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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.

Out of Proportion: How Over- and Under-Reactions are Equally Skewed

By Fiona Robertson.  

The phenomenon of triggering is widely recognised now that trigger warnings have become commonplace. We often know when we have been triggered because we experience some kind of unpleasant emotional and/or physical response to an event, situation or circumstance. We might not immediately understand exactly why we have been triggered – disentangling many years of trauma and layers of self-identity is an ongoing process – but inquiry enables us to at least be aware when we are triggered and gives us tools to look at what is going on.

We may be conscious that our triggered reaction is out of proportion – at least in some respects, if not all – to the actual situation. Intellectually, we can clearly see that the levels of distress, fear, anger, grief or shame we are experiencing are not fully accounted for by what is happening here and now. Around 90% of an iceberg is under the water, and so it often is with triggers. While the conscious 10% may be a proportionate response to circumstances, the far larger part is often hidden from view until we look. The intellectual knowing that our response is out of proportion may assuage the feelings a little, but often it makes no difference. The horse has already bolted – our systems have reacted spontaneously and viscerally – and we can’t think or reason our way to the response we think we should be having.

Generally speaking, it is easy to tell we are triggered when our response is an over-reaction. Over-reactions, by definition, are vivid, visible and easily felt. We cry, tremble, shout. Our hearts pound, we sweat, we feel strong bodily sensations and emotions. We think non-stop about the situation, going over and over it in our heads. Over-reactions can be intense and all-consuming. We might think about little else for a few days. And yet, when we take time to inquire and discover what has given rise to the over-reaction – be it a sense of threat, a feeling or belief of some kind of deficiency or lack in ourselves, a past trauma – the over-reaction quiets. The recognition and acknowledgement of the previously unconscious material that gave rise to the trigger allows us to put the present circumstance or event back into proportion. Our present-day triggers or over-reactions inevitably stem from unmet feelings from the past or the abandoned, suppressed or fragmented parts of ourselves which we have tried to avoid or deny. Once brought back into the fold, so to speak, and given space and time in which to be seen and felt, they are no longer triggered in the same ways.

However, our out of proportion response may equally be an under-reaction. Something happens to us which would upset or anger most people, and we shrug it off or say it doesn’t really bother us. Or we jump to spiritual teachings to put a positive spin on what has happened. Under-reactions tend to go unnoticed, of course. We may have a subtle sense of flatness, emptiness, deadness or inertness, but it may not be disturbing or concerning. In fact, we may even take pride in our lack of emotionality. Particularly within some spiritual circles, people aspire to respond to all life’s travails with calmness and serenity, as if non-reactivity were the apogee of spiritual attainment. I have heard many people – myself included – berate themselves for being emotionally reactive to situations, as if that were a bad thing which the people we deem to be more spiritually evolved than us would not do. Yet if we lose sight of the fact that under-reaction is just as skewed as over-reaction, we will fail to recognise that bypassing, denial, avoidance, over-intellectualisation or an unwillingness to feel might all masquerade as equanimity, when in fact they are nothing of the sort.

The hoisting of rationality and non-reactivity above all other qualities has profound and detrimental consequences, in my experience. It leads to judgement and manipulation – both inter- and intra-personally – and cuts us off from the truth and aliveness of our deeper selves. It supports existing power structures by framing the proportionate responses of oppressed or disempowered peoples – outrage, anger, grief to name a few – as unreasonable and over-reactive. It paints our natural, human emotions and responses to the large and small tragedies, shocks and joys of our lives as something to be ashamed of or to shrink from. A lack of reaction to our lives and the world around us is no more or less out of proportion than an over-reaction, but it is much more readily sanctioned by the powers-that-be, both temporal and spiritual.

Inquiry, therefore, is not about investigating our triggers in order to dampen or quiet our responses, either now or in the future. It is about giving full rein to our humanity and admitting to the whole extent of all our emotions and reactions, including the ones we have previously attempted to avoid or deny. As we do so, our responses begin to become proportionate to events and to the circumstances we find ourselves in. For some of us, this may manifest as a greater sense of calmness. For others, it may manifest as more emotionality. There is a time for calmness and a time for perturbation; a time for peace and times for rage, anger, and indignation; a time for happiness and a time for grief or misery. When we are willing to be with our experience just as it is in each moment, the idea that there is a state at which we need to arrive no longer makes sense.

To read more about Fiona Robertson, click here.

The Aliveness of Feeling All Our Feelings

By Fiona Robertson.   

