R.D. Laing tells a story that goes something like this – a man has a hard night on the town and wakes up in a prison cell unable to remember what happened the night before. He notices that the door to the cell is wide open, but he continues to sit in the cell. After some time the jailer comes by and asks the man why he didn’t walk out the cell. The man replies, "I am not leaving this cell until I find out why I am in here!"
I am reminded of this story several times a day when I see certain clients. I have been working in mental health for some twenty years with people who have been labelled as ‘difficult clients’, but I now believe that the difficulty lies in the therapists, not in the clients. A client in difficulty will go to see a counsellor and ask for help to give up drugs or alcohol or violence or work through some traumatic event or any of a multitude of problems. Through the ins and outs of the counselling process, the counsellor makes suggestions about what the client can do to change. The client follows these suggestions and leaves counselling happy with the outcome. Another client goes to the same counsellor with the same problems and receives the same help but doesn’t change and is seemingly ‘resistant’ to the process. Such a client is labelled ‘difficult’.
But the difficulty lies in the therapist not the client. The client is simply being the client. It is the therapist who has the difficulty. Having identified the problem feeling, the therapist proposes causes and reasons for the problem and what can be done about it based on a pre-given theory about the problem. However, the therapist has not grasped the meaning of this particular person’s problem at this particular time in these particular circumstances and so the causes that are proposed and the advice that is given miss the mark. There are many clients who simply cannot change despite having all the information at their fingertips from very accomplished and knowledgeable therapists. It will seem that they are ‘resistant’ and ‘ungrateful’ but this is an absurd thing to say about people who are generally quite desperate and want to change. There are no difficult clients, there are only clients in difficulty.
It seems to me that in the case of ‘difficult’ clients, the ‘resistance’ to change should be taken as a sign that the client doesn’t really want to know HOW to change, (even though they may have said that that was what they wanted). They actually want to know what their pain is all about, what it means and WHY they are in the situation they are in and THEN they will get themselves out of it. In other words, they know the door is open but they are going nowhere until they know why they are there in the first place.
Such clients want to know both that there is meaning to their pain or depression or sadness and just what this meaning is. As an example, many people ‘get depressed’ when a relationship ends. Some have said to me that they don’t know why it ended, that their partner did not tell them, they are completely in the dark and have no idea what happened. They are stuck and cannot move on. It seems that they cannot let this relationship go until they understand the meaning of what happened between them and their partner. Some clients even want to know why they feel so good sometimes when there is ‘no reason’ to.
But ‘meaning’ is a big problem for most therapists, because the prevailing models of reality and thus, counselling, don’t really put much value in the concept of meaning. Because they are so oriented around ‘doing something’ to ‘move forward’, their only concession to meaning is in general terms — that is, when we suffer a loss we get depressed and grieve, or when we are abused we feel traumatised and can be withdrawn. These theories simply assume that we cannot move forward because we don’t know how to, we simply need more information about how to change. But clients know they are depressed because they have suffered a loss. What they want to know is what is the particular meaning of my depression, in what ways is it different to other peoples’ depression and in what ways is it similar? When they find this out, a weight is lifted from their shoulders, they are no longer stuck or trapped and feel free to move on.
When it comes to ‘bad’ habits like cutting yourself, binge eating, vomiting, smoking dope, using heroin, getting into ‘abusive’ relationships etc, prevailing models of counselling seem to focus on trying to stop these behaviours as if they are the problem, as if there is no good reason for them to be there, as if they are meaningless. But we all resist giving up ‘bad habits’ because we seem to feel better while doing them, and somehow we suspect that they are actually ‘good’ for us in a way. Clients want to know that there IS meaning behind these so-called self-destructive behaviours, not be told that they are mistakes or the result of ‘bad luck’ or ‘mismanagement’ or ‘bad genes’ or ‘chemistry gone wrong’. They want to accept these ‘problems’ not be told how to get rid of them. Clients want to say, "Please confirm for me that cutting myself makes sense, that I am doing it for a valid reason. I sense this deep down but everyone tells me that there is something wrong with me and I should change and get rid of this ‘habit’". But to believe that all events are utterly meaningful and to help a client search for meaning is seemingly a lost art.
The man who wakes up in the prison cell and won’t leave even though the door is open wants to know why he is in there. He believes that there is no point walking out the open door if he doesn’t know why he is in there, because it will just happen again if he doesn’t find out. He wants to know why did this happen to me now? I’ve gotten drunk before and never ended up in jail. Telling him HOW (the causes and reasons) he got in jail won’t help him. He can probably guess what he did anyway. He wants to know WHY he is there. How does this fit in with my overall life? Is there a lesson in this for me? The person who is diagnosed with cancer who wants to know "Why me?" Am I being punished for something? What lesson am I to learn from this? They probably know the causes and reasons (smoking, high stress, bad diet etc). No matter how much well meaning doctors tell people that there isn’t any meaning behind getting cancer other than the pateint did the wrong things, people with such diagnoses still question why.
‘Difficult’ clients want to know what the meaning is to their pain or depression or sadness. As an example, many people ‘get depressed’ when a relationship ends. Some have said to me that they don’t know why it ended, that their partner did not tell them, they are completely in the dark and have no idea what happened. They are stuck and cannot move on. It seems that they cannot let this relationship go until they understand the meaning of what happened between them and their partner. This question of meaning can be so pervasive, that there are clients who want to know why they are feeling so good when there is ‘no reason’ to. Or how come I haven’t collapsed in this stressful situation when I would have before?
But ‘meaning’ is a big problem for most therapists, because the prevailing models of reality and thus, counselling, don’t really put much value in the concept of meaning. Because they are so oriented around ‘doing something’ to ‘move forward’, their only concession to meaning is in general terms — that is, when we suffer a loss we get depressed and grieve, or when we are abused we feel traumatised and can be withdrawn. These theories simply assume that we cannot move forward because we don’t know how to, we simply need more information about how to change. But clients know they are depressed because they have suffered a loss. What they want to know is what is the particular meaning of my depression, why is it happening at this time in my life, what relation does it have to the rest of my life etc? When they find this out, a weight is lifted from their shoulders, they are no longer stuck or trapped and feel free to move on.
When it comes to ‘bad’ habits like cutting yourself, binge eating, vomiting, smoking dope, using heroin, getting into ‘abusive’ relationships etc, prevailing models of counselling seem to focus on trying to stop these behaviours as if THEY are the problem, as if there is no good reason for them to be there, as if they are meaningless. But we all resist giving up ‘bad habits’ because we seem to feel better while doing them, and somehow we suspect that they are actually ‘good’ for us in a way. Clients want to know that there IS meaning behind these so-called self-destructive behaviours, not be told that they are mistakes or the result of ‘bad luck’ or ‘mismanagement’ or ‘bad genes’ or ‘chemistry gone wrong’ or worse, be told that they have a ‘personality disorder’. They want to accept these ‘problems’ not be told how to get rid of them. Clients want to say, "Please confirm for me that cutting myself makes sense, that I am doing it for a valid reason. I sense this deep down but everyone tells me that there is something wrong with me and I should change and get rid of this ‘habit’", without actually feeling my pain, knowing me, understanding me. But to believe that all events are utterly meaningful and to help a client search for meaning is seemingly a lost art.
Besides a sense of meaning, all human beings are also searching for something else — a sense of inward connectedness, inward relatedness but they may not know this. They may sense it but they cannot put it into words. What is this sense of inner connectedness that we all search for? Have you ever been with someone at work or at dinner and you feel that they are hard to ‘read’? Their face seems to be a mask? You don’t know what they are thinking and feeling about themself or you or the world? All you have to go on is what they say and what they look like. They don’t seem to be transparent in any way. You study their features like a scientist studying a rock formation or page of data, trying to ‘work out’ from the outside what the inside stuff is all about. Problem is that, like statistics, you can never be certain about what you work out. Am I right or have I got it wrong? Sound familiar? This is normal civilised behaviour. People having to relate to each other in an outer way by sending and receiving signals and messages across space like robots or computers connected together with wires.
Compare this with a relationship with a very close friend, a lover, a partner or your baby. Their face is not a mask. In fact you can see ‘through’ it to their very insides. When gazing into a lover’s eyes, you are aware of two things simultaneously. Obviously, you can see a look on their face which reveals a certain self of theirs, an aspect of them, a certain way they are in that moment. But you also see them looking at you in a certain way and in that look you become aware of a certain way that you are, an aspect of yourself, the self they see in that moment. We all take this latter aspect for granted without knowing what we know. For example, if you suspect that you ‘are in your partner’s bad books’, you only have to ask them an innocent question about the weather or the garden and you can tell from the look on their face or the sound of their voice, in what light they are holding you - whether they think you are selfish or inconsiderate, kind or whatever.
When you are relating to a partner or a baby you can directly sense the meaning of the looks on their faces, the tones in their voice or their posture and demeanour. You are immediately present to these inner selves, you can know them directly (in the Gnostic sense) by ‘seeing’ them through the looks on their face, the look in their eyes and the tone of their voice. You are connected directly to the other’s inner being, and they are to you. (That is what we mean when we say genuine intimacy involves feeling vulnerable — we sense that others can see through us, we feel naked or exposed). You are inwardly connected (as if there is a pipeline from your inner being to theirs — a soul connection). You do not have to ‘work out’ their inside stuff by interpreting the looks on their face etc as you do in most other relationships in your life, in which you are relating outwardly to other people, relying on the interpretation of looks on their faces and body language. "What does the boss really think of me? How does so and so regard me? I wish I really knew where I stood with so and so." When we relate to someone we love, it is as if they are like a book. We read them like we do a text, fluidly. When we relate to someone who is a ‘mask’ to us, we are forced to relate in an outward way, as if we don’t know what the language is and we have to translate each word (each look on their face) individually and laboriously.
There are many people in our society who have never or only briefly experienced a sense of inward connectedness with another human being. But it is an essential part of our inner make up, something we search for and hunger after, just as we need food and water outwardly. Without that inward connection our lives can feel forever unfulfilled, barren, passionless, and meaningless without any sense of purpose. A sense of inward connectedness with another person, a landscape, a painting, a piece of music, a great speech can give us a genuine ‘buzz’, it can literally take our breath away. People can go from relationship to relationship, drug to drug, pokies to cards, job to job, searching for inner relatedness without even really knowing what they are searching for.
