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The Living Inquiries Blog

Fear, Hope and Dreams… and Connection

By Lisa Meuser.  

These words plopped into my system one afternoon when I was in “way deep”. By way deep, I mean in communion with the raw essentials of life – that place where the universe whispers wisdom.

I could feel the universality of these words as they dropped in my lap, so to speak. Amidst all the differences that humans possess, it seems to me that we all have these three flavors running around in our being to varying degrees.

More than that, they are often co-existing and happening at the very same time.

That felt profound because we often try to have, or create homogenous experiences. In other words, we have beliefs or ideas that X is bad, and Z is good. And so we strive. We fight. We push and struggle to try to have a certain kind of experience whilst trying not to have another kind of experience. So, we may try to be “all happy”, for example, with no sadness. Or, we may try to feel “all good (comfortable).” A hidden assumption is the idea that if we have some sadness, all we are is sad, or if we have some discomfort, we have no comfort.

The reality is that humans are vast, and varied. We have the capacity to hold many resonances at once – even conflicting ones. We can be both hot AND cold. We can have some pain, and some experiences of comfort. We can be sad, and ok. All at the same time.

Being conscious of this frees us from having to resist or constrain our experiences. When we leave the restrictive and limited territory of either/or, and enter the vast territory of AND, we find a very different relationship with life. And, in the process, we discover allowance and kindness.

So… when it became clear to me – from the depths of my being  – that we can have fear, AND have hope, AND have dreams all at the same time, something big popped open and my system felt safer than it ever had.

There was a time when life was different for me – when fear wasn’t allowed, and when safety was not a lived reality.

 

FEAR. Hope? Dreams? 

For most of my life, I lacked a conscious relationship with fear. Instead my system had built up a habit of denying fear. Rather than acknowledge fear, I got lost in hope and dreams, and stayed disconnected from the reality of my experience.

This may not sound like such a bad way to live, except that to live in denial is to live in separation. Because I wasn’t able to connect to fear, I had to stay disconnected from my body, and I had to live in my head. My fear of fear kept me out of my body, and as such, kept me out of full participation with life. The hopes and dreams that I had weren’t embodied – they were rather superficial, lacking substance of being, and were mental replacements for being fully engaged with life.

It is not possible to fully participate with life when one is in one’s head, when one is trying to discount the human experience, and when one is pretending one’s way through life.

In trying to avoid fear, I fawned, faked and fucked my way through life in a way that helped me survive, but didn’t help me thrive. From the outside I seemed fearless. On the inside, I didn’t really acknowledge that fear existed. I was disconnected from my body to such an extent that I had very little self-awareness or conscious relationship with my experiences. I was involved in a façade that even I was unaware of.

 

Fear. Fear. Fear. Hope? … Dreams?

A series of things happened in my life that woke me up and brought my ability and desire to pretend to a screeching halt. As my psyche fell apart, so did my strategies. I went from being disconnected from fear, to being consumed by fear. All the ways I had maneuvered through life were gone. It is devastating when a personality loses its way – when all the pretending and strategies don’t work anymore.

I think back to those days, which I think of as my own personal hell, but which others have named “the dark night of the soul.” The hardest part of that time period was the over-abundance of fear, and minimal sense of hope or dreams. During that time, I could not see through my fear. Hence, the dark night reference.

When we’re in a dark room, we can’t see what is coming, or where we’re going. And it can be terrifying. As my psyche crumbed, my lack of knowing if things would ever get better, and the fear that they would not, led to constant suicide ideation.

It was a compassionate friend and loving somatic therapists who allowed me to keep going, to see what might happen…  to have a sliver of hope. The love and support they provided was a balm to my nervous system, keeping the flame of hope and shadows of dreams a possibility. The gift of heart connection was powerful in ways I didn’t fully understand then. It allowed me to keep on keeping on, whilst wanting to be done (i.e. dead) every day.

 

Fear. Hope, Dreams, too.

It took me a while to get real with fear. It was uncomfortable, humiliating, terrorizing, destabilizing. It was a scary time. Until it wasn’t.

Slowly, over time, I started to have spontaneous moments where small resonances of hope started to pop through as things started to feel different. It was as if, even in the darkness, some light had made its way through. The darkness became less threatening and less suffocating. I started to experience space.

