We camouflage our true being before others to protect ourselves against criticism or rejection. This protection comes at a steep price. When we are not truly known by the other people in our lives, we are misunderstood. When we are misunderstood, especially by family and friends, we join the "lonely crowd." Worse, when we succeed in hiding our being from others, we tend to lose touch with our real selves. This loss of self contributes to illness in its myriad forms. - Sidney Jourard
Here are handouts and recordings for the seventh Autogenic Training session. The initial "Autogenic relaxation training" page gives introductory details of this method. In the face-to-face trainings that I run, I would typically start the two hour class by practising last time's Autogenic Training exercise together - in this case it would be the sixth session's belly focus. I would then collect the trainees' record sheets and go round the group looking at how each individual's practice had been going and trouble shooting/sharing experiences. This group discussion time can be very valuable. It brings up all kinds of interesting points, encourages people to interact and help each other, and reinforces the sense that we are all on this learning/exploring journey together.
At this seventh training session, I focus on two main themes. The first is to complete the full standard Autogenic Training sequence by adding in a focus on the forehead. The phrase I teach is "Forehead cool and clear". I usually get trainees to observe me smoothing out my own forehead. I draw my fingers slowly and firmly from the midline of the forehead out and back over the temples on each side. I then ask them to close their eyes and repeat this slow, firm smoothing out movement for themselves. Typically it's experienced as a pleasant, cool, soothing sensation. I ask them to "take an internal photograph" of what this feels like and I say that it can be helpful to remember & recontact this sensation when they are at the "Forehead cool and clear" stage of their Autogenic Training practice. I mention that, objectively, it is probably not so much the forehead that cools as that much of the rest of the face warms slightly. It's interesting though that we have phrases like "Keeping a cool head in a crisis".
I comment that for me there are at least two useful aspects to the forehead focus. One is that relaxing the forehead and eyes seems a particularly potent way of quietening the brain. The other is that letting the face go feels to me like a metaphor for letting go of personality and all the strivings & struggles associated with our egos. Per-sona, that through which the sound comes. Letting all that go. As a special yoga teacher, who taught me, used to put it "Nothing to do, nowhere to go, no one to be". I sometimes mention my experience many years ago of teaching a relaxation sequence to a large hall filled with over a hundred people. They were all lying on their backs on the floor and I was taking them through the relaxation from the raised stage. As they went through the sequence, I still remember the fascinating impression I had that they were all getting so much younger. As their faces cleared of tension and worry, smoothing out, calming, they seemed to shed years in age. Precious. A kind of innocence. So "Forehead cool and clear" is, in a sense, letting all the striving go.
The second major theme I focus on in this seventh session is the importance of balancing present-focused flow & appreciation with value-directed goals. There is a link here to the "Bus driver metaphor" that I've written about in a previous blog posting. The Powerpoint slides for this session explore these issues in more detail (see below). The third slide, for example, uses the yin-yang sign to underline the key challenge of balancing longer term structure, plans & goals with moment-to-moment awareness & appreciation. I highlight that we can be very productive and get lots done, but if we're not connected to our values, to what we're about, then all this activity can just be a dust storm hiding the emptiness of our lives.
I ask people to consider their values by completing the "Respected figures exercise". I underline that one doesn't have to respect everything about the people who one writes down - but there should be important ways that one deeply respects some of how they have lead their lives. It is these qualities that are key. For many people this exercise is helpful in clarifying key qualities that they feel are deeply important in leading a worthwhile, good life.
I talk too about keeping a broad balance in our lives. One effective way of doing this is to think of our lives as involving a series of overlapping roles. Examples might be husband/wife, son/daughter, father/mother, friend, worker (this might involve more than one role), general administrator (covers the practical/financial/paperwork side of things), possibly a role involving hobbies/interests, and (non negotiable) a role or roles covering self-care (exercise, food, sleep, addictive substances, spirituality, etc). The "Role areas" sheet is a way of jotting down the roles that fit for your life. There isn't a right or wrong way of doing this, but I suggest you keep the number of roles to 8 or less, and try to make sure that pretty much every waking minute is covered by one role or another.
This "Respected figures" and "Role areas" explorations now lead easily into the "80th birthday party" exercise. This is a good way of getting an overview of how you want to be and what you want to become. So I ask participants to imagine that it is their 80th birthday party. A series of guests get up to make short speeches. Each speech is a celebration of how you've lived each of the roles in your life. So a friend would stand up and talk about what a precious, special, marvellous friend you have been. We're allowing time travel here, so one of your parents would miraculously appear to praise how you have been as a daughter/son. If you've been in a couple, your partner would celebrate how fantastic it's been to live with you. You imagine too that people who know how well you've done in the general administration and self-care roles talk with great admiration about how you've been in these areas of your life. As you can see from the "80th birthday party" exercise sheet, I suggest that you keep all these comments brief and inspirational. This is not about self-aggrandisement. This is not about how you are at the moment. This is about how you'd love things to turn out if your life went absolutely as you would want it to develop - and if you were able to live the values that are most important to you and be the person that you would most want to be. The "Best possible selves" is another good way of exploring this territory.
We now get down to the more nitty-gritty issues involved in turning these ideals and dreams into shorter term goals. I ask people to complete the "5 year, 1 year & 3 months" sheet. Particularly as we get to 1 year and 3 month intentions, our dreams now need to crystallise down into firmer, more specific intentions. The "Brainstorm" sheet can help us stretch ourselves, but we want to get a balance between stretching and realism. The "Goals - ACT WISeST" advice can be helpful here. It's unlikely that participants will complete all these exercises in the two hour class, but I encourage them to finish the exercises on their own.
I ask them too to continue to record their Autogenic practice. Since the next class is the last in the 8 session series, I suggest they experiment with briefer recording using the monthly practice record sheet (see below).
Autogenics 7a: Forehead, Relaxation, 11 minutes - 3.8 Mb MP3 file.
Autogenics 7b: Forehead, Mindfulness, 12 minutes - 4.1 Mb MP3 file.
Autogenic slides 1-9 - slides for this seventh Autogenic Training session.
Autogenic slides 10-15 - further slides for this seventh Autogenic Training session.
Goals, values, meaning - this is a handout I put together a long time ago. It still has some value for orientation in this area.
Respected figures exercise - I use this sheet a lot for helping people clarify their values. I suggest to them that they are unlikely to feel good about their lives unless they are trying to live the values that they particularly respect.
Goals for roles - role areas & 80th birthday party - I often use goals-for-roles sheets after having done the "Respected figures exercise". The "Role areas" form helps clarify different aspects of one's life and it can be used to provide some structure to the "80th birthday party" exercise.
Practice record month - this monthly practice record form allows people to begin to experiment with still recording their practice, but in less detail.