Is it possible that puking into a bucket could be a cutting edge therapeutic technique? I believe the answer is a resounding ‘yes’. In this article I’ll describe my experience of purging, explore some theories and give some pointers for therapists keen on including it as part of their tool bag.
In Autumn 2010 my girlfriend Max and I arrived back from a course on Shamanic Sexual Healing run by Baba Dez of the Sedona Temple. As you can imagine the week had been pretty intense and had involved working with many of the participants’ deeply held traumas. We were together in the lounge and I was commenting on an icky feeling of revulsion that I notice in my gut from time to time when we are together. Max then asked me what I immediately recognized as a brilliant question: ‘What does it smell like?’
As I turned my imaginary nose towards the feeling in my belly I realized that, even though I had no conception of what it would smell like, I was, nevertheless, afraid of smelling it. I allowed myself to become fully aware of this fear, faced it, felt it, and chose to smell the thing I could feel. As I made this decision my body jerked into a cough. The cough became more and deeper coughs. I noticed that I was afraid that I would be sick; and turned towards this fear too. The coughs continued. Some liquid was ejected, projectile like, from my mouth and my thoughts pinged briefly to a scene from the film ‘The Exorcist’.
Thankfully the vomiting didn’t last long but the coughs became spasms moving through my whole body and making me utter groaning sounds that I’ve never heard before. The first wave lasted over an hour. Max sat with me, calmly, through these and for all the waves to come; a comforting witnessing presence. The next wave of contractions lasted for less than an hour and subsequent waves for less and less time and with longer periods of lucidity in between. The experience was reminiscent of contractions during a birth. All in all it lasted for about four and a half hours.
The next day I was somewhat wide eyed – did I dream all that? It was as if something very special had happened and I felt like I had been partly cleansed but that there was more yet to go. Though it was certainly intense it was not scary. It felt natural – like my body had been waiting for an opportunity to do it.
A natural process
When we are out in the jungle hunting and gathering and we eat the wrong kind of berry the body’s natural action is to eject the toxins the quickest way possible – usually the way they came in. From that moment on the body remembers the experience and reminds us not to eat those berries again by associating them with feelings of disgust. In addition to the personal experience it is noticed that vomiting in one person tends to induce feelings of nausea and vomiting in others. This makes sense in the food gathering example as if your friend has just eaten something toxic there is a good chance that you have too.
The disgust association can also be socially conditioned. When mothers see their child exploring ‘dirty’ things with their mouths and teach their offspring to find it disgusting by making ‘eaugh’ noises, pulling a face and removing the offending item from their mouths (often causing their children to start crying in the process). Later, as we learn language, we learn to be sickened by the events described in other people’s stories. All this has a massive benefit in terms of learning from other people’s mistakes.
In addition to the vomit response after imbibing I have noticed that people can tend to feel nauseous or vomit during intense exercise, before an anxiously anticipated event or after an intensely traumatic experience such as a fight.
I wonder if it is part of the body’s ‘fight or flight’ parasympathetic nervous response? This response aims to free up energy in the body by stopping immediately non-essential actions in the body and prioritizing body functions that are necessary for intense physical activity. Faced with the stressful situation the body releases feces and urine and slows or stops digestion. The heart rate rises, focus narrows and energy is released into the muscles ready for action. After the action the body begins to shake … believed by many to be a way of the muscles releasing toxins in order to recover.
Could it be that vomiting before a stressful situation means that there is less weight to carry and less food to digest? Could it be that vomiting after a stressful situation is another way of the body releasing physical toxins?
The problem comes when the feelings of disgust are felt with respect to things that are not actually dangerous to our body. And because the feeling of nausea is so unpleasant we may well have learned to avoid these things without even knowing that we are avoiding them. Often it takes a serious amount of awareness and honesty to realize what we are actually disgusted by. When we avoid facing these things we get to avoid feeling sick. But we also get to avoid a part of life; part of ourselves.
What do you turn away from? Sex? Intimacy? Blood? Violence? Death? Anything else?
It makes sense to me that the body should vomit when it becomes aware of some kind of foreign body inside that doesn’t belong. On the physical level this foreign body could be some bad food; on the subtle level it could be some kind of toxic energy.