There is a commonsense model of illness that dominates all systems of healing whether medicine, social work, psychology or any of the various forms of alternative practice from Reiki to homoeopathy to flower remedies. This model is quite simple really. Very broadly, when we are in pain or discomfort or we don’t ‘feel ourselves’ this is taken as a sign that there is something wrong with our physical, mental or social body. Our inclination is to get back to the state of ‘feeling our old self’, of being in no pain or discomfort as soon as possible. In some way we associate pain and discomfort with being ill or sick as opposed to well or healthy which means no pain or discomfort. Health is good and illness is bad. The apparent aim of any healing practice worthy of its name is to eliminate the pain and return us to a state of wellness as soon as possible. Illness is an aberration, a deviation from the natural state of health.
When we are physically ill we believe that this is due to ‘something wrong’ with the physical body which causes pain or discomfort. The aim of any healing is to provide symptom relief and if possible get to the cause of what is wrong and cure that. This means finding out what the problem is in the physical body, what piece of our machinery has gone wrong and for what reason. So we search for the causes or reasons for the physical pain.
In some cases we think that something can go wrong in the brain and this can cause the pain and suffering that we understand as mental illness. In this case we also try to relieve the symptoms and do our best to alter the brain to try and deal with the cause.
In other cases we believe that something can go wrong in someone’s personal or social environment and this can cause pain and suffering both physical and mental, even if the physical discomfort is understood as ‘psychosomatic’ or stress related. In this case we also attempt to get at the cause or reasons for the suffering and remove them.
There is something common to all these ways of looking at illness whether it is physical, mental or social. We look at the various bodies present, whether they be the physical body of a person, the mental body, or the social body of society and we look at these bodies in terms of what we can see, taste, touch, smell and hear, that is, what is physically present and measurable, something LOCAL. We see the causes of pain, illness, depression, suffering etc as one of the other links in the chain. An organ failure is the cause of diabetes, or smoking is the cause of cancer or neurotransmitter problem is the cause of schizophrenia or unemployment causes family breakdown or relationship breakup causes depression. We intervene as best we can to try and fix the cause or reason whether this be a measure as drastic as social revolution to cure unemployment, electro convulsive therapy for depression, a mastectomy to treat cancer, or not so drastic such as organizing a job club to help the unemployed, or medication for depression.
In this causal model of illness, the belief is that we live in a one-dimensional reality in which everything can be reduced to matter. All illnesses can be reduced to something wrong with the physical body. All mental illnesses can be reduced to something wrong with the brain. It is the hope of science that all illnesses and even behaviour can be reduced to the genetic structure, so that in the future we may be able to put in place ‘a final solution’ (Wilberg) and create a reality without mental illness, Down’s syndrome, cancer, homosexuality and whatever other ‘deviant’ behaviour we choose. This model of reality admits only matter into its equations so of course if something ‘goes wrong’, it must be caused by something else physical. There are causes and reasons for everything in this model, but no meaning. Nothing has any actual meaning or purpose because meaning implies that a Being in an ‘inner’ dimension is intending something (or having a purpose in mind) with everything that ‘it’ does. Being has no place in materialist conceptions of reality.
What is common to all these ways of working is that illness and pain and suffering have causes and reasons but they do not have any intrinsic meaning, any purpose in ‘being there’. Consider a film like ‘ET’. Everyone knows that the film has a ‘meaning’ — Spielberg had a purpose in mind when he made the film, and each viewer of the film may get a different meaning from it, but we all instinctively understand the concept of meaning when it is applied to a work of art. Look at the way Brazil plays its soccer — there is a meaning behind this compared with the way Germany plays their soccer. Meaning is the ‘why’ of an event, causes are the ‘how’ of an event. Spielberg got together the finance, the actors, the script etc and made the film. These are all the links in the chain (the causes and reasons) that explain how the film was made but not one of these links explains why the film was made (the meaning behind it), the purpose in mind of a being.
This distinction between the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of an event parallels our everyday, commonsense understanding of the physical universe that we live in. The universe began in a big bang by chance (not by design or meaning), it evolved as a physical structure by chance (not by design or meaning) and somewhere along the line, human beings evolved by chance (not by design or meaning) and as a result of our complicated brain structure, awareness or consciousness shone out of our skulls by chance (not by design or meaning) like a searchlight illuminating the world to us. Science believes that there is no intrinsic meaning in the universe, that things happen by chance and that consciousness is a bi-product of a functioning body-brain complex. The idea that a ‘God’ created this universe with a purpose in mind or that a Dreamtime being did or any of another thousand spiritual or religious beliefs holds no sway with our scientific mind because we want evidence to prove it. Meaning cannot be measured, and science can only deal with what is measurable. (Imagine asking Spielberg to prove that there is a meaning in ET. How would he do this?) Thus we see no inherent meaning in this universe. We see only local physical causes and reasons for why things happen.
These scientific and yet commonsense views of the large-scale structure of physical reality are mirrored in our understanding of pain, illness and suffering. We see only causes and reasons, but no meaning or purpose in mind. For example, if a person with schizophrenia says that aliens are communicating with him, the general response from mental health workers, even the most well-meaning, is that this is a delusion — that is, it is meaningless, there are no aliens communicating with him, therefore what he is saying lacks any meaning. We do not ask ourselves or the client what it means for them when they say that ‘aliens are communicating with them’ or ‘the TV is giving them messages’. We take what they say literally. They say that aliens are communicating with them; there are no such things as aliens; therefore it is a delusion; therefore it is the result of a ‘mental illness’. In taking what they say literally, we are as delusional as the client. Our delusion is that a ‘thing’ called a ‘mental illness’ exists in their brain causing them to make statements which have no meaning at all.
If a person has cancer that is because something went wrong with their body structure. They may have been at fault because they smoked but the cancer was a purely physical effect of a cause. If a person is burgled that is because their house was chosen by a burglar at random or because it looked a likely target. If a person is mugged in the street, that is because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. We would not consider the idea that a being had a purpose in mind when they created a cancer, a burglary, a mugging. We know that ideas such as reincarnation and other spiritual explanations attempt to explain events like cancer or misfortune by resorting to various conceptions that involve ‘meaning’. For example, it may be a person’s karma to develop cancer. Even while there are many workers who actually believe in spiritual and religious conceptions of reality, these ways of thinking are completely split off from their practice in treating illness and woe betide any worker who brings up in a clinical meeting any such issue to help explain their client’s suffering. In this sense we are all suffering from split personalities when counselling or working with clients!
In fact, the idea that the individual may have had a purpose in mind, a meaning when they created their illness or pain or suffering is attacked by post modern therapies as ‘victimology’. That is, if we ascribe meaning to a painful event like cancer or rape or severe depression, if we attempt in any way to understand the ‘sufferer’ as the creator of this event, we are blaming the victim. But blaming the victim implies that there is something worthy of blame! Something worthy of blame is obviously to us, something bad. It is only because these post modern theories believe that illness and pain is a bad thing that they could regard ‘creating your own illness’ as blameworthy!
To summarise, science and our 20th century commonsense believes that there is no meaning whatsoever in pain and illness in general and cancer, depression, schizophrenia etc in particular. There is no sense of any purpose behind why the individual became ill or feels pain. Health is good, illness is bad, and pain and discomfort are caused by something going wrong in one of the links in the chain that make up physical reality. Something goes wrong with the physical or mental structure through chance or because we make a mistake and do something wrong which causes the pain or illness. To cure the pain and the illness we act to remove or change the cause.
When you are reading a book, are you just looking at the words? Do you analyse each word as you come to it and work out its meaning and then do the same for a sentence and finally the whole book? Of course not. Were this to be the case you would never be able to read a book. What happens is that we enter a world of meaning. It is as if the words are like a skin surrounding a whole inner sphere of meaning, as if the three-dimensional book we are reading is the surface of a hidden inner dimension of meaning. We are directly present to this world of meaning in the same way that we hear a car going by — we do not hear a sound and analyse it and come to some sort of conclusion that a car is going by. We see a cup on a table, we do not see a shape and analyse it and come to a conclusion that it is a cup. Where is this world of meaning when we are reading a book? Is the meaning of each word somehow inside the word? Is it inside the paper that the words are printed on? Is it inside the stuff of the ink? Could we discover the meaning of the words by examining the internal structure of the paper or ink under an electron microscope? Could we discover anything about Shakespeare by analysing the text of Macbeth with scientific instruments? Of course not. The questions are ridiculous. The meaning of a text cannot be reduced to the words on the page, or the physical make up of the ink or the paper. Meaning is expressed through language, and exists prior to and independently of language. Meaning is not a function of language, any more than our consciousness is a function of the brain or light is a function of the titanium filament in a globe. Outer reality (things) and inner reality (meaning or being) are inseparable but distinct spheres of activity. Where is the meaning? It is in some sort of meaning space that isn’t inside the words but yet the words are necessary to point us to this space. Where is this space? It is both inside us and outside us. We are within it and it is within us. It is everywhere and nowhere. It is not localised anywhere as words and things are. It is what physicists call a delocalised field state.
Is this world of meaning, this meaning space, real? Well, that is a loaded question. It certainly isn’t real according to the definitions of classical science because it cannot be measured objectively by any machine. But it certainly is real for us human beings and it is real for quantum physicists. In reading a book, sometimes we are so caught up in the action that it is more real than waking life. Sometimes what is written is unbearable! How can something unreal be so unbearable? This world of meaning is as unreal as dreams are. Dreams and meaning are as unreal as quantum waves - yet physicists say that the universe is made up of them. Although they cannot be seen or measured, these quantum waves are real for quantum physicists because they can be inferred from their local effects. The same must be said of the world of meaning.
It is currently the fashion to think of human beings as sophisticated computers or super intelligent androids. We see the computer sitting there, ‘artificially intelligent’ or so we think, and we imagine that we must be like that.
The computer has software (programmes) and so do we (our mind).
The computer has hardware (screen, the ‘box’, printer etc) and so do we (a physical body).
The computer has a brain (a microprocessor) and so do we (a physical brain).
The computer has a display (a screen) and so do we (our faces and our body language).
The computer can be infected with viruses (software that invade it and take it over). Human beings can be infected with viruses and other harmful things that can take it over.
