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The Gift of Gravity – A Curious Exploration of the Link Between Tension and Control

By Lisa Meuser.   

It’s no secret – most of us humans are, to some degree, “control freaks.”

“Can we stop obsessing over the need to control everything around us?” I don’t know, but honestly I’m not sure we need to. That is, if we can learn how to be in relationship with this very normal human attribute. Studying the way we try to exert control or be in charge – as well as how we subtly or covertly resist throughout our days – can help us experience an increased sense of well-being because we are then in a mindset of engaging with, rather than of feeling overpowered by. Sound good so far? I think we can all use a bit more well-being these days.


What if it didn’t have to be so hard?

What if relinquishing control weren’t as complicated as we think it is?

There are all sorts of psychosomatic reasons why we unconsciously try to be in control, and my clients and I explore that territory intimately on a 1:1 basis or in group settings. But let’s break it down to something more universal: we all resist, control, and try so hard to be in charge because, fundamentally, (1) it’s become a habit and (2) no one ever taught us that there is another path we can take. Whilst being in control may feel good in some ways, it’s ultimately exhausting. And so, growing weary and ill under the weight of all this trying, we swing to the other side, desperately trying to not be in control. In other words, we struggle to surrender. But all that trying, even in the opposite direction, not only continues to be exhausting but can keep us stuck even more deeply.

We live in a fast paced culture which doesn’t give much attention to the mechanics of our interior world, so how we live in our bodies often evades us. We don’t realize, for example, how much muscular tension we’re holding, how tight we’re gripping within our body, and how much effort is being exerted even whilst doing simple tasks. What if we regularly took time throughout the day to reconnect with ourselves and notice, in our simple everyday happenings, ways in which we could experience relief? What if releasing tension and stress were simply a matter of curious exploring.


Let’s explore. Not to fix, but to connect. Not to control, but to discover.

Get comfortable because we’re going on an experiential journey, and I find that it’s useful to be comfortable while going on such an exploration. So plop into your favorite chair or couch. Grab a cup of tea and a blanket. Get cozy. (And for my Australian mates, turn on the fan!)

Pause right here. Yes, here. Here with the object on which you’re sitting, and you. Let’s start here. And let’s take a moment to ponder what’s here already.

Connect to the absolute simplest of happenings that is right here, right now. Your butt on the object you’re sitting/lying upon. Your back, resting against the bed / the chair / space. Your body is making contact in lots of ways. Feel the contact. Do nothing with it. Just notice the sensations of connection that are already happening

Most of us take for granted that our bodies are always making contact with solidity, but we are! I mean, have any of you ever walked on air? Or sat a few feet off the ground? Or slept hovering over your bed? Have you ever wondered, as you got out of bed in the morning, “I wonder if there will be something under me when I roll out of bed!” Of course not. We don’t question it, we don’t give it a second thought. We know that, due to this thing called “gravity,” we will always land on the floor when we get out of bed. The same goes for when we sit down. We don’t need to think about it. We just plop down and there’s the chair… holding us. Ditto for our beds at night. We don’t figure out how to lie down, we just do. We live under the influence and impact of gravity for pretty much every moment of our lives, and we can curiously study this so as to bring ourselves into present moment awareness.


We take the energetic experience of gravity for granted. But what if we didn’t?

What if, instead of unconsciously sitting, walking, and lying down, we consciously connected with these experiences? I remember what happened when I started to notice the presence of gravity, and it was pretty cool.

Maybe you’ll discover something totally different, but what I discovered was a space of holding that was coming not from within me, but from around me. The force of gravity literally holds us, and we can explore that in a direct experience kind of way.

Whether we want to be or not, we’re all subject to this energetic presence of gravity. If we choose to, we can consciously connect to this gravitational experience, and in doing so we can become more intimate with ourselves and be more present in our experience. We can also come to know how we resist in both our present moment experience and in our physiology.


Let’s start with our present moment and our physiology. While you read, include the rest of your body.

Let’s continue our experiential journey. Bring your attention back to the chair, the bed, the ground – wherever you’re positioned. These solid objects that we’re sitting/standing/lying upon are holding us. If you’re sitting in a chair or on a bed, it might be curious to notice that these objects have literally been created to hold our bodies. And yet, how often do we lie tight and tense in bed at night, or hold ourselves rigid whilst sitting in our chairs? Sure, I know posture is important, but holding our muscles tight and tense is not posture. It’s rigidity that comes from being disconnected from our actual direct experience that a chair is holding our body. We’ve practically forgotten that we don’t actually need to be tight and tense all the time.

