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The Freedom Of Truth Telling: My Journey Into White Denial

By Lisa Meuser.  

“It’s in the act of having to do things that you don’t want to that you learn something about moving past the self. Past the ego.” bell hooks

“In a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

 

Do-gooding Instead Of Deeply Feeling

I run a small Facebook group. The group, set up for intimacy and safety, is where I sometimes post things that leave that me dumbfounded or enraged. Last year I came across an interview between a white supremacists and a person of color. I was I was somewhat shocked in abhorrence. The person of color was poised and in integrity throughout the interview. In contrast, the while supremacist was filled with hate, righteousness and certainty.

I was shocked by how overt this white person was about their supremacy[1]. These kinds of overt displays of racism were so taboo in my family of origin [2] that I had been shielded from them, which means I had never really sat in the discomfort of them.

Watching the interview, I found myself flooded with feelings. Deer in headlights, I posted the interview in the FB group. No, I dumped it into the group.

I say “dump” because I didn’t think about what I was doing by posting it nor how it might impact others. I didn’t sit with how I was feeling or what it was bringing up in me. I didn’t safe port (warn) the members of the group on what was in the video. I didn’t even offer my own reflections or share what was going on within me as I had watched it.

I dumped it into the group, and I did so from a place of privilege and ignorance.

I dumped it because as a white liberal person I’ve been taught that I am entitled to dump my stuff all over the place, all the time. White people’s level of entitlement is so thick we can’t see it. We learn of injustice and we complain, get angry, and feel bad, we even get distraught, but then we often do nothing. This lack of accountability and self-responsibility (and passive-aggressive behavior) perpetuates the status quo. And we don’t see it, because we’re the status quo!

Caught in our liberal do-goodness, we don’t stop and feel. Instead, we too often pat ourselves on the back for spotting badness/bringing others’ attention to it. Said another way, we get disgusted with racism, know others will be disgusted, and then we sit around, all disgusted together, like good, white liberal people.

I didn’t see it at the time, but this is what I was up to: I was going to share my disgust with my friends, and we were going to be disgusted together, saying things like “omg I can’t believe this kind of stuff is still happening. This is horrible!” We would be angry but unwilling to have an honest look at what was really going on. I was going to stay shielded in my white, ignorant world and stay in my comfortable role of being righteously aghast at the level of hate “out there.”

And gosh darn it, I would have gotten away with it if, except that there was a person of color in the group.

And she courageously nailed me on it.

 

Privileged To Be Ignorant

Over the course of my life my white, privileged culture has shielded me from being educated on atrocities of my white culture. While I had learned a little bit about racism, and that it was “bad”, I never was taught about the historical creation of racism. I was never confronted with the abhorrence, the extreme violence, and the devastating impact of institutional racism. I never learned about the micro-aggressions[3] that white people violently perpetuate and Black/ Indigenous/ People of Color (BIPOC) experiences’. I had never considered the complicity of my race of origin, and certainly not my own complicity. I had never truly contemplated and leaned into the pain and suffering BIPOC experienced, at the hands of white people. Privilege and ignorance shielded me and kept me from looking racism in the eye, my entire life[4].

Without even being aware, my ignorance fed my own internalized racism, and in doing so it disconnected me from humanity: others’ and my own. The violence in that is extreme, and what I didn’t understand is that the impact leads to the suffering of all people. There is no freedom – for anyone – when there is denial and disconnection.

 

Can You See?

I had been in denial of my internalized racism my whole life, and – double whammy! – was ignorant of that. Sure, I was able to spot blatant racism, and act accordingly. Of course I was disgusted by racism. But I wasn’t able to sit with the truth of it. I wasn’t able to look it deeply in the eye. I had never dared to go there and my sense of entitlement to not have to, enabled that.

I was so blind that I treated the one black woman in that FB group just the same as everyone else. I don’t know about you, but I thought I was supposed to treat BIPOC just like everyone else. Wasn’t that anti-racism? I had been pretending to be color-blind all my life, thinking that was the right thing to do. Guess who teaches that? White culture, of course.

I didn’t understand that I had become complicit in perpetuating racism by buying into the various mind viruses: be color-blind, treat everyone as equal, don’t mention skin color/talk about it, don’t make other people uncomfortable. Note that all these approaches are guised as being for the benefit of BIPOC but they are really for the benefit of white comfort. (Having said that, for the love of god please don’t misunderstand me to be saying that we need to make BIPOC the center of all conversations. Please be sure to be mindful of context.) In the context I was in – a small group designed for intimacy and safety – I was not acting in safe or intimate ways with my BIPOC friend. I was being color-blind, at her expense.

I am a white person with privilege that I have been born into. It does a disservice to my brothers and sisters of color- but also to myself– when I do not wake up to the violent ideology of color-blindness. White culture is based upon the invisibl-ing and unworthy-ing of BIPOC, so when I purport to be color-blind, I am continuing to uphold the ideas that white is the norm, white is important, white is all that matters – and everything else is less than. In a sea of whiteness, if I don’t see BIPOC as distinct in their experiences, gifts, and struggles, I am oppressing those very people. The lack of equity for BIPOC has been insidiously impregnated into every aspect of our culture. As a member of the race who literally created racism and oppression, I can have a role in dismantling that. In my experience, there is a deep empowerment in doing just that!

Having said that, it has been quite a journey, one I am still in the midst of.

 

From Conservative Racism To Liberal Racism

I was raised conservatively – religiously and politically. So, you guessed it, I was raised racist. Not KKK racist, but I’ll get to that in a second. It wasn’t obvious to my parents, nor my grandparents, but it was obvious to me. Being the good liberal do-gooder that I am, I’ve always tried to be aware of my racist upbringing, not wanting to be like them. In getting my Masters of Social Work, I had to take a look at some of my familiar biases, which was somewhat helpful in discovering hidden pockets of racism – but that was 20 years ago. It wasn’t until I had became good friends with a black woman last year- who was brave enough to call me out on my bullshit- that I realized, despite all my best efforts, I was racist as f*ck, but just didn’t know it.

Not racist in that overtly asshole kind of way – it was way subtler than that. In fact most people would never think of me as racist; I’m self-aware, heavily into social justice, have a degree in social work and routinely speak out about oppression. Here’s the thing though: I hang out with mostly white people, people like me. Liberal white feminist America – where no one thinks they are racist but only because the viewpoint is so radically self-referential by default.

As I began to listen and read what women of color were writing about, I very slowly started to spot my racism. I did a lot of deep inquiry and discovered more. Turns out, I wasn’t racist merely because I’m white, I’m racist because I’m a white person in a culture created by white people, for the benefit of white people, to the detriment of non-white people.

At this point you will likely be doing one of three things: nodding your head up and down emphatically saying YES!, waiting for me to say some more so you can catch on, or thinking I’m full of shit. At the risk of being repetitive, I’m going to Lisa’splain. Please stay with me.

People who have my skin color (white) have designed the culture I live in. All the rules, mores and keys for success were designed by people who have my skin color (white) for other people who have my skin color (white), and ONLY for people who have my skin color (white). The world I live in was designed for me, a white person. I’ve been privileged, but never necessarily knew I was, because of my privilege of being in the dominating class. I didn’t realize I was racist because I never had to confront my internalized racism – and so I never really understood that it existed.

