“Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth”
― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times
I am struck by the honesty of this quote, there is a deep truth within this understanding, there is a fear in moving, edging closer to the deep truth that lays within us all. This has been the 11th block of a 15-block training in Hakomi Mindful Somatic Psychotherapy, and as per usual, I am sitting at the Newark Airport feeling a little shaken up by the process. I have spent most of the last 72 hours looking deeply within myself and finding the frightening truth, that underneath this veneer, there is a small boy who is very afraid that the world is a dangerous place, that the things he needs most will be taken away, and that he has to be perfect to keep that from happening.
Hakomi Therapy is a gentle psychotherapy that attends to the signals of the body as it looks to study how we organize our lives. All of us organize the world we live in, that is what provides the consistency to the days, that helps us know what to do, gives us the sense of what to expect. It is an unconscious organization, much in the same way that chewing, and swallowing are unconscious actions, this organization is something that takes place in the felt sense without any prompting, it just happens in the background without any need for me to think. It is the grease that makes our world run more smoothly, until it doesn’t. In Hakomi, the therapist notices the physical expressions of unstated beliefs, and how they arise in the moment. In noticing those small signals that my body sends out into the world, the therapist draws my attention to what is happening just below the surface, just outside of my awareness. In short, the therapist draws my attention and theirs to the ‘man behind the curtain’.
The therapist often has a very special helper in this process, life itself. Pema Chödrön writes in When Thing Fall Apart “To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. ” I have had the chance to be thrown out of the nest over this last week, and to study what it feels like to flounder and fall. Fate lined things up so that I had the opportunity to feel a real sense of helplessness around a family I love dearly. As one of their children got sick, and ultimately required surgery with some complications, I was struck by how utterly useless I felt. Here I am, a “Doctor” and I had nothing, and I mean nothing, that I felt like I could offer them. I felt helpless, I could not fix the problem, I could not help it be better, I could not help the surgery, I was stuck feeling helpless in this moment, and helpless to make a meaningful difference. It was in this frame of mind that I stepped into the training this cycle, and true to form, Hakomi gave me the opportunity to study this deeply.
During our development as children, we learn to navigate the world in which we live, things happen during our childhood that get soaked into our very flesh as the character of our lives. For myself, I am very self-reliant, I rarely if ever ask for help, and really do not expect help to be given. I came by this naturally, being the first born, I was the center of attention for my parents until my brother came along. He had larger needs, he required more of their attention, and so suddenly I was no longer being seen and attended to as I had been. This complicated a feeling of abandonment that was already in place from the act of adoption, and this sudden loss of my caregivers attention had consequences in my system. Understand that my parents did a good job, they did the best they could, they were overwhelmed in the moment and triaged what they could manage, and I felt it in my system. What I learned was that I could not trust that help would be there, I learned that I had to do it myself, that it was up to me, I became incredibly self-reliant.
The events of the last week hit hard, I could not find a way to be helpful, I was stuck, people I loved were suffering and I lacked the ability to help them. I felt terrible, I felt useless, and I had no ability to help myself. There I sat, feeling impotent. The beauty of Hakomi Training is that each student therapist has the chance to help me find my way into whatever arises in this moment, and for me there was this sense of helplessness. Each therapist worked with me as I stepped closer to the truth that lay at the depth of this pain, and as I sat in the therapist seat, I found that my skills were hamstrung, I felt clunky and off balance, I could feel what was happening in the client but I could not string those feelings into a coherent narrative, and all the while, this voice in my head was saying ‘you’re not helping them’. I would bounce from this feeling of helplessness as a therapist into this space where I was becoming more familiar with the driving belief that I had to be helpful, that I had to figure it out on my own. As we worked deeper and deeper I began to see that my system feared asking for help, that asking for help was associated with a feeling that help would not be there, and if I asked, those I depended on would turn away and forget me. My mind balked at the ludicrous nature of this belief, but my body felt the truth of it, tension flooded me, as my therapist gently probed this belief…’you can always ask for help’… my system readied itself for the fight of its life, as we descended once more into memory of where this all began.
Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know …nothing ever really attacks us except our own confusion. perhaps there is no solid obstacle except our own need to protect ourselves from being touched. maybe the only enemy is that we don’t like the way reality is now and therefore wish it would go away fast. but what we find as practitioners is that nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know. if we run a hundred miles an hour to the other end of the continent in order to get away from the obstacle, we find the very same problem waiting for us when we arrive. It just keeps returning with new names, forms, manifestations until we learn whatever it has to teach us about where we are separating ourselves from reality, how we are pulling back instead of opening up, closing down instead of allowing ourselves to experience fully whatever we encounter, without hesitating or retreating into ourselves.”
― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times
I would love to say that everything was resolved in the moment, and through this work, but it was not. There is more for me to learn, more for me to understand. What did happen, I was given a glorious chance to step closer to who I really am, deep beneath all the fear, and in knowing this person, this small boy, I am able to love him with a deeper compassion for all that he is.
If any of resonates for you, and you happen to be curious, and wish to know more, do not hesitate to drop me a line. If you would like to know more about my work, or to work with me, feel free to contact me. I post regularly to Instagram (@gilgrimes), Twitter (gilgrimes) , Medium and Facebook (gilgrimes) about whatever arises. And if you would like to stay in touch sign up for my newsletter (probably once or twice a month at most).