August 26, 2009 at 7:50 pm Leave a comment

I am reading a book by Arnold Mindell called ‘Working on Yourself Alone’. Mindell is a Jungian trained psychotherapist who has developed his own process-oriented psychotherapy. He is also the only person I have ever heard of who can bring coma patients out of their coma. I‘ve always been impressed by that feat, which is really unique.

In his book he talks about how people feel ‘distractions’ in their lives, and how ‘distractions’ are always defined by the primary process of the person. By primary process he means their consciousness of who they are, that is the primary process is the way the person sees himself or herself and their role in life. As he puts it,

“In process theory, we speak of a primary process with which you identify yourself most of the time. This primary process is the part you call ‘I’, the part which you see ‘doing’ your life, playing certain roles, working and performing duties. The secondary process is the one that happens to you, like a dog barking, or a sudden voice in your ear, or a pain in your stomach.”

He gave an example,

“..if you are a successful business person driving to work in the morning and are held up by an accident, your primary process is being a successful, punctual business person, and your secondary one is relaxing, slowing yourself down. The secondary one happens to you; it disturbs, surprises and annoys you.”

Now this example struck home to me, because it made me realise how my ‘primary process’ has changed over the past ten years. I was also a thrusting ambitious business man, a hungry film producer whose consciousness was focused on getting films made, and almost everything else was seen as a ‘distraction’ from that role. Now I have turned that around so much that my primary process is more like the secondary process he describes above: to keep myself healthy, balanced, tranquil and content, Now I see my business activities (phone calls, emails and meetings) as the current ‘distractions’ from my leisure, which seems to be my primary process these days.

Thinking about this change led me to realise something else: that I know that I was too one-sided when I was a busy film producer, and the ‘distractions’ that I resented (demands of family life, domestic chores and kids) really had a lot to offer me, things that I needed to maintain a good balance in my life. Similarly, it’s now wrong for me to see my work demands as a ‘distraction’, stopping me from doing what it is I would really like to do. Again, this maintains a one-sided unbalanced view of life which can only be unhealthy.

It’s clear that I need to stop feeling frustrated or annoyed when a ‘distraction’ comes along, but to accept that life is full of events, some that may attract me more than others, but that it’s better for me to accept them and deal with them without annoyance rather than build up this resistance that ‘distractions’ create in my mind. This resistance is a form of low level stress and it’s not good stress either.

The Taoists have a term for this kind of accepting attitude – wu wei, which is often translated as non-striving or non-acting, but really means an easy-going accepting spontaneous response to life. This implies a unique response to life’s events and not an automatic reaction, which I think is what these feelings of ‘distractions’ are- automatic habitual reactions to events that we feel are taking up our time or attention, attention that we would really like to apply to our main aim- our primary process.

Mindell agrees and says it would be good

“ to accept and process all events, including anger, jealousy and greed, in order to reveal their life-giving potential. How can I make use of all my perceptions for my own benefit and for the rest of the world?”

This is really learning how to use non-discrimination in our lives.

Entry filed under: Thoughts. Tags: , , , .

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Reflections on an age of anxiety.


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