Your soft strong heart

“I refuse to be vulnerable, it just seems weak.”  Sharon sat across from me, arms crossed and shoulders up.  “If I give in to my feelings it won’t change things anyway.”  Her words were not the only thing that was being communicated to me.  The anxiety in her body was as speaking as clearly as her voice, and I watched her breathing shallow and high in her upper chest as her hands fidgeted with a frayed bit of thread on her jeans.

“What would happen if we just slowed down enough right now to notice what is happening in your body?” I asked.  “You mean right now?” asked Sharon. “Yes, right now”  I replied.

Gently and precisely we tracked the muscle tension and agitation in her body as she struggled with the hard hearted part of herself that she thought was her strength.  That hard-heartedness had grown up around her to help her manage her childhood environment where tender feelings were a luxury.  No one in her childhood had meant to hurt her, but in their unavailability when she was scared or angry or sad, her parents forced her to desensitize herself from her pain.  It became a source of pride for Sharon to be able to push through and ignore herself.  Now Sharon had really good stories to help her make sense of her reaction to avoid feelings – like it’s weak and there’s no point anyway…

Your soft strong heartBut actually Sharon’s whole pattern of avoiding feelings was driven by unconscious anxiety.  Little signals in her body of tension and agitation arose when a vulnerable feeling was bubbling up.  Those signals were mainly out of her awareness but they had a powerful effect on her, making her feel the urge to get away from herself. As a high achieving professional Sharon could dive into her work and disappear from herself at a moment’s notice and no one would blink an eye.  Her workaholic lifestyle had brought her lots of carrots but she had come to me because she had begun to feel a deep sense of emptiness and lack of purpose despite her success.

As we carefully stayed with the feelings in her body Sharon and I shared a wonderful “aha” moment: her body let go of the tension all on its own.  This surprised her, as she had always thought the way to manage discomfort was to push it down or push it away.  She had the amazing empowering experience of her own warm attention soothing her anxious arousal.

Her soft strong heart melted the tension in her body.

This practice is simple yet so hard to do.  We are used to being hard-hearted toward our uncertainty and our pain.  Yet if we can approach this experience of anxious arousal with warm interest and non-judgment we let the body know it is safe.

Your intelligent body wants to be calm and settled, but it cannot let go until it knows there is no immediate threat to your physical safety.  When you can be precisely attentive to your jittery, tight, tense discomfort and let the body take its own natural time without forcing or demanding or pushing or judging, you discover your real strength.

The strength of your own soft heart.  You are so worth it.

Photo Credit: Mac

Knowing We Are Vulnerable

This week’s blog entry is a re-posting of a blog I wrote a few years ago.  It includes video clip from a session about noticing the moment we realize that we are not in control of something that matters to us.  It is in that moment that we need to tune in to the body and feel what it means to be human, to be vulnerable.

Being human is fundamentally vulnerable.  There is so much that we long for and so little over which we have ultimate control.  Forces outside ourselves – time, aging, illness, emotion, and importantly other people – bear on the outcomes that matter to us.

The more we want something the more these limits stir up difficult feelings of tension and arousal in the body.

Vulnerability is a powerful growth force, but to benefit from it we need to develop our ability to be with what it feels like in the body.  When we do that we learn we are larger than the difficult circumstances we face…

Please click on the video to the right and feel free to share what you think and feel…

If you can’t get to the video by clicking, please use this link:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ng4Lkrxk1v8

Vulnerable loveable you

Vulnerability is the foundational truth and the deepest teacher.  Vulnerability is longing and limits.  We all want things and we all have forces larger than ourselves contributing to whether and how those things happen.  At the intersection of our longing and our limits is the place of “I can’t”.

We are not in full control of the things that happen to us and in us, nor do we ultimately control what happens to and in others and the world.  And the more important that thing is to us, the more we long for it, the more we resist the truth of our vulnerability.  We do not want to surrender to the place of “I can’t”.

I can’t make you love me or respect me or leave me alone.  I can’t make the weather or the economy or the laws of physics bend to my will.  I can’t make myself believe something i do not, or feel something I do not.  I can’t singlehandedly do much at all, since other forces are always (though often invisibly) playing a part in everything I do.
Vulnerable loveable youOn the one hand we resist knowing our vulnerability by trying harder, persisting even in the face of futility, gritting our teeth and pushing ourselves to control forces beyond ourselves.  We reject ourselves and judge ourselves as weak or failures for not being able to make it so.  Or, if we recognize we cannot control the outcome, we disown our longing.  We decide we didn’t really want it anyway.