The analogies go on and on, convincing the scientific mind that maybe we are just super intelligent computers. Imagine sitting at a computer using a word processing package like Microsoft Word. Imagine creating a document as a metaphor for the creation of our daily lives. If the document has misspellings in it, that would be analogous to us being in pain or having bits of us ‘misspelt’ — that is, sick or wrong. We can correct the document before printing it. We can correct ourselves and get rid of the illnesses through surgery or medication.
With the computer we can even make the document self-correcting. If we programme the auto-correct function appropriately, then it is theoretically possible that we could write an entire document with the misspellings all corrected as we go along, so that the final document is ‘perfectly spelled’. This is the model of a ‘perfect human being’ — one that is never in pain, never sick because its auto correct functions work perfectly to keep it in a state of perfect health.
But a moment’s thought will reveal the inherent problem in this way of modelling the human being. There is one essential ingredient missing in the theory that a computer is a model for us to understand what a human being is. We come into our office in the morning. It is a dark, cold winter’s morning. You put the lights on, unpack for the day, sit at your desk to write and switch on the computer. But why switch it on? Oh, you mean it will not work without a human being sitting at it, telling it what to do and when to do it?
A computer is completely useless without the human being sitting at it, operating it. It is simply metal and glass and plastic until the power is switched on and even then, although it might be able to ‘start up by itself’ and it might even be able to go through some automatic routines by itself, giving the impression of being autonomous and ‘alive’, it will still not be able to write one word of your next article or paper without you sitting there.
Therefore, a more appropriate model for the complete understanding of a human being would have to include the person sitting at the computer. That is, there really is no such thing as a computer producing a document, rather we have a person operating the computer using it to express themselves and create a document. The computer has no idea about the person’s reality, in the same way as the characters in a book know nothing about the author. The computer knows nothing about the reality of the person that sits there. The person’s reality is large enough to encompass the computer’s reality within itself, whereas the computer’s reality does not encompass ours. That is, human beings have a higher order intelligence compared with that of a computer. We know about it, but it has no idea about us. Another way of expressing this is to say that reality is multi-dimensional — the computer and its ‘intelligence’ exists in one dimension and the human being with its intelligence exists in a more expansive dimension. There is no reason to suppose that other ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ dimensions don’t exist.
So if we are intent on seeing the computer as a model for understanding ourselves, let’s really get down to basics and see the person-sitting-at-the-computer as a model for the human being. We would then have to acknowledge that maybe the person we think we are is really analogous to the computer and that all of us have a being ‘operating’ us, and maybe beings ‘behind’ those beings etc. That is, as we think of ourselves, we are a body/mind/everyday self complex and this is equivalent to the computer. But this will not function without an ‘overall operator’. That is, in thinking about ourselves as sophisticated computers, we are thinking in one-dimensional terms. A human being sitting at a computer is at least a duality and quite possibly more.
For want of terminology, let’s consider that the being who ‘operates’ the human person is our inner self (a soul or spirit) existing in a higher order meaning space, the author of our lives, while the person we think we are is the outer self, the ego, the everyday or surface personality, the main character (the computer) existing in four-dimensional space-time. Following the analogy, the person may have no awareness whatsoever of the reality of the inner self, but this doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. So we have the situation now that if we want to use the computer as an analogy for a human being, we should introduce the concept of a higher order intelligence that is necessary for the very existence of the human person.
And, as Peter Wilberg points out, does a computer have a purpose in mind, does it mean anything with the information that it displays on its screen? And does a computer mean anyone with the information? When a human being has a ‘knowing look’ on their face, they mean something in particular with that look, and they mean to convey it to someone in particular. A knowing look means something specific and it is meant for someone in particular. A computer does not have a soul or inner self. Only a soul can mean something with information and mean it for someone.
Having come this far, consider what is really happening when two human beings are communicating. At the surface level we have the two ‘computers’, personalities, talking to each other. They are networked via the five senses and have a serial conversation. One talks, the other listens, then the other talks etc. This level of communication is what most dialogue, counselling and interviewing is about. One person outlines the problem and the other person tries to solve it. But there is another level of communication going on if our new model has any light to throw on this subject. We have the two inner selves also communicating ‘underneath’ the surface communication. This deeper level communication happens through resonance and what Gendlin refers to as felt sense. This communication is more about ‘feel what I am feeling’ rather than ‘hear what I am saying and solve my problem’.
A writer uses a computer to express him/herself and produces books in which all the characters are expressions of part of the writer’s inner life. In the ‘computer’ model of a human being, the ‘operator’ of our everyday lives is like an author in relation to us, the main character in the book of our life. We are the spoken or written text of the inner author. In this model, everything in the physical world is a language and has meaning. Everything has an inwardness like a word or a sentence does. For words and sentences and books this inwardness is the meaning which does not die when the book is closed or burnt. For bodies and planets and rocks, this inwardness is the Being-ness while the outwardness is the existence.
If you have ever watched a good ‘whodunit’ or read a Patricia Cornwell, Kathy Reichs, Michael Connelly, Jeffery Deaver etc novel, you will often have been in the same situation as the detective or forensic criminalist. Watching or reading the events unfolding, you will have a bodily sense that certain events have significance (that is, are meaningful) for you but you don’t know what that significance is just yet. You know something but you do not know what you know. You are in a state of ‘knowing unknowingness’. In Michael Connelly’s books, his hero, the police detective Bosch, often says that the answer is in the details. He knows that the answer he is looking for is buried in all the information that he is aware of but he cannot see it yet. Sometimes in the story as Bosch goes about his day some everyday event will trigger something inside him (this is a bodily feeling, often a ‘jolt’ in his stomach) and he feels deep down that the answer he is looking for is ‘right there’, he can feel it, taste it almost, but cannot bring it to consciousness. That is, our bodies sense meaning, even if our minds cannot grasp it. Our minds subsequently put words to it. Bosch is suddenly aware of something that is significant but cannot yet make it part of his everyday knowing. Good mystery thrillers, detective stories and courtroom dramas are structured like this. The reader is taken on the same journey as is the detective. All the information is there, but it is in a fragmented state. There is no coherent sense of meaning which pulls it all together, until, suddenly, an inspiration comes to the detective (or the reader!) and s(he) ‘gets it’. It comes to them.
Human beings are aware of far more than they can consciously ‘bring to mind’. A skilled hypnotist can enable someone to recall car numberplates that they saw during the day even though the person may have no conscious knowledge of them. When we pause in mid sentence and wait for the right word before proceeding, it is not correct to say that we don’t know what we want to say. But nor is it correct to say that we know exactly what we want to say. The same applies when we are trying to remember someone’s name we have forgotten or a tune we hear on the radio or a face we saw on TV. We know we know the name or the face etc we just can’t put it into words yet. But when we suddenly do remember that name we have forgotten or that tune we heard or that face in the crowd, we experience a bodily shift — Aah hah! That’s it, I’ve got it! The bodily shift is all the ‘proof’ that we need to know that we know. When we suddenly bring to conscious awareness, something that was previously murky or indistinct, we feel transformed. If someone asks you, "How do you know you are awake now and not dreaming?", the answer is simply, "I know!" It is a bodily knowing, a gnosis. We sense, in a bodily way, the meaning of situations, whether we can articulate that meaning or not.
When we find ourselves not able to bring to mind what we know is within our awareness, we can feel frustrated or ill at ease — it ‘gets’ to us until we know. Until we can make that which we are aware of part of our everyday sense of self, we feel incomplete, we lack a sense of wholeness. As we say, it is ‘on the tip of my tongue’.
However, life is always like a good detective story. As we go about our everyday lives, our bodies ‘know’ everything that is ‘happening to us’. We may not be able to make explicit sense of what is happening, but our bodies ‘know’ everything there is to know about our reality. When we see a face that we know but cannot bring to mind we have a felt sense of who the person is, even if we cannot yet ‘remember’ who it is. When we say that a relationship ended but we don’t know why, we ‘know’ but we don’t know, yet, what we know. When we come home from work with a headache, our bodies ‘know’ just when during the day, this headache was triggered. Whenever anything happens in our life and we are puzzled about its meaning, potentially we can understand what happened, because reality is inherently meaningful. Our bodies sense the meaning of events on a continuous basis. Were this not so, we would be unable to carry out even the simplest of things.
When we are talking to someone and a certain look in their eye or expression on their face or tone of their voice means something to us, suddenly assumes a certain significance, we feel it bodily. In that moment we are aware of something in the other person that they may not even be aware of. In that moment we have glimpsed a certain way that that person looks out at their world, a way that is significant. We are aware of something that is meaningful in that person’s life which they may not be aware of. We may not be able to ‘put our finger on it’ as such, but we know in our bodies that that look meant something. In attuning ourselves to the awareness of the other, we can become aware of ‘incongruencies’ in the other, aware of elements of their experience which are not yet integrated into their everyday sense of self. These elements will make themselves known to us in a bodily way — we will feel that there is something there that is significant in a certain look or bodily gesture.
To summarise, clients come to counselling because they cannot digest their awareness of what happened ‘to them’. They cannot make sense of the events. But the sense is there, within their own awareness, and reflected in their bodies. They come to counselling in order for counsellors to see what they cannot. They come to counselling because just as we cannot see our own faces without the aid of a mirror, so they cannot see their own larger awareness without the aid of a mirror. That mirror is the counsellor.
John was a 22 year old man who came to counselling saying he was depressed and couldn’t get on with things. He said he was feeling suicidal but knew he wouldn’t carry through on it. He couldn’t see any point in life. He couldn’t get himself motivated, often slept in and felt tired and lethargic all the time. He was afraid that he might lose his job if he didn’t ‘snap out of it’. When I asked what the problem was, he told me this story: "I met Janet about 2 years ago and we were friends for about 6 months. Then we started a ‘full on’ relationship and it was great, sex, the whole thing. She told me that she had been raped some time before but the way she told me made me think that she was over it. Anyway we went out for a year and then we started not having sex and I went along with that because I loved her and was prepared to wait. I started gambling on the pokies and soon realised that I had a problem. I told her and she said that she would help me to deal with it and that we could overcome this together. I lost a lot of money a couple of times and didn’t tell her and then thought I should tell her, so I did. She said that I had lied to her face and that she couldn’t trust me and what would happen in the future if we had to make decisions together, she couldn’t trust me. So she ended it. But she said that she wanted to be friends and so for the last 6 months I have kept in contact with her, hoping that the relationship would start up again. She has been seeking counselling because apparently there were issues to do with the rape that had surfaced. She sees me if I contact her but she doesn’t contact me off her own bat and doesn’t ask about my life. I’m stuck. I did lie to her but I can’t understand why that means it’s over".
