Trauma and the Body/Mind : the importance of understanding and making peace with feelings and sensations.

The following is an excerpt from Peter Levines’ book  In An Unspoken Voice : How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness which speaks about the necessity of developing an awareness of our body sensations and feelings as children.  But it also addresses how this process goes awry under trauma and what is needed to set the balance right.

“Under ordinary circumstances, physical sensations are signals for action: to fight or flee when threatened, to chase down a wild turkey or open the fridge and make a sandwich when hungry, to go to the bathroom when the urge presses, to make love when aroused by passion, to sleep when tired, to break into song when the mood strikes or to plant your feet and raise your voice in anger and assertiveness when your boundaries are violated.  In all these instances, the body initiates and the mind follows.

Having an intimate relationship with and understanding of, your physical sensations is critical because they, in signalling action, guide you through the experiences and nuances of your life.  If one has been traumatised, however, one’s sensations can become signals not for effective action but rather, for fearful paralysis, helpeessness or misdirected rage.  When some of one’s bodily signals become harbingers of fear, helplessness, impotent rage and defeat, he or she is typically avoided like the plague at a dear cost mentally, emotionally and physically.  While attemptiong to shut down distressing senstations, one pays the price of losing the capacity to appreciate the subtle physical shifts that denote comfort, satisfaction or warning of clear and present danger.  Sadly, as a result, the capacity for feeling pleasure, garnering relevant meaning and accessing self protective reflexes also shuts down.  You can’t have it both ways; when feelings of dread are kept at bay, so are feelings of joy.

The good news is the human being are generally flexible and resilient: we are ordinarily able to learn from and integrate a variety of life experiences.  These experiences, whether uplifting or down beat, flow easily through our body/mind stream of consciousness as long as we are no chronically over or under aroused. The body/mind keeps flowing through new encounters with vitality, bouncing back into the stream of things unless there is a significant disruption.  In this case, the person is knocked off that normal course whether it is from a single episode, such as a disaster, an accident, surgery or rape, or from a chronic stressor, such as abuse or marital stress.  When such disruptions fail to be fully integrated, the components of that experience become fragmented into isolated sensations, images and emotions.  This kind of splitting apart occurs when the enormity,intensity, suddenness or duration of what happened cannot be defended against coped with or digested.  Personal vulnerability, such as age, genetics and gender also account for this psychic implosion.  The result of this inability for the body/mind to integrate is trauma, or at the very minimum, disorientation, a loss of agency and/or lack of direction.

Trapped between feeling too much (overwhelmed or flooded) or feeling too little (shut down and numb) and unable to trust their sensations, traumatised people can lose their way.  They don’t feel like themselves anymore; loss of sensation equals a loss of a sense of self. As a substitute for genuine feelings, trauma sufferers may see experiences that keep them out of touch – such as sexual titillation or succumbing to compulsions, addictions and miscellaneous distractions that prevent one from facing a now dark and threatening inner life.  In this situation, one cannot discover the transitory nature of despair, terror, rage or helplessness, and that the body is designed to cycle in and out of these extremes.

Helping clients cultivate and regulate the capacity for tolerating extreme sensations through reflective self awareness, while supporting self acceptance, allow them to modulate their uncomfortable sensations and feelings.  They can now touch into intense sensations and emotions for longer periods of time as they learn how to control their arousal.  Once a client has the experience of ‘going within and coming back out’ without falling apart, his or her window of tolerance builds upon itself.  This happens through achieving a subtle interplay between sensations, feelings, perceptions and thoughts.  I believe that the people who are most resilient, and find the greatest peace in their lives, have learned to tolerate extreme sensations while gaining the capacity for reflective self-awareness.  Although this capacity develops normally when we very young, one can learn it at any time in life, thankfully.

Children gradually learn to interpret the message their bodies give them  Indeed, it is by learning to coordinate movement (behaviours) and sensations into a coherent whole that a child learns who he or she is.  By remembering actions that have proven to be effective, and discarding those that are not, children lean how to anticipate what the most appropriate response is and how to time its execution for maximum effect.  In this way, they experience agency, satisfaction and pleasure.  When a child is overwhelmed by trauma or thwarted by neglect, this developmental sequence is aborted or, if already developed, breaks down, and negative emotions come to dominate his or her existence.”

I am not my emotions?

Storm

This is blog will be a musing, I think, an exploration of some questionings I have about emotions which the Buddhist’s claim are just like clouds, they come and go and sometimes those clouds are stormy and contain a lot of rain, and the wind lashes around (which could be a metaphor for angry or confused thoughts which blow this way and that), and then at other times emotions such as peace can feel like a calm, sunny sky that shines upon us making everything feel right with the world.

There is a saying in recovery circles, too.  That feelings are not facts.  I actually had a hard time with this one, because if you are someone who has met with a lot of dispute, or confusion when you are expressed emotions, or been told not to have then, then the saying feelings are not facts seems like yet another form of negation and invalidation.   Is this just yet another example of a superficial view in which a philosophical other, questions the validity of a reaction to something, the roots of which reaction may lie in a different place?  This does not mean the feelings had no factual basis, for in fact those feelings may have been triggered by something similar happening which evoked memories of experiences of an earlier time.

It does seem to me that we cannot find a way to live centred lives if we don’t understand our emotions and have tools to deal with them.  Keeping ourselves free of the foggy and sticky aspect of depressive thinking also does involve a degree of skilfulness in dealing with our reactions to things, finding ways to lovingly tend and soothe painful feelings in a way which stops hurts from becoming ever deepening wounds or ruts that we get permanently bogged down or stuck in.

From this point of view the Buddhist concept of sitting with feelings and sensations and paying attention to their rising and falling, their coming and going is an important practice for the development of skilful means of dealing with feelings.

It is interesting to me that some people have a very intense reaction to certain things, while others can just let them roll off their backs.  This intense reaction speaks of a wound in the psyche which is triggered into defensive mode.   This is most especially the case in psychological disorders such as Borderline Personality and Narcissism.  Here the wounded, sore spot in the psyche which was generated by earlier experiences festers and is susceptible to re-activation and infection in the present which is very painful for the person experiencing it and those around them.

Skilful means for dealing with the hurting places is so important.  Finding ways to self soothe, look inward, flesh out the causes, and take steps to be at peace in the midst of emotional turmoil are good skills to have.

