Note: This was originally written as a series of articles as part of Sam's Thought of the Week.
IntroductionWorking with a therapist or facilitator on a weekly basis is often an important step in growth and healing. The rate and completeness of healing in primal integration is a function of many things - therapist ability, therapist/client fit, client commitment, degree of damage, and support. One of the most overlooked factors is homework.
Homework that is suggested by the therapist and selected by the client signifies a responsibility for growth not encouraged by the top-down, authoritarian healing methods offered by big medicine and big religion. It places responsibility where it belongs - in the person who wants to get well - with the therapist/facilitator acting as an assistant and support.
In living and healing, it's common knowledge that the body needs a regular daily influx of food, water, medicine, or vitamins. Taking a dose of antibiotics once or twice a month won't help much. So it is with primal integration.
Think of it mathematically. If you go to your therapist for an hour and a half session once a week for a year, that's 78 hours of healing focus. If you do therapeutic homework for an hour each day between weekly sessions, that's an additional 313 hours. That's four times as much healing attention. To be conservative, let's say that the homework, since you're working on your own, is only half as effective as your therapist-facilitated sessions. It would still be the equivalent of two years of extra therapy - for free!
It's a question of how much you matter to yourself. Do you think you deserve to feel better and have a more fulfilling life? Do you think your health and happiness is more important than all the other things you fill your waking hours with? In North America, the average amount of time spent watching TV is four hours every day! Do you matter enough to take some of that time to help yourself? If not, what does that mean?
Resistance to self-direction, for whatever good reason, can delay the rate of healing. Usually, behind such resistance is a deep-rooted feeling from childhood that "It's too hard. I'm confused. I want someone to take care of me." We want Mom to do it. We want the doctor to do it. Homework sounds too much like school. These are important feelings to explore, but allowing them to control the situation will only interfere with the adult quest of healing.
Doing work on your own between weekly sessions can significantly advance your healing process. It's your life and your money. Why not give yourself the best?
So what is this homework? Depending on the individual, it can include meditation, journaling, reading, expressive arts, exercise, diet adjustment, water intake adjustment, rest and relaxation, sleep adjustment, attentive movement (yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong), relationship adjustment, being in nature, laughing, giving and receiving affection, and reducing life stresses. The right program can be developed by you and your therapist to meet your needs.
In the following weeks, I intend to touch on some of these "homework assignments." Don't worry. There's no exam.
Affection / Diet Adjustment / Expression / Rest
JournalingLast week I wrote about the practical aspects of directing your own process between formal therapy sessions. Homework can be beneficial to your healing process - when and if it feels right for you.
From my own experience and the recommendation of other primal veterans, the first homework I like to suggest is journaling. Writing down thoughts and feelings is a very simple and effective way to develop clarity and nurture integration.
Thinking often creates isolated "loops" that leave our issues unclear. In contrast, when we speak with a non-judgmental listener, our thoughts and feelings come "out of hiding" and can often take on greater clarity. When we write in a journal, a similar effect is created, and has the added advantage of being something tangible that we can access again and again.
Some people consider journaling to be too "heady." They just want to primal and let their body make the connections. Fortunately, our heads are a part of our body, a part of our whole selves. The upper cortex, or thinking brain, is an essential part of who we are, and we would not be able to function without it. Healing is about allowing a balance to be restored, not continuing a denial or oppression of thinking.
To feel deeply, we have to relax and let our attention move from the thinking brain to the body and sensation. The depth of this shift in consciousness varies in degrees. If, for instance, we "drop" into feelings and memories imprinted at a very early age, the shift of consciousness is profound. When we come "back" to normal adult consciousness, it is not unlike waking up from a dream that must be written down before it fades from recall. It is therefore highly recommended that primal experiences be recorded in your journal as soon as possible.
For full integration, a typical primal takes the following path through the different levels of the brain and body:
1) Present Problem - a present-day problem is intercepted and stated by the thinking brain
2) Present Feeling - the feelings of that problem are focused upon in the body and given expression by the feeling brain centers
3) Descent - feeling "deepens" and leads to a descent into the traumatic origins in the visceral and feeling brain centers and body
4) Expression - the traumatic sensations and feelings rise from those regions into adult consciousness (the thinking brain)
5) Insight - as the past-imprinted root trauma connects with the present-day problem a flood of insights and "connections" occur
6) Awareness - regained organic connections result in a new awareness and feeling of clarity
All parts of the experience are equally important. Part number five, Insight, is more likely to solidify in the bodymind with the assistance of discussion and writing. Talking and writing imprints the experience into the upper brain because words and symbols are one of the favourite formations of that organ. Every time we write or read our entries, the imprint of the new experience is reinforced into our awareness.
I recommend that you write down a synopsis of every session as soon as possible after the session. When I was seeing a therapist regularly, I would often find a nice place to sit and write before I went home from a session.
I prefer journals with blank pages so that there are no restrictions on my expression. I can write at different sizes and angles, scribble doodles and draw pictures. Go to a bookstore, stationery, or art store and find a journal that feels good in your hands, opens easily, and will sit comfortably as you write.
You can write in your journal every day if you wish, but generally a few times a week will capture what you are working through. Consider this a "feeling journal," and besides session work, focus on feelings, feeling issues, insights, dreams, and life problems.
Some of us are very self-critical and self-conscious about expression and writing. Remember, there are no right and wrongs. No one is marking this. Your handwriting doesn't have to be neat. No need to fuss over spelling, grammar and sentence structure. Point form and phrases are fine. Allow yourself to write as if you were talking to yourself. Think on the page.
Reread your journal regularly, and feel free to use it as a reference for session work. Many of my clients read from their journals to refresh themselves and inform me of their process between sessions.
Do yourself a favour. Keep a journal.
Affection / Diet Adjustment / Expression / Rest
MeditationThis week I want to introduce another classic, self-directed means of augmenting the process of growth and healing.
