Category Archives: Blog

“Blood Moments” in Psychotherapy

“Your intelligence grows new leaves in the wind of this listening”     ….Rumi 

“Moments of meeting”  are special moments of now in which there is a profound sense of mutual connection.    The prototypical moment of meeting is the one that occurs in the first moments after birth, when the new baby looks into the eyes of a mother who is looking back.   Such moments of special intimacy in psychotherapy are a vital aspect of  the healing connection.

These moments  have also been termed blood moments, a description which derives from the native American ritual in which two members of a tribe mixed their blood in celebration of bonding as brothers. By this metaphor, we can understand a blood moment as an “intersubjective now moment” in which two individuals co-mingle their most vital essence.

Applying the idea of a blood moment to the psychotherapeutic encounter also carries the meaning that real feelings and actions are taking place between real people in real time.

Last but not least, because blood is a quintessential element in birth, the term “blood moment” is also well suited to express the meaning that something new is being born.

From my point of view, psychotherapeutic blood moments are those in which new aspects of self come into being.

excerpt from Marjorie Schuman, Ph.D.  Mindfulness-Informed Relational Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis: Inquiring Deeply.   Routledge Press, 2017.    

What is “Inquiring Deeply?”

Deep inquiry—  “Inquiring Deeply”— is awareness practice focused on deepening your understanding of your emotional life.  Deep emotional understanding is more than simply mindfulness.   It is intuitive understanding grounded in personal history, embodied experience, and the felt sense of things.   The emphasis in deep inquiry is on exploring the field of relational connection with others.

“Inquiry” means to live in the question of something, on and off the cushion; to consciously engage your experience in a way which invites it to unfold. When you ‘inquire deeply’ into a problem or concern, you approach your experience with the attitude of delving into it, feeling whatever it is more fully, and inviting it to reveal itself.  

Inquiry explores your relationship with other people and expands to include your relationship with life itself. Through this self-reflective awareness practice, you become more fully who you are.

 

Problems as Koans of Everyday Life

Koans are riddles or paradoxes used for contemplative meditation.  Their purpose is to invite a profound shift in one’s experience of the world.   A well known example is  “what is the sound of one hand clapping?”  Koans do not have answers nor make logical sense, and that is the point of them:  to boggle the mind.  Sometimes the problems of everyday life have a koan-like effect: they tend to entangle the mind in the search for logical solutions which cannot be figured out.

In Zen practice , engaging with a koan involves sitting with, being with, and repeatedly asking the question as a means of inviting a profound change of heart or inner transformation.  A koan creates a kind of mental slope which inclines the mind in a different direction than it might otherwise go – off the beaten track of familiar mental patterns and towards creative discovery which lies outside the box.

In psychological terms, while there may be no way around reality, there may yet be a way through.  It’s like running up against a door that opens inward: no matter how hard you push against it, it won’t open. And yet, when you can pause and consider other options, the door may open and you can pass through.

When we can ask the right questions and tackle them with a mind which is steady, focused, and receptive, we can best discover what we need to do next.

The Parable of the Velveteen Rabbit

We are mistaken if we believe that our consciousness is fully awakened at the first moment  after birth.   Perhaps because we don’t know how to imagine any other living state, it may seem to us that birth is a decisive instant,  before which there is nothing and after which we are fully ourselves.  Contrary to that assumption, consciousness is an evolving condition of being.

One of my favorite childhood stories is The Velveteen Rabbit[1], a parable of  just how this evolution may occur.  The Velveteen Rabbit, once a beloved and shiny stuffed bunny,  was loved deeply by The Boy, who saw him as real.  All of the wear and tear from allowing himself to be vulnerable stripped the rabbit both of his sheen and his un-realness. When the boy finally “moves on” as children (and all people) can do sometimes, the Rabbit was heartbroken, feeling rejected and diminished.   Despondent, after crying his first real tear,  a beautiful fairy came to make him into a Real Rabbit, allowing him to hop, skip, and jump with other rabbits (who also had once been discarded).    The Velveteen Rabbit could never have enjoyed the beauty of being Real had he not been “broken open” by the experience of vulnerability.