This makes me wonder if it’s programmed into our DNA coding to hope, and to dream, amidst fear and darkness. Maybe it is our ability to imagine – to dream – that allows the chemicals needed to boost hope, even when the reality of our lives is dismal. Maybe it is in honoring fear, that these others once again find life. And maybe it is through connection that these sparks of hopes and dreams stay lit.

 

Fear, Hope, Dreams

One day the fear of fear switched into a sincere and safe relationship with fear. The over-abundance of fear softened, the resonances of hopes and dreams increased, and a trust in life revealed itself. No longer were hopes and dreams a way to evade the present moment, or to fake my way through life. Instead hopes and dreams were the resonances of life and creation in motion.

As my system is now safe to acknowledge fear’s existence, my system feels so much stronger, so much more empowered and has a deepened sense of trust. It is strange to think that getting honest about fear can lead to empowerment. After all, wouldn’t it just yield more fear? In my experience, no.

Waking up can be an unbelievably counterintuitive process. When I fully acknowledge fear, instead of turning from it, hope springs forth with ease and playfulness and curiosity. It doesn’t come as an escape, or as a bypass, or as a strategy to feel ok. Hope comes as a form of creation, birthed from creation.

From creation comes something deeper – dreams. Perhaps it takes some safety to dream, to have vision. We’ve all likely either been in difficult spots ourselves, or known someone, or seen movies with characters, who have had their dreams beaten out of them. Trauma can do that to a person.  However, I have a hunch that it is in our human coding to dream, and I think, even in those darkest times, something lies dormant, in-waiting, that sustains the existence of dream energy.

I’m thinking of a time in my life when vision melded with dream energy, hope, and fear. It was after the experience of a miscarriage, a time that was filled with much confusion and devastation. On the heels of that experience, a life-altering vision came my way. I was gifted an understanding of how trauma works as a part of the human matrix, and it became my dream to connect with people using this new approach. It was this vision that birthed my private practice, which I named Integrative Healing.

There was also fear during this time: I was beginning a new business, utilizing an approach that didn’t have reputation or proof, and moving from mothering full time back into a potential career for myself. It felt as if hope and fear held a tension that catapulted me into a great adventure. I didn’t let fear hold me back, but met it full on, as I stayed true to the hopes and dreams that were birthing. Honoring the fear, as well as the hopes and dreams, allowed me to move deeper into my passion of building connection with people and with life.

 

Fear, Hope, and Dreams… and Connection

I wonder if science will one day find a way to measure the accuracy of this. I can only go off of my own lived experience, and the experiences I have as a somatic therapist. I’ve been in dark places. I have had clients in dark places. Did we have hopes, and dreams, amidst our fears? While sometimes experienced as dormant, it seems to me that yes, we did. In the darkest of times, the power of love and connection brought me back to possibility over, and over, and over again.

The more conscious we become of that which holds us back – fear – the more hopes and dreams are free to birth themselves into creation. We are at a pivotal time in history – it is the perfect time to learn how to develop a healthy relationship with fear, rather than be immobilized by it.

May we all move towards accessing the creative energies necessary to birth a better tomorrow. May we all learn how to tap into the resonances of embodiment. May we all feel safe to be with the magnitude of being human, and learn how to connect with each other – to support and love each other together – in our dance of fear, hopes and dreams.

To read more about Lisa Meuser, click here.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who’s the Fairest One of All?

By Melanie Balint Gray.  

Mirrors have haunted me much of my life. Whether I was looking in one to help me do a thorough job of flossing teeth, to apply a little lipstick or mascara, or to do a quick head-to-toe check before going out, they’ve often felt like a source of humongous self-criticism. The one looking in the mirror (me???) could always find SOMETHING wrong with the image in the mirror (also me???) — crooked teeth, deepening crow’s feet, thick thighs, ever-expanding calves; an endless list of flaws!!! Same thing goes for snapshots, profile pictures, video snippets, etc. The eye that was scanning these images was ALWAYS a CRITICAL eye and the conclusions that resulted were that the gal in the mirror just didn’t measure up. To whom? Or to what? To some standard of measure I’d internalized. Anyway, it felt soooo crappy.

