Down the Rabbit Hole

Lately, I’ve taken a tumble down the rabbit hole of trauma and trauma therapy. To say I’ve been humbled is a bit of an understatement. It has been an eye-opening process to see myself in the words and the stories I’ve been reading. I mostly don’t remember my childhood. The impact of trauma in my life has been pervasive and far reaching. Honestly, though, I would have denied it only a few years ago. I would have said I’ve never experienced trauma. I would have said that the amnesia, and the depression, and the rage, and the way my body shuts down have nothing to do with trauma. I would have said, “I’m lucky,” and I am, but that doesn’t mean I’ve never experienced trauma. In fact, now I would venture to say almost all of us have.

Just yesterday a new meme started going around Facebook: “Me too.” People were putting it on their walls to signify they have been sexually harassed or assaulted in the wake of the revelations about Harvey Weinstein. If we asked the same question about trauma, I’m guessing pretty much anyone who is honest would say, “Me too.”

I’m going to write a lot more about trauma in the coming months. But for now, I will say this: We can heal. I’ve been healing even being in some level of denial and ignorance about how trauma has impacted me. Our bodies, hearts, and minds want to heal. Our whole being wants to come back into harmony and equilibrium. As I practice presence — whether through meditation, heart-centered practices, feeling energy and creative forces, or tracking my body sensations — the energy held in my system around trauma inevitably arises. I don’t have to make it happen. I don’t have to dredge up painful memories. That energy is patiently waiting for the right opportunity — the right conditions — to begin the process of healing. It wants to be met in a new way. It wants to be digested, to resolve, and to let go.

I’ve come to trust this process. I’ve come to see that trauma begins to digest in the arms of compassionate presence. With trauma, our bodies and minds live in the past, though we don’t often realize it. But we can learn to trust the present moment. We can learn to trust our bodies, even when we feel like they have betrayed us in the most horrific ways. We can even learn to trust other people. We can heal together.

Me too.

Entering the Unknown

Many of us (maybe even most) are quite terrified of the unknown. Perhaps this fear has to do with a feeling of being out of control. After all, we have certain ideas and visions about how we want things to turn out. We often want to control the process as well as the outcome, or at least know what is coming in the hopes that we can somehow prepare and be ready.

I’m in the midst of separating from my husband. The unknown is now a part of my experience every day. I don’t know if I will ever find a companion and partner again. I don’t know how I will fully support myself financially. I don’t know exactly who I am in the world without my best friend at my side, or how to move forward with that hole in my life. I don’t know when the grief will well up, overwhelming and incapacitating me. I don’t know how my path will unfold, or the strength and resilience that may lie dormant in my heart. What seemed known only a short time ago is no longer known.

The process of Life Itself is unknown. We can either embrace this fact or resist it. When we come into contact with the unknown, we touch the invisible world. It is here where we encounter our shadow, those unconscious aspects of us, both light and dark, that tend to run our lives unbeknownst to us. When we shine the light of awareness on these aspects, suddenly we have choice.

map 3When we embrace the unknown, we also contact that part of us that is beyond conceptual understanding. Our minds can (and do) attempt to describe this world, but the descriptions and models in our minds are not the Reality Itself and never can be. The model is not the territory.

We touch the invisible world through direct experience. We can invite into our experience different aspects of our True Nature, or ask for our shadow to be revealed. Some of the more glorious aspects of our True Nature are often in shadow (unconscious to us), and have been called Health, Joy, Abundance, Gratitude, Clarity, Truth, Beauty, Peace, Unity… but these are just names. The key is that we invite into our experience something that is unknown to us.

Flower

We may have a concept, thought, or model of what it means to feel joy, for instance, or what it means not to feel joy. But Joy with a capital ‘J‘ is none of those concepts held in our mind. It is something else, and never what we think it is. The mind can only observe, label, and describe; the direct experience happens on another level. We must open ourselves to the unknown possibilities in order to experience who we are at a level we have never experienced before.

When we do this, what we experience is always a surprise. It is always a brand new experience when we invite in the unknown. And the truth is, much is unknown to us in this Life. Control is an illusion in so many ways… maybe even in all ways. Letting go into the unknown is the ultimate form of surrender to the flow of Life.

 

Healing Through Conditions

When I am working with clients, they often have particular conditions or issues they are facing which they would like resolved. I know that my clients have the full capacity to Heal through those conditions. But notice that I used the words “through” and also “Heal” with a capital “H.” Healing in the way that I view it does not necessarily mean the condition itself goes away. If a condition does in fact go away or resolve, I tend to call that a healing with a lower-case “h.” And of course this is a fantastic outcome! But sometimes the condition won’t resolve in the Healing journey. In fact, on the most extreme level, we can experience a full Healing and, at the same time, still die from the condition. In my own journey, when I really grokked on a deep level that all of us have a terminal diagnosis, the question of what Healing actually is became a much deeper inquiry.

