A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY
By Mireya Vargas
A little bit of history….
I lived the first part of my life saving the world. From a very young age I began to work for the poorest of the poor. I worked with the missionaries in Santo Domingo de Guzmán, the school I went to; I then worked at the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello (UCAB) in “faith & happiness”. Later, I worked with other organizations or with organizations I created myself. My life ranged from researching poverty issues, helping civil society organizations push their wagons of salvation, working with aid agencies and businesses to identify rescuers and measure the impact of their actions. For almost 40 years, my personal life did not count. The only thing that mattered was commitment and the possibility of salvation that guided my tireless work.
Concern for my own wellbeing came later in my life. At the beginning of the second half of my life I went through a difficult family moment that changed me forever. I began Jungian psychotherapy in 1998 after my divorce. Years later, in 1999, I began my psychotherapeutic work with Dr. Rafael López-Pedraza, with whom I kept working for 15 years. It was a hard, painful and difficult time; a time of falling and rising, working on unknown emotions, stuck complexes, trying to bring into consciousness some of those elements of the psyche, to connect and/or transform them.
After Raphael’s death, that personal work became an inner daily task, with its ups and downs. Talking about the psyche with my husband is like drinking “café con leche” (in López’s words). A harmony with and a passion for the psychic accompanies us as a couple and helps to nourish our own psychic life. Everyday life is all about remembering dreams and commenting on them, working on images, getting into my complexities, which has been part of López’s legacy in me. This continuous search in my personal life is incessant. I keep exploring new approaches, reflecting on my own wellbeing and the expansion or deepening of my psyche.
My personal wellbeing journey started when I met Solomon Raydan, who spoke highly about The Wellbeing Project (TWP), a program he had been involved with in 2015. Solomon told me about the general purpose of the program and gave me a few hints of what they were doing, which sparked my curiosity and interest.
I can no longer remember exactly the way I met Aaron Pereira – Founder of TWP. However, the idea was to contact him to establish some kind of agreement for us to replicate the initiative in Latin America. In that I was insistent, as with everything that I was passionate about. An instinct that there might be something valuable there was driving me.
Despite my limitations with the language, I finally met Aaron, who suggested that I apply to the program. He felt that only by living the experience would I be able to assess whether it was the type of initiative I wanted to promote. Also, he thought it would be useful to experience working in my own wellbeing. This seemed to me a bit of a strange answer. If there was anything I had experience in, it was personal psychotherapeutic work, but it seemed like a challenging offer at a time when López-Pedraza was no longer there and I found myself without any personal work.
I didn’t think twice about it. I didn’t have much information, beyond that described on the Web, but I agreed and started the journey. A letter of intent served as a prelude to the work ahead. Some very personal questions began to appear, and the only questions about my work were about my professional challenges. There were no questions regarding my work in sustainable development, no questions about poverty measurement, nothing about working methodologies in development or in measuring impacts. I did not understand why there were so many questions regarding my personal and professional challenges, how I addressed my personal wellbeing, or how I planned to work on my wellbeing. I ran out of answers and could only write a few babbles in that initial document.
I gained confidence on the program when I learned that the other participants were also agents of change. That made a difference because it gave me elements of belonging that were important. Entrepreneurs have a nature that coincide with mine: people who have intuitions and see solutions to problems, who build ideas like architects and who design work solutions to teach others. Entrepreneurs are passionate for their creations. They are committed to results as well as to changing the world. That generated an empathy that made me feel comfortable with the idea of being in the group and trust that I was in good hands.
After almost two years I read this initial questionnaire again and it showed me the reason why I was looking for a greater wellbeing. I saw the shallow relationship I had with my emotional life and its varieties, I saw how disconnected I was from my physical body, I saw how hyperactive I was in order to avoid missing my purpose and/or action, I saw how I was filling my life with activities and how I never stopped. With that expectation I was accepted and the story began (or continued).
