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What Elephant? Naming Systemic Oppression

By Lisa Meuser.  
Artist Alexis Morgan.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Oppression traumatizes

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Opening our eyes to what we value

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The macro and the micro reflect each other

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

So, Now What?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Curiosity Changes Everything

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

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

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

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

 

A New Way Forward

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

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

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


Let’s Journey Together

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

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

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

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

 

Practical Explorative Options

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

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

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

To read more about Lisa Meuser, click here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Lisa Meuser.  

A question was sent to me:

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

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

 

Humans need support

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

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

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

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

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

 

Adapting to dysfunction, the new norm

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

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

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

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

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

 

As if out of a deep slumber

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

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

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

 

We’re not designed to be perpetually frozen

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

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

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

 

Peace and stillness, not what you think it is

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Getting to know ourselves

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

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

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

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

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

 

Including our bodies, slowly and safely, with conscious attention

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

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

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

 

Getting to know stillness and peace through neutrality

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

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

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

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

 

We can learn to experience sustainable peace

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

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

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

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

 

To read more about Lisa Meuser, click here.

 

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

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

 

 

Our Stories Are Sacred

By Lisa Meuser.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Stories Return Us Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To read more about Lisa Meuser, click here.

 

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

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

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

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.