You may wonder: Regarding the Four Pathways work, how do the Unconscious Mind and the Land intersect? Here is part of it:
The Land is sometimes trying to be in relationship with us. We are often, though we may not know it consciously, longing to be in relationship with the Land. How could we not be? We’ve evolved together from the very start. And we’ve had, culturally, almost all of use who’d be reading this, a traumatic separation from the Land in our ancestral lineage, or even in our own lives. It’s the artificial separation imposed by colonization, the switch to seeing the Land as “available for resource extraction” rather than living entity/part of us/our relative. This separation came with the loss of our indigenous lifeways and spirituality and orientation (even if we’re “white people” we have ancestors who had such ways — European, Scandinavian, and the Isles pre-Christian ways, ways that we’re indigenous in that they grew up out of the Land our people were living on) that has caused us to forget this foundational relationship.
Part of decolonizing the psyche is learning to listen to the Land. To really be curious about how seeing ourselves as separate from them is an artificial construct that has removed us from a deep belonging together with our kin, the Land. The trees, the birds, the mammals, the reptiles, the water, the air, the fire, the micro-organisms, the sky, the clouds, the sun, the rain, all of them and more are the Land and all of them are our relations. As Robin Wall Kimmerer calls them, our kin.
So how do we get back in relationship with the Land? First, we listen. Like all relationships, we listen. One way we listen is to pay attention to, and take seriously, our dreams. We can dream with the Land. Both are aspects of the Unconscious. Our Personal Unconscious can interact with the Collective Unconscious through dreams and dreaming. One way we respect our dreams is by listening to them through their own logic, rather than our waking, ego-driven, purely executive-function-prioritizing bias. We let the dream speak in its own language. We feel it. We learn to re-enter it without pre-conceptions. This is part of how we learn to do dreamwork in therapy. This is one way we begin to listen to the Land. #thefourpathways #landconnection #depthpsychology #dreams
Happy Spring, sort of! Yes it is! This Imbolc week marks the halfway point between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. Another "bringing in the light" day. Imbolc is said to have been celebrated (particularly?) in Ireland, where it is now recognized as a feast day for St. Brigid. While it’s said by some that due to Christian incursion St. Brigid “replaced” the goddess Brigid in Ireland, there are scholars who disagree that such a goddess was recognized. Either way, the astronomical facts aren’t in dispute, we are at the halfway point between winter and spring. And, in a sense, spring is happening, under the surface and visibly. Plant kin are beginning to wake up here in the lower midwest (I’m not as familiar with the patterns in Chicago but I'm told you're several weeks later than we are in southern Illinois and St. Louis): the witch hazels at my house are in full bloom, and many of my early daffodils have plenty of green foliage poking up from the ice. Just a few miles south of me some of the daffodils are showing their still-closed blooms. It won't be long before the tree sap is really running, and the birds start moving en masse.
I love to daydream about what my deep ancestors were doing on such a day. How they were feeling, what they were eating. Their rituals and ceremonies. Today we'll honor the old Irish custom of leaving a scarf out on the porch railing or in a tree for Brigid to bless as she flies by. Tomorrow we'll bake a cake and raise a glass, put a little of that on the altar and say thank you getting us through this far.
Here are a couple of links with some interesting things about Imbolc:
#Imbolc #land #landandbody #spring #ice #daffodils
Image shows daffodil leaves poking up through the white, frozen sleet.
Photo by Margaret Howard, 1-31-2023
--> CW for talking about falling down and getting hurt. <--
Background: A week ago today I tripped outside while gardening, and injured myself pretty thoroughly. I was amazingly blessed with luck, though. An actual medical doctor just happened to be strolling down the sidewalk directly in front of my house when I fell, and set about helping me. Not only was he competent, he was very consent oriented, apparently, and asked my permission to come in the yard, to check for broken bones, etc., at every step. AND, his wife soon arrived, also a doctor, helped, too. They both agreed that I should go to urgent care for stitches, which I eventually did.
I just realized that this is the only time in my life I’ve ever had stitches, outside of a surgery or childbirth tear. I now fully realize how retraumatizing it can be the have to take care of a wound. For this one, it has to be done at least once a day. Yesterday, when I did it about a hour before work, I regretted the timing. I was shaky and nauseated and not thinking well for the first couple of hours.
This whole event has reminded me once again that we can’t measure “trauma” by the face of the event. Of course I know this intellectually, since it’s my job, and say it to other people all the time, but that’s different than really feeling it.
On the face of it, it’s not so bad. I fell down and hurt my knee. I got help. It’s going to be ok. But watching my body, my autonomic nervous system (ANS), go through all these changes has been stunning. Clearly, the non-cognitive parts of my brain, nervous system, muscles and bones don’t feel like this was/is a “small” accident.
There can be many reasons for this: How the body feels about this invasion/injury, quite apart from how my cognitive judgments feel about it; past experiences that my system may be processing as similar in some way, outside of my conscious awareness; any number of other threads, connections, factors that I'm not remembering or perceiving with my cognitive processing.
What I think is a good take away from that — and again, something I try to give kindness to all the time with others — is the ability to just be kind to oneself when an impact is greater than your “rational” brain or the culture or other people think it should be. To go with the waves, take good care, and give the body the chance to process it all through, metabolize the shock. The day after I fell I couldn’t even keep any food down. I even threw up violently twice. A friend who used to be a nurse thought it was the opioids, but I’ve never had a problem with them, and later that day I could take them again just fine for this. I really think it was my body working through the shock (because of my work I can even identify what the various parts of the polyvagal system are doing as they happen, which is really interesting). (It also didn’t help that I was food deprived for too long after the accident.)
It's very confusing trying to work out what one needs and doesn’t need, in the thick aftermath of an accident. Very confusing. As the ANS ramps up, executive function goes down. When the emotional reaction is to try to be brave, this sets us up to not get the help we need. For many of us, there is a big tendency to minimize and try not to inconvenience people. If there's someone around who is not really into taking the time to take you to urgent care or whatever, that weirdness can create even more confusion and push toward minimization and doing less than is needed. This is dangerous.
My message here is: don’t judge others’ distress, or needs, or the impact of an event on them. We should not think we know whether an event was "really traumatic" or not, based on the event itself. It's all about the effect of the individual, and there can be so many factors, many of them invisible to us, that come into play. And -- this is super important -- we should not judge ourselves that way, either. A professional trauma therapist can help figure this out, through good, solid assessment, and that assessment includes the effects on the person, not picking from a list of events that "count" as "traumatic." So, whether for ourselves or others, we should just observe what’s happening with compassion, help all we can, and get the professional medical, healer, or therapy help that may be needed.
It’s impossible to overestimate the value of love and care when these things happen. That the doctors happened to be there when I fell, wow, that is huge for long-term traumatic effect amelioration. That later there was someone else who wanted to leave before I was fully cared for, that is not so good.
And always, always make sure someone has a nice something to eat, a good place to rest, and the medical care they need after they’ve had an accident, if it is in any way in your power to do so. When people are in even mild shock or post-event ANS dysregulation they probably won’t be able to express what they need, or even know for sure themselves. People in that state actually do need guidance and care.
Bringing in the New Year -- here in the part of the world where midnight on January 1 is recognized as its start -- is, for most of us who've grown up in this culture, symbolic of new beginnings. With maybe an element of honoring the old year's passing. But how to do that? Getting sloshed at awful clubs isn't that much fun, really, for many of us.
This year several people kindly asked me for New Year's ritual practice ideas, so I thought I'd quickly jot down some simple ones for you. It's a pleasure to do this. The New Year usually feels significant and pleasant to me. The rituals I have and am presenting here are not meant to be in any way comprehensive*, but instead arise from the practices I inherited from my family, and those I've either picked up from spiritual mentors or created myself from research and intuition. As in all things, checking in with one's own intuition about whether a practice feels right and good for oneself is paramount and essential.
In my view, most of these are rituals that could be appropriate across many religious and spiritual paradigms, but, again, that's an individual choice.
I would also like to note that while some of these may echo Native American practices, they are not meant to, as such, and I am in no way meaning to be culturally appropriative. The burning of herbs for cleansing and protection, and the orientation to the sacred directions and their wise, kind, well, and loving spirits, for instance, may have been a nearly universal practice in indigenous cultures, even European ones, based what we think we know from archeology, anthropology, and some extant writings. I know a bit about those, but far less about the rich heritage and traditions of cultures that I do not have a legacy or experience in. I would love to hear from anyone who'd like to share about those, and honor you kindly and welcome you.