In Buddhism there is much talk of the concept of non-attachment, of not attaching as much to emotions, of holding them with a looser grip or learning at least to open the clenched fist when we are struggling with them.

Earlier in the week I was re reading some sections of the book Towards a Psychology of Awakening in which the author John Welwood was talking of the different states of ego and egolessness.  In this regard he was talking more about negative ego states where we become closefisted and attached to a personal view or intense feelings and reaction and he was broaching the idea that egolessness was a way of not attaching to feelings and taking pain so personally.

In my own experience it is not human to expect we wont have emotions, nor to expect that we won’t, at times, have extreme emotional reactions to things.  Our ability to let go may very much be influenced by the amount of understanding we have been shown in the past or the depth of insight we have into our selves.

At times for our own psychological health it is important to erect a strong boundary while we work through feelings.  It is important to allow the process enough time to play out so that feelings can transform within the creative fire.  Many of us may need to spend long years in sadness and depression, or anger before we can fully understand the purpose of these feelings and lean skilful ways of holding.  For some of these feelings may not be passing but rather constant visitors who make their presence felt very often.

Being able to be present with these feelings, to give them space, to treat them and ourselves with compassion as we undergo them may be a very necessary part of our healing.  Knowing the nature of our own wound and sore spot may also involve the acceptance that for some of us the pain we feel will never be entirely gone, although in time it may lessen.   We may not be able to heal all things, loving ourselves and accepting this is hard, but it seems to me it is better than endlessly beating ourselves up for not being happier.

In our modern society it seems that there is much focus on happiness, far more than is realistic for some people.  Pete Walker makes the point in his book on Complex PTSD that he sees many clients in his healing practice who beat themselves up for not being happier when really they are just having a very normal and realistic response to the trauma of their upbringing.  In a feeling wounded society things can be judged as madness which are really just legitimate responses to suffering.  Peter Levine an expert who has studied and worked with both animals and people with PTSD for may years has made the point in his book In An Unspoken Voice that Post Traumatic Stress to his mind is not really a disorder at all but a natural response to witnessing and suffering horrific life threatening events.

The dark night of the soul that accompanies suffering, sadness, trauma and pain may in fact be a supremely important spiritual passage, one that deepens a person beyond the superficial and gives them an insight into profound states of being beyond peace and happiness alone.  Developing a tolerance for the dark places, being able to find a way to bear them rather than fighting may mature us in ways we could never have imagined.  It may develop within us a patience, a calm clear seeing, a sense that on some level difficult things were essential and had lessons for us.

When I named my blog Emerging from the Dark Night, I guess I was trying to articulate a sense of this, but it may be that emergences are only temporary at times and just when we feel we have emerged the dark night claims us for another round.  What I do feel is that when we stay with and in the darkness for long enough there comes upon the soul a deep feeling of and experience of light and peace.  No longer fighting we have touched base with the dark gift hidden there within the darkness, painful as it is.  And we have come to know ourselves as sojourners on a plain that others have trodden too leaving wisdom to share which can inform our journey and make it more bearable.

 

Trying to figure out, what is right for me.

I wrote this over a month ago when I made a connection with a body work therapist.  I am seeing that around this time of year which coincides with a major trauma in my late teens the issue of looking for help with bearing the burden and legacy left emerges.  So for what its worth, I am taking it out of drafts, dusting it off, turning it this way and that to extract some meaning for me now.

Filled with doubts. Lots of questions. How can I know? I went to see a new body work therapist today at the advice of someone who has been urging me down this pathway for some time. I go to these therapists wary and with my BS detector sticking up. Relationship is a mine field for me anyway. Was for some time, especially therapeutic relationships, several of which have come to grief when things done or said just did not gel with me, or I felt someone trying to project things on me that felt wrong. Or with those who could not contain the rage that is part of the Post Traumatic State and only emerges when invalidation occurs or when I have been overloaded by a repeat trauma that has triggered earlier ones.

I was reading today in James Masterton’s book The Search For the Real Self, how not having a good relationship with our true self and feelings sets us up to be very vulnerable to the opinions of others. We look to them as a child to an adult when our relationship to our own sense of self and purpose is not strong. With all my Neptune squares to personal planets I can say I identify.

There is a long period when we are growing and developing what psychologists would call the ego (a mediating construct which helps sort between aspects of our inner self as differentiated from the inner selves of others), when our capacity for emotional intelligence is supposedly very limited.

Children can be sensitive to the energy of emotions, but at a certain point in their development they don’t really have names for them. Children need help with their emotions from caregivers in order to develop a relationship to them, regulate them, name them and express them effectively. Of course the later depends too upon how open to hearing us others really are.

The problem of lack of attunement and our parents own defences can leave us with a mixed up relationship to some of our feelings and emotions. Something I have noticed with several of the body workers I have dealt with has been an attempt to shut down emotions that may have been being expressed, which at times made me feel constricted and boxed in.

Supposedly too by questioning you about why you are angry or crying they can get to the bottom of it and figure it out. It is good to ask these kinds of questions but there will be those who just get it and you come away feeling validated and heard, that your expression flowed and your body felt expanded not contracted.

One of the legacies of undergoing traumatic experiences especially on the body is that the entire system, including our musculature and tendons constrict and contract.   We get scrambled, our central nervous system goes into overdrive, pumping out  cortisol when it needs to relax.  At present I am taking tissue salts to help with this, as during trauma our cells become depleted of certain minerals as cortisol levels spike.

Another question I had today was this.  What happens when a therapist lays the line on you that this is just a storyline, one you need to let go? It’s good to recognise when a pure emotion becomes amped up by our reaction to it.  Instead of letting it flow we chomp down on it like a dog with a bone and won’t let go, it intensifies or converts to another emotion (say anger when we are feeling grief, or grief when we are feeling anger),  then it blows out of proportion and become very reactive, but maybe even this reaction has lesson for us and is not the final world.

Truth is, I guess, we can have an emotion, but then we can have a reaction to that emotion or others have a reaction to our emotion which then interferes with the need of the emotion just to get out and be released so we can move on. Why the problem with questioning it? Validation says I see you are having such and such an emotion. Not that it is right or wrong. Once the person is validated for how they are feeling rather than the other person’s reaction to it there is often peace and an open channel of communication. I would call this non defensive communication.

