|David & Sasi, during our first week together in Thailand|
I must confess the visits were prompted by a desire to experiment, to see if I evoked the (VVC) nervous system mode Porges speaks of in these situations, or if I would use the older nervous systems in a defensive and combative style, based on the model of sarcasm rituals in my childhood.
Could I stay positively engaged or would I make periodic forays into group interaction with witty remarks and short stories before withdrawing into silence to conserve energy, in my old immobilize - mobilize pattern. On the first visit I was surprised by lack of past concerns over conversational content, aware now of the nature of underlying affects and nervous system motivation modes these interactions need to activate, like the unconscious sense of safety inherent in group inclusion. On the first visit I became ashamed of my previous disdain for gossip, now aware that it was a rationalization of my unconscious fear of the dreaded shame reaction and a distancing ploy that found security in a sense of superiority. It reminded me of Allan Schore’s description of experience dependent brain development becoming our experience expectant reality, the chaotic nature of early environmental events setting the emotional weather patterns of future neuroceptive reactions. Sitting at one of the large round tables our office manager is so proud of, ’they encourage communication’ she often reminds, I found myself daydreaming about an alien invasion, perhaps promoted by four shades of pigmentation including my own. I imagined a spacecraft abducting a member of each one of earths races and ethnicities, their observations revealing the same nervous system reactivity in every individual specimen, with a promising sentience yet still an unconsciously reactive animal species, with millennia of development still required.
The ubiquitous, expressive hand gestures struck me most during these observational visits adding impressive weight to the Polyvagal Theory concept of an evolved mammalian social signaling system, the sign language of our pre-verbal communication. I noticed the touches too, particularly amongst the women, it felt like tactile communication as the primary conveyer of a highly desired secure sensation, what a shame the gentle touch is considered inappropriate between men. My intentions each time I’d entered the lunch room had been to evoke my (VVC) social nervous system mode as best I could and be aware of any regression under this environmental challenge as Porges describes it, stress reactions are the primary nature of our autonomic nervous system. Here was opportunity to study my own internal environmental challenges and the nature of unconscious expectation, would any unconscious muscle tensions and fleeting concerned (innate distress) thoughts invite their atmospheric reward, and would the highly sensitive animals sitting near me sense my inner discomfort without any overt gesture from me?
Porges points out that the three branches of the autonomic nervous system do not operate in isolation, rather we might shift up and down the evolutionary ladder of their unconscious activity in any given moment (EXPAND). It was fascinating to watch facial reactions to the ever changing climate of relational interaction, from high toned infectious laughter at jokes (innate joy) to shared serious faced concern over heavier matters of discussion (innate distress). At times when conversation flowed thick and fast, the facial expressions and gestured movements were like fast moving storms clouds as dozens of emotional tones flashed across those two hundred facial muscles in cocktails of emotional expression.
For the first time in my life I adopted a predominant, Sasi like positive reinforcement posture, now more solidly aware of the mirroring nature of these social affect transactions, her beaming smile reflected of the back of my mind (CLARIFY). I remember thinking it was like magic, you really don’t need to say much of anything when you wear a sunny smile, and its triggering affect is so desirable and contagious too. More than once I was asked ‘what’s wrong with you? - Have you won the lottery or something?’ to which I replied ‘sort off, something that goes in a different kind of bank though - the bank of wellbeing.’ These group inclusion experiences left me with a freedom from my usual braced muscle tension which lasted for hours afterwards, most noticeably in my facial muscles, with the usually tight jawed expression absent. I was reminded of a forgotten Hakomi session where I’d asked to be cradled by two other people, who held me in there arms for ten minutes or so, I remember singing in the car three days later with this unusual freedom in my jaw, a more expressive intonation in my voice and thinking it such a curious affect? At home I would look at Sasi’s portrait photo in the hallway, ‘the object of my desire, object? What a pathetically inadequate word to describe the infectious and highly desirable affect of evolutions most amazing creature, an object she most definitely not!’
* * *
‘So! Have you finished it yet?’ Sasi asks as we drive home from the airport, ending my intrigue at how she’d managed to wait this long. Sparked by my new appreciation of innate affects I leaned across and squeezed her diamond engagement ring.
‘The book reflects my needs just like that thing, darling!’ I say, affecting her to a long period of uncharacteristic silence.
