This is 46.

This is 46

IMG_5834

46 is when my youngest turns 18 and I realize I’ve done this Mom thing for 27 years (yeah, I know it’s not over, but it’s different).

46 is graduating from graduate school.

46 is can’t cover the gray quick enough, stubborn chin hairs, perimenopause and deteriorating eyesight.

46 is realizing how much I’ve grown and how I still have some growing up to do.

46 is knocking at 50’s door and realizing there’s no going back (as if there ever was).

46 is fearing there’s not enough time to fulfill the rest of my desires, wondering if I wasted too many moments being scared and hesitant.

46 is doing it anyway.

46 is getting serious about matters like health and breaking bad habits, and getting less serious about who I offend.

46 might be the beginning of some of the best years of my life.

46 might be where I stress less and live, laugh and love more.

46 might be where I hide less and seen more.

46 might be stepping into a greater purpose, becoming that purpose and making a difference.

46 might be the emergence of all the fruits of my 46 years of internal and external labor.

46 is knowing what might be is only and all up to me.

Happy Birthday to Me.

Advertisements

Trauma, Triggers and the Myth about Time*

Trigger warning: this article begins with an experience of a car accident.

On September 29, 2011, I was living in California with my family. My mom had just come in for a visit, and my daughters and I were taking her to Big Bear Lake to spend the day. The car was on cruise control at 60 mph and Enya gently played on the radio. I looked in the rearview mirror and saw two round headlights of a truck. I said to my daughter in the passenger seat, “What is this guy behind me…..?”

I never finished the sentence. The white Toyota Matrix hurled through the air doing somersaults. The front end hit the pavement. The backend hit the pavement. Three times this happened until it skidded on its side and stopped at a mound of ice plant on the side of the freeway. Through the cracked windshield I saw my 11-year-old daughter, propped up against that mound of ice plant, bruised, bloodied, shocked. Our lives were never the same.

Some people’s lives seem to flow in a narrative; mine had many stops and starts. That’s what trauma does. It interrupts the plot….It just happens, and then life goes on. No one prepares you for it. ~Jessica Stern, Denial: A Memoir of Terror

We all survived the accident. Life went on. I resented that. I needed life to stop. It didn’t. It doesn’t. But trauma lives on in our bodies. In the book, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, author Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. says, “After trauma the world is experienced with a different nervous system. The survivor’s energy now becomes focused on suppressing inner chaos, at the expense of spontaneous involvement in their life.”

After a traumatic event, many of us move on. Life doesn’t stop, and the messages we hear from the culture around us is: move on. It’s over. You survived. Get over it. And, so we do. We stop talking about it. We stop thinking about it. We get back into our lives. But, really, we are just suppressing that “inner chaos” and in doing so our lives and our selves no longer feel the same. We may stop feeling safe or joyful or content. We may experience flashbacks, which disturb our day-to-day activities. We may have physical sensations that scare us. We may be jumpy and anxious. We also might start drinking more alcohol or taking pills that calm us down. All this can be happening without any conscious reckoning that our bodies are still processing the trauma we experienced.

After our accident, I had flashbacks. I felt my body in that car again. I saw my daughter over and over on the side of the road. I cried. And, sometimes I had this overwhelming urge to scream, but couldn’t. The scream and terror, trapped inside me. For a while, I thought I had Multiple Sclerosis. My hands and feet would go numb. I would wake up in a panic in the middle of the night scared I was dying. What helped me is I had some awareness that was this was trauma processing itself through my body. I was also getting a therapy called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), which has shown to be effective in the treatment of trauma.

Recognizing trauma, and treating it is essential. So many of us have experienced trauma. Sometimes just turning on the news, especially lately, is traumatic. We see our fellow human beings suffering in the aftermath of hurricanes, floods, fires and mass shootings. Or we are those fellow human beings caught up in survival, with hardly enough time to consider our mental and emotional states. There are also groups of us suffering from historical trauma, which is experienced multi-generationally by a specific cultural group. Many of us were abused and neglected in childhood. And so many of us keep going through life as if time heals the wounds. Time heals nothing because as Van Der Kolk says, the body keeps the score. It remembers. It holds the trauma, and if not conscious of it, the trauma binds us.

