The Price of Awakening: Total Acceptance

I’m starting to notice that I’m losing the will to rush around and cram my days too full. I literally cannot summon it, bribe or threaten it into action.

I just noticed something about this recently in a different way than I’ve ever thought or felt about self care in the past…it seems like trying to resist the reality of needing transition time, recovery time, adequate travel time, or ignoring any of my needs, really, is just aversion to what is. So is working too much, skimping on self-care, staying up too late, and eating things that make me feel lousy. I already knew this, but something suddenly became completely obvious:

The lack of self care is actually self violence. 

It struck me as I was thinking about the transition time I scheduled at the beginning and end of an upcoming trip out of state that I’m making for training. I have always tended to think of the day before and after as “optional” or as something I know I desperately want but is not valid because others don’t need or take so much time (likely faulty assumption).

There’s always some good excuse available to ignore my needs – someone else needs something, it’s not “normal”, financial pressure, it takes too long, it’s not fun, what others might think, or “I’ll never get enought done this way” thoughts. And none of these things really matters in the face of the obvious. Needs aren’t negotiable. They just are.

The simplicity of this movement toward alignment with reality is a relief. It is also fierce, uncompromising, and beyond my control. I cannot unknow it or override it. Welcome to continuous awakening.

 

 

 

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Concrete

I puzzle at the heaviness in my gut, the pinchedness of my heart, my paralyzed limbs, and compose theories of cause: overwork or wrong path or scary disease, and then I remember,

I visited the abyss again, reaching for the warmth and comfort that somehow seems natural to expect from that place, the place I came from – but it was empty, and told me so, yet again, in no uncertain terms, and left me gasping, aghast, spiraling into numbness.

I signal my body to go, and search for the energy that moves me toward work, loved ones, food, movement, but it is blocked by grief. I cannot seem to go any faster or expend any unnecessary energy.

I cannot whip the body into submission, so giving up my agenda for a moment, I move in closer to inspect: where is the deadness inside and what exactly does it feel like in my body?

It is a dry, silent moan in my throat, a hollow ache in my heart, concrete in my gut, that cannot move or produce sound or tears. Then I hear the wisdoms I keep delivering to others about self compassion and realize I need them myself. I slow my pace further and try to soften toward the alarming lack of energy I feel.

I offer words of comfort to myself, hand on broken heart, and climb the stairs to dress, with my still heavy body. I put on running clothes, too warm for this weather, but wanting the comfort of extra covering. I instinctivley know I need time to be outside, in some way.

I step out into the back yard and hesitate as I see the wet pavement, but She pulls me down. I lay down face first on the cold ground. I can feel the warmth of Pachamama even through the cold concrete, and I soak her in. The sun warms my back as it moves in and out of clouds.

It feels so good, better than I could ever have imagined to be plastered to the cold concrete, like a child laying face first in the lap of her mother. The roughness and cold of the pavement doesn’t seem a problem for my bare legs, the strip of exposed belly, or my face.

She takes me in her arms and I ask Her to take the burden of my heaviness from me, as my tears drop onto the pavement and She soaks each one in. I ask Her to be my mother, and She says She already is. I feel into the truth of it, discovering it there already, inside of me.

I lay there for awhile and She listens to me cry, and I can feel Her stroke my hair and chirp softly to me that it’s ok as I press my cheeks and wet eyes into Her paved breast.

As I lie there, the burden eventually somehow feels foreign, no longer mine and I feel it being pulled from me and absorbed into the earth, fertilizer for new growth. I can smell the early spring smells and the wet earth.

I thank Her and beg for the blessing of energy to run, putting my left hand out palm down on the pavement to receive her gift. Barely a moment later I feel it, the lightness of a burden lifted, and She says, go! Run, Sprite!

I lay there a bit longer as the image and feeling of lightness dance there in my brain and body, listening to the rustling of birds at work in the bushes, and finally, I rise and stretch.

As I prepare to head out, I pause to give another moment of care, hand on heart, to deliver another dose of the love of…who? The Universe? Pachamama? God? At once I realize what has been missing.

