When we feel stress or overwhelmed in our bodies, sometimes we want to do anything but sit with it. But here we are, with this invitation to be with what arises in our bodies, not ignoring it or avoiding it any longer. I feel the stress and overwhelming feelings stronger on certain days when my mind is especially active. Today, I decided to sit with it. Here’s what I noticed:
The Active Mind
As I sat, my mind kept saying “I need to do…”, “Don’t forget…”, “What if…”. To me, these thoughts sound like fear, worry, and unease. As much as I want to explore all that, I gently reminded myself that the thoughts are just “thinking” and brought my attention back to my breathing, back to my body.
When I brought my attention back to my breathing, I noticed that my breath was short, that I was holding in my abdomen, and my chest muscles were tense. My breathing definitely reflected what was going on in my body. So I slowed down my breathing, steadied the inhales and exhales, and breathed deeper into my lungs. As I slowed down, I breathed into the spaces that felt tight and tense.
Let Go of the Outcome
After sitting with it, I felt more relaxed and calm in my body. My breathing was steadier and my thoughts didn’t feel as urgent. I sat with what was coming up and I was okay! Sometimes after a meditation, the outcome isn’t always so positive and that’s okay as well. I’ve had times where I left a meditation with tears in my eyes and maybe even more frustrated and tense than before.
This invitation to be with whatever arises is a brave choice. It’s brave because you are choosing to do something that you may tend to ignore or avoid. You are choosing to turn towards it without being attached to the outcome, to be open with what comes up, and to do your best- whatever that looks like for you that day.
I’ve been reading Pema Chodron’s book, Comfortable with Uncertainty, and one of the things I like about it, aside from the massive amounts of wisdom she shares, is that you could open the book to any page and have some connection to the teachings. One of those teachings was on compassion.
Chodron tells the story about cultivating compassion by way of a 19th century yogi, Patrul Rinpoche. First, I’d like to talk about what compassion is. Compassion is defined as sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others. The question is, as we cut through the surface level of those words, how do we embody the practice? How do we really start to feel the physical sensations of compassion in our bodies?
Back to yogi, Patrul Rinpoche- he would suggest an image to focus on to tune in to compassion. The image is of a mother with no arms watching as a raging river sweeps away her child. To practice compassion is to connect with another’s pain. In this story, can you imagine yourself in the mother’s shoes? When you try to imagine that for yourself, what do you notice- fear, rage, numbness, or nothing at all? What do those feelings physically feel like in your body?
The practice of compassion is not an easy suggestion to #getoutsideyourcomfortzone. Turning towards compassion is challenging. It’s invitation to practice experiencing distress and moving towards it with ease. Listen to your body and be open and willing to move as slowly as you need to.
It’s been a while since I’ve connected. To catch you up, 2020 has been the start of an intentional journey of self-discovery via meditation. If the image that comes to mind is of me sitting quietly, that’s a good start, but that’s a fraction of what this experience has been thus far. At this point, I’m relearning how to 1) slow down 2) breathe 3) connect with my body 4) and greet everything (and I mean everything) with no attachment to a certain outcome. As things come to the surface of my awareness, I slow down and repeat the steps. I may have to keep repeating this process over and over, slowing down even more than before. It’s a humbling practice.
I’m incredibly grateful to my support system and my teachers for their generosity towards me on this journey. Their wisdom, guidance, and tenderness helps me when I’m feeling lost, uncertain and at this point, frustrated. I notice that I move through life pretty fast (ouch) and I have some high expectations (oops).
To the student and teacher in us all- may we move slowly through this journey, slow like honey.
How do you know you need to end things with your therapist? Is therapy ever done?
The conversation about how therapy ends starts in the first session. The question usually sounds like “What will things look like for you when you choose to end therapy? What will be different for you at that point? Questions like this can give a person a goal to work towards and a sense of structure. The response to those questions is also helpful for the therapist to check-in about and monitor progress in therapy.
If there is an urge to end therapy in sudden manner, I would recommend having a session with the therapist to talk about it rather than ending services over the phone, email or text. Naming those thoughts, feelings, and concerns can help process what’s happening internally for the individual and relationally with the therapist. However, whatever the reason is that starts the idea that it is time to end therapy, just know that it’s always your choice. Also know that you can return to therapy as needed. It is a resource, not the resource, for your mental health.
