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Going Deeper Than Safety

By Lisa Meuser.

In the last two blog posts I wrote about the possibility of discovering a sense of well-being even when there is discomfort. In this next blog post I will take that a step forward into the territory of safety, a topic that is very related to discomfort. Safety is a huge topic, and is a complicated one, with lots of nuances. As such this post will just be a “toe dip” of sorts. If you haven’t already read my previous posts in this series on discomfort (or seen the YouTube video which does not include piece #4), please do, as those lead into this post.

Safety and Discomfort

Safety and discomfort are very entwined, especially for survivors, but also for anyone who didn’t grow up with people helping them to stay in their bodies when they experienced challenge. The topic of safety is so important, for so many good reasons, but it is often misunderstood.  I have discovered over time that unless our journey of well-being includes embodiment/our being, the science of the vagus nerve and brain health, practices of discernment, as well as knowing true sources of safety, we will actually wind up as more fragile humans.

As I name that, I see many scenarios flash before my eyes. One I hear about often is the meditator who feels that “all is well” until they get off their meditation pillow. While there may be much utility to meditation, if it is not paired with consciously including and exploring into our human experience, we will be limited by the false and unconscious belief systems that are habitual for us, and remain disembodied. I have been that person. While mediation alone did provide clarity in some ways, it enabled a sense of fragility in other ways. I did not learn how to participate as a human, and instead lived in a “glass house”. This, unknowingly of course, limited me to being a person who needed to control her life, for fear of that glass breaking. This is a hard way to live.

In another scenario, I am thinking of someone I know who surrounds themselves with only people who agree with them. Their past trauma has left their nervous system quite disorganized, and rather than focusing on consciously repairing that, they find people who will make them feel safe through validation and agreement. While there is nothing wrong with wanting validation, when our safety is dependent upon agreement from others, we remain small and disempowered. This is a person who often does great in the world, but due to their inability to discern, their efforts are always limited due to believing that their safety hinges upon factors outside them.  The more they try to manufacture safety (i.e. control), the more insular they become, and the more fragile they become.  The more fragile they become, the more unsafe they feel. And the more unsafe they feel, the more dysfunctional their behavior becomes. And the cycle continues.

I have been this person too. I have surrounded myself with people who see the world in similar ways as I do. Again, while there is nothing necessarily wrong with this, for me it reinforced a belief that I am not safe with people who see the world differently, which reinforced the premise that I am not safe as I am. It also stripped away opportunities to sit with experiences of awkwardness, conflict, and discomfort, so that my system could discover that I *am* safe as I am, regardless of if people see the world as I do, or not, and regardless of whether I am uncomfortable or not.

Maybe you’ve been nodding your head reading these scenarios: these are not unusual scenarios, although they might look different for each of us. Regardless of our circumstances, most of us learn what I call false conflation. We believe that if X, then Y, or if Y, then X: if we’re uncomfortable, then we’re unsafe, or we’re unsafe because we’re uncomfortable.  Either way, there is a conflation of safety and comfort.

Learning About Ourselves, Learning to Name

When we think about the topic of safety, we often think about what will help us to feel safe, and we build those ideas of safety upon external factors. When X person does Z, I feel safe. When I’m in X location, I feel safe. When X is happening, I feel safe. When I’m in X circumstance, I feel safe. When I feel X, I feel safe.

In my journey, asking curious questions of myself so I can identify the factors I respond well to has been absolutely crucial, and even profound. Getting clear enough to name things for what they are for us can be very empowering. It is important that we know ourselves well enough to determine how we feel in relationship to people, places, things and our own experiential happenings, and it is important that we know what comforts our nervous system, particularly if we are rebuilding or discovering a healthy nervous system.

Having said that, sometimes developing the self-knowledge to identify these things can be seen as the ending spot, or goal, so to speak. In my experience, this self-knowledge is actually the beginning. There is much more empowerment and possibility available.