John has outlined the problem as he experiences it. But what he told me is his conscious understanding of it. Then I asked him, "Tell me the story of your relationship. I would like to get a feel for what happened myself. You said that the sex sort of stopped. Tell me when you were first aware of that and how it happened". John said, "I can remember the night. We went out to a friend’s place and smoked some dope. Jane had two pipes and I noticed this because she didn’t usually have more than one because it made her sleepy. From then on whenever we went out she usually over indulged and that meant that she would fall asleep quickly when we got home. So we sort of stopped having sex, sort of slid into this and I went along with it, because as I said, I loved her and was prepared to wait".
I then said to John, "Obviously it was significant to you that she had two pipes. You didn’t mention what your friend talked about that night or the music that was playing but you chose to mention that she had two pipes. What was significant about that for you?" John said, "Well it was significant because she usually smoked in moderation knowing that she gets sleepy if she has too much." I replied to this with, "Yes, you knew that this was something out of the ordinary but did you have any thoughts as to what it might mean? What did it mean to you that she had two pipes?" John was silent for awhile and then suddenly he said, "Actually I did say to myself in the car on the way home ‘Well, I certainly won’t be getting any tonight!’" I then asked John if he had brought this up with Jane about her smoking too much and he said no he hadn’t and nor did he on any subsequent occasions when they went out. When I asked him why he didn’t bring it up, he shrugged and said he didn’t know why, he didn’t want to hassle her or her to think that he was pressuring her into having sex with him.
Here is a perfect example of meaning and bodily sense. As far as John is consciously aware, the story is as he first told it to me. Only when I asked him to be more specific and tell me the little details, did he go into the mundane events of their life together. And why did I ask what I did? Something about the way he said that they stopped having sex felt significant to me so I asked about it. His answer though reveals that it was also significant to him. In fact he later remembered that he did grasp its meaning for him. There wasn’t going to be any sex that night! That is, his awareness (his bodily sense) contains far more than he is conscious of.
Later on in the conversation I returned to something else that John had said that perplexed him. He had said that he had lied ‘to her face’, admitted that he had but couldn’t really see how that should justify her ending the relationship. I asked John what lying meant to him and what did he consider lies to be and he asked me what I was getting at. I then said that it seemed to me that he was blaming himself completely for the breakup. He agreed. I said that I thought he was being unfair on himself because she had ‘lied’ to him, that therefore their break up was a 50-50 affair, not all his fault. He looked puzzled and asked how she had lied. I said that she had lied to him because she knew that if she had two pipes that she would be sleepy and so could avoid sex. Her lie was simply a lie by omission. For her own reasons she wanted to avoid sex with him and couldn’t tell him. That was a ‘lie’ as much as his not telling her that he had gambled was a ‘lie’. And, I pointed out that John actually knew that she had misled him, he had just ‘forgotten’ that he knew that she wanted to avoid having sex.
Over the rest of the session John realised that he had been aware of the possibility that she didn’t want to have sex with him, but he didn’t trust his own knowing and so didn’t bring it up with her. He also connected the rape with her having counselling and his own assumption that he had thought she was over it. When he came and saw me 2 weeks later, he was completely changed. He said that a burden had been lifted from his shoulders, that he now knew she was just as responsible as him and he could now get on with things. He said that straight after the first session, he had visited a friend who had commented that he looked different. John said to his friend that he felt different, that he had seen a counsellor who had said something that ‘fitted’ with him and seemed to free him from something.
The above vignette shows that John’s awareness contained all he needed to know in order to free himself but he couldn’t extract the meaning from his own awareness. He knew that there wasn’t going to be sex that night but hadn’t made the next step to ‘maybe that was what she wanted’ — that is, the meaning of why she smoked too much. And since they were having sex regularly and suddenly stopped and she didn’t mention it, that that omission was inherently meaningful —that was how she wanted it as well. We all have the answers to our problems within us, within the ins and outs of our everyday live. As Bosch rightly observes, "The answers are in the details of what we already know".
If the physical body is a reflection in matter of our overall awareness, then we can regard the body as if it is a language, a piece of text. When I was counselling John, all I was trying to do was to be completely open and receptive. I wanted to be as aware of him as I could but at the same time to be aware of myself and what I was feeling. It was as if I was attuning myself to him, like tuning a TV set to a certain channel. I wasn’t thinking of anything and I wasn’t trying to work anything out. I was just receiving him. I was doing the opposite of analysing him. I was just reading him as if he was a book and trusting what I was coming up with.
If the physical body is like a language, like a book being written, this would mean that human bodies would be like words. They would have an interiority like words do. They would have a certain insideness in the same way that words do. A word is more than the ink on the page. A word means something to us. It points to something. It signifies or means something. Human bodies are more than just the ‘things’ in front of us. They also point to something, they also signify or mean something to us. Words, things and bodies are like stretched skins surrounding an inner world of meaning and being.
A human being, an ant, a nail, a planet — everything has an inward space akin to the meaning space of a word. When we read a book we enter the world of the author. When we interact with a lover, we enter their innerspace, their meaning space, and they enter ours in a mutual psychic intercourse (of which sex is the outer manifestation and expression). Like outer space, this inner space is ONE space, but we all experience it in our own ways, just as we get different meanings out of reading the same text. This inner space is not the same space that scientists ‘see’ when they explore ‘inside’ the atom. Scientists explore the physical space inside objects, so that when a scientist looks inside an atom of gold this is a separate localised space to that of another atom being explored. The insideness or inwardness of an object is a psychic space, a delocalised field space — it is both inside the object and the object is inside it, just as when we are ‘transported’ by music, we are inside the music and it is inside us. (In science fiction, human beings can either fly down to the surface of a planet across space in a vehicle, or they can be ‘transported’ down to the surface of a planet by going through ‘channels’ or ‘wormholes’ in ‘sub-space’). Innerspace is both inside us and outside us. It is as if it is a giant ‘womb’ within which we are all connected together ‘umbilically’ (Wilberg) to the same ‘hub’ or ‘placenta’. We can either communicate on the surface of this womb by sending signals to each other across the space between us, or we can communicate via the internal connections within the womb. Think of the Aboriginal concept of the DreamTime. This is an Innerspace, a time-space, the ‘place’ we all go to when we sleep at night. But more than this, it is also the place where people long dead and those not yet born are also going to when they sleep at night! That is why you can meet Julius Caesar in a dream!
Thinking like this has a long tradition from the world of the ancient Greeks (Heraclitus), the Gnostics, to the German Mystic Meister Eckhart to the Romantics like Goethe, Coleridge, the philosophers Rudolf Steiner and Martin Heidegger, some Buddhism and eastern mysticism, the aborigines’ DreamTime, to a few New Age conceptions (for example, the work of Jane Roberts and Seth) and Peter Wilberg. The common thread in all these beliefs is the idea that the whole physical universe, everything those people saw around them was a language, the divine speech of the Gods. That is, the whole of nature, all the physical events that we see around us, are created in an analogous way to how we create speech, and our speech is inherently meaningful. Reality is like a book being written or a dream being dreamt. In the film, ‘The Matrix’, certain individuals have learnt that the world around them is like a dream and that at any stage they can re-programme themselves because their real identity lies in another dimension. Neo is actually shot dead in the film but, in some way, realises that this is only a dream and comes back to life. For those around him, this is a miracle, for those in the ‘know’, it is obvious.
But if each human being is like a language being spoken, then we are in a different ball game all together. In such a reality, each human being would be able to ‘read’ the other person (rather than ‘analyse’) as they read a book and they would be able to learn to read themselves (rather than analyse). That is, they would be entering the meaning space of the other person, able to directly know the other’s reality (Gnosis), in the same way that we know someone close to us, or know a piece of music. This knowing is the Gnostic sense of knowing, a knowing by familiarity not a knowing of facts about the person or music. In a piece of text, words point to an interior world of meaning. The bodily behaviour, looks, tone of voice, etc all point to an interior world of inwardness, to the delocalised field presence of the other person, to their soul and spirit life, all of which we can directly enter.
If each human being like each word has an interiority, an inner meaning space, then we can understand illness in a completely different way than that explained in the medical model. To help get a sense of what this new model might look like, imagine the human being as a language, a sentence on a page rather than a ‘thing’, an object. In the last sentence I just wrote what caused the word ‘might’ to be there? Was it one of the other words? That is, do any of the other words in the sentence cause the word ‘might’ to be there? Of course not! The whole sentence in this sense is a gestalt, all of the words being used to express something I want to say. That is, the sentence represents a meaning that I want to convey to you. The words are not the meaning but they convey the meaning. None of the words of a sentence cause each other. Certain words go with other words but they do not cause each other in the same way as a hammer blow to the finger causes bruising. The author of the words ‘causes’ them to be there – with ‘cause’ being the wrong word for this act. It is more like create. So, if one of the words is misspelt, ‘sick’ for want of a better word, the cause of this is not another word. The ‘cause’ of the misspelt word lies in the author being unable to spell that word. (And if you write a paper on a computer and spell check it at the end, the paper may look perfectly ‘healthy’ but the spell checker doesn’t ensure that you know how to spell any better, that next time you won’t make the same mistakes.)
It is obvious to us that the words of a sentence do not cause each other. In the same way within a dream, if you are having a nightmare in which a dog turns into a monster, the cause of the dream monster is not the dog. It is obvious to us that the dog turning into the monster is symbolic of something — that is, the whole dream is a gestalt that means something. The dreamer is the ‘cause’ of everything that happens in the dream!
Do the first words of a sentence cause the last words to be spoken? Of course not. In fact, in the writing of a book, the ending can be written first and then the beginning second. Using the same metaphor of the person as a language (a book being written, if you will), the past does not cause the present.
