Hiding the marshmallow

Hiding the Marshmallow  

One of the greatest challenges in psychotherapy, possibly in any kind of healing work, is getting clients to change old habits. Will power alone doesn’t work. Conscious knowledge about why a specific habit is destructive or perpetuates a debilitating situation is enough to make a client want to change, but not enough to effect that change, never mind anchor it as the new, standard way of being. The social psychologist Wendy Wood discovered in her research that sustaining healthy behavior is best accomplished by restructuring the environment so that the old, destructive habit is not as available or easy to pursue – or is removed entirely from our conscious perception. A good example: in Walter Mischel’s famous experiment in the 1960s, children presented with the possibility of eating a marshmallow, but the instruction to resist eating it, were able to hold out appreciably longer if the marshmallow was not visible.

So, if removing the sugar bomb from sight helps us resist gratification, how can this lesson be applied to Spirit Energy Medicine? If, say, a woman responds instantly to daily calls for help from her needy mother, and in so doing has learned to neglect her own wants, we see a classic bad habit at work. The mother has become entirely dependent, abusing the mother-daughter relationship to remain, essentially, immature and incapable of emotional self-sufficiency; the daughter has felt unable to cultivate a loving relationship with a man or fulfill her deep desire for children of her own, so engrossed has she been by the demands of a manipulative mother. The client understands this dysfunctional dynamic, knows she will never know abiding personal happiness as long as she feels obliged to be her mother’s keeper.  Despite this understanding, she continues to get daily hits of instant “gratification”: her mother calls, she responds, leaving work even to drive her mother to the emergency room for a non-existent medical crisis. In this way the client reaffirms her own perverted raison d’etre: she learned long ago, in the earliest throes of childhood, that her right to exist is largely based on her care of a needy mother. (The wonderfully sonorous German word for this is “Daseinsberechtigung”, the right to exist.)

To put it even more bluntly: She has done her part, and now is allowed to live another day.

Helping this client to develop a healthier right-to-live is, of course, one part of the psychotherapeutic work. Appealing to her intellect, to the knowledge that her mother can manage without her, is also necessary. But it’s not enough.

So, how can we hide the marshmallow?  It’s not as simple as turning off her cell phone, or leaving it at home when she goes to work. The Mommy-marshmallow is still perceivably there! The client can feel her mother bearing down on her, she knows seconds or minutes in advance when her mother will call. The cell phone is only the technological enabler. The energic connection is on all the time.

That’s what we need to switch off. The energic entanglement has to be dissolved, or at least throttled to the extent that the mother falls below the threshold of consciousness. This she can’t do without help. It’s my job as spirit energy medicine practitioner to choke off the flow of energy between mother and daughter. To switch off the energic phone. To hide the marshmallow.

Being here versus there

In 1979 Peter Sellers starred in his second-to-last movie as a dimwit gardener who is mistaken for a modern sage. His horticultural platitudes – “As long as the roots are not severed, all is well…in the garden” – are mistaken for Zen-like pronouncements of unfathomable depth. The fact that he is actually talking about real roots in a real-life garden, while everyone around him – including the US president – dupe themselves into hearing the sayings of a swami, reveals our hunger for spiritual guidance. The truth, though, is that Chance the gardener is not an idiot savant; he’s just an idiot.

Endlessly amiable, incapable of irony, oblivious to artifice or fantasy, he is totally of the Now. His very lack of intellect “traps” him in a state of untainted Being. This serenely smiling servant, confined to the walled garden of his mind and the fullness of the moment has, literally, everything he needs. No wonder then, that, in the very last scene of the movie, he unwittingly walks on water. His absolute rootedness in the immediacy of experience is the key to transcending experience itself.

He reminds me of “troubled” children who are brought to my practice: they are certain that they converse with their deceased Grandma because no one has yet convinced them that this is an impossibility. Like Chance, they are so fully embedded in reality as it is, that they have yet to experience it as we are told it is. A child’s and a dullard’s spirituality turn out to be not that dissimilar. They both manifest the moment as they see fit, their extraordinary aptitude for the “impossible” rooted firmly in Being Here (the title of Sellers’ movie was “Being There”).

Many of my clients are not Here at all. The pain of a childhood in which their emotional needs were largely disregarded drove them firmly into the mind. The trauma of not being seen, the strain of trying to fix one’s own unfixable family, the endless exertion of heeding needy parents – all this pain eventually gave way to feeling no pain at all. Deprivation turns us into numb, warped, obsessive thinkers. The case histories all have a disheartening similarity, seasoned only by unique strains of abuse: most people who come to me have been told, directly or by neglect, that they are worthless; their parents’ betrayal eventually giving way to betrayal of themselves. Once they were young children desperate to find some kind of order in a world without stability or support, they eventually turned into adults with obsessive-compulsive disorders, bulimia, self-immolation, neuroses and addictions.

And the greatest addiction of all is the mind.

The intellect is a magnificent part of us. I love to think; I could do it all day! But it is only one part of us and, depending on the task at hand, not necessarily the most effective or most fitting.

Everything is energy

Energy is what makes everything happen: stars glow, rivers flow, and winds blow. Nothing happens unless energy is involved. Even the appearance of nothing happening requires energy, as when opposing forces create stasis, a vibrating stalemate of equally strong tendencies.

An object continues moving without interruption or change in direction due to its innate momentum; that is, due to the force initially exerted upon it. A person’s life is no different. The emotional force exerted upon someone in childhood can cause a life to carry on along the same path long after the initial impulse of emotional energy. A father telling his daughter in a myriad of ways from birth onward that she is worthless, ensures her lifelong trajectory of powerlessness and self-loathing – unless another energy intervenes.

In my practice for psychotherapy I have discovered that mental disorders have patterns of energy that are distinguishable from one another. Men on the verge of burnout display one form; women just diagnosed with breast cancer present another.

 Energy – too much, too little, the wrong kind, the wrong place – is always the reason someone enters my practice. It is hardly surprising, then, that these disorders are treatable with energy. Energy can be applied, as one might apply a compress, administer an injection, or even launch a slap to the head. Energy can be removed, as a doctor draws blood, cuts out a cancerous tumor, or dislodges a lump of steak with the Heimlich manouver.

Energy can be dispensed as a fine mist around a patient, much like Lister’s disinfecting cloud of carbolic acid. Just as there are medicinal baths for the arthritic, there are energy baths for the neurotic! Energy can be bestowed as a motivation, meted out as a stop-gap, or erected as an obstruction to an obsession.

In short, Energy Medicine, like any medicine, can be used to change, manipulate, sedate, alleviate – and heal.