Meditation can be a confusing subject because it is a word that indicates different things in different cultures and traditions. At one extreme, it means to think deeply on a subject, and at the other, it means to not think at all! To me, the word meditation means "attention."
The root of the word "attention" is "attend" - to be present, to be here. Its Latin roots are "tendere" (to stretch) and "at" (to) - that is, "to stretch to" or "to attach to," like a tendon connecting a bone to muscle. To be alive is to attend to the sensations of life. If the sensations in our mouth are attended to, we fully taste the pie. If the pain in our foot is attended to, our leg muscles lift it off the sharp rock.
Depending on circumstances, attention can be simple and whole, or complex and chaotic. If, for instance, attention is bouncing between daydreams, thoughts, TV images, computer programs, recorded music, magazine photos, printed words, and social conversation, it may not be with our body and feelings. Due to regular neglect and abuse in childhood, we often develop distracted attention as a way of coping with the pain of our lives and feelings.
Life is attention. Many of us have become "out of touch" with our lives and suffer because of it. Meditation, as a practice of attention, can help. Some of the benefits of meditation are to allow our attention to:
simplify and settle
focus and become aware of our condition
notice our pain, so that we can remove the cause or feel and release it
focus away from pain in order to experience relief
recognize our internally created thinking, both positive and negative, for just the thoughts they are
feel the sensations of life directly, rather than through the distorted "lens" of internal traumatic imprints
Meditation can allow us to open up and focus our attention on painful feelings to release them, as well as focus our attention away from painful feelings to ground and shield ourselves. It can also assist us by focusing on the real, positive, nurturing elements in present-day life.
I also find meditation far safer and more effective than the "cognitive behavioural" approaches which are very "in" right now. Psychotherapists using these approaches direct you to adjust your thinking and behaviour patterns from negative to positive, according to the therapist's idea of what is "good for you." Meditation, on the other hand, is simply your own awareness, from which recognition and healing naturally flow. There's no external manipulation - it's like the body's immune system healing itself. And if you're looking for credentials and reliability, meditation can't be beat. Cognitive behavioural psychotherapy has only been around for a few decades. Meditation has a successful track record that is as old as humanity itself.
Another great thing about meditation is that it's something you can do every day, for free, and without the direct supervision of a therapist. Even though it is a gentle approach, do keep in mind that focused meditation may allow unresolved pain to rise into consciousness. Caution and moderation are always recommended.
If you feel that you need instruction from a "meditation expert," be aware that the simple, stripped down version I recommend may not be what other instructors suggest. Many insist on the use of mantras ("holy" phrases), imagery, and submission to a certain belief system. As far as I'm concerned, attention and healing are natural to the organism and do not require diversions and complexity. Simple is best.
The introductory method I recommend is outlined at
Read the general section "Still Attention." Under the heading "Various Forms - Focused to Unfocused," follow the instructions for "Counting the Breath." Eventually you can move on to other forms if you wish.
As an adjunct to primal integration work with a therapist, I suggest sitting in meditation no less than 15 minutes at a time, and if possible, at least once a day. And be sure to write the experiences in your journal!
Affection / Diet Adjustment / Expression / Rest
ReadingReading primal-related material can help you know your process. Knowing your process can help in many different ways:
you are less likely to be manipulated into methods that do not suit your nature
you are more likely to direct your process, and allow faster, more significant change
you are more likely to integrate depth emotional experiences (primals) into your whole bodymind system
you are more likely to understand and respect yourself - your issues and your shields
you are more likely to develop an awareness of the embedded belief systems, or myths, that affect your healing process
you are more likely to develop a realistic mythic system, or "map," that will stand as a guide through times of confusion and overwhelming emotional change
Those Wily Belief Systems
Most of us are driven to growth and healing by problems and pain, not because we question our belief systems. When we walk into session, however, we bring our entire belief system with us - a system that is often both a reflection, and a cause, of the problem.
Belief systems are not just ideas we pick and choose like cards. In fact our ideas, and the actions we take based on those ideas, come out of neurophysiologic (bodymind) patterning molded by the pressures of our development. For example, extremely conservative thinkers don't just choose their ideas - their stringent stance (physically and ideologically) emanates from a stringent bodymind, molded by an overly stringent/neglectful childhood.
"Myth" is a word used eloquently by Joseph Campbell to describe these all-encompassing belief systems, or worldviews. Myths are more than ideas - they are the way we perceive the world. Myths attempt to indicate the way things are, and the way things work - including ourselves. Religious and spiritual beliefs, scientific views of the universe and medicine, political platforms and governmental systems - these are all myths. Unfortunately, most of them describe life in divisive terms - good/evil, matter/energy, brain/body, feeling/thinking, liberal/conservative, should and shouldn't, right and wrong. These myths present views that split up the wholeness of reality - the essential unity and interconnectedness of things. They come from, and lead to, a sense of being divided and separate. This is the emotional illness of our times.
It is important to know that we have been infected with divisive mythologies and we bring them into our growth work. They are extremely resistant to change. Just doing deep feeling work and letting emotions flow won't always dislodge all these bodymind patterns. And, as a part of our defense structure, they will often interrupt our process just as we are about to make a significant breakthrough. When big feelings start to come to the surface, often people run away to the "protection" of their familiar worldview - and a band-aid solution to the problem.
Reading relevant material can be a big help with this. Instead of blindly going along with the "expertise" and "superior methods" of the priest, teacher, therapist, doctor, or politician, you can seek the truth and direction for yourself, both in your feeling work and in print.
Primal purists believe that primaling alone will heal, and that reading is an intellectual distraction. Although reading can become a distraction from feeling, one of the things that "Primal Integration" means to me is an integration of the feelings and the intellect, the body and the brain. To go from exclusive thinking to exclusive feeling is just another divisive swing of the pendulum.
Picking through the Minefield
Unfortunately, there are a million books that shout "my way is right!" What do you believe?