What do I mean by ‘toxic energy’? If someone said ‘I’ve got this black, noxious, sticky tar-like substance at the pit of my stomach’ then (unless they’ve literally been eating tar) you would not see this if you cut them open. It is in their imagination and made out of subtle energy. They experience it as if it was real. If you asked them if that energy belonged to them I’m pretty sure that they would say no.
How did this energy get inside in the first place? I’m not exactly sure. But have you ever experienced someone making you feel disgusted? Could it be that they are pushing the disgust they feel into your subtle body? Have you ever been made to feel so ashamed that you wanted the ground to swallow you up? Could it be that when the ground does swallow you up then you swallow a subtle entity that was living in the ground?
When we get in the way of our body’s natural process of vomiting the toxic matter stays in the body and the unwanted feelings of revulsion persist in our lives. When we control our body, the parasitic entity is really controlling us.
The quickest and most complete way of changing a pattern of avoidance is to face the thing that is feared. To vomit even though it is unpleasant to do so.
Purging in shamanic ritual
Ayahuasca is a well known shamanic ally substance used in the Peruvian Amazon. It is known to have permanent positive effects on mind-body illnesses including depression, addiction and schizophrenia.
Meghan Shannon is an American living in Peru. Here are some extracts from her article ‘What is Ayahuasca…Really…?’
‘Most of us walk around every day, thinking we are the ones running our lives. But like the anger entity, there are tons and tons of energy patterns, crossed energies and spirits literally along for the ride, hidden inside like internal luggage …
‘The purge is what makes the Ayahuasca unique. That’s why it works so fast. Because it is physically pulling this stuff out of your body. You can do all the energy and spiritual work you want, but until these dark entities physically leave the body, you are still walking around struggling against them. You may have gotten a pretty good handle on them, but it’s so normal you don’t know how much energy would be freed up if they weren’t there …
‘The purges can be challenging, make no mistake. Often (but not always) the person feels the energy or emotion as it is leaving the body. Purging fear = extremely scary. Purging doubt = thinking all these shamans are out of their minds and this is some kind of cult. Purging ego = getting triggered by the guy with the bigger ego during the day of the ceremony. Purging overactive mind chatter = exhausting thought spirals. Physical purges (vomit, diarrhea, gas, hot/cold temperatures, yawning, sweating, vibrating/shaking, crying, abnormal breathing, fidgeting) are all catalysts that the dark energy attaches to (either the physical liquid, gas or breath) to get out. It is the much more efficient than energy work alone (though most people feel extreme energies as well). Not only do challenging purges move out darkness fast, they train the body and mind to be able to endure the physical world …’
Methodology for ‘Hypno-purging’ (for want of a better name)
This process is an advanced therapeutic technique that takes a lot of commitment from the client and a lot of confidence from the therapist in order to see it through. Awareness of disgust can arise spontaneously in the course of a session or could be a client’s presenting problem.
Go hunting together
Notice what your client is avoiding. What do they NOT talk about, what do they NOT do, what do they do their best NOT to be. You’ll need to be eagle eyed as the client will be a master of staying away from this stuff.
A good thing to watch out for is micro expressions. Notice when, for a split second, your client’s face turns into a disgusted grimace when they are talking. For that moment they accessed the disgusting thing … but it was so quick they probably didn’t even notice. Stop them immediately and direct them back to what they were saying, where they were looking, any body language. Slow everything down and have them notice if they can sense what it was that you noticed.
Become aware of the avoidance
If you think you have noticed what they are avoiding before they do go ahead and let them know. Anything less is beating about the bush and colluding with them that this (whatever it is) cannot be faced head on. Tell them what you are noticing and ask them if they are avoiding something. For example: ‘A moment ago I was asking you about sex and now you are talking about relationships again. Are you avoiding talking about sex?’ If they get defensive at this point then that is brilliant information that there is something here that needs defending. Remember – it is the parasitic energy that is defending itself, not the client so don’t get distracted by it.
