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Moving out of the Fog of Disconnect: A Journey Towards Stillness

By Lisa Meuser.  

A question was sent to me:

“I feel I’ve often confused and conflated the two: What is the difference between stillness and frozenness? What is the difference between peace and playing dead?”

I love this question! While there may be a simple response to this question, there’s also a lot going on in this conflation. I’m going to give it a shot, knowing there is so much to say on this deep and rich topic.

 

Humans need support

All of us have likely experienced a frozen[1] state at some point in our early childhoods. Whenever we experience overwhelm as young beings, going into a frozen state would be a valid, normal physiological experience based on brain chemistry and our inability to process at such an early developmental phase.

Many of us have seen what happens when a bird flies into a window: we think the bird is dead, only to find it “coming back to life” after a quick shake, and then fly off.

When animals experience that frozen state they instinctually know how to “shake themselves” out of that frozen or stunned state. Pretty simple.

It’s a little more complicated for young unresourced human beings. We are the only species that requires loving and attentive care well into our teenage years (and beyond – our brains don’t fully develop until we’re 23) if we are to grow up to be healthy human beings. So while we may have the ability to shake off a frozen state, we also need nurturing, support and safe environments.

If, while growing up, we didn’t have adults around to help us process frozen states, or if we had adults who drove us into those frozen states, we likely never learned how to process frozen states in a healthy, functional way, and so we lost that inherent resource. As such, we adapt, but we stay a little frozen as the brain chemicals that were initially released get pushed down into our system, never fully released out of our systems. Meanwhile, not having our emotional needs taken care of starts to create mayhem for our psyches.  After all, humans are coded to want to feel good, comfortable and loved, and it is confusing and often scary for us when we don’t.

 

Adapting to dysfunction, the new norm

When we live in environments where there is unpredictability or chaos (which may show through manifestations of parental conflict or negligence, emotional or physical) we adapt by staying partially frozen, vigilant, and/or on guard, even when things are “fine,” because we intuitively know “it’s just a matter of time” until chaos re-occurs. After a while we get used to being in this state – it becomes our new normal, and we get used to disconnecting, and/or numbing out as a way to cope.

If we are living in challenging, chaotic situations or circumstances with a lot of conflict and/or highs and lows (fight or flight energy), we may even like numbing out and find comfort with it, particularly when compared to the alternative.  It may even start to mimic a sense of stillness, peace, or calmness when compared to the overwhelm of fight or flight.

Said another way, in this state of disconnection we’ve partially shut down, which can feel like relief from the alternative highs and lows of mania or dismay, or the chemical response of fight or flight energy[2]. It makes sense that we might prefer to feel nothing, than discomfort, pain, or terror.

This state may become our refuge, our safest place, our new norm. It no longer feels like a frozen state because by this point we’ve learned quite well to disconnect from our bodies, and live in our minds. We escape, using our minds, into a world of daydreaming, fantasy, reading, thinking, or some kind of social or entertainment media source. We may also use food, drugs, or other coping activities such as porn as a way to escape. Sometimes we turn to meditation practices that teach us how to go “up and out” of our bodies.

It’s all a perfect escape from the highs and the lows, as well as the frozen underpinnings in our system, and a way we can feel some control in an environment that is very much out of our control. Keep in mind, we’re coded to want to feel good, and we’ll do whatever it takes to experience this.

 

As if out of a deep slumber

What I’m describing is not something rare. In my experience, most human beings are functioning or have functioned in this way in overt or covert ways. Even if we lived in somewhat healthy households, our culture expects and pushes people towards numbing out, and caters to people who are in various states of disconnect. Generally speaking we are a species that is starving for connection, living in a culture that by its very nature functions through disconnection. It’s no wonder that we often feel like hamsters on a hamster wheel.

Many will live their lives continuing to adapt to this numbed out state. But for others, a sense of internal oppression grows in such a way that the numbness itself becomes confronting. This may happen when one is quite young, or much later in life.

Thoughts such as: “Something seems to be missing,” “There’s got to be more than this,” “It feels like I’m suffocating,” and others, may start to weigh in, while at the same time a sense of restlessness and dissatisfaction with life may arise, perhaps accompanied by feelings of emptiness, or hopelessness. We may start to realize that we’re dumbed down, or numbed out, and all of a sudden life may start to feel really shitty. It’s as if that numbed out state stops being “ok” and instead it becomes distressing. Feelings of depression or anxiety may begin, get worse, or become unmanageable. We may try (more) things to increase our highs to overcome this state of dis-ease. “Drugs, sex and rock and roll” may be a few favorites, although all sorts of behaviors to boost pleasure brain chemistry might be experimented with to help us feel better.

 

We’re not designed to be perpetually frozen

Humans are designed to cope with stress, but we are not designed to have a constant input of stress. After a while, our bodies – having been reservoirs for repressed energies and experiences – can’t keep at it.

We want to feel good, comfortable, and loved. We can only endure the lack of these things for so long, and we can only sustain dysfunctional modes of trying to achieve this for so long.  Our systems eventually start to crumble – psychologically, emotionally, physically, and/or spiritually.

People are often in this predicament when they reach out to me.  Together, we gently, and slowly connect to what’s going on, and in the process people start to become more familiar and safe with their bodies.

 

Peace and stillness, not what you think it is

As one starts to come into their body, they often experience what I call a “melting” phase. The body starts to “come alive”, as the frozenness starts to melt. It may sound great, and sometimes it is! And sometimes it’s uncomfortable or even a little painful.