The other thing I have been questioning what happens when we try to express something which a therapist misinterprets or just doesn’t get. Example. Today, once again I had to go in to my history and most especially my accident history as at night and during the day my body is still expressing this trauma in all kinds of strange symptoms. I was speaking of the experience of being trapped in the car and not being able to move, struggling for breath, being in pain and the ambulance men coming in behind to put an oxygen mask on me that I was trying to fend off. I needed that mask on, so fighting was dangerous. But then the tears came and most especially when I remembered the upset of the impact for my father who died a few years later.

The person I was seeing made the assumption that I in some way blamed myself on some level for that and was stuck in a story line. The truth is that I did not, it was out of my control, but I could feel the sadness and pain my father suffered over it, how the accident had impacted on him (he died several years later after further traumas involving my oldest sister’s illness, abandonment and breakdown).  It was after reliving this in an earlier body work session that I had a second major accident which mirrored the earlier one and left me with further Post Traumatic Stress which I am still working to resolve.

Its best not to assume or project, but I guess we can all do it. The important thing for me  To understand my own reaction and reality.  These days I find it is pointless to try and enter into any argument over my tears or the working of my own emotional inner world.  I am lucky enough after many years of failures in having found a therapist who empathises and really gets it, who does not reach for answers or try to project.

As far as other’s are concerned, I ask this. Why should other people get it that at times I feel really sad when they have not suffered in the same way or spend time denying emotions? Is it that I am too enmeshed in my suffering? (This is how they often make me feel.) That can hardly be true because I have lots of good and happy days, but there are days when sorrow can and does inundate me.

Today we worked with the sensations in my body, the traumatic imprints lodged in the tissues and I began to feel the unwinding and shifting of sensations as blockages dissolved and more sensation came in. At times I was pulled away by thought and I get that thinking came sometimes follow a story line and carry us away from the reality of just being present today. I have written a blog about that before.  When this happens and I am in flight from the sensations I remind myself to return to the breath and just notice body sensation.

I still came away from this first session questioning and running a doubting story line. Truth is I am not going to know how this particular treatment pans out until I front up for it and see if it has any beneficial effect on my symptoms. Until then the jury is out.

Deep down I wish the therapist would just keep the story line comments to herself and let me have my feelings. It’s true I might be caught up in a pattern. I am aware there are times I am holding my breath due to old traumatic imprints arising. At the time I am not always aware, but I am catching myself doing this more. It is one of the things I guess we tend to do when we are hit with something very overwhelming. Never the less it is important to learn to let go with the breath and encourage the new breath a space, because breath = movement = life.

We also need to let our emotions breathe in order to release them. They are like waves that arise and fall if we don’t clamp down on them. E Motion. Energy in motion.   I think many of my problems have come from holding in emotions and not having them validated. A saying of yes would allow the release and not cause further frustration.

This is what happens to emotionally sensitive children when they are not validated and it leads to all kinds of long term problems. There is nothing to be gained from denying sensitivity. It has a purpose and the sensitive child who feels things intensely needs help to validate and understand so they can self soothe and don’t have to reach for numbing substances or behaviours due to having been traumatised by parents who hurt them due to their own ignorance and fear.

I know it irritates a lot of people this sensitivity. The truth is that often I will keep what I feel inside, I won’t express or explode as I am considering your feelings, but it that last few years I have let myself explode in order to separate out validators from invalidators. Sometimes exploding is really essential so I can know how distressed I am and come to make sense of if something has angered me, because often when that happens (but not always) there has been an assault or violation of a kind. It wont be received well by the abuser or invalidator and their response has lessons for me.

The last thing I need now when I am making such progress with my psychotherapist is for this is for this body work therapist now to make me doubt myself when another therapist has said how important it was for me not to stuff this anger any more, so that eventually I can find ways to assert my needs more without the need to explode.

The most important thing for me now, I believe, is to trust my gut, to not have anyone on a pedestal and not to accept that which I find a bit hard to swallow. Well meaning as a person can be they have their own limitations. I am learning that if I have a doubt there is probably something not quite right. My true insights are often dismissed by my family something I have blogged about recently and so I naturally doubt myself when really I should just trust my gut. When I don’t, I get into problems.

What is important on this journey of healing is that I can validate myself and trust myself, something it has not always been easy to do. Something I want to explore more in my blogs. A lot of sorting out and separating is going on for me at present. It feels good.

I am looking forward to Saturn moving forward soon as I will be getting the waning sextile transit to Mars Saturn Moon when it does. This bodes well for me. I will be much more aware of my own Mars Saturn Moon than I was when I underwent the squares.

The major astrological lesson I have learned is that with a weak or damaged Mars I am emotionally Fucked. Mars serves the Sun. We need a healthy sense of self assertion to help us navigate through life with power and authority, not a power and authority over others but a power and authority that comes from knowing our self and our boundaries. What is and is not acceptable to us. This can be argued with by others but nevertheless as emotional adults we have authority over our own life and inner world.

There are some lovely world from a song from Dido which express this well:

This land is mine, I’ll let you in, I’ll let you navigate and demand, just as long as you know this land is mine.

What I ask for, I also have to give. That sometimes you won’t get it or understand and that you may even misunderstand me too, the most important thing being, that I no longer misunderstand myself.

As a post script I continued to see the body work therapist over the next eight weeks and I had a major blow up with her.  We managed to work through the anger and fear at the heart of it.  I shared with her about how I had been invalidated by two other body work therapists over four years and she said to me “I really get how scary and difficult it must have been for you to trust me.”  Immediately I could relax and feel that she really got what living inside the traumatised reality is like, when you reach out and trust only to be misunderstood and violated again.  I still struggle with my symptoms but they are lessening.  Mars in now in my first house and more available to me than it was when buried deep in the twelfth bringing up all my unresolved issues, but even all that questioning and indecision, the self questioning and self doubt was part of the process in trying to figure out what was going on and what was right for me.

Reflections on reactivity following a hurt

381590f6-dbc7-4c2a-ab26-3809a0d9b2c1_zps04b3f3fe

I wrote this blog a few weeks ago.  Injury has made me much more present to the here and now.  I am undergoing physio to work with the injury and maximise my healing.  And this blog has been slumbering in draft.  Today I release it like a butterfly.

