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Someone to Watch Over Me…

By Melanie Balint Gray.  

These days I find myself looking back at recent difficult experiences seeing if I can view them differently. I like to see if some new perspective has arrived, since I’m more aware that my initial view of things is never the only angle from which to see life. As I reviewed one afternoon in the fall I was surprised at what I found.

When my husband was going through six rounds of chemotherapy last year, the high-dose prednisone he was given made sleep nearly impossible, heightened anxiety, and made his nervous system totally raw. This lasted for 5 to 7 days after each chemotherapy infusion. It was sooooooooooo hard on him. And so hard for me.

In one instance his exhaustion, fear, and anger got so extreme. I’d never seen these levels of emotion emanate from this man before. I heard a voice in me telling me that I had to leave. That I couldn’t stay. A hotel. Yes, I’d go to a hotel. The words came and went. But, I noticed I remained, my feet planted on the floor, staring straight at him while he emoted. My body felt like it got jolted by every word he shouted and by any emphatic movements he made – and yet there I stood.

Was I nuts? Why didn’t I follow that voice? Why didn’t I seek shelter from the storm?

What I noticed as I looked back on this scenario was that not only was there the familiar impulse to
withdraw and shut down, but there was a counterbalancing impulse to stay put, get quiet, and openly receive the waves of the outburst. There was unspoken guidance that kept me there. I knew this wasn’t personal. It felt like he needed to allow these energies to flow and that it might be helpful for me to witness his expression of his pain. I didn’t want to short-circuit that process.

Weirdly enough, I felt I was safe. It wasn’t the safe feeling that accompanies a completely calm nervous system. Not at all! I was shaking. I went in and out of fear. But, safe I was… It was so odd.

And there was something or someone watching the whole thing occur. The present part of me which accompanies me everywhere (and always has even though I was often asleep to her companionship) was palpably there. Registering every shockwave to my nervous system, every tightening of the chest that made breathing shallow. She was there. Actually, she was me -an alert, awake, open Me.

Perhaps I was safe because I knew she’d watch over me whether I froze or ran or stayed put. The
security was in the companionship – me with Me. I, the one going through this human circumstance, was accompanied by this noticing aspect. And this noticing aspect, call it Presence or Awareness if you like, was there throughout.

This is where I begin to really stumble and bumble around trying to find the words to describe what I was experiencing. Somehow, this reunion of me with Me, seemed to allow for a different outcome. Not only could I be there for myself, I could steadfastly be there for him. Not in a completely held together fashion; any onlooker would’ve labeled me as, oh, I dunno, maybe as shell-shocked. But, that wasn’t the whole of me that was available in that moment. I was a duo—me/Me. Sort of…

I told you this stuff is hard to write about!

This kind of security wasn’t and isn’t dependent upon anything outside of me – a person, a treasured item, a burglar alarm, a weapon, or some distraction.

There was, is, and always has been Someone to watch over me…

To read more about Melanie Balint Gray, click here.

That Sounds Punitive… Recognizing Shame, Blame, and Guilt…

By Melanie Balint Gray.  

I’ve heard myself say, “That sounds punitive.” numerous times over several months. Didn’t used to say that. I began wondering what was going on inside, that ended up in this string of words tumbling out of my mouth, over and over.

Each time I said it, I was responding to some statement made in my presence regarding how I or others ought to conduct ourselves. (Hint: It seemed there was a “should” embedded in the statement that I was hearing.) For instance, I heard someone say, “The ONLY SANE way to deal with blah, blah, blah is to blah, blah, blah.” Immediately the words, “That sounds punitive.” rolled off my tongue.

I thought it did – sound punitive. And I thought that the punishment, the shaming, blaming, and guilting originated outside of me. Until I slowed down and checked the whole scene out a little more thoroughly.

