The Trauma Brain Project

I recently had the honor of being on a panel of body-centered therapists following the reading of a play by Dayle Ann Hunt titled The Trauma Brain Project.

This play is powerful, moving, intense. It is the story of a woman’s journey to heal from the repressed memories of early childhood sexual abuse. Dayle takes us on this journey of her own life experience as someone who was diagnosed with Epilepsy as a child, who was also experiencing paralyzing migraines, unexplained nausea, psoriasis, sinus growths and a string of inexplicable conditions that followed her throughout her life; all of which led her (in her 50s) to shadowed memories of what had happened and to eventual healing with somatic therapy.

The cast is amazing. The direction is expert. We the audience were riveted for the duration of the piece.

This play is a must-see for anyone who works with diagnosing illness. Dayle Ann is passionate about medical professionals, therapists, and trauma survivors knowing that their symptoms may be trauma-related. The body and mind do actually influence each other.

 

If you’re interested in this topic and have any ideas on how this play can be more widely disseminated, please contact D
ayle Ann at www.thetraumabrainproject.com

After the play I led the audience through a few basic exercises to help with regulation since watching anything traumatic can have an impact on our bodies. And it struck home to me again tonight that we are being inundated daily with news of traumatic events. This doesn’t mean we are all traumatized by this, but we are more than likely affected. So I thought I’d quickly share one of the techniques that I shared with the audience in the hopes that you might be able to use it in your day-to-day. It’s called 3-2-1

  1. Look around and notice and briefly describe (e.g. “orange mouse pad”) three (3) things you see
  2. Now listen and name two (2) sounds you hear
  3. And now notice one (1) thing you’re feeling with your sense of touch.

How are you feeling now? You can repeat that sequence one more time if you’re feeling a little more focused or settled than you were before you started.

Namaste.

More Peaceful or less stressed? You choose.

More Peaceful or Less Stressed? You choose.

Our holiday intentions of peace, light and goodwill to all can quickly be upturned by the hustle and bustle of family visits, event planning, shopping, and all the other activities that seem to burn up the last 2 months of the year. Yet, from a spiritual perspective, this could be a time to turn inward, giving ourselves time to review the year and take note of the lessons we have learned. Even the notion of having time to do this type of introspection might cause a moment of panic: “There’s no time for all that!!  I’ll do it next year when things settle down and I’m less stressed.”  How much of our time is spent thinking about that magical time when we’ll be “less stressed?”  Maybe it is just an issue of how we structure our perspective – we tend to focus on becoming less stressed, when what we really want is to be more peaceful.

I wrote a blog entry last winter about Becoming Peace in which I mentioned that when we say “I want to be less stressed” we actually focus on the stress and indeed perpetuate the notion of our stressfulness. On the contrary when we say “I want to be more peaceful” the mind hears “peaceful” and there is a subtle quieting that takes place within the body without any additional effort. In this way, through simple focus of attention, we begin to change our perspective and our actions often follow.  We focus our intention on creating a space of peace and the time opens up for meditation or relaxation.

The yogis say that peace is actually our essence. Unconscious fluctuations of mind are what keep us from experiencing ourselves as Peace. This is all well and good in theory, but finding that peaceful essence is what seems to elude most of us. A speaker I heard recently mentioned that we put more effort into doing than we do into being still, and so that which you practice the most becomes what you are good at. You might say: “I can’t be still – it’s too hard. My mind races because I have so much to do and my body becomes restless.” My new favorite teacher Mooji encourages us to watch all these fluctuations as temporary. As you watch all those crazy thoughts and to-do lists and judgments and fears go by ask yourself the question “Who is watching all of this?.” We identify with our thoughts but our thoughts are not who we are. The thoughts arise in the mind, change, or fade away. The mind creates problems by taking advantage of our unconscious vulnerabilities.  Brought into the light of consciousness, we find that many of our fears and compulsions are based on shaky logic.  We find that we are running away from the very peace that we seek through our actions and choices. Though our thoughts often seem very real, they are temporary fluctuations of the mind – smoke and mirrors.