Many years ago, and in the throes of relationship turmoil, I went to see my wise friend and mentor. Having sobbed and complained about the behaviour of my soon-to-be-ex partner, I then went into a long diatribe about how I knew I was supposed to accept what was happening and that my inability to do so was evidence of my obvious and inherent flaws. Having recently encountered New Age teachings, I had unquestioningly swallowed the idea of unconditional acceptance and surrender. I believed – for a mercifully brief period, as it turned out – that all my suffering could be affirmed out of existence.

My friend listened, patiently. And then picked up a sharpened pencil from his desk.

“What would happen if I poked you in the eye with this?” he asked.

Flinching, I replied. “Well, it would really hurt.”

“Exactly” he said, and smiled.

It took me a few moments to realise what he was getting at. I was hurting, not because there was something inherently wrong with me, but because what was happening was hurtful. The behaviour I had presumed I should accept wasn’t acceptable. My feelings were there to guide me, rather than being inconvenient reactions that I should repress, censor or overcome.

The belief that we should not be feeling what we are feeling is a major source of distress. This belief may come from a variety of sources. We may have grown up being told certain feelings were unacceptable (in some families, for example, anger is always suppressed or grief goes unacknowledged).  We may have been taught by our culture, religion or spirituality that particular feelings are signs of deficiency, weakness or badness. Wider society sanctions or punishes feelings according to race, gender and sexuality. So when we find ourselves in the grip of rage, grief, envy, anger, fear, or any other emotion which has been unduly designated as ‘negative’, we think there is something wrong with us. We assume we need to fix, solve or get rid of the feeling. In addition to feeling the feeling itself, we also have to contend with shame or self-blame for having it in the first place. Our confidence is eroded; we doubt and criticize ourselves.

At the heart of this dynamic lies the internalised ideal self-image, the fictional uber-self which remains forever out of reach and unattainable. The ideal self-image varies for each of us, of course. Created in childhood and refined as we progress through life, we measure our actual selves against it and find ourselves wanting. Perhaps our ideal self-image is of a serene, calm person who can cope with any eventuality. We find ourselves raging and hostile and judge ourselves accordingly. Or our ideal self-image is adventurous, fearless and risk-taking, and we find ourselves trembling with uncontrollable anxiety and caught in a cycle of self-hatred as a result. Regardless of what we believe we should be and feel, we are stuck with the moment-by-moment reality of what we are actually feeling and being. We can find ourselves caught up in frantic efforts to try to make our real selves conform to the ideal self-image. Such activity is, ultimately, a violence to ourselves and often to others; we often attempt to keep our ideal self-image intact by making others wrong, lashing out in the process.

If we are willing to investigate more deeply, we can begin to unpick the strands of this Gordian knot, and allow ourselves to feel more honestly and deeply rather than suppressing or denying what is here. First, we notice the presence of a should or should not, must or supposed to. I shouldn’t feel like this. I’m supposed to accept this. I should not be jealous. And then we question it. What tells us we shouldn’t feel like this? How do we know we are supposed to accept this? In inquiry, we are not asking these questions from an intellectual perspective. Rather, the answers come from a deeper place; from memory, from the unconscious caches of data we have stored in both mind and body. It may be we discover we vowed never to feel anger because we had a raging parent who traumatised us. Or we were bullied in school for daring to show tears in the playground. The possibilities are endless; we each discover how such inhibitions, vows, rules and so on work within us.

In my sessions with clients (and in my own looking), there is often a moment when a previously denied, forbidden or taboo feeling is finally felt. In the safety of the space, the feeling can be itself at last. And even if it is excruciatingly painful, there is a relief in being able to be with the reality of what is here. The feeling can express, tell and show, its message being acknowledged after many years. We may be astonished to discover the wisdom that lies within all of our feelings. We become more honest with ourselves. We come closer to the realness of ourselves as we no longer cling quite so tightly to the ideal self-image. We find ourselves more willing to feel what is here, and less willing to buy into teachings and rules that tell us how to be or what to feel.

All our feelings – whatever their nature, and whatever our ideas or beliefs about them – are natural responses or reactions to experience. They naturally arise, not because we are wrong or at fault, but because that is what our systems are designed to do. They are an essential part of the experience of being human. Being judgemental about them – either our own or others – misses the point entirely. When we develop the capacity to feel whatever we are feeling – and we have a safe space either on our own or with others to do so – we no longer need to act out in destructive or harmful ways. By becoming fully conscious of what we are feeling we are able to be present to ourselves without the self-shaming or self-criticism that leads us into denial. We begin to feel the full spectrum of our feelings, and connect with our innate aliveness, freed from the rigidity of trying to fit into the shoulds and oughts of the ideal self-image we no longer ascribe to. Instead of trying to be Teflon-coated super-selves, we become fully and vulnerably human, embracing all aspects of our being. Life touches us – and we touch life – ever more deeply.

To learn more about Fiona Robertson, click here

Let Us Breathe

By Lisa Meuser.

