The challenge of changing oneself from the inside out
1st July 2017
One of my clients recently said to me 'Yes I hear you Rowena, I know all of this.....but knowing just isn't enough to change things!' She was expressing the frustration of personal growth and I could completely hear her in that moment. There she was a highly intelligent person, with so much going for her, wrestling with the fact that her genius brain was not enough to stop her from falling down the slippery slope of self-judgement and criticism. And I know that place very well.
For years I have studied self-development, from Western psychology to Eastern spiritual practices, you name it at some point I've dived into it looking for pearls of wisdom to heal the longing, yearning and emptiness I experience inside in my quiet moments. I've accumulated a lot of wisdom and I've followed many disciplines over the years in the name of expressing a fuller version of myself in the world. And don't get me wrong many things have helped and whilst extreme things attract me I often laugh and say that it's the simple things that work like sitting quietly, noticing the breath and feeling my feet on the Earth.
Many people come to therapy to get results and it's not surprising that the Western mind wants a quick fix and an end to pain and suffering. Nobody wants to be told the Buddhist approach of learning to 'be present to' and 'allowing whatever is' to just be. They want you to share something new and profound that is going to bring about the change in behaviour that is going to magically transform their experience and give them their money's worth. I get that, I too have had therapy and walked away as my Western mind questioned the fact that I had just paid someone to listen to my rants once again. But that was entirely missing the point so I came to learn.
The change that happens in therapy happens through the participation in relationship. Most of our wounding started that way and most of it gets repaired that way. When my clients start to get angry with me for not fixing them or providing more knowledge I notice how that makes me feel and then I speak to them about what I'm experiencing just by being in the room with them. Together we speak about the awkward 'elephant in the room' relational stuff. Maybe they think I'm a rubbish therapist, they feel let down and that's familiar, sometimes they feel powerless to change or furious that knowledge alone doesn't free them from their struggle. And the conversation drops.
Then we find ourselves in the gritty messiness of our shared humanity. Maybe they need to have a go at me and pour out the repressed feelings of rage they have about people disappointing them all their life or they might burst into tears naming the helplessness of being them right now. Occasionally they talk about how much I wind them up by repeating the same phrases like 'be kind to yourself' over and over like a stuck record and I say 'Yes I do do that don't I, and it must be annoying to hear that.' Sometimes we are both in that helplessness together but I've done it enough times to know that from that place of raw honestly something can happen. And sometimes I have to take a bit of flack first :)
In order for real change to happen there needs to be a moment of real human connection and sometimes a moment of surrender where both me and the client kind of give up the struggle. Maybe both our ego's are joined in some kind of need to prove ourselves and in that moment we just land in a mutual acknowledgement of stuckness. Ironically just being on that very landing spot is important. We think that change is a matter of willpower in Western mind and I'm sure that is a big part of it but it is not the whole picture. Sometimes the 'will' does need to be re-awakened as by the work of Assagioli and Psychosynthesis but other times it could be about letting go of the head who thinks you should have changed this particular thing by now and dropping into what's hidden and human underneath. Some change occurs the moment we become ambivalent about changing something and isn't that the biggest irony of all time?! I always tell myself - 'One day it will just happen' and I completely believe that.
Of course some change happens in our lives through choice and discipline but the deeper things we grapple with may take longer and maybe that is part of being an embodied soul and something we come to accept. Some change requires some kind of connection to a spiritual practice in order to occur and maybe that's because we have to learn that we can't do everything ourselves and help and support is available to us if we are simply open to that. Change isn't always an act of will it is sometimes a moment of grace, but the Western mind thinks that's impractical nonsense. Change cannot be forced and fast-tracked because our souls are wiser than that and they need the struggle to learn humility in life so that we can grow into our humanity. If we strive for perfection all we are going to get is a bruised ego. So what we can do is take one day at a time, hold a vision for change and when we fall off the wagon of change just keep getting up and dusting ourselves down. Everything happens at the right time. Sometimes we thought we needed to change but actually the lesson is to accept things just as they are. Life fascinates me, I would love to hear your experiences...
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