The type of therapy I practice (Gestalt) believes that we humans are always in our greater context. That we are never truly separate, instead we are woven within our webs of place, body, culture, time, season, family, environment, world, etc.
This doesn’t match how many people who are suffering actually feel: there is a sense of overwhelming aloneness, separateness, unbearable loneliness that comes with feeling less than, too trans, too queer, depressed, anxious, too weird, too much, sick, broken, hopeless, etc.
This is a tension of opposites. Or an absurdist paradox. Because it is true that we are alive on this Earth with around 7.7 billion other people right now. 7.7 billion! And yet, we are each within our own body, living our own life, thinking our thoughts and feeling our feelings. Our uniqueness is uniquely ours.
So when I sit with someone and I hear “I feel so alone”, I remember that this is a paradox, both full true and also not true at all. The polarity of making a statement that you truly believe, is that somewhere inside of you is the exact opposite of that statement.
I didn’t believe this the first many times I heard it. How can it be that no matter what I think I believe, I also believe the opposite?
But I make space for this within myself, that I don’t know what is actually going on. I can be witness to all that I am witness to, I can have curiosity, and I release my certainty.
So, sitting with someone who says “I feel so alone”, I both validate the truth of the feeling, and I use curiosity to explore the other pole, I ask, “How is it to be here with me and tell me that? How is it to be in this space? What else are you noticing right now? How do you feel your aloneness in your body? What or who helps you feel less alone? What stories do you read or movies you watch about loneliness? When do you feel most connected to yourself? Etc. I bring in the context, the truth that we are held, in every moment, in a life that is bigger, way bigger, than our singular pain.
And then when I sit with someone who tells me all about their context, all about the truth of the people and world around them. Where the focus of their joys and pains is all external, based on their relationships, controlling others, with intellectualized discussions of systems and concepts. I validate this truth, and then I use curiosity to explore the other side of the polarity. I ask “And what about you, what do you want? Can you feel your feet or your body? When was the last time you cried? What do you love about yourself? What emotions hang out with you and what emotions hide? What’s this all like for you? What would it be like if you cared for yourself like you do everyone else? Etc.
Buddhist monk, teacher, poet, writer, peace activist Thích Nhất Hạnh writes,
“Mind is a field
In which every kind of seed is sown.
This mind-field can also be called
“All the seeds”
Seeds of suffering and happiness,
Seeds of perceptions, names, and words.
Some seeds are innate,
Handed down by our ancestors.
Some were sown while we were still in the womb,
Others were sown when we were children.
Whether transmitted by family, friends,
Society, or education
All our seeds are, by nature,
Both individual and collective.
The quality of our life
Depends on the quality
Of the seeds
That lie deep in our consciousness.”
I really like the kindness of looking at thoughts/feelings as seeds in a field, that for all the reasons or randomness, got thrown there. So many times I hear the ways people are so hard on themselves for having certain thoughts. But in this perspective, our minds are filled with innumerable thoughts, thrown like small seeds into the fertile soil of our being. The seeds don’t necessarily come from us. Thoughts just are.