‘That first time, back in 1980, it felt like the real you had come out, then everyone wanted you to go back into your shell again,’ my best from 1980 told me in 2010.
‘People see it as a breakdown, its so disruptive to the old personality, the personality they’ve become adjusted to, but that old personality was habitually defensive and I needed a breakthrough experience to change an unconscious pattern of avoidance behavior,’ I replied.
Its more physiological, than psychological. That’s my breakthrough realization, thanks to Stephen Porges groundbreaking discovery of a polyvagal regulation of the human heart, and our energized states of body-mind. Learning to accept and let go my habitual defenses, of tense body posture and a sense of self awareness to fixed within my head, has been key to a healthy transformation. A re-orientation towards healthy growth and maturity, which mother nature had always intended. A healthier organism, of body, mind and soul thanks to my five year trial of redemption, my sojourn to forgiveness, for the willful sacrifice of my destined first child, my lost daughter. There is now a solid move away from the shadow of negative orientation towards life, a shadow unconsciously orchestrated by unfortunate life experience. A shadow which became an unconscious, self-fulfilling reality of behavioral reenactment patterns.
“The theory proposes that physiological state limits the range of behavior and psychological experience. In this context, the evolution of the nervous system determines the range of emotional expression, quality of communication, and the ability to regulate bodily and behavioral state.” _The Polyvagal Theory. For perhaps the most comprehensive video presentation of the theory and its understanding of emotional development, watch Stephen Porges presenatation at a Columbia University Grand Rounds event here.
In Buddhist terminology one could say I’m now approaching realization, becoming Buddha (awake). Awake, by a road less traveled than a traditional Buddhist practice of mindful meditations. Awakened by the redemption road of seeking out insightful scientific knowledge and its patient, practical integration. A road that has taken me from the identified patient of pitiful concern, which allowed others to enhance their sense of self at my expense, to the masters apprentice on that royal road to wisdom, in the art self-revelation. The six week energy cycles of a natural metamorphosis are not really an ancient, forty days and forty nights mystery. Its just the human organism orienting towards the growth and maturity, that evolution and mother nature, have always intended. Here at last, in the 21st century A.D. Mystery and imagination, in mystical and spiritual transformations, are yielding their secrets to the science of self-revelation. Science and spirituality now converging in a natural metamorphosis, otherwise known as Evolution.
July 14th, After the distress of my visa drama, and successfully dissipating the anger and cut-off reaction I’d felt towards my Thai partner, I contemplate the journey of raising to conscious awareness old behavior patterns, unconsciously acted out? Now I get to assess the last year and articulate to myself and the reader, why I have grasped insightful knowledge, only to lose sight of it when involved in the unconscious feedback reactions of social interactions. Sadly in the world of consensus reality and its social function, I find it difficult to not come across as an arrogant self-absorbed prick, despite my best intentions. I spent the month of June trying to impart all that I’ve learned, to the good folks at MadinAmerica.com, where I have now become officially persona-non-grata for not abiding by the consensus rules of engagement, and not showing due respect to seemingly well educated, superior beings. I do try to give of the substance of my heart and soul, yet people seem to prefer expected image, to substance as we fall for its tempting arousal, which quickly fades as a transitory affective state gives way to an established baseline homeostasis (comfort-zone), of internal thermo-dynamic regulation. WHAT! I imagine you may be thinking about what appears a first sight, to be pure gobbledygook, such strange words from way outside our everyday conversation. Please bare with me though, as I try to un-pack five years of learning, which has now set me free from a previous, everyday routine of limited self-awareness. In line with my new acceptance of body and physiological state, proceeding the psychological subjectivity of mindful awareness, my everyday motivation comes from physical orienting responses first and foremost, and not my conscious intentions. Consider Peter Levine’s example of a research experiment designed to measure brain activity in the motor cortex, compared to activity in the cortex reigns of the brain responsible for our mind’s conscious awareness.
“The brains activity began about 500 milliseconds before the person was aware of deciding to act. The conscious decision came far too late to be the cause of the action. It was as though consciousness was a mere afterthought - a way of 'explaining to ourselves' an action not evoked by consciousness.” _Peter Levine, PhD, "In an Unspoken Voice."
Its difficult to accept this notion that the mind is more servant than master in our life’s fate. Particularly for those of us raised and educated in Western cultures, now seemly wedded lock stock and barrel, to Descartes classic statement of modernity, “I think therefore I am.” We seem to have become so immersed in a mind-sense, of consensus reality that it can be reasonably argued, we are of a similar disposition to Magellan's reports of limited perception, in native South American’s. Consider;
WE CANNOT PERCEIVE WHAT WE CANNOT CONCEIVE:
We can only perceive, or literally see, what we can conceive of. We must have neuronal firing in our brains, whether it be in the imaginable state or actual perceptual state, for us to register an object as a reality.
