Carry the fear with you...

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I've finally learnt that it's ok to be scared and anxious! Well, to be more precise, that it's ok if part of me feels that - even strongly.

For many years, I would feel afraid... let's say when facing a new and challenging situation. I would feel scared and at the same time try and not feel scared, I'd try and talk myself out of it, or ignore it, or reassure myself. Or even worse I'd get caught in some kind of self judgement - feeling low or a failure because here I was again feeling afraid. A painful place. Read More...
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Overlooked trauma

For some time now, I have been reflecting on the meaning of the word trauma, or more precisely, what does it mean to say something was traumatic? It is not always the more obvious things that leave us traumatised. We can too easily dismiss an experience, when comparing it to other peoples "bigger " more obvious trauma.

In reality, a traumatic experience is not so much defined by the type of event, but more about how a situation impacts upon an individual, or community. It's defined by a meeting of an external situation with the unique intricacy of each person. It is too simple to say x event = x
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The power of empathy: how being heard calms the body.

For a while now I have been pondering how Focusing differs from Mindfulness and for me one of the key factors is the place of an empathic listener when we practice Focusing in pairs. This relationship with a companion or listener changes the whole process for me. There is a lot that happens in the interaction that changes the process so what I write next is about just one aspect of that.

It starts with this question, why does the presence of another matter and what do they bring to the relationship?

In 2013, I was lucky enough to be present at a day conference with Stephen Porges, a psychiatrist and researcher at the University of North Carolina. His studies on the nervous system are well known in Somatic Experiencing and other trauma healing disciplines. His model, the polyvagal theory has many dimensions to it but one essential aspect is what he calls the "social engagement system" - in essence this is all about how our safety is regulated by interaction with others.
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Meeting the demons

Fear is a powerful emotion. And something in us is scared of it! Fear of fear. Fear grabs you at such a visceral level that it often feels like all of you. If you examine it on a physiological level, then you can really see how powerful it is and for good reason. See my article on Trauma and Focusing for more on this.

Can we really meet the most scary places in us with Focusing?

This story from the life of milarepa - the 11th century Tibetan Buddhist teacher - says it better than I can.

"One day Milarepa was meditating in front of his cave when the demons of anger, greed, and fear arose before him. They were truly horrible beings with flames spurting out of their nostrils and pus flowing from their eyes.
Rather than push them away, Milarepa invited the demons into his cave for tea. One by one they entered the cave, and in the light of his clear regard, they dissolved.
Eventually, only one demon remained. The most terrifying of them all, it roared and howled, and rather than dissolving in Milarepa's presence, it grew larger and more foul. Regarding the demon with great humility, Milarepa stood and bowed, baring his neck and thrusting his head between the creature's fangs. As he breathed in the sulfurous stench of the demon’s breath, Milarepa whispered, “Teach me your pain.”

Isn't that amazing. He invites these demons in for tea. I imagine if I were in that situation I would be overwhelmed by fear and do anything to push them away...

And even more moving is his response to the final demon. He wants to know its pain, to listen to its story.

I wonder if he trusted his experience so deeply that the leap of faith that this required was not difficult for him. He knew that there was nothing really to be scared of, or in Focusing terms could say hello to his terror and carry it along with him. He knew that this demon was actually in pain and needed meeting and hearing.

More and more as I practice focusing I am able to meet my experience with curiosity rather than aversion., and this is so so welcome.

Yes. There are still places inside that parts of me are scared of and that's where I start. I am making friends with something in me that is scared of meeting fear...

In fact, it is not about meeting one’s demons but more about meeting the parts of us that are afraid of them. We may not have much to do with the demons for a long time even but if we slowly begin to come into relationship with the aspects of us that are scared of the demons - eventually we will come closer to the demon itself and maybe see that it is not a demon at all, but something in dire pain. And it is important to say that every step on this journey transforms the whole being, it's not just the big moment at the end. Every meeting of some part of us that wants to run away from our experience is a step towards... well, meeting our experience and needs to be appreciated.
 
 
 
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Welcoming the Tiger! - Working with Trauma in Focusing

Being alive means that we will at some point experience trauma - those events that are overwhelming or too much for us to be able to meet and assimilate. Inevitably when we turn our attention inside in Focusing (or other similar methods), what wants attention is what has not been met! and that includes what we could call trauma. Read more (PDF)
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