Upon closer examination of a replay of recent similar scenes – the ones I deemed as guilt/blame/shame-inducing – the more it became clear that I was FEELING punished. Yes, it sounded punitive, but that was only because something in my body (in addition to hearing) responded to the spoken words “The ONLY WAY…” and the intonation of the speaker. My body interpreted this phrase as a directive, or as a should, especially a should that I believed I was failing to live up to. There was a sinking feeling in the chest and a sense of wanting to withdraw into a corner.

While to another listener the words, “The ONLY WAY…” might’ve merely sounded like an opinion of someone, that was not the case for me. I felt personally punished by their critical comment and so their words spoken to me sounded like punishing words. There was no way in that moment that those words could sound kind or of no consequence to me.

Would it sound punitive if it didn’t feel punitive?

This reaction has been around most of my life and usually has had far less to do with (OR, get this, maybe NOTHING to do with) what the other person said, than it has had to do with long-standing, tangled-up shame, blame, and guilt.

Granted, there were some moments early on in my life when the initial combination of experiences – a cross look from a parent, words like, “Shame on you”, followed by being given a dose of the silent treatment – triggered my body to recoil (that familiar desire to shrink into a corner). The word shame became fused with seeing a particular facial expression on someone, being turned away from by way of the silent treatment, and a shriveling up feeling in my body.

At some point, these were assumed to fit together, belong together; accepted as how it is.
And it was how it was for me. Until I opened myself to the possibility that maybe how it was isn’t how it needs to continue to be.

So, now I keep repeating that phrase, “That sounds punitive.” to myself every so often, as if to check if my body still harbors this feeling of shame. Sometimes it does, other times it’s quiet. Sometimes, the sensation feels like it’s fused with the word shame for a brief moment, and then the body and the word let go of one another so that what’s left is unlabeled bodily energy. It’s as if the relationship between the word shame and the shrinking feeling in my body is changing – the word and the sensation are learning that they can go their separate ways…

And I’m again left with the question: would it sound punitive if it didn’t feel punitive. I’ll just keep watching, I suppose.

Awareness of this unconscious, instantaneous reaction is freeing me up. There are times when something truly does feel and sound punitive, like a smack on the hand with a wooden spoon or a rebuke. And now I’m more able to discern when it’s worth speaking up to another regarding what they’ve said or when it’s more about me and some old ingrained pattern of mine. The two feel totally different. The former reaction, the one that is not entangled with past hurts and wounds, comes from a place of clarity, confidence, or sturdiness of sorts – even if it’s uncomfortable to speak up. The latter, the reaction that is mired in old, energetic entanglements is doomed before it gets started; locked into a well-worn cycle of reactivity. One feels very personal while the other is far less so.

I wonder if the next time “That sounds punitive” arises, I will be speaking from my contracted position of “the shameful me” or from the more expanded position of the one who senses that something is just plain unjust and wants to speak up about it?

To read more about Melanie Balint Gray, click here.

Instead of Making Sense of it All, Sensing How it’s All Made…

By Melanie Balint Gray.  

Some nights I dream.  Often, the next morning I recount the dream sequences to my husband.  I’ve learned to listen to what words come out of my mouth to describe the dream, frequently, not words I’d typically use.  It’s as if, through the dream, my unconscious has gone beyond just using symbols to communicate with me and somehow begins to “speak” through words as well. And it’s not so much that I listen to the words.  It’s more that I feel the words.

I turn my attention to my visceral responses, the bodily responsiveness toward or neutrality toward each word that’s spoken.  Whether it’s the words I’m using to relate the dream or the words my husband speaks as he asks me questions or offers suggested perspectives, I’m almost exclusively attending to the body and how it responds to the conversation.

This morning I awoke from a dream where I was partnered with someone from my past in a contest or competition to free a being from some vertical tube where it was trapped or imprisoned.  In waking life, this man and I have struggled off and on with one another; I’ve not quite been able to completely let down my guard with him of late. So, it was a challenging thing to be partnered with him in this dream.

The trapped being was Lilliputian in size and stature.  The tube was too slender for my partner to reach his hand into, but my smaller hand could fit into it. So, I reached inside, and with some difficulty, extracted the tiny figure.

