Part 3: Making New Associations; Moving from Craving Certainty to Welcoming Wonder

In our technologically advanced, “just google it”, and “ask SIRI” culture, every fact we could ever want is literally at our fingertips. Anyone with a Smart phone has literally turned into a know-it-all. Knowledge has never been so easy to acquire and you would think this would make us a more balanced and peaceful society.  But anxiety levels are higher than ever. It seems that the more we know the more stressed out we become.

It is easy to believe that knowing more should bring us more certainty, about our lives and our futures. But certainty, and especially future certainty, is an elusive concept in a quantum Universe where 96% of it is made up of black holes and dark matter. Where Light acts as a wave and a particle, though they are two mutually exclusive things, and when the Universe is expanding at a mind-blowing rate. When some of the atoms that used to be in me are now in you or in the veggies I grow in my garden. There are natural laws, yes, and then, there is mystery, wonder, the miraculous, the inexplicable, and unexplained phenomena. The new association suggested in today’s blog is to move from craving certainty to welcoming Wonder!

What is wonder? “A feeling of surprise mingled with admiration caused by observing something beautiful, unexpected, inexplicable”. This is the dictionary’s attempt to catalog the concept of wonder. But I would suggest that wonder is more easily grasped with images or memories. For instance, do you remember the exact moment your very first child entered the world, or the first time you made love to that exquisite being who you had adored with your heart for so very long? What about watching a massive thunderstorm over the ocean, or a double rainbow after said storm, or surfing a 40 foot wave at Mavericks and living to tell about it?  Wonder by its very nature is not certainty or knowledge or a gathering of facts. It is visceral and hearted/body based sensations that cause deep emotions, some would say it enlivens our very souls.

If I am like most humans, I long for wonder while wanting certainty at the same time. But I would posit, they are often opposite sides of a coin and being open to wonder may mean I let go of demanding control, the human means used to accomplish certainty. Being open to the present moment as opposed to controlling it so the outcome is as I desire, allows me to experience any wonder that may be lurking. (And the more I try to stay open, the more wonder I find lurking).

I will close this blog with a poem I wrote as a way for me to make sense of my decade-long journey to try to move toward wonder. I hope it reaches places inside you where my logical words cannot. And may you find Wonder and mystery lurking in plain sight as you go about your daily life.

CAMEL TRADING

A long time ago, I traded Wonder

for knowing, certainty, and a sense of control

like a shrewd camel trader

looking for the better deal.

Now, I’m still wanting wonder while

craving security, safety and knowing what’s coming.

In a competition between a want and a craving,

the craving wins every time.

What if I craved wonder with every fiber

of my substantial being. What would life look like?

And the craven voice of my fear-based life form,

why I crave surety in the first place,

whispers, “What will you have to let go of’?

Like a rock climber whose rope’s ripped,

clings to the crack in the rock for dear life,

my human, grasping fingers grip,

every shred of certainly and all I have gained

gathered and amassed along the way.

The fear of farther loss,

seems a blow from which I will not recover.

Though choosing to let go, and be emptied,

is nothing like

having self, personhood and dignity

ripped out of your body and being

from as far back as you can remember.

But to the body, loss is loss

and the fear runs silently, in the background

of my mind like a software virus.

Then, I watch imperfectly formed, bold outlines

of humans choosing wonder

and her wingman, JOY

and my grasping, gripping fervor

seems less appealing, and loosening,

my fingers enjoy the break,

while my heart opens an inch more,

and then God with infinite patience

perpetuates the cycle.

Year by year this rhythm repeats

until that day dawns,

when I will trade certainty for Wonder

and like that camel trader,

will walk away laughing because,

I got the better deal!

by Wanda Brothers

Going deeper:

1.) Where do you find yourself, if anywhere, in this blog? Do you crave certainty? If so, what is the hit or reward you get from being certain? What would it be like to surrender this craving just for a few hours?

2.) What relationships do you have with Wonder? Can you stop and bring to memory one or more instances of Wonder you have experienced? If you can, notice the body sensations that accompany this memory. Wonder is expansive, cleansing, and revitalizing. Watch children experience Wonder if you need a refresher course.

