Welcoming Anxiety’s Wisdom

Long before there was a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the standard classification book of psychological maladies; long before there were psychiatrists and psychologists and social workers; before brain imaging or even the discovery that mental disturbances are not the result of an imbalance of humours originating in our liver, heart and spleen, as Hippocrates proposed; long before science became Science, at the very beginning of civilization, humans experienced anxiety.

Anxiety is not an aberration, an enemy, an alien dark force; it is a part of our human package, and rare is the individual who does not experience it. The Buddha saw that humans have an aversion to suffering but concluded that running from suffering (or, in this case, anxiety) only strengthens it. And yet anyone who has been besieged by anxiety recognizes the instinct to flee from its oppression. “Get me out of here!” we say, trying to distance ourselves from distress and reject or suppress our feelings of vulnerability. But since loss and grief and other difficult emotions are inherent in a human life, we can pretty much count on bouts of anxiety to resurface even if we’ve successfully sought relief through counseling, meditation, medication, or by numbing ourselves through denial, overwork, or addictions. As with other difficult emotional states, lasting changes are the result of working with the difficulty and transforming our relationship to it rather than from fleeing it.

The study of evolution has taught us that anxiety is purposeful and necessary to our survival. It’s our warning system that something in the environment is threatening. Acknowledging anxiety’s prevalence and its biological roots can ease the shame, self-blame, and depression that often attend it. A problem arises, however, when anxiety floods us and no real danger is present, blocking our ability to discern threat from no-threat. Research indicates that anxiety distorts our perceptions. Anxiety causes us to see the world through the lens of fear. Feared objects appear closer than they really are. A cascade of physiological responses—shallow breathing, rapid heartbeats, and tightened muscles—create a negative feedback loop and heighten our experience of dread.

When slammed by anxiety, one way to cope is to pause, connect with our breath, breathing deep into the belly, notice our thoughts, reassess the situation and reassure ourselves we are safe. We can ask ourselves: “Is this tiger a real tiger or is it a large cat?” Learning to distinguish what our habitual responses have been to certain triggers helps us confront the problem and strengthens our ability to slip out of anxiety’s grip. We can ask: “What’s really here?”

Why not try a different way of looking at anxiety? What if, instead of trying to shun or control our anxiety, we befriended it? This is neither a glib suggestion nor an easy project. Nor is it “a cure.” Look at it as a creative and generative way to form a new and possibly transformative relationship to deep distress. What if we accepted that we don’t have to live with the anticipatory fear that anxiety will pounce on us at any moment, but could instead consider anxiety as a teacher and constructive ally in navigating our own emotional depths?

Here is thirteenth-century mystic poet Rumi’s famous poem on the subject of our human wholeness and the prospect of inviting all that we are to make itself known and present, both the darkness and the light:

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing,

and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.

—Jallaludin Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks

“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light but by making the darkness conscious,” wrote C. G. Jung. Here Jung was addressing what he called our shadow aspects, disowned and dissociated parts of our psyches that remain unconscious. For Jung, the process of becoming whole individuated human beings involves acknowledging, accepting, and integrating into our consciousness, to use Buddhist author Pema Chodron’s words, “the places that scare us.” In The Places That Scare Us: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times (2007), Chodron writes, “The essence of bravery is being without self-deception. However, it’s not so easy to take a straight look at what we do. Seeing ourselves clearly is initially uncomfortable and embarrassing.” In The Light Inside the Dark: Zen, Soul, and the Spiritual Life (1999), Zen teacher John Tarrant echoes this: “Integrity is the inner sense of wholeness and strength that arises out of our honesty with ourselves.”

A Jungian perspective invites a holistic approach that views symptoms as manifestations of something out of balance in our psyches and as a call to healing. Analyst James Hollis, in his book, Hauntings: Dispelling the Ghosts Who Run Our Lives (2013), conveys through theory and case histories how unconscious material appears to come to us from the outside, as something fated or as a physical illness. Jung advanced Freud’s idea that a symptom is the psyche’s way of alerting us to a need that has gone unnoticed and unmet. Somatic illnesses themselves might offer symbolic clues to the unmet need, suggesting that our vulnerability to a given disease may relate to our emotional as well as physical well-being.

