It’s been a good long while since I’ve posted anything here, and I have a free Monday morning, so here goes!
I just got back last night from a 3-day retreat on Biodynamics and Spiritual Embodiment taught by my colleague Christian Current. (If you don’t know already, I practice craniosacral biodynamics in Austin and Taos. Professional website: maryannreynolds.com.)
The setting was a private rural acreage 25 miles away from my home — with only the sounds of birds, wind, wind chimes, and running water from bubbling pools and fountains. No noise from traffic, sirens, planes — lovely. There were cabins, an Airstream, and a Winnebago for sleeping, and a talented young cook provided fresh healthful tasty food for the 12 of us. A pool and hot tub and gardens rounded out the amenities.
The retreat centered around the three energetic ignitions that occur in every living human before and right after birth: the conception ignition, the heart ignition, and the birth ignition.
Please note that the locations of these ignitions correspond to the upper, middle, and lower dantiens in Taoist energy physiology, to the three bony compartments of our bodies, the cranium, rib cage, and pelvis, and to three major energies we experience as humans, the energies of being, of relating, and of autonomy.
I learned a lot! Did you know that there’s a flash of light at conception, and that after the invited sperm embeds in the ovum, the sperm head dissolves and 20 minutes of complete stillness follow?
Maybe that’s why so many meditation guidelines recommend 20 minutes once or twice a day.
Did you know that the place where the sperm enters the egg becomes the third eye/ajna chakra/third ventricle of brain?
Did you know that blood is the first organ (it’s connective tissue) and it forms the heart? Not, as one might think, the container forms first and then fills.
Did you know that when the umbilical cord stops pulsing (on its own — it’s frequently severed too soon) and the first breath is taken, an ignition occurs that where the baby separates as an entity from its mother?
There was so much more. Some of it I’ve learned in previous trainings, but not in this much depth.
Oh, and it was full of great questions:
Who am I?
What do I want? What makes me happy?
What power(s) do I wield? What effects do I see I make in the world or myself?
I wanted to find the clearest truth possible in each of my answers:
I am loving awareness, which is always present as a baseline.
What I want and what makes me happy are the same: fulfillment.
One aspect of recovering from PTSD is not knowing when or if your trauma response will be activated again.
(Some people don’t like the word “triggered” and prefer to say “activated”. I’m using that term now to be more neutral. If a gun was involved in someone’s trauma, to say “triggered” in itself could be activating.)
I recently had an experience that really showed me how much progress I have made in trauma recovery, and I want to share it here in case you or someone you care about is struggling with PTSD recovery. It may give you/them confidence in the healing process.
But first, some background.
I’ve had an extreme stress response activated several times years after doing a lot of work on trauma recovery, which was many years after my childhood trauma.
These stress responses always seemed to happen out of the blue…as once again, the rug was pulled out from under my feet, and I lost my ground and was sent spinning, not knowing which way was up or down.
It’s pretty miserable to be flooded with stress hormones just because something happened in the present that in some way reminded me of the original trauma. The threat seems very real at the time.
However, I’d like to make it clear that each time I went into a stress response, I learned something. I wasn’t entirely helpless.
The most important learning was to check the situation out: just because my body and mind were all jacked up in response to an apparent immediate threat to my safety doesn’t mean there was an actual immediate threat to my safety.
I did some simple critical thinking. Am I safe in this very moment?
I was safe. No one was directly threatening me or my loved ones.
My perceptions played a trick on me because the original trauma was wired into my nervous system. That’s what PTSD is.
Even though I was grateful to be safe, I still had to deal with the cascade of stress chemicals.
When that happened, I tended to hole up by myself because I felt toxic and didn’t want to spread the toxicity. I did more self-nurturing than usual, taking soothing baths, skin brushing, giving myself manicures and pedicures and facials, listening to soothing music or recordings (Pema Chodron is great, also anything funny), taking naps and getting plenty of sleep, wearing soft fabrics, eating healthy, drinking endless cups of camomile tea.
I listened to guided meditations because it was so difficult to calm my monkey mind down when I tried doing my usual silent meditations.
My acupuncturist at the time said I had adrenal fatigue and recommended taking rhodiola and ginseng. After the first few times of being activated, I sought a Somatic Experiencing practitioner who helped me a lot.
My usual behavior was more go-go-go, hmmm, must be nice to have time for that stuff.
