A quick quote from one the inspirational author of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. More on The Artist’s Way coming soon…
During the open house of my new office location, I was inspired to offer a presence experiment. A friend gave me the idea as inspired by the performance artist Marina Abramović . Marina sat for 7 hours a day for 100 days at the Museum of Modern Art in 2010. She sat silently in a wooden chair with an open invitation for people to sit across from her as she gazed at them.
The Presence Experiment
Thinking that calling it the “Psychotherapist is Present” might be a little too intimidating, I called it the Presence Experiment. I invited people to come in to my space and sit across from me for 5 minutes. People were invited to come in by themselves or with others and were told that I’d silently gaze at them for 5 minutes and they were welcome to return my gaze or not. The timer was put on and we began.
In all honesty, while being excited about doing this experiment, I was also really nervous. I both hoped and didn’t hope for people to participate. In the end I sat with around 25 people and when I went home, my husband commented about how present I was with him.
I was lucky to have my landlord Tracy and her husband as my first participants. Afterwards we all commented that we felt calmer and more present. Whereas I am more of an introvert and would wait for people to come and find me, Tracy is an extrovert and started to send people my way to try it out. So the part of me that wanted to hide during the event didn’t get a chance.
I sat with all kinds of different people of different ages, races, and genders. Most people sat as a group and some people sat on their own. Some people returned my gaze, some experimented with holding my gaze and some closed their eyes. Some people giggled, and others felt annoyed if I spent more time gazing at one person over an another. As a whole the response was very positive.
Sometimes 5 minutes could feel like 30 minutes and sometimes it felt like 3 minutes. Afterwards I felt more grounded, connected and present with others and myself.
Try This At Home
Variation #1: Gazing at eachother
For variation # 1, I encourage you try it exactly as I listed out in this article with a friend or family member.
- Put the timer on for 5 minutes
- Sit across from eachother gazing into eachothers eyes. Try to keep your energy within yourself without an intent to influence the other or gaze into the depths of their soul. The goal is to simply be with one another without an agenda.
- Notice how you feel afterwards
Variation #2: Presence during an activity
For variation #2, I encourage you to simply be present with a child, pet, a plant, a loved one, or yourself for 5 minutes.
- With a child let them take the lead and give them neutral responses, “I see you like this game, what’s this you’re making?” and try to resist any impulse to lead or give them feedback . Try to avoid “you shouldn’t say that, don’t do that, why don’t we do x, y, z, what an amazing drawing you’ve made!”. Imagine you are an anthropoligist with them for 5 minutes and they are showing you their world.
- With a pet, spend time just petting your cat, walking your dog, gazing at your fish or how ever else you like to spend time with your pets.
- With a plant or tree spend your time connect either by leaning against the tree or gazing at it for 5 minutes.
- With another adult, do something similar as to the instructions as when you’re with a child. Have a 5 minute conversation with them and try to resist any impulse to lead or give them feedback. Do an activity for 5 minutes together of anything that doesn’t involve screens.
- With yourself it can feel more like mindfulness – notice your thoughts and emotions as you do an activity of your choice. Try not to change your thoughts or emotions, just notice as a witness.
- Notice the impact of this experience on your relationship with the person you did this with. Notice how you and the other person feel too.
Psychotherapy involves presence, sometimes with silence and sometimes without silence. Presence as a concept can be felt and experienced by anyone, wherever and however they choose to feel it. If you notice that you struggle with being present, you’re not alone. I doubt that 5 years ago I could’ve intentionally sat with a person in silence for 5 minutes, it felt like too much. So start with the variation that feels best for you. Let me know how it goes!
It’s always so exciting when scientific research deepens and enters into new horizons. Kelly Noonan Gores created a thought-provoking documentary, Heal that highlights research that shows that our bodies have the capacity to heal from life-threatening prognosis. She weaves in stories of her own journey and other women and men she has met who are either starting their healing journey or have healed from their disease. It is now available on Netflix.
Research is showing that our bodies have the capacity to heal from any diagnoses. She interviews Kelly Turner, Ph.D. (author of Radical remission: Surviving Cancer Against All Odds) who has found 9 things that people have in common in situations where they have healed from life-threatening prognosis.
9 Things That Research Has Shown Are Connected To Healing
- Radically Changing Your Diet
- Taking Control of Your Health
- Following Your Intuition
- Using Herbs and Supplements
- Releasing Suppressed Emotions
- Increasing Positive Emotions
- Embracing Social Support
- Deepening Your Spiritual Connection
- Have a Strong Reason for Living
Kelly notes that only 2 of these items are physically related – #1 Radically Changing Your Diet and # 4 Using Herbs and Supplements. Ongoing research is being done to look into tangible steps for the emotional and spiritually related items.
The movie also explores how some people heal, and some people do not and how painful this can be when a person has invested time, money, energy, and spirit into their healing journey. Often times individuals can either judge themselves, or feel the judgment of others (if they are members of the complementary health community). The journey towards healing or acceptance of an illness is a very personal one to be met with curiosity and compassion. For more of my contemplations on this read my blog post
How Energy Healing Helps Heal Physical Illness.
I liked how this movie also pointed out the importance of working together with the medical community. As a person who has worked in a hospital, and who also has children who have the hospital staff to thank for both life-saving care and healing for minor injuries, I know from first-hand experience that both medical and complementary health care have their place. You can read more about the importance of both in the highlighted blog post above.
