Category Archives: self-discovery

Homelessness and homecoming

Have you ever felt homeless? I don’t mean trying to imagine yourself living on the street, without a roof over your head, but the inarticulate feeling inside you that would resonate with the word “homeless”?

For many years – night in and night out – this has been a recurrent motif of my dreams. However their main plot had varied, that motif remained constant: in every dream I wouldn’t have a home of my own. I would stay at an hotel, perch in a corner of somebody’s sitting room among their busy life, sleep in half-deserted dormitories… It was the resonance with this feeling that drew me to take part in Crisis at Christmas when a friend told me about this large-scale volunteering initiative in the UK.

Crisis at Christmas

During the Christmas week the organization called Crisis (www.crisis.org.uk) hires empty schools and colleges and turns them into the residential and day-centres for people who are homeless. Some of them sleep rough, others live at squats or manage by the so-called “sofa-surfing” at their friends’ or acquaintances. At Crisis’ centres the guests receive three home-cooked meals a day and have an access to a wide variety of free services: medical checks, dentist treatments, haircut, clothes alterations, legal advice, massage, reflexology, Reiki, meditation, arts and crafts, drama classes, creative writing – you name it. And just having a chat with some friendly people also means a lot! During last Christmas (2014) 10 centres in London welcomed over 3,600 guests. More than 10,000 volunteers took part in the event, and I had a privilege to be one of them. It was my second time at Crisis at Christmas and, as the year before, it was a very profound and intense experience, which shook me and stirred many feelings and thoughts. I’d like to try and share some of them here.

What is homelessness?

What does it mean to be homeless? Is it a social phenomenon, psychological conundrum or existential condition? Or perhaps – all of those. On my way back to Cambridge I had a chat over a cup of coffee with a friend who teaches philosophy. He evoked Heidegger, the German existential philosopher who spoke of our “thrownness”: we are being “thrown” into this world, without asking for it, without choosing the circumstances of our birth and upbringing, isolated in our uniqueness, struggling to make some sense of all this.

There are levels – and layers – of homelessness. Heidegger’s is the most basic – existential level – a human condition that we all share. Some of us may experience it sharper than others, but we all experience it at some point and have to come to terms with it. Interwoven with it and, partly, evolving from it is the next level: psychological homelessness. By this I mean our needs and feelings of belonging, of being appreciated and needed, of being accepted for who we are.

From the chats that I had with the guests at Crisis I formed an impression that it is when things go badly wrong at this level that leads to the actualized homelessness when a person has no safe place of their own, neither physical nor social. They are literally thrown out: of their homes and of other people’s lives. These are people whose families rejected them, who lost their jobs, their homes, their faith in themselves and in others – and found themselves in emotional and social isolation.

Where does it begin?

As I am writing this, letting my thoughts spin, I am beginning to see the basic experiences of family and social bonding as a buffer that stops the fathomless waters of existential thrownness from crushing through the walls of human psyche and swamping it. I spoke to a young man who grew up in an orphanage; a couple of years ago he managed to track down his mother. She was now living with a young daughter, married to a wealthy man and didn’t want to know of him… I encountered a man in his sixties, who attempted suicide twice, and he has grown up children who hold good jobs and earn decent money… I can’t stop wondering what will become of these people – will they make it through this winter? And the following one?..

My initiation into Crisis has endowed me with a “survivor’s guilt” that I have to learn to accept and embrace. Yet this guilt comes together with the gift. It is a gift of hope. The hope that healing is possible. Of course, it is my own healing too that I’ve been seeking when volunteering at Crisis at Christmas. And I believe I have found some answers – at least for myself…

Naked humanness

One of the most remarkable things about Crisis at Christmas is that it is a place where people (even volunteers between themselves) don’t ask each other about what they do in the “outer” life. The usual questions that dominate most social gatherings, implicitly or explicitly, are rendered irrelevant in this context. Suddenly it doesn’t matter what your job is, how much you earn, what car you drive, what are your degrees, position, status, and so on. People get to know you from an immediate experience of you – through what you give and how you give, through how you interact with others. They get to know you by your smile, by the tone of your voice, by how you listen and how you share. It is the essential qualities that matter and on this level one is able to experience the rare moments of true equality: because even the most deprived person, outside of the very margins of society, still carries the light of his or her personality within them.

