Embracing the Mystery
Carl Jung believed that disconnection from the deeper “Self” is the root cause of psychological distress. However, it is easy to over-identify with superficial aspects of ourselves and the world. In any therapeutic experience, we aim to deepen our knowing of ourselves and each other through a relational exchange. We take the risk to befriend our fears and discover a new depth of love and trust.
Within transpersonal psychology, we focus on the ways in which we are all connected to a greater whole. We have an opportunity to discover a deeper, felt sense of belonging in the world at large which cultivates a relationship to the soul which Jungian analyst, James Hillman, defined as the “seat of meaningful experience.”
In somatic psychology, we centralize body awareness as a primary healing agent in psychotherapy. A somatic approach to transpersonal psychology focuses on descending our consciousness into body and soul; connecting psyche with soma. We go within to listen to dreams, metaphors, sensations, and symbols. Here, we find the ways that we are interconnected with the people we meet and the planet we live upon.
“Within the depths, we discover the inseparable relationship between our personal happiness and the well-being of other people, our ancestors, and the earth.”
–Dr. Arielle Schwartz
Our bodies hold reminders of the past. For example, you might close off your chest to protect your heart from events that occurred years ago. Or, you might continue to freeze in response to a triggering event, even though you are indeed safe, now. In somatic psychology, we build somatic awareness of habitual tension or movement patterns. Then, we can offer opportunities for new experiences through small experiments that invite subtle changes with breath, posture, or gesture.
We need help to release habitual somatic patterns because the longer we live inside of them, the more they become integrated into the fibers of our identity. We need someone else to mirror us…so that we can see ourselves and let go of what no longer serves us.
Transpersonal Psychology focuses on our connection to a Self that exists beyond the transient nature of the roles that we play in life or the changing of our surroundings. Here, we use tools of mindfulness, art, journaling, active imagination, and visualization to guide access inner wisdom and have an experience of wholeness. According to Jungian analyst Robert Johnson, we must engage in “Inner Work” in order to get a true sense of who we are. We do so by attending to our dreams and noticing our responses to myths, poetry, stories, and symbols. Experiences that harbor emotional or spiritual significance provide substance behind the mundane aspects of life.
Embodied Dreamwork in Transpersonal Psychology
Our dreams allow us to process our day to day experiences, memories, and emotions. They can also help us connect to something larger. Working with our dreams invites us to spiral inward and explore our connection to meaning, purpose, and soul. Rather than emphasizing a single interpretation of a dream, this process invites the dreamer to go within and discover the personal significance of a symbol, a character within a dream, or the dream as a whole. Furthermore, we might work with the same dream more than once realizing that dreams can have many meanings depending upon how we look at them.
A somatic transpersonal approach to dreamwork involves embodying the various images, symbols, and characters as parts of you. When working with a dream you might explore how it feels in your body to visualize being a character from the dream or imagine a new ending to a dream where you feel stuck. Jung called this process active imagination in which you allow your waking mind to create a more satisfying completion to a dream. As you embody this new ending, you can allow yourself to move in response to your inner sensations and imagery.
In dreamwork, we also realize that when we share a dream with another person we have an opportunity to move into the transpersonal realms. We discover that each person draws upon their own dream language and meaning making allowing for new perspectives on our own process. Therefore, in the tradition of Jeremy Taylor, we offer our own associations with the words, “if this were my dream…” in order to avoid imposing our interpretation on the dreamer.
Becoming the Self
Some individuals seek out the transpersonal realms to transcend the human experience. Unfortunately, this can become a form of spiritual bypass in which we seek one expansive experience after another. To over-identify with expansion can lead us to disconnect with form. We might feel the need to run after the next high or to jump to the next accomplishment. We continually reach because nothing feels like enough. Having a history of trauma can contribute to such a pattern as an urge to avoid pain. In most cases, an over emphasis on expansion can leave us feeling untethered and ungrounded.
In contrast, sometimes we might over-identify with the small self. Here, we live inside of isolation or a form of contraction that can leave us feeling only despair, heaviness, or depression. We might wonder, “is this all that life has to offer?” Here, we must remember that contraction may have once helped you to survive difficult life events. While we might retreat into our shell like the tortoise who seeks self-preservation, we are not meant to live only in contraction.
I encourage you to recognize you own rhythm of expansion and contraction, knowing that this is one of the most basic patterns in all of life. It is found in the bird who opens her heart by puffing up her chest, and, in complementary form, retracts her wings and tucks her beak.It is the flower who opens at dawn and closes with the setting sun. We experience moments of freedom and constriction, we have the capacity for play and can become trapped by our own rigidity. We might prefer one or the other but, in truth, neither state defines us.
Moreover, as we go deeply into contraction, we discover the paradox…that deep inside the narrowed world lies the seeds of expansion. And at the upper limits of our joy is the natural inclination to come back home. We can discover our primal existence in both forms. We discover a luminous courageous Self that holds compassion for our pain and dances in the ecstasy of life itself.
Practice at Home
Within somatic transpersonal psychology we explore dreams, stories, myths, and symbols as ways to access a sense of meaning. My invitation to you is to explore your somatic experience of expansion and contraction related to a dream image or an event from your life. The intention is to bring light into places of constriction by offering our attention to uncomfortable sensations or emotions. And, perhaps to experience the subsequent new embodied experience of release, relaxation, or peace. Find your internal pace and rhythm, knowing that you are in sync with the breath of the universe.
I invite you to spiral inward so that you hear your own voice. Just like the child sent into the woods, bring a light with you into the darkness. As you enter the wilderness of your inner world, leave behind a trail of bread crumbs so that you can find your way back home. Now, I invite you to spiral out in order to bring your gifts to the world. This is an opportunity to discover how your unique thread fits into the fabric of all life. Remember…you are needed.
We all need to feel connected to something bigger than us. And, we all have a unique path to arrive at such an experience. Only you hold the keys to your truth.
About Dr. Arielle Schwartz
Dr. Arielle Schwartz is a licensed clinical psychologist, wife, and mother in Boulder, CO. She offers trainings for therapists, maintains a private practice, and has passions for the outdoors, yoga, and writing. Dr. Schwartz is the author of The Complex PTSD Workbook: A Mind-Body Approach to Regaining Emotional Control and Becoming Whole (Althea press, 2016) and co-author of EMDR Therapy and Somatic Psychology: Interventions to Enhance Embodiment in Trauma Treatment (Norton, 2018). She is the developer of Resilience-Informed Therapy which applies research on trauma recovery to form a strength-based, trauma treatment model that includes Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), somatic (body-centered) psychology and time-tested relational psychotherapy. Like Dr. Arielle Schwartz on Facebook, follow her on Linkedin and sign up for email updates to stay up to date with all her posts.