Part 2: Making New Associations: Moving from Scarcity to Plenty

So I was running on the beach today, listening Def Leppard, like you do, and a song caught my attention, as an good example for our blog today. We are going back to the idea that each one of us has a worldview and that includes our perception of what is “ENOUGH”, and of the concepts of Plenty and Scarcity. Today’s suggested shift is moving from a perception of scarcity to understanding there is Plenty to go around, moving into the life expanding concept of Plenty, instead of being sucked into the fear vortex of Scarcity. This shift can apply to area of our lives, though time and money first come to mind. We can either believe we live in  Plenty and most often experience a sense of grateful generosity, or live in the fear of never having enough. In so doing, struggle with envy, selfishness and the unhappiness that comes with feeling like you won’t be taken care of by the Universe, God, or those you love. (By the way, I know I am dating myself with the Def Leppard reference;)

The song is called “Get Rocked” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EBcsCn9QyUQ and it could possibly serve as an anthem for many Americans. The young man only wants to take care of himself and his own pleasure 24/7. In one amusing stanza, his paramour puts classical music on the radio and he nixes it rudely and suggests a “rock”. Unless she is a robot, I bet he got nothing that day. Selfishness is unappealing to most of us, even as we struggle with it. He was stuck in the idea of Scarcity, that there was not enough pleasure in life and he had to push to get his first, all the time. Well, if he had listened to her classical music for a while, perhaps she might have considered his “rock”, of whatever kind he was suggesting!

Being stuck in a Scarcity mentality causes tremendous anxiety, sometimes selfishness, and often misery. When we believe there is not enough (time, money, possessions, friends, lovers, etc.,) our focus is rigidly fixated on not losing what we have. We can get stuck in a loop of trying hard to get more and keep that more in a pile that we can store and protect. A pile that will provide everything we need forever. The misery comes from a sense there will not be enough for us, NOT from the size of our pile! Please take a minute to let that sink in. It is an important understanding. When we mainly focus on what we do not yet have, or look at our pile as if it were insufficient, it is very hard to feel joy and optimism because our Autonomic Nervous System codes not having enough as a survival issue. Hence, focusing on scarcity, brings great anxiety.
Some of the happiest people I know have a rather small pile in comparison to others, however, their pile is not their focus and they live in grateful generosity and lots of joy. I am also honored to know people who have largish piles, but are so generous and open handed, because they are not stuck in Scarcity or fearfully protecting their pile. If you have a deep abiding sense that there is enough for you, and for others, it is hard to scare you. And, you will probably be willing to expand energy to share your pile with those who seem to be in deepest need. I am not suggesting there is no poverty or terrible places of scarcity in the world, but that there are not so many here where we live. And, we can change some of those if we are willing to live differently. To borrow a concept from a recent #Rob Bell kick ass presentation, the Universe is expanding, it keeps making more. People have children, who have more children, trees make apples that make more trees, etc., the Universe is a expanding self-giving reality. When we live with the understanding of Plenty we can change behaviors and conditions that might be causing scarcity for others less fortunate than ourselves. Just to give one example, food production experts have said for years, if Americans would change their habits and eat less red meat, so much more food could be produced. If you read the Omnivore’s Dilemma, http://www.amazon.com/The-Omnivores-Dilemma-Natural-History/dp/1594200823  he makes the claim the earth could produce enough to feed all human beings if we did things differently.

If you are wondering where you fall on this continuum, because it is one, and we can move back and forth throughout our lives, try giving a small treasured possession or some money away. Or do something for someone expecting nothing back for your time and expanded energy. How you feel will help identify for you, where you might fall.

The point is not that we are bad or defective if we are not living with a sense of Plenty most often, but that we are cutting ourselves off from joy, a sense of safety and a well-spring of gratitude that comes from living with a deep realization of how much we already have. I encourage you to try to notice your most predominate association with these concepts this week. I speak from personal, and professional experience as a therapist the past decade and a half, when humans move away from the concept of Scarcity, their anxiety drops substantially.  May this become your experience this week if you feel stuck. You can even use the sensations that come when you have an  experience of scarcity as your reminder to shift your focus back to Plenty and really look at all that you do have and all the good that is currently in your life.

African Sky Vista
African Sky Vista

Going deeper

1.) Which end of the continuum do you fall closest to much of the time? What sensations do you experience in your body with the thoughts of Scarcity or Plenty?

2.) What were your Family of Origin’s (FOO) most common attitude towards the concepts found in this blog? Did your parents’ differ in their examples to you? Remember, more is caught by a child than taught. How we see our folks act, becomes our normative experience. What do you desire to be your predominate attitude? That is what matters the most.

Join a 3 week Anxiety Reduction Workshop held here in San Diego monthly. Call 619-437-1465 for details.

Blog 28: Love & Anxiety, New Associations. Part 1

This past week I got to experience a unique event, a “paddle out” for wonderful Lorton Mitchell. A man in his prime, taken from his family by cancer while he was still so young. For those trapped in the ocean-less midwest, a paddle out is a surfing tradition from Hawaii. When a surfer dies, the community gathers together, jumps on surfboards and paddles out to beyond the breaking waves. There a ceremony is held, one of remembrance and celebration. It’s a solemn ritual and yet some joy leaks in the cracks. Perhaps it’s the magic of ocean water, or the laughter of children, or the safety of being surrounded by loved ones and 100’s of members of the community.