Take a moment to breathe, and let the chair hold your body. Yes, that’s it: hand yourself over to this object which is already holding you, which has been designed to hold you, and which does hold you, no matter whether you’re rigid or soft. So, why not soften a little? Just for the fun of it… Breathe, and feel. Feel, and breathe. Keep it simple. There’s nothing to figure out, no problem to solve, and nowhere to go. Feel the sitting already happening, and the breathing already underway.


Invite the body and breath to catch up with each other.

To assist you in this – because sometimes we actually have to be taught how to not hold our bodies tight – keep your attention on your breath. Don’t alter it, just include it in your field of noticing. Notice and feel how the breath moves the body. Notice how the breath moves the body upwards (as if against gravity) upon inhalation, and how the body falls downwards with the exhalation. Stay with this cycle for awhile. Breathe in, body up (and often outward). Breathe out, body down (often with an inward sensation).

Now, as you feel your exhalation, really let gravity have you. That’s right. Hand your holdings, your tightenings, your efforts over to gravity as you exhale. You may try some sighing or audible exhalation to help yourself really feel this. With each exhalation let the body release, fall, empty, and soften.

Breathe in, breathe out. Notice what you experience. That’s it.

Are you bored a bit? That might be the case, because there is nothing to solve here and the ego mind loves having problems to solve. But keep your attention leaning towards curiosity, and let’s continue.


There may be nothing to solve here but there is loads to be curious about, and even more to discover.

Turn your attention now to your jaw, your cheeks, and your mouth. Are your lips pursed together? Is your jaw hinged shut? Or is your mouth open, your jaw unhinged, and your cheek bones soft? I don’t know about you, but personally (and for must humans that I talk to) I hold an awful lot of tension in my jaw. The thing is, however, I didn’t know this until I knew it. So don’t be too fast to respond to these questions. Take five minutes and breathe, and feel, and explore into the experience of your facial muscles. For you thinkers out there: thinking is useless for this experiment. You’ll need to shelf it for a few minutes, and hand attention over to the body to feel.

As you just sit and breathe, invite the lips to part, the mouth to open, the jaw to soften, and the cheek bones to release. Keep breathing, particularly noticing the exhalations. When most people start to explore their jaw and head regions in this way, they are quite blown away by how much unnecessary holding has been going towards nothing useful at all. There are no useful reasons why we need to be efforting, holding, gripping our facial muscles in this way most of the time, but we continue to do so out of habit. Please try it– you have nothing to lose, except perhaps any headaches or jaw issues you might suffer from.


Thank goodness for conscious awareness.

By utilizing your ability to be aware of your experience, that which was invisible can now become known. Holdings and exertions that ran the experience of you can now start to loosen. By continuing to consciously explore your body throughout the day, you’ll be able shift these stressful laden habits into new habits that will facilitate ease and bring increased well-being into your life.

It may seem simple, and that’s because it is. But it’s not always easy. Just like with all new practices, the more you change one thing, the more you’ll notice a slew of other things that you never realized were connected.   (Pssst! Those tight muscles are connected to the need to be in control, in charge, and/or in some version of ego identity.) One of the hardest parts of being more intimate with your body will be the incessant thoughts that try to convince you that spinning out of control is a more useful way to spend your time. (Pssst! Don’t believe everything you think!)

A possible outcome of this increased consciousness of your body is that, in the process, you may develop a more friendly and intimate relationship with yourself and the present moment. This means less “spinning out” and living from your hamster-wheel thoughts, and more living in the direct experience of now.


Let’s continue.

Now drop down lower into other areas of your body. In fact, while you’re at it, you might as well find out what’s going on with your body from head to toes. Why not engage in a full body scan? You will deepen your awareness of yourself, bit by bit, discovering all sorts of things that you hadn’t previously noticed.

Just below the head is another favorite place where people (including myself) unnecessarily or habitually hold tension: the shoulders. A year or so ago I’d randomly started to find my shoulders inching up to my ears. Bringing conscious attention to this habit allowed it to release, and as that happened I experienced fewer neck and shoulder aches, and less stress overall.

Move your attention away from your shoulders now and let it curiously explore other areas of your body. Are you clenching your hands? Your stomach? Your back? Your inner thighs? Your toes? All day long we unintentionally and habitually grasp, and hold, and exert. We just do this stuff, out of habit, thinking we have to. And sometimes we do. But whilst just sitting and breathing in a chair? We don’t have to tighten and hold so much during those times. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll have to hold less and less once we realize that we can hold less and less.

Whilst exploring, continue to notice that there is always this field gravity here, in every second. You are either subtly or overtly fighting against it, or surrendering to it. (This applies to walking, sitting, standing, or lying down.) In every moment, you can notice how gravity is here. You can play with this experientially, and feel the dramatic relief of curiously exploring the body, rather than being caught in a hamster-wheel of obsessive thoughts.


