Dissociation is when…

Healing & Meditation

Quick notes by Punya about Svagito’s online workshop, Dealing with Dissociation and Denial.

Arillas beach

A few weeks ago I attended this workshop because I was intrigued by the title. I had never been able to grasp the meaning of the word ‘dissociation’. Intellectually maybe yes, but not really in my body. And if something is not clear, for me, it is a sign that I should go and check it out. Was it the way I used to space out in office meetings, and at the end I’d have to ask, What have we now decided to do?

I wrote this to Svagito before the workshop started, telling him also that the only other thing I could associate with dissociation, apart from spacing out, was something I had experienced recently when a friend had an accident.

It was totally unexpected – we were just standing at the shore, four of us, chit-chatting. Suddenly he fell backwards. There, after a loud thump on the concrete, he was staring into the sky with open, unmoving eyes. Some panic/freak-out started welling up in me, but in a split second I got hold of myself, rolled his body into a foetal position (something I had quite recently learned in a book – and never thought of having to implement…). Then I phoned the local doctor to come immediately and, after checking that the fallen friend was slowly coming to, ran to the corner of the road so that I could direct the doctor to where we were.

Once our friend and his wife were seated and driven off in the doctor’s car, we continued our walk. After a few steps we had forgotten all about it. But on the way home we checked in at the doctor’s surgery to see if all was OK and if they needed help. The next day, hardly a memory of it at all.

When I was called up to speak – I did not expect to be at all – Svagito asked me to remember the incident. I was now faced again with the image of those blue eyes staring into the sky, my shock of seeing him as if dead. “Yes, you were confronted with death, and your own death,” Svagito added, quickly taking me out again of the visualization and the feeling of helplessness and shock. And the stark vision of my own death.

Being dissociated at the time enabled me to act in a way that was helpful to the friend. My cut-off-ness had a practical function. It’s a safety measure in a dangerous situation. But going quickly back to the event in the session made me became aware of my own death, as a concrete potentiality of this body.

“When we see someone die we are faced with our own death. To learn to be present to the fear, the feeling that this brings up in us, is a good thing to do,” said Svagito.

“We need to process the fear of death. This is often quite overwhelming and that’s why people when they die also dissociate, they go into a coma. They can’t handle it. It is actually good to process this fear in life. I think this is very important to practice, to learn.

“I remember reading in Castaneda’s Don Juan books that we should live our lives with the feeling that death is always at our side. I liked that. I will never forget it. Awareness of death being always at our side. To do that helps us to live a more conscious life. And then we are also prepared for our own departure.”

After a guided meditation Svagito said, “Life and death are two sides of the same coin. You can look at either side – if you get too affected by one side, look at the other side. If you get too excited about what you can do – as if you were living forever – remind yourself that you are going to die. If you are too afraid of death look at the other side, look at life and see that you are alive right now and can do many things. You can choose which side of the coin you want to look at. It is good to play with that a little bit.”

The workshop was addressed in great part to therapists, as it was part of his masterclass series. Never having been involved in therapy, some of what was discussed about techniques was alien to me, but it was interesting to hear Svagito’s warning that a patient would often look as if they were relaxed, but that in fact they were dissociated. It was then up to the therapist to make them feel comfortable and secure, as if having a little chitchat over the telephone. Hinting now and then to bring the client’s awareness to what is happening in their body, go back to the issue, then again a light touch to bring them to the present.

I saw Svagito do this with those who came before and after me to talk. It felt as if he was a parent walking behind a toddler who has just started walking. Not actually holding her, but putting out a hand on one side, then on the other – at some distance – to steer her imperceptibly onto a middle path. He would tease her, like a dancer, and pull back again. Or like watching a master painter: a stroke here, moving back from the canvas, a new colour and another stroke there. Really masterful! One of these interactions lasted just a few minutes but went straight to the point. It was a great eye-opener for those watching him work on those on the hot seat.

When we came to talk about living through trauma, I was quite amazed to hear Svagito say, “We do not need to relive a trauma; we have gone through it already in the past. It is enough to have a glimpse of it, return to the present moment and look at it from here, from a distance. To go through a trauma again is useless when we get totally lost in it. Why re-live a trauma? It is again a burden. It’s enough to get a hint, remain there for a while, and see it from here. No pushing, no ‘you have to suffer to feel better afterwards’.”

This felt to me very loving and compassionate. It appears to be the new way, the ‘new therapy’.

Dissociation is when… a situation requires that we disconnect in order to survive (like a soldier in a battle) or an emotional trauma (like rape), in order to go on living a ‘normal’ life without the burden of carrying the disgust, shame and anger.

“We live in a state of dissociation all the time,” explained Svagito. It’s a way to protect ourselves from the overwhelm of stimuli. Even going into town after months spent in the village – all the loud noises, the traffic, so much happening around… I remember how after a while the shield comes up and I can think straight, talk and function again like a city-person.

While talking to another participant, Svagito said that when dissociation is reduced, we see the world as more colourful, the air more enveloping, sounds more pronounced. Here I remembered a walk in nature after a 3-week meditation retreat. Like a satori!

A clear description of dissociation, how to recognise it and the many other themes Svagito touched in these two hours, like anger and fear, using images and fantasies as a technique to heal ourselves, the importance of making the client feel safe – are embedded in this masterclass. I do not want to talk more about it; a transcription of Svagito’s introduction and ending will create the basis for a wonderful chapter for his new book!

Thank you Svagito, and to Candra for the organization.


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Punya is the founder of Osho News, author of many interviews and of her memoir On the Edge.

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