"“ 'Getting better' takes place in stages"
We move now to a closure regarding “Awakening.” But why would there need be consciousness yet beyond that of survival and play? For one thing, dynamic psychology has uncovered the dark sides of our personal will, intention and desire which can and do act outside our awareness at times to our detriment (Nietzsche/Freud). For a second thing, can we really be awake if this bad dream of human affairs produces wars, a dead sea in the Gulf of Mexico, the apocalypse at the Fukushima nuclear power plant and Citizens United, which has wracked our political system with ruin.
I have more hope of individual awakening than return to a social, spiritual garden of Eden. I do affirm that enlightenment and transcendental awareness are my personal great expectations for myself and others. The work needed to get there requires, by all accounts, self discipline, and receptivity to teachings and guidance from the sages and wisdoms of the ages. The blockages are extraordinary considering the gauntlet of everyday human affairs and the after effects of human atrocities throughout recorded history.
The Return to Normalization
But let me leave off with all this crepe hanging. Only let me come down to earth a bit. From a humanist point of view, the everyday life of people is basically satisfactory where there is civil accord.
“Things are just fine and dandy. I'm getting along in life. Eat, drink, be merry. What's the big deal? I get up in the morning. I get the kids off to school. I get to work. There are holidays. What more do you want? I get safely across the street with the “walk” sign flashing. Well then, there's an end to it. No need to read on.”
I agree. With solid, common sense and healthy life style, there is every reason to believe people are generally in a good mood most of the time in a stable society. The electricity is on, the water is running and the laws are being enforced and obeyed—and the police attend to the lawbreakers.
Skill Building, Counseling, Therapy
Even so, in my work in therapy I encounter the shadowy matters of personal lives. There are some of us who have a few self-inflicted wounds. Or clients complain that slings and arrows of outrageous fortunes have flown at them and wrongs have been done unto them. The results are anxiety, depression, addiction as coping, holding resentments, neurosis (there's a word you don't hear very often) or feeling the existential dread and futility of it all.
More intricate wounds are engendered as far back as the fragile first 18 to 24 months of life; then all the subtle, or not so subtle, deficits of care givers have resulted in trauma and related attachment disorders. Kevin Hennelly teaches “Clinical Applications of Attachment Theory” for adult and adolescent clients in Santa Fe. The feeling of isolation and grief in the client calls forth skillful means in the adept clinician. The therapist offers, says Hennelly, to the hurt client unconditional positive regard, affinity, empathy and recognition. According to Hennelly, the client can realize that his/her unnamed loneliness and isolation are being validated. The unconscious ailment of hurt can be vocalized without judgment, and also honored by the clinician.
If we are bummed out enough, there are treatments and hope for recovery: skill building, counseling, and in-depth psychotherapy. There are also Western medicine, Eastern medicine, peer support groups (the 12 steps and more) and personal consciousness raising. There is also just plain hanging out with a good old buddy who won't stand for one's "BS"; and this can work well enough for routine questions of life.
Stages of Motivation
“Getting better” takes place in stages. J.O. Prochaska and C.C. DiClemente have written about a five-stage process of motivation to change:
- Pre-contemplation (pre-speculation, clueless) “I have no major sense of a problem. I am not yet considering change, and maybe I am unwilling or unable to change.”
- Contemplation [rumination] “I admit concerns and I am considering the possibility of change, but I am ambivalent and uncertain.”
- Preparation / Determination / Decision: “ I am committed to and am planning to make a change in the near future, but I am still considering what to do.”
- Action: “I am actively taking steps to change but I have not yet reached a stable state.”
- Maintenance: See below for this one.
Stage 4, “Action” is recovery, and is made up of three components: cognitive/talking, emotional/feeling, and behavioral/willing/doing recovery. They move sequentially or overlap in whichever therapy one may choose.
Component 1: Cognitive / talking Recovery
Getting better starts with my wake-up call (cognitive) that I have something I am pressed to change, cure, heal. Next, I tell my story and review the factors that have built up to produce my problem.
In formal therapy the story can be told in the classical “talking cure” sessions, or by psychodrama, art therapy, EMDR, NLP, by Albert Ellis's ABCD process --- to name a few.
Telling the history of my wounds is intended to bring insight, understanding and realization, and these are powerful curatives. However, at the appropriate time, telling and retelling my saga and hard times needs must be surpassed. At last my old narrative can be replaced, and a new trajectory of my life to come can be plotted. In down to earth terms, I could come to formulation of a profound, life vision and mission going forward (The Path by Laurie Beth Jones).
Component 2: Emotional / feeling Recovery
Along with the story, the next step in getting better is feeling the emotions that come up, or flood in, when I tell my story—released through tears and sighs—sadness, fear, resentment, anger, being ashamed or guilty. Hey, there might even be some happy feelings too—based on happy memories. [Parenthetically the difference between guilt and shame is that guilt is “I made a mistake.” Shame is “I am a mistake.” Of all the soul's wounds, shame is the worst, followed by despair, both of which can be responsive to healing interventions.]