We hold on so tightly to external attributes which we believe add to our value. When we lose these attributes (even just some of them) we suffer and feel worthless. But it is when we are stripped naked of all our decorations that our humanness comes forth, shining in its vulnerable beauty. I have already discovered this simple truth through my personal journey as well as my work as a therapist, but it was my experience at Crisis that really helped it sink in.

Giving and receiving

It is very important though that in such critical moments of your life someone will be with you who can appreciate this beauty and reflect it back to you, so you can begin to appreciate it for yourself. And here I come to another crucial notion: the openness of heart. Probably the worst thing that can happen to a person who had been deprived of love and caring is that they deem themselves beyond hope and turn away from help that is being offered. Kierkegaard (to mention yet another existential philosopher) called it “shutupness or “in-closure” (Indeslutte) and deemed it the worst kind of despair.

In order to heal one has to be able to receive. And in order to receive one has to have courage to give their trust to somebody who offers them compassion and a helping hand. So the giving and the receiving are really the one thing – like yin and yang – flowing one into the other and engendering one another. I have fully experienced it at Crisis.

This year as well as the last year I have being working alongside massage and yoga practitioners, giving Reiki. For those of you who haven’t heard of it, Reiki comes from an ancient tradition of healing by laying on hands. It is a very simple pure kind of touch (although some practitioners do it without physical contact) that promotes a deep sense of relaxation and helps rebalance emotions and restore physical health. It was truly amazing and infinitely moving to witness how people who sleep on the street could so totally entrust themselves to your hands, how they allowed themselves to be held and attended to. What beautiful, slightly shy smiles I’ve been greeted with when they opened their eyes re-emerging from a few moments of peace and calmness! The gift of warm-hearted child-like gratefulness generously offered. It was a healing gift for me too for at these moments I transcended my own existential homelessness and experienced a profound sense of connectedness – from heart to heart. I wasn’t alone any more, the world had meaning and my life had meaning.

Homecoming

After so many dark nights of the soul, after all my wanderings through the endless tunnels I feel that I came to be more rooted in my heart, feeling safe and comfortable there and happy to open it to others and to life. It is a wonderful and joyful experience of Homecoming.

And, in conclusion, I want to share with you a song performed by The Choir with No Name – a choir of homeless people. One of the guests at Crisis told me about them and said that singing at the choir is what kept him going. Please listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJjTe5DmGso

The alchemy of intuition: How to trust ourselves

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In my previous article I suggested that our ability to trust other people is closely connected with our ability to trust ourselves and here I want to continue the discussion.

People often speak about “trusting your intuition.” But what is this mysterious thing that we call “intuition”? What kind of secret ingredients compose intuition and how can we account for the instances when it apparently fails us? Without pretending to be an adept, I would like to try and unravel the alchemy of intuition.

A very fine-tuned intuition presupposes a high degree of self-knowledge and ability to be in touch with your inner self on many different levels simultaneously. Awareness, I believe, is a key notion here and it includes:

  • awareness of your needs (physical and emotional);
  • awareness of your current state (physical and emotional);
  • awareness of the past experiences and how they may be affecting you now;
  • awareness of your desires, expectations and values;
  • awareness of your weaknesses and strengths.

(The list is, of course, incomplete.)

When dealing with a specific situation or a person we calibrate our self-knowledge against the knowledge that we possess about this person/situation and take a more or less informed guess. We draw upon our life experiences and acquaintance with human psychology. The more knowledge we have (both about ourselves and about others), the higher the probability that our guess will be accurate.

When our inner compass is confused

We rely on our intuition daily, making split-second decisions and evaluations that we often don’t even register. We sharpen it by making mistakes and learning from them. It is as if we had an inner compass that was guiding us through the complex maze of life-situations, suggesting which direction to take. Yet it can happen that our inner compass gets seriously confused and we don’t feel that we can rely on it. We then feel lost, bewildered and unable to make sense of what is going on. This state of confusion can be very painful and impairing. At one particularly difficult period in my life, when my whole world seemed to have turned upside down, I remember experiencing an ongoing physical sensation of a slight nausea, like a sea-sickness, when your balance is askew.

To repair our compass and overcome the confusion, it is important to understand what causes it. Reflecting on my own experiences and through my work as a therapist, I came to think that we lose trust in our inner judgment when our immediate – visceral – experience is forcefully contradicted or denied.