Think of a time when your hands or feet were so cold that when you put them in hot water they burned. When the body starts to defrost it can feel a little like that. The heart, for example, may start to burn as it opens, as it melts. My “therapist self” thinks of this as a good sign, but when it was happening to me I had a very different perspective! As with most of the healing process, it is useful to go slowly and gently, with accessibility to loving support.

When the discomfort and pain start to become safely familiar, another challenge can be a sense of boredom. Again, I think of this as good news, as it’s another step on the journey. But when it was happening to me the boredom felt like I was doing it wrong, or it would usher in restlessness or agitation that was really uncomfortable, and felt counterintuitive to what I thought I should be experiencing.

When we’re used to highs and lows, and/or when we’re used to being numb, being with what’s here feels so unfamiliar that the personality or ego mind can get rattled.

The personality or ego mind often does not like unfamiliar, newness, or ‘different’- so this process can be very counterintuitive, and we will talk ourselves out of it any chance we get.

It was important for me to learn how to gently, patiently and compassionately explore the restlessness and boredom, rather than act out because of the restlessness and boredom. Again, this is why it can be useful to have guidance, so that the mind does not sabotage the evolution that is taking place.

As we “hang in there”, we may be faced with a variety of challenges based on the concepts we have about what is supposed to happen when we “wake up” or experience healing. Personally, I was so used to highs and lows that I often had concepts and expectations of “big bang” moments, or “abiding peace”.

I limited myself immensely by holding onto grandiose and false ideas. I even drove away expressions of stillness and peace as I held onto ideas of what I should be experiencing. It was important for me to slowly and gently wade through the various ideas and expectations, supposed to’s, and shoulds as I connected with the thoughts I was having and the sensations I was experiencing.  As those concepts shifted, so did my allowance and experiences of stillness and peace.

 

Getting to know ourselves

There often comes a time in the healing and waking up journey where, as self-awareness grows, we begin to have the ability to consciously interact with our brain chemistry. For me this was a huge movement into self-empowerment, and radically shifted my relationship with life itself. Prior to this I often felt swept away by states of being – particularly fear states. Learning about my brain chemistry was a big part in shifting out of powerlessness and into resourced agency.

We all respond to strong emotions differently as adults but the initial response originates in the amygdala. Some of us freeze, some people go into fight, some go into flee, and some go into feign/fawn. Regardless, that amygdala response causes the prefrontal cortex to be impacted in such a way that it temporarily stops functioning at full capacity. Long story short, this means that when we’re in a fear state, for example, we’re not thinking clearly. This is why, when in fight, flight, freeze or feign, we don’t make “good” decisions. This often leads us to do things we later regret. The sooner we detect that we are in an “amygdala response”, the faster we can “re-set” our brains and resume full functionality.

We each have different strategies that come with different physiological responses, and it is helpful to notice how we individually react. As I was speaking about this with a couple last week we discovered that he went into fight mode. He was able to identify that he feels heat through his body as this is happening. She was able to identify that she goes into freeze, which is accompanied by a sense of “getting small.” It can be a powerful step in being able to identify our signature physiological responses. Now he knows that when he gets hot, to pause. Now she knows when she starts to feel small, to pause. They are learning to communicate with each other when they notice physiological stress or amygdala responses happening. This allows them to avoid harmful behaviors and support each other.

As they identify that need to “pause,” they can turn towards activities that will help their brains to re-set so their prefrontal cortexes can come back on line. We spoke about different things each person could do to help this re-set take place. Sue, for example, finds it useful to connect to slow, gentle breathing, while Mark finds it useful to get a breath of fresh air, or walk around in his yard.

Pausing is a vital step in changing patterning, and it becomes possible to make this choice as we become intimate and familiar with ourselves. This increased awareness provides fertile ground for experiencing deeper expressions of stillness and peace.

 

Including our bodies, slowly and safely, with conscious attention

This understanding our physiology/ brain chemistry is particularly relevant as we start to “melt.”  Prior, we’d been disconnected from our bodies in such a way that we weren’t aware of a lot of the feelings or sensations throughout our body. After the “melting” starts, we start to feel more, sometimes for the first time in our lives. This can be uncomfortable, not because anything bad is happening, but because something new is happening, and we humans don’t always like new.

There’s reasons why many of us disconnected from our bodies, so it can take time for us to learn that it’s safe for us to include them now. Until we experience that safety, we may feel overwhelmed when we feel our bodies. It may remind us, subconsciously, of how we felt when we were very young and didn’t have the emotional support we needed to process big sensations and feelings.

The difference is that now we’re in adult bodies, in our safe homes, with far more resources and agency than we had as children. Part of this resourcing can come through learning about our brain chemistry, and in discovering how we can help ourselves when we are experiencing certain kinds of brain chemistry – mainly overwhelm, fear, or anger.

 

Getting to know stillness and peace through neutrality

An intricate part of my journey has been making friends with neutrality. Because I’ve been drawn to highs and lows, and because I have had so many false ideas about waking up and healing, I had to learn how to make friends with what I call neutrality – the space in between “good” and “bad.”

This has been profound for many of my clients as well. One shared:

“First I thought neutrality was nothing, and the place where I felt the trigger (in my body) was everything. And now I see the neutrality as something full, and “strong.” 

I will be writing more about this topic in the future as it has been revelatory in my journey.

