Posted by: Marie | December 16, 2009

(203) Guest Post: What Works for You?

Post #203

Guest Post

Today, I am honored to publish a guest post written by Isabella Mori. Isabella is a psychotherapist in Vancouver, Canada. She has been working in the field of mental health, counseling, psychotherapy and movement therapy for 15 years and she enjoys helping people build better lives.

She writes a fabulous blog, Change Therapy: Making Lives Better, Making Better Lives. Her blog covers all aspects of psychotherapy. She has a focus on emotional and spiritual wholeness and health, which is what attracts me to her blog.

Isabella has written this article specifically in response to my previous post (Where is God in all of this?). In this article, she provides us with a series of thoughtful questions that would be beneficial when addressing issues about religion and spirituality.

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What Works for You?

I’m very honoured to have been asked to comment on a journal entry here. It’s not often that this happens; with their intensely private contents, such writings, when they do come out for the public to see, still do not immediately welcome comments. One wants to tread carefully in such a private environment, partly because the words and images that are conjured up have meaning first and foremost to the person who writes them down. This applies to everything from factual content – e.g. “saw Jubjub again” (who is Jubjub?) – to the recording of dreams, to the kind of free-flowing associative writing that we often find in journals. When you take a personal documents like that, let it see the light of the public eye, and then someone comes along and misinterprets what is said, it can feel very – raw, to say the least.

The Rise by Martin Chen

So before I go any further, please let me make it entirely clear that anything I say is purely from my current point of view, purely my own personal interpretation, albeit informed by what i have learned from books and teachers and, more importantly, from listening and observing. But if there is any “truth” here, it is that told by Marie.

In the journal entry that Marie showed me, there is talk about money problems and god. She goes through a number of options of how to think about them. Her Christian upbringing taught her to trust God fully to provide for every need but her life experience and observations of others does not bear that out. So this approach doesn’t seem to help her.

She also looks at the possibility that God is part of her and she is part of God, therefore she is already connected to everything there is – her needs are already met, she just does not know it yet. Then she wonders whether she is doing enough to attract what she needs; is she doing it right? This line of thinking doesn’t work for her, either.

Then she says

The best comfort I have found in this moment is that I truly believe that all things work together for the highest good. It may be rough going for some people all the time, and for all people some of the time (including me); but, in the final end, it all will have been for the best. That means . . . My promises, my bills, my ability to buy food . . . Well, that’s all small stuff in the big scheme of things.

She follows that up with questions such as

Is this “all things work together for the highest good” concept enough for me to conclude sufficient assurance?

What do I believe about god?

How can I validate my faith, if and when I’m finally able to define its parameters?

If Marie and I were having a therapeutic conversation, here are some questions I might ask, and a few comments:

When you finished this journal entry, or after you’ve read it again, how did you feel?

What’s your emotional gut reaction to it, and what does that mean to you? I can imagine just about any reaction, from pleased to relieved to disinterested to moved to angry to fearful. Let’s say you feel relieved. What does that mean – e.g. what does feeling relieved remind you of, what do you typically do when you are relieved, what other feelings are “relieved” connected to? As we’re talking about this, I’d be looking for a “click” – that moment where we know we’ve hit emotional pay dirt.

What part of the journal entry “worked” for you?

I have a very pragmatic approach. Whatever works, works (“do what ye will, and ye hurt none” is a very useful piece of advice). The concept of “working” is important to me, and it is to most people who are recovering from emotional pain. By “working” I mean, did it move you forward in a direction that feels right? E.g. did it lead to further fruitful analysis, or helpful action, or to a positive feeling, or to a closer spiritual connection? As you can see, the four areas I’m looking at here are thought, action, emotion and spirituality. Maybe you have more areas you’d want to look at but those are the ones that I typically want to check out. Once we see which parts worked, we’d look for ways to expand on them.

I notice that there is a lot of emphasis on abstract thought in the journal entry. Did you find that helpful?

This is not a leading question, trying to trick Marie into “admitting” that there was “too much” abstract thought. One of my pet peeves is an approach to mental health recovery that vilifies thought. Thought is good. Emotion is good. Action is good. It’s all good. We each have very, very specific ways in which we look at and act on the world. So this question is simply me observing something and being curious about it. And let’s be very clear: there are lots of things to observe here, and the fact that I’ve chosen what I see as a tone of abstract thought says as much about me as it does about Marie. Note that I said “what I see as a tone of abstract thought”; this tone is just my interpretation, it’s not a fact, either. I could easily see Marie replying to this by saying, “Really? Well, maybe it is. But that’s not important. What’s more important is that I noticed the touch of compassion when I wrote about XYZ and that’s really meaningful to me because …. “ Therapists do a lot of barking up the wrong tree, that comes with the territory. One of my hopes is always that I can have the kind of relationship with my clients that makes it very easy for them to redirect me when I’ve misunderstood them.