All clients are their own Healers and hold their own answers. When I work with clients, I do not know the specific outcome or how the Healing process will show up in their bodies, mind, or spirit. There are many levels of change that can and will occur in the Healing process. When I work with clients, I am supporting them in Healing on all levels related to their specific condition or intention. Conditions and dis-ease provide a fantastic focal point because the center of the condition is actually the portal to the Healing process itself. That is why I say that we Heal through our conditions.

For me as a Healing facilitator, supporting Healing in this way involves reaching into unknown possibilities and inviting in whatever needs to happen for true Healing to occur. I never know exactly how that will look or what the outcome will be, but I have noticed the response is always Intelligent and beyond what my mind could ever have imagined or figured out based on my knowledge and training. I am amazed by my clients every single time. It is truly an honor to play a small part in their Healing journeys.

The Change We Don’t Want

steering wheelWhen it comes to healing, it doesn’t seem obvious that we resist change. After all, we are usually suffering with some sort of condition that we really do want to change. In general, we simply want it to go away so we’ll feel better. Oftentimes we believe our chronic disease or condition is something that is wrong or bad, something that is somehow separate from us, and something that should be, and can be, gotten rid of without affecting the rest of who we are. Yes, we want the condition to change (go away), but we often do not acknowledge the connection between the condition and the beliefs we hold about and toward the condition. In other words, we do not realize that our relationship with the condition is an integral part of the condition itself. We actually believe this separate “thing” can be healed without changing anything else about us. Indeed, this is the very premise upon which western medicine is based as well as several alternative therapies.

Healing Involves Change

Healing at a deeper level involves change on every level of our being. Many chronic conditions and/or so-called incurable diseases (autoimmune diseases, neurological diseases, gastrointestinal issues, cancer, hormonal imbalances, mental diseases such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder, etc.) can and do resolve themselves through the process of Healing as I describe it. However, major shifts such as these involve change that extends well beyond the symptoms going away and a doctor declaring us “cured” (or claiming we must have been misdiagnosed in the first place). These changes are not optional, but are rather part of the Healing process itself.butterfly emerging from coccoonWhen we are in the cycle of suffering, we think our suffering is being caused by the condition we are facing. Therefore, we think if we get rid of the condition, we will stop suffering. Perhaps we go in for surgery and have a cancerous tumor removed. Maybe we have our knee replaced and the pain we had before is gone. Perhaps we leave our stressful job or our marriage and feel a huge sense of relief. In the traditional sense, many would call these examples of healing. The advances in western medicine are absolutely incredible and invaluable in our lives. But simply having a knee replacement is, in and of itself, not Healing in the sense I am speaking of here.

In my experience, both with myself and with my clients, even when a condition is “cured” as in the examples above, if there is no other corresponding shift on other levels of being, the suffering will continue. We simply refocus our attention on another condition or issue that is “not okay” (either inside or outside of us) and continue to be enmeshed in the cycle of suffering.

MaskOn the other hand, when we engage in the process of Healing on a deeper level, real change is inevitable. One of the most significant of these changes is a perspective shift about and toward the condition itself. As we begin to experience and embody that aspect of us that is other than suffering, we realize that we Heal through the condition rather than from the condition. We see the condition itself as our means of Healing rather than that which we need to get rid of in order to Heal. This perspective shift in itself can end the suffering (i.e., the resistance) around the condition. But in order for that shift to occur in a truly embodied way, many other changes on many levels must also occur. We simply do not get to keep our current belief structures and worldviews (our ego as it is constructed now) and Heal in this way.

This process is absolutely terrifying to most of us because it feels as if we are giving up who we are (and how we think the world operates) at a fundamental level. And indeed, this is true. It is perhaps one of the most difficult aspects for us to accept and embrace on our Healing journeys. Most of us want to keep our current perspectives and beliefs and simply get rid of the condition. In other words, we don’t want to change. However, the kind of Healing I’m talking about involves change, and there is no way out of it.

Part of the Healing process is learning to embrace change and recognizing what that means within ourselves. It can be a very scary prospect. But fear is part of the process too. Indeed, the fear itself can become a path and doorway to true Healing.

In Gratitude & Love,
Signature-with-transparent-background

A Different Kind of Gratitude Practice

Looking Towards Heaven

In a recent post, I shared how I had discovered that a key in experiencing gratitude was not to go out looking for things to be grateful for, but rather to receive and allow in the beauty, the goodness, the inspiration, the truth, the love, and the gifts of whatever or whoever is in my presence in this moment. When I allow myself to receive, gratitude is then simply a natural expression/outpouring.

