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|Case Study - Page 4|
He began reading books as a less harmful mindless practice. Among these was a book on mindfulness meditation, and Luc followed its various exercises diligently. I soon recognized, however, that he was using these practices as a way of shutting out his emotions. For example, when thoughts or feelings arose while he was focusing on his breath, instead of acknowledging them and letting them pass without judgment, he'd actively push them away by forcing himself to concentrate solely on the sensations of breathing. As a result, his practice didn't cultivate unconditional mindfulness, but further strengthened his mindlessness.
In our sessions, Luc's speech reflected his feeling of disconnection with himself and with me. For example, he'd refer to himself in the second or third person. "You're home alone and what's there to do? You just end up smoking cigarettes and thinking about Cynthia." I taught him the Gestalt technique of replacing "you" and "it" with "I." "When I'm home alone, I don't know what to do. I end up smoking cigarettes and thinking about Cynthia." He was delighted to be able to catch himself being mindless and found this a useful and simple tool, not only for bringing mindfulness to his speech, but for experiencing his feelings more directly. Unlike some clients who might have become defensive, Luc was genuinely curious and interested in tracking his own mindlessness.
Having learned early in life to be ready for harm from his abusive mother and from the nuns at his school who practiced corporal punishment, Luc was highly attentive to the details of others' behavior and facial expressions. Hyperalert, he compared himself to a rabbit with large ears—always scanning the environment for possible threats. He'd been able to keep his various failed relationships going for as long as he had by paying attention to what his partner wanted and doing his best to provide it: financial support, attentive listening, sexual passion. Sooner or later, however, his own emotional absence had driven his partners away.
However, no one's emotional patterns are monolithic. We all have natural wisdom within us, or what Contemplative Psychotherapy calls "brilliant sanity"—comprising inherent wakefulness, compassion, and panoramic awareness—which emerges, if only fleetingly, in everyone from time to time. As Luc began feeling safer in our relationship, he'd ask me what a particular change in my facial expression meant, and I'd generally answer truthfully. If I felt sad—as I often did with him—I'd say so; if I was spacing out, I'd share that.