If it turned out that Marie did find this emphasis helpful, I’d want to hear from her how she can use it more in her life. Maybe there need to be more times when she steps back to reflect and analyze.

If it turned out that Marie didn’t find this emphasis helpful, we would look at what might work better. More of an emphasis on emotions? Or, taking the spiritual angle, a more mystical approach? (The work of Julian of Norwich comes to mind, whose famous words are “all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well”.)

Finally, I might ask Marie whether she’s familiar with James Pennebaker’s and Louise de Salvo’s work on journaling – two people who can add wisdom to anyone engaged in journaling.

And then I’d want to remember what Marie said earlier – “all things work together for the highest good”. I truly hope that with these words, in some small way, I’ve contributed to the highest good.

Quotes 115


Responses

  1. Hi Isabella, I’d be intrigued to know the responses to your questions. Like you I validate thinking as well as feeling and action. Thanks for a thought-provoking and heart-informed post.

  2. evan, like you, i’d be curious as to the answers. marie, would you care to say anything to one or two of these questions?

  3. Well, okay, Evan and Isabella – how can I not respond to those eloquent requests? LOL

    Here are some answers to your very thoughtful questions, Isabella . . .

    When you finished this journal entry, or after you’ve read it again, how did you feel?

    The time-lagged format of my blog allows me to do this analysis several months after I originally wrote the journal entry – it allows me the full impact that comes with reading with a fresh eye.

    My first gut reaction is along the lines of, “Oh, my, did I really write this boldly? I must have been feeling very brave that day.”

    For the first two decades of my life, I was taught that, if I dared question the religious dogma I was being taught, it would be considered blasphemy of God – which is the one unforgiveable sin. Just asking the questions would earn me an irreversable ban from heaven.

    I have since rejected that teaching; however, the remenants of that fear still linger. As I read over this journal entry this week, I found myself watching for the bolt of lightening that would surely strike me dead.

    So, that is why I am proud of myself for being brave enough to ask these questions. And, I’m proud of myself for digging all the way down to the bedrock of my angst. I didn’t just dig partway down, I dug and dug until I had named every element of my confusion.

    Then, I was struck by the anger I started feeling – anger that I didn’t name in this journal entry, but anger that is visible in the words.

    I discovered anger at my childhood church for feeding me the ideology that “it will all be great” if I just could get right with God – and at them not seeing how desperately I wanted to “be right” but how frantically unable I was to feel “good enough”.

    I discovered anger at the people I have met in the “new age” and “new thought” communities – well, not really at the people, but at my inability to have the peace and joy that so many of them seem to have. I am angry that I am still frantically unable to feel “good enough” — that I still can’t “get it right”.

    I also discovered great anger at God for making it so hard to figure out – and for making the consequences for not “getting it right” so major. (Now looking for the lightening bolts after this sentence . . . )

    Finally, I discovered discouragement that the one foundational pillar I do have (“all things work together for the highest good”) feels very weak and unstable to me. I am angry that it is the best I have right now.

    What part of the journal entry “worked” for you? As you can see, the four areas I’m looking at here are thought, action, emotion and spirituality

    I was able to put into words – able to get clarity — around the struggle. I didn’t find any answers through the exercise, but I defined the questions. I feel this puts me in a better position to “capture” answers that may appear for me in the future. Answers usually show up for me in very simple, subtle ways that I might miss if I wasn’t looking for them.

    I notice that there is a lot of emphasis on abstract thought in the journal entry. Did you find that helpful?

    Absolutely – I’m dealing with foundational issues here. I’m looking to define my belief structure on which I will build my newly updated core beliefs — newly updated because of the recent therapeutic process in which I have developed a new way of thinking about myself.

    In problem solving, I naturally tend towards convergent thinking – I define the big picture first and then methodically figure out how the characteristics of the big picture trickle down to the finer aspects. So, for me, in this search for solutions, I stayed true to my “norm” and started with the abstract.

    ——-

    So, Isabella, in closing, I must tell you that I am grateful for the way you have encouraged me to examine by beliefs – you did it in a way that honored my beliefs and didn’t pressure me to take on your beliefs. This follow-up exercise has truly been beneficial to me – it opened up some new avenues of thought – it helps me to feel less stuck in a tornado of repetitive questions.

    Thank you so much!

    – Marie


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