Monthly Archives: January 2014

Dr. Perry: Music Makes Your Case

BrousBlog9a Perry head shotIn last week’s blog, I was surprised by sudden overwhelming feelings of being loved which could only be described as physical.  I’ve had these odd explosive physical experiences before.  I had one with music so striking at the end of last year, that I wrote to brain scientist Dr. Bruce Perry (left) about it.  Why?  He’s got rhythm!

My blog on Perry last Sept. 13 “How Your Brain Works 101” notes the three broad areas of the brain: the brain stem aka reptilian survival brain, a knob atop the spinal cord that reptiles have too, which regulates raw survival functions;  the limbic brain, first developed in mammals, which wraps around the brain stem and regulates emotions; and the cortex or thinking brain, which wraps around all the rest.

Next I quoted  Perry on how the apparently primitive brain stem is the key to the whole shebang:

“Because the brain is organized in a hierarchical fashion, with symptoms of fear first arising in the brain stem and then moving all the way to the cortex, the first step is brain stem regulation,” Perry said.  This, he revealed, requires “patterned, repetitive rhythmic activity.”  Examples are “dance, music, or massage, especially for children whose persisting fear state is so overwhelming that they cannot improve via increased positive relationships, or even therapeutic relationships, until their brain stem is regulated by safe, predictable, repetitive sensory input…

“The only way you can move from these super-high anxiety states, to calmer more cognitive states,” Perry said, “is rhythmic regulation: Patterned, repetitive rhythmic activity: walking, running, dancing, singing, repetitive meditative breathing – you use brain stem-related somato-sensory networks which make your brain accessible to relational [limbic] reward and cortical thinking. If you want a person to use relational reward, or cortical thought – they’ve got to be emotionally regulated first!”

Two months after that  Sept. 13, 2013 blog, I had a musical experience so intense that I wrote this letter :

Dear Dr. Perry,

I just had an explosive physiological experience which demonstrates your thesis that “We must regulate people with patterned, repetitive, rhythmical activity, before we can persuade them with a cognitive argument, or compel them with an emotional affect.”

Pink & Nate Ruess1 Just give me a reasonIt involved the attached song.  Ever consider using music in your presentations? One audio example can pack quite an emotional punch to get audiences to see how deep your ideas actually are.   [I sent the audio MP3 but here’s the whole video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_sDwUFQkt4]   And the healing has to go ‘way far deep to tune up some of us who have seriously jangled cells.

I’ve sung and conducted operatic music for 25 years; Mozart, Bach, Beethoven.  Not your average rocker.   So this  train of events is pretty unusual, which also kinda proves your case. Here’s what happened:

Today I was feeling some fear and anger triggered by a friend who occasionally flips out and disconnects emotionally when the holidays approach (a rough emotional time for us all).  I began to dissociate a bit from the disconnect, and boy do I hate that frozen feeling; the pain is terrible.

Suddenly the attached recording by P!nk popped up on my MP3 player earphones while I was doing a chore.

Within five seconds I had pretty much involuntarily dropped everything and found myself dancing violently around the condo – and I do mean violently.  I had to take off my socks since without skin traction against the carpet I’d have slipped and broken my neck.  I was dancing that hard.  I was banging my hands against the walls at certainly points.  My body also went into the usual full-body infant sobbing, just thrashing away.

Then it hit me: as usual, the real problem wasn’t with “the person in my present” at all.  My real problem was that my present experience of emotional disconnect, had brought up “the pain from my past.”  There was actually deeply buried grief coming up, from the way my husband of 27 years, and before him, my mother, used to disconnect as a way of life – repeatedly and continuously disconnecting and pushing me away emotionally over decades.

The present-day incident was only a trigger, and an opportunity.  I’ve learned to use “incidents in my present” as a “pull-tag” – to pull up the more important buried pain from my past and grieve that in order to get rid of it!  So I did.

Just thump and bang

The first thing according to your formula, was to just thump around a lot dancing.  My body more or less did that without asking me. This P!nk song is a great example; it has intense patterned, very reliably repetitive, highly rhythmical activity.  To be blunt: it bangs.   Think “native drum circle.”  My brain stem says: “I feel angry –  ok, I can bang!”

You’re right: it’s important for the brain stem that the body be able to simply bang – over and over and over.  For me, and I’d bet a lot of folks, it’s a form of “infant protest” against the developmental trauma of being disconnected.

Second, we need “love and acceptance” (limbic brain) when we come out of the closet and just simply bang.  We need to bang, protest, beat the drums in a social (limbic) context.  As you’ve noted, that’s why native cultures do drum circles all over the world.  That’s why Vietnam vets do drum circles on beaches all over California.

Third, the words (thinking brain) are very intense and “relevant” –  and you keep emphasizing, “It’s got to be relevant” to the trauma at hand.

The song is a duet between P!nk (soprano) and Nate Ruess  (tenor). The soprano is paranoid that the tenor doesn’t love her anymore, he’s talking in his sleep, he must have someone else.  Her words are all about the trauma of emotional disconnect – which often gets us caught in arguments fatal to relationships.

But the tenor doesn’t get caught. Instead, he responds: “You’ve been having real bad dreams” (no doubt due to her childhood trauma), but “your head is running wild again, my dear, we still have everything!”  I’m here for you now and I really do love you.  “I’ll fix it for us – our love’s enough,” he sings.  He’s saying he loves her enough to put in real work on it, our love is that important.

Mis-Attune – Repair

AllanSchore-57246_222x180I was completely overwhelmed by the feeling the tenor models of REPAIR.  “My God, he loves her enough to do REPAIR,” I kept thinking, as if witnessing some impossible miracle which had never before occurred on planet Earth.

Attachment Theory leader Dr. Allan Schore (above) writes about “attune – mis-attune – repair.” That means learning that getting out of tune with another is not the end of the world, as we in trauma often experience it to be in childhood.  Gosh I certainly had!  But Schore says that instead, getting out of tune, if handled well, can be a temporary and very useful learning experience.