When Science meets the Practicality of Well-Being

The naming process is an important aspect of our personal and collective evolution because developing the ability to observe our predicament enough to name involves neural pathways that connect to the prefrontal cortex. When this part of our brain is engaged, a few things happen: our vagus nerve is connected to well-being, we’re able to have some distance from the reptilian brain which functions on survival responses, as opposed to what is really going on in a moment, and we can have some ability to resource and self-regulate.

This increased sense of resourcing and agency is empowering, as we’re then connected to our sense of well-being. And yes, it does allow us to feel safe, which further relaxes our nervous system and allows us to experience a wider and deeper aspect of life, with the source of life itself.

All of this helps us in being able to discern and inquire into our experiences, which allows us to see through and disrupt old belief systems and assumptions about our place in the world.

As with everything, this is a process of discovery.

Here’s a personal story to illustrate.  Last summer I became part of a group of local activists who were protesting Nazis at our local market. The week before, some militia members showed up to support the Nazi farmers, carrying guns and knives, both legal as we have an open carry law. As you might imagine, I needed to prepare myself to enter into a situation knowing that there was the possibility of violence. Did I feel safe walking into that situation? Ultimately, yes. Was I safe because of the environment? No. Knowing the kind of violence these militia groups are capable of (e.g. Charlottesville 2017) I knew that I could be walking into a violent situation, i.e. not physically safe. But I connected to something much wiser and larger, and that connection conveyed a sense of safety in my Being. Was I comfortable? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Did I experience fear at times? Yes. Through that experience I learned that I could be in potentially violent circumstances, with forces completely outside my control, have some fear, feel discomfort AND I could still be safe in my Being. More importantly, I also was moving from Love, which was also a profound part of my experience, and perhaps is its own blog post for another time.

I’m often reluctant to share my experiences because you as the reader may not grasp how much effort and time it has taken for me to develop the resources and agency to be able to partake in these kinds of events. Furthermore, I’m not saying that everyone has to rush out there and protest Nazis at their local farmers’ market.

There is utility learning how to be present and engaged in the everyday experiences of our life. Unwinding the false conflations and misunderstandings about safety allow us become active participants with life which might allow us to: have uncomfortable but important conversations with our friends, children, families, neighbors, work mates, etc – and even with ourselves!

    • stay committed to things that are important to us even when “things get hot”; 
    • get involved in creating change in our organizations and communities; 
    • advocate for ourselves as well as others who are often not represented in our culture;
    • be in integrity with our actions and our emotions; and so much more.

Going Deeper Than Safety

What? Deeper than safety? Well, if we keep getting real, eventually we will learn that absolute safety is an illusion. I cannot control what other people do or say and I cannot control factors outside of me. I also cannot control all the thousands(?) millions(?) of microcosms happening within my body. What I can do is connect with my sense of well-being and learn how to develop a relationship with that so that I Know it so deeply that nothing can strip it from me. I may have what I call momentary bouts of “amnesia” when it comes to this Knowing, but they are short lived because I now have the ability and resourcing to reconnect with it.

Developing this Knowing is not necessarily easy. As I said earlier, it takes conscious effort and practice to develop the resources and agency because most of us have never been taught how to be in relationship with ourselves, so we lack the self-knowledge with regards to being present with our experiences. In fact, for most of us, the neural pathways that enable this do not exist. We have to build these neural pathways through conscious practices: practices that include embodiment/our being, and the science of the vagal nervous system/the brain health, practices of discernment, as well as practices which develop a relationship of Knowing true sources of safety.  

Gently Exploring our Experiences

The reality is that I can literally be safe, but be convinced that I’m not. AND, I can do all the right things and not have much well-being at all.

What do I do with all that? When we’re triggered and enter into fear our prefrontal cortex stops working efficiently, so the first thing we have to do is build enough self-awareness to know when our nervous system is activated and that we’re triggered. This very important naming can dramatically influence the quality of our life because we will then have the ability to slow down, discern and inquire into what is going on.