The first meeting: Puerto Escondido
I arrived in Mexico City full of expectations and internal conflicts. That same day I traveled to Puerto Escondido, and arrived in the afternoon at a hotel in the city. I saw an elderly woman sitting in a secluded place with her veil on. I locked myself in my room and, although there was a dinner announced, I decided to stay there and wait.
The next day was the first meeting. We departed to Puerto Escondido and arrived at a house. Three people were expected in my room but no one arrived during the day. I was relieved because I was going to sleep alone and it was a real achievement, after having insisted on having a room for myself and not getting it. When I returned from dinner to the room, an open, messy suitcase on my bed… the other person had arrived. I met her later that night: she was Vera, a Brazilian who spoke some Spanish, but most of the time in Portuguese and who ended up being a blessing in my life.
I can tell you thousands of anecdotes about this first meeting in Puerto Escondido. The truth was that everything was disconcerting to me, but I decided to give myself to whatever came along. As the Mercedes Sosa song says, “Change, everything changes, and if everything changes, it is not strange that I change….”.
The first big shock was when we showed up and were given the instruction that we could not talk about our work. It was as if we were suddenly left naked – how could we not talk about our work? About our successes and failures in saving others? About our methodologies and our research? About everything we know about poverty? This had a huge impact on me and left me completely adrift. Showing myself in this way made my stay more difficult, but I was willing.
Chris, Steve and Patrice would take care of the group work and our body work. With Nancy, I had one-on-one sessions. Little by little I began to enter into the dynamic. I understood that this work was inward: a journey into my psyche, an introspection into my depths, into everything that I value that costs me and that constitutes my life. My own psychic life. But step by step, little by little, connecting thousands of disconnected cables that I hadn’t noticed before.
First of all: the connection to breathing. Breathing, that mechanical act that gives us life, about which we have no reflection or consciousness. That mystery that shakes our body but puts us in life, in its continuity. That essential, primary, ground wire that is very easily faded but is fundamental to life itself. It is the essential reality that puts us here and now, that connects us to each lived instant, to the immediate, imminent, continuous reality.
Then: breathe and meditate. A progression I’m still working on. Learning to breathe, to be conscious, which necessarily involves an introspection that is difficult to achieve. In that task I continue… breathing, meditating. Learning to do both routines, trying to make people aware of them. One because it is so immersed in the body’s routines that it is imperceptible and difficult to notice, even though it is totally evident. The other, because it supposes a disposition, a connection, to calm your thoughts, to calm your anguishes, which assails your consciousness, your thoughts. It is all about being still with nothing in your mind, just feelings, emotions, or simply in stillness.
One more step: breathe, meditate and connect with the body. Body work has also been central. To make sounds, to recognize oneself in them. To move, to feel that you release the body, to feel that you have a body, to feel with the body, to read your emotions with the body, to move and to be moved by the body, to feel the body. Recognize the sounds your body makes, the sensations on your skin, what moves the movement in you, the connection with sounds, music, body expression. Express yourself with the body, speak from the body, understand the body language. Feel nothing or feel everything, differentiate sensations, feel emotions in the body and cry or laugh with the body.
All this was very confusing and demanding for me. I felt like I was at a minus-zero level. I “realized” that despite all the work I had done in psychotherapy, my body and my emotional body did not match. My body had no real emotions, or was far from being aware of that combination of body and soul, of psyche, of integrated psychic life. It was as if I suddenly realized that I had a body beyond what I recognized.
And then the group work: more breathing, more meditating, more body. For some it meant bringing their personal history and stuck pieces of history to the group. For others it was working on their current complexes, their shadows, their dissonances in personal life. And for some of us the work was on the emotions, on the disconnection from them, their ignorance or their recognition. The personal work was contained in the group and the simple question of what you want to work on gave way to individuality with repercussions in the group.
A tone of respect, high-level facilitators and individual commitment gave way to each other’s work as a group. Tears, laughter, silences, varied emotions and “locha falls” accompanied us in each session. For me it was part of the same axis of introspection with meditation, breathing, the body and my personal complexities. A first level that placed us in the psychic life and the commitment to work in our own personal wellbeing.
