Below you will find the first chapter of my nearly finished book with a working title of Healing. In early 2003 a CD that I had recorded with Daniel Kobialka, violinist from San Francisco’s Philharmonic Orchestra, was produced. (You can listen to an excerpt of it by clicking on the Shop icon and then clicking on CDs.) I wanted to help listeners to discover how to reconnect with the inner place of healing, a place that no one else or nothing else outside the self can find for another person. This is a still point place inside you that you can only know by experiencing it. As I began to sell the CDs, I realized that there was something more that needed to be done to help those who were interested to understand the relationship of finding the still point and experiencing healing. So I began writing a book to augment the process introduced in the CD. The book is nearly finished. Below is the first chapter of that book.
Finding the Still Point
The other day I stepped out on the balcony of my third floor apartment to take in the evening. I looked over the deep green lake behind my apartment that looks as if it were in my back yard. Behind the lake is a sub-tropical wildlife preserve, with trees shrouded in thick vines that extend as far as the eye can see creating the kind of image often found in storybook forests. Everything was so very still in that moment just before sunset. The alligators and giant turtles that live in and around the lake had already slipped back into the water from their sunning places along the water’s edge, as the warmth of the day was just beginning to take on the cool softness of a Fall evening on the Gulf side of Florida. The frogs and birds were just beginning their nightly chorus, that on evenings such as this, often turned my memories from the present to a not-so-distant yesterday, when I was lulled to sleep by the dense sounds of wildlife on the Amazon in the Brazilian Jungles. In that moment, just a few days before beginning this book, I felt so amazingly connected to that deep inner quietness—the magical place where the pulse of life rests for just a moment in the still point that opens up to a most healing peace.
It struck me how little we human beings, including myself, take the time to be a part of such peaceful stillness. We seem to have gotten so used to noise, to intensity, to inner and outer conflict and to non-stop action that we don’t know how to deal with the in-between moments of stillness, or much worse, we have forgotten that something such as stillness exists. And we suffer because it is only in stillness that we can heal.
The human body, like the bodies of every other living thing in the natural world, was created to extend itself out into the world; to expand, to discover, to connect, to take in what is out there. Then after a full extension, it draws itself back inside to refocus and connect with itself, to assimilate what it has taken in, to use what it can and to release what it cannot use. The body pulses with a rhythm of expansion and contraction, like breathing in and breathing out. And in between the pulse of the outward reaching and the inward motion, the taking in and the releasing, is a still point, a quiet place between the next filling and releasing cycle.
If we allow ourselves to drop into a very deep state of awareness, we can feel that inner pulse, that inner rhythm of expansion, contraction and still point. It goes on and on expansion …contraction…still point…expansion…contraction…still point…that flows on and on like the never-ending movement of ocean waves rolling in and out without effort yet with profound rhythmic strength. Between the ebb and the flow cycle of that internal rhythm is a moment of stillness, as in the ocean—there is a moment of stillness when everything is suspended, if even for a microsecond, before the next cycle begins. In that moment of suspension, everything returns to oneness, to a fleeting, yet profound safety, a moment of connection, of rightness, of wholeness, of love—this is the time between cycles when expansion ceases, when contraction releases and we are completely…at rest…
This time of rest, whether it is the rest period between the ebb and flow of the ocean or after the opening and closing of a flower, is a time for renewal. The period between the opening and closing of a cell, the opening and closing of a body organ, or the opening and closing that is with us in our waking and sleeping cycle, is the time of healing. I also suspect that this still point moment, this pause between the cycles, might even exist after the opening and closing of lifetimes. Without this rest period, we cannot heal.
If our lives are in constant extension, pushing, shoving, running, hurrying, struggling, pursuing, we do not give ourselves enough time for rest. Too often, rest is seen as wasting time or losing the edge that will allow us to come out on top, whatever coming out on top means to us. Rest might even be experienced as life threatening, especially for those whose lives have taught them to believe that hyper vigilance is a necessary component of living. So our rest times are not times of rest, not even when we sleep.
If our lives are in constant contraction, withdrawing, holding in, pushing down, holding tight, we dare not allow surrender into rest, we do not allow ourselves to open to a time of suspension, because surrender or suspension feels as if it means annihilation. For those of us who live with constant contraction, rest would mean loss of control, of becoming vulnerable to an outside world that we believe would crush what is inside of us. Or perhaps, rest might cause what is held in or pushed down to come out. And we fear that coming out would betray the self that is trying so hard to be acceptable to a world that we have learned to believe does not accept who we are. The still point feels too threatening; we remain stuck in contraction.