When we’re not confronted with our privileges (white, male, hetro, etc) head on, there is rarely a reason to look at them. So, in the world of inquiry, for example, we might inquire about everything that has come into our personal experience, but we may never inquire about our white privilege, for example, as it’s just not “come up” in our personal experiences to be looked at. When it comes to race and gender, we live in a culture that is built upon – and actually created – racism and sexism. So, when we are a part of that group that the power comes from, there would be no motivation or need to inquire into it. This has kept white people – and men especially – complicit in oppression, which we can see quite dramatically in the media right now. The cat’s out of the bag.

 

Do I Really Have To Confront My Racism[5]?

Why would I need to confront my racism? I’m not (consciously) suffering because of my skin color. My child and I don’t get singled out wherever we go because of the color of our skin. We don’t have to worry about people constantly doubting our good intentions, our intelligence, or our worth because of our skin color. Moreover, we aren’t at higher risk for poor health/medical services, poor education, being killed by the police, higher rates of HIV and STIs, or higher chance of incarceration – because we’re white. I’ve got it pretty good, so why would I need to confront my racism?

I don’t. I don’t have to, ever.

Except that I’m in the business of waking up and heart work, both inviting me to become aware of what had previously been out of attention, and attend to that. In my reality tunnel, waking up and heart work brings along with it the inability to ignore, stay asleep, or tune out to that which is systematically creating separation and pain for living creatures. Waking up and heart work, by its very nature is inclusive, which means that if my brothers and sisters are treated poorly, even when I am not, something is not right. Because we are all connected, if I can, it is right action that I do something about the racism that exists.

But it gets more real for me than that. Here’s why it’s really imperative that I do something about it. As a white person, if I do nothing, I benefit by keeping people of color separate – and so it is me who is doing harm to people of color. Not indirectly doing harm, directly doing harm. If I do nothing, then I am the one who is violating, harming, and creating pain for people because of their skin color. As the “privileged class”[6], it is up to me. As such it is pertinent and imperative that I continue to look at things I’ve never needed to – and consciously seek to understand my roles in oppression and related topics as they relate to waking up and freedom.

If I do nothing, I can no longer say I’m in the business of waking up or heart work. If I don’t consciously look, I can no longer say that Love matters to me. If I stay ignorant, my heart cannot truly be open wide. And if my heart cannot be open wide, then I am not free. So you see, it really is true that if some people are not free, none of us are, because all of our hearts are linked together. This has been my direct experience, as it has been that opening my heart wide necessitates deep somatic inquiry… into everything.

 

But What About Me? I’m White, And Suffering. (I.E. How Can Being Privileged Feel This Bad?)

Yes, I hear you. If you’re a while female, yes, I *so* get that you may be suffering. And if you’re a white male, yes, I absolutely understand that you’re likely suffering too. And I understand why. We, as white people, suffer because of how our culture oppresses others. When one group of people oppresses another, they will always suffer in their association with the dominating class. Oppression is built upon a sense of fragility, which is why white, male fragility is a common topic these days. It can be debilitating. A side effect of oppression is that it oppresses the oppressor.

Dealing with my own trauma, and all the darkness that has come up with it/in it, has paved the way for me to be able to (start to) sit with my white fragility and privilege, and not hide from it or deny it. I have always been aware that sitting with my own trauma has allowed me to be deeply present with others as they journey through their own trauma, but this is something different.

Not having to turn away from pain that I have been complicit in, and that my race has created and perpetuated… it’s empowering in the strangest of ways. It’s counter-intuitive and goes against what the new age rhetoric often shallowly and violently proclaims.

It has allowed me to See deeply, to Feel deeply, and to Know deeply that when one group is oppressed, we are all oppressed, and that when we turn away from looking at others’ oppression (or our own darkness), with honest and willing hearts and minds, we are oppressing our self. One might think this would be burdensome or debilitating, but it is not. There is nothing that is more freeing than truth of Love. The heart can hold it all, and grows in magnificence and simple wisdom the more it cracks open.

 

Implicit Bias And So Much More!

A lot of what I’ve been referencing in this blog post but haven’t named is “implicit bias.” I will write more about implicit bias in future blog posts. In the meantime, if you’d like to learn about your own implicit bias, you can take a test here. I found these tests fascinating; as were the results from a few of the tests I took!

https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html

Stay tuned for more. I’ll be writing about the link between our internalized racism and our internalized experience of oppression. I’ll share more on my journey of how safely journeying into my own internalized oppression has opened me up to others’ oppression, only to discover their intrinsic link. I’ll explore the shame and guilt that has been a part of my deep looking. And, as always, I’ll be offering up practical resources and practices that will support you in your own unique journey of exploring racism.

I continue to learn every day about myself. I look forward to writing more on this topic and learning alongside you. I’d love to hear your responses to this blog post. What has it brought up in you? What would you like to know more of? What challenges have you had, and what freedoms have you experienced in deeply looking? Thanks for reading, and I look forward to connecting and learning together.

[1] I am no longer shocked as I have consciously chosen to educate myself with regards to the reality of overt (and covert) historical racism. In facing the existence of overt racism I have learned a lot more about covert racism, and my role in that. I now know that although covert racism is perhaps the worst kind, because of how insidious it is (at least there is an air of honesty when someone is admitting to their racism, as opposed to denying its existence), it is imperative to learn about the reality and severity of overt racism. There is never freedom when there is denial.

[2] My “good, loving Christian” family thought they were “above” racism – they considered overt racism to be something that people did because they didn’t know better. I took on that assumptive perspective, and it landed me in a web of delusion and suffering.

[3] https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2018/02/28/what-microaggressions-small-slights-serious-consequences/362754002/

[4] This is no accident, by the way. It seems to me that this is by design. Our culture perpetuates our white sense of fragility AND superiority by not honestly talking about our history.

[5] I’m going back to focusing on race, because the privilege I have comes from being white. If you’re a white male reading this, your privileges come from being white and male.

[6] I’ll explain why I put privileged in quotes in a future writing.

To read more about Lisa Meuser, click here.

Unravelling The Gods Of Childhood

By Lisa Meuser.  

I have a story to share

This story starts with a Facebook post I made after finishing a session with a client.

“When our parents aren’t safe, available, loving gods, we become vigilant and over responsible gods, thinking it’s all up to us, with wounds in our hearts.”

It’s been a long time coming, sharing this publicly. I’d experienced it in myself, and had been seeing it with my clients for years. It has been such a pivotal part of my embodiment journey that I’m currently writing a book about it – yet never blogged about it.

This is my abbreviated story of how I learned of my own religious wounding, and how it set me free.

 

Our relationship to the world

Religious wounding is not talked a lot about in spiritual circles, and yet I think it is imperative that this territory be explored on our journey of becoming deeply intimate with ourselves, because so much of how we view the world, ourselves, and our place in the world can be impacted by religious belief systems.

From an early age I had been aware of “something wiser” than my own personal self, but I didn’t know what that meant or how to talk about it. Jesus was sometimes part of that, but I didn’t really understand that either. It felt significant and important, and confusing at the same time. Being part of a “do as you’re told household”, I didn’t feel any space to talk about things that confused me, or that were “different” than what the authorities in my life were talking about. My religious upbringing (Lutheran) was linear, practical and doctrine-oriented, and, well, that just didn’t fit in with the rather mystical and supernatural experiences I was having. I suppressed and disconnected from most of those experiences, rendering them meaningless in my mind, forgotten to my heart.