The last blog was about the need to make new associations with old sensations. But making new associations can also occur in conjunction with old belief systems or world views. We can make a new association with the way that we live our lives. Lorton was larger-than-life figure, and the way he lived his life, full of vigor and joy provides an excellent example to emulate as the subject of today’s blog. I want to suggest that those of us who are stuck in busyness, or achievement pandering, or over-scheduled living, need to make a change. We who are stuck in a life dedicated to duty, can make a new choice, a new association. We can to deliberately shift our primary driving force in life from one of Duty to that of JOY.

Imagine with me two large doors in front of you. One is labeled Duty and one is labeled Joy. If I was to offer you a choice of which door’s attitude will most characterize daily life, most of you will pick the Joy door! But if we are really honest about how we live our lives, most of us are unconsciously choosing duty over joy most of the time. One reason why our culture is so full of heart disease, a flood of medications, addictions, obesity and the many other curses of our over-stressed, way too busy modern life.

Ask yourself this question, how much joy to do you experience on a daily basis? Would your family, children, lover, etc., list joyful as one of your predominate traits? Or, are you more focused on what must get done, on checking off lists, keeping ducks in a row, (why ducks, why not cats, they are even harder to control?)

As children, most of us did not struggle through the misery of puberty in order to grow up and turn into a distracted, busy adult who has little or no time for fun. We hoped to grow up and do whatever pleased us, to have fun and to enjoy life. But life’s responsibilities, pressure and stress conspire to turn us into the duty bound creatures that many of us have become. I am not suggesting that life is not challenging, nor that we should throw up our hands and toss responsibility to the wind. There are things that must get done, it is good to be a “high functioning, well-behaved member of society” sometimes, I think? But if our primary focus is on our duty and getting things done, we miss most of the joy that this busy, complicated life has to offer.

Joy is an all body sensation, a vitality affect, and one of the best antidotes to stress and trauma that can be found. If you recall a previous blog where I talked about the two sides of the coin in our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), this blog might make more sense. Joy is the other side of the coin! It is the opposite of stressed and busy, and anxious and traumatized. If you doubt the power and intensity of joy, watch some Youtube videos of babies laughing, or children and puppies (any baby animal really). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L49VXZwfup8 try this one for even just one minute and notice the shift your body experiences inside.Healthy pleasure is a great way to begin to experience more joy in your life. If you have not engaged in self-care or healthy pleasure on a regular basis, it will be hard to live in joy regularly.

While joy and laughter are not the same physiological event, they are related and very connected. The research demonstrates repeatedly that people who laugh often, are happier, and physically healthier and have a more positive outlook on life. Well-parented children laugh much more often than children with lower functioning parents.

This week try to notice your primary outlook on life in terms of duty vs. joy. Which attitude prevails most often in your life? If it is duty, try your best to begin to include choices and situations that bring joy to you. When you feel joy, really notice how it lightens and brightens and enervates your entire body. Let me know how it goes.

Joy, Uganda style.
Joy, Uganda style.

Going deeper:

1;) What is your association with joy? Is it a common experience for you or something you rarely encounter? Who do you know that is often really joyful? If possible, spend more time with them and see how it impacts you. We become most like those with whom we spend the most time.

2.) What is your attitude to duty? If you are one who feels stuck in this place, ask yourself where you learned this? What were your parents’ primary attitudes toward joy and healthy pleasure, another close relative of joy? Are your attitudes similar to your parents or different? Most importantly, are they what you would like them to be?

I invite you to join a 3 week Anxiety Reduction workshop. I provide them in my office as well as at your organization, school, or place of worship. Mention this blog for a 10% discount. Call 619-437-1465 for more information.

Blog 27: Let the fear fall away- Intolerable sensations and addiction.

wnd_e35335b44c3bb5c11184fb6856524ab9

Thanks to my tech savvy sister, I  have recently joined twitter! As all new experiences do, it has really stimulated creativity. (Unfortunately, I also felt the rush of anxiety that accompanies the experience of doing something new for the first time.) But I have learned from experience, if you stay focused on the creativity and keep at it, the anxiety will drop away. This was not always the case though, and this rush of anxiety is one reason many people shy away from new experiences, people, situations, and opportunities. If feels so uncomfortable they give in to it and do not move forward.

This was the topic of my tweet today, intolerable sensations and feelings! In previous blogs I have shared how the body communicates in sensation and feelings, not in words. And, how sensations are the precursor to emotions. That tightness in your chest and belly, the cramping of your gut, the buzzing, zinging energy shooting up your core, these are your body’s words and messages. It is your body, trying to tell you how it feels about what you are doing, and what it needs from you to be at peace.

