May 8th 2012:
A no thrills hotel room in Laos, 2am and the mechanical hum of an old pedestal fan accompanies a grinding ache in my stomach, thoughts of defeat and a fraudulent sense of self won‘t stop buzzing around my head.
Almost two and a half years into my self discovery sojourn here in South East Asia, I fear I’m running out of time with dwindling finances and visa restrictions, becoming pressing concerns.
“I’m just kidding myself that I understand anything about the processes involved in mental illness. The fantasy of writing a book just rationalizes a life’s unconscious default pattern of withdrawal and isolation.
Follow my heart notions are a mania fueled romantic joke, leading me to ruination not salvation.” After five years with no return to a cyclic pattern of depression and no need for medications of any kind, I’m feeling the old familiar sensations of defeat and collapse here. There‘s a pressured sense of doom inside my head, as a continual loop of disaster thoughts hold my mind in a vice like grip of driven compulsion. “It’s a physiological state and my mind is amplifying it,” I tell myself. “Then face it and stop running away from it, the negative thoughts are stimulated by a core feeling, its innate fear-terror.”
I turn onto my stomach and adopt my mind-less meditation routine, a practice that has worked really well for dissolving the racing thoughts and energies of bipolar disorder’s mania. If the mind is dependent on physiological state as the polyvagal theory indicates, then changing this physiological state should work just as well for this dreadfully negative state of mind. I focus on the felt sense of my flesh on the mattress sheet, feeling the sensation of my internal organs and the knot of painful tension just below my rib cage. I follow Peter Levine’s advice and try to feel into this pain sensation, staying with it and noticing any subtle shifts. Yet I can’t seem to get into my body now, stuck fast in my head as each attempt to experience the felt sensation is blocked by an instant rush of thoughts. Curiously, thoughts and image memories of the same painful gut spring to mind, a forty year old memory of fear and avoidance, the same knotted tension in the same place, just below my rib cage.
“A body memory, the place I’m always running away from, always avoiding,” I tell myself. A whole slew of thoughts about trauma and how we normally think in terms of external, causal events, runs through my mind. “Yet its an internal process, my brain stem and my nervous system with their electro-chemical stimulation are the actuality of post traumatic experience.” A familiar shudder runs straight down my spine now, as if making a comment on this thoughtful interpretation, “a conversation with my unconscious self, perhaps?” I try again to just feel into the knotted tension in my stomach, and let all awareness reside there, and again there is an instantaneous surge of thinking. This time self recriminations about wasting time, letting months drift away instead of writing. “Self revelation is an organic process, there is no clockwork timetable involved,” some part of me kindly advises.
There were other thoughts too, about futility and how nobody really wants to know about non-conscious self-awareness, how group harmony is maintained by a shared “I think therefore I am” preferred awareness. Although accompanied by a twin awareness that writing a book was always a metaphor for re-writing the narrative of my cognitive sense of self. “Different experiences to change old habitual patterns, is how your re-writing that narrative,“ I advise myself. “Raising to conscious awareness a re-conditioning of my nervous systems unconscious expectations about scenarios of survival? This sight, this scene, and an unconscious reaction within?” For a full minute I focus on trying to just observe the process, the effort to sense into the pain area and the instantaneous flight into thoughts. “Try to catch the gap between the spark and the flame of thought,” I tell myself. “Its not a bloody spark, its an instinctual reaction, a recoil, a cut-off from pain’s felt awareness and it’s the theme, the motif force of my whole freaking life.” I despair that I’ll ever break it down into what it actually is, that I’ll ever be able to articulate it to myself, let alone anyone else. All my thoughts seem to do is rationalize away from a core sense of self that my conscious mind either can’t or doesn’t want to know about. I persevere with the attempts to stay with the felt sensation of tension in my stomach though, just as my mentor advises in his book “In an Unspoken Voice.”