I left Christianity midway through my years at a Lutheran Missouri Synod University (oh, the irony). Being from a white, republican, middle-income family I hadn’t explored racism, classism or entitlement, but from an early age something in me knew that the Christian doctrine I was being taught was deeply unjust. When I discovered that the chapel of the University didn’t allow women pastors at the same time I was starting to learn about the oppression of women (thank you Professor Jody), I was livid. That my church did not allow a female pastor was the last draw. I could no longer believe in “God the Father”, or his violent and oppressive rules. I was sickened by how this god judged and decided who was worthy of his love. This god was just as bad as my parents, with their republican and conservative pronouncements. I wanted no part of it. I became adamantly anti-Christian, and anti “God.”

It was a profound and huge step in my personal evolution to step away from the tradition in which I was raised. I didn’t consider what rejecting Christianity meant for me, I just knew that the beliefs of heaven and hell, sin, and rejection of certain people based on geography and gender didn’t make sense to me and never had. It felt too hypercritical for me to do anything else but walk away. I was glad to “get rid of” the label.

“That’s that!” I thought. I assumed that consciously recognizing that I didn’t align with the tenants of Christianity was me working through my religious upbringing. “I’m not that,” was the subtext. Time to move on.

Move on I did. I didn’t have anything to “replace” Christianity until a few years later when I found a spiritual practice that became an intrinsic part of my being. It was a bhakti and heart practice that nurtured the connection with god/awareness/spirit/love, etc that I’d felt when I was young. I moved on with new practices and perspectives, but what I didn’t realize was that I had not cleaned out the old before moving into the new.

 

Me and god, god and my parents

If I had been paying closer attention I might have slowed down a bit. I might have considered what giving up Christianity meant for me, or what was so infuriating for me. I might have considered that my bitterness for Christianity (and god and my parents) had some rich territory to explore, i.e. that I had some unhealed wounds. I’m in awe of the young people who make it to my door to connect to their wounds, because that was the last thing I would have considered back then.

Instead, lost in unseen self-righteousness and anger, while unable to connect to the extremely painful truth, I shut off from my feeling self and turned towards self-reliance. I thought all the problems existed outside of me “in those people” and in those beliefs, and that all I needed to do was walk away and find better ways of thinking. (This is such a common theme in our culture: we think harder, so as to feel less.)

I didn’t understand the psyche, how belief systems work, how much pain I was in, how strong my use of mind over spirit had become, or how dysfunctional my relationship with the ideas of love had become[1]. As many seemingly invincible teenagers and early 20 year olds feel, I thought I was “just fine.” And even better, thought that I was more in control and safer now that I’d moved further away from my beliefs of my family.

I didn’t realize that underneath my intellectualizing I’d felt rejected by god, and by my parents, and that the pain of that was too much to feel, so I rejected them first.

And, since I’d rejected him, I hadn’t considered for a moment that my relationship with god was anything but “just fine.”

 

When denial no longer works

I don’t know about you, but I was full-on in pretend mode when I was young. It was a way of life, and it seemingly kept me pretty safe in some crazy situations. As I woke up, lots of that pretending fell away. But then the real journey began – that of embodiment. In my reality tunnel, embodiment cleans one out, until only truth remains. But it’s not an easy process. There can be lots of sacred cows, and for me, my relationship with god was one of them[2].

It wasn’t until I was in crisis, recovering from an addictive relationship, that I stumbled upon my unhealed relationship with god. I literally collapsed into a sobbing pile of goo as a realization clunked into recognition: I still believed in a punishing god, a god that did not love me, a god that I had failed, 20 years after thinking I had given up that belief system and moved past “all that bullshit”.

It’s not rational, but those hidden beliefs had subtly kept me from feeling truly safe and at home in the world, and it kept me more in my head than in my body. How could I possibly feel safe in the world, and at home in myself, if I believed I was inherently faulty?

This can be earth-shattering territory to journey into, which is why many people never do. After all, if we don’t have to, why would we consciously look for or go into uncomfortable core wounding? Quite to the contrary, we generally hide from it at all costs. Our psyches are constructed to protect us from this wounding. And anyway, where do we even start? It can all be very overwhelming.

Yet there I was. It had became clear that there was something under the hood, as it were, that was not just being explored, but was having a tremendous influence over how I felt about myself and how I felt being in the world. It was my shame and self-loathing, wrapped up with god.

 

God, the thorn in my side

This stuff doesn’t have a road map so, using somatic inquiry, somatic therapy and a few other tools, I just kept on **slowly and gently** exploring deep into my being. Trauma has its own timeline, and said simply, we are not in charge of how it works itself through. Loving support from others and myself was vital.

Almost always tendrils would lead to wounds connected with an early childhood medical event (which also involved my parents) that were still integrating. I had been exploring this territory on and off for years, but something was different this time. As I kept exploring, something deeper finally started to emerge that didn’t seem to be about my parents. I then deeply recognized that my wounds with god, as I knew god, had hidden behind, and were often interwoven with, the wounding I’d experienced with my parents.

What had initially been experienced as feeling rejected by my parents revealed a belief that I had been rejected by god. Where as previously it felt like my parents had abandoned me, it now felt like I’d been abandoned by god. What that left me feeling was not just rejected and abandoned, but bad and wrong to be someone who would be rejected and abandoned.

Oh the shame! And self-loathing. And creation of self-reliance and an inflated sense of responsibility to cover it all up.

 

Me and god, god and my parents: deeper in

Some of you may be asking, “How was it that god came into all of this? How was this all made about god?”

Recall back to where I referred to God as a father:

I could no longer believe in “God the Father”, or his violent rules. I was sickened by how this god judged and decided who was worthy of his love. This god was just as bad as my parents, with their republican and conservative pronouncements. I wanted no part of it. I became adamantly anti-Christian, and anti “God.”

In my innocence I thought all I had to do “see the truth” and walk away. This is a common mistake amongst those who have spiritual awakenings as well. We see something, clarity comes, and we think we are “finished.” And then comes the process of embodiment, where we find the energies of those beliefs. My system had “taken in” all those beliefs about good and bad, right and wrong, sin and salvation. My body, mind and spirit had been infused with linking love and god the father. If god rejected me, I’d be unloved. There is nothing more shameful to a human being than being unlovable. These early teachings, as simple as they were, had woven into my system, and were desperately looking for reconciliation.

 

But it’s richer than that

What I’ve discovered in my own journey but also with hundreds of clients is that our parents often act as our first gods. Obviously this isn’t conscious, but it’s in the subconscious stratosphere of the psyche. My friend explained it well: “My parents were gods to me. I depended on them to live.”

Our parents give us life and we are at their mercy for safety, love, food, and nurturance – on every level. They also reprimand and punish us. And so they become synonymous with how our culture often portrays god – the life-giver, the disciplinary, the mother, and the father. My friend continues, “From that I learned that god was loving, and joyous, and terrifying, and confusing. God was everything. God also dies.”

