Last updated on 22nd May 2019
I wrote yesterday about a couple of 'notes of caution' when using mindfulness approaches and the "The bus driver metaphor". I pointed out that many primary emotions & constructive thoughts help energise and direct us towards healthy goals. I also mentioned the importance of integrating head & heart in mindfulness practice. In today's post I want to extend the head/heart integration to include 'gut' as well, and also talk a little about the importance of sometimes using 'emotional processing' methods with some of our most persistently troublesome 'freeloader bus passenger' inner voices.
3. gut feelings are important too: At the start of the 70's I trained for a while with a Zen meditation teacher. I can still hear his stern admonition "Belly centre of universe. Sit like mountain!" And in important ways, our belly, our gut feelings are at the centre of our personal universe. In his most recent book - "Self comes to mind: constructing the conscious brain" - published just a few days ago, the brilliant neuroscientist Antonio Damasio writes (p.20-21) "Of the ideas advanced in this book, none is more central than the notion that the body is the foundation of the conscious mind ... mental images of the body produced in body-mapping structures, constitute the 'protoself', which foreshadows the self to be ... I hypothesize that the first and most elementary product of the protoself is 'primordial feelings', which occur spontaneously and continuously whenever one is awake. They provide a direct experience of one's own living body, wordless, unadorned, and connected to nothing but sheer existence. These 'promordial feelings' reflect the current state of the body ... all feelings of emotion are complex musical variations on primordial feelings." There are a series of research lines that overlap with this understanding of the core importance of body felt-sense and emotions. They include Gendlin's work on "Focusing", Greenberg & colleagues' "Emotion-focused therapy", research using the "Experiencing scale", studies on deeper interpersonal connections, the whole area of burnout & vigour, and work on vitality & wellbeing. In some ways mindfulness & emotion have resonance with the old Apollonian-Dionysian dance, and there's danger in letting either of these energies become too dominant. Warm-blooded, aware, whole body-mind vitality is the challenge.
4. trauma & 'emotional processing': Occasionally the 'freeloader passenger' thought or feeling repeatedly shouting in the back of the bus is due to trauma we have experienced earlier in our lives. In this situation it's good to keep driving the bus in the direction of our values, but when we have time it may be worth stopping to 'emotionally process' the troublesome memories with their associated - currently inappropriate - upsetting imagery and feelings. Evidence-based guidelines are clear on this - "All people with PTSD should be offered a course of trauma-focused psychological treatment". But we also know that this kind of 'trauma memory' can easily occur after many different kinds of life event (not just the obviously traumatic ones). See, for example, "Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder after non-traumatic events: evidence from an open population study" and this year's "Posttraumatic stress without trauma in children." 'Low-tech' interventions like expressive writing can be helpful in this kind of situation. Writing methods are useful in tackling the backseat passenger voices of rumination. See "Expressive writing buffers against maladaptive rumination" and "Benefits of expressive writing in lowering rumination and depressive symptoms". The lecture presentations detailed on the "PTSD assessment, images, memories & information" page of this website highlight the potential widespread relevance of these 'processing' interventions for many anxiety & depression problems. Clearly the 'full Monty' of trauma-focused psychotherapy will sometimes be needed, but often just writing or speaking it out will be very helpful.
"The bus driver metaphor" is rightly valued by many people and it is one of the metaphors I use most often in my work. These two posts on "The bus driver is warm-blooded" will I hope set the metaphor in a broader context and make it even more useful as one in a series of potentially helpful ways of coping with intrusive thoughts & feelings. In broader wellbeing terms, mindfulness extends out beyond this 'therapeutic application' for rumination & worry, but this is not so much the focus of these posts.