When we get out of tune, instead of slamming the door on each other, we can learn to take it as a signal that we both need a time out.  We can learn to sit down, take deep breaths, get back in touch with ourselves  – and then talk it out in a collaborative way.  We can express our fear and hurt and anger in reasoned words, only – instead of acting out with doors or verbal abuse.  After we each feel that we’ve been seen and heard, we’ll often feel better.  Doing this we also get to know each other better, so we grow closer for the whole experience.  Tricky but potentially invaluable.

The more I brought the word “repair” into consciousness – the harder my legs and arms wanted to bang on the floor and the walls, stretching out to the four corners of the globe. And then I knew it wasn’t even about my 27-year marriage coming up. My body was telling me it went a whole lot deeper.

Repair, was what my mother never could do.  If anything went wrong, if anything didn’t go so as to satisfy her (which was pretty difficult) – she would fly off the handle and disconnect.  The cold shoulder often went on for weeks at a time, why not?  She was mad.

Repair?  “Repair?  ‘Let’s make up? ‘  Are you out of your mind?”  I can hear mom saying.  I had sinned terribly somehow and it was out of the question for her to talk to me or look at me nicely; I didn’t deserve it.

The very concept of repair, the idea that human beings ever did any such thing, in fact, had never crossed my mind as a possibility in human relations – until I read about it in Allan Schore in 2011.

So yeah, “He loves her enough to do REPAIR!” was enough to make me barf up, process, and release some really deep grief. Like from kindergarten.  Like about my Mom, not anyone in my present.

Afterward, as usual when I can manage to feel the childhood pain, bang it out and be done with it, I felt absolutely fantastic.  That’s what music can do with patterned, repetitive, rhythmical activity.

The Back Story

Kathy in Zion Market 9-23-15 812404440_2874571766_0Also fun is the “back story” as to how this “rock bit” got onto my MP3 player.

About six months ago, shortly after I heard your March 8 UCLA talk, I was out food shopping.  Suddenly this P!nk duet came blasting out of the grocery store sound system; it seemed everyone knew it but me. I’d never heard it before – I had no idea what in heck it was.

But suddenly  I was dancing around the Korean vegetable store, stomping my feet and raising my arms to the ceiling in a peal of pure unadulterated joy –  much to my own shock and to the surprise and delight of the onlooking shoppers (Koreans adore music).  And I’m a pretty good dancer, which figures.  I guess that’s why so many abused women end up becoming dancers of some sort, ballet or pole.  Check out ballerina Gelsey Kirkland’s book  “Dancing on My Grave.”  No Polish jokes, please, I’m Polish.

So yeah, we get release when we do “patterned, repeated, rhythmical activity” – at the oddest times.  Then the creativity flows.  Later I downloaded the audio of the P!ink duet and filed it away on my MP3 player, where it popped up conveniently six months later as the subject of this letter.

Using music in your presentations?  I wonder how many of your clinical audiences have ever had a personal experience of this?  Could have a massive impact.  So if you ever want a musical trauma consultant, I’m your gal.

You rock, Doc!

————————-

Kathy’s news blogs expand on her book DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME:  The Silent Epidemic of Attachment DisorderHow I accidentally regressed myself back to infancy and healed it all.”  Watch for the continuing series each Friday, as she explores her journey of recovery by learning the hard way about Attachment Disorder in adults, adult Attachment Theory, and the Adult Attachment Interview.

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Stardust 2

Tara Smile smaller fr Reacting Wiesely 8-10-11Last week, after the video class by therapist Dr. Tara Brach (left), I said that for one day, I’d try to be Present with What Is.  Hey, I struggle with a regular meditation for 45 minutes, so this’ll be a stretch.  [FN1]

On Day 1, when the alarm rings, instead of growling, I lie there and take as many deep breaths as I need, until I can greet the alarm with wonder: “Wow, I have a cell phone that works; look, it’s even got an alarm.”  I sit up, and my back hurts, so I take as many breaths as needed until I can say “Hello Back, let’s stretch” and feel the wonder that I still have a sturdy back.

Seeing my calendar for today, I take as many deep breaths as needed until I can relax the rising stress about all those calls and emails. Instead, I delight that my bed is supporting me as I stretch, that the floor is supporting my bed, and the Earth is supporting us all, as Peter Levine points out (these hints have a reason). [FN2]

What’s really amazing is that I have this tofu between my ears known as a human mind which can perceive all that. And “all that” is organized, oddly enough, so that it supports my back and my body (if I just take a moment to feel into them). All without my doing anything except paying the el cheapo movers $150 to move the bed up the stairs back in 2010 when I was suicidal and got this place thinking it would be my mausoleum.

I start to faintly believe Tara’s wild idea that all of it, like me, is made of stardust.  It feels really, really good.  I’m likin’ this…

“Stardust… stardust” I mutter to myself and my normally anxious cells as I get up, brush my teeth (amazing Procter and Gamble can put stardust in a tube), and drink a liter of liquid stardust, er, water.  The water is the best part; drinking slowly and with deep breaths, I can feel it flowing down my throat and my happy little digestive cells just soaking it in.

I make it to the kitchen; what a quandary.  A friend has left a vase of flowers on the counter.   The sight, the scent intoxicate me; the fact that someone did this for me overwhelms my heart; my eyes well up.  Then there’s my kitchen window: sunlight and tropical foliage and the bright blue California sky, has this denizen of the New York underground gone to heaven?  Can I go swing on my deck swing?

But I haven’t even opened the fridge to see what avocado or fruit treat awaits me… Just walking into the kitchen, I’m like the cat in the delicatessen: he couldn’t decide whether to eat the ham, the salami, or the baloney, so he starved to death.

Yikes, how long is it going to take me to be Present and really taste breakfast (oh, yum), choose a dress from my closet (all so gorgeous) and get outside?  Then how do I make it past all those flowers and trees and birds in the parking lot to my car?  How do I not drop to my knees (bad for the panty hose) in awe of the cherubim of Infiniti, that they could forge such a steed?  How do I choose from a dozen uplifting musical recordings for my soul while driving?  Drive?  What a concept…  By the end of the day, I’m in happy but exhausted shock.  Good God, God is time-consuming!