A client today explored his need to seek out solutions. “What if, as a child, I was taught or guided to just feel, instead of immediately look for solutions”, he pondered.

Of course there is nothing wrong with wanting solutions to problems. But too often, in this fixing and solving and left brained- focused world we live in, we forget to feel and we seek through solutions.

What if we spent a moment on feeling before jumping into solutions? There’s feelings under all that, waiting to be felt.

What if we stayed put, and breathed with what’s actually here now, instead of distracting ourselves away from what’s here now?

Sometimes we can act AND feel. Jump, scream, yell, cry. Let those emotions act through you. Feeeeeeeeel what you’re feeling.

When we jump to solutions to evade feeling, the feelings don’t go away. The pain, the fear, the anger, the grief… it all stays.

When the seeking is released, and the feelings allowed, wisdom in the form of solutions will arise naturally from the ashes. Until then, let us hold ourselves. Let us breathe. Let us breathe.

Bringing Compassion, Understanding And Resources To Trauma

By Lisa Meuser.

Although trauma is becoming more talked about in everyday circles, sometimes it is still thought of as something that only “really unfortunate” people experience. You know, those people. But the truth is we’ve all experienced it in varying degrees.

I love how Gabor Mate approaches trauma: it’s not the event, he explains, it’s how we responded to the event that makes something traumatic. In some ways it may be overly simplistic, but it follows my own experience and what I see play out with my clients time and time again.

When we find ourselves in a state of overwhelm, it usually means we’re having some kind of experience of fear or a fight, flight or freeze response. When we don’t know how to process that overwhelm (as no infant, child, or young person does) and don’t have others around to support us in our experience of overwhelm (as many of us didn’t), we are left with no other option but to separate from the overwhelm (or biochemical response) that is happening in our body. In other words our bodies feel unsafe, so we go to a place that feels safe – our minds.

This explains why many of us don’t feel safe in our bodies (and why some of us seem to live in the hamster wheel that is our mind) – because, quite simply, at some point in our lives we weren’t safe. Without the support we needed to help us process what we were experiencing, we felt too much- our little bodies weren’t able to handle the amount of stimulation. In that moment we split off from our bodies and went into our thoughts – we went mental. We lost touch with our whole selves, our true nature, our essence. This splitting off from ourselves, this dissociation, was our only option so it was completely innocent. And yet at the same time, it was, in and of itself, traumatic.

We can’t avoid feeling overwhelmed at times. We can’t avoid having fear responses, or experiencing fight, flight or freeze at times. We’re loaded with sense receptors in every cell of our being which means we feel a lot. And we’re supposed to – we’re designed to! But we’re also designed to release and recover from such responses just like an animal is designed to release and recover. Have you ever seen a bird fly into a window? It will lie there stunned for a while in a state of overwhelm, then sit up, start to shake (release the biochemical) and eventually fly off. In other words, it follows its instincts to release and recover.

Human beings are born with the ability to feel and to release feelings, but through a lack of support and healthy modelling we have closed these innate parts of ourselves down. Instead we are often taught to override instincts and, additionally, aren’t supported by our caregivers in expressing or feeling overwhelm (and sometimes it’s our caregivers who lead us to feel overwhelmed in the first place), so the biochemical response energy stays in the body as opposed to being processed and released. This makes the body seem even unfriendlier as more and more trauma gets stored instead of processed.

The good news is that as adults we now have the ability and capacity to relearn how to safely feel into our bodies and we can safely relearn how to release trauma, emotions and beliefs that have been stored in our bodies. We can learn to reconnect, and our nervous systems can learn that it’s ok to feel and connect with experiences. There is another way than just living “in our heads.”

Relearning how to safely feel and release can take time. It entails getting to know ourselves. And it involves slowly meeting our direct experiences in ways that our nervous systems get to deeply know that it is indeed safe to feel. Connecting with resources or a skilled somatic therapist/facilitator can assist in discovering that is safe to connect inwardly.

In the meantime, the invitation is to be patient, kind and compassionate with ourselves as we become more deeply intimate with our experiences. And remember; we’re always doing the best we can with the resources we have in the circumstances we’re experiencing.

I write a lot about embodiment, trauma, self care, and getting to know yourself. You can access my blog through my web site: www.integrativehealingnow.com. There are also many audio, visual and written pieces here on the Living Inquiry web site at http://www.livinginquiries.com/resources/. You will find free demos of the inquiries, self-facilitations, facilitated rests, and more. Please contact me if you have other questions, or would like additional support! For those of you who are more visual, here’s a YouTube where I talk about trauma, with a brief experiential component: https://www.youtube.com/edit?o=U&video_id=x6Uy28ij5fQ Enjoy!