All that said, here they are, some simple New Year's Rituals, with extremely brief explanations (and some with modifications if you don't have the energy right now for the whole shabang):
1. Before performing any ritual or ceremonial practice, always set protection. Here is my everyday way of doing that. Sage yourself off, and with that sage make offering to the six directions, starting in the East, and moving clockwise to South, West, North, then Earth and Sky, respectfully saying thank you to each and asking for protection and help. If you have protectors, ask for their help as well, and thank them. As you're doing this, visualize a barrier, like a giant bubble, 360 degrees around your person, house, and entire property. I also ask for protection for my ancestors and my descendents, and that this ritual I am preparing to do be healing for them as well as for me and my home, and all those who dwell there and enter it. Of course who you ask for this help is up to you. I sometimes even ask Jesus for help, as I find him to be a very strong and well protector (even though I don't identify as Christian). Sweep a bit of the smoke out the front door with your hand, at the end. Obviously, practice excellent fire safety. Please note that if you can't get through your entire house this way, it's fine to sit in one spot and move the container around the directions as well as possible, while imagining and asking for the protection for the whole house and land. Also, if smoke doesn't work for you, water is also a wonderful ritual cleanser, of course, and can be used in much the same way. Just say a blessing over the water before you start.
2. Ritual or mundane cleaning, or repairs. If you're not feeling up to actually cleaning your house, don't even worry about that. This time of year can really take it out of a person, causing increased symptoms of depression, and flair-ups of chronic pain and illness. If that's so for you, the above ritual cleansing is likely enough. Adding in a symbolic cleaning action, like taking a broom and "sweeping it" through the front door, is an ancient gesture.
All that said, if you have the time and energy, beginning the year with some order and cleanliness is a good idea. Gods know I am not, nor have I ever been, in any way, ever, a "good housekeeper." As a matter of fact, I've resented the expectation and judgement put on women to be that and have actively resisted since I was small child. Nonetheless, in many wisdom traditions, all over the world there is the belief that stagnation, illness, bad spirits or negative energies can collect in chaos, disorder, forgotten piles of unused and ignored possessions, and grime. I think there is definitely something to this. So, if you can straighten up and/or clean and bring that midnight Jan. 1 in with your house in that kind of state, it's a good thing. It will also help you feel like your year is starting out in a purposeful and welcoming manner. Who doesn't like to walk into a clean house? Any minor repairs that can be hammered out? Today, I finally fixed a kitchen chair that had some loose screws, and while I was at it, tightened those on the other three. #obvioussymbology Also, if there is anything you want to throw away or give away or burn or bury, before the year turns in a good time.Just do the protection before you clean, and sage off afterwards.
3. Two lists, Release and Bring In. If you wish, you may take two sheets of paper and on one, write what you want to release; on the other, write what you want to bring in for the New Year. Burn the releasing one (if you have a safe way to do this) (be sure not to get any of that particular smoke on you!), and set the other one on your altar or in a special place, where it can brew. You can do this any time, but I like to burn the release list right before midnight, and place the bring in list right after. I say thank you to all I've been taught and those who have brought me these teachings, and I send away any I don't want or need. Setting boundaries! And calling in the graces.
4. Prepare for midnight by bringing out the pots and pans or noisemakers! When the clock strikes 12, start banging away! There is a reason for this tradition! You're driving out that bad energy from your house. Doing that, walk through the whole house in a *counterclockwise* direction while banging the pans, and even yelling or singing loudly to shoo them away. This is such an old practice! I also like to have a candle lit for midnight.
5. Now seal the boundary and protection again. After going through the whole house counterclockwise, seal the house with protection again, as in #1 above. You can do this either by going through the whole house (clockwise this (time), or making that circle in one room. Be sure to visualize all the elements of protection as above. There is no such thing as too much good boundary.
6. New Year's Day! This is a feast day. You're setting tone for the New Year. The idea is to set a tone of prosperity, wellbeing, hospitality, and thanks. Does your family have any traditions that you know of and connect with? That feel grounding and comforting to you? Or how about your deep ancestors, way, way far back? If you know about any of the regions your people come from, you can research what practices, feasting, or other activities they engaged in for their New Year and do those. If there aren't any special traditions already, make some here! Select a dish that will be your New Year's Day feast dish, and have it every year. Bless it with all your heart, and thank it for nourishing you. It is an opportunity to thank all the hands that grew and picked the food, the land and the spirits of the land that brought you and your energy and sustenance all year, and that will do so in the New Year. To honor them, and to ask that they continue with you.
For me, it's simple. One simply does not dare begin the New Year without eating black eyed peas. Or goose. But I only remember having goose once or twice. I do remember hearing every single year that we were of course having black eyed peas, for without black eyed peas or goose luck would turn bad. This became so strongly embedded in me that I recall only one year in my entire life upon which New Year's Day I considered not eating black eyed peas. Why? I was iced in. Iced in alone, in a small college town. It was my children's year to be with their father for the holidays, they were far away in Georgia. I had made low-key plans with friends who lived in the country. They were making the black eyed peas. I hadn't bought any. I'd been planning to head out there in the evening. But before the day wore on too far an storm moved in and began pouring ice from the sky in waves. In torrents. In giant, liquid, crystal glaciers. It coated everything. four inches of ice coated my car like armor, the doors would not open, and the tired looked frozen to the road, which was shiny black as dragonglass and impassable. The town was still as a sleeping mouse. And so I stayed in and watched movies and enjoyed the peace and quiet, watch the ball drop in Times Square, called my kids, went to sleep.
The next day, I spent most of my time puttering around and telling myself all about how it was okay not to have any black eyed peas on New Year's Day, surely just this once, as the roads were still impassible and the ice still coming down at times: it's just a superstition, couldn't possibly make an objective difference, etc. all the rational things. Which was all fine and I almost believed, all the way until dark, until 9:00pm, 10, 11, until the moment I picked up the phone and called the nearest grocery store to find out what time they closed and they said midnight and I was on my way, walking into the icey black night, to the grocery store, to get the peas. The sidewalks were not walkable! Way too thickly and unevenly iced, and downhill the whole way. I walked in the middle of the two-lane, one-way road, the whole way. Saw not a single car. Did not fall down. Froze my ass off. Got a can of black eyed peas and wolfed them down before midnight struck on New Year's Day, thus officially not breaking the tradition and saving myself an entire year of anxiety over at least that one thing. Never regretted it for a second. Will never allow myself to be in that situation again, if I can help. Funny story, now. To me, this small family tradition matters, very much. As does singing Auld Lang Syne (yes and yes). These are my people. Not all good, not all bad. I've kept what is meaningful for me, and brought in what feels meaningful and older (that I suspect had been lost along the way, perhaps). Not all my family lines had the privilege it takes to hold onto and cherish pre-colonial, pre-troubles ways. Some did. Respect for both.
This year I'm planning on having the black eyed peas as an accompanying dish within a brunch of eggs, greens, cornbread, mimosas, coffee and tea. It's going to be lovely. I don't know precisely where the black eyed peas and/or goose come from in my ancestry. It do know which side of the family it comes from, and where they mostly migrated from, and it makes sense. The idea is to set a table that will welcome in the spirit of the New Year and all it can bring, in the very, very old belief that as on the New Day, so it is in the New Year. Edit to add: I always select choice bits of food and drink for the altar.
Blessings. May your well, vibrant, and loving ancestors, your God or gods, the spirits of the land, the land itself, and all the Beings human and other-than-human who dwell upon this Earth be well in the coming year, and beyond. May we care for all, and never forget what we have, and may we always work together to provide for all. May we never knowingly leave others hungry, cold, or hurting. May we atone for the harms we've done, to one another, to this land, and for those of us with a little or a lot of European ancestry may we atone to those who's land this rightfully is and that we live upon as if it were ours. My we cease from doing harm. May we be strong in our boundaries. May we be fierce in our compassion. May we find and feel and trust our own inner wisdom as it lives in our bodies and may we look to no authority figure for the truth or the way, for it is there within ourselves, part of nature, deeply connected to the land itself and the spirits of the land and the creatures who are our brothers and sisters that it dwells. May we forgive ourselves and love ourselves on our difficult and imperfect journeys to those places. And may we never forget how to fight for what is right in this world. Happy New Year.