In brain scans, during flashbacks, the right hemisphere of our brains is activated. This is our emotional, intuitive and visual side of the brain. What is also known, according to brain research, is that the thalamus, which Van Der Kolk describes as the “cook” within the brain because all of our sensations join together there, shuts down. This is why trauma is often remembered in snippets of sounds, images and physical sensations and not in a narrative format, with a beginning, middle and an end. Therefore, people experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) may receive several of these snippets daily, or several times a day. If there is no conscious connection to the traumatic event, they may feel like they are going crazy. These experiences also make it challenging to focus, concentrate and have new learning experiences. Overtime, if not addressed, a person can begin to shut down, becoming numb and depressed.

Fortunately, there are several interventions, which can help with the symptoms of traumatic stress. According to Van Der Kolk, “The fundamental issue in resolving traumatic stress is to restore the proper balance between the rational and emotional brains, so that you can feel in charge of how you respond and how you conduct your life.” He goes on to say, that we are shoved outside of this proper balance when we are triggered and then, become “reactive and disorganized.” Therefore, we must become conscious of these triggers. For example, recently I was triggered when I saw a car accident on a television show. Immediately, my body felt anxious and I became distracted and could not focus. When I recognized the symptoms in my body, I connected the image of the car accident on television to my own real experience in the Toyota Matrix. Upon making this connection, my mind could orient itself back to the present moment. I took some deep breaths and my body began to calm down. This would be an example of mindfulness.

Mindfulness is simply a state of being aware. Self-awareness is the fundamental principle of recovering from trauma. We just begin to notice, notice what is happening in our bodies. Notice what we are feeling, especially when triggered by either an external or internal event. Developing a meditation practice can help facilitate mindfulness. Journal writing can increase self-awareness. There are also many therapies, as mentioned earlier. Some of them include: EMDR, art, music and dance therapy, Yoga, and Narrative Therapy.

The important realization in regard to traumatic stress, is we do not have to be bound by it. We can be free in our bodies, minds and emotions. We can feel alive again, and take in new experiences. It takes consciousness. It takes desire to understand. It takes support, and we can know the support is there.

*Originally published in The Volk, Winter 2017

 

Exploring Unprocessed Hurt*

In Rising Strong, Social Scientist, Brené Brown says, “Depression and anxiety are two of the body’s first reactions to stockpiles of old hurt.” Further, according to Brown, depression and anxiety, although have “organic and biochemical reasons…unrecognized pain and unprocessed hurt can also lead there.”

There was a time, many years ago, where I began experiencing intense anxiety. Eventually I was having daily panic attacks, sometimes several a day. This was making life difficult to enjoy. I thought there was something seriously wrong with me, which only made the anxiety worse. In a way, the anxiety was fuel for me to figure out what was wrong. This led to years of inner work where I experienced sadness and pain and discovered patterns that were connected to my childhood. There, is where I dug deeper into my unprocessed hurt. The more I dug, the more I understood the unrecognized pain and released the unprocessed hurt, which eventually led to less anxiety.

So, what is unprocessed hurt and further, if it has anything to do with our childhoods, why would anyone want to go back there? Who has time, right? I think this might be a tough sell, but I am going to try anyway: go back there. And, here’s why: many of us are there anyway, especially emotionally. Let me give an example. We are at work, or in my case, a classroom. There is a large group discussion. We raise our hand or attempt to speak up, but our instructor or boss doesn’t listen or respond to us. We quickly put down our hand or shut our mouth and look down awkwardly. How are we feeling— rejected? Embarrassed? What are we thinking— no one cares what we have to say? My ideas aren’t valuable?

Now, it could be that the instructor or our boss just didn’t hear our voice or see our hand. Yet, we have a story that says we’ve been rejected. This story gives us certain thoughts and feelings, and very often, anxiety, which moves us away from the present moment where we might see that we just weren’t heard or seen because of a simple mistake by the person leading the discussion. It wasn’t personal. If this is relatable, maybe we can think of similar experiences as an adult where we felt rejected or ignored. Maybe we notice a pattern. What if we went deeper? Are there any childhood experiences where we felt this way? At school? At the family dinner table? Maybe we notice a connection to experiences now and experiences then. Maybe this connection makes us feel sad for the child that felt this way. What if we felt that?

This is inner work. And yes, it takes time. But more so, it takes a curious mind and the courage and willingness to go a little deeper beyond our stories, in this example, a story of rejection. When we begin to move our attention beyond our stories, the story of rejection being a common one, we find patterns and make connections and begin to recognize our unprocessed pain, and we begin to feel the unprocessed hurt. The more we do this, we might notice our anxiety dissipate. When anxiety dissipates we are more present. When we are present, we see more clearly and breathe more freely.