Was I addicted to stress? Did that make my stress response worse? I don’t know.
I made time to slow down and nurture myself and came to appreciate these activities when not activated.
I noticed that each time my trauma response was activated, it took less time to return to normal than before. The first time I was activated, it took three full months. The second time, about six weeks. The most recent, about a week.
And then just a few days ago, this happened:
I woke as I often do about 4 am. I laid in bed, in the dark, and my mind made its way back to a memory associated with the original trauma.
I started to feel activated. My back felt prickly and I felt agitated and a little panicky, like I need to do something! Now!
I realized I was at the beginning of a stress response. For the first time, it happened mildly and slowly enough that I was conscious of it beginning.
I did not want to go into a full-blown stress response.
I stopped thinking about the original trauma and brought my attention to my body, curled up safe in my bed, under the covers with my favorite pillow in the dark, in the present moment.
And the agitation and panic and chemical cascade just stopped. It seems like it took less than a minute to feel fully back to my safe and healthy self.
It seemed marvelous to me that I stopped being retraumatized simply by using my mind constructively.
I later told this to my colleague who’s helped me with trauma recovery bodywork, and he said I had agency.
Yes. I was not helpless, which seems to be a hallmark of traumatic experience. I could do something about it because I was conscious of the onset, able to distinguish present from past, able to direct my attention, and I knew what I wanted — safety and peace, not activation.
Also, there may have been some energetic guidance helping, but I don’t know for sure.
I do recall recently voicing what so many trauma survivors experience: How does one ever know that one has fully recovered from a trauma? How can one know there are no more flashbacks, no more activations?
I can’t know for sure, but this feels like a huge step forward in the direction of being free from reactivation.
I’ve been giving a lot of Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy sessions since returning from some advanced training at the beginning of October.
I’ve also done some trades with other Biodynamics practitioners.
I love this modality of bodywork/energywork. It seems to me to be a natural extension of both bodywork and meditation: it involves light touch, perception, stillness.
I’ve found it is especially helpful for insomnia. I’ve experienced better sleep after I receive a session, and my clients report the same, even those who have difficulty falling asleep as well as difficulty staying asleep.
It helps with both.
One thing we do know about how it works is that it has a calming effect on the central nervous system — the brain and spinal cord — deep in the body.
CST is thought to improve efficiency of biological processes through boosting inherent self-regulation, self-correction and self-healing.
The Cleveland Clinic
By stimulating the rest and recovery systems of the body, the subtle work of CST allows the body to re-source its powers of rehabilitation and revival.
Sometimes I have second thoughts. My wild mind gets half-baked ideas that are so exciting, and the next day they don’t look that good. I took down my most recent post that was like that. It’s just not ready for public consumption.
So. New day, new topic. Please note I am not saying what follows to brag. I hope saying it gives those who need it encouragement.
For someone who was traumatized by a sudden, tragic, violent loss in childhood, who as a result had PTSD for decades before it was even a diagnosable malady — life can be good again.
I wake up happy to greet a new day, on most days. I feel balanced, grounded, centered, open, resilient, buoyant, strong, like a fountain constantly replenishing and renewing. I have more than enough.
Perhaps these good days are even sweeter because of the past. Trauma survivors, please savor and enjoy every good day, every good hour even, that comes your way.
It’s not as if the trauma in this bodymindfield is gone, over, done. Even when you’ve done a lot of work to remember, sort, get perspective, feel, self-soothe, reconcile, and heal that wounded self, a scar still resides in your nervous system. But it can disappear for long stretches of time.
You can work with your autonomic nervous system to rebalance it so that you read and respond to actual threats and to safety appropriately, but in reading what psychotherapists with 40 years of experience have to say, trauma is scar tissue in the psyche. Scar tissue will never be as healthy and resilient as unscarred skin. It’s more fragile. It’s not organized the same way at the cellular level. You can work with it to make it more pliable and reduce the scarring, but it will never be as if the trauma never happened, the skin unscarred.
Also, obviously, trauma resides in your memories, which are connected to your ANS. How often do you need to revisit those memories? Not that often for me, any more. I want to mention that some of the memories from the time of the trauma remained veiled from my conscious mind for a long time, and sometimes a memory shapes our behavior, unbidden.
Trauma is definitely something you want behind you on your timeline, not in the way of denial but in the healthy manner of moving on with your life, because healthy life beckons after trauma, if you let it. It may start with one peaceful hour.
