Friday, October 5, 2018

Curing Power of Kind Attention and Awareness

     The more we practice meditation, the more we recognize the effects of traumas we've sustained over a lifetime. Reading a book like Van Der Kolk's “The Body Keeps the Score. Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma” may be a revelation to some of us in this regard. Some of us would clearly benefit from psychotherapy, and all of us would benefit from remarkably wise tools for healing found in meditative practices. 
     Adyashanti teaches an advanced practice he calls "conjoining the opposites." A more easily approachable practice is to hold difficult emotions, as they arise, within the heart area. This is instead of usual tendencies: acting out and or intellectually fighting difficult emotions. Holding the physical manifestations of these emotions in the heart area to me is quite similar to dealing with "open questions." In both cases, we let all of our intelligences slowly, without time limits, work away on big, complex issues, that our (modest) intellect alone is ill-equipped to handle.
     Below is, IMHO, a clear, helpful excerpt from a superb book:

     “It is not easy to maintain mindfulness when our primary defenses are activated. These defenses are forged in reaction to intense feelings, felt from conception through our preverbal years. Our psychological defenses are not ‘bad,’ they are simply strategies we learned that helped us survive as tiny babies. Neither are they necessarily there because of a lack of care. Just our vulnerability or waiting to be fed as babies can evoke powerful feelings of abandonment, fear, and longing. These feelings overwhelm a tiny baby and infant. In response, our defenses were built to protect us from these feelings. However, as we grow up our defenses become imprisoning. They split us away from our innate energy, and we become locked in dysfunctional patterns and end up limping through life rather than having access to the fullness of our energy.
      The desire for nonexistence or annihilation (vibhava-tanha), which manifests as psychological desolation, despair, depression, and self aversion, is a common primary defense. As we bring mindfulness to this dynamic, behind the sophisticated ways we deny and dissociate, we will encounter unsettling feelings. We will find ourselves faced with our ‘shadow,’ a term Carl Jung coined to refer to powerful emotions and beliefs held in the unconscious that influence our life. Behind our ‘shut down’ can be fear, rage, or a fog of confusion. At times when these become triggered, we need to take a lot of care. When touching deep areas of primary feeling, behind our defenses, we need to take space, have kindness, and be patient.
     Instead of crashing out, we can be mindful, one breath at a time. Gradually this becomes a strong container to help us withstand our deepest pains without defaulting to self-harming or acting out. This container is strengthened through moments of kind attention and awareness to the feeling tones that are present. When these factors are in place, then as painful feelings emerge, like despair, or the wish to annihilate ourselves in some addictive pattern, we will know an opportunity has offered itself.
     As our capacity for awareness strengthens it is possible to tolerate the deeper wounds within the psyche. Often these are disguised beneath the restless momentum of desire and our attempts to fulfill its demands.”

       Kittisaro & Thanissara. "Listening to the Heart. A Contemplative Journey to Engaged Buddhism." North Atlantic Books, 2014.

with kind permission from:


  1. When our defenses become "imprisoning" and rob us of energy, and we isolate, and split off from a painful emotion/memory, we can breath through the pain and place ourselves into a container - it sounds like placing oneself into a padded cell to protect oneself from fear and despair and finally facing the monsters? The term compartmentalize comes to mind. Like someone who has ADHD, and allows emotions to spew in all directions, and not be in charge of the chaos, one can enter into a safe place in one's mind, and sit in silence and allow the feelings to pass through and be felt, processed, and then passed through without self loathing. It is a time to embrace all the ugliness, and face the things we have despair over, and then sooth ourselves with compassion and kindness. Like facing one's dark shadows and staying with them for a while. Is that what you are attempting to teach? I was reading the Mindful Path to Self Compassion, and there was a fire in the house I left the book in and never replaced it. Also tapes from Jack Kornfeld and Sharon Salzburg were burned there. I'd like to place myself in a lovely padded cell with flowers, and soothing aroma therapies, and spend an hour a night in this special place reading the book by Dr. Germer for a start. Thank you for bringing insightfulness to deep sub conscious awareness.

  2. You're most welcome. It's critical to remember that we need to care for ourselves like a loving grandparent looks after their only beloved grandchild, providing her (ourself) with love, safety, gentleness, wisdom & infinite patience - all that is needed to thrive. Another excellent & important book to consider is: David A. Treleaven. “Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness. Practices for Safe and Transformative Healing.” W.W. Norton & Co, 2018.

  3. As a psychotherapist who works with people with complex trauma, this post is right on. The primary healing environment is relationship: safe, supportive, wholehearted support characterizes the relational environment for healing. We humans are co-regulators; when our hearts are open, others feel safe in our presence, and vice-versa. The growth we call healing happens inside the container of relationship; my job is to offer my office and my presence as "safe space" and invite you inside. As people learn to be at ease, they blossom!