Following this thread and deepening further, I’ve come to another way of practicing gratitude, one that allows me to feel and experience gratitude on many levels, without all the effort of trying to force it. I came to this practice through a realization that gratitude is a part of who I am on an essential level, and my experience of it is therefore not dependent on outside circumstances. In other words, I don’t need something to feel grateful for in order to feel grateful. If I’m not currently experiencing gratitude, I can simply begin to open to it — turn my consciousness toward the energy and essence of gratitude already within me — and allow it to come to the forefront of my experience now (regardless of my outside circumstances). I like to think of it as tuning my radio dial to “gratitude.” The best part is that I don’t even need a mental concept of what gratitude is supposed to feel like to practice this.

Blue flowerThe practice looks something like this: First, I let go completely of trying to bring to mind someone, or some situation, which I want to be (or think I should be) grateful forInstead, I bring my attention into my still, quiet center, and I begin to allow myself to open. Then, I ask to experience the energy and essence of gratitude inside a particular part of my physical or energetic body. I like to bring in physical and energetic layers. For instance, I might ask deep into the core of myself, “What does it feel like to experience the energy and essence of gratitude in my bones?” I feel deep into my bones. Then, I wait and notice. What do I start to notice as I tune into my bones? My intellectual mind has no clue what gratitude would feel like in my bones! It has no concept of such a outlandish thing… thank goodness, because then I can just feel whatever I feel, no expectations. Then, I might ask, “What does it feel like to experience gratitude in my tissues?” or, “What does it feel like to experience gratitude in the fluids of my body?” or, “What does it feel like to experience gratitude in every cell of my body?” I allow myself to trust that whatever sensations I’m feeling, those sensations are the embodiment — the vibration and experience of — gratitude. Amazingly, the sensations I have felt are often surprising and are not what my mind would label as “gratitude.” And yet, at the same time, I notice myself starting to feel more and more gratitude in my daily life through this practice.

I used to think gratitude had to come in response to something in the world, that I needed to find something “worthy of gratitude” in order to experience it. Now, I’ve come to see that not only is it about fully receiving the beauty that surrounds me in the world in this present moment, gratitude is also already present inside of me. And when I allow myself to feel and experience the gratitude already inside of me, then (or sometimes seemingly simultaneously) I feel grateful for something in my outer world. There is no effort in this; instead, once I am embodying the “vibration” of gratitude, I really have no choice but to begin feeling grateful for things in my life. In this way, I don’t have to hunt with my intellect for things to be grateful for. It simply happens naturally once I tune in.

In gratitude & love,
Signature-with-transparent-background

AFOG — Another F*&%ing Opportunity for Growth

One day, a little over ten years ago when I was feeling suicidal, I was explaining to my sister and her husband my rationalization for it being perfectly okay for me to commit suicide. I was sharing how I had realized that if I killed myself, everyone would move on and be fine. People die every day, I said. People move past these things all the time, I explained. I was so deep in my own misery that I then went on to say one of the most cruel and hurtful things I ever remember speaking out loud. You see, my brother-in-law’s little brother had recently died in a car accident. He was a teenager or at the most in his early 20s when he died. In my utter narcissistic despair and obliviousness, I proceeded to point out to my brother-in-law that obviously he had moved on from the death of his brother, and that that was the proof of my undeniable logic. A deafening silence followed. My sister glanced at her husband. Then she locked her eyes on mine, and I’ll never forgot what she said to me: “Yes, people move on. But nothing is ever the same again. Their lives are changed forever.”

Those words and the energy behind them pierced through the veil of my despair to shake me awake. Needless to say, I didn’t commit suicide. But more than that, never again did I trivialize the depth and breadth of what we experience as human beings in this life, including the deepest grief, despair, and pain. The experience of loss, for instance, is not trivial simply because all of us must endure and move through it at some point in our lives. In fact, the experience can be utterly transformational in the most horrendous and most beautiful ways. Indeed, we will never be the same again.

Recently I ran across an article written by Mark Sandlin called, 10 Clichés Christians Should Stop Saying. Some of these clichés are said by more than just Christians and are generally used in an attempt to comfort ourselves or others going through a challenging experience:

Everything happens for a reason.

God (the Universe) never gives us any more than we can handle.

We could debate (endlessly) whether or not these statements are even true. But more important is how these statements are often used as a subtle way of trivializing our own or another’s experience. I cannot tell you how often people start to share with me the depth of their pain only to stop themselves with a “but” followed by a version of one of these statements. Another common sentence to follow the “but” is, “I’m seeing this as an opportunity for growth.”

