"There are more things in heaven and earth ... than are dreamt of in your philosophy" Hamlet
As we are all experiencing this pandemic, and trying to figure out just what we are experiencing; what to do with all of the overwhelming emotions that are erupting chaotically (and rather rudely at times), I came across this interview with Jack Kornfield in the NY Times Magazine yesterday (April 19, 2020). I would like to share a few highlights from the interview that I found quite helpful. Hoping some of it may resonate with you.
Jack Kornfield Interview with David Marchese, NY Times Magazine, April 19, 2020
Re: the pandemic
What’s needed in a time like this... are ways to steady the heart...The first step is acknowledgment and the willingness to be present. You could almost whisper to yourself, “Sadness, fear, anxiety, grief, longing,” as if to bow to that feeling and hold it with respect. That allows the feeling to open – maybe intensify for a bit – but eventually soften. The next step is to bring in a sense of compassion for all the fears and confusion and helplessness. These feelings are all part of the fight-flight-or-freeze instinct in the body and the mind. If I make space for the feelings and they have time to be felt, it’s as if my awareness gets bigger and I can hold all of this with greater ease and compassion and presence and steadiness.
So the first thing is to acknowledge that this is just our humanity. Your feelings are your organism trying to handle things. The second thing is what you teach kids: Take a pause. You don’t have to sit and do some formal meditation. In that moment when you’re about to snap, take a breath, turn away. Bring that quality of loving awareness, and name the feeling gently – upset, worried, frightened or whatever it might be – and then, almost as if you could put your hand on your heart, say: “Thank you for trying to protect me. I’m OK.” That can take 10 seconds, and it allows us to reset our consciousness. All the good neuroscience on trauma and its release is based on this kind of caring attention.
Acknowledge that you’ll have cycles where you’ll get lost in anxiety or fear.
This is Nancy reacting to the quote: That last sentence is really important. We're not looking for placid perfection! Life is full of cycles. I feel that what's attempting to be learned is how to consciously acknowledge the cycle we're in. And even when it seems as if all hope has evaporated, somewhere, even in the most hidden depth of pain, know what we feel now is not forever.
And now back to our regular programing:
As a therapist with a PhD in depth psychology, my process is based on the concept of "seeing through". We look through the obvious (such as crippling anxiety or suffocating depression) to discover what is breathing behind it. In this manner we uncover who you are beyond the pain, cultural expectations, and all of the shoulds that have cluttered and defined your life. We may wander onto a new philosophy for you, something you've never even dreamed of. Working together, we can unravel the defenses that have been unconsciously built to protect your heart and soul from feeling and have kept you from being present in your own life. By staying curious, open, creative, and nonjudgmental, we will unearth who you really are and investigate what may be holding you back from experiencing a more fulfilling and meaningful life. I love this description of the theraputic process and healing:
When we look at healing as creating space for the stranger, it is clear that we should be willing and able to offer … so much needed hospitality…Therefore, healing means, first of all, the creation of an empty but friendly space where those who suffer can tell their story to someone who can listen with real attention…Our most important question as healers is not, "What to say or to do?" but, "How to develop enough inner space where the story can be received?" Healing is the humble but also very demanding task of creating and offering a friendly empty space where the stranger can reflect on their pain and suffering without fear; and find the confidence that makes them look for new ways right in the center of their confusion. Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out: Three Movements of the Spiritual Life
There are a couple of things that resonate for me in this quote. One is about the therapeutic process developing confidence, the confidence that healing is possible, and that we can find new ways of seeing the world even in our most depressed and anxious state. It’s very easy to feel hopeless and overwhelmed when we’re overcome with confusion and suffering. To know that the therapeutic relationship can help to develop the inner confidence necessary to look at the world differently can be comforting. Even though we may not have an answer or specific path, we can find new ways of living.
I’m also attracted to the term stranger. The stranger does not have to mean the patient. The stranger can be the unknown feeling, or an unknown, strange part of ourselves. That is where it takes listening with real attention to patiently see who or what is emerging.