Thursday, January 12, 2012

Recovery or Self Discovery?

The Sojourn begins, January  2010
12th January 2012:
The 2nd year anniversary of my sojourn here in Thailand.
A day that invites a review of my journey, with its self challenge of uncovering the deeper nature of what most consider to be a disease of the brain, a mental illness. A day that comes hot on heels of plunging back into the work-a-day life of pressing needs. Six weeks that made my soul searching contemplation's seem like a self absorbed irrelevance. I guess circumstantial context and individual experience determine what is relevant in our daily life?

'I wan my shop back!' My Thai partner demanded in early December.
'Mama say 16 & 17 good luck day for open shop - she ask a monk!' I knew full well the added reference to the monk was meant to underline the depth of her need, and that rational protests about previous agreements would trigger the emotional equivalent of very miserable weather into the foreseeable future. 'Ok darling,' was all I could say in response.

I'd been writing the first draft chapters of a memoir throughout October and November, with an expectation that January was the month we'd finally face up to the exhausting task of re-establishing her beauty shop. 'You sit and write while I do no thing! - I hate this! - and sometime am hating you too!' Had been part of her opening gambit, proceeding the coup de grace of "mama say." Like all agrarian societies the matriarch of an extended family wields an authority here that mere men always comply with. As a stranger in my own version of paradise, who the hell am I to defy such deeply rooted tradition.

And so it was that I jumped from navel gazing philosophies of existential concern into the work a day reality of hustle and bustle, needing to get 101 things done. From wispy notions that the baby Jesus immaculate conception is a metaphor story for the denied evolution of the mind, to a frantic search of wholesale suppliers for new equipment. I became immersed in the pressing concern, to completely refurbish a shop ruined by three months of flood water. Replacing equipment damaged by mold spores so thick they looked like an alien life form. Such a re-direction of focus and energy made my previous reflections on metaphor, myth and the meaning of life, seem like a pointless self indulgence.

I'd come to Thailand two years ago with the rather naive notion of writing a book in six months. With reasoned logic I'd held a view that I could write a self help book, based on what I thought I'd learned in the previous five years. Yet looking back with hindsight that rationalized goal was perhaps my minds displaced transformation of a deeper urge, a deeper need. Perhaps something similar to Freud's notion that characters in a dream, are displaced aspects of the self.

On reflection though, its not really a book I came here to find the time and space to write, but a re-authoring of my own narrative, my life story, my self interpretation. I'd needed to redefine my sense of being in this world, from a story of the helpless victim of a life long medical condition, (bipolar disorder 1) to a deeper awareness of my crazy making, over sensitive nature.

"Sit down before fact like a little child, and be prepared
to give up every preconceived notion. Follow humbly
wherever and to whatever abyss nature leads,
or you shall learn nothing." _Thomas Huxley.

Its an inspiring quote and one that resonates quite unspeakably within me. A need to know on some level, the inner nature of bipolar disorder beneath its diagnostic label/metaphor. A need to face the felt sense of its motivating energies, beneath the distancing trick of my constantly thinking mind. It was with such a background of desire that three nights ago I caught a solid felt sense of the platform, the springboard energy pool of my life's unconscious emotive patterns.

We were hand in hand, ascending the stairs that lead to the top floor of our three storey shop/house here in Bangkok. In an unexpected, unanticipated moment, all was BLACK. She screamed with that childlike “end of the world” hysteria that annoyingly tempers the wondrous delight of her normally enchanting presence. My baby, my exotic goddess in Asian guise who’s managed to retain all the spontaneous emotional flow of a delightfully enraptured three year old. My beautifully perfect muse, the perfect foil for a boring, introspective old man.

Time stood still in a frozen heartfelt moment, just a step away from the top floor landing. Although to call it a moment is to play loose with the nature of reality and the majesty of being.
I squeezed her hand tighter. ‘Its only dark sweetheart, that’s all.’

Visual awareness was left to decipher an underlying metabolic process, as floating pinpoint specks of white behind my eyes. I imagined distant stars in a far off nebula.
There was an exaggerated gasp as both arms gripped me tight, accompanied by a whimpering of, ‘Ghost!’

It was such an unfortunate coincidence that we’d just finished an oft repeated conversation about the existence of ghosts, while watching a popular Thai TV show. ‘You falang (foreigner) not understand,’ she’d asserted not two minutes before, as I’d challenged a lack of evidence beyond light refraction and shadows. Sadly, as her heartbeat impressed itself upon mine with a promise of further comfort seeking, the lights came back on. Fits of girlish giggling ensued, as if we’d just emerged from the ghost train tunnel of an amusement park.

We stepped onto the top floor landing amid my mind's eye re-run of that frozen heart beat. So much imagery flashed through the eye of my mind in a “and one and two” passage of time. I’d seen myself as a six year old inviting the Devil to come visit me in my lonely bedroom, I’d remembered a previous experience of power failure and sudden darkness. And beneath the mind filled imagery there had been a solid, undeniable shift in body sensation.

There was a sudden awareness of my hips, legs and feet, as my body reacted to an unanticipated novelty. The experts call it a startle or freeze response, a hard wired innate physiological reaction that we are all born with. Its like a circuit breaker for the brain/minds short cut anticipations of ongoing reality. The brain's unconscious and constant millisecond pattern matching of previous and present experience, the amazing trick that ensures we have this strange metaphysical space we label mind.

That one felt/thought/mind-imagined, sensory instant encapsulated the foundation of an over-sensitive life. "Your too bloody sensitive for your own good," I'd even heard/felt, my father's voice say. Understanding blossomed into a more solid knowing of the energy that fuels the intellectualizing mind, an aversion to the felt sense of being, and why your average academic can't dance very well. In that instant when the lights went out and the innate reaction of the body could not be held in denial, I understood the extent of the terror experienced during my birth. Three days of labor, followed by a brutal forceps delivery and immediate removal to a mechanical crib.

I sensed the subtle inner tensions that reside within my body, like background radiation in the wider cosmos. Energy diverted into the synaptic connections of the brain to escape an internalized sense of threat. Unconscious body memories of trauma that are discharged through the mind as unusually fast and constant thinking, and muscular tensions that evoke varying degrees of nervous posture. "That's why I habitually walk on the sides of my feet, never allowing a more relaxed and felt sense of the earth, against soles and between toes," I thought. For a day I held that awareness within the mind space easily, before more stress triggered an unconscious and subtle slip back into habitual posture, with its affect on my thinking.

Tomorrow the sojourn will go on as I continue re-drafting the story of my life, not with a pen or a mindful search for word shaped symbols of analogy. The sojourn has become a journey back to the body in a quest for expanded self awareness. As my description of one frozen heartbeat on a stairwell implies, there is far more to the human condition than can ever be defined by language. It is by slowly increasing my use of the felt sense, that I have found recovery in self discovery. Its the kind of felt awareness that the wonderful Gene Gendlin introduced to the world with his Focusing Therapy and his extensive writings on the "felt sense." Watch him explain this strange place where the inner self of our evolved nature meets the conscious self, when we go inside and attempt to re-marry the mind to the body;

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” _Joseph Campbell.