Even if you don’t have an illness, one can see how incorporating any of these 9 Things in our lives would be beneficial to our health. Which of the 9 Things are you already incorporating into your life? Or have you found one to be especially helpful for you?
While sifting through many quotes today, I found this quote that resonated with me about authenticity. One of the benefits of psychotherapy is helping you connect to the deeper parts of yourself, perhaps to a place that can feel lost, hazy, or buried. Many problems can occur in our lives when we lose connection with this part of ourselves.
Have you listened to that deeper part of yourself recently?
It’s winter time, and while I’m working, it also feels a little bit like hibernation time. In southern Ontario the temperature can fluctuate 40 degrees Celsius in the span of a few days. Just last week it was -30 and then we had 3 balmy days of 10 degrees. And then an ice storm. During my free time I’ve been doing a lot of reading and listening to podcasts. Here is a glimpse into what I’ve been into for the past 2 months. There’s Russell Brand‘s podcast Under The Skin, Tara Westover‘s memoir Educated, Daemon Fairless‘ book Mad Blood Stirring, and Dan Siegel & Tina Payne Bryson‘s parenting book The Yes Brain.
Under The Skin by Russell Brand
I’ve been a fan of Russell Brand since the movie, Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Russell Brand’s podcast Under The Skin Podcast mixes three things I enjoy: spirituality, irreverance, and humour. Or any serious topic with a splash of irreverence and curiosity. I’ve listened to his interviews with Tony Robbins, Kehinde Andrews, and Gabor Maté. Gabor Maté’s interview (#053) has been my favourite so far – Damaged Leaders Rule An Addicted World.
Next on my list is an interview with Marianne Williamson.
Educated by Tara Westover. As a woman who grew up in a conservative Christian church, this book touched a lot of my edges. This is a memoir of her life growing up in rural Idaho in a Mormon household, with a father who had an undiagnosed mental illness, and never attending school. Through many acts of grace she gets her PhD. The mormon upbringing, like many religions is very patriarchal. She shares her journey of how she survived when the head of her household could not make a lot of rational decisions when he was in the manic phase of his mental illness. Her education through most of her childhood is of a different sort than her school-attending peers.
Mad Blood Stirring: The Inner Lives of Violent Men by Daemon Fairless. I recently saw an Osteopath, and one of his questions was whether I’d been in any bar fights. I laughed and said no. He said I’d be surprised at how many people say yes to that question. I was reading this book at the time, and I could believe that fact.
Try this: Ask yourself (whichever gender you are) and also ask a man in your life whether they think about the safety of those they cherish and what they’d do to protect them on any given basis (being at home, walking the streets, being near people fighting on the subway) . I was talking with a group of women who asked their male partners this question and we were all a little surprised about their responses. Many men, even if they have not grown up in dangerous or violent situations, think about this all the time according the book and according to the men our lives, but it is not something that gets talked about.
Take one look at this cover and you’ll either be drawn to read it or repelled. Daemon is a Canadian author who takes the reader on a personal journey reflecting on his own desire to be violent while adding research and interviews with men who are in prison for their violence. This book is all over the place, yet it’s worth persisting if anything to learn more about his own personal journey.
The Yes Brain by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., and Tina Payne Bryson falls into the my favourite category of parenting – conscious parenting. In a nutshell, conscious parenting is being curious about when you are triggered by your child’s actions or emotions, and then doing your own work on why you were triggered instead of taking it out on your child.
Hitting never works in the long run, even if you rationalize that you grew up with it and turned out fine. Yelling is about you and less about your child. Conscious parenting does not mean that boundaries are not set or that your child will always be happy. Not setting boundaries sends a message to our children as well. If we have an anxious child and never have our children do anything uncomfortable, we send a message that we don’t believe they can do it either.
Like any book in the realm of conscious parenting, the journey is about being compassionate to yourself, because EVERY parent is triggered by their children (yes, me too). If you’ve yelled, hit, or have difficulty setting boundaries, get curious and consider that there are different approaches. There is NO such thing as a perfect parent. Here’s a link to my previous post The Myth of Perfect Parenting, which includes tips if you’re curious about the conscious parenting approach.
I liked how this book gives practical tips of teaching our children about self-soothing and identifying when they could make a different choice. The authors give guidance about teaching children about entering the red zone (anger/tantrums/bullying) and blue zones (anxiety, hiding, sadness). The tips include breathing methods, compassion, validation, and courage to make a different choice.
Sometimes when reading these types of books I get annoyed at very “therapyesque” conversations with children. This book has some of that too. I rarely speak like this with my kids either – it’s more important to take the essence of what the authors suggest and say it in your own words, otherwise it can come across as annoying and patronizing to our kids.
Russell Brand’s podcast and each of these books are pivot points to our own self-reflection about religion, education, parenting, politics, spirituality, violence & masculinity and more. They’re also great in discussion with friends, family, or peers. Let me know which one piques your interest the most or whether you’ve already listened to Russell Brand’s podcast or read any of the books. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Until next time….
A quote today from the wise Meister Eckhart,a German philosopher from the 13th century. I first came to hear of him from the poet John O’Donohue who savoured Eckhart’s work.