Some of us have little if any respite from anxiousness, a potential result of being stuck in either contraction or in extension. We run, and run, and run, always looking over our shoulders for what we believe is chasing us, or perhaps fearing looking over our shoulders, because we are afraid that what is threatening us will destroy us if our taking time to look causes us to slow down. If we could only find the way to the calming stillness deep within us, we might be able to dislodge ourselves from the thought-circles that trap us in what feels like a never ending struggle to be free of this inner world of churning whirlpools of fear. For whatever cause, we fear the world—because of who we believe we are or because of what we believe is out there—and what the world will do to us if we attempt to connect with the world or open to let the world connect with us.
Some of us have learned how to live on what appears to be the calm surface of the ocean, pretending that calmness goes all the way down to the ocean floor. We hope to hide from others and perhaps, even from ourselves, the turbulence below. But when we hide in the false calmness of the surface, we fear the quiet times, the moments alone, and the silence that has a way of reminding us of what lies beneath.
Others of us struggle with the inner wars of depression. We don’t run or push ourselves with intensity, but instead we hear the unrelenting voice of self-judgment tormenting us with our unworthiness or we feel the nagging agony of hopelessness eating away at our insides. Somehow we fear that if we connect with others, they will find out who we really are, and who we are will be rejected because of our unworthiness.
Or we may fear that if we connect with others, we will find out who they really are, and that knowledge, we believe, will destroy us; we don’t want to know that people who were supposed to love us don’t know how to love. We may push ourselves to act as though we are connecting, in a futile attempt to free ourselves from another kind of trap, a depression that keeps us in an inner prison where we are both the prisoner and the prison guard, and we feel so very alone.
Often, we have hidden the traps, the conflicts, and the inner struggles from ourselves; we attempt to live as if all is well, but the tension and stress of the ongoing contraction or the ongoing extension exhausts us. When there is no rest, our life- force becomes more and more depleted, and our body organs fail to operate effectively. We are unable to remain in balance and might find ourselves battling illnesses, which reflect to us, what we cannot, or will not see. Bodies, which are long stressed by unresolved tension, conflict, and struggle, can break down in exhaustion of the immune system, in disorders of the nervous system, in dysfunction in the gastrointestinal system, in collapse of the adrenal system, or failure of the cardiovascular system.
For too many hours of too many days and too many years, the struggles and the conflicts can cause our systems to be in high tension, on never-ending alert. We are constantly on guard, ready to attack, to defend, to run, or to pull in and hold on tight with little or no time to rest. And we may not even know that we are carrying such tension; it is our normal way of being.
If our bodies were made to experience the natural pulse of extension, contraction and rest, where taking in, releasing, and becoming still is the norm, then something must account for the change from that natural pattern that shifts into something unnatural. For some of us, the loss of the natural pulse begins with an overwhelming traumatic event that happens in early childhood or sometime in our young lives. Until that event we are confident in the world and in ourselves—and then a parent dies, or a divorce shocks us and shakes the image we hold of our selves or our world. Perhaps all is well until a natural disaster shatters us, a crime shakes us, or a war experience devastates our sense of security on a core level. However, for many, the loss of the natural pulse occurs very early in our lives, often before we have learned language to be able to explain to anyone, including ourselves, what has happened. We simply live our lives always feeling like something is missing, or something is just not quite right.
It is not uncommon for a person to learn to adapt to painful early childhood events by living with limitations on the pulse and do fairly well with some extension, some contraction, and some rest happening. That person can find creative ways to excel, giving the impression of a healthy pulse. Others might perceive this person as a roll-model of health and success until an event in adult life shatters the illusion and the person collapses in physical or mental illness.
In the years that I have worked to release my own tensions, as well as to help hundreds of clients who have been caught in the tension of being trapped in extension or in contraction, I have come to realize the importance of finding the original cause of the tension. Often a client comes in with an illness or an emotional disturbance, such as depression or anxiety that is robbing them of peace and happiness. This distress may have been brought on by a life-shattering event, like a divorce, the loss of a job, the death of a loved one, or any one of a million, million human tragedies. Some clients want to make the illness or the emotional disturbance go away and not go any deeper, or they may want to work their way through the life-shattering event to solve it so they can pick up the pieces and move on. Though the illness or disturbance is important it is not the true cause of the problem; the adult shattering event is important, seldom is the cause. What is important is the original event that started the whole life-pattern, which, in turn lead to a lifetime of blocking access to the natural pulse.
