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What Elephant? Naming Systemic Oppression

By Lisa Meuser.  
Artist Alexis Morgan.

Oh, the elephant in the room! You know the one, the topic that people don’t talk about. In my most recent blog post about embodiment and waking up, there was an elephant in the room that I didn’t mention. I know in my heart that if we’re going to talk about embodiment and waking up, we have to talk about oppression. It’s the elephant in the room, and it’s an elephant we have to purposefully wake up to.

Why oppression? Why me? I’m not oppressing anyone! I’m not being oppressed[1]!

Why does it even matter? I wrote about waking up to my own internalized racism and how it counter-intuitively brought me closer to Love. Here’s a summary: waking up to and connecting with oppression in the world allowed me to connect with, and to, the oppression in myself. Waking up and connecting further to the oppression within myself then allowed me to wake up even more to the oppression in the world. My heart broke open, wider, and deeper. My fragility shifted and, quite surprisingly, my sense of being safe in the world increased. It was all rather unexpected. Then I started seeing this happen with my clients.

We do not exist in isolation; rather, we exist in relationship. A deeper sense of embodiment and safety with life develops, as a healthier and more honest relationship with the world within and outside of oneself is cultivated.

My relationship with Love, compassion, and safety has never been the same and only continues to grow and expand, as I keep being honest with the ways I oppress others as well as myself. I continue to learn, and hope what I share will be helpful for you on your journey. May we learn together.

 

Oppression traumatizes

Oppression is in the air we breathe, proliferating unrecognized by most in our family structures, our religious and spiritual modalities, and our political, health care, judicial, and educational institutions. Oppression is traumatizing to the oppressed as well as the oppressor. As a client shared with me about his lineage of slave owners, “You can’t oppress people and not have your soul ripped out of you.”

Here is the biggest elephant in the room: oppression has bled into the very structure of our beings. We have systematically been taught beliefs, ideas, and ways to cope (by an oppressive culture) that lead us to oppress ourselves (and each other).

Oppression has been internalized into the composition of our minds, psyches, and somatic systems.

Is it any wonder that we often feel like our own worst enemy?

Is it any wonder that we wind up hating ourselves and others, as we unknowingly oppress and traumatize through our words, thoughts, and deeds?

Is it any wonder why embodiment and healing are so darn hard or why those in the social justice arena get burned out so fast or become bogged down in darkness? When we can’t see oppression in the existence of our lives or within our psychological makeup, we are unable to function as sustainable change agents – even when we have the best intentions.

 

Opening our eyes to what we value

None of us have escaped from the tendrils from oppression[2], and we suffer immensely (and inflict suffering on others) when we do not look at what these tendrils are connected to. It might help to see these webs by exploring the values of our dominant modern-day culture alongside transformative[3] or alternative values.

When we study the tenets of prevalent modern-day culture, we find the following dominant attributes:

  • Power-over dynamics.
  • Authoritarianism.
  • Competitiveness.
  • Focus on the individual.
  • Overemphasis on the mental/linearity.
  • Secrecy.
  • Struggle for/consolidation of power via hierarchy.
  • Scarcity.
  • Either/or thinking.
  • Us/them thinking.
  • Blame
  • Focus on achievement and outcome.
  • Exclusion of the past
  • Exclusion of people of certain demographics.

When we study the tenets of what we might call transformative or “life-valuing” culture, we find attributes such as:

  • Power-with dynamics.
  • Accountability/responsibility.
  • Shared power.
  • Inclusion of heart and spirit.
  • Focus on the collective/on “we.”
  • Collaboration and cooperation.
  • Transparency.
  • Recognition of past.
  • Abundance.
  • Both-and thinking.
  • “Us” thinking.
  • Transformation and integration.
  • Focus on the process/the journey.
  • Inclusion of all people.
  • Focus on connection and relationship.

Twenty-five years ago, in my early days as a social worker, it became undeniable that the dominant values in our culture were not for the good of all people. Having recognized this, I wanted to explore other ways of being in the world. I soon found that this was easier said than done.

As I started to experiment with these paradigm shifts, although my heart and intent were often in the right place, I often found myself utilizing the tenets of oppressive culture in my attempts to change it. I also noticed that I was not the only one who wanted to do good but kept getting bound up in oppressive ways. [4]

I hadn’t realized that oppression was not just around me¾oppression was in me.

 

The macro and the micro reflect each other

Changing our narratives is a process, and it requires conscious exploration to discover that oppression lives deep within our very psyches and somatic systems.

When we study the psyche within many of us, we will find a profusion of tenets that tend to exist within our oppressive culture:

  • Competitiveness.
  • Self-loathing and lack of abundance.
  • Reliance on over-thinking.
  • Disconnection from and fear of others.
  • Striving to feel safe through a sense of power and control.
  • Bypassing the past or acknowledging cultural impact.
  • Hiding behavior (the inability to be honest with one’s self).
  • Restrictive thought patterns.
  • Right-wrong/good-bad (either-or) thinking[5].
  • Pathology of our humanity.

These tenets also promote a sense of fear in the body or disconnect from the body altogether. Even though there are usually life-affirming traits as well, these are often overshadowed by the dominant values of our culture.

The narratives most of us carry are rooted in the very same things that our cultures prize, encourage, and teach. Could it be that culture is teaching us to suffer? Could it be that culture doesn’t want us to be free?

When we study the psyche of a “healthy” or life-valuing person, we will find the tenets of transformational culture:

  • A sense of abundance that allows for open and curious connections.
  • A sense of well-being.
  • Honesty (including “the dark side”).
  • Inclusion of heart and body.
  • Accountability and responsibility.
  • Allowance and acceptance of the vast terrain of being human.
  • Acknowledgment of the past and the culture we are a part of.

There is often an accepting relationship with the body, where a willingness to experience its vast landscape replaces past habits of trying to control or limit. Sure, there will likely still be some oppressive tenets found within “healthy people,” but even those will be met with more inclusion and less self-judgment.

Could it be that, by learning new ways of being, we create new narratives within ourselves? Based on my experience, yes. Is it any surprise that these values are a natural part of the embodiment process? I find it an exciting “coincidence”!

In my study of waking up, and in working with hundreds of people who have been on the waking up and healing journey, I have seen radical narrative and experiential transformations. In each case, there had been a fierce sense of oppression within their psyche, a base they worked from and were fiercely bound to until they consciously started to learn another way. Over time, the dominant values slowly changed into transformative, life-affirming values. Along the way, their suffering started to turn into a healthy relationship with life, allowing them to be more effective change agents in the world.

When we fail to connect with our internalized oppressive existence, we continue to harm others as well as ourselves. Being change agents for the well-being of all embraces inclusion, “we-ness,” connectivity, intimacy, love, openness, abundance, and possibility. In the denial of nothing, we stop oppressing ourselves and those around us.

 

So, Now What?