And I know I’m not alone in this. I’ve had many friends either cringe or turn their heads when a photo of them is displayed and some have told me that it brings them to tears to look at themselves in snapshots. It’s sad to think that so many of us, and not just women, are caught in this condemnation of these bodies that carry us so loyally through life. It’s crazy to expect that all these bodies could conform to a narrow range of shapes and sizes — those advertised in magazines, fitness ads, fashion runways, and clothing stores.

I can see where some of my scathing criticism of my body may have originated:

  • a casual, unconscious comment by my mom pointing out the woman across the street who looks so snazzy and slim;
  • fairy tales like Snow White and all the other royal fairy tales emphasizing the importance of physical beauty and ostracizing anyone less than conventionally beautiful;
  • Hollywood;
  • my father who frequently went on The Army Air Corps diet (steak and a wedge of iceburg lettuce with oil and vinegar) to trim back down (and to give up alcohol for a while)… (yikes, I tried so many diets myself!)
  • my mom coming to me as she got dressed up for another diplomatic corps cocktail party and, with a worried look on her face, asked her little daughter, “Honey, do I look alright?” (Oh geez—I think I did the very same thing to MY daughter!!!);
  • random people who would say, “Oh, you look soooo pretty in that dress.”;
  • my mom, who was so afraid of being overweight like she was once (only slightly) in her young adulthood, that she projected her fear outward and shied away from getting to know anyone who was overweight…

It has been helpful to see these influences. At first, seeing them pissed me off and resentment bubbled over—resentful of being immersed in such narrow-minded viewpoints as a youngster.  Over time, sitting with the resentment and anger toward all those who unwittingly helped me absorb this body hatred, I began to see that they, too, had been duped. They, too, were simply trying to live up to some standard of what was “acceptable” in the realm of physical appearance.

Seeing this, another example of the unconscious passing of the baton of unquestioned mindsets, I realized I wanted to drop the baton. How could I accomplish that? How could I begin to put a crack in this body-hatred habit?

I decided that one approach was to meet myself where I was — right here and now — still full of self-loathing and with an eye that critiqued every square inch of my physique. I started by meeting myself in the mirror – one of the most common battlegrounds. So, I began to watch really closely what happened whenever I was in front of a mirror. At first it was just plain uncomfortable. I’d want to turn away quickly so that I didn’t have to feel the repulsion in my body or hear the phrases that raced through my head about how subpar my features were, why couldn’t I take better care of myself, how could I ever go out in public in anything less than a huge tent dress, etc.

This continued for a while, but my ability to hold the gaze of the one in the mirror improved; we spent more time looking at one another. Sometimes tears trickled down my cheeks (and her cheeks). At other times we just gazed, meeting eye to eye and there was little commentary. That was different!

Then, one day, I had a feeling that someone else was there with me and my reflection. I couldn’t exactly see this being, but vaguely felt their presence. After a bit, a quick glimpse of this “person” flashed through my awareness. It was as if I had seen a fleeting image of the “perfect me”—sort of a composite body shape of many different women (friends, strangers and celebrities) who, in my estimation, had some or all the elements of the “perfect” body.

Wow. I realized that this imagined “perfect me” had always been there beside me in the mirror whenever I felt self-criticism OR self-praise. I had overlooked her all these years because my attention always zoomed in on my reflection, not on that vague image that was my standard of comparison off to the right.

In those less common moments when I could simply meet my reflection without judgement, “she” was absent from the reflection.

Only when I was divided in my opinion of myself—split between my own reflection and the faint, faint reflection of what I thought I SHOULD look like—was she there. When the SHOULD and the SHOULDN’T held no sway over me, she was absent from the mirror. When I was seeing the shapes and colors reflected in the mirror from a neutral vantage, there was no “other” off to the right.

It’s these internalized yardsticks, these adopted lists of what’s acceptable and unacceptable, that I’ve carried around unconsciously for so long. Since my unconscious often communicates with me in images – often fleeting images – rather than just in spoken or visualized words, it has taken a while to become adept at catching glimpses of these faint, short-lived pictures.