 

We can learn to experience sustainable peace

A lot is covered in this post.  Here is a summary:

  1. Frozenness and playing dead are trauma responses.
  2. Our culture often plays into these trauma responses, in ways that further limit our well-being, by pushing us to feel good by numbing.
  3. Safely exploring trauma responses with support can help us to sustainably include our bodily experiences and expressions, instead of having to constantly disconnect and numb.
  4. Learning about our patterning and developing the awareness to slow down leads us to being able to make empowering choices.
  5. Peace and stillness can be experienced in increasing amounts as intimacy with self is practiced, as we learn that our bodies are safe to be with.
  6. True stillness and peace do not come from exclusion, shutting down, or escaping, but from allowance and inclusion.
  7. As the embodied journey deepens, stillness and peace can be known with increased sustainability.

In my journey, growing intimacy with self has allowed me to know support and love in such a way that stillness and peace are deeply and sustainably known in a way I could have never imagined.

There’s much left to be said as trauma, the psyche, and our culture weave an intricate web. I hope what I’ve shared will be helpful in a practical yet profound way on your journey of waking up and healing trauma. I would be honored to hear about your journey as you explore.

 

To read more about Lisa Meuser, click here.

 

[1] Frozen is one of the 4 stress “F responses”; Fight, Flight, Freeze, and the lesser known Faint/Fawn; that are normal parts of our physiology under certain circumstances. Unfortunately, they often become part of our everyday life due to less than ideal environmental circumstances.

[2] Over time, we may find that we find more familiarity and comfort in extreme highs and extreme lows, and angst comes in when we are experiencing a state of peace or stillness (or their mimicked frozenness). I’ll write more on this shortly.

 

 

Two Little Fussbudgets

By Sumitra Burton.  

This morning I was facilitated in an inquiry session where I was feeling “desperate” about needing to earn more money. Old, familiar story!

There’s enough money for today, tomorrow and probably a couple of years. But what about after that? I need to earn more, to save more, to build a large savings account so I won’t be a burden to my family in my old age!

I could feel the pressure of desperation in the left side of my belly, two small balls of energy there that seemed to know this was true – that were actually pushing me to try harder, to do something more, to earn more money. I sat with these energies, the two little balls, and allowed them to be felt, with curiosity. What were they all about?

And then, there they were. I could see these two little fussbudget owls, right there in my belly (I had seen this image of the little owls online earlier in the week). I could both see and feel them, fussing around, trying to stir up some energy. The more I stayed with these little fussbudgets, the more they became like cartoon characters. I started to laugh, and so did my facilitator. Their energies were contagious – so authentically busy, and at the same time going nowhere fast.

The laughter allowed me to relax a bit, and as I brought my awareness back to my body to look for this “desperation to earn more money,” these little owl fussbudgets had softened and become quiet.

It was clear then that whenever I wanted to be a fussbudget and worry a bit about money or anything else, these little owls would be there to “fuss” with me. We could stomp around, fluff our feathers and make squeaky noises all we wanted. And when we grew tired of fussing, we’d become quiet again and rest.

Ah, the wonders of inquiry!

To read more about Sumitra Burton, click here.

Waking Up In the Midst of Sleepless Nights (and PTSD)

By Lisa Meuser.  

Last night was the first night in a while where it was cool enough to keep my bedroom door open. Delight!

And!

It also led to me waking up quite a bit during the night. This led to experientially connecting with a question that came up in a recent gathering:

 

What can I do when waking up in the middle of the night?

Waking up in the middle of the night can happen for different reasons, and when that waking happens it can catch us in different states. Sometimes we just need to reposition the blanket, or simply roll over, and we fall back into sleep. Other times we find ourselves jolted awake, and/or restless and weary. Rarely do we care about the former, but the latter can make for some challenging nights, and exhausting days.

It’s the staying awake that bothers most of us.

 

What wakes us in the first place? 

Practically speaking it can be useful in exploring why we wake up in the first place.

I can’t imagine listing all the possible factors that lead us to waking, but I think naming some of them can be helpful. There are factors happening within us that contribute to our waking: the dreams we’re having, the state of our mind before going to bed, the state of our bodies, the level of stress or anxiety experienced during the day, the food we have eaten, our digestive systems, needing to use the bathroom…   And then there are all the miscellaneous external factors: pets, children, weather, house noises and so on.

Some of these factors are random, like the occasional thunderstorm or the extra helping of chili reeking havoc on the digestive system. Other factors are more systemic and seem to be directly related to stress.

 

Stress and Post Traumatic Stress (PTS[1])

We all know that stress can cause wakefulness as well as lead to insomnia. When I speak with people I often find that behind the scenes of their wakefulness is some kind of overt or covert stress.

Weather woke me last night, but it reminded me of a time when I was experiencing a lot of PTS and I frequently woke up in the middle of the night and had a hard time falling back to sleep because there was so much stress in my system. While waking up in the middle of the night may not be a big deal for you, I’m going to share my journey as it has a lot of practical application.

During that time, period I was literally my own science experiment as I was constantly trying new and different things. While waking up in the middle of the night was originally anxiety provoking and often terrifying, it wound up taking me on a journey where I discovered practices that changed my life and led me deeper into self-care and self-love. It was a life-altering process.

 

What did I do?

I did a lot.

I utilized different herbs, vitamins and minerals (along with simple rest/meditations) throughout the day to help balance out my system so that my body wasn’t in overload when I went to bed. I also took natural remedies before going to bed to specifically aid with sleep. I mention these things because stress and PTS is hard on the nervous system, and sometimes articles offering practical advice (diming lights/not using electronics at night, exercise during the day, aromatherapy, soothing music, etc) don’t include the nutritional needs of the nervous system.