Notice and commune with the simple.

Most people think that our experiences, or these states of being, are coming from the mind. We’re used to having most of our attention on our mental activities/thoughts. But there are corresponding sensations in the body, so keep dropping your attention below the level of the hamster-wheel mind, and come to the direct experiences of your body.

As you continue to play with your own experience of yourself – and by the way, how cool is that!!? – keep being curious. What is holding now that wasn’t a moment ago, or vice versa? How is a sense of unnecessary exertion, trying, grasping, or holding happening in this moment? The mind loves to complicate things, so keep coming back to simple.

Be curious, and ask yourself questions. “What is holding now that doesn’t need to be?” “What else can I let go of?” “What would it feel like to release this habitual holding in this moment?” “Can I surrender the holding of my muscles into gravity, into the chair, into space, in this moment?” “What is it like to feel the breath move through my body?” Keep being available to simple noticings.

It may also be useful to curiously play with questions such as “What am I releasing the tension into? Where does it go?” “What (or who) seems to “catch” or hold gravity itself?” Ask these questions not to get definitive answers, but to find out what arises.

As you’re experimenting, notice that this is all happening in relationship. There is never just you and yourself. There is always a sense of a “you” who is relating to a sense of something else. You’re never really on your own, even if it seems that way. There is always attention, tending to something. Get intimate with what that is like to know that.

Most often we gravitate (no pun intended) toward thoughts as if we were solipsistic creatures. But we’re so much more than that, and we live in a universe that is so much wider and deeper than that. We can explore the depth and width of the universe by remembering to consciously connect to this presence of gravity that is already here. We’re habituated to hold and tighten our bodies, to try to control almost all the time, but we don’t have to. We can experience a kind and gentle relationship with our very being and with our universe.

Remember- this gravitational presence is always here. We trust it every day of our lives. Why not lean into- ground into- this trust, with your whole self, and experience ease and spaciousness in the process?


Keep playing and let me know how it goes!
What have you been habitually holding all these years without knowing it? What is it like to release these habits?


P.S. Sometimes we need a little support.

I have loads of audio rests that guide through this process. Send me an email if you’d like to receive them!

To learn more about Lisa Meuser, click here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let Us Breathe

By Lisa Meuser.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve Come to Love Doing Mindless Routine Chores!

By Hanneke Geraeds.

Before I learned about Natural Rest I kept postponing mindless routine chores, like plucking weeds, vacuum cleaning, mopping the floors, cleaning the bathroom, ironing or painting walls or window-frames.

Now I don’t mind doing them anymore. I play this game: trying to catch the moment when I fall from doing them in a Mindful way into doing them mindlessly. I didn’t succeed yet…

Today I started off ironing Mindfully, in Natural Rest. Seeing wrinkled fabric change into smoothed fabric, hearing the steamy breath of my iron, the whisper of fabric against fabric, smelling the sweet odour of detergent, feeling warmth underneath my fingers and a damp warmth touching my cheeks, hearing words saying: “I like this dress.” and then pictures of our daughter and me buying it in an unfamiliar shop in another town. Seeing her happy smile because she bumped into what would become her favourite dress later.

Typing this, I can see now, this was the moment I should have caught to win my little game. But I didn’t. And somehow I did notice the story the words created, I realize now. I did because I’m able to at least reconstruct the thought train, which went from my smiling daughter to reasons why we were there in that town, how things have evolved from that point onward. Telling myself it turned out well. Followed by worrying about the future. And at that moment I noticed I stopped being Mindful, I stopped Resting Naturally. The worrying words were velcroed to a tightening sensation in my stomach. Feeling this physical sensation from within. Then hearing the voice of my thoughts again. And the moment I started hearing them, they stopped in the middle of the sentence as it happens often like this for me.

It reminds me of a time when I was chatting with a class mate and suddenly noticed the whole class being silent, then noticing the strict look on the teacher’s face, looking at me…

Though I didn’t win my game, I can Rest Naturally again, enjoying colours, sounds, structures, physical sensations and new words when my voice in the head has grown confident again to go on. And in the meantime, chores get done.

Making Peace with Peacemaking

By Lisa Meuser.

Hi, I’m Lisa and I’m a recovering peacemaker.

There’s not a 12 step program exclusively for peacemakers, but you can be sure that at every 12 step meeting, in every recovery program, peacemakers and recovering peacemakers will be present. And while being addicted to peacemaking may not have the same stigma or even consequences as being addicted to drugs, sex or gambling, there’s definitely a cost.