Furthermore, once I was more able to capture these ghost images, I also began to trust that they might be active communications from my unconscious, rather than discounting them as random images. So, I began to check whether a fleeting image that arose in my awareness seemed to trigger a reaction in my body. If yes, then I’d explore this image a bit more to see what it was trying to convey to me.  If there was no bodily response, then I took that to mean I had not unconsciously assigned any significance to the faint image.

This deepened my ability to “hear” what my unconscious was saying to me. It took me further into the realm of symbols and visual imagery instead of purely relying on words. It has been an amazing realm to explore.

As I continued to explore this, another thing happened. I developed a curiosity about the composite perfect me and all those women I’d unconsciously used to create her. I wondered about all those women and what I knew about them and what their lives were like, based upon what they had shared with me or what I’d read about them. Rather than finding that each of them was thoroughly at peace with themselves and free of suffering, I could see that they too struggled with self-criticism and felt the pull of self-improvement. What a hoot! I was unconsciously striving to attain what I thought was perfection (i.e. having a shape like these women) and those I thought were perfect were on the same, insane path as I was, simply a few steps ahead of me!!!

Realizing this about all these women has had a normalizing effect on me. It has begun to soften my relationship to the “me” in the mirror and the me who’s looking in the mirror. When we stand and gaze at one another these days, sometimes criticism is present, sometimes it’s not. What’s different is that now there is an awareness of the exchange between the two me’s—an overarching observation of more of what’s going on during each encounter.

And the recognition of this composite me who comes and goes from the mirror is a wonderful reminder of ALL the ways I still become caught up in comparison in my life. It has lead me to watch more for the subliminal images of other people who I’ve used as my yardsticks in other areas of life. It’s so nice to pull all this out of the closet so that I can more clearly see it!

To read more about Melanie Balint Gray, click here.

Facing What’s Inside

By Kristy Johnsson.  

If we want any aspect of our world to change – whether it be family systems or political systems – we have to meet the parts of us that uphold the status quo.

You know, the wildest thing is that after all the trees I’ve planted,
all the kids I’ve taught,
all the volunteers I’ve organized,
all the people I’ve counselled,
all the money I’ve donated,
all the votes cast,
all the ranting and raving,
all the writing,
all the researching,

all of it trying to make this world a little less self-destructive, the most potent action I’ve found isn’t an action at all.

It’s been looking at the darkest corners of my being and letting my heart bathe it all in profound acceptance. It has been a being-with, rather than an act of attempted control or influence.

It sounds so cheesy, but I swear it’s true. We just can’t be that helpful to anyone or anything if we’re committed to delusion. And in the midst of our trauma and fear and pain, if we lose touch with our feet on the ground, most of us are.

When I was 17 years old, my mom and I were engaged in a vicious fight. After I retreated to my room, she came upstairs and told me, “You think you have it so bad? When I was your age, my mother jumped out of a window and killed herself!”

That was the first time I learned of my grandmother’s suicide. An act she committed in front of most of her 11 children.

I stood there in shock, not just for obvious reasons, but because a clear image emerged that gripped me: I saw myself standing before a huge, drooling, fanged beast, and behind me stood a line of all my female ancestors that had met it before me. The message of the image was clear: “Now it’s your turn.”

I had never heard of intergenerational trauma, that our ancestors’ traumas leave marks on our DNA, but that’s clearly the insight I was having looking back. No one in my family knew that I had been struggling with deep depression and chronic suicidal thoughts for several years, but in that moment I knew that my grandmother’s pain and mine were inextricably connected. And now it was my turn to face the darkness within myself and her.

Facing both my unconscious pain and the pain of my culture has radically changed my view of myself and the world, as well as the way I hold myself and walk through this world. It has been and continues to be an incredible process in its depth and its insights.

Our pain, our patterns, and our beliefs touch everything in our lives. And when billions of people play out these patterns, we have the world we see now. No amount of political upheaval, education, tree planting, or activism will change the world so deeply and so permanently as when we face what lies within us and meet it all.

To read more about Kristy Johnsson, click here.

The Dance of Life

By Lisa Meuser.  

I went to a 5 Rhythms[1] (5R) retreat over the weekend.  If you’re unfamiliar with 5R, it is an organization devoted to freedom, utilizing dance. As with all sacred work, the 5R container is carefully crafted to invite, invoke, ignite and inspire… mind, body and spirit.