* I came down with some kind of virus right after Christmas, and so, perhaps sadly, do not have the energy to do additional research right now (I'm spending it preparing these rituals, instead!), nor to write a comprehensive piece that includes many cultures. I wish I did! Therefore, this piece is based on my personal practices.
It seems to me that in this piece by Matthew Remski, about ongoing responses from Shambhala International regarding sexual abuse by its leader Mipham Rinpoche, wherein Remski discusses how “high pressure organizations” respond to revelations of their own abuse by asking members to “deepen their practice” (pray harder, etc.) is the same phenomenon this "meme" (image, left), so clearly fights against. (See more of Remski's writings on the Shambhala abuses, cults, yoga culture, as well as news coverage, including this, and this for background.)
Organizations may apply a slightly different kind of pressure/language to the members than families and friends do, language that’s necessarily wound through with their particular dogmas and practices, but the kernel of it, it's meaning and purpose, are the same: Focus on the good in "them"; your ability to focus on the good/ or forgive/go deeper in the practice/family/org is a measure of your spiritual capacity and goodness. That's the very damaging message. This message makes shutting up and shutting down, appearing to be peaceful and accepting a mark of god upon the abused.
I am very familiar with this message. In my own work as a trauma therapist, I encounter it frequently. Very often when people first come to therapy they are engaged in feeling bad about themselves because they are “having a hard time forgiving” an abuser, and feel inadequate because of it. Whether it’s the culture they’re in silently pressuring them, or people in their lives responding to their attempts to reach out for support, “Have you forgiven him?” or “You’ll feel better if you forgive him,” are common responses. This is so incredibly damaging. It shuts down the protective life energy the person is needing in order to get out, stop blaming themselves, and recover. In my own life history, I have encountered it many times, inside yoga and spiritual communities (including Christian churches or church people), family, and even work places. Having processed much of this in my own therapy, I can say without doubt that feeling as if my spiritual well being could be measured by my ability to see the “true heart and core” or a person underneath the “illusory phenomenon on their conditioned behavior” kept me in an abusive relationship, and constantly working on myself in the belief that if I could just achieve non-attachment or a high enough spiritual something-or-another their abuse wouldn’t affect me any more. As a therapist, people do present to therapy asking me to help them get into some kind of a state that will make them immune to the abusive person they’re involved with, truly believing that such is a worthy and healthy goal. It’s not. And I cannot ethically undertake such a project.
In all instances these exhortations to "forgive," "deepen," "practice non-attachment," etc. appear to have one purpose, and that is the comfort and/or continued existence of the one pressuring the hurt person, whether it’s the abuser themselves or a family or org in the aftermath of a revelation. It is far easier for families and orgs to carry on as if nothing has happened if the one coming forward about abuse can carry on as is nothing has happened, as other members may maintain their relationships with the abuser (with less or no guilt or internal conflict), or, if they abuser has been banished, they can be resolved of responsibility and get back to homeostasis. Or the illusion of homeostasis -- things never can be as they were, and it’s better to consciously work with that than to try to pretend/ For orgs, their profit and profile in the world depends on the apparent loyalty and participation of members, so the motivations for pressuring people to "forgive" -- whatever language it’s framed in -- are obvious.
In the case of Shambala, as Remski says in the article below, the most recent pressures to conform/forgive/not notice/”deepen” have included:
“Our confusion and pain might drive us more deeply into practice,” Judith Simmer-Brown, Shambhala International teacher in a broadcasted talk on August 4 addressing the community post-abuse revelations. And reminders of the “Four Reliances” (from some Buddhist texts as old as the first century CE):
1. Do not rely on the personality or individuality of the teacher. Rely on the Dharma teachings themselves.
2. Do not rely on the literal words. Rely on the meaning of the teachings.
3. Do not rely on merely provisional teachings. Rely on the definitive or ultimate teachings.
4. Do not rely on conceptual mind. Rely on the nondual wisdom of experience.
To be clear, I'm not disparaging Buddhism here. Or any other spiritual philosophy, on its face. I'm pointing out how tenets can be used to silence and abuse members, and how that leaks out into the wider world and does harm.
In addition, Remski notes that the talk and response from Shambhala International is, in its use of the concept of “resilience,” is “Appropriating a popular concept from trauma-recovery discourse, Simmer-Brown explained that her talk would offer “foundational things that we need to know in order to be resilient practitioners.”” And this leads to my closing point, that “resilience” is being misused right now, and used as a platform for judgment, and even for control, as in this Shambala instance. Resilience doesn’t mean not responding to events and phenomena. It doesn’t mean silence and compliance in the face of danger. Once an org or family or friend group has shown itself to be complicit in abuse, for whatever reason, they have shown themselves to be dangerous. If they truly want to change, to wake up, to be responsive toward protection and away from innaction and concealment, they THEY have to do the work -- not the person(s) who suffered they abuse.
*Non-attachment, or, specifically, "attachment" is used here in the way it's taught in Buddhist teachings -- or mis-taught -- and not as the psychological/developmental term.
Mothers bear the brunt of patriarchal cultures’ angst. Everything is projected onto them. Everything is withheld from them. Abusive or ineffective fathers and uncles and “leaders” are chosen for the boon of loyalty, for their power and their fun times and their resources, called “strong” because they kill instead of cry. Mothers are given the blame and the pain and ill treatment, the restrictive laws, harassment, near impossibility of justice when assaulted, and the poverty and the abandonment. What men get away with and what women are punished for is so unbalanced, so misdirected both consciously and unconsciously, sometimes it’s a wonder any women are surviving at all. We’ll know we’re exiting the patriarchal period when mothers are treated decently, and blame begins to dissipate and diffuse into the vast landscape of responsibility, where it belongs. Until we do, so much is lost.
Survivors' of Human Trafficking Statements Regarding Risks of Separation of Children From Families at the US Border
Human trafficking survivors want you to know that separating children from their parents and loved ones at the US border is not preventing human trafficking. Rather, these inhumane and chaotic actions on the part of our government substantially increase the risk of these children becoming victims of traffickers.
Of note is the US State Department's own just-released 2018 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, which emphasizes parental separation and institutionalization as strong risk factors, and states, "Children in institutional care, including government-run facilities, can be easy targets for traffickers. Even at their best, residential institutions are unable to meet a child’s need for emotional support that is typically received from family members or consistent caretakers with whom the child can develop an attachment. Children are especially vulnerable when traffickers recognize and take advantage of this need for emotional bonding stemming from the absence of stable parental figures. In addition, the rigid schedules and social isolation of residential institutions offer traffickers a tactical advantage, as they can coerce children to leave and find ways to exploit them" (https://www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/2018/282575.htm#3).
The following are quotes from survivors of human trafficking who are my friends and colleagues. Please listen to them. They know what they’re talking about.
We know foster care and institutionalization are risk factors, as are being turned away from a border, being a refugee, fleeing violence, and otherwise being lost in the world without protection. These cause people, especially children, to be more vulnerable to predation on all fronts, including from human traffickers. The extreme trauma of separation from parents and family, the neurobiological effects of that separation (not to mention the heart and soul effects) causes vulnerabilities to skyrocket. Here are just a few resources on foster care as a risk factor in human trafficking:
http://articles.latimes.com/2013/jul/29/nation/la-na-child-sex-20130730; http://humantraffickingsearch.org/foster-care-and-human-trafficking-nexus/; ; https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/trafficking-caseworkers/; http://www.casre.org/our_children/fcht/
If you have survived human trafficking and would like your statement added to this list, please email me your statement to firstname.lastname@example.org. Your statement may be anonymous, and in fact, unless you are a citizen of the United States you may want to strongly consider remaining anonymous (or not submitting a quote at all, though I welcome you in any way that won't endanger you), given that even people with permanent residency status and green cards are currently being rounded up and/or deported.
And here we remember that in the story of the birth of Jesus, as in every folktale, mythic story, and dream, every single detail is important, every single detail asks be noticed, to be integrated. Though I don’t identify as a Christian, I will not today discount this powerful story, even though at present those in power, and many of those who pretend to understand it, do not, or if they do they ignore it in order to enrich themselves at the expense, the suffering, of the poor, and to persecute where they are asked to love, and to judge where they are asked to embrace. We will, instead, treat this story as we treat all the beautiful stories that have come down to us, like dreams, entered the Collective Unconscious, so that we may understand the depth of the world and our purpose here.