In my blog post about embodiment, I left out the elephant in the room. I didn’t specifically write about how important it is for us to inquire into our relationship with the oppression found in racism, sexism, nationalism, capitalism, classism, gender/sexual orientation, fatism, ableism, and others. When we don’t address these topics, we deny, ignore, and exclude reality. We cannot live as embodied people when we are ignoring the reality of humanity. When we live apart from the hearts of those who are oppressed, we have to live in separation. In this state of separation, we suffer and experience oppression within, and in the process often cause harm to others.

I readily admit, for most of my life, I have tried to stay removed from the hearts of those who experience the horror of systemic pain. I thought I had to figure out my suffering and pain first, as I felt too fragile to “get real” with the pain of systemic oppression. But then a strange thing happened:

One day, with the support of my somatic therapist, I was feeling despair and defeat with regards to the imprisonment of immigrant children coming in from Mexico. I wanted to turn away from it, as it reminded me of my own despair and defeat with regards to past experiences of being trapped and violated. The pain in my body was too much. I just wanted to be mad about it¾and I was. I was enraged at our government and felt that heat move through my body.

“It was all too much,” I said out loud, grabbing my heart as if to protect it.

As I named this experience, something that was already shifting started to shift some more. With the compassionate presence of my therapist, I started to fall into a pain that was deep in my heart. This pain took me in, all the way in. It felt excruciating, like it would never end, as I kept turning towards those children separated from their families as well as my own lived pains.

The heart I came out of was wider and deeper than I had ever known. I felt a Love that included both myself and those children in a way that had never felt safe to feel. It was then that my sense of fragility started to fade, and I was able to be more real with life.

My depth of empathy and compassion with others experiencing horrid pain and suffering was different from that moment going forward. My ability to look directly at the oppressive matrix of our culture became clearer, and as a result my training to pathologize human pain and suffering further diminished.

 

Curiosity Changes Everything

I understand that not everyone is going to have the privilege of having the resources, resourcing, time, and most importantly, support of others. However, I hope those who are reading this post can at least ask themselves some big questions, which may create some space for deeper connections with the world we live in.

The relationship we have with reality reveals the quality of our relationship with God[6], with life, with creation, and with existence itself. Are we open to God? Are we open to life? Are we open to seeing the flavors of reality? Are we open to learning? Are we open to including more?

We often filter out oppression because we feel conflicted and uncomfortable, and many of us were never taught how to be with discomfort. When we don’t know how to be with discomfort, we suffer more because we have to increasingly limit our experiences to keep out what we don’t like. Ultimately, we wind up controlled by our fears, but will often try to control and oppress others as an attempt to escape that sense of debilitation. The cycle ensues.

Everything is connected¾when one of us is oppressed, we are all impacted. When one of us authentically frees ourselves from the web of oppression, a light shines for others to follow. As Rumi once said, “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” Can we find the willingness to move towards that light?

 

A New Way Forward

Some reading this blog post are in full acceptance that oppression is systemically woven into our culture. Thank you for all that you are doing to address the toxicity in our world. I hope that this has been helpful as a reminder that, to be change agents in the world, we must look inward at our oppressive makeup. As we work to change the system, we have to address our internal levels of psychic and somatic oppression; otherwise, we will stay in the same oppressive loop. We cannot employ the toxicity of the dominant paradigm to get to well-being; rather, we must embody life-affirming values to make effective, sustainable change.

Many who want or have access to opportunity and privilege are disconnected from the reality of oppression. Some of these individuals are also interested in healing and well-being. If this describes you, I hope you will be willing to become more aware of the systemic and systematic practices that our culture is rooted in, as there is no other way to break the oppressive loop.

Oppressive values govern not only the oppressed but those who enjoy our culture’s privileges, as well. Our circumstances do not mean that our internal landscape is free from oppression. As we become willing to take a look at the external landscape that we are enmeshed in, we will become more aware of what is keeping us from rooting in well-being and fully participating in life.


Let’s Journey Together

Oppressing others is traumatic to the oppressor’s psyche. Oppression always breeds more oppression within both oneself and others. Unless consciously integrated, this trauma, oppression, and violence are passed on to future generations. We live in a culture that is paying the price for this repressed and unacknowledged trauma. Black or Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC), the poor, and other marginalized peoples continue to suffer the greatest and most overtly.

We cannot be embodied human beings while immersed in oppression, either from within our psyches or in how we interact with the world. If we are not aware of our oppression, the oppressive system of our culture, and the oppressive system within our psyche, we and our world are doomed to suffer. As we connect with oppression both inside and outside ourselves, transformation becomes inevitable.

Being able to name and then consciously explore the matrix of systemic oppression as it lives within my psyche and the fabric of our culture has been a necessary and fundamental part of my embodiment journey. It is impossible to convey the level of safety and well-being I have now compared to when I was bound by the values of our dominant culture.

It all started by asking curious questions of myself and being willing to look honestly at and feel deeply into who I was, who I wanted to be, and how much harm I was creating in my life. Change comes through honesty and vulnerability. It’s not always easy, but in my experience, it’s always worth it. A lot of us are waking up together¾there is much more support available than ever before! I look forward to continuing to learn with you.

 

Practical Explorative Options

  1. Unsure as to your level of internalized oppression? Take some of the Harvard Implicit bias tests free here: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html.
    When we don’t know our biases, we live in a choiceless world, bound by the bidding and the wiles of oppression.
  2. Questions you can ask yourself:
    • What resonance does the voice in your head speak with?
    • Does your internal voice tend to be kind and loving? If not, whose voice is that? Is that how a caregiver used to speak to you? A teacher?
    • What does that harsh narrative need or want? Does it want support? Safety? Love? Be curious!
    • When you listen to perspectives from marginalized peoples, such as BIPOC, women, and people with disabilities, what does that bring up in you?
    • Pay attention when you’re reading or listening. Which perspective are you hearing: the dominant narrative or the transformative narrative?
    • Do you feel defensive when you think about your privilege?
    • How do you employ dominant values while you are trying to do good in the world?
    • Do you become overtly or subtly violent as a change agent?
    • How are you unintentionally or intentionally oppressing others?
    • How are you oppressing yourself?
    • How can you support yourself, or be supported, as you journey into this vulnerable terrain?

Finding people and groups where I can have real conversations about these very real topics and challenges has been life-altering for me. You are not alone on this journey – there are people and groups to support you. We are growing and learning together. Please email me for more information or ideas.

  1. There are so many ways to learn about oppression. Journaling, combined with aspects of #2 above, can be a powerful practice. With that said, reading and listening to voices other than my own has probably been the most important part of my evolution.I’ve been compiling a list of resources to pass on, including books, Facebook pages, blogs, and podcasts. Feel free to email me for recommendations. Get clear on what you’d like to learn more about before you email me, and I’ll do my best to match you up to something that aligns with your request. Also, if you have a beloved source, please pass it on to me!