This is so natural, because vulnerability feels awful.  It feels like threat.  It feels like something is “wrong”.  It is so physical and so uncomfortable.  Muscle tension and agitation rouse us like prey animals who have caught the scent of a predator.  We scan the environment looking for where the danger lies, we have the urge to do something to stop the feeling.

But that is only a trick.  The sensations of tension and agitation are actually a brilliant communication from this body of knowledge that is your home.  You are on the cusp of an experience that could grow you.  In this moment you are signaled by your sympathetic nervous system to wake up and make a conscious choice.  You have an opportunity to co-create your growth, to accelerate your emergence into more of who you are meant to become.  Your choice in this precise moment?  Approach or avoid.

Approach what? you may ask.  The answer (as is so often the case, no matter what the question) is You.

Approach yourself in the moment in the body and feel really feel what it feels like in your skin.  Know that a part of you will try to explain these sensations by making up dire conclusions.  Do not listen to the story.  Notice the tightening and the quiver and the bracing and the holding.  Investigate with warm interest even though it does not feel good.  Be willing to be surprised by the array of sensations that seem to speak of danger.  And keep feeling them.  Let your body know that you are right there.  Let your presence be the evidence your body needs to know it is actually safe.  There is no saber-toothed tiger, no oncoming truck, no in-the-moment threat to life and limb.  There is longing and there are limits.  There is the pain of that.  And you make the choice to stay right there and feel.

This is what love looks like.  In the face of vulnerability when we make the choice to stay with ourselves in the place of “I can’t” we find that we do not crumple up and die.  In fact we find out that there was nothing to fear.  There was only the feeling of the arousal and the story we told.  And we find out we are larger than those feelings, more real than those stories.  We experience ourselves as worth more than the small survival-sized life our fear would fashion for us.

We emerge more connected to ourselves, more compassionate and resilient, more able to take risks and reach for all we long for.  The worst that will happen is a feeling, and though it is a painful one, it is one we know we can bear.

Will you love the vulnerable truth of you?  It is not easy, but even a small approach sends a message of love.  Feel your body as it calls to you.  You are so worth it.

Photo Credit: ELB Photos

Christmas gift your body

In this season of gift giving we remember those who have touched us through the year.  We buy and make and wrap thoughtful things as a gesture of care and appreciation.  We take the time to write a card or make a call to let those who matter to us know how much they do.

Yet your most intimate other, your closest friend, your most loyal ally is our own body.  Loving you with every cell of its being, existing only to give you a life as rich and full as you can stand, your body deserves  a gift from you.  And the most powerful gift you can give your body is your loving attention.

Christmas gift your bodyThis is a tall order this time of year, with demands for time and energy and attention coming from all directions.  This is the time of year when many of us ignore our bodies even more than usual.  No time to get to the gym or get outside for some fresh air.  Who cares how much fat or sugar or alcohol we ingest.  Rushing around and forgetting to breathe we make sure we get everything done even if it is over our dead tired bodies.

I’m not trying to Scrooge you out of your holiday fun.  Indulge and enjoy and be busy.  But also, if you could, take a moment to bring your consciousness toward the soft animal of your body and let yourself feel what it feels like within.

For just a moment let nothing in the whole world come between you and you.  Slow your mind a little.  Drop into yourself and breathe your awareness into the muscles of your body.  With precision notice the muscles in your neck… and shoulders… and back… and chest… and arms… and hands… and abdomen… and legs… and feet…  Exhale and open to whatever you find.  Let the truth of your beautiful vulnerable humanity resonate like a silver bell inside you.  Feel the vibration of your human limits and do not turn away from yourself.

Let your body know how much it matters to you.  Let it know it does not need to be good or quiet or without pain or anxiety in order to be loved by you.  Let it know it is worthy of this gift of attention.  Because it is.  And you are.

With love, Sandra

Photo Credit: Santa’ s perfect elves by DB

Intimacy with you

“I feel fenced in or controlled when people try to get close to me.”  “I feel lonely even when I’m with others.”
“I’ve been told I’m clingy, jealous or controlling.”  “I’m afraid that if I let someone in they will hurt me.”
“I’m uncomfortable with affection.”  “It’s hard for me to depend on others”.  “Open expressions of feelings are hard for me.”

If you answer yes to one or more of these statements you may have problems with intimacy.

Fear of intimacy is common.  We open ourselves to the possibility of abandonment, exposure, merger, or attack when we open up to another person.  And yet the deepest, most meaningful, and most growth promoting experiences are interpersonal.  We miss out on a lot if we cannot let ourselves get close to others.