And so what do we have in this story? A child is born in an occupied country, far from home, and travelling to pay taxes to the already very wealthy, taxes that were understood at the time to be unjust to the poor and enhancing of the rich, much as we are seeing with yesterday’s signing of the cruel tax law that will cause so much suffering to all but the very wealthy. This is no accident, this setting. Every detail is important; the meaning is clear.
This is child is born without real shelter; born close to nature, among the animals and the elements, in the dark of night, to a not-prosperous man and woman, who were refused shelter when they sought it, and were sent out in the cold, even as Mary was ready to give birth. Every detail is important; the meaning is clear.
This child is *not* born to a king and queen, not born to a Caesar, not born to a Roman magistrate or a senator or a wealthy house. And further, this child is a *newborn baby*. Nothing on Earth is more vulnerable than a newborn baby. And the next closest vulnerable thing is the mother who has just birthed him. What does imbuing such vulnerability with so much power communicate to us about the nature of *true* power? About what our life as humans means? About what we’re meant to attend to? Every detail is important; the meaning is clear.
And perhaps we can understand the virgin birth in the way we would understand such a thing in a dream: What does it symbolize? Perhaps one way to interpret it is this: The world in that time and place, this occupied country, run by greedy, cruel men. And here is a young woman untouched by any of them. Therefore, she is untouched by them, those patriarchs, that patriarchy, that power structure. Yes, there is a man there, protecting her. But in the cosmology of the universe, and within our internal systems that dreams and myths are partly about, there must be balance, between light and dark, masculine and feminine, so yes, there is a man. But his role is limited. And so, yes, there is this woman doing this remarkable thing, giving birth in the cold outdoors without help, and then the most innocent and vulnerable thing is here to change the world: a newborn baby. Outside the patriarchy, outside the monied and the cruel. Every detail is important; the meaning is clear.
Today it occurs to me that this story could be a comfort to our exiled parts, the aspects of ourselves that we have tried to put away and deny, the parts of our experience that we persecute ourselves for as we roam the world trapped in a trance of our own self-judgement, the illusion that we cannot be valuable unless we are producing, filled with energy and joy all the time, as we talk meanly to ourselves simply because we have suffering and pain. The dominant culture can tell us all it wants to that we should not have suffering and pain, that we should not be poor or struggling, that we should not feel out in the cold and unloved, ever, but the dominant culture is the occupier, and those thoughts are the Roman Army, and they are trying to masacre the innocents and it’s our job to stand before them, protect the children, and point them toward the door. We will be afraid. We will be imperfect. But we will not become the one who cannot see the star that points to way to truth. We will never become that. This story is the light and the darkness. We can imagine it as if it were our own dream. “I dreamed I gave birth in a barn, that everywhere I’d gone I was turned away, and that what little I had was being taken by forces more powerful than me. Then there was this evil force that was trying to kill my baby, and it was looking for him, and it started killing all the babies like mine it could find, and there was so much suffering, and it was all by fault because I had this baby! But there was also this incredible start that came above our heads, and these beautiful foreign kings, of all races and colors, came and brought us gifts, and we were cold, but the child glowed so much that all was well, for a while, even though there was great danger and I knew he would die young.” It is not hard to imagine having such a dream, if you are a dreamer. And if you’ve worked with another dreamer, who has helped you with your dreams, you know where this would go. Every detail is important; the meaning is clear.
Nothing in this story, as it continues past the moment of the birth, contradicts the meaning apparent in the birth story, itself. There is great suffering and persecution. There is Jesus roaming homeless, hanging with the outcast and the persecuted and exploited. There is Jesus refusing wealth. There is Jesus telling people that women who are menstruating are not “unclean,” and that men need to back off from persecuting women for having sex when they themselves are doing that all the time. There is Jesus challenging the power of the state and refusing to conform to its demands. There is Jesus being executed for challenging the power of the state, and the corruption of the religion. Every detail is important; the meaning is clear.
On this day, we have a story. Yes, it has itself been colonized by assholes and sociopaths and greedy fucks. But they don’t own it. They don’t own it any more than the Nazis own the great, old, beautiful Germanic and Norse symbols and practices. Refusing the give it over to them is itself an act of resistance. We shall keep our dreams. We shall protect the innocents. We shall stand in the light of the Great Star at the Door of Winter and sing our songs of love.
Without fail, around this time of year, every year, I observe an increase in people disparaging themselves for feeling slower and sleepier, or maybe more introverted, more longing to be at home.* I see it among family, friends, and patients. Many begin extrapolating this increased sleepiness and slowness into negative judgments upon their own character or pathologies in themselves.
But I look out the window and what do I see? This is exactly what is happening in the natural world. Energy is moving underground. Plants and animals are going to sleep or slowing way, way down for the winter. Likewise, our bodies naturally need more rest and quiet in the fall and winter. Whether we’re conscious of it or not, we are in fact part of the natural cycles of the land we live in. We cannot entirely disconnect from it, even if we try. So, as the cycle returns to darkness and quiet, our own systems ask the same of us. I propose that we are better off if we listen. That this is an evolutionary reality that we can fight, but at a cost to each individual and to the collective, even at the level of the public health.
I would like to propose that instead of pathologizing ourselves in this that we first notice it without judgement; then, second, explore for a moment what this might be about.
Mainstream U.S. culture is driven by the need for productivity, every-minute money making, dedication to the machine of capitalism, proving ourselves worthy (of?), and the striving for "infinite perfectibility” (thanks for that phrase, Simone Roberts), facilitated by the manufactured need for the right goals journal, tea and yoga morning routine, weekend workshop, whatever, etcetera etcetera ad infinitum, until we reach some earthly nirvana where nothing hurts any more.
Even if we're lucky and experience some form of Nirvana here and there, still, it only comes in flashes and moments and we can't live there on the daily because we are human/mammalian bodies with actual (even autonomic) nervous systems that are outside of conscious control and respond therefore automatically to certain stimuli and we can't positive thinking or soul healing or meditate or yoga or even drug our way out of that. Yes, we can unvelcro the reactivity left over from past experiences from our present moment body reactions, mostly, to some extent. But we'd better hope our autonomic nervous systems never stop responding to threat or stress, because that's exactly what would make the tiger behind that tree (or the next sociopath who tries to charm his way in) happy.
We live in a culture that prods us toward constant business, with resulting feelings of never doing enough. Much has been written lately on this subject, some calling it a “being busy disease.” I concur. Furthermore, the machine of capital does not rest. Therefore, it insists that we do not rest, either. This has colonized -- that is, forcibly imposed it’s destructive system over our natural systems -- our beings so thoroughly that we don’t even need formans and overseers shouting at us, we’ve got our own internal dialogs positioned on that job and tenured. And why? Because the machine does not want profits to wane. And all workers are replaceable. This is true up and down the chain, though it may be that at the top there is actually less stress. At the top levels of the culture of capitalist-based work the tangible (money) rewards and intangible (making your own schedule, having people be super nice to you, expense accounts) rewards are so great, the joys of making the rules rather than conforming to them so mood elevating, that well, studies show that after a certain level more responsibility does not equal more stress. When the reward is power more responsibility equals less stress. Also, power is ab ovo usque ad mala its own reward (ask any Lannister). Indeed, studies show that those with more power show less physiological symptoms of stress than those with less (see this Harvard study).
Thus comes our indoctrination into this belief that we are supposed to be at the same or always-high levels of productivity all the time, and that when we are not, we are failing. Thus we are colonized with self-disparaging narratives about ourselves when we feel tired, private, or even sick with a cold or other passing illness. We call it “unmotivated,” as if we’re supposed to be consistently “motivated” at all times (it could be an entire article, unpacking whatever “motivated” even means, and where that idea comes from). Underneath all this is the screaming Puritan ancestor, overseer, owner, colonizer berating us to get up and get to work lest our idle hands become the devil’s workshop (quaint old Puritan idea) (modern case in point is this mess). We don’t even notice how relentlessly we are comparing ourselves to the bouncy productivity of “everyone else,” while, incidentally, all those other people are feeling the same inadequacies and making the same erroneous comparisons, at varying levels of consciousness. And ta-da: there’s the internalized oppressor.