Start with the essential reality. You are you. Your life is your life, not somebody else's. Nobody knows what it's like to be you better than you. You may be thinking, "But I don't know, I'm confused." That's right. That's what you are right now - confused. And nobody knows what that's like better than you. So right away you can exercise caution toward authors and books that insist they absolutely know what's best for you, or that you should follow their way. As an author, I may suggest things that have worked for me, but I firmly stand by your right to discover what is true and right for yourself.
Another caution: beware of systems that do not accept you as you are, that judge, criticize, or present an ideal image of what you should be like - even if they do so in an apparently caring, expert, or "holy" way. Living things grow and change from the inside outward at their own pace if they are not manipulated, abused, or denied. You are a living thing.
Psychotherapy and self-help books are an especially challenging minefield of advice on how to "get well quick." Authors with letters after their names often try to convince us to accept their methods and theories as facts "we now know." The assumption is that they, because of their expertise and pages of "findings" and scientific studies, know something you don't. They are saying, "You don't need to question this. You can't trust your own experience. I have a Ph.D. and you don't. Believe me because I say so." But scientists and doctors and professors are just people like you and me - with the same addictions, health issues, and personal problems as everyone else. Ask yourself - if the scientific method is so reliable, how can all these authors with opposing methods manage to find hard research to back each of their conclusions? The infallibility of science and credentials is just another lie we were brought up to believe. Don't fall for it. Sift through the information. Find out for yourself.
I find that most therapeutic approaches are "technique heavy," defined by a righteous attachment to method. In natural growth there are no set techniques - just humans being what they are. If a client feels stuck, there are times when I may suggest certain methods for allowing feelings to find their way. At these times, I borrow techniques from whatever school of therapy or growth will fit the situation. So beware of methods that insist that this or that way works best all the time. There is only one way that works all the time - your way.
A Place to Start
Besides my Primalworks writings, the Suggested Reading on this site is a good place to start. The first books on the list tend to be limited to the psychological theory and practice of primal therapy, which, though important, is only one aspect of growth and healing. Primal theory is an elusive animal, and although Arthur Janov has done an excellent job at proposing the essentials, his interpretation still carries the scent of control and authority. Alexander, Jenson, Stettbacher, and Stone all present their own theoretical variations and style.
The other books on the site offer a wide perspective on personal growth and discovery. They are suggested for their power to challenge restrictive myths and worldviews.
It can also be helpful to go "link hunting" from my site, and read articles on other related sites that catch your interest. Some of them will be confusing and contradictory. Others may speak directly to your own experience.
When reading, rather than just accepting the information, see if it resonates with your own experience or intuition. Your truth is in every cell, so it's not a question of learning something new. It's more like remembering what you already know.
Take your time. There's no rush. Reading does not need to become another "should." Mull over the topics. Test the suggested theories against life. Talk about them to your therapist and to friends who are receptive. Let the parts that fit settle in. Gradually, with session work and reading, your bodymind will naturally adjust to a worldview that is in harmony with the growth process.
In my own process, I had read the theory for years before the deepest part of my growth work began. Due to this reading, I always had a sense of where I was going and how to be a director/partner with myself and my mentors. Even in the darkest moments, in those tangled jungles of feeling, I could pull out my tattered "map," have a look, and allow myself to take another step.
Sit back, and open up a good book.
Affection / Diet Adjustment / Expression / Rest
MovementWhen we consciously enter therapy and growth, many of us are more deeply divided inside than we know. This inner division affects our perception so that we see and think of things in divisive, separated ways. We will often think of our problems as just emotional, just behavioural, just physical, or just spiritual. We have a hard time seeing a problem as a holistic issue that bridges all these categories.
When is an emotional issue not physical? Or a physical issue not emotional? Any disjointedness in the system will affect all parts, because the parts are never really separate.
This is where movement comes in.
Animals, by definition, are moving, or animated things. Humans are animals. That is what makes us different than plants. In fact, if we are not allowed to be what we are and if we don't move and express ourselves, we get ill - emotionally and physically.
Look at what our lives have become. We sit in front of the TV; we sit and watch sports and concerts; we sit and stare at the computer; we sit in cars; we sit at school; we sit at work. We have houses full of labour-saving devices that have one purpose - to keep us from moving.
Movement allows all the systems of the body to flow and circulate. Oxygen, water, and nutrients flow in and toxins flow out. Muscles flex, tension is relieved - and body feelings start to wake up.
Typical exercise, however, can cause further problems. When muscles are tense, they are chronically contracted, or pulled tighter and shorter. If we exercise absent-mindedly and stretch them too suddenly, they pull and tear, causing them to contract even more to protect against further injury.
So how do we approach movement in a caring way? Here are a few suggestions:
1) Horizontal movement. When wild animals and most children wake up, they leisurely squirm around and stretch. They don't follow any pre-conceived plan. They follow their feelings.
Any time of day that is convenient, find a spot on a carpeted floor or a mat and lie down on your back. Gently let yourself move the way your body wants to. You may find yourself twisting and turning through many unusual poses. Let yourself breathe and make sounds if it feels correct. There is no right or wrong way to do this, as long as you don't hurt yourself. Be careful not to push yourself and go for the "big stretch," or the "big crack" spinal adjustment. You may pull something if you do. Pay close attention to the stretch of the muscles and be gentle with them. As you move they will warm up and lengthen as much as they can.
2) Standing movement. Stand with feet comfortably apart, knees slightly bent. Keep your eyes relaxed or closed if you wish. Now let your torso and arms sway and move however they please. You can bend your knees, but be careful not to go too deep if it will hurt. Let yourself breathe fully and let sounds happen if they want to. Gentle, repetitive movements are fine. I often have an urge to go through a variety of undulating movements that remind me of moving plants and animals. See if you can allow yourself freedom from self-judgment or trying to look graceful and "creative." In fact, your body may want to move in very strange ways! Let it if you can.
