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Releasing Strategies, Finding Life

By Lisa Meuser.  

I’m driving, and all of a sudden it goes dark, and the road becomes enclosed. I know how to work the breaks, the gas, and the steering wheel, but everything is different so I’m completely disoriented. I‘m not sure what **to do**.  I no longer see ahead of me, and I can’t get back to where I was. I’m just here… in the dark, where almost nothing is familiar. All the previous tactics I’ve used to drive effectively are suddenly out of context. It’s scary. I don’t know what to do or where I’m going, and yet I must keep driving. I keep hoping this is a bad dream, but I don’t wake up out of this nightmare.

Does the above feel at all familiar? There has been a theme emerging amongst clients lately, and when enough similar experiences are shared, I tend to write about it because I know others are likely experiencing it too.

Although it feels like it was lifetimes ago, my own dark night[1] (ha! I wish it were just one night) will always be a part of me. It is hard to describe what it was like, but for those who have journeyed through such nights, or are currently journeying… we know.

We know what it was like to suddenly lose a kind of functioning that we had taken for granted… strategies that had once become our way of life, snatched away.  Replaced with a knowing that we simply could not go back from whence we came, no matter how much we wanted to.


A Way of Life

There is nothing wrong with having strategies – or approaches that help us to deal with life. To be human is to have strategies – little things we do to help us feel safe and comfortable. Most of our strategies got formed when we were young, and they usually formed to help us adapt to dysfunction. Over time, those strategies became how we lived in the world and, well, who we were.

Most of us have survived through varies strategies such as: Pleasing others. Care-taking. Making jokes. Being stoic. Eating too much, or not enough. Playing dumb. Stealing. Invisible-ing ourselves. Rebellious behavior. Obsessive reading. Over-sexualizing others and ourselves. Attention-getting. Isolation. Day-dreaming. Thinking and not feeling. Fanatic studying. Skipping school. Being numb. The list goes on, and on.

Many of these strategies are simple, but they can stack on top of each other. They can limit our full expression, and put us on trajectories filled with harmful relationships – inner and outer. They can cover up pain as well as beautiful aspects of ourselves. Even though they can make our lives miserable, they can make life tolerable, and give us a sense of identity, safety and familiarity. Until…


An Egg Cracked Open

Some people’s strategies will be maintained their whole lives. But for others of us… something will happen[2] so as render our strategies ineffective, or not as useful as they used to be. When this happens, it can feel like everything is falling apart, because, on a certain level, it is.

In my experience, those strategies will never again work like they used to. And yet, without proper guidance, we might try to keep using them. Eventually the dam will break, it’s just a matter of how mangled up our lives will get in the process. Traditional psychology or other approaches may try to help individuals reclaim those strategies or find other strategies, in an attempt to put things “back together” for a client. Or, individuals may keep trying to find refuge in their tried and true strategies of the past. There may sometimes be a temporary “fix,” but it’s short-lived. In my own experience, my life got more and more unmanageable as I held onto the familiar yet unhealthy strategies, which elongated the change process, making it more painful, confusing and torturous. At some point, I hit that point of no return.


What is Left after we Crack?

The good news is that there is something else beneath the surface of our strategies. In my experience in working with clients and traversing through my own dark night, there is true well-being beneath the layers of strategies that were originally created to adapt to dysfunction. There is Wholeness, and it is waiting for us.

One challenge is that we have to be patient enough to live through the chaos and discomfort of no longer having those strategies that made “everything ok.” There are other invitations that weave in alongside patience. As a friend shared with me:

…it seems to require courage, hope that {things will} change, openness to experimenting with choosing differently – plus a growing capacity to sit within the discomfort, pain, fear and shame and tolerate it. 

In my experience, these resources developed over time, and were not automatically accessible, but something my system learned over time.

It can scary to be without a road map. It can be terrifying to find oneself in a dark tunnel, with no end in sight. In my experience, it felt like death itself: a death while living that felt utterly unbearable. In fact, it was during this time that I lived with constant suicidal ideation. Shame and self-loathing was immense. Isolation and hiding, my learned patterning, made it that much more unbearable. It was only when I found a trusted guide who really heard me, who had been there herself, that my nervous system started to find hope and was able to start the long journey of repairing itself.