To read more about Lisa Meuser, click here.

[1] Some reading this blog post are in full acceptance that oppression is systemically woven into our culture. Are you aware that it is systemically woven into your psyche? This post is for you too!

[2] Oppression is in the very creation of western culture, and if you’re from the United States, it’s in the very fabric in which the United States came to be. There would be no United States of America if it had not been for the slave labor that quite literally manufactured and built up its existence, making the U.S. into a world power. Oppression is not unique to the U.S.¾world history is filled with it. This oppression is a systemic part of the world and has fused itself into our minds, our psyches, and our somatic existences.

[3] Some of this terminology comes from Crossroads, an amazing organization doing much good in the world.

[4] We commonly use violence or oppressive strategies while trying to eradicate violence: countries “bombing for peace,” spiritual teachers misusing their power, parents who spank their children for misbehaving, vegans who dogmatically judge those who eat animals, white feminists donning pussyhats, parents, friends or therapists who want to fix people, and trying to make people be accountable are a few examples that come to mind. I have participated in many of those just listed, creating harm in the process.

[5] Rigid right/wrong/good/bad thinking is the perfect breeding ground for what we can call “should energy.” It is very oppressive in that it is rooted in harsh judgments and often comes with shame. It also causes people to control and oppress others as a way to bypass the self-loathing that is often experienced in this oppressive thought structure.

[6] God- or whatever name we give to that existence that is wiser than our egoic sense of self.

Moving out of the Fog of Disconnect: A Journey Towards Stillness

By Lisa Meuser.  

A question was sent to me:

“I feel I’ve often confused and conflated the two: What is the difference between stillness and frozenness? What is the difference between peace and playing dead?”

I love this question! While there may be a simple response to this question, there’s also a lot going on in this conflation. I’m going to give it a shot, knowing there is so much to say on this deep and rich topic.

 

Humans need support

All of us have likely experienced a frozen[1] state at some point in our early childhoods. Whenever we experience overwhelm as young beings, going into a frozen state would be a valid, normal physiological experience based on brain chemistry and our inability to process at such an early developmental phase.

Many of us have seen what happens when a bird flies into a window: we think the bird is dead, only to find it “coming back to life” after a quick shake, and then fly off.

When animals experience that frozen state they instinctually know how to “shake themselves” out of that frozen or stunned state. Pretty simple.

It’s a little more complicated for young unresourced human beings. We are the only species that requires loving and attentive care well into our teenage years (and beyond – our brains don’t fully develop until we’re 23) if we are to grow up to be healthy human beings. So while we may have the ability to shake off a frozen state, we also need nurturing, support and safe environments.

If, while growing up, we didn’t have adults around to help us process frozen states, or if we had adults who drove us into those frozen states, we likely never learned how to process frozen states in a healthy, functional way, and so we lost that inherent resource. As such, we adapt, but we stay a little frozen as the brain chemicals that were initially released get pushed down into our system, never fully released out of our systems. Meanwhile, not having our emotional needs taken care of starts to create mayhem for our psyches.  After all, humans are coded to want to feel good, comfortable and loved, and it is confusing and often scary for us when we don’t.

 

Adapting to dysfunction, the new norm

When we live in environments where there is unpredictability or chaos (which may show through manifestations of parental conflict or negligence, emotional or physical) we adapt by staying partially frozen, vigilant, and/or on guard, even when things are “fine,” because we intuitively know “it’s just a matter of time” until chaos re-occurs. After a while we get used to being in this state – it becomes our new normal, and we get used to disconnecting, and/or numbing out as a way to cope.

If we are living in challenging, chaotic situations or circumstances with a lot of conflict and/or highs and lows (fight or flight energy), we may even like numbing out and find comfort with it, particularly when compared to the alternative.  It may even start to mimic a sense of stillness, peace, or calmness when compared to the overwhelm of fight or flight.

Said another way, in this state of disconnection we’ve partially shut down, which can feel like relief from the alternative highs and lows of mania or dismay, or the chemical response of fight or flight energy[2]. It makes sense that we might prefer to feel nothing, than discomfort, pain, or terror.

This state may become our refuge, our safest place, our new norm. It no longer feels like a frozen state because by this point we’ve learned quite well to disconnect from our bodies, and live in our minds. We escape, using our minds, into a world of daydreaming, fantasy, reading, thinking, or some kind of social or entertainment media source. We may also use food, drugs, or other coping activities such as porn as a way to escape. Sometimes we turn to meditation practices that teach us how to go “up and out” of our bodies.

It’s all a perfect escape from the highs and the lows, as well as the frozen underpinnings in our system, and a way we can feel some control in an environment that is very much out of our control. Keep in mind, we’re coded to want to feel good, and we’ll do whatever it takes to experience this.

 

As if out of a deep slumber

What I’m describing is not something rare. In my experience, most human beings are functioning or have functioned in this way in overt or covert ways. Even if we lived in somewhat healthy households, our culture expects and pushes people towards numbing out, and caters to people who are in various states of disconnect. Generally speaking we are a species that is starving for connection, living in a culture that by its very nature functions through disconnection. It’s no wonder that we often feel like hamsters on a hamster wheel.

Many will live their lives continuing to adapt to this numbed out state. But for others, a sense of internal oppression grows in such a way that the numbness itself becomes confronting. This may happen when one is quite young, or much later in life.

Thoughts such as: “Something seems to be missing,” “There’s got to be more than this,” “It feels like I’m suffocating,” and others, may start to weigh in, while at the same time a sense of restlessness and dissatisfaction with life may arise, perhaps accompanied by feelings of emptiness, or hopelessness. We may start to realize that we’re dumbed down, or numbed out, and all of a sudden life may start to feel really shitty. It’s as if that numbed out state stops being “ok” and instead it becomes distressing. Feelings of depression or anxiety may begin, get worse, or become unmanageable. We may try (more) things to increase our highs to overcome this state of dis-ease. “Drugs, sex and rock and roll” may be a few favorites, although all sorts of behaviors to boost pleasure brain chemistry might be experimented with to help us feel better.

 

We’re not designed to be perpetually frozen

Humans are designed to cope with stress, but we are not designed to have a constant input of stress. After a while, our bodies – having been reservoirs for repressed energies and experiences – can’t keep at it.

We want to feel good, comfortable, and loved. We can only endure the lack of these things for so long, and we can only sustain dysfunctional modes of trying to achieve this for so long.  Our systems eventually start to crumble – psychologically, emotionally, physically, and/or spiritually.

People are often in this predicament when they reach out to me.  Together, we gently, and slowly connect to what’s going on, and in the process people start to become more familiar and safe with their bodies.

 

Peace and stillness, not what you think it is

As one starts to come into their body, they often experience what I call a “melting” phase. The body starts to “come alive”, as the frozenness starts to melt. It may sound great, and sometimes it is! And sometimes it’s uncomfortable or even a little painful.

