When we attempt to force change we may find ourselves on a long and torturous path, feeling more distraught, agitated and disappointed. Yes, desire is an important part of our lives. It actually makes a life happen leading to experiences, careers, and relationships. Life lessons come out of the fruition of those desires. Part of those lessons are days when contentment, ease or even tolerance in the moment is elusive. We want to feel or possess something we don’t feel or have, and we want to push away what’s actually happening.

Psychospiritual traditions talk about this human phenomenon. In Gestalt Therapy, the theory of change is known as ‘the paradoxical theory of change’ (Beisser, 1970). It says that change occurs only when one accepts fully who she is and what she is aware of in this moment. Nothing can move or change on an inner level when grasping at what is not and pushing away  ‘what is’. Gestalt has a strong root in Zen Buddhism.

In my therapy room and in my personal experience, life often asks me to stay in perceived states of discomfort. What I have learned is that in grief, loss, separation, relationship problems, and sometimes physical pain, my primary task is to ‘bear witness’. Other names for this is ‘deep listening’ or ‘pure listening’. The therapist stays open in the mind and heart, and creates enough space for the struggling person to feel themselves held. If we as helpers fall into advice, education, cheer-leading, distraction, and soothing techniques prematurely the ‘sufferer’ will not feel the impact and the nuance of their own experience.

In our culture, the tendency is to scramble away from pain or physical discomfort as soon as possible. We don’t tend toward exploration and curiosity. And yet, this exploration, this ‘being with’ is our point of growth, maturation and even transformation.

When we have assistance in staying with a feeling that is messy, inconvenient or unwanted, we are exactly where we need to be. Change will come naturally. We notice how thoughts and feelings move and dissolve, phenomena in a vast context of pure awareness. I’ve often thought that Gestalt Therapy can be a lot like assisted meditation. We do a lot of noticing without judgement or interpretation. We explore the ‘how’ of behavior rather than intellectualizing with ‘why’.  We create ‘safe risks’, experiments in new behavior. This is exactly how growth and change happen, organically in a nurturing environment.

The next time you feel agitated, or uncomfortable, see if you can just sink in a bit deeper, and take some conscious inhales and exhales, settling into whatever this is, feeling into the body sensations.  You can support yourself with a hand over your heart, and the other hand over your low belly. Maybe you can watch the story your mind is telling about all this, your habits of thought and autobiography. Notice how you label, judge and formulate a getaway plan. If you can stay, even a little longer, see what happens. Does the feeling dissolve or come and go in waves? Get curious. The practice of listening with curiosity and compassion, without force or conceptual structures, is in fact the way of deep change.

There is this juncture in listening, where most habits and compulsive behaviors rush in, and if acted upon, feelings are once again squashed. If we don’t allow feelings, impulses, thoughts, and sensations to ripen, bloom, and dissolve, we get lost in a sea of addiction, impulse and distraction, and never feel natural satisfaction.

It takes courage and discipline to work with yourself in this way, to really be in your experience. It helps to have a guide. When you begin to build a repertoire of awareness and non-resistance in regard to your inner landscape and responses, you will get a glimpse of what true contentment feels like, and you will want to return. Start by saying “Yes! I will be present to this experience.” When you experiment with observation and curiosity, notice how change arises on its own.









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