What can help us realize we’re triggered? When we’re in a triggered state, we might have narratives that sound something like this: 

“Wow, my thoughts are really spinning”
“I am thinking/saying/writing the same things over and over”
“My heart rate has increased”
“I’m sweating”
“I’m feeling overwhelmed”
“My gut (throat, chest, fist) is tightening/clenching/etc”
“I need to do something/act, now…”

There are many more possibilities, but these responses tell us that our nervous systems are triggered. If we do not slow down, it won’t take long for us to experience increased fear, and from there we will quickly start to make false assumptions about our safety. Our prefrontal cortexes won’t be online, so we won’t have the ability to think clearly. This is why slowing down is both hard, and yet crucial. Without the self-awareness to connect with our experiences, we will also steamroll ahead.

Once we slow down (or, if you’re in a session with someone, your therapist can help you with this) then curious questions can be asked (curious questions come from the prefrontal cortex). We can ask ourselves about the underlying assumptions going on with regards to our experience.

I know I feel overwhelmed/triggered/unsafe/in danger. But am I actually? 

When we slow down to examine the actuality of our experience, we learn that we can have simultaneous experiences. In other words, I can absolutely feel unsafe/in danger, but when I look around my room, I can very clearly see that I am not unsafe/in danger. I can keep exploring.

Ok, I feel unsafe. And, I can see that I am not. But wow, this sensation is really painful and I’m really uncomfortable and overwhelmed. Am I really safe?

At that point I would need to look around the room again. Then I can name to myself (if this feels true):

Ok wow. So, I am feeling something really uncomfortable/painful, AND, I can see with my eyes that I am safe/not in danger. Let me connect to breath, and/or feel my body in the chair for a few minutes.

This process is the way to start to unwind all the false conflations about fear, safety, discomfort and well-being. I would strongly encourage you to find someone to help you with this process, because in my experience as someone who works with trauma every day, it is not easy to hold this for oneself. In fact, all of your strategies will steer you away from this. Also, keep in mind that our culture thinks in binary relationships, so including the AND is very important. This allows for us to discover that we can feel unsafe, AND be safe at the very same time.

Compassion for Ourselves

I hope that this blog post has been helpful. While learning about the territory of safety and discomfort is crucial, it is not easy. I invite us to be slow, gentle and kind with ourselves while we learn and unlearn. One thing that helps me with this is to remember that life can be messy, and sometimes I have a hard time embracing the mess. I remind myself that that is ok, and I rest in the kind, compassionate, real words of Alexis Pauline Gumbs:

The primary offering here is a space to be. Be here. Be all over the place. Be messy. Be wrong. Be bold in your helpfulness. Be confused in community. Be reaching past isolation. Be part of the problem. Be hungry for after. Be helpful in the midst. Be so early in the process. Be broken by belief. Be bolstered by brave comrades. Be unbelievably unready. Alexis Pauline Gumbs, foreword of Beyond Survival

In my upcoming 2021 Exploration we will learn how life altering it is to Know safety with/in our being, so that we do not have to try to control that which is outside of ourselves in order to “have” safety, and we will learn how to support others in discovering this as well. Please let me know if you have questions! 

 

To read more about Lisa Meuser, click here.

Including Neutrality In Our Direct Experience

By Lisa Meuser.

This is the fourth part in my blog series on discomfort. You can find the first one here, as well as a YouTube link to all of them being read here. In this post I’ll be writing about the topic of neutrality, something I wrote a bit about last year.

Sometimes we humans get lost in two speeds – immersed completely in something, or avoidance of something. Sometimes these two are related: we get lost in a feeling, it overwhelms us, and then to cope with that we turn off.  Feeling pleasure, or pain, involves a lot of body engagement, and let’s be honest, we’re not a culture that has a healthy relationship with body engagement. Even while we may say we want to feel pleasure, or would rather feel pleasure over pain, we may not know how to be comfortable with the body engagement that comes with pleasure. And, as much as we may not like pain, we may be more familiar with managing pain, than opening up to pleasure.

There is a lot of possible territory to explore with all that. I’m not going to go deeper into those specific areas – instead I’m going to write about how we might learn to navigate difficult territories – pleasure, pain, or other expressions – by also noticing and including resonances we’ve not yet become familiar with.

