Saturday, 14 March 2009

Body Talk

I awoke and felt a slight twinge in my lower back. There was no obvious reason for it so I concluded that I must have slept awkwardly. I got up gingerly and made two cups of tea - one for myself and one for David, an old friend who was sleeping on a futon I had rolled out on the living room floor of my small flat.

David was sick. He had arrived from the States a couple of days earlier and had immediately come down with a heavy cold. He groaned his thanks for the tea and said that he needed to spend the day in bed. He wanted to make sure that he recovered in time for a seminar he was teaching at the weekend. I looked around the room at his stuff - his clothes spewing out of his open suitcase, his papers and laptop covering my dining table, and his used tissues strewn over the floor.

It was not the best time for him to be visiting. I had recently bought the rights to the loft space and was having it converted. It was going to transform my flat and enhance the value but right now it was chaos. Even though the builders had tried their best to be considerate, it had been going on for a week already and the dust and noise had become horribly intrusive. Today they were putting in a new staircase and I had been forced to stack a lot of stuff in my bedroom to make space for them. Clearly, I was not going to be able to relax at home. I decided to go out.

I left the flat to David and the workmen and took the train into central London to do some shopping. As the day wore on, the pain in my back got steadily worse. I tried to ignore it but it didn’t want to go away. I told myself that it would be better after a good night’s sleep. When I got home that evening I found David feeling a little better and the staircase up to the loft half completed. He was moving to his seminar hotel the next day but asked if he could leave most of his stuff with me over the weekend. Of course I said yes.

When I woke up the next morning the pain was worse and I had difficulty getting out of bed. David left for the seminar hotel and I pottered around and made tea for the workmen. The dust was everywhere. It had filtered under every cupboard door and into every nook and cranny of my flat. As the day wore on the noise of banging and sawing seemed to get louder and louder. It was a great relief when the workmen left, but by then my lower back was hurting so much that it was a struggle to stand up. It felt like a cramp extending down into my right buttock. I feared that if I sat in my low armchair to watch TV I might get completely stuck!

The next morning, with the pain no better, I was getting desperate. I considered taking painkillers or making an appointment to see my doctor. But then my mind wandered to the Voice Dialogue sessions in which I had worked with people’s aches and pains to help them find out what might lie behind their symptoms. “Surely you should be trying this with your own pain,” said a voice in my head, “Isn’t it time for you to walk the walk!”

I got a pen and paper and gently sat myself down at the table. I drew a rough outline of a body and then made a mark where my pain was located and focused on it. Next I took a clean sheet of paper and with my right hand - my dominant hand - acting as facilitator, I wrote down a question addressed directly to the pain. “Hello, do you have something you want to say to John?” I then took the pen in my left hand and waited for an answer to come. It is not easy writing with your non-dominant hand, but slowly the answer took shape. “I feel cramped,” it wrote.

Using my right hand again I asked, “Please tell me more about that feeling.” My left hand responded: “There’s no space for me. I feel pushed out. Richard was here and now he’s left all his stuff. The workmen walk all over the place every day with their big boots. It’s noisy and dusty and I can’t relax!” The dialogue continued for about 30 minutes during which time I found out that this was a five year old part of me that felt overwhelmed and upset. How appropriate that the pain in my back felt like cramp! Finally I asked this Child self what it needed to help it feel better and it replied, “A walk in the park, a long bath and a hot chocolate.”

That afternoon I took a leisurely walk along by the river. I took time to notice the plants, the trees and the birds. I sat in a café and drank a large hot chocolate. In the evening I ran a hot bath and had a long soak. To my great relief, when I awoke the next morning the pain had lessened and was now a dull ache.

At the end of the weekend David came back for a few days before flying home. Once again I had to put up with his stuff lying scattered over my living room floor - as well as the continuing noise and dust from the workmen. But now I found that if I took time to tune in to my Child, to listen to what it wanted, and where possible and appropriate, to act on its demands, the pain continued to ease. After a couple of days it was completely gone.

Since then, whenever I feel that slight twinge in my lower back I take note. I stop what I’m doing and ask myself how I might be ignoring or overriding the needs of my Child within. I have learnt to listen better when my body talks and to respect the feedback that it gives me about the current state of my physical and emotional wellbeing.

I still keep some painkillers in my cupboard and do have cause to visit my doctor sometimes. But by paying attention to the psychosomatic clues that my body presents and opening up a dialogue with the voice that lies behind my symptoms, I have been able to heal myself in ways that no amount of pills or the most astute doctor could have done.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

My Droog

It was a cold, grey day and I was on my way to see a movie. Having half an hour to spare, I decided to grab a coffee at a local café. One more stamp on my loyalty card and I’d be eligible for a free drink! I paid for a small cappuccino thanked the barista and sat down two tables away from the door. I hung my jacket neatly over the back of the chair, and quietly began to read the latest edition of one of London’s free daily newspapers.

