You are probably familiar with the Cherokee Legend that we have two wolves inside of us (if not http://www.firstpeople.us/FP-Html-Legends/TwoWolves-Cherokee.html) , and that part of living is choosing which one to feed: the good or the evil one. Part of the healing work that we do in counseling is discovering how the negative wolf is actually made up of many negative stories we have generated about ourselves. If we stick with our path of healing, we can clear out these old stories and make room for new ones.
We generate negative stories about ourselves and others based on moments in our lives when we feel pain. The pain may be physical, emotional, or mental and I’m inclined to think that it doesn’t matter where the pain comes from because it registers in our body/mind system in the same way.
When we feel pain, our brain immediately fires into action, and we move into “problem solving” mode. Naturally, we want to find what is causing the pain, and eliminate it. Unfortunately for us, when we go into problem solving mode, we are usually in fight or flight mode, with our adrenaline and hormones pumping to aid our self defense. When this happens, we are neurologically cut off from our prefrontal cortex where our clear thinking happens. (See Seigel and Hartzell’s book http://drdansiegel.com/books/parenting_from_the_inside_out/) Imagine this situaion for a moment, we are attempting to solve our problem without access to our clear thinking capabilities but pumped up on adrenaline! This is a recipe for disaster, aka our big evil wolf.
Everyone has this happen on a regular basis. Our capacity is overcome by our reactions to our circumstance. I’ve become quite familiar with how my daughter not sleeping can put me into this problem solving reactive mode. For many of the people I work with, the stresses of relationship issues, financial problems, school, work, and ill health all combine to tip the scales in the direction of overwhelm. There are many ways in which the existential issues in our lives are compounding our stress and overwhelming our capacities for patience, compassion, and understanding. This is perfectly normal.
Most of the time, we end up with familiar habitual reactions to the overwhelming or annoying aspects of our lives. These habitual reactions become the basis of our stories and vice versa. As we problem solve over and over again without our clear thinking capacity (or as children without the support of adults), we develop stories that we are hopeless, unworthy, worthless, powerless, stupid, and all the other negative identities that many of us know too well.
These stories and habitual reactions are like neuron superhighways in our brains, and to find the healing path we need to get our of the car and bushwack a new trail through the forest. The new trail will be difficult at first, and it’s often best to have a guide or a friend along.
In my approach, the first step is mindfulness. We need to expand our capacity for awareness, patience, compassion, and understanding of ourselves. This is like the Rocky training scene in most action movies about underdogs. You’ve got to get prepared. As we develop our skills and mindfulness of our habitual problem solving reactions, we begin to identify patterns. Becoming mindful of out patterns can be done in personal mindfulness practice or in dialogue with a good counselor.
As we become aware of our patterns, it can be really frustrating and upsetting to realize how often we continue to try solutions that don’t work. Even though Einstein framed this as the definition of insanity, it’s actually the definition of being human too, and all of us do it at some point. Step two is to not beat yourself up about it, but instead return your focus to the practices that are helping you expand your capacities.
As the foundation of mindfulness expands, you can begin to unfold the stories that you hold about yourself, the negative and positive identies you bring from the past. Another resource that you will uncover is the identity and feeling that exists in the present moment. This experience of yourself in the moment, independent of past and future, aware of thoughts and emotions but not defined by them, is what expands your capacity.
As you bring old stories into this capacity or presence, they begin to unfold. It becomes understandable how you might have come to some of the conclusions you did as a child or earlier in life. You begin to develop some compassion for yourself and the fact that at the time, you did the best you could. Lifespan Integration is an excellent approach that can help empower this process and help the body/mind system understand that the old story and identity is no longer relevant. When this happens, old stories, identities, and emotions are cleared from your system and the energy that was stuck in the past becomes yours to live the life you want today. It is as if all your internal subsidies that used to go to the negative wolf are now available for the positive wolf. It seems that we need both sides of ourselves to be whole, but it sure is a lot easier to live and thrive if the negative wolf isn’t always winning. I hope some of this was helpful and wish you energy for your journey of healing.