If you’re unfamiliar with peacemakers, here are some traits:

Excuse-making for others
Justifying others’ actions
Saying things are “no big deal” or “ok”
Going along with things that don’t feel right
Strategically avoiding conflict

In short, when I respond with this kind of thinking – “Let’s not make problems/make waves…” – I’m in classic peacemaking mode (can also be seen as peacekeeping).

I’ve spent years engaging in these kinds of behaviors, not because I was consciously trying to be a peacemaker. These kinds of behaviors came about innocently when I was quite young. I would do anything to try and earn the love of my caregivers, because my survival literally depended on it. In addition, I learned some of these traits directly from them. To explain it another way, I learned behaviors/associations/interpretations while I was young to try to guarantee my survival, and unknowingly repeated these behaviors so frequently over the years that they became part of my neural pathways, regardless of whether or not they were actually useful or necessary. That’s how addiction and habitual behavior work.

For what it’s worth, neural pathways are neutral in the sense that they don’t care if the behaviors set within them are positive or negative, are healthy or unhealthy, or bring happiness or suffering. A neural pathway is like a groove that gets set, like a groove in a record, because X activity is repeated over and over. It’s simply a mechanism of the brain and it’s all contextual. For example: neural pathways are often incredibly useful, as evidenced by how easy and natural it is for most of us to drive a car. Sometimes we might even totally zone out while driving, and still safely get where we’re going. Neural pathways allow us to do a lot of activities without much conscious thought, which is fine when the behaviors are helping us thrive, but not so fine when the behaviors are unhealthy or even dangerous to our well-being.

This all may sound like we’re slaves to our neural pathways. The good news is that we’re not! Because neural pathways (as well as beliefs and behaviors) are ever-changing and malleable, we’re never truly prisoners. We only need to have mindfulness for change to happen, which means that once we discover the beliefs and the behaviors- once we become aware of them- they are now in our consciousness. And once we are conscious of something, we have choice, which means they no longer control us. Hooray!

Coming back to my own peacemaking addiction- I spent years engaging in these kinds of behaviors without being aware or conscious of what I was doing, and always at the expense of my own integrity. Whenever I compromise my integrity, I basically disappear myself. It’s as if I subconsciously decide that I don’t matter, am not valuable, and lack worth. And I then submit to “other,” because “I” no longer exist. To live this way is to truly put oneself at the mercy of others, which is to say that one’s lovability, worth, importance, safety, and okay-ness are in the hands of someone else. It’s a bitch of a way to live- always clamoring for love and affection from others, myself an empty vessel.

I’ve got more good news, though! Just like any addiction or habitual behavior, or even anxiety and depression,  the way of the peacemaker doesn’t have to be set in stone. Simply by becoming mindful of my patterning and being willing to experience what lies beneath, I allowed my “automatic pilot” behaviors to shift. This was a very powerful discovery for me, and has brought about huge change in my life.

I’ve been on the path of recovering from this peacemaker patterning in a mindful and beautiful way for a while now. There is an amazing difference in my life, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t still occasionally get caught in its seductive and often opaque traps. The wonderful thing about becoming aware of one’s patterning is that the trap can get spotted quickly and, instead of getting caught, something new gets to be revealed and danced with- which breaks the patterning apart even more.

I got an opportunity to further release some of this patterning around the time of my last birthday. A call came in from my brother and mom, and they left me a voicemail singing happy birthday to me. Sweet, right? Well, except that they called to wish me a happy birthday on the wrong date. Um, yeah. I felt the sweetness…along with something else that was not-so-sweet.

It was an innocent mistake. I quickly acknowledged that, and then laughed and made light of it for a few minutes, reminding myself of how loving they were in the recording- until I noticed that this was that old peacemaking pattern, and I was about to sink into the trap. I paused and acknowledged that there was something here begging to be felt and honored, and that it was important to not cover it up with my usual “oh it’s all good” mentality.

Then I became torn for another reason- I was supposed to run a training call in 20 minutes, and meet with my co-leader in 5 minutes. I could feel that old pattern really wanting to kick in- “You don’t have time to feel this, just let it go. It’s no big deal.”

Here’s the thing about integrity, though. It’s like a muscle- when you start to use it, it gets bigger. It takes up more space, and can become quite powerful. My own integrity was no longer allowing me to bypass what I was experiencing. I messaged my co-worker: “I’ve got something going on and I need to feel it. It feels important.” Because of the type of work we do, she fully supported me and told me to take as long as I needed. (I love my job!)