For example: imagine that everybody around you will start telling you that the grass is blue. At some point you will begin to doubt your own eyes and/or sanity. This is, of course, an exaggerated case, but it highlights the mechanism clearly. When our perception is invalidated by an overpowering authority we lose the point of reference. It is as if the hand of a compass habitually pointing North has been re-magnetized to point to a different direction. A Hebrew expression for feeling disoriented conveys precisely this idea: “to lose the North.”

Formative childhood experiences

As I suggested above, the ability to trust ourselves is intrinsically connected with our self-knowledge. We gain this knowledge by being in touch with our feelings and recognizing them for what they are. Childhood experiences are paramount in developing this ability. Especially, when we begin to speak. Young children don’t have names for emotions. They learn to recognize and articulate them with the help of adults. For example, when a child is angry and starts throwing things around and kicking furniture, the mother may tell him: “I can see that you are angry. You can say ‘I am angry’ – there is no need to kick this table.” Thus a child gets a word for identifying and expressing what is happening within him or her. Conversely, if the mother would shout “You are a bad boy!” the child will not learn to understand himself better. Instead he will associate the raging emotion of anger within him with being a bad person, someone his mother (and others – in the future) cannot love.

Unfortunately, it happens far too widely that a child’s emotional experience is not accurately acknowledged by parents or other adults in authority. In response to a child’s expression of his/her emotions parents impose valuating (often negative) judgment on it, deny or twist it.

Consider, for instance, a situation when a father teaches his little boy to cycle and the child falls and starts crying. The father says: “Stop crying, it doesn’t hurt that much! What a shame: you are a big boy!” The boy’s hurt is not being acknowledged, instead his feelings are denied and he is being shamed for having and expressing them. This creates a dissonance between an immediate experience and an ability to grasp it. If this “educational” trend continues it is very likely that the boy will gradually stop expressing his pain (physical as well as emotional pain) and even learn to block his feelings altogether.

As a child I was repeatedly told that I was selfish. My earliest memory of it goes to the age of 4 or 5 when I would refuse to share a candy with my younger sister. Reinforced by other incidents, the branding “selfish” became a part of my self-definition, my hidden shameful secret. Apart from developing a negative self-image, it also impaired my ability to acknowledge my needs and wants and to properly balance them with the needs and wants of other people. Every time I acted according to my needs I would feel bad about myself because it “confirmed” to me my “selfish” nature. It took me years to rid myself of this branding and reset my inner compass.

Perhaps one of the most painful experiences is when our sense of justice is violated. Consider such a typical situation (with multiple variations): two siblings are having a fight; the younger runs to complain and the older is being punished by default without a chance to explain what happened. Another quite common case is when a parent is in the wrong, but instead of acknowledging their fault he or she blames the child. In these cases a child’s sense of fairness and justice comes into conflict with an authoritative verdict of a parent. The child begins to doubt his/her own truth and this confusion may have very long-reaching implications.

Recovering trust in our inner judgment

Growing up with a parent who consistently invalidates your feelings and perception can be very damaging. It is difficult to own your feelings when they have been repeatedly denied or subverted. The first step towards recovering your ability to trust your inner judgment and developing your intuition is by separating your emotional experiences from your parents’ valuations. It may be helpful to ask yourself whose voice is speaking in your head when you tell yourself, for instance, that you are being “lazy”? Most likely that it is not your own voice, but the one of your father, mother, grandparents or a teacher.

As I said – we are not being born with ready labels for our emotional experiences and their behavioral expression. We acquire these labels through our parents/teachers who often misinterpret us and thus undermine our ability to trust ourselves. One gift that as adults we can give to our inner children is to acknowledge their feelings that have not been acknowledged in the past and thus help them (and us now!) heal.

Tapping World Summit 2014

Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT or tapping) is a gentle and yet very powerful tool for achieving and maintaining emotional health and general wellbeing. EFT can be used for an amazing variety of things, big and small alike. It can aid recovery from a major emotional trauma and build up self-confidence and self-esteem. It is also instrumental in getting rid of our limiting beliefs and instilling new more powerful modes of thinking and relating to life. It has proven to be extremely effective in overcoming craving, fears and phobias and very often it also helps to relieve physical pain.

How does it work? Nobody exactly knows although a number of scientific studies that have been carried out suggest that tapping has an effect on amygdala, our “emotional brain.” But does it matter for EFT users if we don’t know exactly the how? Do we know how electricity works or computers work? Yet we rely on them every day. The important thing is that it does work!

