Clients often come to me to release the imprints, the remnants, and the ever present impact of events from the past. Abuses of all kinds, childhood conditioning and psychological patterns that developed as a result of these are the most common. Every one has their story, their pain.
The common notion of the nature of time is that the past is just that, in the past - it's no longer present and no longer affects us - may be true in a mechanical sense. And it's along these lines that you may hear people say, "Get over it," or, "Why does that still bother you?" Other than lacking the obvious compassion, such statements are also factually incorrect. The past is not the past when it comes to the human psyche.
Both Bessel van der Kolk's best-selling book, The Body Keeps The Score, and Dr Gabor Mate's excellent books summarise how the central nervous system still behaves as if the threat of past experiences is ever present, and I would thoroughly recommend people read these books if they want to explore this topic further.
The affected central nervous system, in turn, affects the whole body - including hormone secretions and organ function - as well as our behaviour. Our accumulation of experiences has shaped us, and continues to do so.
Dr Gabor Mate goes on to state how this affects our physical health and leads to all kinds of illness in later life. So, for example, a child who has experienced sexual abuse has much higher chances of experiencing debilitating, chronic and terminal illness later in life due to an almost lifelong exposure to high levels of cortisol.
I would go further to suggest that it's not just past traumas - nor just more extreme cases of PTSD - that affect how the body reacts to life or, indeed, how we react to it. It's just that these cases are more easy to identify and diagnose. We don't need to be war veterans or abuse survivors to warrant the need for therapy.
How many of us have grown up with divorced parents? How many of us have lost friends when moving school? How many of us were rarely heard or acknowledged when we needed it most?
Such events can leave a mark of the psyche and, most importantly, how we choose to react to them becomes an inbuilt coping mechanism for similar events in future.
No two people experiencing the same event will react in the same way. Each will experience their own spectrum of emotions and thoughts. Just like how all our bodies are unique, so too are the range and levels of hormones that are secreted and central nervous system's activity in response to the experience.
These reactions are unique to us and our sense of self is related to how we react to these things.
So when a client comes to me for help with their past, it's my duty to establish as good a working relationship with them as a personality and, most importantly, their body. So we'll talk about the past in the consultation, but what can happen during the bodywork session can be a surprise to some of my clients.
Rather than relieving the imprint of the past, rather than trying to hone in on the 'stuck' emotion, behavioural pattern or memory in order to work with it, what ends up happening - and this is beyond my control - is that the session becomes about helping the client with what's coming up in their future.
To be clear, this is something that can be sensed through touch. Working with the past can and does happen. But this article is about those time when it doesn't. When the client's future direction is what comes to the fore, despite the past being the main theme of the consultation.
The reason for this is twofold. Firstly, what's happening in their lives now and the direction their lives are taking is intricately related to the past. So whilst the conscious desire may be to work on a past issue, what ends up happening is that the session affirms their vision, their dream for their future. In doing so, they are encouraged in a direction that helps them to free themselves from the hangover of the past.
Secondly, it acts as a counterbalance and safety measure to the blaming that can develop. It's easy to end up blaming the past (and others) for who we are now. "My mother never showed me any love so I seek relationships where I am mothered, " or "It's his fault that I am so angry," or whatever it may be. Whilst resentment and blame in this context are usually easy to spot in others, and sometimes ourselves, what's less easy to spot is the distinction between healthy analysis of ourselves and less healthy versions thereof. Ruminating about our past experiences can stop us living the life that we have been gifted and can stop us moving forward toward new potentials.
Both of these are two sides of the same coin. They empower a client to become unstuck. To be freer and easier within themselves so they can take their lives forward in a direction that leads to greater satisfaction, happiness and inner growth.
And ultimately, past and future are two sides of the same coin. They are means by which we relate to the present moment. And it's only in the present moment that our imaginings of the future be made manifest, or that the past can be brought to the surface for healing. And it's only in the present moment that I can work with my clients. I can't travel back in time, nor can I show them their future. All I can do is to work with them, just as they are presented to me, and do my utmost to create the conditions where the best possible outcome arises.