Then the first reflections on one’s own wellbeing began to appear. Now I understood that it had to do with taking care of myself, my physical life, my psychic life, doing routines of care. It was an aspect that went beyond my psychotherapy, being aware of my complexities, working with the dark or unknown. It was like working on that brighter, more skin-like, outer aspect, which would lead to a better balance with my inner self. In that sense, wellbeing began to be a notion of skin, of body, of personal care.
We left with the task of continuing the personal work. And the return to everyday life brought back an emotional memory of the experience.
The first few days the routines were filled with information and practice. As the days went by, I began to do some routines of meditation and breathing on my own. Just that, sometimes without continuity, sometimes with determination. Nothing was easy about these changes in routines, as they were changes in practices that have been in place for years of my life.
To realize the emotion experienced at every moment was much more difficult, and the body was always the most forgotten aspect. However, in practice, I continued in my daily life with my gymnastics/dance, taking care of food, walking once a week and enjoying what I did. I still deal with the anxiety, the sadness and the depression, but a kind of serenity began to appear. An inner silence, a bit of peace which was shading all those experiences.
The monthly follow-up was used to reinforce the work. The intimate conversation with the psychotherapist about aspects of the life of each of the three of us allowed us to discuss issues that affected us in some way in our daily lives or in life in general. The topics that came up were very personal. We witnessed each other’s work, which always left a learning curve.
In my case, the suffering for the country, the forced move, the foot in and out, the loss of relationships and affections, the loss of routines, my anxiety levels, the changes in my way of working, the weaning of many initiatives driven by me in my country, the distance from the office, the geographical complexes that were expressed in longings for places, the strangeness of the new, life outside. In short, each month was an opportunity for reflection, for interior work, for the revision of life itself.
Containment was provided by the group. Emotional memory plays a central role in what happens when you need support: you remember what someone said, or you get excited by a memory, or you repeat an exercise done, a phrase said, your notes. From the small group of three, containment was provided on a monthly basis at each teleconference. A kind of mutual support developed in listening to each other, in the silences, in the spontaneous laughter or even in the shared crying. The mediator (the psychotherapist), served as a guiding thread and brought us into the process.
The work of each and every one at once was part of the call. An initial breathing exercise, a few minutes to feel the body, was the beginning of the two-hour journey we had to make every month. And it was a reminder of all the essentials of personal care, being present, awareness and routine care.
Two hours was the limit, and in that time the work was given. Setting limits on all program activities has also been important for learning about what you should not go beyond, what you should not violate, respect for what is established, for each other’s time, and for your own time. Time was undoubtedly a critical element of the process and the limits around it derive learning for other spheres of life.
Also the limits in secrecy. Intimacy, secrecy, privacy, caring for the life of the other was part of that containment and those limits of the program. Not only because of the signed confidentiality agreement, but because those limits were set from the beginning. It was part of the respect for the other, the integrity of the process and the people involved, the very inspiration of the programme.
All this follow-up work provided the necessary continuity for the process to take shape and become a daily practice. But, in addition, it was deepened in oneself, so that the activity offered the support and the necessary elements to continue.
The second meeting: Esalen
Going to the Mecca of personal wellbeing awakened a lot of excitement in me. Esalen is well known in the psychotherapeutic world as the place of arrival, where everything related to personal therapies is learned. For me it was a reference for my work. It is said to be an ideal place to learn everything about methodologies such as Gestalt, Mindfulness, body work, building relationships and yoga, among many others. But above all, it is nature: open, splendid, welcoming.
We arrived at Esalen with more elements than at the first meeting. We knew each other, somehow we loved each other, we were surprised and longed to continue working together. Smiles, hugs, an enormous emotion, a great affinity, feeling like travel companions, one body, was the general feeling that reigned.
