- (much of this content is inspired by what I’ve learned from Dr. Paul Fitzgerald)
We cannot avoid hard work. Whether it is addressing trauma, getting healthy, or building lawn mower engines, there is a necessary amount of things that are difficult. Often, we assume that things can be avoided, but they really don’t go away. The outside wall of my house where the paint is peeling will only get worse over time. If I don’t address it, it will eventually cause further damage.
A great revelation for me was spiritual bypassing. Religion often searches for magical answers and avoids doing the necessary work to heal. Dealing with trauma is uncomfortable, so we use religious phrases and platitudes to avoid the messy, but necessary work that could heal us.
One of the reasons that we avoid difficult work is because of our obsession with light. In our dualistic mindsets, we categorized everything that was difficult and wasn’t easily understood as darkness. We focussed on what we considered to be light and trusted that it would extinguish the darkness.
There are definitely things to be frightened of but we can’t avoid everything we do not understand. Often the things that trouble us most are unresolved issues that we have been avoiding. They may seem like darkness and / or something to be avoided, but they could be the key to our future well-being. I described this process in my book, Being: A Journey Toward Presence and Authenticity. Because I avoided these dark places within me, it was like they all surfaced at once. Then, it was much more traumatic to encounter.
When I finally faced this part of me that was wounded, I discovered that it was much more like a traumatized younger version of myself than a big, horrible monster. I’m not even sure that Satan and Demons and such even exist. I now wonder if much of that imagery wasn’t just created in our minds when we tried to describe what it felt like inside. It is perfectly plausible that our internal demons are little more than internalized shame and unresolved trauma.
Many times, this surfaces as reactivity. Someone would say or do something that caused a reaction in me. I would react almost like something was controlling me, and in a sense, it was. A part of me was trying to resolve past hurts and unresolved feelings. Because I was reacting, my responses weren’t very rational and often what I did only made it worse. The encounters usually ended with me pushing the emotions down and returning to my life where I ignored what seemed like darkness and searched for new beacons of light and hope.
Eventually, I couldn’t push it down any more. I had to face the darkness and bring it out. To make a long story short, because I made space for this traumatized little boy, that part of me was able to heal and I could move forward. I didn’t eradicate that part of me. I simply had compassion for it and was present with it until the part that was stuck could shift to something more integrated into my existence rather than being a part of me that is trying to get my attention. We call this process focusing.
A Focusing Method
Let me first state that I have mixed feelings about prescribing steps to people. Life is messy and nuanced and hard to describe with a formula. Sometimes it is way more helpful to describe our life as a journey so that we keep perspective on the many twists and turns. But sometimes we find things that are helpful and we share them with each other. The trick is to not fall in love with methods or beliefs or techniques — or even with practices.
I learned focusing from several people and from Eugene Gendlin’s book by the same name. Dr. Paul Fitzgerald has been instrumental in my life and shared many things about focusing that have been revolutionary in my healing. Focusing can be done alone or with a companion. I recommend the latter if possible because an empathetic listener helps greatly in the effectiveness of the method. The method originates from Eugene Gendlin, the founder of focusing, and has been touched by many hands along the way.
- Preparation. Make sure that you are breathing deeply. If you have ever done a body scan in your meditation practice, use that method to let go of any felt tension and let it fall off. Some find it helpful to place their thoughts into a container. I imagine a box where I can put all my thoughts away, much like picking up the toys at night. In addition to thoughts, I may notice feelings vying for my attention. I try not to judge them. I simply begin to notice what I feel and where I feel it. Needless to say, the room should be quiet and free of distractions.
At this point, the companion might ask the focuser to identify a word that describes the feeling.
- A part of me feels. It is helpful to state clearly “A part of me feels…” and insert the tag that best describes what you are feeling. The important part of this description is that it describes what you are feeling in your own terms. It is also helpful to note that this feeling is not all of you, but a part of you that is trying to teach you something and hopefully resolve itself.
The companion might respond, “So, a part of you feels…” and insert whatever you said. Many times, the person will continue with more detail about the feeling. Continual focus should be on what the person is responsible for. Other people that contributed to the feeling are important, but at the moment it is most helpful to stay with what you are feeling.
The companion may ask several times if this is still the right handle to place on the feeling. It’s okay if it changes several times. When the feeling or emotion is identified, we can move forward.
