I lost my key the other day. I spent a day searching for it— in the key drawer, in the bowl in my bedroom where I keep my pocket items, on the steps, in the car. Nowhere. All this time I had an image that kept coming up of the chest on which I leave my reading materials. My thought was I should check there, but did I check there? No I did not. Desperate, the next day I did check there and there it was. I found the key under my papers. I was playing hide and seek with myself.
It strikes me that this is like a lot of things in our life—we really do know the answer. We have the answer and it keeps nudging at us, but instead of following that suggestion we continue to look in all of our old favorite places, follow our favorite routines. And we don’t follow the less demanding image, the less insistent voice that indeed may lead us to the answer.
This of course could relate to any number of things in our life— job, children, relationships, a wellness routine, a health regimen—making any change in our life. For many of the changes in our life we know what to do yet we keep following the same patterns, looking the same old places for an answer that isn’t there, that was never there.
This reminds me of the story about Mullah Nasrudin, the wise fool of Sufi teaching stories. He’s down on his knees in the street outside his house, searching for something. A friend comes by and asks the Mullah what he is looking for. The Mullah says, “My keys.” In a short while there are several friends helping him look. Finally one of them asks, “Are you sure you lost your key here?” The Mullah replies, “No I lost it inside my house. “ Then why are you looking out here? The Mullah replies, “There’s more light out here.”
Be alert, you may be the prisoner of the fake you! You may find that you live in a jail that is made from powerful and artificial components of human society.
Master Waysun Liao, in Chi
In the children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are, Max goes to the land of the wild things and he discovers (spoiler alert!) he is the wildest thing of all.
This is like bioenergetic therapy. One of the exercises I do in my workshops and groups is to work the jaw. We all hold a lot of tension there, from holding back all the things we want to say to people, and don’t. From wanting to “bite people’s heads off,” when we don’t. So we work the muscles and then I have them growl, first in general and then to each other. Most people end up laughing because it is such a relief—all the times we have wanted to growl at people and we haven’t. I saw a red squirrel the other day, chattering away, and his chattering vibrated his whole body. Maybe we can learn to express ourselves with our whole body; maybe we can learn to voice our soul from the soles of our feet.
The wild self, the natural self, is often pushed down by our civilized self and we feel embarrassed when we let it out. This has been called the “id,” the “it”—talk about disowning a part of one’s self. And the ego, our talking thinking self, has for uncountable time been trying to blame all the bad stuff on it—human violence, for example, when that often is the result of the ego and superego. In “The Americanization of Emily,” Charlie, played by James Garner, blames war on the people trying to be good. “It’s not greed or ambition that makes war: it’s goodness. Wars are always fought for the best of reasons: for liberation or manifest destiny.” Think of all the religious wars.
Reich, whose work led to bioenergetics, branched off from Freud before the latter started talking about, ego, id, and superego. Reich’s work focused on developing the concept of libido which eventually became body energy, “bioenergy.”
So in the workshops what I want to help people discover, what I too want to discover is that untamed alive part of ourselves, because that is closer to our core self than the everyday thinking self is, and it is the part of us that feels connected to the life and people around us.
In The Practice of the Wild, poet and deep ecologist Gary Snyder talks about the body as the wild part of ourselves, our wilderness, and that our conscious mind is trying to civilize our wilderness. Some radical political theory goes even further and talks about how we “colonize” and exploit ourself. Fritz Perls in Gestalt simplified this into the top dog/under dog division he worked with so often in his therapy,
However, you frame it, the bottom line is there are parts of ourself that are working for goals we have drawn from our culture, our family and our thinking self, that don’t match what the rest of us, our body, our senses, imagination, and emotions want. This incongruence can make us sick, unhappy, depressed, anxious. In the protest rallies in the 60s and 70s, the speaker would yell, “What do you want?” “Freedom,” everyone yelled. “When do you want it?” “Now.” So what do you want?
The culture around us is pretty dysfunctional. So more and more for me, groups are the treatment of choice for many issues—a place to build and heal in a group culture that supports one’s growth. In a group, people are there for a common purpose, which is to grow beyond where they are now and the problems they bring to group. In a group, they can see that what they bring is reflected in everyone else. Anxiety and depression are not the special problems of a few people, they are part of the human condition. Depression is a physiological state and usually it is related to other things— sadness, loss, despair, loneliness; and mostly those things are what everyone feels at some time or another. Depression particularly is correlated with lack of social connection, isolation. And what happens in a group? Lots of connection.
My personal experience of the power of group was attending a Gestalt workshop at the Cleveland Gestalt Institute. I was going through the end of a relationship. A woman also going through the end of her relationship volunteered to do some work. She said her goodbyes to her spouse in a Gestalt “empty chair” exercise that helped her release the feelings she was holding. I, sitting in the circle watching her, was working through those same feelings with her and through her.
As a group leader, I remember one woman in particular doing some significant work. It may also have been about ending a relationship. As she worked through her feelings, she began to sob and as she felt the support of the group through touch and presence, she sobbed even more. Afterwards, she felt released from the feelings and the support of the group increased the power of the release. She was smiling, relaxed—at peace.
Anyone who has meditated, with others, has felt the power of the group presence, as one has settled into stillness and the silence. On a cognitive level, we may think of ourselves as all separate, but on a physical and energetic level, we are synchronizing with each other, like waves on a lake As a group facilitator leading meditation, I have actually noticed, when a group gets to a place of deep peace together, many people’s breathing does appear to be in rhythm. There is physical harmony within the room.
In a therapy group, a person becomes more than the problems they bring to group. They can become a support to another, a teller of a story of a similar experience, an intimate sharer of similar feelings; and all of this moves them beyond themselves and the problem they brought to group. And moving beyond one’s current self into a larger self is growth. As we grow beyond our old self, our ego, and make connections with others, we settle into the ground of spiritual growth—that vague ambiguous word that gets tossed around.
Spirituality, if I have to define it, is growing into a larger self more identified both with one’s deepest self, the self that is a part of everything else, and a growing identification with the world, through greater connections with others. So groups can be, with the right focus, a tool for growth, a tool for learning to live more fully in the moment, and tool for connecting and giving of oneself to others. And these are the tools that help heal people’s lives and hopefully the larger world, which is in sad need of healing.