At this stage you can give your client a brief overview of the benefits of the natural process of purging sadness by crying (which they will understand), anger by shouting (which they will understand) and disgust by puking (which they will now understand). Check out if there are any medical reasons for not going down this route. Then give them a bucket. That will show them that you are serious and probably start to get them a bit apprehensive. This is good. It shows that they are taking this seriously and that the toxic energy inside is getting nervous.
Re-cap on the negative effect that this avoidance has on their lives. They need to re-member (get back into the body) how important this is to them. Otherwise why would they actually face what they have been avoiding? A simple question like ‘And while you are avoiding (blah), what effect is that having on your life?’ Accept no bullshit. Make them spell it out. Make them feel the pain of their avoidance.
Confront the parasite
Coach your client to confront the avoided thing. Develop any spontaneously occurring metaphors. ‘Where is it?’, ‘What’s it like over there?’, ‘How many of them are there?’, ‘What are they doing?’, that kind of thing. As more of their awareness is directed towards what they have been avoiding they will almost certainly start feeling their internal response to it. In the case of disgust they will probably start to feel sensations in the stomach, chest or throat. Again, build awareness of these feelings with questions like ‘And now what are you noticing?’, ‘And whereabouts in your stomach is that?’, ‘And what’s that like?’, ‘And how much black sludge is there?’, and, of course, ‘What does it smell like?’ Remember: you are not making them feel sick, you are revealing what is already there.
Facilitate the purge by confronting and removing all barriers that are preventing the body from doing what it wants to do. If the client is afraid of loosing control and being sick then get them to feel that fear deeply. Coach them to choose to accept the fear and surrender to their body. As the sensations increase get the client to notice any ways that they are trying to control them or avoid them and to STOP. And really notice the feelings and allow them to do whatever they want to do. If they cough then reinforce it with a ‘Good, let it happen.’ Similarly if they wretch or puke. Let them know everything is fine and it will pass. The only way out is through.
After the purge has happened your client will probably come back to themselves (literally … squatter out, owner in) quite quickly. They may feel somewhat battered but will likely feel cleansed and well. They will probably look much more alive and glowing. This is the perfect time to get them to notice what is different now. Invite them to think about things that used to bother them. Invite them to imagine situations that would have caused them problems (‘future pacing’ in NLP speak).
I was musing today on the idea that the reason that some ‘dyslexics’ have trouble with distinguishing letters like ‘b’ and ‘d’ is that they are conceiving of them as three dimensional symbols … and that ‘b’ and ‘d’ are actually the same letter viewed from different sides. (From the side it would look something like an ‘I’ and from top or bottom they would look like a ‘-‘. I’m not sure if anyone ever confuses b and d with I and -.)
Then I got to thinking about how, when we write, we only write in a single direction – from left to right – and that the reader is forced to flick their attention from the end of one line to the beginning of the next. I’m very curious about discontinuities like this and hypothesise that a steady tracking of text – especially if it balances right to left as well as left to right – would result in some kind of smoother comprehension.
My experiment looks like this:
Here are some of the presuppositions (things we come into a situation assuming) often associated with NLP. They are not ‘true’ as such … more of a handrail when developing the attitude of curiosity and wanton experimentation.
The map is not the territory
A map is a practical resource which helps us to find our way around. For a map to be useful it needs to change the size and reduce the complexity to a level which helps the user. Maps for different purposes can look very different: a road map, ordinance survey map and tube map for example. We get used to the maps that we use and it is sometimes a surprise and frustration when reality seems to be different from what we expected: roadworks, unexpected boggy bits, or stations that look far apart but are only a few minutes walk above ground.
In life we go around making mental maps (or models) to help us make sense of our experiences. Beliefs about how people and systems work help us to choose what to do next. These generalisations may come from our own experiences or have been accepted from those around us. Just as a tourist map can point us to areas of interest our mental map draws our attention to certain information from our experience of the world – distorting it. Because we experience the world in that way it can seem like that is the way it is, the only way it can be – our reality.
When we realise that the map is not the territory it gives us the option of changing the map. And when the map changes, so does the reality of our experience.
