Seven Laws of Unique Self Encounter: #2 – You Have to Make Authentic Contact in the Present by Marc Gafni

The following is an excerpt from Your Unique Self: The Radical Path to Personal Enlightenment by Dr. Marc Gafni.  For the other 6 laws, see other posts on this site or Chapter 21 of the book–which is available for purchase here.

SEEN FROM ONE PERSPECTIVE, life is a series of encounters with other human beings. Of these encounters, the ones that are most profound, pleasurable, and transformative are Unique Self encounters.  The following are seven core rules that define a Unique Self encounter:

2. To have a Unique Self encounter, you  have to make  authentic contact in the present.

c. 2011. Photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominici.

c. 2011. Photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominici.

The second law of Unique Self relationship  is that to have a Unique Self encounter, you have to make authentic contact. Without contact with the Unique Self of the other, no encounter may happen. It is for this reason that Unique Self encounters can take place only in the present. Contact is only possible in the present. The only place your story is ever happening is right now.

Yesterday’s and tomorrow’s story help shape your identity today. This is as it should be. But presence—showing up as your God-self, your Unique Self—is possible only in the present. When you think you are talking to me but you are really completing an unfinished conversation with your mother from years ago, contact cannot be made.

Interaction is the opposite of re-action. Re-action comes from an unconscious re-play, re-hash, and re-living of moments long dead and done. You cannot live a dead moment. Unconscious re-enactment is precisely what psychology calls transference. You are transferring your reactions from an old situation to the present situation, even though they do not apply.

You must enter the inside of the present moment, which is the Unique Self of time. The inter-action is in the inter-face between two people who are face-to-face.

Often, in a potentially intimate encounter, when an inner discomfort arises, that feeling of discomfort has many layers and often arises from our reactions to past events. The discomfort both blocks the process and offers a doorway into the Unique Self in that moment. So one way to deepen con- tact in an interpersonal encounter is to identify the discomfort present in a particular moment. Stay in the discomfort. Feel into it, and let it well up. Do nothing to dispel it. If you stay in it, even for fifteen minutes, you will feel something new, something deeper arising.  As the energy of discomfort is released, a feeling of fullness and well-being can arise. This is the essence that lies just beneath your personality, ready to reveal itself.

A Unique Self encounter occurs when the essence of one personal being touches  the essence  of another personal  being, without ego boundaries and without loss  of the unique individuation of each unique partner.

c. 2012. Photo courtesy of imagerymajestic.

c. 2012. Photo courtesy of imagerymajestic.

A Unique Self encounter requires contact with the person in front of you in the Uniqueness of the present moment. One of the well-known teachings in biblical myth states this principle: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother and cleave intimately to his wife.”

If you look at the text from a psychological viewpoint, you see that it is not just a formal recommendation of marriage. It points to a primal truth about relationship.  You cannot create true intimacy without leaving behind, in a psychological sense, your parents. If you do not leave your parents behind, you marry them. You marry someone similar to, or the opposite of, your parents, in order to finish your unfinished business with them. Through that person who is similar to Dad, you seek to receive the love you didn’t get from Dad. Or through that person who is the opposite of Mom, you seek to run away from Mom. In either case, you are in a relationship, not with your partner, but with your parents. There is no Unique Self encounter.

Contact only takes place in the present, in the Unique Self of the present moment in time. You think you are in the present relating to your partner. Really you are in the past, arguing or pleading with a parent. In this situation, the energy and wisdom that you need to be intimately present with your partner is unavailable.

The Pain Trance

Our inability to remain present—that is, in the present—is the source of most of our pain and dysfunction. We fail to meet the challenges of each moment not because we lack the resources, but because we allow encounters in the present to trigger past experiences of pain.

An example: Jonathan is up for review at work and the boss says to him, “I think you have potential, but your work is still sloppy. Get that together and you have a great future here.” Rather than hearing the promise in his boss’s words, Jonathan hears rejection. He gets angry at his boss and feels that the critique was unfair. This causes him to feel so depressed that he later gets into a vociferous argument with his partner about nothing. Or he may call an old romantic partner up for dinner, and inappropriately  sleep with her in order to cover the emptiness opened up by his boss’s critique. Or he may start a binge of excessive drinking, which in the end causes him to lose the job he held so dear.