“Today, I will try to look kindly at my body and to treat it with love and respect.”
This is one part of the Live Well Pledge in Health at Every Size by Lindo Bacon, PhD.
This pose, Ustrasana (camel pose), brings up a lot of feelings and sensations for me. It’s uncomfortable, my breathing changes because of the shape I get into, and it’s also space of deep growth. Sometimes it makes me dizzy and nauseous but I only go as far as my body says to go, mindful to be aware of the discomfort but not to the point where I’m ignoring physical and mental limits.
I value the relationship I’ve built over the years with my body. I listen to it as best as I can, slowly building trust over time. Maybe I needed this reminder today- to listen to and to trust my body’s wisdom.
What’s one way that you can love on your body, be kind to your body, and/or treat it with respect today?
This was the subject line of an email I received this week about the developmental tasks of 7 year olds. It’s all about making choices, learning from mistakes, and self-achieving success for that age range. I work with adults but often times we all need some “growing up” again. As an adult, with more internal and external resources and a full grown prefrontal cortex, I like the idea that I can help, support, and love on a younger version of me.
This is what a conversation between adult me and child me would sound like:
7 year old me- Makes a face, a hissing sound, and says “no” while still slightly curious.
Adult me, “Yes boo- take risks, make choices, and learn from your mistakes. You can figure things out and I love growing with you. Let’s do this!”
The process of failure and success bring big benefits to both versions of you- the adult and the child. Benefits include increasing connection with oneself, trusting intuition, learning new skills, and more healthy risk-taking behavior. Yes please!
I’m trying something new and I’m hooked! The first few times I went surfing, I had a great set of guides to help me be successful. They taught me as much as they could for the time that we were together. They encouraged me to go on my own at a different time with specific instructions to read the waves and connect to the water. It was different that time around though. I felt alone, frustrated, I barely got up, and I definitely didn’t have a photo op like you see above. It’s all good though, I still believe there was something to learn even with that experience. Trying something new can be exciting and fun as well as disappointing and discouraging. I guess it’s safe to say that all sorts of feelings will come up during the process and that it’s okay and normal.
Reminders when trying new things:
BEGINNERS MIND- The beginner’s mind is fresh and awake to possibilities, free from a habitual pattern of behavior and thought. There is an opportunity for a different experience when you can settle into this space.
BE KIND TO YOURSELF- Relax the tension in the face and smile. A half smile (lifting the corners of the mouth) for 3 full breaths can ease stress and can also give space from the expectations of success.
ASK FOR HELP- Have a teacher, guide, or mentor? Doing things alone is important but so is asking for help. Learning new things is a different experience when you can ask questions, make informed decisions, and have people that will support you in the process.
I had promised myself a hike today. I haven’t been on one in a while and it felt like a good way to recharge and/or work some stuff out. It also got me thinking about the narratives people use when they first start counseling.
Overheard in the dressing room today, “you look skinny, you look beautiful, you look great”.
I winced, felt my body tense, and I hoped that you would get my telepathic messages from the other side of the dressing room- “Noooooooo!”, “How do you feel?”, “How does it fit?”, “Does it make you shine from the inside out?”
YOU ARE COMPLEX AND MAGNIFICENT IN SO MANY WAYS
Hearing this message in the dressing room wasn’t a surprise, unfortunately it happens often. It’s the way society teaches us to evaluate and be critical of beauty (among other things). It does do harm in the long run though. When you hear a message often and for a long time it can sink in to your belief system and make you think that you are supposed to look a certain way. Those words in the dressing room equate an arbitrary number to a person’s worth and beauty. Also, eating and body image issues are not just “women’s problems”. Studies are showing that more people are becoming aware of the gender-neutral nature of eating disorders and body image issues.
At the MLK March and Rally at the State Capital today, I looked around and saw so many individuals who had come together to honor and celebrate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It was truly inspiring and I also felt sadness. The daily news is a reminder that there is still so much work to do.
Have you ever wondered how social justice fits into your life? Being curious is a great place to start. Therapy can be a space to safely explore attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors in relation to gender, race, sexual identity, and immigration (just to name a few).