Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Shifting from Talk to Present Experience: How the now informs us about the past

Below is an article I wrote for the Larimer Mental Health Connections newsletter.  I'm sharing it here as well if you are wondering a little more about Hakomi and how it differs from talk therapy.

Sometimes, it really helps just to talk.  Sometimes, it’s as if talk doesn’t really do anything but keep us stuck in the same ruts.  This is when we know that in order to change, it will take a shift out of the same thinking that got us stuck in the first place.  By stopping to actually study our experience – not just what we are saying, but how we are saying it, what we are feeling emotionally, what we are experiencing in our body, and how another person is seeing us, we are able to go beyond the words and start to learn about the patterns that got us there in the first place.

In order to do this, we must use different tools and change where we are looking.  In the Hakomi Method of Experiential Psychotherapy, some tools we use are mindfulness – paying attention to what is happening inside ourselves in the present moment with non-judgmental awareness; experiments – let’s watch what happens inside us when…; and accessing all of our system – especially somatic experience, impulses, sensations, emotions, thoughts, images, and memories.  By including information that comes from more than just talk, we are able to gain access to rich information that would stay hidden if we only engage cognitive functions.

Using mindfulness opens a window and gives us access to a more complete set of information.  Recent discoveries in neuroscience have started to explain how our systems work and why mindfulness and somatic therapies work.  Memories are stored partially in several places.  They have a sensory component, a somatic component, a cognitive component, and an emotional component. If we only access memories cognitively, we limit ourselves to only cognitive memories.  If we take the time to slow down and study everything that is happening on all channels in the present moment, it can quickly lead us to understand more about the organizers of experience – the conscious and unconscious decisions we made about the world that made it seem like a good idea to be the way we are being in the present. 

Asking someone to turn their attention solely toward themself requires an immense amount of trust. Trust in themselves and trust in the therapist. Research has shown that relationship is the most important factor in a positive therapeutic outcome. Hakomi has a strong focus on relationship and demonstrates both why and how relationship heals.

Hakomi draws from systems theory, viewing each person as a system which interacts with other systems. According to Stephen Porges’ Polyvagal Theory, we have a branch of our autonomic nervous system that recreates another person’s experience inside ourselves.  In order to have access to this information, we must be mindful ourselves and be in relationship with the other. When this level of relationship is present, it creates a space for a client to explore their system beyond what they’ve explored before and it allows the therapist to have access to information in themselves which more fully informs what it is like to be that other person - leading to deeper connection, empathy, understanding, and healing. 

We don’t need to ask about the past, everything we are doing in the present moment is a result of our past experience.  By tuning in to what is already happening on its own in the system, we can help someone learn more about their own experience and start to see that maybe those patterns that were a good idea at one time are not needed any more.  Then by having new corrective experience in relationship, they are more able to change.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

What is an Inner Life Adventure, and Why?

What in the heck was I thinking naming my practice Inner Life Adventures?  Like everything in life, there is really a lot in there.  Inner Life Adventures really speaks to what happens inside all of us in every moment.

Inner - Even though the focus is on the “inner,” integration is everywhere.  Just like there is no separation in mind and body, there really is no separation in inner and outer life.  Our "inner life" - thoughts, beliefs, and feelings we have about ourselves and the kind of world we live in, weather we are aware of them or not affect how we participate in our "outer life" - the world of relationships with friends, family, lovers, employment, and world.

Have you ever made a Mobius strip?  Take a rectangular piece of paper, give it a twist and tape the ends together.  Now put your finger on one surface (not the edge - no paper cuts please) and trace the entire paper.  You will see there is no front or back, no inner or outer. Even though you started with two distinct sides, when you connect them, you see it's all the same. The same is true about our relationship with life.  Connecting these two sides is what we do when we start focusing on our Inner Life Adventures.  We choose to focus on "Inner Life" because it is much easier to watch and it is the only thing that we can hope to control.

Life - Life is rich.  In this practice, we aim to study all of life, both the positive and the things we don’t usually want to think about.  It is all a part of life and it’s all good!  When we start to pay attention to our Inner Life, we gain access to so much more in both our inner life and our outer life.  After all, it is through our 5 senses that we take in information about the world, which registers only inside. 

Imagine for a moment you are walking down the sidewalk.  By focusing on what is happening inside you, you may notice in just this simple act, you are aware of the weather, the surface you are walking on, the people around you, the plants, animals, types of buildings, cars, bikes, and so much more.  Also, you have stories that are starting to play, being triggered by those things. Some people may seem friendly and remind you of someone you love; others may seem scary and make you feel afraid, some people may trigger judgment, some people may bring up your compassion. 

All of this and more is happening inside us at lightning quick speeds, most of it out of our awareness. By learning to pay more attention to what is happening inside, we gain access to that much more of life and we can start to see our patterns of automatic behavior and learn more about how we react rather than choose in every moment of our life, ultimately giving us more ability to create the life that we want, rather than being controlled by it.

Adventures – Looking inside is an exploration.  You never know what might turn up, so it is important to keep a positive, curious, experimental attitude. Sometimes, doing inner work can be tough. Most people, myself included, don't really want to look at those parts of ourselves that are hurt, scared, neglected, or tender because we don’t want to feel those things. When we honestly take a look inside, we will see things that are really awesome as well as things we may not want to see.  By taking the approach that it is all normal and viewing exploration of our inner life as an adventure, every thought, feeling, and behavior is accepted as part of being human, being honest with ourselves and exploring all parts of us can become exciting and fun, seeking out new information about ourselves. There is no such thing as a problem, only information.  We don't explore problems, we go on intrapersonal adventures which help us with interpersonal and "outer life" adventures.

There is so much more that could be said about this, but words can only do so much, your Inner Life Adventure is experiential.  This is enough information to get you started.  By shifting our view of life just a little, to be an exploration of all of life and by looking inside to do so, life becomes much more rich and exciting!  I invite you to contact me and comment below on your thoughts, experiences, and questions. But most importantly, I invite you to fully step into your own Inner Life Adventure!