Moving Beyond Binary Traps
How often have you spent time contemplating your neutral experiences – the experiences that exist outside the bounds of enjoyable, or uncomfortable, for example?  For some of us, we can’t help it – the moment we feel discomfort, it feels like ALL of us is uncomfortable. For some of us, we can’t help it – we are driven to pay attention only to that which feels good. Our attention, and the way we think, can be exclusionary like that.

That makes life really narrow and limited, however, because it’s very unlikely that ALL of us feels good, or that ALL of us feels uncomfortable. It’s impossible for all of our sense receptors to be feeling the same thing, and it’s impossible that X <insert that which is being focused upon > is the only experience that is happening. This binary kind of thinking – this, OR that – is very dominant in our culture, and it contributes to how we oppress ourselves, as well as others.

Let’s explore this using temperature. If you scan your body, head to toes, I wonder how many variations of temperature there are. For me, I feel very warm in some areas, while other areas are quite cool, while other areas are a range of “in between.”  From this we can learn that in lived experience we are AND creatures. We experience warmth AND coolness simultaneously. Our binary-trained minds often go against our experiences, however, focusing on just one aspect of our experience, as if that is all that is there.

When it comes to discomfort, or pleasure, our minds are even more trained to focus on just one, or the other. When we focus in such a binary way, we have to exclude everything else. An effect of that is that our world gets smaller – as we become reduced to just that which is being focused upon.

Have you ever felt afraid, and in that state felt very small? This presents a similar dynamic. Parts of our brain are being utilized, and parts of brain are being excluded. Parts of our experiences are being included, and parts of our experience are being excluded.  We often feel small because we’re experiencing life as our child-self did – our child-self who was indeed small, and who was often un-resourced, overwhelmed, and without agency. It can be very disempowering to be a child because of the lack of control we had.  When we become afraid as adults, even though we have more resourcing and agency than we did when we were kids, we can easily forget that we are safe and resourced when fear states come over us[1]. We can easily feel disempowered.

Now, let’s imagine being afraid, and, as we’re aware of the discomfort of the fear, we’re also aware of other things. Imagine being able to acknowledge the discomfort and/or fear, AND also being able to notice that there are sensations in the body that are actually quite fine. Imagine being able to name that we may feel unsafe, but that we can look around the room and notice that we are physically safe.  In that moment, we may escape the binary world of either/or, instead enter the world of both/and. We BOTH feel unsafe, AND are safe. This very quickly changes the dynamic, and we can go from feeling lost in a sensation state, to being in relationship with all that we’re experiencing – the “good, bad, and ugly,” or as I like to say, with what I don’t like, AND what is also ok/fine.

It can feel counterintuitive to take the time to include the AND in our experience. And, at first, it may not seem like it’s changing anything in our experience. It takes time for the AND neural pathways to form, but once they do, the practice of inclusion both becomes easier, and shifts our reality. Just like any practice, it is a process, and it requires time and engagement.

Learning to Expand our Attention
Because we’re trained to think from a binary lens, it takes effort to include the full range of our experiences, rather than just focusing on one aspect. Because we’re trained to think in terms of good or bad, it takes effort to include aspects of our experiences that are neither good, nor bad, and instead neutral (or are “ok” or “fine”).

A profound part of my journey has been learning how to make friends with the territory of neutrality. As I wrote in a past blog post, because I’ve been drawn to highs and lows, and because I have had so many false ideas about waking up and healing, it took time for me to even be interested in what I call neutrality – the space in between “good” and “bad.”

When we’re used to the intensities of “good” and “bad”, neutrality might feel strange at first. For some, it may feel boring, or empty. It may be uncomfortable or unsettling. We may feel “twitchy”, or like we’re doing something wrong. We may feel like there is “nothing here.” It can take time to know that just because something is different, that doesn’t mean it’s wrong or bad, or that we’re in danger. Our entire sense of identity can be threatened when we start to engage the territory of neutral. As another client said, “who even am I if I’m not feeling my usual X  <intense feeling>?”  For them, it seemed that meaning and even vitality was gone when connecting to neutrality. It can take time for the nervous system to reorient towards health when we’ve grown used to the rush of pain or pleasure chemicals. It can be unnerving to not be caught in the binary.  And, it can be strange to be connecting with our bodies in direct experience.

