What people don’t tell you about EMDR (properly administered, in the school of Francine Shapiro) is that it’s an eight-phase approach. Phase four, the actual reprocessing of the traumatic event through bilateral stimulation and tracking, gets all the acclaim. Don’t get me wrong, phase four is nothing short of magical (fascinating science!), But the other phases need more love.
Phase one is really a full on curiosity phase, which aligns with Brene Brown’s discussion of the reckoning process in Rising Strong. Ultimately, it’s about acknowledging the facts and not going too deep into the rumination of why something is. When we’re able to be objective about what we’re observing in ourselves and certain situations, then we can remove ourselves from the heart of the situation. Bringing awareness to our shadowy sides–that on its own is a powerful thing to do and not something many take the time to observe. To be curious about why emotions come up when they do, to be curious about why you just acted out some catastrophic story that wasn’t real. But not to to judge why it happened. Too quickly, we want to move through the reckoning into resolve–that we miss the whole point of the reckoning: awareness.
“The opposite of recognizing that we’re feeling something is denying our emotions. The opposite of being curious is disengaging. When we deny our stories and disengage from tough emotions, they don’t go away; instead, they own us, they define us. Our job is not to deny the story, but to defy the ending—to rise strong, recognize our story, and rumble with the truth until we get to a place where we think, Yes. This is what happened. This is my truth. And I will choose how this story ends.”–Brene Brown, Rising Strong
As a pillar of any meditative practice, I am learning, we are taught the thoughts are fleeting–they come, they go. People, including myself for MANY years, fail at meditative practice because they do one of two things: fall asleep or get driven crazy by the fact that they are FAILING AT MEDITATING. In Secrets of Meditation, Davidji says,
“We have between 60,000- and 80,000 thoughts a day. That’s a thought every 1.2 seconds…but we are not our thoughts – we have thoughts. Just like a cell phone is not our texts…it receives texts but they are not the phone. You have thoughts but you are not your thoughts. Our thoughts are not roadblocks to our meditation, they are the divine expression of the universe and the building blocks of infinite possibilities available to us in every moment.”
Really, meditation is the awareness given to the drifting of thoughts without judgment. All too often, we are so focused on the judgment and not on the practice of the reckoning–sitting with the awareness of what just is. A few weeks ago now, I was at a wedding where I really didn’t know many people. I was there with a partner, with whom I care deeply and wanted to impress. But I was going through some reckoning myself that weekend, which gave me many thoughts, many feelings all at once. Instead of bringing awareness to my feelings of grief about my own personal loss, instead of simply bringing awareness to the pain I was personally feeling, I inflicted this pain onto others (both actively and passively). I chose to not be vulnerable in order to not sit in my emotions. In order to not ask for help. My emotional stoicism was a defense mechanism, much like (and psychogenically tied to) my non-epileptic seizures. And there are very real consequences. We hurt ourselves, we hurt others, we realize the worst, we make situations that could otherwise be transformative situations…toxic and anxiety-provoking and painful.
This first phase, this awareness, is really the key to any type of magic in our lives. This separation of awareness and judgment creates a deep, transformative space for compassion, understanding, and love. Davidji calls them “the whispers of the heart”, my childhood called it “the Holy Spirit”, Pema Chodron calls it “emptiness”. Whatever we call it, that is where the magic happens. When we can have thoughts and feelings, feel them, and gently shift our focus from the thought, to the present, to a feeling, to the present.
The moment of transformation, at that wedding, during that trip, where I grieved a deep, heavy, painful burden at the exact moment it was realized, created a space inside of me for compassion. For myself, for my partner, for my family, for those who rush through life, for the person on the motorway who is driving crazy, for my research partner obsessed with grant funding, for those who have wronged me. For those I love, those I know, those I am ambivalent about, those I dislike, and those i hate. When you begin to reckon with how you actually feel and what thoughts you actually think (the stories you tell yourself), you’re able to really dig in…and tranform. The quiet, peaceful, beautiful revolution that transforms larva into winged things, that transforms an acorn into an oak tree. That reckoning–the getting really fucking honest–is where the real magic begins.