The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.
~ Audre Lorde
Imagine being a fish caught in an oxygen-poor zone in the ocean, unaware that mindless, irresponsible behavior, greenhouse gases and global warming above the surface could rob your safe underwater home from vital life-giving energy. You notice frenzy agitation and aggression from lurking predators and opportunists all around you, and you feel weak, unsure, disoriented and debilitated in your usual functions.
If all your peers were blaming themselves for their pain, erratic mood swings, defeat and overwhelm, would you be able to think out of the box, like a fish out of the water? If absolved from self-blame, how would you reactivate your vigor and survival instincts? Would you be open to creative guidance from an odd fish from foreign seas who claims to know a stream to bluer waters that can resuscitate you and your problem-solving abilities?
When I opened my own holistic psychotherapy shingle more than a decade ago, I had no idea that I might be one of those odd fish until one of my clients, a 26-year old graduate student, said to me:
"You are the least manipulate-able therapist I've ever worked with."
Her long arms braced her chest and heart, her delicate hands and slender fingers nervously wrung by her face, and her fidgety, crossed legs made it seem as if she needed to use the bathroom.
I didn't think of her as manipulative; she was actually one of the most brutally honest and brave people I'd ever met. Past trauma taught her that it was easy to take advantage of others and hard to stop herself. Just releasing some of her cooped up feelings of powerlessness, rage, and sadness, for instance—especially during excruciatingly long periods of silence—triggered extreme discomfort and rescuing tendencies in who ever she was with: therapists, parents, friends, and loved ones alike.
If these people were anything like me, they could from one moment to the next be fuming with hatred and rage, on the verge of drowning in despair and powerlessness, or recoiling in shame and self-loathing, not aware that these were her emotions, flying around like balls in a lotto machine before one finally landed and came out in words.
The hardest, but most potent and catalytic stance
as healers is to cultivate greater
loyalty to our clients' wholeness than their wounding.
~ Loraine Van Tuyl
On the day that she made the comment above, I felt as solid, planted, and obstinate as a mountain to prevent my energy from splintering in every direction. This was harder to do with her than with anyone I'd worked with so far and since then. I could tell that she counted on me to ward off her inner demons and offer her a few slivers of respite and safety to reconnect to her feelings.
For this reason, I felt like I was the one who owed her. She was leading me to untapped, deep wells of peace and strength that would have stayed dormant if it weren't for her. She was also introducing me to my own inner demons without needing to endure what she did.
Most importantly, she brought my inner processes out in the open. I'd taken my intuitive gifts for granted, kind of like how we take our autonomic nervous system for granted. I expected my psyche to do its no-brainer, thankless job, just like I expected my lungs, heart, organs, skin, hormones, and cells to fight their daily battle for my survival and overall well-being: to absorb and expel, pump and move, open and close, grow and shed, live and die all on their own accord.
I was used to everything working smoothly; there was no need to stop and sort through what was happening. What for? I blindly trusted that my body knew what was best for me without anyone needing to tell me this.
Throughout my upbringing in Suriname, I was surrounded by nature and wildlife and spent weekends in our jungle sanctuary near the edge of the Amazon rainforest. I did what the rest of the animals and members of society did. I ate when hungry; drank when thirsty; peed when my bladder was full; slept when tired; rested and healed when sick; protected myself or fled when in danger; and tried different options when stuck. I didn't learn to question, postpone, evaluate, judge, second-guess, dismiss, and deliberate the when, what, how, how much, how crucial, and why of my basic physical needs until I moved to the US after a military coup and became an industrious and rule-abiding member of modern Western society.
Before I could ask my client what she meant with the comment above, a masked ninja warrior appeared, the same one I'd embodied in a recurring dream as a child. She ran and jumped from walls, dissipated into thin air, and sparred with an enemy who was also masked. My whole body––the energy in my feet, legs, hands, arms, and torso––felt on fire, and as agile and fierce as when I climbed great big trees all the way to the sturdiest top branch, or played street soccer and ping-pong with my brother, dad, and the boys in my neighborhood, dead-set on blocking every ball and body that tried to pass me.
In time, my grounding support and off-the-wall, intuitive interventions helped my client to process intense emotion, soothe piercing criticism and PTSD sensations, loosen her attachment to avoidance, and catch devastated pieces of herself that she could examine and eventually integrate.
Unbeknownst to me, my work with her served as the first of many spontaneous shamanistic initiatory tests that would come my way and push me to my farthest limit where crisis and creativity danced a mean tango. It didn't matter that my interventions were working. I knew that the tides could turn in an instant. Because of her vulnerable disposition and past trauma, she was a "high-risk case," not someone you experiment with in my field, especially not by using self-taught guerrilla and third-world intuitive strategies that didn't fit into any conventional, evidence-based psychotherapy box.