We are laden with ideas of what we think we should be experiencing, and when we, even for a moment, give them up and consider what we’ve not yet been including, we can become very insecure. This is a normal part of change, evolution and growth. AND, yes, it can be uncomfortable. Said another way: including neutrality can bring about discomfort.

Experiential opportunity:

Notice, when you feel discomfort, you will likely also be experiencing “not discomfort.” It may not be comfort that you experience, but you will likely be experiencing something other than discomfort. For example, I may feel a tightening in my solar plexus, which may feel uncomfortable for me. Nearby, I may feel neutrality in my pelvic floor, ease in my chest, and even some comfort with the support that is behind my back. When we pause and explore, we may discover there is comfort, neutrality and discomfort happening simultaneously. It is important for our well-being that we learn how to include more of our experience.

Not everyone is challenged by neutrality. Neutrality might feel like a welcome relief after spending much of their life on the rollercoaster of life:  the erratic ups and downs can be exhausting! For many, including neutrality can be a combination of sorts: challenging AND relieving.  One client 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.”

As we continue to practice including the full range of our experiences, in the simplest ways that we can, we will slowly learn that there is great vitality in all moments. In each inhalation, there is aliveness. In each heartbeat, vivacity. In each movement of our body, liveliness. In engaging in any of our sense receptors, engagement with life.

It takes time to move from living from our imagination, to living in direct experience. Please be gentle with yourself, and make sure you have loving, compassionate and consensual support. I have recorded many rest meditations that focus on inclusion – here is one, and here is another.  Others can be found on Insight Timer or here.

As always, please let me know what questions or observations you have! If you are interested in these topics, you may be interested in my 10-month Exploration coming up. More details to be released this week, or email me for more information: [email protected]

[1]  I’m obviously not talking about a situation where our life is in real or immediate danger.

To read more about Lisa Meuser, click here.

A Growing Relationship with Discomfort

By Lisa Meuser.

In the first blog piece on discomfort, I wrote about how we often unintentionally conflate discomfort with wrongness, and the importance and significance of befriending discomfort. In the second piece I explore the topic of internalized oppression – which includes living from our internal narratives of should, supposed tos, and so on, which create a push/pull fighting dynamic inside of our self.

In this piece I’m going to share an experience, which will reveal a little bit about how these two are related as an entry way into diving deeper into this topic.

A couple of months ago – right around the time I was starting to write more on discomfort, I had an experience that I started to share with clients, to illustrate how quickly the mind can jump in when discomfort happens.

I was in a meeting with a group of people – some were familiar to me and some unfamiliar. We were all sharing our reflections – where we saw the organization in this present time in relation to our groups’ particular focus. The focus was not race, but race was on my mind. I had been struggling with this organization – the last month in particular after hearing first-hand about some overt and covert racism that had been happening. I felt compelled to share my thoughts. Actually, if I was to continue to be a part of this community, I found it necessary to share my thoughts. I verbally shared with love in my heart, and presence in my being. And yet. Right after sharing I could feel a deep throb in the area of my solar plexus. It was loudly uncomfortable.

I was somewhat surprised that I was having this physiological response, and in the span of a few short seconds I noticed narratives checking to see if I’d said anything out of integrity, or anything wrong. Since I had been studying discomfort, particularly the conflation of discomfort with wrongness, I very quickly saw through what was occurring. Here was a lived example where discomfort came, and in a split second my narrative was assuming I might have done something was wrong, and that I’d be rejected for doing so.

I’m lucky to have this awareness. I immediately had a short conversation with myself – “This is just discomfort; it doesn’t mean I’ve done anything wrong. This is just discomfort; I am in no danger.” I consciously acknowledged I was safe, and that I was having a body response to saying hard things, but that I was indeed in integrity. I brought conscious attention to my bones, to my breath and to my being and slowed down to rest with all that had arisen. About a minute later, the wave had shifted.

I am sharing this to show how common and how normal it is to conflate untruths to our experiences – as well as how quickly these thoughts can surface, as well as how quickly they can subside.