Taking care of my nutritional needs often helped me obtain full nights of sleep, but I still sometimes found myself awake – uncomfortably awake. Simple breathing practices often helped but other times I would toss and turn desperate for sleep, not knowing how I’d make it without another decent night of sleep. That initial sense of desperation was a sign that my nervous system was already out of balance, which made it highly susceptible to even more distress.

Those middle of the night awakenings were often the most challenging part of having PTS. I dreaded finding myself awake in the middle of the night because of how triggered I might find myself. My deepest fears would often surface if I didn’t quickly fall back to sleep: being abandoned/rejected/isolated, being attacked by my abuser, and being power over-ed or unable to find my agency/resourcing to “fight back.” Few of these things made sense rationally, nor would arise during the day, but in the dark of the night my subconscious and unresolved trauma was often loud.

And I mean loud.

When my nervous system was in overwhelm, my mind would kick in and I would be overcome by irrational thoughts. I would re-live events and painful scenarios. I often felt deep fear or restlessness, literally feeling terrorized by my mind.

 

Thinking strategies and somatic fear

When our bodies are in a state of fear, imagined or real, resourcing goes to our reptilian brain – the parts of our brain that are connected to survival/staying alive – as opposed to the parts of the brain responsible for spaciousness, awareness and curiosity[2]. This would be great news if a tiger was chasing us (who needs to be calm and present while running for their lives?) but when this happens while lying in bed it can be a pretty unbearable experience.

We’re already a culture that mainly relies on the strategy of thought, but doing so without the benefits of creativity and spaciousness makes for a very distressed nervous system. Not feeling safe to connect with our stress-filled bodies, we think, think, think – and then we think some more. We’re literally convinced thinking will save us from the fear we’re experiencing because being present to a body that is overwhelmed seems out of the question.

 

The seeming impossible is actually the most sustainable option

With fear chemicals streaming through the body, feeling into that chemically invaded body seems like the least safe route. But unless there is actually a tiger chasing us, that’s really our ticket to freedom. We must learn how to feel. In order to do that, we must learn that it’s safe to feel, even when our minds are telling us that we are not safe.

As the fear chemicals flowed through me I knew I had to find a way to gently relate with my physiology before getting sucked into the thinking mind that was convincing me of horror stories.

 

Experimenting with somatic practices.

Somatic practices have been a part of my life for a very long time, but my circumstances motivated me to take my practices to another level. PTS disrupts feeling safe, and so a crucial part of my somatic journey was going very slow and being very gentle in finding a sense of safety in my being.

Learning the science behind what I was experiencing helped me understand that what I was experiencing was a trauma/PTS response. This helped me to understand that I was not in actual danger, but perceived danger which allowed me to feel safe enough to try new things – like slowly and gently staying with the physiological experiences I was having.

I learned how to get curious and be simple: I’d find my toes, my fingers, my pelvic floor, and/or whatever felt safe to connect with. I’d breathe. Each time I found myself awake I’d curiously connect with whatever felt safe to feel/attend to. If it felt right, I’d involve my breath, and breathe into parts of my body. If it felt too triggering to connect to my chest or core, I would just stay with feet, or fingers, or limbs. I’d cycle back from my spinning thoughts to my body over and over and over. I fell back to sleep hundreds of times doing this practice. It became easier and easier.

I spent a lot of time during the day and at night gently exploring sensations, noticing what felt safe and what didn’t feel safe. I did somatic-based inquiry during the day, and eventually during the night, to explore what was leading me to believe I wasn’t safe and to make meaning of this. I started to learn that I could have sensations that did not feel safe, while feeling safe to have them.

Each time I stayed with challenging sensations I learned that I was experiencing something temporary. Each time I lived through a difficult experience I learned that it was safe to stay with something that felt scary. Eventually I learned how to be present with all that was happening when I would go into a full PTS response in the middle of the night – the thoughts, the sensations and the memories.

I became more and more resourced, more and more able to have the ability to interject and interrupt the fear responses that were happening. I slowly developed a relationship with fear and the stories, instead of being consumed by them. This was huge for my nighttime waking and also huge in my trauma recovery.

Over time, I felt safe in my body, even during the most fear-ridden moments – even when my body was shaking uncontrollably, releasing trauma[3] . After living through so much, some part of me trusted that I would be ok. Eventually waking up no longer triggered dread, but instead offered an invitation to feel more deeply into the belly of the beast and into my earliest childhood trauma.

 

Life emerged in the terror

Some of my greatest healings happened in those dark moments. I fought my demons, my greatest childhood fears and terrors, and I survived. When I would find myself tossing and turning in my bed, desperate for sleep, not knowing how I’d make it without another decent night of sleep, I turned to my practices.

I remember a pivotal moment in my healing journey.

Although I was well into my healing journey, and the PTS was less, I still was having a lot of intense dreams that involved my abuser. One night, while still dreaming, I was able to consciously engage with my sleeping/dreaming self. I was able to remind my dreaming self that I could find refuge in my body, and was not victim to the stories and thoughts playing out in my mind. “This is not actually happening. You are safe to breathe the body that is here and now,” was the subtext. From then on, when I was awake in the middle of the night my body became my refuge from my spinning thought-filled mind. I was able to be present with myself even when I was experiencing a sense of child-like terror. After a while there was nothing too intense that I couldn’t be present with, and that increased sense of agency [4] and resourcing literally changed my life. I was able to truly face my most horrible childhood fears and trauma, and the PTS shifted dramatically after that.

