In my last post I mentioned that Zen has been a strong influence on Reverse Therapy and here’s how.
When I first started teaching people Reverse Therapy it wasn’t called that then. Instead it was called ‘Anti-therapy’. The idea was that it would be the complete opposite of traditional therapy. It wouldn’t waste time on analysis or belief-checking, or your ‘relationship’ with the therapist, or working out what happened to you at age four-and-a-half.
The other thing that made it anti-therapy was that we made friends with symptoms (or rather, with the Bodymind that produced them). If we could find out what made symptoms necessary we had a good chance of helping clients find a healthier way to deal with the situations in which symptoms came up.
All this was inspired, in part, by Zen. The Zen attitude to problems is to exercise awareness on them. Becoming fully aware – in the moment – of what is happening, without pre-judging anything enables you to see what is going on. So when you see why symptoms are necessary you are on the symptom path to enlightenment.
There is a story told by the Buddha (Gautama) meant as an analogy for the human condition. It concerns a man who is shot by an arrow who, instead of seeing his pain and doing something about it in the moment, insists on talking about the arrow – where it came from, who shot it, why it had to be him of all people, etc etc. This is what traditional therapy does. Gautama was himself anti-religion, seeing it as another obstacle to enlightenment.
Another thing we learnt from Zen is that Headmind gets in the way of enlightenment. Thinking doesn’t make you aware (in some cases it can just make you stupid – which is what Buddha is partly getting at). Zen exercises are designed to help people bypass Headmind. When you see that there is no answer to the absurd question ‘What is the sound of one hand clapping’ you are enlightened in that moment (although not necessarily in other moments). You have realised that thinking gets in the way of your experience, your awareness and your direct access to the way things are.
It is for that reason that Reverse Therapy teaches people to practice quietly sitting and sensing the way the way things are for them in each and every moment.
I have to admit that what also attracted me to Zen was its irreverence. It believes in no final wisdom, or teachers or even in the Buddha. There’s no better saying for that than the provocative Zen slogan: ‘If you meet the Buddha on the road – kill him’.
In my last post I mentioned Chris Moran’s observations that over three-quarters of his Fibromyalgia patients had first sufffered from whiplash and other injuries. This has been amply borne out by my own experience. To take 4 recent cases:
Case 1. A client in her 40s whose Fibromyalgia started following surgery after a car crash went wrong and left her with permanent nerve damage to her face.
Case 2. A client in her 30s whose Fibromyalgia started up after breaking both legs in a ski-ing accident.
Case 3. A client in his 30s who developed Fibromyalgia after a whip-lash injury from a car accident left him temporarily disabled.
Case 4. A client in her 60s with Fibromyalgia who had also suffered from Trigeminal Neuralgia for over 10 years.
Yet in each case the Fibromyalgia pain (although not always the other pain source) reduced or disappeared with changing circumstances. Case 1 found her symptoms were less when not caring for her very old mother. Case 2 at weekends when with her family and friends. Case 3 when not cooped up at home (he worked part-time). Case 4 when away on holiday.
So how does chronic pain link to Fibromyalgia? Here is my theory for what it is worth. Injuries and illness create pain in the first place and also a restricted, frustrating, life-style. This, in turn, leads to increased emotion (not only frustration but also sadness, anger and fear) as well as a reduction in joy. At this point the HPA axis is activated and eventually creates the further symptoms of Fibromyalgia – effectively prompting the individual to pay more attention to her emotional needs and change the way in which she has adapted to the pain.
Chronic pain is one of the most distressing experiences we can have. I well remember the pain I suffered for years from an undiagnosed appendix problem – as well as the intense pain that occurred the week before I was rushed into hospital when it ruptured. And yet my experience was small-scale compared to some of my clients. It’s no wonder they are emotionally vulnerable.
- Autoimmune disease
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Cognitive Behavior Therapy
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Reverse Therapy
- Zen Buddhism