The evolution of a birthday drawing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On gratitude for the gifted nature of life by David Whyte

Gratitude is not a passive response to something we have been given. Gratitude arises from paying attention, from being awake in the presence of everything that lives within and without us. Gratitude is not necessarily something that is shown after the event; it is the deep, a priori state of attention that shows we understand and are equal to the gifted nature of life. Gratitude is the understanding that many millions of things come together and live together and mesh together and breathe together in order for us to take even one more breath of air, that the underlying gift of life and incarnation as a living, participating human being is a privilege, that we are miraculously part of something rather than nothing. Even if that something is temporarily pain or despair, we inhabit a living world, with real faces, real voices, laughter, the color blue, the green of the fields, the freshness of a cold wind, or the tawny hue of a winter landscape’

On Healing the Child Within by Thich Nhat Hanh

‘In each of us, there is a young, suffering child. We have all had times of difficulty as children and many of us have experienced trauma. To protect and defend ourselves against future suffering, we often try to forget those painful times. Every time we’re in touch with the experience of suffering, we believe we can’t bear it, and we stuff our feelings and memories deep down in our unconscious mind. It may be that we haven’t dared to face this child for many decades. But just because we may have ignored the child doesn’t mean she or he isn’t there. The wounded child is always there, trying to get our attention. The child says, “I’m here. I’m here. You can’t avoid me. You can’t run away from me.” We want to end our suffering by sending the child to a deep place inside, and staying as far away as possible. But running away doesn’t end our suffering; it only prolongs it.

The wounded child asks for care and love, but we do the opposite. We run away because we’re afraid of suffering. The block of pain and sorrow in us feels overwhelming. Even if we have time, we don’t come home to ourselves. We try to keep ourselves constantly entertained—watching television or movies, socializing, or using alcohol or drugs—because we don’t want to experience that suffering all over again.

The wounded child is there and we don’t even know she is there. The wounded child in us is a reality, but we can’t see her. That inability to see is a kind of ignorance. This child has been severely wounded. She or he really needs us to return. Instead we turn away. Ignorance is in each cell of our body and our consciousness. It’s like a drop of ink diffused in a glass of water. That ignorance stops us from seeing reality; it pushes us to do foolish things that make us suffer even more and wound again the already-wounded child in us.

The wounded child is also in each cell of our body. There is no cell of our body that does not have that wounded child in it. We don’t have to look far into the past for that child. We only have to look deeply and we can be in touch with him. The suffering of that wounded child is lying inside us right now in the present moment………

When we become aware that we’ve forgotten the wounded child in ourselves, we feel great compassion for that child and we begin to generate the energy of mindfulness. The practices of mindful walking, mindful sitting, and mindful breathing are our foundation. With our mindful breath and mindful steps, we can produce the energy of mindfulness and return to the awakened wisdom lying in each cell of our body. That energy will embrace us and heal us, and will heal the wounded child in us.

When we speak of listening with compassion, we usually think of listening to someone else. But we must also listen to the wounded child inside us. Sometimes the wounded child in us needs all our attention. That little child might emerge from the depths of your consciousness and ask for your attention. If you are mindful, you will hear his or her voice calling for help. At that moment, instead of paying attention to whatever is in front of you, go back and tenderly embrace the wounded child. You can talk directly to the child with the language of love, saying, “In the past, I left you alone. I went away from you. Now, I am very sorry. I am going to embrace you.” You can say, “Darling, I am here for you. I will take good care of you. I know you suffer so much. I have been so busy. I have neglected you, and now I have learned a way to come back to you.” If necessary, you have to cry together with that child…….