Yet, in spite of the seeming simplicity, applying EFT in an efficient way requires some knowledge and skill. As it is known, EFT works best on very specific things. It treats the source of a problem in order to alleviate the symptoms. But how do we uncover the source? What approach do we follow? What words do we use?

If you like to learn more about using in EFT for yourself and to help others you may greatly benefit from a FREE online annual Tapping World Summit organized by Nick Ortner and Jessica Ortner. I take part in the summit every year and always learn something valuable from it. There are very knowledgeable presenters and Jessica is very good at conducting the interviews. The topics covered include:

  • overcoming stress and emotional pain from the past;
  • tapping for physical pain;
  • releasing anxiety and anger;
  • tapping for intimacy;
  • tapping for kids

And more!

The event starts on Feburary 24th. It is completely FREE and there are replays available for each interview. To register please follow this link:

http://www.tappingworldsummit.com.

Enjoy the event and share with me your thoughts and experiences!

Miracle healing

Longing for a miracle is deeply engrained in human heart. Even when we grow up the fairytales of our childhood do not completely lose their hold on us. No – they remain within us, even if just in the form of a half-acknowledged almost embarrassing wish that magic would happen and the impossible would come true! This wish intensifies when we are in pain and are searching for healing. The patience of somebody who has lived in pain (either emotional or physical) for a long time wears thin as pain is very tiring. And hence the desire to have the discomfort instantly removed is very understandable. Many people come to therapy (here I am speaking of therapy that has to do with emotions) precisely at this point. They have reached the limit of their endurance and they desire change. Instant change. But is that possible? Can such a miracle really happen so that a person would be healed in a moment?

The story of EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), or rather its predecessor TFT (Thought Field Therapy), begins from this kind of seemingly miraculous healing incident. Mary, a patient of Roger Callahan (the founder of TFT) has been cured from the years of severe water-phobia with two minutes tapping. This promise of instant cure has become a hallmark of tapping energy therapy. Yet, as Gary Craig, the father of EFT wrote recently in his blog articles such kind of advertisements are misleading and may do disservice to people who are likely to become discouraged if they do not obtain immediate results. So shall we believe or not believe in the story of Roger Callahan’s patient? Does tapping do or do not produce a miracle healing?

One thing that gets overlooked in Mary’s story is that she had two years of psychotherapy with Roger Callahan prior to their breakthrough. During this work many issues surrounding her fear of water had presumably been addressed, so that when Callahan suggested her to try tapping she was ready for the radical shift. Her healing that appears to be an instant miracle was in fact a journey. At the end of it, having gone through many dark places, she suddenly came to a clearing. And this is how it is in most cases. Although tapping does indeed facilitate quicker release of pent-up energy (emotional and physical) it is only one of the ingredients, a stepping stone on the way to healing.

I want to tell you a fable shared with me by my friend and therapist colleague. Once upon a time there was a man who got lost in a desert. He walked and walked for many days and nights and was exhausted and thirsty. Suddenly he stumbled across an ancient bottle, half buried in the sand. He scraped off the seal and – with a whoosh – a jinni burst out. He thanked his liberator and said: “Tell me your wish – I will make it come true.” “Jinni, said the man, I want to go home.” Jinni took him by the hand and said simply: “Let’s walk then.” “No, jinni, you didn’t understand – I want to go home quickly!” – “Well, then let’s run!”

This little tale captures the myth and truth about therapy. A person who comes to therapy wants to get “home” quickly. Yet healing is a journey and a therapist can go with you at the pace that you are ready to take. Miracle is what happens as the journey unfolds. Essential ingredients that make the magic work are the person’s desire to be healed, their determination and their relationship with the therapist. Therapy is not a one way process. It is an engagement of two minds and spirits, a subtle interchange of energy, which challenges the set patterns of pain and brings about the transformation. This is what I see as a healing miracle. Through this experience of intimate human communion, through this journeying together a person discovers resources and healing powers within him or herself. And it means much more than simply removing a symptom.

Self-love and selfishness

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When I speak of self-love many people say “But isn’t it selfish to love one’s self?”

When I first came across the concept of self-love my reaction was exactly the same.  It took me years to really grasp the difference between selfishness and loving one’s self. I believe the confusion stems from the complexity of the idea of love, in general, as well as from a common distortion in our upbringing.  We are taught to respect other people’s needs and feelings but are not taught to respect or even understand our own. This is because much of our upbringing aims at creating a person who would conveniently fit into society, rather than at helping one to become a fulfilled, self-sufficient, independent individual.