Think of a time when your hands or feet were so cold that when you put them in hot water they burned. When the body starts to defrost it can feel a little like that. The heart, for example, may start to burn as it opens, as it melts. My “therapist self” thinks of this as a good sign, but when it was happening to me I had a very different perspective! As with most of the healing process, it is useful to go slowly and gently, with accessibility to loving support.

When the discomfort and pain start to become safely familiar, another challenge can be a sense of boredom. Again, I think of this as good news, as it’s another step on the journey. But when it was happening to me the boredom felt like I was doing it wrong, or it would usher in restlessness or agitation that was really uncomfortable, and felt counterintuitive to what I thought I should be experiencing.

When we’re used to highs and lows, and/or when we’re used to being numb, being with what’s here feels so unfamiliar that the personality or ego mind can get rattled.

The personality or ego mind often does not like unfamiliar, newness, or ‘different’- so this process can be very counterintuitive, and we will talk ourselves out of it any chance we get.

It was important for me to learn how to gently, patiently and compassionately explore the restlessness and boredom, rather than act out because of the restlessness and boredom. Again, this is why it can be useful to have guidance, so that the mind does not sabotage the evolution that is taking place.

As we “hang in there”, we may be faced with a variety of challenges based on the concepts we have about what is supposed to happen when we “wake up” or experience healing. Personally, I was so used to highs and lows that I often had concepts and expectations of “big bang” moments, or “abiding peace”.

I limited myself immensely by holding onto grandiose and false ideas. I even drove away expressions of stillness and peace as I held onto ideas of what I should be experiencing. It was important for me to slowly and gently wade through the various ideas and expectations, supposed to’s, and shoulds as I connected with the thoughts I was having and the sensations I was experiencing.  As those concepts shifted, so did my allowance and experiences of stillness and peace.

 

Getting to know ourselves

There often comes a time in the healing and waking up journey where, as self-awareness grows, we begin to have the ability to consciously interact with our brain chemistry. For me this was a huge movement into self-empowerment, and radically shifted my relationship with life itself. Prior to this I often felt swept away by states of being – particularly fear states. Learning about my brain chemistry was a big part in shifting out of powerlessness and into resourced agency.

We all respond to strong emotions differently as adults but the initial response originates in the amygdala. Some of us freeze, some people go into fight, some go into flee, and some go into feign/fawn. Regardless, that amygdala response causes the prefrontal cortex to be impacted in such a way that it temporarily stops functioning at full capacity. Long story short, this means that when we’re in a fear state, for example, we’re not thinking clearly. This is why, when in fight, flight, freeze or feign, we don’t make “good” decisions. This often leads us to do things we later regret. The sooner we detect that we are in an “amygdala response”, the faster we can “re-set” our brains and resume full functionality.

We each have different strategies that come with different physiological responses, and it is helpful to notice how we individually react. As I was speaking about this with a couple last week we discovered that he went into fight mode. He was able to identify that he feels heat through his body as this is happening. She was able to identify that she goes into freeze, which is accompanied by a sense of “getting small.” It can be a powerful step in being able to identify our signature physiological responses. Now he knows that when he gets hot, to pause. Now she knows when she starts to feel small, to pause. They are learning to communicate with each other when they notice physiological stress or amygdala responses happening. This allows them to avoid harmful behaviors and support each other.

As they identify that need to “pause,” they can turn towards activities that will help their brains to re-set so their prefrontal cortexes can come back on line. We spoke about different things each person could do to help this re-set take place. Sue, for example, finds it useful to connect to slow, gentle breathing, while Mark finds it useful to get a breath of fresh air, or walk around in his yard.

Pausing is a vital step in changing patterning, and it becomes possible to make this choice as we become intimate and familiar with ourselves. This increased awareness provides fertile ground for experiencing deeper expressions of stillness and peace.

 

Including our bodies, slowly and safely, with conscious attention

This understanding our physiology/ brain chemistry is particularly relevant as we start to “melt.”  Prior, we’d been disconnected from our bodies in such a way that we weren’t aware of a lot of the feelings or sensations throughout our body. After the “melting” starts, we start to feel more, sometimes for the first time in our lives. This can be uncomfortable, not because anything bad is happening, but because something new is happening, and we humans don’t always like new.

There’s reasons why many of us disconnected from our bodies, so it can take time for us to learn that it’s safe for us to include them now. Until we experience that safety, we may feel overwhelmed when we feel our bodies. It may remind us, subconsciously, of how we felt when we were very young and didn’t have the emotional support we needed to process big sensations and feelings.

The difference is that now we’re in adult bodies, in our safe homes, with far more resources and agency than we had as children. Part of this resourcing can come through learning about our brain chemistry, and in discovering how we can help ourselves when we are experiencing certain kinds of brain chemistry – mainly overwhelm, fear, or anger.

 

Getting to know stillness and peace through neutrality

An intricate part of my journey has been making friends with neutrality. Because I’ve been drawn to highs and lows, and because I have had so many false ideas about waking up and healing, I had to learn how to make friends with what I call neutrality – the space in between “good” and “bad.”

This has been profound for many of my clients as well. One shared:

“First I thought neutrality was nothing, and the place where I felt the trigger (in my body) was everything. And now I see the neutrality as something full, and “strong.” 

I will be writing more about this topic in the future as it has been revelatory in my journey.

 

We can learn to experience sustainable peace

A lot is covered in this post.  Here is a summary:

  1. Frozenness and playing dead are trauma responses.
  2. Our culture often plays into these trauma responses, in ways that further limit our well-being, by pushing us to feel good by numbing.
  3. Safely exploring trauma responses with support can help us to sustainably include our bodily experiences and expressions, instead of having to constantly disconnect and numb.
  4. Learning about our patterning and developing the awareness to slow down leads us to being able to make empowering choices.
  5. Peace and stillness can be experienced in increasing amounts as intimacy with self is practiced, as we learn that our bodies are safe to be with.
  6. True stillness and peace do not come from exclusion, shutting down, or escaping, but from allowance and inclusion.
  7. As the embodied journey deepens, stillness and peace can be known with increased sustainability.

In my journey, growing intimacy with self has allowed me to know support and love in such a way that stillness and peace are deeply and sustainably known in a way I could have never imagined.

There’s much left to be said as trauma, the psyche, and our culture weave an intricate web. I hope what I’ve shared will be helpful in a practical yet profound way on your journey of waking up and healing trauma. I would be honored to hear about your journey as you explore.

 

To read more about Lisa Meuser, click here.

 

[1] Frozen is one of the 4 stress “F responses”; Fight, Flight, Freeze, and the lesser known Faint/Fawn; that are normal parts of our physiology under certain circumstances. Unfortunately, they often become part of our everyday life due to less than ideal environmental circumstances.