To me, the moral of this story is that we become Real through the process of connection.    The story is a beautiful metaphor for how our flaws and apparent imperfections can be transformed when they are integrated and fully accepted.    We become more “Real” (authentic) when we are open and ‘vulnerable’  (able to be hurt),  when we allow ourselves to be deeply affected by someone.   But as the Skin Horse wisely tells the little rabbit in the story, sometimes becoming Real hurts. 

Becoming who we are is a journey in which we must come to terms with our tattered fur and threadbare paws. This is a life-long process of learning to be comfortable in our own skin.   We live fully only to the extent that we embody authenticity and aliveness.   This is how we become Who We Are.

                       [1] By Margery Williams

 

 

 

 

 

Downloading Future, Please Wait

BEING HERE NOW

When I posted this picture without title or further explanation some time ago, I was astounded at how many people said “huh??”

The point of the post is not some intent to confuse or create a clever play on words. 

Rather, it is to invite you to contemplate two things:

(1) The computer mindset in which we all spend way too much of our time (downloading content); and

(2) The future-oriented frame of mind in which we all have the tendency to live our lives.

The problem with waiting for the future to finish downloading is the idea that we have Time.  People tend to live facing towards the Future with some sense that “It” will be arriving from that direction.   “Someday” we’ll get all our ducks in a row and then life will begin.

Waiting for “It” to arrive (whatever we take “it” to be) distracts us from the only moment in which we can ever be happy, which is Now. 

Life is not a dress rehearsal; it’s the actual event.

 

 

Mindful Conversation

MINDFUL CONVERSATION

Communication is a mutual act;  it takes two to communicate,  one to speak and the other to listen.    As Henry David Thoreau once said, “the greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when someone asked me what I thought and attended to my answer”.

Since we spend a large part of our lives talking to people, mindful awareness of speaking and listening provides a wonderful opportunity to open the senses, heart, and mind to receive the moment more fully.

The following are some important guidelines:

  • Listen to others with appreciation for the gift of what is being communicated.
  • When participating in conversation, rest quietly and receptively in open awareness.      If I am not present with me, I cannot be present with others.
  • Listen to emotion, facial expression, and tone of voice as well as meaning. Listen to the silences between words or between speakers.     You are listening to a fellow human being.   Listen with kindness.    Let the words, the stories, touch a compassionate heart.

Are Relationships Becoming Obsolete?

It was several years ago when I first heard about a new smart phone app which touted its ability to listen to and decipher the complexity of baby sounds to help the new mother discern whether the baby was hungry, wet or tired.   As a relational therapist, I was appalled by the potential significance of such substitutions for natural human empathy.  Woefully few parents are relationally adequate as it is.    A poor omen for a society which already seems so dysfunctional and disordered.

I thought of this in the context of the chillingly frequent scene of families sitting silent around a restaurant table, each person individually absorbed with their own phone.    Another observation that woke me up was this:    A patient told me about a painful incident with his son, in which another 11 year old boy came to visit and spent the entire three hours of their “playdate”  engaged with solo video games on his device.  Only one or two sentences were spoken between the boys in the entire afternoon, and my patient’s son reacted by becoming quite despondent.    Fortunately for him, his father— an extremely relational and psychologically minded man — was able to help his son recognize his feelings and put them into words, and the incident became a wonderful (and intimate)  learning moment between father and son.

And now enter “SNOO”, the smart bassinet from a company called Happy Baby, which for $1200 will swaddle, rock, vibrate, and soothe your baby with white noise while you sleep.   Described by its creator as a “4th trimester”,  SNOO promises to “hear your baby’s cries and automatically respond with 5 levels of gradually stronger white noise and motion to find the best level to soothe fussing”.

Undoubtedly a dream come true for a sleep deprived young mother.   But what, I wonder, will be the psychological consequences?    Will the SNOO’d baby be exceptionally well-regulated and emotionally balanced?   Autistic for lack of human connection during basic distress?  Or maybe both??

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We can abstract this question to the future of Relationships in the era of Artificial Intelligence.   In 2013, the futuristic fantasy film “Her” envisioned one possibility.   It told the story of a man who became enthralled by—

or fell in love with—  his operating system, an intuitive entity in its own right whose bright voice and playful personality enabled him to form a romantic attachment to “her”.  