3) Stepping movement. Find a spot with enough space to move around. Let yourself gently take steps and move in whatever patterns your body needs. You may shake, shiver, wobble, dip, flail, twitch, hop, dance - whatever. Please keep in mind to follow the inner sensations - the tension that wants to be shaken out, the stiffness that wants to stretch, the compelling urge do something childlike and goofy. It can be both profound and hilarious. Be in your body if you can, and be careful not to pull muscles or hurt your joints.
4) Walking. Walking is the most human activity of them all. Without any specific exercise goals, get out and walk - every second day, or as much as your body and time restraints can allow. Dress appropriate to the weather, wear supportive shoes, and keep your destinations safe. Walking in nature around non-neurotic living things like grasses, trees, and birds can be quite effective in awakening your own healing awareness. You can also augment the healing potential of the walking by using meditative attention.
5) Sports, exercise, and dance. These common forms of movement are fine as long as you don't push your body to injury. I saw a hilarious "demotivational" poster recently of a boxer being socked in the head, with a caption that stated "Pain isn't always gain." How true. Be careful that your body doesn't become abused by some neurotic drive.
6) Formal meditative movement. Formal practices such as Tai Chi, Yoga, and Chi Kung are also a safe way to get moving.
7) Sit less, move more. Do what you can to find moving alternatives to all your seated habits - watching TV, sitting for hours in the same position at work, or driving down the block to the store.
8) Increase water intake. You are a river. A moving system needs water to keep things flushing through.
When you are moving, try to allow your attention to stay right with the muscles, the skin, the joints, the organs, and the bones. Let your attention rest right there and let yourself be fascinated with the sensations. Be interested in yourself.
I suggest no music because we often use music as a distraction. If you can't manage that, set the volume very low. When we exercise with music in our ears, we leave our body alone - like a parent ignoring a child. If we are distracted, and the body is being pushed to injury, we aren't "there" to notice it.
Be aware of your feelings. The body holds memories of emotional pain. When we focus on the body, these traumas can come up in waves of sadness, fear, anger, or a host of other disturbing feelings. One of the reasons movement is helpful to the healing process is that these blockages will rise for resolution. This is only a problem if we do not have the support or assistance necessary to deal with this in a healthy way.
If feelings become overwhelming, stop what you're doing and find ways to get proper support or attempt to soothe and distract yourself in non self-destructive ways.
Respect your muscles. They are groups of long cells that are attached to different parts of your bones. When we stretch a muscle, the cell fibres can only lengthen so far before they start to tear and become damaged. They will lengthen more as they move and warm up. Beware of jerky, bouncy, sudden movements. These can cause sudden pulls and damage.
Often people stretch their muscles too far by pushing themselves according to a mental ideal. This can happen in yoga, for example, if we try to push to a certain pose that we or the instructor feel we "should" complete. This is mental tyranny. If you go into a stretch and your attention is on the feeling in the muscles, you will notice the muscles' limits. Go as far as you can and stop. Ease up when your muscles want to ease up. Always respect those little cells - they are you. If you do this regularly, with self-respect and without the self-flagellation of competitive ideals, your muscles will lengthen as far as they will naturally allow.
Animals, by definition, move when they are alive. They sit motionless when they are dead.
We can go either way.
Affection / Diet Adjustment / Expression / Rest
AffectionHumans are social animals. This isn't a matter of choice, it's a matter of natural design. We don't happen to "prefer" being social, as if we could choose one way of living over another, we must be social in order to function properly.
Science, in its usual rediscovery of the wheel, has recently shown that humans require close contact to regulate their chemistry and body rhythms. This happens most obviously in the autonomic and limbic brain systems rather than the upper cortex or "thinking" brain. These areas are more involved in feeling, sensing and vital functions.
As an example, the developing brain of a baby will set all of its myriad hormonal and neurochemical set-points and patterns according to the patterns of its mother - simply by being in close loving contact with her body. When a mother and child sleep together, the baby's heart rate and breathing patterns will fall into a rhythm aligned with the mother. Another example is that women who live together often develop a common menstruation cycle.
Without going into further detail, the truth that aboriginal people have always instinctively known is that we need each other to be healthy and happy - emotionally, spiritually, and physically.
We don't just need to be close, however, we need to be loving. That is, we need to touch each other regularly - with kindness, caring, respect, appreciation, acceptance, and non-judgment. To do otherwise is simply neglect or abuse. Unfortunately, almost all children of civilized parents have been dragged through neurotic childrearing practices that perpetrate this neglect or abuse.
This question is not open to choices based on cultural preference or style. It's a matter of physical reality. If children do not grow with regular loving affection, their brains become stunted and damaged. Brain cells actually wither and die. We speak of emotional pain as if it's something ethereal or non-physical. No. Emotional pain is the feeling of the body being damaged and hurting in ways we can't see. In children, this pain indicates that whole neurochemical and hormonal systems are being forced out of order. The similar rise in day-care attendance and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is no coincidence. Millions of children are now dependent on drugs (Ritalin, etc.), when a very simple need - the regular affection of their mothers from birth onward - could have permanently balanced their systems for life.
Affection isn't just a nice thing. It's absolutely essential. It isn't dessert - it's the main course. Receive it as a child and we will feel confident, healthy, and at ease with ourselves and the world. Miss out, and we get the mess we're in.
At this time of the year, most cultures with a Christian history celebrate Christmas. It is traditionally a time to gather with family and loved ones. It is also a time in civilized history when families are most fragmented - by physical and emotional distance. With our biologic needs for affection and close personal connection, is it really such a surprise that it is also a time when suicide and depression rise dramatically? I don't think so. We may distract ourselves during the rest of the year with TV, entertainment, shopping, work, busyness, coffee, cigarettes, alcohol, and prescriptions, but it's hard to hide from our isolated suffering when Christmas Day is staring us in the face.
