This is the third article in a three part memoir series, which explores my personal experience using altered states as part of my healing process. This segment describes my experience using the meditative therapy process known as the Inner Source. By revealing my own experience, I hope to make the Inner Source more understandable and accessible for any of my readers who are interested in using it in their healing practice. At the end of the article you will find an Appendix, which contains the writing of several of my clients about their experience using the Inner Source in their therapy.
Each person has an inner life. We may or may not be in touch with the life inside us, but it exists nonetheless. In order to heal and transform ourselves, we need to gain access to this inner life. That life is located, in part, in the subconscious and unconscious parts of our mind. Many of us are mostly out of touch with these aspects of ourselves. Fortunately, we all have a built in “application” that can guide us into the nooks and crannies of our deeper selves. This application goes by many different names. I call it the Inner Source. Here’s how I discovered this valuable resource.
In the early seventies I served as the group psychotherapy consultant for a suburban Mental Health Agency. One afternoon one of the therapists in the group asked me if I would read a book about a meditative healing method that he was interested in. He told me that he was very excited about this way of working in therapy, and that if I were up for using the process, he would like to be my client. That was my introduction to “The Inner Source” by Michael Emmons. Not only did I read the book and begin working with the method with my new client, I began using it myself in my therapy with Jane Gerber, one of the founders of the Gestalt Institute in Chicago. Both my new client and I took to this new way of working with a great deal of enthusiasm. We were excited because we both began to discover that there truly is an internal source of guidance inside each of us. We found in opening ourselves and being receptive to this process, it activated powerful experiences of insight and healing.
In my work with Jane, I discovered that by tracking my internal sensory experience and telling her out loud what I was feeling, seeing, and hearing inside myself, I would begin to feel guided in one of two directions; either I would travel back into my personal history to experiences that were painful or meaningful, or I would drift off into rather blissful states where I would see beautiful colors and hear music that I could listen to or tone along with. Over the course of working in this way, I experienced an intensive healing process that finally reconciled me to the loss of my Mother and my Aunt. Using the Inner Source, I was able to complete the grief work that I had begun with Dr. Joseph Zinker. (See Part I of Altered Journeys).
Since that time, I have used the Inner Source on many occasions; when I notice that I feel out of synch, when I lose touch with my feelings or intuition, and when I have a problem that I have trouble resolving. In 2001 I was going through a rough time with my girlfriend, and I noticed that my anger with her was intensifying. It felt out of proportion to the situation, but I was not being successful in reining it in. Using the Inner Source by myself did not seem to help me, and so I decided to ask a therapist that I had heard many good things about if she would work with me. I asked if we might use the Inner Source, in conjunction with the ways in which she usually worked with her clients. She agreed. I feel especially fortunate that I decided to work with Lani Granum, one of the most compassionate, supportive and tuned in human beings I have ever known. Our working together saved my emotional life. Lani and I collaborated for over two years, and during that time I had a variety of important healing experiences. Many of them were inspired by our work with the Inner Source.
The particular session that I will use here as an example of how the Inner Source works, took place a little more than a year into my work. During the early part of my therapy with Lani, I had discovered the source of my escalated feelings of anger. I expected that the past link to my anger would be connected to my stepmother, whom I had developed intense hatred for over the time that I lived with her and my father. Although some of my anger was linked to feelings about her, I was surprised to find the most important associations were to my father’s perfectionism. Like my girlfriend, my father was very particular and exacting, and would become quite angry if I failed to do things the way he wanted me to. He was short on praise and long on angry criticism. By the time I was a teenager, I avoided being around him as much as possible. Since I had committed myself to my girlfriend, getting away from her was not an option. I wanted to work things out. Working with Lani and making this connection to my unconscious anger at my Father caused my anger to de-escalate. Unfortunately, my returning to emotional equanimity did not help my relationship that much, so I continued my therapy.
In the first week of November, 2001 I had a session with Lani in which we decided to use the Inner Source to explore where my work needed to go. The method begins by relaxing your body. This can be accomplished by getting in touch with your breathing and taking several long slow breaths, emphasizing breathing out to the end of the exhalation. You can then use the eye-roll technique of rolling your eyes up into your head, as if you could look out through the crown chakra. You can hold that position for a few seconds and then let both your eyes and your body relax. The breathing technique lets your mind know you are interested in altering your conscious waking state. The eye-roll technique activates the alpha brain wave, which is the precursor of trance and meditation.
Once I was in this relaxed state, I set an intention to explore where I needed to go next to improve my relationship. I began to track my sensory experience, visual, auditory, and feeling sensations. I also used my awareness to track any free associative thoughts or impulses I experienced. I began reporting this information out loud to Lani, who would sometimes repeat what I was saying and occasionally make a comment or a suggestion to focus my attention on something that I wasn’t reporting. The beginning of this experience for me is often a gradual process of becoming more and more open and receptive to whatever comes to me. Keeping my attention focused in this way induces a meditative state that gives me access to the creative unconscious mind and to my inner life. Once I reach my inner sense of self, the journey begins.