“In particular, you will begin to notice what various sensations (i.e., tensions, contractions, aches, pains, etc,) tend to emerge in sequences or in groups. For example, you may notice that a “knot” in the belly or tightening of the anus is associated with a suppression or holding of breath.”(Levine, 2010.)
As I continue to practice what has become so effective in letting go of the surging energies of excitement in mania’s manic mood swings, I’m mortified by how difficult its proving to let go the bipolar opposite of what is beginning to feel like a fall into depression. God knows I‘ve been here before and I‘m getting really scared that I can‘t resist the collapse, scared that I won‘t cope with this first overwhelmingly negative state for five years. So many memories of feeling just like this and helplessly drowning in depression. “How have I become so immersed in this state of fear?” I ask myself. As awareness of tension expands across my whole body, aware too, of “holding myself in,” of shallow breath and the stiff posture of awkwardly positioned limbs. A flashbulb memory of holding myself like this as a child comes to mind, “this is how I got myself to sleep at night.” Fear driven immobilization the experts now call it, or “tonic immobility,” an unconscious response hardwired as a mammalian survival trick, although a paradoxical trap for human beings. “This is what came from a three day birth ordeal, brutal forceps delivery and the immediate isolation of a mechanical crib. This is my default response to life, an existential crisis which has always been the ghost in my internal machine.”
“Our nervous system assesses threat in two basic ways. First of all, we use our external sense organs to discern and evaluate threat in the external environment. We also asses threat directly from the state of our viscera and our muscles-our internal sense organs. If our muscles are tense, we unconsciously interpret these tensions as foretelling the existence of danger, even when none actually exists.” (Levine, 2010).
Again I try to bring all awareness into the felt sense of pain, suddenly my eyes open and I become aware of the tension that had been unconsciously held there, along with the corresponding release of pain in my stomach. There is also a frizz of warm sensation in my feet as blood circulation flows more freely there. “A whole brain/body systemic reaction,” I say to myself, suddenly remembering a trick I was taught by an Alexander Technique therapist. I turn over onto my back and focus my eyes on the light switch by the bathroom door, some six yards away. I concentrate on widening my peripheral vision either side of the switch, and hey presto, a spontaneous release of stomach tension. “I think you have an exaggerated startle reflex,” the therapist had told me, explaining that it fitted perfectly with my suspicions about birth trauma. “Its more common than is realized, with people learning to adapt to a rather rigid posture and inhibited responses,” he’d said. “All the world’s a stage,” comes to mind as I turn back onto my stomach and continue to dissolve this physiological state of fear.
This time when I feel into tension in my stomach I’m equally aware of the tension around my eyes, which now feels like I’m forcing them shut. Holding an awareness of both eye socket and stomach tension, I feel a warm tingling in my feet and fingertips too, as a spontaneous deep breath overcomes me. My nervous system is coming back into balance now, as I de-arouse this unconsciously stimulated, whole body state of fearful rigidity. As I continue to relax into my body and gain a more mind-less state of embodied awareness, I remember how years ago I would have gotten stuck in that pressurized compulsive thinking, maintaining and amplifying this fearful state all the way into that avoidance of life we call depression. Yet just as now happens when I’m too excited and worry about escalating into a manic mood state, I begin to drift back down into my body with a mind-less muscular relaxation. The unconsciously stimulated physical tensions of fear, dissolving, as sleep, per chance to dream, overcomes my “I think therefore I am,” all too self-conscious mind.