I believe that much of our suffering comes from a lack of safe affection when we were growing. And, to tell you the truth, our medical and therapy bills would plummet if we could just find a way, even as adults, to be held safely. It's not that affection can turn back the clock and reverse all the damage, but affection in a safe environment will allow our natures to soak up the nurturing we need, and release the pain of our abuse and neglect. Consistently, over time, this will assist in regaining a significant degree of systemic balance.
Although many of us who are damaged need special assistance to complete our healing, affection - both given and received - can play a major part in the process. It is essential, however, that any affection must occur within a trusting situation. Ideally it must be regular, reliable, and gentle, given and received with kindness, caring, respect, appreciation, acceptance, and non-judgment. It cannot be predatory or in any way a violation of physical and emotional boundaries. Although there is nothing wrong with sex, healing affection is at the other end of the spectrum, and must be non-sexual in order to feel safe, and be effective. To open yourself to touch that is invasive may only create further damage and trauma. Be careful and don't trust too soon.
When we are isolated, it is hard to find safe relationships where affection can be shared. But knowing how important it is may influence you to seek it out more intently. Do what you can, and be gentle with yourself, if in this cold, scared world, it doesn't come easily.
If you have some relatively close relationships, check to see if the affection level can be adjusted to better suit your needs. There doesn't have to be talk or intense eye-to-eye contact. Just leaning on someone as you read a book will make a difference. Your cells and theirs will be communicating as they touch whether your thinking brain is involved or not!
Watch other wild, social animals. They are frequently in contact with each other - touching, rubbing, smelling, cleaning, leaning, playing, resting, and sleeping. As much as you can, follow their lead. In my own primal circle, we often lie around in a gang, which we call a "puppy pile." It's fun and it feels great.
Although I often feel sad for the way we separate young domesticated animals from their families, they have a place in our society. So don't underestimate the value of dogs, cats, and other domestic pets in their ability to give and receive affection in very pure and significant ways.
Contrary to the monkish ideal we so often follow, I firmly believe that we cannot fully heal in isolation. It's time to leave the cave and get a hug.
Affection / Diet Adjustment / Expression / Rest
Diet AdjustmentThis is an enormous subject, but an important one. To heal, the whole person must be attended to. It is counterproductive to see a psychotherapist for one hour a week if, for the rest of the week, you are eating nutrient-empty food that is throwing your entire system out of balance - including your emotions. Although I do not believe that diet alone can heal our personal dysfunction, it certainly plays a large part.
The biggest problem is that our traditional, time-tested, earth-based diets are virtually forgotten, and we have become accustomed to foods offered and prepared by agribusiness and food marketers. There are thousands of books and magazine articles that claim to offer "the perfect" diet, each one "proven" by scientific studies - that contradict the scientific studies listed in all the others! Choosing food has become more confusing than choosing religion.
Whether it's high protein, low protein, high fibre, vegan, raw meat, blood type, high carbohydrate, low fat, or some other variation, most modern diet approaches claim that their method is right for everyone. Once again, it's just more dogma and manipulation by the "experts." Even though the human body has certain basic needs and limitations, each one of us will find a moderate dietary balance that suits our unique requirements. Unfortunately, I have not found many authors with a basic, moderate approach to diet, so at the end of this article I only recommend a few books on the subject.
If you feel that your diet is not ideal, be careful not to change it too rapidly. It may cause more stress. Only make changes that seem reasonable and manageable. Also remember that by changing your "comfort food" habits, you may allow an upsurge of primal pain.
I am not a nutritionist, but I have been very involved in the study and practice of diet since 1972. With the following introductory guide as a yardstick, you may be able to find similar, but more detailed information elsewhere.
A) Eat whole foods
The organism we call human is the result of millions of years of development and real testing. The design and function of our cells and organs has been shaped by the action of living in a wild environment. The human body is built to work on foods that come from the earth in the forms in which they grow - whole foods. Wild humans didn't have machines to refine food, and our organs still don't have what it takes to deal with our modern, tampered menu.
Whole foods include whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, vegetables, fruits and free-range animal meats. Eat them as fresh and raw as you can, or with a minimum of cooking or baking (with the exception of the proper preparation of meat), because many nutrients can be lost during preparation and cooking.
B) Limit pre-cooked and prepared foods
Who knows where they've been! Pre-cooked foods are usually overcooked, which means much of the food value is lost. They are often full of an unnecessary amount of salt and a host of chemical additives. Read the labels carefully and be sure the ingredients are known foods. Ingredients are listed in order of amount, from the most to the least. Beware of excess sugar, and keep in mind that glucose, fructose, syrup, invert sugar, various glycols, etc. are forms of sugar. The producers are known to break down the types of sugars so that SUGAR doesn't appear at the top.
C) Limit salt (sodium)
Salt is a bonafide poison. It elevates blood pressure, and with prolonged use can cause a host of serious health disorders. There is usually enough sodium in our food and water to satisfy our nutritional needs, but we have been conditioned so that food appears dull without it. That usually changes over time if we give it up. Try flavouring food in other ways. Canned goods often contain salt and sodium in very high amounts.
D) Limit meat and animal products
Human beings are omnivores. For our entire history, wild human animals have eaten plants and animals. The variations and amounts of each depended on habitat and the seasons. In colder climates where plant food was hard to obtain in winter, our native peoples ate more meat. In tropical areas, they ate more fruit.
Previous to the industrial age, wild meat was as clean as the global environment itself. Now most meat is contaminated with industrial poisons in degrees greater than the contamination of water. When an animal drinks, eats and breathes, its body acts as a filter that gathers and collects the toxins. The toxin levels in an animal's flesh is often hundreds of times greater than the toxin levels in the water it drinks, the plants it eats, and the air it breathes. If you ate a Great Lakes fish, you would swallow the same amount of toxins as if you drank 100 times the fish's weight in untreated lake water. So although I believe that eating meat is a natural human habit, it is now wise to limit or avoid.
