Waking Up Together title
Sunset
AN INTERACTIVE PRACTICE FOR COUPLES

Excerpts

Click on the following links to read excerpts from the book.

From the Introduction

From chapter one: Cohesive Elements of a Relationship

From chapter two: Trance Consciousness

From chapter three: The Entranced Relationship

From chapter four: An Individual Practice of Awakening

From Introduction

To fully grasp what it means to wake up together, we must address two integrally related questions: what are we waking up from? and, what we are waking up into? The first question is essentially a psychological one; the second is a spiritual one. Broadly speaking, what we are waking up from is the automatic, self-perpetuating, rigid patterns and diminished awareness of a conditioned mind upon which our ego identity is based. What we are waking up into is a direct and ever-growing awareness of our true Self, our spiritual essence or soul.

From chapter one: Cohesive Elements of a Relationship

Early on in my psychotherapy practice when I would interview a couple individually prior to meeting with them together, I would often be astounded at how different their descriptions were of the same relationship. There were times when, had I not known they were together, I would have thought they were describing completely different relationships. I would sometimes ask myself silently, “How in the world did these two ever get together?” or, “How do they stay together, they aren’t even in the same relationship?”

I can now answer those questions. From three decades of observing and learning about couple relationships—my own as well as those I have worked with—I have found certain universal elements that consistently function as the glue which holds a couple together. I have distilled these into three essential categories that I refer to as the cohesive elements of a relationship.

• A shared (or compatible) vision

• Intrinsically rewarding moments

• Complementary dysfunctional patterns

From chapter two: Trance Consciousness

Suppose you decide to go to the movie theater, looking forward to a pleasant evening of entertainment. Let’s further imagine that you have heard of several good movies that are currently playing that you must choose between: an action film, a comedy, a romance movie, a thriller, a political drama, a science fiction movie, a light whimsical fantasy, and an intellectually complex foreign film with subtitles. How do you go about choosing? While most of us tend to gravitate toward our favorite genres, our final choice will usually be determined by the mood we are in, or the mood we hope the movie will put us in.

We generally go to a movie to be stimulated in some way: emotionally, intellectually, or sensually. We may hope to be moved, inspired, surprised, or perhaps just to be distracted from something unpleasant occurring in our personal life. Whatever the reason, movies that are the most successful are those which capture our interest and our attention so completely that, at least for certain moments, we become totally absorbed in the action, scenery, story, dialogue, and/or emotion. Our bodies may become engaged as well, with subtle changes in muscle tension or our breathing pattern. Caught up in the drama as if it was our own, we erupt with spontaneous laughter or tears. Depending on the type of movie or scene, our heart rate may increase, hormones may be released, we may jump or squirm in our seat, or blurt out a sound in surprise. In those moments, we even forget that we are watching a movie. In those moments, we are entranced.

One of the more impactful discoveries of both anthropology and psychology reveals for us the pervasiveness of the phenomenon of trance states in human consciousness. Indigenous cultures throughout history have incorporated the intentional application of hypnotic and other types of trance states into their spiritual and healing practices. Modern medicinal uses of hypnotic trance range from reducing stress and lowering heart rate and blood pressure, to reducing surgery recovery time, supporting immune system response, and more effectively managing acute and chronic pain. The therapeutic use of hypnotic trance in contemporary psychology, as well, has more than proven its effectiveness in areas such as addictions, therapeutic regression, accessing and healing trauma memories and other core issues trapped in the unconscious.

In addition to the intentional use of hypnotic trances, human consciousness seems to be exquisitely designed to be able to enter a variety of trance states spontaneously, which it does quite often. Some trances serve to enhance our ability to function effectively at a particular task or in certain situations, such as in a variety of athletic activities, artistic and musical performances, or certain mechanical operations where a sustained focus is required. On the other end of the spectrum, other trances may prove to be psychologically or interpersonally dysfunctional, even destructive. We are so naturalized to this process, we generally do not even notice when we have entered a trance state. Many of us are not aware that trance states of consciousness play an integral part of our everyday lives. Stephen Wolinsky, Ph.D., elucidates this phenomenon beautifully in his ground-breaking book Trances People Live (1991).