As odd as it may sound, those sleepless nights led me to Wake Up to a different way of being. My thinking mind, which had once been the safest place for me to “go” because what I was feeling was so intense, was no longer that refuge. Thoughts no longer delivered relief or provided solutions and even in fear states I was able to recognize that thoughts would not save me. As that was seen through, my being became safe to reside in and with.

 

Embodiment is practical

Connecting with my body became the way I learned how to fall back to sleep (and go to sleep when I first go to bed), and generally speaking continues to be my “go to” when I wake up in the middle of the night. How that looks in action can be varied. Last night I woke to the wind blowing through the trees and as I melded my conscious attention with the sounds they lulled me back to sleep quickly and with ease.

Other times I might find myself unable to fall back into sleep.

Just a few nights prior I woke up and after trying my usual “connecting to breath and being” approach found myself still awake. I tried listening to the sounds of the nighttime creatures singing their symphony outside my window, and that didn’t lull me back to sleep either.

I considered reading as I find that this is a good option for me when I wake and it doesn’t seem that I’m going to fall back to sleep. If I can get over the fact that I may not have a full night of sleep and might be a little tired the next day, I often enjoy reading or writing in the quiet of the night. I have often found that giving my mind something to do, like reading, keeps the thinking part of me occupied so that other parts of my attention are free to connect my body. While part of my mind is engaging in words, other parts are connecting to my breath, pelvic floor, legs and feet. This is often very helpful in switching what feels like “head energy” into calm and present body energy.

I turned on my night lamp, but I noticed that I was too tired to read so I turned it off and tried again. After a few moments I discovered that my mind was even more awake, and while I may have been too tired to read, I was not too tired to think!

My “laundry list” of things to do was annoyingly popping into my attention like popcorn on the burner. I wrote them down so that my mind did not have to hold them (I have found this repeatedly helpful during the day and if I wake up at night). They continued to come but instead of resisting them I just let them be, and at the same time I kept bringing my attention to my breath, and my body.

I patiently and curiously returned to this cycle many times and was disconnected from it many times by thoughts. I just kept reconnecting. The rhythmic cycle of my breath eventually lulled me back to sleep, but it took a while. It is not that different than times during the day in which I find my attention caught in a mental whirlwind: over and over come back to breath, to body, to the here and now.

 

Night into Day into Life

I love that the nighttime wakings have shown me value and insight with regards to how to be in my day time wakings: curiously conscious and present to what is happening, as it’s happening. In fact, how I was able to make it through those PTS/stressful nights is quite similar as to how one might make it through PTS/stressful days.

I find the reminder to keep reconnecting extremely practical whether it’s during the nighttime or during the day. I get disconnected from my being a million times a day. The invitation is to re-connect, over and over and over. This builds a safe and relational way of existing and being present. Instead of trying to avoid or change my experience I am able to relate and be with my present experience directly as it is happening.

Whether it’s daytime or the middle of the night, I find it very useful to have the internal resourcing to identify what I enjoy, what makes me feel comfortable, and is soothing or/and safe. This requires that I have some self-awareness and that is a big part of the process!

In my nighttime healing journey I discovered a deeper sense of agency and self-connectedness allowing me to identify and turn towards what nourished me. I was then able to have the resourcing to, find fingers that felt safe, for example, or feet that felt safe. This was a crucial component of my healing and it continues to be an important aspect of self-care and self love.

This sense of agency and self connectedness shifted my world from being at the mercy of “out there”, and the thoughts and imagery that referred to an out there, to a deep sense of coming home “here.” I continue to come home to myself – to attend to and love myself – any time I feel a sense of disconnect. I am grateful.

 

Last notes on wakefulness practicality

There are so many more things I could write about with regards to waking up at night, but for now I’m going to list some tried and true strategies that I’ve used over time, many of which are self explanatory.

  • Watching TV or a movie. In some of my worst nights I put on a comedy that occupied me mentally so that my body could get a break from incessant thoughts.
  • Listening to music.
  • Listening to a recorded rest or mediation. I often guide myself through rests/meditations, but sometimes it’s just nice to let someone else do this. I have hundreds of recorded rests/meditations – feel free to email me.
  • Leading myself through a breathing or rest practice, or prayer.
  • Reading or journaling.
  • Changing positions in bed or changing sleep locations or clothing.
  • Getting up for a drink or a snack.
  • Doing something practical around the house.
  • Gentle yoga or stretching.
  • Cool water on the face or behind the neck.
  • Resetting the house temperature: making it cooler in my room makes it more enticing to snuggle under the covers, which often gets me back to sleep.
  • Changing something up in the room – opening or closing window/using noisemakers or light blocking blinds.
  • Not looking at the clock or phone until it’s clear that I’m not going to fall back to sleep. Keeping my eyes closed has been instrumental in getting back to sleep quickly.
  • Redirecting attention from what feels like “head energy” into that which grounds me. This may include bringing attention to lower parts of the body: into the feet, the legs, the pelvic floor, or the lower belly. It may involve grounding in something more energetic that is running through me/as me.
  • Connecting to an energetic presence or space that exists “around” me – that energy that seems to hold all that is, and is “greater” than me. This was helpful in a practical way when I had vertigo and would feel somewhat dizzy when I woke in the middle of the night. Instead of trying to get rid of the dizzy feeling I connected to something greater than me that was holding all of me. It was extremely powerful to rest in that energy while I was experiencing physical dis-ease.
  • Do some simple inquiry as it resonates for you. If you tend to make not sleeping a problem in and of itself you can try these inquiry questions: “Who is the one not able to sleep? Is there a threat in not sleeping?” If you feel equipped you can go into deeper inquiry questions with regards to what you’re experiencing. If you’d like specific assistance with this please send me an email.
  • Know when to get help. Nighttime is often when parts of our subconscious arise into conscious attention. Without training, practical experience or an ability to connect with a sense of safety it can be very hard for one to hold space for un-integrated experiences and trauma. Finding someone to help you journey through what is literally keeping you up at night can be invaluable on a variety of levels.
  • Use compassion and mindfulness to support the body as it may shake, twitch, tighten, hold, release and so on. Email me if you’d like support with this.