In my experience, we need guides during this time – so that we can fall apart, but be supported while this is happening. No one can experience someone else’s terror, but someone can be present while the terror happens. This support communicates deep wisdom to a nervous system, and prepares the being for sustained evolution and deep communion with life.

Through habitual patterning of my life, my attention had included certain aspects of my humanity, but excluded others. My guides helped me include that which I had excluded and they helped me direct attention towards reservoirs in myself that I had never known. This also paved the way for me to experience true self- compassion for the first time in my life. Over time, my neurology changed, and my nervous system’s relationship with life changed as my being was able to open up to discovery, instead of getting lost in hiding and protecting from life.

I didn’t know it at first, but eventually I found that there was something waiting to be found – true well-being. This discovery changed my life, and became a sustainable expression moving forward.


Moving Forward

I am sharing this short blog for a few reasons. I hope that sharing some tidbits from my stories and journeys with my clients will help let you know that, if you are journeying in this territory, you are not alone. I hope that it will communicate that there are those who can help shine a light during this pathless time. Lastly, I hope that it may drop at least a single drop of hope and light into your Being.

Please feel free to reach out for support. [3] There are those who have journeyed before you, who are journeying with you now. You are not alone.

[1] often referred to as the dark night of the soul

[2] This life changing event can vary from person to person. It could be from something that seems random, or tied to something very specific.

[3] I also recommend Fiona Robertson’s book, The Dark Night of the Soul: A Journey from Absence to Presence.

To read more about Lisa Meuser, click here.

Death of the Psyche – Navigating the Process of Personal Evolution

By Lisa Meuser.  


Does any of this sound familiar?

  • A lingering “sense of death,” feeling that you are dying in some way (even though it doesn’t rationally make sense).
  • A heavy sense of doom or un-groundedness.
  • Persistent dreams of dying or death.

Sometimes when someone is doing a lot of internal work, exploring personal trauma, or/and diving into belief systems/identities, some interesting experiences can start to arise around the theme of death and dying. Consider it a “personal evolution.”


My first experiences with this were rather unsettling.

Sometimes I’d feel like I was in a daze. Other times it was more like a bad dream. I might feel kind of spacy, and sometimes during such times my thoughts would roar up- as if to find control. My tendency was to, well… freak out. After a while, however, I got better acquainted with the nuances and covert expressions of death that happen in—and are a part of—everyday life. In other words, death is constantly happening throughout the unfolding of life. And sometimes, because of what we are traversing through, we feel the impact of that more strongly.


A loss of self.

Parts of us are dying every day on a cellular level, but dying on the level of the psyche is quite different. We don’t mind (or even notice) that our cells are dying and being replaced, or even that our neural pathways are dying and being rebuilt. But even though we identify very strongly with our physical bodies, when it comes to our sense of self… that can feel much more real to us.

During times like these, when the confusing weight of death feels overwhelming, it can be helpful to take a step back and try on a wider lens to see more of what’s going on. But before we are able to take that step back, we need to get grounded.


Caring for the nervous system.

When we’re in a state of overwhelm (or fight/flight/freeze), the parts of our brain responsible for self-awareness can become dull. With this response can come an increase of tunnel vision and a decreased ability to be in relationship with our experiences. This is why we need to get grounded first. To be able to have perspective, it helps to have our body mechanics working in our favor. So, first things first.

Taking care of the nervous system may look like:

  • feeling your feet, hands and/or bum, while breathing, on the floor, chair or bed, or even whilst standing.
  • going out for a walk.
  • looking up at the sky/birds/trees.
  • putting some cold water on the back of your neck or onto your forehead.

Choose the techniques that work best for you. For an extensive list of ways to soothe the nervous system and get the right/left hemispheres working together, click here.


The wider lens.