But when I considered using conventional talk therapy, attending only to the obvious and the stated, I saw us on a seesaw without a base, floating in the air. Just attending to the surface wound and ignoring the unseen deeper layers felt like patching up a deep gash with a flimsy bandaid. A persistent childhood memory of my mother beating my injured heel with the butt of a knife until all the contaminants had bled out appeared, as if rejecting the bandaid as a viable solution.
Similar intruding images and phrases started to pop up in my mind's eye or rolled off my tongue like involuntary twitches during the weekly consultation/psychotherapy group that I'd just joined. It consisted of well-established psychotherapists and faculty who were at least a decade and a half older and more experienced than me. One even had a private practice with a waiting list. They would for sure be able to offer me and a seventy-three year-old retired, irate, "socially challenged" psychology professor, let's call him Grumpy, expert advise when in need.
Grumpy was the oldest member of the group and usually parked his beat-up diesel Mercedes close to me before shuffling into the meeting. One day, everyone except for Grumpy was offering one of the veteran therapists suggestions how to get the Sparky in her to overtake Darky, her depressed alter-ego. I heard myself blurt out, I think Sparky and Darky need to hook up and make love in the elevator. The room got quiet.
By this time, I had joined the rest of the gang in containing Grumpy, who needed fierce limit-setting around his incisive comments. Something shifted in Grumpy after I dropped my lovemaking bomb and I began to see flashes of an old-fashioned lantern softly glowing in the dark when I looked at him. I also saw an image of an old monk whacking his students on the head with a stick when he once sneered at the group, "Do you want to feel better or do you want to get better?"
It was in that moment that my world turned topsy-turvy. The title of a book that my internship supervisor had mentioned to me years ago, the Symptom Path to Enlightenment, paraded in front of my third eye. I realized that Grumpy was frustrated because we were not using our symptoms to heal and become more enlightened. Puzzle pieces and energy were being moved around which provided some soothing, but they weren't being integrated nor helping up learn from our past mistakes.
We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.
~ Albert Einstein
I got a sense what my client must have felt toward me thanks to this lonely man who cared more about transforming others than sugar-coating his gruff words to appease us. He admitted to being worried that time was running out for him, and his authenticity slowly began to replace his abrasive social skills. Grumpy is no longer alive, but I'm deeply indebted to him for inspiring me to take risks, trust in wholeness beyond our human perceptions of wounding, and pursue shamanic and depth hypnosis training to further develop my body's intuitive understanding of divine wisdom, paradoxical integrity, and wholeness.
Since then, I’ve done hundreds of sessions with clients from all walks of life within the US and abroad—even with first-timers who'd never meditated or done shamanic journeys before—that revealed that our wise inner guides are like the colorful prizes hidden under the gray film in scratch lotto tickets: just a thin layer beneath our subconscious mind. To receive their guidance, we need to listen carefully to the whispers of our soul—i.e. daydream, write or journal, stroll or hike in nature, sing, paint, dance, do yoga and other mind-body-spirit practices—to reboot our creative and intuitive problem-solving abilities. We can also learn to become mindful all over again through esoteric study and by reading. Here is some expert advice from pioneering healers and researchers that can help you to recognize when your body says no (Gabor Mate, MD), if you are in a love-hate relationship with yourself, how your body keeps score (Bessel van Der Kolk, MD) and how to cultivate the adaptive ways in which happy brains respond to negative things (William Cunningham, PhD, and Alexander Todorov, PhD).
Loraine Van Tuyl, PhD, CHT, holistic psychologist, depth hypnosis practitioner, and shamanic healer, is devoted to helping wisdom keepers, seekers, healers, and teachers dive deep into their self-healing potential and carve out their sacred dream paths in service of their dynamic whole self and the greater good.
Her memoir, Amazon Wisdom Keeper: A Psychologist's Memoir of Spiritual Awakening, is an eye-opening account of her spontaneous spiritual emergence and shamanistic initiation triggered by indoctrinating double-binds in the mental health field. What gives her story an added twist is her ability to anchor into her rich cultural background and mystical upbringing near the edge of the Amazon rainforest when standing her ground, challenging her field, and relying on her spiritual integrity, intuitive resilience, and clarity: each one severely tested after escaping the chaotic aftermath of a military coup in her native Suriname and losing almost everything that she knew and loved at the age of 13.
Click here to view the Amazon Wisdom Keeper Book trailer:
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