‘I’m jealous - it feels like you love being with your writing more than you love being with me,’ she tells me, before adding ‘I really want this period to be over now.’ Sasi’s succinct honesty inspires the therapist in me for some reason and I ask her to imagine she is the ring and describe to me how she feels, how she sees the world.
‘The time we have been together has been like gold, the most precious thing in my life,’ she tells me, nervously emitting a little giggle.
‘After we met I felt shiny and new and it’s you that makes me sparkle, if that's what I do, manipulating my spirit somehow and making me shine.’
‘How do you mean, manipulate?’ I ask.
‘I don’t know really, it’s all the little things you do, the cute jokes, the looks and your touch, you always seem to know just when I need to be touched, it thrills me even though I don’t say so, your presence fills me in ways I have never known before.’
‘I feel bigger, stronger, indestructible, my fears just fell away when I met you - until your book!’ She tells me.
‘You’ve felt secure?’ I ask, with Sasi nodding her head in agreement before responding to my silent gestures for more.
‘Lately you’ve taken that shiny feeling away, the world seems cloudy now, I’m not clear anymore, I’m confused, concerned, I feel a need to get out of here.’
‘Out of where?’
‘This drowning feeling, like I’m falling, a sense of going down, underground,’ Sasi tells me as she shakes her head. I can’t help the image of a parasympathetic nervous system reaction coming to mind, the sense of protective immobilization evoked by the image of going underground, where diamonds wait to be found, with her confusion a mammalian reaction to inescapable distress. I pull the car over and grasp Sasi’s hands, gazing intently into her eyes; the warmest, sincerest smile invades my face.
‘Don’t you know how much this book is inspired by you?’ I say, ‘you are innate affect darling, you are the magic and the wonder of it, I never feel more alive than when I’m with you and if you ever want me to leave, you‘ll have to shoot me.’ Sasi bursts into joyful tears, any hint of sadness swamped by the radiance of her smile, our heart felt hug lasting for long lingering moments.
‘Diamonds can only shine through reflective eyes, darling.’
‘Mirror mirror on the wall,’ she whispers.
* * *
The Oracles timeless advice to “know Thy Self” sums up my quest on this journey of self discovery, this mindful awareness therapy disguised as writing a book. Time and space have been the vital ingredients to my growing self awareness, a certain isolated release from unconscious social inter-regulation. With this book in mind I have long held much admiration for Eckhart Tolle’s book “The Power of Now” with vague intentions of something similar, my daily orientation practice always brings his description of the night he fell to my mind. After months of daily awareness practice and the establishment of a more solid felt awareness of my own ‘now,’ I picture those two years Tolle spent on park benches and wonder if he was re-configuring his autonomic nervous system. Its been over five months since I started this project and I’ve written a lot of material which needs organizing into coherent chapters, today I’m reading through my daily journal notes trying to summarize the experience and what I’ve learned. I started out with excitement and energy, convinced that I had the knowledge to sit down and write a self help book based on the paradox of a human intelligence driven by, what for many of us is an unconscious even alien autonomic nervous system, evolved over millions of years of instinctive eat or be eaten survival reactions, with three distinct phases to its neural/nerve architecture.
On the first half of my journey I faced the reality of my intellectual lip service to the knowledge I thought I‘d acquired, thought I understood. I can see myself reading information about these new concepts I wished to write about, I see my almost imperceptible nod of the head, a fractional movement of my lips in acknowledgement of the plausibility, yet missing true insight with no tangible, felt sense of knowing. Fritz Perls ideas about knowledge digestion have now become associated with my nervous systems reptilian immobilization survival strategy. Dropping out of a routine work environment and loosing contact with the social networks that guide an unconscious compass, I’d fallen onto the reality of nervous system need in defiance of my intellectual wants, fallen back on my animal nervous systems strategies for optimizing survival. Early in this journey of self discovery, exclusion from group interaction froze my intention with self doubt, thoughts and feelings of understanding anything, certainly not my unconscious reactions to self imposed isolation.
