I’ve been seeing Naomi, my counsellor, for about two months now. We’ve talked about so much, helped me realise so much… It’s pretty overwhelming to try and imagine it all. I wanted to write a blog post about the revelations I’ve had, about how much good has been done for me, but the wealth of information is so overwhelming… I’m afraid this is going to be an exceedingly poorly laid out blog with disconnected ideas jumping from one to another. Pray bear with me.
In the first session I had with her, Naomi gave me lines to write. The science of these is very deep, and the philosophy extremely profound. In essence, human beings desire love and acceptance and security, all those elements in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. When we are young, we desperately crave these things, but we don’t know how to express that craving except through our emotions and wordless thoughts. As we grow older, some of us feel very secure and comfortable in life, but for others they struggle with these birth emotions for decades, even centuries. These emotions can surface to the consciousness as thoughts such as “I always need to be doing something productive and meaningful”, or “I can’t get close to people because they’ll hurt me”. The longer you live, the more you invest in these thoughts and emotions. Traditionally the way I’ve dealt with them has been to ignore them and to comfort myself. When feeling stressed from work, I’d go home and play video games in my snuggie. When feeling anxious about not knowing what to do next, I’d watch a movie or read a book to get into someone else’s world for a while.
Naomi has introduced me to a new way of dealing with these powerful emotions. I should clarify that birth emotions aren’t bad at all- they helped us survive our early years. But there comes a point where they are no longer helpful to our lives, yet we know no other way than to hold onto them desperately. If you’ve studied psychology, you might recognise this as the ego- that childish, self-obsessed part of our consciousness that is wholly consumed with having its most basic needs met. But rather than feeding the ego with pleasure (which will comfort it in the short-term, but not ultimately change anything), I’m learning how to genuinely let go of the need to need. Where I might previously have felt a sense of panic underneath a calm facade, now I throw that facade away, gently embrace my panic, and let go of my need to cling to it.
How do I do this? With lines. Every day, for fifteen minutes or more, I write the following line over and over: “I see my future as positive and bright. I am happy, I feel good.” And that’s it. It’s absurdly simple, but by using an affirmation like this, it can neutralise the negative thoughts and emotions that have plagued us since birth. Obviously the more we’ve invested in these patterns of emotion, thought and behaviour, the more it will take to neutralise them and learn new ones. But it absolutely can be done. At first I thought it was only going to be mildly effective, but I was willing to trust Naomi and give it my best shot. It didn’t make any noticeable difference the first few days, or even weeks. But more recently, I’ve finally stopped resisting the thoughts and just accepted them as natural. Where once I would have gone “But I don’t see my future as positive and bright. Why do I keep lying to myself?”, I now think “My future is filled with possibility, and I have no idea what’s going to happen or how I’ll react to it. Wonders could be around every corner, and no matter what happens in life, I can really enjoy being alive!” Where previously I might have thought “I don’t really feel particularly happy or good, but I may as well keep saying I am,” I now think “This actually feels fantastic. Given the choice between being miserable and self-pitying, or happy and joyous, why wouldn’t you pick the latter?”
Furthermore, I don’t just write the lines anymore. I say them to myself, out loud or in my head, in the cheeriest, most hopeful voice I can manage. It’s ridiculous at first, but no matter how dejected or stressed I was feeling to begin with, I can’t help but feel better for all the faked enthusiasm. The subconscious can’t tell the difference between genuine happiness or pretended happiness, so it just sends out endorphins and oxytocin and serotonin anyway. In short, fake it until you make it, and no matter how you were feeling earlier, you can cheer yourself up. This is a remarkable revelation for me- I can be happy at any time I choose. And that’s pretty terrifying. To think that all the time I’ve been unhappy has been my choice, has been something I had complete control over… It’s so satisfying to be self-pitying, but in the end, comforting as it may be, it doesn’t help anyone. (For more on affirmations and how they work, find a copy of “The Way of the Carrot” by Roger Ballard, or ask me for mine.)
Another part of my counselling is attending group therapy workshops. It’s hard to explain what’s involved, but they take a “three-pronged approach”. Firstly, there are the lines. For two hours a week, we write the lines, and they change the very neural pathways of our being. Secondly, the facilitators do hands-on work and alternative therapies. I’ve started taking a naturopathic mineral supplement to help balance a potential defficiency in my nutrition due to being vegan. We drink tea, get gently massaged/prompted/reiki’d in trigger points throughout our body, drink green juices and other things. It’s radical, but it’s surprisingly effective. The third prong is talking. We ask questions, we talk about how successful or unsuccessful we’ve been throughout the week, and sometimes we explore some really deep stuff. Talking also brings people together so that they have the opportunity to learn from one another. In one session, a young man who had never accepted a compliment in his life, brushing them aside with “If” “but’s” and “Nah’s” was judged ready to receive compliments from everyone in the room. He accepted every single one of them, and broke down crying. In other sessions, people’s body language have been pointed out; slouching, looking miserable and subconsciously trying to let people know how much pain we’re in can bring the energy in the room right down. By changing our body language, we change how people relate to us on a subconscious and energetic level- it’s really quite remarkable.
For me, I learned something last night that shook me to my core and prompted me to write this blog post. Roger said to me, “Stop being so self-absorbed, and you will attract love into your life.” It was like being slapped in the face. “Self-absorbed? How dare you!” I thought. And then I realised it was so true, so non-judgmental, so profoundly accurate that I felt crushed beneath the weight of it. You know, for someone so smart, I’m pretty stupid. All my life I’ve been self-obsessed. Maybe in a polite, courteous, respectful way, but it’s nevertheless true. I care more about what I get out of a conversation that about the person I am speaking to. I’ll only talk to someone if I feel I’ll benefit from it somehow, or that the kindness of asking about someone is worth it to me. Very rarely do I genuinely care about others, from my heart to theirs. And so, I make it my mission now to open my heart, without reservation, to the people I am with. If I am with myself, I will care deeply about myself. If I am with my friend, I will care deeply about my friend. If I am with ten strangers, I will care deeply about ten strangers. This I strive for, because caring is the most important thing in the world, and I can’t keep doing it for myself alone.
So yeah. These are the sorts of things that I’ve learned through counselling. I still have so far to go, but I’m keenly hopeful that by continuing (with time, trust, patience and persistence) to attend, I’ll learn to let go of the stuff I don’t need and to move towards the things I do. According to Rog, that’s all life is about. It’s the simplest, and hardest thing in the world. But I’m getting there, one day, one moment at a time.
EDIT: I forgot to mention, part of what I’m striving (not very successfully) towards is a state of constant mindfulness. One of the significant challenges I have is that I get caught up in my head- I intellectualise problems, I detach from emotion and I rely heavily on logic. While it has its uses, this is not a wholesome or entirely healthy way of living. I’m trying to learn to embrace emotion, even the uncomfortable ones. To sit through distress rather than to ignore it. To be fully present in every moment. To help with this, every time I realise my mind is wandering and not focusing on the present moment, I say my lines in my head and it reminds me to fully immerse myself in the world again. From what I’ve seen, those people in the world who experience a state of near-constant mindfulness get far more out of living than I do.