Embracing your child tenderly, you reassure him that you will never let him down again or leave him unattended. The little child has been left alone for so long. That is why you need to begin this practice right away. If you don’t do it now, when will you do it?  ………    Go back and take care of yourself. Your body needs you, your feelings need you, your perceptions need you. The wounded child in you needs you. Your suffering needs you to acknowledge it. Go home and be there for all these things. Practice mindful walking and mindful breathing. Do everything in mindfulness so you can really be there, so you can love’  (Extract from an article adapted from Reconciliation: Healing The Inner Child (2010) by Thich Nhat Hanh)

Walking 

‘Ο ήλιος σκάει μέσα μας κι εμείς κρατάμε την παλάμη στο στόμα έντρομοι’ Οδυσσέας Ελύτης

Για να πατάς στέρεα στη γη, πρέπει το ένα πόδι σου να είναι έξω από τη γη’ Οδυσσέας Ελύτης

‘Kiss the Earth with your feet’  Thich Nhat Hanh

Αs I was walking by the sea my attention was caught by the orange-crimson sun that was setting and the shifts of colour and clouds in the sky for a while, and then I drifted into thoughts about what to make for dinner and if I needed to get anything from the market. Then I pondered on the memoir I had just finished by Ariana Neumann*. It’s a Holocaust related story of her ten year quest to know more about her father, his family and early life in Europe.  She writes ‘My father left the world of which he seldom spoke as a riddle for me to unlock…… The boxes held a jigsaw puzzle for me to reconstruct, with pieces just large enough to allow a sense of the theme. But there were also missing parts, fragments that I had to find to complete the picture.’

The book traces her journey from her own childhood in Latin America, where her father had built a prosperous life as an immigrant to her father’s death and the beginning of her journey back in time and in history to reclaim her father’s past, and ultimately, parts of herself and extended family unknown to her. She covers the period prior to the deportation of her grandparents and other relatives to camps and talks about the culmination of events and aggression as a constructed political strategy. She writes: ‘The first tier had been to exclude the Jews from society, the second to concentrate them as a segregated temporary work force in places like Terezín, and then, finally, to deport them to extermination camps further east.’  In the book we witness how throughout the thirties people were gradually deprived of legal rights and subjected to systematic public humiliation and intimidation. They were made, for example, to scrub the streets with their toothbrushes or consume grass like animals. They lost their right to vote and were banned from state-sector jobs in government, law, farming, publishing, journalism and the arts. And even before the official decree that banned Jews from schools and universities her uncle had received a letter informing him that he must leave college.

Today in our democracies and societies we talk about social exclusion as the process in which people are blocked from or denied full access to rights, opportunities and resources that are normally available to members of another group, and which are fundamental to social integration.  Even though laws protect many of these rights, deprivation and alienation resulting from social exclusion connected to social class, skin color, sexual orientation, appearance or age, religion or non religion, gender, ethnic origin, educational status, childhood relationships, political opinions or a combination of the above, take place. However, we tend to forget that many terrible things are hatched over a long stretch of time, and this is true both at a collective level and at an individual. And then maybe a global health crisis arises and we are shaken out of our trance and reminded of our deep interdependence, and that our own health and safety are inherently dependent on others’ well being and the health of our planet.

Meanwhile, as I was lost in all this thinking the road got busier and I realised that I wasn’t paying much attention to life around me. Walking is usually a habituated action that requires little concentration and it is easy to slip into a semi conscious state of walking. So, I left my political musings for later and turned to being mindfully aware of each step, my breath and bodily sensations, as well, as the magnificent sky, the sounds of nature and vehicles, and those around me.

Below is the poem, A Walk, by Rainer Maria Rilke that came to my mind as I was writing this today

My eyes already touch the sunny hill.
going far beyond the road I have begun,
So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has an inner light, even from a distance-
and changes us, even if we do not reach it,
into something else, which, hardly sensing it,
we already are; a gesture waves us on
answering our own wave…
but what we feel is the wind in our faces.