Example: When Magellan's fleet sailed around the tip of South America he stopped at a placed called Tierra del Fuego. Coming ashore he met some local natives who had come out to see the strange visitors. The ship's historian documented that when Magellan came ashore the natives asked him how he had arrived. Magellan pointed out to his fully rigged sailing ships at anchor off the coast. None of the natives could see the ships. Because they had never seen ships before they had no reference point for them in their brains, and could literally not see them with their eyes. Therefore, it is to our advantage to expose our brains to varied stimulus so that the proper neuronal connections are forged. In this way we expand and enrich our ability to experience more of our environment in a meaningful way.
The above is an example I relate to very much, in my struggle to expose my brain’s conscious awareness to the sensations of my body. Sensations from which my conscious awareness had remained cut-off, in the post trauma experience of containing the highly charged energy of trauma exit potential. An energy potential which remained stuck in a rigid muscular posture, preventing its discharge, because a consensus reality, stands in denial and almost violent disapproval of our instinctual heritage. These past two years in particular, have been like a tug of war inside me, between fully accepting my instinctual nature and needing to belong to a mind-sense culture. In a lifetime of loss of attachment due to circumstantial birth trauma and limited attachment experience in my family of origin, an unconscious attachment need has played its part in a behavioral reenactment pattern. Hence in June I was motivated to share the fruits of my intense self-education on madinamerica.com, yet woe-betide any individual who defies consensus reality and try’s to point out, the unconscious nature of our reactive behavior. Predictably ostracized, in line with all the information I shared about our tendency for reaction, rationalized as intelligent reason, I review the experience as part of my continuing efforts at self-revelation. Journaling, as I have done consistently for the past five years now, I feel the steady change which is only noticed with hindsight. Noticed the change from a mind-sensed self to more and more of an embodied sense of self, which re-balances a once lop-sided self-awareness. Thanks to Peter Levine’s unique methods of post trauma energy discharge, I have been able to release myself from the grip of a powerful unconscious stimulus to avoidance. A powerful pattern of restricted life expectation, which avoided my own sense of being alive, as much as anything in the external environment. For most of my adult life I’d lived a in an intellectual pseudo-self state, which avoided the reality of my own presence. the un-speakable sense of reality Eckhart Tolle points us towards in his popular book, “The Power of NOW.”
Another popular book, at least amongst those interested in mental health, is Robert Whitaker’s “Anatomy of an Epidemic,” which explores the relationship between commercially funded science research into psychiatric medications and an explosion in mental illness diagnosis. The madinamerica.com webzine is dedicated to exploring the reality of the mental illness experience and the medical professions treatment approach. Whitaker’s book points out a history of deceit in the clinical trails of psycho-active drugs and the issue of drug efficiency in mental illness treatment. He points to a similar problem of biased perception, like with Magellan’s native’s, with a strong consensus belief that drug therapy is a dynamic success in mental illness treatment, despite mounting contradictory evidence. My own comments on the various essays and article’s on madinamerica, tended to point to a deeper causation in societal illusions about the mental illness experience and its treatment, compared to the consensus reality of the anti-psychiatry movement which sees power and conspiracy as a manipulative cause of misperceptions. “A pill for every ill is caused by predatory capitalism’s aggressive marketing, while psychiatry is seen as a societal tool of coercion and oppression, according to the mad pride community. My month of “coming out,” personality change culminated in a reply to Robert Whitakers essay on a societal delusion. I wrote;
Systems thinking vs. our cause & effect reactions of logical reasoning?
“Systems thinking, which this research has tried to implement in human relationships, is directed at getting beyond cause-and-effect thinking and into a systems view of the human phenomenon. In the coarse of trying to implement systems theory and systems therapy, we have encountered the intensity and rigidity of cause and effect thinking in the medical sciences and in all our social systems. Man is deeply fixed in cause-and-effect thinking in all areas that have to do with himself and society.
Systems thinking is not new to man. He first began using it in theories of the Universe. Much later he started thinking systems in the natural sciences, and also in the physical sciences. There was a rapid increase in systems thinking with the beginning of the computer age, until now we hear about efforts to implement systems thinking in many new areas of the applied sciences. Though man may have gained some knowledge about systems thinking from the sciences, he is still a cause and effect thinker on all things that involve his emotional system.” _Murray Bowen.
