Posts Tagged ‘dream work’

Elephants in Rooms

March 31, 2012

The process of enculturation –  by parents, through classroom education and in peer groups – trains a person in rules regarding what is acceptable to speak about, and what is not. The information we receive is sometimes imparted openly, but I believe most of what we learn comes tacitly. Vibrations of approval, discomfort or annoyance register in our subtle bodies. Thus we learn. Most families, groups and individuals have variants in the rules, so we adjust as we go. When we say something that hits the force field of a rule barrier, this can feel like crossing one of those invisible fences used for animals. Zap; ouch. Note to self: avoid that territory. A lot of this occurs unconsciously.

I used to teach a Dialogue method developed utilizing theories articulated by physicist David Bohm. One of the exercises we employed to help move a group into authentic voicing and deeper listening was to have people draw a line down the center of a page, dividing it into a Left-Hand Column and a Right-Hand Column. Think of a recent conversation that contained some level of significance. On the right side of the page write down to the best of your memory what was actually spoken during the conversation. On the left, write about what was in your mind but remained unspoken for whatever reason; and then write what you imagine might have been in the other persons mind that remained unspoken. This is not to be presumptuous, as if we could actually know what is in the other’s mind. It is an exercise to help broaden attention to include what is unspoken in any given conversation, and sometimes to realize that much of what is “said” is not said aloud.

In practicing dialogue in a group, we encourage participants to speak a little more from what would normally remain in their left hand column. Those gathered learn to hold the tension and to suspend assumptions, judgments and opinions related to one’s “training” and listen more deeply into self and other.

In Jungian psychology this Right-Hand, Left-Hand Column technique is not articulated in the same terms, but I think psychoanalysis might be described as a safe place to empty out the Left-Hand column, to think out loud about what in other circumstances remains unspoken, and then to work with it. Psychoanalysis and dream work also help identify that much of what remains unsaid due to long years of training falls into the unconscious. We lose awareness that these thoughts, feelings or impressions were ever there. A person learns to focus on what is “appropriate,” what can be said, and too often forgets about the rest.

Two images come to me to describe the material that has fallen into the unconscious in such ways. One is that it becomes like the ghostly coachman, the one who is driving your chariot but who cannot be seen or related to. People are afraid of psychoanalysis in the same way as they are afraid of ghosts. But, these ghosts are there. Not talking about them doesn’t make them go away. We deny them to our detriment.

The other image that recently occurred to me regarding this material is that it is like what we call “the elephant in the room.”  Musing on this idea, a deep respect came over me for what an elephant is, and what it represents. They are ancient beings, it seems to me. Sacred. They hold wisdom and intelligence of the pre-verbal and pre-rational mind, as well as knowledge of this world. They are relational creatures, loyal, family and community oriented.

To regard the elephant in the room is to turn attention to what is ancient, wise and sacred. We tend to use this term with judgment, meaning that avoiding the elephant is due to dishonesty and being in denial. But what if, instead, we turn to the elephant in the room with interest, trust, respect, hope, curiosity, love, and with an open heart inquire into it? Who is it, and what does it want to tell us? Humans often have an instinctive skittishness and distrust when faced with what is unknown among us – like what is not known mostly will hurt or overwhelm us. But what if that big body just wants to love us, help us, heal us, play with us?

The “elephant in the room” can be among people or even inside someone, an internal, individual phenomenon – whatever is there that we avoid bringing to consciousness. What if we turn our attention to the elephants in our rooms?

I want now to commit to regarding the elephants newly. I want my teacher to be the elephant, to learn to regard the metaphorical elephant the way incarnated elephants regard us. With stillness. Alertness. Power. Tenderness. With those big eyes and long eyelashes. With beauty and apparent sweetness.

The week coming up is Holy Week in the Christian calendar. It commemorates events around the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. He was (and is) certainly an elephant in the room of traditional powers; what if He were regarded differently? This may be a good week to begin the elephant meditation.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

August 15, 2010

PTSD is a very real thing, though most doctors of any brand that I have ever spoken to do not know how to help someone who suffers it. After a major shock in my life, which led to the disassembling of everything that I cherished in life, I unraveled at every level and lost nearly 40 pounds. I went to internal medicine doctors, psychiatrists, Jungian analysts and acupuncturists.  Across the board the diagnosis for my symptoms was PTSD. I applied myself in every way possible to what helps were offered, but ultimately no one really knows what to do. It remains a deep mystery, because the psyche itself remains a deep mystery. Psyche is the irrational world, the one that does not respond to medicines and rational models of treatment or such formulas for intervention. My doctoral work in depth psychology and specifically my work with dreams and shamanic dimensions of the psyche have been a saving grace, but the mystery remains.

Yesterday all of the furniture in my house was rearranged by a gifted friend who I invited to help me with it – an answer to a prayer for change and certainly a magical response to a ritual I have been doing to invite the future and clear the past. But today the PTSD has kicked in. Apparently my deep psyche is responding as though my whole world were undone and disassembled all over again, a raw re-living of the deepest trauma. My mind understands, is happy and very grateful – my body and the disease are causing paralytic states and anxiety attacks. The mind and the body, the rational and the irrational – these are all different worlds with different sets of rules. I am grateful to be inside this disease of PTSD as a doctor rather than outside of it, because I am imagining that only from in here can I help find a cure.  In this, on this day, I find a goal and a purpose.