It is fantastic to see that everything happens for a reason, or that we can handle whatever is in front of us, or that every situation is an opportunity for growth and evolution. But when we start to use these ideas as subtle ways of avoiding and trivializing our own pain, then we are bypassing the very path we must travel to grow, transform, and heal in the most profound ways.

What is needed for true transformation and healing is the capacity to hold and feel fully both sides of this coin — both the horrendousness and beauty, the pain and the transformative power, the grief and the love. A friend of mine once shared that she calls these situations AFOGs — another f*%&ing opportunity for growth. I love this because the f-bomb acknowledges the pain of the situation, and “opportunity for growth” speaks to the transformative potential. I find that all too often, we want to leave out the f-bomb. We want to avoid the pain at all costs. But when we do this, we are denying an aspect of life itself. As Vera de Chalambert says:

“We must not send suffering into exile — the fear, the heartbreak, the anger, the helplessness all are appropriate, all are welcome. We can’t dismember ourselves to feel better. Difficult feelings need to be given space so they can come to rest. They need contact. We can’t cut off the stream of life and expect to heal.” ~From Kali Takes America: I’m with Her

The capacity to be fully present with both the pain and the inherent transformative power in these situations is often not easy. It takes an ability to differentiate and dis-identify from powerful energies which can be so overwhelming and all-consuming that we literally think they are us. For me, this is a journey. It is a continual discovery that pain and transformative power are often inseparable. It is a journey I embrace because, in that moment when my sister looked me in the eyes, I decided to live.
Signature-with-transparent-background

Turning Towards

A healthy human being is characterized by a wider and wider capacity to experience [with presence] emotion and blends of emotion.” ~Dr. Keith Witt, Integral Psychologist

This assertion from Dr. Witt may sound simple, but I believe it to be extremely profound in its implications. In fact, I think it is key to understanding truly transformational healing and how it occurs. Dr. Witt and Jeff Salzman discuss this topic in Jeff’s Daily Evolver podcast episode entitled, “Transforming Trauma Into Power.” (I highly recommend listening to it in its entirety.)

What does it mean to have a wider and wider capacity to experience and be present with emotion? What is so challenging about it? And why is this capacity so essential for transformational healing?

Having the capacity to be present with our emotions means we have cultivated the ability to turn towards our unwanted feelings, pain, and other undesired material, as opposed to turning away through denial, distraction, or dissociation. One of the reasons this is so difficult is it goes against our most basic survival and instinctual drives, such as our ability to dissociate when experiencing a traumatic event. If we have used a response such as dissociation in the past and it worked to get us through a traumatic situation, our system will remember this success and use dissociation over and over again whenever it perceives danger (real or not). And this response will happen automatically and often unconsciously. That is, most of us are not even aware when we are dissociating.

Another reason it is difficult for us to turn towards our pain is we are often taught that certain emotions are bad and others are good. When we judge our emotions (and therefore ourselves) in this way, we tend to suppress those emotions which we have labeled as wrong. We do this in a variety of ways. We might dissociate (as already discussed above), go into denial, or use distraction (food, TV, drugs, alcohol, shopping, etc.). We might also shame ourselves in an attempt to control our feelings.

Why is it important to build the capacity to turn towards our pain? When we suppress our emotions or are otherwise unable to be present with our painful experiences, symptoms will eventually arise such as anxiety, panic attacks, depression, psychosis, physical & immune system ailments, and in cases of extreme trauma, PTSD symptoms. The way to truly heal is to turn toward our pain and be present with the associated emotions and sensations. If we are able to meet our pain with compassionate understanding and radical acceptance, the energy of the held trauma naturally begins to metabolize, integrate, and heal.

One way to be present with our painful experiences is through what is called resourcing. This is a way of holding a resourced or healthy, powerful feeling in the body simultaneously with a challenging feeling in the body. Holding the two together in this way allows for integration and healing. Dr. Witt describes a simple practice in the podcast (at around the 36-minute mark) which you can try today that utilizes this principle.

I love what Jeff Salzman said when he describes this process for himself: “Whenever I find myself in a depression or anxiety or an anger vortex, I say, ‘This is good news! Here I have this ball of energy, and I have the opportunity to actually turn towards it and move into it.'” It is that willingness and that capacity to “turn towards” that results in growth and healing. It’s not just that you metabolize the experience and now it’s no longer a “block” or no longer causing symptoms. It’s that you actually heal with a big “H,” meaning you grow and you evolve. And that, I believe, is an important part of what life is all about.

Blessings,
Signature-with-transparent-background