my space tracker

Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: April 2009

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Meditation ~ Spontaneous Thoughts ~ Words

Sigh. I am the biggest fan of words. I study them, I help people speak them. I encourage the free flowing spontaneous uninterrupted stream of them. At least in my office, to my private, trained analytic understanding ear.

I put words together on paper, on the computer, in my mind. I marvel at the impact they can have, to hurt, to heal, to destroy, to bring together. I consciously come up with words, and I listen attentively to the random thoughts, chains of words, single words, ideas, impressions, feelings, that are not quite words, but could be, or would be, if they are allowed. My own, and those of my clients, my family, my friends.

I study word choices, meanings, cadence, tone, emphasis and volume. I unpack sarcasm (hostility, usually, or anxiety), and humor, and silence. The vacuum where words would be if they were not jammed up somewhere. And sometimes I take it all less seriously, and just let words glide around like thin stream water, or float like tiny bubbles, up and away. Sometimes, I hang on them, and wonder about them a while, especially if they may contain clues to someone's relief or pain.

I have witnessed words setting people free, dissolving pain, releasing anger, fear, frustration, worry. I have see words bring on comfort, relief, joy and rest. I have subscribed to Dr. Freud's idea of the Talking Cure. Which, I would really think is more of a listening cure, because I think that even though talking does help, we usually find it most helpful when someone is listening to what we are talking about. Maybe then, we should call it the being heard cure. Or the being understood cure. Or the being listened to well and gently cure."
So why the sigh? Well, this. With all my dedication to words, to finding them and saying them, or writing them. Or praying with them. And all my belief in their power, especially their curative uses. I also believe in quiet. I believe that we sometimes need a break (and a brake) from the words.
I think there is a deep and powerful benefit to meditation. Which of course, in many of its forms uses words, or chants, or phrases, to help quiet the mind, to elevate the spirit, to bring and find peace, and G-d, and grace. And of course meditation can be used to focus words, to contemplate an idea, made of words. To get new ideas, and new words. Or, and I think this is a big plus, to let go of old words, and old ideas, that don't help us anymore. Or that pop up spontaneously and try to poke us with old pain and old problems.
We can use meditation to help stop or redirect thoughts that come at us unrequested, from our unconscious, bringing us bad feelings or distraction or pain. I am not suggesting that talking out old pains and problems isn't useful or necessary, sometimes it takes a lot of talking, a lot of necessary talking, but sometimes we can benefit just as well from the quiet. From a cease fire in our minds of the things that bother us. We can need and have both, in our quest for recovery and meaning, and fullness in life.

I think that the practice of meditation in healing emotional pain cannot be underestimated. The practice of quieting the mind, and reaching the spirit is something that goes a long long way toward easier living, gentle relationships and grace in the world.

I suppose it could seem contradictory. To say that we need words to heal, and that we need a break from words to heal, but I think its true. I think that in my own practice of meditation, I have found much joy, and much calm and much relief.

Meditation can be used to help with OCD, with eating disorders, with anxiety, panic, and depression. I think that in the practice of psychotherapy and healing, and in the living a good life, it is vital. And it does not always have to be fancy or long, or require dedicated training, though certainly training is good for those who want to go deeper. But for those who want to just incorporate a bit of spirituality and mindfulness, or bring in some pause to otherwise busy days, meditation in all its form can carry us along to better feelings, and help bring in an overall sense of wellness and progress. Like letting fresh air blow through your brain.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Great Expectations in Love or Taking the High Road

"I have fallen in love...without measuring the risks. I have a tendency not only to see the best in everyone, but to assume that everyone is emotionally capable of reaching his highest potential. I have fallen in love more times than I care to count with the highest potential of a man, rather than with the man himself, and then I have hung on for a long time...waiting for the man to ascend to his own greatness. Many times in romance I have been a victim of my own optimism." ~ Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love

I just really like this quote. I think it speaks to the heart of many folks who are struggling to feel good in their relationships. When it comes to relationship therapy, lots of times, by the time someone walks in my door, they are already in quite a bit of pain. Not always, but often. Sometimes people come in before they are on the verge of an affair, or in one, or before their sex life has completely tanked, or before they have started either avoiding each other or yelling at each other more often than not. But usually things are pretty bent, if not broken, before I get the call for help.

It seems to me that over my many years working with difficult relationships, heartaches, struggling marriages and disappointments of all kinds, that while we tend to come into relationships full of hope and fantasy, with all of our ideas about how things should be, how we would like them to be, and while we know in our head that of course romantic loves dims as the newness and excitement fades, hopefully into deeper more connective love, with all its benefits and unique thrills, we sometimes still hold onto that strain of wishful (wistful) thinking that believes in sustaining the dream, the fantasy, the belief in what we want things to be. What we want the relationship to be. What we want the other person to be. And what we want ourselves to be.

When things start to breakdown in our relationships we have several choices, though we may not even know we have them. We can keep on keeping on, or we can pay attention to what's happening and get help. Keeping in mind that old saying, "If you always do what you always did, then you'll always get what you always got," we can choose to unpack what it is we are doing, and what our partner is doing, and whats getting replayed, repeated, revisited and why it is not working out the way we would like. It does take some studying. In therapy, reflecting on the past is one way to learn about what is going on in the present.

Of course, good communication skills, which even when practiced and we are gentle and confident with our words, can get lost in the torrent of big emotion, especially fear and disappointment. Sometimes there is no way around studying what's going on underneath. We can do this by talking, by analyzing our dreams, by calling up our relationships with our parents, siblings and teachers even. We can learn about what shaped us, what protected us, what made us feel safe, and what we did, or had to do, to survive or get our needs met. And how we were responded to, and what effect that had on us.

Yes, sometimes its that complicated. And sometimes its not. Sometimes it's about acceptance of who our partner is, and how to work best with their character and personality, needs and limitations. And how to keep our own expectations and disappointments in check.

The good news is this: when tended to properly, we can help each other reach our highest potential and ascend to greatness. I really do believe this. I have seen it, too. I have seen couples plow through the disappointment, worry, fear and anger and reinvent their love, their sex life, and their own sense of self, both within the relationship and as their own unique person.

It requires a lot of grace. And a bit of work. And sometimes an objective analytic outside ear. But I have seen progress. Good work usually results in a deeper understanding of the past, better communication in the present and more hope for the future. Seemingly, there is no way around the need to get to know ourselves well and deeply. This carries our relationships along in ways that we cannot always imagine.

When we are in relationships with seemingly difficult people, who we love, or want to love, who are ruled by their own set of fears, temperaments, and insecurities, that block their progress, we can often help move things along by tending to our own ideas, wishes and goals, and learning to work with the reality in front of us. We can make good decisions, whether to move on, or to keep at it. Either way, I believe we can have much more of what we need and want. We can give, we can get and we can love and feel loved, in many, if not most, of the ways we would like.

The possibilities are endless.

And just a P.S. : A link to an Article on Marital Resiliency (scroll down to page 9)that I authored for the good folks at the Children's Cardiomyopathy Foundation. While it deals with keeping a marriage strong when you are a parenting a sick child, there are some tidbits that apply across the board.