In the morning I woke with a stiffness in my jaw and memories of a vivid dream, a conflict with my father in which I was returning in full measure, the emotional belittlement often dished out to me as a child, and which I tolerated far to much as an adult. The dream had seemed exceptionally vivid and real too, surprising me with felt sensations as I’d physically forced my father up against a wall and delivered a withering lecture on his false sense of manhood. It had been years since I dreamed of my deceased father and never before had I laid hands on him, either in dream or real life. Strange that I have a vivid dream which contained all the sensations of a real event, after exploring the muscular tensions of fearful immobilization, “is it emotional pain, I feel in my stomach? Was I forced to suppress my own natural gut reactions in the face of his constant need to dominate?” I think about my therapist training, the years in group therapy with discussions about the psychology of suppression, talk of the unconscious as though it were some mysterious black box, and not the reality of the body/brain and its non-conscious activity. Feeling the sensation of pain in my stomach last night, was I touching the physical reality of decades of impulse suppression? “Is this how we do suppression, physiologically, not psychologically, within the body, not the mind?” It certainly fits with my experience of letting go the racing thoughts of a manic mood swing, by dissolving muscular tensions and proves theories of a mind dependent on physiological states, and visa versa. There is also a belief among therapists that a second trauma is involved in the genesis of ongoing post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and perhaps emotional trauma cemented my own lifelong struggle?
After encouraging myself to eat and take my time over breakfast, I cross the street in front of the guest house here in Vientiane, entering the old Buddhist Temple opposite. Over the last two years, its become an almost daily practice to spend time in quite meditation, and I must have spent hundreds of hours in the presence of and gazing upon giant Buddha statues. Raised in the Christian faith and infused with Christian image, metaphor and legend during my flights into mania, the postural images and story of Prince Siddhartha has helped me deepen my spiritual sense-ability. Leaving my shoes on the Temple steps I enter through the huge wooden doors into a rather cavernous hall, compared to our local Wat in Bangkok. Here the bronze statue of the typical seated pose is huge, and as always my eyes are instantly drawn to Buddha’s face.
Serenity radiates from sublimely smooth features with not the slightest trace of tension, closed eyes seem to seek a background attention, with those elongated ears gently whispering, listen! A teacher so gifted, he left behind his most meaningful truths in postured images, and I gaze once more on his lessons about stillness, resonance and attunement. How to use the body as an instrument of cosmic connection and thus sense our deep immersion within the fabric of all being. The famous crossed legged pose and positioning of his hands always fascinates me, the left hand open and palm facing up, resting on his lap directly below his stomach. Right hand resting on his right knee or shin, as the right leg rests atop his left, right hand fingers pointing down towards the earth. I imagine those finger tips gently touching the grass in deer park as the animals approached a curious resonance, one famous morning.
The same fingertips grounding his mindfulness as he wrestled with the demons of our instinctual heritage during that night, in a heroic struggle to overcome with a full observance of his own nature? “All those years of crucifying the body to sanctify the mind, and what does he fall into, the night he awoke and became Buddha?” Does the posture indicate an awareness of our hidden metabolic processes, and the left-right lateralization of the body/brain? To me it does, metaphor and meaning being more about personal realization than the social politics and narrative education of any organized religion. After years of reading the neuroscience of human development, reading about all that hidden electro-chemical activity of brain and nervous systems, my sense of metaphor has become more fluid, less object like, and perhaps more appropriately immersed in a cosmic aliveness, a wordless and oceanic sense of oneness? “Hmm! The right hand of God,“ I think, remembering a mania fueled sensation of immersion in eternal presence, within this time/space continuum we call now. This ever present, shining moment of possible realization?
“Open your eyes and see, heaven is right here where its always been, waiting, just waiting for our species maturity, waiting for us to emerge into a truly adult perception.” Hmm! The thoughtful memories of my mad musing, would be just wishful thinking to the concrete literalists and their wary judgments, rationalized as reason. Although, collectively, unconsciously, what might be perceiving itself through our evolving nature, dreaming itself awake? And yet, in the rank and status of a well trod social hierarchy, who the hell am I to contemplate such contextual perspectives? Like, “How else does the universe redress the imbalance of dark/light matter energy, and achieve eternity if not by evolving into a form which can act upon itself?” Sometimes I think the 96% dark matter/energy of the cosmos is a bit like our unconscious body-self, unknowingly influential?