It is also helpful to identify where we feel the emotion in our body and place a hand where we feel it. This may be in the throat, in our heart, in our gut, or other places throughout our body. Again, this may change places over the course of the session. This is okay as long as we track it. Be present and do not judge what is there or where it is.
- Be with that feeling or emotion. The companion might ask, “What is it like to be with that part of you that feels. Some people use the phrase, “say hello.” Acknowledging this felt sense of a part of yourself may let it know that you are paying attention.
Often being present doesn’t mean that we are doing anything. I noticed this with my children. There were times when they were hurting where there was nothing I could say or do to help them. In those times, the best thing I could say or do was to just be there and be with them. In a sense, focusing is being with the part of us that is trying to share what may not be able to be described with words.
Again, this step is not a judgement where we determine whether this feeling is good or bad. We are not trying to categorize it as darkness or light. In a way, we are building a relationship with something that needs our attention.
- Invite interaction with inner characters. Sometimes I ask, “Talk about the most recent time you felt this,” then “talk about the first time you felt this.” Often this opens up the root cause of the trauma or wounding? Another helpful question might be “What is this part of you trying to tell you?” Allowing the person to interact with the felt sense in them helps them build stronger bonds with the inner child and the inner critic. At this point, we might ask “What would you do for that part of you if that was an actual child in front of you.”
It is common for them to see this felt-sense as an inner child that needs nurturing that it didn’t get. It is helpful for them to talk about what they could do such as: hold them, tell them, or feel with them. The first time I focused by myself, I just kept telling my inner child, “I got your back.”
Along with the inner child, I hope that most will also encounter the inner critic. Some call this the protector because that is what the original person might have been trying to do. I sometimes say, “Most of us have an inner critic–what is that voice saying right now.” This is usually pretty easy for most people because they are familiar with this voice that helps submerge the shadow. I invite them to step between the inner critic and inner child — sometimes they need to say something — sometimes not.
- Connecting Dots. We often help people connect the dots by saying, “It’s no wonder…” In other words. we want to let them know the connection between that past trauma and their current reactions. This is not to excuse anything, but simply to let them relax and realize that the part of them that was trying to tell them something has been successful and now that relationship with that part of them has changed.
It is also possible that what happens when a person focuses is hard to explain and we don’t have to feel compelled to understand any of it intellectually. There are times when I simply feel like I heard deeply what the focuser was saying and it made me cry. That empathetic listening is very important to the process, but explaining what took place may be more of a matter of future contemplation than present-day explanation.
We sometimes invite them to thank that part of them that revealed itself and essentially come back into the room with us. Laura helps me when I am a companion and she often has a few insights. She waits until the very end to share them, but they are very helpful. She is empathic and it is important to be authentic
The Next Courageous Step
Facing the shadow / darkness inside us can be terrifying. It can stop us in our tracks, especially if we try to consider all the steps required to get from point A to point Z. If we are fortunate, we will clearly be able to see the next step in front of us and take that step courageously. If it takes courage, then it most likely makes us vulnerable. We can either run, hide or fight (take the next step).
Last night we were leaving the hotel where we are staying to celebrate my birthday. There was an awkward last step so I took a bit of a roll on the concrete. Being in athletics as a child kicked in and I rolled quite successfully. Weeks earlier, Laura stumbled on our porch and she had bruises and painful side effects for weeks. I can’t predict how painful your next step will be, but it helps to take it soberly. It will take courage. it will make you vulnerable. It might even hurt a little. But it will be worth it.
Understanding that I am OF God opens me up to the understanding that everything in nature and the cosmos seems to be working towards good. When I observe nature, I see that every cell is working toward reproduction, survival and thriving. Through focusing, I deeply understand that my body is trying to heal itself from the trauma similar to how it constantly fights against viruses. Almost automatically, my body keeps me alive, gets rid of waste and reproduces itself to thrive, adapt and survive in the environment I live in.
I don’t need to pray to God to miraculously fix me. The mechanisms are already in place. For the most part, I simply need to pay attention. When my body communicates with me through emotion or pain or pleasure, I can be present with it, learn from it, and respond to it. I’m learning to trust my body more; it not only informs me but transforms me.
Be where you are , be who you are