Why Open the Door? And Why Do You Still Have that Hideous Bedspread?
Avoidance. Numbing. Most of us are adept at coping through these mechanisms also called (by me anyway) shoving junk into that third bedroom-turned-storage-room of our psyche, piling everything atop the hideous bedspread of the neglected spare bed. There is a visceral dread in even contemplating opening that door.Why, we might ask, open the door at all?
Here’s why. Behind the door are parts of us that matter deeply. Gene Gendlin, the originator of Focusing, reminds us: whether or not we pay attention, these aspects of ourselves are there anyway. Neglecting aspects of ourselves does not rid us of their hold on us. In fact, often their hold dominates and runs us. The more we refuse them, the louder they grow. What we’ve shoved out of sight requires our attention. In fact, it has needed our attention for some time.
Take Paul, a man deep into a toxic marriage. In order to avoid looking at the issues (in his “third bedroom”), such as discontent, fear of action, fear of change, fear of how he may be perceived by others, threat to self-regard, dread of loss, and so forth, he has developed unhealthy strategies. He uses alcohol to suppress anxiety, develops insomnia and ulcerative colitis, embarks on emotional affairs at work (drawing others into the skewed reality he is living) and otherwise makes sideways attempts to get his needs met without attending to what is indeed there, but vigorously being exiled. His mental and physical health suffer. His life stagnates in some areas and spirals downward in others.
Why open the door? Because by turning our awareness to these parts, we can reclaim and access vital portions of ourselves and glean valuable information. We expand ourselves and our lives. We change. We can appreciate and ultimately gain more control of our energy and choices rather than being enslaved by what we are hiding from.
Our unwillingness to turn towards ourselves brings its own issues, with their own consequences.
Interestingly, the turning towards what we have exiled is often the main thing needed to transform it. Attention [really] must be paid (to butcher Arthur Miller’s famous line from Death of a Salesman). And the wonder is that the right sort of attention in and of itself changes everything.
To continue with the unsightly storage room analogy from the first paragraph: a focusing approach would not force you to take a week off from work, don a hazmat suit, sledgehammer, and slam into demolition mode. The focusing approach would meet you just where you are. Right there at the initial dread of opening the door.
First, we might turn towards that part of us that feels physical dread and see if we can be curious about that. We check for a bodily sense of the apprehension. We might find: “Something comes up inside that really doesn’t want to open the door. I sense that in my lower belly. It feels tight and tumbling like a sneaker in a dryer.”
Maybe asking what it’s afraid will happen to us if we open the door. Maybe asking into how it might like for us to be with it right now.
In this way, we go very slowly. We don’t bust down the door special-forces-style and thrust ourselves deep into the darkness of this daunting space. Instead, knowing that there is important information even while a hand rests on the door knob, we take time there, giving our patient curiosity to the part that doesn’t want to go in. This might be where we stay for some time, and then, perhaps, we’d turn our attention to the part that does want to go in and clear out the room. We might hold these parts with equal importance and spend time with each, asking into what they want and what sort of attention they need. We do this while remaining grounded in our body and the present.
Focusing in this way is typically done with a focusing oriented therapist or guide, or a focusing companion. A focusing companion is an individual trained in focusing. In a partnership, each party takes turns being the “focuser” and the “companion.” Partnerships often go on for years and meet weekly. There is an egalitarian, trusting connection — a specific type of listening and reflecting practiced that supports exploration and change.
By the time we actually open the door, it is easy, organic, as the conflicted parts have gotten the attention and contact they hungered for, and from that attention, relaxed their hold. And, importantly, we may now find that once-hideous bedspread has transformed into a delicious Yves Delorme down comforter and duvet!
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