Looking at any illness in this way whether it be physical, mental or emotional would mean that we stop looking for the cause of physical illness in other parts of the body, we stop looking for the cause of mental illness in the brain and we stop looking for the cause of emotional problems in the past. We should instead begin looking for the ‘cause’ of the illness in that interior world inside the ‘sick’ person, in the person’s meaning space, in their larger awareness. We should try to understand illnesses as meaning something, as expressive of something that is in our awareness, an inner pattern of significance that we do not know how to ‘spell’ properly — that is, illness is something that we do not know how to ‘body’ properly (Wilberg). It is the intention of this paper to say that in not knowing how to embody something which is within our awareness (that is, make it part of our everyday knowing), we convert a sense of dis-ease into a disease. In being unable to find meaning in our personal lives or in the world around us, we begin to feel inner discomfort and unease. If we cannot bear this sense of discomfort and wait for it to be embodied (as a woman bears and embodies a pregnancy) then the dis-ease can become a disease.
(It is said that indigestion comes from eating too fast, or eating the wrong foods or eating too much etc. But this is like saying that one word of a sentence causes another word. But in a sentence, what causes one word to be there is the same thing that causes the other words — and that ‘cause’ is the author. Looking at indigestion in an analogous way, what causes indigestion is the same thing that causes eating too fast or too much. And that cause is the ‘author’ of our lives, the being who exists in our inner space — US. Maybe some event in our life is hard for us to take in or digest? Maybe we can’t bear it? Maybe in not being able to bear this discomfort we manifest it as a physical ‘illness’, indigestion, (a misspelling) to show us that we can learn to spell that particular word if we choose — learn how to digest or take in the meaning of the event that troubles us).
If we can admit that we are dual beings and that our everyday consciousness and self is merely a small part of an ever expanding awareness and a deeper self, then a new meaning becomes apparent to approaching all sorts of human ailments, especially in the field of psychotherapy and counselling. Here we are dealing with the pain and suffering ‘caused’ by thoughts and feelings, beliefs and expectations, dreams and hallucinations, depression and anxiety. In a universe where everything is reducible to matter — that is, in a one-dimensional reality, then when a human being is in pain, of course the ‘cause’ must be in that person’s matter, in another link in the chain, because no other dimension of reality is ‘allowed’. Or if not in the person’s matter, then the cause is due to an abnormal reaction of their ‘ego’, which is understood to be a function or property of their brain. This ego, the outer self, must be the cause because it is understood to be the whole of the self, there being no ‘room‘ in current theories for an inner self. Thus the everyday self is seen to be the sole creator of whatever thoughts and feeling, beliefs and expectations etc trouble it.
But if we can admit an inner dimension of awareness into our thinking (the person sitting at the computer, an inner self or soul inhabiting a ‘meaning’ space within us), then we can locate the origin of the pain and suffering ‘somewhere else and with someone else’. The source of discomfort in a woman when she is pregnant is the foetus that is the product of a man’s sperm and the woman’s egg. It is the contention of this paper that human feelings, the source of discomfort in ‘mental or emotional ‘problems’, are similarly a joint creation, a product of our everyday consciousness and our larger inner awareness. That is, they partly come from within and only partly are a creation of the ego. In this sense, they are supposed to be there, they are created with a purpose in mind, an intentional fertilisation of the ego by our inner being, our ‘author’, in response to a crisis in the person’s life. Simply put, whenever we are aware that there is something just at the fringes of our consciousness, ‘on the tip of my tongue’, we are in discomfort until it comes to us. This ‘pain’ is not a sign that anything is wrong, it is just the way it is. Until we integrate our awareness into our consciousness, we don’t feel whole. If we can’t bear the pain of waiting, then we may make things worse for ourselves.
The causal model of illness implies that we should remove all pain, all symptoms of depression and anxiety as if they are the problem and purely an ‘abnormal reaction’, a mistake of our ego to life events. Depression is seen as purely reactive, not responsive. Something happens in our life and as a result, we get depressed. It happens to us! The only ‘meaning’ that the causal model sees in pain and discomfort is that it is an abnormal reaction to a life stress. There is a ‘healthy’ way to ‘respond’ to life events and that is the path that is without pain. And there are ‘unhealthy’ ways to ‘react’ to life events and those are the ones accompanied by pain and discomfort.
Seeing the body as a language, as meaning something, allows us to see all human feeling states as joint, purposive creations of ego and inner self, always at the same time both reactive and responsive. The responsive aspect is the intentional creation of a feeling state as a ‘solution’ to the crisis. Whatever it is that arises within us, is the best response that we could have come up with at that particular time considering the beliefs, attitudes and expectations of the ego. As such, being the response and not just a reaction, it should be left to grow, to gestate within us. We should stay with it, trying to bear it as much as possible, albeit trying to remain as comfortable as possible with regard to the pain and without getting rid of it altogether. If we can stay with the feeling state as much as possible, then it will change us from within. This way of looking at feeling states allows them to change us, rather than us trying to change them as if they are bad or wrong.
Depression is, therefore, not a bad thing but the inner self’s solution to something. When something happens which ‘shakes us up’ part of us (our innermost self) withdraws into itself in order to meditate on the meaning of the event. The surface self, the ego, experiences this withdrawal as a ‘black hole’ opening up inside us and can ‘panic’, dig in its heels and try and resist the process. Unfortunately our whole society can encourage this resistance to depression (‘Get on with your life’, ‘Come and have a drink’, ‘Stop being alone’ etc). We can then get stuck ‘halfway’, unable to fully follow ourself ‘downwards’ and unable to go back ‘up’ — with the result that we have what is called ‘clinical depression’. But this is the result of stopping a healthy natural process, not the cause of it!
In this way of looking at the ‘problem’, we can see that we have recourse to something other than reaction to a painful stimuli. At the moment, our causal model understands all pain and suffering as a reaction to an event, and an abnormal reaction at that! We cannot see it in any other way. But if the painful event is a creation with a purpose in mind, then we can see it as an active response of the inner self to a problem. This is a completely different way of approaching pain and suffering. Rather than it be seen as an abnormal reaction, we begin to understand it as an active response to an event. It is actually a problem-solving rather than a problem-making event. Then, if it is a solution rather than a problem, why is it painful? Why do we suffer?
When we encounter a life event that fills us with a sense of dis-ease or discomfort, looking at it from a spiritual point of view, we could be said to be pregnant with a new sense of self that we are uncomfortable with. In this initial state we are experiencing a psychic or ‘organismic’ discomfort. This is not to be confused with the physical discomfort of, say, hitting yourself on the finger with a hammer. Reality is asking us to expand our sense of self and we are uncomfortable with this. Whenever we are pregnant with a new sense of self (a problem-solving step), it feels alien to us, we don’t feel ourselves initially. That we find it very painful to embody alien versions of ourselves was made very apparent to me when I was doing my social work training (1977-78). We had to look at videos of ourselves in interview situations. It was the first time I had seen myself on video and the first time I had heard the sound of my own voice from another perspective. I was horrified and couldn’t ‘bear’ the sound of my voice, especially, and the ‘look’ of myself. I can remember saying, "No, that can’t be my voice, I can’t sound like that. That’s not me!" I was literally thinking of giving up Social Work, so discomforted was I at this other self of mine. The same with hearing my own voice on my answering machine, it makes me feel uncomfortable, so alien is it to who I think I am. What I am saying is that if I have such difficulty accepting a part of myself that is so obviously ME, no wonder I would deny and resist more alien versions of my self!!! It made me realise quite clearly how dis-ease, dis-comfort and feeling ill-at-ease are simply a part of our lives, not bad nor a weakness, in fact, nothing out of the ordinary at all. Absolutely inevitable and necessary as is pregnancy and labour.
While pregnancy is treated as if it is an illness, let’s look at all illness as a form of pregnancy. If each human being has an inner space, an interiority, a space of awareness, we can regard this space as a womb. In going about our everyday lives we encounter events which may seed us with feelings (not nameable emotions but raw, unformulated organismic feelings) that may make us feel uncomfortable and in a state of dis-ease. These feelings can be thought of as an active response to reality, the beginnings or seed of a new sense of self. For example, if someone dies who is close to us, we are being asked to change ourselves dramatically, to become a new self. In any crisis like this, of course we would withdraw into ourselves to meditate on the meaning of an event —‘Can I bear it?’ ‘Do I want to go on?’ ‘How do I go on?’ A part of us withdraws completely from life, crawls into its shell, to consider these questions and try to gestate a new self capable of bearing up to the new life. This hurts, how could it be otherwise? Looking at these feelings as a foetus that we are gestating, we can make several illuminating comparisons with the actual state of pregnancy.
Firstly, pregnancy is uncomfortable and we take it for granted that a woman is going to experience discomfort and a sense of dis-ease, at times, over the whole 9 months more or less. The idea that a woman would use tablets every time she felt nauseous or had other feelings of discomfort is absurd. She would not want to risk harming the developing foetus. In this sense the vast majority of women bear a pregnancy, they do not suffer it. They had a purpose in mind when they conceived the baby. The pain and discomfort of pregnancy is an active response of the body, not a reaction to an invasion by a ‘virus’. Pain and discomfort is accepted as a natural part of this process, not taken as a sign that there is something wrong. We take it for granted that the pain is intrinsically meaningful, that it isn’t a mistake, that it is something natural.
Secondly a woman has to change the way she carries herself, her bearing, during the pregnancy in order to adjust to the increasing size of her belly. The way she walks, sits, lies in bed, gets out of a chair etc has to change in order to accommodate the change in her shape. She changes herself to adjust or fit in with the developing pregnancy. This pregnancy changes the woman, the woman cannot control it or make it fit in with her ideas of how it should go.
Thirdly, a woman’s way of being in the world, her persona, usually changes because of a pregnancy. She spends more time at home, resting, looking after herself, more inwardly focused, more ‘withdrawn’ into herself. This is also a completely natural process. It changes one’s life.
Fourthly, a woman goes through a painful (sometimes extremely so) labour in giving birth to the baby.
Fifthly, some women go through a certain withdrawal phase after birth, as if it isn’t what they expected. For some this can be very painful and it can be labelled as postnatal depression.
Lastly, a long process then begins of living with this new self, mothering, fathering, educating, helping, etc for many years.