People are doing the best they can given the choices available to them
If someone is behaving in a way which you perceive as ‘bad’ does that make them a bad person? According to you, perhaps. Would their mum agree? The values that drive their behaviour may well be different to yours. They may or may not be aware of what these values are … perhaps thinking they can’t help their reactions. Perhaps even judging themselves (or part of themselves) as ‘bad’ for doing what they do.
Is this kind of judging of behaviour useful? In some contexts such as in court it is essential in order to protect others from the consequences of future actions. In a therapy or coaching context it is more useful to assume that people are always doing their best … given the choices that they perceive are available to them. The mindset becomes exploratory rather than categoric, collaborative rather than judgemental.
Accept the person, help them gain more choices, change the behaviour.
Underlying every behavior is a positive intention
Every behaviour? Always? Maybe, maybe not. But is this a useful belief to start out with?
Let’s consider the extreme case of someone who says that a part of them wants to commit suicide. What could be the positive intent of such a seemingly destructive thing? Well perhaps it shows that, at least in this area of life, the person can choose, that they have power over themselves and their life? Perhaps it is to stop them being a burden to others and help the people around them have more freedom in their life? Perhaps it is to end some suffering, gain relief and feel better? Perhaps it is to punish the person and give them what they deserve so they can feel that justice has been done?
Rather than arguing against the behaviour this approach helps build understanding and rapport. From here it is much easier to explore other ways of gaining the positive benefits without the negative consequences.
There is no failure – only feedback
OK, so it is possible to fail your driving test. But does that mean you have failed? Or could you have just succeeded in finding some areas for further improvement?
There is a saying in NLP, “If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always got”. If you are attempting to get a certain outcome and it just isn’t happening then you can always work longer or harder. If, however, these don’t work either (or if they are just a bit boring!) then it might be time for a re-think. And if you don’t know what else there is to do then anything is probably as good as anything else – perhaps you can get some more information that way? This is the attitude of wanton experimentation … what’s the worst that could happen anyway?
The meaning of our communication is the response we get
Have you ever innocently said something to someone and had them blow up in anger or run off in tears? If we communicate a message to another person and they react in an unexpected way then we can always blame them for not understanding what we meant … but how useful is that map going forwards? Alternatively we can take their response as feedback and design our next question to gather more information about, say, their reaction.
People are always communicating, verbally and non-verbally. Research (that hardly anyone who trots this statistic out has actually read) suggests that only 7% of the meaning of our communication is through words. The rest of the communication process takes place through body language, tone of voice and the various signals words cannot convey. That’s means that 93% of what we communicate is not from our words! Excellent communication is about your whole self. B y working on your stuff and developing your ability to be authentic – even when under pressure – you are increasing your power of communication and influence.
This article was first published in humanHi magazine in January 2009.
An hour or so ago I was hard at work … in bed, with my eyes shut, awake but dreaming. Dreaming that my job for the day was over; that this article was already written; and that I was pleased with it. As I imagined reviewing the completed pages I noticed the warm glow of achievement in my belly and allowed a smile to move over my lips. An idea for some content landed with me. As if on their own, my eyes opened, and I had the urge to get up and start doing.
The benefit of alignment
Is it possible for you to be with the partner of your dreams? If you live all alone and never meet anyone else then the answer to this question will certainly be a ‘no’. If you live around people but never interact with the people you fancy then the answer will also be a ‘no’. If you interact but in a way that seems to scare other people away; if you are always rejected, can’t have what you want or plane don’t deserve it; if you are ugly, stupid or bad; if you being with that person does not serve society / please god or happen with love; if any of these things are true then you probably and quite rightly can’t be with the partner of your dreams. And you will probably continue to prove yourself right … just as you have been so far in your life.