Once your nervous system has calmed down and your brain hemispheres are back in sync, you can start to have a greater perspective of what might be going on. Here are some things that this new perspective will ask you to consider:

  • Parts of your biology are dying every day.
  • You, as a human being, are designed to constantly die and be re-created from a cellular level.
  • The design of the human being is to progress and evolve, to better itself, to change, and to grow/mature.
  • Change comes from the old dying, which then allows something new to come into form.
  • Your psyche, too, is designed to die and be re-created, as this is part of our maturation process.
  • Your psyche is influenced by neural pathways which are constantly changing, dying, and being recreated.
  • When belief systems, identities, and trauma are explored, old areas of solidity and certainty are “opened up.” This creates change on a variety of levels. Our behaviors may change. Our emotions may feel different or be different. Our thoughts, and our relationships to certain thoughts/beliefs, may change.
  • With change come newness, unfamiliarity, and the unknown.

So is it any wonder that feelings of doom or death are present?


Loose Ends.

Sometimes when we are traversing through such territory, we may even find ourselves having experiences that energetically mimic or feel akin to an event in our past when we actually thought we were going to die, and all the fear from that event was stuffed away rather than released. Pain body comes to surface—to tie up loose ends, so to speak—on its own timeline, regardless of when it would or would not be convenient for us. This can be unnerving as, rationally speaking, there seems to be nothing bad happening… yet the body’s and/or mind’s response indicates otherwise.


What does it all mean?

Humans have the capacity to mature not only biologically, but also emotionally and psychologically. As with biology, this can include growing pains since change can sometimes bring dis-ease, discomfort, and disorientation. Have you ever met a young person who is going through a growth spurt and their own body has become unfamiliar to them? These same words—dis-ease, discomfort, and disorientation—can be applied to the experiential process of emotional and psychological maturation and integration.


Identity crisis.

When parts of our psyche change, a portion of our identity is dying off. This may bring a variety of different responses, some of relief, some of threat. Identities that we’ve carried around for years within us—as us—can feel like they are who we are, so we fearfully wonder, “Who will I be without them?” The mind may then imagine all kinds of dangerous scenarios as possible futures. But beneath all those thoughts and mental constructions is a simple (but not necessarily comforting) answer:

Who will we be without our identities?
Without our familiar sense of self?
What will this next evolution bring us?

We have no way of knowing.


Unfamiliar territory.

The mind doesn’t always like this response. Particularly in our left-brain-dominated culture, we like certainty. We like binary and linear answers. Yet life is neither binary nor linear, and not knowing can often stir up the left brain even more- ruffling the feathers of those parts of us which incessantly try so hard to figure out and procure certainty. In direct disparity to the Zen “don’t know” culture, Western culture is fixated on a “must know” mentality.

But the simple fact of the matter is that we don’t know what is coming next. We don’t know what life will be like as we outgrow these old identities. We don’t know who we’ll be if we’re not who we’ve always been. We don’t know how life will manifest when we’re no longer engaging in all the shenanigans that we’ve always been involved in. Who would I be without my controlling, figuring-out self? A part of me relishes this idea… conceptually. Another part loves to think about it. But, another part resists actually leaning into this and opposes the release of these defenses in order to find out.


The land of limbo.

It is in these moments, when death is underway but the new re-creation hasn’t yet come in, that we can find ourselves in a state of fear or doom. And it is in these moments that it is important to acknowledge that deaths are happening within our system, and that it is a normal part of the process to feel in limbo. It is normal to feel this way, because we are in transition. We are in the midway land between old and new: before the old is entirely gone, and before the new has become familiar.

Stepping back in this way can sometimes allow the process to happen with more grace and ease. There is less of a need to grasp and resist when we are reminded that underneath the discomfort all is well, and that the doom and deathlike experiences are but temporary steps that come along whilst travelling this path called life.


Patience, compassion, and support.

Be patient and compassionate with yourself during these times, or/and connect with others who can fill this role for you and help support you.
Take good care of your nervous system.
Return to the awareness that death/rebirth is a natural part of life.

And for additional support there are free resources available on The Living Inquiries website, or you can email me with any questions- [email protected]

You are not alone on this journey. Ever.