Once again I gaze on the serene face of a heroic journey towards wisdom, thinking of how far he went, how he paid the price of suffering to overcome his unconscious, instinctual self. His efforts, perhaps a reflection of a cosmic need to overcome the powerful, yet blind urge inherent in the cosmic forces of chaos? I like to imagine too, that his serene smile hides a knowing about that instrument of eternity that is YOU, and your children’s, children’s children, for ever and ever, Amen? I mean, what was Albert Einstein suggesting, when he wished we’d come to know that the Universe is really a friendly place? Sensation, image and thoughts surge now, brain stem - limbic system - cerebral tone - coloring the hue of thoughts. The euphoria of mania gets those brain stem neurons jangling, reverberating with the body‘s sensate awareness, is there a merging of brain frequencies, of resonance with a much larger background frequency system here, a matching of pulsing responsivity, of immersion within a living cosmic organism, here in mania’s wordless sensations of oneness? Yet consider: A Cartography of the Ecstatic and Meditative States by Roland Fischer?
“Come on David, your getting into a metabolic need of feel good fantasy here, its a gut reaction to last nights state of fear and dread, a reaction formation, the old psychoanalysts call it.” Walking over to one side of the hall, I shake my head in bemusement at this change in energy and mood after a night filled with such fear and dread. I sit and adopt a similar posture although with far more constricted ill-ease than Buddha’s calm, serene, physiological state. I try to focus on stillness, mindful of my breath and of muscular tensions, try to observe thoughts, hoping to catch the gap and the heart toned impulse of a physically generated state. The shift in cerebral tone, between now and the previous night, raises concern over unconscious patterns and the reaction of a bipolar mood swing. “Why the sudden shift into a positive state when I gaze upon a statue’s face?” I asked myself. Is this what Stephen Porges means by “neuroception,” an unconscious, implicit sense of being safe, here in the sanctuary of a Temple? An unconscious pattern matching, beneath the assumptions of my conscious learning about how I should be and my minds usual disembodied perceptions of how I am?
“By processing information from the environment through the senses, the nervous system continually evaluates risk. I have coined the term “neuroception” to describe how neural circuits distinguish whether situations or people are safe, dangerous, or life threatening. Because of our heritage as a species, neuroception takes place in primitive parts of the brain, without our conscious awareness. Faulty neuroception might lie at the root of several psychiatric disorders, including autism, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, depression, and Reactive Attachment Disorder.” _Stephen Porges. “The Polyvagal Theory.”
I remember last nights cognition; “A conscious acknowledgement of re-conditioning my nervous systems unconscious expectations? This sight, this scene, and unconscious reactions within,” more often than not, overruling whatever I may consciously tell myself. My learnt and cognitive sense of self, my left brained rationalizing narrative of an “I talk” story about my life experience? The story I came to South East Asia to re-write. More reading insights somehow spring to mind now, here in this calmer state of felt/thought contemplation; "The left-brain style is to verbalize, to fall back on what is already known in order to preserve the sense of self mastery. (homeostasis) It may be that the “mind-body split,” is in effect a right-left split, with left-brain activation overriding the right-brain assimilation and regulation of sub-cortically generated emotional states." _Roz Carroll. Keeping my eyes closed, yet more effortlessly than my habitual forcing of this muscular movement, I allow the felt/thought state to unfold. Subtle sensations, images and thoughts rise and fall along the peaks and valleys of easy respiration, in a flowing sense of embodied self-awareness.
|His gentle smile, I silently whisper, “thank you.”|
I spend an hour alternatively practicing the mind-less muscular relaxation, which has aided a release and re-conditioning of my trauma experience. The habitual postural response to threat, which has so constricted and disoriented my life.
Sixty years old and I’m just beginning to really understand it, yet how can one be conscious of birth trauma?
They certainly didn't teach us about sensate body awareness at my elementary school, it was all, 1 + 1 = 2 think, think, think in my Western tradition. An over reliance on a cognitive sense of self, that seems to enhance the double-bind of a post trauma trap.
