This week’s principle is probably one of the easiest to understand. Oftentimes, whether in therapy, medicine, or bodywork, we have the tendency to focus on the negative. The reasons are obvious: we’re at the doctor or the massage therapist or the psychologist to get relief from what’s troubling us. Sure, we get checkups at the doctor, just to make sure everything’s okay. But for the most part, when we’re seeking care, it’s because something is wrong. We’re in pain, and we want to release it.
While in treatment, it’s likely that we’ll experience more pain before we receive relief. That physical therapist will rub on our most tender places, push our muscles to go just past the point of pain, make us do exercises that will build up our strength but are anything from boring to excruciating. The doctor may perform painful tests, give us drugs that have nasty side effects, or perform surgeries we need to recover from. In psychotherapy, often we have to delve into our traumas, face core fears, process difficult emotions, and in some ways, get worse before we get better.
All of this requires some balancing, which too often isn’t as available to us in more traditional healing contexts. My husband, for example, who has a mild form of MS, wasn’t told that the drug he’s taking might cause headaches, which he has been suffering from nightly for weeks now. And even if information about how our treatment might cause us more pain is forthcoming, it’s seldom that we’re given recommendations for how to balance that pain with pleasure.
In Rubenfeld Synergy, there is a focus on finding and expanding the pleasurable experiences of the body. This is not to say that we don’t move through the difficult things as well; in fact, most of the most powerful and effective sessions I’ve seen or been a part of have involved the client experiencing painful emotions or physical sensations or both. But we put a special emphasis on calling upon the body’s resources to help make that pain bearable.
This principle applies in two major ways in sessions. First, before entering into deep and potentially painful work, we like to be sure that the person has gotten in touch with enough of his or her resources to feel safe moving through difficult territory. We work with clients to make sure they are in touch with their feet, that they trust their base of support to be strong beneath them, to know when to stand firm and when to run, and to carry them to the next place in their lives. We help them feel their hips, and the power contained in them: the base of their spines, the capacity to turn toward or away from something. We get them in touch with their hearts, and the messages their hearts have for them. We introduce people to themselves, and tap them into the pleasure and beauty of being able to trust yourself. It’s from this place that we can face the challenges and pain that come at us.
While working through painful pieces, pleasure can be called upon as well. Sometimes laughter arises in response to difficult situations: this laughter should be supported and expanded, as it brings relief. Sometimes a body part, say a hip, may feel painful, but the sensation of the Synergist’s hands supporting it may feel warm and comforting. It is part of the Synergist’s job to focus the client’s attention on that warmth and comfort, to help them receive it and be able to call upon it as a resource.
Joan Brooks, one of my mentors, has been blogging at the Rubenfeld Synergy site lately, and she wrote a lovely piece about finding the seemingly paradoxical messages your body sometimes has for you and locating the common ground between them. This is yet another way to balance pain with pleasure: it is not about throwing away the painful message and focusing only on the positive. Instead it is a way of honoring the authentic experiences of your body, and by doing so, bringing yourself into greater alignment with who you are.
Teaching your body to pay attention to pleasure also helps to actually lessen pain, both by distracting from the pain and by encouraging the release of pain-relieving hormones in the brain. And emotionally speaking, opening to pleasurable memories along with painful ones can open the channel for the release of difficult emotions, whereas when we hold back from experiencing pain, we repress positive emotions as well. Numbing, as Miriam Greenspan said, is unfortunately not selective, and when we try not to experience pain, we keep ourselves from feeling joy as well. Open to one, and you open to the other. Yes, this means that you become more susceptible to pain. But it also means that you learn how to move through it with greater speed, resilience, and grace.
And for a bonus, you get greater access to pleasure as well.