Before too long, probably ten to fifteen minutes, I was seeing visual imagery. I started to feel as if I were looking out of a window on a bus or a train. I became aware that I was a passenger on an old Chicago Trolley that ran on tracks through the city and was connected to an overhead electric wire that provided the power. I had ridden in these vehicles a few times when I was quite young. The front of the trolley had a large curved window and in my meditative experience I was looking out through this front window. And then the trolley began to lift off of the tracks and we were up in the air, cruising above the city.
At this point, I am going to quote from the journal account I wrote immediately after the session. In it you will likely notice that the altered state is still unfolding, since my journal entry is somewhat trance like and comes out as a prose poem:
Stretched out on my therapist’s floor, the vision arrives. Inside an old Chicago trolley, flying lazily along, drifting through haze and clouds, I gaze out through the rounded front window at the open sky, catching peripheral glimpses of my Father in his business gabardines.
My white-haired Nana, is there, seated as always, next to the window, gazing longingly, expectantly, into space. And then I sense that we are all there, my little familial band.
I feel this scene as past, present and afterlife all at once. Once upon a time we were together- connected, involved participants in our common life and drama. And some years from now, we may be so again.
At this moment, I sense that I am this ancient trolley, and that all these blessed ones: my glamorous Aunt with her beautiful voice; my darling four year old sister, holding my hand and skipping down the aisle; my worried Mother, fearfully caring for everyone; my stubbornly optimistic Father, eyes fastened on a better tomorrow- all abide within me- are part and parcel, fiber and bone.
Once again, I sense the familiar landscape of Violet and Daisy’s untimely departures, in what seems like one extended moment. But on this occasion, I get a feeling for the percussive impact. That in the aftermath of this terrible loss, I enshrined the feeling of being all alone in a vast and uncertain world. And I continued to worship at this shrine until this momentary flash of insight began to break my chains of disconnection. I began to feel the opening of my physical body, a welling and surging of tingling sensation that sparked the belief that neither my body nor my being will ever be the same.
A week later after a follow up Inner Source session, I made the following journal entry: So my tale is of the “heroic”, homeless orphan, who, shipwrecked by the death of the ones he loved most, courageously sailed on in a boat of his own making. His family ties, stretched thin and frayed, let go completely, almost all at once.
This act of disconnection, in fact, took both seconds and years to happen, leaving me alone and longing for home and family, while actively seeking to have neither.
I love when everything starts to make new sense, to reconfigure into more of the whole truth! In a moments realization I knew that my disconnection was complete: from home, from family, from my history. Filled with longing and desire, I became an anxious seeker for what I believed I could not have.
Beneath this diligent and grasping longing lurked a big fear- that Family and Home would be the spawning ground of future loss. Meanwhile on and on I fought, blindly and foolishly laying waste to the possible. Now, experiencing this new opening, am I ready to connect, to commit, to locate myself in a real life of beloved family and friends? Or will I choose to be forever the vagabond, my knapsack “home” safely on my back?
In these two Inner Source sessions, my ongoing readiness for disconnection and disaster was revealed to me. In fact, my lack of awareness and understanding of just how disconnected I had become was presented to me very directly. I could actually feel how separate I felt in the years following my losses. Once I allowed myself to feel that separation fully, my body started to open to reconnection. This was the final piece of my relationship puzzle. Part of me had not been fully present, in spite of my commitment to making things work. In fact, I was unknowingly holding back, fearfully expectant of the end of the relationship.
These personal experiences and my experience of the benefits to my clients of this kind of deep meditative exploration are the reason for my writing about these altered state therapeutic methods. I believe that they hold more potential for healing than talk therapy by itself. The talking part of the therapeutic process is invaluable for a number of reasons, not only because the stage for deeper work needs to be set through shared insight into one’s family history and present day life problems and conflicts. Even more importantly, a therapeutic bond needs to be created between the therapist and client that will provide the security and grounding that makes deep work possible. I believe this bond can only grow in the context of the therapist and client getting to know each other well, and requires that they develop trust and feeling for one another. The bond needs to be a compassionate, loving one that creates the security and safety that is often lacking in the client’s life.