I think back to my adolescence before the classic manic break. “If this trauma reaction has been there from the very beginning, how did I learn to socialize at all?” In truth, I didn’t cope with social engagement very well, mimicking the behaviors of inclusion, rather than experiencing a spontaneous joyful participation. As Shakespeare noted; “all the world’s a stage,” and I acted the aloof cool dude, in an “unknowing” adaptation of my instinctual, fear driven immobilization response. The forced muscular movements of mimicked behavior always battling the opposite forces of “get me out of here” withdrawal, in a metabolically exhausting effort. I simulated responses that others make naturally, spontaneously, while my own hidden nature was screaming, “this environment is dangerous.” No wonder so many people collapse into chronic fatigue syndrome, or the withdrawal of depression.
The great double-bind rub of my post trauma experience though, was that the environment sensed as dangerous, was/is actually my own internal environment, projected onto the world “out there.” The habitual muscular tensions of a braced readiness of postural defense, set up a positive feedback loop with my brain, that in adolescence brought their negative consequences. While this unconscious, withdrawal of needing to remain “unseen,” was appropriate during childhood, when the time came for inclusion in a group beyond the nuclear family, my habituated responses were counter productive. Tonic immobility overrides the newly discovered third branch of the nervous system, responsible for spontaneous social engagement. No wonder social anxiety disorder has such a high correlation with so many mental illness disorders. Even more insidious in this double bind trap, is the mind-body split in awareness that kept me living life largely inside my head. I shudder as a memory of touching into body pain last night rises to conscious awareness, the cut-off reaction which seeks sanctuary in the painless synaptic gaps of my brain, and all those thoughts?
Locked out of spontaneous social interaction by this unconscious drive for avoidance, I needed to nurture myself in relative isolation. Rumination and fantasy took the place of inter-relationship and inter-subjectivity in stimulating my metabolic needs. Its no over statement to suggest that the health vitalizing affects of someone else’s heart felt smile, or the belly laugh triggered by a well told joke or witty comment, are immeasurable. Far superior to any object of pleasure we might manufacture or seek to own. In fact the emotional response we so often project onto inanimate objects, is most likely a enacted simulation of the spontaneous response that only interaction with another living, breathing creature can naturally evoke. “Getting the metabolic juices, that stimulate our meaning making metaphoric mind, flowing is what fantasy is really for,” I say to myself.
After an hour of meditation and such thoughtful contemplation I go for a long walk along the banks of the Mekong river, a review of my life, realizing I could have lost it not far from here when I missed the Australian Vietnam draft by one calendar day. Funny, forty years later I have a vivid recollection of driving home from work, and listening to the radio. “December 24th 25th, 26th, 28th.” Core blimey! I’d been in Australia less than a year and I’d just missed out on national service duty, by the fate of my December 27th birth date. And here I am, a boy raised close to Briton’s Manchester ship canal walking along the banks of the once mighty Mekong, wondering about the effects of chaos, chance and circumstance. About the slow shift in my deepening self-awareness since I first read Allan Schore’s writing about nonlinear systems theory and how it applies to brain/nervous system development. A traumatic birth, affected by a embittered nursing sister and her refusal of my mothers plea’s for intervention, leading to a three day labor. Forceps delivery and immediate isolation, the butterfly effect of chance and circumstance that shaped the trajectory of my whole life.