[2] Over time, we may find that we find more familiarity and comfort in extreme highs and extreme lows, and angst comes in when we are experiencing a state of peace or stillness (or their mimicked frozenness). I’ll write more on this shortly.

 

 

Our Stories Are Sacred

By Lisa Meuser.  

“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”  Rumi

I gently breathe in this quote. It has taken me a long time to know Rumi’s words. Most of my life I hid and denied my wounds, concealing them not only from others but also from myself. I repeatedly and systematically attempted to suppress, re-write, and/or rebuff the stories of my life experiences. This started when I was young.  I made excuses for and reframed others’ unhealthy and abusive behaviors. I learned to keep secrets to keep the peace.  Over time, I innocently abandoned myself as I learned to pretend that “all was well.”

I know I’m not alone in this. The majority of people express that they’ve had a great childhood. And yet, after a few questions, it is clear that what they are choosing to remember is coming from an act of self-preservation: it can be difficult to face the reality of our lived stories when we’ve denied them our whole lives.  We often prefer the story of “all was well”, even when it means we have to splinter ourselves to maintain that story.

While many of us always had a roof over our heads, food to eat, and clothing to wear, our more basic and fundamental needs such as emotional guidance and heart connection may not have been tended to. From the outside, I had an ideal childhood. And yet no one in my family was emotionally available or willing to really hear my stories, and after a while I disconnected from my experiences, from my stories, and made myself invisible as a way to cope. Maybe you too were a caretaker of others’ stories, as it was too hard to be with your own?

As I grew older I was bombarded with various social, political and spiritual messages that encouraged me to further forget about the past, and focus on the positive. Common phrases used in our culture include: “don’t dwell on the past”, “let bygones be bygones”, “look to the bright side”, and “be here now.”  Don’t get me wrong – it’s not that those phrases don’t have some wisdom sprinkled through them. But when we hold onto those mottos so fiercely that we aren’t allowed to be with our experiences, we violate ourselves. Over, and over, and over.

Would it be an act of loving kindness to tell a young toddler who has scraped their knee to “get over it”, or “just focus on the present!”, or look to the bright side of the experience? No. A kind heart would console, support, love, and guide a toddler through their pain, through their accident, all the way to the “other side”- however that may look.  A loving approach would ideally allow for the child to retell the story as many times as necessary, until it felt complete for them. We’d empathize. We’d listen. We’d help tend to the wound. We’d support them until they were ready to return to the playground. And they likely would. We’ve probably all seen that when a child is held and heard, they quickly resume playing, their needs having been met.

And yet what we often do with ourselves is pretend our scraped knees aren’t scraped (or that our hearts aren’t breaking). We often pretend that everything is just fine, and then to add insult to injury we judge ourselves when our hearts continue to be broken – which we then take as proof that “we’re broken.”

In my direct experience, it is never that we are truly broken[1]. I have never met a client who is broken. Rather, it is the way that we’ve learned to connect ourselves that is broken (and we can see how this is a cultural imprint, as culture does not connect with the wellbeing of mind/body/spirit, and instead often does the opposite).

Of course the way we’ve learned to connect with ourselves is broken! Most of us didn’t live in households that provided the level of emotional care, nurturance and guidance that we needed, so we never learned directly, or indirectly what true love and care was.

Even though we’re adults now, the need for a kind and loving response, the space to tell our story, and our needs to be heard and supported, haven’t gone away. They may have gone underground, or been buried, but our biological need for connection and love remain.

Shame kept my stories hidden, from myself and from others, and I see this with almost all my clients.  What I also see is immense freedom when people feel safe enough to honestly connect to their stories – to their actual lived experiences instead of the pretend life they held onto in their minds. This freedom multiplies when they feel safe to share their stories out loud in a safe container.

Repression is oppressive, and oppression is traumatizing. Telling our stories has the opposite effect. Telling our stories, first to ourselves, and then to another, has a liberating influence that leaves one feeling a sense of real empowerment – maybe for the first time in our lives.

Naming our stories to ourselves is deep work. It takes time, because it’s counter-intuitive based on all the strategies we’ve learned to keep silent. Naming and then believing our own stories takes courage. It takes time to develop the safety to be in our truth, after giving it away for so long.  For me, being heard by someone I trusted was an immensely important part of that. I was so used to doubting myself, that I needed a trusted guide to support me as the stories met the light of day, outside of the realms of my mind.

This is why we know it is crucial that as we heal from our wounds, we find safe spaces and safe people who listen to and believe in our stories – to our sacred, lived experiences. This produces a beautiful fertile ground “for the Light to come in.”

Find safe spaces. Find safe people. Your stories are the hallowed ground of your being.  When you find a safe person or group to share in, consider honoring your stories by connecting with what you need as your story is shared.[2] Our sacredness doesn’t need to be fixed, and yet a fixing paradigm is very common in our culture.  You may want to let your listener know that you don’t want your story to be treated as something to be fixed or changed, and instead received, as if your listener is being given a gift – because they are.

When stories are free to live in the light of day, something unanticipated often happens. As we release what we had been resisting all our lives, as we allow the stories to live and breathe, the stories themselves start to disintegrate. But this time it is from Love, not from denial.  This will happen on its own, although it’s often counterintuitive. I’ve found that the process can be supported and then integrated  through the guidance of an embodied somatic therapist, facilitator or guide.

I have experienced – directly and in my relationships with my clients – the immense freedom that comes when stories and wounds are allowed, named, spoken, expressed, and felt.  It is something far beyond what the linear mind understands, and births a sense of empowerment that is known from  being. Neuropathways shift, one’s sense of safety in the world changes, and relationships with life are transformed. Possibilities we couldn’t even imagine reveal themselves.[3]

It has taken my whole life to fully understand that that wounds and their corresponding stories are truly sacred. These days I experience wounds, and the stories of wounds, as sacred, grace filled, and also as the way Home.  I will be leading a deepening course this spring that will provide safety to explore our sacred stories. Please contact me to learn more.

I leave you with a poem I wrote after being given a prompt “If we could write a tomorrow which is wider than wounds we have worn”. Much love to you, as you share your sacred stories, on your way Home.

 

Stories Return Us Home

If I could write a tomorrow,
it would be wider than but include the wounds we have worn…
it would include my wounds,
it would announce my wounds,
it would put my wounds on display so that others too
could include, announce and
display their wounds,
as we move into tomorrow.

If I could write of a tomorrow,
it would have less denial, less hiding, less pretending…
By naming and sharing our wounds,
we would weave something so bountifully amazing,
taking us wider than the wounds we have ever worn.

If I could write a tomorrow,
I would use my wounds
and all that I have learned,
to springboard into creating a world where
community and connection is paramount,
from birth to death,
woven into the very ways we value the
ways we spend our days
and deeper into the way we view
our very selves.

If I could write a tomorrow,
humans would not be commodities
or things.
Worth would not be earned but known.
Sharing would be common place and
love would be given,
not bought or sold in the guise of
consumerism and exploitive capitalism.