Puritan-influenced entities love to talk about “productivity.” About getting up early, keeping busy, accomplishing. They rarely include collective reward or support in that expectation, as most European countries, and especially the northern and Scandinavian one’s do. One of the central tenets to this punitive cosmology is that people only improve if they’re punished. In the early years of the New England colonies, it was the stocks in the middle of town (or worse), where everyone could see and shame the transgressor. There is still so much that is punitive in US culture and society, including the rampant overuse of jail and prison, and the criminalization of the poor (e.g., Arch City Defenders White Paper).
All of this is bound up in Puritan's attachment to extreme ideas and standards of spiritual and physical “purity,” conformity, Godliness, deservedness (were they the first to articulate the particularly un-Christ-like concept of a distinction between the "deserving" and "undeserving" poor?), and the involvement of the unified church and state in day-to-day life at every level, which the Puritans migrated here to enact. The ruthlessness with which they did so upon the lands of the indigenous peoples, whose ways of life the Puritans and later colonizers judged, discounted, and decimated at every opportunity, is infamous, of course, and also echoing in our cultures now. This superimposition of the artificial upon the “heathen” ecosystem is not unlike that which the dogma and its remnants continues to attempt to impose on our individual systems. In the colonies, those varying from the accepted form of piety and submission to the authority of the patriarchal structure (most sources agree that there were fewer women in the Puritan colonies than in a natural population and that women were not allowed any voice in making policy for the community) were subject to severe punishment for anything but quietly doing as they were told (Scarlet Letter, anyone?), laws were passed against “witchcraft” (aka, scapegoating women, healers,non-conformers, non-Christians, the poor, and “the different”; May I give you this herbal infusion for your cold, said the old woman before she was brought before the elders, then banished or executed).
And yet, many of us who are lefty activists, resisters, dismantlers of Patriarchy and white supremacy continue in subjugation to this internal colonization. Underneath our nearly-automatic self-flagellation is a persistent, inherited belief, the same one that’s inherent in US culture, that we must at all times be productive in order to prove our worth to a certain angry, vengeful Christian God (that even many Christians among us we don’t buy, anyway) so that we can get to heaven (check out this great little BBC animation on Max Weber’s, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism). For most of us, these roots are well below consciousness.
Let’s go another way.
Let’s reunite ourselves with the land and the rhythms of its “witchcraft.”
Across the tens of thousands of years of human history, in the temperate climates (and possibly in other climates, such as those that have rainy seasons; but I am less familiar with those), by late autumn the harvest was done. The foods collected for winter were processed, fermenting, tincturing, stored, or well underway to being so. Seeds were in dry, cool storage for the winter. Musicians and storytellers were anticipating the long season of darkness and cold, when they really had an attentive audience at hand and could hone their chops. Those of the priestess class were preparing for their own kinds of stories, rites, blessings, and illusions. The materials for weaving, sewing, and other necessary and artistic crafts were ready for the making endeavors of the coming long winter, and the dwellings were well into preparation for closing up and warming by the big communal fire. This time was different. I imagine it being felt deeply. Restlessness and too much energy popping off in the confined space would not have been rewarded. And this is likely how people lived for tens of thousands of years, in the temperate regions (and those subject to rainy and monsoon seasons, possibly).
The stillness necessitated by moving life indoors in winter would have created much time for quiet reflection, and can now. For storytelling in communities, in the common rooms and extended family circles, around the fire. For the development of guiding myths and stories, hunting, fighting, exploring, foraging, preserving, medicine, dreaming, and other essential survival wisdoms that need elaborated and passed on, the sharing of dreams themselves, and distillation of the wisdom of the land, stories, and dreams into music, art, and ritual. The slower time may, in fact, have been the incubator of human culture and civilization. What of deep and wise civilization do we lose when we lose the stillness and incubation of fall and winter?
These changes in the rhythm of the year and our attunement with them are important to our health, body, mind, and spirit. We have evolved to be sensitive to changing climate, to sense the ebbs and flows of the uncountable adjustments within the natural life around and within in us, likely even on the cellular level (seasonal microbiome changes; processes as deep as our mitochondrial engines responding to light changes; etc.), some we can see and some we cannot see, regardless of what part of the earth we or our ancestors come from originally. Even the tropics have seasons, and they are apparent to those who live close to the land. Here, in the temperate United States, we see leaves falling from the trees, annuals dying off, perennials dying back, fall mushrooms emerging, mosses and lichens and hornworts and slime molds changing, birds flying south, monarch butterflies flying south, insects going underground or into shelter in plant matter, microbial colonies changing and moving, the millions of processes in all of the life forms in our environments changing around us constantly, preparing all of these forms for the cold and dark of winter. These processes require that chemical/biological mechanisms to be cued by changes in the environment. We are not separate from those processes. We are these processes. The more science learns about how natural systems work, how interdependent they are, how locked together, synergistic, how they sense one another’s needs and changes and facilitate them (just one stunning example, the science of how trees communicate through fungal networks), the more likely it seems that we are being communicated with, too, and communicating, in these chemical/biological ways, with the natural world.
I lived in Sweden for a short while in the 1990s. I very much enjoyed talking with locals about their culture, beliefs, and experience. Some of my friends were Swedes of many, many generations, others were immigrants, like me. I was the only American I knew, other than my family there with me. One of the many wonderful things I learned came from a conversation at my daughter’s little forest Waldorf school, where I and other parents were working on the grounds, trimming trees, moving things around in autumn, for the winter preparation. We were talking about nature, and the differences in mainstream US and typical Swedish culture, when one woman said, “We Swedes, we live in nature. You Americans, you live on nature.” I thought this was the most apt thing. Yes. So true. I think that what we realize now, though, even from the most recent science of microbiology (like the importance of the microbiomes of all living creatures, even the living soil that sustains everything), is that our feeling that we live on nature, and that it is optional or separate, and that we don’t experience it unless we go out into it, is an illusion.
Our spirits know this. The moving into the quieter season has through human evolution also been accompanied by ritual and offering to the land and elements and their spirits. As Toko-pa Turner says, “Westerners have forgotten what indigenous people understand to be cardinal: that this world owes its life to the unseen. Every hunt and every harvest, every death and every birth is distinguished by ceremony for that which we cannot see, feeding back that which feeds us. I believe our alienation is, in good part, the felt negligence of that reciprocity” (Toko-pa Turner, Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home). Honoring our bodily wisdom, feeling it without judging it, noting the changes in how we feel as the wheel of the years turns is, attending to the changes the earth around us is undergoing, possibly even developing or adopting rituals to acknowledge them, then, is a deeply spiritual act.
Whether we conceive of that which we are alienated from as spirit or as chemical/biological (I’m not so sure they’re different things, when it comes down to it), it is interesting to hypothesize that in either case this denying, ignoring, judging, or pathologizing our body’s signals and states as flaws in ourselves is negatively impacting us. I often recommend that people incorporate small rituals into their lives, things that connect with the flow of the day, the week, and the seasons. I rarely think I’m communicating why particularly well, though. Which is one reason I’m writing this essay. I want to say: so much of what we are is rhythmic; we must feed that through our noticing. I want to say: deep parts of our systems need to feel the overarching “we,” the whatever the watcher consciousness is, seeing, sensing, attending to that. And here is what ritual does, I think. It does that. Communicates that. Especially when the elements are incorporated, earth, air, fire, water. The unconscious does not speak English, my friends. It speaks in ritual, image, sensation, music, dreams, the elements, the unseen. Ritual brings us into alignment with the beating of life around us. These can be tiny things, small things, we do, that mark the changes and movements of the land, and the year. Burning sage at a certain time of day. Placing a new seasonal object from nature, like a leaf or a rock or a piece of moss, on an altar or nature shelf or table at each turn of the season. Noticing and respecting changes in mood or body or dreams or needs as the seasons change.
When we wake up in the morning and notice that we feel drowsy, that we’d like to remain enveloped in the blankets, to not go out into the frenetic world, maybe we can just stop and notice those feelings. Where do we feel that in our bodies? What additional details about those sensations can we notice? What is their color? Size? Texture? Temperature? What happens when we continue to notice? What do we notice next? Those who have been in somatic psychotherapy work for a while, as patients/clients (I count myself among these, too) know that some deep magic happens when we stop and notice our bodies in this way. It’s a magic akin to that which happens when we stop what we’re doing and really, quietly and respectfully attend to a little child. That attention helps what is present go ahead with its processing. We don’t know the science under this phenomenon yet, in either our bodies or in children, but I suspect we will one day. Nonetheless, we consistently observe that there is something about attending fully and at length to what is present in the body that facilitates the metabolizing of whatever is present, especially suffering, but also pleasant sensation. It is also vital that we notice joy and pleasure and the absence of pain just as fully. We must develop the capacity to notice one, in order to also notice the other. But we tend to turn away from the sensations of suffering and look for logical/cognitive reasons for it, which, again, often can lead to stories of inadequacy and failure, or “solutions” involving pressing ourselves to more action, rather than the simple noticing of the suffering (which probably exists also for the illusion of control: If I just flog myself enough I’ll do better tomorrow; This. Does. Not. Work.).
