I just participated in an amazing experience at Esalen, for 7 days.
I attended an intensive immersion training offered by Laurel Parnell, creator of Attachment Focused EMDR, perched right at the edge of the sea in Big Sur.
I was transformed and inspired by the rugged power of the cliffs, sea, whales, and condors, and training simultaneously. AF-EMDR uses bilateral stimulation to activate both hemispheres of the brain, in conjunction with guided recall of troubling circumstances or traumatic events, to integrate stories and inaccurate negative beliefs with more whole, rational and emotionally developed parts of the psyche. The result is that neural pathways that have been frozen as a result of the body’s flood of fight/flight hormones and neurostransmittors are literally linked up with more current, adaptive, and functional parts of the nervous system. Primal and seemingly unshakable self-concepts such as “I’m alone” or “I can’t take care of myself” that get lodged in the nervous system anywhere from infancy through adulthood, can be processed through to rational completion, and suddenly integrate with more nuanced and flexible cognition.
The goal of this modality is to heal trauma, which it absolutely does. During a session a client is guided (with bilateral stimulation – such as alternate knee tapping or auditory tones) to follow the natural arising of thoughts, images, sensations, emotions. During all the sessions I participated in as both therapist and client, clients left feeling a significant decrease if not complete elimination of disturbance related to an initial chosen trigger.
The most striking thing to me about this modality is an inexplicable but remarkable by-product.
At the end of sessions clients frequently report feeling warmth, self-acceptance, love, profound forgiveness, and speak aloud some of the most insightful and compassionate statements about themselves and anyone involved in their traumatic events. Its as though the psyche, no matter how many years it has spent caught up in and repeating suffering from the past, is just waiting to return to its original state of openness, compassion, and strength. Our baseline is wisdom and compassion, when we can support our nervous systems to move through and release the events that punctured or inhibited neural integration. Everything else is a deviation from that wholeness. As water always finds its way downward, as light shines through any crack without bias, trauma always seeks resolution, and seems to know its own way given open channels.
I’m grateful to Laurel Parnell, her vision and passion as a therapist, and the many skilled teachers and therapists I worked with over the course of that week.
The last night I was at Esalen, these words came to me, inspired by the healing and connection I witnessed and experienced directly:
Your light will never stop tracing its way back to the origin of stars
No matter the weight
And deaf grinding
of misunderstandings -
that you held more dearly
than a map in the tender dark.
Your light gathers momentum
A flock swan hope,
The fierce gems of hummingbird throats, waiting
In the hurricane of your heartbeat
Pushing against any crack
Or right kind of quiet
To turn it into a window
Or door to the sky.
Even tectonic plates
Where civilizations sleep and roar assumptions
On a bed of
Ancient liquid fire.
There is nothing certain
About the things that hurt
Except that they are temporary coverings
To your wild honey,
To the Milky Way of your/
There is nothing you can do
To not belong here.
You are home.
You have never
Not been loved.
And every cell in your body is
An original diamond
Coded to resonate the singular song of stars, whales, water, and warmth.
When we Let everything we know