The Healing Ingredient

As someone who sits as a witness with people moving through heartache and pain, I think a lot about how healing happens. I reflect often on what qualities I can bring as a counselor that will help catalyze and support healing and growth. I find myself again and again returning to the power of presence as the special ingredient that alchemizes internal divisions into integrated wholeness. And for me, presence essentially equals compassion. I have come to see that the truest act of compassion is a simple being-with and turning-toward. Pure, open presence is love in its deepest and fullest expression.

I believe my responsibility as a counselor is to facilitate the healing process of coming into presence with oneself. My commitment as a counselor is to sit in compassionate presence and to invite with a wide-open stance all of who my clients are. This includes the light and the shadow, the overtly developed and expressed parts of the self as well as the hidden or disowned parts. Through inviting my clients to bring their awareness to their emotions and their bodies, to their own felt-sense, to their gut intuition, and to their direct and immediate embodied experience, I invite my clients to tap into the wisdom of their own organism and their place in the interconnectedness of all things. Grounding our awareness into the immediacy of the body is inherently an act of communion and connection, an act of contacting the wholeness of the self. Within the facilitated space of the counseling, if I can be present with the fullness and complexity of my clients, then the invitation is there for them to consciously choose to make contact with themselves as well. One of the most moving and exciting moments for me during a counseling session is when a habitual way of thinking or being shifts for my clients in an embodied, felt-sense way. They know a new awareness of themselves from the inside-out and the emergence of this awareness allows them to experience themselves in a whole new way. All of a sudden there are possibilities and options, whereas before there were only dead-ends and stuck places.

Consider an eddy in a stream. Eddies can be created when there is a build-up of leaves, twigs and stones in some portion of the stream. Sometimes an eddy forms because of the particular positioning of large rocks. When the flowing water meets the obstacle or enters the tight space, the current swirls back on itself and creates a whirlpool effect. Our habitual patterns of mind and behavior are like this. As children, all of us in some ways experienced challenging, wounding or traumatic circumstances in our families and cultures. In response to such circumstances, we naturally developed ways of coping and surviving. We created fortifications within our riverbeds, so to speak, to protect ourselves from life events that we had no control over. As children, these coping strategies helped us to survive and get our basic needs met. As adults, however, we often outgrow these strategies, and they eventually have the same effect of a blockage in a stream, keeping us stuck in one place, unable to expand and grow and flow with the movement of our lives.

We can help restore the flow of the river by bringing presence to all those areas within ourselves where there is an eddy, to all of those places of blockage and pain. The more we can really be with those places and get to know them intimately, to feed them the acceptance and understanding for which they have always yearned, the more their fixed solidity begins to dissolve organically. In this way, clients can begin to relate to their experience in new ways, and ultimately begin to access parts of themselves that had once been hidden or denied.

For perhaps beneath the build-up of twigs and leaves there also lies a treasure, an essential aspect of ourselves that we buried to keep protected. Perhaps it would have meant risking the rejection of our parents, or ridicule from our social group or culture, if we were to reveal this precious treasure as children. In order to meet the basic need for acceptance, we hid it in a safe place until a time when we would have developed enough strength and support in ourselves and our surroundings, through years of experience and the trial and error of our choices, to remove those fortifications and to reclaim those innate and vital pieces of ourselves.

As we bring more awareness and presence to our immediate experience, we begin to heal fissures in our capacity to flow with life and to relate to ourselves and the ever-changing worlds that we live within. If we can be with our sadness, with our fear, even with our shame, we are truly embodying inclusivity and offering an invitation to our whole being to simply be. If we really remain in the present moment, still, without fleeing or pushing or clinging, then the constructed walls obscuring our heart and distorting our vision begin to melt away. From this place, authentic contact with ourselves and all beings becomes possible. From this place, we may shed what no longer serves our well-being, and reclaim that which is truly essential to who we are. To be present to embodied experience means to be operating from a place of love and compassion. Integration and the capacity to connect are initiated the moment we turn toward our experience and return to presence. For here, in this moment, we are whole. Presence awaits in the pulse of life; each breath offering itself as a reminder to come home.