Is it a common occurrence for you to pay attention? How much of your day is spent in the here and now? Add up the countless hours of television, mindless tasks, ruminating thoughts, and mind-filled wonderings. It can illuminate just how removed from reality our existences can be. We have replaced ritual and meaning with efficiency. Additionally, we have replaced tension (the primary factor in attraction and growth) with convenience.
In 2015 Microsoft published a study on the attention span of the average American. It might surprise you to learn, says this study anyway, that the average attention span is only 3 seconds. What does this mean? It means that on average, every 3 seconds distractions bombard the human mind. Could this in part be due to this information age and the replacement of the sensory world? Additionally, the study measured the attention spans of other animals. What they found puts into radical perspective just how critical our declining capacity to experience has become. Want to know the average attention span of a goldfish? It’s 5 seconds! That’s right! Goldfish have better-sustained attention than we do. Something is seriously wrong!
And we wonder why the addiction rates are at an all-time high in this world? Our attention span is shortening and our chronic distraction behavior ever increases. It doesn’t take a psychologist to tell you that the mind can consume the heart, possess the moment, and replace desired experiences with hauntings, fears, anxieties, and more. Distraction has become our oasis and the sensory world the harshing realities of our psychological deserts. What can be done?
Part 2 of Suicide and the Soul
For part 2 of Suicide and the Soul, I want to offer us a way into experience. Namely, the experience of the soul. We use this word often at Barn Life, and it gets thrown around in religions, too. But what is the soul? In short, the soul is that which experiences. We can define Soul as the convergence of the spirit and the material world. This can exist in the body, in the imagination, in the emotional terrain, and in our stories. Why do we consider work with the soul to be the primary task in mental health? Soul, when sought after, produces movement into awareness, where our truest most meaningful journey can take place.
Suicide and suicidal thinking can be understood as an act of the soul. This week I want to simply offer us a way to move through our deepest and most frigid, a way to find beauty, and a way to learn how to pay attention without drowning in despair. This will ask of you a bit more than 3 seconds, and distractions are sure to pry their way in. I want to encourage you to set aside some time for this practice, to stay open and return to the moment, to attend to the still small voice beneath the noise, and remain open to what it has to say. Be vulnerable enough to go where the pen takes you as if a force beyond your mind’s eye wants to lead the way. Let go and stay with it.
Getting It Down Without Judgment
The exercise is simple. Writing down the soul consists of setting aside a time to observe. To sit or walk or stand without distraction to notice. This way, we allow the experience to enter in. This doesn’t have to take very long. In fact, soon a sensation, physical object, a color or memory can come to us. Giving attention and naming our experience is a movement from self-rejection to embracing the self as you are. This exercise is a way to get past the feeling that you have to fix it. Instead, writing what is as it occurs to you acknowledges the relationship between what comes in and what goes out. Here, with a free hand, we become present to the inner world through the outer world.
In suicidal thinking often what has died is the big fantasy. Furthermore, what we need is the experience and story of something smaller and more human. The soul is not gone, not lost, not beyond our reach. What we must do is enter in to the experience without grand expectations. I encourage you to take the time to write today. Don’t be shy and don’t neglect yourself. Take 5 minutes alone today with pen and paper. Pick a place and put the phone down. Breathe, look around, what grabs the attention of your eyes in this moment? Begin to write and relate. Whether they make sense to you or not, the sharing of an honest moment holds great power. The soul gets to speak, and the experience gets to find meaning. If you are starving for movement, this is one way we shake up the despair.
In Integrity In Depth, Jungian Analyst and Typology Specialist John Beebe suggests that therapy engages typological functions of both the therapist and the patient. When we use typology and work with the 8 functions to understand ourselves and our patients, we open the darkened caverns of inferior and unconscious functions. These serve to strengthen ones understanding and insight into the process of individuation and psychological awareness. I add that engaging typological considerations offers opportunity to pause and see through interpersonal exchanges whereby we may better see bias values and perception to an ultimately superior degree of insight. Typology opens the doors to self and other inviting us to see our bias and constellating archetypal patterns.
The 8-Function Model
Let’s take a look at the 8-function model introduced by John Beebe for further insight. What we are dealing with here is the auxiliary functions. That is, Fi (introverted feeling), Fe (extraverted feeling), Ti (introverted thinking), Te (extraverted thinking), Ni (introverted intuition), Ne (extraverted intuition), Si (introverted sensing), and Se (extraverted sensing). According to Beebe, the auxiliary function refers to the second position. This function is associated with the archetype of the good parent. What this means is that mothering and fathering, of self and others reflects what function one has in this position. Without a doubt, therapy engages parenting functions because of the supportive and change provoking nature of the work.
