An Archaeological Internal Dig

Intent: To open another door to understanding your self


I was 18 years old, in the midst of a 4 week intensive summer course called Artistic Decision and Self-Development. Though I had been interested in psychology since I was a child, I had just begun my study of self-work. Until my twenties, self-reflection was mostly beating up on myself or going into a shame reaction. Though I always had a strong internal witness who could see me beating up on myself, I had little ability to do anything about it. I was, however, eager to become more aware so that I could free myself from my internal shackles.

We sat in a large circle. The instructor, AA Leath, Jr, who had asked us to write something, the content of which escapes me today now asked us to read our writing aloud. However, rather than really read what we had written, he instructed us to say, "no" to whatever he asked.

Sitting half way around the circle, I had ample opportunity to rehearse my response in my mind. I imagined him asking me the question and me responding with a very loud, firm, and declarative, “NO.” When he finally got to me and asked the same question, I opened my mouth and a very soft squeak came out. My “no” was barely audible. He asked me to say it in the opposite volume which I had just used. Again, a very soft squeak came out.

I don't remember what happened next in the group. I decided to focus my attention on myself. I was aware of my body feeling very tight. I amplified my experience, making my body even tighter. I closed my eyes and focused inwardly.

Suddenly, an image popped into mind. My father was standing over me, looking fierce with his hand raised, ready to slap me. To my knowledge, he only slapped me once when I was 16 and I would not get off the telephone. However, I'm sure that he used fear and the threat of hitting me to control my sister and me more frequently than I remember.

The image came up as implicit memory which is feeling memory, rather than explicit verbal and semantic memory. I stayed with it, intensifying my experience of it.

I remembered that in my family of origin, my sister and I were not allowed to say “no.” Unless we were practicing the piano or doing homework, we were fair game. My mother or father could and would ask for our help and we had no choice but to comply. At that moment, I realized that I had given up my “no.” It was more important for me, in my family of origin, to be a good girl than it was to have my “no.”

This experience was the beginning of my reclaiming my “no.” I finally understood why I had so much difficulty saying no to anyone. It was the beginning of regaining my ability to set boundaries, to say what I wanted and what I didn't want. Understanding where my internal conflict came from helped me dismantle the belief that I was bad if I said no.

It was a pivotal moment for me. In a nano-second, I had a flash from the past that helped me understand myself and in doing so, helped me dismantle a dysfunctional belief. It was a beginning of regaining myself.

Today's activity focuses on using amplification to gain understanding.


How do I do the self-work to understand myself? Imagine that you are an archaeologist on a dig. Something bubbles up into your consciousness like a fish jumping out of the water or an outcropping of a stone. Rather than ignoring it, imagine that you start digging down, looking for clues about it. Just like finding a buried treasure on a dig that looks decrepit from dirt and time, discovering archaic beliefs, feelings, and memories seems like gargoyles or monsters, not unpolished gems.

Set Up:

Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down where you will be undisturbed. Have drawing and writing materials present that you plan on using for the second part of the activity.


Part 1:

Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. As you inhale, imagine breathing in relaxation. As you exhale, allow yourself to let go of unnecessary tension. Inhale, hold your breath for a few counts, then exhale for a bit longer than your inhale. Continue to do this for a few minutes, noticing how relaxed your body feels as you do so. Scan your body from the top of your head all the way down to the soles of your feet noticing how relaxed or tight an area feels to you.

Reflect on an experience that was intense for you. It could be something that was recent or long ago. As you reflect on it, let your body experience it fully. Think it, feel it, sense it, experience it.

Now let yourself amplify the experience. Increase the intensity of any sensation or movement of which you become aware. Then notice what emerges.

Part 2:

When a thought, an image, a feeling, or a sensation emerges, pay attention to the following:

  1. sensations you notice
  2. images that go with it
  3. emotions that emerge
  4. bodily sensations
  5. thoughts, images, and memories that arise
  6. beliefs that become apparent

Part 3:

Slowly sit up and write descriptions of what you remember from each item in Part 2. Use "spontaneous writing" meaning that you allow whatever pops into your head to come out. Write without censoring or even understanding why you are writing what you write.

Part 4:

Make a series of scribbles or drawings that depict any thoughts, feelings, images, sensations, or beliefs that came to your awareness.

Part 5:

Give yourself an internal pat on the back for taking this adventure into an AID (Archaeological Internal Dig). If you feel so inclined, go to the blog and write about something that was important to you about engaging in this activity. If you would prefer to send a private message or ask for feedback, feel free to contact me at [email protected].

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