Day at the Beach

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy Saturday I’m exhausted and not feeling so mahvelous dahling anymore.  I walk to the beach listening to that same Tara class again on my mp3, dejected that I’m so tired and by the way, walking to the beach alone.

If you recall, Tara starts with the need-fear dilemma: being deeply present with other human beings is love, and we need that kind of love for our brains to develop.  But once we’re born, “the primal mood of the separate self is fear.”  [FN3]   No birth or parenting process is perfect, so we get “conditioned” by painful experiences to fear love.  And coming from infant brain stem trauma, I’ve had boatloads of fear and its stand-in, anxiety. (Details in Stardust 1)

Again Tara makes her biggest leap (right after minute 19):  If we only wake up out of our bad conditioning, she says, “The basic principle…  is that love is intrinsic to what we are.  In the most real way possible, we belong to this living world.  We’re made of stardust, we all are composed of the same stuff.  We’re breathing in this world, we’re breathing out into it; everything effects everything else.  We belong, that’s the basics. ”

Just as she says this I emerge from the trees onto the beach at my favorite picnic bench.  I’m looking at a 180-degree view of the ocean about 70 feet away, tropical foliage with huge birds of paradise flowers, the seagulls, the sun on the water, the most gorgeous weather possible, and it hits me smack in the chest:  Do I have a question about whether I intrinsically belong to this world?!

I pause the audio.  Tara says I belong.  Tara says I belong.  Wait,  I said it makes no sense, this shrink’s crazy!  “No, remember, it’s physics and biochemistry that we’re made of stardust.  So we’re loved 24 x7, by the Creator of the stars, no less.  Except we don’t feel that way ‘cos of our bum programming.”

Now I’m back full steam in my comfort zone of head talk.  “Wise men have written about this forever.  Swami Muktananda says when a fountain becomes still, we can see a bright penny at the bottom; just so, as we meditate and still our mental noise, at the bottom of our heart, we can see the face of God. Gospel singers say: “Way down in the bottom, Way down in the bottom, you can find the love of Jesus, in the bottom of your heart.”  (Click here, then scroll down to song list and click Play arrow to left of #3, “Way Down.”) [FN4]

Oh, nuts to reasoning why!  Tara says I belong.  Tara says I belong, and I want to believe her, in fact I long deeply to believe her – No damnit, I DO believe her.  Tara says I belong!

Sitting there staring at the sun on the ocean, suddenly I’m sobbing full-body heaves of joy and sorrow and who knows what — a wave of astonishment too big to contain so that it shakes me from head to toe or maybe vice versa.  This has hit me often when I’ve gone to the ocean;  I’ve always been moved by it;  I’d stand in the water or sit by it for hours or days at a time.  Because something within me said: this is here for you.  Something deep that goes to the core of my being, without having a word for it.

It all subsides; I take deep breaths and restart Tara’s audio. “And when the heart experiences that truth — in a visceral, vivid way — the experience is love,” she says.  “Awareness, when it’s awake, when our awareness is aware of our own Presence: we belong to the world, and the world is part of our heart.  It’s intrinsic.

The love we need is already inside us.

Visceral?  Did you say visceral?  Damn right it’s visceral, it hits me in the chest and the gut.  I have no rational explanation but every cell in my body is suddenly singing at the top of their little cellular lungs “We BeLO–NG” and yes, Virginia, they believe it. This goes way beyond anything head talk can manage; this is a physical experience. No other way to put it.

Mendelssohn No. 4

Kathy Gown Messiah IMAG0671And then I remember the Mendelssohn.  I remember Thanksgiving 2012 after singing Handel’s “Messiah” when I had to drive home alone in despair in a ballgown, hairdo and jewels, singing “I Know that My Redeemer Liveth” at the top of my lungs down Interstate 5 for an hour. (That’s my pic at left, but here’s Lynn Dawson singing; she really captures the wonder).

I got home and put on a favorite, Mendelssohn’s 4th Symphony,  3rd movement — and began sobbing for the sheer beauty of it.  “Oh, this is what love feels like!” I said into my mp3’s record button. “This is what Mom should have felt like. This is what God love feels like; this is what people love should feel like — platonic, romantic, I don’t care! Yeah, I like this, this is what I like.” [FN5]  (To play Movement #3 now, left click on “Download file,” then click “open.”)


To download mp3, click below: (Firefox users: right-click link, select ‘Save Link As…’   Internet Explorer users: right-click link, select ‘Save Target As…’ )  Mendelssohn Nr4 Tr3 Con moto

“But ‘it’s just not happening for me’!” I cried, still quoting Dan the first rebound guy.  “What’s up, Lord, why is it always No?”  Then I simply had a really good sob about it, it was so painful to let it go through me, but when it was over, I felt better and better, then fell asleep in my clothes, exhausted but oddly happy.

“Maybe it started with you marinating so long in ‘My Redeemer Liveth’,” said a friend next day. “Sounds like an experience where we are so much in God’s presence, that it’s ok that it all sucks.  It’s ok you’re alone, again, that it hurts so bad – because there is a comfort here which you and I have a hard time putting words to.  God spoke to you in that Mendelssohn, God knows you well enough to know that if He speaks to you in music, to say ‘I’m with you,’ you’re gonna get it.  This is what Pure Love feels like.”

I thought that was nutty in 2012; how could an unseen etherial being make me feel better, when what I needed was a flesh and blood husband?  Still I had to admit: I did for no reason feel a whole lot better.

So a year later on my bench, I switch from Tara to Mendelssohn’s 3rd movement, still on my mp3.  And here it comes again, I feel it all over again: Oh my God, He’s right there with me, all the time!  “The Lord is my shephard, I shall not want… I shall fear no evil.”  I can hear Mendelssohn, I can see the sun on the ocean -– and the sobbing starts in overdrive. I get it, Tara, thank you, thank you: We ARE Made of Stardust.

