I find my clients’ stories so beautiful, inspiring, fascinating…and moving.
I feel the complex fragmentation of the world in their bodies and mine too. Sometimes the inability to meet it or just surrender to it is counterbalanced by new ways to expand the field of allowing.
We’re often standing in the way of flow aren’t we and we call it protection? Once we stop clutching on to whatever familiar vision is holding us together the mystery of life and our truth really unfolds.
But what do you do as a therapist in the face of grave accumulated suffering?
How can we listen, witness the patterns and feel the trapped emotions in the tissues: the shame, fear, disgust, anger, pain and grief and still be neutral?
There is such a thin line between expressing our natural empathy in a helpful safe non-doing and trampling over our clients’ boundaries in a confusing merging.
Do you cry the compressed tears of your client as I heard one practitioner reveal one day or do you step into a wider perceptive field that could allow the client to safely reconnect with parts of his/her fragmented self while underlying forces take over and you simply watch the process unfold?
I am holding a “field of permission” as Gabrielle Roth would put it but I cannot help being affected even if I am well resourced.
It resonates within the field as I happen to be reading about it in Half of a Yellow Sun, a stunning novel written by acclaimed Nigerian writer and feminist Chimamanda NgoziAdichie, narrating the parallel stories of characters engulfed in the genocidal Biafra war, the “gravest emergency since the Second World War” according to the Red Cross.
She captures intense trauma and its multifarious effects so well:
“Rustling sounds came from the ceiling again. She sat on the cold floor and leaned her head against the wall to see if it would feel less light, less unmoored. Odenigbo’s mother’s visit had ripped a hole in her safe mesh of feathers, startled her, snatched something away from her. She felt one step away from where she should be. She felt as if she had left her pearls lying loose for too long and it was time to gather them and guard them more carefully.”
“Olanna felt the slow sadness of missing a person who was still there.”
“And the casual cruelty of this new world in which he had no say grew a hard clot of fear inside him.”
“She wanted him to cry and cry until he dislodged the pain that clogged his throat, until he rinsed away his sullen grief (…) We never actively remember death,” Odenigbo said. “The reason we live as we do is because we do not remember that we will die.”
It also echoes in the music I listen to, reflecting the unspoken traumas of our dysfunctional societies:
“…Can’t endure, then you can inhale clearly
Out of body experience interferes
And dreams of flying, I fit nearly
Surrounds me, though I get lonely slowly
Moving up slowly, inertia keeps
She's moving up slowly, slowly
Moving up slowly, inertia creeps…”
Massive Attack, Inertia Creeps (Mezzanine, 1998)
“So I walked through to the haze
And a million dirty waves
Now I see you lying there
Like a lilo losing air, air
Black rocks and shoreline sand
Still dead summer I cannot bear
And I wipe the sand from my arms
The Spanish Sahara
The place that you'd wanna
Leave the horror here
Forget the horror here
Forget the horror here
Leave it all down here
It's future rust and it's future dust
I'm the fury in your head
I'm the fury in your bed
I'm the ghost in the back of your head”
Foals, Spanish Sahara, (Total Life Forever, 2010)
I said “grasp the nettle” to a client lately and I thought soon after I had said it that really the metaphor was poor as the litany of abuses that was progressively unrolling was more faithfully symbolised by a giant cactus. But the word nettle felt safer, smoother, easier for this client and for I too.
Yes my intention as biodynamics craniosacral practitioner is to step back in the art of pure deep listening and neutral contact. While as resourced as I can be I can colour my holding with a tender compassionate presence that will enable the extremely fragile to gradually express back to balance.
And so I love your vision of droplets that are the tears that you cannot yet cry, the fragments of your shattered self. They fall on you as I hold the space and the liquid bathes your spine in the areas that have been hurting for so long.
Abuses can have the same effect as a mortar shell breaking us apart, tearing us asunder but this searing inner war will not be won if it is fought, as allopathic medicine would have us believe.
It can only be won if we lay our weapons down and listen, slowly, inviting little by little the truths concealed in the dark to sit at our table like the great knights in a metaphorical King Arthur story about the search of the Grail, the ultimate Truth.
We speak of frozen areas, of centres of inertia, of dense compressed places where we have sheltered ourselves from our traumas. These have caused ripples in the system and compensatory expressions/patterns transform the original home into a maze of new rooms with scaffoldings that become our familiar story of survival, of make-do living with pain and suffering.
It becomes a default identity until the pain becomes unbearable, or an intuitive realisation, a yearning stirs within that tells us ‘this is not really me, there is more, much more to me than this and I am now ready to seek my true self'.
This quest comes in different guises of course.
Sometimes the traumas are so intense, so layered that it is impossible to approach them in a textbook manner.
Another client of mine was telling me stories of emotional entanglement and serial abuse while I made contact with the diaphragm and sacrum areas. While I held the physical body and the spoken words I also from time to time invited this client to go back within and tune in as I could feel unexpressed emotional compounds.
Instead it was this outpouring of words that helped the situation unfold, that provided the gateway within. As I rooted myself further and resourced, the words stopped to make way for a deepening shift. The system went into dynamic stillness and a sense of peaceful togetherness emerged.
A sense of “yes I can trust my own wisdom and find myself despite this tight webbing.” I know this client will eventually win the ‘war’ because it is no longer about fighting.
It is so essential for me as a practitioner to remain a feeling emotional being while also holding the space.
The expression of which can come when the session is over as I walk by the sea and breathe deeply, as I dance later that evening and finally let go of your and my tears.