To understand addiction and to break the addictive cycle, you must understand AND listen when your body communicates.  Intolerable sensations drive the cycle of addiction. Addictions do not start out as a full-blown addiction but as an experience you have tried or used that made you feel good. Then you do more of it to feel better, and eventually you must have it, use it, do it, in order to just maintain equilibrium. Now you are addicted! And, you no longer feel the pleasure, you just do it to not feel miserable. That is what sucks about addiction, the pleasure is gone and its all about staying out of pain. So what differentiates people who drink socially for enjoyment but stop at 1 or 2 drinks and someone struggling with alcoholism who needs to start the day with a drink?  There are quite a few reasons, but the one I will focus upon today is the way people interpret big sensations/feelings as an intolerable feeling.

I have worked with trauma and addiction for 15 years now and every person that I have seen who has the courage to fight the addictive cycle is full of intolerable sensations. Their bodies are miserable and those sensations and emotions are so uncomfortable and feel so strong, that the person grabs the food, bottle, porn site, etc., just to get a sense of relief, or to numb out in order to not feel those miserable feelings. And, if you keep doing that, the cycle cannot be broken.

What needs to happen is you must MAKE A NEW ASSOCIATION WITH THAT OLD UPSETTING SENSATION! When you feel that internal misery and everything in you screams for your addiction, you stop and do something else. You try to be with that sensation that feels so awful and listen to it. This is easier to do with support, such as with a body-focused therapist, or in a 12 step program, but it has to be done. Here is a very simple example, when working with clients who struggle with binge eating. When on the verge of a binge, I have them stop and notice the craving sensation, to identify where in the body they most notice it, and to touch that place kindly and ask their body, “What am I really hungry for?”

Making a new association may sound too simple, but I have used this principle countless times to help clients heal from trauma and break their addictive cycles. See www.traumahealing.org or more information or go to my website www.sdtraumatherapy.com and read about Somatic Experiencing.This powerful, research-based modality, heals trauma and breaks addictive cycles. Simply talking about the struggle or addiction does not solve it. You must work with the person’s body and Autonomic Nervous system.

So this week, if you are noticing some unpleasant or seemingly intolerable body sensations, stop and listen to your body as you would to a new lover, spouse, or a beloved child. Try to discern your body’s messages and work on making a new association with the old sensation, i.e. learning. If you struggle with an addiction, you must learn to listen and settle your body instead of reacting and racing back to your old frenemy, the cycle of addiction. Please write and let me know how this works for you!

(If you want shorter blocks of information from me more regularly, please follow my twitter feed, wandabrosSE.)

Going deeper:

1.) Which sensations do you most often experience? Unpleasant, pleasant or neutral sensations? Which sensations and emotions do you find most intolerable, i.e., tension, anxious, shakiness, empty numbness, rage, fear, shame, disgust, etc?

2.) What do you typically do when you feel intolerable sensations? If you have an addiction or are working on developing one, what is your “substance or habit” of choice? Keeping in mind overworking or being on your phone/device constantly is an addiction as well, just not a ingestible one.

3 week anxiety reduction workshops available. Contact my website for more details.  Mentions this blog and receive a 10% discount.

Blog 26- Part 2: Nike, the serenity prayer, and stress physiology!

Part 2 – The Serenity Prayer

Part 1 of this blog addressed Nike’s slogan, “Just Do It” (JDI), and how it beneficially impacts our physiology. Today’s blog will make more sense if you read part 1.

Now that we know the power of JDI, let’s talk about the Serenity Prayer. I will include the short version of this prayer below, just in case you have been living under a large rock for the past 30 years and have not heard it!

“God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference”.

The concepts contained in this prayer are perfect partners with JDI energy to help shift our Nervous Systems out of threat physiology. Knowing when and where to apply our efforts and energy, and where not to, is critical information when it comes to a threat or a perceived danger to our body. Because sometimes there is nothing we can do about certain aspects of a problematic situation. So even if your switch is ON, if it’s an impossible situation to change, you could just get frustrated. Trying to change something over and over without success, makes us feel helpless and impotent.

Knowing what can be changed in a dangerous or stressful situation, is almost as important as having your switch ON. With this knowledge, you will be able to target your JDI correctly and not waste energy or stress on things that are not changeable, such as other people’s choices, your body’s limits, or natural laws, etc. As I said in a previous blog, “sometimes it is less traumatizing to surrender to a situation than to fight it”. So knowing when to let go and when to do something, will determine how successfully you act in a difficult situation. Knowing where to direct your ON energy and JDI, are keys to thriving in life rather than simply surviving it.

Let’s use an example that all Californians can relate to. We have a drastic water shortage here in our lovely state. If each one of us tries to solve the situation all by ourselves, or spends inordinate amounts of time brooding on the problem, we will be stuck in stress physiology for sure. This could also flip our switch to OFF because we feel helpless. However, combining our JDI with the Serenity prayer might look like taking shorter showers, only washing full loads of clothes, watering our golf courses and lawns less often, talking to our friends and neighbors and encouraging them to join us in our efforts, etc. If every Californian made these changes, over time, it would make a big difference, in the problem and inside our bodies.