I awoke after a long and fairly peaceful sleep, this morning.  It was filed with powerful dreams and images and my body was twisted around due to the ankle injury I sustained last week, but the twisting and turning that goes on when I try to push myself out of pain stopped, I rested quietly with the breath.  I am conscious that the building pressure of the Mars Pluto conjunction was beginning to loosen.

I had a challenging day yesterday.  I reached out the day before to someone, then had second thoughts then they rejected me or my need because they wanted to handle the situation in a different way. I wasn’t gracious about it.  In fact I was really, really angry and I let them know.  (Always a scary thing for me.)

I did a double take when I realised the Moon was opposite not only Pluto but Mars too.  Maybe this was a time to get powerful insights into my own Moon Mars Saturn conjunction that has a lot of intensity around it, due to the connections with Chiron and Pluto too.

Relationships have always contained a lot of pain and difficulty for me.  As a growing person I did not learn to negotiate feelings in relationship.  I did not see healthy confrontation and conflict modelled in relationships.  I was not mirrorered, due to the way my parents treated me when I was angry and due to the way I saw conflict modelled (or not modelled) in the home.  Outbursts from my Mum never led to any kind of resolution.  There was this pool of seething frustration in the atmosphere I did my best to negotiate warily around, by trying to do the right thing so as not to get in the way of a bullet.  I also probably didn’t learn very effective ways of understanding and controlling my impulses.  After many years of mixed up development I landed in recovery, a binge drinking alcoholic.

Over the years of my recovery I have began to realise that I learned that anger was a powerful and dangerous emotion that was best repressed or kept under wraps.  That method did not work, since anger would erupt.  Anger is intimately related to our self assertive drive to express ourselves effectively in the world.  If our method of self expression becomes blocked in some way we end up with a backlog of repressed energy and the anger banks up.  It took me many years to understand that anger could come out when other emotions, feelings, wants, needs and perceptions were not really understood and being expressed by me. Anger could be the eruptive force that hid a softer side, that softer side was being protected by the full force of anger thrown out, that then had the effect of alienating others, who did not really know how to cope.

It was not possible for me to say.  “Listen I am feeling really scared at the moment and I really need some comfort and reassurance.”  Or “I’ feeling really confused, I don’t really understand how to do that/what you are saying/how you are  feeling/why you are treating me like this/what this all means.”  I would either retreat and stuff it, because that is what I watched my Dad do in response to my Mum, or when that method didn’t work explode in a rage, just as I saw my Mother do.  I grew into an adult, but inside was a child that didn’t have a lot of skills to negotiate the world.

I have talked with another friend around my own age in recovery and we have discussed how its a bit of a generational thing for us born in the 60s, we grew up pretty mixed up around feelings, raised by parents and institutions short on emotional intelligence and surrounded by peers undergoing their own struggles and sometimes acting them out on us.

It is apt that Neptune is currently stationing on my Chiron in the seventh house, as old pain around relationships has been triggered a lot over the past few weeks and as I come to further realisations around Mars issues, since Mars and Chiron aspect each other in my chart.  Good things are coming out of these transits, but injury has accompanied it.   A recent function brought me and my nephew closer together.  We both struggle with the Mars Saturn conjunction and we both struggle with feelings of rage and powerlessness which are tied up with deep feelings of grief.  It felt good to be able to share about it.  A few days later I wrote a blog on Not Magnifying a Hurt.

While writing this I am thinking of what Eckhart Tolle calls the pain body.  According to Eckhart some people have a much stronger pain body, it is more easily triggered.  I would equate this with a person who, having had painful experiences in the past can easily find this old pain triggered by a seemingly (to others) un noxious event (someone with a strong Pluto energy.)  I certainly relate to this.

Last year a friend confronted me about my tendency to explode.  Often this kind of explosion is associated with some lack of compassion and sensitivity (not necessarily to me only) but to those who are more vulnerable.  The fighting warrior comes out in me and flies into full protection or defensive mode.   People around start to feel really uncomfortable.  Grief may then come following the said explosion which is cause for more concern from others, frightened, horrified or shocked looks.  In exploring this issue with someone similar to me, he gets my response totally.  Doesn’t really see the need for judgement at all.  Never the less I can come away from such interactions feeling judgement and then feeling a bit peeved at the lack of understanding.  But I am beginning to see this as a bit self centred too, many people struggle with expressing their own anger so mine challenges them.  We are all only human.

Over the years I’ve explored the idea I might be a person with Borderline Personality.  I fit many of the criteria when my addiction was in full flight.  Recovery has helped me to address some of those characteristics.   But on some level I am not sure if that diagnosis totally sticks.  I have also explored the concept of being both Highly Sensitive and Highly empathic.

In the end the bottom line exists in knowing myself.  In having some kind of idea of the things the irk me and get me fired up, of the things that bug me and trigger me and accepting that.  Of looking at my reactions, questioning myself, sharing with others, reading about anger, finding out about projection and learning to stay in touch with my insides, finding avenues to express my feelings (especially through journaling and blogging).  And reaching out to others who are more likely to be empathetic than judgemental.

For many years I had the idea there was something wrong with me for feeling and reacting the way that I did, and I most certainly did need to learn to grow in understanding of myself.  The truth is my feelings and reactions show me more about my at times unconscious history and sensitivities rather than being a sign of something wrong with me.

I  think if I could have achieved this level of insight and self acceptance sooner, I would have had an easier time of it.  The truth is too, that sometimes it would be better to let go of the irritant that is causing my pain body to ark up or to find ways to self sooth in the face of what grates and grazes on my soul.  Many of my feelings are only magnified by further negative thoughts which act as salt put into a wound that is already smarting.  Instead I need to apply the healing balm of something that soothes and calms the irritated pain body, when faced with tasks that seem massive and overwhelming I can make them more digestable if I bite a little off and chew them piece by piece.

All these tools help to become less reactive, or at best able to deal with and recognise strong reactions when they occur.  This process for me has taken a lot of years.  Looking back now I can see that I had a backlog of desire and need that wasn’t really fulfilled in childhood.  My parents did the best they could.  For me it wasn’t enough and traumas occurring in my late teens and early twenties made growing up and negotiating the challenges of this passage all the more difficult.  Things that happened during this time, and most especially the accident that nearly ended my life at 17 and saw me confined in hospital for three months,  left both wounds and a developmental arrest of sorts that have at times made change challenging.