I will not write extensively on this today, but the topic of oppression ties into this as well. In fact, it is very relevant. Had I not had the self-awareness, I would have very likely moved into an oppressive battle within myself, which could have very quickly have led to becoming passive to the real-life oppression that is happening within that organization.

Speaking out against externalized oppression may not be easy for many of us. It may very well bring discomfort. If we think this discomfort means we’re not safe, and/or, if we think this discomfort means we’re doing something wrong, and/or, if we think this discomfort means we should stay or be silent, not only will we be enabling the dissonance in our minds, we will be supporting the structures of oppression in culture.

Befriending my discomfort does not just make life more fulfilling for myself, it allows me to speak up and disrupt oppression that is happening around me. It allows me to say hard things to people 1:1, it allows me to say hard things in group or organizational settings, and it allows me to write things that people often find challenging. I might even say that befriending discomfort is key in evolving.

Some things which can help us befriend discomfort will sound counterintuitive at first. Perhaps befriending discomfort already sounds counterintuitive enough, however it is by getting closer to that which we don’t like that we can learn about it. If you would like to develop a healthier relationship with discomfort, I invite you to explore this diagram from the first blog post:

discomfort =>

belief: I’m doing something wrong/I’m wrong =>

I’ve got to: figure out/manage/control/fix/adapt =>

overwhelm/exhaustion =>

numbing/dissociating/disembodying =>

more discomfort…

…and the cycle continues.

Do you see this patterning in your own life? Developing self-awareness takes time, but it is crucial if we want to develop different ways of being in the world. Slowing down, which is also hard and can seem counterintuitive, so that we can become more intimate with ourselves can be profound. Be curious of your relationship with your inner narratives and their relationship to discomfort, and please let me know what you discover!

Note: I will be facilitating a 10-month Exploration in January 2021, where we will learn how to befriend ourselves and our experiences, as well as extend that knowing in our work with others. Please email me if you’d like to know more: [email protected]

To read more about Lisa Meuser, click here.

Being in the world and being of Love

By Lisa Meuser.  

“Deepen, that is where your reality lies. That is how you will find your place, and how you will find your true center.  You are created matter… You are part of the great plan, an indispensable part. You are needed; you have your own unique share in the freedom of creation.”
Madeleine L’Engle, “A wind in the door”

I have been quiet lately. By quiet, I mean I’ve not written much on FB, or much in general. This has been a time of deep listening, learning, and engaging from that place of learning.

This has been a very rich time. I’ve been saturated. More than normal.

In addition to my already full life of clients, students, family and inner work, I’ve been participating in a diversity intensive[1], engaging in more social justice in my community, and furthering my experiential learning of Relational Cultural Theory/Therapy with people in my community.

 

From Quiet, to Engaged.

After spending years quietly focusing on family, clients and students, and self-study, my scope for 2019 widened. I didn’t know what I was moving towards; I only knew that I had been separate from engaging with life, and that my nervous system was ready to be more of a participant with life.  It’s not that my life had become easy or even boring, but there was certainly complacency on some level that was keeping me from fully partaking as a human being on this planet, and something in me could feel this. It was time to grow up, and out. Easy to say, but no small step for me! Moving out of the nest of familiarity can often be challenging, as it requires a willingness to be in new terrain and in beginner’s mind. Hello uncertainty! Hello discomfort!

I tend to gravitate towards the familiar – to what is known. A friend from my ashram days – where I spent some of my 20s and 30s – recently reminded me how insular we were. We lived in a tiny town, focused on our own internal growth, and were disconnected from the well-being of the world. Disconnected indeed.

As I look back from what I see now, I recognize the dysfunction and the privilege – and I also see how we were rooted in the dominant narrative. In our chosen deniability and separation, we did not consider intersectionality, inter-dependence, inclusivity, collaboration, or a global sense of community. As my friend reminded me, “we were rather self-interested.”  Moreover, the practices were rooted in hierarchy, competitiveness, secrecy, and us/them thinking.