In Esalen, nature imposes itself. A wide esplanade that ends in an immense sea. A few trees that accompany the view of the sea or the cliffs. That immense, untamed, mysterious nature invaded and superimposed itself on us. Also the intimacy of the space where we did the activities, the ways to arrive or leave, those sunsets of silence, or the sunrises full of a special light. Greys accompanied by intense blues of the sea and sky, inviting you to stare at them in ecstasy.
This second trip marked a turning point for me. It was the deepest level of work in all this transit through TWP. Not only because of the body work we deepened, but also because of the levels of work with the psyche itself.
Most importantly, I achieved an almost primordial level of introspection. We went to a forest to do a session in nature. A task was entrusted to us and we had to connect. An image of a woman (Chris) dressed as a leopard in the middle of the forest with a ray of light resting on top of her disturbed me. The next day’s session, it was my turn to present and I couldn’t do it. I threw up, I lost consciousness, I still wonder: What happened? What connected that primordial image? What brought that Artemisal image to my life? What meaning does the connection with that pure nature in the forest have? Is it hunting, are they wild animals, is it the virgin land? Or is it with the virginal, virginity, maidens? What impact does that image have on my psyche?
At this level I began to understand the value of the image. That’s the real transformation. The image brings us the possibility of connection with the archetypal, with what is essential to the psyche. And in my case, that Artemisal image has a real psychic impact. But that showing up is not a task to be done. It is a happening, an epiphany, an apparition in my here and now, an instinctive reflection which demands an individual response, a connection with one’s own complexities and a good dose of emotional energy.
I am still reflecting on the same thing and that image of the forest remains in me in an intimate, disturbing, appeasing way. With that confusion I closed Esalen and continued in it. But the emotional connection remains.
What I believe I have learned from this process is about reading the image in me. Because it is not only that “appearing” of the image, but the relationship with the dream life itself, with dreams, with the images of dreaming, or the fantasy that I have developed in everyday life. All the psychological work that I have been doing for years with psychotherapy is finally done in the body, embodied in the emotional body and brings a connection to the images with which I try to maintain an emotional connection. Esalen brought that synthesis and opened a way for me to reflect on the image in the body, in the emotional body that I am just beginning to understand.
The third meeting: Morocco
Morocco is the synthesis of a process. Not only because it opened up a new continent for me, Africa, but also because it put me in a territory of unlived emotions, full of the colours of that country.
This third encounter was charged with an openness to learning the unknown. The knowledge of oneself, of the relationship with the other, of the emotional life, of the emotional body, of the varieties of psychic life. An accumulation of learning that was settling down, that was consolidating, that was closing in on itself.
Everything was aimed at consolidating what had been learned, at working on “weaning”, separation and closing the process. Many insecurities, questions arose in me about how to continue, how to keep alive the relationship with others, how to reinforce the work of full attention, or meditation or appreciation of the little things in life, or the inner emotional resonance, the connection with the here and now, the enjoyment and suffering, or the emotions of life.
Another goal was to consolidate the affective network that was created among the members of the group. A chat open to the attention and care of the other, to be present; a word that gives you emotional support at a given time.
Meanwhile we enjoyed the geography, the cuisine, the colours of Morocco and learned to enjoy the everyday things of life in a different way. We learned to appreciate the other, the relationship with oneself, from the difficulties or goodness, from what each one of us is, with its complexities, its slowness, its shadows, its power, its goodness.
We close Morocco with a suitcase full of reflections, thoughts, tools, new forms, becoming customs, becoming a habit, but, above all, a reflection on oneself and one’s own wellbeing.
Today I understand my own personal wellbeing as a process, as a journey to my own inner self, to my own psychic life, to the re-knowledge of my psyche and its complexities. Wellbeing is having a profound relationship with what one is in essence, with life from within and without, with the divine and the human, with what I am and can become, with my silences and my noises, with my peace and my anxiety, with my sadness or joys, with my complexities and my shadows, with my entire emotional life. It is psychic life full of images, of moving, connecting, disturbing images. It’s suffering, it’s growing up with difficulty, it’s falling and rising. It is, in short, to live life psychically.