This week notice how the Serenity prayer beautifully compliments your JDI energy and try applying both concepts to any stressful situations that occur. In what instances does surrender ever feel like serenity to you? Perhaps refusing to get in the same old fight with a spouse or a child, or letting someone cut you off in traffic without losing your mind in rage, etc. Please feel free to share your successes (and attempts) in the comments section.

Fiona connecting with her inner tiger, serenely waiting for the next moment to happen!
Fiona connecting with her inner tiger, serenely waiting for the next moment to happen!

Going Deeper:

1.) Which of the 3 tenets of the Serenity Prayer do you find the most challenging? Do you notice any internal resistances when you read it aloud? Just be with those somatic imprints of resistance this week and see what comes from this practice.

2.) What situations do you find easiest to use your JDI energy, and which situation are easier to surrender to? How does letting go feel to your body and mind? Many of us find that the body handles surrender much differently than the mind does. What is your experience?

3.) Think about the past few weeks. Have you experienced stressful situations? If so, have you been able to JDI? What needs doing depends on the situation, but doing something is much better than collapsing in helplessness, do you agree?

Love & Anxiety-Blog 26: Nike, the Serenity Prayer, and Stress Physiology!

Part 1 – Nike

The focus of the past few blogs was on how to flip our bodies out of threat physiology back into an embodied sense of safety and joy. One of the benefits my clients receive after engaging in somatic therapy is the experience of returning to feeling fully Alive in body and soul; rather than just existing, feeling persistent anxiety and worry.

Today’s blog focuses on another way to shift out of stress or threat physiology, but it’s more of a way of living than a tool. So, what does Nike and the Serenity Prayer have to do with stress physiology? Quite a bit it turns out. Today let’s start with Nike, more specifically, their famous marketing slogan — “JUST DO IT,” (JDI moving forward). What a great concept! We admire and respect athletes. Those who get up off the couch and just run that race, or just swim that heat, etc. It is not a coincidence, people who exercise strenuously on a regular basis are healthier and have better mood stability, than those who do not. There are many reasons for this including, improved heart-rate variability, rushing endorphins, and limbic system resonance, just to name a few.

But today’s blog is about the main reason why JDI matters in relation to our physiology. When it comes to attempting to recover from a trauma(s), stressful situations, or persistent daily anxiety, most of us don’t JDI. In threat and overwhelm mode, we are usually doing nothing about the issues that scare us, or even life in general. Some of us may worry, but that does not help! From an Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) perspective, just doing something can mean the difference between life or death, safety or danger. If a tiger is chasing you, JDI means, run like hell to save yourself because if you don’t JDI, you will be food for the tiger. While we don’t have literal tigers chasing us in North America, we fear plenty of “paper” tigers such as; illness, job loss, financial woes, divorce, relational betrayals, struggling children, etc.

JDI positively and directly impacts the ANS. Imagine with me a large invisible light switch planted right in the middle of your body. It is either ON or OFF, there is no other setting. This switch is a metaphor for action and self-efficacy. When it comes to stress, or life and death situations, in order to survive and thrive, we need that switch to stay in the ON position. ON in the ANS represents I CAN! I can run, I can fight, I can get away, I can JDI, in order to begin to resolve this situation.

Of course then, the OFF position epitomizes I CAN’T! I am helpless in the face of this situation and I don’t know what to do. People who live with their switch mostly in the OFF position tend to freeze and numb out when it comes to stress and problems, they are not living JDI. People who live mostly in ON position still experience anxiety, as well as stress and danger. However, they have an embodied knowledge of self empowerment, so they know that they will do what it takes to get back to safety. Therefore, they experience less trauma and anxiety. They know they can do whatever is needed to survive.

The good news is that JDI physiology, keeps that switch in the ON position. Doing something, rather than collapsing in fear and worry, allows your body to move toward the experience of empowerment and a sense of safety. This could include going for a walk, making that difficult phone call, asking for support, confronting someone, etc. If your switch is mostly OFF, start doing something, anything, on a regular basis and see how differently you feel. Self-efficacy has been shown in studies to be one the best antidotes to recovery from trauma, illness, anxiety, and consistent stressors. Self-efficacy is defined as the ability to effect whatever is your desired outcome. Another dictionary defined self-efficacy as potency and power! Other words for JDI!

In a few days, I will post part two, but meanwhile this week, check in with your body when in situations that are uncomfortable to you. Try to notice the position of your metaphorical switch. If it is OFF, practice trying self-efficacy instead of helpless, angry worry. I  will leave you with a statement I came up with years ago while doing my own somatic healing work for my body. “You are only helpless until you realize that you are NOT!”