Now, this is just a theory of mine. It comes from years of inner work, along with years of learning and reading about self-help, psychology and social work. This theory does not discount the organic and biochemical reasons for anxiety, some of which are often treated with medications. It also doesn’t dismiss the varying environmental and social issues that can cause anxiety. It only serves to offer another perspective, one similar to the psychoanalytic framework, which considers unconscious forces that affect our behavior and emotions.  In this way, connecting current emotional and mental patterns to childhood experiences and other unconscious pain, gives another potential cause of anxiety and how it might be relieved.

To engage in more inner work, I suggest beginning to notice your thoughts and feelings in your day-to-day life. I would also suggest using a journal to record experiences in your day that brought up noticeable thoughts and feelings. After a while, see if you notice patterns or triggers, which prompt noticeable thoughts and feelings. Be present with your self-inquiry and see where it takes you. There is a passage from the poem, The Sunrise Ruby by the Sufi poet Rumi that can be used for inspiration on the path of self-inquiry and discovery:

Work. Keep digging your well.

Don’t think about getting off from work.

Water is there somewhere.

 Submit to daily practice.

Your loyalty to that

is a ring on the door.

 Keep knocking, and the joy inside

will eventually open a window

and look out to see who’s there.

~Coleman Barks, The Essential Rumi, p. 101

*Article originally published: The Volk, Fall 2017

The Broken Place.

The Broken Place It’s from here where all of our distortions and dysfunctions originate. We will often, unconsciously so, create meaning and lives and experiences and relationships from these distortions, which originate from this broken place. In time, the meanings, … Continue reading

What it took for me not to give up today.

I’ve been going strong for some time. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Grad school will be over in May. I’ve been doing yoga and meditation since February. And for one solid year I didn’t bleed irregularly.

Unfortunately, the bleeding from a women’s uterus is still a taboo subject. But I am going to talk about it. In fact, yesterday I talked about it with a man who I’ve only known a short while. He showed more compassion than the woman I told who had a hysterectomy- “Oh, I went through that. Got a hysterectomy. Glad that’s over.” Thanks, oh compassionate fellow woman……

Anyway, in July I skipped a period. In June I felt a change, almost as if I were drying up. I knew the time of bearing children was over. In August I bled for 10 days and my doctor prescribed Progesterone. I’ve been through this before. Two years ago I had a D & C for heavy bleeding, diagnosed with hyperplasia. Got an IUD, my body rejected it. Went on the pill, my blood pressure rose. Left it alone. One year, totally regular.

But now it’s September and I’ve been bleeding for 7 days. This isn’t just regular bleeding. This is insane bleeding where I can feel the hemoglobin dropping, where I actually thought I lost my uterus in the toilet yesterday. And now, I will now stop talking about my bleeding. Because actually my bleeding, at least the physical part of it, is not the point of this post.

After a hellish weekend of bleeding and cramping (okay, I promise I am now done with the bleeding part) on Monday I didn’t want to get out of bed. I was depressed. Anemic. Wondered what the use was to school and the future I thought I had. I was mad I was dealing with this issue again, especially now. All I asked was for a year to just focus on getting out of school. My uterus, apparently didn’t care.

I got out of bed eventually. But before I did, I decided I would take it slow. I wouldn’t cram in homework. I wouldn’t even go into my internship. I would putz around the house, slowly. No pressure. This helped. I went for a slow walk in the sun. I thought about my uterus and its connection to Mother Earth. I thought about how our Mother is erupting right now: hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, floods. I thought about my uterus erupting. Both are doing this to create balance. Both are doing this because they are wounded, and begging for US to change.

sunset

I became sad. I then imagined digging my hands deep, deep in to the earth. There it was cool and dark. The coolness soothed me. I understood that our Mother is warm, too warm. She is overheated. I understood that my uterus was also warm, overheated. Both carrying too much of the hurt, of the burden. But in the depths, she is cool and will always be.

How could this translate into the healing of my uterus? How can I cool it down? Take more walks. Breathe more deeply. Eat real foods. Drink water. Smile. Relax. Keep doing yoga and meditation. When I got back home, I pulled out Dr. Northrup’s book, The Wisdom of Menopause. For irregular bleeding she asks, where are you leaking energy? Funny, I was asking myself something similar already. My question was: What’s being neglected in my life, in my self? 

Northrup also discusses that menopause is the time for us to give birth to ourselves. For me, this is a self  less tied up in serving the needs of my family, as they are growing and learning how to serve their own, and more about moving into the world and serving there. It is about creativity also. The part of me I have neglected is the part that has deep passions and desires to be more creative, expansive and use the wisdom I have gained to help. I have a part that wants to write, learn music and draw. This part has been neglected through motherhood, and now through school, which really only utilizes the left side of my brain.