I’d only been seated a few minutes when a sturdy woman came in. She had big hair, a formidable bosom, and was wearing a long, flowing coat. She jammed the door wide open and as she swept passed me said, “It is so hot in here! Hope you don’t mind.” Before I could think, my Nice Guy had responded, “No problem.” I watched her order her grande latte. She was being very loud and overwhelmed the poor barista with a torrent of instructions. I noticed that she paid with a £20 note. I decided I didn’t like her attitude. Why had I not said “No” to the door being left open?

As she headed towards the table next to me, nearest to the open door, my judgements kicked in sotto voce. “She is obviously from a privileged and wealthy background. She is clearly used to bossing people around and getting her own way. She is completely insensitive to the needs of others. She probably walks all over the ‘little people’ who serve her.” I imagined her big house and her poor cleaning lady and the rich husband and the expensive cars and the spoilt children….

She flung her coat carelessly over one chair, put her bag on another and sat down with her back to me on a third. She got a thick book out of her large bag, stretched her legs out and leant back, her expansive hair almost touching my table. She seemed unaware of the space she was taking up and of my presence right behind her. As she turned the pages of her book she twisted her hair distractedly. I imagined dead skin and pulled hairs descending upon my coffee.

Even though there was plenty of room in the café, I felt cornered and unable to escape her invasive energy. It was as if she was getting bigger and bigger and I was getting smaller. I was starting to feel the chill from the draft coming through the open door, but my Nice Guy would not allow me to say a word, or even to move to another table. “Don’t say anything. There’s no need to upset her.” I tried unsuccessfully to focus on reading my newspaper. I felt totally impotent.

Behind my mask of composed indifference another self was starting to speak and my inner commentary entered X-rated territory. My very disowned Mean and Nasty self wanted to tell this “rich bitch” exactly what he thought. “If it was fresh air you wanted why didn’t you get your coffee to go, and sit in the park instead of being so selfish and taking up all this space! You only think of yourself. You’re an arrogant, stuck up cow! Well, I’ll show you!!” I fantasised taking her coat and bag and throwing them out onto the street, and pouring her coffee down the drain, or even better over her! Any resistance on her part would be met by force as I pushed and shoved her through the door. I was like a skinhead character from Clockwork Orange, a droog, the leader of a vicious gang, uncaring and unfeeling, on the attack, out for revenge, ready to torture and humiliate her….

As this fantasy surged through my mind I tried to just sit and observe it. My Nice Guy was desperately trying to push back and seize control. Heaven forbid I should act out what Mean and Nasty wanted! But I understood that in its own way Mean and Nasty was trying to insulate me from this very uncomfortable feeling of being squashed. I realised that this was in fact an old dynamic going right back to my childhood when I had often felt energetically smothered and invaded by my mother. Unable to take my space and stand up to her, I had acted out my frustrations indirectly with my toys, some of which had to endure untold misery, being beaten up or flung down the stairs!

A glance at my watch told me it was time to go or I would be late for the film. As I stood up and put my jacket on I could feel Mean and Nasty urging me to “inadvertently” bump into the woman’s table and spill her coffee, but my Nice Guy would have none of it. I did manage to sneakily close the door behind me in a gesture of defiance and was immediately attacked by my Inner Critic as he attempted to make me feel ashamed of my “petulant” behaviour.

As I walked to the cinema I reflected on what had just happened and the different selves that had been triggered. Most evident were my primary selves that have me be accommodating, polite, thrifty, unassuming, sensitive, quiet and neat. I had projected onto the woman my disowned selves that have to do with being entitled, asking for and getting what I want, taking my space, not worrying about what other people may think, and taking care of myself. My disowned instinctual energies showed up in my fantasy - confrontational, direct, uncaring, vengeful and violent. Finally there was my Critic, the policeman of my primary selves system. I wondered if I still needed to go to the movies after living through this rich inner drama!

I arrived half way through the trailers. I had bought my ticket in advance and had reserved a particular seat right in the centre. The cinema was only a third full but when I got to my seat I found it occupied by a woman sitting with her friend. They both feigned ignorance and their body language indicated that they had no intention of moving. A man in the row behind growled at me, “There are plenty of other seats. Why don’t you sit somewhere else?” I looked around. All the empty seats were at the sides - not where I wanted to sit.

I felt my Nice Guy pushing me to say, “Of course, no problem, I’ll sit somewhere else.” But instead, I took a breath and made a conscious choice to bring in my Entitled self together with just an edge of Mean and Nasty. “This is my seat and I would like to sit in it please,” I said politely but firmly. My voice made it clear that there would be no arguing. The women gathered up their coats and moved several seats over whispering and tut-tutting.

I sat down, immune to their complaints, put my jacket on the empty seat next to me, leant back and allowed my energy to expand. I was going to really enjoy this movie!