I’ve been pondering this mystery for a year, so this time when the physical wave starts, I remember a yogi who says “Whatever happens, let it be OK and Just Watch.”  I sit for ten minutes letting it all slam over my body and out again, and the less my head gets in the way asking why, the deeper and wider the bodily reaction gets.  Then suddenly it’s done, and I feel like a million bucks, just like Thanksgiving 2012.  Is there a pattern here?

At that point my body just took off down that beach running for the ocean like there was no tomorrow; I almost was not in control of it.

Salt Creek sun Monarch_Beach_Xmas 051I hit the water and then I was dancing all over the beach sobbing for about an hour, playing the third movement a dozen times, running the length of the entire two mile strand, dancing and singing and skipping and jogging. People were staring at me, I didn’t give a damn, I never felt so much flat out joy in my life.

Then I danced my way through the whole symphony, starting with the first movement. It didn’t matter how tired I was, that first movement just leaps out at you and there I was leaping and running again like a madwoman.  The physical reaction was huge.  (Click “Play” arrow at left below for Movement #1:)

To download mp3, click below : (Firefox users: right-click link, select ‘Save Link As…’   Internet Explorer users: right-click link, select ‘Save Target As…’ )  Mendelssohn #4, Movement #1 Allegro

Eventually I crawl off the beach to my bench with a huge grin across my face.  Gosh, this Presence thing sure is time consuming!  Who’d believe that just spending a week practicing being Present With What Is for every little ordinary thing, could lead to such a wave of physical emotion of belonging and being loved?

Physical Experience

Salt Creek long Monarch_Beach_Xmas 082No matter what the people were doing, I’ve known that something in me had some deep connection to this world since I was little, without knowing to use the word “belong.”  It was bizarrely simple.  I connected to the beauty of nature, and that’s what’s resonating now.

It puzzled me no end as a kid.  I remember thinking from grade school, “Seeing that tree over there really moves something inside my heart.  But that tree is 20 feet away, and my eyes are over here; why should I feel any connection? Why should that be?”  The question has no tangible answer, none; in fact at times it seemed downright impossible to me.

And yet as a kid I had this physical experience over and over, every time I saw trees or stars or the ocean. It was just too beautiful for me, so I felt it as “visceral.”

There was little religion growing up; I learned Psalm 23 from the recitations in school whenever they thought the Russian bombs were about to drop.  Still even as a kid I could only find one answer:  Someone made this for me!  Then I would start to cry and I didn’t know why.  Despite all my anxiety and loneliness, all the wounding in my brain stem, there was a very strong sense that this was made for me.

Now Dr. Tara Brach has put a word to it: Belong.  Just the word sets off an earthquake in my heart.  Something deep inside me, without reason or logic, has felt all my life a desperate need to belong, and when I got that in nature, it hit me hard.  It’s a big deal to have that big a physical experience of belonging, even if I only had it with a tree.

Eventually I wander home in a state of shock, trying to be present with the sunset and how beautiful is the path back to my place.  I try not to go into sensory overload or fall asleep en route.  Below is a video mp4 of sunset there and my path home.

Sorry, it may only work with Internet Explorer. After you click the Play arrow, watch the moving bar because that may show how long it will take to load.   Or better, forget the electronics, close your eyes, lean back and just imagine.

Look at all the stuff I didn’t get done today!  I missed five crucial emails, didn’t make a pile of calls, and now it’s dark and I won’t even get to the gym until really late.  Darn.  Does anybody really have time for all this?

Oh well, consider the alternative.

Suppose all of the above is claptrap.  Perhaps we humans are in charge of all that we see?  Not only did we make my bed and my floor and the toothpaste, but we’re pretty much responsible for everything?  Well then, obviously we don’t have time to sit back! We’ve got our achievement programming to obey! Step on it -– we’ve got to get out there and make the world run, get all those emails out, go sell things, phone clients, write even more programs (this time with computers), or go do whatever it is we do all day.  We’ve got to achieve!  We’ve got to hustle and tote that barge, lift that bale.  No time for this stardust hooey, forget it.

I guess free will means it’s up to each of us to choose.  I don’t like that second alternative.  It doesn’t feel good; it doesn’t even make sense.  Me, I’m developing a taste for stardust (yum).

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Kathy’s news blogs expand on her book “DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME:  The Silent Epidemic of Attachment DisorderHow I accidentally regressed myself back to infancy and healed it all.”  Watch for the continuing series each Friday, as she explores her journey of recovery by learning the hard way about Attachment Disorder in adults, adult Attachment Theory, and the Adult Attachment Interview.

Footnotes

FN1 Brach, Tara, PhD, “Releasing  Barriers to Unconditional  Loving” – Part 1A  (5-15-13) at:
www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHiEAykuvvY&feature=player_embedded
Books: Brach, Tara, PhD: “True Refuge,”  Bantam Books, 2013 and “Radical Acceptance,” Bantam Books, 2003
Biography: www.tarabrach.com/about.html
Website Audio & Video page:  www.tarabrach.com/audiodharma.html

FN2  Levine, Peter A., PhD, “Healing Trauma: A Pioneering Program for Restoring the Wisdom of Your Body,” ‘Sounds True, Inc.,’ Boulder CO, 2005; ISBN 1-159179-247-9