This may be my soap box, but it doesn’t feel like an
impossible dream.
When I
slow down
and
take a look
towards pain and suffering.

I look at it in the eye,
feel pain burrow into the
caverns of my heart.
As I do
something widens
and deepens.
Something called Love

takes it all,
filling me with a sweetness of now that
exists at the very same time as
sorrow, sometimes in the very same place.
Reminding me another way is
indeed possible.

I write of another way…
where we know and
live knowing that,
in our shared plight of
being human,
there is Love.
The joy, mystery, pain, and
beauty of
being human.

I write of
lessons
being learned from the
wounds of yesterday.
Creating an amazing
tomorrow to be a part of.
I commit

to staying with
these wounds, honoring these wounds,
taking responsibility for these wounds,
and the wounds that my foremothers and forefathers
were born from,
have created,
which birthed me
and which I have birthed.

I write of a now,
inviting all to share
unique dreams and unique pains.
To share without needing to fix or problem solve
but to celebrate.
A recognition that each
story is sacred and powerful
in its very essence,
as we return Home.

To read more about Lisa Meuser, click here.

 

[1] And yet, I honor the phrase “broken hearted”.  The sense of the heart being broken references the wound of which Rumi writes, and is, in my experience, our ticket home in the telling of our stories.

[2] You might, for example, ask your listener;  “please just listen,” or “please validate what you’ve heard,” or “please say you believe me,” or “please hug me when I’m done.”

[3] “Every time you tell your story and someone else who cares bears witness to it, you turn off the body’s stress responses, flipping off toxic stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine and flipping on relaxation responses that release healing hormones like oxytocindopamine, nitric oxide, and endorphins. When we tell our stories and others bear witness, the notion that we are disconnected beings suffering alone dissolves under the weight of evidence that this whole concept is merely an illusion.” – Lissa Rankin

Listening Beyond Ourselves

By Lisa Meuser.  

 

Listening to Life

I have been in a deep creative flow for quite a while, spurring my productivity on, and on, and on. Writing, working with clients, my own self-study and learning, parenting, and completing tasks and projects… It has felt effortless, aligned and in integrity, and I have been conscious and appreciative of that. I have had immense gratitude for the ease of flow, my capacity to receive, and the Source from which it comes.

And.

Ha! You knew there was an “and” coming, didn’t you?

And, the holding pattern of a self/personality can be extremely subtle.

Amidst all this ease and flow, productivity and growth… along with a deeper sense of inner agency and resourcing, that I have worked so diligently over the last years to come to know… Amongst all this evolution had come a subtle sense of forgetting, or what I sometimes refer to as amnesia when I forget my deeper relationship with what Is.

In the ease of flow I had innocently moved into a state of amnesia with regards to where all of this ease, movement and so on was coming from. While this amnesia moved in, so too had some movement back into identification and self-importance.

This is very normal for us human beings, particularly on the embodiment journey. Agency and inner resourcing can feel so utterly empowering… that it can almost seem like they are in charge of it all, giving the illusion that it is “me” that is responsible for all the yum in my life. So subtle – this flow and yum made me feel good, with a deep purpose.  Caught in this current, I hadn’t noticed that hitching a ride was also an increased sense of drive and worth.

Again, this is all the stuff of being human. There is nothing wrong with feeling good, having purpose, or having worth. And – this can easily rev up a machine within us that starts to resemble something along the lines of self-reliance, arrogance, ego, and/or, self-importance, and an absence of humility. In the process of becoming empowered, I had forgotten what was truly empowering me.

 

My Body Stepped In

I wasn’t seeing any of that, however, until a virus stopped me in my tracks. I was midway through my day when I started to feel “invaded.” I power-housed through, as is typical for me. By the end of my day I was exhausted from head to toes, with a fever, and chills. I have a couple of “tried and true” remedies that seem to quickly push illnesses out of my system, or at least giving me enough relief to keep my normal work schedule, so I figured I’d be fine the next day. Except that this was the second virus in two months… something very unusual for me. This got my attention…

 

It was Time to Listen

Maybe I was supposed to slow down… and actually cancel my sessions and meetings for the next day instead of pushing through as usual.  Maybe I had been pushing myself just a little too much? Maybe it was time to just stop, for a bit?

I have to admit, I had an ulterior motive for considering a break.

I was still thinking I was in charge.

Have you ever done something, because you think that it will lead to a good outcome? I assumed that if I just stopped for a bit, I’d quickly feel better. The hidden subtext of that was: and then I could quickly “get back at it.”

But I didn’t feel better.

I felt worse.

And then I felt worse-er.

I could handle the fever and fluctuating temperature, but the pain in my legs was overwhelming. When I was a girl I used to get menstrual cramps so intensely that I would squirm restlessly on my bed until the pain medication kicked in. It was like that, except that there was no pain medication coming.

I couldn’t find a comfortable position. I couldn’t find comfort, period.

I like comfort, and instead I felt restless and powerless… and worried. I don’t know about you but when worry comes into the picture so does suffering. And, well… I’m not a big fan of suffering.

This all let me know that something was going on, and that I needed to listen – sincerely listen.

What I heard was a call for deep surrender.

 

Giving it all up, while staying Open

It was time to stop producing. And it was time to stop trying to push myself into feeling better, as trying to prod myself to feel better (so I could resume being “me”) with all my amazing remedies had to cease, as that had taken on a fighting and gripping kind of energy, too.

Letting go of trying to heal myself (in the way I was inclined to) was not easy but once that revving engine in me started to pause I was able to “lean back into it all” and I felt a wide web holding me. From here I tenderly connected with that gripping energy through gentle somatic inquiry. I discovered that behind that fighting energy was a me trying to be in charge of a body that was quite committed to doing its own thing. This was utterly humbling in such a way that something further softened in my being.

As the gripping softened, space opened up and I continued to gently explore. I discovered that there was an underlying fear in my system, stemming back to when I was very young, and was often forced into a doing mode of being. I was able to study the inclinations of my being to open, and then close to protect. Open, and then close to protect. I felt this in a physical way in the muscles in my chest. As I stayed with that, the early traumas unwove themselves as it became clear that my system simply wanted to be honored, not pushed in any kind of way[1].

As these energetic happenings unwove within my being, they were unwoven within my psyche as well. It became overwhelmingly clear that it was safe for me to stop doing, pushing and fighting, and turn towards deep being.

 

Deep Surrender

No producing. No writing. No sessions. No pushing or forcing or any kind. A fervent processer, I was in too much pain to even think. Watching tv or reading were also out of the question. I was invited to deeply surrender into that which was larger than the body that was in pain, the personality that was used to producing, or the conditioning that was used to pushing.

I was very gently and compassionately guided to truly stop trying to be in charge.