Little did I know that I had set a crucial tone by saying what I did: “It feels important.” My caregivers had a history of making me feel unimportant, which translated to years of me making myself and my experiences unimportant. It was no accident that I chose those words. My experiences were important, and it was important that I honor them. Even if it meant I’d be late for the training. Whew.

When I stopped pretending it was all okay and instead felt inward, I became honest with myself (hello again, integrity!): that early birthday call from my family had actually anchored me to some childhood experiences I’d already been intimately wading through that week – and it did not feel okay. With those childhood hurts already fresh on the surface of my attention, I opted to forgo the addictive patterning path of the peacemaker, and instead honored what was really coming to the surface for me.

First I allowed myself to experience the pang in my heart and feel the expression of grief. “OUCH,” my heart seemed to say, “My birthday’s not today. It’s tomorrow. The day of my birth is tomorrow.” It felt a bit silly on some superficial level, but deep down I knew this wasn’t about the early birthday call. Grief from so many moments of feeling dismissed, unseen, and unimportant started to flow out of and through my body. I cried and shook as I laid on my bed. My breathing was fully engaging the top part of my chest in heaves, which was a new experience for me. I felt excited about this, as I had been consciously exploring the upper part of my chest/lungs earlier that week. I could feel my system expanding outward as it released the old and allowed the birth of the new. What I was experiencing seemed like deep layers of my internal basement getting cleaned out, and as a result was a wider range of spaciousness than I’d ever experienced. I was accessing new strengths, new stability.

Years of making myself invisible, pretending in order to please, trying so hard to be good, and pushing my true feelings down over and over and over again…they were all releasing, and I was giving them importance and space to be exactly as they were. Let me repeat that, because this is extremely important: I was giving them importance and space to be. Integrity. Internal resourcing. Self love.

The grief had her way with me, and eventually the dance started to move into dangerous territory for a peacemaker/peacekeeper: into anger. Anger was shut down quickly in my household. Hopelessness and depression would go unnoticed, but anger was squashed. I could feel the evolution as my system felt safe enough to go into this taboo realm.

What had been grief over being abandoned and dismissed by my caregivers gave way to rage. I grabbed a towel and let my body release this rage exactly as it wanted- I screamed into the towel and felt my body release and tighten and release and tighten … and release. My somatic system was engaging in deeply repressed expressions that were finally free and safe to reveal themselves. My body shook some more, releasing years of repressed sensations. My mind offered up a panorama of events from my childhood where I felt unimportant. Memories of my last relationship popped up, which mirrored similar dynamics. I stayed with all the memories and felt the energies that arose with them, and I let those energies express themselves through tears and yells as various sensations rippled through my body.

My attention tenderly stayed with the thoughts, the imagery, and the energies that were cascading through my experience. The floodgates were open and my hands were off the wheel. Stories and content that felt true were allowed to be named. Emotions were safe to be felt and expressed. Sensations were fully allowed to exist in their own right.

Eventually something shifted, and the stories magically faded. I was left feeling the aliveness of my somatic system without judgment, fear, or resistance. I curiously brought back up the mental panorama of images that had so clearly been referencing and proving my lack of importance, only to discover that they no longer had any meaning. In fact, nowhere in my experience did I feel unimportant or unseen. The stories of unimportance, abandonment, dismissal, and rejection had fallen away, as had the grief and anger. At that point I was able to look back upon the call from my mother and brother and feel nothing but sweetness without any pretending.

Taking this time for myself was really important. It took about 30 minutes from start to finish, and I was 15 minutes late to the training call, but it was totally worth it. Happy early birthday to me!

When I consciously become intimate with my patterning, I have the choice to shift behaviors and move into new ones…and experience life in a very different way. Neural pathways literally change each time I deviate from old behaviors, and this has a profound impact on my life as I release the old ‘stuff,’ and make space for new and enlivening experiences and relationships that align with the integrity of who I am now, rather than the small un-resourceful child I once was.

It’s not always easy. I have to be willing to feel my authentic feelings, whatever they may be. I have to be willing to not rush past, to not pretend. I have to be willing to make my experiences and feelings important, as they are happening for me. I have to be willing to make *me* important. And that is death to a peacemaker/keeper. Hooray! When I make myself important, when I honor what’s true for me, when I am honest and in integrity with myself, the role of the peacemaker automatically starts to crumble- she just cannot exist anymore when there is mindfulness- the pretending stops.

When we’re aware that we have an addictive/behavioral pattern, we can bring the light of consciousness toward that pattern, toward the reaction that we have, and really study it. Nothing is a life sentence- everything is up for exploration and discovery and mindful meditation.

We are all capable of journeying into our patterned reactions, because all human beings have the ability to be aware of their experiences. All it requires is slowing down, practicing mindfulness, and having a readiness and willingness to notice, feel, and explore. Here are 5 steps to get you started!