The Consensus Reality of “I & Other & Us vs. Them.”
In our consensus reality have we become so stuck in a cognitive sense of “objectivity” that we literally have lost the ability to sense, the organic nature of a fellow human creature, before our eyes? Are we stuck in a paradigm of pseudo self-awareness, stuck in a socialized denial of our instinct driven, intellect? Consider;
“I & OTHER:
So every ego is continuously struggling for survival, trying to protect and enlarge itself. To uphold the I thought, it needs the opposite thought of “the other.” The conceptual “I” cannot survive without the conceptual “other.”
The others are most other when I see them as my enemies. At one end of this scale of this unconscious egoic pattern lies the egoic compulsive habit of faultfinding and complaining about others. Jesus referred to it when he said, “Why to do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”
At the other end of the scale, there is physical violence between individuals and warfare between nations. In the Bible, Jesus' question remains unanswered, but the answer is, of course: Because when I criticize or condemn another, it makes me feel bigger, superior.”
Exerts from “A NEW EARTH” by Eckhart Tolle.
Why is our current cognitive reasoning capacity so fixated on cause & effect, mechanical thinking? Because we are oriented by instinctual motor reflex, not intelligence or depth of insightful awareness? Our focused attention remains instinctively “out there,” lacking insight into the environment within, where our perception is actually constructed. Constructed, overwhelmingly by nature’s electro-chemical reactivity and not by any parts like mechanisms of an elaborate mechanical construction. Yet in our learned awareness of a consensus reality, we think and speak about ourselves, in this, now out-dated mechanical world view? We simply take it for granted, as a “just so,” of our social environment?
We remain in socialized denial of our inner world, and the raw power of affect/emotion by which we are deeply embedded in the reality of nature and the wider reaches of the Cosmos. We say the word Evolution, in a dissociated mind state of awareness, which refuses by learned social suppression, to FEEL the inner reality of Evolution. We’re stuck in civilization’s war on the “A” word? We dare not mention it for fear of being ostracized by our social peers, who seek the comfort-zone of civil discourse, and the cool dissociation of the intellect, in its pale imitation of the vitalizing affect, in a real-life NOW?
What I believe is missing in Robert’s cause & effect analysis of a societal delusion about the efficiency of drug therapy, is the emotional transaction between Doctor & patient, in the real-life anxiety of that lived moment. A moment of NOW, which begs a constant question of us all? Can I cope? Psychiatry clings to the illusion of drug efficiency because it currently sees no other way to cope with the demands of unconscious stress reactions, in that moment of consultation, when the individual or those close to him/her are seeking immediate relief. So we sedate. Problem resolved in our usual modus-operandi of crisis management.
In a socialized consensus reality, we remain in denial of this hard-wired response-ability, to LIFE. What is also missing from the cause & effect analysis of a societal problem, are the hidden stress responses, which bring the identified patient before the good Doctor, for the very first time? In our cognitive consensus fashion, the problem is analyzed as some, thing, “out there,” a story of “not me” otherness describing power broker’s, who somehow force a delusion on helpless others? An analysis, I believe, is lacking a subtle sensitivity to inner sensation, and its construction of perception, an embodied sense of self, knowing the deeper nature of being human?
An unconscious, autonomic, “I & Other,” response, of limited self-awareness? Supported by this cradle of denial, a socialized, consensus reality. A fearful suppression of nature’s powerful sense of vitality, our innate affect/emotion? Consider;
“INNATE AFFECT/EMOTION & SOCIETY:
Because the free expression of innate affect is extremely contagious and because these are very powerful phenomena, all societies, in varying degrees, exercise substantial control over the free expression of the cry of affect. No societies encourage or permit each individual to cry out i.e, rage or excitement, or distress or terror wherever and whenever they wish. Very early on, strict control over affect expression is instituted and such control is exerted particularly over the voice, whether used in speech or in direct affect expression.
With anger the matter is further confused, because of the danger represented by this affect and enormous societal concern about the socialization of anger, what is typically seen and thought to be innate is actually backed-up. The appearance of the backed-up, the simulated, and the innate is by no means the same.
Details of the difference in socialization concern, differences in tolerance or intolerance of the several primary human affects - excitement, enjoyment, surprise, distress, contempt, shame, fear and anger - which in turn determine how positively or how negatively a human being learns to feel about themselves and about other human beings. Such learning will also determine their general posture towards the entire ideological domain.”
Exerts from “Exploring Affect,” (1995) by Sylvan Tomkins.
