by Charles Curtis
LETTING OFF STEAM
Over the Memorial Day weekend, I attended an event at a museum in the middle of Amish country that specializes in old farm equipment. When I say “old”, I’m talking REALLY old, like ancient steam-powered farm tractors and threshing equipment from the late 19th century, some of it still in working order.
The one I’m describing for this article was as big as (and strongly resembled) an early steam locomotive, with a ten foot long boiler surrounded by immensely complicated plumbing, driving one steam cylinder, storing energy in between impulses in a huge 6-foot diameter flywheel, which when geared down through a Rube Goldberg maze of open gears, proudly produced 16 horsepower, which dragged this several-ton behemoth along at a blistering 1-2 mile per hour, during which all of this hot, steaming, madly whirling machinery clattered, hissed, and banged away without safety guards of any kind (definitely pre-OSHA here).
When you’re done using one of these things it’s not like turning off the key in a modern tractor, getting out and walking away. You have to go through a long process to shut a steam engine down; it takes a number of steps.
In this case, the driver
Throttled down the engine until the tractor came to a halt.
(This took some time as the huge flywheel still had a lot of momentum).
Took the mechanism out of gear and set the parking brake.
Put the mechanism back on at a slow speed to keep the boiler pressure from mounting.
Took a hose and trained cold water on the boiler until the temperature started coming down.
Took a rake and pulled the burning wood out of the firebox and dumped it through a trapdoor onto the ground.
Put the fire and the wood out with the hose.
Opened a cock to let the remaining steam out of the boiler on a controlled basis.
Opened a drain cock to let the remaining hot water out of the boiler.
Went around and greased the moving parts up so they would be in good working order for next time.
A METAPHOR FOR STRESS
This seemed to me to be a good metaphor for the stress management client, who approaches every life situation with a full head of steam, always feels under pressure, and doesn’t know how to let off steam.
One thing the stressed-out client finds out is that whenever he wants to come to a stop, he can’t. Like that giant flywheel, he finds the stress in him has a certain momentum, and his stressed-out thoughts want to keep thinking themselves. That’s when most clients decide to come for hypnosis.
And so they come to us to learn how to put the fire out. The first thing we do is to throttle that engine down by providing a peaceful setting for the client to relax in. In that peaceful setting, we have the client tell his story, but this time it’s in a controlled setting, so like that engine restarted with the parking brake on, the client’s telling of the story lets the pressure out in a controlled way, and he immediately feels the pressure relaxing.
Then with our calmness and our rapport-generating procedures, we activate the parasympathetic response which, like that hose, begins to throw cold water on the fire of his over-activated adrenal system, which has been constantly pumping his body full of stress hormones.
Here’s a situation where direct suggestion rarely works. We have to find out the thoughts and feelings that are keeping the fire of stress burning and put the fire out. We do that by doing uncovering work, such as one or another form of regression, which like the driver opening the firebox and raking the fire out onto the ground and then putting water on it, finds and exposes the heat of the negative emotion. So at first there seems to be more heat, like the client who now is abreacting his uncovered emotion, but as we use that fireman’s rake to pull that emotion into the open, we can then put the fire out with informed child and other similar calming techniques.
At that point, the client is ready to really relax, and as we help the client track down and let go of any vestigial pockets of steam, the client no longer feels like he is in hot water, and he now feels that the pressure is released.
And now that the fire is out, suggestive hypnosis such as ego strengthening will be marvelously effective, and judicious parts work is like that grease gun, getting the various parts of the self in harmony with each other.