This isn’t rational, and quite frankly is too much for our child self to make sense of, but our beings pick up this information and make make conscious and subconscious beliefs based upon these ideas. It is only later in life that we can journey back through the layers of our conditioning to see the formation of deficiency stories that have influenced our whole life.

 

Deeper still

As I felt safe to journey into the medical trauma and prior traumas, and the imagined roles god (and my parents) played in those traumas, I was able to connect to various debilitating belief systems. I had believed that I was bad, and that I had been abandoned and rejected by my god (and my parents) because I was bad. Said another way, and more from the perspective of a child: god had let me down, I wasn’t good enough for god, and so ultimately I wasn’t good enough or worthy of god’s love. That meant I had to become my own god, so to speak. It was up to me to keep myself safe, because god and my parents had failed due to my badness.

The level of shame, self-loathing, and self-reliance (what we commonly see as a false sense of responsibility) that was under all of that was immense and had been following me around for… my whole life. Although I was not consciously aware of it, a sense of shame that seemed synonymous with my being was living under the surface and was wreaking havoc in my life.

Although my life was basically “fine”, I was making unhealthy and debilitating choices in intimate relationships. As I courageously worked through my self-reliance patterning, I innocently made a wrong turn: I trusted others unworthy of that trust instead of trusting that which was worthy. I did this because ultimately I didn’t have a safe and loving relationship with myself, or a healthy relationship with Love. This pattern dramatically revealed itself when I found myself in a narcissistically abusive relationship. The creation of a perfect storm destroyed my sails and crashed me into rocky territory I had been trying to avoid all my life. It literally took me to the darkest and most hidden places within myself that I had never felt safe enough to explore.

Eventually it took me to my unfinished business with god. After that torturous terrain was faced, I found myself experiencing a level of safety I didn’t know was possible, and a Love I had never known. My world had changed.

 

The rest of the story

There is more to say. Healing religious, parental and attachment wounding takes commitment, time, love, compassion and support. The rest of the story includes sharing practices I have developed with myself and others that help us let go of old beliefs, and in their absence fall into the experience of a safe body (and life) to reside in.

Life fundamentally changed for me as I cleaned up my past but it wasn’t an overnight change – it has been slow, steady, and eventually sustainable. Not having to be a vigilant and over-responsible god has relieved me of a burden that was not mine to carry. Groking the benevolence of Love has altered my way of being in a world that I do not have the power to control, but feel safe residing in nevertheless.

I have shared only parts of my journey here, and look forward to sharing more. I’d love to hear from you. What was particularly helpful? What was confusing? What do you want to know to know more of? I look forward to journeying together.

[1] See my Deepening Course starting in February, “Discovering the Embodiment of Love,” to learn more about that!

[2] After working with hundreds of clients, I now see that one’s relationship with “god”, however that is perceived/experienced/named, is most sacred (this goes for atheists too, although the language is going to be quite different)- even more sacred than that of one’s parents. And, it is also often very hidden within the psyche. For various reasons it can be one of the last places one “wants to go” when inwardly journeying. There is good reason for this, which I explore in my book.

To read more about Lisa Meuser, click here.

Emotional Eating ~ Addressing Trauma with Unconditional Love & Baby Steps

By Sumitra Judith Burton.  

I sat in my chair after eating a decent-sized meal, and suddenly an intense urge arose to have “something more.” Even though I was aware that my stomach was feeling comfortably full, there was this strong craving to keep eating. My belly clenched like a wet towel being wrung. Immediately I got up, went to the kitchen and grabbed that something more, brought it back to my chair and continued eating. This is an old, old story of my emotional eating.

Once again I had given in, and given up, to my addicted behavior. Once again, there was a simultaneous sense of comfort and an uneasiness about staying stuck in this old, addictive behavior (and perhaps increasingly damaging my body).

What if I didn’t immediately get something to eat when the craving arose? What horrendous impending danger was about to descend on me if I didn’t have something more to eat? What if I could stop (when the craving arose), take a few moments to notice the craving (thoughts, sensations), allow them to be felt and heard, and wait to see what might happen? Would I … explode, disappear, crumble into despair, die … what?

Food had become my fake best friend. It had felt like I could accomplish anything as long as I had food to manage my feelings and give me solace. I had given up on using willpower to force myself into compliant dieting, since this strategy had failed numerous times over the decades.

As I have worked with the Living Inquiries over the past few years, I have gradually adopted a commitment to treating myself with loving-kindness, and to use willingness rather than willpower to address my food cravings. My greatest fear was that, in giving up on disciplining myself, my weight would increase exponentially until I weighed 400 pounds. And yet there seemed to be no other path to take.

Following the guidance of the Kiloby Addiction Recovery program, I looked at the traumas experienced in my earlier years, allowed them to be triggered and the thoughts and sensations to be experienced rather than avoided or shoved into hiding. I had misunderstood “love” early on to mean always giving in to others’ desires and putting my own needs aside. This misunderstanding led in my 20s to a disastrous marriage that ended with 4 children and 2 nasty divorces (same husband). I was devastated and alone, seemed to have nothing left of myself, and I descended into a dark psychological hole.

As these old traumatic stories were allowed to come up and be experienced, with tenderness and curiosity, they gradually began to lose their grip, and the new paradigm of loving-kindness (unconditional love) began to strengthen. A few weeks ago I was surprised to realize a readiness and willingness to take a baby step towards addressing my emotional eating.

I decided to try a commitment to not eating after 8pm at night. This was partially due to my oldest son’s success in losing 50 pounds simply by not eating after dinner. I wasn’t going quite that far (to stopping right after dinner), but was curious to see if not eating a few hours before sleep would allow the excess weight to start dropping away. I was also having a lot of trouble with insomnia and wanted to see if going to bed with a less full belly would help with my sleep.

I gradually decided that this was a baby step I’d be willing to try – to stop and inquire when I noticed an urge/ craving to continue eating. I decided to try, and to not shame myself if I failed.

In the past few weeks I’ve had pretty good success with taking this step: not eating after 8pm in the evening. The words I’m learning to use to soothe myself go something like this, “Okay, my darling, [yes, I’m learning to talk to myself like that!), you are wanting to eat when you’re not hungry. What is it you really want?” And then to take time to listen for answers and to feel the sensations that seem to be stuck to the words, all with a sense of tenderness and curiosity.

The first night that I stopped when this urge arose, I noticed an intense contraction in my belly and a sense of fear and anger (panic) that my urge was being blocked. Instead of getting something to eat, I sat still and allowed the belly tightness to be felt. Soon the belly muscles began to ease, though a sense of urgency still remained in the heart area. As I allowed that to be felt, and softened to a sense of curiosity and tenderness holding the sensation, the feeling of urgency gradually came to rest as well.

I became aware of uneasiness around this transitional time in the evening – an uncomfortable feeling of uncertainty – as well as a desire for connection. As I stayed still with all of it, I settled into a sense of connection within myself – no need to find it outside in food or company or anything else.

I noticed the need to have something interesting to do at this transitional time in my evening, something I could focus on besides the craving for food. I got up and washed the dishes and then got involved in a creative art project. Several more times throughout the evening an urge to eat something arose, and a similar process ensued – noticing the urge, allowing it to be felt (with compassion), and waiting for it to pass.