Lately I am mindful of the Saturn Mars Moon theme that in some way brings me up short, when approaching the brink of change.  Just before I am about to move through to the next  stage some incident happens which brings me back, to the injury at 17, to the arrest, to the circumscribed circumference of a circle that is like a ring pass not fate has ordained for me.  Inwardly I travel far and wide, while being holed up with injury and perhaps the experience which has made it necessary for me to reach out more for help, has been good for me.  My Saturn Moon often tries to tough it out and go it alone.  I am aware that emotionally I need to sustain myself, but connections, too are so very important when we are feeling vulnerable.  Friendships from an unlikely place have been given to me during this past ordeal with my ankle that show me I am not totally alone.  And yet I get frightened by Saturn at times, thinking that planet has some power not only over me but over the entire collective of my family.  I watched my sister struggle with incapacitation following a cerebral bleed and become bed ridden in the last few years of her life.   She also had the Mars Saturn aspect.

I think of the lessons that Saturn may be here to teach me.  To be aware of my tendency to over reach (which is a family trait), to stay grounded and in touch with reality.  To accept the differences between myself and others with good grace.   To put protective and effeive boundaries around my feelings, while respecting the limits of others and to realise that although I am a spirit, matter is the principle through with I must manifest and which I cannot escape as long as my soul is incarnated in this physical body.

And as I look at my swollen ankle and face the fact that the damage sustained to it may not be reparable, I think of Chiron, the wounded healershot in the foot by an arrow that contained poison from the Hydra’s den that Heracles had on its tip from his encounter with the Hydra, that many headed Scorpionic (Plutonian) beast.  The injury I sustained happened after some poisonous family secrets were shared with me following my mother’s 90th in early November.  The profound power of both astrology and mythology to define soulful archetypal truths is strongly with me.  Our family has had a Hydra its heart we have all been affected by the multi generational demon of alcoholism.  Battling that has proved useless, understanding it has been more important and in the end that understanding has probably come from the battles that failed or wounded us. The scars remain, they need tending and healing.

In mythology it is only when Heracles gets down on his knees and raised the Hydra to the light does the awesome beast reveal its jewel.  So in the end some kind of fail, or fall or injury makes possible surrender of a kind, and makes time for the necessary healing.

As the words flow out from me in this blog which, as usual is revealing another face I get out of the way and let it flow, I get closer to some answers or images which rise up and reveal their truths.  And I have felt a particular cleansing and healing over the past couple of days.

I read a beautiful piece of writing this morning by the poet Mark Nepo.  In it he spoke about how life is an ongoing migration of a sort that carries us across shifting oceans to ever new experiences and realisations.  He uses the powerful metaphor of the ocean swell being akin to the process we undergo in living and journeying each day.  At times we are caught up in the belly of a wave, at other times we are cresting.  While in the belly we cant see much and things can get scary, but then another day reveals to us insights we did not have before and so we are riding, for a time, on the wave’s crest.  In closing I will leave you with the following quote which really resonated with me deeply.

The life of the soul on Earth has us bobbing on a raft of flesh, in and out of the view of eternity, and the work of the inner pilgrim is to keep eternity in our heart and mind’s eye when dropped in the belly of our days.

April 30, Our Constant Arrival, The Book of Awakening

Give me your black wing, sadness

Image

I was drawn to pick up a book the other night, when sleep proved illusive and when I opened the book I found this beautiful poem by Pablo Neruda.

The Mournful Face of God

Sadness, 

I need your black wing.

So much honey in the topaz

each ray smiling in the wide fields

and all the abundant light about me,

all an electric whir in the high air.

And so give me your black wing,

sadness.

to have the sapphire extinguished

and to have the angled mesh

of rain

fall,

the weeping of the earth

Now I am missing the black light.

Give me your slow blood,

cold rain,

spread over me your fearful wing.

Into my care give back the key

of the closed door.

For a moment,

for a short lifetime,

remove my light and leave me

to  feel myself abandoned,

wretched,

trembling in the web of twilight,

receiving into my being

the quivering hands of the rain.

Commenting on this poem Cedrus N. Monte writes:

In the bitters of Neruda’s poem, we are reminded of a primordial longing for darker places, spaces where we can rightfully mourn, feel our sadness, our grief and despair; a place where we can let ourselves experience, without shame or guilt, the sense of abandonment, and wretchedness we encounter in the wake of our wounds, in the recognition of others’ wounds, in receiving the “weeping of the earth”.

We are reminded that the mournful face of God, the shrine of darkness, is a holy place, a place that makes us whole, and heals. True to the paradoxical nature of spiritual and conscious life, the wounds we bring to this shrine are both the suffering and the redemption. Through them, we are pierced and torn apart, but without them, we would not have the opportunity to forge a forgiving and compassionate response. We would not have the opportunity to make love conscious.

In the pilgrimage to the shrine of darkness, something is attempting to come into fuller consciousness. Through pilgrimage, the rites of mourning are asking to be lived, death is seeking to be fully embraced, as part of life, the dark sister, the Dark Feminine, is asking to be honoured.

It is not the wholesale eradication of suffering that we must heroically achieve, but the humble understanding that suffering is inseparable from life.

images (10)

How eloquently did he express the truths I was feeling inside my own heart.  At times in my life when sadness was all around me and when the way into mourning was blocked or denied so was the entry way into the necessary passage closed off which would have led to a dark place which was the place of a difficult regeneration so necessary to face and experience.

At just such a time the book which contained Monte’s essay was recommended to me by a wiser soul.  It seems at times in collective culture we don’t want to have to feel and accept the necessary passages of the Dark Feminine, of difficult and challenging emotions that are a necessary part of the darker side of the human experience. It seems to me that, at just such points (and I have experienced this myself) medication or some other pain killer is offered as a solution.  And yet, the taking of such a solution often bars the way towards the necessary passage whose purpose is to enlarge and deepen our consciousness as human beings, fully awake and alive to the reality of being human.

We need courage, heart, strength, resilience and the suspension of rationality and control as we stand suspended at the doorways of such places as these are the qualities which will sustain us on the journey across that wide abyss which leads to a new shore.  Sometimes we need permission to be in the dark, to shed the tears which are necessary; we need the psychic midwives that will encourage us and usher us across such passages not the killing voices of those who would deny their healing power.