Another reason I'm unattracted to meat is that most of it is from enslaved, domesticated animals. Their bodies are neither happy nor vibrant. They're pumped full of antibiotics and hormones to fight the illnesses that their squalid living conditions cause. Their bodies simply aren't healthy.
If you do eat animals, eat wild, free-range, drug-free, or "organic" meat from animals in less polluted environments. Although the ocean is becoming increasingly more polluted, deep-ocean fish are relatively safe.
E) Eat a balanced diet
Use common sense and body wisdom to develop a balanced diet of proteins, carbohydrates, fats/oils, and minerals. Proteins are the molecules that body cells are made of - the actual "building blocks" of DNA. They have to be available for new cells to be created. Carbohydrates and complex sugars are sunlight in "solid" form. The active energy of the sun is released for our use when we digest carbohydrates. Fats and oils are sunlight stored in a non-water soluble form so that the flow of water through the organism won't "wash" them away. When you eat more than you need, the body stores the food value in the form of fat or oil. Minerals are essentially tiny particles of rocks! The body requires minerals for various purposes, such as cell re-building and other organic functions.
Eating whole foods is simple and effective because they are entire plant and animal bodies - full of a variety of useful nutrients. Eat a broad spectrum of whole foods and your body is immersed in a complete offering of items - all for its selection and use. On the other hand, if you eat refined and/or enriched food, you only get what the producers decide to leave in, add, or take out. Products made with white flour, for example (bread, donuts, pastries, etc.), have most of the whole wheat grain removed. If you eat these refined products, your body will be deprived.
So how do we learn to eat a balanced combination of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and oils? Check out solid and sensible whole foods or vegetarian cookery. Talk to other people who eat this way. Swap recipes. Join a food club or co-op. Pay attention to how your body feels as you try out different foods. Read the books listed at the end of the article, and keep searching until you find a way that fits.
If you switch to a totally vegetarian diet, without eggs and dairy, you have to be careful about complete protein. To build the DNA strand in a cell, all the necessary proteins have to be present. Animal flesh, being entire body cells with DNA strands, has all of these elements. That is why it's called a complete protein. Grain, beans, seeds, and nuts all have proteins, but in different combinations. To receive complete protein from these sources, you have to eat enough of each type, daily, to give your body the entire protein spectrum. Grains and beans are a classic complete vegetable protein combination. It was no accident that Native Americans ate corn (grain) and beans. With the addition of seeds and nuts, a vegetarian diet can be healthy and safe.
F) Avoid refined sugars
Sugars are simple carbohydrates and are very quickly transformed by digestion into glucose. Glucose moves rapidly through the bloodstream and is transformed into energy for cellular activity. The body gets a "quick hit" that immediately fades. Grains, which are complex carbohydrates, take longer to assimilate, resulting in a steadier supply of glucose over a longer period of time. It's a more balanced way to feed your body, and it avoids the "sugar high" and resulting hypoglycemia. If you do eat sugars, choose the unrefined ones - unpasteurized honey or maple syrup - and use sparingly.
G) Buy or grow your own organic food
"Organic" ideally means grown without pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, or chemical fertilizers in soil that is organically nutrient-rich. A vegetable is the Earth. The soil is "woven," with the aid of water and sunlight, into a new shape - a plant. It is only as good as the dirt it is made of. To eat non-organic vegetables is to eat chemicals.
It's not easy to find good organic produce, and it is usually more expensive. When making your decision, be sure to compare the cost of buying organic against the cost of future illness.
H) Use vitamins carefully
Due to the depletion of topsoil nutrients by the aggressive tactics of agribusiness, we are in danger of becoming vitamin and mineral starved. Some experts believe that vitamin supplements are a modern necessity, but I personally don't want to be dependent on a shelf full of pill bottles made by supplement corporations. There are times when it is advisable to take supplements as part of a nutritional therapy program, but I believe that eating a balanced diet of organic produce is sufficient once optimum health is reached.
I sometimes use a reliable multivitamin and vitamin C when I feel run down, or start to get a cold. More information on basic vitamins and Vitamin C is readily available.
I) Use cold-pressed oils
Oils are a complex topic. Oils and fats that go solid at room temperature (butter, lard, shortening) are often hard to digest, and being animal fats, carry substantial toxins. If, for baking etc., you need something of this sort, use organic butter from free-range cows. Clear oils like olive oil, sunflower, and safflower oils are unsaturated and easier to digest. If you buy olive oil, buy "extra-virgin," which is the first cold pressing. Heat extraction results in a loss of nutrients and a change in chemical composition that renders many oils indigestible and toxic.
J) Eat only natural organic peanut butter
This may seem overly specific, but peanut butter is a very popular item amongst health-conscious people. Peanuts are part of the peanut plant's root system, and act as effective filters. If they are grown in chemically treated soil with pesticides and fungicides, the peanuts soak up highly magnified amounts of toxins.
Most of us drink a great deal of liquid (soft drinks, tea, coffee, and milk) but not enough water. Increase your intake of water to about 6-8 glasses a day (about 6 small plastic bottles). Increased water intake can curb appetite and help balance weight. It also aids in everything cells do to restore and maintain health.
Drink room temperature water. Drinking hotter or colder liquid causes your body to lose energy in balancing the temperature change.
Avoid carbonated drinks. Our bodies do not need extra carbon dioxide.
Make sure you're drinking the purest possible water. Unfortunately, all water on Earth is now contaminated with some level of chemicals or toxins. City tap water is usually unsafe. The chlorine kills bacteria, but is a toxic chemical itself, and does not remove organic chemicals like PCBs and pesticides (pure poisons).