To read more about Lisa Meuser, click here.

The Gift Of Endings

By Lisa Meuser.   We got in a car wreck last weekend while driving home from a family trip.
It was a surprise, of course, as car wrecks are never planned. Thoughts of how it could have been avoided were interwoven with thoughts of gratitude in regard to how lucky we all were…all things considered.
The latter was at the forefront of my attention, though, as I continuously found myself grateful that I was paying full attention to the road at that moment. I can’t say the same for the dude three cars back who wasn’t and ended up slamming into the person in front of him which contributed to—and perhaps even caused—a nine car pileup.

We walked away with the usual neck and back pain that comes with being rear-ended, and that was it.
Actually, we drove away. With the help of some sharp tools from the highway patrol, the metal that was bent into the rear tire was cut away and we made it home the following day. But the back door was permanently jammed shut and the trunk was destroyed. I was later told that the car was deemed irreparable—a total loss.
Only a month before, I was considering getting a new car when my hybrid battery expired, because hybrid batteries are crazy expensive. But I found a friend to help me out, which made it cheaper and eliminated the need to get a new car. I was quite fine with the one we had, thank you very much.

While later talking with a good friend about what had happened, she gently reminded me that I sometimes stick with old models when they are “past their expiration date.” She wasn’t just talking about cars: lovers, friends, clothes, jobs, houses, ideologies, teachers, behaviors… The list seems endless when I consider those things with which I’ve not wanted to part.

Now, I like beginnings. The beginning of beginnings, and the time right after beginnings. But completions and endings? I have learned how to bring a lot of conscious attention toward them, and yet I still find myself avoiding them.

What makes endings and goodbyes so hard? Is it possible that it comes down to having to feel feelings I’d just rather not feel? The awareness that comes along with facing reality: that things do end (quite often), that death is a constant part of life, and that all things are temporary? Yes, that might just be part of it.

While cleaning out my car, preparing for it to be towed away, I found some old toys of my daughter Kathrynn’s, and even a baby picture. I shed tears of nostalgia. I am deeply in love with my daughter, and I love all things “of her,” including the two toy horses that she used to play with while in the car, and the picture of her wearing a campy grin as I was changing her diapers at three months old. We’d travelled around the country for the past 11 years in that car together… I was flooded with memories—and more gratitude.

Eleven years is a substantial amount of time to own a car. I’ve personally never owned a car this long in my life, nor has any family member that I’m aware of. It seems quite reasonable in our culture to replace cars frequently, depending on financial resources, of course. Left to my own devices, however—i.e., without culture telling me I should have more! Better! New!—I’d just as soon stay with the old. And yet, again, it’s reasonable for this car to now be dead, so I can move on to the next one. I shed my tears, and off went the car. Cars don’t last forever, after all. Endings.

The day that we had our nine car pileup, I got a call from our vet. Our cat Michelangelo had fallen into a diabetic coma with other complications that I still don’t understand. Hundreds of miles from him, we had to make the horrible decision to have him immediately euthanized to keep him from future suffering.

Unlike with the car accident, never once did I consider how lucky we were as the pain of abruptly losing our cat flooded over us. In this case, gratitude was the furthest thing from my mind. Instead, I was unrelentingly tortured by a slew of thoughts like, “How could this have been avoided?” and, “How could this have happened?” He had seemed just fine when we left for our trip. I was being blindsided by life, and I simply was not having it. I refused to accept this ending.

Michelangelo was seven. Seven years is a long time, and at the same time it’s hardly the blink of an eye. I could have sworn he was still three. Our last cat, Jazmine, had died when she was quite old, and it was fine when she died…because she was old. She was so old. She was 18 and, honestly, we’d expected her to die long before that. Just as we expected Michelangelo to have plenty of years left. Seven is too young for a cat to die.

Michelangelo was years from death, said me. He was supposed to live a long time. Cats live forever, or nearly forever! He’d had some issues—kidney failure twice—but he’d recovered and seemed entirely healthy. Still a kitty at heart, really. Running, jumping, very playful and very loving. He was the sweetest cat, my sweet Michelangelo, and after he recovered from kidney failure, I felt immense gratitude that he’d lived through it. Not taking it for granted, I routinely gave thanks for his existence. I really loved his energy, his spirit, and especially his sweetness. He was the epitome of joy.