Investigate peace, and savor it.
Facing forward, sometimes trauma from the past sneaks ahead and gets right in your face. Boo! Your ANS, which is instinctual and not really all that smart, interprets something as a threat that simply isn’t. Something happens in the present that unconsciously reminds the part of your brain that’s trying to keep you safe of a time when you were unsafe in the past, and you react sharply, as if past were present, get flooded with stress hormones, experience the fight-or-flight dance going on.
Hopefully, the thinking part of your brain will kick in to help you evaluate the situation! Are you actually in imminent danger? If the answer is no, then you get to wait it out while your system rebalances itself, recovering from the dump of stress hormones. Acupuncture and supplements for adrenal depletion can be very helpful.
Beautiful self-care is required when a memory hijacks the ANS and there is no actual threat. Be ever so kind to yourself. Rest as much as you can. Make beautiful cups of tea. Slow down. Light a candle and watch it burn. Take a long fragrant soak in the tub, preferably with Epsom salt. Just breathe. Listen to lovely music. Move your body with care. Do restorative yoga. Walk in nature. Spend time with a loving friend.
Afterwards, trauma resides in memories and the ANS. Build yourself a vast toolkit of self-care resources for the activated times.
Trauma can also play a huge role in your beliefs. We are run by our beliefs, and some of them are outside our awareness. Feeling cursed? Been there. Having bad luck with relationships? Been there. So many questions. Why me? Am I being punished? What did I do to deserve this? How can anyone love me? How could God let this happen? Does God love me?
What are some things you have believed about yourself, your life, your character, your worthiness, after a trauma?
At this point, all I can say about belief is to frame it in the healthiest way you can. If that means you acknowledge that you encountered misfortune — something that has happened to a lot of people throughout human history — and understand it’s just the way life as a human can sometimes be, and don’t take it personally, that seems like a great start. You didn’t cause this, you didn’t deserve it, you are not being punished, you are not cursed. You ran into some bad luck, that’s all.
This is how you build resilience and move on. If you need a little healthy delusion, I say go for it. If rocks or essential oils or photos of Ramana Maharshi soften the harshness, use them. I do.
Beliefs are about what’s important. Identity is who you are. By working with your beliefs, you start to change your identity.
We live our lives inside a huge mystery. Theoretical physicists say that two thirds of all existence consists of dark energy, and no one knows what it is. I just love this, my favorite new factoid! We.Don’t.Know.What’s.Going.On.
So feel free to make something up that works for you, that gives you strength and courage and takes the weight of oppression or unworthiness off you, so you can rise up to meet the rest of your life. Why not?
By all means, take credit for and celebrate the good stuff — for taking right action, or coming to understand what that means or if that was even possible then. For persisting in the face of hardship. For recovering some of your mental health. For those who understand and accept you, or are willing to make that attempt. For self-care and self-compassion. For bonding with all of humanity through your compassion for all suffering. For finding your path.
After trauma, you get to work with your autonomic nervous system, your memories, and your beliefs. Exploring and reframing your beliefs are where you can make the most difference. Have courage. You’re worth it.
I’ve been waking before 6, lying drowsily in the dark, under the covers, all warm and snuggly, surrounded by pillows, luxuriating in not having to get up and (usually) not feeling like I didn’t get enough sleep and need to get some more shut-eye.
This daily journey from nonconsciousness to consciousness feels so good to take it slowly. Feeling my warmth, my body weight surrendered to gravity, I notice that energy is pouring out the soles of my feet — or maybe pouring in. Not even the entire sole, but a circle around K1, Bubbling Spring, where the kidney channel begins. The force is strong there.
The little part of my brain that’s always going, “But what does it meeeaaaannnn?” doesn’t know what that’s about except that it’s healthy. Am I letting out too much or being replenished? Don’t know. Maybe connected to earth element because feet, right? Powerful point, powerful channel, kidney chi.
I may doze a little, but when the light starts to return, I get up and pee and return to sit in my bed and just sit. Yeah, I have beautiful, fancy meditation gear, and I sit in my bed.
I used to think of it as meditation, but now I like to just call it sitting. Sitting with what is. I tune into breath and body, sounds, and I enter a state of integrity and subtle bliss. I notice sensations, thoughts arising and dissipating, sometimes an emotional tone. I open up and make myself available.
