In her book, The Tunnel and the Light: Essential Insights on Living and Dying, a compilation of lectures given by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross from 1976-1989, Kübler-Ross shared with audiences the lessons beyond her famous 5-stages model that she learned over decades of working with dying and grieving people. She stressed the necessity of learning to listen artfully and to join in the symbolic communication that takes place in the liminal realm – the space of spirit between life and death, whether literal or figurative. Regarding this topic, Kübler-Ross (1999) explained:
“There are two kinds of symbolic language: the symbolic nonverbal and the symbolic verbal language. Both are universal languages that you can use all over the world. And once you understand this language, which is the language that children use almost exclusively, you will never have to guess, you will never have to gamble, and you will begin to understand what every single child and every single adult knows, not always consciously, but subconsciously, and they will share with you the one thing they need to share, which is their unfinished business” (1999, p. 7).
Words create a bridge that allows us to enter the interior landscape of another’s experience. Capturing thoughts and feelings with words allows us to clarify and make meaning on a personal level, however, language is also very limited and can be imprisoning when one is not able to articulate unconscious or preconscious experiences and emotions. The story of a life takes shape and grows well outside the construct of words, yet we rely on words to share the experiences of life. Words connect feelings with thoughts, bridging spirit and matter, and creating connections that allow us to not feel alone on this solitary journey. But what happens when memory and emotions are lodged in a part of the brain that is not accessible to language, and one is not able to find, let alone articulate, their inner suffering? Belleruth Naparstek, a clinician, brain researcher, and authority in the role of imagery in health, explains that language can be a trap for people who have experienced trauma. She stated:
“If a traumatized person is prompted only to speak and think about the events that created his distress without enlisting help from the imaginal, emotional, sensory, and somatic capabilities of his right brain, his symptoms can actually get worse instead of better”. (Naparstek, 2004, p. XVIII)
According to Naparstek, the reason symptoms worsen is because language-centers in the brain become impaired by a cascade of bio-chemicals that are triggered through biologically driven survival reactions during the time of a traumatic event. This biochemical response can be life preserving but can also leave an individual with short-circuited memory and impaired speech when it comes to thinking and talking about the specific trauma.
Effective interventions for healing infractions to the psyche require whole-brain approaches which access both verbal and non-verbal areas of the brain. Bonnie Badenoch addressed the integrative power of Sandplay therapy in her groundbreaking work on interpersonal neurobiology, by explaining, “The physical sensation of touching the sand facilitates neural integration, connecting the body, limbic system, and cerebral cortex in the right hemisphere” (Badenoch, 2008, pp. 221-223).
In her final written work, On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss, which Elisabeth Kübler-Ross co-authored with David Kessler, Kessler stated, “I saw in my own loss that it was hard to separate out the grief from the trauma, since grief has elements of trauma in it and trauma has grief in it” (Kübler-Ross & Kessler, 2005, p. 223). Work in the field of Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder (PTSD) has revealed that certain experiences are stored in areas of the brain which cannot be accessed verbally, and that through the imaginal route, via guided imagery, art therapy, Sandplay and sand tray therapy, MARI and other forms of non-verbal expressive processes, trauma can be accessed and treated.
For more information about learning symbolic language, accessing other-than-conscious-knowing, aka the “deep mind” and methods for engaging wholeness, please visit: www.marigoldmethods.com. You will also find a comprehensive Bibliography, Recommended Reading List, and Yummy Sources section on the Marigold Methods website.
Be well ~
Karla Ann Hankes –