By Kevin McEvenue
I am a man who has always been in conflict with himself and this conflict effects everything I do, the way I function in the world physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. As I get older I realize what a toll my life struggle has been on my organism as the signs of wear and tear painfully emerge. I begin to realize the way in which I use myself effects the way I function at so many levels. Knowing this makes me wonder if change can happen, given that much of this is unconscious?
The reality hits home in scary ways when I begin to see how chronic patterns of behavior have really damaged the way the body works. I have become more aware how parts of me have been over-worked and worked in ways they weren’t designed to function. Other parts are not functioning at all. I become aware how some parts overcompensate for other parts that are frozen or unable to function as they were meant to.
Now I see the problem that my life’s conflicts have caused. I see how these conflicts have prevented me from living my life to its fullest potential. I sense my limitations. I sense how I function in partial paralysis. What can I do about this?
Wholebody Focusing gives me a safe structure to become aware of how the body acts as a “container.” Parts of me suffer the experience of what is happening. It gives me the opportunity to be aware of what it is I am doing now, and at the same time to become aware of what is possible. It is holding both at the same time that opens me up for a new experience that is more life supporting. There seems to be no other way to effect change.
Wholebody Focusing invites a whole new way of thinking in activity. The real shift in consciousness for me is to accept myself just the way I am in this moment. The doorway into change is the ability to be able to sit compassionately and empathetically with what is happening. The ability to be with something that seems to want my attention without knowing why. That’s the starting point.
When I make more room for whatever needs my attention I often become aware of an inner stirring inside me that seems to be inner-directed and actually moves me with a purpose all its own. It is then that I know something new is happening. Sometimes it feels like a silent inner guide who gently nudges me towards another way of being with myself beyond what I know. And then I seem to be able to hold in consciousness both; a part of me that needs attention (my sense of what is happening now), and a sense of the “more” in new possibilities.
For example, I sometimes find I am being moved in ways I know are beyond my usual limitations. My mind is saying I can’t do this and at the same time my body is doing it! It is the movement itself that seems to take me from a place that is all too familiar to a place I don’t know. This new place may feel a little uncomfortable as it is unfamiliar, but it also feels just right.
Much of my life I have tried to understand myself in all kinds of different ways. Why am I the way I am? A lot of knowing has come. But it never seems to touch on the dynamics of what I am “doing to myself” in a way that brings change. I might know that I am in conflict, but I can’t actually get a handle on the conflict itself. I need to find a safe way to bring it into my full awareness, see it for what it is and name it. Change seems to follow from this kind of attention.
It is my ability to notice how I function physically when in conflict, that enables the body both to show me “what I am doing to myself” and at the same time offer me ways of moving through this conflict that are more self-supportive. Experience tells me that change can’t happen unless the body has a handle on a better way of being!
That’s what I thought I heard the Doctor say that day that I sat in her office, getting the results back from a battery of eye tests. Next thing you know, I am drowning in full-blown panic. What she actually said was, “You are a candidate for glaucoma.” In my panic, I hear through the filter of other times and other places. I remember when I heard a doctor say a long time ago, “You have degenerating discs Mr. McEvenue. After you recover from these operations there will be more.”
Once again, I feel I have been given a life sentence with all the helplessness that has gone with it born of past experiences. And this time, I hear myself say, “I am getting old, I am going to die, I am going blind. I’m powerless to change here. Help me. Take care of me. You do it. I can’t. I don’t want to know! …”
Is there a familiar ring in all of this?
I know I don’t want to have to take the medication. I know that if I start to take the drops for glaucoma I will be taking them for the rest of my life, probably in increasing dosages as I age. I don’t want to, it feels like a life sentence. The reality is loud and clear. This part of me is beginning to wear out, beginning to stop working as it is meant to. My back was the first sign of this, years ago and now it is my eyes. And this time it is about pressure. The effect of pressure build-up in my right eye is leading to a serious situation that could end in blindness. What to do?
What I can do is Listen to myself. I can listen to that part of me, the right eye that seems to be suffering some kind of eye pressure that could develop into glaucoma. The Wholebody Focusing Listening Process has really helped me to begin to uncover how I carry the experience of being under pressure. I was aware that I am wee bit tense at times. And when I felt under pressure, I would just have a drink or two and some great food. That usually helped me get back to my old self again.
This time I decided to do something different. I spent some time getting in touch with my right eye, saying hello to it, sensing into it. And then suddenly my attention was drawn down to my throat. There’s the pressure! It’s in my throat! And then I notice my neck is stiff and how tight my jaw is too. As I sit with all of that I get a real sense of how I cut myself off at the neck. No wonder there is pressure building up in the head, especially in the eyes. I am choking off the natural flow of energy and everything that goes with it. And I think; I have got to know more about this thing I do. That’s the issue here. It is what I am doing to myself that is causing the pressure build up in the eyes. It is a surprise that it begins in the throat.
Over time, I become aware of the whole posture of “What it is I am doing that is so Preventing.” It is a wholebody experience. It is also a piece of my life story and it is as rich as it is informing. It connects me more with me in who I am and why. And then one day the unexpected happens. It shifts. It lets go. The choking-off posture suddenly eases and a gentle flow begins to happen all through me once again, moving right through the whole body. I don’t understand it. It just happens. And it happens in ways I couldn’t possibly describe. It seems to happen allover and all at once. And then I feel in sync with myself again.
I don’t really know. I allowed myself to become aware of the posture and of that sense of what I am doing to limit the flow of energy throughout my body. Maybe it is that simple. I just became aware of the posture itself. I do so in a way I call wholebody because it is as though every cell in me registers this. Maybe it was the awareness that enabled some kind of shift to happen? And then the body itself seemed to show me a whole other way of being and functioning beyond this habitual need to control that is so familiar. Maybe it was because I began to accept myself just the way I am and to trust that change happens directly out of what is there.