Sometimes my thoughts are strong and sticky. I use my will to return to stillness, over and over. Sometimes I command my unruly thinker to be still, and it actually obeys, which is amazing and gratifying. I like to go deep into the swirly energy currents and let them wash me inside and out. When I am being breathed, I’m there. No will needed. Just surrender.
After sitting, breathing. Current practice: kapalabhati, the 4-7-8 kriya that Dr. Fulford taught Dr. Weil, and nadi shodhana.
I make myself a cup of matcha (with Berkey-filtered water heated to 160 degrees F because I’m that kind of person) and return to my bed, stare out my window, hear the noise of birds, traffic, trains, and the motors and beeps of heavy construction equipment, because Austin. The city is reaching the country.
I come into some clarity, and I simply need to write and share. I’ve realized that it’s probably not a good idea to text my early morning downloads to the possibly unprepared dear ones I’m fortunate enough to have in my life, at least until I’ve had an opportunity to check in. Still, there’s that need to express.
Guess what? I have a blog, and you’re reading it! I used to post more personal writing here but haven’t for a long time. I can do that again.
So…I’m back, my people! Here we are with my new strategy: morning pages for all to see, being intimate in a way that’s safe for me and my associates in this sometimes crazy, dangerous world. You didn’t want to know the particulars anyway — you like melding minds, and here’s my contribution. This business of being human requires courage and boundaries and discernment and trust, and a whole lot more…and that’s what’s coming up today.
Some things I will be writing about: finally figuring out that I’m an empath and learning how to be a healthy empath because sometimes it is quite troubling and draining.
Also, what the fuck is right relationship and how can I be/do/create/collaborate on that?
And also, being an autodidact. Being both ordinary and extraordinary because so are you and let’s talk about it. And whatever comes up that’s appropriate to share here.
We all learning here on this bus. That’s all for today, lovelies. Be well.
I’ve updated this page with some new recommendations! New for 2018: the book How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan, a new online dispensary for supplements, stainless steel drinking straws, a hand/face/body lotion, and more.
I have put on some extra weight and I want to take it off. I already eat a fairly healthy, mostly Paleo diet. I was thinking about the mindset and habits I want to cultivate. I’m looking at what’s worked for me in the past and some new best practices.
Twice since 2000, I’ve lost weight: the first time, I lost 35 pounds, of which 20 pounds crept back on for a few years, and then I lost the 20 pounds and kept it off for a few years. Those 20 pounds have crept back on over the past 7 years.
In my recent presentation, Investigating the Power of Silence, at Austin’s Free Day of NLP, I drew on some research done by the Center for Healthy Minds.
I love that name! And I just got on their mailing list.
You may have heard of it. It’s located at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and is run by Dr. Richard Davidson, who was encouraged by the Dalai Lama in 1992 to study the brains of Tibetan yogis. Dozens of monks have flown into Madison over the years, been hooked up with caps of electrodes for EEGs to study their brainwaves and undergone fMRI to see where the brain is most active during meditation, rest, and tasks. These are the “professional” meditators with over 12,000 hours of practice.
The research I mentioned in my presentation was done on the Tibetan yogi with the most meditation experience they’ve studied so far, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, who’s clocked an astounding 62,000 hours of meditation (and looks like he’s about 30 years old but is actually 43 in 2018).
Yongey Mingyur became a wandering monk for four years, leaving behind his life as a prominent teacher of Tibetan Buddhism, and then resuming it with new perspective. His story includes overcoming panic attacks as a young teenager. Read more here. To find out about his experience wandering, read this.
The Center for Healthy Minds has also improved the rigor of the science behind studies of meditation, holding it to high standards including classifying meditators as beginning, long-term, and professional and distinguishing between types of meditation.
Today is an exceptionally cold day in Austin, Texas. At noon the temperature is 27 degrees F (-2.8 C). It rained last night, then froze, sleeted this morning, and now it’s snowing. Schools are closed, and many people are staying in, staying warm, staying safe. People in cold areas may laugh, but most Austinites don’t know how to drive on ice. We don’t have snowplows. Sand on bridges is about it. So we call everything off and stay in.
Today (besides staying cozy in my pajamas and sipping hot bone broth), I’m daydreaming about an event I will attend this summer, August 10-12, 2018, when it will probably be over 100 degrees F (38 C) here. I’m going up into the southern Rockies where it will be cooler, to Taos, New Mexico, a legendary town in the high desert mountains. Continue reading →