Tag Archives: acceptance

Resistance as a Protective Mechanism – Part 1

modern artWhen we were young, many of us learned that certain emotions are bad or wrong to feel or express. For instance, if we expressed naturally arising emotions such as frustration, fear, or sadness, perhaps our parents believed those emotions are harmful and so attempted to squelch their expression. Similarly, if we expressed joy, excitement, or exuberance, believe it or not, sometimes our parents can believe those emotions are also wrong to express in excess, and so they will teach us (in a variety of creative ways) that the expression of those energies is not acceptable.

As young children, we depend upon our caregivers for survival. This means that our basic autonomic survival mechanisms will engage when our caregivers strongly disapprove of something we are doing or expressing, and we’ll begin to mold ourselves in whatever ways are necessary to meet their expectations and demands. If our caregivers clearly do not want us to feel or express certain emotions, we will begin to resist or repress those emotions whenever they arise in us. This resistance/repression is actually an internal protective mechanism formed to keep us safe—that is, safely away from feeling or expressing the emotions we aren’t allowed to feel, given our circumstances. This protective mechanism becomes ingrained and autonomic; that is, it will be triggered automatically whenever these “dangerous” emotions begin to arise in us, effectively keeping us away from feeling or expressing them. The amazing thing is all this happens without our conscious minds needing to do anything!

freeimages.co.uk medical imagesIt turns out that it takes quite a bit of energy to repress natural emotion, and we experience this resistance as various kinds of suffering. The suffering can take the form of anxiety, rage, depression, shame, blame, self-reproach, fear, restlessness, and any other multitude of unpleasant (or downright awful) experiences. The confusion here is that we often label these experiences as “emotions.” But these forms of suffering are NOT true emotions. Quite the opposite is the case. These states are instead the inner experience of the repression of natural emotion. The suffering itself actually forms the protective mechanism we have developed to keep us away from feeling the underlying emotion. (I should note here as well that these states don’t just protect us from feeling unwanted emotion, but they can also protect us from feeling the overwhelming energy and sensations associated with unintegrated trauma. I’ll be discussing that topic in Part 2 of this post.)

So, what is important about this distinction between emotion and states of suffering? Well, if you have been around the block in the self-help world, I’m sure you’ve heard by now how important it is to “feel your emotions.” But, the problem is if you think that the rage, the anxiety, the shame, the depression, the restlessness, etc., are the emotions everyone is telling you you’re supposed to be feeling, you might be wondering when the healing is going to start because you still feel like crap even though you keep feeling all these “emotions.” After all, you are feeling these things… over and over again… so shouldn’t you be healing by now?

The issue here is that you are not actually feeling the energy (the emotion) that you have repressed. Rather, what is happening is your protective mechanism is being triggered. The rage, the shame, the anxiety, the depression… none of these are the underlying emotion. You are experiencing what it feels like to resist and repress the emotion, and it hurts—a lot.

The natural energy (the true emotion), when actually experienced and allowed to move in a way that is not overwhelming, feels nothing at all like these forms of suffering. In fact, when I started to feel authentic emotion, it was hard for me to even label it because it was so different than what I had been experiencing (depression) for so many years. A dandelion 3real emotion, when felt fully, rises in me like a wave, crests, and then naturally dissipates. It is simply an energy wave with a certain “flavor” that moves through me. It is powerful, yes, but it does not continually spin and never resolve. Actually, in my experience, it feels good to feel real emotion, no matter what flavor that emotion might take.

It is actually very easy to distinguish between states of suffering and the movement of real emotion. States of suffering such as I described above (rage, shame, anxiety, depression, etc.) will come in repeating patterns. The feelings will be triggered and arise over and over again, with no real resolution, no matter how much they are “felt.” There will be patterned thoughts, beliefs, and physiological/physical changes that arise at the same time. Also, the states will probably escalate over time because it takes more and more energy to repress more and more emotion, thus greater suffering is present in the resistance and repression. In contrast, a real emotion is a one-time deal. It will move through like a wave, and it will do so rather quickly. That doesn’t mean a similar emotion won’t arise again, but it won’t feel like it’s the same thing happening over and over again with no resolution or progress.

Because these states of suffering become repeating patterns that get more intense over time, they are often labeled as mental illnesses such as anxiety disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, etc. Eventually, the suffering can also become a significant contributor to physical diseases and disorders, such as autoimmune conditions, chronic pain, chronic fatigue, inflammatory conditions, and more.