JDI - African Style
JDI – African Style

Going Deeper:

1.) What is your reaction to this blog? Does it resonate or is there inner resistance? What is your reaction to JDI? Sometimes it is easier to stay in a stance of helplessness and blaming others for our misery. But what happens when you focus upon trying to find even the smallest step you could take moving forward?

2.) What is your internal response to my final statement! It sounds simple but it is a profound truth. I encourage you to meditate on this phrase this week and see what comes up for you, mentally and somatically.

I am still providing 3 week anxiety reduction workshops here in San Diego. If you are interested in 90 minutes of training, 3 weeks in a row, I am starting another round at the end of April. Life is too short to be afraid!

Blog #25: Flipping the coin, how to get out of threat physiology!

To pick up where we left off in the last blog, I suggested we figure out,  ‘what must I do to get out of threat/stress physiology?’ Here are some tools that tune our bodies back into the other side of the “coin,” out of threat physiology, back to calm sense of safety. I will share four tools today. Just for fun and for ease of memorizing, they will all begin with an S.

1.SLOW DOWN: When you find yourself walking too fast, talking too fast, eating too fast, etc., stop for a minute and then begin again slowly. Let your life’s pace be a saunter not a sprint. It makes a big difference in your physiology and to your tensed and braced muscles.

2. SILENCE: If you find yourself talking a blue streak to mask or release your anxiety, stop talking and practice silence. Females tend to try to use a flow of words to reduce anxiety a bit more often than males, but whichever sex you are, if you catch yourself talking non-stop, ask yourself W. A. I. T.? That stands for ‘Why Am I Talking? One of my friends calls this “fire-hosing”, a great description. Silence is calming for most people and allows our nervous systems to settle back down. Extraverts will have a harder time with this tool than Introverts.

3. SHIFT FOCUS: What we focus upon determines how we feel. If you don’t believe me, think back to the last time you worried and remember how bad your body felt. In almost every situation there is some positive element. But because our brains are biased to the negative, we get stuck in the negative and fearful aspects of a situation. When you are stuck in threat mode, deliberately look for the positive aspects of the situation. If that fails, focus on the positive aspects of your life. For example, the ability most of us have to walk, talk, take hot showers, and eat 3 meals per day. There are a myriad of wonderful factors in our everyday lives if we will but look for them, and then allow ourselves to feel gratitude for them. People who have a consistent practice of gratitude are happier and healthier than the general population for this very reason.

4. SELF-AWARENESS (especially of your body’s sensations): This is a simple but effective tool that can help keep your body out of stress physiology, or shift it to safety more quickly. Clients who are able to stay present to their lives and become aware of their body’s sensations as soon as the sensations arise, spend much less time in stress physiology. As I have mentioned in prior blogs, the body speaks in sensations, not words. So when you become aware of that heavy feeling of dread in your belly, or the tightness in your chest, as soon as it occurs, you have a much better chance of quickly shifting those sensations. If you don’t notice them until the sensations of fear and anxiety have been roaming your body for minutes or hours, and have hunkered down inside like soldiers in a foxhole, you can be stuck in them for a long time. The longer a sensation stays in your body underneath your awareness, the stronger it gets. So if you are able to focus on the positive aspects of the situation, or focus on positive hopes for future outcome, you will have more peace within your body.

Using these and many other tools, millions of people have learned how to move from threat physiology back into a sense of grounded safety, our Autonomic Nervous System at rest. Rest and Digest is actually the term used of this state, to denote that the major systems of our body are at rest and we are able to digest our food, liquids and solids. This of course is the opposite of the Fight or Flight system, another term for stress physiology, which stops digestion and puts stress on most of the major systems of the body and impacts, metabolism, respiration, blood flow, heart rate variability, stress hormones, and our muscle/skeletal system as we brace and tense our muscles in preparation for danger.

This week, I encourage you to pick one or two of the tools and try them consistently when you begin to feel stressed. Notice what happens and pay attention to the ones that work best for you. Please let me know how it works out.

Seeing a Lioness without the safety of the jeep, that would put me in threat physiology for a good reason!
Seeing a Lioness without the safety of the jeep, that would put me in threat physiology for a good reason!

GOING DEEPER:

  1. Do you ever practice gratitude? Why or Why not? If you do not, is there anything blocking you from trying this wonderful practice that has so many health benefits?
  2. Which of the tools sound hard or impossible to you and why do you think this is the case? For many people self-awareness can be a challenge. If it is for you, what might you do that could help make this a bit easier for you?

I am still providing 3 week anxiety reduction workshops here in San Diego. If you are interested in 90 minutes of training, 3 weeks in a row. Let me know. I will provide a 10% discount to anyone mentioning this blog! Life is too short to be afraid!

Love & Anxiety #24: Stress Physiology: The other side of the coin.