Awareness dawned slowly that what I am, motivates me far more than who I am, that my given name is a label on top a body of complex brain and nervous systems electrochemical energy and that at least eighty percent of my actions are stimulated by unconscious reactivity, which my mind rationalizes into an after the fact conscious intention. Self imposed isolation from my social group had triggered patterns of conservation/withdrawal within the oldest of my autonomic nervous system coping mechanisms. Without group inclusion I struggled against these autonomic mechanisms, at least that’s what I thought was going on in my struggles with this unconscious energy flow. Days and weeks of uncertainty about direction, feelings of being out of my depth and certainly of lacking depth, drove a withdrawal into re-reading and a search for increased sensation awareness, which followed an evolutionary path towards coping by immobilization, I felt it as the dead wieght of depression. Life long problems with relaxation turned out to be a resistance to my body and its nervous systems unconscious immobilization urge, a constant fight to stay above feelings of collapse. Later, those weeks turned into months of stuttered progress as immobilization shifted up the evolutionary tree with mobilized energy bouts of small insightful steps, yet still without a solid felt knowing that time honored digestion of new resources brings. Slowly I gained a felt awareness of the wiser survival strategies within me, coming to acknowledge that my withdrawal into those weeks of reading and re-reading of knowledge digestion had not been a conscious decision, more a nervous system urge, perhaps the millennia old reptile within is far wiser than credited, knowing well the survival success of inhibition. I have learned that motivation can not be separated from its nervous delivery system to the body, no matter what the minds objectified logic and conscious intent try to say. I have learned that the nervous system mediation of my intentional goal is based on electrochemical activity, poorly described by object metaphors which are tools of for a vision based survival guidance rather than substantive knowledge. I learned the power of neuroception over sight biased conscious perception as it continually pulled rank on my logical intentions.
I have learned too, that an overriding all motivation is optimal survival, a neuroceptive law that will always wreck our misguided conscious intentions, unless its millennia old wisdom is respected. I am coming to terms with my own internal wisdom and the rhythmic energy flows it instigates; I just had to learn what they were for. This ancient neuroceptive wisdom does not care about object acquisition or the amassing of monetary wealth; its only concern is my continued good health to maintain my embodied survival. It needs to experience sensation, knowing negative affects as simply mislabeled aids to its survival, and positive affects in humans as the energy source of an extraordinary kind of mammalian survival. It needs to experience security before allowing the full benefits of positive affects, the vitality, and the emotive brain energy that powers the neuronal spark of innate joy at being alive. These days it feels like I’ve surrendered, that my dominating egocentric mind has accepted the fact that so many of its conscious objectified wants are often misguided adaptations of a nervous system urge to acquire the metabolic energy resources for the organisms continued survival. In animal evolution, life has always eaten life, with larger predators dominating smaller prey to acquire metabolic resources and survive, a process reflected with degrees of denial (distress) in the human mind. Yet it constantly bubbles within the nervous system, in the mind below the mind, and is reflected in people fighting in the absence of an obvious reason. Perhaps the urge is an ancient nervous systems need for patterns of activity in feedback sensations of acquisition, in its fight for survival. If an internal sense of security is the sensation of a balanced nervous system, a post orgasmic like state of bliss, what kinds of nervous activity is required to achieve it? When we fight for no logical reason, what metabolic energies is the mind below the mind looking for, does it want a sympathetic-parasympathetic reset, a re-balance, a good old fashioned spat, a kiss and make up kind of out of our mind organism bliss.
* * *
You’re waffling,’ Sasi announces, over my shoulder.
‘This reads like intellectualized nonsense to me darling - like you can’t just say what you feel’ She admonishes me.
‘You just want a quick fight, for the kiss and make up.'
‘No! Seriously Mr. Therapist! Why do you write in such an intellectual, twenty words are better than two way?’
‘What! You think we’re in group therapy here?’ I say.
‘Because that’s the way it fucking felt - that’s why!’ I announce, an old painful image filling my mind.
‘Where are you?’ Sasi asks me.
‘What! Are you Mrs. Therapist now?’
‘Come on darling, where were you?’ Sasi whispers, placing her hands gently on my shoulders.
‘Please don’t ask me to go there in your presence sweetheart,’ I plead.
‘Then maybe its time to have that session with Angus, you tell me you’ll get around to it one of these days,’ she suggests before kissing me on the forehead.
A few days later:
‘Hello my friend,’ says Angus with such a calm serenity that always unsettles me in the first few seconds of our encounters, I sighed taking a long deep breath.
‘Ah! Contact of the intimate kind,’ Angus quips.
