I have been reminded recently of the powerful role that emotions play in facilitating communication between what is consciously known, and what is held in our bodies and wider wisdom.
Clients often come to therapy saying that they want to stop feeling the uncomfortable feelings they currently have, and to start feeling something more pleasant – perhaps happiness, calm or confidence for example. What could be more natural? We are programmed to move away from discomfort and towards comfort, it is a natural human instinct.
And yet, that very movement can itself become a problem, if it leads us to avoid, minimise or somehow undermine and doubt what it is we are experiencing.
Stephen Gilligan, one of the therapeutic teachers I admire, reminds us that symptoms are a call to heal, a way of our system inviting us to attend to something that is not working, or that needs our kindly gaze. He talks about sponsoring the symptom, looking for it to offer up its gifts and insight, rathee than turning away from it or squashing it down.
It is an irony that the most effective and healing way of addressing symptoms is to pay attention to them, without censure or judgement, just to notice, to listen, and to find out what it is that they point towards. This frank appraisal, when done with a kind, loving touch, can set us free from symptoms becoming louder, deeper, wider and more persistent, because it enables us to sense and absorb what they have to offer.
Perhaps a good question when we have a clear need for things to be different is what am I not yet noticing? What am I pushing away or minimising? Where is my attention being called? Working with a psychotherapist to explore the answers to these questions and to create an accepting space to safely feel can be an important step to healing. After all, who wants to experience the unpleasant for longer than necessary?