 

  1. Notice the common reactive state. We often have quite a few of these. Notice yours. It might look like this: “Oh! I’m doing that peacemaker thing right now.”   Noticing it means that you’re onto it- it’s in the spotlight now.
  1. Acknowledge it. A common response to being in a reactive state is to resist it. What we resist persists. So just acknowledge it. It might look like this: “Hi peacemaker. I see that you’re here. I may not like that you’re here, but you are, and I can acknowledge that you’re here.” This continues to bring it out into the light.
  1. See its innocence. We didn’t decide one day to install reactive beliefs and behaviors into our neural pathways. They were innocently created when we were young, doing the best we could under the circumstances, with parents who were doing the best they knew how. It might look like this: “Hi, peacekeeper. I see you, I notice you. I still may not like you, but I get that you’re just a part of my neurology. It’s not because I’m bad, or I did anything wrong. You’ve just kinda been built into my system.” This continues to diffuse one’s vigilance or resistance that might come with the reactive state.
  1. Feel it- engage directly with it. Do not act from it. Feel into it. This is a huge step, because the way we change neural pathways is by doing things differently. Steps 1-3 are already starting the new neural pathway process, but this step is really laying the groundwork. Instead of unconsciously continuing engagement with the behavior or belief, we’re now meeting it as it is. This is true compassion, and this is true love. We all know how compassion and love can transform. This might look like taking time to pause what you’re doing, and being with whatever it is that you’re experiencing- as I did with my reaction to my birthday call.
  1. Be patient with yourself and get support as needed. Changing our neural pathways, changing our reactions, changing our beliefs and behaviors is no easy job. For many of us it has taken decades for them to develop to where they are now. So it will also take some time to unwind them. We often need help. Be kind with yourself.

 

Being consciously aware of our habitual behaviors allows us to meet parts of ourselves that have been running the show from behind the curtain. In this way we can become friendly with ourselves rather than being critical. It can also bring spaciousness into our lives and relationships, in that we no longer blindly react, but can respond consciously to stressful situations. Part of being human is to have neural pathways. Make friends with them, know that you play a role in their existence, and explore them to discover yourself.

I recently heard someone say, “There isn’t an eraser that can erase the past.” Maybe that’s true and maybe it’s not. I do know that, with the right tools, I can change my present experience of the past. I know that when I honor what is alive in me, and don’t push it aside, I live a different kind of Now. When I honor myself, when I love myself, I experience a life of greater width and depth, a life that feels kind, loving, and precious. I experience a life where stories of being unimportant, not good enough, unlovable, and unsafe cannot loom over me. I am no longer at the mercy of others, desperate to please, or continuously trying to get approval. Instead, I experience inherent love and worth, from an internal resource that has no limit to its capacity. It seems to me that that might be what real peace feels like, and it’s a far better kind of peace to make. Every opportunity to shift into this experience is a blessing. A gift. So… Happy birthday to me, indeed.

Discovering Resources In Stressful Times

By Lisa Meuser.

Post-election. Holidays. Life. We humans spend a lot of time trying to figure out the world, our days, our thoughts, each other, our emotions. Trying to ‘figure out’ is a popular go-to strategy. Our brains are great at figuring out some things, such as building a deck, balancing a checkbook, and planning the week’s meals. But when it comes to other things, like happiness or love or feeling good, that same figuring-out mechanism can be more of an illusive trickster.

Life can’t be figured out, but what life consists of- thoughts, images, sensations-can be noticed, felt, and allowed. In that space of allowance and noticing, sometimes an understanding or some perspective drops in. But it doesn’t drop in from figuring out. It drops in because of the spaciousness that opens up when we allow our experiences to be what they are, without trying to make them different (read: trying to figure them out).

“I am really just trying to be with life,” a client shared with me, “but I see now that I’ve been stuck in my head trying to figure it out.’” For my client, the “it” that she is trying to be with includes rapid-firing thoughts, quickly scrolling images, and uncomfortable sensations- all of which are often happening at once. She’s heard the phrase “just be with” throughout her career as a spiritual seeker, and she keeps trying. It sounds simple enough, right? Just be with your experience! That’s what we keep hearing from teachers, gurus, and even well-meaning friends. Easier said then done, however.

When thoughts and images and sensations are perceived to be attacking or coming at us at once, as they often are, it can be extremely hard to “be with” anything. Instead we find ourselves in the experience of overwhelm, and/or a variation of the fight, flight, or freeze (FFF) mechanism that often accompanies overwhelm. When in any of these states, the part of the brain that facilitates self-awareness shuts down to a certain extent, making it nearly impossible for one to be fully aware of their present experience, or to be present (i.e. “with it”). Her innocent use of the phrase “be with it” confirmed what I’d been contemplating for a while: just be with it” is often not a useful pointer for people trying to connect with their present moment experience, because it’s misunderstood.