In ancient Greece, when a healing practitioner assessed an illness, he would ask: “What god has been offended here?” Jung contended that this connection still exists:

“We think we can congratulate ourselves on having already reached such a pinnacle of clarity, imagining that we have left all these phantasmal gods far behind. But what we have left behind are only verbal spectres, not the psychic factors that were responsible for the birth of the gods. We are still as much possessed by autonomous psychic contents as if they were Olympians. Today they are called phobias, obsessions, and so forth: in a word, neurotic symptoms. The gods have become diseases. Zeus no longer rules Olympus but rather the solar plexus, and produces curious specimens for the doctor’s consulting rooms, or disorders the brains of politicians and journalists who unwittingly let loose psychic epidemics on the world.”—Jung, Collected Works, V13 (1929)

If the Greek pantheon of gods and goddess represent aspects of Self, we might consider that each of us houses our own “gods and goddesses” who direct our lives in unseen ways. What if our anxiety acts as a disgruntled or offended spirit? If so, we must listen to its story and find out why it’s offended and what it wants.

One way to work with anxiety is to approach it as a spirit that is asking for recognition and understanding. Anxiety is both universal and personal. Symptomatically, your and my anxiety may look the same, but their roots are in our personal histories. Asking directly what our anxiety wants and why it is here, and then dialoguing with it in a journal can help clarify your personal anxiety’s intention. Is it a wise teacher? A frightened child? A wild medicine man? Working playfully to paint, draw, sculpt or write about your anxiety need not replace traditional treatment but can open a new and surprising connection with what ails. Be curious! What does your anxiety look like? A monstrous clawed hand or an exploding bomb? Is it all black or does it have fiery red or bright yellow parts? Working creatively with anxiety releases the positive forces of empathy, both for oneself and for the anxiety, which is no less than a part of you.

The renowned writer Rainer Maria Rilke in his book, Letters to A Young Poet (1929), wrote this advice to a young cadet trying to decide between a military or a literary career:

“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”

Empathy, compassion, understanding, patience, embracing our wholeness—these are the qualities that ease our suffering and allow us to heal.

This post appeared in a slightly different form on Dale’s blog on Psychology Today. You can find all of Dale’s blog posts for Psychology Today at “Transcending the Past.”


Conscient que les premières victimes du traumatisme sont les enfants, Bessel van der Kolk s’y consacre pleinement. Le plus grand espoir des jeunes traumatisés, maltraités et négligés, c’est l’école. Ilot de sécurité, l’école peut offrir la résilience nécessaire pour supporter les traumatismes sociaux et familiaux. L’école où la chorale, l’éducation physique ou simplement la récréation sont aussi importants que d’étudier les maths et le français aux yeux du psychiatre américain. Ce sont ces pratiques qui vont véritablement aider les enfants à sortir du traumatisme. Vaste problème de santé publique, Bessel van der Kolk considère que le traumatisme et la politique sont indissociables. Il milite en faveur d’une grande prise de conscience collective : le traumatisme doit devenir une grande cause nationale.

Unique en son genre, ce livre, traduit en quinze langues, conjugue neurosciences, pratique clinique et réflexion sur la maladie. Il montre notre extraordinaire capacité à souffrir, mais aussi à guérir, en offrant de nouveaux espoirs pour retrouver goût à la vie. Et les voies de la guérison sont pour le moins étonnantes et multiples : théâtre, EMDR, yoga, neurofeedbacks ou méditation ont fait leurs preuves auprès de ses patients.



Bessel van der Kolk, psychiatre américain d’origine néerlandaise, spécialiste du syndrome de stress post-traumatique (PTSD), professeur de psychiatrie à la Boston University, a fondé le Trauma Center de Boston.

Ghosts happen.


Collage, composition and some few reflections

What is it that happens when the unwanted/unexpected appear, when the ghost manifest?

Over the last fifteen years, a large number of works in diverse disciplines: sociology, psychoanalysis, literary criticism, folklore, cultural studies, geography, or communication have sought to reinterpret stories of haunting as the return of traumatic memory.

Beyond the variety of contexts and approaches about the phenomenon or what is called hauntology, the work intended here through photography considers ghosts not only as things that are believed in (or not believed in), but also and above all, as things that happen, as events and as such they are what makes us see beyond, understand all the other events, all the other possibilities.

I have chosen to materialize these happenings on family photos.

Within this work, ghosts manifest not as terrifying revenants, but as beings, children, women, men that appear and gives us a sense of what is/was there, what is not said, what more could the photo say, what is hidden and transpires. By the emotions they set in motion, the doubts they stir, the possibilities they inspire, the ghosts generate questions, solidarity, humanity. They revive old traumas, create new ones, and redefine family stories.