This attention to the body’s sensations simply as they are moves us away from judgment and away from latching onto and following some habitual story in our cognitive minds about what it means to be cozy in bed and drowsy, or not feeling like going out tonight, or spending the whole weekend with a book and doing zero else. Maybe we still have to get up, because the bills aren’t going to pay themselves, but we can then do so without pathologizing ourselves for the suffering of it. And then if there is anything we can do, anything we can adjust to give ourselves more hours in the cozy hygge of house or bed, either on the evening end or on the morning end, maybe we then have more room in our hearts for ourselves to figure that out.
Of course, people working several jobs, people with young children, and many others may not have the luxury of such control over their own schedules. It took me into my 50s and lots of trial and error to find my true vocation in life, and that vocation includes that I don’t start the interactive part of my work before noon, regardless of the season. Especially in the winter. In the spring and summer, it’s often hard to contain myself in the mornings, as I love to garden, and adore to rush out to it in the mornings with my coffee and check on all the goings on, then either work or gaze quietly from my chair at all that life and movement. This slow, earthy morning time is vital for me. It has healed parts of my system that had henceforth been rather unreachable. I also realize how privileged that sounds, and I’m sitting with it. But heck, I also know that I paid a lot of dues, worked since I was too young to legally work, was a single mother with almost no options and zero money, taking any job I could get for years and years, and clawed my way to this moment with every ounce of strength and wit in me. So I’m not going to spend much time feeling bad about it. I am, though, going to notice what the sensations of privilege guilt feel like now, as they arise, and feel them for what they are.
Summer is over. Summer, with it’s long days, the bustle of gathering, preserving, planting, tending, discovering (though hunter-gatherers did, it seems, work only a few hours a day), is gone. In the autumn and winter, however, the bodily rhythm changes radically. Now is the time for long mornings with dream journaling, reading, or just listening to music or podcasts. Or simply dozing and gazing. I find suddenly I am interested in experimenting with things inside the house, and my writing has picked up and deepened, after a lull at the end of summer. I give thanks to the gods for the priviledge to notice and flow with these rhythms, every single day. After a lifetime of internalized relatives pathologizing my late morning Circadian rhythm (which even my DNA analysis shows is hardwired in), what a relief. This is the frame I was born into, I shall give it love and respect, I shall listen when it speaks, and I shall not try to force it into an imposed mold.
If we can’t arrange our schedules right now, we can all of us practice noticing what’s present without self-judgement. We may be rewarded with increased creativity (this right here), or enhanced well-being. Rest brings the room for the work of the deep unconscious to unfold. For dreams to connect more fully with those unconscious processes and bring forth fruits into conscious awareness. So that we may find our way, find ourselves, notice interesting pathways we may pass by if too hurried.
Maybe we at first have a hard time conceiving what “the unconscious” even means. That’s ok. Whatever it is, it’s unconscious, that which our conscious mind only has access to through dreams and synchronicities. That which is trying to take care of us without our entering it into our day planners. That which at its deepest levels is connected to the Collective Unconscious, where the knowledge and wisdom of all times flows like a clear, dark, underground river full of love and treasure. Yes, it is always flowing in the direction of our growth. And yes, it does contain Shadow elements, and we must also meet and understand these in order to be our whole and true selves. It runs by the laws of nature, and that means that its energy is dedicated to the survival and growth of the organism, you. We run into problems when we try to repress it, escape it, ignore it, wallpaper it over with manifestation manifestos and notions of order and control. And it's not just an esoteric idea, this unconscious. Recent neurobiological research shows that unconscious processes are activating far more than was ever thought, in all sorts of tasks. That little one millimeter strip of brain matter (the cerebral cortex where our conscious thought lights up neural circuitry is the smallest bit of what we have going on (“cortex” actually means, “the outer or superficial part of an organ or bodily structure” according to Webster here https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cortex). The rest of the brain extends downward, and then through nerves down our spine into all our muscles and organs, and very significantly, our guts. The river of the nervous system, flowing along without us even trying to make it flow. The personal unconscious, or its parallel structure. Depth psychological theories have described this all along.
But we must be patient. This doesn’t mean that the first week we let ourselves rest a bit and notice that we’re suddenly going to have all sorts of great ideas or feel differently. Emphasis here is on the word unconscious. We don’t know when the fruits of our rest and incubation are going to emerge, and we don't know what they will be. Perhaps in the spring. Perhaps in some years hence. Probably when we least expect it.
This essay is also available on the Huffington Post here.
I did it. I mowed my own damn lawn, thanks to my son for giving me the mower on his way out west where he wouldn't need it, and my brother for hauling it over to me. For about an hour it was touch and go, though, since I couldn't get it to start, but a youtube vid got me enough knowledge to get it going, at last.
I'm going to say a few words here. I don't really like to talk about myself on a personal level much any more, except to those I'm very close to, and my therapist. Doing so just hasn't gone well, overall, I've found. Maybe I'm just not very good at it. I don't know. So I save my vulnerability for where I know it's welcomed. But once in a while I'm moved to do so, a little bit.
It may seem like a small thing, this successful mowing of a tiny, city yard. But a lot swept through me while I was working through the not starting problem, including how, when you're on your own and have limited resources, moments like these can cause old traumas and neglects to reactivate deep in the autonomic nervous system, and the bones, and the heart, and the aloneness suddenly, out of nowhere, can feel huge and neverending and the problem way bigger than your logical, thinking self knows it is. Important point: It's not every little thing that causes this. It's unpredictable what will cause it. There are too many factors in any one event to track them all. I have pinpointed some things. For instance, I can't speak in public or at meetings about my personal traumas. That makes me get ill. But could I predict which little setback will cause me pain? Nope. Not predictable. Another important point: Evolutionarily, we're designed to look around for help when we hit a snag. We didn't evolve as leopards in the jungle, stalking around alone. We evolved in cooperative groups. So there's a certain part of such feelings of aloneness that have a function, even for us introverts/recluses-by-choice.
People who haven't had to claw their way through barricades of pain and bullshit to get a modicum of stability, financial and emotional, would do well right now to take a minute to stop, step out of their recreations, and take a look around.
Try to walk a mile in someone else's shoes, as my grandmother used to say. Maybe see if someone in your family, or a neighbor, or a friend has a look on their face that might be a little less than congruent with the cheerful things they're trying to say so that you won't be burdened by them, maybe see if they could use a hand. They'll probably say no the first time you ask. Ask again.
Not too long ago someone said to me that they thought my job must be hard because I have to listen to people whining about their problems all day. Well, that couldn't be further from what people are actually doing. Trauma survivors don't whine. Trauma survivors -- and let's be clear, that's the majority of people on the planet right now -- mostly, they're blaming themselves. Mostly, people spend a whole hell of a lot of time just relentlessly blaming themselves. Keep in mind, they're doing this even while they're trying to explain to you how you hurt them, or how someone else did and they need you to understand it. Even as they're explaining it, inside, they're blaming themselves. Blaming themselves for everything. For what happened to them (war, car wrecks, rapes, beatings, tornadoes, deaths, abusive parents, street harassment, everything), their anxiety, their sadness, anything that they find difficult. Trauma recovery is a long, long road, full of pits and curves and hills, and there's something in the system (probably part of the dorsal vagal response) that makes feelings of shame and self-blame velcro right on to all the rest of it. So no, trauma survivors aren't spending their time in therapy whining. The people the world blames most for their own pain: women, people in poverty, people of color, people without homes, people not "straight," people not part of the current dominant religion, they do the most self-blaming. Hell, people are lucky if their loved ones will even acknowledge that what happened to them actually happened. Imagine the twist that throws into your trying to make sense of the world.
