Morning download, 3.1.19

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.

NLP Neuro-Logical Levels of Change.

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.

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Sensible eating for healthy weight loss: my best practices and desired habits

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.

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Courtesy: Diethunters.com

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The last hour of life

The book group that I’ve attended weekly for the past several years had a writing assignment for this week, to write about our last hour of life. We’ll gather tomorrow and share. Here’s mine:

I don’t really know when this is going to happen. I’d like to believe that it will happen in the distant future, at least 20 years in the future, maybe 30 or even more, but I don’t know. It could happen tomorrow. It could happen tonight! Continue reading

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Trauma never goes completely away

My friend Spike shared a link to this New York Times article on Facebook, and since trauma and recovery are themes on this blog, I thought I’d share it here. The author, a psychiatrist, writes about how trauma and grief never go completely away.

Can’t get over it? You may now stop trying and believing that you have to or that something is wrong with you because you haven’t or can’t.

My mother’s knee-jerk reaction, “Shouldn’t I be over this by now?” is very common. There is a rush to normal in many of us that closes us off, not only to the depth of our own suffering but also, as a consequence, to the suffering of others….

The reflexive rush to normal is counterproductive. In the attempt to fit in, to be normal, the traumatized person (and this is most of us) feels estranged.

In remembrance of Gabrielle Roth: freedom is our holy work

One of the significant teachers in my life died yesterday, and I’ve struggled with writing about it. I find myself getting too heady, and yet this loss is actually so profound that when I took a nap yesterday, I dreamed I was balancing upside down on my head on a dance floor, surrounded by lively, active children.

When I woke, I could feel the pressure on the crown of my head.

Headstand is definitely about changing perspective.

I stumbled into ecstatic dance 18 years ago, first encountering the 5 rhythms of Gabrielle Roth and Sweat Your Prayers after I left church as something I could no longer take part in with integrity.

I found a tribe, a practice, and a way of experiencing myself and the world as energy.

I’m not sure, but I suspect that the latter is the change in perspective that I’m integrating with this shock of loss and review of Gabrielle’s influence on my life, that it’s all just energy all the time, and it’s always changing, always dancing. The best I can ever do is to be centered, grounded, embodied, and ready to meet it. What’s solid is awareness.

I’ve had issues and struggles at times with that tribe, practice, and worldview, and they have deeply shaped me. I keep coming back.

Here’s what ecstatic dance is to me: being free, feeling joy, being embodied, clearing, cleansing, breathing, sweating, extending myself, being aware, taking care of my body, pushing to my edge and beyond, being in the moment, sharing, delighting, inquiring, discovering, connecting, having compassion, being inspired, seeing, allowing, playing, surrendering, breaking myself open, feeling what comes up, being danced, letting go, grieving, dancing with other versions of me, dancing with the entire room including the space, letting life and everything flow through me, being totally and completely alive, being fully present, blowing all the blocks out of my energy channels.

I feel so grateful to have found this and that I am able to do this.

Thank you, Gabrielle Roth, for your life’s work. Thank you, dancing tribe.

Here’s Gabrielle in her own words.

I became a mapmaker for others to follow, but not in my footsteps, in their own. Many of us are looking for a beat, something solid and rooted where we can take refuge and begin to explore the fluidity of being alive, to investigate why we often feel stuck, numb, spaced-out, tense, inert, and unable to stand up or sit down or unscramble the screens that reflect our collective insanity.

The question I ask myself and everyone else is, “Do you have the discipline to be a free spirit?” Can we be free of all that binds and bends us into a shape of consciousness that has nothing to do with who we are from moment to moment, from breath to breath?

Dance is the fastest, most direct route to the truth — not some big truth that belongs to everybody, but the get down and personal kind, the what’s-happening-in-me-right-now kind of truth. We dance to reclaim our brilliant ability to disappear in something bigger, something safe, a space without a critic or a judge or an analyst.

Moving through a loss

This is just a short post to say that a dear teacher whose trainings and workshops I have been attending and assisting at for the past five years left this earthly life behind on Tuesday. I had just spent Saturday with him, and he was in the finest form I’ve ever seen him.

His name was Tom Best. He taught Neuro-Linguistic Programming officially, but really, he taught love, congruence, presence, playfulness, communication both verbal and nonverbal, life skills, trance, healing, and shamanic practices. He did it clearly and cleanly, with a lot of elegance and very little ego.

He lived his life fully and deeply and from what I can tell, left nothing undone. And so it’s not as sad as some deaths.

I will post more about Tom later after this process of integrating the loss and the gifts has cooked some more.

Love to you all.

What got you started meditating? Here’s my story. What’s yours?

Clare commented on my recent post about meditation that she enjoys becoming still and present but wonders how to convince others.

I’m not sure what convinces people that meditation is a good thing. Plenty of people do meditate, and now I’m curious about the initial catalyst. (Because none of this have been doing this our entire lives, I’ll bet!)

I’ll share my story, and I invite you to share yours, either in the comments or via email. If you email me (mareynolds27 at gmail dot com), be sure to let me know what name or initials you want me to use if I get enough responses to summarize in a future post.