Component 3: Behavioral / willing-doing Recovery
Components 1 and 2 are only two thirds of the work. Component 3 may possibly be the least emphasized force of recovery—my will-power, my repeated commitments and choosing / behaving to get better by means of various new habits. This choosing / behaving is the willingness to heal, reform and thrive. It is quite different in force and form from the innumerable acts of will that propel me through my ordinary day. Behavioral recovery is the will to power and to renew my life.
Beyond cognitive and emotional recovery is the dynamo of my will. It does entail knowing specifically what I am choosing to reform, but simultaneously important is the doing. This means I form a goal and concrete steps to get there. ( See Mental Health Through Will-training: a system of self-help in psychotherapy as practiced by Recover Inc., by Abraham Low.)
There are countless “choice points” (Dr. Bob Solomon) to stop the self-pity and self medication. In fact, one can utilize resentments, fear, “seeing red”, meanness, sorrow/grief as actual cues to re-direct going forward. The cues can be poetically considered “gifts” or calls to come alive.
Now we have arrived at stage 5 according to Prochaska and DiClemente --- “Maintenance” (persistence with a recovery and a reform value system) “I have achieved my primary goals (my symptoms have subsided) and I am working to maintain my gains and successes.”
“Came to accept I am powerless . . .”
I am not unaware of an alternative view of will held by the 12-Step program in the first three steps: 1 ) admitting that I have been powerless over my addiction or other challenges, and 2 ) that there is a power greater than myself that can restore me to sanity, and 3 ) then turning my life over to that power. There is an in-joke at AA meetings —thinking I can recover from addiction by myself is like thinking I can will away diarrhea.
Well and good for those who are drawn to question or doubt if their personal power can heal. So then they surrender to the higher power outside themselves. But recall, AA talks of “willingness”, and the 12 steps are loaded with activities and corrective actions. There is no lack of “get up and go” in AA. Yes, deliverance through my higher power, but I must deliver myself to the meetings and the study of the Big Book.
“Loving is the experience of life. Experience is the curriculum of living.” Southwestern College, Santa Fe, NM (www.swc.edu)
But what of higher awareness and creativity? The question now is, do I find myself drifting? What if I discover that despite feeling good enough, that I have been sliding along or downward throughout my life year after year? What of the passion for deeper or higher consciousness? --- rarified matters undertaken by thinking and meditative folk, nature spiritualists, alchemists, supernaturalists, or even temple, mosque or church goers? Then I might wish to contemplate the question “What is true consciousness and awakening?”
Southwestern College, from which I was graduated, publishes the following regarding consciousness on its web page. I was taught this, and have retained it ever since.
“Consciousness, as understood at Southwestern College, is the capacity and willingness to cultivate the highest possible level of awareness regarding our personal, social and spiritual purpose for being here, and to live with intentionality and in accordance with that awareness. The development of higher consciousness or awareness creates a capacity for enhanced decision-making and resourcing in our lives, which in turn supports the aim of all helping profession activity—empowerment. So to us, Consciousness is very practical as well as profound. . .”
Greetings and Thanks
I live in New Mexico, in the Southwest of the U.S.. I live and breath, more or less unconsciously, the culture of the Pueblo people. The words I leave you with come from the Native Americans in the East of the U.S. I believe they hold the universal insights in the hearts of all indigenous peoples. In that I have invoked some dark matters, I feel I must close, now, offering a sweet antidote. I venture to say that below you will find awakening. Here from the Onondaga Nation is a closing blessing.
To the earth mother of all, to all the waters, waterfalls and rain, rivers and oceans ----- greetings and thanks.
To all the fish life, greetings & thanks. The grains & green beans & berries, as one we send thanks to food plants.
Medicine herbs of the world and their keepers ---- greetings & thanks.
To all animals & their teachings ---- greetings & thanks.
The trees for shelter & shade fruit & beauty ---- greetings & thanks.
To all birds large & small ---- joyful greetings & thanks.
And from the four directions the four winds, thank you for purifying the air we breathe and giving us strength ---- greetings.
The thunderers, our grandfathers in the sky --- We hear your voices ---- greetings & thanks.
And now the sun for the light of a new day and all the fires of life ---- greetings & thanks.
To our oldest grandmother the moon leader of women all over the world, and the stars for their mystery, beauty & guidance ---- greetings & thanks.
To our teachers from all times reminding us of how to live in harmony ---- greetings & thanks.
And for all the gifts of creation, for all the love around us ---- greetings & thanks.
And for that which is forgotten we remember.
We end our words. Now our minds are one.
A daily thanksgiving inspired by the Onondaga Nation, www.onondaganation.org.