Childhood Trauma

The Information about childhood trauma, in my opinion, is the most essential information of our time. This TEDtalk is one of the better ones I’ve heard on this issue.

He quotes Rumi: “The wound is the place where the light enters you.”

I believe this information is coming out now because so many of us, if not all of us, are wounded and for far too long we have been unconscious of our wounds and acting out through them- hurting ourselves and each other.

It’s time to wake up and get educated about trauma and its effects. It’s time to dig in our selves and find our wounds and feel what we have not let ourselves feel and heal so that we can be the light that we are.

The time is absolutely now. It’s what is going to save us.

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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

Practice your Inhaling.

“There is the in-breath and there is the out-breath, and it’s easy to believe that we must exhale all the time, without ever inhaling. But the inhale is absolutely essential if you want to continue to exhale.” -Roshi Joan Halifax

Before I read this in Brené Brown’s book, Braving the Wilderness today, yesterday in the shower, I got irritated by the culture we live in. Equal to my irritation was concern for humanity. Brené says we are in a spiritual crisis. I’ve thought this for years and it’s origin is in the quote above.

This culture demands we exhale constantly, and continually. Are we healthier for this? Are we wiser? Kinder? Maybe we think we are more productive, successful and cool. But, so what. We are losing ourselves— and essentially killing ourselves with all the exhaling.

For a week now I’ve been inhaling. I have finished my fall semester of graduate school, and I am in a break before my final semester. I’ve been pushing for four years to earn a degree, and although I anticipate this experience giving me discipline, knowledge and growth I could not have had otherwise, academic learning only uses a limited part of my mind.

Believe it or not, there was a time, before these four years, where I probably did too much inhaling. I used a larger part of my mind for introspection and self-study. I dug deep into internal spaces, many of them dark. But, in these years of inhaling, I learned so much about myself— some of who I am, but mostly of who I am not. This kind of introspection is brutal, and also beautiful, and is absolutely necessary to our growth.

In these several years of exhaling, and holding my breath through graduate school, I have learned what the university wants me to learn. I have gained skills and knowledge from books, projects and papers. I have pushed myself beyond my comfort level to finish the readings, projects and papers. I have become an expert at organizing my time, or more accurate, obsessing about my time. And yes, I have been more outwardly productive, and I will see myself as successful and cool once I have two degrees on my wall. But— I am going to be working with people after I graduate. People who will be struggling with mental health issues, and essentially experiencing their own spiritual crisis. The books, projects and papers of academia will only take me so far. Those years of introspection is what will be the core foundation of everything I have to offer.

This past week, I inhaled again. Next week, I will do the same. That small part of mind gave way to the larger and time hasn’t mattered. Projects and papers and textbooks haven’t mattered. I’ve read books I want to read. I’ve worked on my projects and writings. I hear my inner voice again. She’s still here. I heard her in the shower yesterday. She is concerned.

Now, that I have experienced extremes on both ends of the exhale and inhale I see how important it is for balance. I see how I needed the long time of the inhale to dig through the past, to face my demons and come out the other side. I see how I’ve needed this long time to exhale— to throw myself into this external world and learn about it, and at times be horrified and frightened by it. Right now, as a culture we are off balance. We are doing far too much exhaling. Our focus needs to come back to the in-breath, the inhale. Winter is a perfect time for introspection. To take a break. To check in with ourselves: how are we feeling? What do we need? Who have we become? Where are we headed? What small shifts can we make to change directions? How can we love ourselves more? Love each other more? What is in our dark spaces that needs to see the light? 

sunset

One of the inhaling practices I did this week was to begin a new journal, and instead of venting through the pages as I often do, I pasted some images that expressed my intentions for the coming year. Next to the images I wrote in present tense about how these intentions will unfold for me. One of my intentions is to lean into, with full heart and vulnerability, two primary relationships. I have spent years blaming, resenting and essentially fearing them. I have put up my armor and said: you will not hurt me. I have used the weapons of self-righteousness, manipulation and victimhood. These once, so I believed, gave me power. Now, I see their truth— they only create more distrust, resentment and therefore, further isolation.

Over the past several months, I have added a small movement to my yoga/mediation practice. I open my arms, roll back my shoulders, look up and say, I am open. When I was a little girl, trick or treating with my dad, I took off my Cinderella mask and said to my dad: I just want to be myself. This has been my journey— twists, turns and tangles of unraveling all that I am not to become who I am. To open up my arms, roll back my shoulders and say, I am open. This is the wilderness Brené speaks about. It takes courage and a hell of a lot of commitment.

To know ourselves, we must inhale- even if it just starts with one deeper breath in. If we do this continually, we will tip the scales toward truth and light, and this spiritual crisis will transform into a spiritual revolution.

The Soul Reporter

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