FN3  Need-Fear Dilemma:  “We have a need in our heart for love, but when it’s wounded or hurt or unavailable, something very bad happens.  We don’t just sustain need.   If my Mom dies when I’m age 7, I can’t just wait 20 years and say  ‘OK now I’ll find someone nice to love me.’  Instead, when we have unmet need or injured need, something bad develops called the need-fear dilemma.  What we need the most, we begin to fear.  If it’s needing love, then we’re uneasy around love.  If we need understanding of our weaknesses, we get very uneasy about being weak.”
–  Cloud, Henry, PhD, “Getting Love on the Inside,” Lecture, April 2002 (CD),  www.Cloud-Townsend Resources.com
“The insecure resistant ambivalent child shown in the video is experiencing what has been referred to as the need-fear dilemma; he both needs the mother for comfort, but something in his history with this mother has instilled fear, and distrust whether he will find what he needs.  The video is of the Strange Situation, developed by  psychologist Mary Ainsworth in the 1970s to describe secure and insecure attachment. These two attachment patterns are vividly seen in the interaction of two mother-child pairs: http://youtu.be/DH1m_ZMO7GU  ”
— Gerson, John, Phd, “Understanding Secure and Insecure Attachment,”  www.theravive.com/research/understanding-secure-and-insecure-attachment

FN4  Marty Stuart, “Souls’ Chapel,” #3. “Way Down.”  Scroll down to song list and click on arrow to right of #3 at www.amazon.com/Souls-Chapel-Marty-Stuart/dp/B000AA7I14

FN5  Felix  Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 in A major, Op. 90,  “Italian”  was composed from 1829 to 1831.  Its inspiration is the color and rich history of Italy, where Mendelssohn wrote: “This is Italy! And now has begun what I have always thought… to be the supreme joy in life.  And I am loving it.  Today was so rich that now, in the evening, I must collect myself a little, and so I am writing to you to thank you, dear parents, for having given me all this happiness.”

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Stardust

Tara Brach 1I’m going to tell you the cure for Attachment Disorder and its many related ills  in this simple two-part blog.  But as the good witch Glenda told Dorothy,  you won’t believe me until you experience it for yourself.

I recently spent several weeks absorbing an astonishing talk by therapist Dr. Tara Brach (above), “Releasing Barriers to Unconditional Loving.”  A good way to start experiencing cure would be to watch  this.   [Click here for video]

“Enlightenment,” she begins, quoting Zen master Dōgen, “is just Intimacy With All Things.” [FN1, FN2]

“Just,”  Tara laughs.  This shrink’s crazy, I say to myself.  Yikes, I’m supposed to let All That inside me and be intimate?  “Intimacy!” she dances on, “Intimacy with the Life inside you.  Intimacy with someone at work… Intimacy with a cousin or a sister… with the person sitting next to you even if you don’t know them.  What does it mean?  What’s the quality of heart?

“Intimacy with the squirrels that eat the bird seed at the feeder… intimacy with the weeds…intimacy with the wind. Can you begin to sense the quality of openness, of awake-ness, of tenderness, that unconditionally makes room?  The “heart space” where Everything That Is, is welcome?  Intimacy is our potential to realize, and trust, and live from, Loving Presence.

“It’s also a need.  We need Love, to develop in a healthy way.  We need a certain amount of loving attention, intimacy, loving presence from others, for our neurons to grow.  Research shows that even rat pups who don’t get enough attention, don’t grow as many neuron synapses.

“So we have a longing for love and we flourish when love is there, when there’s a sense of belonging.  The poet Hafez says:  ‘The subject tonight is love, and tomorrow night as well. As a matter of fact there’ no better topic to discuss, until we all die ‘.”   “When you figure out love is all that matters after all,” says Carrie Underwood, “it makes everything else seem so small.”

Tara Smile smaller fr Reacting Wiesely 8-10-11Yikes again, did she just put meditation together with attachment love from a good mom, as if it were the same thing?  This shrink’s crazy.  She doesn’t bother to say we need someone else to do it, or specifically with us. She just says we need loving intimacy and she’s calling that Attachment. To her it’s the most natural transition in the world – but to me it’s like jumping over the Grand Canyon.

OK,  I have a regular meditation practice, I’m used to the meditation concept “be present with my breath, the sounds, the flowers, with my friends at the restaurant and the calamari.”  But it never occurred to me to draw a comparison between Present on the one hand — and loving another human being on the other, let alone to say it’s identical.  Astonishing.  Simply being present with another person constitutes loving them?  Whu Nhu?  I guess the words “loving” and “intimate” get sexualized too much?

The real reason I’m so shocked is: I can’t even begin to imagine my mother being Present like that.  Tara says: “And that’s all we need from Mom, to simply feel she is Present.”  But what a leap from Presence with my breath, to intimacy from my mother!  She was so compelled to performance, doing something, getting somewhere.  I can’t imagine my mother just sitting and being gently Present with me. Just saying it sounds like a stark staring mad idea.

Then I notice what’s going on in my gut.

“Ahhh, Yes!” every jangling, anxiety-ridden cell in my body cries out, “this is the source of our attachment disorder, all us cells down here need Love! We don’t feel loved or wanted, we’re terrified of being alone. Skip the new age Intimacy blather, we need love and we need it now!  Hey, what’s playing on Match.com?  Let’s get this Search for Love on the road!

“Us anxious cells were programmed from birth to be practical and to get things done, Skeeter.  Yeah, we read that “General Theory of Love” book by the three shrinks who say “Too many Americans are spurred to achieve, rather than attach.” [FN3]  You said it brother – we cells were programmed to achieve. We’ve got to get to work and get things done! If we don’t perform, nobody will ever love us.”

The Separate Self and Fear

Hold on, I tell my cells, Tara’s only at minute 4:25 of an hour talk. OK she’s a little nutty but let’s see where she goes next.

It’s another whopper. “Then,” says Tara, “We have Rilke, who says: ‘For one human being to love another, this is the most difficult of all our tasks.’  The human realm is filled with misunderstanding, conflict, hurt, anger and insecurity — because we have a basic perception of separation.

“The primal mood of the Separate Self is fear.  It’s core in our conditioning to feel separate, to have all the fight/flight activity from separation.  We start with fear, and due to that, we don’t trust belonging easily.  To the degree we don’t feel a sense of belonging, we don’t trust anyone really loves us… It brings a real deep mistrust… A core wounding that appears… is a basic sense that “I’m not loveable for who I am.  I don’t belong, I can’t trust belonging, I’m not loveable in a real way.”