I started five years ago after a relationship ended. Even though I knew it was right to end the relationship — the other person had stopped relating to me in a way I enjoyed and had become someone I no longer knew (either that, or my eyes fully opened for the first time) — I still wanted to escape from the emotional pain of ending a relationship I had put a lot of myself into.

I couldn’t find a way to escape. Alcohol, smoking, busy-ness, socializing, travel — none of that helped. Each morning I woke up with a heart that felt raw and vulnerable.

After a few weeks of this, it occurred to me one day that I had nothing to lose if I just sat with the pain, fully facing it. I didn’t believe it could have gotten worse.

I  sat myself down cross-legged on a pillow on the floor and surrendered to what I was feeling. I brought my attention to my heart center and felt into it. I let the pain just be what it was, not wanting to be in denial about it, not wanting to make it into anything else. I actually had some curiosity about moving toward it instead of away from it.

I wasn’t swallowed up, overwhelmed, decimated, annihilated, or engulfed. I felt hurt and vulnerable in my heart center, yes. And I realized that there was more to me than that. I was bigger than the pain. But who was I?

That was the hook. Who actually was I? I began sitting to find an answer to that question.

What set you on this path?

Absorbing a loss

Last Monday I went into work, and my boss came around, closed the door, and told me she had some sad news: my colleague Val had passed away on Sunday.

Val dead? I could not imagine those two words used in the same sentence. It was truly a shock.

This past week has been a tough week, absorbing the loss of someone I saw often over the past 6 years, someone I liked and admired. During this week, I witnessed my denial and acceptance dancing together, sometimes one leading, sometimes the other.

Val was one of my favorite people in the office where I work. All we had been told was that Val was out on “temporary but indefinite” leave. Somehow I had the impression that he was taking care of a seriously ill loved one.

I couldn’t imagine Val sick. When I was walking on the Town Lake trail regularly on weekends, I’d nearly always see Val running. He and his girlfriend took wonderful vacations — hiking on the Olympia peninsula, scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef, a camel ride to the Great Pyramids.

My boss told me Val learned he had lung cancer in May and took leave, that he’d been on chemo, that he’d come through the first round with encouraging signs of improvement, that he’d been in a lot of pain on Friday, had a good day on Saturday, and died Sunday due to a problem with his stent (where they put the chemo drugs in). He was 50.

I found some old emails from Val with links to his vacation photos. I found one of him in Olympic National Park, wearing a floppy hat, smiling hugely. I printed that photo and taped it to the now-closed door of his office. It  just felt right. I wanted to remember him happy.

A director later sent an email about Val’s passing and used the phrase “absorbing this loss.” I like that. Absorbing a loss is a gradual process, like a sponge soaking up water.

We bring our losses into our memories, and they become part of who we are.

I went to bed that night vividly remembering Val — the way he teased me after seeing me out on a date — how I was so wrapped up in the conversation, I didn’t notice him (Val) trying to get my attention. Seeing him running on the trail on Saturday mornings. How he laughed when I demonstrated lion pose in yoga class last spring. That was the last time I remember seeing him laugh.

I remembered many smaller moments, of passing him in the hallway, a conversation in the kitchen or across his desk, being in a meeting with him. These memories were more about remembering his physical presence.

Tuesday morning when I arrived at work, I immediately noticed a new sound, a cricket. It was in the kitchen, not visible but very audible.

For a split second, I felt annoyed, and then that feeling dropped completely, replaced by happiness that this cricket had decided to visit and hang out in our kitchen and serenade us.

On Wednesday, someone told me that more photos had been added to Val’s door. By Thursday there were maybe a dozen photos of Val. His door had become a shrine.

On Friday my acupuncturist noticed my grief. It manifests on the lung meridian. She helped me with talk and bodywork, but some part just did not want to give it up yet. It was about more than just Val’s death. It was about change: accepting change and making changes.

I took a solitary walk Friday night, reconciling, integrating, absorbing. I needed that.

I remembered seeing Val before he went on leave and noticing that he seemed stressed, tense. I thought it was about a project he was working on.

With hindsight, I know that he was feeling physical discomfort. Pain from lung cancer.

Friday night I had a dream in which a helicopter crashed in front of me. Usually that means dropping denial.

Val must have gotten so fragile in those 10 weeks of battling cancer.

Saturday I attended a celebration of Val’s life at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden. His large family and many people from work came.

Words were said, smiles and hugs shared, tears shed, photos and mementoes displayed, poems read, songs sung, and hands held, under the trees and the big Texas sky.

I am grateful for having lived through this difficult, emotional, contractive and expansive week. I am grateful to Val for sharing my path a little way.

It seems that with every death, we process every previous death and every future death, including our inevitable own. We are more fragile than we like to believe, held together by an arrangement of chemicals and electrical currents, and when our life force moves outside that narrow range, we dissolve and disperse.

I’m so sorry about you losing your health, Val. You are free of pain and suffering now, and for that I am happy for you. I am grateful that you lived a good life, of work and love and adventure, and that I knew you. Thank you for sharing your many gifts.

I am getting out on the river today, doing some paddle-boarding, and doing it for me, doing it because of the model Val provided.

You never know what the future holds.