I handed it to my partner, somehow knowing that my partner was supposed to run with it– to take this tiny being to safety and freedom.

The dream stumped me at first.  Then, my husband asked me what capacity had I been refusing to give my partner credit for?  What quality had I been unwilling to see in my partner that I was now handing back over to him in the form of this little being—so that he could “run with it”. In other words, what had I projected onto this man that I was now willing to retract?

Gong!

I said, “That makes visceral sense.”  Not intellectual sense.  Not in the least.  There was no thinking or analyzing that had occurred.

It was just that my body had let off a resounding “gong” of recognition of the truth embedded in those questions.  A lump formed in my throat.  My answer came, “I’ve been projecting that he lacks the capacity of ‘being-ness’.”  I saw how I had written off this man’s (my partner in the dream) capacity to sit in presence with me or to have an open-hearted conversation.  Tears and regret followed.

The little being in my dream was like a seed crystal of being-ness—that I was now returning to this man as I withdrew my narrow-minded projection.

Then, a panorama of all the people that I had unconsciously stripped of this capacity of being-ness showed up.  I was shown how often I had blindly assigned the labels of “asleep”, “unconscious”, and “unaware” to various loved ones.

Gong!

Shame arose. It grabbed at my throat.  I sat there, fingers massaging my constricted throat.  There was nothing to be done except digest the felt experience of the gallery of portraits; feeling what it was like to have discounted all these people.

Eventually the tightness resolved. Things quieted.

I was left with a lesson.  A lesson about one way I’ve distanced myself from the people I love most.  A lesson in how I set up a superiority-inferiority polarity.  And how much it hurt for me to do this.  My body told me so.

It seems that more often now, the feelings and physical sensations take the lead over mental explanations.  What I mean by that is that the body “talks” to me and then, perhaps, some words may come that are more of an understanding nature than an analytical nature.

This visceral sensing can offer such profound guidance.

To read more about Melanie Balint Gray, click here.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who’s the Fairest One of All?

By Melanie Balint Gray.  

Mirrors have haunted me much of my life. Whether I was looking in one to help me do a thorough job of flossing teeth, to apply a little lipstick or mascara, or to do a quick head-to-toe check before going out, they’ve often felt like a source of humongous self-criticism. The one looking in the mirror (me???) could always find SOMETHING wrong with the image in the mirror (also me???) — crooked teeth, deepening crow’s feet, thick thighs, ever-expanding calves; an endless list of flaws!!! Same thing goes for snapshots, profile pictures, video snippets, etc. The eye that was scanning these images was ALWAYS a CRITICAL eye and the conclusions that resulted were that the gal in the mirror just didn’t measure up. To whom? Or to what? To some standard of measure I’d internalized. Anyway, it felt soooo crappy.

And I know I’m not alone in this. I’ve had many friends either cringe or turn their heads when a photo of them is displayed and some have told me that it brings them to tears to look at themselves in snapshots. It’s sad to think that so many of us, and not just women, are caught in this condemnation of these bodies that carry us so loyally through life. It’s crazy to expect that all these bodies could conform to a narrow range of shapes and sizes — those advertised in magazines, fitness ads, fashion runways, and clothing stores.

I can see where some of my scathing criticism of my body may have originated:

  • a casual, unconscious comment by my mom pointing out the woman across the street who looks so snazzy and slim;
  • fairy tales like Snow White and all the other royal fairy tales emphasizing the importance of physical beauty and ostracizing anyone less than conventionally beautiful;
  • Hollywood;
  • my father who frequently went on The Army Air Corps diet (steak and a wedge of iceburg lettuce with oil and vinegar) to trim back down (and to give up alcohol for a while)… (yikes, I tried so many diets myself!)
  • my mom coming to me as she got dressed up for another diplomatic corps cocktail party and, with a worried look on her face, asked her little daughter, “Honey, do I look alright?” (Oh geez—I think I did the very same thing to MY daughter!!!);
  • random people who would say, “Oh, you look soooo pretty in that dress.”;
  • my mom, who was so afraid of being overweight like she was once (only slightly) in her young adulthood, that she projected her fear outward and shied away from getting to know anyone who was overweight…

It has been helpful to see these influences. At first, seeing them pissed me off and resentment bubbled over—resentful of being immersed in such narrow-minded viewpoints as a youngster.  Over time, sitting with the resentment and anger toward all those who unwittingly helped me absorb this body hatred, I began to see that they, too, had been duped. They, too, were simply trying to live up to some standard of what was “acceptable” in the realm of physical appearance.

