What would things look like if it did not have to be perfect?
I have been exploring this question in different ways- morning pages, meditation, and yoga to name a few. The more I practiced, the more I noticed a pattern. At first glance, it was a desire to have consistency and discipline in my life. When I dug a little deeper, consistency and discipline meant that I was a good person doing the right things. If I was a good person doing the right things, it meant I would not feel distressed or hurt. I took a pause there. Gotta love self-awareness.
So lately, instead of using those practices to get rid of [insert distressing feeling here], I have been dedicating my practices to welcome and invite in whatever was present. The experience can be intense so when I needed some extra help, I used the Welcome the Wave exercise from the Hacking Your Nervous Card Deck. There are a few steps to the exercise but my favorite part was the phrase, “I will take care of you for as long as you need to stay. You are welcome and safe here.”
For me, it’s less about the outcome and more about softening and starting to open physically, mentally, and emotionally to whatever is arising. The spaciousness of the present moment lends itself to experience life just as it is. All of it is welcome.
I encourage you to give that question some thought and notice what you become aware of.
Our body talks to us through sensations like temperature (warm, cool) or muscle sensations (trembling, fluttering). When we go through a stressful situation, our body has a stress response cycle (fight, flight, freeze, appease). If something blocks that cycle’s completion, stress and tension stay in the body. By listening to the body sensations around a particular situation, it can support the completion of the stress response cycle and reduce or relieve the stress and tension that it previously held. Give yourself a moment to try this.
Now shift your attention to your mind as you continue to listen to your body. Notice the quality of the thoughts that are connected to that sensation. You might see the tendency to judge it, analyze it, label it as “good” or “bad.” If it’s helpful, write it down so you can stay curious and observe what’s coming up.
This mindful awareness of body sensations and thoughts is a resource to you like anything else. It’s not meant to make what you’re feeling go away entirely, the intention is to lean into your body’s innate wisdom for healing.
One thing that excites me and makes me curious about journaling is the unexpected “Aha!” or “Oh shit!” moment that can happen. Today was an “Oh shit!” kind of experience. As the words hit the page, I saw myself guarding and protecting my heart so I didn’t go very far into my writing after that. I felt a squeeze and a wobbly sensation in my chest so I slowed down so I could be present with what was coming up. The simple awareness and the sensations that arose were enough for me to pause and offer myself some gentleness and self-compassion. In doing so, it was a reminder to my heart that I’m listening and I’m there for her.
I’m stuck again. The frustration is building in my body, the pressure is there, but no release just yet. Then I remember, the feeling of stuck happens more often than not. When I’m in a more open space in my mind and body, I think that I’ve hit the jackpot and that things will always be flowing. I know it doesn’t work that way, but I forget because it feels so good.
Given that it’s springtime, I reflect on the feeling of stuck in a different way. Maybe whatever will emerge from this sensation isn’t ready to bloom just yet and the tension and stuckness is a sign that things are getting ready. A sense of anticipation emerges in my body. Using my imagination at this point, because the sensation is still stuck, how would it move if it could? What are the qualities of it – shape, texture, color, size?
Springtime gives space to hopefulness, play and discovery. As we transition into this season, I invite you to use your imagination and explore what’s happening in your body in relation to those themes. Go outside and let your eyes wander for a bit. Maybe some gentle movement brings another experience. Perhaps it’s about bringing quiet into the space so you can listen to what your body is telling you (i.e. sensations!). Stay curious and be kind to yourself this season and always.
Over the past few days, I noticed my emotions come up like a slow moving current that was building in speed and intensity. Needless to say I was pulled in, tumbling around with the intense feelings moving through me.
I asked for help but that didn’t work out the way I thought it would so I got swept into the current again. Reaching out was important but it was as if holding on to the emotions was more comforting. I wasn’t ready to let that go of that familiarity just yet.
Speaking of letting go, Yung Pueblo describes it as “the moment when you are no longer reacting to things that used to make you feel tense…when you can release the energy attached to the thoughts.” After reading that, I noticed a spark of curiosity and hope. That was enough for me to take the smallest step back and notice all that was going on.
The same feelings will show up over and over again in different ways. Next time, I can remember to take some time and space to ground myself in the moment. With intention and practice, I can let go a bit more than the time before.
I keep declining the invitation to slow down and practice stillness. I can hear the thoughts come easy like a cool breeze through an open window, “not now”, “maybe later”, “after I do this thing”, etc. It makes me sad to think about because the invitation is actually to be with myself. I hear another thought “But I’m with me all the time!” It reminds me of putting my kiddo to bed last night. I’m reading through a work email and she fusses at me to put down my phone to give her my full attention. I know that she’s right and I get irritated because I still want to be right.
Eventually, I surrender to the moment and accept the invitation. I step away from the never ending to-do list and I start to slow down. First, I get water and I realize I haven’t had any all day. Next, I journal. If I’m going to show up, I’m not bringing this freight train of thoughts with me. With each step I get closer to myself and further away from everything else. My senses get a little more alert. I can now notice my breathing and gently guide it to be slower and steadier than before. Sometimes things happen when I get still, sometimes nothing happens. Either way, I’m happy to have shown up.
Give yourself permission to ease into stillness over time and with practice. Accept the invitation as often as you can. When you accept, you build a relationship with yourself that is rooted in trust and patience.
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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.
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.
When I started creative writing outdoors, the first line in the journal was “I feel my energy come back to me.” The next few lines were tuning into the different sensations I experienced around me – the sound of the breeze moving through the trees, the smell of my skin as the sun shined on it, the reflection of the water on a nearby fountain, the chatter of people walking by. I would occasionally pause and look around before I would write the next thing I noticed. My surroundings became more engrossing than the content of what I was writing. Tuning in to the relaxation and peacefulness that surrounded me was very cool.
“My heart found its home long ago in the beauty, mystery, order and disorder of the flowering earth.”
-Lady Bird Johnson in a letter in Native Plants magazine, Fall 2002.
I noticed recently that I’ve been wanting to be outside more. I began to reflect on the stressors in my life about relationships, home, work, the current state of the nation, etc., and how being out in nature does a lot for my mood, my mental health and managing my stress.