Hence a societal delusion is created and maintained by our need to suppress our own instinctual nature, in this process of societal evolution, we call civilization?
“That first time, back in 1980, it felt like the real you had come out, then everyone wanted you to go back into your shell again,’ my best from 1980 told me in 2010.” From going “back in,” in 1980 with a ten minute diagnosis of schizophrenia and daily suicidal thoughts throughout that challenging decade. When I held down a dangerous job and began to raise a family, while grappling with medication side effects. Through the decade of the 1990’s when I gradually learned to manage myself without psychotropic medications, and the start of a new path in 2003, have I now come out, to stay out? Has a recent six week energy cycle of classic euphoric mania, seen a solid shift towards the healthy growth and maturing, of a nature thwarted by past circumstance. Natural wonder and curiosity about our existential nature, particularly of meaning, metaphor and spirituality, have always been the flip-side of my trauma fueled hyper-vigilance. Hyper-vigilance, as the heightened sensory awareness of my instinctual nature, which my self-education and self-experimentation has taught me to understand and accept, on both conscious and unconscious levels of my being. Thank God I found my way to writers like Allan Schore, Stephen Porges and Peter Levine. Thank God I followed the example of personal hero’s like Joseph Campbell and Murray Bowen, to sit in room and read?
“Sit in a room and read–and read and read. And read the right books by the right people. Your mind is brought onto that level, and you have a nice, mild, slow-burning rapture all the time.” _Joseph Campbell.
So I read and reread, all the books I brought here to Thailand, where I can devote myself to understanding my experience and my nature. After spending the month of June expressing my natural personality on madinamerica.com, the mental illness road to redemption feels complete, as a desire to pursue thwarted natural interests takes hold. Peter Levine’s brilliant book “In an Unspoken Voice,” was the most often quoted book, during my attempts to share and bond with my fellow mental illness survivors during June, and I share more exerts with my readers here, in my need for attachment, and hope that the reader will take my efforts into their heart. Please consider my mentors thoughts about our nature and my use of the wording, a mind-sense, consensus reality;
“Our tendency is to identify with our thoughts to such an extent that we confuse them with reality, we believe that we are our thoughts. Body awareness exercises can help you detect the fundamental difference between your minds visual image of your body and your actual “introceptive” experience. In discovering that we are not just our thoughts and images, we begin a journey to fullness as living, participating, sentient, embodied creatures. (we come home to the “instinctual self“)
Instincts, at their archaic roots, are compelled actions. They are movements that the body does or postural adjustments that prepare us for these actions. For this reason, physical sensations that guide these actions are the vehicle for direct knowledge of our instinctual selves.
Of our ancestors, cave paintings and other archaeological evidence record the saga of the evolution of embodied human consciousness as it blossomed in self-knowledge, in abstract symbols and finally a written language. As individuals congregated in populated communities, their survival need for constant environmental vigilance waned. Their awareness of bodily sensation took on more of a social function - what is now termed social and emotional intelligence.
As society became more and more complex, the need for greater mental capacity to navigate our position in the group increased. Nuanced body language - the reading of facial and postural cues, gave way to establishing impulse control, and an increasingly mental framework. By the so-called age of reason, the importance of rationality ascended to new heights. Disembodiment, in the service of rationality had become the norm. Finally, the supremacy of rationality congealed in Descartes “I think therefore I am,” iconic statement for modernity.
However, because our ancient design plan remains intact, it is our legacy to feel really alive, only when our survival instincts are fully engaged. Most of the time we solely have our thoughts as meager substitutes for our instinctual drives. We not only put a lot of energy into our thoughts, we also confuse them with reality; we come to believe erroneously, as did Descartes, that we are our thoughts.
Thoughts, unfortunately are poor surrogates for experienced aliveness (sensation), and when disconnected from feelings, they result in corrosive rumination, fantasy, delusion and excessive worry. On the other hand, when we are informed by clear body sensations and feelings, worry is diminished, while creativity and sense of purpose are enhanced.” _Peter Levine, PhD, "In an Unspoken Voice."
As mentioned an earlier chapter, it has been the use of Levine’s sensate awareness techniques for establishing a more “embodied” sense of self, that I have remained medication free and depression free, for five years now. Using a mind-less technique aquired through reading Levine, I’ve experienced two unrestrained, six week long euphoric mania’s in the past year. Even though I experience the same ecstatic states of mind, as I did in 2007 and all the previous mania’s since 1980, I now manage these cycles without the classic sleepless nights.