Contrary to how it’s generally interpreted, “just be with it ” doesn’t necessarily mean to:

1 sit still with the experience, and do nothing else,
2 feel the experience as it is,
3 explore what the experience might mean,
4 or all of the above, adding “until it’s gone” at the end of each sentence.

Some people maintain the assumption that if they can “just be with it”—turn attention toward it (the experience or challenge) and do nothing else—then something will magically shift. That may be exactly what happens for some. But for others it might not; for others it might just exasperate the already difficult experience because it becomes more of an attempt to figure out as opposed to allowing the current unfolding.

“Just be with it” does not mean to do nothing but sit in the experience. “Just be with it” actually involves a person accessing her/his own personal reservoir of resources. We all have access to plenty of resources; some of us have more than others, and some resources are more internal while others are more external. For example, because I do inquiry with people for a living, I have access to a reservoir of internal resources. In other words, I can apply the techniques I use with other people to myself. I can ask myself useful questions and can extend love and hold space to and for myself, and I can often literally sit still and “just be with it” (allow the experience to unwind naturally by noticing/acknowledging my thoughts, images, and sensations without being attached to or enmeshed with them). When in a calm state, many of us have the capacity to connect with these internal resources. But when we’re not centered, grounded, or calm, accessing them can be confounding. For me, too.

Sometimes I’m too immersed in my own stuff to be really present for myself. Sometimes I am in my own version of the fight, flight, or freeze mechanism. Being in overwhelm or FFF affects my ability to utilize my internal resources, because when I’m in the FFF grip my nervous system is on high alert. “Just sitting with it” isn’t always possible during these times because the parts of my brain that enable the ability for self-awareness are quite literally diminished. Instead, my reptilian centers are more on line, so before I can “be with” anything, I have to calm my nervous system down. To do that, I have to get resourceful in a different kind of way.

There are a lot of external resources that we have at our disposal in any given moment that can help us to soothe and nourish our nervous systems. Taking care of our nervous systems will help us to connect with our internal resources so that we can inwardly connect more deeply with our experiences (read: “be with” our experiences). When we are able to connect with ourselves in this way, we can slow down the hamster wheel of thought from spinning out, loosen the grip of thoughts from jousting with each other, take a break from referencing past and future thoughts, and give pause to the figuring-out mechanism. We can stop trying to figure out how to feel safe and *actually* feel safe in the world / with ourselves / in the present moment.

We can find safety in the world, and we can feel safety in ourselves, by utilizing resources that will support us. Those resources are what can really help us “be with” what is going on in our experiences and be in the present moment. When my nervous system is jostled, I utilize my internal and also external resources:

1. I feel the chair/bed/sofa/floor underneath my body.
Science upholds that when my back feels supported, my nervous system starts to relax. Try this out: as you lean into your chair (object), remind yourself that this object is literally designed to support your body. It is designed to hold all your weight, and to do so comfortably. So allow yourself to connect to this object fully, and notice what you notice. Feel the resourcefulness of this chair supporting you.

2. I feel the floor or earth under my feet.
This is an extension of #1. The floor is also designed to hold up form. I can feel into that as I feel my feet connect with the floor or, if I’m outside, to the earth. Use the floor/earth as a resource.

3. I connect to my inner sense of curiosity.
Curiosity is maybe one of the most profound resources that I have. I often say that curiosity is the antidote to fear, because if I can access just a drop or two, fear will begin to loosen its grip. One easy way to access curiosity is to ask yourself a simple question without trying to answer it. It could literally be any question. Even “Why is the sky blue?” Don’t try to answer it. Just ask the question and wonder. That opens the part of the brain that connects to self-awareness and loosens the reptilian brain center’s grip. I also bring curiosity into my explorations of #1 and #2, as well as the rest of the items listed here. Bringing curiosity into any moment utilizes an amazing internal resource.

4. I connect to my breath.
As I’m feeling into #1 and #2 (and the rest of the list), I bring breath into my attention. I breathe into the chair. I breathe into my feet on the floor. I breathe into my belly. I breathe into my sit bones. I breathe consciously and gently into and throughout my entire body, at my own pace. Sciences documents that breathing through the nostrils can aid in calming the nervous system, so if it’s resonant for you, try that out. Follow the breathing cycle with attention: stay with the way that breath is constantly flowing in and flowing out. There are many breathing practices that can be researched- these are just a few ideas. Breath is an amazing resource because breath is always happening in the present moment. Play with this amazing internal resource of connecting to breath.