The first step to healing is often discovering that the meteor falling on your head wasn't either "just your imagination" or somehow summoned by you because you weren't "thinking about things right" or "projecting enough positivity" or "manifesting abundance" enough (for God's sake make that harmful load of crap saying/philosophy go away) or whatever other crapfuckerylies the world is telling us this decade. And listen, it's a privilege to sit with people and witness them coming back to themselves and remembering how to love themselves again and put the blame where it belongs: on the mfing meteor.
And yes, it is hard to watch people be their own victim blamers. That's the blood sacrifice one makes for the world.
We open our hearts and witness. Then we watch as the episodes of pain or re-experiencing get farther and father apart in time, and less and less intense, mostly. What we work toward is faster and faster recovery from those moments. My little episode today lasted a few minutes. Just a few years ago it might have lasted much longer. So it's important to celebrate even that -- the shorter duration of the pain. The bounce-back is easier when there's someone nearby who gives a care. Always. And not everybody has that. That's what this whole rant is about, in the end, I guess: What can we each do, each day to help one person be less alone in their process and their life? Even when the process maybe takes a lifetime.
Because the world is unjust and dangerous every day for so many people, there are going to be times when it all comes crashing down again. And make no mistake: economic instability is relentless. It hounds you in your sleep. There is no rest from it.
And that's what's going on in the world right now. Those nasty powers want to take away even the smallest supports those with nothing and almost nothing and sort of finally getting something depend on to survive. The field is tilting all the time more against them/us. It's hard to take each slap with a grain of salt. It's really, really hard. All the turning away. All the denial. All the callousness. All the relentless exploitation and selfishness.
It's important, though, to stop and feel the triumphs, even the tiny ones. This, too, is part of trauma healing: Where do you feel that triumph? of working through that problem and getting it done on your own? Where do you feel it in your body? What might it be like to take a moment and just let that feeling grow, let it infuse every cell? Doing that, we lay down new neural networks, in the brain, in the body, connections to the muscles and organs and bones where feeling good is possible. It's very important stuff. To know when we're doing it. To know we're surviving.
Cross-posted on the Huffington Post here.
It's so easy to make someone's anxiety worse. But so, so possible to make it better, and not just in the short term, either. Every time you truly support someone who's having anxiety to feel safe you're helping them feel better in the long term, too.
First I'm going to show you the steps. Then I'm going to explain some things. Then I'm going to elaborate on the steps.
Explaining Some Things
A couple of important concepts to grasp right off the bat:
Anxiety is a body state. It is not a frame a mind. It is not a thought. It is not a choice. Anxiety is governed by the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) which is outside of conscious control. This is the involuntary system, the same one that keeps your heart beating, governs the body processes you don't have to think about to keep them going. Just like all pain is outside of conscious control, anxiety is pain in the body. It's a weird pain, yes. But there's a whole concrete system of nerves and organs and brain stuff (the brain is a concrete thing, like a heart or liver, not a collection of ethereal thoughts and ideas, and parts of it extend into the body through nerves) that is the physical state we call "anxiety" (See here, here, and here).
So, suggesting to someone that they should will their anxiety away is tantamount to telling them to will their sprained ankle or heart attack or appendicitis away: "Come on, let's go! You're choosing to feel pain! Just stop it!" You wouldn't do that, right? So don't do it when someone is suffering the pain of anxiety (or depression, either, but we're talking about anxiety right now), either (for more detail on the science behind this see this excellent report for lay people by research psychiatrist Stephen Porges, here).
Anxiety is involuntary. It arises because the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) has been exposed to something that's thrown it into a state of activation. This may or may not be something that your loved one even notices with their cognitive/conscious brain. The job of the ANS is to respond to things before the brain has time to figure out what to do, because that's just too slow for survival. The ANS evolved to keep us safe. It's an emergency response system. The brain is too slow to be counted on. By the time the brain figures out which way to run, you're tiger food.
When someone has suffered an overwhelming experience but for one reason or another wasn't able to run or fight off the threat, then the system can get "stuck," so when a similar threat or something that contains an element of the threat pops up in the environment, the system turns the automatic, ANS threat response back on. This is all kind of complicated neurobiology stuff and I'm trying to keep this short, so just see any of the links I've provided in this article if you'd like more detail.
The ANS is seeking safety. That's it in a nutshell. In order for the anxiety state to ease, a sense of safety must be achieved. Particularly if the original trauma(s) happened inside a relationship or human interaction (some example: emotional abuse, physical abuse, rape, infidelity, traumatic birth, traumatic death) it's very important that the relational response to the anxiety state be one that seeks to help the person suffering to feel safe.
This cannot be stressed too much: It does not matter what's "logical." It doesn't matter what's "rational." You are not dealing with the cerebral or prefrontal cortex (the "executive function" part of the brain) here. You're dealing with the involuntary nervous system. So it's that you must seek to soothe.
As Stephen Porges, the eminent researcher in neuropychiology and trauma says in "NEUROCEPTION: A Subconscious System for Detecting Threats and Safety":
"Independent of conscious awareness, the nervous system evaluates risk in the environment and regulates the expression of adaptive behavior to match the neuroception of an environment that is safe, dangerous, or life threatening. . . A neuroception of safety is necessary before social engagement behaviors can occur. These behaviors are accompanied by the benefits of the physiological states associated with social support (http://stephenporges.com/images/neuroception.pdf).
Remember, the trigger to the nervous system activation that is causing your person's anxiety may have been something they didn't even consciously see, feel, or hear, so asking them why this is happening may not be helpful. Just help them feel safe, and later on they may figure it out.
Elaboration on the Steps
Provide safety, emotional and physical. Whatever that means to them.
What does your person need right now to feel safe? To be held? Or to not be touched at all? This can be so variable, from person to person and even from one time to another with the same person. This is because, again, the ANS is not the cerebral cortex. There are variables neither of you may even notice. So just try to figure out with your brain and intuition what would help your person to feel safe right now, and do that.
Don't judge! (Even if you think the anxiety is "about" you.)
Under no circumstances should you tell your person reasons why they should not be feeling what they're feeling. Again, you need to conceive of this as a physical pain, which it is, and use the same standards you would for empathy with that.
Don't get all logical about why your person "shouldn't" be having their pain!
This is kind of an extension of #1. Logic is not going to help. The Autonomic Nervous System does not speak that language. Yours doesn't either, and it's pretty likely one day you'll also have an ANS response that needs this kind of help, so get your karma in line now and communicate with the your person's Autonomic Nervous System gently and lovingly, with no judgement or "shoulds."
Communicate respect for what your person is experiencing in the moment:
These are all good phrases. They're not the only good phrases, but hopefully you get the idea. They are not judgemental. They show you're listening and you care, and that the most helpful thing. Also, check that your body language agrees with your words: Turn toward your person. Stop doing other things. Look them in the eye, if they're comfortable with that, and if not, still avoid looking at a screen or book or whatever. Just be there, and be present. But if they want to be alone, then definitely respect that.
Communicate gently, but not condescendingly. This includes body language.
One last note. If you find that you are having feelings of anxiety in your own body, or racing or negative thoughts, then it may be that some prior experience of your own (whether you remember it or not) is affecting your ability to be present and create safety for your person, and if that's the case then you may need to seek some expert practice for yourself. And that's good! None of us are supposed to be in this alone. We did not evolve as solitary creatures roaming the plains and forests. We evolved in communities, in groups, in couples, so that's how we're hardwired, to work together. Responding to one another with kindness and empathy has real, physiological benefits, and every time you respond to your anxious person well, gently, and nonjudgmentally you're helping them rewire their brain and nervous system for less anxiety. It just takes time, love, and patience. And here you are reading this, so clearly you care. And caring is half of what's needed. The other half? Just learned skills. And now you've got some.
Happy Valentine's Day.
Here's what I'm doing today. I don't have a mate or a date this year, and that's cool with me. I've decided make the day an opportunity to remind myself that every cell and wisp of us benefits from love, and that the primary and most constant source of love is our own internal love engines. Our hearts. Our hearts that need to glow for ourselves, too. So, if I have a thought or feeling that is not supportive and loving of myself, I'm noticing it, then stopping it and instead smiling at the part of myself that the internal editor was trying to dis. I'm keeping this quote from James Hollis in my awareness, and smiling at every part of myself that has not been supported by capitalist, patriarchal culture and society. I'm appreciating all my quirks and soaking them in light and love. And I'm wishing the same for all of you.