Perhaps by now you can see how these states of suffering distract us away from experiencing the underlying emotion because we become focused on the suffering itself. Our attention turns toward trying to get rid of the suffering. We take drugs to treat the depression and anxiety and chronic pain. We read self-help books to try to fix our “destructive belief systems.” But because we unconsciously believe that the underlying emotions are wrong or dangerous to feel, our suffering—which is the protective mechanism itself—is actually designed to distract us away from feeling the original emotion. That’s its job! Essentially, we become hypnotized by our own suffering. As you can see, our protective mechanisms are very effective at keeping us away from the emotions we aren’t supposed to feel.

The rubber meets the road in our healing journey when we finally turn toward those aspects of ourselves that are suffering and meet them in a different way. The rage, the anxiety, the shame, the depression… when these protective mechanisms are met with curiosity rather than animosity, we begin to realize how they served us in the past and continue to serve us even today. At the same time, we can also see clearly the ways in which these protective mechanisms no longer serve us, and in fact hurt us and hurt others in deep and profound ways. It is when we are able hold both of these truths in our hearts that something else—another option—becomes possible. Through this process, the protective mechanisms can begin to let go, and when they do, the energy that is underneath them will come to the surface to be felt and integrated. I have found this to be the crux of healing this kind of core wound.

turtleIn Part 2 of this post, I’ll be discussing this same topic in a more nuanced way as it relates to trauma. To say that suppressing emotion is how and why we form these protective mechanisms is actually incomplete and bit simplistic. With trauma, the sensations and feelings we experience are literally overwhelming—so overwhelming that we are unable to integrate and process them at the time of the experience. Our system then isolates that unintegrated energy (so that we can continue to function) and forms protective mechanisms to keep us away from re-experiencing the overwhelm. I’ll be exploring this in more depth in Part 2. Stay tuned!

With love,
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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,
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Necessary Conditions for Transformational Healing

When it comes transformational to healing, it can be helpful to let go of trying to “make it happen” and instead turn our attention toward creating the conditions in which healing is most likely to occur. This idea is similar to what is expressed in the following quote from Suzuki Roshi:

“Gaining enlightenment is an accident. Spiritual practice simply makes us accident prone.”

The idea here is that we cannot make enlightenment happen through willpower. However, we can create the conditions, through spiritual practice, in which it is more likely to occur. And, we can think of transformational healing in a similar way. True healing does not happen through willpower, but it can happen quite naturally when the right conditions are present.

So what are the right conditions for transformational healing? I recently watched a webinar with Cassandra Vieten from the Institute of Noetic Sciences in which she discussed several key conditions necessary for worldview change. (You can watch the webinar here, which I would highly recommend.) I believe that everything she names in the webinar is not only key to changing our worldview, but also key to true healing. This is because healing involves transforming our whole being, worldview and all.

If you are looking to create an environment in which transformational healing can more easily occur, providing these “conditions” may be a good place to start:

  1. A community of support: This is perhaps the most important condition necessary for transformational healing. The community doesn’t have to be huge; in fact, it can be only two people. The key point here is that trauma occurs in relationship and so does healing. One important aspect of a community of support is that it must allow for vulnerability and truth-telling — the expression of doubts, fears, uncertainties, realizations, challenges — without anyone in the community trying to change, suppress, make wrong, or “fix” the person expressing his/her truth.
  2. Practices that help grow the personal capacity for acceptance of what is. Acceptance does not mean we necessarily like what is. It doesn’t mean we won’t take any action to change our circumstances. It simply means that we are able to be fully present with the truth of what is actually happening now rather than going into resistance, denial, or distraction.
  3. Practices that reliably lead to a direct experience of healing… even small experiences. Watching other people transform or reading scientific evidence assuring us that we can heal will not convince us that our own healing is possible. We must have repeated direct experiences to build trust in the healing process.
  4. Encouragement and ways in which to engage creatively in a scientific process of forming hypotheses, creating experiments, and exploring our findings. It’s also important to provide scientific explanations and data related to your particular approach to health and healing to help open and settle the mind.
  5. Tools, training, and education in practices and ways in which people can participate in their own transformation and healing. Truly transformational healing is an inside-out job, and the miracle is that we can be empowered to participate in and catalyze our own healing!
  6. Space and opportunity to identify and name intentions, dreams, wants, desires, and motivations around healing.
  7. Frequent reminders that:  a) Healing is a process, not an event, and b) things may feel overwhelming, but everyone absolutely has the capacity to rise to the occasion and be present with all arises in the process.

