Balancing on the Heart
Balancing on the heart
By Lynn Somerstein, PhD, RYT
Think about standing on one foot. Actually, if it’s available to you, I invite you to get out of your seat right now and stand on one foot in the tree pose- o ne foot on the ground, toes spread, while the other leg swivels from the hip out to the side; then the knee bends, and the foot rests on the calf or the inner thigh. Feel the air enveloping you, gravity grounding you. Breathe. Use a sturdy chair for balance; if you like, raise your arms in the air and grow your tree, or lean left or right with the wind. Get silly. Lose your balance and wobble a bit.
This experiment with trust- focused, non-defensive, and playful- is both practice and metaphor for psychotherapy. The therapist makes sure you have the space you need. Maybe the therapist holds you up or grounds you like the air or gravity does when you’re in Vriksasana, tree pose. Certainly you can laugh together, and wobble a bit as you feel your ways to closeness and separation- what works at this moment, then maybe something entirely different the next moment. You’re balancing on the wings of two hearts.
The first two hearts in the world, of course, are the infant’s and the mother’s- D.W. Winnicott, foremost thinker of Object Relations Theory, said, “There is no such thing as a baby. . . . A baby cannot exist alone, but is essentially part of a relationship.” By relationship Winnicott means mother, father, caregiver, or, as John Donne wrote about us all at any age:
No Man is an Island
No man is an island, entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were,
as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were;
any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls,
it tolls for thee.
Some people feel that they are islands, they have to go it alone, in fact, they should never ask anyone for anything; seeing a therapist is a sign of weakness, maybe, or a waste of money. Maybe they were unlucky and didn’t have the help and guidance they needed when they were children, and forgot that hearts and heads literally develop in relationship— mind to mind, heart to heart—we learn to be more fully human within loving connections.
People often come to therapy because they want to learn better ways to live, and feel hungry to develop and learn their paths. Confucian tradition teaches that you become fully human only after you decide to do so, and I see many people who have made that decision and are working hard on it. Therapists are midwives helping people become more fully themselves, fully human.
Starting therapy is like starting the tree pose. First you need to hold on to a wall, learn to focus, and learn to wobble without being too afraid. You need to find out who this person is that you’re talking to, and can that person be trusted to listen and understand and be available as someone to lean on when and if you need. Will you have enough space and enough closeness, both?
I meditate twice a day- morning and night- if I’m lucky it feels like balancing on my heart, it can also feel like loving closeness with another — open, non-defensive—like the tree pose, or like making art, or nursing a new born. We all start out as baby trees, saplings when we first open our senses to the people who we expect will care for us. Later we might have to learn how to balance all over again. Still later, we might decide to be our selves entirely, balance on our hearts, take wing and become fully human.
The night after writing this I dreamt a bird had come into my room. I took care of it for a time, and then, when it was ready, I led it to an open window and watched it fly away.