You know how sometimes life can feel too heavy, like there is just too much going on? Have you been there, recently?  I have lived there the past month. There has been a lot going on recently, including a very ill family member who happens to live 3000 miles away. Distance blocks certain things, but seems to amplify others. Such as the heavy, dense sensation of dread in my chest and belly, as I am made so aware of my own helplessness and inability to make things better, or to protect loved ones from pain.

And, like you I am sure, when my body is in this state of overwhelm, when the heavy dread feels all-consuming, like a dense fog taking over a previously sunny day, I am unable to experience all the good that is still in my life, such as friends, love, health, work, clean water, safety, etc. I want to feel the good, I try to, but in my body it “feels” like this heavy feeling is winning. That it will be my reality forever! There is a physiological reason for this phenomena, the temporary inability to perceive good when we feel threatened or in danger and it comes from the nature of our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS).

The metaphor of a coin helps explain this phenomena of our ANS. Like a coin, our physiology has two sides or modes and they are mutually exclusive of each other. In other words, you cannot be in both modes at once. Just like a coin, when you flip it repeatedly you will only get Heads or Tails, not Heads & Tails. In this Universe, with that type of matter, you can only have one or the other.

I am over simplifying a bit, but this is how our ANS works. In the moment, you can either experience heads or tails. You can be feeling safe, calm, and grounded, or be feeling stressed, anxious, and keyed up, i.e., feeling overwhelmed by your life. When the later is occurring, your body and ANS are in threat physiology. In this moment you are preparing to survive the danger you know is coming, or the danger you are looking out for, by worrying and over analyzing. If you care to notice anything besides your frantic, racing mind, most of your body systems are involved in this process. Your heart rate has changed, as well as your respiration and your digestion, to name a few. The body takes survival very seriously and this is why that dread-filled, heavy feeling can seem like a huge monster, (think 1970s movies of Godzilla flattening Japan) threatening your wellbeing. As if it is so powerful, it is impossible to shift it. But it is not impossible, just difficult.

It is important to remember that this feeling is part of being human, so as not to get too freaked out by it, or believe your future will be all pain and fear. Sometimes life is too much, things are too heavy and we feel alone, undone, and pounded down to our knees. When that occurs, it is also important to remember that you will NOT be feeling this way forever, it is a transitory feeling (though for some of us it may seem like a long transit), and there are ways to move out of it. What we need to recall in these moments is that just like that coin has two sides, our physiology does too. We have NOT lost the mode of safety and calm grounding, we are just not currently experiencing it. It is still available to us and we can get back to it. It helps to have that as our intention when we are caught in stress physiology. And, to ask ourselves, ‘what must I do to get back to the other mode of safety?’

It does help to add to our intention to change modes, tools that tune our bodies back into the other side of the “coin,” out of threat physiology, back to calm sense of safety. I will write about some of these in the next blog, so stay tuned. For those who don’t want to wait, if you re-read my past 10 blogs, in each one of them I include one or more research-based, helpful tools.

Up the crick, at least there is a paddle
Up the crick, at least there is a paddle

Going Deeper:

1.) Can you relate to this blog? Do you have times or seasons in your life that feel intolerable, or like they will never end and that you are doomed to feel this miserable forever? If so, can you look back and see you have moved through it? If so, what lessons have you learned from these times?

2.) What situations are most “heavy” for you, or cause you to experience threat or stress physiology? When you are in that place of stress and fear, are you able to recall your other mode of being? If so, what helps you get back to it?

Love & Anxiety #23: The Felt Sense & Anxiety

Today I am introducing the concept of the felt sense and how it relates to our body anxiety, using a “prayer” written by a doctor of Chinese medicine. I can not give credit to him because it was written anonymously. The next blog will flesh out this concept in a more linear fashion, but I think this is a great introduction!

Felt Sense Prayer    

I am the pain in your head, the knot in your stomach, the unspoken grief in your smile.

I am your high blood sugar, your elevated blood pressure, your fear of challenge, your lack of trust.

I am your hot flashes, your cold hands and feet, your agitation and your fatigue.

I am your shortness of breath, your fragile low back, the cramp in your neck, the despair in your sigh.

I am the pressure on your heart, the pain down your arm, your bloated abdomen, your constant hunger.

I am where you hurt, the fear that persists, your sadness of dreams unfulfilled.

I am your symptoms, the causes of your concern, the signs of imbalance, your condition of dis-ease.

 

You tend to disown me, suppress me, ignore me, inflate me, coddle me, condemn me.

I am not coming forth for myself as I am not separate from all that is you.

I come to garner your attention, to enjoin your embrace so I can reveal my secrets.

I have only your best interests at heart as I seek health and wholeness by simply announcing myself.

 

You usually want me to go away immediately, to disappear, to slink back into obscurity.