Of course, how to provide these conditions is the real art… and the endless joy! I have been fortunate enough to be a part of communities like this which provide all the conditions necessary for my own transformation and healing. And now, this is what I am working to provide both in my personal practice with clients, and also at the School of Inner Health where I assist with biodynamic craniosacral therapy trainings. At the school we work to provide the kind of environment described above in all our classes, with a focus on the body as the main “way in” for catalyzing healing and transformation. The result is an experience of healing in ourselves while simultaneously learning how to help others on their healing journeys.

Interested in learning about the trainings offered at the School of Inner Health? Check it out here.

The Choice of Self Acceptance

graveyardI’m in Colorado now, having made the trip in early October to Boulder for what I thought was a short stay. Well, things didn’t go quite as planned, and I ended up in the ER in Boise, Idaho, on my way out here. Turns out I had a partially collapsed lung and ended up being grounded for a bit. My dad was kind enough to come and rescue me from Boise and drive me back to Boulder, where I have been ever since.

During the experience in Boise, I thought I might die. I began to reflect. This wasn’t always a pretty process, at times filled with morbid thoughts, confusion, and terror. But some meaningful questions surfaced during that time of deep inner reflection: Why do I want to live? Do I want to live? Who do I want to be if I live? What’s important to me? Eventually, my heart answered with this simple statement: I want to accept and love myself just the way I am. This was clearly the next step on my evolutionary journey.

This theme didn’t go away. It stuck with me, even now that I’m settling in Boulder and feeling (somewhat) more removed from impending death. And so I set the intention to accept myself on all levels. This falls under the category of, “Be careful what you wish for because you will get it.” What I quickly came to experience is that in order for me to accept myself in this way, all those parts of myself that I had been ashamed of and condemned, and then finally denied through elaborate efforts to prove that I am not that, started to rise to the surface. After all, I cannot accept something I am unconscious of due to denial, and so these things had to bubble up so I would have the opportunity to fulfill my intention to accept myself fully. Being surrounded by family and friends greatly accelerated this process, as you can imagine.Bubbles

After setting this intention, I have gone through several layers of what it means to accept myself, and I have no doubt there is more to come. But for now, what it has come down to is this: Full self acceptance is a simple (but not easy) choice. It is a choice stemming from a commitment to live in love. This choice is not based on logical arguments which explain why these aspects of myself exist, therefore somehow exempting me from shame or blame. It is not based on logical reasons which prove my beliefs are untrue and therefore prove I have no reason to be ashamed. It is not based on spiritual bypasses which tell me these aspects of myself are “ego-based” and are therefore not who I really am. No, this choice presented itself to me when there were no more excuses, no more logical arguments, and no more spiritual bypasses. The choice came when I could no longer talk myself out of feeling the full, terrible force of the shame, when all pretense was gone and I was facing head on those aspects of myself that I had been denying and hiding all these years. It was at that moment when I realized I had a choice: I could choose to accept and love Tearmyself for no reason other than I am committed to living in love, or I could choose to continue to hate myself. It really was that simple. And, choosing love in that moment was quite possibly the hardest choice I have ever made.

And so what I’ve learned so far about acceptance is threefold:  1) I had to set the intention (make the commitment) to accept myself fully. 2) The choice to fully accept myself (and by extension, others) only becomes available when I allow those aspects of myself which I have been condemning and denying to bubble up, to come into my conscious awareness. And, those aspects only arise when I am willing to feel fully the shame that goes along with all I have been denying. I found that this is what it actually means to look at myself honestly. It is not a mind game. It is all about being fully available to feel the pain. 3) Once the stage has been set and the choice arises, I now have the incredible opportunity to choose love — to accept myself exactly as I am — for no reason other than I am committed to living in love. This is a choice I must make over and over, day in and day out. It’s that simple. It’s not easy, but it’s simple.

The implications of this choice are vast. I know now that the level at which I am able to accept and love myself is exactly equivalent to the level at which I am able to accept and love bird flying2others. I also know that my true heart’s desire is simply to give and receive love more and more fully, When I can face head on what I am most ashamed of in myself and still choose love, I can face anything in anyone else and choose love with them as well. For when I am totally honest, I notice that I carry all those qualities that I have condemned in others within myself. This, I believe, is one of the most important keys to healing ourselves and our planet.