 

I’d love to hear about your own journeys with sleep, or if you’d like to hear something more on this topic please let me know! In the mean time, notice how your nighttime and your daytime adventures weave through each other in curious, mysterious, and relevant ways!

(For those of you waiting for part 2 of my Social Justice, Heart-Work, and Evolution  series, it’s coming!)

To read more about Lisa Meuser, click here.

[1] I used PTSD in the title because most people know what that is. I’m dropping the D, because I don’t think we always need to label our experiences based on the DSM (Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). From here on out I use PTS, to refer to “posttraumatic stress”. For what it’s worth, my own experience was more akin to complex PTS, but for simplicity sake I simply used PTS in this writing.

[2] This is a basic explanation. For more information I recommend Buddha’s Brain by Rick Hanson to most of my clients and course participants.

[3] Although it can be unnerving to experience the body spontaneously shaking, it is normal for the body to shake when trauma is being released. If you’d like more information on how to support the body through this natural release mechanism please send me an email.

[4] By “agency” and “resourcing” I am referring to a source of support and wisdom that flows from within.

Social Justice, Heart-Work, and Evolution. Part 1, of 2

By Lisa Meuser.  

In every moment, new life.

I was going for a run this morning, on a new trail, in a new place. I came upon what looked like an extra large water pipe, but it was human sized- meaning I was to go through it. It was dusk. It was pitch black in there. And I had no idea what was on the other side. I started through, stumbling along the way, hoping I’d not lose my footing because there was stagnant and smelly water on one side of the dirt path that I really didn’t want to fall into. In the dark. I made it to the other side, and onwards I went, into more unfamiliar terrain, onto more trails that were new to me. I ran blindly, not knowing where I was going. At every step, there was new territory. In every moment, new life.

It dawned on me: these runs I take into the wild, they are like the journeys I take into my heart. Sometimes my pacing is awkward… sometimes I’m not sure where my heart is. Sometimes my body is stiff or out of alignment… sometimes my heart feels closed and hard. But I go on these unfamiliar runs, and I continue to go into my unfamiliar heart. Sometimes it feels risky, uncomfortable, and just plain hard. But I go, because I always experience new life in my body, soul and spirit when I do. I go, because I know what the alternative is, and of that I am not a fan.

The alternative is, by and large, our current cultural structure. I will be writing more about that in part 2, but in short, our current cultural structure is pervasively led by the head, not the heart. As such, it is not life-giving, nor life-sustaining, but more likely life-controlling and dominating.

I am a fan of the heart, which honors curiosity, creativity, and expansion. I am a fan of the mystery. I am a fan of the unity and quality of all life.  I am a fan of new life – and that is why I run on paths unknown, and travel into inner territories not yet traversed.

 

Something is better than nothing

A few weeks ago, in late June, I was sitting in the place I spend most of my Sunday mornings – in my Unitarian Universality Church with my daughter. It was the week we started to learn that the US government was taking infants, babies, and children away from immigrants without proper documentation.

That morning Rev. Mary Ann spoke about what was happening on the front lines with regards to immigration. It was not a playful [1] sharing of information – it was horrific. The room was exceptionally sober. People throughout the congregation were sobbing, and many others had tears in their eyes, listening to the words she was speaking, trying best as we could to not only keep our ears open, but also our hearts.

She encouraged us to do something. She then spoke about the many options of ‘somethings’ we could do; attending marches, making phone calls, sending letters, donating funds, and so forth. She knew that a lot of people were weighed down by the insanity going down on the front lines of our government. She knew that many people felt powerless, and hopeless. She knew many people wanted to just ignore this, until it went away, because it was just so big.  “Please do something,” she urged. She asked us to refrain from being complicit. “Nothing will yield nothing,” she said, “but something will always yield something, even if you don’t know what that is.”

Even if you don’t know what that is.

I thought that was profound. When it comes to political action, nothing will surely yield nothing.

Under the weight of what the government was doing, it was easy to think that actions might not have much of an impact. Rev. Mary Ann’s words were not only inspiring, they were also empowering. Even though we can’t know what that something will do, we know it will yield something.  And that gives cause to opt for something, any act, over nothing.

(Side note. Pausing a moment for a desperate prayer and to state the obvious which is often overlooked by the liberal left, which includes myself: may we please pick our “somethings” wisely. Doing violence, to counter violence, for example, sustains the toxicity of our current death-fixated culture. I will write more about this in part 2.)

 

First, some heart-work

I knew action was crucial. Passively praying, or pretending it is “all going to be ok,” not only seems inappropriate but also morally void in these times. Social justice is a passion of mine, and I find that activism, in some way or another, is crucial.