Intimacy is the experience of allowing ourselves to be known in the depth and complexity of who we are.  It is revealing our true self to another, “warts and all”, and letting them see us as we are.  It is also opening ourselves to another, allowing ourselves to know who they truly are, and letting them in.

Intimacy with youIntimacy with others starts with intimacy with ourselves.  You can’t get close to others unless you get close to yourself, and getting close to yourself means feeling what is going on inside you.  Yet we so often ignore, neglect and criticize ourselves in the very way we fear others will do to us.

One small thing we can each do right here and right now is pay attention to ourselves and notice what we are feeling.  In this moment in the body.  Say hello to what you find with warm interest and, even if it is uncomfortable, do not judge it.  Open yourself to you.  Drop your guard and let yourself be seen by you.  Stop looking the other way when there is pain or anxiety.  Stop telling yourself you shouldn’t feel that way.

Let yourself  be surprised by Who you find within.  Stay with you with warm interest and breathe.  If you start to feel this is silly and not important, be aware you are saying who you are is silly and not important.  Push back against the old lies that say you dont matter and aren’t worthy.

Get close to you.  Feel you.  Accept you in all the messy marvellous mixture of yourself.  There is nothing more important and you are so worth it.

Photo Credit:  Peanut Edith

A bit rude

It may seem a bit rude to interrupt, yet my daily work with clients is about interrupting.  I interrupt people as they deny or suppress or defend against the truth of what they are experiencing, and invite them to come home.  With compassion, I invite them to pay attention to the flow of feeling that they are (often unconsciously) avoiding.  Such a simple thing yet so hard for folks to do…

“There’s nothing going on inside.”

“But I don’t know what to do with my feelings.”

“What’s the point in feeling?  It doesn’t change the situation!”

“I don’t think I could handle it.”

All these reactions made sense at one time in these peoples’ lives.  Ignoring themselves served some purpose in their developing years, and over time and many repetitions their brains laid down pathways to make the suppression quick and automatic.

Yet now they are paying the price.  They feel disconnected from the meaning of their lives, they have anxiety and/or depression, they have trouble feeling close to others, they have trouble making decisions, they feel out of touch with themselves.  They are paying this price and they have done nothing wrong.  All they did was make the best of an earlier difficult situation.

But in getting really good at ignoring themselves, they missed out on getting really good at noticing themselves.

So now we practice this new thing, this paying attention.  We begin by the most simple and most hard thing: feeling the body.  No story.  No future prediction and no past rumination.  Just tracking, with precision, the little sensations of discomfort that let us know we are on the cusp of feeling.  Right here and  now in this moment we make the choice to take the phone call from the body.  We tune in to little sensations of muscle tension and energy.  These sensations of anxiety are actually a question from the body:  “Are we safe?”

What makes this so very hard is we are wired to move away from these sensations of arousal.  It seems right to do something to stop the feelings or, if we cannot, to avoid or suppress or distract away from the feeling.  We do not realize we are creating our own prison.  It seems like that prison keeps us safe.  It seems like, even though we are not allowed to know and feel all of who we are, at least we won’t get hurt.

And that rationale which was once true may not even be in our awareness.  So I interrupt.  I gently ask “Do you notice your foot tapping?”  “Can you feel how you are holding your breath?”  “What is going on inside you right now?”  As we pay attention together we reveal the old strategy and we discover it is no longer necessary.  We are surprised to find out that feeling (when we can be present for it) not only does not harm us, it has the power to heal us.

A bit rudeWe all have this inclination to neglect ourselves.  To only notice ourselves when we must, called finally to attention by high levels of distress or discomfort or pain.  Daily I too find myself avoiding me.  Tuning out from my clenched teeth or hunched shoulders or tense thumbs.  I have my own wiring to “tough it out” and “push through” and treat myself lovelessly.  And when I catch my neglect I interrupt it.  I do my best to make the choice, though it is not easy, to return home.

I know that the soft animal of my body loves me, and if it thinks I am in danger it will highjack my brain.  It will make me a survival creature, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but not as creative, not as flexible, not as compassionate, not as intelligent, and not as fully myself as I am meant to be.

So I love that soft animal back.  I love my body by paying it warm interest with non-judgement.  And in doing so I come home.  I learn again and again a new way of being that facilitates my growth into more of who I am meant to be.

I invite you to be a bit rude.  Interrupt the automatic pattern of self neglect.  Refuse to ignore yourself.  Cut right in and change the subject from avoidance to approach.    From fear to love.

You are so worth it.