In gratitude & love,
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Suffering: It’s All Smoke & Mirrors – Part 1

RoosterKauai has lots of chickens.  Lots.  They’re everywhere.  The roosters like to crow.  It’s their job, and they do it well.  They do it all day long.  I’m not even sure how much they sleep because they even do it at 1 a.m.  It’s apparently a very important job.  Now, let’s just pretend one night I’m happily sleeping away, dreaming of angels and whatnot, and a rooster crows right outside my window at 3 a.m.  It is a piercing, startling sound.  How am I supposed to sleep now?  Intense irritation arises inside of me.  Why won’t that damn chicken just shut up?  He crows again.  And again.  And again.  He’s still right outside my window.  I am so angry now I decide to take matters into my own hands.  I run out the door, screaming and waving my arms like a mad woman, and chase the horrible little bird far away from my window.  Now I feel a little better.  That rooster sure got what was coming to him!

Let’s look at what just happened here.  What happened is pretty much a lot of nothing, except for suffering on my part and a startled chicken wondering about that crazy lady.  In my case, my suffering took the form of anger and irritation.  Let’s examine the very beginning of this incident.  What caused my irritation to arise?  Was it the chicken?  No, not really.  What caused my irritation to arise was an unconscious resistance to what was happening in that moment: a chicken was crowing for about one second outside my window.  Big deal.  But to me in that moment, it was a big deal, wasn’t it?  My reaction was automatic and unconscious, meaning I didn’t think it out like this: “Oh, a chicken just crowed, and it was loud.  I don’t like loud, piercing sounds.  I think I’ll get pissed now.”  No, I just got pissed automatically.  What was happening is some unconscious part of me thought it was not at all okay for a chicken to be crowing at 3 a.m. right outside my window.  That part of me then produced irritation in order to affect my behavior, in order to motivate me to do something about what I thought was the problem (the chicken).  Now, it felt like I had some measure of control over the situation. After all, I chased the chicken away, didn’t I?  Peace and quiet abounded (until the next chicken comes along, which is within the next minute or so).

But what if the irritation never arose in the first place?  What if I were perfectly happy with a rooster crowing right outside my window at 3 a.m.?  Then I wouldn’t have suffered at all, Eyeand neither would’ve the chicken I scared to death with my crazy arm waving, 3 a.m. madness.  There would have been no “problem” then, would there?  There would have just been a rooster crowing, and a happy woman in bed enjoying the rooster crowing.  What caused the problem was my unconscious resistance to what was happening.  In this case, that resistance (=suffering) took the form of irritation.  Do you see what that means?  It means I created the problem.  The rooster had nothing to do with it.

When you think of it like that, it becomes clear that the real problem — the suffering itself — is DCF 1.0phantom-like or not quite real.  I mean, it was real for me in that I suffered: I felt irritated, ran outside like a crazy woman, and scared a chicken.  But really what happened is I created a problem inside of myself (suffering) by resisting what was happening, scared a rooster who was just doing his duty as a rooster, and then finally came back to planet earth feeling quite accomplished because I had figured out a clever way to get rid of the problem… yup, the problem I just created myself.  It’s a whole bunch of hand-waving (literally) and quite exciting, but wouldn’t it have been nicer to just enjoy the rooster and go back to sleep?  No problem created.  No suffering created.  Happy me, happy rooster.

This is true for more than just irritation arising when a rooster crows.  This happens all the time.  Unconscious resistance arises whenever something happens in the world that we have learned to define as something that shouldn’t be happening.  It arises when whatever is happening doesn’t fit our concept of how things should be.  The range of this resistance is enormous… it goes all the way from slight disgust, such as when my hubby drools on my pillow yet again, to feeling horrified at the slaughter of millions in mass genocide.  In all cases, the problem for me is arising inside of myself — that is, I am creating my own suffering by resisting reality.  The reality is, for example, my hubby just drooled on my pillow and there is mass genocide taking place.  If I don’t think those things should be happening, resistance (=suffering) arises within me in various forms such as anger, sadness, despair, horror, etc.  A problem is created inside of me, and I suffer.  I’m not doing it consciously, but I am doing it.  The truth is, I would not suffer if I didn’t resist reality.