I noticed that when the shift happened, and the choking off posture eased, I felt more alive, more full of life and energy. I felt more whole. I sensed the whole of me. I could even feel the flow of energy moving right though me. And that felt so good as it felt light and easy and effortless. It is something I have always wanted for myself and didn’t even know I wanted it until I experienced it. And the biggest surprise of all is that I felt so loving towards myself and at the same time I felt loved!
This is my story of a life crisis; a physical dysfunction that was really beginning to get me down. Rather than turn my back on it, cut it off from my consciousness even more, I embraced it. I allowed it to be there even more. That’s what made all the difference. I did something contrary to what I would normally do instinctively. Instead of pushing it away, I welcomed it into my life even more. I invited it to become even more present in my body just the way it was, with an attitude of unconditional acceptance of where it is, how it is, how it needs to be, right now. That was the starting point for more to happen. This was the new step. I made friends with a part of me that wasn’t living up to the way I wanted it to be. I accepted it with compassion just the way it was. And then I was gifted.
This was just the beginning of an empathetic relationship between me and my eyes and a life story around pressure and control in my life. The good news is that the deeper I get into the story, the more the pressure releases and all kinds of changes happen in my life that seem to be for the better. That’s exciting.
I want to say this right away. It is not easy to spend time with myself like this on my own. I need a good listener to keep me company and help me stay with what is there and prevent me from trying to interfere with it.
I put my attention into what is moving me rather than in the pain itself. It is as though the movement gives me something positive to hold on to. It keeps me safe as I move through and beyond what is familiar to a whole new place inside that I don’t know.
The full posture set appears i.e. the thing that I am doing in order to protect myself or defend myself, that becomes the handle. I resonate between the body sense of the posture with a sense of the whole of me. And then something more happens between the two of them.
It is the spending time in the experience, the physical experience of myself coming more alive and moving in new ways that seems to be what is wanted here, nothing more is needed.
Understanding, the need to know, to understand, insights, they may come, but they are the secondary not the primary focus. The primary focus is being in the experience itself. Nothing more is needed. Any agenda beyond a willingness to just be in the experience seems to gets in the way of what the experience itself can bring.
This inner-directed experience itself is often non-verbal, pre-verbal and pre-cognitive. The only sign of anything happen is often just subtle movements that seem to have a mind of their own. It is not easy to stay in this kind of place because the mind wants something to get its teeth into. It may feel very uncomfortable being in an unclear place of not knowing or not understanding. This is what the mind does for us, it wants to know, understand, and figure out in order to feel safe and to keep us alive. It needs to check with past experience and compares that with now. If there isn’t a match it feels very uncomfortable. The mind likes to be with what it already knows. So it takes courage to stay with this pre-verbal, pre-cognitive experiencing that is still unclear and not yet knowing.
Wholebody Focusing is about changes in functioning toward ways that are better or more natural. It is not about knowing that leads to more knowing, although that can be a part of it. This process sits with the context, stays in the part of us that experiences, that responds physically to what is happening in us. And as we sit with and notice what is there, we become more aware of how we respond to life situations specifically and also how we could do it differently.
I think of Paul and how he sat one day paying attention to his wrists that had suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome for several years. I remember how they suddenly changed, and how he felt so much better afterward. He doesn’t know why or how. But, they just did, they just changed themselves.
And then I remember Kay and how difficult it was for her to just allow movement to happen in her body and not know why or where it was going. With a scientifically trained mind like hers, it wasn’t easy to just allow movement. It was hard for her mind to simply stay with the movement without knowing the reason why. It wasn’t easy for her to walk away and be satisfied with just having spent time with herself like this without expectation. And I remember how she felt so much more in sync with herself a short time later.
And I remember the story of Teruko too. I recall how during her first Wholebody Focusing experience, she touched down into the very essence of herself and discovered that she is a part of so much more. It was a very rich spiritual experience for her and it came directly out of her own body.
One day when I spent time with myself like this what came was a deep self loving experience that in words might have said: “When a part of me feels loved it awakens to its own healing.”
I have discovered that if I can listen empathetically to another person’s experience, I can open up to new possibilities in me that I couldn’t have known without this experience.
For example, how could I know what it is to be “open minded” unless I have had a bodysense of someone who is very open minded in a way I have never been? I want to work with others, to share truth and share empathic moments with others who have the quality of “open mind” or other qualities I don’t have — in abundance! This seemed to be a gift that comes in healthy empathic relationships. And the more empathic I become, the more I am able to expand and enrich my own experiences of what it is to be human.
Once I have learned to be empathic to the experience of others I can begin to become empathic with my own. I can begin to have an empathic relationship with parts of me that need special help or special attention. I can begin to listen to these parts and learn how they are. When I can do this something changes. There is a kind of shift and the part in question seems to find its rightful place in the whole of me once more.
Or, I can ask a part of me how it might perform a certain action even better than how I normally do. For example, I can go for a walk and ask my legs and feet to walk me. They do and it feels very different, so much lighter and freer than my usual walk. What I notice is that there is something in me that is walking me. At the same time there is a “me” that is able to observe this happening. When I do it this way I can choose and even fine tune what is happening. I also realize that this mind-body connection doesn’t happen when I am too caught up in expectation of how it should be, or how I want it to be.
This is about me being the observer of what is happening and at the same time recognizing there is something in me that can carry out my desire effortlessly! And more. It is about me being in relationship with something in me that knows how to function naturally beyond my own imagining! What a great companion to have inside of me!