You mostly are irritated or frightened and many times shocked by my arrival.

From this stance you medicate in order to eradicate me.

Ignoring me, not exploring me, is your preferred response.

More times than not I am only the most recent notes of a long symphony, the most evident branches of roots that have been challenged for seasons.

 

So I implore you, I am a messenger with good news, as disturbing as I can be at times.

I am wanting to guide you back to those tender places in yourself,

the place where you can hold yourself with compassion and honesty.

If you look beyond my appearance you may find that I am a voice from your soul.

Calling to you from places deep within that seek your conscious alignment.

 

I may ask you to alter your diet, get more sleep, exercise regularly, breathe more consciously.

I might encourage you to see a vaster reality and worry less about the day to day fluctuations of life.

I may ask you to explore the bonds and the wounds of your relationships.

I may remind you to be more generous and expansive or to attend to protecting your heart from insult.

I might have you laugh more, spend more time in nature, eat when you are hungry and less  when pained or bored, spend time every day, if only for  a few minutes, being still.

 

Wherever I lead you, my hope is that you will realize that success will not be measured by my eradication, but by the shift in the internal landscape from which I emerge.

 I am your friend, not your enemy.  I have no desire to bring pain and suffering into your life.

I am simply tugging at your sleeve, too long immune to gentle nudges.

I desire for you to allow me to speak to you in a way that enlivens your higher instincts for self care.

My charge is to energize you to listen to me with the sensitive ear and heart

of a mother attending to her precious baby.

You are a being so vast, so complex, with amazing capacities for self-regulation and healing.

Let me be one of the harbingers that lead you to the mysterious core of your being

where insight and wisdom are naturally available when called upon with a sincere heart.  

Lucky from Uganda

Going Deeper:

  1. Can you relate to this prayer, does it resonate with your own body’s messages? If so, what changes might you make to better care for the amazing being that is your body?
  2. What messages does your body send you on a regular basis? Are they pleasant messages, ones of peace, relaxation and joy? Or, are they more often messages about exhaustion, pain, or anxiety? 

#22: Love Leaves Tracks!

Early one morning I was on the beach checking out the surf. I happened to look down and actually notice my surroundings. I saw imprinted in the sand, an abstract work of art consisting of many different bird tracks. There was not a single bird on the beach, but so many bird’s footprints. Just by looking at the unique shape of each track, I could tell what species of bird left them behind. This visual stimulated some thoughts about how things other than birds can leave tracks in the “sand” of my life. Even “intangibles” like Love and Anxiety, especially these two.

When I am deeply loved by another human, it leaves a tangible imprint on my heart and in my life. I was on crutches recently and so many friends offered to help me. Even a few kind strangers opened restaurant doors and carried my coffee. Kind and loving acts change us a little bit each and every time we experience one. Love’s imprint, opens our hearts and allow us to feel the deep goodness of this wonderful life we have been granted.

Some of my readers may be having a hard time right now and do not feel love is available to them. But whether you believe the Source of Love is called God, a Higher Power, or even a benign universe, this world is bathed in love. Strangers donating a kidney to save a life, people building homes for hurricane victims they have never met, parents patiently nurturing crying infants night after night, or even parents rescuing their adult children from yet another big mess! Love leaves footprints. Some of these include; an open heart, delight, expansiveness, peace, joy, trust, safety, a sense that life is good. Love is everywhere, though sometimes we miss it because we are not looking for it.

Often we fail to see the tracks of love in our life, because the tracks fear and anxiety leave seem bigger and more relevant. Anxiety leaves tangible tracks in our life as well. These can include: fear, worry, a self protective stance, doubting our decisions, selfishness, and anger. Because anxiety/fear screams at us internally, it is so easy to only notice the anxiety tracks and move into worry or panic mode. Love and peace are much “quieter” sensations and are easy to miss in the daily stress of our lives. And, since the brain is more interested in negative information than positive information, the anxious tracks catch and hold most of our attention. (See previous blogs is this is new information to you.)

There is a simple, but not easy to practice, antidote to living constantly in stress and worry. Choosing to deliberately refocus our primary attention from the tracks and sensations of anxiety. Honing our focus and attention onto the the tracks love has made and is still making, even in stressful situations. (This is an aspect of mindfulness.) Love is more powerful than fear! This week I encourage you to try this practice, deliberately look for love and away from the anxiety. You will have to do it over and over, but the more you do this, the more you will be able to calm down and see the good, even in hard situations. Love does cast out fear, but we need lots of it!

Going deeper:

1.) When you think of the tracks in the sand of your heart, what comes first to your mind? What specific tracks do you experience with both of these “emotions”?
2.) Who are the people in your life that make the most Love tracks? Do they know how grateful you are to them? Who or what makes the strongest anxiety tracks in your life? What might you do to decrease some of these?
P1040369