What most of us are doing is going around doing all sorts of things to try to get rid of “problems” we created inside ourselves.  We think that our horror and worry aBlue smokend disgust that arises when we witness something like mass genocide is actually caused by that circumstance, but that’s not true.  Those feelings arise due to our own resistance — due to the fact that we learned somewhere along the line that mass genocide shouldn’t happen (as an example).  We mistake those feelings as being caused by the outside circumstances, and so we do not know that when we take action to “help,” we are doing so primarily to relieve the discomfort — the suffering — inside of ourselves that we ourselves created.  It’s just like the chicken.  It’s an illusion — not quite a real problem — although it’s real to us in our suffering.  But it wouldn’t be real if we never resisted in the first place.  I’m not saying that mass genocide isn’t real or that we should simply put our feet up and let it happen.  I’m saying the problem inside of us would not be there if we didn’t resist.  We ourselves would not be suffering.

A couple questions might come to mind after pondering this:

  1. Where would my motivation to act in the world come from if I wasn’t motivated by a feeling that something should not be as it is? Why would I take action to change anything if I accept everything as it is? Sure, I’d be happy as a clam, but what about all those people out there being slaughtered in wars or otherwise enmeshed in horrific circumstances? Why would I care about doing anything to help them? Or on a more personal level, what if I have pain or disease in my body? Why would I want to do anything about that — to try to heal — if I just accepted it as it is?
  2. Okay. I can see how I am the one creating my own suffering. But how do I change my unconscious, automatic responses, the key words here being “unconscious” and “automatic”?

Good questions!  Stay tuned for Part 2 for my thoughts on this.  In the meantime, maybe the answers will come of their own accord as you watch yourself and notice what’s happening.Have fun noticing!

Aloha & peace,
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“There are kids starving in China.” Huh. Yep, I still hate peas, but now I feel guilty for hating peas!

As a youngster, I despised peas.  Peas were the enemy.  But for some reason, my parents insisted I eat them.  I accomplished this horrific task by attempting to swallow them whole as quickly as possible so as to hardly taste the awful things going down.  I also tended to drench them in butter and salt, which basically counterbalanced any nutritional value they once had, thus making the whole exercise fairly pointless.  I’m not sure if it was my parents or someone else who then pointed out that there are kids starving in China, so I should be grateful I have food on my plate at all.  We’ve all heard this line of reasoning in one form or another.  The problem was that I still hated peas.  Now, on top of being forced to eat peas, I was also horrified that there were kids starving in China.  I wondered why I was such a bad person to hate peas when those kids in China would be grateful to have them.  Ah, sweet, sweet guilt!

Even though most of us know by now the ridiculousness of that argument, the truth is we still do the same kinds of comparisons every day in hopes that we’ll suddenly feel better and grateful for what we have because someone else is supposedly worse off.  Lately, I’ve been noticing a somewhat disturbing tendency in my friends and clients to dismiss their feelings by comparing themselves to those “less fortunate.”  For instance, a client might spend five minutes pouring her heart out to me about how she just doesn’t feel passionate about her job anymore and is actually quite miserable.  Then, suddenly, she goes on to exclaim in an unconvincingly chipper voice, “Well, at least I have a job!  I know so many people who don’t have work.”  While it’s true that many people don’t have work and that situation certainly presents its challenges, this fact has absolutely nothing to do with my client feeling miserable in her current situation.  So why do we do this?  Do we actually feel better by comparing ourselves to people we think might be more miserable than us?  In the long run, I don’t think so.  I think we actually feel worse.

I believe the reason we feel worse is because all we succeed in doing is adding guilt to our misery, and guilt + misery only equals more misery.  The fact that we are feeling miserable for whatever reason doesn’t change, but now we also think we shouldn’t feel miserable because, after all, someone else would clearly feel grateful (or so we think) to be in our situation.  Sure, for a short time, we might feel better as we realize how lucky we are in so many ways.  That’s fantastic!  Gratitude is a wonderful thing.  Unfortunately, though, the problem is that after only a few hours or even a few minutes we often revert back to our original feelings, only now we are also disgusted with ourselves for not being able to stop those feelings.  I remember many times in my depressed states hating myself because I would look around the world and see the absolutely horrific atrocities happening to millions of people, and then I would look at my cushy little life and feel that I simply had no right to be depressed.  I ended up dismissing my feelings as invalid and had added yet another reason to hate myself.  You can imagine how well that worked out for me!

So the next time you are tempted to perk yourself up by comparing yourself to some poor, suffering soul like Kim Kardashian or Charlie Sheen, remember that being grateful for what you have has nothing to do with what other people lack, and your feelings are valid regardless of your situation compared to others.  For me, this realization was one small step toward loving and accepting myself just the way I am, pea-hater and all.

Aloha & blessings,

Penny