Human beings are memory machines, for better or for worse. There is an autobiographical narrative that is alive inside all of us, and just as individual memories seem to create me, memories in the morphogenetic field create the collective culture of my family, my society.
You could say that the universe is essentially memory and we are each part of a long line that is re-membering our species anew. Our ancestors are alive within us, as is a great longing to re-member where we came from, in the kosmic sense.
Dr. Keith says these morphogenetic fields of memory are sometimes evident in family constellation work, when a stranger will have “memories” of our relative while standing in the place of that person. The field of the family comes into that room.
Then there are fields of knowing that pass on flashes of great insight. Einstein, Mozart, and so many others, often claimed to have captured something, fully formed. How does this work? Is information traveling at the speed of light into our nervous systems? Is the DNA double helix a perfect shape for the transmission of energy, as some believe? Keith wonders aloud with Jeff about the method of action, and it’s fascinating.
When we anticipate the future we’re using the same brain circuitry as if we are remembering something from the past. If I anticipate having a good time tomorrow that actually becomes a “memory” of how I’m going to have a good time tomorrow. If I anticipate a bad time tomorrow then I now have that memory instead. The curse and the blessing of human consciousness is memory. The great apes can’t go more than about a half hour into the future. We can go forever.
Each stage of development has a new, organizing principle around memories and trauma. The integral stage is about bringing a consciousness and an intentionality to the process because we realize that we are co-creators — with emergence itself — of our lives and of the kosmos. ~Jeff Salzman
Most people are familiar with the effects that major trauma like car accidents, sexual abuse and so on, can have on a person. But our sense of self is also formed by what Dr. Shapiro, the founder of EMDR, calls the “little ‘t’ traumas”, the small humiliations.
Dr. Keith explains that compassionate self-observation is necessary but not sufficient to deal with some of the very sticky issues in the psyche. The brain doesn’t give up anything that it associates with survival. As a psychotherapist, Keith’s job is to make his clients more oriented towards reality, discerning the true from the false, the healthy from the unhealthy, and continually choosing the healthy. “The deeper truth is always coherence,” says Dr. Keith, “the deeper truth is always unity, always love.”
Memories from “capital ’T’ Traumas” resist re-consolidation (in therapy or over time) because during a traumatic experience, in extreme states of stress, two parts of the brain shut down and one has to do with time. “That’s why someone in a deep rage or depression has this sense that they’re going to be in it forever,” Dr. Keith says. So the therapist practices what’s called a dual focus: while therapist and client are connected in the present moment, in a safe and supportive environment, they make contact with the memory. During this process the therapist makes the client feel valued and worthwhile, while simultaneously being connected to the trauma. This gives the brain an opportunity to re-consolidate the experience, and the positive aspects of the self disconfirm the previous, traumatic memory.
The main factor here is the relationship with the therapist. Relationships where there is an emphasis on self-soothing (and therefore emotional self-regulation) are important for this process to work. We can do this in our relationships with each other.
Our past keeps coming up, good and bad, and we need to have protocols of dealing with the distress. Otherwise, we can dissociate from it, cutting us off from ourselves. When we lose wholeness and connectivity, we lose power.
Dr. Keith and Jeff discuss the idea that integralists feel an obligation to grow out of self-loathing and into self-love, into truth, and to help others to do this too. In 2nd tier, Dr. Keith says “there’s this kind of organizing principle that says ‘I have a responsibility to work towards my own coherence and to connect with you in an authentic way, and to contribute to the evolutionary process.’”
At the same time, we’re the sum total of all our memories and they’re never all perfectly integrated. Being healthy “involves radical acceptance of our imperfections as well as acceptance of our embodiment of Spirit in every moment,” says Dr. Keith.
We hope you enjoy this episode of The Shrink & The Pundit.