Resources for Recovering Resilience: Listening to the Intuitive Wisdom of the Wiser Self

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

The Neuroscience:

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.

Healing And Transformation Through Self-Guided Imagery by Leslie Davenport, MFT

I use guided visualizations exercises in Bouncing Back quite a bit, knowing the power of guided imagery to rewire the brain. Just a few weeks ago this beautiful book came across my desk – the loveliest introduction to and immersion in the practice of guided imagery I have ever seen. Leslie draws on 20 years of experience helping people, in clinical practice and in hospitals, “see with the eyes of the heart” through the deep wellspring of intuition and imagination into the wisdom of the deepest self.
Leslie quotes my own favorite poet John O’Donohue from his book Beauty: The Invisible Embrace: “Somewhere in every heart there is a discerning voice. It opens up a new perspective through which the concealed meaning of a situation might emerge. This faithful voice can illume the dark lands of despair. This voice brings us directly into contact with the inalienable presence of beauty in the soul.”

Each chapter of the book describes the next step in the process, often contextualizing it in the history and research into guided imagery, then the personal story of someone we can resonate with and come to care deeply about, then guided reflections to help your experience your own process in the format of “What do you need guidance about? Journey to the heart by travelling inward, discovering your inner sanctuary, bringing your topic to heart, receiving your heart’s message, thanking your heart, deepening your understanding, bringing your heart’s wisdom into daily life,” and then exercises in Eyes Open Imagery.

An example of Eyes Open Imagery:

* Find an outdoor setting where you can view people, plants, and buildings. Locate a plant at the beginning of its life cycle, perhaps a seedling or bud. Then find a plant in full bloom. Where can you see a plant at the end of its life? Notice the relationship of these different cycles of life: Are there dry leaves at the base of the plant that are now becoming mulch? Is there a new plant sprouting out of a seed from last season’s flower?

Imagine a fast-forward film clip of the scene in front of you spanning ten years. Watch the people come and go; see the plants rise, blossom, and fade with the seasons; you might even watch an old building crumble and be replaced. If this landscape, this living image, had a voice, what would it be expressing to you?

* Take some time outside to really look at the blossom of a single flower. Notice the form, colors, shape, texture, and aroma. Realize that the water in the petals was once rain, the strength of the stem has shaped itself from the rich nutrients of the earth, and the vibrancy began as sunlight. Now sense the vitality, the glow, the aliveness that animates the flower. What does this flower want you to know?

* You can also do the same exercise looking at your hand. Really notice the colors, shape, texture, and scent. See your hand as if for the very first time. Remember the food from the earth you have eaten that has now become your body. Realize the elements of water, air, earth, and sun that became the food. Then sense the vitality, the glow, the aliveness that animate your body. Close your eyes and feel that aliveness throughout and around you. If this aliveness had a voice, what would it want you to know?

Guided imagery, as presented in this book, becomes more than self-help; it becomes a tool of

Success with Soul: Loving Your Livelihood, Living in Balanceby Eve Siegel

Eve’s e-book more than lives up to its wonderful title. And the table of contents gives the trajectory of the entire book: Envisioning the Big Picture; Facing the Fear of Change; Defining Success in Your Own Terms; Dynamic Balance: The Art of Living Fulfilled; Using the Wisdom-Energy of Your Body; Living Out Your Authenticity and Aliveness; The Dance of Self-Confidence; Transformation to Your New Reality with Clarity, Confidence and Passion.

The principles of conscious career transition are skillfully taught through great stories and examples as well as self-coaching exercises drawn from Eve’s long experience helping people “develop heart-centered career transitions and lives that are well balanced with engaged activity and time to nourish yourself” It is a deep joy for me that Eve masterfully interweaves wonderful quotes to illuminate the reader’s journey, such at this one from Thomas Moore’s Care of the Soul: To say that a job isn’t me is to say that the relationship between work and the soul has fallen down….When the soul is involved, the work…arises from a deeper place and therefore…[has] passion, spontaneity, and grace.”

How to Be an Adult in Love: Letting Love in Safely and Showing It Recklessly by David Richo, PhD

David is the author of 15 other books integrating psychology and spirituality, including the best-selling How To Be an Adult in Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving. The sub-title of this, his latest book, Letting in Love Safely, Showing It Recklessly, speaks to Dave’s sure-handed gift of embracing the outer reaches of a topic as large as love – ranging from the darkness of love where there has been abuse or neglect to the glory and mystery of transcendent love. Dave is fearless in his approach, unfailingly kind in his delivery, and a masterful writer in both his direct and concise descriptions of principles and his poetic rendering of the process.

The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions by Christopher Germer, PhD.

Part of a trio of books that to me, along with Kristin Neff’sSelf Compassion and Paul Gilbert’s The Compassionate Mind, is an essential primer for the entire movement of bringing self-compassion, as the ground of all emotional healing, to the integration of psychotherapy and mindfulness practice in the West.

Christopher explores the synergy between mindfulness and compassion with a wisdom embodied from decades of practice as a clinical psychologist and meditation practitioner. (He is also co-editor with Ronald Siegel of Wisdom and Compassion in Psychotherapy: Deepening Mindfulness in Clinical Practice.)

His exploration of the practical benefits of the practices is unparalleled, with enough relevant examples and easy-to-understand neuroscience to make the core concepts behind the practices easy to comprehend and apply. The exercises and reflections are presented in a flow and at a pace that makes them do-able and digest-able, and help us become more mindfully, compassionately resilient.