I wonder, have I ever really loved myself? I wonder if I could even do that, and what would it look like? I can barely believe it as I realize my own love for myself has been absent.

I check for a moment to see if I can do it, love myself. I close my eyes and imagine the love coming from myself, delivered to myself through the hand on my heart, and there it is – I can feel it – a little spark, the hint of pure self love. Satisfied, surprised, and planning to explore it more later, I hop out the door to run.

 

 

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Nothing Special

I’m reminded by the current difficulty I find bubbling up in myself now, that I sure don’t want anyone to get the idea that I never have any rough times or that I or anyone somehow reaches a point where there are no more troubling emotions or reactions.

Though I’ve done an awful lot of my own trauma work, I still have days when I’m just exhausted and think about leaving my job behind and buying a farm, or hiding out and just writing for the rest of my life.

I still encounter periods when I feel down/low energy/unmotivated for no apparent reason.

I still have moments where I realize a loss at another level, and find I must take some time to grieve that new piece of realization.

I still frequently feel the overwhelm of too much to do, the loneliness of times with less connection, or the sting of jealousy or inadequacy.

I still have times when I wonder if I will ever really be done working on my trauma, and at the same time knowing that this journey will relentlessly continue revealing me to myself without regard for my preferences or questions.

I have to admit, though, it’s different to experience these things from where I sit now, as opposed to where I was just a few years ago. Now I can be curious to see what happens if I drop the story, and be with all the other parts of the the experience. Now I can hold the discomfort and challenge the urgency that says “I can’t stand it!” and “I want to do something about this NOW!”, while offering comfort and compassion for myself in the discomfort. Not trying to hide in meditation or satsang recordings.

I can journal about what I’m experiencing…and see where I’ve been a few pages ago for perspective. I can notice my shared human struggle with impermanence, and with the desire to “be something” and how it causes me to feel miserable, and the concept of non duality. I can be curious about the origins of this latest drama – “is it live, or is it Memorex” stirred up in my body from a time long past? I can sit and be curious about everything I’m witnessing…the struggle within, the struggle in the world…wanting to act and not knowing how…deep peace somehow somewhere underlying it all.

And so I keep fumbling forward in the grittiness of it all. Even in the midst of doubt, sadness, or pain, I keep taking in the irony of this sense of groundlessness simultaneous with the sensation of the solid ground of Mother Earth under my feet. And I call the newfound, not so pretty, ability to do all of this…power. Everyone has the seed of this power just waiting to be watered…with mindfulness, with trauma work, and with a little  bit of grace.

 

 

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Who’s Got Your Back?

We’re often good at picking on ourselves. We try not to to pick on others, or at least feel bad when we do, because that is something we have been conditioned to pay attention to. We’re told to “be nice”, and “say you’re sorry” from a fairly young age.

It’s rare for someone to ever tell us to treat ourselves this way. By the time we finally hear it from someone, it’s hard to take in, because we’ve had so much practice with scolding ourselves. It makes sense to some part of us that we are human just like everyone else, but there’s a part of us that cannot allow positive self-regard, mistakenly believing that if we do treat ourselves kindly, there’s no end of trouble that will automatically follow.

We can practice loving-kindness meditations, or actively work to challenge the inner critic – difficult to do at first, but immensely helpful.

Another tactic for getting a sense of what that kind of support could do for us is to imagine having our own personal cheering squad. Who would be included? You can put anyone on your cheering squad…God, movie stars, family, mentors, teachers, superheroes, your grandmother, best friend, dog, etc.

If you notice, the cheerleaders at sporting events are closely following the game, cheering every positive move, and offering hope and encouragement when the going gets rough. They aren’t criticizing the errors or belaboring the poor choices. They’re not encouraging bad behavior or advising the team to give up and go home.

I bet no one on your cheering squad would tell YOU to give up, either. Nor would they be abusive or tell you that you should have done better. Can you imagine what their cheering might sound like for your every little victory? Can you imagine how they might support you during rough times, encouraging you to take it slow during the hard parts and really do your best without beating yourself up? Can you visualize the whole group of people who would love for you to be happy and succeed?