A Way of Perceiving
Typology is a way of understanding and engaging with different temperaments and functions. However, as Jung made clear, it is not an exact science. Nor is it a method for describing a human being in totality. Typology is a way in, a way of perceiving. In conjunction with John Beebe’s 8-function model, typology provides also a conscious way of navigating the lesser functions of ones own type and the types our patients present with. Not only is typology a way of understanding, it is also a way of navigating.
Engaging With the World
Utilizing a typological framework offers tremendous room for growth in archetypal insight and interpersonal understanding. If, with Jung we look through the functions and attend to the unique values of the differences in type there is great potential to evolve in our therapeutic relationships. If you’ve not yet done so, I would suggest taking one of the various free personality-type tests. They are readily available on the web. (Here is one of many.) Then read up on common traits of your particular type. Is it accurate? What are some of the strengths and weaknesses of your type? How can you use this information to better engage with the world?
… All I did was give him a look of confident expectation. An infant learning to walk, you know he can learn to walk, but the infant doesn’t know. You give the infant the confident support of your expectation. – Milton Erickson
Trust only movement. Life happens at the level of events, not of words. Trust movement. – Alfred Adler
Sharing Without Masks
From where are we speaking, sharing, contributing to groups, community, and individual therapy? As James Hillman suggests, we strive to make conscious who is here now rather than what is here now. In every share and every withholding, every judgment, and every insecurity some aspect of the self is moving. After exploring some of the qualities of the authentic voice – both the reasons we refrain or hide it away and the phenomena of healing that accompanies sharing without masks – I reflected on the delicate art that is deeply curious and reflective listening. Are we primarily space holders? Parents? Teachers? Life coaches? Foremost, we are models of safety. When there is room, when a client is honored for what and how they present themselves, this uninterrupted, encouraged, and exploring self finds the experience of being known.
Let the Unique Genius of the Soul Lead the Way
Something we want to encourage this week is to make room for the budding of unique esteem inside of every one of us. Rather than highlight inadequacies, failure, and character defects, let us instead look to the unique genius of the soul to lead the way. We must enter the dream of the dreamer in order to help them look around and find their way. In the simplest terms, we help clients to be within their own process. Indeed, we provide a safe space to have it for what it reveals itself to be to them. One’s treatment plan, for example, may reflect the skill set of another genius altogether. And while the outcome may be the same, the means to such outcomes are as different as the swimmer and the tree climber.
Toward Centers of Strength
As clinicians, we are charged with the task of curious neutrality. Suspended perspectives provide safety in the unknown, room for the voice of the inner parent to emerge, and the chance to discover genius. In other words, what kind of playground do you provide for the exploring and developing child? Does it have swings and monkey bars? Sandboxes or grassy fields? Or maybe trees to climb and waters to swim in? Where does your client go instinctually to nourish, to play, to find themselves? And this, as we know, puts the basis of our efficacy upon how we provoke the unique genius of each of our clients. What is their way towards success? What are their images of success and how do we lead them towards centers of strength to confront a life belonging to them?
Honoring the Undiscovered Genius
We must strive to learn the language of the living soul within our clients. May we honor them for their yet undiscovered genius. May our efforts reflect the respect that each life and will deserve. In this, I believe we have the most to offer to our clients and one another. I hope we continue to strengthen this value in trust that the unique genius of the soul knows what it is doing. We are here to assist in that work both in practical tangible goals and the unique ways the individuals under our care playfully find their way home.
When we deny the full expression of our grief, it lays like a weight on our hearts, causing emotional pain and physical ailments – bell hooks
Processing Grief and Loss
No person who comes to Barn Life to heal is a stranger to grief and loss. Whether it be a physical death or loss of relationships or even the feeling of disconnection, we all experience having to endure the process of grief. This very personal journey can be very destabilizing for many of our clients. Many clients, I’ve noticed, have acknowledged that they have experienced the death of a loved one in the past and have never fully processed that loss and held space for grief.
A Confusing and Isolating Time
This past year has been full of loss and many have struggled to allow themselves to sit with grief or even identify feelings oriented around grief due to current circumstances. With the holidays, death and loss can be especially prominent for our clients at Barn Life. Many tend to find themselves reminded of a loved one who they have lost. It can be especially challenging for those who have not been able to fully process their loss. For these folks, it could be a very confusing and isolating time.