The awareness, the essence that we are is inherently peaceful and unchanging. Underneath the smoke and mirrors of our habitual thoughts and emotionality lies a still and steady awareness that is not vulnerable to harm.  We have glimpses of this peace at times – for me it is usually on a warm beach with my eyes closed hearing the sound of the waves as they ebb and flow… or in meditation.  If we can allow ourselves to focus on this peace, we can allow it to expand in our lives.  But if we only focus on all we have to do and the far-off future when we will someday be less stressed, then we’re likely to get more of what we’re training for.

 

Being with what is

Have you ever noticed how when you’re supposed to get a message it just comes at you from everywhere? The last few days of working with The Sedona Method I’ve really had the opportunity to observe the vrittis – the fluctuations – of my mind. If it wasn’t so surprising it’d be funny (OK, it actually is funny) to see how a mind that gives the impression of being settled can be holding on to so much discontent & silliness. I thought I was good with being with what is. Apparently – not so much. So yesterday, in the midst of my impatience about not being fully enlightened after 7 whole weeks of letting go, I had the clear intuition that it was time to stop and just be.

As I was reading Facebook status updates yesterday, of course the topic of resting in awareness came up multiple times. Then today, the Facebook app “God wants you to know” told me:

“It’s okay. Just rest for a moment. It’s OK. Yes, things are crazy, yes, the world is going nuts. Yet, deep underneath the stormy waves, there, in the core of your being, there is pure silence, pure love. And … it’s … just … OK.”

She must really be keeping an eye on me!

A little while ago Byron Katie tweeted: “All sadness is a tantrum.” That really hit home for me. These last few days of watching my monkey mind I’ve realized how any act of not being with what is, is really a tantrum. Think about it. Babies cry when they’re hungry, tired or bored. Other than that they’re pretty much content to just be in the world. Fluctuations come and go and they’re quickly back to just being. Then they turn 15 months or so and suddenly, tantrums. What’s a tantrum? A tantrum is wanting something other than what is. More specifically, a tantrum is wanting things your way. So after all this time, I find out I’m spiritually still a 2 year old!

Yoga teaches that all suffering is based on ignorance – i.e. the unwillingness or inability to see things as they are. Having now truly recognized the workings of this discontent in my own mind, yesterday as I walked to my class, I practiced noticing what came up in awareness. Then, instead of letting go of anything I simply let go of wanting to change whatever came to mind, and whatever sensations or feelings came up in my body. By the time I got to class there was a deep feeling of settled-ness. Ahhh.  No more tantrums – at least for that moment!  Maybe there’s hope for me yet 😉

(On a side note, I love, love, love the way my students teach me & keep me in check – thanks! You are great blessings on my journey).

Letting Go – In The Present

I have some of my best insights in the shower.  Recently I’ve been thinking about my own resistance and this morning in the shower it came to me that our views about the future are shaped by experiences in the past, but we can only work to overcome any of that it in the present.  Not rocket science, I’ve read Eckhart Tolle too, but I’d never stated this fact so simply in my own mind.

We talk all the time about letting go of the past, but how can you let go of something that has already happened?  Really all you can work with is the residue of the past that still exists in the present.  That said, some of that residue can feel pretty darn close to the original experience.  As an example, you’re having a memory of a car accident, and it brings up anxiety, fear, maybe even panic.  That anxiety exists now.  Yes, it comes from a memory of something that happened in the past, but it is the present experience that colors your reality now.  This is the only thing that you can really work with.  The past is over, the future hasn’t yet happened.  All we can really explore is our present experience.

