transmute: change into another nature, substance, form, or condition.
For 20 years I have been a psychotherapist. This means that I have spent approximately 17 000 hours in deep listening, deep receptivity and deep reflection with another. That is alot. If Malcolm Gladwell is right, then I have spent twice as much time as necessary to master the skill of deep listening and presence to one other human. This deep listening also means that I have deeply connected to many many individual stories. Life stories, and stories of inner life, process and struggle. It also means that I have, somehow, “taken in” the energy of many other people as I listen deeply. What does this mean? To take in the energy of another? Most of us know what it feels like to be impacted by another person. And it is virtually impossible not to be. Impacted. There are people we love to be around because they “energize” us somehow. Have you ever noticed how a simple momentary smile exchanged between you and a stranger can transform your mood? Or how an exchange with someone who is in a dark place can make you feel dark? Well, this is because you are affected by the energy of others. And science would not dispute this. If we are indeed a collection of atoms–we are each a collection of energy that is constantly moving. Another way to think about it is through mirrors neurons. a mirror neuron is a neuron that fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another. thus, the neuron “mirrors” the behavior of the other, as though the observer were itself acting. Mirror neurons are the mind’s mirror. A new type of neuron–called a mirror neuron–could help explain how we learn through mimicry and why we empathize with others.
So back to the practice of deep listening and deep presence with another. I do this. I have done it. Alot. Much more than most people. And the people I do it with are suffering somehow. They are suffering to the degree that they want a stranger’s presence. They are also bringing what is most difficult, most painful and most private, or even secret and shameful–to me. And I am there—completely available for our 60, or 75, or 90 minutes together. And hopefully, through the process of them moving their “stuff” through talking, and me being deeply present, and providing a loving, hopeful, non-judgmental mirror for them, there is is healing that takes place. It does take place. Almost every session. Through this deep presence, the person in therapy transmutes their pain into life force, into hope, into a newfound feeling of being lighter.
But what happens to me, the therapist? I do not come out of a session untouched. I am always touched. Always affected. I have used so much of my being to be there, to receive, to stay free but close, to listen, to tease out what are useful thoughts, and what are not, to tease out what belongs to the client, and what belongs to me, to decide what to share about how the touch me, and what not to share, and to oversee the therapeutic relationship, and the therapy itself, to be regularly evaluating the effectiveness of the encounter in meeting the original needs stated by the client. After a session, I am often full. Full of a client’s energy and stories.
The biggest challenge in my profession is figuring out how to alchemize that energy and those stories that fill me up. I need to process them, to move them through my being, to become clear again, to come back to myself.
There are many things that have worked well for me: walking, breathing with intention, listening to music, dancing, singing, being in nature, swimming, going to a yoga class, cooking an elaborate meal for a gathering of loved ones. When I have a small break between sessions, then stretching and breathing, as well as the ritual of washing tea cups, putting on the kettle, folding blankets and fluffing pillows works well. These things help me to physically let go of the encounter with one person and get ready for an encounter with another.
So while these things help me to move the energy and not get stuck, or laden down, or worse, energetically constipated, it still happens sometimes. I get stuck, heavy and actually constipated. I feel sometimes like a receptacle. Once I experienced a serious burn out. I got “stuck in the basement” of existence. And I couldn’t get out. It was so dark, and lonely, and sad and painful there. I went to a tiny place on the south shore of Crete that time–only accessible by boat. The sound of the water whooshing rhythmically on the tiny pebbles started my healing process. The sound of the bells on the mountain goats reminded me to look up and out. That helped too.
One of the happier ways that all of this energy transmuted into something else was the birthing of Allie Weigh. This is my performance name. It is also a