Sunday, September 7, 2014

Coming Home: A Response to Life from the Inside Out

As consciousness slowly invaded my dream state, a feeling of melancholy came over me. I didn’t want to get up; didn’t really want to lie there either but the impulse to do nothing was stronger. I stayed abed. There were no valid reasons for this state—my body did not register any complaints nor demand release; I had no stressors pressing down on me; my sleep had been okay—I just felt sad.

After allowing myself time to indulge in the sadness, I went inside (my body, that is). I wanted to explore what was causing these low spirits. And, while I knew it could be caused by any number of hormonal/chemical fluctuations from estrogen to serotonin, I knew it could also be the result of interpreting, sometimes misinterpreting, a somatic sensation or, as in my case, a lack of sensation.

So, I went inside. As expected, I felt nothing. Seconds went by, perhaps a minute or two. Still nothing. I sank into the nothingness, allowed it to be there with no judgment, no analysis. It took time, but through just observing, noticing the lack of texture, the absence of colour, the quietness of nothing, a clearer picture came forth. Where the nothingness before lacked tangibility, I could now sense an ever so subtle border to this blank state—a border to some sort of container in which I lay. I kept observing. 

The space began to expand. It was like watching a balloon gently fill up with air except that I was within the balloon. I kept my focus. Inside this cocoon, the air soon took on qualities. What once was empty was now filled with tiny elements—molecular matter, my rational mind wanted to say—hundreds, maybe thousands of them, floating around in casual disarray. What caught my attention, however, was not this almost insubstantial matter but the space in between these particles: it grew even as the matter increased and, as the space increased, so did I.

Within the space of a few minutes, my closed-in melancholy of nothingness had become an expanded state of being. I could feel a sense of interconnectedness and rightness to not only who I was but my place within this world. My mood changed. With the sadness dispelled, I got up.

This, as you can imagine, was a lovely way, albeit my second attempt, to begin the day. What started as an unconscious reaction to nothingness ended as a conscious response to life and my relationship to it. Unfortunately, I am not always so successful. Many a time I can take a feeling of nothingness and dwell in it for many an hour with heart sick longing. It seemingly begs to be called loneliness, rejection or unworthiness. I rarely allow nothingness just to “be” without applying a label. Same goes for a heavy heart, a swirling tummy or a tight throat. Each appears and immediately I want to think: Ooh, I am sad, anxious or afraid. But does it have to be that way?

What if a heavy heart was just one that wanted to be noticed? Or a tight throat was, in fact, just remnants of last night’s rock concert? I am being a bit facetious with the last one but all too often we are ready to jump to conclusions when our body emits a feeling. The problem with this is that it tends to feeds into itself. If we label “heaviness in the heart” as sad, then we are more apt to feel sad when we even have the slightest of pressure in this region of our body. It becomes a formula: 1+1 =2. But formulas don’t work when analyzing the human condition. What equals two today may equal four or five tomorrow. What more, when we feel a certain emotion, everything tends to get coloured with that same brush. That is what initially happened this morning. I unconsciously labeled my feelings of nothingness as sadness and began to feel more sad. Sadness begat sadness.

The question then is what would happen if we just noticed our somatic feelings instead of giving them a name? Could we have a different experience if we allowed ourselves time to get to know a physical sensation before judging it? What if we responded to our body’s communication rather than reacting to it?

 I encourage you to try it next time you have an internal feeling and see what happens. Perhaps after sitting with your heavy heart, your nothingness or your twirling stomach you come to the conclusion that you are sad, alone or anxious but, then again, perhaps not. Maybe all you needed was to sit in stillness and acknowledge the sensations. Maybe your body was just calling out to be noticed … by you. Maybe all it wanted was to be appreciated and loved to set itself back into balance.

On September 27, Carla Webb and I will be facilitating Coming Home: A Journey of Healing with Horses at Anam Cara Farm and Learning Center. This workshop will explore these questions and the idea that the more we come into relationship with our body, the less reactive we are and the safer we feel. By responding with compassion and non-judgment to our feelings we enter into a deeper trust with who we are and, by extension, a deeper trust with our unique place in community.

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