Tag Archives: processwork

My Childhood Dream is my Facilitator Superpower

These are my Life-Myth Superpowers… what are yours?

by Matt Stella

I am laying curled up on the back porch. Brown painted floor and railing. Crying. About five years old.  A little boy alone, upset, in the fetal position.  The porch is raised up from the yard like a stage, yet I must be outside of the house trying to hide and be alone.  The little backyard is nicely manicured: flowerbeds with a nice stone border, and a perfectly green lawn that extends to the back fence.  Closer to the fence it’s darker in the shade of a big maple tree.  The grass there is not as lush, with some bare spots and patches of dirt.  The back fence is a wooden wall about 6 feet high, like a stockade you would see in old forts.

Then, just like every time, an old woman in a dingy white dress comes out of the back door of the house across the fence.  She steps out onto her back porch, which is raised from her yard at the same level of my porch, so she can see across the fence to where I am.  Her house is white but in disrepair, with peeling paint, unkempt.  Her yard has no grass.  It’s wild and untended, the dirt packed down from a sad, mean dog that’s chained to a stake in the middle of the lot, pacing and digging wherever it can reach.

Crying harder now, I feel her looking over the border fence at me.  It’s uncomfortable to feel that she is watching me.  And suddenly it’s unbearable and terrifying.  The old woman in the white dress is not fully human.  Even though I’m trying not to look at her, I realize she has the terrible head of a chicken, with her haunting, piercing, yellow chicken eyes locked straight on me, no eyelids, a relentless steady gaze.  The longer she stares, the more unbearable it feels.  My sobbing and panic heightens by the second.  I know that if she keeps looking I will die.

Carl Jung and the Life Myth

I always wake up just before dying.  This is the dream I had in the night, many nights in a row, in different phases of childhood, starting about 5 or 6 years old. Over time I ‘outgrew it’, and I did not think much of it.  Then in my 30’s when first studying Processwork, I was asked to remember the first dream, nightmare, or recurring dream of childhood — what Carl Jung would call the Life Myth Dream.

My Processwork therapist, Randee Levine, was brilliant and wise.  She helped me approach this nightmare with curiosity, then compassion, then awe.  I could see that for much of my childhood, teens and early adulthood, my inner life was most like the child in that dream.  Everything looked quite fine on the outside, like the house, nice, privileged, put-together… but in the back, behind the scenes, I was depressed, afraid, insecure, small and hurting.

Over the Edge – the Chicken Head Lady

But what about CHL – the Chicken Head Lady?  She was definitely not me.  I was definitely not her.  The edge between my world and hers was a tall stockade barrier.  And the awareness in the dream, the looking, was coming from the wild, scary land across the edge.  Not from me.  In the dream, as in my life, I was most aware of trying to look manicured like the lawn and flowers, but secretly feeling hurt, weak or ashamed.

If you are familiar with Processwork, you may be anticipating the good part… How am I the Chicken Head Lady!?  It was a deeply healing and empowering process to shapeshift into her — to practice standing straight up, with the relaxed but fierce awakeness of pre-human eyes staring straight across the edge to the source of the suffering.  From her perspective, she was not trying to harm or kill the boy.  She was just witnessing, unflinchingly.  Over many years, my healing and growth have been a practice of living that dream.  It starts with noticing that in the ‘back porch’ hidden areas of my mind, I am feeling hurt and alone, desperate not to be seen.  Any attempt to look at it feels terrifying like it might be the end of the world.  But then to adjust my gaze, open eyes fierce and wide, and look dispassionately straight at it, opens me to an ancient power with no fear.  The ‘boy’ starts to disappear. He is ‘killed’ in the sense that the longer I look, the closer it is to being gone.  Even if I only remember to do this inner work once in a while, it’s a great relief and a return to power.