"This psychoneurobiological developmental model views the brain as a self-organizing system. It also fits particularly well with a number of essential tenets of nonlinear dynamic systems (chaos) theory. This powerful model is now being utilized in physics, chemistry, and biology to explore the problem of how complex systems come to produce emergent order and new forms. A fundamental postulate of this conception is that there is no dichotomy between the organism and the environmental context in which it develops. The physical and social context of the developing human is more than merely a supporting frame, it is an essential substratum of the assembling system. Of particular importance to chaos theory are the transitions from one developmental stage to another, when the organism encounters instability while it shifts from one stable mode to a new mode." (Schore, 1995)
“When the organism encounters instability while it shifts from one stable mode to a new mode,” it grabbed my attention five years ago when I first read it. Although its taken a while to shift to a new mode of ongoing stability, and the re-reading and experiential integration of countless other wise words, to understand the true purpose of my classic mania experience, thirty two years ago. Towards the end of “Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self,” Schore points out that the core nature of a human self is in fact “thermodynamic,” which begs quite a stretch of our normal cognition to get one’s head around. In fact its only the practice of sensate body awareness described by Peter Levine, which has allowed me a mind-less sense of the hidden and unconscious thermo-dynamic processes within me.
Without this sensate awareness all the marvelous discoveries of neuroscience I’ve read about and become cognizant of, would mean nothing and I would have remained trapped in the double bind of a mind-body split. That first dramatic shift in physiological state in 1980 had been a spontaneous release of my braced muscular defense, an evolutionary trick of my mammalian nervous system designed to allow approach instead of my habitual avoidance. If I’d understood how my states of mind are dependent on physiological state, I would not have poured my subjective awareness into the physical reality of a new sense of being. I could have enjoyed the power of now and simply accepted the very is-ness of the lived moment, and the extraordinary aliveness of my five senses perceptivity. Instead I got lost in Descartes famous error, “I think therefore I am” and the notion that being human is all about the mind‘s subjective awareness.
|A Symbol of Rising Consciousness?|
“All behavior is communication,” springs to mind now as I walk towards the city center and the old “That Dam” stupa. Old and crumbling, I gaze on the conical structure and try to sense its deeper symbolic meaning, its unspoken voice as an expression of metaphor and the projection of unseen processes.
Behavior built this monument, yet something deeper and unseen informed its shape. Like the behaviors of psychosis and the unseen, hidden thermo-dynamic processes that drive the motor movement patterns of behavior.
A scene from 2007 springs to mind as I muse before the wisdom of this ancient monument, a hospital room and a beautiful young woman. She was on the bed as I entered the room, legs drawn up tight, her arms warped around her knees, rocking backwards and forwards, and quietly sobbing. Alone, frightened and abandoned, her face was a mask of tragic loss and the deep sorrow of a harsh biting reality, “what love, what empathy, what understanding?” It was a gut wrenching scene to behold because she could have so easily been my lost daughter, perfect age. I sat beside her, putting my arm around her shoulder enjoining the movement, an unconscious prompting about need?
She turned towards me burying her face in my shoulder and allowed me to embrace her and power the rocking motion. It was probably about fifteen minutes before I’d felt the solid heaviness of her secure slumber and lowered both our bodies down onto the mattress. I remember thinking that if nurse Ratchet had re-entered the room right then there would be a fearful misperception, in that loss of sensitive awareness which tends to fuel the denial of our mechanical, “stand apart” cognition. As it was, I quietly left the room thinking about the generational transmission of emotional affects, my Grandmother, my Mother, my lost Daughter and Monica McGoldrick’s profound statement, “loss is the pivotal human experience.” A daughter may have helped to heal a generational wound which powers the emotional cut-off reactions within my family tree. “The ghost in our emotional systems machine?” Strangely there is always a song with poignant lyrics which come to mind at moments like these. Do you get that unconscious, and implicit inner self, messing with your mind too?
“Strange pieces we never see. But you're always there. Like a ghost in my dream. And I keep on telling you. Please don't do the things you do. When you do those things. Pull my puppet strings. I have that strangest void for you. Show my heart some devotion. Push aside those that whisper never. Feel like a child on a dark night. Wishing there was some kind of heaven. I could be warm with your smiling. Hold out your hand for a while. The victims. We know them so well. So well.” _Culture Club.
