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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.

The Gift of Consciously Connecting to Anger, aka Social Justice, Heart-Work, and Evolution Part 1.5

By Lisa Meuser.  

“Everything’s going pretty well in my life, but I feel **so much anger! **”
“I can’t get past how much anger I feel! I want to feel better, but I am stuck.”
“How can I **not** be angry, have you seen what’s going on in the world?”
“Being angry is a negative emotion and now is not the time to be negative.”


Feedback

The feedback from “Social Justice, Heart-Work, and Evolution. Part 1, of 2” had 1 of 3 flavors, generally speaking.

Flavor 1: people wishing they too could move thru their anger in the way I did so as to get to “the good stuff.”
Flavor 2: people subtly moving past the anger stuff so as to get to “ the good stuff.”
Flavor 3: people expressing the sentiment: “damn, this anger is some heavy shit.”

Here’s the good news and the bad news:
The good news is that all of it is “the good stuff.” The bad news is that all of it is “the good stuff.” Yeah, that’s some heavy shit!

I promise that Part 2 will be published, but felt writing a 1.5 would be useful. Anger is a big topic, and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, so let’s talk about it!

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Flavor 1: Wanting to move thru anger as to get to the “good stuff.”

I know this flavor well.

Part 1 was an example of what’s possible, not necessarily probable, when anger is allowed in and it’s met with loving attention. It’s one example, in a sea of examples. Does it often go that way for me? Well, to be honest, these days yes. But I’ve also spent years lost in an ebb and flow of anger, and that was exactly where I needed to be after decades of being in denial. It was evolution for me to feel safe enough to be able to connect with my anger, and stay there as long as I needed to. It didn’t always feel good, and it didn’t necessarily feel loving, but it was far more empowering than the hopelessness and despair I’d known.

Anger **is** good stuff. Anger is so powerfully good that those in power consistently try to either (1) get us stuck there so that we burn out into powerlessness/ hopelessness (political/capitalist cultures), or (2) tell us that it’s unhealthy and unattractive (religious/spiritual cultures).

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Anger is our friend
Anger is an appropriate behavioral response when our safety is at risk, or the safety of someone we love is at risk. Anger is an appropriate response when we are being violated, or when someone is committing violence against others. It is an appropriate response to injustice, to suppression/oppression, to cruelty and brutality. It is an appropriate response to harassment and to domination.

Considering that a good many of us have been oppressed, dominated, or violated, is it any wonder that the “powers that be” want us to either get lost in anger so that we get killed or ultimately become docile sheep too tired to fight, or not consider anger as healthy response to our circumstances?

Anger is an expressive gift that humans were given to help us process and release. When that gift is taken away, we loose a part of our humanity. Let me say that again: we lose a part of our humanity. Worse yet, we reject a part that we never knew we had. We deny it, and in doing so we deny ourselves.

Knowing this, is it any wonder so many are festering with anger – this forbidden but biologically human expression? The dissonance is enough to make one mad! Quite literally.

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It’s never too late
That’s the depressing news, but here is the hopeful news: it’s never too late. It’s never too late to learn how to be angry in a way that feels safe. It’s never too late to feel the anger that we’ve stuffed down for decades, in a way that feels safe. It’s never too late to develop a healthy relationship with anger, so that we neither get lost in it nor deny it. It’s never too late to be friends with anger. At least that’s my experience.

Has it been easy? No. It’s been as hard as hell. It’s been uncomfortable. It’s been scary. It’s seemed nearly impossible. But bit-by-bit – with the amazing support of various allies – my system has learned it is safe, valid, and healthy to connect with anger. I never knew how unbelievably freeing it could be to become friends with anger.

So, if you are one who wishes they could move thru their anger to “the good stuff, ” remind yourself that anger **is** good stuff. Once you’ve honored it and allowed it to be, it will not have the same hold over you that it might now. Anger is sacred – it has its own timetable. Your anger has waited a long time to be let out of the basement. Get support, and be patient while you learn about yourself – all parts of yourself.

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Flavor 2: People subtly (or not so subtly) want to move past or deny anger so as to “stay in” or get to the “good stuff,” and/or so that they don’t get stuck in “the bad stuff.”