Of course, I didn’t know anything about that then. It has been over the last few years – the last one particularly – that I’ve awoken from a deep slumber of cultural denial. As shared in my blog post “Loosening the Grip of Oppression,” it is so easy for us to cling to these dominant narratives when we’ve been born and bred to accept them as truth. My various teachers always moved from this paradigm, collecting many followers along the way who were eager to fix themselves and be told how to do it using various linear approaches.  Yup, that was me.

Although things are different for me now, I still am discovering how to embody a different way. Luckily I am surrounded by people who are interested in similar evolutionary trajectories. We stumble and learn in practical ways together – returning again and again to beginner’s mind, collaboration, transparency, inclusion of all people, and focus on connection and relationship.

 

Waking Up out of the Dominant Narrative

Life brings us just what we need, and for me Brig Feltus, my Heal Thyself teacher, was just that. I had been eyeing the Heal Thyself Diversity Training for months, but was too immersed in teaching my own courses. When summer came and I found myself in between training groups, something in me knew that although I was still busy, it would be the perfect time to do this course.

I was only days into the course when I started to realize how the dominant narrative had a hold on me in very subtle yet impactful ways. I saw my insecurities, I saw my fears, and I saw my strategies. I watched myself trying to “do it right” (a binary approach), rather than embrace the vulnerability and curiosity of beginner’s mind. I found myself ignoring my own truths and adapting to others so as to decrease conflict and make things “easier” for the group, forgetting that with integrity, conflict can be growth-fostering. A few times I noticed I was being competitive with myself, trying push myself to meet deadlines, rather than admit that I was struggling and needed to engage in self-care.

I was able to notice all these things rather quickly because I already have a practice rooted in self-awareness, but also because Brig had lovingly created a beautiful container for us to explore and grow in.

As tends to happen, what I was learning in her course immediately became applicable all areas of my life, allowing me to participate from a deeper level of honesty, and from a deeper place of connection and Love. I was able to get more real with all of the engagements of my life, as well as be more in integrity with how I was participating.

 

Deeping Into My True Center

Patterns get in the way of us being in true integrity with ourselves, and keep us from being connection with Love. Connecting to these patterns in myself was exactly what I needed, to deepen even more into what Madeleine L’engle names as my “true center.”

The dominant narrative of our culture, in which we’ve all been raised, keeps us separate from life, and separate from ourselves. It does not teach us how to participate with our whole beings; it does not want us to find our true center. When we embark upon a journey to wake up, to transform, we discover a life of learning (1) what we’ve been taught, (2) what possibilities exist, and, (3) if we’re lucky and have good teachers and guides, how to get from what we’ve known, to what we want to know, live, and Be.

I am lucky.

I no longer gravitate towards modalities, teachers or people who move from the dominant narrative of self-improvement and self-bettering in an individualistic or capitalistic way, and I am no longer that kind of teacher or therapist. Instead I am surrounded by people who value and acknowledge that humans are genetically designed to be in relationship with life, and in relationship with Love. We live and learn together.

 

Being in the world and being of Love

My intention for this year – “Being in the world and being of Love”- continues to invite me to deepen, deepen, and deepen some more. Relationships with people are deepening, my level of participating with my community is deepening, the way in which I connect with my clients and students is deepening, the way that I’m being in integrity with myself is deepening, and the way that I’m being “of Love” continues to constantly deepen.

I am always learning. It is humbling to be a forever student, and in my experience, we must constantly assume beginners mind if we are to truly deepen. This can feel counterintuitive and challenging, but when we have support, our nervous systems become more resourced, and we can learn with more ease.

Many of you reading are my clients and students, and I am deeply appreciative that we journey and learn together. What an amazing life this is!  I am profoundly grateful for all those I connect with: I know how privileged I am to have this life.

May we all have the support to deepen, to find our true center, for we are all a “part of the great plan, an indispensable part. You are needed; you have your own unique share in the freedom of creation.” Blessed be.

[1] https://www.intersectionformankind.com/stories/2018/11/28/heal-thyself-a-diversity-intensive-for-healers-and-life-coaches

To read more about Lisa Meuser, click here.

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.