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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.

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.

On Discovering the Sanity of Freaking Out

By Fiona Robertson.

Looking back, I recognise that I was anxious from a very young age, but the extent of the anxiety didn’t become apparent until I was in my late twenties and started having panic attacks, a few days after a close friend of mine had dropped dead in tragic circumstances. Very soon I also found myself facing the suppressed horror and grief of a previous loss, the death of my best friend in an accident when we were eighteen.

I didn’t use the word ‘anxiety’ back then. The phrase ‘freaking out’ seemed to describe it much more accurately. ‘Anxiety’ was redolent of something more contained, something that had a beginning and an end and a reason. What I was feeling seemed to have no cause, no start, no finish. It simply waxed and waned in its own way, seemingly without logic. I was at its behest, and no suggested solutions worked. The only thing that did seem to provide relief was connecting with emotion, which wasn’t always possible.

Fast forward to the present, and recently I found myself waking up in the night with anxiety. That rarely happens these days, not least because of all the inquiry I’ve done over the last five years, and the profound unravelling process that’s been going on. As I lay there, the sensations surging, a sentence came to me: The space already accepts these feelings, so you don’t have to. I felt relief at that, and a softening in my body. I fell asleep again, and woke the next day ready to investigate further.

As I inquired, I recognised a deep sense of apprehension. That was the word that really resonated: this wasn’t anxiety, it was apprehension. The words what’s coming next? seemed to be particularly potent. My body braced as it heard them, and I could see that I was simultaneously trying not to brace. Further insights came as I continued looking: that there was nothing I could have done about any of the past events; and that, on some subtle level, I’ve believed that bracing would somehow stop things from happening.

So far, so good. But I knew there was more. The next day, I could feel that my body was still in an apprehensive state. As I was getting ready for bed, intending to have an early night, the invitation suddenly came: You can freak out. Really, you have 100% permission to freak the fuck out!

As I began to accept the invitation, words kept on coming in a steady stream. Waves of emotion and energy arose and fell as I wrote and cried and wrote and cried. The words seemed to pour themselves onto the page:

“Have you seen what’s out there? Killing, starvation, torture, cruelty, pain, tumours, people who are hurt, people doing the hurting, crazy weather, extremes of behaviour and temperature and beliefs and mad beheaders and so much more….illnesses and diseases and battery chickens and planetary changes and things that are so vast and incomprehensible…the possibility of asteroids hitting us…

Who, in the face of all of that, sleeps tight at night? Who, in the face of all of that, is calm and serene and peaceful? And if you are, what are you? Cut off at the neck? Blind? Insane? Surely the only honest option is to freak the fuck out? To freak out at the absolute unsolvability of it all…oh, not to mention death. Life is an absolutely terrifying ride, and if you’re not terrified, you’re not really alive.

All my life, I’ve been trying not to freak out when freaking out is really the only option, trying not to be terrified when that’s really how I am. As if terror was unreasonable, and reason was reasonable, in the face of all of that. Are you kidding me? Have you seen these bodies we’re in and this world? Why on earth would you want to stop me from being terrified? What good are logic and measured tones in the face of all of that? My terror isn’t wrong, and neither is yours. I am so sick of being restrained and playing safe when that’s not what’s here. What’s here is terrified, wild-eyed, sweating, a-tremble and devastatingly, heartbreakingly alive.

Fear, let me tell you now, is not, repeat not, the opposite of love. Fear is utterly inseparable from our source. It is the most natural thing in the world, and only becomes a problem when we shut the door on it repeatedly and insistently demand calm. “Calm down,” you say. But no, I will not calm down. I will freak out for as long as the freak out lasts.

Now I see: the freaking out wasn’t ever wrong. The freaking out when my friends died wasn’t wrong for a second. None of the freaking out I’ve done before or since was wrong. It is such a relief to be allowed to freak out, to not have to rein it in or calm it down or pacify or placate or deny. To just be able to say yes, it really is like this. This feels so humane, just so humane.

There’s such wildness and honesty and animality that’s been lost since we became civilized, since the mind began to believe it could control, contain and solve – despite all the evidence to the contrary. Whoever first had the bizarre idea that it shouldn’t be like this? How did we become these irrationally rational creatures, only half alive? This fear is our very life-blood, if only we knew it. It seems tragic to me now that we cut it off.

There’s nothing to remedy. I’ll say that again: there is really nothing to remedy (and I believed for so long that there was). It was trying to not be freaked out that really did for me, not the freaking out itself. I see an image of gathering up all the freaked-out Fionas of various ages, from very young to middle-aged, so they can freak out together. I watch that for a while and it’s very sweet.

Then I see: there is no safety. Aah, that feels like a true, instinctive knowing in the core of my being. I see an image of a cave in prehistoric times, of being asleep at the back of the cave, a fire lit near the entrance. As I look, I see the paradox; when we knew we weren’t safe, we were able to distinguish where the threat really lay. Somehow, the lie of safety – a promise that can’t be delivered – has made it all so much worse. It’s as if we were built to operate in unsafety and it’s messed with our systems that we live like we do, so we have to evoke or create unsafety to keep this part of us alive.

There’s such a sweet relief in saying, “I’m going to die and I have no idea what will happen and that freaks me out.” Such piquant honesty, free of the guile of the rational or the spiritual. It’s the precariousness of life that renders it so immensely, unspeakably precious. In our drive for rationality and so-called objectivity, we lost something so vital and deep – the wisdom of the body, which knows it is going to die, which knows it makes total sense to freak out. Back in the cave, I sense the sheer aliveness of how it was to live then, the heart-racing, blood-pulsing, balls-out aliveness! How dead we became.

The myth of safety: my body is rejoicing as I see that. And somehow, seeing the myth of safety makes it clearer that there’s no threat or danger here just now. It’s as if holding on to some idea of safety muddies the waters and sets up a kind of dissonance, a sensate or visceral dissonance between what my body knows and what my mind believes. I see an image of a fourteenth century scene complete with plague pits, and sense the ever-present knowing of life and death that people had back then, without the shroud of supposed safety blinding them to the deeper realities.

I’m free now to be my basic self, free to be back in the cave. I can be left alone to get on with being terrified without this overlay or veneer of “yes, but we’re supposed to be civilized.” Of all our feelings, fear brings up the most shame: our civilized, enculturated self is so ashamed of this instinctual, animal part of us. The creature-self arises in fear, terror or rage, and we loathe it, despise it, shame it, patronise it. And yet we’re also terrified that we’ve lost contact with it, because somewhere deep inside we know that it’s the sanest, most vital part of us.

Curling up in the dark, warm cave of my bed, my body feels so good now. It was right all along (it’s resisting the temptation to crow). I feel alive, in contact, co-ordinated, poised, creature-like.”

Finally, the words ceased. Before falling asleep, I saw how my mind had become disembodied, and how this split between the civilized and the instinctual parts of my being had, in itself, been terrifying. I slept well, and awoke in wonder at the wisdom that can emerge when we’re willing to be present to whatever comes. I don’t know how this process will continue to unfold; I do know that my relationship with anxiety has undergone a profound change. It is such a bone-deep relief to realize that my body is far, far wiser than I have ever imagined.

Acceptance comes in many forms. Sometimes it is gentle and demure, with a kind touch and a loving whisper. At other times, it throws off the restraints of civility, and comes in swearing, howling and heavy-handed to wrest us from whatever beliefs have held us hostage. There are times like this when the structure of inquiry falls away and the process unfolds from the depths with an intelligence of its own, when our beliefs are swept away like ninepins and everything we thought we knew is turned upside down. It is at these moments that we most rejoice.