I know this flavor well.

I won’t spend long here. Bypassing anger is so fervently celebrated in our culture – in all areas – that it has created a complicated web of self-bondage/suffering, often in the guise of happiness/peacefulness. Denying a natural part of who we are creates dissociation and disembodiment, one byproduct being a sleepy mass of people who, well, don’t really live fully on the planet.

I often find that at some point in one’s journey anger cannot be denied or moved past any more. The body either starts to rebel (i.e. gets sick), the psyche starts to rebel (i.e. starts to suffer), or the spirit starts to rebel (i.e. wants to die). If one is lucky they will connect with an anger midwife (some kind of guide) who will help them to safely connect to the anger monster that has been locked in their internal basement for their entire lives, refusing to be stuck down there any longer. It is my own experience that it doesn’t take long to understand that the anger monster isn’t a monster at all, but just an energetic presence that is tired of being banished into a musky and dark basement.

Exclusion hurts.

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Flavor 3: “Damn, this anger is some heavy shit.”

Yup. I know this flavor well, and I’m going to spend a little extra time here because this seems to be what most of the comments were expressing.

First a story, then after that, another story.

A friend of mine does sacred bodywork – different modalities – with clients. She is very well established with a fabulous reputation in her community. She has worked hard to create clear and strong boundaries, as body workers are known to be easy targets for predator behavior. Let me just say that again: because predator behavior is so common in the realm of body work, she has had to painstakingly and creatively establish strong policies in her private practice – so as to keep herself safe – while she offers her sacred gifts to clients . [Author’s note: Why have I given you all this information, before telling you what has happened? Why have I gone out of my way to tell you how she’s gone out of her way to have clear boundaries and policies? Just wait one more moment..]

Last week she was in a session with a client who she’s seen many times.
She was deeply involved in the sacred work that she does, when out of the blue the client broke the silence and asked her for a hand job. She froze. She went into a fear response.

She was clearly not expecting this sacred space to be violated. Despite all the work she’d done to create a safe environment for herself, here was a client exhibiting sexual predator behavior.

I’m tempted to side track even more from this story to tell you about her elaborate policies that she’s put in place to keep things like this from happening. Why? Some of you reading this will not be able to keep yourselves from blaming my friend. Your first automatic thought will be: what was her role in this? What had she done?

To those of you doing that- jumping to her role in this – I so get it! I too have been raised in a cultural climate that blames the victim. I too have had a hard time being able to really sit with the abhorrent dysfunction of our culture’s toxicity, and instead, automatically, without even knowing I’m doing it, put the attention back on the violated. I too have redirected conversation away from toxic behaviors, away from the toxicity of what our culture has produced, and focused on the predator’s prey. I too have been a part of the toxicity in this way – implicitly and complicity. Me too!

Last week, however, that was not my response.

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Anger is an appropriate response to dysfunction.
I wasn’t worried – my friend is magnificently well resourced and resilient, and would only grow from this. My response was anger. My response was anger because we live in a culture that blames the violated. My response was anger because in no way was that appropriate in that set and setting. My response was anger because such predatory acts are too common, and too normalized, and too expected. My response was anger because my friend is an amazing healer who does deep and loving work, and does not deserve to be violated by the clients that she is serving. My response was anger because my friend got mad at herself for having the perfectly appropriate response she had. My response was anger because of how entitled her client was, in his request, and how, perhaps, clueless he was with regards to the impact that this kind of behavior has on a female psyche. My response was anger because of what this culture teaches males, and because of how dysfunctional it is that it has created sexual predators in the first place. My response was anger because of the tendency to spiritualize and trivialize such happenings. My response was anger because of how representative it is. My response was anger because of how this incident echoes the massive existence of other predatory incidents. My response was anger because of all the other levels and layers of dysfunction in our culture that exist and make women scared, in their own sacred spaces, in their own sacred bodies.

That’s a lot of anger, huh? I mean, damn, this is some heavy shit.