Today I was speaking to a girlfriend in recovery who once a month goes through a painful surgical procedure to deal with a medical condition which is beyond cure.  “The nurses have come to know me”, she said.  “I always cry when they give me the needle”.  Her tears to me speak to the fact that as a sentient creature she is alive and awake to pain and bearing witness to it.  I have cried under painful needles and been there at the bedside of my mother and other elderly patients crying in pain as the nurses sought around for yet another vein.

Yesterday I was listening to a radio programme on Radio National about the healing power of tears.  An author was saying how tears flow at the end or release point of the experience of difficult experiences not only of sadness but also of frustration, loss, shock and betrayal. To deny ourselves such a release means that we cannot integrate the full truth and enormity of our experience.  I am always grateful for real honest heartfelt tears as they signal the watershed moment when pain and restriction which has gone on too long is finally giving way and releasing.  I trust my tears as a portal into my own soul.

I love Neruda’s poem for speaking of the need we have to be held by the black wing of sadness when such holding is appropriate.  It is a beautiful image to dream on.  To contemplate.  To celebrate.

 

Loving Self Talk, confronting the critical inner voice

imagesCA0SNMPK

We all talk to ourselves, much of the time, whether or not we are aware of it.  We form conclusions, based on our experiences and make up stories or beliefs about what has happened to us, often based on feedback from people who may not necessarily always have our best interests at heart.  These thoughts and stories can have a powerful effect on us, for good or ill, so, to my mind travelling a path to greater self awareness and self love involves being conscious of what we are telling ourselves in response to what life deals us.

Our inner self-talk can and does effect whether we end up with a crippling and paralysing depression, or help ourselves to move forward with compassion through the centre of the difficult experiences and pain, free from the unnecessary and self-defeating additional suffering inflicted upon us by an inner critical voice.  Self blame or blame of others and despair in response to our traumas can be self imposed story lines which contort our reality, while limiting the birth of new possibilities which are formed from the process of moving through, feeling and integrating the complex and deep feelings that surround our traumas.

Robert Firestone is a therapist who has written several helpful books which outline his work in helping people to overcome destructive thought patterns, Fear of Intimacy, Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice and Combatting Destructive Thought Processes.   I was lucky to come across his work over ten years ago.

Differentiating the critical inner voice from a conscience, Robert writes:

The characteristic that most distinguishes the inner voice from a conscience is its degrading, punishing quality.  Its demeaning tone tends to increase our feeling of self hatred instead of motivating us to change undesirable actions in a constructive manner,  These destructive thoughts are contradictory; first they influence us to act in self defeating ways, and then they condemn us for those very actions.  In addition, the voice often turns our natural desires, wants and goals – the things we would like to accomplish in life – into “shoulds” – that is we “should” do this or that in order to be a good person. When we fail to live up to these “shoulds” the voice ridicules and berates us for our failure. 

images (5)

He goes on to explain how the voice keeps up a continual running commentary which selectively filters our experiences through a distorting and punishing lens.  So its not so much what happens to us in our day or lives (although life, can and does dish us out some very painful experiences), but the sense we come to make of these experinces, which ends up dictating our feelings and causing us pain.  In addition if we are not on the receiving end of the destructive critic internally, we may actually find ourselves drawn to relationships with people whose inner dialogue runs along critical lines and is then projected outside.

One of the huge problems of suffering emotional abuse as a child means that we come to believe a narrative story line about ourselves that is a result of someone else’s skewed interpretation and judgement, most likely that we are to blame and things might have worked out better if we had been more of something else other than who we were.  Perhaps we confronted a parent with qualities that they could not bear to see or had no way of handling themselves.

1795700_732559820118660_921494044_n

In his wonderful book, Legacy of the Heart, the Spiritual Advantages of a Painful Childhood, Wayne Muller writes:

We relentlessly judge ourselves for who we should be, and rarely accept ourselves as we are.  Whatever we are feeling in this moment is judged against some mythical idea of how we should be feeling.. If we hurt, we think we should have healed by now,; if we feel frightened, we think we should be stronger; if we feel sad, we think we should be happier. 

With such  story line running around inside us we are most likely to attract to us others who are more than willing to confirm and validate this negative self belief and have the same unwillingness to allow us our full range of self expression.  Until we can break free from the stranglehold of negative inner self talk that locks us up inside, healing can not happen.

Becoming aware of negative inner self talk is a great starting point for launching on a journey where we learn to re- parent and support ourselves emotionally in a way others could not.  In order to heal it is essential that we are able to confront these inner voices or introjects of judgement, criticism and mis-representation, replacing them with truer, kinder and more loving thoughts.  Instead of judging ourselves, why couldn’t we begin to learn to show ourselves mercy?

9507_484204248287553_1922585718_n

A huge part of depression can result from stories of self blame or self negation which we tell ourselves in relation to hurtful or painful events.  Often the deeper truth is that certain things occur to us for no particular reason or due to other people’s issues, rather than from any innate personal failing of our own.  In looking to attribute some kind of blame rather than just working with the feelings of grief, powerlessness, anger, sadness or loss that such events cause we can be setting ourselves up for a great deal of paralysis and inner pain.

Freedom from a depressive life script occurs as we loose our identity as a victim of suffering and find the inner power to move through that suffering beyond stories we tell ourselves to maintain some form of control, birthing in time a deeper sense of self awareness and acceptance as well as a more balance view of life’s limitations and possibilities.

David Richo writes:

We sometimes take on a “do-it-yourself” kind of pain to the natural, unavoidable suffering of life.   At the ending of a relationship, for instance, we might say to ourselves, “No one will ever want me now”.  Stories like that are fictions, superstitions we create to explain reality with labels pasted on us by our worst fears.  They register in our bodies and make us tight and stressed, and so our body and our health often end up paying for our neurosis.”

Breaking out of the self destructive story line involves the practice of becoming mindful of our feelings in order to free ourselves from this self imposed suffering, rather than buying into the victim script which would have us believe we are trapped, powerless and defective.  Such beliefs may in fact be a way of protecting ourselves from the hurt by walling it off.   By becoming our own persecutor we come to believe that we had some kind of power in a situation where we did not.  The deeper truth which may be more painful to face, especially when a relationship ends is that no matter how hard we try we cannot make another person love and care for us in the way we wished we could.

images

I am not implying here that we seek an escape from reality, if and when our behaviour may have been hurtful but rather that we accept the painful reality that something ended, despite our best attempts.  We might not like certain truths but it is only in the acceptance of them without setting up a negative story line that we can and do find freedom.  Acceptance of the reality means facing the fact of feeling the hurt and committing to moving through it without making up story lines as an escape.