I wanted to jump to action. I’d already been called to heartfully connect with the victims of the atrocities, but because of the amount of anger and righteous indignation [2] I felt I simply could not. When I tried to bypass that and do something “easier”, again all I could feel was my own arrogance, blame and resentment, and I could not ignore how ultimately disempowering that felt for me.

My heart had been buckling under the weight of these crimes against humanity, and I had been trying to ignore her because it was all just so painful. Not only was she buckling, she was hardening at times, wanting to close at times, and wanting to numb out at times.

It’s not just that I don’t want to live with a hardened or a dissociated heart, it’s that I can’t do my work in the world with a heart that isn’t open.

I knew that I had to address that first – as my initial ‘something.’ I knew I had to go deeper into what was going on for me, and I knew the only place to go deeper into was what wanted to close: my heart. I was in need of some heart-work.

 

Getting honest with myself

I allowed myself some time to honor what I was experiencing. It felt overwhelming and almost too much to bear and I noticed that I was feeling some hopelessness in light of the political decisions being made. I continued to go slow, and as I got clearer I saw that the government taking children way from their families was hitting me on (at least) 3 levels.

  • I was impacted as a human being who has empathy and compassion for other human beings.
  • I was impacted as a therapist because I know how destructive childhood trauma is with regards to the development of a healthy psyche.
  • I was impacted as a mother: the idea of my child being taken from me broke my heart every time I thought of it.

Between the three, I was overwhelmed with emotional responses. I was angry, I was experiencing immense grief, I was afraid and there was some hopelessness under the weight of all that.

It was the hopelessness that cried out for attention, for in the wake of the hopelessness there was despair and wanting to give up. And I could feel that deep in my heart.

As uncomfortable as hopelessness feels, as much as I don’t like to feel hopelessness, I knew that I needed to move closer to that resonance and get more intimate with what I was feeling.

That was my first ticket into my heart: as I allowed myself to let in this feeling of hopelessness, my heart started to crack, and, like Leonard Cohen, I experience the heart breaking as the heart opening. I could feel more as I stayed with the hopelessness, and that led to the next layer, which was anger.

 

Then came Anger

Sometimes I still feel weary and/or afraid of letting anger in, or going down into anger. Couldn’t I just jump to love? (Or, let anger spur right action?)  No, I could not. I didn’t feel love, I felt pain and anger and rage and hate. And it felt like right action in that moment was to feel into it, as opposed to act from it.

As I owned that powerful righteous indignation I let myself fully feel it down deep into my being. My body felt rigid, as if I was holding, or gripping, and my chest was tight. I didn’t try to change or soften any of it, but instead consciously joined with it as it was. I let the righteous narrative be as it was, and before long started to see myself and feel myself as if I were having a tantrum. I was, as I often refer to this state of rage, ‘Hulk Mad,’ and in true Hulk fashion I was throwing things around (in my imagination). As I stayed with the visuals in my mind’s eye, I also stayed with the resonance of anger in my body, and my breath breathed down and into these sensations that were traveling through my heart, my gut, and legs.

Then a different degree of violent images arose in my imagination- first of caged children and cruel adults. Then, of me- gunning down those determent guards (I am pretty sure there were some politicians in there, too) so as to free those kids. I allowed myself to have such awful imagery and sentiments, and felt deeply into my being while doing so. Whilst breathing consciously I stayed with the heart contractions and let them have their way as they moved through my body. The sensations in my heart were painful, as if my heart was being ripped or torn apart.  It wasn’t long before the anger and the rage and the hate started to shift – on their own accord. I started to sob uncontrollably with grief as my heart continued to break open. As I patiently stayed with the anger, and then grief, there was a shift into love and my heart started to open up even more. I could feel the impact of the heart-work I was doing.

The contractions and the rigidity in my body had stopped and were replaced by a deep and wide warmth that flowed through and beyond my body- all around me, and all within me. Love started to pour out to those children, and the guards and politicians, too. The imagery had turned from a killing fest into a love square dance.

The pain in my heart had been replaced by a mysterious yet uncomfortable pulling sensation, as if I was being drawn into the space of my heart. “Come deeper, here,” my heart seemed to be saying. Here.

And that’s when something surprising showed up: Fear.

 

You’re afraid to love, Lisa, really?

Hell yeah – fear was there. I was afraid to really let my heart blindly love. I was afraid of going so deep into my heart that I’d get lost in there, in my ‘hearting.’ There was so much to feel.  Dare I let open my heart that wide? Could I trust my heart? Could I just jump in, without knowing where or what I was jumping into?

I didn’t know what “here” really meant, or where it would take me, or what it would “do”. I didn’t know anything, other than I was being called into a chasm that was deeper and wider than I knew. Like on those runs I take, I was being called to go into unfamiliar territory. I was being called to go into what seemed like emptiness.

I took it slow, and my dead friend Travis showed up to help me. He held my hand, and he reminded me that I didn’t have to go in deeper if I didn’t want to. I was feeling the deep desire to love, but I also felt some ‘supposed tos’. In the wake of those supposed tos, I paused, and I let myself not love, for a bit. And that was just what I needed because after that the love started pouring through on its own accord.

When I can honor doubt, and just let it be there for a moment, the trust that comes next is inevitably more powerful.  I don’t know how that happens- perhaps it is pure grace.

My heart continued to beckon me into it, and in doing so it softened, filled, and emptied, over and over in a dance that is impossible to describe.

 

Heart-work Motto

As odd as it may sound, I wonder if the first act of heart-work stems from the radical act of self-care.

