First, an excerpt and exercise from Bouncing Back, then additional resources….
My client Matthew came to his therapy session one evening torn between two possible courses of action at his job. Both were good opportunities, but they pulled him in two very different directions. One was a transfer to Tokyo to manage several new branches of the large retail clothing chain he worked for. The other was a promotion within the headquarters of his company; he wouldn’t have to move, and the somewhat greater responsibilities came with slightly higher pay.
The first choice appealed to Matthew’s curiosity and sense of adventure but brought up concerns of selfishness. Was it fair to ask his family to uproot themselves and live in a foreign country for two years? The kids would have to adjust to new schools and a new culture. The second choice appealed to Matthew’s need for stability and security and a desire to be a good provider for his family, but it brought up concerns of going stale in a job he was already competent at and comfortable with.
I asked Matthew to settle into a comfortable position, take a few deep breaths, and relax into the state of mindful presence he had practiced with me many times before. I suggested he call upon his wiser self to listen to the concerns of each of the competing parts or voices within him: his desire for adventure, his desire for stability, his worries about selfishness, his worries about stagnation. After a few minutes, I asked him to drop below the level of all those voices, past all the layers of conditioning, roles, identities, and defenses, to the sense of his essential goodness that his wiser self embodied. In this process of defocusing, Matthew could listen to the voice of his wiser self and let the grip of the conflicting parts of him relax.
By the end of our session, Matthew knew clearly that at this juncture in his life, his deepest yearning was for adventure. When he presented the result of his explorations to his family that weekend, they each could feel the genuineness of his enthusiasm stirring their own enthusiasm as well, and all readily voted for a two-year adventure together in Japan.
We can listen to the deep, intuitive wisdom of our wiser self for guidance about conflict within ourselves, as Matthew did, and for guidance in conflict with others as well. The following exercise shows how.
Exercise: Listening to the Intuitive Wisdom of the Wiser Self
- Find a time and place to sit quietly without interruption. Settle into a comfortable position, take a few deep breaths, and relax into a state of mindful presence. Let any thoughts or concerns fade into the background. Then bring to your awareness a sense of your wiser self, the part of you that embodies your essential wisdom and goodness.
- Bring to mind someone you are currently having difficulties with: a neighbor who turns up the television too late at night; a coworker who misses important deadlines; a sister-in-law who dominates every discussion at the dinner table. Imagine that you can introduce this person to your wiser self and then stand to the side as you overhear the conversation between them.
- Listen to how your wiser self handles the conversation with the difficult person: what it says, how it handles the energy of the difficult person. You are overhearing your own inner wisdom being patient and skillful with the difficult person.
- When the conversation between your wiser self and the difficult person is complete, notice how the difficulty is resolved. Notice what you overhead, what you learned what advice you are taking in from your wiser self.
- Let the difficult person fade from the scene. Imagine that your wiser self turns to you, offers you a word or phrase of advice, and offers you one symbolic gift you can hold in your hand to remember this conversation by. You may choose to write down your reflections for future reference.
Relaxing into the defocusing mode of processing in the brain allows you to “surprise the unconscious” and access the intuitive wisdom of your wiser self. The defocusing network, which operates especially on the right side of the brain, shifts our focus to the big picture, where we can comprehend things holistically and connect the dots in a new way. The right hemisphere of the brain also processes the rules of social relationships and our sense of self in relation to others. When we relax into the defocusing network, we can access these rules of relating in a more flexible way. In that process of defocusing, our wiser self can intuitively create new options to solve problems in relating. You may not be able to access this intuitive wisdom very often at first or to trust it when you do. But the more you practice listening to your wiser self, the more you strengthen the internal secure base that it informs and guides.