Anything can be handled in that combination of feeling and common sense once the self defeating story lines are edited out.  Paradoxically we grow in self trust through such whole-hearted acceptance of the reality of others.  We learn to trust ourselves more because we let go of the need to trust that others will fulfil our needs in the ways that we demand. 

We can trust ourselves to handle people’s not wanting to be with us as much as we want to be with them without adding any story about them or us.  Self confidence is freedom from the need for a story.

 

In this vein, the practice of mindfulness is something that I have been exploring for the past year or more.  Mindfulness is a stance of open awareness and being ourselves and our feelings, a way of being with life which allows us to explore thoughts, beliefs and reactions to  experiences, both present and past without needing to argue with or push them away.

There is a lovely concept within this process called Calm Abiding which involves sitting with and feeling our way into the present experience of our inner and outer worlds with non judgemental awareness whilst being focused and fully conscious of the story lines that we are running in response to events within these two worlds.

untitled (2)

In my experience it offers a path of freedom from a deep experience of powerlessness and stuckness which I have experienced in response to the difficulties and traumas of my past.  Not getting too stuck in negative story lines I run surrounding events means I am more fully present to what is on a feeling sensate level.  I was amazed the other day to find myself sitting quietly while looking very deeply at an item of clothing and seeing aspects of it that I had not noticed before.

I became very aware that sometimes I am looking but not really seeing what is right in front of me, caught up as I can be in the story in my own head.  Gratefully these days that story is dissolving and I have been lucky enough to experience moments of real clarity such as the other day when I saw an old thing in such a new and vibrant way.   A whole world seemed to open up.  And more than ever within that opening was a place of peace and space, calm and stillness within which there was hidden deep within a most precious jewel:  joy.

That moment in time passed too, as all such moments inevitably do.  But the memory of it stays with me as a time where I felt myself so fully “at home”.  I am sure negative voices will still whisper to me from deep within, but these days I will be in a better position to let them float away on the breeze and answer them back with voices of acceptance and love.

What Are You Feeling?

Another excellent blog on a subject dear to my heart.

An Upturned Soul

What are feelings? What purpose do they serve?

A while ago I came across this chart which attempts to give the function of feelings. I find it interesting and insightful, a good place to start if you’re experiencing a feeling which is considered negative and would like a more balanced view of it, to know that it also has a positive side to it.

Function of Feelings

The attitude that certain feelings are only bad or negative has always bothered me.

It bothered me as a child because it made life confusing for me. Feelings became a source of endless paradoxes, and those paradoxes became a source of difficult feelings, anxiety, fear, frustration, then sadness, then anger, then guilt. One leading to another with no seeming outlet or solution.

Over and over again my feelings were labelled and boxed by others. Mostly the message which I received was that my feelings were all…

View original post 1,014 more words

Kissing the broken places

imagesCA07FCH6

I tend to write a lot about feelings. I tend to read a lot about them too, probably a legacy of a childhood where what I felt wasn’t really mirrored and I did not have the tools or support to make sense of feelings.

My recovery from co-dependency and addiction has taught me that in order to be a whole human being, awake and alive in the moment it is so important for me to understand what my feelings and emotions are.  I see emotions as energy in motion and they are the energy that propels my spirit forward into life and expression, while at the same time being a guide into my inner truth and reality, giving me instinctive information about the environment and my current inward state.

Guidance often comes to me when I need it from a source, some others call that source a Higher Power or the Higher Self.  I call it intuition and Mercury is currently opposite my natal Uranus in the first which some say rules intuitive insight.  Yesterday as I was facing a major conflict that needed to be discussed with someone I was urged by my intuitive voice to read page 137 in a book called Addiction as an Attachment Disorder by Philip J. Flores.

The particular page was on attachment styles, specifically those outlined by psychologist Mary Ainsworth, expanding on the work of John Bowlby.  It outlined the four major types of attachment and spoke about the importance of protest as the child expresses his feelings to relation to the comings and goings and actions of the parent.  I won’t outline the four styles in depth here, but the point made was that securely attached children were not necessarily the ones taken up in to mother’s arms most frequently and for the longest period.  Rather they were the children who had mothers who were able to respond to their cues to be picked up or put down as the child needed, that is they had mother’s who were more in tune with their unspoken needs.

Consistently unresponsive mothers were more likely to ignore the child’s distress and often intruded on the child when they were playing happily.  They were less attuned to the child’s emotional states and unspoken needs.  These mothers had ambivalently insecure children.

Lack of warmth and brusqueness or gruffness was the characteristic of Insecure and avoidant mothers who then raised avoidant-insecure children.

In the disorganised responsive and insecure disorganised group, explored by Ainsworth such mothers were those who were suffering great distress and had a high incidence of abuse in their history.  These mothers were unable to be consistent and so their children suffered a similar disruption to attachment.

Quoting psychologist J. Holmes, Flores writes:

Parental attunement on one hand and the ability to accept protest without retaliation or excessive anxiety on the other hand form the basis for secure attachment. … through parental attunement, the child must be able to feel she has “created” the object, that the world is her oyster.  This is the basis of healthy narcissism and self esteem.  Second, the child needs to be able to feel that her parents can survive her rage, and so be able after an angry outburst, to say.  “Hello… I destroyed you.” … these primary attachment and separation experiences provide a nucleus for the development of the capacities for intimacy and autonomy, respectively.”

A few pages back, Philip Flores narrates the story of Paul, an addict in recovery who through early experiences of difficulty with attachment became disconnected from his deeper feelings and as a result became sexually compulsive.  Flores mentions while discussing Paul’s case a paper by John Bowlby entitled “On Knowing What You Are Not Supposed to Know, and Feeling What You Are Not Supposed to Feel.”. Here I felt was the intuitive guidance for me with what I was struggling with, in learning to respect and honour my own feelings not being attuned to by the person which whom I had experience conflict.

Flores writes:  “Paul compounded his dilemma by trying to keep his own feelings and knowledge secret even from himself.”  He became sexually compulsive acting out old repressed feelings in this way rather than deal with them directly.