Regarding illness as a form of pregnancy, let’s think about an uncomfortable feeling inside us as if we were pregnant with a new self. Firstly, we would have to learn to be able to bear this sense of dis-ease and discomfort for however long it takes. We would take it for granted that if we were feeling not ourselves, dislocated, alienated, strange etc that this is a natural state to be in. Although uncomfortable, no one has done anything wrong if they are in pain. We would begin to understand all dis-ease as an active response, a problem-solving by the self. This goes against the modern conception that pain is meaningless and that we can get rid of it with a pill etc. But if we get rid of the pain of discomfort, this is equivalent to terminating a pregnancy because it is uncomfortable. Of course this doesn’t ensure that we won’t get pregnant again.
Secondly, in being able to bear the discomfort of strange new feelings inside us, we would have to accept that our inner bearing to life would change, that our characters would alter subtly as we adjusted to the presence of a new developing sense of ourselves. We would accept that the feelings of discomfort are there to change us from the inside out, not for us to change them. We adjust to them, not try to make them fit in with us.
Thirdly, we would probably go through some sort of withdrawal into ourselves, some sense of inner contemplation as our direction of awareness is moved inwards. This natural ‘depressive process’ is part and parcel of being pregnant with a new sense of self and does not require any external treatment. Again, it is not a sign that there is anything wrong with us.
Fourthly, we will probably go through some sort of healing crisis as the new self is given birth, as we realise that we have changed and nothing will ever be the same again.
Fifthly, a long process begins in which our lives will probably go in a different direction as we adjust to living with a new sense of ourselves.
To summarise, regarding illness as a form of pregnancy, we can think of being in pain as a question of identity. When we experience an event that causes us pain, we are being asked to expand our sense of self, to change, to become a different person. For most of us, this is quite threatening. We think we know who we are, or we want to stay just as we are and so we are liable to resist being asked to change. This resistance, this avoidance of taking on a new sense of self, means that we resist the process of being pregnant with a new sense of self. We refuse to bear this pregnancy and so we suffer it. We do not know how to bear this psychic pain, it becomes for many unbearable, we do not know how to body it, to allow it expression in our physical bodies, it becomes misspelt and appears as a disease. Unfortunately for us, society also encourages us to believe that the whole process of pain is meaningless and to terminate it as soon as possible. In resisting and refusing to bear the pain, we convert dis-ease into physical disease. We ask our bodies to take on the pain and they willingly do so. We get sick! We go to the doctor and the doctor treats the disease, cutting or medicating it out. This however does not ensure that the ‘illness’ will not re-appear in another form, but it is possible that the pain and discomfort will temporarily go away, in exactly the same way as spelling mistakes and bad grammar can be ‘cured’ by a spell checker.
Change is as natural a process as pregnancy is. And it is as mysterious and awesome. Change is uncomfortable, painful at times and it takes the time that it takes, not the time we wish it would take. Change changes us from the inside out. We cannot control it, manage it, bend it to our will, make it go away or make it feel good. We let it change us or we terminate it. But as distinct from physical pregnancy, nothing will prevent us from getting inwardly pregnant with change again.
From what has been said so far, we can see that there are two ways we can approach someone in pain. We can act like a doctor, stand apart from the person in pain and try to remove it as if it is a bad thing, or we can act like a midwife and help the person to bear the pain, because it is a natural process. It is in fact something making them more whole and healthy. A doctor or psychiatrist tries to identify the client’s problematic feelings and change them. A therapist who acts like a midwife tries to identify with the client’s feelings in order to understand them (that is, share the burden) and allow them to ripen and be born into the world as a natural solution to whatever was the problem. Identifying with someone’s feelings means ‘reading’ the person like we read a book. It means entering that person’s meaning space directly. It means knowing the person in the Gnostic sense, rather than knowing things about the person. It means touching the person inwardly with your feelings so that your being ‘vibrates’ to the ‘tune’ of their pain, and you feel what is your equivalent of their feelings. You have ‘taken on’ their pain. You are sharing their burden.
What is it about being-in-love that distinguishes this state from all others? It is the sense of inward connectedness that we all feel, both to ourselves and to the other person. In listening to a piece of music that really moves us, it is difficult to express the feeling that we are inside the music and the music is inside us. It is the same with being in love. You feel that somehow you are inside the other person and they are inside you. Lovers can pass ‘knowing’ looks between each other when they actually know what the other is thinking and feeling. It is as if they are actually inside each other’s being. While being in love you can also actually feel connected to something (someone?) within yourself, a hidden source of strength and comfort that you didn’t know you had. This sense of inner connectedness, of deep inner relatedness is what animals feel without even knowing it. They take it for granted. A cat or a dog can sit outside the house in the cold and the dark, completely at one with its surroundings utterly connected with reality. Aboriginals flourished in Australia for 60,000 years, in an environment that we would have found utterly hostile. This was because they were inwardly connected with the land, believed themselves to be part of the landscape and were completely at one with it. There is an inner dimension (The DreamTime?) through which everything is connected to everything else. In Western society, we have lost touch with this, except in brief moments when we are in love, gaze at a baby in our arms or are ‘transported’ by great art or nature. We connect purely in an outward sense, we touch each other physically or send messages across space in the form of words, emails, letters, faxes etc. Although many people have been heart broken by lovers ending relationships, this only testifies to the massive importance that the sense of inner connectedness plays in our lives. It is what we all search for or are afraid to search for in case it doesn’t happen and we will be let down. It is the contention of this paper that the loss of this sense of inner connectedness is the ultimate ‘cause’ of all neurosis and psychosis.
Consider your own intimate relationship with your partner or best friend. Within this relationship, they do not even have to tell you that they have a problem. And nor do you have to ask. You know. (Or you don’t want to know what you do know!) And what do we do with the problems that our loved ones bring up with us? Do we solve them or manage them? No, we listen hopefully. We do not case manage our loved ones. We do not do an assessment of a partner when they have a problem. We do not propose a management plan for how we will help them deal with their problem.
In being with my own partner, I am aware when she is in a state of un-ease or dis-ease with things. I can tell by the way she washes the dishes, or how she turns the pages of a newspaper, or by the tone of her voice or the tone of her walk. I can tell when she is ‘not herself’ in a million ways just like every other person can with their loved ones. How do human beings do this? Because we are all attuned to our loved ones, in resonance with them. We have what is called by Gendlin a ‘felt sense’ of other peoples’ reality. What he means by this is that when you are attuned to another person, on the same wavelength, you can gain a felt understanding of what it is like to be that person. You can look out at the world through their eyes so to speak. You can step inside their skin, enter their meaning space, and experience their point of view from your point of view. You do not experience their feelings but you experience your version of their feelings. Is this scientific? Is this being objective? This question doesn’t concern us when the issue involved is our love of another person. In the situations I am talking about we directly know the other person and without thinking about it, we act on this knowledge. Were we to act ‘objectively’ with our loved ones, were we to treat them as a ‘case’ and do a Maudsley assessment or monitor their mental state through a series of questions we all know what would happen — our partners would feel insulted, offended and manipulated. No, in our personal life, we act first and question our objectivity second. If we don’t trust ourselves and our intuitive knowledge of our partners, the relationship is well on the way to breaking up.
Can we obtain a direct feeling cognition of any human being (or ourselves) even if we aren’t in love? That is, can we know any person, directly, in an inward sense, by completely receiving them, taking them in? This direct knowing of someone might look like ‘magic’, or ‘reading another person’s mind’ — it is certainly spoken of in this way by people when it happens. Can we do it? We are all constantly doing it with those people whom we consider to be our loved ones, or with babies or with some pets. (Or we are consciously not doing it because we don’t want to know our loved ones too deeply!) But can we do it with anyone? With people we have just met? If we could, counselling and psychotherapy would look completely different than the way it is described in the texts and taught in the schools. There it is regarded as the product of outward relating as if we are computers working things out.
What is ‘redness’? What is a ‘car’? Simple we all say. Redness is a colour of the spectrum and a car is a vehicle for getting from one place to another. But these answers simply give us a general, conventional meaning. They in no way ‘speak to us’ about what redness or a car essentially are, what they mean to us. If I go to an art gallery and look at a Rothko painting of a red canvas or go outside and look at my car, I do not see a colour of the spectrum or a vehicle for transportation etc. The ‘redness’ speaks to me. I may say that it is ‘warm’ or ‘strong’ or… That is the meaning of this particular ‘redness’. When I look at my Volkswagen Golf, it speaks to me of ‘reliability’ (compared with my previous ‘bombs’) or ‘cleverness-in a-small-package’ (I can’t lock the key in it). That is the meaning of ‘car’ to me at this particular moment.
What is ‘depression’? A client goes to a counsellor and says that they are depressed and most counsellors think that they know already what the problem is. They may be depressed because there is a chemical imbalance (an illness) in the brain and they need anti-depressants to fix this. Or they may have been sexually abused as a child which causes the depression so that they need psychotherapy in order to ‘work through’ the emotions and ‘express’ the repressed feelings. How simple and obvious. But it doesn’t help a lot of clients.
Just because we have a word for something doesn’t mean that that something has an independent existence of its own. There is no such thing as ‘redness’, or ‘car’ or ‘depression’. They are all words which refer to categories of things or experiences. There are only particular reds and particular cars. And when it comes to depression there is only this person, a somebody not an anybody, experiencing depression. All depressed people have completely unique experiences and any general prescriptive attempts to help, like medication or psychotherapy to work through emotions is bound to fail.
Of course if we have been abused we will probably suffer depression. But so what! If I bang myself on the finger with a hammer, it will hurt. If I am depressed I probably have emotions which are buried, just like the bruising is buried within the tissue of my banged finer but can be seen from the surface. Abuse (in general) causes depression (in general). Of course it does. How could it not do so. But not all depressed people go to counsellors. Some depressed people don’t even regard it as a problem. Some even regard it as the solution and sink into their depression, feeling it in all its depths and colour and report that it changes them in ways they couldn’t even dream of! So what do we mean when we say the word ‘depression‘? The question really is or should be, "What is the particular meaning of this person’s depression? What does it mean to them? What is it saying to them and us?"
Finding and exploring the causes and reasons for an event merely establishes the links in the chain of events. Causes and reasons establish the context of the event. They give us a picture of the surface of events, in the same way as saying that ‘redness’ is a colour of the spectrum. But causes and reasons do not speak to us of the meaning.