From my research, I have found that most serious bottled-water companies have a relatively safe product. Be cautious about distilled water. In the distilling process, some volatile chemicals evaporate and re-condense in more concentrated forms in the distilled water. Reverse osmosis, in a good working system, is very thorough, but like distilling, leaves no minerals.
Even if you have an artesian well, it could be contaminated. Make sure you test, not only for bacteria count, but for some of the most dangerous chemicals and heavy metals.
My own eating habits are based on careful selection from a wide range of dietary information coupled with years of trial and error. Although there may be some conflicting information in the following books, I find that they tend to be fairly balanced and not attached to any narrow "fad" diet program.
Eating Well For Optimum Health: The Essential guide to Food, Diet, and Nutrition
Andrew Weil, M.D.
2000, Knopf Books, NY
Prescription for Nutritional Healing: Second Edition
James F Balch, M.D., Phyllis A. Balch, C.N.C.
1997, Avery Publishing, NY
Prescription for Dietary Wellness
James F Balch, M.D., Phyllis A. Balch, C.N.C.
1998, Avery Publishing, NY
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Affection / Diet Adjustment / Expression / Rest
ExpressionChildren, as growing animals, have two essential requirements:
1) That the needs of their growing systems, from food to love, are met.
2) That their fragile systems are protected against outside violation while they grow.
When these requirements are not met, the organism is placed under stress and may sustain damage. Pain is the sign of this stress.
Every system, from a river to a child, is capable of accepting and releasing a certain volume of stress without damage. However, if the volume exceeds the natural ability of the system to release it, the excess will stay in the system, creating a potential for damage. In a delicate, new, developing human (a child), this is called a trauma (German for "pain").
A trauma, by definition, is energy not needed by the organism - energy that cannot pass through (be expressed) and remains lodged in the system.
Please note that a trauma is not the mass of the entire stressful event, but only the portion that the organism is unable to release. If a system can release the stress, it does not have to be stored, and it does not become a trauma.
Let's have fun with mathematics. I'll refer to the energy of any stressful event by its Rate of Volume (v). The Releasing Ability of a system to channel energy will be (r), and the actual stored Trauma will be (t). The following would then be an equation for Trauma:
v - r = t
For example, if the Rate of Volume is 100 units of energy, and the Releasing Ability is 60 units, the actual energy of the Trauma would be 40, not the 100 units of the original stressful event:
100v - 60 r = 40t
The Releasing Ability of any system changes throughout its development. In delicate systems, such as small streams, sprouting plants, saplings, new butterflies, and human babies, the Releasing Ability is low. It does not take much force to damage these systems. Big rivers, tall trees, and adult humans, on the other hand, can withstand much greater stress without incurring trauma and damage.
This explains, in a simple way, how traumas are created and, more importantly, that they are created by the system's inability to release. If a child is frightened by a loud noise, the noise will not necessarily result in trauma - unless the parents or caregivers stop the child from releasing the energy by suppressing the natural expression of emotion. In other words, serious traumas are created when parents stop children from crying, shaking, moving, yelling, or laughing. By doing this, the parents are decreasing the natural Releasing Ability of the child's system.
Let's say the loud noise counts for 100 on the scale, and the child's natural Releasing Ability is 100. If the child is frightened but allowed to have an emotional release, there will be no trauma:
100v - 100r = 0t
But take the same event and decrease the child's Releasing Ability ("Don't you cry, or I'll give you something to cry about!") and you might get this:
100v - 60r = 40t
Trauma. Pain. A system now carrying a load it wasn't meant to carry. We are carrying those loads now. You can feel them. They are the reason you're reading this.
Fortunately, organisms are quite resilient and have a multitude of ways to avoid damage and survive. When single-celled microorganisms (including our body cells) are invaded by toxic materials, they protect themselves by storing the toxins within the cell body in cellular "bubbles" called vacuoles. Then they release the toxic contents of the vacuole when they are in an environment where it is safe for them to do so.
That is what we do in Primal Integration - allow a safe environment in which to release the toxic, traumatic material you've been carrying all these years.
Releasing Ability is expression. Express means to "press out" ("ex" is Latin for "out"). If we can release toxic, stored traumatic feelings, we can regain our health. And if we can increase our ability to express, we will be more likely to remain healthy and resilient in the face of life's challenges. Since much of Primal Integration is about expressing emotion, the more we are able to be uninhibited and express ourselves, the more rapid and complete our growth will be.
It's a simple concept. Anything you do that is expressive in a safe way (to yourself and others) increases your Releasing Ability. Safety is key. Be sure to protect yourself from people who will criticize, judge, ridicule, or make fun of you. Only allow yourself fuller expression when you are on your own, or in the company of those who support you totally. You may also notice your own "inner critics" (possibly parental voices). Allow yourself as much freedom as you can.
Here are a few examples:
Laugh. Let yourself laugh as often and as loudly as you can. Belly laughing is tremendously healthy. Rent a funny movie, tell jokes, look at the funny side of life, and enjoy yourself.
Make noise. There are lots of socially acceptable opportunities for noisemaking, from concerts to sporting events. It adds to the fun, and it's healthy, too!
Sing, dance, paint... Any type of expressive art is valuable - painting, drawing, sculpture, dance, singing, theatre, crafts, etc. Unfortunately, much artistic expression is shackled by attitudes that expect "perfection." These are just other forms of judgment that you can avoid. Some simple forms of artistic expression are singing at the top of your lungs in the car, or dancing around in your room.
Play. Let yourself be childlike, free, and silly. Make whatever sounds and movements you wish. You may find that it's not so silly or childish after all - even older animals romp and play.
Have sex. This is a good opportunity, either alone or with a supportive partner, to let passionate feelings take over and move you to make uninhibited movements and sounds. Be as loud as you can allow yourself to be.