Writing this now, I can feel the anger. It is some heavy shit, and I can feel it. And I’m grateful that I can feel it… because there was a time when I was so dead inside that I wasn’t able to be angry about things that deserved anger. I’m grateful because I have a system that is safe enough to feel anger when anger is warranted. I’m grateful because I don’t have to pretend and hide from such toxicity any more. I’m grateful because, not having to have to hide from anger, it is no longer a debilitating emotion for me, but a healthy emotional response.

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I was actually really angry.
It had struck a chord within me, and it felt appropriate that it had. I never want to be numb to the dysfunction going on in our world. I never want to fall asleep, and shut down, because of the toxicity that exists in this world.

And so I choose to feel. I choose to feel because I have discovered, through my sometimes painful journey, that I am safe to feel. I am free to feel. What an amazing gift I have been given. It is the most empowering gift of being human. It is a gift I want everyone to have. It is my life’s work that everyone may know safety.

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What does anger want?
I wasn’t able to go off alone and be physically still with this energy of anger, but I have learned that I almost always have the capacity to connect to my breath and my being regardless of what I’m doing. As I physically moved around in my house I breathed with the energy of anger. It seemed to permeate my being and beyond in vibrant aliveness.

Anger, when paid attention to, lands our attention in the body. That’s good news. [Author’s note: Admittedly, this is not good news for everyone. Connecting with the body is the most challenging aspect of embodiment, and I absolutely honor that it is not always safe for people to be in their bodies, particularly when experiencing strong emotions.] Bringing attention into my being has a different impact than putting attention into spinning thoughts/stories – I feel more grounded, as opposed to feeling spun out. I can be present, instead of getting lost in stories and fears.

All of the internal work I’ve done has helped me to know that my body is safe to be in. As such, the energy of anger – as it flowed through my body – was safe as well. I brought attention to my limbs, my belly, my heart… to all the sensations anger seemed to be connected with.

It is my experience that anger, and any emotion, wants to be connected with, as simply as possible: acknowledged, supported, felt, and/or validated. How this comes to happen can be mysterious, and it is not always an easy process. I am grateful that I have the tools and the training to be able to be present with myself. In my experience safety, compassion and love are crucial in being with challenging emotions and in discovering embodiment. The journey is endless.

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Right next to anger is always something else
We often think that we’ll get stuck forever in a challenging emotional energy if we allow ourselves to “go there.” I think this belief has multiple layers, but one layer is based in the duality of the mind. The mind often sees things as being EITHER this OR that. I used to think that if love existed, anger didn’t. I used to think that if anger existed, love didn’t. I know now that that belief comes from a limited dual perspective, not from truth. Waking up to the lived reality that love includes all has changed my life. In my own experience love is so big that it includes anger.

This may not be your experience, but you may notice that while you feel anger, you are also experiencing “not anger.” One way to test this out is to ask yourself where, in your body, you feel the anger. Chances are, you are not feeling only the sensation of anger throughout your entire body from head to toes. Chances are, you are experiencing anger in some ways, and also neutral sensations, or even positive sensations, in other parts of your body – all at the same time.

When we’re in a heightened state we may forget that there are other experiences happening, within the particular experience that is filling up our attention. It can be powerful and useful to our nervous system and well-being to curiously explore what else is here right now? What else is happening right now?

 

Back to love, back to the heart
When my friend told me about her experience I was so very angry, but the anger was never bigger than the heart space I was inside of – it was never bigger than love. That has not always been my experience because of how unsafe it was for me to feel anger. My life is radically different now. I’m grateful that there is such an abundance of love that “even anger” is safe. Perhaps I am able to experience anger because the immense depth of love and heart space has revealed itself to me.

There is such deep love for all the participants of this story – for my friend and her family (as this one man’s behavior will have an impact on all of them). And yes, also for her client because our current toxic culture creates perpetrators – he too is a victim of this culture. My love extends to all who have found themselves here – few of us have created it; we’re the occupants of a pre-existing toxic culture. So yes: enormous love goes out to all of us as our hearts and psyches are evolving towards a better way to be in the world.