5R uses music to tap into resonances that live through all human beings, but often get blocked, denied, ignored, numbed, or stuck. Different words can be used to explain the resonances but in the 5R world they are named as “Flow, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness.”

Just as all emotions are crucial to know the expression of wholeness, all rhythms are important in the human journey of embodiment. They all have their time and place, depending on the contextual moment of an individual. There is no “wrong” rhythm or “bad” rhythm. Phew!

If you’ve read my posts before, you might be seeing how this practice aligns so much with what is already woven throughout my life.

  • Deeply inherent in this practice (and my life) is the movement away from the dominant narrative that is rule-bound, controlling and linear, to the transformative narrative which values inclusion of expression, both/and perspectives, and connection.[2]
  • There is a focus on embodiment – of allowing what is, to be felt, expressed, and honored. Another way of saying this – it is deeply enlivening.
  • There is an honoring of the human experience in all its flavors: hard, soft, spacious, rigid, flowing, contracted and divine – and so much more.
  • 5R is a kinesthetic practice – I love involving my body in conscious engagement!
  • Sacred space is important in this practice. We are waking up in the collective, uniquely. Safety, trust and love are inherent.
  • The practice is rooted in simplifying, connecting with the ordinary and practical (which, in my experience is often profound), and being in direct experience. Too often we are distracted by the conceptual mind, and what is literally right . here . and . now is disguised.
  • Empowering the participants is a primary focus. Participants follow what feels right for them and are not forced or required to participate in any particular kind of way. No agenda. No fixing. In that space of no agenda, worlds open up, and what hadn’t been seen, comes into view… what hadn’t taken form, finds wholeness in being.


Gifts of the Rhythms

My life is set up to support me in connecting with my un/subconscious – habits, conditioning, patterning, strategies, and so on, that may exist outside of my attention. This practice is similar, in that by exploring the different rhythms I was invited to connect below the surface level into those subtle layers of uncharted territories.


Flow

Take Flow, for example, the first of the 5 rhythms. Flow energy is that kind of adaptable fluidity that can be considered a feminine energy. Think of how a woman’s hips can move with a certain kind of expression that may not be as innate in a man. In the dance it is distinguished as flowing, continuous movements.  In my life, I’ve often had too much of an ability to flow – or adapt. As a survivor, it became a strategy to adapt to those around me – to become who they wanted me to be, or to try to be a certain kind of someone – so as to avoid rejection or abandonment. As a young person, I learned to adapt to stay safe, but then later in life that adapting no longer kept me safe. Too much fluidity made me ripe for abusive dynamics when I was an adult. To help shift that conditioning, I’ve needed to learn about and to employ staccato energy in my life.


Staccato

Staccato energy is another of the rhythms. It is more of a masculine energy by nature, and can be distinguished by more rigid movements in the dance. Staccato energy teaches us how to have healthy boundaries, to stay true to our own wisdom even when it feels risky, and to stay in the simple clarity of Love. This is a resonance that I lived most of my life without. It has been extremely empowering to discover this energy – and to know that I can be fully open in my heart, connected with Love, while having boundaries.

There was one paired exercise where we were invited to be in staccato energy while staying in our open hearts. I so appreciated being able to engage in this in such a kinesthetic, full-bodied way.  Too often, the mind is trying to manage us into a homogenous experience. “I need to say YES to everything to be a loving individual!” As such we get caught in a trap. The mind says that if we have boundaries, or say no, it must mean we’re not being loving. Although that may be the belief, it is simply not true. With practice, we can discover that we can say no, set a clear boundary, AND be open hearted. Embodying paradoxes is powerful!


Chaos

Another powerful experience was being in the rhythm of Chaos. As the name might give away, chaos can be rather whirlwindish. For survivors, we often detest this energy because it was the energy of our childhood. And yet, because we dislike it so much, we wind up creating or being involved with dramatic (and traumatic) lives and people because of our inability to have boundaries. In the chaotic rhythm we learn that we can have both flow AND boundaries. We learn that it is safe to be in chaos, out of strategy, and in the disruption of old patterning. We learn that in life there is a creative flow that awaits our participation – if we can open to it, it is ours!!!

