Friday, February 14, 2014

From Cesar Millan to Stephen Porges

Let's start with a quote that has many useful points condensed in just a few lines:
I didn't need to not be angry. I just needed to stay with my anger long enough to see what it actually was and how it arose (or co-arose with my chicken heart). …. Spiritual work is not the same thing as self-help. It is not meant to ``everlastingly improve'' or fix you. It's a means to help you see clearly what's been there all along, beneath the surface, both in the larger sense and within yourself. You don't have to change things. Just see them properly, bear witness and they fall into place. Attention, not intervention, leads to true healing. If you spend all your time and energy trying to become a better person or ``change the world,'' you miss a profound opportunity to see how all the imperfect, muddled, fucked-up things in our world come together, find their place among each other, and then form something far greater. ---p. 199, Zen Confidential
Now the main point of this post: You can ridicule me as much as you want for quoting Cesar Millan, but first, fuck you all!, and second, I am proud of myself because not only has my study of Cesar Millan work with dogs been very fulfilling but it has also guided me to other interesting places. One of the most exciting things I found, or in fact rediscovered, is the ``polyvagal theory'' of Stephen Porges. Here is a link with good introductory information:
Stephen Porges info site:
Let's look at a part of the transcript of his interview with Serge Prengel from

I like to say that a goal of society is to be able to immobilize without fear. This statement might initially sound strange. However, when you think about it, isn’t immobilization without fear really a goal of therapy? You don’t want your clients to remain “tightly wrapped,” anxious and defensive. You want your clients to be able to sit quietly, to be embraced without fear, and to be hugged and to hug others, to conform physically when embraced, and to be reciprocal in their relationships. If a client is tightly wrapped with a tense muscles and a highly activated sympathetic nervous system state, the client is conveying this state of defensiveness to others. A state characterized by tense muscles and sympathetic excitation is an adaptive state that prepares an individual to move or fight. This state unambiguously conveys to others that it is not “safe” to be in close proximity with this person. ---pp.4-5
This is exactly what Cesar does with the dogs, when he tries to bring them into a calm-submissive state.  So, let's go back to Shozan Jack Haubner for another quote, on the importance of tension in spiritual growth:
… the proper relationship between an individual and a tradition is one of tension---healthy, creative tension. This is what produces spiritual growth, both in the individual and in the tradition itself: not the individual's solo efforts nor the traditions overarching forms but the two locked into a single struggle/dance, from which a new kind of person---and practice---emerges. ---p. 211, Zen Confidential
There is an amazingly simple and yet important relationship between balance and alert calmness. We know in our bodies that keeping our balance requires a calm and alert state. Extremes such as certainty and perfection are out of balance. To remain open, and work with, imperfections and uncertainties we need to stay calm and alert. This sort of openness is best evidenced in the eyes. I can look at your face and tell you how calm, open, compassionate you are, lol.

The feeling of safety seems to be at the root of openness and a lot more. Here is a quote from Stephen Porges interview by Ruth Buczynski of the National Institute for the Clinical Application of behavioral Medicine (NICABM) about the Polyvagal Theory's use in treating trauma. (Link:
Safety is a powerful metaphor. And it is a metaphor that carries with it a physiological state. So if we feel safe, we have access to the neural regulation of the facial muscles, we have access to a myelinated vagal circuit that is capable of down regulating more traditional fight/flight and stress responses, and we have an opportunity to play.
I actually wanted to bring into this discussion the concept of play. An inability to play is a frequent characteristic of many individuals with a psychiatric diagnosis.
And what I mean by play, is not playing with a Game Boy or computer. Instead it requires social interaction. Play requires an ability to mobilize with the sympathetic nervous system and then to down-regulate the sympathetic excitation with face-to-face social interaction and the social engagement system.---pp. 17-18

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