Contemplating all this this afternoon I was drawn to page 213 in the Language of Letting Go, where  Melody Beattie writes:

Since I’ve been a child, I’ve been in a antagonistic relationship with an important emotional part of myself: my feelings.  I have consistently tried either to ignore, repress, or force my feelings away.

I’ve denied I was angry, when in fact I was furious.  I have told myself there must be something wrong with me for feeling angry, when anger was a reasonable and logical response to the situation

I have told myself these things did not hurt, when they hurt very much.  I have told myself stories such as “That person didn’t mean to hurt me”…”He or she doesn’t know any better”… I”I need to be more understanidng.”  The problem was that I had already been too understanding of the other person and not understanding and compassionate enough with myself.

I didn’t succeed in my attempts to control emotions.  Emotional control has been a survival behaviour for me.  I can thank that behaviour for helping me get through many years and situations where I didn’t have any better options.  But I have learned a healthier behaviour – accepting my feelings.

We are meant to feel.  Part of our dysfunction is trying to deny or change that.  Part of our recovery means learning to go with the flow of what we’re feeling and what our feelings are trying to tell us.

We are responsible for our behaviours but we do not have to control our feelings.  We can let them happen.  We can learn to embrace, enjoy and experience – feel – the emotions as part of ourselves.

I will give power and freedom to the emotional part of myself.

**************

The meeting I had to have yesterday was with a person who had caused me a great deal of upset several weeks ago and then tried to turn the tables and blame me. This person is a therapist. Last Monday she had rung to make an apology last and ask if we could meet to discuss what had happened between us.   I suffered a lot of anxiety for the entire day leading up to our meeting, a lot of which I now know came from the backlog of feelings around our conflict I had to hold inside for a number of weeks.

For much of the scheduled half hour that we met I must say I cried, while expressing to her my truth and deep feelings and the sadness in my soul at what she had done.  It all just flowed out of me and it was difficult to stop the movement of energy that was releasing.  There was not really a lot she could say, except that she felt upset I was sad.   It wasn’t only that I had been hurt, though it was a great weariness I felt yesterday for all the broken attachments, deaths, lack of attunement, misunderstandings, loss of connection and the inability to heal any of it experienced over many years as well as for the lack of recognition or apology to date. Deeper down I guess there was also grief for the loss of the hope of healing in a relationship which two years had proved incapable of being repaired and sustaining a deep and true intimacy, due to another person’s very deep wounds. As I write I am conscious this is real transiting Saturn in Scorpio conjunct my natal Neptune territory!

Today I realise the tears I shed were not only for all the disappointment of what had occurred between us since the end of January, but for so many other losses and deep disappointments, that for so long I have to deny and had buried deep in my body.  It was a lifetime of banked up protest and feeling, I guess, that I was uncovering yesterday. It left me quiet spent and tired.  But today I feel grateful for the opportunity to express it.

Mercury has been stationing on my natal Chiron for the past week or so…  I’ve been under the influence of my Chiron return in the seventh house of relationships for over four years now.  My Chiron in the seventh opposes Uranus in the first and Pluto there too and Chiron semi-sextiles my Mars/Moon/Saturn conjunction, emotional connection and understanding has been a fraught and sensitive sore spot for most of my life.    So I do believe all of this in on schedule and an inward alchemy of a sort is occurring deep in my soul.

Today has been a day of peace at home with my puppy after all the tearing and anxiety of yesterday, pre confrontation.  In a short while Jasper and I will head out to the park to play and be in the healing power of nature, a place where I can experience lightness, joy and peace. These are the balms that do my soul a power of good.

In the tears shed yesterday something very deep was uncovered and released.  It felt good to be able to surrender to that experience and not to have to keep in place the defences I felt against the pain this incident had caused.     I’m not entirely sure why this personal blog was headed out by the quotes and information on attachment styles by Flores, but there is an association that I am sure someone will understand….

In the absence of protest and attunement we get driven into a lonely void where there is no place to know what we know and feel what we feel.  At 5 am this morning I awoke with so much from the past, especially my last relationship in which we were both hurt deeply going around in my head. In the midst of this the following thought came into my mind:

“We are powerless over what we are unconscious of and until we become conscious of it we are prisoners who do not know that we are in prison.”

Consciousness into our deeper selves and our past experiences may come in an avalanche, like it did for me yesterday.   Or it may come more slowly.  But once it comes and is released there is a sense of an entirely new freedom and possibility opening out, one that never existed before.  There is also a  feeling of coming home despite or, perhaps more aptly, because of the pain, sadness, longing, loneliness and despair we have had the courage to face, feel, admit, accept and release.

Recently I came across the following quote:

Therapy is not about healing what is broken but about kissing the broken places.  I would change the word therapy to healing.

Today those words resonate with me deeply. Life might not always go according to plan or fully meet our hopes, expectations or ideals but in the end sense can be made of it and healing can come if we are prepared to kiss the broken places.

Befriending Feelings

660161ad1f06fb4081ec7a22a0058a30

Find the seed at the bottom of your heart and bring forth a flower. 

Shigenori Kameoka

The following meditation on befriending feelings comes from a beautiful little book:  Meditations for Forgiving and Moving On, by Tian Dayton

In our society it we seem to have a difficult time with accepting and understanding our feelings.  Developing emotional insight and intelligence has been a huge part of my recovery from addiction and co-dependence.  I  was at a meeting today where several people were sharing their difficulties and it struck me that a lot of the time they were judging themselves for feelings that were just human responses to challenging circumstances.   So for what its worth and in an attempt to inspire and uplift below is Tian’s meditation on making friends with our feelings.

Today, I befriend my feelings without judgement.  If I am still lonely or depressed, I need not act on that feeling, seeing it as unrecovered, then going through complicated mental machinations to change it.  Instead, i give it space and observe it, knowing that this process will have a transforming effect.  I allow myself to feel other than I am supposed to feel.  I give room to a feeling and befriend it rather than push it away with impatient, intolerant thoughts.

My feelings follow a pattern.  Rather than control them, I simply watch as a feeling arises, intensifies, hangs around inside of me and lifts all of its own accord.  I need not rush my own process of life today.  I can be with it.  I can allow it to be with me. I can be fully human and alive.  I observe my feeling process rather than control it.