Sometimes the way we remember and therefore experience an event now is not even the same as what happened in the past.  That is why trying to let go of the past through “understanding the past” is not always effective.  If anything needs to be “understood” it is the present experience, and even then, ‘understanding’ tends to be an analysis we do in our heads, and this process can also prevent us from really being present with the experience.  The yogis talk about samskaras – the latent impressions (scars if you will) that influence our perceptions in the present.  The more mindful we can become of our present experience, the more likely that these samskaras can be recognized and released.

There are so many ways that we resist or avoid our present moment experience.  I personally have a tendency to dissociate into my head by thinking and analyzing – trying to ‘understand’ the experience – essentially making up a story about it.  Or I might close my eyes and dissociate inside by blocking out the world outside.  Another way is to deflect the intensity of the experience by blaming someone else (another story), or to escape into a distraction. Computers, TVs, cell phones, mp3 players –all these gadgets can provide us with distractions and allow us to separate from being mindful of what we are experiencing in the ‘real world.’  Addictions can be born of the constant need to separate from what might be a painful emotional experience of the present.  The past is not what is being avoided, but the experience that lives now.

The future is shaped by the past through our continued experience of the present.  The future can be shaped by the past through our continued avoidance of the present. Pema Chodron talks about the baby bird in the nest and the nest is getting dirty but the bird won’t fly out.  Look around baby bird, it’s time to fly.

Letting go Part 2 – But How?

A few weeks ago I was at a seminar with a lot of stressed people and highly charged emotions.  I found myself reacting with judgment and anger as my own ego sensitivities and vulnerabilities were triggered.  I finally got so sick and tired of carrying around the weight of all these emotions, impressions, judgments about other people, and fears about myself, that I remember thinking “I just want this all to be gone!”  I had an insight in that moment that I could make the choice to let it all go – just drop it.  And so I did.  I imagined all that weight like carrying a huge stack of books and just dropped it all.  What a relief!

I’d love to take credit for my sudden insight, but I have to admit that it was another marvelous progression on this Journey of Life.  Many months ago one of my yoga students mentioned The Sedona Method.  She had been to a seminar and tried to explain it to me.  I didn’t really get it at the time, but it seemed interesting.  A short while later, I saw the book in my chiropractor’s office and read a few pages which sparked my interest, but didn’t really explain the method.  I still wasn’t interested enough to buy the book.  So when I started to get tired of all my emotional wrangling, I asked (of Source)  “How should I deal with this?”  The answer came back “The Sedona Method.”  I still wasn’t convinced enough to pay for the book, (after all it could have been my “imagination” that was answering, right?) so I called the person who first mentioned it to me and asked her if she could lend me the book.  She was generous enough to also lend me the CDs from her seminar.

I finally started listening to the CDs after the seminar mentioned above, and smiled as I realized that the Sedona Method is all about letting go.  I had already been guided by Source into the process of the Method before knowing that I was doing it – fun!

So what is this Sedona Method?  Based on what I’ve learned so far, it’s very simple (I love simple!)  First you acknowledge what you’re feeling.  Hale Dwoskin is the author of the book and describes “welcoming” the emotion.  I don’t relate well to the word “welcoming,” but I prefer to recognize what I’m feeling with interest.  For me, it also works to check into what is below the surface emotion.  Most often I’ve found fear in many guises – vulnerability, embarrassment, shame, doubt.  So the Method says:  Can you welcome what you’re feeling?  Could you let it go?  Would you let it go?  When?  Sometimes, as Wayne Dyer mentions in his Excuses Be Gone audiobook, you just have to be tired enough of your situation to be willing to change.  The question asked in The Sedona Method is:  would you rather continue to suffer, or would you rather be free?  It’s really that simple.  The reasons that we hold on are complicated what makes it complicated.