Healing in Community
This week, we are looking to allow space to normalize grief. Additionally, it’s important to note that the process is not always linear or clear-cut. Many times the pain of loss can be healed in communion. Think of wakes, funerals, and other memorial rituals and the power that these can wield. We are going to be using some of our process groups to allow our clients to help each other share their grief. This will be a chance to be a part of and heal in community. We could even acknowledge times when loss has helped us to develop and transform.
Some Questions to Think About
The following are some questions to consider this week. How do you perceive grief and/or loss? What has allowed you to process and hold space for your grief? How has loss been transformative or developed your character? What legacies or traditions have you carried out since your loved one’s passing? What barriers disallow you to process grief and loss? How can Barn Life best support your journey with healing from loss? How can you best support your peers and hold space for their process?
Is it a common occurrence for you to pay attention? How much of your day is spent in the here and now? When you add up the countless hours of television, mindless tasks, ruminating thoughts, and mind-filled wonderings, it can illuminate just how removed from reality our existences can be. We have replaced ritual and meaning with efficiency and tension (the primary factor in attraction and growth) with convenience. In 2015 Microsoft published a study on the attention span of the average American. It might surprise you to learn, says this study anyway, that the average attention span is only 3 seconds. What does this mean? It means that on average, every 3 seconds the human mind is bombarded with a distractor. Could this in part be due to this information age and the replacement of the sensory world?
The Harsh Reality of Our Psychological Desert
Our attention span is shrinking and our chronic distraction behavior ever increases. Distraction has become our oasis and the sensory world the harsh reality of our psychological desert. What can be done? For week 2 of Suicide and the Soul, I want to offer us a way into experience. Namely, the experience of the soul. We use this word often at Barn Life and it gets thrown around in religions, too. But what is the soul? In short, the soul is that which experiences. Soul can be defined as the convergence of the spirit and the material world. This can exist in the body, in the imagination, in the emotional terrain and in our stories. Why do we consider work with the soul to be the primary task in mental health? Soul, when sought after, produces movement into awareness where our truest most meaningful journey can take place.
Listening to the Still, Small Voice
Suicide and suicidal thinking can be understood as an act of the soul. This writing exercise will ask of you a bit more than 3 seconds, and distractions are sure to pry there way in. I want to encourage you to set aside some time for this practice. Stay open and return to the moment. Listen to the still, small voice beneath the noise and remain open to what it has to say. You may find what wants to be said strange or unclear. The secret to the exercise is flow and trust. Be vulnerable enough to go where the pen takes you as if a force beyond your mind’s eye wants to lead the way. Let go and stay with it.
Writing Down the Soul
The exercise is simple. Writing down the soul consists of setting aside a time to observe. To sit or walk or stand without distraction to notice, we allow the experience to enter in. This doesn’t have to take very long. Soon a sensation, physical object, a color, or memory can come to us. Giving attention and naming our experience is a movement from self-rejection to embracing the self as you are. This writing exercise is a way to get past the feeling that you have to fix it. Instead, writing what is as it occurs to you acknowledges the relationship with what comes in and what goes out. Here, with a free hand, we become present to the inner world through the outer world.
Writing to Regain Perspective
Naming our experiences helps to shape our perspective. I offer you a resounding assurance that the unconscious is patiently waiting for you. Through a playful opening to what reveals itself, no matter how trivial, the part that is curious in each of us that wants to live begins again. Writing in this way can help us to regain a perspective. Furthermore, should your pen take you to the worst in you and the harsh or despairing voice find its way to the paper, understand that this, too, connects us to healing and turns us toward the light. Another Stanford study showed that it is better to feel sadness than to feel nothing because to feel is to carry us forward. When feelings take form, it offers us a way forward – an expression that so desperately needs to get out.
Enter Into the Experience
In suicidal thinking often it is the big fantasy that dies. What we need is the experience and story of something smaller and more human. The soul is not gone, lost, or beyond our reach. What we must do is enter into the experience without grand expectations. Pick a place and put the phone down. Turn off the television and the easy consumption. Breathe and look around. What grabs your attention in this moment? Begin to write and relate. Whether the words make sense to you or not, the sharing of an honest moment holds great power. The soul gets to speak, and the experience gets to find meaning. I leave you this week with a poem by David Whyte that I feel captures how we can find meaning in the space around us as we open to the here and now.
Everything Is Waiting for You
Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.
Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the
conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you. –David Whyte
You may never see it coming. The defenses can be aggressive, frigid, fiery, slithering, and destabilizing. Not too long ago I entered a women’s mental health inpatient to run a weekly group. Client rotation is common so meeting new faces is part of the job. I wore a t-shirt under my blazer with the image of the Greek Medusa displayed on my chest and introduced myself. A new client asked what I meant to say by wearing the shirt. I said that I guess it’s a reminder that sometimes our defenses come from deeper wounding. That attacks like these can make us feel like stone and that for any of us that have gone through traumatic mistreatment we can benefit a great deal from getting to know the slithering serpents in our hair.
A Twisting and Passion Filled Assault
I did not expect the response I received. Her face was bright red. She accused me of being insensitive and an “asshole.” I tried to listen, apologies and clarify but it was too late.There was no room for repair. I felt frozen. Turned to stone. My words fell on deaf ears. She rejected outright my strong care for her emotions and I met a twisting and passion-filled assault. How incredible that 10,000 years later and the mere image of Medusa invokes a psychoactive response! Her story is the story of the overactive defenses of the wounded. I start this week’s theme with my story because it illustrates what working with some trauma survivors can feel like. While a diagnosis can offer us the nuts and bolts of a disorder, I want to focus instead on the idea of disorder itself.
The Personification of Borderline Personality Disorder
We might say that Medusa personifies a borderline personality disorder. Of the 9 criteria for the diagnosis, she demonstrates in her story at least 7 of them. But what I’m interested in this week is not the criteria of borderline personality disorder, but the pathology. Pathology refers to the sequence, the phenomenon, the experience rather than the behavioral criteria. A disorder is a more appropriate word in my view than diagnosis. Because to be “dis-ordered” is to have all the right pieces, only out of reasonable or functional order. Disorder implies not that someone is broken or missing pieces but instead has a tangling of parts. All the parts are there, and somewhere in-tact. What is lacking is the tact itself.
Our Delicate and Sensitive Work
In personality disorder, our delicate and sensitive work revolves around the recognition that the decision to overprotect oneself has turned pathological. That is, gone to such extremes that we are not experiencing relationship with self and others in healthy intimacy. Instead, defenses distort and prevent secure attachments. Stability comes in the form of defenses and prevents us from thriving in constructive relationships. Can we heal borderline traits? Studies on intensive DBT treatments tell us yes. With proper trust and safety, telling someone they meet the criteria for borderline personality disorder is ultimately constructive. To be clear: untangling the connection between empowerment and defensiveness is tricky work and belongs to the slow ego re-formation that comes through empathic understanding.
Medusa and Perseus
Let’s look in brief at the arc of Medusa and Perseus. Perseus is charged with the heroic task of obtaining the head of Medusa. To put it another way, by mastering the monstrous defenses of emotional trauma the hero then has access to her power. We can see Perseus, too, as an inner figure. The one who confronts and strives to overcome our disorders must square off with Medusa. I think it is important to note that this is not about conquering her, though that is the popular seasoning. Instead, Perseus shows Medusa herself- offering no interpretation, no aggressive attack, no attempts to overpower. A silver mirror presents a simple, voiceless reflection of her own image.
The Skill of Medusa
Perseus gains the skill of Medusa and shows her face to the monster of Poseidon – the Kraken. The sea of our emotions has many monsters and to win the gift of Medusa’s stare is to know when and how to freeze lethal enemies. She is a gift. Our wounding and our defenses have worth and will support us in the right ways once dislodged from the body of terror. The trick is in knowing the difference between a lethal enemy and an imposing reality. In other words, when Medusa runs the show, all are threatening. When the inner ego (hero) gains her strengths and can be shielded from her wrath there is great power and healing that can take place.
The Silver Mirror of Perseus’ Shield
Today, we know Perseus by many names. He goes by cognitive restructuring, emotional regulation, the spectral chart, emotional transference therapy, and many more. Any practice in mindfulness is a look into the silver mirror of Perseus’ shield. Learning to observe and self reflect IS THE SKILL. As staff, I am encouraging us to work with the emotional deregulation of clients with a softer eye. Rather than attempting to interpret, learning to be grounding and curious. To join with activated dysregulation may sometimes not be an option. In defensiveness, all we can offer is our own boundaries. This week I will be teaching on maintaining healthy relationships with borderline tendencies as partners, therapists and family members. I encourage you all to make some extra room in your relationships with clients (for staff members) and with staff members (for clients). The only way through disorder is untangling the story and the only way to untangle the story is to give it our undivided attention. May we all find the solutions in our symptoms and the passions in our wounding.
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