What I have learnt about being sad

watercolour byAbhilasha Singh

watercolour by
Abhilasha Singh

I was speaking to myself in my car today.

I usually process in written form, but I was driving and didn’t have my journal handy.

I was thinking about what I have learnt about being sad.

Now that I am 47, I have been reflecting quite a bit on what I have learnt in the journey so far and this question of what I have found about being sad feels important to me. I spent way too long as a girl being sad. I consider it one of my greatest achievements that I am not any where near as sad any more.

Here are the five things about being sad, or more specifically, what helps me not to be.

1. That the things I think I know about other people are so very often not true at all.

The brush off; the short reply; the lack of eye contact; the unanswered text; the forgetting of dates that matter to me; the far too hasty interaction in the street; the tone of a facebook comment; the strained trace of a smile when I try to be witty and light hearted in my repartee…

I used to think I was good at reading people and reading their intent. But I’m not. I’m sometimes emotionally illiterate in the non verbal language of others.

I get it wrong. Getting it wrong has made me sad many times in my life. Now that I have finally- FINALLY understood that my guesses are often the most pessimistic interpretations, I guess less often. I let myself expect the best rather than the worst when I try to imagine how others see or judge me.

It has been a daring step but it has made me happier.

2. Sadness is a feeling that I experience in my body and if I let myself feel it as a physical sensation, I can then watch it pass through and away.

I can wait for the peak of the pain and then I can watch the pain ebb away. Then I can experience the return of the lightness. Just like hitting my thumb with a hammer, or hitting my funny bone, or having one of those calf muscle cramps. It passes and there is very little that I have to do but let it.

If I don’t let myself experience sadness in my body, then I tend to look for it in my mind. Then I create stories and interpretations; conversations and replies. I begin fighting the other person and looking for allies and enemies.

I like to leave it to my body to process as much as I am able to. My body seems to process things more efficiently, without taking hostages.

I tend not to get so scared of emotional pain any more. I don’t fall for the fear in me that says that it will never pass. I tend to look for ways to open up the channels and let it go.

Image frompinestreetartworks.com

Image from
pinestreetartworks.com

3. My beautiful blue bowl.

I have a lovely blue bowl that my friend Forbes made for me and I decided to turn it into a worry bowl. So I have little cut up bits of paper at the ready and if I have a worry, I write it down and ask the bowl to hold the worry for me. That way, I can forget about the worry and let some other vessel carry it. I have often had a falling out with someone and written down the wish that one day the trouble between us would be resolved. Or I feel remorse for something and wish that one day I will feel forgiven.

All of the wishes I have put in that bowl have come true. Some sooner than others.

And when they have, I have simply taken that wish out of the bowl and made the bowl a little lighter.

Most of my problems get resolved sooner or later –  and that never ceases to amaze me. It is often really just a matter of time.

4. Asking for help can be a challenge.

I do feel the need to talk things over when my mind is overloaded with feelings and thoughts. I hate the idea of being alone in it sometimes.

However, I also know that when I am overwrought, I am impossible to deal with and usually inconsolable.

How often have I called someone to arrange to speak things through, only to feel frustrated that they could not possibly understand the intricacies of what I am feeling.

Or else, I will feel them pull away or try to change the subject or obviously feel burdened by what they see as negativity.

Nothing anyone ever says when I’m in that state seems to really hit the spot for me. I always wish I could just morph into two people and counsel myself.

This need to be comforted by others, coupled with a tendency to push the others away is the paradox of sadness for me.

I think the one who addresses this paradox better than any other therapist I have encountered so far is David Schnarch. You may have read his book ‘Passionate Marriage’, or if not, you may like to. It really is a wonderful book. What I love most about it is what Schnarch writes about leaning on other people. He says that in life, we tend to all lean on one another so much that the responsibility for holding ourselves up is almost always given to someone else. The someone else we entrust our care to also looks elsewhere to be held. He writes:

“The ability to self-soothe and to hold onto yourself, and the willingness to self-confront, are important to increasing your differentiation. These involve calming yourself down, not taking your partner’s behavior personally, maintaining a clear sense of yourself, and facing your own unresolved personal issues.” (Schnarch, 1998)

He teaches that if we could learn to hold ourselves emotionally first and then ask for help, then we have some chance of getting what we really need. We steady and ready ourselves to be able to receive the answers and inspiration we most need.

Learning to ‘hold myself’ is no longer something I do in loneliness or in a spirit of resignation, it has actually become a joy and an honour.

5. The inner child.

The inner child model of therapy is the one I keep looking back to. It’s the one that makes sense to me in my own life and experience.