AND, I have anger, because these toxic ways of being in the world are not ok – for anyone. Not ok for her client, or his wife and family. Not ok for my friend. These dysfunctional ways of being in the world are not healthy for anyone. Heart work includes opening oneself wide enough to be able to let it all in: the deep compassionate love, the deep compassionate anger, and so much more. The heart can handle it all.

In my experience, being able to consciously connect with anger is truly a gift. It allows us to respond to injustice. It invites us to be a conscious participant in our own experience. It permits us to honor an intended aspect of our humanity. It empowers us and frees of stagnancy and despair. We don’t have to leave the heart to connect with anger. We don’t have to get lost in anger. We can learn to know love and know anger. We can learn that it is safe to experience both.

.

Part 2
People often want to know how “I handle” challenging emotions or social justice challenges. I think it’s extremely helpful that people have options for providing support in their own unique evolutionary journey. I will talk about this in part 2, and will also dive back into heart work as a continuation of part 1 and part 1.5.

I hope this blog post was helpful in revealing that anger can be a valuable and perhaps even necessary part of heart work. As always, I welcome feedback and comments!

To read more about Lisa Meuser, click here.

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

Clearing Out the Basement; Decluttering Our Subconscious Interpretations of Love and Connection

By Lisa Meuser.  

There are many different ways in which we interpret love and connection.

As kids, because our survival depends on being attended to, we basically interpret love according to whatever brings us attention- regardless of the actual quality of the attention. Furthermore, we attach the experience and meaning of love/connection (and thus safety) to people, places, things and behaviors (actions) that come from “out there” (ie our careproviders) during those formative years. How this translates isn’t often very linear because of the amount of variables, and as such doesn’t always make much sense to an adult mind on the surface. In fact, it can be quite nonsensical and convoluted!

For example, let’s take the subject of coddling. One child might interpret coddling behavior from a caregiver as love and connection, whilst another might interpret coddling as a threat/suffocating. As those children grow into adults, they might come to have a push-pull (attraction-revulsion) reaction to people who coddle them. For reasons unbeknownst to them, they may both crave and resist attention that has a coddling vibration to it. Moreover, they will probably not understand this tendency until they explore their personal meaning-making with regard to what they perceive and interpret as love (as well as what they associate with coddling itself).

The hidden layers of what we have attached to love and connection are deeply rooted in our psyches. These layers can easily go unnoticed and unnamed as we humans are often complacent, resting in the thought that “this is just the way things are.” Whilst that may be true, unless we can unpack “how things are” we will continue to live through our subconscious meaning-making, which often results in a very unsatisfying life.


The Trap

How many of us have a basement (or room/corner/closet/drawer/garage) where we pile things… and even though we know it would be useful to do so, we resist cleaning it out? (It is possible, too, that we don’t even realize how much stuff we’re accumulating down there.) Because cleaning out a dark basement is neither comfortable nor easy, we often just leave things there and, instead of dealing with what’s already down there, we avoid it and shift our attention elsewhere. We busy ourselves with everything BUT that basement (or room/corner/closet/drawer/ garage).

This is what we often do with our own patterning- which, whether we know it or not, is largely in our subconscious.

Instead of going inward into our own conditioning we keep focusing outward, and with regard to the topic of love this can get particularly tricky. Trying to get love from “out there” will always bring about a somewhat complicated and often twisted relationship to it. And when the voice or narrative inside mimics the voices from outside (often the critical voices of our caregivers), it gets even more complicated and we can begin to feel trapped.

Depending on how convoluted our relationship with love has become, the more dramatic and chaotic our narratives will get. This can lead to a dramatic or chaotic life as we make harmful choices or numb ourselves in order to escape from such narratives.

Opening the Door to the Basement

Escaping the trap happens in different ways for different people.

A loved one might say something to us that makes us question our choices and habits. We might be experiencing such pain or loneliness that we reach out to a professional to help us make changes. Or a “wake up” moment might appear out of nowhere, coming from a total stranger who just happens to say something at “the right time.” Suffering and dissatisfaction can be good motivators, but questioning our lives is seldom easy and may not even seem possible. It may take us nearly our whole life before we finally take action, stop doing what we’ve always done, and embark upon a new course.