What first caused the blockage to the natural pulse is important because it contains the feeling and meaning response to the event. And the feeling acts as a glue that holds together the meaning we attached to that original cause and the meaning, in turn, creates the behavior patterns that grow out of the meanings. I know that this is a mouth-full, but as you read the chapters, this idea will make more sense. Once the whole package of feeling, meanings, beliefs, and behaviors is felt, understood, and transformed, healing can happen. Once healing occurs, a return to the natural pulse can happen, even when those events took place in the deeply hidden past of infancy. With a return to the natural pulse, life-changing, healthy behaviors can take the place of behaviors that had previously blocked the natural pulse.
When a baby is born into a healthy environment where parents want the child and the child in its essence, is loved, seen, nurtured, embraced, and supported, the infant automatically experiences the pulse. The baby feels the love of the mother’s touch, it feels the comfort of available milk, and it feels the safety of rest. The tiny mouth extends to suckle and reaches out its hand to touch its mother’s skin, and draw the breast closer to itself. The infant’s body takes in and processes the milk, using what it needs, and releases what it does not need through its bladder and bowels. This whole process is a matter of joy for parents who are so happy that “everything works!” And the baby drops into a deep and restful sleep, only to wake a couple of hours later and repeat the pulse. Cells, organs, and systems flow with the pulse of opening, closing—and resting…and all is well. However, too many children are born without having this experience.
A baby girl might come into the world and experience a mother’s withdrawal and disappointment that her newborn is not a boy, even if the disappointment is very subtle and never overtly expressed. Though the infant has no words to put on the experience, the baby’s body-response to the mother’s withdrawal will be conflicted. One response is to connect with mother in extension, the other is contraction, to withdraw from mother in defense of pain caused by her absence. But either response, frightened contracted withdrawal or desperate extension, have the opposite counterparts within the child since the natural instinct of the baby’s body is to expand to embrace the mother, but also to contract and withdraw from the source of pain.
The shock of experiencing withdrawal of energy instead of loving embrace is an overwhelming blow to a cognitive system that has not yet experienced a separation between the self and the world. What the infant has recorded in its embodied experience is that something lethally wrong has occurred. Mother’s contraction is recorded as its own contraction, and the infant’s contraction, overpowering the impulse to extend, is experienced as pain because connective extension is resisted. And extension, overpowering the impulse to contract is experienced as pain because contraction is resisted. The infant does not yet cognitively understand that internal and external are separate, but the infant’s body is experiencing separation which now embodies the conflict and the pain between contraction and extension.
The infant might become caught in extension, reaching out in desperation for a loving mother who is not there. Extension might overpower the protective urge to contract, and again the conflict is experienced as pain, and becomes embodied as a longing for connection that can never be satisfied. The woman who is there might do her motherly duties in a way that is painful to the infant. Perhaps she is cut off from sending or receiving loving energy, critical of the suckling, upset with bowel movements, or distracted by conflict with others. The infant’s pain of the conflict between the pattern of reaching and pattern of resistance to reaching has set up a life pattern that is painful. An inner war has begun.
The child might never be able to recall this postnatal embodied experience, but the body has recorded the experience and the child could grow into a woman who is withdrawn from others, expecting rejection, fearing intimacy, and avoiding social interaction. She might find herself longing for connection, but withdrawing every time someone approaches her. This woman might get into a relationship but never really be available to her partner. Her body could be in constant tension, guarding against getting too close and never feeling safe enough to go into the magnificent surrender to suspension into the still point, within herself or within a relationship.
The child might grow into a woman who is constantly reaching out to find love, seeking to fill the void created by an absent mother. Her intensity of reaching for someone who is not there would likely not be comfortable or attractive to a possible partner, who has a normal pulse. However, she might be drawn to a person caught in contraction, hoping to finally convince the person that pulls away to stop pulling away. Her deeply buried hope is that if she can finally get a person who withdraws to not withdraw, she can vindicate herself from being unworthy of embrace, a belief that became embedded in her body in infancy because that was the meaning she placed on her mother’s withdrawal from her. In this kind of paring, the person who reaches is likely to be the one who pursues the relationship, and the one who contracts is the reluctant partner always looking for a way to withdraw, to distance, or end the relationship. However, if the withdrawing partner finally shifts and begins to reach, the pursuing partner will more than likely become afraid of potential pain of being close, and will herself, withdraw.
Someone who has the pattern of constantly reaching is much more likely to be attractive to someone else who has a pattern of intense reaching, as well. Both reach with profound intensity; both hope to find someone who is truly there for them, and both feel the almost painful ecstasy of discovering the other. The energetic charge can feel profoundly ecstatic filled with the “chemistry” that makes the union feel as if it were made in heaven.