Photo Credit: Sparker

You Are The Answer

Like all living things, we are built to grow.  We are meant to become the fullest manifestation of ourselves.  Sometimes when we are quiet, when we are still, we can hear the soft insistent voice within calling us.  Like a whisper, like a longing, like an invitation from someone strong and solid and amazing to be all that.

Of course, as living things, we are also programmed to prioritize survival over all else.  Survival trumps growth.

Unless your body knows it is not in a survival situation you are harnessed to a brilliant organism of escape, but it is a very limited version of you.  You can run and jump and fight like a ninja but you do not have access to your more sophisticated processes.  You cannot analyze clearly, you lack perspective, you have less patience, you have no sense of humour, your compassion is off-line, and reflection is impossible.  You have tunnel vision focused on the source of what is perceived as the danger, and you are primed to defend yourself.

And if there is a sabre tooth tiger in the area this is a very good thing.

Unfortunately, too many of us live in that state too much of the time.  And there’s no sabre tooth tiger anywhere in the vicinity…

In reality we are rarely in survival situations in our day to day lives.  Actual immediate danger is relatively rare.  Danger refers to “in the moment threat to life or limb”.  It is something for which running or jumping or fighting like a ninja would be a productive and appropriate reaction.  It is not something that is imagined or in the past or in the future.

In other words, danger is immediate and physical and an immediate physical reaction is the right match for it.  The sympathetic nervous system charges us up with adrenalin and cortisol, gets increased blood flow and oxygen to the large muscles, and gets our brain to simplify itself in order to track the threat and find an escape.

But danger is not the only time the sympathetic nervous system gets activated.  The very same system that helps you fight or escape danger also gets activated when we are faced with vulnerability.

But vulnerability is not danger.  Vulnerability is the fact that we have limits to control over things that matter to us.  We want, and we cannot guarantee our want.  Vulnerability is the fact of life.  Everything we desire hinges upon the collaboration of other factors, some tiny and some mammoth.  Timing, the economy, laws of gravity and physics, the weather, physical aging, viruses, our DNA, our own emotions, the availability or feelings of other people, and so much more can contribute to outcomes we want.

Faced with situations in which we sense limits to our control, our muscles tense up.  Our fingers fidget, our feet tap, our chest constricts, our butt clenches, our shoulders hunch, our breath gets shallower…  And if we do not slow down enough to check in with the body we will be switched into survival mode.   We become like a prey animal.  We avoid.

You are the answer

We have many many ways to avoid ourselves when the body gets alerted to vulnerability.  We actually have the impulse to move away from the discomfort and without thinking we will find ourselves watching TV or eating or shopping or worrying or busying ourselves or ruminating about the past.  All of these (and many more) are ways of absenting ourselves so that we do not feel the discomfort of the feelings o vulnerability in the body.

This is natural.  The urge to avoid is wired in to the sympathetic nervous system.  Do not fault yourself for that.

But if we are to grow into all we are meant to be we need to do the opposite of our wiring.  We need to approach.  We need to come towards ourselves in the discomfort in the body in the moment.  We need to bring warm interest and nonjudgement and stay present.  We need to be precise and slow and notice the feelings in the body.  In this way we communicate to the body that its arousal is merely a reflection of our human vulnerability, uncomfortable but not dangerous.

There is nowhere else we need to go, nothing else we need to do.  Being present with the physical discomfort is the answer.  You are the answer.  The body is asking the question “Are we safe?”   You are the answer.  When you come home with your warm attention the body understands this is not a survival situation.  It settles.  Your wonderful rich capacities come back online.  You access perspective and compassion and reflection and humour and you cope.  This uncertainty, this not yet having, this not yet knowing can be managed. This is the heart of resilience.

And this is the heart of growth.  By coming home when we have the urge to leave ourselves we become more of who we are meant to be.  Your presence in the body is the answer.

You are the answer.

Photo Credit: Sparker

To Have and To Hold

The November wind is wailing outside my window, rain hitting the panes with a sloppy rhythm that makes me want to pull my sleeves down over my wrists to keep me warm.  The last time I wrote in this blog it was the height of summer.  It was the morning of my wedding.  The thought of it now warms me even more than my red fleece.

The day was all glorious blue sky and faces illuminated with joy.  Kelly and I gazing deeply into each other’s souls committing all that we are and all that we have, each to the other.  Delight and gratitude mingled as we were held in the loving hearts and minds of those most precious to us.  To have and to hold.  Our promise to make ourselves safe havens for the other, fostering our growth into our most powerful selves.  And after, we left for a magical honeymoon in Bali, a place of beauty and rest and nature where people are right there, behind their eyes, present for connection.