‘I’m stuck, something needs to come out,’ I say.
‘At last, I’ve been wondering when this day would come,’ Angus tells me as he reachs over to gently touch my arm. I feel the impulse to recoil from this expression of warmth from my mentor, hating this old negative reaction.
‘We should talk about that reaction,’ Angus says. “Shit!” I think to myself, convinced I had not shown any external signs of discomfort.
‘Well I guess I could say what reaction, but that would be really childish, wouldn’t it?’
‘Well that’s where it comes from.’
‘I think I’m close to really feeling it, it’s near the surface,’ I tell him.
‘And it feels like you will fall apart if you let it out.’
‘Yes!’ I say nodding my head.
‘You will feel humiliated and deeply embarrassed if it happens in front of another human being?’
‘You know the trauma theory; you have to revisit it if you want to truly resolve it.’
‘Shit Angus, I can’t see it as trauma, nothing horrific ever happened to me.’
‘It’s simply a question of degree David; a sensitive self can be traumatized by continuous emotional abuse, as much as a one off or multiple physical traumas,’ Angus tells me.
‘I guess I agree with that, I’ve said it to others often enough myself, but when you’re dealing with your own stuff, it just! I don’t know! - It worries me, there may be as much uncontrollable rage down there as there was in him, that I’ve internalized him so much, I am him.’
‘And you’re constantly fighting that part of you, holding it back.’
‘I guess so, I worry that I’m just as critical as he was, I just dress it up as care and concern.’
‘And you won’t risk the possibility of deeper loving intimacy with another human being, fearing the kind of rejection your parents inflicted on you, you‘re even shocked that anyone could love you,’ the words evoke images of my father and the sudden freezing shudder.
‘Why is that? Why does that involuntary shudder I get with the memory of his voice and his stance towards me feel like a miniature death?
‘Because it is a miniature death in the way, your own father treated you with disgust and contempt.’ I put my head in my hands as he spoke, unable to look at the old man and drawing in a deep breath before speaking.
‘There was such utter contempt in his eyes at times, such bitterness in his voice.’ Angus leaned forward again and put his hands on my shoulders, ‘I know,’ he said softly, ‘I know,’ and I began to weep, very softly at first, almost imperceptibly, with Angus gently holding onto my shoulders.
* * *
Containment is a particular gift Angus has, the ability to provide an atmosphere of almost womb like security, where another human being feels safe enough to expose their inner core, its a technique of therapy that few manage to do flawlessly. As the seconds passed my weeping turned to sobs, and Angus held me and this very special encounter within the depth of his amazing compassion. The phrase “wounded healer” most certainly applies to Angus, only those who have experienced the processing of their own deeply felt pain are competent with such delicate transference work, the slightest loss of empathy or insensitive body movement can shatter the ambience of the moment and the chance for emotional healing is lost as the exposed self shrinks back into the safety of its internal cave, my sob’s grew louder.
‘Where are you?’ Whispered Angus and I swallowed involuntarily as I tried to speak; trembling as I uttered the words.
‘Outside the front door.’
‘What do you see?’
‘Its black, small and dirty.’
‘What do you hear?’
‘Are you frightened?’
‘Not now no!’ I flinched, a small movement yet Angus felt it through my shoulders, he’s been waiting for this encounter for three years now, he knew as soon as he met me there was an unconscious fear reaction, blocking my ability to do really good therapeutic work, and Angus knew it must affect my few close relationships.
‘What’s happened?’ Angus whispered.
‘The door’s opened, he’s standing there looking at me,’ I say, involuntarily flinching again.
‘And now?’ Asks Angus.
‘Peas! You idiot peas!’ I jerked violently backwards almost breaking our contact.
‘He hit you?’ Angus whispers.
‘You’ve been here many times David; you’ve seen this scene in your minds eye so many times.’
‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’
‘React now, don’t shrink back, tell him! Tell him how you feel,’ Angus says and I suddenly jump up, shouting.
‘I can’t! I can’t!’ Angus followed me as I tried to step away, tried to break the connection, break the emotional state that exists in the atmosphere between us. Angus has been in this position many times before though, when an injured self becomes desperate for the safety of that dark inner place, where it can’t be touched by the harsh light of reality. A reality, it has become convinced is very dangerous, Angus knew that if he allowed this moment to break down, if he turned away from the flood of emotion that was about to burst through, it may be years before I would risk this again. He moved closer and put his arms around me, drawing me in and standing his ground, ready for anything and in a firm voice he said.