Central Polarity – Opposite Allies To Help My Clients

It has been 20 years since I was taught to view the unique, mythic themes of my life through the lens of this dream.  As a therapist and Processworker, there is no skill or metaskill I am more grateful for than this Life Myth Dream to guide me.  When I have a client exposing a hidden hurt, and the shame of it being seen, I can access true compassion.  The ‘boy’ is my ally, reminding me what it’s like to feel that desperate panic, suffering and shame.  And the Chicken Head Lady is my ally, showing me the impersonal paradox of detachment, awareness, and fierce connection.  When I remember to look through her eyes, I can see straight through a person to the seed of their suffering, and not turn away.

Giving Thanks

Over the years I’ve done more and more work with survivors of trauma and childhood sexual abuse.  Even with a facilitator-superpower like CHL it was very difficult at first to look straight at the heart of stories of violation and damage to children.  But the more I could believe in both sides of the edge of my dream, and slowly integrate the polarity as a whole, the more able I have been to work with greater and greater suffering.  Thank you Chicken Head Lady!  Thank you scared little boy!  Thank you cultivated land, wild land and the big edge between!

by Matt Stella, LICSW, Dipl.PW

Matt Stella is a process-worker in Salem, MA, north of Boston.  He has been a psychotherapist in private practice since 2001, with a love of Processwork since 1999.  His work with depression, anxiety, addictive behaviors and relationship challenges has focused on the dynamics of shame, inner authority, and transformation.  He leads men’s groups and specializes in men’s issues, including the effects of sexual abuse and trauma on men.  Meditation, Authentic Movement, Contact Improvisation, creative process and especially family life with his magnificent wife and daughters have all been vehicles for his personal growth and discovery.

e-mail: mattstella.licsw@comcast.net


From Recovery to Discovery in Extreme States

By John Herold

I was in fourth grade when the space shuttle Challenger exploded.  From that moment I wanted to be an astronaut. There was something about racing into space as well as the inherent risks in trying that held a strong appeal.  By the time the shuttle Discovery was retired in 2011, I assumed my space career was over.

I Didn’t Expect My Wish to Come True

Looking back, that 10-year-old aspiring astronaut wasn’t very specific about exactly where he wanted to travel.  Outer space or inner space?  And by what means?

In December of 2012 that childhood wish came true in an unexpected and disturbing way.  My trip to the stars happened not on the space shuttle, but in an extreme state of consciousness.

Like a rocket I swiftly developed a huge amount of energy, skipping sleep for five days.  No longer in the reality most of us can agree is happening, I felt like an alien visitor.  I experienced everything anew from a symbolic, unified and deeply interconnected perspective.  The familiar John who didn’t believe in mysticism, numerology and spirituality receded into the background.  All that remained was this steeply unfamiliar part of me.

This New Part Was Full of Surprises

During this time I began to hear bells that those around me don’t hear.  The bells answer some questions yes or no, and have helped me in countless ways, though they don’t respond when I ask them directly.  Crisp and beautiful, they have never led me astray.  They are messages from a trusted companion.

It was also during this time that numbers began to speak to me in extraordinary ways.  I first noticed them at 12:12pm on 12/12/12.  Such sequences have occurred hundreds of times since, and they are now a regular part of my life.

My car’s odometer reading 9999.9 on 9/9/18 on my way to a Hearing Voices Network facilitator’s training

The Astronaut in Me Needed Support

Just as traveling to space is risky and expensive, so are extreme states.  Though the energy, bells, sensations and numbers are magical to me, my behavior at the end of 2012 was deeply disturbing to almost everyone else.  I spoke quickly and forcefully using language that was difficult to understand.  I was in everyone’s face.  I spent all my money.  I held unusual beliefs.  I had trouble describing my state of mind.  I appeared to be out of control.

Eventually, in response to pressure from people around me, I found my way to the emergency room.  There, my experience was seen in a different light; as a mental illness.  Diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I was held against my will and coercively drugged.  I was told my experience needed to go away and that I would require medication for life.  The newly arrived part of me had been pathologized – viewed as a sign of sickness.  This began a war between the old and new parts of myself.

It’s painful to fall down from a spiritual emergence to a diagnosis of mental illness.  Traumatic memories of being trapped, powerful tranquilizers and strident assertions from mental health professionals made it very hard for me to access the newfound mystical features in my life.  By August of 2013 I no longer wanted to live.