5. I lean into touch.
Science also documents that physical touch puts my nervous system to rest. I use my own hands to connect with myself and the present moment, placing them wherever my body wants to feel touch. On my forehead or face. Behind the back of my neck. Over my heart. Against my belly. In a hug position or on my arms. I hold my own hands. I feel the touch of my skin. If I’m near animals or other humans, I connect with them using touch. Receive the resource of touch, from self or other.

6. I access sound.
Sound can be a profound resource to connect with. Music (either that of my choosing or that which is already happening). Birds. Wind. The fans or white noise in my home. The purring of my cats. Listening to a guided rest (see #9) recording. I also play with feeling the sounds move through my somatic system, or invite my body to move to the sounds. Use the resource of sound in a way that is resonant for you and your nervous system.

7. Connect with water.
A cool washcloth on my forehead, face, or behind the neck can help in soothing the nervous system. Drinking a glass of water, slowly and with mindfulness. Having a cup of tea. Taking a bath or a shower. Feeling the water pour over me. Feeling the water hitting different parts of my body. Feeling the temperatures as determined by what feels good in the moment. The cleansing nature of water makes it a powerful resource!

8. Engage in movement.
Sometimes my body just wants to move! Sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. Yoga. Stretching. Walking. Exercise. Jumping. I let my body move however it wants to. I keep my attention on the movements and sensations that arise as I follow my body’s inclinations. Dancing to music can also be a powerful way to tap into my internal resources. Use movement as a resource however it resonates with you!

9. Experiment with scent.
I really enjoy playing with scent: Essential oils, candles, outside air, flowers, food. Google to find out the properties linked to different scents and see how your system responds (most people find peppermint invigorating and lavender relaxing). Ground yourself using the resource of scent as desired.

10. Rest.
Resting, for me, means stopping what I’m doing / engaged with, and consciously turning my attention toward whatever it is that I’m noticing in my current experience. Resting allows me to notice what is in my attention, and how I am experiencing what is in my attention. Is my attention mainly in thoughts? Is it referencing past or future? Is it lost in imagery? Is it in the body? This can be done sitting down, or during any activity. Resting for just a few moments can have a profound impact on my nervous system, and can automatically link me back to my internal resources. It opens the doors to self-compassion and self-awareness, and can connect me with some of the other resources listed above such as breathing, touch, feeling the floor/chair, and curiosity. Utilizing rest is one of my passions, and I have many guided-rest audios available for free- please contact me if you’re interested.

11. Creativity
Creativity can allow a vast world of resources to open up for us. It is an internal resource, but I can also play with external resources to access my creativity. Finger painting is a favorite of mine as it allows free form expression and tactile engagement. Journal your experiences- writing down what is happening in a moment can help my system slow down and become more available to what is in my present moment experience. Cooking. Making collages. Taking pictures. Making a music compilation of your favorite songs. Knitting. Singing. Dancing. The list of creative endeavors is endless! Gently and curiously tap into how the resource of creativity wants to be expressed through you!

All of these activities literally bring attention out of the mental realm (where figuring out tries to happen) into the somatic realm (where presence “happens”). This is important. We feel, we breathe, and we have sensations in the present moment, whereas thoughts and the mental realm often reference past or future. Imagine taking attention from the head and bringing it down into the body: when attention is no longer spinning in the head, our nervous systems relax and the ability to be self-aware increases. If you have any questions about any of the above, please send me an email ([email protected]).

Being with our experiences—whether they are filled with joy, sadness, fear, anger, excitement, curiosity, shame, or happiness—doesn’t look a certain way. There’s no prescription on how to be. It may happen as we go for a walk in the woods, smell a flower, drive home from work, or yell into a pillow. “Being with” an experience may mean sitting in a chair and mindfully internally exploring. “Being with” an experience may include stargazing, listening to music, or sipping tea. “Being with” an experience may involve slamming the car door, holding one’s own hand, baking brownies, or breathing deeply and consciously. “Being with” an experience may invite one to watch thoughts, images, and sensations come and go, come and go, and come and go. “Being with” something may happen through meditation, a hug, a hot bath, or a deep sob.

Use resources as they support and resonate with you. When your nervous system is relaxed, you will be able to more fully access the parts of your brain that will allow for self-awareness, and you will have more capacity to inquire into your thoughts, your images/memories, and the sensations in your body. Using your resources—both internal and external—will allow you to be more present and enjoy life. There is no one way to be a human being- and there is no one way to “just be with” your experience. So be curious, experiment, and play!