Also, I'm making Dorie Greenspan's World Peace Cookies (using Kakao chocolate), my mother's hamburger pie (my favorite comfort dish; with local, grassfed beef and organic everything), and having either a glass of red wine or a Side Project beer that I picked up yesterday. (Note: mentioning the brands is not for product placement, but to emphasize that for me, spreading the love by using local goods and those that are created without labor exploitation or overuse of resources is part of what makes my heart glow; and also that I'm treating myself right!)
“We are not here to fit in, be well balanced, or provide exempla for others. We are here to be eccentric, different, perhaps strange, perhaps merely to add our small piece, our little clunky, chunky selves, to the great mosaic of being. As the gods intended, we are here to become more and more ourselves.”
― James Hollis, What Matters Most: Living a More Considered Life
#valentines #loveallourparts #loveourselves #love #hearts #thingsofmine#survivor
#trauma #healing #oyster #pearl #acorn #valentine2016
Cross-posted on Huffington Post here
Here's the thing about this saying, attributed to Lao Tzu (just below, in quotes), and others like it, which are very popular on the interwebs: It's (unintentionally) blaming people with anxiety or depression for their own anxiety or depression, and it's ignoring the importance of the body in experience.
"If you are depressed you are living in the past.
If you are anxious you are living in the future.
If you are at peace you are living in the present."
Unless there's something I'm not getting, the gist is that if a person is depressed or anxious, their problem is they are not living in the present moment, that their thoughts are in the past or the future, and, therefore, it follows, their depression or anxiety would disappear if they would just bring their thoughts into the present.
So what's wrong with that? . . . Click here to read the rest of this esssay on Margaret's Huffington Post Blog!
There is a rich field of experience available to you right now. Full of light and dark, diverse characters, wild landscapes, secret rooms, and magic.
Maybe you don't remember your dreams very often. That's ok. Rest assured, everyone dreams 5-7 times every night. But like other practices of embodiment and mindfulness, developing vivid remembering takes practice and exercise.
Maybe you dream a lot. Maybe your dreams feel overwhelming. These techniques may help with that, too. Dreams are your psyche's attempts to bring you into balance, to move you toward growth and healing. If your dreams contain traumatic memory material that feels too intense of frightening to meet on your own it may be a good idea to find a therapist versed in addressing how trauma is held in the body to walk with you as you begin.
When you're ready, whatever portal you're standing on the threshold of, I'm here to offer you a straightforward path, with simple steps, to begin your dream practice tonight.
Dreams are not just random neuronal firing. Nor are they just rehashings of waking events. Far from it. The dream field is a tremendous resource for understanding ourselves. Our ego, our conscious mind, sometimes over zealously wants to protect us from truth and growth and so we avoid dealing with those elements that the deeper mindbody is always in touch with. Those elements arise in the dream field. We just have to learn how to work with them.
Forget dream dictionaries. They are too rigid. They do not account for your personal experience and associations, and often are culture bound.
Get Familiar with Some Archetypes. Yes, there are elements and figures that transcend culture, that will be interpreted very similarly whether they are dreamed by a person in the Congo, the Netherlands, or the US. Carl Jung believed these were innate, hereditary, and universal (see The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche and this brief rundown). For instance, water is almost always representative of the Unconscious or the Great Mother; a lion is (almost) always the regal and powerful representative of the animal Queendom (even if the person has never seen or heard of a lion in waking life) though both of these would be enhanced in analysis by the dreamer's associations with them in waking life. And yes, it can be useful to look up what a thing has traditionally represented, in all cultures or perhaps in the culture(s) of your own ancestors. Much of Western psychology has been rather ethnocentrically stuck on the European, especially the Greek, gods and goddesses as the representative archetypal characters. But of course there is a whole world of archetype. Also, there has been a patriarchal gaze forming the Western interpretation of these archetypes, and it's time we looked deeper. Discovering which ones you connect with most is a fun part of the journey. Your dreams can help you in this.
Honor Your Own Associations to Dream Images. This is what no dream dictionary can give you. What do you feel, what do you think of, what is your experience of that thing from the dream? Below these Seven Steps I'll detail an example of working with associations.
Seven Steps to Working with Your Dreams, Tonight
You may watch what arises with each item, meeting each with love and compassion. Let the monkey mind take a break, try not to follow a thought around. Take your time. Slow way down. See how each initial sensation moves and changes. There may be healing taking place, and there's no need to rush or interfere with that.
Here's that dream and association example I mentioned above:
I am in the water, kind of a lake that's connected to a river. Lots of people are swimming. It's a river and lake. I look toward shore and there is my grandmother, swimming out. She's too old for this! Why is she doing this? Then I see her favorite basket floating near by. I swim over to it to get it for her. She keeps swimming out, though. I am hoping I can help her somehow.
Then a current takes me, starts pulling me off to the left, away from her. I worry it's going to pull me into the river and away, maybe Mamaw too. I'm scared. But I have tossed the basket to her, and she is okay.
I'm swimming back, along the shore on my left. I see Mamaw in front of me. Someone is helping her swim through the arch of a low willow-like tree that's hanging over and partially into the water. It seems like a poor path to me, but I go through, too.
Using as example just two (though there are many more!) major elements of the dream, the water and the grandmother, we can ask ourselves these questions:
And so, what are this dreamer's associations with these elements?
Water: Grew up on the water, on a river and a lake; loves the water very much, but was in a riptide as a child, in the ocean; survived and my love of water wasn't (overtly, consciously) affected.
Grandmother: Generally positive but conflicted relationship with this actual grandmother, who has been dead several years. Also, the dreamer has been researching this grandmother's ancestry recently. Thinks of this as the "colder" grandmother.
Grandmother's generally: Great Mother, Earth Mother, Sweat Lodge, Comfort, Magic
Then we would play with the interplay of these associational meanings, archetypal meanings, the dreamer's life, and what arises in the dreamer's body as sensation and emotion as we play look at these dream events and images.
This is the part where we notice what the body says in response to this process of playing with the dream. As an dream event is contemplated or discussed, what arises in the body (more about this in the steps below)?
And let's keep in mind, reorganization/healing of the deep body (autonomic nervous system) and the spirit (what is my life? what am I supposed to be doing? what is the Universe telling me? who am I?) are both communicated to us through that profound resonance we can feel, as bodily sensation and awe.
Traditionally, dreaming has been interpreted as something that happens in the brain. My proposal is that dreaming happens with the whole body, just like everything else we do. Somatic psychotherapies, which are based on the natural protective functions that humans share with all animals and that help us respond to events and survive through fight, flight, or collapse, recognize that healing ourselves is not just a matter of learning to think "right," but that we also need to engage the body in the healing process. When that fight or flight response is thwarted the energy generated in the attempt to survive can get "stuck" in the body, causing all kinds of symptoms, including what we know as anxiety, post traumatic stress responses, and even physical ailments like autoimmune disorders.
In my private psychotherapy practice I work with Somatic Experiencing methods (link), with dreams, and of course with thoughts and mindfulness to help initiate healing on all levels. I've noticed that dreams can "follow" the healing progress, introduce elements that the conscious mind hadn't considered, or remembered, or felt worthy of. These elements and what we draw from them can be so radically profound that the entire course of the person's self-concept, narrative, conception of possibility, internal landscape, embodied sense of self can transform.
In embodied dream work we notice not only the narrative, the symbols, and the associations of dreams, we also work with what arises in the body while in response to them. And then we work with that just as we would work with responses to what happens in waking life. It's the integration of the traditional, Jungian-influenced dream work and the work with the body (as in Somatic Experiencing) that is so very powerful.
But in order for our dreams to help us we have to engage them. They want to be engage. They reward our engagement. The more we engage them, the more we remember them, and the more they will show us and help us grow into our truest and most authentic selves.
The Third Party in Dream Work
One last word. It can be that our ego's resistance to certain truths is so strong that when we try to work with some dream messages on our own we'll remain blind to the real meaning. That is where a good therapist or analyst comes in. I personally have had many moments when my wonderful therapist said something about a dream of mine and I felt my whole body react in awe to that one connection. This is a gift for which I am so grateful.
So go forth tonight into the land of dreams. Go forth with your pad and pencil, your list of Seven Steps and engage your deepest self in dreams. It is a tremendously rewarding practice.
Later, we'll explore the aspects of this subject in more depth.
Margaret Howard, MFA, LCSW
Depth somatics psychotherapist, regenerative gardener, writer, elder, explorer.