After my heart had broken a million times over, after I resisted letting go of my sweet boy with every thought I could muster, after I was done arguing and debating with reality, after I was able to sit with the deep pain of loss, my mind stopped having those “how could this have been avoided” kinds of thoughts. Finally gratitude found me. Gratitude that he didn’t suffer, of course, but mostly gratitude that we were gifted seven years of love and joy with this delightful sweetheart. I was grateful for his sweet meows, his mothering of our younger cat, Pearl, his roly–poly belly, and so much more.

My dad died last year, right around this time. He, too, left us too soon. Having lived an already fulfilling and meaning-filled life, he still had plenty of years in him. The week before his stroke he helped me move into my new house. He’d been on the elliptical at the gym the day before. But as he lay helpless in his hospital bed, the nurses had no idea that only 24 hours prior he had been a very active 75 year old. For some, “active” and “75” might not go well together, but my dad was indeed active, with no end in sight. My dad was supposed to live forever. Well, at least into his nineties. Right?

He’d had his stroke while sitting down, and I was immediately told how grateful I should be that he didn’t have it while driving my mom home from church. And I was grateful for that. His carotid artery had been 99 percent clogged, and I was grateful that he was alive at all. But my dad was on a hospital bed, in critical care—and we all knew somewhere deep inside of us that his life would never be the same. I felt much despair, grief, pain, and burning anger.

My dad lived for about a year after his stroke, and during that year my emotions traversed a range of depth I never knew existed. From great joy over the smallest yet most profound improvement in his health, to the lowest of lows as he’d have another setback.

I found myself dancing in immense gratitude one moment and plunging into the depths of sorrow the next. I always knew the hug I gave him before getting into my car to go home could be the last. Beginnings and endings were constantly being shoved in my face, sometimes accepted and other times fiercely denied.

While my father was living, dying, living and dying, I was in an intimate relationship that was also constantly hovering around death’s door, and I was unable to walk through it. I feel it’s no coincidence that, after my dad finally did die, the relationship died not long after. I tried with all my might to keep that relationship alive, while modern medicine did all they could to keep my father alive.

But both were past due, and we were trying to avoid the inevitable. Deals with God, deals with one’s self, deals with the inner narrative…these never go well. The denial of endings and the refusal to let go only create more dissonance and suffering. Eventually the pain of loss has to be met, and for me it was debilitating as my heart felt ripped open and torn to shreds.

The heart is a mysterious organ and, despite anything I’ve just written, I don’t actually think our hearts are truly breakable. But they do seem to break apart, and in the healing they become stronger…bigger. Over the last years, my heart seems to have stretched to capacities I never knew existed, and this expansion seems nowhere near its end. In that expansion, there seems to be room for everything—pain, joy, anger, and even fear. How paradoxical is it that, when I live from my heart, fear can be included, but when I live from fear, most of life is excluded?

A teacher once told me, “Do whatever it takes to make your heart break.” As counterintuitive as it may sound, I grok this wisdom because I know deep inside that, when my heart is breaking, it’s getting wider, deeper, larger—growing, as she simultaneously expands. That doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes attempt to shrink and protect and defend when pain reaches a certain amount, but I continuously invite myself back toward my heart, meeting whatever is there—pain or joy—again and again. And as I do, I find that my heart never really shrinks. She just pauses in her expansions.

Maybe it’s like when we were kids; we can’t grow all at once, right? Growing happens, along with some growing pains. Then it pauses for a while. And then we grow some more. Maybe our hearts are the same. Growing, growing pains, pausing, more growing pains, more growing—if we’re lucky.

After we made the decision to euthanize Michelangelo, and after experiencing a nine car pileup, I was weary. Having been consumed briefly by a wave of fear earlier that day, and knowing there is another way to live, I made a conscious commitment to myself: Stay turned toward your heart, no matter what.