Get angry. Either alone or with a supportive person, let yourself grouch, complain, and get angry. You can get loud, but be careful not to frighten the neighbours or any children. Throw pillows, hit the couch, kick with your heels on the bed - whatever the feeling requires. Cars are great "yelling booths" if they are parked in a safe place. Be sure not to over-exert yourself, hurt yourself physically, or damage anyone or anything. In this exercise, do not get angry at people in their presence. This is only a way of expressing and venting - not an excuse to abuse others.
Cry. When you feel the need, let yourself cry as loudly and deeply as you can manage. Crying, when fully expressed, becomes deep sobbing and/or wailing. Listen to music and watch movies that move you to tears - even tears of joy. Crying heals pain by releasing energy and stress hormones in your tears. If you are with someone, make sure that they understand this and that they don't try to distract you, soothe you, or stop you from crying. That will only decrease your Releasing Ability - just like your parents did.
There are as many ways to be expressive as there are moments in the day. Try the suggestions above or find your own. Keep in mind, however, that as you increase the Releasing Ability of your system, traumatic material will rise for release. As you attempt to be expressive, you may encounter fear and resistance as well - from yourself and from others who are still uncomfortable with expression.
Remember to follow the example of the little amoeba and only release when you're in an environment that is safe for you. Primal Integration sessions are ideally the place where you can safely release the results of your homework.
Affection / Diet Adjustment / Expression / Rest
RestAt any age, the growth process is dependent on the strength of the system that is growing. A system that is deprived uses all available resources just for maintenance. It will have little, if any, left over for the arduous task of growing or healing. If a system is extremely deprived, it will not even be able to maintain itself, and will go into a state of decline, further illness, and eventual death.
There are many ways to strengthen an organic system, and one of the most effective is rest. In a society obsessed with doing, it's often what you don't do that "does" the most good.
Think of your system as a home bank account. You deposit money in the account and withdraw it to pay your living expenses. If the withdrawals don't exceed the deposits, you can get by. If you want to renovate your house, however, you'll need more money in your account.
With our bodies, we deposit energy in the form of food, water, information, and sensation, and then withdraw it in the form of activity. We can use too much energy if we work too hard, too long, and try to do too much. We can also burn up a great deal of energy through conflict and stressful relationships and situations. Most people in modern society suffer in these ways. We often spend far more from our accounts than we are taking in.
A transformative process of growth requires an "account" with a good sized balance. To increase "income" we need to have a healthy diet rich in nutrients and low in toxins. We need to take in helpful, accurate information about ourselves and the world. These elements are touched on in the "Homework" series as Diet Adjustment, Reading, Journaling, Meditation, and Affection.
We also need to be sure that the account is in a stable "bank." To do this in our growth process, we need to exercise and be physically strong, flexible, and resilient. These elements are touched on in the "Homework" series as Movement and Expression.
Equally important, we must limit unnecessary expenditures - plug the holes in the bucket. The awareness that comes from Reading, Journaling, and Meditation will help us recognize our stresses and excessive activity.
One of the most fundamental elements that benefits our "account" on all levels, from increasing income to limiting spending, are the ways that we get rest.
Sleep increases energy and strengthens the system. Increasing or improving your sleep will advance the healing process without you having to do a single thing.
It takes tremendous attention to hold our daytime world in order and do all the things we do. When this monumental effort wears us out, we lose focus, fall asleep, and our attention drifts through the world of dreams. We relax our attention and gather energy for the next day.
If you find sleep boring, or a waste of time, try focusing on your dreams. Give yourself time in the morning to write them down right after you wake up. With regular practice, you'll be surprised how interesting sleep can become.
Most people are under the impression that seven hours of sleep is enough. For most of us that just isn't true. Without coffee and an adrenaline-addicted lifestyle, we'd sleep eight to ten hours a day, including naps. Although this is ancient knowledge, modern experiments have shown that people who are allowed to sleep more feel stronger and more alert. The amount of sleep you'll need will depend on how exhausting your life is. The issue isn't to follow numbers, but to sleep as much as you have to and "power nap" when you get the urge.
If you seem to sleep excessively as an escape, or conversely, if you have trouble with insomnia, you may have to work on the roots of these issues in session. Pay attention to your sleeping conditions - your mattress, the surrounding noise, the habits of your partner. Change whatever you can to get a better healthier sleep.
Rest & Relaxation
Besides sleep, we need to take it easy. If we are busy and agitated, the "money" pours out of our account, and our attempts at growth work often "mysteriously" stall.
Find ways to get off the treadmill for a bit, hopefully every day. Take simple little holidays from the busyness of life. Find time to sit or take walks. Breathe deeply. Get comfortable and stretch out. See if you can even let yourself have a break from thinking for a few minutes. Enjoy what's around you. Taking breaks will give you a chance to tune in to your body and see how it's doing.
If it's hard to stop, or you notice a great deal of anxiety and guilt if you do, you may be a "do-aholic" - somebody who escapes inner pain by keeping busy. You may discover that breaks involving movement are more relaxing. In any case, this condition is a serious strain on your system and will need to be addressed in your growth work.
Stresses are like bottomless energy pits. Reducing stresses allows your system to rest and keep your "money" from going down the drain.
The first step is to recognize your stresses. One way is to write up a daily, weekly, and monthly list of everything you normally do. List the activities, habits, situations, and relationships that tie up or drain your energy. Make the list with the aid of a close friend who may see your entanglements more objectively.
It's not necessarily a case of removing all stresses, but of making adjustments. You may notice, for instance, that you can cut back slightly on the length of your email replies and phone conversations and save an entire hour out of your day. You may notice that you get stuck in the presence of people you don't like, but if you take charge and move on, you'll feel a tremendous relief.
If changing stressful habits is a stress, you may be using the conflict and drama as a way of distracting yourself from inner pain. You may have to work on these types of issues in session.
Rest is an essential way to manage your "energy account." By getting the rest you need, the natural process of growth and healing - supported by approaches such as Primal Integration - will be able to freely move forward.
Affection / Diet Adjustment / Expression / Rest
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