So here again, I am underscoring that the Inner Source, Hypnosis, and other kinds of meditative altered state work are best done in the context of a strong therapeutic relationship or a strong and supportive friendship. The subject, i.e. the person who is going to go into the meditative state, needs to feel safe and secure internally, and safe and secure also in relation to the person who is going to witness and help facilitate the experience. Those among my readers who are veterans of regular meditation and/or successful psychotherapy will be able to use these tools on their own, but even trance savvy folks will find having a witness to the process very beneficial. Without the compassion, understanding, and gentle loving presence of my therapist and consultant Lani Granum, I can’t imagine that my healing work would have gone to such a profound level. To feel loved, accepted, and appreciated in my wounded and vulnerable state provided internal healing that is almost impossible to put into words.
I hope that these examples of Inner Source sessions and their results in my life will be helpful to those of you who are interested in making use of these tools of transformation. If you are in a therapeutic relationship, and want to see if these methods would be helpful to you, talk to your therapist about what you are learning and suggest that he/she take a look at my articles. Dr. Michael Emmons latest book on the subject, “Meditative Therapy” includes great detail about the Inner Source. His first book on the subject under the title, “The Inner Source” is available from the Amazon used book sellers, since it is out of print. Both books will be very useful to anyone who would like more information than I have been able to provide.
I conclude this article with the personal statements of a few of my clients who have successfully used the Inner Source method in their healing work, and of one client who did not find the Inner Source to be as helpful as hypnosis and Gestalt methods: I hope that reading these accounts will inspire you to explore the Inner Source on your path to healing and transformation. I offer my deep appreciation to my clients and former clients for these cogent revelations of their experience working with the Inner Source.
“While I was working with Tom to heal some deep childhood wounds and the behavioral patterns running through my life that were directly related to those wounds, I found that I had a lot to discover about myself. Part of my frustration was that I had grown disconnected from my internal spirituality and grounding. Often I would find that I was perpetuating harmful patterns without knowing why or how. We began to work on tapping into my inner source to find the clues, answers, and healing for all of my frustrations and questions. We would work in a similar fashion each time. He would instruct me to lie down, get comfortable and close my eyes. Then he would take me through visualizations to try to find a connection to my inner source. It was easy for me to get comfortable, to close my eyes, and to get into a meditative space but at first I had a problem with finding answers. My ego was used to being defensive, blocking my way into this light space. So Tom gave me a literal thing to imagine, a little coal miner man, walking up my body and into my mouth and going down my throat and into my inner self with a light on his hat. Once I would do this, I would find myself following this man deep inside myself and then Tom would ask pointed questions like “What is he showing you?” I would look and see things and let Tom know. He would continue to lead me on this journey until I saw all I needed to see, asked the man any questions I had, and came back with glimpses of things for us to piece together again in real time outside of the meditative state. This worked so well for me that I began to cherish going into that space. I didn’t know why it worked but I knew that it did work. It continued to shine a light upon and dig out so many keys and clues to my wounds and my healing that I wasn’t able to find in “broad daylight.” It was as if these gems were specifically spit out of the subconscious, or found just sitting there as clear as day. I started to heal and to treasure this place as one I could return to again and again, as an aid in maintaining my mental health and emotional life. As I moved through to finishing my therapy, it became my daily meditation. I am thrilled to have found access to this place where I can intuitively learn and gather important things I need to know every day.
This process really helps me keep my side of the street clean. When I meditate and go into the inner source today, anything that is bothering me or needs to be dealt with will come up. As I see these things, I also meditate upon how best to deal with them. Answers that may not have come to me in the normal course of my life, where thoughts are constantly streaming through my brain, arrive like welcome guests in the peaceful space my inner source and I have created. It’s both a rich and practical resource, and a daily vitamin for me now.”
“When I first began therapy with Tom, I was looking for ways to connect with
my inner self, which seemed to be an almost total mystery to me. In
addition to hypnosis I tried Inner Source work. The first time was almost a total wash out because I found very little that was available to me. As therapy has progressed, we have tried this technique again several times. It has gradually worked a little better each time, as I am now able to describe visual, auditory, and physical phenomena that I become aware of. However, it does not appear to work as well for me as hypnosis and gestalt techniques do. I believe that it would work better with someone who is more in touch with their internal life than I am at this time.”
“On contacting my Inner Source:
Chaos inside. Feeling detached from myself. Trouble making decisions. Chronic anxiety. Then, a bridge is built inside with the therapist’s help. Focusing on breath, body, sights, sounds, and spontaneous thoughts. Focusing on the NOW, the NOW, the NOW. I state my intention – to connect to my Inner Source and seek her wisdom, guidance and healing. ‘Tell me what I need to know. Show me what I need to see.’ And, of course, ‘Heal me NOW’. I am rarely able to do this on my own. But, with the help of my therapist, I often go deeply within my Self. Once there, I connect to inner guidance and wisdom. Lately, the message is that I need to rest, relax, restore myself, not push too hard. Inner Source tells me I am not ready yet to face the sorrow and sadness that rumbles just beneath the surface. Patience? Who me? In spite of the sarcasm, after many affirming experiences with the Inner Source, I feel reassured that there is inner guidance available to me and that She can be trusted. Sometimes access is hard, sometimes easy. It’s always worth it.”