To have and to holdHome now for a few months, I am longing to write again, to reconnect with those who, like me, are hungry to live their biggest lives.

And I want to continue to invite you to approach yourself in the moment in the body, so you can be filled with what it feels like to be you.

Just in this moment, are you willing to feel you?  Are you open to what your body is saying?   Just to notice yourself in the moment is success.  In this busy fast paced world of ours, where so much is oriented to the outside world and external markers of value and success, it seems odd to direct attention to your clenched jaw or your constricted diaphragm.  Yet in saying hello to your body you enter into the most significant relationship you can have: the love story between you and you.

The part of you that is finite and limited, your physical self, has given itself as a brilliant intelligent home for the part of you that is infinite and limitless, your consciousness.  This relationship is the foundation stone for everything in your life.  To have: your bodily experience of this life.  To hold: your conscious reflection upon that experience.

Our ability to be present for ourselves requires that we can tolerate what that feels like.  And what that feels like is, often, anxiety: the tension and physiological arousal that signals our vulnerability.  Because we are vulnerable.  Life itself is vulnerable.  Love is vulnerable.  So many things in this life cannot be controlled.  We long for so much that we cannot secure.  And we have a choice, when we recognize the felt sense of vulnerability in the body.  We can approach ourselves and grow into our most powerful and authentic selves.  Or we can avoid our uncomfortable feelings, defend against our inner truth, and find ourselves stuck in old patterns.

Will you commit to you?  To have and to hold yourself with warm interest and non judgement?  To become a safe haven for all of your experience?

Let me remind you once more, you are so very worth it.

Photo Credit: Kelly Dean

The soft animal of your body

“I just can’t let myself rest.”  “I can’t accept praise.”  “I can’t allow myself to trust.”  “If someone is mad at me I feel so bad about myself.”  “I feel guilty a lot of the time.”  “I feel I’m trapped, like don’t have any choices.”  “If I can’t reach my partner I feel all alone, like no one loves me.”  “I can’t let my guard down, just in case…”

All these people are waiting for something.  They are waiting until they deserve to have what they long for.  They may not see it that way, but in their automatic dismissal of their wants, in their unquestioning obedience to their ideas of how things work, they make themselves wait, sometimes forever, to let themselves live the life they are meant to live.

The soft animal of your bodyAre you waiting?  Are you waiting until you will finally have been patient enough, or perfect enough, or “strong” enough, or good enough, or otherwise have earned enough points to get yourself out of whatever subconscious hole you believe yourself to be in?

What if you are already deserving?  Yes, you.  What if there is nothing you need to do before you have a right to give yourself rest, to feel self esteem, to trust, to feel good about yourself, to feel free, to feel loved, to feel safe?

There is a story we make up as children to explain the places where our world does not meet us with the warm interest and nonjudgement we need to feel safe and loved.  And that story helps us cope with the difficult feelings that rise up in our little bodies and the painful flood of chemistry in our immature brains.  We tell ourselves we are not safe, not good enough, that we are bad, imprisoned, unloved, unlovable….  And we then spend the rest of our lives trying to correct that deficit so that we can finally have what we have always deserved.

Listen to the words of poet Mary Oliver:

  • You do not have to be good.  You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.  You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.

Over and over I invite you (and myself) to approach the body, listen to the body, feel the body, so that we may have the powerful authentic life that awaits us.  There is nothing to make up for, nothing to repent, nothing more we need to “do”.

Your body longs for happiness.  Longs for the safety and love that will let it breathe and move and feel and taste and live.

The wait is over.  You are already everything you need to be.  You are already free.  You are already good enough.  You already deserve to feel good about yourself.  You are already loveable. You are already loved.

And you are already so worth it.

 

The soft animal of my body is asking for a break from my blog writing for awhile, so I welcome you to review my earlier posts (more than 120 entries over the past three years) and even more important, I invite you to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.  I will be back late September.

With love, Sandra

 

Photo Credit:  Photogoddess

Your Task

For this week’s blog I will share with you a glorious quote forwarded to me by a wonderful internet “friend”.  This quote from Rumi sums up beautifully the work I do daily with my clients, and all I work on inside myself.  It is a precise and simple description of vulnerability….


Your taskYour task is not to seek love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers inside yourself that you have built against it.  – Rumi

Will you seek those barriers today?  Will you allow yourself to let them dissolve in the tears of your homecoming?

You are so very worth it.

With love, Sandra

Photo Credit: Barriers by DB Photos