As time has progressed since that first night, it’s become easier (most nights at least) to hold to this baby-step commitment. I remind myself that it’s for my own health and well-being to keep this commitment. My sleep has greatly improved, much more than I would have guessed, now that the main part of digestion has finished before I go to bed. It feels more like being pulled “towards the light” rather than pushing against the darkness – coming home to myself. And even during the daytime now, there’s been a softening at times around the need for eating more when I’m not hungry.

It’s a tender moment in my life which takes a bit more focus or mindfulness than usual, and so far I’ve been willing and able to allow for that. I’m extremely grateful for this commitment to unconditional love – for myself!

To read more about Sumitra Judith Burton, click here.

Waking Up In the Midst of Sleepless Nights (and PTSD)

By Lisa Meuser.  

Last night was the first night in a while where it was cool enough to keep my bedroom door open. Delight!

And!

It also led to me waking up quite a bit during the night. This led to experientially connecting with a question that came up in a recent gathering:

 

What can I do when waking up in the middle of the night?

Waking up in the middle of the night can happen for different reasons, and when that waking happens it can catch us in different states. Sometimes we just need to reposition the blanket, or simply roll over, and we fall back into sleep. Other times we find ourselves jolted awake, and/or restless and weary. Rarely do we care about the former, but the latter can make for some challenging nights, and exhausting days.

It’s the staying awake that bothers most of us.

 

What wakes us in the first place? 

Practically speaking it can be useful in exploring why we wake up in the first place.

I can’t imagine listing all the possible factors that lead us to waking, but I think naming some of them can be helpful. There are factors happening within us that contribute to our waking: the dreams we’re having, the state of our mind before going to bed, the state of our bodies, the level of stress or anxiety experienced during the day, the food we have eaten, our digestive systems, needing to use the bathroom…   And then there are all the miscellaneous external factors: pets, children, weather, house noises and so on.

Some of these factors are random, like the occasional thunderstorm or the extra helping of chili reeking havoc on the digestive system. Other factors are more systemic and seem to be directly related to stress.

 

Stress and Post Traumatic Stress (PTS[1])

We all know that stress can cause wakefulness as well as lead to insomnia. When I speak with people I often find that behind the scenes of their wakefulness is some kind of overt or covert stress.

Weather woke me last night, but it reminded me of a time when I was experiencing a lot of PTS and I frequently woke up in the middle of the night and had a hard time falling back to sleep because there was so much stress in my system. While waking up in the middle of the night may not be a big deal for you, I’m going to share my journey as it has a lot of practical application.

During that time, period I was literally my own science experiment as I was constantly trying new and different things. While waking up in the middle of the night was originally anxiety provoking and often terrifying, it wound up taking me on a journey where I discovered practices that changed my life and led me deeper into self-care and self-love. It was a life-altering process.

 

What did I do?

I did a lot.

I utilized different herbs, vitamins and minerals (along with simple rest/meditations) throughout the day to help balance out my system so that my body wasn’t in overload when I went to bed. I also took natural remedies before going to bed to specifically aid with sleep. I mention these things because stress and PTS is hard on the nervous system, and sometimes articles offering practical advice (diming lights/not using electronics at night, exercise during the day, aromatherapy, soothing music, etc) don’t include the nutritional needs of the nervous system.

Taking care of my nutritional needs often helped me obtain full nights of sleep, but I still sometimes found myself awake – uncomfortably awake. Simple breathing practices often helped but other times I would toss and turn desperate for sleep, not knowing how I’d make it without another decent night of sleep. That initial sense of desperation was a sign that my nervous system was already out of balance, which made it highly susceptible to even more distress.

Those middle of the night awakenings were often the most challenging part of having PTS. I dreaded finding myself awake in the middle of the night because of how triggered I might find myself. My deepest fears would often surface if I didn’t quickly fall back to sleep: being abandoned/rejected/isolated, being attacked by my abuser, and being power over-ed or unable to find my agency/resourcing to “fight back.” Few of these things made sense rationally, nor would arise during the day, but in the dark of the night my subconscious and unresolved trauma was often loud.

And I mean loud.

When my nervous system was in overwhelm, my mind would kick in and I would be overcome by irrational thoughts. I would re-live events and painful scenarios. I often felt deep fear or restlessness, literally feeling terrorized by my mind.

 

Thinking strategies and somatic fear

When our bodies are in a state of fear, imagined or real, resourcing goes to our reptilian brain – the parts of our brain that are connected to survival/staying alive – as opposed to the parts of the brain responsible for spaciousness, awareness and curiosity[2]. This would be great news if a tiger was chasing us (who needs to be calm and present while running for their lives?) but when this happens while lying in bed it can be a pretty unbearable experience.

We’re already a culture that mainly relies on the strategy of thought, but doing so without the benefits of creativity and spaciousness makes for a very distressed nervous system. Not feeling safe to connect with our stress-filled bodies, we think, think, think – and then we think some more. We’re literally convinced thinking will save us from the fear we’re experiencing because being present to a body that is overwhelmed seems out of the question.

 

The seeming impossible is actually the most sustainable option

With fear chemicals streaming through the body, feeling into that chemically invaded body seems like the least safe route. But unless there is actually a tiger chasing us, that’s really our ticket to freedom. We must learn how to feel. In order to do that, we must learn that it’s safe to feel, even when our minds are telling us that we are not safe.

As the fear chemicals flowed through me I knew I had to find a way to gently relate with my physiology before getting sucked into the thinking mind that was convincing me of horror stories.

 

Experimenting with somatic practices.

Somatic practices have been a part of my life for a very long time, but my circumstances motivated me to take my practices to another level. PTS disrupts feeling safe, and so a crucial part of my somatic journey was going very slow and being very gentle in finding a sense of safety in my being.

Learning the science behind what I was experiencing helped me understand that what I was experiencing was a trauma/PTS response. This helped me to understand that I was not in actual danger, but perceived danger which allowed me to feel safe enough to try new things – like slowly and gently staying with the physiological experiences I was having.

I learned how to get curious and be simple: I’d find my toes, my fingers, my pelvic floor, and/or whatever felt safe to connect with. I’d breathe. Each time I found myself awake I’d curiously connect with whatever felt safe to feel/attend to. If it felt right, I’d involve my breath, and breathe into parts of my body. If it felt too triggering to connect to my chest or core, I would just stay with feet, or fingers, or limbs. I’d cycle back from my spinning thoughts to my body over and over and over. I fell back to sleep hundreds of times doing this practice. It became easier and easier.

I spent a lot of time during the day and at night gently exploring sensations, noticing what felt safe and what didn’t feel safe. I did somatic-based inquiry during the day, and eventually during the night, to explore what was leading me to believe I wasn’t safe and to make meaning of this. I started to learn that I could have sensations that did not feel safe, while feeling safe to have them.

Each time I stayed with challenging sensations I learned that I was experiencing something temporary. Each time I lived through a difficult experience I learned that it was safe to stay with something that felt scary. Eventually I learned how to be present with all that was happening when I would go into a full PTS response in the middle of the night – the thoughts, the sensations and the memories.

I became more and more resourced, more and more able to have the ability to interject and interrupt the fear responses that were happening. I slowly developed a relationship with fear and the stories, instead of being consumed by them. This was huge for my nighttime waking and also huge in my trauma recovery.

