Most people come to therapy and psychospiritual practices seeking to change all or part of who they are. Discomfort is a powerful motivator, and when we engage with therapy, or perhaps meditation, we expect things to be different.
Of course we do. We want to relieve our (perhaps unnamed) discomfort, and when we enter into therapy or a psychospiritual practice, we naturally hope this practice, this effort, this time will make things different for us. We want change.
One of the problems we face when trying to change is that the change we envision is often an agenda of the very part of us that “gets us in trouble.” For example, if I believe I’m supposed to be a gentle and giving person, and I get irritable, I may have a therapeutic or psychospiritual agenda for myself of getting rid of my anger. Or I believe I am (supposed to be) a strong and capable person, I may have a therapeutic or spiritual agenda to get rid of my fears or my worries about competence.
To quote Einstein, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”
Working with awareness, working mindfully, expands the field. It expands our sense of who we are and increasingly has space for the parts of us that have (perhaps) been unconscious, or which we’re having trouble accepting. Pretending we’re not tied up doesn’t help us get free of strangling patterns or experiences.
What are some of the “parts” of us, of our experience, that we may have trouble accepting?
- There are aspects of our experience of which we are, or have been relatively unconscious. It’s hard to accept something that you don’t know is there. But those parts still affect our life and our satisfaction. For example, we may have anger about some injustice in our life, but because we were raised not to feel or express our anger, we don’t feel it, or don’t accept it even if we do. Not accepting our anger leaves us disconnected from an important part of ourselves.
- We may have a part of us that did it’s best to look out for us when we were younger – and it helped us then, but gets us in trouble now. For example, as a way to help us survive in a scary early environment, we learned to withdraw from contact, or we learned to fight hard. These strategies may have helped and supported us at that time, but now limit our perceptual and behavioral options. We need, however, to accept (even befriend) these withdrawing or fighting parts of ourselves so we are not bound by those behaviors.
- Sometimes people have a pretty clear idea that if others were different, then things in their life will be more satisfying. Other people can and do engage in bad behaviors – it’s true. This is not a statement that we should, for example, learn to accept abuse. It’s also true that it’s a recipe for unhappiness to overly focus on and wait for others to change – believing others need to happen before we can feel happy or empowered. When we are unconscious of this process in ourselves, it keeps us stuck.
These are only a very few aspects of our experience that we may not be aware of and/or have trouble accepting. Again, parts can be feelings we don’t know we have or don’t want (e.g., sadness, anger, fear, excitement, pleasure). Parts can be recurring patterns of viewing (e.g., believing people can’t be trusted, or won’t be there for us) or operating in the word (e.g., withdrawing, intellectualizing, fighting).
In therapy, working with awareness often means discovering parts of us that need integrating (e.g., I’m angry; I hate so-and-so; I’m really excited about that; I’m afraid of being let down; If I don’t manage this, things will fall apart). Working with someone in therapy can help you discover and integrate these parts – as well as discover the larger more vital you that includes those parts.
These are thoughts, feelings, and experiences that can also show up if we’re engaged in meditative practices. They arethe kind of narrative into which we are reflexively drawn and feel an urgency to fix. In awareness practices, they pull us in quickly and we become identified with them. Ongoing awareness practices often increasingly – and surprisingly – brings these parts into our immediate experience.
The remedy? Whether in therapy or in your awareness practices, the answer is the same. Let them be there. Have space for them. Accept the reality of your experience of them. Then change can happen on its own – not because we willed it, and not necessarily in the direction we might have willed.
A discomforting ride, but one that leads to more life and greater satisfaction!
To find out more about how this practice of “accepting your parts” actually plays out in therapy or psychospiritual practice, come to one of Dr. Martin’s classes or make an appointment to work with Dr. Martin one-on-one.