As one can see during the Emotional Surfing exercise demonstrated on the last post, as the client focused on one painful emotion and its corresponding physical point of emanation, the emotional experience rapidly morphed into another. So for example, the initial experience of fear, very quickly became supplanted by feelings of helplesness, which morphed into sadness, then anger and so on. These changes occurred spontaneously without any direction from me. My job as therapist is simply to help maintain her focus on whatever is coming up.
Shrek, the wonderful Dreamworks character, as I state in the book points out to his traveling sidekick Donkey, that “Ogres (and possibly by extrapolation humans) are like onions”. When asked why by Donkey, Shrek responded that Ogres have layers. Donkey then retorted that cakes have layers. “Ogres are not cakes!”, Shrek retorted. Donkey then continued, “Now parfaits come in layers. Everbody like a nice parfait.” At which point Ogre threw up his hands and walked off in consternation.
After much deliberation, I concluded that I fall into the Shrek view:) Humans I believe, as far as emotional experience goes are arranged in an onion-like arrangement. As we peel back one layer through the healing forces of mindful attention and stimulus exposure, new layers of the onion that were covered over are then exposed. These layers are arranged, not linearly as in the example of cakes and parfaits, but in a concentric and circular arrangement. So as we “surf” along one layer of the onion, we follow the spiral inward and it takes us into the next layer and then the next layer and so on.
As we follow the onion, not only emotions, but various mental images, thoughts, historical memories, and physical sensations are likely to emerge. One is asked simply to stay present and pay attention to whatever comes up. And just hold on. As in surfing, you will invariably get thrown off the board…..that OK. Just get back on and continue surfing.
It is very important to hold one’s attention at the physical location where feelings are emerging. That greatly helps to anchor attention and appears to facilitate the “dynamism” of the experience. OK, so what the heck does that mean? We spend much of our time and energy distancing ourselves and avoiding difficult or painful emotional experiences. Some internal reflection may lead us to the sobering reflection of how much of our personal energies and actions are involved in the endeavor to control our experiences. I would go so far as to say that the course of human history has been greatly shaped by this pursuit (more on that much later when we explore the topic of how to save the world through mindful exposure:)). The point is, since we remove our attention from our pain, our pain stays perfectly conserved, stuck, frozen and fetid. It just sits. As I state in the book, time of itself does not heal our wounds. Time is in fact completely irrelevant. It is what happens in time that matters. So as we focus the energy of our attention (the primal healing force) into our avoided pain, our internal energies begin to move and circulate. Movement = dynamism. We can watch with amazement as this natural course unfolds. All of its own accord. All we need to do is set the occasion and the rest follows. Spring comes and grass grows by itself.
So where do you fall in this great philosophical debate? Are you a Shrekian or a Donkian? Or perhaps an alternative view. Please post your views to help make this a more “dynamic” discussion.