The much earlier post on interconnectedness included a declaration of intent – I was going to seek a deeper understanding of the concept both by reading and by the practice of mindfulness, amongst other things.
Well, I’ve reached the practice which I thought would be the most fruitful and intriguing. It involves what they call Exploring Difficulty. The technique they suggest is to call to mind a problem or source of stress or upset. Once you have got the issue clearly in mind, you then shift the focus of your attention to the body and look for physical sensations that link to the experience you have called up to consciousness. They describe it as parking a problem on the work bench of the mind and focusing upon its effects on the body.
Pretty easy to do, I thought. Not so as it turned out. I’d bring to mind a problem situation and then scan my body for what the guidance said might be subtle traces of reaction.
Half the week was wasted as I tried to visualise various different testing situations as their spiel suggests. I had started with low key problems in case I got flooded and couldn’t cope. As time went on and the days past, I went for really heavy stuff. Still no trace of physical reaction. I was almost beginning to think I was either seriously dissociated or mildly psychopathic.
Then, I remembered. I don’t do visualisation. When I try to summon up a picture of anything that has ever happened to me, I get a virtual blank. There may be the faintest of possible traces of some visual aspect of the experience, but as a means of revisiting such situations it’s virtually useless. This relates, I’m sure, to the lack of visual awareness of my surroundings, described in an early mindfulness bulletin, that is my default state. I have to make great and conscious effort to notice the details of anything. I look carefully enough to slap a label on it then move my attention onto something else.
I switched to using my verbal memory which is usually a much more effective system, certainly as far as remembering what I’ve read is concerned. I summoned up memories of what was said, something I find far easier to do, though it was not as vivid as I thought it would be. This is perhaps because I don’t usually recall the exact words – rather I remember what I thought people had said – not quite the same thing and it doesn’t seem to work well for these purposes.
Certainly, this approach did engender very faint physical responses, but nothing proportionate to the distress I had originally felt and the traces evaporated rapidly as soon as I turned my attention to them.
I found myself reflecting afterwards and remembering my use of the continuous conscious breathing approach which achieved a major break through for me into a very early experience. I have blogged in more detail about this already for those who are interested.
Rebirthing was the name of the therapy which provided the experience that gave me this major break-through in self-understanding. The key was breathing:
Jim Leonard saw what the key elements were and refined them into the five elements theory.
The five elements are (1) breathing mechanics, (2) awareness in detail, (3) intentional relaxation, (4) embracing whatever arises, and (5) trusting intuition. These elements have been defined a little differently in several versions, but are similar in meaning. Jim Leonard found that if a person persists in the breathing mechanics, then he or she eventually integrates the suppressed emotion.
It was as though what is known as body scanning were linked to a continuous conscious breathing form of meditation. All the subsequent steps (2-5) took place in the context of the breathing.
The breathing had gone well as usual but this time, after less than half and hour, I began to tremble, then shiver, then shake uncontrollably. This was not a result of hyperventilation: I’d got past that trap long ago. She quietly reminded me that I simply needed to watch the experience and let go. Watching was no problem. Letting go was quite another matter. I couldn’t do it. I knew that it must be fear by now, but the fear remained nameless, purely physical. And this was the case for more than two hours of breathing. Eventually, we agreed that, in terms that made sense for me, Bahá’u’lláh was with me at this moment and no harm could befall me. There could be no damage to my soul and almost certainly no damage to my body. And at that moment I let go. Several things happened then that would be barely credible if I had not experienced it myself.
First, the quaking literally dissolved in an instant – the instant I let go – into a dazzling warmth that pervaded my whole body. My experience of the energy had been completely transformed.
Secondly, I knew that I was in the hospital as a child of four, my parents nowhere to be seen, being held down by several adults and chloroformed for the second time in my short life, unable to prevent it – terrified and furious at the same time.
This was not new material. I had always known that something like it happened. I had vague memories of the ward I was on and the gurney that took me to the operating theatre. What was new was that I had vividly re-experienced the critical moment itself, the few seconds before I went unconscious. I remembered also what I had never got close to before, my feelings at the time, and even more than that I knew exactly what I had thought at the time as well.
This all came as a tightly wrapped bundle falling into my mind, as though someone had thrown it down from some window in my heart. It didn’t come in sequence, as I’m telling it, but all at once. It was a complete integrated realisation – the warm energy, the situation, the feelings and the thoughts. And yet I had no difficulty retaining it and explaining it to the therapist. And I remember it still without having taken any notes at all at the time that I can now find. The journal entry recording the event is a single line – no more.
And what were the thoughts?
I knew instantly that I had lost my faith in Christ, and therefore God – where was He right then? Nowhere. And they’d told me He would always look after me. I lost my faith in my family, especially my parents. Where were they? Nowhere to be seen. I obviously couldn’t rely on them. Then like a blaze of light from behind a cloud came the idea: ‘You’ve only yourself to rely on.’
This was more like a preverbal injunction to myself for which my adult mind found words instantly. For the child I was at the time, it had been a white-hot blend of intolerable pain and unshakable determination. It shaped a creed that had been branded on my heart at that traumatic moment, and its continuing but invisible hold on me till the explosion of insight was why it had taken me so long to let go.
So, clearly under the right conditions I can find traces in my body of earlier painful experiences. It seems, though, as if trying to recreate them in my imagination by either word or pictures in order to gain that access doesn’t work very well. Rather than simply following the breath as a means of unhooking from my thought patterns, it seems that manipulating the breath unlocked the doors of memory in my body’s store.
I’ve known for a long time that my strongest modality is kinaesthetic. That’s why I usually do not enjoy museums much. I can’t handle anything. Only when I can touch an object will I begin to experience it fully and remember it well. And when I make use of an object I will remember it even better.
This creates problems for the purposes of this mindfulness exercise. I have never learnt how to tune into my body’s memories of past events from my head directly. Society has always prompted me to try and use pictures or words. And because I’m just about good enough at extrapolating from that in my subsequent descriptions, I have managed to disguise the flimsiness of the foundations, not just from others but from myself as well. My only way of tapping into my body’s memory store has so far been this breathing technique with ancient roots: a convenient label is breathwork.
The Thought Train
I was almost at the end of this period of practice and needed to decide how best to proceed. I was tempted to try the ACT version of this exercise using the analogy of standing on a bridge and watching the cars of thought pass beneath me, dividing them into three categories for subsequent recording.
It was after this point, when I decided to have a closer look at the whole ACT model, that things became even more complicated but very fascinating to me at least. It suggested that there might be at least one other reason for my failure to benefit from this exercise in the form I tried it.
I think I’d better come back to that in a later post as it opened up to conscious inspection by my Writing Mind previously untapped dimensions of experience.
Oh, and it’s probably worth mentioning, in case all of this seems far too fraught, that my moments of pure pleasure in the natural world are increasingly all the time. I may not be able quite yet to see my thoughts as simply clouds crossing the sky of my mind, but I can certainly appreciate the beauty of real clouds far more.