Over time, I felt safe in my body, even during the most fear-ridden moments – even when my body was shaking uncontrollably, releasing trauma[3] . After living through so much, some part of me trusted that I would be ok. Eventually waking up no longer triggered dread, but instead offered an invitation to feel more deeply into the belly of the beast and into my earliest childhood trauma.

 

Life emerged in the terror

Some of my greatest healings happened in those dark moments. I fought my demons, my greatest childhood fears and terrors, and I survived. When I would find myself tossing and turning in my bed, desperate for sleep, not knowing how I’d make it without another decent night of sleep, I turned to my practices.

I remember a pivotal moment in my healing journey.

Although I was well into my healing journey, and the PTS was less, I still was having a lot of intense dreams that involved my abuser. One night, while still dreaming, I was able to consciously engage with my sleeping/dreaming self. I was able to remind my dreaming self that I could find refuge in my body, and was not victim to the stories and thoughts playing out in my mind. “This is not actually happening. You are safe to breathe the body that is here and now,” was the subtext. From then on, when I was awake in the middle of the night my body became my refuge from my spinning thought-filled mind. I was able to be present with myself even when I was experiencing a sense of child-like terror. After a while there was nothing too intense that I couldn’t be present with, and that increased sense of agency [4] and resourcing literally changed my life. I was able to truly face my most horrible childhood fears and trauma, and the PTS shifted dramatically after that.

As odd as it may sound, those sleepless nights led me to Wake Up to a different way of being. My thinking mind, which had once been the safest place for me to “go” because what I was feeling was so intense, was no longer that refuge. Thoughts no longer delivered relief or provided solutions and even in fear states I was able to recognize that thoughts would not save me. As that was seen through, my being became safe to reside in and with.

 

Embodiment is practical

Connecting with my body became the way I learned how to fall back to sleep (and go to sleep when I first go to bed), and generally speaking continues to be my “go to” when I wake up in the middle of the night. How that looks in action can be varied. Last night I woke to the wind blowing through the trees and as I melded my conscious attention with the sounds they lulled me back to sleep quickly and with ease.

Other times I might find myself unable to fall back into sleep.

Just a few nights prior I woke up and after trying my usual “connecting to breath and being” approach found myself still awake. I tried listening to the sounds of the nighttime creatures singing their symphony outside my window, and that didn’t lull me back to sleep either.

I considered reading as I find that this is a good option for me when I wake and it doesn’t seem that I’m going to fall back to sleep. If I can get over the fact that I may not have a full night of sleep and might be a little tired the next day, I often enjoy reading or writing in the quiet of the night. I have often found that giving my mind something to do, like reading, keeps the thinking part of me occupied so that other parts of my attention are free to connect my body. While part of my mind is engaging in words, other parts are connecting to my breath, pelvic floor, legs and feet. This is often very helpful in switching what feels like “head energy” into calm and present body energy.

I turned on my night lamp, but I noticed that I was too tired to read so I turned it off and tried again. After a few moments I discovered that my mind was even more awake, and while I may have been too tired to read, I was not too tired to think!

My “laundry list” of things to do was annoyingly popping into my attention like popcorn on the burner. I wrote them down so that my mind did not have to hold them (I have found this repeatedly helpful during the day and if I wake up at night). They continued to come but instead of resisting them I just let them be, and at the same time I kept bringing my attention to my breath, and my body.

I patiently and curiously returned to this cycle many times and was disconnected from it many times by thoughts. I just kept reconnecting. The rhythmic cycle of my breath eventually lulled me back to sleep, but it took a while. It is not that different than times during the day in which I find my attention caught in a mental whirlwind: over and over come back to breath, to body, to the here and now.

 

Night into Day into Life

I love that the nighttime wakings have shown me value and insight with regards to how to be in my day time wakings: curiously conscious and present to what is happening, as it’s happening. In fact, how I was able to make it through those PTS/stressful nights is quite similar as to how one might make it through PTS/stressful days.

I find the reminder to keep reconnecting extremely practical whether it’s during the nighttime or during the day. I get disconnected from my being a million times a day. The invitation is to re-connect, over and over and over. This builds a safe and relational way of existing and being present. Instead of trying to avoid or change my experience I am able to relate and be with my present experience directly as it is happening.

Whether it’s daytime or the middle of the night, I find it very useful to have the internal resourcing to identify what I enjoy, what makes me feel comfortable, and is soothing or/and safe. This requires that I have some self-awareness and that is a big part of the process!

In my nighttime healing journey I discovered a deeper sense of agency and self-connectedness allowing me to identify and turn towards what nourished me. I was then able to have the resourcing to, find fingers that felt safe, for example, or feet that felt safe. This was a crucial component of my healing and it continues to be an important aspect of self-care and self love.

This sense of agency and self connectedness shifted my world from being at the mercy of “out there”, and the thoughts and imagery that referred to an out there, to a deep sense of coming home “here.” I continue to come home to myself – to attend to and love myself – any time I feel a sense of disconnect. I am grateful.

 

Last notes on wakefulness practicality

There are so many more things I could write about with regards to waking up at night, but for now I’m going to list some tried and true strategies that I’ve used over time, many of which are self explanatory.

  • Watching TV or a movie. In some of my worst nights I put on a comedy that occupied me mentally so that my body could get a break from incessant thoughts.
  • Listening to music.
  • Listening to a recorded rest or mediation. I often guide myself through rests/meditations, but sometimes it’s just nice to let someone else do this. I have hundreds of recorded rests/meditations – feel free to email me.
  • Leading myself through a breathing or rest practice, or prayer.
  • Reading or journaling.
  • Changing positions in bed or changing sleep locations or clothing.
  • Getting up for a drink or a snack.
  • Doing something practical around the house.
  • Gentle yoga or stretching.
  • Cool water on the face or behind the neck.
  • Resetting the house temperature: making it cooler in my room makes it more enticing to snuggle under the covers, which often gets me back to sleep.
  • Changing something up in the room – opening or closing window/using noisemakers or light blocking blinds.
  • Not looking at the clock or phone until it’s clear that I’m not going to fall back to sleep. Keeping my eyes closed has been instrumental in getting back to sleep quickly.
  • Redirecting attention from what feels like “head energy” into that which grounds me. This may include bringing attention to lower parts of the body: into the feet, the legs, the pelvic floor, or the lower belly. It may involve grounding in something more energetic that is running through me/as me.
  • Connecting to an energetic presence or space that exists “around” me – that energy that seems to hold all that is, and is “greater” than me. This was helpful in a practical way when I had vertigo and would feel somewhat dizzy when I woke in the middle of the night. Instead of trying to get rid of the dizzy feeling I connected to something greater than me that was holding all of me. It was extremely powerful to rest in that energy while I was experiencing physical dis-ease.
  • Do some simple inquiry as it resonates for you. If you tend to make not sleeping a problem in and of itself you can try these inquiry questions: “Who is the one not able to sleep? Is there a threat in not sleeping?” If you feel equipped you can go into deeper inquiry questions with regards to what you’re experiencing. If you’d like specific assistance with this please send me an email.
  • Know when to get help. Nighttime is often when parts of our subconscious arise into conscious attention. Without training, practical experience or an ability to connect with a sense of safety it can be very hard for one to hold space for un-integrated experiences and trauma. Finding someone to help you journey through what is literally keeping you up at night can be invaluable on a variety of levels.
  • Use compassion and mindfulness to support the body as it may shake, twitch, tighten, hold, release and so on. Email me if you’d like support with this.