It is common to have our attention absorbed and captivated while watching a movie. That experience is obvious to even the casual observer and we don’t generally give it a second thought. What most of us do not realize is that a very similar phenomenon occurs inside our own mind throughout the day, yet we are so conditioned to it that it blends unnoticed into our ordinary daily lives. It is as if we are going to the movies inside our own mind and get so caught up in the drama that we forget we are watching a movie. As we consider this analogy more carefully, we will shed more light on how trances operate in our everyday lives.

From chapter three: The Entranced Relationship

Most couples in the throes of a complementary dysfunctional pattern find themselves recycling the same issues, the same complaints, the same behaviors and interactions, and the same emotional reactions over and over. Frustrated and dismayed that no matter what they try to do in the hopes of changing their situation, they find themselves re-engaging in the same painful drama yet again.

One observation I have made regarding couples who argue often is that they do not have many different arguments. Rather, they usually have only one or two basic arguments that they simply rehash over and over. And, in these arguments, the couple’s interactive pattern is so well established and habitual they could go on stage before an audience, each able to recite the entire script. They know how it begins, who says what, who challenges and who defends, how and when the emotional intensity ebbs and flows and builds, and who expresses which emotions. They both know which retort comes from whom and when it is most effective, where the argument crescendos, and how the whole interaction ends. Every now and then, someone might improvise and throw the other a curve, but even this is usually quickly incorporated into their dysfunctional pattern.

As emotionally painful and unrewarding as most complementary dysfunctional patterns are, they can be extremely tenacious. Even though a couple might learn to maneuver around the more painful aspects of their patterns, they often feel at a loss for how to truly end them. I have found this to be true because the couple focuses almost exclusively on the contents of the interactions. They keep re-addressing their particular issues, needs, positions, and reactive feelings as well as those of their partner, futilely attempting to create change or achieve some kind of resolution or agreement on that level. What they generally do not realize is that their dysfunctional patterns occur in, and are maintained within, specific states of consciousness, which we now recognize as trances.

From chapter four: An Individual Practice of Awakening

Stalking Our Trances

Some trance patterns are so subtle, illusive, or camouflaged as ordinary experience that we do not see them for what they are until we are already ensnared in them, much like a bug in a spider’s web. Other trances are more immediately disruptive and overpower us like a wild animal pouncing upon its prey. In either case, we are caught off guard and are at a real disadvantage in our attempts to get—and remain—free of our trances. For this reason, it is important not to wait until we are already in a trance to engage our practice of awakening. Rather, we need to be proactive when we are awake so that we are not simply at the mercy of our trances when they strike.

One way to facilitate this, after we have gone through the initial process of identifying and naming our trances, is to develop the art of stalking our trances. To do this, we need to start with a focused intent to find and identify a given trance while we are still awake. The archetype of the stalker invokes an attitude of intense curiosity and genuine intrigue about the workings of our own trances. As the stalker, we do not simply wait for a trance to emerge but actively seek it out. We will be on the lookout for signs and clues that would indicate that a trance is beginning (or potentially beginning) to emerge. We will be sensitizing and honing our attention as if learning to catch the “scent” of a particular emotional reaction or impulse, noticing any change in our own thoughts and behaviors. For example, our tone of voice or the use of a particular figure of speech, or the emergence of a strong opinion or emotionally charged assumption, or the onset of any number of physical sensations.