“Embodiment” is a personal-evolutionary solution to the tyranny of the yapping “monkey mind.” It paradoxically allows instinct and reason to be held together, fused in joyful participation and flow. Embodiment is about gaining, through the vehicle of sensate awareness, the capacity to feel the ambient physical sensations of unfettered energy and aliveness as they pulse through our bodies. It is here that mind and body, thought and feeling, psyche and spirit, are held together, welded in an undifferentiated unity of experience.” _Peter Levine, PhD, "In an Unspoken Voice."
As described in my description of a long night of the soul, in Laos, a mind-less release of muscular tensions allows a decent into sleep, per chance to dream. Its my own confirmation of Stephen Porges articulation of the primacy of physiological state? The body comes first, not the mind, in a perfect illustration of the embodied reality of that often thought and spoken word, Evolution, without the “I think therefore I am,” misinterpretation of our nature. Please try this tension relaxation exercise;
Relax the muscular tensions of your head and face, feel for tension in your jaw, around your eyes and notice any pressing forward of your tongue inside your mouth, feel for a letting go of tension around your face and let your tongue relax. Be mindful of spontaneous shifts in your breathe and what happens with your thoughts? Feel for the letting go of tension, without your mind instructing in its usual fashion, don't try to focus any particular thoughts and you will feel the spontaneous actions of your autonomic nervous system within. The mind gets in the way of our instinctive nature and interrupts our auto nervous system in its job of maintaining homeostatic balance. Let go of your minds need to direct your awareness, and your auto nervous system takes over, doing the job millions of years of evolution designed it for? Consider;
“The polyvagal theory proposes that the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system provides the neurophysiological substrates for adaptive behavioral strategies. It further proposes that physiological state limits the range of behavior and psychological experience. The theory links the evolution of the autonomic nervous system to affective experience, emotional expression, facial gestures, vocal communication, and contingent social behavior. In this way, the theory provides a plausible explanation for the reported covariation between atypical autonomic regulation (eg, reduced vagal and increased sympathetic influences to the heart) and psychiatric and behavioral disorders that involve difficulties in regulating appropriate social, emotional, and communication behaviors.
The polyvagal theory provides several insights into the adaptive nature of physiological state. First, the theory emphasizes that physiological states support different classes of behavior. For example, a physiological state characterized by a vagal withdrawal would support the mobilization behaviors of fight and flight. In contrast, a physiological state characterized by increased vagal influence on the heart (via myelinated vagal pathways originating in the nucleus ambiguus) would support spontaneous social engagement behaviors. Second, the theory emphasizes the formation of an integrated social engagement system through functional and structural links between neural control of the striated muscles of the face and the smooth muscles of the viscera. Third, the polyvagal theory proposes a mechanism—neuroception— to trigger or to inhibit defense strategies.” _STEPHEN W. PORGES, PhD, "The polyvagal theory: New insights into adaptive reactions of the autonomic nervous system."
A BREAKDOWN OR A BREAKTHROUGH:
MY BIPOLAR TYPE 1, MENTAL ILLNESS EXPERIENCE,
WAS MORE PHYSIOLOGICAL THAN PSYCHOLOGICAL?
“‘People see it as a breakdown, its so disruptive to the old personality, the personality they’ve become adjusted to, but that old personality was a bad habit, a part I’d learned to play,’ I replied.
‘All the world’s a stage eh? Clever boy, that Billy Shakespeare, a gifted psychologist.’
Physiological, not psychological. That’s my breakthrough, thanks to Stephen Porges groundbreaking discovery of a polyvagal regulation of the human heart, and our affective states of body-mind. Learning to accept and let go my habitual defenses, of body posture and a, “I think therefore I am” mind state sense of self, has been key to a healthy transformation. A re-orientation towards healthy growth and maturity, which my nature has always intended.”
“Strange how life is circular in fashion, as I muse about writing today?” I’m reminded of a remark made to James, my oldest son in 2009 before I came to Thailand.
‘How will you write a book, will you take some writing courses,’ he asked me, knowing of my limited education.
‘I guess I’ll feel my way into it, just as I did when I built a successful family business,’ I answered. A business that started very tentatively and grew with hard work over a three year period, reaching that point of reflection when my wife and I realized change had happened, yet we couldn’t say when the tipping point had been? Here today I can feel that same point of flourishing success, with so much writing on this laptop, and so much practice, that in reflective hindsight, there is a noticeable shift, which happened somewhere along the line. Somewhere there has been a tipping point in my road to redemption, although my mind’s useless need for certainty can’t really say where and when? As always during the poignant moments of life, a song comes to mind now, and as Harry would say, it’s the story of a life, my friend.