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Taking a Breath and a Pause

Patience is also a form of action

Many times people come into therapy hoping to understand and solve some relationship issues. Especially these complicated days. Sometimes, not always, they feel they are trapped in a moment of conflict, and desperate to escape. It's a traumatic feeling, one that sometimes is accurate; an actual threat to their survival (emotionally, mentally, or physically), and requires action, immediate action and a plan. But other times, patience and a re-categorizing exploration might actually be the key. The feeling might be a triggered moment, one of danger that isn’t quite real. It's not that we should brush it aside, because the feeling shouldn't be ignored. But maybe, with exploration and understanding, we might discover that it is not connected to the 'here and now'. That alarm bell feeling might be something from our past, triggered to feel like it's happening in this moment. It’s a tricky distinction and one that may require a bit of patience and understanding to navigate at that moment. Hopefully, therapy is there to help.

Sometimes this very threat puts people into a state of high alert with all alarm bells ringing, but the therapeutic question might be to unpack what lies at our feet and far below it, buried deep in our historic earth. Is it an actual dangerous threat? Or something from our past, not really connected to the 'here and now' moment? Is it something that is going to blow up in our faces and burn our skin, or is it something very disconnected to this very moment and the players in the room? Historical trauma is something that can be quite sneaky, drenched in fear and complications, possibly coming from some old attachment-based pain, such as abandonment or loss of love. A complicated unearthing might be needed, rather than quick action.

It may feel in the moment that we are fighting for our lives, sometimes, and that all our past nightmares are coming into the room as we speak. It’s so understandable, especially if that is the experience we have had throughout our life. Being left, abandoned, on our own, unloved, to feel the loneliness and ache of standing holding onto nothing but ourselves. It’s a terrifying idea, and the heart and soul want action. They want to solve this, get it under control, escape into safety. Save themselves from the idea of pain waiting just around the corner.

But sometimes, and not always, I try to help them take a breath. To realize this impulse to fight or flee, is a response baked in from a past, from a fear that has lingered in the back of our minds hiding and waiting to come alive and protect us. Yet, if we can find the strength to take a breath and be a bit patient with ourselves and our relationship, another option may present itself. This is not a blanket statement, by any means, but one that therapy can help uncover and conceptualize.

French artist Auguste Rodin wrote that “Patience is also a form of action.” Rodin understood well the inherent power and virtue of accessing patience, sculptured beautifully into his most famous piece of art, “The Thinker,” a statue he completed in 1904. Rodin found that taking a breath and finding the patience to pause is an art form unto itself; a much needed ideal in order to devote his attention hour after hour to creating impressive three dimensional pieces of art from his mind's eye in bronze and marble.

If we can find within ourselves a moment sculptured out of breath and peacefulness, maybe we can step outside the traumatic response of 'fight or flight', and take in a moment of contemplation that might help us slow down our tendencies to act. If the re-conceptualizing of the moment uncovers some understanding of our past, the pause might just help us redefine this 'here and now' moment. To pause, sometimes, even for a bit, and sit inside our thoughtful mind, we may find a way to see past our traumatic history of pain and loneliness into something less volatile and upsetting. Maybe we will discover something far more useful to this moment in time, and another answer may present itself.

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