Can you imagine how you might feel today if you’d had this kind of support all the time your whole life (minus the criticism)? What if you always knew you had the benefit of the doubt, that everyone knew you were always doing the best you could, that you’d already registered the ‘ouch’ of your error and learned from it and didn’t need it pointed out? Can you imagine what that might feel like? I mean it – imagine it right now, and feel it in your body. Or, in any given moment, you could check in…what would they be saying?

If you have trouble with this idea, then you may want to inquire about what is blocking your ability to have positive self-regard. Friendly regard for ourselves is important, because without it, we’ll likely sabotage our efforts toward success and not even realize it. This is not letting ourselves run wild and abandon responsibility. It’s support for our successes and our challenges that makes both those things easier to take in.

The origins of this self-regard difficulty are complex and culturally constructed. There may be some way the overfunctioning critic gives us the illusion of safety. It sometimes requires assistance to inquire more deeply into that, because we may be touching into traumatic material. We don’t have to do it alone, and it’s often better not to. Listen to your cheering squad. They know a thing or two about that.

 

 

 

 

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Resolve it, or Just Manage it?

Hey, so looks like Thursday is the new Tuesday!

I wanted to tell you about this thing that I am just starting to understand more fully…namely, managing symptoms (stress, anxiety, panic, intolerable emotions) versus addressing the source. I think we tend to confuse the two, and sometimes there’s also overlap to add to the confusion.

Sometimes we all need to use things like meditation and breathing techniques to keep the stress at bay. The list of things that can be used for this purpose as very long…everything from supplements, to exercise, to energy work and prayer and counting to 10 while you visual the beach.

The activities conducted during a Somatic Experiencing session are often also helpful for feeling better, but there seems to be something different going on. There’s a way in which attending to experience in a way that doesn’t just try to get rid of activation, but actually connects us to it in a manageable way, seems to produce lasting change in the form of increased capacity. This is what we really need when we are experiencing chronic stress (over activation) because this is a sign of a disregulated nervous system (trauma).

Increased capacity is experienced as more ease across the board: being with difficult experiences more easily (like, wow, that wasn’t as hard as I expected!), navigating social interactions (wow, that turned out way better than I expected!), and things just don’t feel as difficult (gee, I must just be lucky, having a good week, or a good hair day).

Some activities might even produce these increases in capacity outside a session, as we become more and more skilled at keeping ourselves in the zone of manageable activation.

Other things still, might help because they follow this principle of manageability even if they don’t look like “doing SE” because they keep is within our capacity. Operating within capacity, paradoxically, grows our capacity. Staying within our capacity means not overriding self by being too busy, skipping lunch, or having too few breaks or too little transition time between activities. It could also simply be not hanging out in places or with people that are dangerous or abusive. It means not skipping vacation time or opportunities to be creative/spontaneous, and not being overly serious. Keep in mind that these things are also much easier to do if we have a fairly regulated nervous system, and if they come easily are a sign of health, and contribute to greater health and maintain our self regulation, but are not necessarily the cause of health. It’s a complex two-way relationship.

That said, I might sometimes offer coping strategies to some people for specific symptoms that feel intolerable (overwhelming, aka moving one from fight/flight into freezy states), but I’m always hoping that no one gets too attached to them in a way that interferes with being able to be with unfolding experiences in session and complete them organically. We can induce all kinds of states in search of answers…humans have been doing that forever.

Some people go through their whole lives managing their discomfort and stress, or searching for the “one”. Just wanting you to know that there’s an alternative to constant management and searching and all the energy that uses. You gots choices…just sayin’.

That’s all I wanted to say. Might be easier if I just said, don’t get too attached to anything, and don’t stress too much about getting attached to anything. But, I think you get the idea. Let me know if I’ve only succeeded in confusing you, and I’ll try to clear it up.

 

 

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Getting Friendly with the Mess

Life is so messy. All of our best attempts to harness it, predict it, get a handle on it, seem to be short lived. I know, because I have a lot of experience with this. All my best plans, programs, schedules and attempts to feel more prepared, more in control, more competent, are constantly defied by the messiness, the beautiful chaos, of life.