They may also force us to recompose our stories anew.

Documenting an apparition invites us not only to ask what appears –but also what it is that the apparitions themselves make appear; what is made visible as a result of a ghost’s manifestation.

(draft text)

(More photos will be soon posted on my facebook page MOTHERS)


Le mot perlaboration est un néologisme créé en 1967 par Jean Laplanche et Jean-Bertrand Pontalis pour traduire le terme allemand : Durcharbeitung qui signifie élaborer, travailler avec soin. On peut le voir comme la contraction de parélaboration. Il désigne une élaboration fondant le travail psychanalytique et visant la suppression du symptôme névrotique.

Perlaboration chez l’analysant

Au travers de la cure psychanalytique, la perlaboration est surtout connue comme travail menant à l’éradication du symptôme. Ce travail consiste à répéter, au cours d’une analyse, les mêmes scènes encore et encore jusqu’à ce que le refoulement soit mis en échec et que s’élabore une connaissance consciente de l’histoire du symptôme, qui permette de le supprimer. Une telle élaboration repose en partie sur la capacité d’association, la cure amenant le sujet à associer les éléments conscients afin de renforcer sa connaissance, y compris à travers une reconstruction historique.

La perlaboration repose sur d’autres éléments de répétition. Le transfert lui-même est répétition. Mais ce type de répétition s’oppose à la perlaboration : il ne s’agit que de la reviviscence à la place du souvenir, de la répétition de l’identique au lieu de la mémoire. Plusieurs éléments de répétitions s’opposent donc.


Smudging is performed by burning plant resins and herbs for both spiritual and medicinal use. This practice has been performed for centuries as an effort to heal and clear away any emotional or spiritual negativity in a home or room. While many people view smudging as an unnecessary practice, recent scientific studies have concluded that medicinal smoke can be a dominant antiseptic that has the ability to rid the air of 94% of the harmful bacteria in it for a period of 24 hours.

Why Does Smudging Help?

The aura, or electromagnetic field, around our body often becomes blocked with damaging positive ions. These ions, as well as some of the negative energy that is found in our close environment, often leads us to feel sluggish, exhausted and burnt out from life. When you burn sage or another herb, this helps to neutralize the positive charge and will allow a large number of negative ions to be dispelled into our atmosphere. In turn, the energy that surrounds us, as well as our own personal energy, will begin to feel lighter and freer.

You’ve Heard the Saying Before…

We’ve all heard someone say “you could have cut the tension with a knife!” when regaling a tale about an argument or fight. But this isn’t just a saying. Positive ions can build up when there is tension, stress or anger in a room. When they are released, the energy that surrounds us becomes stagnant. When you burn herbs or sage, you’ll turn these positive ions back into negative ones, purifying and cleansing the atmosphere.

Smudging with Sage

Most local health and herb stores sell bundled white sage, which is the easiest to use to smudge. It is also found online. Before you begin to burn your sage, keep in mind what you are looking to achieve. Focus on the negative energy you wish to cleanse. Next, light the sage. If you get a flame, gently blow it out until you only have embers and a smoky trail left. The smoke from the sage will clear and remove the energy, not the actual flame. It’s OK to have to relight your bundle a few times while you perform the ritual.

Smudge yourself first by waving the sage slowly around your body, starting low on the floor by your feet and then moving it above your head. Then, slowly move from room to room and stay in any area that you feel compelled to remain in longer than others. Don’t hurry the practice of smudging. You may need to burn the sage for an hour to fully feel the effects. You may wish to purchase a sage holder if you don’t want to walk around with it for that long.

Many experts recommend burning sage at the change of the season and at the very beginning of your new week. You should open at least one door or window to allow the smoke to pass through while you cleanse your space.

Objects yet to become by Gansterer (his work fascinates me….)



Våler collage


With this photo collage of different photos of the lake next to our house (Vansjø), I won a small local photo competition in the little village of Våler in Østfold where I live. This photo has been published on my instagram account which is the only social media (beyond the blog I use now) and so, I happily update with one or two and sometimes more photos of my day, “making memories” as I write there in my presentation. So  one day, the communal services picked it up and reposted it on their instagram account. Now they have contacted me again and they want to publish it on their brand new website as well. I realise by sending it to them that it is perfectly imperfect (with shadows that have been worked on a very small scale on my phone that appear here on a white sky like ghost of something that does not exist…) but anyhow, it has its charm ….and now it is going to be famous all over Østfold!! or at least locally :)