situations is important if we are going to spend lots of time within them. If we can also create conditions that allow our true selves to flow we may realise that some of our old patterns of behaviour hinder us on our journeys. For example, the right conditions for coping with grief may not be a party for some but for others it maybe exactly what they need. There are no rules and we cannot learn these things from books. Experience is key, and while we are learning, growing pain is inevitable. If we can learn to flow with this pain, learn to flow with the energy of the pain and realise that it is required for us to have a positive and meaningful existence, in the long run, we can be safe in the knowledge that we are sewing the right seeds to form a secure base for ourselves in the future. Pain comes when we feel that we should be feeling other than what we are feeling, so we create a disconnection within ourselves, rather than simply accepting what is.
One thing that helps us to endure the long gravel path is faith. Some pray for strength and patience while others may ask their angels or a higher being of some-kind for help. Many of us seek meaningful and intimate connections with others to soothe us and support us on our journeys. One thing all faith has in common is that it is shared. We are not mean’t to be alone.
Often time it happens, we all live our life in chains, and we never even know we have the key ~ The Eagles
He spoke with hurt and I chose him,
This unfortunate soul becomes ego’s friend,
Father’s boundaries adhered never challenged,
His patience tested on a radius of denial,
Whose crib does he sleep that man in consciousness,
All earthly answers lie creased under pillows,
While the boy rides his bike with tendency to fall,
Caught in sympathies yielding nest,
Growing pains heard from mountains afar,
Gods dream, ripped apart thorn by thorn,
A man is born like a calf with unsound legs,
Who now walks alone under his full moon.
Only the wounded healer can truly heal ~ Irvin D. Yalom
In the film Good Will Hunting, Robin Williams plays the Psychologist and Matt Damon, the abused and genius patient, who needs help from his psychologist to find direction in his life. What is interesting in this film is that their relationship goes against the grain of orthodox Psychotherapy. We find the analyst disclosing parts of his own life in order to help the patient. He speaks of his wife’s cancer, his experiences of war, death and love, as well as the smaller things in life, which he feels are important. The therapist realises that this is the only way to get through to his patient and adapts his technique in order to heal. What they also have in common is their childhood physical abuse which is finally shared by both parties and accepted as ‘not their fault’. I always hoped that my therapy was shared in this way but I can also understand that this may be the ego’s way of gathering information from the therapist in order to sabotage the theraputic relationship.
In the Vajrayana Buddhist faith there is something called the Samaya bond. In Pema Chodrons words, “If the student accepts and trusts the teacher completely and the teacher accepts the student, they can enter into the unconditional relationship called Samaya. The teacher will never give up on the student no matter how mixed up he or she might be, and the student will also never leave the teacher, no matter what”. The basic premise of the teaching is to help the student realise that they are bound to reality already and that trying to get somewhere is useless as the student is already there. After time and acceptance of being with things as they are the students world becomes more vivid and transparent so he or she views the same world but with new eyes. “And this is a message that never gets interpreted. Things speak for themselves. It’s not that red cushion means passion, or little mouse darting in and out means discursive mind; it’s just red cushion and little mouse”. The important thing here is that the teacher and student have made a marriage of reality. One cannot leave the other so their enlightenment has to be shared.
In both cases the message is clear; Things are what they are and those things will never change unless our perceptions of those things change also. Our perceptions are mainly based on past emotional experiences and it is enlightening to be able to perceive something in a different way through a new relationship or a new set of reflective eyes. So these perceptions can be changed through love. Also in both cases, the student picks his master like ‘incarnation’ where a child supposedly chooses his or her parents and the master or therapist accepts the students invitation. Also in both cases continuous work has to be done, it needs to be sticked at. You can liken the loving relationship to polishing a mirror. As soon as you have polished it dust will start to settle again.
Often we can’t answer the question; “Is it right?”. We can however ask ;”Is it fruitful? ~ Christopher Clouder and Martin Rawson