Many times the chaos rhythm took me towards immense states of freedom – old ideas of myself falling away effortlessly as more of me was available to the expansive energy of the creative field.


Lyrical and Stillness

Dancing through chaos, I fell into the rhythm of Lyrical, where a sense of space opens up for integration, and a sense of lightness emerges. And then finally, into the rhythm of Stillness, where completion reveals itself in slow, if not motionless, expression.

Many times, on the other side of Chaos, I found myself in an awe-inspired ecstasy with God – in a union with the utter vastness of grand design. Tears falling down my face, in the holiest of the holy – in the Magnificence itself.

Another paradox revealed itself to me through the weekend. While Stillness does have its own rhythm in the practice of 5R, stillness also can be maintained throughout all of the other rhythms. I remember one time, in the energy of Staccato, where I was connecting to anger and rage, there was a sense of stillness running through me at the very same time. Said another way, it became clear to me that Love/God co-exists with everything. EV.ER.Y.TH.ING. The embodiment of paradoxes is profoundly transformative.


Embrace your Dance, Embrace your Life

Over the course of the weekend we were summoned to engage with the energetic resonances that live deep within our being. This is no small task, but it is a task that we choose to fall into, with guidance, support and love[3].

Although it may seem like it, this isn’t an advertisement for 5R. This blog post is about the celebration of life as a human being – and the dances we engage in. I invite you to engage in your humanity in whatever way allows you to dance, metaphorically or literally, with your humanity.

I invite you to know the expressions, or rhythms, of your human self, and to experiment in and with them, with conscious curiosity. Many of you do this with me in 1:1 sessions, in trainings, in gatherings, and/or in deepening courses. I look forward to our continued dance, in deep courage, compassion, and love.

To read more about Lisa Meuser, click here.

[1] https://www.5rhythms.com

[2] I wrote about the dominant/transformative narratives here.

[3] Thanks to Visudha de Los Santos (and David Watters for bringing 5R to Bloomington).

I Want It Now! Inquiring With Cravings

By Sumitra Burton.  

When I have an intense craving for something sweet, there’s often an urgency to have it NOW! Don’t try to reason with me, don’t tell me No, don’t stand in my way! My gut is contracted, my whole body is tight and I can’t wait!

I WANT IT ….. And I WANT IT NOW!

It feels like if I don’t get that cookie right now, … what? What will happen if I don’t get it now? I might explode? I’ll have a nervous breakdown? Maybe I’ll simply die. In the moment there’s no reasoning, no reasonableness, no room for questions. Or so it seems.

And the old familiar response of going ahead and eating the cookie has created a habit that feels stuck in stone.

Where did this craving first arise in my life? When I look back to my earliest days, I realize that I was fed on a timetable as an infant – every 4 hours – not picked up if I cried before that time. My parents didn’t play with me or hold me much; Mom was always busy taking care of the house and we kids played with each other.

And my childhood happened just after the big Depression – resources were scarce, there was just a certain amount of food and it needed to be shared with the whole family, nothing extra. Food was precious.

My grandmother baked oatmeal cookies for treats when I was young, and so did my mom at times and even my dad, later on when food was less scarce (he always added peanut butter to the recipe). Comfort food. Food for special times or simply for comfort. Food with sugar that would soothe the craving for sweetness.

It’s easy to see that the patterns were laid early on for me to crave sweets when I needed comforting. Food became my great friend, my comforter. When life was uncomfortable, there was always food to turn to. And there was plenty of discomfort as a young adult, as I became divorced and a single mother.

The body remembers. It stores trauma and unquestioned beliefs in the unconscious. Inquiry brings these unresolved experiences out of the unconscious to be acknowledged, accepted and even cherished. Great power is available in these stored, unconscious energies, power that can be used for transformation once they are revealed.

I WANT IT NOW!

What if I could actually wait?

I CAN WAIT FOR FOOD (trying out the “Reverse Inquiry”).

What comes up when I hear those words, when I take them deep inside and really hear them? I CAN WAIT FOR FOOD…. Oh, maybe that’s true, come to think of it. The body relaxes and I wait, wait to see if I’m really hungry and want a cookie. For the first time in like forever.

To read more about Sumitra Burton, click here.