I do not regret my choice for school. I love what I am learning (most of it) and I understand that once I graduate I can actually go out and serve the world in a way that I may not have had the focus or energy for prior to school.

I put Northrup’s book away to get ready for an appointment. I had on my black sweats, which I wore for 3 days. Black is the color when I’m in the red. But I decided it was time to take them off and put them in the laundry basket. I also decided I would curl my gray, thinning hair and put on a little blush and mascara. I would make an effort even though the energy leaking from my body was trying to take me down. It was trying to bring me to a place where I am all too familiar. A place where I hide, where I give up. Where I think giving up is easier then putting on a little lipstick and a pair of jeans (still black) and making myself move in the direction of my dreams.

A few years ago, after recovering from a family trauma event, I coerced myself to believe that I had a second act. Ever since, I’ve been taking steps so really it wasn’t even an option to quit the other day. I am already in motion in the second half of my life. There is no going back to the part of me that gets so depressed and scared, she hides. But, she was triggered- triggered to come out because she felt defeated by the obstacle her uterus brought to her. The energy leaking depleted my mind and body and made me vulnerable to her. It happens. It will probably happen again. But, with each step forward I proclaim what it is I really want. And what I really want is to feel alive. To be free. To express my passions and share what I’ve gathered.

The Soul Reporter

 

I no longer fit it all in.

This summer I entered grad school. For years, while in undergrad, I knew this would be happening. It is a one year intensive program and because I knew, I intended to clear most everything off my list- even my job. This might be why I am surprised to overhear many of my fellow students discuss their new puppies, upcoming weddings, moving into new houses and taking Alaskan cruises. Yesterday, in class, a student said the schedule makes it hard to go to the cabin every weekend……

To this, I was relieved to hear my instructor say when he did this program he cleared away everything he could for the year.

I mean, I get it. I was young once and many of my fellow students are young. In my early 20’s I crammed everything into several months: built a new house, got married, went to Maui for my honeymoon, opened a business, had a baby and got a puppy. I had it all, or so I thought.

Now that I am middle-aged I see those years as sort of crazy making. I mean I am happy I have my baby, now 17 and my marriage, going on 20 years (the house and business is sold and the puppy became a dog that died). But, in my youth there was a sense of urgency that drove my choices that now, looking back, just doesn’t seem wise.

If I had to come up with a reason for this urgency, which of course I do, it is because I felt unfulfilled, and I felt pressured. I had to have experiences, driven by my own desires and the expectations of society. I wasn’t content, trusting or fulfilled enough to just be. I had to fill up my self and my life.

I no longer feel this urgency, and I find this incredibly ironic. If anything, with half my life over (at least I hope I still have half of it left) I should be trying to fit everything in while I still have time. Instead, I feel more at ease. I am not anxious about the cabin time I might be missing (of course I have no cabin). I do want another puppy, but I would never get one right now. And, moving would be nice, but I can wait. I guess that is what’s different— I can wait now. In my youth, I could not.

What else is different is I understand the importance of focused attention. To bring in too many experiences would undercut my learning, and therefore my future. I want to be a good therapist, or whatever I end up being after I graduate. I want to feel prepared and committed. I now know there is no reward for having a lot on my plate. Doing and having too much brings stress, anxiety and feelings of overwhelm.

I appreciate the experience of expanded time— of being committed and intentional about what can be on my plate right now and knowing that there is time— that whatever else there is, can wait. Before I close this post though, I do have a confession. I have one small regret and a subtle fear: will I have enough time to do what I still want to do? It took me 40+ years to finally follow my desire to be a therapist. When I sit in classes, I am enlivened and know I have found my calling. I think about the books and articles I want to write, the classes I want to teach, the people I want to serve, the groups I want to lead, the business I want to open. And with each of those desires is a quiet, yet persistent thought: will I have enough time…..?

In middle-age, the reality becomes more real- time is running out. Yet, there is still time. Perhaps now, with the diminishing of pressured, often inauthentic urgings to fill up space, the ability to focus my attention and living in this space of expanded time, miracles can occur.

The Soul Reporter

 

 

What Space Are You In?

Do you ever notice if you are having a new experience with yourself? Are you aware you are having an experience with yourself?

I am having a new experience with myself. Suddenly, I find I don’t have much to say. I notice less chatter inside of my head. I notice I don’t have much to feel. The presence inside feels smooth, almost void of conflict. It kind of feels like death. But, really it’s just a foreign state of less inner conflict and disturbance and more inner silence.