All trances occur within a context of some kind, whether internal or external, and are, therefore, associated with specific circumstances, behaviors, environments, memories, or types of relationships, such as family of origin, social, or work communities, etc. From the stalker’s perspective, the context and any of the associated elements of a trance represents its “habitat” or natural environment. In order to stalk a trance, we must begin our search in the environment where it is most likely to occur. For instance, in order to stalk our “road rage” trance, we would begin our search while we are driving (or anytime we might be thinking about driving and begin to feel that rage). If we were stalking our “anxiety at work” trance, we would begin our search while at work. If we were stalking a trance related to our family of origin, we would begin stalking while at a family gathering or, perhaps, when we were having a conversation on the telephone with a parent or sibling—as these are the circumstances in which those trances are activated.

About twenty years ago I had an experience that exemplifies this process, although I had not yet formalized the concept or practice of stalking trances. Up until that time, I had been troubled by a particular trance associated with receiving shots. As a child I never liked getting a shot but at some point, my aversion intensified into an anxiety trance so overpowering that I would faint almost every time I received a shot or had my blood drawn. This continued for several years throughout college and into my early adulthood. As annoying and inconvenient as it was, my “fainting” trance was so predictable that I could warn doctors and nurses before they would administer a shot, and they would gratefully have me lie down first. The anxiety was not about the pain, which was usually minimal and short lived. It came from something deeper emotionally and less obvious to me. While I could speculate as to its origin, I found that it wasn’t necessary because by this time the trance seemed to get triggered automatically with no conscious association or memory of its origin.

My growing frustration about fainting prompted me to want to understand it better so that hopefully I could be done with it. During one appointment when I was scheduled to have my blood drawn, I shared my dilemma of fainting with my doctor and told him I really wanted to get to the bottom of the problem. I told him I had an idea of what I needed, which was to be left alone in a room after my blood was drawn so that I could explore what was really happening in me that was causing me to faint. Fortunately, my doctor was a personal friend as well as a generous and open-minded physician. He was glad to accommodate me, and instructed his staff to leave me alone in my room after my blood had been drawn.

Normally, I would have dreaded having my blood drawn, knowing how unpleasant the aftermath always was. But this time I was so committed to getting to the bottom of this problem, I was actually looking forward to the experience of fainting. As soon as my blood was drawn, my doc wished me luck and left me alone. In acute anticipation, I waited, watching for the first hints of fainting. Sure enough, I began to feel that familiar clammy, sweaty feeling—but this was good, I thought. I was on it! Then came that familiar metallic taste in my mouth that accompanied the onset of nausea. Now, I was really excited—I was going to catch the faint at the exact point it occurred. I waited and watched and tuned in acutely so I could track even the subtlest intensification of any of the sensations, as this was how I would “close in” on the faint. I continued to wait—watching, scanning for the sensations. But they didn’t intensify. In fact, the more I sought them out, the less intense they became. I began to get mildly impatient. For the first time, I was truly ready and intent on facing down my demon. Yet, it seemed that the more I genuinely wanted to meet it, the more illusive it became. Within just a few minutes, there was no trace of anxiety and absolutely no inclination to faint.

This was a rather odd and perplexing experience. Part of me was relieved because I seemed to have broken the spell of fainting. But part of me was genuinely disappointed because I really wanted to find the source of the anxiety that made me faint. Then it occurred to me that the source of the anxiety was my aversion and avoidance of the experience of fainting. Paradoxically, my genuine intent to confront and fully experience the source of the anxiety was the very thing that neutralized it.

The irony of stalking our own trances is that rather than attempting to avoid or end a particular trance, we are actually hoping to come upon it just as it is becoming active, but to do so while we are in our full present awake state. By anchoring ourselves in the stalker archetype, we will be giving ourselves the advantage of being centered and grounded in an awake state as we encounter our trances. This will not guarantee that we never get caught in our trances, but it will greatly enhance our ability to recognize and observe them as they occur.

In this particular situation, because of the unique nature of anxiety, stalking my trance had the secondary effect of dispelling it altogether. While such a relief may spontaneously occur in some situations, this is not always the case and is not the point I want to emphasize. Stalking our trances cultivates a degree of mastery in our ability to recognize our trances, whether or not they are neutralized at the time.

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Copyright ©2013 Leland Baggett. All rights reserved.