Digging In The Dirt

The dangers & precautions of deep personal development

Whilst psychological deconstruction is the main technique of Taoist & Buddhist methodologies as well as many psychotherapeutic techniques, its has also become popular amongst coaches and ‘pop-therapists’. These techniques are effective, but also dangerous in the unqualified hands.

Stay with me, I need support
I’m digging in the dirt
To find the places I got hurt
Open up the places I got hurt
—  Peter Gabriel

I was facinated with the occult sciences from quite an early age, buying a book on how to develop psychic powers while I was in 6th grade, and bought my first Tarot deck when I was 14. As a child, I was intrigued by the power that having such ‘powers’ would have.

As I grew older, and my understanding of these traditions and phenomena became more sophisticated my approach to it all was somewhat more mature — these methods were about helping heal fragmented minds, hearts, and souls. I spent twenty years exploring and learning all I could; and then realised that becoming whole meant removing the many layers of conditioned beliefs and what I thought I knew.

Everybody hurts, sometimes
—  R.E.M.

It was around 6 years ago that I first realised that even though I had lived a relatively charmed and privileged life, I still had a degree of pain and suffering which affected my thoughts, words, and deeds. Finally, I had somewhere to begin putting into practice all the theoretical and philosophical knowledge I had accumulated over the span of two decades.

And so it began.

There was only so much I could do on my own. Recalling an old Chinese saying, “he who treats himself has a fool for a doctor”, I began to attend seminars, workshops, courses, and retreats — all with the express (and very generalised) purpose of ‘healing myself’.

And yes, I uncovered much. Acting on this awareness, I made distinct (and for the most part) lasting changes in my life which made a difference. When I look back on who I was compared to who I am today, I believe the transformation is remarkable.

My approach was rather aggressive. I was booked into some kind of intense workshop at least once a month, as well as finding smaller practices to fill in the time in between, reading everything I could on ‘self-development’ on a daily basis. Not only was I delving into Taoist & Buddhist texts on the subjects (which I did for my work anyway), but also readings from Neuroscience, Human Behaviour, Psychology, Psychotherapy, and Sexuality. I searched out techniques and methods, and even began to incorporate what I learned into my own clinical practice and upscaling the level of results for my clients.

What I noticed as a clinician began to shift my own perspective on this kind of work. I started to attract clientele who had been through all these workshops and courses, and began to notice a pattern emerging.

Individuals were going to all these events, workshops, and retreats with the promise of instant personal salvation. They were coming out of them changed, yes. Blasted open, is how I would describe it. Egos smashed, illusions shattered, souls open and vulnerable… and then left to their own devices by the facilitators and self-styled gurus, struggling to integrate the knowledge and changes they had initiated.

Extinguished by light, I turn on the night
Wear its darkness with an empty smile
— Pink Floyd

Many of these folk had walked into these spaces fresh and new. Never having done any form of meditation or introspection, most had no previous experience, and all completely unprepared for what was to come after. In many regards, they were in worse shape than before.

Photo by Ian Chen on Unsplash

In the ancient traditions of Taoism and Buddhism, these deep processes are entered into only after extensive experience, training and preparation. The processes are deliberately slow to allow the person to go through them in their own time, reaching each ‘level’ of change when they are personally ready.

In the Lakota tradition, ceremonies such as hañbleçeya (‘crying for a vision’, aka Vision Quest) are only undertaken after a lot of preparation, and only when the Medicine Man considers the individual ready for it. As I was told by one Medicine Man many years ago, the quest itself is easy; but dealing with the knowledge of the vision, and the consequences of that, is another thing altogether.

In each of these cases, the seeker is supported extensively throughout by their teacher/medicine-person both before and after, as well as by their community.

What was happening in these workshops however was that seekers were coming in fresh and new, with little to none preparation, being blasted open with powerful techniques and methods over the course of 1, 2, or 3 days, and then being left to sort it out themselves, with no follow-up support or assistance with integration.

Photo by Hailey Kean on Unsplash

Worse still, many were involved in signing contracts and agreements that the facilitator held no responsibility for what may or may not happen, instead claiming that the experience was the sole responsibility of the individual.

And they were coming to me, and practitioners like me, trying to pick up the pieces and make sense of it all.

I came through these experiences relatively intact and unscathed. I did after all, have almost 20 years of experience and knowledge before I began to dig deep. I was familiar with the techniques and methods, and in most cases knew how they worked. In other words, I felt safe enough to surrender to the processes, and also had my own learned knowledge of how to remain safe and whole while going through them. I was also aware that I would need support before, during, and after and had trusted therapists I would turn to help integrate my experiences.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

And yet, even with all my knowledge and experience, I am still struggling with processes I have been actively engaged with for almost 6 years.

Shedding layers and getting to the truth of who you are is dirty, messy business. And it takes time.

The many layers that prevent you being your truly natural self have built up over the years of your lifetime to the present. It’s not something that will be fixed over a weekend workshop, or with a 4-week online course.

By all means, attend the workshops, sign up for the courses and retreats. Go into them with some preparation — answer for yourself the following questions:

  1. What do you want to achieve from this workshop/course/event?
  2. Once you get what you want from it, what will you get that’s more important than that?
  3. Once you get what you want, what are the possible consequences (good and/or bad) that may come from that? Are you willing to accept and deal with those consequences should they arise?
  4. How much energy/time/space will you need to give to the process? If you uncover something, how much are you willing to continue that process beyond the workshop/course/retreat?
  5. Have you got an integrative support network of therapists/practitioners who you trust? If not, where can you find them? How much are you willing to put into working with them?

The keys fundamental to personal transformation are preparation and integration. The process of personal deconstruction is certainly a noble and worthy endeavour; but it is challenging, and will rock your world. You will need support and time (and space) to integrate the changes. There is a reason these ancient traditions took their time and supported and supervised the process with each participant.

Tread your path mindfully, and be careful where you dig.

Originally published by Petah Raven on .
Canonical link
Exported from Medium on August 1, 2018.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.