* Ariana Neumann, 2020, When Time Stopped: A Memoir of My Father’s War and What Remains

The power of connectedness

Quote from The Boy Who Was Raised As a Dog: And Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook by Bruce D. Perry)

“Human beings fear what they don’t understand. The unknown scares us. When we meet people who look or act in unfamiliar or strange ways, our initial response is to keep them at arm’s length. At times we make ourselves feel superior, smarter or more competent by dehumanizing or degrading those who are different. The roots of so many of our species’ ugliest behaviors—racism, ageism, misogyny, anti-Semitism, to name just a few—are in this basic brain-mediated response to perceived threat. We tend to fear what we do not understand, and fear can so easily twist into hate or even violence because it can suppress the rational parts of our brain.”

In today’s post I’m sharing a link to a podcast I listened at: https://www.rickhanson.net/being-well-podcast-childhood-trauma-with-dr-bruce-perry/  hosted by Dr Rick Hanson and his son, Forrest, and Dr Bruce Perry, who is a leading expert on childhood trauma. His clinical research and practice focus on examining the long-term effects of trauma in children, adolescents, and adults, and on how traumatic events in childhood change the biology of the brain. He is an author and has also received awards for the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics (NMT) , which has been integrated into clinical and child protection settings.

The key topics explored in this podcast are the reasons why childhood trauma is so uniquely impactful, the systems of the brain that play a role in the construction of a traumatized system, the factors that can ameliorate the impact of traumatic events and the power of connectedness. In his book The Boy Who Was Raised As a Dog: And Other Stories…….. Dr Perry writes “The more healthy relationships a child has, the more likely he will be to recover from trauma and thrive. Relationships are the agents of change and the most powerful therapy is human love.”

Summarily, Dr Bruce says that “The development of the brain is very, very front-loaded. Even in the first nine months in utero there’s explosive growth. After we’re born, we’ve got a pretty big, intact brain. But it’s still very undeveloped.”  During the  first years of our life brain volume and cognitive function increase at an explosive rate, and so, there’s no doubt that childhood maltreatment leads to changes in brain structure and function. He highlights the massive significance of the first two months of life on one’s future experience. Dr Bruce talks about three key neurotransmitters: norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin, which are fundamental to brain function, and essentially, manage everything from our breathing to our heartbeat, learning and concentration levels, to sleep, appetite and pleasure. They are also involved in the body’s fight-flight responses; therefore, when these systems become dysregulated or over potentiated by a developmental insult, they can impact all the areas they influence.

Another important thing that was highlighted in the talk is that even “low-grade” stress, like inconsistent, unpredictable parenting, being a minority student, housing or food insecurity, bullying, and so on, when activated in chaotic ways over a long period of time, will eventually lead to the same point of functioning as if you had a capital T trauma. Neuroplasticity, the mechanism by which the brain changes over time by repeated experience is supercharged in childhood. Consequently, when there is enough stress and trauma our fight-flight response is activated constantly. Over time, enough stress can change the regulatory set point of the brain network, and when acute adaptive states and defenses persist over time, they can become maladaptive traits.

One of the key messages of the discussion is thatThe best predictor of how you’re doing in the present isn’t our history of adversity, it’s our history of connectedness” and how positive relationships can lead to good outcomes and ameliorate developmental vulnerabilities. This point is supported by research that has found that a strong relationship with at least one person was a major predictor on whether at-risk children became effective adults.

Dr Bruce’s Neurosequential Model of Theraputics is also described. This model helps professionals understand the level of developmental functioning a person is currently at, and then targets this level of development with a series of therapeutic activities and interventions that are developmentally reasonable for the particular individual. They mentioned that because the brain processes information in a sequential way the reactive, regulatory and more primitive part of the brain processes information before the information reaches the neo-cortical areas of the brain.

Finally, they discussed the top down mechanism of CBT work and how when children or adults are too distressed and highly aroused their cortical abilities are compromised, and thus, other modalities like art therapy, somatosensory approaches could help regulate one’s physiology first, before CBT interventions are used. Finally, Dr Hanson talked about  the value of many small therapeutic moments throughout the day, and that similarly, to how many moments of small t traumas build up over time, likewise, many moments of repair can also build resilience, soothe and make a difference in one’s well being.