Thus, for instance, when a boy of four runs around in a supermarket the mother scolds him for disturbing other people. While it is true that the comfort of other shoppers ought to be respected, the disciplinary “lesson” often takes place without consideration of the physical and emotional needs of the four-year old. Perhaps it would be better not to take him shopping at all because at this age he is unable to stand still in a queue or walk quietly alongside his mother. In reality, however, this is not always possible. And thus the suppression of the natural needs of a child begins, and his subconscious begins to pick up a message that there is something wrong with him, and that the needs of others should be respected while his own natural needs do not deserve the same consideration. This message, reinforced many times in diverse situations, becomes ingrained in a child’s psyche. This child then grows into an adult who believes that his or her inner needs are of no importance, in comparison with the needs of other people.

This is just a small example, but it allows us to trace how imperceptibly, without any major trauma, our ability to recognize and respect our inner needs can be undermined. Sometimes this happens through the lack of differentiated psychological insight in parents. For instance, in my childhood I was repeatedly told by my father that I was selfish when I refused to share sweets with my little sister, a year and a half younger than me, or would not play with her instead of my friends. When as a young adult struggling with self-esteem I confronted my father about this, he replied: “Yes, I told you that because I did not want you to grow up selfish.” This was, apparently, his preventative care. And such well-meant measures may affect us for years to come.

So what is the difference between selfishness and self-love?

Through my many attempts at explanation, I have found it helpful to draw an analogy between caring for one’s self from the point of view of a child and caring for one’s self from the point of view of a loving and supportive parent. In the examples above I have highlighted some mistakes commonly made by parents. Presently, I would like you to think of an ideal parent model; of a parent who is a psychologically aware, mature and caring individual able to offer a child unconditional love combined with healthy boundaries.

Selfishness in this analogy is similar to a child’s idea of fulfilling his/her needs (for the sake of brevity I will continue to write using the masculine gender). As a child’s awareness of his needs, in a holistic and long-term context, is not sufficiently developed, he will frequently confuse gratification of his desire with what is good for him. For example, he may want to eat half a kilo of ice cream. That would be taking care of his craving, but not of the actual needs, of his health and wellbeing. Or imagine a child of five or six who takes a toy from a friend and does not want to give it back because he has taken a fancy to it. In the short term, this child may fulfill his desire, but in the long term – especially if he continues to behave in this way – he risks losing his friends.

I hope I am making my point clear. I am trying to say that being selfish, in my perception, amounts to the inclination to obtain immediate gratification of our desires, regardless of the long-term consequences for our emotional and physical wellbeing. And while striving for this gratification we can also hurt other people. While I don’t yet have children of my own I have been spending a fair amount of time with children of my friends.  This has given me plenty of chances to observe their thunderous struggles with their “I want it NOW!”

I often empathize with them as I recognize it within myself, even though at a different level. More often than I would like I recognize the little child within me who screams “I want it NOW!” And it takes the mature, parent-like part of myself to help that child realize what attitude or action would really be in her best interests.

Now, the caring parent who is aware of his/her child’s needs may sometimes say no to the child for the sake of the child’s health or emotional wellbeing. This restriction, however, would be based on the understanding of the child’s developmental needs, challenges and desires. It would also come with an expression of acknowledgment and an appropriate explanation in a form the child will understand. If such a parent has to reprimand the child for some misbehaviour, she/he would make it clear that it is the behaviour that is being “bad,” not the child himself. And, of course, discipline would be followed by forgiveness, so that the child would stay confident that his parent’s love is always there and that it is ok to make mistakes, because this is how we learn. And making mistakes does not make anyone a bad person; it only shows us the direction in which we need to develop.

When parents take care of their children in this way they validate the children’s feeling of self-worth and create a nurturing environment in which children are free to grow as persons, gradually developing the awareness of their own needs, of the needs of others, and how these two sets of needs interrelate.

Parenting our selves in such a way is what I would call self-love. This love is a form of caring that is based on the recognition of our value as a human being and as a person; it presupposes the acknowledgment of our needs, desires, wants, challenges and struggles; it knows how to forgive and how to encourage; it appreciates our individuality and tries to create conditions that would be best for our personal growth and wellbeing.