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Fear, Hope and Dreams… and Connection

By Lisa Meuser.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

FEAR. Hope? Dreams? 

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

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

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

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

 

Fear. Fear. Fear. Hope? … Dreams?

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

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

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

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

 

Fear. Hope, Dreams, too.

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

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

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

 

Fear, Hope, Dreams

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Fear, Hope, and Dreams… and Connection

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

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

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

To read more about Lisa Meuser, click here.

Facing What’s Inside

By Kristy Johnsson.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To read more about Kristy Johnsson, click here.

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.

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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