 

I’d love to hear about your own journeys with sleep, or if you’d like to hear something more on this topic please let me know! In the mean time, notice how your nighttime and your daytime adventures weave through each other in curious, mysterious, and relevant ways!

(For those of you waiting for part 2 of my Social Justice, Heart-Work, and Evolution  series, it’s coming!)

To read more about Lisa Meuser, click here.

[1] I used PTSD in the title because most people know what that is. I’m dropping the D, because I don’t think we always need to label our experiences based on the DSM (Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). From here on out I use PTS, to refer to “posttraumatic stress”. For what it’s worth, my own experience was more akin to complex PTS, but for simplicity sake I simply used PTS in this writing.

[2] This is a basic explanation. For more information I recommend Buddha’s Brain by Rick Hanson to most of my clients and course participants.

[3] Although it can be unnerving to experience the body spontaneously shaking, it is normal for the body to shake when trauma is being released. If you’d like more information on how to support the body through this natural release mechanism please send me an email.

[4] By “agency” and “resourcing” I am referring to a source of support and wisdom that flows from within.

The Gift of Consciously Connecting to Anger, aka Social Justice, Heart-Work, and Evolution Part 1.5

By Lisa Meuser.  

“Everything’s going pretty well in my life, but I feel **so much anger! **”
“I can’t get past how much anger I feel! I want to feel better, but I am stuck.”
“How can I **not** be angry, have you seen what’s going on in the world?”
“Being angry is a negative emotion and now is not the time to be negative.”


Feedback

The feedback from “Social Justice, Heart-Work, and Evolution. Part 1, of 2” had 1 of 3 flavors, generally speaking.

Flavor 1: people wishing they too could move thru their anger in the way I did so as to get to “the good stuff.”
Flavor 2: people subtly moving past the anger stuff so as to get to “ the good stuff.”
Flavor 3: people expressing the sentiment: “damn, this anger is some heavy shit.”

Here’s the good news and the bad news:
The good news is that all of it is “the good stuff.” The bad news is that all of it is “the good stuff.” Yeah, that’s some heavy shit!

I promise that Part 2 will be published, but felt writing a 1.5 would be useful. Anger is a big topic, and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, so let’s talk about it!

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Flavor 1: Wanting to move thru anger as to get to the “good stuff.”

I know this flavor well.

Part 1 was an example of what’s possible, not necessarily probable, when anger is allowed in and it’s met with loving attention. It’s one example, in a sea of examples. Does it often go that way for me? Well, to be honest, these days yes. But I’ve also spent years lost in an ebb and flow of anger, and that was exactly where I needed to be after decades of being in denial. It was evolution for me to feel safe enough to be able to connect with my anger, and stay there as long as I needed to. It didn’t always feel good, and it didn’t necessarily feel loving, but it was far more empowering than the hopelessness and despair I’d known.

Anger **is** good stuff. Anger is so powerfully good that those in power consistently try to either (1) get us stuck there so that we burn out into powerlessness/ hopelessness (political/capitalist cultures), or (2) tell us that it’s unhealthy and unattractive (religious/spiritual cultures).

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Anger is our friend
Anger is an appropriate behavioral response when our safety is at risk, or the safety of someone we love is at risk. Anger is an appropriate response when we are being violated, or when someone is committing violence against others. It is an appropriate response to injustice, to suppression/oppression, to cruelty and brutality. It is an appropriate response to harassment and to domination.

Considering that a good many of us have been oppressed, dominated, or violated, is it any wonder that the “powers that be” want us to either get lost in anger so that we get killed or ultimately become docile sheep too tired to fight, or not consider anger as healthy response to our circumstances?

Anger is an expressive gift that humans were given to help us process and release. When that gift is taken away, we loose a part of our humanity. Let me say that again: we lose a part of our humanity. Worse yet, we reject a part that we never knew we had. We deny it, and in doing so we deny ourselves.

Knowing this, is it any wonder so many are festering with anger – this forbidden but biologically human expression? The dissonance is enough to make one mad! Quite literally.

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It’s never too late
That’s the depressing news, but here is the hopeful news: it’s never too late. It’s never too late to learn how to be angry in a way that feels safe. It’s never too late to feel the anger that we’ve stuffed down for decades, in a way that feels safe. It’s never too late to develop a healthy relationship with anger, so that we neither get lost in it nor deny it. It’s never too late to be friends with anger. At least that’s my experience.

Has it been easy? No. It’s been as hard as hell. It’s been uncomfortable. It’s been scary. It’s seemed nearly impossible. But bit-by-bit – with the amazing support of various allies – my system has learned it is safe, valid, and healthy to connect with anger. I never knew how unbelievably freeing it could be to become friends with anger.

So, if you are one who wishes they could move thru their anger to “the good stuff, ” remind yourself that anger **is** good stuff. Once you’ve honored it and allowed it to be, it will not have the same hold over you that it might now. Anger is sacred – it has its own timetable. Your anger has waited a long time to be let out of the basement. Get support, and be patient while you learn about yourself – all parts of yourself.

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Flavor 2: People subtly (or not so subtly) want to move past or deny anger so as to “stay in” or get to the “good stuff,” and/or so that they don’t get stuck in “the bad stuff.”

I know this flavor well.

I won’t spend long here. Bypassing anger is so fervently celebrated in our culture – in all areas – that it has created a complicated web of self-bondage/suffering, often in the guise of happiness/peacefulness. Denying a natural part of who we are creates dissociation and disembodiment, one byproduct being a sleepy mass of people who, well, don’t really live fully on the planet.

I often find that at some point in one’s journey anger cannot be denied or moved past any more. The body either starts to rebel (i.e. gets sick), the psyche starts to rebel (i.e. starts to suffer), or the spirit starts to rebel (i.e. wants to die). If one is lucky they will connect with an anger midwife (some kind of guide) who will help them to safely connect to the anger monster that has been locked in their internal basement for their entire lives, refusing to be stuck down there any longer. It is my own experience that it doesn’t take long to understand that the anger monster isn’t a monster at all, but just an energetic presence that is tired of being banished into a musky and dark basement.

Exclusion hurts.

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Flavor 3: “Damn, this anger is some heavy shit.”

Yup. I know this flavor well, and I’m going to spend a little extra time here because this seems to be what most of the comments were expressing.

First a story, then after that, another story.

A friend of mine does sacred bodywork – different modalities – with clients. She is very well established with a fabulous reputation in her community. She has worked hard to create clear and strong boundaries, as body workers are known to be easy targets for predator behavior. Let me just say that again: because predator behavior is so common in the realm of body work, she has had to painstakingly and creatively establish strong policies in her private practice – so as to keep herself safe – while she offers her sacred gifts to clients . [Author’s note: Why have I given you all this information, before telling you what has happened? Why have I gone out of my way to tell you how she’s gone out of her way to have clear boundaries and policies? Just wait one more moment..]

Last week she was in a session with a client who she’s seen many times.
She was deeply involved in the sacred work that she does, when out of the blue the client broke the silence and asked her for a hand job. She froze. She went into a fear response.