However, part of the reaching pattern, is also a pattern that pulls back from reaching as a way to avoid the pain of finding that someone is not there, an expectation that is fulfilled when each pulls back in self protection at the first upset. The pull back occurs to prevent the self from finding the “unloving and unavailable mother” whom each does not want but both partners expect to be there; or perhaps to “not be there.” A relationship war now replicates the inner war of extension and contraction, of fear and unrequited longing, that each partner experiences every moment of every day.
The pattern created in infancy—whatever that pattern is—can be replicated not only in personal, intimate relationships, but in friendships, in jobs and professions, or in the person’s very relationship with life. The on-going inner struggle between wanting to connect and fearing connection can result in tension that impacts joints showing itself as arthritis as the muscles in body meant to assist in the natural pulse of extension and contraction struggle against each other. Tension can impact the heart, the seat of the experience of love, stuck in contraction but wanting to experience connection or constantly being heartbroken, stuck in extension while wanting to contract because of the pain.
It is possible that diseases such as cancer might occur much later in the life for that unwanted baby girl in the parts of the her body that identify her as female, where the organs themselves struggle against connection to themselves as feminine and contraction from what feels unacceptable about being feminine. Any number of physical, psychological, or psychosocial ailments can result from an event that brought pain before words could express the experience.
What I have described here, in the possible outcomes for an unwanted baby girl, is just one of a myriad of possible wounding experiences that an individual can impact a person in early childhood—some originating with parents, some with siblings, some with relatives, friends, neighbors, or caretakers. Some might be founded in environmental or political conditions. We have yet to see the effects of 9-11 or the post-9-11 political responses on little children whose internal constructs of the world and themselves in the world were in the formative stages during this time.
Perhaps you have discovered something of yourself in these first pages. You might now notice that the majority of your life experience has been stuck in contraction, or stuck in expansion…or perhaps “stuck” is not as accurate a description of your experience as feeling limited in the pulse. You might be struggling with low grade anxiety or depression. It is possible that you may not feel stuck, but you feel that something is missing. You may know, however, that you long for that place of peace, that surrender to the still point that connects you to the experience the oneness, a oneness that lets you know that you are safe, that you are loved, that you have the kind of connection that feels real. You want a sense of wholeness, a wholeness that knows that even if things are not right, that rightness is still there, but the sense eludes you.
Each chapter that follows contains real life stories of people with life threatening diseases who searched for a pathway to the still point, whether they were aware of that search, or not. Life threatening diseases include those illnesses that we all recognize such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, obesity, or heart disease. But they also include conditions that threaten to take the life out of life. These conditions include disturbances such as unresolved fear, anger, grief, jealousy, shame, guilt, depression or anxiety, or any behavioral response to those unresolved conditions such as alcohol, drugs, obsessions, or any pattern that causes a person to shut down or slow down the flow of life.
Some of the people, whose stories are told in these pages, have lived through the healing process to connect with the still point and recreate beautiful lives for themselves, and others gave up trying, choosing to live and probably will someday die with the disease. Some have died after finding the healing in the still point, while others died before they could find it. There are still others who came to see me, perhaps only one time. They might have found what they felt they needed, or were frightened by the prospect that they might find it. In most of these cases, I have no idea of the outcome of their search, though I have a piece of the story as far as they allowed me to read it.
The names have all been changed, and at times, where appropriate or possible, the gender has been changed. Any other identifying features have also been removed in order to protect those whom I have included here or anyone who might think that he or she has been included. Some of the people were my clients, and some were clients of other therapists; some were people who wrote to me and told me their stories, and other stories were given to me by friends or families who shared with me about people they loved. At times, the details of two or three people’s lives have been interwoven because the general themes of their lives have been so similar, or because the paths they took toward or away from healing were so very close to being the same path.
Within the pages and within the stories you have an opportunity to find the path of healing by noticing the roads that were taken and the ones that were not taken. As you read through the pages and live in the stories, allow yourself to discover your own path to the still point; it is there within you—and that is the unchanged truth.
If you would like to be informed as to when Sandy’s book on Healing comes out, you can e-mail her at Sselasmith@aol.com to receive information regarding publication and purchase the book. Her CD titled Healing, which uses voice and music to assist listeners to drop into that still point place of healing, is available, now. It can be ordered now by sending a note identifying that you want the Healing CD along with a check, payable to Infinite Connections, for $23.75, which includes tax, shipping and handling, to the following address.
PO Box 4744
Clearwater, Florida, 33758-4744