I woke early this morning – with some thoughts emerging about arriving in a new situation, how we get connected…
Our connection tasks include:
-Contact with ourselves – to what extent are we inhabiting our own body in this situation, feel relaxed and aware of our digestion, muscles, breath, our thoughts, emotions, inclinations, judgements – to what extent is our internal information available to us? To what extent are we in contact with ourselves? Which of our internal relational processes pause, or continue as we enter a new situation – do we hold our breath, suspend our judgement, hold in our belly?
-Contact with the broad environment – to what extent can we land in the wider environment – can we feel the spring in the land beneath our feet, trust and receive the textures around us. Is our capacity to receive smell, sound, colour, shape on-line. Is it possible for us to start to belong to a new place as we arrive, or do other tasks take precedence?
Contact with the particular other – if we are greeted by an inquisitive dog, human or insect, are we able to receive them, be mobile and flexible in our response to their overture?
I’m interested in how we sequence these processes – which do I engage in first? Do I establish one, then a second, then a third? Do I flit between them or establish one fully before moving on to the next? Do I have an idea of a correct way to sequence them, and judge my practice accordingly, or can I be curious, accepting, interested in my particular version of that sequencing, and be playful in my exploration of it, possibly experimenting, noticing themes and patterns in my arriving in particular kinds of situations, possibly making sense of my practice in the light of earlier arrivals.
Thinking about earliest arrivals – we can think of the arrival between the egg and the sperm – the egg still, the sperm moving towards, and fusing with the egg.
The growing embryo – information starting to flow within the being, and the relationship with the mother developing, both as environment, and as particular other. Birth – connecting internally with our internal sensation, muscles, bones, with the environment around us, whether it be birthing pool or hospital ward, and with the particular other – mother, father, midwife…
Arriving at school for the first time – do we need to first find our coat peg, place to sit – to belong to the place, or to be well greeted by a teacher or peer, or to listen to our belly, our feet, our thoughts and imaginations?
For myself as a psychotherapist and trainer, I’m interested in this sequencing, for myself – I want to be connected well enough in these three realms for information, emotion, though, movement to flow, to be able to move and be moved, to understand and be understood – so it’s useful for me to know something of my sequence, to be relaxed and accepting of how I do this. For my clients and trainees I want to support and encourage them to be able to undertake this arriving, in the particular way that works for the particular them.
If we start with thinking about how we, as a baby, do this – we might notice a moving between these three – between attention with self, environment and particular other – arguably there is no one starting point, and no particular sequence – simply a moving between, as these different aspects catch our attention, or call for attention if given less.
There are two questions we might ask about these three – which comes first? And which is more important?
My notion is that the answers to these two questions arise out of our particular history with these tasks. For example; if, when I am young, I am appropriately supported and encouraged to pay attention to my internal experience – breath, movement, of limbs, my thoughts, sounds, biological processes, then I am likely to arrive in a new situation paying attention to my contact with self – it may well be unproblematic, already on-line, and may not be high in my conscious awareness – I may be unconsciously competent in this area.
If, however, my self and body experience is not welcomed and supported, if I am taught to ignore my body, to be disgusted by it, to avoid trusting my gut, or if my internal experience is painful – then in a new situation this system may well be disturbed. Broadly this may manifest in two ways – I may avoid my self-contact, or my disturbance with myself might bring my attention exclusively to myself.
..and so also with arriving in contact with the broad environment – I may have responded to harsh or intrusive early environments by reducing my capacity to take environments in – turning down the volume, the colour, the intensity of smell. I may, conversely, have responded to a threatening or unpredictable environment by focussing my attention outwards – keeping an eye on every corner, coming out of myself in high vigilance.
Early experiences of threat, invasion or abandonment by particular other beings will likely disturb our organic capacity to be in contact with particular others as we arrive in a new situation. Again, I may polarise in my reaction, by either not seeking or offering contact to the scary woman, for example, or by ramping up my engagement with her, in order to pacify or co-opt her to my well-being.
A complication is that we may try to solve a disturbance in one of these systems by using one of the others – we might try to settle our discomfort in our sense or experience of ourself by seeking particular reassurance or attention from a particular other. We might downregulate our fear of threat from the environment by focussing on our internal fantasy or by creating a strong contact with another particular being. These are useful adaptations, but can be confusing for ourselves and others because they are indirect, and can be tiring, as they don’t bring attention and change to the originating experience, and so need to be constantly engaged to manage an unaddressed trigger.
In working with these historical adaptations, in myself and others, three approaches seem helpful – awareness, acceptance, and touching base.
Firstly I get interested and supportive of how I and others sequence and undertake these tasks. I want to find out how it’s being done and be a cheerleader for that existing approach.
I know that if I’m running a workshop it usually helps me to move the furniture around and to dance in the room before anyone arrives. The furniture might end up back where it’s started, but my connection with place is now online and settled.
I will usually support new clients or trainees to find a place in the room that they feel comfortable – sometimes to explore the space, touch the walls, look at the pictures. I’m curious when I meet a new client – do they need to find their place in the room first, to sit quietly and connect with their body first, or to check me out, or make contact with me first?
Does this sequencing arise out of resource? – for example; confidently checking out their thoughts and sensations because they’re skilled and confident in that area. Does the sequencing arise out of discomfort – needing to check that the body is not in pain, for example. I’m curious and interested in this, and wondering how the approach my client is already taking is functional, useful, successful for them.
The dilemma is always that in meeting a new person or group, I will not know what their preferred sequence is, so I will usually offer briefer experiences of all 3 realms – touching base with particular other, with place, with self. This is likely to support them, to some extent, to arrive in their preferred way, whilst avoiding the risk of overwhelm or disconnect of too much of whichever of those tasks is least comfortable or successful for them. I may also at this stage encourage people to notice how they undertake this sequencing, to become curious, compassionate and supportive of their preferred style. As we welcome and work with our particular style, we relax, appreciate our existing skill, and start to develop new choices…
This feels like an active inquiry – any thoughts, reflections, comments are welcome.
Stephen Tame – October 2019
Will Davis – The Endo Self: A Self Model for Body-Oriented Psychotherapy
Martin M. Broadwell – Teaching For Learning (XVI.)
Reichian Growth Work: Melting the blocks to life and love