So many therapists have used and developed this model of understanding: Jung; Berne; Bradshaw…

To explain this in my own words I would say that the child that we once were does not disappear. The girl that I was still exists in me in the form of what I would call ‘my heart’.

When I am sad, it is usually she who is feeling it and trying to communicate it to me. The adult part of me wants to soldier on and look brave, clever and sophisticated. She, like any child in the world is not good at faking things. She is too true for that.

All of the things that used to hurt me as a little 7 year old girl are still the same things that hurt me now: rejection, abandonment, insensitivity, confusion, change, loss, fear.

I can not travel back to the 1970s to protect the little one I was then, but I can care for my heart now. I can love myself, listen to myself, trust the things she is trying to communicate to me. I can be parent to her. I can say all the things to myself that I would want to say to my own daughter. Or that I wish had been said to me. I can stop calling myself a liar; I can stop taking the side of the other. I can tell her that all will be ok. I can even rock her to sleep if I want to.

That for me is my lesson in self love. The promise that I will never abandon her again. Never abandon myself again to fit in, to seem cool, to be tough, for whatever reason.

It’s not an end to sadness, but it is a taste of the kind of love that is its salve.

It may not be true in a scientific sense, but by taking the time to hold myself as I would a treasured little daughter, I have learned something about how to be kind to myself.

Image from: life.paperblog.com

Image from: life.paperblog.com

These are some of the things I have learnt. There are actually many more. Many of these tricks and understandings and sleights of hand I have learnt from others – including my clients.

I would love to hear what you have learnt.

The whole being: An interview with Michael Muir, somatic psychotherapist.

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Upasana: How did you originally discover somatic psychotherapy in your own life?

Michael: My journey started in the mid-nineties with a personal development seminar called the Turning Point.  It was somatically based and centred on the work of Alexander Lowen.  I was fascinated by the idea that our bodies hold our history and our story.

My fascination led me to a diploma of Somatic Psychotherapy.  The diploma merged the somatic components with psychodynamic theories.  At first I studied the diploma for my own growth, but it soon became a passion – a passion that i wanted to share with the world as a somatic psychotherapist.

Upasana: What was it that helped you to know that this would be your chosen modality of work?

Michael: From a young age I would close myself in my room, put on an LP (record) and dance. Movement and moving my body have always been really important to me and have assisted me to feel good about being myself.  So the step from self-nurturing through movement to working in a modality in which the body is integral to the therapy was not a big one. Somatics is all about movement, breath and sound – not necessarily big movement (like dance), but also subtle ones, like a shiver, the pulsation of a heart, or the blink of an eye.

Upasana:  Who have your teachers and influences been?

Michael: Somatic Psychotherapy has a long lineage that goes all the way back to Freud and Reich (shhh don’t tell anyone!).  Contemporary Somatic Psychotherapy takes the best of the theorists and their theories and merges them in to a modern model that is relevant today.

Some of the recent teachers who have made the most impact on my life are Dr Tony Richardson and Julie Henderson – highly experienced somaticists.  There are a number of Tibetan Buddhist teachers who have also impacted in a big way on my life, in general and in my work.

Upasana: Could you tell us about Somatic Psychotherapy?

Michael: Psychotherapy provides a safe, non-judgmental space and relationship in which to explore difficulties in areas such as work, relationships, parenting, achieving one’s goals, addictions or repetitive painful states such as depression, anxiety, confusion, negative feelings or low self esteem.

Somatic is a Greek word meaning “of the body” and in this context means employing body-centred approaches to assist people in integrating and transforming.  The root of this word is ‘soma’ meaning the body of an organism.

Somatic psychotherapy is grounded in the belief that psyche and soma form a single holistic entity, the bodymind. Thought, emotion and bodily experience are understood as inter-functioning aspects of the person’s whole being.

As well as working verbally in the relationship with the client, somatic psychotherapists are trained to engage directly with the client’s dynamic bodily experience. This includes patterns of breathing, posture, sensation and movement, and also working with body image, metaphor and through touch when appropriate.

Upasana: Does ‘somatic’ refer to movement or to touch – or both?

Michael: Somatic refers to all that and more.  For some clients somatic may mean simply observing their body, maybe watching the way they breathe or the way their skin changes colour when they discuss a certain situation.  For other clients it may mean a hug, a reassuring hand or maybe providing a space to scream out some fear or throw a tantrum.  For others still it may mean a bio-dynamic massage where I work with their bodies to gently release some blockage or simply to provide relaxation.

Upasana: Are there many versions of this kind of therapy? And if so, which do you practice?

Michael: Within the field of Somatic Psychotherapy, like all modalities, practitioners tend to focus on some aspects more than others.  I’d have to say that the body is really important in my sessions – that doesn’t mean I force people to do anything – it just means that unlike some of my peers who are more psychodynamic, I definitely utilise both the somatic and psychodynamic aspects in each session.