I Need Love-he's-just-doing-that-to-get-attention-Harry Bliss New-yorker-cartoon“The primal mood of the Separate Self is fear,” I walk around muttering for a few days.  OK, this one’s definitely is not crazy.  Everyone in brain science says that being born is absolutely terrifying; it was warm, now it’s cold; it was dark, now it’s blinding; it was hushed, now it’s scary loud;  “and what’s this stuff in my lungs?” says Bruce Perry.

I know that fear, I’ve felt it all my life, because Dr. Perry also says the baby is designed to feel stress chemicals when this shock hits, so that it cries until the mother holds it, because if it didn’t and she didn’t, the baby would die.  And when she does, the stress chemicals stop and they both get a flood of reward (feel-good) chemicals like oxytocin. [FN4]

Or not.  If mom doesn’t respond, or the baby’s locked up in a glass box in incubation for a few weeks and then after that mom doesn’t respond, the stress chemicals never stop, and the fear continues unabated until it’s overwhelming.  Which is how I lived my entire life until I found that Peter Levine book.  [FN5]

“Conditioning” in Buddhism refers to the false beliefs imprinted on each living thing from birth by external culture and family, the habit patterns of the unconscious.

“The biggest way conditioning gets solidified is the imprint of parenting,” Tara continues. “I’ve kept a long time this cartoon, a little boy with goggles on a ladder spraying paint onto the wall. It says ‘I need love!!’ But his mother and her friend are talking and she says ‘He’s just doing that to get attention.’ [audience laughs] ‘I need love!!’

“But when the love doesn’t come, when there’s neglect, major criticism, abusive behavior, even just a lack of attunement, then the child has to protect from the pain of that. A lot of our personality becomes how we protect ourselves from that raw pain of ‘I’m not loveable as I am.’

“So the fear of love, the fear of intimacy, is also a universal conditioning. We have this perception of separateness, and our nervous system is wired for it, we’re kind of stuck with it.”

“Omigod” say my wounded cells, “we need love, we can’t live without love – but the basis of our entire central nervous system is to FEAR love. You thought we were freaked out before, now we’re really screwed!”  “Wait a minute,” I say, “Didn’t Henry Cloud identify that as the ‘Need-Fear Dilemma’ and explain in depth how to get out of it?   [FN6]

Intrinsic Love

Zen Master DogenBut Tara’s just getting started, and she sees a way out.  If we study this need-fear mess we make of love and see how we’re creating the mess, she says, we can use Dōgen’s “intimacy with all things” to stop messing, heal our bad conditioning, and find the love we need. Let’s explore, says Tara, “what makes Love so difficult… and how to bring our practices of awareness and heart so we can wake up from our conditioning.”

Huh?  I say.  This shrink’s crazy.  So why do I trust her so much?

Then she makes another gigantic leap and says:  “I’ll name the basic principles at the root of any inquiry into waking up in relationships, and one of them is that love is intrinsic to what we are.

“In the most real way possible, we belong to this living world.  We’re made of stardust, we all are composed of the same stuff. We’re breathing in this world, we’re breathing out into it; everything effects everything else. We belong, that’s the basics.

“And when the heart experiences that truth -– in a visceral, vivid way — the experience is love.  Awareness, when it’s awake, when our awareness is aware of our own Presence: we belong to the world, and the world is part of our heart.  It’s intrinsic.

“The yearning to realize love is universal.  Just like a flower wants to bloom, each of us wants to unfold into our wholeness, realize who we really are, and live in that, that’s universal.”

Love is intrinsic, it’s already inside me?  This shrink’s crazy!!  Now even my cells are blowing a raspberry, all in unison.

“Oh phooey! We don’t believe we’re made of stardust for a New York minute,” my cells yell — at me, Tara and the general public. “Everyone knows we’re made of 98 cents worth of chemicals, meat and bones.  Plus we’re all drenched in anxiety and stress from all that fear that we ain’t getting no love, which floods us with cortisol poison at the drop of a hat.”

Hmmm… Wait a minute, dear cells, I say, now perhaps that’s circular reasoning?  Why all the cortisol?  Maybe it’s our bad conditioning?

Maybe our brain stem received bum programming from conception to 36 months, when nobody remembers anything? Forty-five months is a long time to be in adversity for helpless cells. Plus Bruce Perry says that the brain stem gives rise to the rest of the brain and nervous system, which drives the development of our viscera – so if our brain stem got fried, significant parts of our insides got fried in development.

Tara’s got a plan for us to Feel Loved 24×7:  we start to really get it that we are stardust.  Hey, now I think of it, it’s physics and biochemistry that we’re made of stardust.  So obviously we are loved 24 x7, by the Creator of the stars, no less.  No small deal.

Except we don’t feel that way; we often feel like cr–p, ‘cos of our bum programming.  So much happens every day to cause my cortisol to rise.  Bad news from the doctor or the bond market, no time for a good breakfast, traffic, freeways, meetings, hordes of emails in my in-box.

So here’s the plan: let’s take Master Dōgen at his word and try this Intimacy with All Things bit.  Let’s try to be intimate – be Present – with everything and every one we encounter, and do that more and more moments of the day.  Tara says the more we do that, the more loved we’re gonna feel.  Ultimately if we want to feel Loved 24 x 7, we need to be Present with everything and everyone we encounter 24 x7 – they’re all stardust, too.  Sound’s crazy but what have we got to lose?

Tomorrow for just one day, let’s try to implement the Dōgen Plan. For one day, or as big a part of a day as we can hack, we will put 100% of our effort into being Present with What Is.  Come what may.

————————-

Kathy’s news blogs expand on her book DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME:  The Silent Epidemic of Attachment DisorderHow I accidentally regressed myself back to infancy and healed it all.”  Watch for the continuing series each Friday, as she explores her journey of recovery by learning the hard way about Attachment Disorder in adults, adult Attachment Theory, and the Adult Attachment Interview.