I take a lazy meandering walk back to the hotel, noticing the postures of people as I pass by. Relaxed and open, compared to tense and closed seems to catch my eye, as I project my own need to be mindful of postural attitude and its affect on my thinking. I find myself scanning facial expressions for signs of muscular tension, and smile as I remember Buddha’s calm, silky smooth serenity. This re-conditioning of my autonomic nervous system, is a bit like being a toddler and learning to walk again. I have to remember to be mindful and wary of how easily stress will trigger me back into unconscious patterns of motor pre-cognition. Which takes me back over the previous few months, as I realize the steady fall towards last nights awful state of fear and dread. All that worry about writing failure and getting published, the visa for my continued stay in Thailand and dwindling funds. How hot the month of April had been as I struggled to write in the stifling humidity. We’d moved to a new location after last years floods in Bangkok, my girlfriend and I. Her shop business had to be re-located and completely refurbished, and we’d been lucky to find a reasonable shop/house with an affordable rent, but no air-conditioning.
Big mistake to view a lovely cool premises in December and imagine it won’t be so bad come April, in such a steamy tropical climate. “Yeah right, mood is dependant on physiological state,” I tell myself. So over a six month period, stress had crept back into my life in the effort to establish a new business, and then re-orient back to my full-time writing. I realized too, that I’d allowed the daily meditation routine to slip badly in the last month, not visiting the local Temple much either. Back at the hotel I sit in a rickety chair and re-imagine the past month of trying to force myself to write with growing frustration. I hold my hands in front of me, as if reaching for the laptop keyboard, feeling the muscular tension in my forearms. The rigid set of my jaw in forced determination becomes conscious now, as does the tension around my eyes and in my forehead. I’m suddenly aware of how locked my knees are, my feet drawn back under the chair, and of coarse there is a hard knot in my stomach. The frustration turning into self-directed anger as I’d adopted a forced effort to think, think, think about writing. I’d slipped back into the mind-body split of that same old post trauma trap. A braced and habitual muscular attitude setting up feedback signals to my brain, about danger and threat. And of coarse in my think, think, think state of mind I’d projected a physiologically stimulated process onto things “out there.” Internal discomfort becoming concern and worry about circumstances in the external world. “Silly sod,” my Grandmother would have told me.
“We have also become used to searching for the source of our discomfort outside ourselves. We simply are unfamiliar with experiencing something “as it is,” without the encumbrance of analysis and judgment. As the sensation-thought-emotion complex is uncoupled, experiencing moves forward toward subtler, freer contours of feeling.“ “From a functional point of view, bodily/sensate feelings are the compass that we use to navigate through life. They permit us to estimate the value of the things to which we must incorporate or adapt. Our attraction to that which sustains us and our avoidance of that which is harmful, are the essence of the feeling function. All feelings derive from the ancient precursors of approach and avoidance, they are in differing degrees positive or negative.” (Levine, 2010)
The next morning I spent time gazing on a wise old man (in statue) before picking up my passport from the Thai embassy and making my way back across the Mekong. “Never day-dreamed I’d be doing this, when I was nine years old,” I think as the old bus trundles across the friendship bridge towards Thailand. Funny, Peter Levine has silver hair, just like my Great Grandfather and Carl Jung, I wonder how much more of this adventure will bring me to a nine year old boys premonition? The strange experience as a nine year old when I’d seen an image of myself as a silver haired old man, along with a fully embodied sensation of coming into my own. In 2007 during the pit of depression when the ultimate escape had beckoned like never before, I had a dream, a full re-run of the age nine experience with a curious addition. As I dreamed the same perplexing “what was that” thought, on those school steps as a nine year old boy another image arose and spoke, “do not fear, it will be so.” The image was the face of Carl Gustav Jung, and the voice was that of my dead Father. I awoke immediately of coarse, as most of us do when the punch-line of a dream is delivered. I shook my head not sure if I’d been awake and suffered an hallucination, and of coarse the experience is easily dismissed as such.