Fast forward to 2018:   A recent television documentary aired footage of young Chinese men and women who related to Siri (or her Chinese equivalent) as a best friend.

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Dystopian prophesy?

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What do YOU think?

Wise Relationship to Narrative

“stories are not just stories. They teach us what is real, what is valuable and what is possible. Without stories there is no way to engage with the world because there is no world, and no one to engage with it because there is no self.” ……… David Loy

Buddhist psychology teaches that we must differentiate between the stories that we tell and the direct experience of life.  Thus, in mindfulness practice, the first step in working with the storytelling mind is to notice the endless stream of thoughts and commentary that accompanies our experience. We must not identify, it is taught, with story-teller mind. 

Accordingly, the question “what story am I believing now?” is a useful inquiry.   In the very act of asking this question, we have already taken a stance of observation which changes the way that we are relating to our narratives. This inquiry invites disidentification from belief: it creates space in which we can reflect upon what we may previously have assumed to be true.

However,  not all stories in the mind are created equal.  While our narratives may reinforce emotional patterns in the mind which are dysfunctional and which have the effect of keeping us stuck in old ways of being, others, in contrast, illuminate where we have been stuck and in doing so may open the possibility of transformative change.

Particular narrative themes hold important clues as to the unresolved emotions that has been stimulated in the mind.  Some stories in the mind are conscious: they are associated with explicit stories, thoughts or images that occur in the course of daily life and/or during sitting meditation.  However, other narratives are quite unconscious.  They might escape our notice entirely were it not for the presence of painful affect that is associated with them!

Even when a narrative theme is quite conscious, its meaning is often poorly understood.  At the very least, there are usually blind spots in what someone can see of the mental structure that underlies problems.  Whether understood or not, our mental narratives reveal what needs to be “worked through” psychologically.

It is true that sometimes we may need to “let go” of a particular story, hold it more lightly, or make it not so significant. But at other times, we may need to delve into the story: reflect on it more deeply, think about why we are so invested in believing it, and understand why we may have told it. This is wise relationship to narrative.

The Dharma of Trauma

One way to understand the effects of meditation is in terms of the slow but steady ‘unwinding’ of experience that occurs as relaxation deepens. ‘Knots’ of energy in the body/mind are held as patterns of somatically encoded sensation, muscle contraction, emotion, and memory, all intertwined (“non-experienced experience”). When we meet each experience as it presents itself, without resistance, these knots begins to dissolve into the space of open awareness.   

https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B01N24V17T p. 179

But encountering the knots of energy in the body/mind during meditation can also be overwhelming.  According to Dr. Willoughby Britton, who has studied the adverse effects of contemplative practices for more than a decade,  meditation can “lead people to some dark places, triggering trauma or leaving people feeling disoriented”.   Contrary to the expectation of psychological improvements, meditation experiences can be difficult or distressing or even impairing. And this may happen even in people who have no prior psychological or trauma history.

Now, Britton and her colleague/ trauma specialist Dr. David Treleaven have created a program called First Do No Harm to help people work with these challenges. The program is aimed at meditation teachers and providers of mindfulness-based interventions—therapeutic techniques rooted in mindfulness practices—but the lessons are helpful for anyone who meditates.

In the trauma-sensitive approach, meditators are taught techniques such as ‘dual awareness’: keeping most of your awareness on something that’s safe and pleasant, but dipping into a negative emotion or trauma with 10 or 20 percent of attention.  In this way, negative experience can be titrated.

For more information: [https://tricycle.org/trikedaily/trauma-meditation]

Asking Questions

“The act of asking questions breaks open the unexamined and stagnant shell of the present, revealing the hidden and stale surfaces of the way we think about things”.  … Fran Peavey

The practice of asking questions systematically is called INQUIRY.  Inquiry means investigation, exploration, but mostly it means wanting to find out. It is a questioning. “What is this? Why is that? What is happening? Where is it going?”

INQUIRY is not the same as analyzing or thinking about a question.  It means to live in the question of something, to consciously engage our experience in a way which invites it to unfold. Exploring experience from a place of inquiry is an invitation, a receptivity to discovering something new. 

To be genuinely curious about what we DON’T KNOW has the potential to turn life on its head, revealing things in unexpected and marvelous ways.