What happened here? Essentially, his boss’s words triggered old reactions. Jonathan slipped into a trance that took him out of the present moment and threw him into the past. His fastidious father used to shout at him when his room wasn’t clean. Dad would go into a rage and call him “a worthless, sloppy mess.” Jonathan remembers that phrase. It is indelibly imprinted on his soul. So when someone critiques him as being sloppy, even if it is in the context of great praise and even with a promise for the future, all Jonathan can hear in his subconscious is “worthless and sloppy.”

He probably does not consciously associate his boss’s critique with that ancient moment in his life. He may not even consciously remember his father’s words. Yet whenever something or someone presses certain internal triggers, he regresses to those early childhood moments and responds as he did then. This is precisely the image of “pressing buttons.” He is in a trance, acting not in the present but in response to old pain.

We all have trances. A trance means simply that you leave the present moment and enter another time or dimension. Daydreaming can be a pleasant version of such a trance. A second example is what psychological literature calls spontaneous  age regression. This can also be pleasant, as when the taste of banana slices in Cheerios returns you to the feeling-state of a sweet Saturday morning in childhood.

Jonathan’s  experience, however, is a typical example of negative age regression—what I call a “pain trance.” Because it is unconscious, it takes Jonathan out of the present. Because he is not aware that the past is coming up again, he also lacks the presence to heal the past.

Staying in the Present

c. 2012. Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles.

c. 2012. Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles.

The most important identifying characteristic of a trance is the distortion of time. You are taken out of the present and regressed to an earlier, more unconscious time in your life. Psychologist Stephen Wolinsky calls this kind of age-regressed unconscious experience a deep trance phenomenon. All such trances are triggered by a narrowing of focus. This is precisely what happens, for example, in most phobias or anxiety attacks. Our focus shrinks to the extent that the rest of the world feels completely  cut off. We narrow our focus to a specific image, word, or sensation that effectively blocks out all other words, images, or emotions. In the story we began with, it was the word “sloppy” that became the involuntary mantra of the trance.

At such moments, we forget our larger selves. We don’t see options or resources that are right in front of us. We become virtually paralyzed, and cannot change our course of action.

Essentially, the trance takes you out of the present moment. In the mystical understanding of time, the present moment contains everything you need for healing and health, so by leaving it, you are bound to get sick and hurt. Therefore, the goal of spiritual therapeutic intervention should be to return the client to the presence of the present moment.

Remember, a trance that takes you out of the present and prevents a Unique Self encounter is usually a return to the childlike reaction that we used to protect ourselves from trauma long ago. Any event that is too painful for the child to integrate is met by a childhood trance. Let’s  say, for example, that your mother was verbally abusive. If you responded defensively to her abuse, she would either hit you or scream in an even more frightening and insane way. Your protective trance response was a combination of two internal movements. First, you would watch—without noticing that you were watching—your mother very carefully. This allowed you to anticipate her moods and try to be out of the way when the trauma-spewing volcano erupted. In watching your mother, you would gather all of her misdeeds, much like a prosecuting attorney. Then when she started yelling, you would list off silently to yourself all of her faults. By the time she finished yelling, you had the mental satisfaction of having tried and indicted her in the courtroom of your mind.

Later on in life, when you would get into an argument with your partner, something about it might spontaneously and unconsciously regress you back to your encounters with your mom. This would then elicit in you a withering attack on your partner. You might now have a terrible knack of bringing up all sorts of details you had noticed, and using them to bash your spouse. When your outburst is over, you are ashamed, but the damage is done. The retaliation you used to do mentally to your mother, you now do out loud to your spouse. However, having cultivated the art of careful watching, your out- bursts are profoundly more insightful, and therefore more devastating.

These outbursts have been a primary cause of your inability to create lasting, intimate relationships with either friends or a romantic partner. The root of this challenge, which has devastated so much of your life, is your tendency to go into the age-regressed trance state, which takes you out of the present. One purpose of your spiritual practice is to help you remain in the present. In the present, you have all the resources you might need for healing and intimacy. But before you can stay in the present, you first have to learn to catch yourself going into trance.

To Walk  in the Wide Places

Stephen Wolinsky tells the story of a client named Clare. She was a binge drinker, and before one of these binge episodes, she would first slip into an invisible trance. She would get very tight, create distance between herself and the world, and would not fully see the people around her—they would seem to blur out of focus. Her normal level of unease in the world would quickly become more pronounced, and she could only think about having a drink.