Seeing this, another example of the unconscious passing of the baton of unquestioned mindsets, I realized I wanted to drop the baton. How could I accomplish that? How could I begin to put a crack in this body-hatred habit?

I decided that one approach was to meet myself where I was — right here and now — still full of self-loathing and with an eye that critiqued every square inch of my physique. I started by meeting myself in the mirror – one of the most common battlegrounds. So, I began to watch really closely what happened whenever I was in front of a mirror. At first it was just plain uncomfortable. I’d want to turn away quickly so that I didn’t have to feel the repulsion in my body or hear the phrases that raced through my head about how subpar my features were, why couldn’t I take better care of myself, how could I ever go out in public in anything less than a huge tent dress, etc.

This continued for a while, but my ability to hold the gaze of the one in the mirror improved; we spent more time looking at one another. Sometimes tears trickled down my cheeks (and her cheeks). At other times we just gazed, meeting eye to eye and there was little commentary. That was different!

Then, one day, I had a feeling that someone else was there with me and my reflection. I couldn’t exactly see this being, but vaguely felt their presence. After a bit, a quick glimpse of this “person” flashed through my awareness. It was as if I had seen a fleeting image of the “perfect me”—sort of a composite body shape of many different women (friends, strangers and celebrities) who, in my estimation, had some or all the elements of the “perfect” body.

Wow. I realized that this imagined “perfect me” had always been there beside me in the mirror whenever I felt self-criticism OR self-praise. I had overlooked her all these years because my attention always zoomed in on my reflection, not on that vague image that was my standard of comparison off to the right.

In those less common moments when I could simply meet my reflection without judgement, “she” was absent from the reflection.

Only when I was divided in my opinion of myself—split between my own reflection and the faint, faint reflection of what I thought I SHOULD look like—was she there. When the SHOULD and the SHOULDN’T held no sway over me, she was absent from the mirror. When I was seeing the shapes and colors reflected in the mirror from a neutral vantage, there was no “other” off to the right.

It’s these internalized yardsticks, these adopted lists of what’s acceptable and unacceptable, that I’ve carried around unconsciously for so long. Since my unconscious often communicates with me in images – often fleeting images – rather than just in spoken or visualized words, it has taken a while to become adept at catching glimpses of these faint, short-lived pictures.

Furthermore, once I was more able to capture these ghost images, I also began to trust that they might be active communications from my unconscious, rather than discounting them as random images. So, I began to check whether a fleeting image that arose in my awareness seemed to trigger a reaction in my body. If yes, then I’d explore this image a bit more to see what it was trying to convey to me.  If there was no bodily response, then I took that to mean I had not unconsciously assigned any significance to the faint image.

This deepened my ability to “hear” what my unconscious was saying to me. It took me further into the realm of symbols and visual imagery instead of purely relying on words. It has been an amazing realm to explore.

As I continued to explore this, another thing happened. I developed a curiosity about the composite perfect me and all those women I’d unconsciously used to create her. I wondered about all those women and what I knew about them and what their lives were like, based upon what they had shared with me or what I’d read about them. Rather than finding that each of them was thoroughly at peace with themselves and free of suffering, I could see that they too struggled with self-criticism and felt the pull of self-improvement. What a hoot! I was unconsciously striving to attain what I thought was perfection (i.e. having a shape like these women) and those I thought were perfect were on the same, insane path as I was, simply a few steps ahead of me!!!