Language gets tricky here. What is it that is larger than my personality, than my physical form, than my conditioning? Atheists might call it space, the gravitational field or some kind of base level of intelligence/physics that acts on its own accord. Deists might call it god. Spirituality might call it the tao, the field, or love. Non-dualists might call it awareness. Whatever we want to call it, without the distraction of writing, reading, clients and other tasks, including thinking and processing, I was brought to a deep rest. In the process, I found myself out of resistance and struggle, and into a clear connection with/as “something larger than myself.”

It was at this point that I was able to clearly and humbly see and name that I had gotten swept away in my ability to produce, my resourcing and agency to process, and my capacity to “keep going,” and this had innocently given me, as a personality, a sense of worth.

As I was writing this blog post, I found something my friend Trikaya Olliffe had written that expressed this in such a clear and beautiful way.

Love is the part of us that gives us the ability to chose, and we will choose whatever we feel is the greatest love because we will always seek what we love. So, if we love processing, we will always choose something to process. If we love power, we will always choose power. If we love safety, we will always choose what is safe for us.

Unbeknownst to my conscious attention, I loved processing so much that I had made it my god.

He continues:

There is a difference between processing and Presence. We can process emotional and mental patterns to evaluate them to gain knowledge about them. And while this is good, it is not Presence. Presence is a state of being that is more like an observer of a process rather than the action of processing.

It was both freeing and inspiring to experience the clarity of that, as a first step for me is naming what has been out of my attention, which then empowers me to take a step back, notice more and reconnect with what is most important in my life.

 

God[2]/Love/Awareness First

Being forced to slow way down, so as to avoid that sense of restless pain, allowed me to study my patterning with fine attunement. The simplicity yet immensity of this “something” was humbling.

I felt deeply at home, and my intrinsic worth as a human being – just lying there and breathing – was self-evident, pardon the pun, beyond a doubt.

There was something sobering about lying in a bed for hours every day, knowing that my true worth had nothing to do with my level of production or actions in the world. I had value, just by being, and I felt the truth of that through every part of my being.

To feel the truth of that was a delightful by-product of that virus, and I set a conscious intention to stay aligned in this way when I was back to feeling better.

Again, I hadn’t been doing anything wrong in my life, perhaps per sae’, but my relationship with Life had become imbalanced, and while there is nothing erroneous with having personality or a sense of self[3], I had subtly put my personality before that which supports and guides life.

I love the wisdom of one of my guides, MaDar “There is a fractal wisdom in the universe: God first, God in me, and God in other.” While wisdom of this truth has been my direct experience, it is my daily practice which sustains this seeing.

 

Presence over Productivity

I have to admit that my life is full of so many amazing things that it is easy to get lost in doing and producing. Post virus, I can’t seem to “get away” with some of the strategies I’ve used in the past. Although this can be disconcerting to my personality, it is ultimately a good thing as it has brought about deeper freedom.

I continue to be humbled by the wisdom of life, as well as the conditioning that subtly (and sometimes overtly) rises up. I remain aware of the dance between this larger invitation of surrender and my personality/the culture that I’m a part of that values doing above being.[4]

While there is nothing bad about producing, being aligned with purpose, or with experiencing a sense of worth from either, there was a wisdom in my system that was being called to that was letting me know that I was getting a bit lost, and I had been too lost to notice. My body helped me wake up.

 

Sometimes our bodies get a bit loud so that we slow down to listen

My client shared this with me today:

It is so hard for me to say no to champagne offered me, even when I say “I’m not going to drink it this time.” It’s like I go into automatic pilot and just drink it. But the other day I felt off with a headache, and drinking the champagne didn’t smell good like it usually does so I choose not to drink it. That ability to pay attention and choose is new for me.

He usually isn’t able to slow down his habitual movements so as to check in with what he really wants to do. It took a headache for him to connect to his body, but once he was there he could connect to himself in a different way and consciously say no.

This reminded of my own illness, and how it took my body to “be off” for me to listen to it. Wouldn’t it be great if it didn’t take our bodies feeling “off” for us to pause, listen, and really tune in?

I know this is possible. But it does take some conscious work.

 

What might help us to listen?

Our bodies are wise, and are speaking to us. How loud do they need to get to be heard? Ideally, not very loud!

In order to listen it is useful to experiment with a daily practice of including my body/whole being, and connecting with it in a conscious and cognitive way. Asking questions is a beautiful way to develop relationships with others, and it can be a beautiful way to develop a relationship with ourselves as well.

I take time throughout my day to ask myself gentle questions, such as:

  • What does my body need/want right now?
  • Am I/my body being pushed or hurried too much? Do I need to slow down so that I can listen? Is there a call to soften- mentally and/or physically/physiologically?
  • Do I need a 5 second break to connect with breath/being? (Or a nap?!)
  • Does every creative thought have to be put into form? (This is a big one for me generally speaking as I have a lot of creativity coming at the moment.)
  • Recently I have discovered a speaker who is very catalyzing every time I listen to him, so I have stopped listening for now so that I can complete what is already coming into form. I can come back to him when it is time. I know the timing will be perfect!)
  • Am I feeling overwhelmed? Would it help to be more selective of what is getting into my attention? (social media, tv, etc)
  • Would it be useful for me to be still with the energy of creativity instead of immediately acting?
  • Am I experiencing a lot of flavors of ease and simplicity, or is there more urgency or command-type energy?
  • Are the flavors mingling with ego in some way?
  • Is there (white) savior[5] energy happening?
  • Are there things going on that have to do with my worth?
  • Am I getting caught up in what I’m doing, and forgetting to lean back into that which occupies my being?
  • What is the quality of my personal relationship with or as god/love/awareness right now?

Gently asking myself these questions can be useful in connecting with intention, grace, and usefulness/necessity of action. Asking these questions can also help me to be more receptive of divine gifts that are coming my way.

 

Listening to Life’s Teachings

The illness I experienced helped me to listen with a different set of ears, and opened me up to receiving a very sacred and profound gift.

I received the gift of knowing in my being, from head to toes and beyond, that I truly am enough, in every way, by merely being alive.  Deeper still was the embodiment of knowing that I am on Love’s journey, not my own. It is impossible to convey the humility and freedom that came from this teaching, and I continue to integrate it.

I am left with a deeper knowing of trust. I feel more connected to the actions that I partake in, and I feel less compelled to engage in ways that are not of Love. Lastly, I feel a sense of simplicity in knowing that as I slow down and listen, my capacity to create and guide others will be for the greatest good, as opposed to for my personality or sense of self.

I have immense gratitude for the support of some very loving people in my life who encourage me in my full commitment to stay slowed down and turned towards Love.

 

To read more about Lisa Meuser, click here.

