I began with a standard introduction, easing Mark into the idea of bringing tangible form to the inner experience. After his descriptions of the dirty water out of the well, the wind as a character and the empty stone mansion, it was clear to me also that Mark had an extraordinarily vivid imagination, so I wanted to make a distinction between that kind of imagery and the imagery of mapping.
I began, “I’m just going to ask you a few questions about what The Sickness actually feels like. Let go of any ideas about it. Let go of any of the normal kinds of images that you explore, and focus on just the actual, felt sense of this. The questions that I’m going to ask you will invite you to apply a type of imagery, but it’s really a perceptual thing. It’s more a way of taking a reading of what the actual, felt sense is. There’s nothing metaphorical about this at all.”
He seemed to understand, so I continued, “So if you were to say that the actual, felt experience of The Sickness is located somewhere in or around your body, where would you say that seems to be?”
After a bit of reflection, Mark replied, “Three places. One, right here at my hairline. It feels anchored there, like attached. In my solar plexus is where the real action is. A little bit in the back of my throat, the hollow of my throat. It ripples between those points and radiates down my arms.”
A great start. I continued to the next question, “So in that region that you’ve described, from your hairline rippling between there and your solar plexus, the back of your throat and down your arms, if you were to say that the actual, felt experience of this has qualities of substance, would you say that it seems more like some sort of a solid…”
Before I could continue with the rest of the series, Mark was clear, “No.”
I continued, “… or a liquid…” and he stopped me.
“It’s like a goop.”
“It’s not liquid like water, not solid, but more like a slime. Ugh.”
“So this slime, does it seem heavy or light?”
“It’s heavy. Thick.”
“OK. And what temperature would you say this slime seems to be?”
“Warmer than… than body temperature?”
“And if you were to say it has color…”
“I think, between a green and a yellow.”
“Does it seem more opaque, or translucent, or transparent?”
“It’s neither fully opaque nor transparent. Yeah, it’s like a slimy coating. You can see through it, but it obscures.”
“OK. And is it moving in any way? Is there any kind of flow, or pulse, or vibration?”
“Oh, right. And what’s the directionality of that rippling?”
“It seems to come from my gut, and my arms, and my head, and the ripples center on my throat, they ripple in the direction of my throat. It’s going like this…” He gestured with his hands indicating converging circles. “But there’s also a sense in which it’s coming from the throat too, almost like reverberations. Like if you were to take a rope and hold it end to end, and the person on one end were to shake it, it would travel all the way there and all the way back. It’s like back and forth.”
He sat back, a bit weary from the effort, and gave out a big sigh. “Ah! It feels heavy. It feels like it just presses me down to the chair.”
I gave him a moment to integrate, and continued, “And if you listen internally, do you notice any inner sound that accompanies this inner experience?”
“It’s like a wheezing, coughing, like a deep, almost like a…” He made a hoarse, wheezing sound through his throat.
Before Mark turned to drawing The Sickness, I asked one last question. “So from the place of this sickness, how would you capture in words what seems most true, or real, or important from the perspective of this part of you?”
“It won’t let me go.”
I repeated back to him, “‘It won’t let you go,’ is that what you said?” He nodded, and I continued, “It won’t let me go because…?”
“Because it is the ultimate reality.”
“OK. Anything else that comes to mind that seems important?” He shook his head “No” and I handed him the tablet to draw the image.
After he finished, Mark sat back and let out a big sigh, looking at the image he had just drawn. “Jesus Christ. Ugh. It feels like what I said about, ‘This is the reality.’ That just feels so true. And really really, really horrible to contemplate.”
There’s a sense of giving up that’s really present with me right now. Why bother? I’m powerless to change anything. This is the way it’s always going to be. I can feel it coursing through my body, this felt sense of powerlessness and giving up. It feels like sickness. That’s what it feels like in my body, and it feels like soul sickness, honestly.
Three places: One at my hairline. It feels anchored there, attached. In my solar plexus is where the real action is. A little bit in the back of my throat, the hollow of my throat. It ripples between those points and radiates down my arms.
Like a goop. Not like liquid water, not solid, more like a slime. Heavy, thick. Warmer than body temperature. Between a green and yellow, neither opaque nor transparent, you can see through it but it obscures. It ripples. Seems to come from my gut, and my arms, and head, and center on my throat. Also a sense in which it’s coming from the throat, too, like reverberations. Like a rope with someone shaking one end, the wave travels to the other end and back. It feels heavy, like it just presses me down into the chair. Sound is like a wheezing, coughing, deep.
It won’t let me go. Because it (the emotion) is the ultimate reality.
In this first session, Mark identified a number of other feeling states, but this was the only one we mapped. A couple days later he wrote the following in his journal:
My sense after our time together on Friday was that something had shifted. The Sickness, what I called ‘the ultimate reality’ on Friday, feels more separate from my awareness than in days, weeks, months past. It feels like something I can evaluate from a distance, rather than from up close. And would you have guessed, it seems to have made a very positive difference, just this little shift! Because looking at the primary message of the Sickness, it does indeed feel a little – I say this without judging myself for feeling it – a little stupid.
I’m laughing as I read that last sentence back. It does, it feels stupid, a very one-dimensional way of looking at the world. Huh. But when you’re in it, that feeling seems to take over. And there are still plenty of circumstances where it takes over, where it demands loudly to be heard. I can hear it speaking even now: “You think you’re rid of me?” it asks. Well no, but I do think that we’re going to have a very lovely time sorting you out and freeing you up. Just enjoy the ride, my green friend.
Here Mark demonstrates the power of mapping. The witness perspective you take in order to conduct the mapping process provides a generally healthier point of view from which to review and reflect upon what you’ve mapped. In a few posts I’ll show you how to actually map a witness state explicitly. For now, just trust that it’s there and will grow stronger as you continue your mapping journey.
Very soon, we will explore a second phase of Feelingwork in which we deliberately transform the state into something more resourceful and authentic. Transforming, or “moving” a state opens up far more territory for exploration. If you’ve mapped something that you find very difficult to sit with, check for the coming series of posts on Moving a Feeling State, and explore moving it to find some relief. After that, of course, will be further explorations on integrating the transformation. There’s a lot to learn!