We read a piece of text. There is something wrong with it. It is full of misspellings, words left out, punctuation and grammar mistakes everywhere. It can be so badly written that we can’t even fathom what the writer meant to say to us. It prevents us from understanding the text. The causes and reasons for the text being unintelligible are the poor literacy skills of the writer. First the text has to be proof read. In proof reading we look at the text from the outside, checking its surface features for spelling and punctuation and grammar. Then we may be able to understand what the writer is trying to say to us. And how do we do this? How do we go from proof reading to ‘deep’ reading? We enter into the meaning of the text, we try to feel what the writer is getting at, sense it from the inside out. Proof reading itself is an art form and a profession. But proof reading only makes the text 'look right'. There are professional proof readers who do not need to understand the text they are proofing in order to do the job. It helps if they do understand the text, but isn’t necessary. But it does show us that if you do not get inside the text and understand it, feel it from the writer's point of view, then all you can really do is proof read it.
And so it is with life. If someone is depressed and seeks counselling there is something ‘wrong’ in their life. There are two levels of meaning to this ‘something wrong’ in the person’s life. Firstly there are the causes and reasons for them feeling ‘depressed’ in a general or conventional way. These are the misspellings, punctuation and grammar mistakes — the sexual abuse, traumatic events, violence, alcoholism etc. The counsellor sees the pain of the client in the words and the body language and feels for the client. The counsellor empathises with the client. The counsellor helps the client to explore the ‘buried’ emotions of anger or sadness or grief etc. But this doesn’t help a lot of clients in the long term. Establishing the causes and reasons and exploring them in counselling is the equivalent of ‘proof reading’ the client’s life. It really only makes the client's life 'look right' - all the appropriate emotions have been expressed and the issues worked through, letters written, anger expressed, but still the client is left with the feeling that something is missing. This is a basic surface counselling. Just as proof reading is a profession in itself, so is this surface counselling, but clients in real difficulty need a deeper counselling than this.
We look at text on a page. The writer is saying something. The writer may have been in a hurry and the text is ‘badly written’. We proof read it. Now the text itself is saying something to us. We enter into the text from the inside and understand it. Human beings speak and write language. But language itself also speaks to us. Only a second or deep reading reveals this layer of meaning. If a client says that they are depressed they are really saying two things to us. Firstly, they are telling us that they are depressed in a general or conventional sense — they look ‘down’, sad or angry, in a word, unhappy. But, secondly, the depression, sadness or anger itself is saying something to us. Rothko painted many different black canvases. Many singers have done Beatle songs. They are all unique in that they all have a different tone or quality. This black is ‘cold’, that black is ‘brittle’, and these qualities that I sense in the paintings are the meaning of the paintings for me. This version of ‘Imagine’ is ‘rebellious’, that version is ‘sweet’ and these qualities that I sense in the music are the meaning of it for me. Anger, sadness, grief, depression are like colours or music, they are all uniquely toned in a certain way. Saying someone is angry is like saying that this painting is red. What do we think we have said?
When someone is depressed and stuck in it, it is because they need a deeper understanding of it than they have been given. They need a counsellor who will not only identify the feelings that they have and empathise with them, but go deeper. That is, a counsellor who knows that this person’s depression is coloured and toned in a certain way and one who will identify with the particular tone of the depression, feel it from within and resonate with it. The counsellor is essentially asking themself, "What does it feel like to be depressed in the particular way this client is? What is the particular tone or colour or quality of this person’s anger or sadness?" For this colour or tone is the meaning of the depression. If the counsellor can gain a felt bodily sense of what it is like to be this person then they are in resonance with the client. Not just empathising but feeling what it is like to BE this person. This resonance will be felt by the client whether they know it or not. When the counsellor resonates with the client, it is as if they become joined together. In amplifying the particular tone of the client’s depression, the client eventually feels these amplified feelings and begins to digest the meaning of their own depression. If you do not get inside the person's life, feel from within what it is like to be depressed in that particular way, all you can really do is 'proof read' the person.
When I stand in front of a Rothko painting and ‘breathe’ it in completely with all of my body and begin to feel its unique tone, I am sensing a quality of the way Rothko viewed the world, a quality of his awareness (a ‘qualia’ — see Peter Wilberg’s ‘Qualia Revolution’). When I am with a client and breathe them in completely with my whole body, taking them in like I do music or art, I begin to feel a unique tone of this person’s very being. In holding to this and amplifying it, the client will eventually begin to feel it themself.
What is the nature of this resonance? How do we attune to another human being? What does resonate mean? Wilberg puts it this way. Re-sonate means to re-sound. After a person has said something that you know is significant but you aren’t sure just what was so meaningful, you can, if you want, take what they said inside you, where it ‘echoes’ and reverberates through the canyons and contours of the psyche. You can replay and rehear what they said as much as you want, attuning yourself to it, feeling it out until you ‘know’ what it means. The meaning will come to you. You can also take ‘snapshots’ of the looks on a person’s face, take them inside you and hold them there, resonating with them until they reveal their meaning to you. Heraclitus (500 BC) called this process the logos of the psyche, literally the report, speech or echo of the Psyche. As Wilberg points out, Heraclitus was the first person to conjoin the terms ‘logos’ and ‘psyche’ and is therefore the father of psychology, but he meant something completely different than what it has become today.
This tuning in is a process of gaining a felt sense of a person’s interiority. We attune to a person’s interiority. We are not attuned to the person’s behaviour or actions. They are simply the ‘words’ that we read that point to the reality behind or underneath. This leads to the basic difference between the medical model and its approach to illness and the model based on an inward relating to the other person.
Have you ever been watching TV and you tune into a programme about dolphins and you watch those marvellous creatures frolicking in the water and suddenly you notice the voice of the person doing the commentary? Whose voice is that? You know that voice so well, you have heard it a thousand times! Who is it? It gets to you. You can’t concentrate any more on the dolphins. The ad break comes and you keep trying to remember whose voice that is. You replay the voice inside you and you quietly listen resonating with it. The programme starts again, but in the back of your mind you are still trying to remember whose voice it is. An hour later, during dinner, it comes to you. It is Anthony Hopkins! You check again by replaying the voice and, yes, it is, it fits. You get that "Aah hah" feeling, a sense of bodily relief etc. You feel excited and energised and tell your partner etc. All the elements of resonation and felt sense can be explained in this example and it is common to all human beings.
Listening to inner sound requires a certain inner concentration. Now try to remember last night’s dreams. You will find yourself focusing inwards in a very familiar way — a certain way of maintaining an inner bearing. Now, if you were trying to remember something you had forgotten, or if you had something on the ‘tip of your tongue’, you would also go inwards in a very quiet listening pose but in a ‘different direction’ again.
When we have something on the ‘tip of our tongues’, a dream which we know is there but not yet remembered, a voice which we know so well but haven’t yet named, THAT is called felt sense, ‘sense’ in the sense of meaning. That is, we have directly experienced the dream, we have at some stage known whose voice it is, some part of us has experienced this, it has been felt. So when something is just outside our grasp, it is ‘all there’ in the sense that part of us feels the meaning DIRECTLY, but it’s not crystallized yet. If we allow ourselves to focus on the felt sense and allow it to ‘talk’ to us, the way a dream unfolds its details to us as we ‘poke’ at the felt sense of it, as we re-member it, then certain words will come to us, maybe pictures, maybe a feeling. We can then check this word or picture or feeling against the felt sense by going back to it, and see if it is the best word, the most fitting one. You will know if it isn’t because it won’t resonate inside you in the way the ‘right’ word will, and you will not get that bodily shift, the aah hah experience.
When you are trying to remember someone’s name you have forgotten or a voice you are trying to recognise or a face that you know, then the one thing that you do not do is THINK ABOUT IT. You do not go through in your head every person you have ever met hoping to resolve the question through a process of elimination. If you do that you will never remember, it will never come to you. In order for this miracle to happen, you resonate every now and then with what you are trying to recollect and you let it go and you come back to it and you let it go and if you are lucky, it will eventually come to you, not you to it as we are used to doing through ‘head’ thinking.
When you are talking with someone, you can analyse what they are saying and you can try and identify their feelings and empathise with them or you can receive what they say, listen to their every word deeply, identify with their feelings and resonate with them, in an analogous way that you do when you try and remember a voice you know. When you are with someone, they will always say words or phrases or they will have certain looks on their face or the tone of their voice will be significant to you but you are not yet sure of that significance. Through resonating with these signs, you can enter the inner reality of the other person and know them from the inside out like you do a lover.
The above outline of a counselling session with John emphasises the difference between really listening to what someone says and merely hearing what they say. If I had been doing an assessment on John involving a complete history of his depression, of his life, his medical history, his education, his employment history etc, I would have missed the obvious. If I had been assessing the risk that he posed to himself, I would have also missed the obvious. If I had been thinking of a management plan, or advice about how he could meet other women, or helping him grieve I would also have missed the obvious — that is, what is your problem as you perceive it, tell me about it, let’s explore it in its tiny details and see where it leads us. Nothing more and nothing less.
In order to listen, to really hear a person, we must take them in, receive them completely, just as they are. We need to be completely open, an empty vessel, a channel, waiting to be filled by their words, the sound of their voice, the looks on the face and in their eyes. It is as if we channel the client through our awareness and feel from the inside out the story they are relating. When we do this we can resonate with the feeling tones of their awareness, we can sense what it is they were aware of, the way they were seeing the world but which they have not yet completely processed. When a channeller does their ‘thing’, like a person hypnotised, they are in a trance. Their conscious mind is ‘elsewhere’. In a sense, real listening is like this. The counsellor should be completely empty of thoughts, of ideas, of frameworks, of any agenda, empty of everything except the body of this person in front of them. This is the risk that clients want therapists to take with them. Come to the session as naked and vulnerable as I am. Come only with your humanity, your awareness. Leave everything else outside the room.
