Time and Titration

Titration. The word appears in a book on meditation. And I have no idea what it means. It feels vaguely science-y, an unwilling transportation back to Mr. Prestige’s chemistry class, my shameful lack of understanding at any moment to be uncovered 1. The complete sentence doesn’t help, “Learning to turn our attention back and forth between challenging sensations and our own supportive resources is a valuable skill that professionals call titration” 2.

Titration, helps the internet, “is the slow addition of one solution… to a known volume of another solution of unknown concentration until the reaction reaches neutralization” 3. In more direct language, where mixing everything at once might create an explosion, mixing one drop at a time produces only “a small, manageable fizzle” 4.

The process was imported as a psychological metaphor by Peter Levine, when dealing with difficult personal material. “If we are able to turn our attention back and forth between sources of support… we have a much better chance of working effectively with the traumatic material than if we try to simply stay present with the material all at once” 5.

Frankly, I am suspicious of legitimising anything by rubbing it with scientific language, be it shampoo ads or wonky spirituality. An awful lot of dodgy assumptions are justified by appeals to relativity theory, quantum mechanics, or partical physics 6. But I can see the usefulness here. Titration suggests that pacing is a factor of process. Processing takes time.

Henri Bergson pointed out that mathematics is unlike human experience, as its calculations (1 + 1 = 2) happen outside of time 7. The first 1 doesn’t have to be brought to the other 1, and slowly added to make 2. But when adding sugar to water, for example, I have to wait for the sugar to dissolve. “This little fact”, he says, “is big with meaning”. Equally, the mathematic equation can be instantly reversed upon command (2 – 1 = 1).  But the sugar isn’t taken out of the water so fast. And you can’t unburn a match. Or unpickle a cucumber, as is said of the alcoholic nose.

One of the graces of natural environments is the recognition of pacing. When the leave falls from the tree, it doesn’t drop like a stone. Impatience is obviously unhelpful when something requires time, like the changing of seasons, or the boiling of a kettle. One negative aspect of technological convenience is casual instantaneousness. Turning on the desk lamp, making a computer search, typing these words, these now mundane actions allow no delay between thought, action, and result.

Two sources of light, but what are the consequences of their use as metaphors?

What of internal processes like grief, which required metaphoric digestion, and may never be reversible 8? Efficiency requires speedy ‘closure’ [dreaded word], a reversal to the state before the event. Mathematically this is possible, but if time can’t be reversed, how do you close out part of your own experience? ‘Closure’ suggesting a dimensional boundary door that can exclude the unwanted. But in this picture, where is the space behind that door, outside my self or inside? Either way, that stuff is still there, lurking.

Where conscious recognition may be instantaneous, understanding may require a lifetime of digestion. This is the chasm between information and wisdom. I read the same book again, but it isn’t the same book as ten years ago. So, how do I allow myself the time it takes for change to happen? How do I avoid harrowing cycles of bingeing and despondency? How do expose myself to my fears, but avoid explosions? Titration.

  1. It’s a bit like hiding my nakedness in the Garden of Eden, but because I didn’t eat of the tree of knowledge. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+2&version=NIV
  2. Recovery Dharma, p.66;  https://drive.google.com/file/d/1tXI68y59gTAnqfyba2kRMJA2Jh07eRK6/view]
  3. https://chem.libretexts.org/Bookshelves/Ancillary_Materials/Demos%2C_Techniques%2C_and_Experiments/General_Lab_Techniques/Titration
  4. Levine (2010), cited in https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/mindfulness-meditation-and-trauma-proceed-with-caution-1021154
  5. https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/mindfulness-meditation-and-trauma-proceed-with-caution-1021154
  6. I am thinking here of Deepack Chopra’s use of ‘quantum’ terminology as both metaphoric and literal, delightfully and excruciatingly exposed here; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U95e0DCmS-w
  7. https://brocku.ca/MeadProject/Bergson/Bergson_1911a/Bergson_1911_01.html
  8. The Kübler-Ross model for five stages of grief, for example, was never intended as “a linear and predictable progression” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C3%BCbler-Ross_model

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