So today, for example, I feel the desire for things to have gone differently, to have accomplished more, and try to be curious, to see if I can be aligned with it, present to it. I try to stop and do this one little thing – be present – and hold off on strategizing for tomorrow’s improvements to my control plan.

This is not an easy thing: to remember not to get caught up in the urgency of fixing, to be present to myself, to notice the judgmental thoughts, to pause and sense the way my breath is trapped high in my chest and that my feet don’t seem connected to the ground, to feel the constriction in my shoulders and the terror rising in my throat.

I can perhaps feel into it and say a prayer, to help myself be with the suffering more easily:

May I and all others who suffer this, know peace.

I can keep coming back to the obvious conflict between what I know at a deep level:

My current reaction is not about this apparent problem.

and what my body and mind seem to be screaming at me:

This is unacceptable! It cannot be allowed to continue! How are you going to stop this!

And tomorrow will come. Perhaps I’ll be a little wiser. Perhaps I’ll get some insight into this pattern. Perhaps not. Perhaps I’ll be a tiny bit more comfortable with the mess and the lack of control. Perhaps it’ll be a bit easier to notice that life goes on, and I seem to have what I need in each moment, even if it’s not my mind’s idea of what I need to be or have or do. And maybe a little of that will rub off on those around me, and they’ll even know a tiny bit more of peace because of it. I hope you’ll join me in practicing pausing in this way.

Love,

c

 

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Getting a Fresh Start

One of the most frequently cited reasons I hear for difficulty with change is that when the beginning of some grand plan doesn’t roll out exactly as imagined, there’s no more wind in that sail. We don’t start the workout on January 1st, and all that energy and excitement go “poof!”, right out the window.

I know that feeling, and have fallen into that trap so many times. It’s such a sticky one! It’s not going perfectly, so the impulse is to abandon it. Framed more accurately, we are not behaving perfectly so we abandon ourselves. It’s quite a thing to notice that when things are not going well, we just sort of turn away from ourselves. We may not consciously recognize this as rejection or as violence toward self, but what if someone else did this – turned away whenever we did something they deemed less than perfect? Can you get a sense of the power of that response? How terrible it would feel if someone did that?

What do you imagine you might feel like if you did not turn away from yourself when things get tough? What does the part of you that stumbles and has fits and starts need in those difficult times?

So here’s the tricky part: if you haven’t seen that, or didn’t receive much of it early in life, chances are that turning away is how you learned to respond to your own discomfort. And, it may even be as you read this, that you either cannot understand or get a sense of why it would matter. THAT’s how powerful the adaptation is! It numbs us to the parts of ourselves that feel how bad it is to be alone in that pain, to be turned away from. We might even be proud of that ability suck it up and carry on.

Trouble is, that numbing is also buffering the feeling of the fullness of life. Brene Brown says all the time…you can’t selectively numb. I think it’s a really good, succinct way to convey the price of checking out when we’re in pain. The price is life, beauty, joy, up and down, all of it.

Experiment time. What would you say to someone else in those moments? Better yet, what would you say to a child? What would you do for them? Can you imagine what they might feel like to be receiving it? Can you imagine what it might feel like to be on the receiving end of that kind of compassion yourself? Notice what comes up. If there are thoughts like “nothing will ever get done and I’ll misbehave”, look a little closer to see if that’s true. Does the kind voice saying “it’s ok, you can start over right now, or choose an easier goal today” make you want to quit, or is it motivating? Does the voice of “you missed your chance, you’ll never get it right” steal your energy, or make you feel like starting however you can?

We all want big change, instant gratification…to feel better right now. We all think it comes after we do the big thing, make the big change. It’s a trick – a trap. The “feel better” is in the shifting how we relate to ourselves in the present, right this second. It’s available in every moment. Ironically, self-compassion leads to greater honesty about our situation, greater self-acceptance, and  the CHANGE we seek! Stable, lasting, healthy change begins to occur in all those places we tried to whip ourselves into shape so many times, as if by magic. Don’t take my word for it…you have to experience it to believe it. No risk. If nothing changes, it didn’t cost thing.

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