 

WaterIsThereSomewhere

The Devil’s Kettle, Northern Minnesota

Sometimes, in this unfamiliar state I watch myself try and create drama and conflict within me. Sometimes, I question the silence. Sometimes, I wonder if it’s depression or sadness. But I know those states and that is not what this is. This state is not peaceful. It is not joyful. It is not sad. It just is.

The silence allows me to notice life outside of me, people mostly. I watch the drama people bring onto themselves. Then I watch them blame others or their environments. I think some of us don’t feel alive unless there’s drama and conflict. I think many of us fear the silence. I want to say to the people— you are creating this chaos and you don’t have to. This is the lesson to be learned.

But, how?

The Sufi poet Rumi said, “Work. Keep digging your well. Don’t think about getting off from work. Water is there somewhere.” I have dug my well in many ways. I dug through journaling, through reading, through therapy, through processing out loud, through walks in the woods, through crying my eyes out, through running in the streets not knowing where to run, through fighting, and most recently through a yoga and meditation practice I learned from a guru. In my digging I hit rock, branches and mud. I got hit, kicked, pummeled, bruised and I thought, broken. I also hit some clear spots, and rested. I cannot say I have hit water yet or if I am even close. What I can say is the current space is dark, unfamiliar, quiet and still. And for the first time in an unfamiliar space, I am unafraid. Instead I am slightly curious and mostly present.

Your how comes with desire. You must want to find the water. You must want liberation more than you want drama. You must keep digging even when it’s hard. You must keep working even when you think you’re not getting anywhere. You must want to be free more than anything else. And then, you’ll come to a space that feels different than all the others. You’ll wonder where you are, but you won’t be afraid. The space will be clear. Vacant, but oddly alive without any more limitations, without any more rocks to hit or stones to throw or vines to be caught in. You’ll be suspended in this space. I don’t know where you’ll go next, but water is there somewhere.

 

The Soul Reporter.

 

 

 

 

 

Rock Water Self

IMG_5013

Outside the lake home window I watch the water meet the rock. The water swirls around it. It sweeps on top of it. At times, it crashes right into it and whatever the water does, the rock remains strong, still, stable, unmoved. There’s a lesson here, I think. Can I be like that rock when the waves come crashing in? Can I be like the water, swirling around the rock? Can I ebb and flow and also remain steady and secure? Can I be both the rock and the water?

What if the water resisted the rock? Would the water flow? What if the rock resisted the water? Would the rock be shaped? Resistance of any kind would halt the movement and freedom of the water and would cease to shape and mold the rock. How stagnant do I become in my resistance? How do I miss the caress of the water? If the water does not crash upon me how will I be changed? How will I grow?

As I watch the dance between rock and water, non-resistance becomes the goal.

The Resistance Pattern.

I am in a fight with resistance. It’s a fight I’ve been fighting underneath the surface, probably since birth. Now it is a fight that is risen to the surface to which I am fully aware and very uncomfortable with.

A few weeks ago I went through an intensive program called Inner Engineering. It consists of learning practices like yoga, asanas and breathing/meditation technologies. For four days, two of them for 12 hours I sat cross-legged on the a floor learning the practices and listening to videos of Sadhguru, a man and a mystic with a mission to bring these technologies, as he calls them to “create inner wellbeing.”

After the retreat, I did feel well and for a couple of days after. I felt alive and free and large within myself. Then, I had to take all of that and fit it into my life, which right now feels small, constricting, dull and consisting of choices I made when I didn’t feel so alive. What to do? Well, of course- resist. Resist my small, constricting life. I resist homework. I resist winter. I resist my responsibilities. I resist my dog dying. I resist that he is still alive and I have to carry him up the stairs and clean up his pee. I resist Trump. I resist doing my inner engineering practices two times a day. I even resist my resistance. All of this resisting is making me kind of crabby, to say the least.

SONY DSC

And, here’s the beauty- the resistance is here so I can face it. So I can look at it. Feel it. Wrestle with it and eventually surrender to it. In the surrendering I will find there is nothing to resist. Sadhguru said over and over again, only this moment is inevitable. I couldn’t grasp it. I still really can’t grasp it. He says, if you only accept that this moment is inevitable “your aliveness will blossom.” This is because when we are only in this moment we are connected with existence, with life.

My resistance stops this inevitable moment experience. I resist this inevitable moment. I don’t know why. But, what I do know the reasons and the patterns are coming undone and I am doing my best to not resist this.

The Soul Reporter