The Body Remembers
“The truth about childhood is stored up in our body, and although we can repress it, we can never alter it. Our intellect can be deceived, our feelings manipulated, and conceptions confused, and our body tricked with medication. But someday our body will present its bill, for it is as incorruptible as a child, who, still whole in spirit, will accept no compromises or excuses, and it will not stop tormenting us until we stop evading the truth.” Alice Miller, quoted in “After the Ecstasy, the Laundry” by Jack Kornfield, p. 177
I read Alice Miller books twenty years ago, including and especially “The Drama of the Gifted Child,” recommended to me by my shrink back then. Her insights are powerful. She might be European. I remember how she described German pedagogy and showed how Hitler was no anomaly. What Americans considered inexplicable, she revealed as inevitable, given early-twentieth century childrearing techniques across the pond.
Enter American Buddhism. And Buddhism-lite. I’m talking about not just long, intensive meditation retreats, but also such things as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Mindfulness is entering corporate America.
My suspicion is that we have opened a can of worms. We will have to finish what we start. Because there is NO going back.
You sit down to meditate. And issues immediately surface: anger suppressed for decades, fear never listened to, long-standing resentments, pent-up physical/emotional exhaustion from decades of caregiving, you name it. The idea of stress reduction now seems ridiculous.
Think of mindfulness in a work environment. The thin veneer of professionalism is stripped away and suddenly a worker realizes that they hate their job with a passion or perhaps they were sexually abused as a child and the memories come flooding in. The boss should do what exactly about any of this? Things could get ugly quickly.
Our culture is obsessed with distraction. I am part of it myself. The downside of it is the superficiality of life and the worthlessness of the activities so much time and energy are spent on. The upside is that these distractions keep us at least semi-functional drones in the professional arena.
But once the body is awakened, the pretense is over. If you hate your job, you can never pretend as effectively as before that all is A-OK. Once you feel that repressed rage, going home and having a nice, normal meal with the family is now out of the question. The issues must be dealt with. The toothpaste is out of the tube. Things will never be the same again.
But this could be a good thing. When one person deals with their issues, many issues can now be addressed. Problems now have the hope of being solved instead of denial ruling the day. Once things have permanently changed, it behooves all involved to make the changes as positive as possible. Now is the time for personal evolution. Not revolution—evolution. Growth. Development. Learning. Once one assumption perceived as permanent changes, they are all up for grabs. It starts individually, but it is hard to imagine the changes as remaining in the solely personal realm.
I’m starting to see acknowledgment of such things. I saw an article in a Buddhist magazine about Edward Brown’s first attempts to meditate and how he had physical shaking. Suzuki Roshi even confronted him about it. When Brown explained that he was trying to observe the movements with curiosity, Roshi was suddenly fine with Brown’s attempts to meditate. I have also seen a book for sale by a Buddhist author called “The Trauma of Everyday Life.” Buddhists are starting to realize that something is going on that must be addressed.
I get the impression that a whole lot more needs to be done. There need to be more Buddhist therapists. More re-integration emphasis after retreats. That kind of thing.
Also, businesses need to be more careful before opening that whole mindfulness can of worms. A corporate therapist (or at least a highly-trained HR professional with access to resources) needs to be on hand. If companies don’t want to deal with the human issues that will unavoidably arise, then they should build robots. Being human is messy.