Upasana: Could you describe one or two techniques you may use with clients?

Michael: Tracking is a technique i frequently employ to get people to become more aware of their bodies and their internal processes.  Very simply, the client follows sensation around their body, noticing, verbalising and following the sensation to the next part of their body – it’s very simple yet very powerful in building awareness.

Bio-dynamic massage is another technique I may employ (depending on the contract I have with the client) in order to create more flow within the body and assist in the movement (unblocking) of energetic holds.

Upasana: Why is this referred to as psychotherapy and not bodywork?

Michael: Somatic Psychotherapy is not just bodywork.  Psychodynamic theories are also key to informing the therapeutic process.  Attachment and inter-subjective theories are a really important parts of the work.  Sessions with me are psychological based but assisted by including the body’s process as well.

Upasana: Why are talking and cognitive type therapies not sufficient to address emotional and psychological well being?

Michael: Talking and cognitive therapies are great.  They assist us to bring more awareness to issues, and that can only be good. The thing is though that we are not just minds we are also bodies, and by including the cognitive and body processes in therapy there is greater likelihood of long term results and deeper understanding of ‘what we do’ and ‘why we do it’.  This means that we end up being able to notice what we are doing or about to do and then make a choice.  Great stuff for family get-togethers or Christmas lunch when family dynamics are generally at their most potent.

Upasana: Why is the somatic so vital to us?

Michael: Our bodies and our minds react to situations.  It’s like when we are angry and feel like punching the table – or feel scared and our breathing becomes shallow.  When we are in difficult situations our bodies as well as our minds react – they work together to help us cope.  The thing is though that these coping mechanisms don’t help us resolve the problem they just mask it – so the difficult situation repeats over and over.  The inclusion of the body in the therapy allows the client and me, as therapist, to explore feeling and sensation and their link to the cognitive process – leading to more significant and permanent change.

Upasana: How do your clients come to you?

Michael: It’s really a mix of ways.  Word of mouth, peer referral, my website www.michaelmuir.com.au and also social media.  I also run somatic groups and this too can lead to people wanting to come for one-on-one sessions with me.

Upasana:  I know that the two Australian training institutions the Somatics College and the Australian College of Contemporary Somatic Psychotherapy have closed down in recent years.

Do you think somatic psychotherapy has had more difficulty taking root in Australia than overseas?

Michael: The issue with the colleges closing is about government accreditation processes.  In order to be recognised there are a whole pile of regulations that need to be met as well as the associated costs.  It’s really sad, as modalities such as Somatic Psychotherapy just don’t have the same ground swell that counsellors or Reichian’s have so we can’t compete.  This is a key concern for our association Australian Somatic Psychotherapy Association and I know they are talking to places like the Jansen Newman Institute about getting Somatic modules as part of their training.

Upasana: Why do you feel there may be such resistance to an approach that acknowledges our physical experience?

Michael: When we are young we habitually learn to disconnect from the feelings in our bodies in order to fit in with family, friends and the community.  If we feel uncomfortable in a situation our mind helps us rationalise the fear so we can suppress it and function “normally”.

As adults, if we start to move beyond our brains and minds in to our bodies then fears often bubble up.This is because we are suddenly faced with the truth of how we feel and the reality of having to deal with it when most of our life has been spent on keeping this stuff inside and in our subconscious.

So society, in order to maintain the status quo, requires proof that the body’s process is important.  Since all of our upbringing and conditioning tells us that feelings and bodies are “irrational” and it’s our brain that provides the “truth”, society puts very little effort into gathering empirical data to prove the body is important – so the scientists say that the work can’t be proved.

In short, the resistance is a mix of fear of the unknown and the medical fraternity who require empirical data before they can accept the benefits.

Upasana: Are there many others practicing this form of psychotherapy in Australia? Is there still a community that you touch base with and gain support from?

Michael: There is a network of practicing Somatic Psychotherapists mainly on the east coast of Australia.  Many of us belong to the Australian Somatic Psychotherapy Association which is a member association of PACFA (Psychotherapist’s and Counsellor’s Federation of Australia).  As a member we come together for conferences, professional development and sometimes just for a coffee and chat.  Being part of the community is a really important resource for me.

Upasana: What do you see as the consequence of not acknowledging our bodies and our energy?

Michael: Not acknowledging our bodies and our energy means that we are not looking at the whole of our experience and being.  It means that we cannot become fully self aware and that we are disconnected from our natural vitality and our spirituality.

Upasana:  How do you retain your own sense of life/work balance? How do you care for yourself?