You might be lucky enough to have already opened that “basement door.” Maybe you were ready, or maybe the door was opened for you and life shoved you through the doorway kicking and screaming. Or maybe you’re apprehensively staring at that door, still closed, considering what might happen if you open it.

Personally, life has opened many doors in many ways to my many levels of basement. (Yes, apparently one basement level wasn’t deep enough for all my “stuff!”)

Sometimes I have willingly stepped through the door. Sometimes pain and suffering have nudged me through. And sometimes I have avoided the door altogether until life forced me through… despite my clinging to the doorframe, holding on for dear life.

Thank goodness it doesn’t always have to be like that.

Sometimes grace seems to gently open the door for us. And sometimes, after we’ve decided to get comfortable and “make friends” with the basement, the door stays somewhat open and no longer avoided. This “open door policy” has been my own personal path for the last many years, which brings me back to the topic of love.

It’s been my passion the last few years to explore what seems to separate me from Love. In doing so I’ve explored deep terrain and, while it was certainly not comfortable or easy, it has resulted in a more spacious “basement,” a more spacious narrative, and a very different relationship with love.

The Space to Notice More

On my own journey of wading through my false perceptions of love, I have come to know a much deeper and wider Love (which will be the topic of a later post). Suffice it to say that there is less drama and chaos in both my narrative and my life… in all ways. My relationships with people are more clean, clear, and genuine. My relationship with money is healthier. And my relationship with my career continues to become more and more filled with ease. Overall, there is an increased spaciousness with life.

This spaciousness itself is amazing.
Here I find true, sustainable connection and Love.
And yet…

And yet…

To reside in this spaciousness itself is in opposition to my learned conditioning because I come from a lineage of do-ers. And so, the spaciousness itself… the silence itself… can sometimes be uncomfortable. Even though I know there is beauty here (and love and connection), I sometimes resist.

I noticed this recently, so back into my basement I went.

Exploring the Discomfort of Spaciousness

The discomfort was a cue that something was up.

I took it as an invitation to pay more attention to what was going on. As I noticed the discomfort connected to spaciousness, I noticed visceral responses I was having to the silence and that increased spaciousness over all.

I noticed a subtle resistance and so began to study how it was manifesting in my life, noting where it was happening most often and under what circumstances. This is what I found: it was mainly arising in my bed, with regards to my phone/Facebook. And with it came a gut level push-pull within my body.

Giving Space to the Push-Pull

You see, a recent change I’d made in my life was to not engage on Facebook (or on my phone much at all) while I was in bed. This was a big shift for me as I often do social media at the beginning and end of my days… from bed. But I was inspired one day, from an internal whisper, to not bring the phone into bed as much anymore—and to stop Facebooking there—and I have learned to trust these whispers.

It was unexpectedly marvelous.

Until it wasn’t.

For the most part it was easier than I had imagined, maybe because the experience of spaciousness is so rewarding in and of itself. However… at times, existing in that gap of space and silence, I found a part of me that wanted to fill it.

Recently I was talking to a friend of mine about it. “I notice that at times I want to fill the space with ‘busy hands,’” I told her. This simple act of naming allowed me to see that some part of me still resists the silence and the space, habitually wanting to fill it with “doing” and “going out there.”

It’s as if some part of me still thinks that love and connection are to be found “out there,” even though experientially I find it sustainably here.

(Side note: This is not to say that love and connection are never experienced “out there.” We are not solipsistic creatures; we are tribal and community-based creatures. And yet, for me in this current aspect of my journey, there is very little sustainable and fulfilling connection that comes from my busy hands scrolling through my newsfeed, especially when compared to the richness and depth of what has been waiting for my attention “in the gap” lately.)

I kept exploring, and found more

Upon this realization, I decided to bring the topic to inquiry and consciously explore what was going on.

After settling in and sitting still for a while I connected with the sensations of the push-pull. There was a subtle visceral sensation in my chest area that accompanied the desire to “be busy” (distracted) on my phone as opposed to being in the gap (without distractions).