In the usual press of a workaday life, I did not dwell in introspection on that dream, life urges the simple need to move on. The same associations of memory trace images and my fathers voice applied just as they did at age nine, dismissed as just a quirk of the mind? I suspect that most readers will have had similar manifestations of unconscious processes, experiences like déjà vu for example Felt that curious impasse of the rationally inexplicable and the immediate need to move on, while assigning the question of validity to the virtues of belief and faith? Yet considering that I had not consciously recalled a nearly fifty year old incident for decades, how did an unconscious process bring such a dream, or hallucination to mind? How does it bring about such a combination of past experience, image and voice at the right time and with the perfect context? I have gone on to confirm that FEAR, is at the bottom a trauma filled well which had so haunted my life, and just like normal people I trust in the virtues of belief and faith. Two days after that dream I began a process of self-nurture by reading for distraction, my favorite science-fiction books for a while, then other interests which brought me to some timely ancient wisdom;
“However men may differ in disposition and in education, the foundations of human nature are the same in everyone. And every human being can draw in the course of his education from the inexhaustible wellspring of the divine in man's nature. But here likewise two dangers threaten: a man may fail in his education to penetrate to the real roots of humanity and remain fixed in convention a partial education of this sort is as bad as none or he may suddenly collapse and neglect his self-development.” _I Ching #48 “The Well”
In October 2007, as I returned to a normal workaday life, I chanced upon the first solid step on a new path. While browsing through my favorite bookshop, where I’d purchased many a title of subjective theory about the human condition, a different kind of book drew my attention. “Affect Dysregulation & Disorders of the Self,“ by Allan N Schore. How could one with a bipolar disorder diagnosis not be intrigued by such a title? As I read the contents page I was further intrigued by chapter titles like “Attachment and the Regulation of the Right Brain,” “Early Organization of the Nonlinear Right Brain and the Development of a Predisposition to Psychiatric Disorders.” Wow! This was different to anything I’d read before and the word attachment stood out like a light house beacon. After twenty seven years of the proverbial emotional roller coaster ride, relationship loss was the stand out trigger to my most potent mania’s. Here was a book promising to put the finger on the “how” of emotional development in my experience of mental illness. I haven’t stopped my self-education reading since, haven‘t stopped trying to further my self-development and deepen my self-awareness. An awareness process so succinctly expressed in Peter Levine’s masterpiece of a book “In an Unspoken Voice.”
“Deepening awareness is a challenge. It isn’t a challenge because my parents didn’t love me enough. It’s a challenge because it’s a challenge. I don’t need to take it personally. I’ve spent years excavating my past, sorting and cataloguing the wreckage. But who I really am, the essential truth of my being, can’t be grasped by the mind, no matter how acute my insights. I’ve confused introspection with awareness, but they’re not the same. Becoming the worlds leading expert on myself has nothing to do with being fully present.”
"This documentary for PBS by award-winning filmmaker David Grubin and narrated by Richard Gere, tells the story of the Buddha’s life, a journey especially relevant to our own bewildering times of violent change and spiritual confusion. It features the work of some of the world’s greatest artists and sculptors, who across two millennia, have depicted the Buddha’s life in art rich in beauty and complexity. Hear insights into the ancient narrative by contemporary Buddhists, including Pulitzer Prize winning poet W.S. Merwin and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Join the conversation and learn more about meditation, the history of Buddhism, and how to incorporate the Buddha’s teachings on compassion and mindfulness into daily life." The Buddha
This experience in Laos led me into another mania experience which found its peak a month later, with the the posting of a spiritual statement Science, Spirituality & Psychosis
Levine, P, 2010, "In an Unspoken Voice," North Atlantic Books, USA.
Porges, S, 2011, "The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation," W. W. Norton, USA.
Shcore, A, N, 2003, “Affect Dysregulation and Disorders of the Self,” W. W. Norton, USA.