A Reaction to Psychiatric Oppression

Many believe depression automatically follows mania.  But in my experience, depression was a response to psychiatric oppression.  This oppression was so powerful, I internalized it.  I agreed that my energy and experiences the previous year were symptoms to be managed, medicated and ultimately discarded.

Processwork Views My Extreme State as Valuable

At my innermost core I knew there was something valuable about my experience, but I felt alone with it.  This is why, when I found Processwork, firstly through Will Hall, and then through Gary Reiss, it was so incredibly refreshing. Viewed through Processwork, my extreme state was no longer a sickness.   

When I shared my experience with Gary, he welcomed it, saying:

“You obviously have a lot of creative energy.  I believe the magic you experienced was real.  Do you want to ride this horse, make meaning and share that meaning with the world?”

I had found an ally who agreed with my innermost perception.

I Signed up for the Masters in Process Oriented Facilitation

The first night of the MAPOF program almost two years later was another defining moment for me.  As I introduced myself, I half-pathologized my own experience, saying I had been to Pluto.  After I shared my story, my new cohort mate, Camille Dumond, responded:

“John, we want you to go to Pluto!  And when you go, remember what you find so that when you come back, you can share it with us.”  

This open and accepting attitude brought me to tears.  

I Had Found My Astronaut School

Processwork has helped me welcome my mystical experiences rather than extinguish them.  It has given me a powerful framework and practical tools for navigating and integrating all my parts.

Today I’m no longer in an extreme state, and the mystical part of me that came forward so suddenly in 2012 never left.  I take note of the synchronicities in my life, and when the bells talk, I listen.  But also present is the familiar part I’ve known for most of my life.

As Gary has said to me:

“John – try being a little psychotic all the time!”

Using Better Language

I’ve never liked the word recovery because it implies altered and extreme states are a sickness we must recover from.  Recovery also implies we need to cover up (re-cover) newly emerged parts of ourselves in order to get well.

Instead of re-covering, I opt to rid myself of the cover altogether.  I now choose to dis-cover, and allow all my parts a chance to live.

I’m Not in Recovery – I’m in Discovery

Like the space shuttle.


To learn more, you can watch John’s webinar on Processwork and Extreme States.


By John Herold, MA

John Herold is a facilitator, speaker and trainer from Gig Harbor, Washington.  He is the founder and director of Puget Sound Hearing Voices, now in its fourth year of weekly meetings.  John’s work is deeply influenced by his personal lived experience with extreme states and psychiatric survival, his involvement with the Hearing Voices Network as well as his master’s training in Processwork.  He is passionate about spreading non-pathologizing ways of understanding experiences often labeled as mental illness.  In 2017 John received an Inspirational Person Award from Intervoice: The International Hearing Voices Network.


Photo credit: pixabay.com

Innerwork in Public Arenas

By Bill Say


Innerwork is Facilitating Your Own Awareness

In this post, I use the word Innerwork to refer to the Processwork form of Innerwork, as distinct from the many other forms in the world.  Processwork Innerwork focuses on individuals facilitating their own awareness.  We can practice Innerwork by sensing how we interact with physical sensations, following our bodily movements or allowing inner parts to speak to one another.  

Innerwork also Connects us to Others

Innerwork is “working on ourselves,” often by ourselves.  This is distinct from relationship or group work.  That said, Innerwork can also be a powerful practice when done in public!  Of course this is not what every individual or group chooses to focus on.  Our awareness and work with internal processes, parts, thoughts, and feelings often remain hidden.  However, this work is a potentially enriching factor that is often not just our own.  These complex, sometimes troubling and enlightening “inner” matters seem to frequently involve our friends, enemies, families, teams, organizations, communities and world.

Using Innerwork in Public Speaking

Innerwork has been a practice I’ve often used before addressing the public and feel too nervous to do so without undue anxiety or self-consciousness.  To start, I ask permission from the audience and offer a simple explanation, such as, “I often get nervous speaking in public.  Is it ok if I take a minute to ‘work on myself’ by simply noticing what I notice for a minute or so?”  Few of the groups I’ve asked have denied me this privilege and many seem to be fascinated by this relatively rare public expression.

