Wednesday, March 6, 2013

pilfered springboard

"I don’t know that psychotherapy in its many schools would think of its goal as the liberation of love from a heart twisted in on itself by suffering. But I have found, in my self-work, and now for many years in my work with others, that as suffering retreats love enters; as self-pain diminishes, care and concern for others ripens. Maybe it is as natural to love as for a cherry seed to ripen into a cherry ... I once read about a seed that had been wrapped away for thousands of years in an Egyptian mummy. Unearthed, brought into the light and planted, it shot out its roots, sent forth its branches, unfurled its leaves. I can’t remember the name of the plant it became but perhaps, whatever it was, it will help us in our work to imagine that love is like that, a mighty seed, often hidden away and hard to reach, but ready to thrive given the right conditions."

Following on my recent acolyte-like experience with Dan Siegel, I stumble - unwittingly - across thoughts, ideas, opinions, expressions which return me to his work, which is, after all, human work, I like to think; it's not like it's branded-Dan-Siegel. When Siegel asserts that the "emotional" brain (love, affiliation, connection) trumps the "thinking" brain (good grades, memorization, historical events, trigonometry formulas) with respect to promoting overall health and well-being, I am reminded of a piece of information I retained verbatim from my Adlerian training program: Emotions motivate people to action. Not thoughts. Not behaviors (which catalyze other behaviors). No. We act (do, behave, speak, think) because of what we feel.

And the time continuum connects these two strands linearly to Kim Chernin's quote prefacing this post, pilfered from her blog earlier today about the alchemy of suffering (trauma), the human heart (feelings), and psychotherapy. Aside from my in-love-ness with "the liberation of love from a heart twisted in on itself by suffering," she makes the connection very explicit: 1. We are born (to love and connect); 2. We suffer (because our selves have been hurt, physically and/or emotionally); 3. Because we suffer, we (retreat and) cannot love (our selves or others); 4. We (re)connect (with a therapist; a guide; a mentor; a true friend) deeply, trustingly, heartfelt; 5. Suffering retreats; 6. The heart opens again (to ourselves and others); 6. We (can) love again, our selves and others.

Equally explicit is Siegel's connection between suffering, disconnectedness, and love, though he would likely call these existential states impaired integration, impaired relationships, and right-brain affiliation.

It's of great interest to me that scientists (albeit "soft scientists" in the social science domains) are spending a lot of resources lately on making love, affection, human contact and warmth, belonging, affiliation, feelings the focus of their musings and research. And they go forth in the public space and unabashedly cry, "Love victorious!" This reminds me of a favorite writer, George Vaillant, who said, "Why should the emphasis of AA on positive emotions work as well as or better than the exploration of negative emotions in which I engaged as a psychotherapist?"

While I take issue with the value valence of "positive" and "negative" emotions - both human, valuable, and inextricable from the totality of our lived experience - social science research is, lately and insistently and almost unanimously, making us recognize that love and affiliation, human connection, care, concern, pathos, deep feeling, empathy, warmth, touch, instinctive alignment with another, are the sine qua non building blocks of health and healing.

Lest mental health professionals decry these affirmations, challenging the recent temporality I'm assigning to this research with the fact that attachment and relational theorists have studied and published about this since the early 20th century, let me join you and say, "You are right. This is somewhat not new. And moreover, new brain research, translatable to 'bedside' therapist blogs, shows that even microscopic molecules proclaim love to be victorious. In the end."

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