She was clearly not expecting this sacred space to be violated. Despite all the work she’d done to create a safe environment for herself, here was a client exhibiting sexual predator behavior.

I’m tempted to side track even more from this story to tell you about her elaborate policies that she’s put in place to keep things like this from happening. Why? Some of you reading this will not be able to keep yourselves from blaming my friend. Your first automatic thought will be: what was her role in this? What had she done?

To those of you doing that- jumping to her role in this – I so get it! I too have been raised in a cultural climate that blames the victim. I too have had a hard time being able to really sit with the abhorrent dysfunction of our culture’s toxicity, and instead, automatically, without even knowing I’m doing it, put the attention back on the violated. I too have redirected conversation away from toxic behaviors, away from the toxicity of what our culture has produced, and focused on the predator’s prey. I too have been a part of the toxicity in this way – implicitly and complicity. Me too!

Last week, however, that was not my response.

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Anger is an appropriate response to dysfunction.
I wasn’t worried – my friend is magnificently well resourced and resilient, and would only grow from this. My response was anger. My response was anger because we live in a culture that blames the violated. My response was anger because in no way was that appropriate in that set and setting. My response was anger because such predatory acts are too common, and too normalized, and too expected. My response was anger because my friend is an amazing healer who does deep and loving work, and does not deserve to be violated by the clients that she is serving. My response was anger because my friend got mad at herself for having the perfectly appropriate response she had. My response was anger because of how entitled her client was, in his request, and how, perhaps, clueless he was with regards to the impact that this kind of behavior has on a female psyche. My response was anger because of what this culture teaches males, and because of how dysfunctional it is that it has created sexual predators in the first place. My response was anger because of the tendency to spiritualize and trivialize such happenings. My response was anger because of how representative it is. My response was anger because of how this incident echoes the massive existence of other predatory incidents. My response was anger because of all the other levels and layers of dysfunction in our culture that exist and make women scared, in their own sacred spaces, in their own sacred bodies.

That’s a lot of anger, huh? I mean, damn, this is some heavy shit.

Writing this now, I can feel the anger. It is some heavy shit, and I can feel it. And I’m grateful that I can feel it… because there was a time when I was so dead inside that I wasn’t able to be angry about things that deserved anger. I’m grateful because I have a system that is safe enough to feel anger when anger is warranted. I’m grateful because I don’t have to pretend and hide from such toxicity any more. I’m grateful because, not having to have to hide from anger, it is no longer a debilitating emotion for me, but a healthy emotional response.

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I was actually really angry.
It had struck a chord within me, and it felt appropriate that it had. I never want to be numb to the dysfunction going on in our world. I never want to fall asleep, and shut down, because of the toxicity that exists in this world.

And so I choose to feel. I choose to feel because I have discovered, through my sometimes painful journey, that I am safe to feel. I am free to feel. What an amazing gift I have been given. It is the most empowering gift of being human. It is a gift I want everyone to have. It is my life’s work that everyone may know safety.

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What does anger want?
I wasn’t able to go off alone and be physically still with this energy of anger, but I have learned that I almost always have the capacity to connect to my breath and my being regardless of what I’m doing. As I physically moved around in my house I breathed with the energy of anger. It seemed to permeate my being and beyond in vibrant aliveness.

Anger, when paid attention to, lands our attention in the body. That’s good news. [Author’s note: Admittedly, this is not good news for everyone. Connecting with the body is the most challenging aspect of embodiment, and I absolutely honor that it is not always safe for people to be in their bodies, particularly when experiencing strong emotions.] Bringing attention into my being has a different impact than putting attention into spinning thoughts/stories – I feel more grounded, as opposed to feeling spun out. I can be present, instead of getting lost in stories and fears.

All of the internal work I’ve done has helped me to know that my body is safe to be in. As such, the energy of anger – as it flowed through my body – was safe as well. I brought attention to my limbs, my belly, my heart… to all the sensations anger seemed to be connected with.

It is my experience that anger, and any emotion, wants to be connected with, as simply as possible: acknowledged, supported, felt, and/or validated. How this comes to happen can be mysterious, and it is not always an easy process. I am grateful that I have the tools and the training to be able to be present with myself. In my experience safety, compassion and love are crucial in being with challenging emotions and in discovering embodiment. The journey is endless.

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Right next to anger is always something else
We often think that we’ll get stuck forever in a challenging emotional energy if we allow ourselves to “go there.” I think this belief has multiple layers, but one layer is based in the duality of the mind. The mind often sees things as being EITHER this OR that. I used to think that if love existed, anger didn’t. I used to think that if anger existed, love didn’t. I know now that that belief comes from a limited dual perspective, not from truth. Waking up to the lived reality that love includes all has changed my life. In my own experience love is so big that it includes anger.

This may not be your experience, but you may notice that while you feel anger, you are also experiencing “not anger.” One way to test this out is to ask yourself where, in your body, you feel the anger. Chances are, you are not feeling only the sensation of anger throughout your entire body from head to toes. Chances are, you are experiencing anger in some ways, and also neutral sensations, or even positive sensations, in other parts of your body – all at the same time.

When we’re in a heightened state we may forget that there are other experiences happening, within the particular experience that is filling up our attention. It can be powerful and useful to our nervous system and well-being to curiously explore what else is here right now? What else is happening right now?

 

Back to love, back to the heart
When my friend told me about her experience I was so very angry, but the anger was never bigger than the heart space I was inside of – it was never bigger than love. That has not always been my experience because of how unsafe it was for me to feel anger. My life is radically different now. I’m grateful that there is such an abundance of love that “even anger” is safe. Perhaps I am able to experience anger because the immense depth of love and heart space has revealed itself to me.

There is such deep love for all the participants of this story – for my friend and her family (as this one man’s behavior will have an impact on all of them). And yes, also for her client because our current toxic culture creates perpetrators – he too is a victim of this culture. My love extends to all who have found themselves here – few of us have created it; we’re the occupants of a pre-existing toxic culture. So yes: enormous love goes out to all of us as our hearts and psyches are evolving towards a better way to be in the world.

AND, I have anger, because these toxic ways of being in the world are not ok – for anyone. Not ok for her client, or his wife and family. Not ok for my friend. These dysfunctional ways of being in the world are not healthy for anyone. Heart work includes opening oneself wide enough to be able to let it all in: the deep compassionate love, the deep compassionate anger, and so much more. The heart can handle it all.

In my experience, being able to consciously connect with anger is truly a gift. It allows us to respond to injustice. It invites us to be a conscious participant in our own experience. It permits us to honor an intended aspect of our humanity. It empowers us and frees of stagnancy and despair. We don’t have to leave the heart to connect with anger. We don’t have to get lost in anger. We can learn to know love and know anger. We can learn that it is safe to experience both.

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Part 2
People often want to know how “I handle” challenging emotions or social justice challenges. I think it’s extremely helpful that people have options for providing support in their own unique evolutionary journey. I will talk about this in part 2, and will also dive back into heart work as a continuation of part 1 and part 1.5.

I hope this blog post was helpful in revealing that anger can be a valuable and perhaps even necessary part of heart work. As always, I welcome feedback and comments!

To read more about Lisa Meuser, click here.