Here’s an example of working on myself before giving a public presentation for Occupy Sonoma County.  (I start at about the 1:30 second point):

A Facilitator’s Innerwork Reflects the Group

Aside from working on myself at the start of presentations to ease my nerves, I also use Innerwork to begin to speak to dynamics that may exist within a group I am facilitating.  My own thoughts, feelings and even dream-like processes in a moment may not just belong to me but may also represent feelings, perspectives, roles or processes that live within the group, even one I’m newly encountering.  

One example is a graduate psychology class I was teaching.  After a challenging number of weeks, I was facing a group that was in deep conflict.  Plus, on this particular day a few of the members were challenging my teaching.  For some reason that day they didn’t trust me, at least not enough to support me to continue my instruction.  I realized I needed to work on myself and asked the class if I could take a few minutes to do so.  The group hesitated about my request and after some back and forth they agreed, on the condition that they could then respond to my Innerwork.  

I proceeded to explore a part inside me that didn’t quite trust me and one that wasn’t necessarily trustworthy!  By even briefly hearing from these parts the group shifted and was satisfied enough to continue with the class.

Levels of Reality

What happened in that class?  To answer that, I need to refer to the Processwork model of Levels of Reality.

There is the consensus reality level of facts and issues; there is “dreamland,” the level of feelings, subjective material and roles that are shared; and the essence level realm of what we feel most deeply and often share as an experience.  

At the dreamland level of reality, roles are shared and any “ghost role” (a role or part that is referred to or implied but not yet explicitly represented) is a vital part to explore and express.  In the case of my graduate class, the “untrustworthy” one was a ghost role.  On that day, my exploration and expression of these parts was congruent enough that the group was satisfied and could move on to other things.

You can read more about the three levels of reality at Arnold and Amy Mindell’s website:


My Inner Conflict Mirrored the Group’s Process

On another occasion I was teaching a public seminar on diversity, conflict and community building.  Though I wasn’t particularly nervous at the start I did feel a bit “blank” mentally.  In this instance of working on myself I quickly found a part of me that wanted to be structured, clear and “get on” with the teaching while another part expressed itself in an arm movement that also brought forth a feeling of expanse, emptiness and possibility.  Though there was no clear resolution to the subtle conflict these two parts had, it did seem to point to a particular way of processing issues that the group later revealed.

This expansive style seemed to spread without any pressing need to resolve the issues involved (and even defied my own efforts to contain and frame the process).  It included more and more of each member’s perspective and shifted our collective consciousness into an unusually diffuse state of mind.

Did my Innerwork at the start of the day influence or predict the group dynamic to come?  I may never know, but having this moment of conflict in my inner process alerted me to an outer process that I wrestled with and embraced as the day went on.

The Facilitator’s Innerwork Engages the Group

Lastly, in my introduction to a conflict resolution training I gave to a local government group of internal change managers, I worked on myself for a minute in front of them.  With a group of government administrators, emergency services providers, and managers engaged in organizational change, I wouldn’t normally think working on myself would land so well.  Nevertheless, my minute of Innerwork elicited laughter, a sense of immediacy and connection and set the stage for a day of very engaged, lively and fun learning and dialogue.

Innerwork in Public Makes More Effective Leaders

As Arnold Mindell has suggested, in the near future, our leaders may pause during their talks to say, “Wait a minute.  Something is going on inside me…”  This Innerwork may be an important factor in shifting and transforming our environments and cultures.  I invite you to try it out!

By Bill Say, MA, PW Dipl.

Bill Say brings over twenty years of experience to the intersection of diversity awareness training, conflict resolution and community building.  He is a faculty member of the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco and a former faculty member of the UC Berkeley Extension School of Professional Communication.  Bill is a Diplomate of Processwork. His website is: www.billsay.com


Photo credit: Didgeman https://pixabay.com/en/glass-ball-autumn-tree-gnarled-1813707/