So, given the option, or the opportunity to be free, why would anyone continue to suffer?  I’ve found that sometimes the suffering is more familiar.  Sometimes we’ve held on to it for so long that we don’t know who we’d be without it – there is an existential fear that we would somehow cease to exist if we change our current state, or that we would lose something of who we are.  This is usually because we identify our emotions as who we are, rather than recognizing them as temporal states of being over which we can have control.  Sometimes the suffering allows us to blame someone else rather than looking at our own responsibility in the situation. And sometimes, the suffering is a cover for a deeper sense of vulnerability that we feel incapable of facing.  Dwoskin mentions in the audio series the people often step into the fire of their emotions, feel overwhelmed, and then jump right out.  The difficult emotions, however are the surface crust over the peaceful center that exists within each of us.  If we can be courageous enough to spend some time getting through the crust, we can eventually get to that peaceful core.

I’m not insinuating that it is easy. Having worked with trauma survivors in psychotherapy, and having worked with my own issues, I know that it can take time to develop the willingness and the skills to be able to experience and observe our difficult emotions without being overwhelmed.  Part of the challenge is to be able to hold our emotional states and observe ourselves gently, and with curiosity, rather than identifying our emotions as who we are:  “I am weak” is not the same as “I feel weak.”  The second statement allows some detachment from the emotion.  Mindfulness meditation or mindfulness practice helps us to cultivate the ability to hold our emotions in awareness with detachment, so that we don’t become overwhelmed.  For some people, simply being able to be present with an emotion releases its hold.

Accessing the body as an information source is also helpful.  After all, emotions live in the body.  For instance, how do you know that you’re feeling anxious?  Butterflies in the stomach, heart racing, shoulders drawn up to the ears, maybe habitual gesturing with the hands?  Sensorimotor (body-centered) psychotheraphy is based on the premise that rather than just talking, which is a brain-centered activity that happens above the neck, we must get into the place where the emotions actually exist – the body – and work with & release them there.  Perhaps this is why yoga is so effective as a healing system.  This is also why people often find emotional release through physical activity and through bodywork (such as massage or rolfing).  The body allows us to access emotional states that the mind might not even recognize or be willing to handle.  I’ve seen significant changes come about through body-centered psychotherapy both as a therapist and as a client.

So based on my interest and experience with body-centered psychotherapy, and based on my own inclination to work kinesthetically, I use this physiological awareness with the Sedona Method, recognizing where the emotions live in my body and then making the choice to let them go.  Sometimes I also like to use visual imagery, to see the emotions dissolve, and disappear into thin air.  Some people who are more verbal might like to use words or phrases.

I’ve had some interesting revelations into my own process since I started this intense work of releasing.  It has been challenging at times to accept what I’m uncovering, and at time it has been really fun  – I highly recommend it.

Making space

I remember years ago, after I had been consistently meditating for some weeks, getting into an argument with my husband. As I was loudly and energetically extolling the reasons why I was right and he was delusional, a calm – almost bemused – voice in the back of my head commented “You know, you could just stop this now if you decided to.” Ah the wisdom of the Witness Consciousness and the magic of meditation.

What was I arguing about before this little incident occurred? Truthfully I’ve not a clue. The only thing I remember is that voice in my head, because that was the one moment when I was truly present. Prior to that moment I was most likely acting out of emotion: anger, resentment, self-righteousness, fear – all the things that make it impossible to communicate effectively. In that moment when my Observing Self came online, though, I was there. And being there I was able to see the absurdity of being carried away by my emotions.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that emotions are bad. It’s just that they’re not terribly reliable or effective lenses for viewing the world. When we are in our emotional selves we’re not usually thinking from a place of wisdom. But if this dual consciousness is online, we can see ourselves through a clearer lens and make choices about how to respond. It is possible, for example to step into the space between someone’s action toward you and your response and in that space, make the choice about how to respond. How many times have we said: “I couldn’t help [my actions], s/he made me mad.” Really what we should be saying is, “She did something to which I chose to respond with anger.” It just happened so fast that you gave up control over your actions, and then blamed the other person for your choice.

Meditation helps us to find that space in which to make the choice not to give ourselves over to the whims of others, the space to take responsibility for our own emotional states and responses and stop blaming other people for our emotions. In that space is where the real work begins – the work of chosing who you are going to be when you can’t pass the blame anymore.

