Friday, August 19, 2011


Franz Kafka, the story goes, encountered a little girl in the park where he went walking daily. She was crying.  She had lost her doll and was desolate.
Kafka offered to help her look for the doll and arranged to meet her the next day at the same spot.  Unable to find the doll he composed a letter from the doll and read it to her when they met.

“Please do not mourn me,  I have gone on a trip to see the world.  I will write you of my adventures.”  This was the beginning of many letters.  When he and the little girl met he read her from these carefully composed letters the imagined adventures of the beloved doll.  The little girl was comforted.

When the meetings came to an end Kafka presented her with a doll.  She obviously looked different from the original doll.  An attached letter explained: “my travels have changed me…”

Many years later, the now grown girl found a letter stuffed into an unnoticed crevice in the cherished replacement doll.  In summary it said:  “ every thing that you love, you will eventually lose,  but in the end,  love will return in a different form.”

There are many versions of the story of Kafka and the doll.  I heard this one from Tara Brach, psychologist and Buddhist meditation teacher in Washington DC.

Only after many tellings am I able to relay this story without crying.  And I have found that when I tell it to others young or old,  my listener is invariably moved, occasionally bursting into tears.

When I went online to find confirmation for the story,  I found one source that referred to it as a “healing story.”  That seems right.  For whether this actually ever happened the story is real and true and provides a template for healing.

For me there are two wise lessons in this story:  Grief and loss are ubiquitous even for a young child.   And the way toward healing is to look for how love comes back in another form.

 I think there are advantages to viewing grief as omnipresent, an inescapable part of being a human being.  Grief encompasses far more than the loss of a loved one,  although that is perhaps its most profound manifestation.   The loss of  the doll in the story is devastating to the little girl. This is what moves Kafka to create the wonderful stories of  travel and adventure.  He perceived the depth of her pain.  It is reported that he put as much time and care into creating these letters for the little girl as he did in other writings.

Holding the  perspective of  the universality of loss,  helps us with shame and loneliness.  If a profound grief reaction to divorce or children leaving home or the loss of a pregnancy,  or unemployment, or retirement,  or having to confront the limitations of our children, or aging, or the loss of health is something I share with my fellow beings, I am less alone.  And I don’t have to be ashamed that I feel the way I do,  for shame is part of the legacy of isolation.

And love coming back,  in  a different form?  I believe it was Kafka’s letters that were the real gift of love, and what was ultimately healing for the little girl was the relationship that that was the balm.  Someone cared enough for her pain to write her lovely stories of the lost doll’s adventures.  A great writer at that. 

How healing it is to hold this conviction, that love will return. It is our job to recognize it in its new form.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


 Last October I wrote a post on listening to your inner wisdom (Oct. 1, 2010

The post was based on experiences from my practice with a visualization technique that seemed helpful to people and furthered the ends of the psychotherapy treatment.  It often helped us cut through confusion, obfuscation, denial, and conditioned thinking and got us quickly to the heart of whatever matter we were wrestling with.

This work was especially helpful with and for individuals who relied heavily on “dissociation”  a coping mechanism we all resort to at times, but is particularly important for individuals who have experienced childhood trauma.  I have experimented with the inner wisdom technique with others whose “traumas” were less obvious or less extreme or even non-existent and found it useful in a lot of situations.  Inner wisdom is wise and I think universal.

I’m revisiting this issue, after reading an article by Martha Beck in this month’s Oprah Magazine,  (yes, Oprah) on a very similar topic which reminded me of some other issues related to implementing this practice which might be useful to comment on.

The existence of “inner wisdom” is based on the assumption that there is something in all of us that, unimpeded, will right us when we wobble.  Maybe “inner gyroscope” is more accurate.  A gyroscope will always get us back in balance if we just let it.

I think of inner wisdom as right-brained, body-based, nor necessarily verbal.  It’s that still small “voice” within which may not be a “voice” at all, but arrive in the form of images, kinesthetic sensation, or even sound. 

I sat with a client once on the same morning I had received some awful news about a dear friend.  I tried to set this aside and set to work with this client.  I thought I had. Very quickly, I got drawn into a confusing, chaotic, tumultuous session.  It wasn’t until she reported “hearing”  a loud bang that we began to get some clarity.  The bang, it turned out, was the dreadful memory of the sound of a car hitting and killing her best friend, an event that she had witnessed decades past.   Her “inner wisdom” was telling her something very similar was happening to me.  And it was.

We live in an extremely left-brained culture.  By this I mean we value words, logic, socially conditioned values.  We more often make choices based on “shoulds,” “oughts,” the evaluations of others, negative judgments.   We don’t let the gyroscope do its work.

We also live in a culture brimful of distraction. 
To “hear” your inner voice you have to get quiet, you have to learn to cultivate and tolerate silence.  The blackberry, iphone, NPR, gmail, twitter, facebook all have to go away for a little while everyday.  Processing experience comes more naturally when you are walking in the woods, taking rhythmic breaths in the pool, doing yoga without the radio on (my personal downfall).

Taking note of our dreams, by keeping a log of them,  sitting with them for at least a few minutes every day, increases clarity. There very well may be meaningful cues that are coming through our dreams that can be guiding us.  A patient reports that as she was sifting through old journals she found notes of a dream that almost exactly predicted the location and manner of detection of a malignancy in her breast, a malignancy that would be discovered many years later.

Meditating on a regular basis also increases the accessibility to cues, often within the body, that are signaling us as to which moves are prudent, and which imprudent.

Sometimes I have the experience of feeling upset without really know why.  I know my nervous system is buzzing, my body is sending signals of distress, but I haven’t a clue as to what this is about.  I have to get quiet to have any chance of getting a handle on what is really going on.  More than likely,  sitting quietly, patiently (for it may take awhile) with the question of what is it that is upsetting me,  what is calling for my attention, will yield some clarity.   The upset doesn’t disappear, but its power does diminish and I am less likely to be reactive to it, reactive in a way that will neither benefit me nor those around me.

Cultivating this inner voice yields great benefits.  I think we all instinctively know this.  I wonder what keeps us from actively listening.