“I have been the type of person who thinks incessantly and analyzes problems over and over, and every which way, without ever settling on the strategies that will cause a significant impact on my emotional health or behavior. Doing inner source work is very different for me. This method requires me to stop thinking. Instead, I ask questions of my heart, soul, and inner self and just listen. I start by paying attention to my body and physical signals. Then I can begin to hear messages from inside myself, whispering what I need to hear.
I have recently used this method as a guide for emotional healing in my therapy. In my first experience of this work, I uncovered clues to a repressed memory from my childhood. Specifically, during a guided meditation and visualization exercise, my inner source told me there was an issue significantly holding me back, and then it told me the name of the person connected to it. Using the inner source method, I have recovered the memory. I have been unraveling the emotional damage of this traumatic incident, and I have been guiding myself toward healing.
In addition to using the inner source method in therapy, I am beginning to use it as a guide in everyday life. When dealing with a challenge personally or professionally, I employ this method by: stopping, breathing, closing my eyes, and getting in touch with any physical sensations in my body, focusing inwardly. Then I ask what thoughts and feelings are inside, and listen for the answers. Again, it is different than thinking. It is listening for words and feeling sensations that arise inside me. I believe that with continued practice, listening to my inner self will be a healthy way to relieve stress and solve problems, but even more, to tune in to where my soul is guiding me.”
“With Inner Source work, Tom and I stopped addressing my issues mentally and turned our attention to my body’s sensations, feelings, and spontaneous input as tools to tap into my inner wisdom, guidance and knowing: my Inner Source. In my opinion, this work is effective in part due to the fact that I am able turn off my mind and therefore my self-judgments and criticism. The body holds endless wisdom and truth, and by following its lead, I feel a real sense of efficiency and ease in getting to the heart of and releasing blocks, fears and unconscious limiting beliefs.
In my experience, this is the general process used in Inner Source work. I begin by setting a general intention. I then get into a quiet, meditative, relaxed state. In this state I can feel my body clearly to find what area is drawing my attention and then go there with my focus. From there I sometimes see shapes or colors or abstract forms that give form to that bodily sensation. The clarification of those images helps reveal the emotion or association that is contained within. Often random memories, words or thoughts come to mind and these are invited. Eventually I feel led to some meaningful area of my life which was previously unclear or uncertain. Without getting intellectual or analytical, something deep and true is revealed. I know that the work has been effective by the feeling of relief I feel inside, a shift within that feels like a softening and a relaxing. Some of the insights that I gained from this work were uncovering unconscious beliefs around male and female roles in relationships as well as revealing pieces of some repressed abusive memories.”
“A few months after I had started a daily meditative practice, Tom introduced Inner Source work to me. I did not know what to expect, but I was really interested in uncovering more of the shadows that prevented me from meeting the potential I believed was available to me in life, love, success, and general happiness.
It was several years ago, so many of the specifics are hazy. However, what I have always taken with me are the feelings of calm and surprise that arose in our Inner Source work.
From the onset, going within was very easy for me. It felt so natural that I wasn’t sure I was doing it right! The waves of pictures, sounds, smells and emotions washed over me and allowed me to experience them without getting caught in any sort of drama. This work gave me an opportunity to act as the observer in ways I had never accessed before.
I felt lots of release–tension from my mind, body, and spirit–and a feeling of calm that I had not experienced for a long time.”
Newtopia staff writer THOMAS GOFORTH is a psychotherapist and pastoral counselor working in Chicago, IL. He was ordained to the Episcopal priesthood in 1967 and served as Chaplain to the Cook County Jail and the Chicago House of Correction while working for St. Leonard’s House, one of the first halfway houses in the country.. He did draft counseling and community organizing during the Viet Nam War, and was one of the founding members of the Lincoln Park Therapy Collective, an all volunteer organization which provided free group therapy for people living on the North Side of Chicago from 1968 until the mid 80′s.He helped organize the first crisis phone line in Chicago, and later helped train the staff counselors for Kool Aide Youth Emergency Services and Metro Help. He was an actor in the Free Theater Company and Rapid Transit Guerrilla Communications, two groundbreaking political theater companies performing in Chicago during the late 60′s and early 70′s. In the 80′s he helped found the Milton H. Erickson Institute of Chicago and became its third president and a member of its teaching faculty. At the invitation of Charles Shaw, he became the acting “Pit Boss” of the New Poetry Collective, the poetry arm of Newtopia Magazine in its first incarnation. Follow him at Twitter @thomas_goforth.