Maybe this is the heart-work motto:  “I value my own heart so much that I must pause with and for her health before I do anything else.”

For me, in the above life-story, valuing my heart meant that my first ‘doing something’ was to deeply feel, because without doing that my heart was going to close, and then what good am I in creating the social change I believe in and advocate for?

 

Once I tend to my heart, all things become new

After tending to my heart, after following the path of love, then I can be grounded and open enough to be myself. I can attend marches, I can write letters, I can make phone calls, and be a political activist. AndI can continue to work with the hearts and souls of my clients, and I can continue to be a mother, and I can continue to create, and write.  And I do.

When I keep my heart open, I get to live another day in creating change, in creating newness, and in advocating life, not death, as our current political and economic institutions pray to. But once my heart closes down, it’s game over for me – and they win. Believe me, they want my heart to close – they want all of our hearts to close, and stay closed.

They want us to feel too overwhelmed, too depressed, and too powerless to feel, to act, to be alive. They want us to get lost in the horrific images on Facebook and television, and believe that we can do nothing.

Giving up isn’t an evolutionary option, but caring for ourselves is. In fact, the love and compassion that is at the center of self care may be at the heart of evolutionary progress on a macro level. As I tend to my heart and keep it open, I have more space and resourcing to participate in life on all levels. When I tend to my being, I have more available to tend to all beings.

We all must find that which sustains us. Taking care of my heart sustains me. It keeps me truly alive and furthering. Do what keeps your well-being alive, and involved in creating a different, a new, tomorrow. 

Stay tuned for part 2, where I’ll be writing more about the radial act of heart-work, why it’s needed for evolution, and how to keep your heart-work and social justice work a sustained part of your life.


[1]The theme in June was play, and had became a paramount part of her services each Sunday because, despite what was going on in our country politically, she felt we needed to remind ourselves of the importance of play. Rev Mary Ann Macklin had done some research – convicts of unspeakable crimes most often come from childhoods where there was little to no play. Furthermore, she contended, the opposite of curiosity – something utilized in play – is depression. “In times like these,” her words sang throughout the room, “we need play.”

And, she did, thank goodness, later in the service invite us into some experiential exercises so that we could connect with curiosity, aliveness, and playfulness.

[2] FWIW Righteous indignation has its uses, and can be extremely powerful – and perhaps that would have been the perfect springboard into action for me in the past.  Perhaps my new slogan for myself will be, heart work first, then righteous indignation.

 

Letter of Gratitude for Fear

By Scott Kiloby.  

Dear Fear:

Thank you for arising! Thank you for being one of the millions of appearances floating in and out of the vast and infinite space of now. Sometimes you have come hidden within logic, seeming to arise as a thought that needs to take action about the future. You are such a great Thespian, worthy of an Oscar.

You have fooled me into thinking I am just rationally making decisions about the future. When you come disguised in this way, I am blind to you. You hide within the voice of the mind and the deep caverns of the stomach and chest. I cannot see you at all. And yet you are pulling all the strings. I am your puppet in that moment. We make a great team, fooling the consciousness within myself and all others, making everyone think that I am just making clear decisions to protect myself, set appropriate boundaries, build a future . . . or (and here’s the best one) make an intelligent decision.

Through the years, you have been so good at hiding yourself that I have made millions of decisions based on you, without even knowing it. And you have protected me, set boundaries for me, built a future for me and helped me make decisions. You have done all of that and more and I am grateful.

But, thank you, each time you have revealed yourself more consciously to me. In some moments, you have been gracious enough to arise directly in awareness so that I could peek at you, feel you, taste you, know you directly – without the veil of concepts. You could have stayed hidden but you didn’t. You allowed me to see you. And in those moments, you allowed me to see just how much you have been running the show.

In a phone call one day, I found myself responding to someone’s question. I thought I was just responding out of fearless clarity. But you revealed yourself in that moment. You showed me that I was responding out of you. You gave me a chance to meet you directly in that moment and a thousand insights came flooding into my awareness about how so many responses in my life have been a result of you. In a decision with my partner one night, you popped up again directly in awareness and it stopped me in my tracks. I thought I was just protecting myself from him. I thought I was just using my mind to make a decision about the household. But in feeling you directly in that moment, the walls of separation between him and me disappeared and I found no one and nothing to protect. And so I felt more intimately close, inseparable really, from my partner than ever before. You are love disguised as fear.

One day I was looking for a way to fix a problem at work. I thought I was just using my intelligence to decide between several viable options. I was so ignorant and unconscious. Oh how you had fooled me. I noticed you there in my stomach and I sat quietly with you. I gave you as much space to be exactly as you are. I loved you fully. And you revealed that there is nothing to fear. And in that, new options arose that were not based in fear anymore. A great relaxation swept over me and another thousand insights came flooding in, showing me that there is nothing that I need to try to make happen. I am already in the flow of the present moment. I am that flow. As you released that day, you provided me the way to allow work to happen naturally, without the toil and spin of the mind.

Most of all, dear fear, thank you for showing me that I can live without you. Although I am so grateful for the many years of self-protection, ultimately, I see that you were here to show me that there is no self to protect. I appreciate that you come back now and then to reveal this again when it is needed. I am so grateful that you have arisen so often to do exactly what you need to do in any given moment. You are not my enemy. You were only there to protect me at first. And then you became the doorway to freedom. You became my way out of suffering. You are the most loyal friend in that way, letting me dissolve into a great spacious peace and love, but only when I was ready.

Warmly, Scott

This post is republished from the previous Living Inquiries website