Footnotes

FN1  Brach, Tara, PhD, “Releasing  Barriers to Uncondtional  Loving” Pt 1A  (5-15-13) www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHiEAykuvvY&feature=player_embedded
Books:  Brach, Tara, PhD: “True Refuge,”  Bantam Books, 2013 and “Radical Acceptance,” Bantam Books, 2003
Biography:  www.tarabrach.com/about.html
Audios & Videos:  www.tarabrach.com/audiodharma.html
Some of my favorite videos:
1.  Learning to Respond, Not React  8/3/2011 (46 min)
www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ar-L41QMYCM#at=1908
2.  Reacting Wisely to Desire  8-10-11 (50 min)
www.youtube.com/watch?v=hka8c4OteYA&feature=player_embedded
3.  Releasing  Barriers to Uncondtional  Loving – Pt 1A  (5-15-13)
www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHiEAykuvvY&feature=player_embedded
4.  Releasing Barriers to Unconditional  Loving – Pt 1B  (05/15/13)   www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q5-AC3re9Ak
5.  Being to Being: Loving Beyond the Trance – Part IA (5-22-13)
www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ha30OPZ_-OI
6.  Being to Being: Loving Beyond the Trance – Part IB  (5-22-13)
www.youtube.com/watch?v=VqiUMCohJXQ&feature=player_embedded

FN2  Dōgen Zenji: “Do not be concerned with the faults of other persons. Do not see others’ faults with a hateful mind. There is an old saying that if you stop seeing others’ faults, then naturally seniors are venerated and juniors are revered. Do not imitate others’ faults; just cultivate virtue. Buddha prohibited unwholesome actions, but did not tell us to hate those who practice unwholesome actions.”   Japanese Zen Buddhist teacher born in Kyōto (1200 – 1253).

FN3  Lewis, Thomas, MD; Amini, Fari, MD; Lannon, Richard, MD; “A General Theory of Love”, Random House, 2000. Great link (check it out): www.paulagordon.com/shows/lannon/

FN4  Perry, Bruce, MD,  “Born for Love: The Effects of Empathy on the Developing Brain,” speech to Annual Interpersonal Neurobiology  Conference “How People Change: Relationship & Neuroplasticity in Psychotherapy,”  UCLA Extension, Los Angeles,  March 8, 2013
  Perry, Bruce, MD, “Overview of Neuro-sequential Model of Therapeutics (NMT),” www.childtrauma.org, 2010

FN5  Levine, Peter A., PhD, “Healing Trauma: A Pioneering Program for Restoring the Wisdom of Your Body,” ‘Sounds True, Inc.,’ Boulder CO, 2005; ISBN 1-159179-247-9

FN6  Need-Fear Dilemma in my blog Excommunication Blues
“We have a need in our heart for love, but when it’s wounded or hurt or unavailable, something very bad happens.  We don’t just sustain need.   If my Mom dies when I’m age 7, I can’t just wait 20 years and say  ‘OK now I’ll find someone nice to love me.’  Instead, when we have unmet need or injured need, something bad develops called the need-fear dilemma.  What we need the most, we begin to fear.  If it’s needing love, then we’re uneasy around love.  If we need understanding of our weaknesses, we get very uneasy about being weak.”
–  Cloud, Henry, PhD, “Getting Love on the Inside,” Lecture, April 2002 (CD),  www.Cloud-Townsend Resources.com
“The insecure resistant ambivalent child shown in the video is experiencing what has been referred to as the need-fear dilemma; he both needs the mother for comfort, but something in his history with this mother has instilled fear, and distrust whether he will find what he needs.  The video is of the Strange Situation, developed by  psychologist Mary Ainsworth in the 1970s to describe secure and insecure attachment. These two attachment patterns are vividly seen in the interaction of two mother-child pairs: http://youtu.be/DH1m_ZMO7GU  ”
Gerson, John, Phd, “Understanding Secure and Insecure Attachment,”  www.theravive.com/research/understanding-secure-and-insecure-attachment

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New Year Gratitude

Messiah_2013 045And now, the New Year’s face of trauma recovery:  I am so grateful for how wonderful I feel this year!  That’s why I wanted you to see some of my holiday pictures – so that when I tell you in mere words that “it’s worth it” to confront all this trauma by feeling it to heal it, you can see for yourself that it’s true.

My holidays kicked off with a shine on Nov. 24 when I sang Handel’s “Messiah” at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda in a full-scale replica of the White House East Ballroom.  They even handed me a 17th-century gown and said “here, wear this.”

I looked like Bo Peep searching for her lost sheep amidst the crystal chandeliers (I called the Dollar Store to see if they had any shepherd’s crooks, but they just said “Yeah we get a lot of crooks in here…”).  It was a riot… and we sang good.  DVDs to come, ask me.

Many of us, whether in trauma or just excess stress, unfortunately find the holidays to be the worst time of the year.  When the whole world is supposed to be joyous because they’re cuddling up with family, those of us who don’t have the Picture-book Perfect family can feel like failures, feel unloved, and even feel that we don’t belong to exist.  I sure did, in particular for the ten years 2002-2012, in spades.

But not this year.  It’s no exaggeration to say that 2013 was the best holiday season of my entire life.

Trauma stinks, to put it politely, and I’ve been posting some pretty awful stuff about about “as bad as it gets” with infant brain stem trauma and how the emotional pain can louse up a whole life.  I had some friends back east who in jest (usually) didn’t call me “Lousy Brousie” for nothing.

I’ve also noted that the worst of infant trauma can happen not only in poor and violent areas, but in the most wealthy and educated families.  In fact it happens in 50% of American households.

Messiah_2013 054So there are a lot of us in this together –- whether some of us know it or not.

I wanted to let you know that every step we take to walk fully through whatever trauma we may have, is so worth it.  It’s worth it, to feel all the even terrifying feelings we sometimes need to feel to heal them — because the healing can feel “as good as it gets.”