‘Tell him!’ I erupted, pulled back slightly and looked straight into the old mans eyes screaming.
‘Fuck you! Fuck you! - You stupid fucking moron! - I’m your son, your son!’ I tried to pull away again in another effort to break the moment and flee back to my inner sanctum, but Angus held me firm looking into my eyes with a deep sense of compassion, inviting my trust. Apparently I grabbed Angus by the throat.
‘You stupid fucking moron, you’re my father, my father, what’s wrong with you!’ I hissed. And then it came, the flood of emotion that had been bottled up for over fifty years. I cried so hard I must have sounded like a howling animal, I shuddered and swayed so much I almost collapsed to the floor and it took all the old mans strength to hold onto me. Apparently the wailing lasted only a few seconds, it could have been minutes for all I know, and as it subsided into deep sob’s I sank to my knees with Angus holding on.
I remember a sense of coming back into the room, as if I’d been away somewhere, I was confused about what had just taken place, it felt as if I’d been in two places at once, as if some emotional worm hole had opened up and transported me back to 1958. I remember light growing brighter around me, confused as to why everything had gone dark while I was under, and I remember thinking, "why under?" The only thing I remember seeing in there was the old mans face and the instant he became my father and I tried to throttle him.
‘I’d like to get up now,’ he‘d said, and poor old Angus struggled to his feet, me too and we sat down silently smiling at each other for a moment or two.
‘Tell me what you’re feeling,’ he asked.
‘A bit light headed, I’m not sure what I’m feeling right now, the strange thing is I don’t want to talk, I’m just happy to be in this moment, strange for someone as hooked on words as I am.’
‘Perhaps the split between your mind and your body has experienced some healing and you need to honor that with simple presence.’
‘Yes! There seems no need to even think let alone talk and there’s a kind of contentment I’m not sure I’ve known before.’
‘Touch me,’ Angus asked, which caused me to emit an involuntary laugh, before leaning forward to touch the old man lightly on the hand, finding a pleasant surprise in my ability to touch without the usual cringing anxiety normally evoked unless the person was a lover.
‘How was that?’
‘Different! There was definitely less frozen hesitation.’
‘How do you feel as you say that to me, what else comes up?’
‘I feel very relaxed, calm, and something else though, some vague foggy image of my father standing over me with clenched fists.’
‘Tell me what you remember about the peas?’ As soon as Angus mentioned the peas I twisted in my chair as the memory of that moment flooded back. In 1958 I was seven years old and had been sent to the local store to buy a can of peas, and being an anxious boy lest I suffer my father’s rage, I duly forgot and brought beans home instead. As soon as my father saw the can of beans in my hand he snatched it away and brought it down hard on the top of my head. ‘Peas! You idiot, peas!’ He screamed at me, then slammed the door in my face leaving his son with blood running down one check and whimpering softly as I walked back to the shop feeling terribly frightened, humiliated and dreading the return journey.
‘Your father could have killed you that day,’ Angus tells me and we talk about my earlier acknowledgement that he’d terrorized me, how a fearful shudder reaction had appeared not long after the incident with the peas, how at times it felt like he really wanted to devour me with his rage.
Of coarse I wasn’t devoured, just deeply affected within my autonomic (animal) nervous system, and an unconscious expectation was formed, I‘d sensed so much of my life through such a density of innate terror, it was like a blanket over my perceiving senses, it is my neuroception as Stephen Porges might say.
I spent the best part of my life unconsciously avoiding core sensations by using intellectualized thinking to distance myself from the sensations of my body, and years of 'talk therapy' could not penetrate the unconscious defense of the autonomic (animal) nervous system described by neuroception.
Polyvagal Theory is recommended for those wanting to learn about the triune brain & nervous system, the hidden motivator of our behaviors.
|What sensations of core emotional energy do we modulate through the mind in our love affair with thinking and e-motive symbols expressed as words.|
Have we become far to distanced from the essence of life, the raw instinctual energies the civilized mind tends to acknowledge only after an emergency?
What price do many pay for denial of the animal energies that fuel the human mind, do we believe in evolution yet deny the animal within?