In order for something to happen easily and effortlessly we need to have a sense of it being right at all levels … a sense of alignment. Just as you line the 2 sights of a rifle up with the target before you shoot it is important to align our sense of purpose, who we are, what we believe, what we are capable of, what we are doing and where we are doing it in order to set a compelling goal. In the context of meeting the partner of your dreams it can be useful to consider this outcome from a number of different perspectives or ‘logical levels’. After we have considered what these levels are I will walk you through an exercise which is designed to align them and increase the chances of you achieving the outcome you desire.
|Environment||Where do you live, work and go out? What kind
of people do you meet there? Where do the kind
of people you would like to be with hang out?
|Behaviour||What are you doing to meet the partner of your
dreams? Anything you would like to be doing more
of less of?
|Capability||In the context of relationships what are you
really good at? What skills, abilities and capacities
do you have already and what areas could you develop
|Beliefs / Values||What do you believe about the world, the opposite
sex and relationships in general? Brainstorm endings
to statements such as: “The world is …”;
“men / women are …”; “relationships
are …”; “I always …”;
“I never …”; “It’s
wrong to …”, “It’s bad
to …”, “I must …”;
In the context of a relationship / partner what
|Identity||What kind of person are you? Who were you in
the past and who would you like to be in the future?
Complete the statement “I am” with
|Purpose||When you have the relationship of your dreams
what does that do for you or get for you that
you don’t already have? What would being
in that kind of relationship with you do for your
partner? What differences would that sense of
togetherness make? How would it affect your lives
and those of the people around you?
Increasing your sense of alignment
The following technique will help you to become more aligned.
1 – Find a space where you have room to take 5 paces forwards. If possible work with someone else who can ask you questions and hear your responses. Stand up and ready yourself to consider the ‘logical levels’ of your desire for a relationship.
2 – Starting where you are begin thinking about all the ‘Environmental’ considerations as described in the previous table. Where do you go and who else is there when you arrive? Spend about a minute doing this. If you have a friend there with you they could ask you questions that help you think about the space around you and you could tell them what comes to mind.
3 – Take another step forwards and consider your ‘Behaviour’ – the things that you actually do to initiate or maintain a relationship. Continue stepping and considering all the way up to ‘Purpose’.
4 – When you are at ‘Purpose’ ensure that you get a real felt sense of the benefits of being in the relationship you desire. Perhaps you will feel a shifting in your heart or a sense of lightness come over you.
5 – Keeping that felt sense with you now step backwards back into the ‘Identity’ space. Now that you have that sense of purpose what do you know about who you are in that relationship? Consider this for about 30 seconds – notice what has changed now.
6 – Keeping the sense of purpose and the learnings from each previous level step back through all the previous logical levels spending 30 seconds or so in each as you notice what has changed. All the way back to ‘Environment’.
7 – Notice how you are feeling about the possibility of having the relationship of your dreams now. Is it possible? If your answer to this question is ‘yes’ you are ready to begin meditating on this possibility.
Meditating on success
Almost every writer on success that I have read stresses the importance of visualisation. The principle we are hooking into here is the law of attraction – that you get what you focus on, that like attracts like. The idea is to visualise the moment that you know that you have got the relationship that is perfect for you and to make this so realistic that you get the feeling of having what you want. You are meditating on having rather than wanting. (If you meditate on wanting then this is what you will get: wanting!) It is worth adding here that you should not include any specific people in the meditation – if you do this then you are assuming that you know what is best for them and you are trying to manipulate them. Simply imagine someone with all the characteristics that you value in a lover and leave the detail of exactly who this is to the universe. It could be the person you wanted it to be … or maybe someone even better!
So, the important question is ‘How will you know that you have the relationship that you want?’ Is it when you see the person across the room and your heart skips a beat? Probably not – too early … what if you kept on skipping beats like this but it never got further than that? What about when you are repeating your wedding vows to each other? Again, probably not – presumably you ‘knew’ that this was the person you wanted to be with way before this point. What we are after is that first moment of really knowing.
The one that I use is to imagine that I am going out with my partner to a night club. Under ‘normal’ circumstances I would have gone to this place alone with the hope of meeting someone there. In my visualisation I am entering the club with my partner and I am really happy that they are there to enjoy it with me. I feel a sense of trust, connectedness, excitement and freedom. We are an attractive couple and we find that other people come over and talk to us. We are going to have fun tonight!
Simply visualise your version of how you will know 5 minutes every day focussing on the pleasant feelings of having what you want. I’m beginning to use this technique more and more in all areas of life (including article writing!). It seems to work surprisingly well. Why don’t you have a go for a month and see what difference it makes for you?