Transpersonal Therapy is a powerful approach that integrates creativity and self-exploration to promote healing and personal growth.

One valuable framework that can enhance our Transpersonal Therapy Practice is Polyvagal Theory, developed by Dr. Stephen Porges. This theory highlights the role of the autonomic nervous system in understanding our emotional responses. Deb Dana, a colleague of Dr Porges and an expert in using Polyvagal Theory in clinical practice has introduced the concept of Glimmers to help build personal resilience and learn ways to regulate our nervous system.

What are Triggers and Glimmers?

To understand “glimmers”, it is necessary to first understand “triggers”. In the context of Polyvagal Theory, triggers are events or stimuli that activate the body’s autonomic nervous system. These responses have developed to help us survive danger or perceived threats. Triggers may relate to past traumas and can lead to emotional distress, anxiety, or even physical symptoms. For some people, watching the news and seeing devastating images of war and violence can also become a “trigger”.

In Polyvagal theory, there are three pathways; the sympathetic nervous system which relates to our fight-flight response. While the parasympathetic nervous system has two pathways. The Dorsal Vagal responds to extreme danger by shutting us down; this is our freeze response, similar when you see animals who fear of being eaten “playing dead” to survive.

But the Ventral Vagal pathway responds to cues of safety and results in us feeling engaged and connected. This is when we are feeling grounded, understood and validated, where we can rest and digest. So Glimmers can help us to move from activated states back to this calm and present state.

Glimmers are small moments when we experience a sense of joy, connection to self and safety within our own body. Sometimes Glimmers can be so small, almost microscopic, we miss them. We need to train our brains to notice and connect with these glimmers. Glimmers are usually related to our senses, a smell, a sound, a taste, a sight or a sensation that creates a positive bodily reaction within us. It can be a favourite song playing in a shop, the sun on our face, a rainbow or sunset, a child laughing, flowers in our favourite colour, the first sip of a great coffee, a pet snuggling close or the sound of rain.

Recognising both triggers and glimmers can help us and our clients identify what makes us feel safe and what causes distress.

Some important points about Glimmers.

  1. Our brains naturally look for threats and danger. We are predisposed to negativity. But we can train our brains and our bodies to respond to positive moments of beauty, joy and wonderment.
  2. This isn’t about papering over our challenges but rather accepting that both joy and pain can co-exist. Looking for glimmers can help us build resilience and the capacity to bounce back from a difficult situation.
  3. Glimmers can act as an anchor, a way to feel grounded when life throws us an unexpected challenge.
  4. Glimmers can be predictable and known or surprising and unexpected. It is important to be aware of both kinds of glimmers.
  5. Your glimmers and my glimmers will be different. They are personal and only you can find your glimmers.
  6. Practising connecting to glimmers helps you build a “bank” of experiences that start to train your brain to look for rewarding micro-moments.
  7. Glimmers can help you change your perspective and can sometimes get you “unstuck” and improve problem-solving.

 

How to start a Practice of Findng Your “Glimmers”

  1. Start small. Deb Dana suggests you start small. It can simply be feeling the sun on your skin, noticing a child laughing, the taste of a crunchy apple, a warm hug from a friend, the sound of rain on the roof.
  2. Set an intention. Perhaps, set out to find a glimmer during your lunch break or while out walking. There is no right or wrong. Simply allow your body to appreciate the sensation of finding a glimmer.
  3. Keep a journal. Take a photo, write a note, make an art work about your daily glimmers.
  4. Go on a Glimmer Journey. If you have a friend who also wants to work on building a resource of glimmers, go together, so you can connect and share.
  5. Embrace the glimmer. Allow yourself to become fully immersed in the experience. The more you train your body to see and experience positive moments, the faster you will build your “bank”.

 

Application in Transpersonal Art Therapy

Some ways that you can incorporate Glimmers into your Art Therapy practice are:

  1. Creating a Calm Safe Space: Invite your client to make an art work of a place where they feel safe. This may be a collage of images that represent places where they feel safe. Alternatively using a paper plate as a base “build” a place that represents their safe place.
  2. Tracking and Journaling Glimmers. Keeping a written record of glimmers helps to identify those that are often available and those that may need to be sought out.
  3. Creating a collage of Glimmers: Using the journal as a prompt, create a collage of glimmers. This could be placed where it will be often seen as a reminder of the client’s Glimmers.
  4. Make an Altar or Temenos of Glimmers: Create a small altar or Temenos of Glimmers. These can be items that the client has collected, such a photo of a pet, a favourite toy, a smooth rock or colourful shell, a found feather or favourite piece of jewellery.
  5. Body-Scan Bringing to mind a positive Glimmer, the client may focus on how they experienced the joy, awe and wonder in their body. This could then be represented as colour and texture on a body outline.

We’ve created a helpful Information Sheet about Glimmers for you and your clients and you can download it from our Resources page.

By recognizing triggers and glimmers, individuals can connect with their inner selves, process past traumas, and move towards a state of greater safety and transformation. This integration of creativity, self-awareness, and physiological understanding can facilitate better emotional regulation and self-awareness around opportunities for joy and resilience.

For more information, I recommend

Dana, D. (2021). Anchored: How to Befriend Your Nervous System Using Polyvagal Theory. Sounds True.

Dana, D. (2018). The Polyvagal Theory in Therapy: Engaging the Rhythm of Regulation (Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology). W. W. Norton & Company

2 Comments

  1. caroline ellis

    Lovely thank you Jenny

    Reply
  2. Jules Lockyer

    Lovely Jenny 😍 thanks for sharing this valuable information

    Reply

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