Realizing this about all these women has had a normalizing effect on me. It has begun to soften my relationship to the “me” in the mirror and the me who’s looking in the mirror. When we stand and gaze at one another these days, sometimes criticism is present, sometimes it’s not. What’s different is that now there is an awareness of the exchange between the two me’s—an overarching observation of more of what’s going on during each encounter.

And the recognition of this composite me who comes and goes from the mirror is a wonderful reminder of ALL the ways I still become caught up in comparison in my life. It has lead me to watch more for the subliminal images of other people who I’ve used as my yardsticks in other areas of life. It’s so nice to pull all this out of the closet so that I can more clearly see it!

To read more about Melanie Balint Gray, click here.

Giving Up on Me…

By Melanie Balint Gray.  

I heard a statement in my thought stream the other day: “Give up on me…” Immediately there was agreement. “Yes!!!!!” Give up on me, on that ‘little me’ that I believe myself to be.

Give up on all the aspiring, correcting, developing, revising, accomplishing, should-ing, shouldn’t-ing, fixing, scheming, resolving, the building up, and the breaking down. Give up on all those attempts to improve or heal or remediate me and my life; meddle in or manipulate the lives of others. Give up on trying to: win affection, get a nod of agreement or approval, receive a pat on the back, or hear kudos.

Give up on triceps exercise reps, daily journaling, regular meditation, three-mile walks, handwritten thank you cards, handmade holiday cards, made-from-scratch Indian curry dinners, handmade gifts for everyone, eight glasses of water daily, only eating pure, whole food and managing finances to the penny.

Give up on vision boards, heart-centered marketing, feminine power, dream analysis, tapping, and heart-focused breathing. Even give up on seeing through belief constructs, transforming, or transmuting this into that.

Give up on convincing, cajoling, coaxing, brute-forcing, pushing, pulling, and arguing with all those fragments that seem to make up me. And give up on the same strategies toward the outside world.

Give up, give up, give up…

This felt triumphant. For a bit…

And then I heard another phrase, delivered in a soft whisper.

Give in.

Goosebumps, a frequent measure of resonance in my body these days, arose. Head to toe.

Everything got quiet. I sat motionless for a time. The words seemed to hold a silence that flowed into and through me.

Give in.

Nothing felt in need of correction or of healing. Nothing felt at risk of being kicked out, evicted or abandoned. Nothing felt denied or disapproved of or defective.

It made sense. The directive to “give up on me” was just that—another “must do”, another commandment; simply better disguised by a sly, tempting promise of relief and release. After all, it would feel great to stop trying, to stop fixing and figuring and analyzing. But, the instruction had the cleverly-camouflaged feel of “Cut it out!” or “Just quit it!” The hidden trap was that the veiled intent of the give-up-on-me agenda was to dismiss, to demolish, or to get rid of.

Wasn’t that more fixing? It began to feel like it to me.

With the swapping of one word—the word up swapped with the word in—the feel of life changed; went from feeling like a chronic, festering need for something to be different, better or altered, to no need at all. Life went from feeling like a subtle, cunning plot to fix the fixing, which cleverly perpetuated the whole shebang, to an authentic halt. This held no promise of a glorious future moment. No offer of relief or release and yet, by setting down all the effort, my body breathed out in a long, deep, full exhale. Muscles relaxed; standing down from their habitual bracing mode.

What was left as all the old strategies and mechanisms ground to a halt? The simple answer is, whatever was showing up in the moment.

There was a stillness for quite a while. Lovely. Some tears.

Then I noticed a movement toward converting give in… from a softly-whispered, undemanding invitation into yet another demanding rule. But, I smiled, more tears welled up, and I felt the demanding energy come and go and come and go. Give in to that, too.

At times energy of “Give up” manages to affix itself to give in… and then I can be off to the rat race of self-improvement. There remains this echo of give in…. however.

I so appreciate hearing that echo. It points me inward, not upward or outward, but inward.

Give in. Give my attention to whatever’s in here, in me.

To read more about Melanie Balint Gray, click here.