I believe that almost all our sadnesses
are moments of tension
that we find paralysing
because we no longer hear
our surprised feelings living.
Perhaps it is a legacy of trauma. Perhaps one of the purposes of trauma is to make us more aware of the intimate connection between ourselves and our bodies. I was recently having a discussion with a cranio sacral therapist who helps clients live with trauma, and she mentioned that one of the consequences of trauma can be a split between our heads and our bodies. Due to the unbearable pain and damage we can take flight away from the body. And, as we do, we loose touch with our soul and become more vulnerable to compulsions. The healing of trauma involves healing this splitting or dissociation. It involves finding a way to be with a body and being present to a soul that might be suffering deeply, instead of taking flight and running from it.
With this in mind I would like to share four questions, adapted from Mary O’Malley that she used to work with damage to her body due to lack of presence and compulsions which urged her to take flight.
In the course of her healing she learned to heal her own splitting and dissociation by asking the following questions.
These questions are related to using our symptoms and feelings as “treasure”, as messages from ourselves as to what happened to us, how we suffered, what the child felt, as well as to what might be needed beyond the reactive need to engage in a compulsion. I would encourage anyone interested in a more detailed explanation to read her book. The Gift of Our Compulsions : A Revolutionary Approach to Self Acceptance and Healing.
As I share this information I am called to remember a quote from Rilke’s work Letters to a Young Poet, where he urges the reader to love the questions, fo enter deeply into them, rather than just seek answers to the questions. In being present to the questions and to ourselves I do believe we find our way back home to our deepest self.
In this moment, what am I experiencing?
O’Malley reminds us with this question that the healing we long for when we can become curious about what is actually happening now. Not our story about what is happening (which we can note, as part of this practice and label “thinking”), but rather, what we are experiencing in this moment. Cultivating curiosity about ourselves and our inner life is at the heart of this question. A passionate listening to our felt experience. O’Malley explains “The tight knot in the stomach, the lump in the throat, the anger that feels like it is going to explode are all trying to tell us something.” In this practice we are developing the capacity to be present with life as it is, rather than becoming identified with our story about life. Letting go is a huge part of this recognition. The thinking we engage in can be the resistance to the felt experience, that once touched in this way can be recognised and let go, rather than indentified with magnified.
For This Moment, Can I Let this Be Here?
Working this question involves creating space and acceptance around whatever we have discovered in asking the first question. O’Malley says “the quickest and most powerful way to dissolve our struggles is to let them be.” When we tighten around our experience we hurt more, when we harden we suffer and struggle, where we bend and let be, things soften, including our hearts. This is not about becoming a passive victim of fate or becoming powerless, for once we can fully accept what is happening, even if we don’t like it, we become empowered to take positive action. In the face of abuse we can leave without being stuck in the reactive mode of being. Another question might be “For this moment, can I NOT struggle with this?”
In this moment, can I touch this with compassion?
“At the centre of all great spiritual teachings lies the knowledge that everything is healing in the heart.” What beautiful words. As O’Malley points out, is only with the heart at we find a true understanding. Such understanding involves a softened and compassionate heart. I have heard of a similar practice in other writings : to rephrase “For now can I show myself mercy and tenderness”. We can also use the powerful practice of placing our hand over our hearts and bringing attention to what the heart is trying to say in this moment. For “when our hearts finally open to ourselves, all that we have held in judgement and fear can be transformed”.
Right now what do I truly need?
The final question asks of us an even deeper listening. It is about tapping into our deeper wise guidance which on some level knows what is needed for us to come back into balance. Many of us have not been taught how to truly listen to ourselves. Often we have been taught to place the emphasis of listening outside of ourselves, or we may have actually been told that what we said we needed was NOT what we truly needed. Listening deeply in this way, may take some practice but I do believe the more time we take centring deeply within, the more open we become to our inner guidance.
The four questions need not be used in any order. They can be applied throughout our days whenever we can find a quiet time. I believe the four questions about have helped me to come into a greater balance in myself.
Supplementary questions include:
What is asking to be seen?
How can I give space to this?
How can I bring compassion to this?
What is the way through this?
In Letters to A Young Poet, Rilke wrote:
The more still, more patient and more open we are when we are sad, so much the deeper and so much the more unswervingly does the new go into us, so much the better do we make it ours, so much the more will it be ours, and when on some later day it “happens” (that is, steps forward out o us to others), we shall feel in our innermost selves akin and near to it.
In closing I am drawn to share some wise words from a fellow blogger : An Upturned Soul written in response to a comment I made which echoes the theme of this blog.
I’ve become friends with my pain, it’s an ally rather than an enemy now. Took me a long while to get there, the path was a gradual one, bit by bit I realised that it was showing me where it hurt and how to heal, as well as trying to reveal that pain is something which connects rather than separates, it connects us all in a way that nothing else does, it connects all of life and can be a spur for life.
Amen, Ursula, Amen.