 

[1] Relevant to mention, I had just spent a month studying “should energy (I wrote about this last month ) particularly as it flowed through my family of origin. I can’t help suspect that this was synchronistic in preparing my system to go deeper within itself to connect to patterns and other operating strategies that I had developed in my young years. Those energies, often so loud for me throughout my life, had recently become quite quiet. Where there had been “should energy” there was a deepened space of allowance. The spaciousness from the should explorations seemed to pave a different way of being that was in alignment with trusting the wisdom of the journey and letting go of the outcome or destination. Again, this was huge for me, and I find it fascinating that it occurred before the virus and before this deepening.

[2] If the word “god” triggers you, I totally get it. After exploring my religious wounding I am surprised to have an affinity for a word that I used to have immense resistance to. For me, God is synonymous with Love/the space of awareness in my direct experience/knowing. Please use the word that works best for you- love, presence, the tao, light, mother earth, divinity, breath, star dust, flow, awareness, consciousness, source, space, life, etc.

[3] In my experience, it’s not either or: it’s not either personality, or being attuned with/as awareness. In my experience they can and do co-occur within one’s conscious direct experiential attention.

[4] I just happened to find a bookmark that my child made somewhere in her single digit years. Quoted on the book mark, from her teacher: “Life is doing.”  Urgh. It’s everywhere!

[5] This is something I’ll be writing more about. For now I’ll say that it has a self-serving egoic energy, while I might be telling myself that it is altruistic.

Exploring “Should Energy” As A Way To Increase Self-Awareness

By Lisa Meuser.  

I’ve been exploring “should energy” over the last month. Well, way longer than that. Shoulds and I go way back. Maybe you know what I mean, as it seems it’s a common feature of being human.

Should energy used to be imperceptible to me, while at the same time running my life. As I slowly developed a relationship with myself and my experiences through mindful practices and embodied inquiry, my system started to notice when should energy was running in the background. That noticing changed my life. Some invisible force no longer was pulling me along. Noticing that should energy was like shining a light on something I had often felt, but couldn’t see.

Naming the shoulds then took me another step forward and allowed me to ask questions of myself and engage in self-inquiry: Was it true that I “should” do X, Y or Z? Did I **have to** follow the should energy? What was really going on?

 

Push-Pull Dissonance

Many years ago I was doing inquiry on a conflict I was having with someone. I could feel this push-pull inside my gut. I did not want to speak with this person, and yet I felt like I had to because he was in my circle of friends. I was so twisted up inside until all of a sudden, I noticed that there was should energy running the whole show. As I stayed with it, more specifics were revealed: “You should get along with him. You should talk with him. You should work it out.” The second I named the shoulds, my entire system collapsed in relief.

As I allowed time for my body to feel that relief, I discovered that I could name both things as true: I did not want to speak with him yet and he was in my circle of friends. In that moment it was ok that both were true.

I was able to be with the discomfort of there being conflict, without the debilitating dissonance caused by should energy. That was a new experience for me. The increased awareness or noticing, and then naming the should energy, gave me the ability to be more of a conscious participant in my life, and the empowerment that came with that was something my system never forgot.

Since that experience, should energy has been recognized fairly easily by my system as it has a certain signature or felt expression for me, often through a sense of push/pull. However lately I’ve been studying should energy with closer conscious attention, as the shoulds in my life seem to keep getting more subtle and subtle, and access to my cellular memory has been becoming more and more available.

 

Disguised as Restlessness

I noticed a really subtle should sneak in one afternoon a few weeks ago. I had been looking forward to that afternoon all week, excited to have time to write about so much that was bubbling up inside me. When the afternoon came, and my house was quiet, I found myself tired. I wanted to just rest, but I had these nagging thoughts of wanting to take advantage of my time, using it to produce and create. I slowed down and as I felt into what was calling to me, I was able to honor my system’s need to rest and not produce. I took it easy that night, but I couldn’t quite shake the restlessness.

 

Family of Origin

The next day that unsettled energy/restlessness was still there, and as I did some embodied inquiry it took me right to should energy.  I took my time to feel more deeply into the energy, and the context from the night before. Just saying the word “should” led my whole body to tighten. That let me know that there was a lot of Velcro, or meaning-making connected with that word.

I stayed with my contracted body as I said the word over and over. Eventually some content started to arise. I saw images of my grandparents’ house, which led to images of my grandfather. As I continued to stay with what was arising I was able to see that my grandfather, who lived and breathed by rigid should energy, had passed his should beliefs on to me. It was like I was able to see a whole matrix of conditioning. I curiously studied all the should energy and corresponding beliefs that I took on from him, and as I did, they slowly started to release and I was able to get clear on what beliefs were his, and what were mine.

It was amazingly freeing to notice the various belief systems and their energetic tendrils that had been passed onto me, and that I now had a choice to be my own sovereign person, different than that of my familial lineage. This was not the first time that I had studied how my family of origin’s belief system had been imprinted upon me, but this time I was able to see the whole web in an even more profound way.

 

Family of Origin, Take 2

The topic came up again in an inquiry session the following week, and this time it was my other grandparents that showed up. Two different memories arose. Both contained un-integrated emotional events – one with my grandfather and one with my grandmother. As I slowly processed through each event it was powerful to connect with the different parts of me that were struggling, when, as a child I interacted with my grandparents. The thing that stood out with both memories was the lack of guidance I received then that I so needed. As I journeyed back, revisiting the emotional relationships between us, I was able to see the disconnect I felt. With that a well of grief arose that I had never known was there. Allowing myself to grieve allowed me to have compassion for myself, as well as them.  When the tears subsided I was left with clarity that nothing needed to be different. There was a sense of simplicity, ease and understanding.

 

Curiosity Begets More Curiosity Begets Clarity

Over the next week my system continued to study hidden resonances of should energy that were coming up from within and which were also coming from various people around me. I was able to see with increased clarity that others’ expectations and should belief structures were exactly that – theirs. Being able to make that distinction gave others permission to be them, and me to be me, leaving me without dissonance or push/pull energy.

 

Noticing, Naming, Navigating

I’m not sure if the energy of shoulds will ever fully dissipate. Our culture feeds on expectations, obligations, and should-type energy and our families of origin often reinforce them, passing them on to us. We can stop the cycle, but it takes willingness to be mindful about our experiences and then inquire into them.

Freedom comes as we are able to notice the beliefs that bind us, name how they’re in place, and then navigate their release. But we can’t do any of this if we aren’t willing to look at what motivates/restrains us, or what is underneath the cognitive dissonance and anxious discomfort so many of us feel throughout our lives that are tied to should energy and belief structures.

For me, just asking myself “Are there are hidden shoulds here?” started to increase my awareness as to their existence. I also found it useful to ask about should energy coming from others, and then the should energy in me that showed up in response. “What should energy is X person coming from? How am I responding to that? Does it bring up my own shoulds? Do either of us need to be different than we are?”

Keep asking questions, keep being curious, keep noticing and keep naming. The clarity will come as a natural byproduct to that, as will a shift in your relationship with your experiences, yourself, and your world.

To read more about Lisa Meuser, click here.