It is risky to really listen to someone because then you are relying on just yourself as a human being. You are not looking through any safe protective screen of theories, case management, crisis intervention, clipboards, strategies, techniques, psychological tests etc. You are purely acting on what you sense about the other person just as you do with a partner, family member, good friend or loved pet. To pursue that path, you must have faith and trust in yourself as someone who can feel and identify with the whole range of human experience and faith and trust in the client that they can deal with whatever comes up. You ‘risk’ that in following this path you will implicitly deal with symptoms, risk assessments, mental state as part of the process without explicitly focusing on those, as happens in the ‘traditional’ counselling structure where an assessment is done first before a connection is established.
All counsellors would agree with clients that people should be treated not as cases, but human beings. That they should be treated with respect and dignity and that they should be told the truth about themselves, that certain ‘risks’ should be taken with them in order to help them change. It is the ultimate irony that case managers, counsellors and other helpers believe that it isn’t them but always someone else who is the person that regards the client as a ‘case’. Everyone thinks they regard the client as a person, not a case. But if you are explicitly assessing someone’s mental state, if you are intent on getting a complete history from the person, if you are doing a risk assessment, or a triage, if you are viewing the problem through the lens of narrative therapy or cognitive behavioural therapy or problem solving or brief therapy or any of a million other ways of counselling, if you are coming from any particular frame of reference, then you are not listening to the person but only hearing what you are looking for. When we come from an explicit frame of reference, when we have any agenda in mind beyond the aim of totally receiving the client as they are, we make two fundamental mistakes:
Human beings are ‘ways of being aware’. These ways of being aware are translated into our bodies, the looks in our eyes, the gestures we make, the tones of our voice and muscles, the expressions on our faces etc. Ways of being aware are translated into flesh through this alphabet of the senses. We all understand this alphabet implicitly, tacitly. It is like driving a car. A client’s facial gesture is like a photograph, a snapshot frozen in time of a way of being aware, which we can mirror in ourselves, resonate with and come to feel in ourselves, that client’s way of being aware in that moment. We obstruct our natural knowing when we clutter our minds with theories about how to understand or help people. We do not need to think about how we should read as we are reading a book. Once we have learnt to read, we always know how. We do not need any theories about how to look at ourselves in a mirror as we are looking. Similarly, we need no theories about how to understand people when we listen to them. If we simply empty ourselves, attune to the client as sensitively and acutely as possible, and listen, whatever is murky and indistinct to the client will be of significance to us — our bodies will tell us if we simply let go and feel. We all learnt to ‘read’ people as babies, we never forget this nor do we need to be taught this. It is implicit and we couldn’t have the simplest conversation with anyone were it not for the fact that we already know how to do this.
The words that a person uses, the history that they give us enables us to get an understanding of the person’s life and to know how they have got to where they are now. But the meaning of their life or the meaning of the current pain they are in, why they are feeling what they are feeling, is not in the words but conveyed through (Greek ‘DIA’) the words. Connecting with another human being in an inward way, resonating with them through the tone of their voice, the tone of their looks etc enables us to know (GNOSIS) them through (DIA) their words — thus being able to make a true diagnosis!
A man whose daughter had been killed on a main road by a semi trailer some time before said that he was continually getting upset at the sound of trucks going by, they reminded him of the terrible event and he wanted to get away from them. The social worker called in all the favours due to her from Housing workers and arranged, during that day, to have alternative accommodation for the man. She rang the man back and told him about the new accommodation but all he said was, "Oh, that’s no good, it’s too far to go to the shops". The social worker couldn’t understand this response and felt pissed off with the client because she had moved Heaven and Earth to do what she thought he wanted. In this example, the client told the worker his problem and the worker did everything she could to solve it. However, the solution obviously wasn’t what the man wanted, even though it was what he said he wanted. With the words, the man said, "I want to get away from this place". But maybe, at an inner level, he was saying, "Please feel my feelings that I can’t bear being in this (psychic) place in which my daughter is gone. Please bear with me and help me to bear this pain". Maybe if the worker had resonated with the way the man said what he said or how he looked as he said what he said, she would have been able to identify with his particular feeling of grief rather than just identify his feelings of grief. One word of a sentence does not cause another word. Smoking does not cause cancer. The sound of trucks going by do not cause the man’s pain. His grief at his daughter’s death is painful and he finds it difficult to bear this pain. The feelings aroused in him by the sound of the trucks are a manifestation of his pain, not the cause of it. The cause of the man’s pain is to be found in his interiority, his meaning space, not amongst the events of his outer life.
Another client came to see his worker dressed badly, looking dishevelled and smelling etc. During the conversation, the man mentioned that after the interview with the social worker, he intended to go to a picture theatre, to see a film. The social worker began thinking while the client was telling her this that he would never be allowed in the theatre looking like that, that management would ask him to leave. She began wondering how to suggest to him that he go home and change and make himself look presentable etc. She said that later in the conversation she said to the man, in as low key a voice as possible, "Are you going home before you go to…" The social worker said that before she had finished the sentence, the man began yelling at her about telling him what to do etc and stormed out of the office! The social worker was nonplussed at this behaviour. In this example, the worker responded to the words again and took them literally. The man was going to the picture theatre, dressed inappropriately, and she, the worker, was trying to help him avoid this since he would get in trouble. Maybe if she had resonated with how the man sounded and looked, she might have been able to identify with his feelings. As the worker herself said later, she was able to see that the dishevelled man was wanting the right to be himself, in the same way that she herself had been a rebel thirty years ago and dressed like a ‘dag’ to deliberately provoke people etc. Then the worker may have responded completely differently. Rather than getting him to try and change his clothes she may have tried to find a way to inwardly connect with the man and resonate with his need for recognition just as he was. The man was on the lookout to be told to change and was waiting for it. When the worker mentioned it, the man jumped down her throat. The worker was attempting to protect the man from having his feelings hurt through being confronted about his clothing. However, any pain the man would have felt would not have been ‘caused’ by the clothes he was wearing but by his inner unfulfilled desire to be allowed to be himself. In fact, the reverse is true. The man was deliberately wearing what he was wearing in order to be confronted just so he could then demand the right to be himself! Only through resonating with the man, putting ourselves in his situation and identifying with his feelings can we make any sense of this seemingly ‘bizarre behaviour’.
Pain, dis-ease, unease, discomfort are portents of a new sense of self developing inside a person. We experience this new self as quite literally alien. We do not like feeling not ourselves! We do not like feeling ‘possessed’ by an alien being, even if that being is ‘us’. Our culture is full of symbols of what ‘possession’ by an ‘alien’ means to us. Think of the films, ‘Rosemary’s Baby’, ‘Alien’ or ‘The Thing’ or the book, ‘Metamorphosis’ and it is easy to understand our horror at the idea that we are being changed from the inside out.
Our entire culture and identity is built around the notion that A is A and B is B. That I am I and you are you and never the twain shall meet. We are prepared to accept that we can change our ideas, our beliefs, our feelings, our behaviours and attitudes but we refuse to accept the notion that our very selves, our being itself is changing. If this were to happen, we would not feel ourselves (which is what a lot of us say when we feel unwell). But just as our entire physical bodies are changed every 7 or so years, our psychic identity is continuously metamorphosing, changing into another being.
Some experiences we encounter ask us to change our very identities, to become quite literally a different person, and this change is uncomfortable for us because of its alien feeling. It is painful. If we cannot bear this pain by fully bodying it and feeling it, then the pain goes ‘underground’ and appears in parts of our bodies or minds as illnesses that we can then have treated. But sooner or later, we will again be confronted by the same issue and the cycle will start up again. Our inner beings never give up on us although we (and therapists) may give up on ourselves.
It is often said of a pregnant woman that she is ‘glowing’ despite pregnancy often being discomforting and sometimes difficult. This inner glow is indicative of the woman being in a state that is ‘perfectly right and natural’. This paper suggests that being pregnant with a new sense of self is also ‘perfectly right and natural’, albeit uncomfortable.
Being a human being is as perfectly natural as being a cat, a tree or a sunset. There is absolutely nothing wrong with us. We are perfect as we are. We know how to grow and change and overcome problems quite naturally — our bodies know how to do these things in the same way that a tree knows how to produce buds and leaves. There is nothing missing in our makeup. Everything is as it should be. Our only problem is that the ego has forgotten its origins. Like the moon that was once part of the earth, the ego is part of the self. But now it regards itself as THE self and feels as though its responsibility is to ‘manage’ life as if it was out of control. A cat does not worry if we don’t feed it on time as if it will never be fed again and this is a huge problem to be solved. It simply goes outside and sleeps knowing that it will be fed. A cat feels cushioned and supported by nature, the cat ‘knows’ that it lives in a safe universe. Our ego, not feeling supported or grounded in the Self, feels isolated and alone, has no faith in a safe universe and believes that it must control everything with its intellect. Anything that arises that hurts the ego must be a mistake and must be corrected.
Our everyday life is akin to a book being written or, even better, a symphony being played. We may not like a book or piece of music but one thing is for sure — the book and the piece of music are exactly how the author or composer wanted them to be. If we think the book has a silly ending or the piece of music is dissonant, that is how the writer or composer meant it, s(he) had a purpose in mind. In a book or piece of music, problems are posed and solved within that context, and we read or listen to this being played out. We are moved by what we see or hear, we take part in it, but it is perfect as it is. We do not stop a symphony halfway through and suggest to the musicians that they go about things in a different way. You cannot put down a book in mid-reading and complain to the author that you don’t like what is happening. We read, we listen and we take in, feeling as deeply as possible. Why not do the same with life?
Listen to the last 5 minutes of Beethoven’s fifth symphony — Beethoven takes you to the heights of tension, resolves this feeling tone, then repeats this several times until you are almost ‘begging’ for final release. Although you would like this glorious music to go on forever this tension is almost ‘unbearable’. And then finally it is over, the intense ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ asked and answered by Beethoven not intellectually but within the music. The deaf Beethoven listened inwardly to the silent music of his soul and translated this into music that he heard inside himself. So do we all listen inwardly and translate this into whatever is our own unique creative expression. Looking at it from the soul’s point of view, the inner composer of our life is resolving all our own tensions and anxieties and depressions in a completely natural and organic way, analogous to how a woman’s body carries a pregnancy. In the vast number of cases all the ‘problems’ are resolved along the way without us even knowing about them. If we could only listen inwardly and go with or bear what comes up (whether pain or pleasure) rather than resist or try to change and alter our realities from the intellectual ego’s point of view, life would be so much simpler and more natural.