Becoming peace – mindfulness of low-level stressors

As a yoga instructor I hear a lot of people talk about how stressed they are.  It occurred to me a while ago that our lack of mindfulness might be contributing low-level stressors that increase our daily stress level without us even realizing it.

I’ve noticed that there are a number of habits of mind and body that contribute to my own stress levels.  This is not to say these things have been eradicated from my life, but at least now I am conscious of the stress they are producing and have the choice to do something about it.  So here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned so far – mostly common sense.  They are not in any particular order except for how they fell out of my head:

1.    Be where you are.  Eckhart Tolle said in The Power of Now that stress is being in one place, but wanting to be in another.  Simply put, if you’re at work but wishing you were on vacation, this creates stress.  Similarly, if you’re mentally at work while on vacation, you create stress on your vacation!  Makes sense, right? This is also the yogic principle of santosha – being present with what is.

2.    Eat when you’re hungry.  Get enough sleep.  Use the bathroom when you need to.  Really.  Sounds simple, but the needs of the body can be insistent.  Stress lives in your body, so the more you abuse your body, and ignore its basic needs, the more stress you create.  You also prevent your body from being able to tolerate other stressors that might come up.  A healthy and well-respected body should also make you more efficient and more productive.

3.    Don’t procrastinate.  Putting things off just keeps them on that to-do list in the back of your mind that’s always nagging at you.  Take care of tasks a little at a time if  need be.  Let Facebook and TV be the rewards for getting things done – not the distractions.

4.    Do one thing at a time. It is an illusion that you can actually multitask – from what I’ve read, brains don’t work that way.  Instead, the attempt to do multiple things at once creates an unnecessary level of stress that could be alleviated by simply focusing on one task at a time (including eating meals or being with your kids).

5.   Meditate – even for 10mins per day.  Daily meditation has been shown to positively affect the body’s biochemistry.  If meditation doesn’t appeal to you, find another practice that helps you to find that state of connection with yourself.  Yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, martial arts, running, fencing, swimming… there’s something for everyone.  But don’t just pick something that emphasizes your already unbalanced tendencies – find something that helps you to grow into a more balanced state.

6.    Let go of judgment. How often do you get anxious over other people’s behavior? Don’t you have enough of your own stuff to deal with?  On this same note, allow other people the right to their own lessons – isn’t that what this life is all about?  You can help if they ask for it, but taking on their suffering only creates more suffering in the world – not less.  As one of my teachers often says, “suffering is not noble.”

7.    Study yourself & take responsibility for your own actions. The yogic principle of svadhyaya teaches us to study sacred texts in order to know ourselves better.  Imagine what you could learn by studying the sacred texts of your own body and mind.  In order to really know yourself, however, you have to be willing to recognize how you have contributed to our current state of life, and this cannot be accomplished by blaming others for your situation.

8.    Recognize that it’s not all about you.  This was a great lesson taught to be by a former coworker.  How much of other people’s behavior do you take personally and allow to rattle your serenity, even to the point of making you hurt and angry?  Can you entertain the possibility that maybe their behavior has everything to do with what’s happening in their lives and nothing to do with you?

9.    Face your fears. How much does fear contribute to your daily low-level anxiety.  What are you afraid of? Is your world view based on fear?  Where did that fear come from – is it even yours, or was it inherited?  How much of the way you relate to others is based on fear?  What would happen if you related to the world with love, rather than with fear?

10.    Love yourself. There isn’t much to be gained by beating up on yourself when you notice you’re not perfect (did you really think you were perfect?).  If you make a mistake, treat yourself as compassionately as you would a close friend.  Then learn from your mistake and move on.  Just letting go of the mental anxiety we create by our self-loathing and project onto each other would go a long way to allowing Peace in the world.

Hope this is helpful to someone besides me :-).