How do we know if and when therapy is working for us? What is that sense of health and wellbeing that we are looking for? What does wellness actually look and feel like? While the answer can be very different for many of us, there are some fundamental characteristics of wellness that are common to all of us. I am referring to the innate striving to achieve physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health, or as the influential Humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers conceptualized it: “The Good Life.”
I believe that wellbeing, like a myriad of systems in our universe, from the cells in our bodies to the deserts and forests of the earth to the infinite galaxies, is a steady current of flowing energy that is evolving with increasing complexity and harmony. The qualities of this process are collectively accessible and exceptionally expressed and experienced. Instead of a fixed state or a goal to be reached, the nature of wellness is a movement without destination, a play or dance of life that has no other objective or ambition than to experience itself fully. As Carl Rogers explains: “The good life is the process of movement in a direction which the human organism selects when it is inwardly free to move in any direction, and the general qualities of this selected direction appear to have a certain universality.”
The first facet of the good life that I’m referring to is an increasing openness to experience. When we are completely receptive to experience, whether it is emanating internally or externally, we are moving away from defensiveness. Defensiveness comes from the mind, when we perceive and/or anticipate a threat to our sense of self (annihilation, abandonment, fear, etc), and as a result our awareness of the experience becomes distorted and denied. Our defenses, while necessary in the development our sense of self, have the potential to block us from learning and growing. The process of being increasingly open is an essential practice in effective therapy. Through this process we can come to own all experiences as being part of ourselves and render these threatening experiences harmless. We increasingly become open and aware of the thoughts within, being able to listen and attend to our personal inner dialogue. We become more receptive to the emotions of loss, fear, failure, as well as compassion, courage and wonder. As we become increasing open to our experiences, we are free to be aware and to live the experiences of our being.
We will look further into qualities of “the Good Life” in Part 2 of The Feeling of Feeling Good.