Michael: All of us – therapists included – need to make sure we have resources in order to maintain a sense of wellbeing.  For me I have a number of resources which include

being in nature like a park surrounded by grass and trees, or at the beach and taking in the beauty around me; my Buddhist practices; meditation practice and hanging out with my peers.

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Upasana: Michael, thank you so much for participating in this project and for answering questions of particular interest to me.

If anyone would like to ask Michael anything further about Sydney Somatic Psychotherapy,

please contact him through his website: www.michaelmuir.com.au

My Beautiful White Couch. Excerpt of an interview with Gabrielle Roth by Tami Simon.

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Gabrielle Roth:” I felt like I had a self to fall back on, which was very important, that I had been feeding and nourishing and developing for 50 years of practice, and that I had practice that helped me. Even though I wasn’t able to dance, life is a dance, and I still was able to see through the perspective of the 5Rhythms and to feel and to be in my body and to be instinctive, which was the most important thing of all. Because you have a lot of people telling you what to do, and they all have on white coats, and you also have information coming in from your cousin, the doorman, and the taxi driver’s great-aunt, and everybody who you meet knows somebody who’s doing something with cancer.

… So there was a tremendous amount of energy coming at one, when we’re first diagnosed with cancer, and I think that for me, I fell back inside of myself and just went very quiet and just paid attention to my body. For example, the first treatments that they felt that I needed to have, radiation and chemotherapy—my whole body recoiled. It was like I was contracting. And I looked, and I just saw myself. The doctor was speaking, and it was like he was speaking to someone else. And I just knew that that wasn’t right for me at that moment. It wasn’t that it isn’t right but that it wasn’t right for me in that moment.

I was exhausted. I had been running all over the world. I’d been teaching full-time, writing, doing everything, and in the irony of spreading a practice that is a healing practice and an artistic practice, and now I was the one who really had to stop, look, and listen, in a very different way, in a personal way. So I actually sat on my beautiful white couch in my loft here in Manhattan and was just with myself, meditating, drinking my green drinks, letting go of sugar, and doing some just very practical things in getting myself together and taking in information that was important.”

Tami Simon:” Now, Gabrielle, a couple things: one, I just want to thank you for just being so vulnerable and heartful and sharing you experience. I know so many people have looked to you now for decades as a pioneer, as a way show-er, and that you’ve done that through your work with dance and music and teaching, and here you are helping us understand through your own experience, something quite difficult. Thank you. You don’t have to be talking to me right now about this. And yet you are. So thank you.

GR: Well, I don’t think that we can “understand it,” but I think we can learn to dance with it and to build the territory in which it is occurring, to keep feeding the healthy heart of oneself and to keep feeding—emotionally, physically, and mentally, to feed ourselves with the nutrients that we need. That’s the thing that we all can do. And, of course, it’s very advisable to have a practice before you ever are given some incredible diagnosis that you have to deal with.

It’s advisable to have a practice because the practice is there to save you in the moment of need. It’s the enduring sense of practice that we have something that we do every day whether we feel good, whether we feel bad or happy or sad. We have a practice that we do that—we learn to move through all these changes and nuances and to keep ourselves fluid and in touch with ourselves. We need a practice that allows us to get to know ourselves in a very deep way and so you know certain things about yourself that you really learned, and you apply them when you actually, really need them, like in matters of life and death.

All the things that I’ve ever taught, or the 5Rhythms, are based in very practical wisdom that comes from the body first, and by being grounded in the body, which most people are really not—being really grounded and comfortable in the body and then learning to be really grounded and comfortable emotionally, and then being really grounded and comfortable mentally.

In other words, to not have a head that is filled with theories, beliefs, fears, anxieties, and all of this, but to actually have an empty mind, a mind that is fluid and capable of making instinctive, intuitive choices that only you can make. The 5Rhythm practice is very personal. It’s a practice that kind of says, “You’re the teacher here.” The 5Rhythms are like the master. They’re this fluid thing that we’ll never really get a grip on, but they are an energy. They are an energetic language that allow us to see ourselves and everything else in motion—and the very few things in life that are fixed as fixed. But that’s very few things.

TS: What are those things that are fixed?

GR: Well, like birth through death, for example. Nobody goes from birth to maturity, then goes back to childhood, dies, and then comes back a teenager, although most people would like that. Life has this organic—the laws of nature, you know—of the rhythms of nature that are predictable. But inside of that, everything else is unpredictable. So it’s predictable that I will be born, or how, or to whom, or where I will be born. Everything else is fluid. So it’s learning to live with that unknown, the unexpected: that is what my practice is about. It’s about learning to dance with the unknown and to be comfortable there. To dance in the chaos.”

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Image: livingfortoday365.blogspot.com