I was quickly brought back to memories of my childhood when my mom was in “taking care of” mode. For her, “taking care of” meant practical actions, not being present with what was going on. Staying busy, doing things, figuring things out… this was the world in which I grew up. There was no “being present,” resting in spaciousness, or truly connecting to my feelings or experience. Presence and spaciousness got zero recognition for me as a child, so of course I’d not have attributed any value to them back then.

As I mentioned at the beginning, we attach the experience and meaning of love and connection to people, places, things, and behaviors that come from “out there.” In my case, I had equated love with “taking care of” actions as opposed to presence or spaciousness with regards to my actual experience.

This was not new information. But the awareness of this information was coming from deep within my being, which created the space for new hidden fragments to come to the surface.

Particularly profound was the clarity that those practical displays of “being taken care of” by my mother happened at the expense of what was really going on for me: the ignoring of my emotion was actually seen as loving. In other words, ignoring or bypassing my inner terrain was seen as the loving thing to do, and even as love itself.

How can that be?

I make a living tending to others’ well-being through presence and compassion. I don’t ignore or bypass others’ emotions or others’ inner terrains, so how could I possibly think it was loving to ignore my own emotions and experience?

The fascinating thing about the depth of our subconscious beliefs is that they often don’t make sense to the logical or linear mind. And they often don’t make sense when considering the adult context of a person. I.e., it doesn’t make sense to my adult self that I would be with people who are unable to hold space for my humanity. But the pieces start to come together once I journey into the subconscious unprocessed belief that my child self developed: that ignoring my feelings is love, and going outward into action is love.

It’s no wonder that, until recently, I have attracted people who were good at practical aspects but have not been able to be present or compassionate for my actual experience. I’d been equating love with the former, while not including the latter!

The Freedom to Feel

The surfacing of this awareness brought grief and anger, and I allowed myself to deeply connect to all that was arising within my body. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I connected to my child self who wanted presence and compassion, and instead got action. Specific memories arose, and I took my time honoring all that was coming with them. My entire body became hot and constricted as the sadness and grief morphed into anger. Images of being “Hulk mad!” flashed through my mind’s eye and my breath became forceful as energies moved through me, from my head all the way down to my toes.

As those emotions and the energies attached to them made their way through my body, eventually settling, I was brought back again to the push-pull with my phone in bed. There seemed to be something at stake with regard to giving up the “busy hands.”

I discovered that there was a hidden fear that if I consciously allowed myself to go deeper into the gap—into quiet, into spaciousness—then I wouldn’t be taken care of. I honored that this was a pain body echo from my childhood, and allowed it the attention it needed. As I felt that a deeper truth eventually whispered itself: I will absolutely be taken care of fully in the gap, in ways I can’t even imagine.

I deeply experienced love entwined with presence, and experienced directly how that took care of everything, without a doubt, and without a doing. A knowing was received that love and connection in their purest representations (Love) reside in that gap, waiting for me, always.

A sat awhile longer, breathing and letting my system integrate what had just graciously flowed through. Deep gratitude washed over me.

Opening Doors

I have discovered that this internal decluttering has opened doors to an increased simplicity and ease in my life. Mysteriously, it has brought forth whispers that I had previously been unable to hear. Many of these whispers are insightful, creative, and full of aliveness. Some of them are echos of familiar deficiency stories that I’ve been exploring for a while and are reminders of old pain body.

They are all welcome. They all hold wisdom.

Taking the plunge and courageously exploring the basements of our psyches brings all sorts of things to the surface, which allows for a more satisfying and genuine connection to life as a whole.

When the basement door is kept open, and when we make ourselves more available to the whispers of the subconscious, profound revelations and healings can rise up effortlessly- for our evolution.

In my own life, as someone who guides others through their dysfunctional attachments to love, I’ve been able to do the same with regard to myself… and the revelations continue to come! The more I “clean up the basement,” so to speak, the more spacious and fulfilling my life gets.

Just as cleaning the basement in our home creates a more functional living space, when we clean up the basements in our psyches we too become more functional—and consequently more connected and loving human beings.

Thank you for reading! For more information on self-inquiry, exploring belief systems, and unwinding trauma, contact me at [email protected].

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.