I may be clowning around now and having Thanksgiving dinner at the beach, which I did — but it was a result of a lot of hard internal work.  Doing this work results in a growing feeling of “love inside” as Dr. Henry Cloud puts it, which at times can feel as if God’s love were pouring in the windows of our soul.  Or at least of the Nixon Library, which are some pretty huge floor-to-ceiling ornate windows…

And: this year I actually had  Christmas!  It’s amazing how much of the joys of Christmas we can miss when we’re frozen in dissociation.  But now that I’m unfreezing, I get to experience the wonder of finally being alive.  Starting in December I went to so many tree lightings and caroling parties that I began to gain weight because I could finally taste the food for the first time this year.

Tustin Dance Nutcracker childrenI went to the Nutcracker Ballet with a dear friend, just at a local high school – and got 100 times more out of it than if I’d flown to New York to see the New York City Ballet’s world-famous production.

I could hardly keep myself from leaping up onto the stage.  It was a shock how fully I could hear Tchaikovsky’s music, feel it in my heart, see the children prancing around, like never before.  It feels like the joy a child feels when we just jump for the sheer joy of being alive.  Everything feels so real.  I tried to get tickets to go see it a second time but they were sold out…

Emotional Attachment

1 Kathy ALYC 12-22 Xmas 001It took deep emotional attachment from good friends and more to heal me over the last five years.  Here I am toasting one such friend at the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade on Dec. 22.

Humans can only feel safe in the presence of caring humans.  “The Mind is a dangerous place – never go in alone.”  So yes: I do mean it when I say “Don’t Try This at Home.”   And I wanted you to know that it’s all worth it.  And that you are worth it.  And yes – you can find compassionate friends who will let you attach.

Dealing with trauma has required me to set up a very broad safety net: an empathic, painstaking therapist skilled in Adult Attachment Theory; support groups modeled on the AA and other “anonymous” organizations’ principle of total acceptance and emotional support for the wounded; and close friends who were serious about staying attached to me — because they wanted to heal, too.

2 Gingerbread Crop2Keep looking until you find people who have issues of a similar severity and who also want to heal.  They’re out there, and they’re worth it.  I know; they saved my life.

A lot of these snowmen on the gingerbread house on Newport’s Balboa Island were quite frozen in dissociation when I first met them.  But over the years, as we shared our histories and helped each other grieve our real grief, we began to heal from the past, and melt our frozen hearts.  So now above on Dec. 22 we’re all enjoying Christmas!  (And yes there were real people involved, but the first rule of this kind of deep sharing is 100% confidentiality – so I can’t use their pix…)

Therapy alone won’t do it.   It requires the whole “recovery suite.”
As the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, attachment disorder, brain science and the biology of brain stem dysregulation have become understood in the last ten years, we’ve all focused on creating “preventative programs” to help babies and children now.   We’re trying to alert parents to be more attentive to their infants and to these issues.  Obviously this is necessary and mission-critical.

But I’d also like to point out: if half of today’s parents themselves, like 58% of the adult ACE Study participants, have moderate to severe brain stem developmental trauma, will working with parents on how to be better parents be enough?   Necessary, but not sufficient, as mathematics textbooks put it.

I wanted you to know that you are worth it, specifically.  You can find Recovery friends and support groups to really lean on — so that you can get to the parts of the traumatized brain where you can feel the deep stuff and really experience deep healing.

Dr. Dan Siegel calls it widening our “window of tolerance” to feel things which are repressed in dissociation.  This biologically can only be done in “dyadic consciousness,” in the presence of other compassionate human beings whom we can trust and to whom we can therefore become attached.

Otherwise the brain stem just knocks us out into dissociation and we can’t feel a thing, period.  You can’t fool your brain stem; it knows you much too well.

3 Kathy ocean 12-25 Xmas 058Don’t we need a campaign to heal the parents, too?  Not for some socio-economic brackets – but all Americans?  It sure is worth it! That’s me in the ocean at Dana Point on Christmas Day,  in 80-degree sunshine!  A New York girl’s dream come true.  (You can see the grin on my face if you click on the picture… )

In one example, scientists report that the infant brain, from conception and early cell division, must divide cells and grow based on some kind of rhythm, and for nine months it is driven to tune on a cellular level to its mother’s heart and breathing rates, among her other vitals.  “We have a pregnant employee who’s an athlete who’s resting heart rate is 40 beats/minute; she’s likely to have a very relaxed baby who likes relaxed rhythms.  And a hyper-thyroid mother whose heart rate is 95 may have a baby who finds a higher regulating rhythm,” Bruce Perry reports.

But a mother with ACE trauma herself, hysteria, or any high stress often has  “a totally irregular heart rate, breathing and other vital signs,” he notes.  “These moms end up with kids who are difficult to sooth because the mother had no rhythm consistently present for them to entrain to in utero.  After birth, they can’t find any rhythm that is soothing.”  Perry says that can easily cause developmental trauma.

Such mothers themselves, even the most determined to love their baby, require deep psychological and biological healing for their own trauma. That is often true for fathers who marry such women as well.

If a mother isn’t “attuned” inside herself, how can she truly attune to her baby?   I had so little ability to attune to a baby in my 20s and 30s that I literally “didn’t even have it in me” to have children.   “I would have thought the very idea would have been absolutely terrifying to you,” my fourth — and last! — therapist said (finally found a good one).  Without far reaching programs to heal the parents, many will remain biologically incapable of attuning to children.

It’s Adult Attachment Disorder which is the underlying cause of childhood trauma — not babies.

4 yogi tea 13116516 Kathy eyes openSo remember, all you adults out there, including you who may be in this field of endeavor because of your own childhoods or because you just can’t bear watching the inter-generational trauma being repeated over and over:

You’re Worth It.

I raise this cup of spicy home-made  Christmas Tea to you, with the most contented smile I’ve ever had on my face, to prove it.

———————————

Kathy’s news blogs expand on her book DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME: The Silent Epidemic of Attachment DisorderHow I accidentally regressed myself back to infancy and healed it all.” Watch for the continuing series  each Friday, as she explores her journey of recovery by learning the hard way about Attachment Disorder in adults, adult Attachment Theory, and the Adult Attachment Interview.

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