My heart was aching, tender, and it took a lot of conscious willingness to turn toward her and not tighten, defend, or shut down. Breath by breath, over and over, I turned toward her. As I did, I felt my system widen—and deepen—and loosen. The habit of closing up in the face of pain returned quickly and often, but each time that I felt this protective closing, I reminded myself to open back toward my heart.

I was on a conscious journey of choosing my heart over fear, and over and over I chose my heart. I practiced with each breath until I no longer had to remind myself, because, even though it was still not easy, turning toward my heart had become the kindest and most beautiful action I could enact—especially when compared to how it felt to go toward fear.

As I went to sleep that night, I felt peace, but I woke up in the still of the night. In that quietness, my mind kicked back on and fear returned. The “what could I have done to prevented this” thoughts returned to try to cover up what was being revealed quite loudly to me: Life is fragile, life is temporary, and worst of all, I am not in control.

Half in and half out of sleep, I saw visions of car accidents and bad things happening to my daughter. I replayed the events of the past week time and again, looking for a way that things could have gone differently, so as to have an alive Michelangelo instead of a dead one. I was mentally fighting against not being in control, as my mind kept trying to understand what had happened—how my sweet cat was suddenly gone.

I was fervently resisting endings—both current and possible future ones. I was afraid, and even in terror at some moments. Eventually, I calmed myself, and I fell back to sleep. As I got out of bed early the next morning, I reminded myself once again: Move toward your heart. Even though it hurt to feel the deep pain in my heart, the alternative hurt more. As I felt the truth of how fragile life is, how everything is temporary, and how I am not in control, it once again felt like my heart was being ripped open. Endings loomed everywhere.

But something curiously exquisite happened. The more I leaned in toward my heart and the pain there, the more I felt connected to life and safe within it. It took a while, but breath by breath, life stopped being scary and started being beautiful and mysterious again. In that ripped-open state, nothing was excluded, and all of life—including its inherent transient nature—was allowed. Bit by bit, my existential angst turned into existential sacredness. I knew that as long as I picked my heart over fear everything would be okay, and that as long as I didn’t shrink into a protective and defensive space I’d be safe. I knew that life was safe, even though it was comprised of constant endings.

Life really is a mystery. Life itself doesn’t care if I’m grateful for it or bemoaning and resisting it. Life doesn’t care if I’m open or if I’m closed, if I’m turning toward fear, or turning to love. Life has its own “plan,” and doesn’t seem to take into consideration my ideas of what’s suitable or correct.

Life doesn’t seem to follow my (or anyone else’s) rules or follow a particular timeline. (In fact, the idea of “timely” with regard to life makes me giggle a bit.) Life doesn’t seem to know what is appropriate or inappropriate, and doesn’t seem to subscribe to the concepts of right and wrong, good and bad. Life doesn’t ask me what I would like it to do before doing it. And lastly, life knows nothing of “making sense,” and refuses to be figured out.

Life itself may not care, but residing in love, turning toward my heart, and being present yields an experience of life that feels kind, gentle, and simple. That day I drove eight hours back home, and throughout the drive, I continued to turn toward my heart—my sweet, tender, courageous, blossoming heart. Whenever I felt fear approach, I felt the hardness that comes with a sense of the self trying to protect itself. This visceral sense was a quick reminder to return to the softness of love that resides in my heart, where everything is truly allowed.

I felt immense gratitude during that drive, a gratitude which continues to live on. Gratitude for being reminded of the fragility of life, and of life’s truly exquisite nature. Gratitude for what it feels like to be in the experience of heart presence, as opposed to being in a state of fear. And gratitude at being in awe of the mystery of life, as opposed to being scared of it.

Death and endings may never feel “good” in the traditional sense, and sometimes new beginnings can be scary, too, but when approached and met from the present heart, everything seems manageable and okay. Perhaps it is only when coming from a self who thinks it will live forever that the need to defend, protect, and resist arises. When we can truly remember that everything is temporary, including the self that is experiencing that awareness, it becomes apparent that our only sane option is to constantly turn toward the heart, no matter what.