This was the strategy Clare used to survive childhood abuse. She would shut out her external environment. The abuser would shift out of focus, and she would withdraw into her own world. Wolinsky writes, “In my break- through moment I realized that in order for her to create the distance she needed to survive  as a child, she had to not see much of her immediate external environment.” She would withdraw and enter—en-trance—her own world.

What provokes this reaction in us later in life is virtually always the meeting with something or someone that triggers our core unique wound. We are suddenly and unconsciously thrown back to that early place where we first met the emptiness and the wound.

Our sense of our goodness in early childhood depends on our caretakers serving as a conduit for the Uni-verse’s loving embrace. When those love vessels are constricted and narrowed, our soul feels attacked.  We then with- draw into our contracted-ego  small-self for self-protection. This prevents the pain of the emptiness from drowning us. We only shut down when the pain overloads our circuits; instead of blowing our system, we turn off. We withdraw—no longer present in the present. When meeting with “emptiness” in the present, it often evokes this old challenge to our self-worth. We slip into a “past” without ever noticing the slippage. Thinking we are in the past, the same set of survival strategies kick in. We withdraw into what- ever our unique trance patterns are—and look for a way to navigate the emptiness without being swallowed up.

In childhood, such an event is always interpersonal—that is, a reaction to another person or people outside of ourselves. But in adulthood, when the reactive mechanism is triggered, it kicks in autonomously—that is, without it being a protective strategy against a real person. Anything that sets off our emptiness barometer returns us to the place of original unhealed trauma where we encountered the wound originally. We then react—automatically and unconsciously—as we did then.

Staying in the Symptoms

What Wolinsky brilliantly noticed was that in telling the story of the symptom, the trance was re-induced. What that meant to him—in a simple yet elegant insight—was that if he could help his client short-circuit the trance in the telling of the story, then the client would be able to short-circuit the trance when it kicked in at other times. The key is to pay attention and notice when trance symptoms are kicking in. The critical assumption is that the negative behavior can kick in only after the trance and as a direct result of it. Short-circuit the trance, and nine times out of ten you have short-circuited the destructive behavior.

Wolinsky also tells of a young woman who comes to therapy with the real problem of not being able to have an orgasm. She knows that she was molested by her stepfather at age nine. One could engage a long and complex process of “working through” the abuse. Or, in a far more direct and effective approach, the trained therapist or guide might say something like, “Jill, when you are having sex, at that moment that you go numb, or freeze up, or space out, get a picture of that moment and describe it for me.”

While re-creating her symptom trance, Jill might answer slowly, “My shoulders are tight . . . my jaw is tight . . . my stomach is tight . . . I’m holding my breath . . . I’m thinking to myself, ‘Don’t touch me, don’t come near me, don’t hurt me.’”

“All right, Jill,” the therapist continues, “what I’d  like you to do is to merge with the picture . . . continue to hold your muscles tightly while you breathe and look at me.”

This is the pivoting point. The therapist says to Jill, “Stay with your trance symptoms but don’t disappear. Stay here with JP-3D-Book1-Rev2 CroppedTightme.” A trance is almost always induced in part by a shift in normal breathing. In many sacred languages, the word for “breath” has the same root, or is even the same word, as the word for “soul.” In biblical myth, God fashions the human being through an act of inspiration: “God breathed into man the breath of life.” This breath of life is the loving flow of divine life-energy in the Uni-verse. In trauma, this loving flow is cut off, reflected in a tightening in the chest, or other shifts in breathing. In reconnecting to the breath, you reconnect to the life force.

In this case, establishing  a loving and trusting relationship allows the client to move through the trance symptoms and reconnect with the loving breath of the Uni-verse. By doing so, the trance is short-circuited.

In light of all this, let’s reread the spiritual principle of biblical myth with which we began: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother and cleave intimately to his wife.”

There are two steps. Step one: You need to de-trance. Those meetings with emptiness that cause spontaneous  age regression need to be short-circuited. You need to move beyond old conversations with father and mother. Here father and mother are, of course, only symbols of the formative relationships of our early years.

Step two: Having become de-tranced, you can now create intimacy with your partner. A Unique Self encounter is now possible. You are in the present, with the person in front of you—not a figure from the past. Contact can be made.

The remaining laws will be shared in future blog posts on this site.

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