Half a shade safer

Anxiety. It’s more contagious than the coronavirus. Are you feeling it? I am.

I came up with a strategy to relieve it.

And it’s working.

Because anxiety, which I think of as prolonged, low-level fear, isn’t healthy for human beings like you and me.

There’s a sort of warp in our evolution as human beings.

Once upon a time, our autonomic nervous systems sent us into fight-or-flight mode when we perceived danger — often before our conscious minds were even aware of a predator. Because there’s part of our brain that’s always scanning for danger. It’s there to help us survive. It’s instinctive.

On perceiving a threat, our bodies would tense up. Our vision would narrow. Our hearts would pound. Our blood would flow to our limbs. We would fight or we would flee.

And when we weren’t in danger, we felt safe. We relaxed. Our hearts slowed down. Our breathing slowed. We could see widely again. Our blood flowed to our organs. We rejoined the tribe.

Our bodies then had the resources to recover, repair damage, restore our metabolisms to healing mode.

I don’t recall the source, but I read somewhere that the early members of our species spent about 4 hours a day hunting and gathering. The rest of the time, they were hanging out in groups or tribes, playing, talking, taming wolves, preparing food, making clothing, making weapons, watching the clouds and the stars, praying, doing rituals, bonding with their community on whom they all depended.

Yet their lifespans were shorter. Many more infants and children died than now. They faced floods and famines, as well as predators and warring tribes.

Their lives were filled with more uncertainties and threats to survival than ours.

I have a hunch that people who were that close to survival felt gratitude for each new day. Gratitude for having food and fire and a good hunt and each other. Gratitude for the times when they were safe, for peace.

Fast forward to today’s times. We’re not out in the sunshine all day, walking around and soaking up Vitamin D. We’re breathing conditioned air inside buildings, looking out windows. We work twice as many hours as our early ancestors. We have a money economy, modern medicine, cars, Social Security.

The threats to our survival are not hungry predators any more. (Well, except when they are angry or terrified or numb human predators, especially those with guns.)

Our nervous systems weren’t built for prolonged fear, a constant sense of not being at ease, anxiety. This leads to adrenal exhaustion, which saps our energy and is exhausting without any truly restorative rest.

Maybe what we teach ourselves now about managing our own anxiety will help our species as a whole evolve past fear-based reactivity and toward a caring kind of responsibility, for our own well-being and that of others.

What makes you feel anxious? The virus? The economy? The wildfires? The election? Conspiracy theories? Race-based violence? Armed white supremacists? Antifa? The news? Karens and Chads? Maskless people? People whose anxieties have gotten the better of them? People who don’t see we’re all part of one tribe, humanity? People so anxious they can’t listen or reason?

There’s a lot OUT THERE to feel anxious about. And anxiety means we experience it IN HERE.

Take a moment to check in. Where are you? What are your surroundings at this very moment?

Are you actually SAFE in this moment?

If you have the leisure to read this, I’m guessing you are.

How does being SAFE feel in your body?

Here’s what I notice in my body.

I feel my body weight sinking into the mattress. I feel my back and legs pressing the mattress, and the top part of my body feeling cooler air. Also, that one foot that’s outside the sheets feels cooler.

I notice my chest and abdomen rising and falling as I breathe.

I hear my fingers on the keyboard.

I see my hands, the iPad keyboard and screen, the pillow they are sitting on, the tangled sheets and foot beyond that.

I see windows on either side of me, a mirror and shelf across the room, and an open closet door, and my tea on the nightstand.

I hear cicadas droning, cardinals chirping, keyboard sounds, and distant traffic.

I feel safe.

~~

The other night, I woke multiple times. My mind was thinking anxious thoughts. It was hard to get back to sleep.

Some nights are like that. Maybe it was the caffeinated tea I drank in the afternoon.

It’s not like I live in a bubble. I take precautions to prevent getting and spreading the virus. One of my family members had it — thankfully, it turned out to be a very mild case. I’m on social media. I check the news. I abhor the violence and hatred I learn about. I worry about the presidential campaign, the election, the aftermath, climate change, the possibility of a really bad economic crash.

These times are filled with uncertainty.

And a good night’s sleep means so very much in terms of having the ability to manage well.

So I tried something different. When an anxious thought arose, I said to myself, “This is just an anxious thought.”

I’d feel how it felt in my body. The tension, the unpleasantness.

Then I’d take a deep breath and let my THINKING mind take a little break by turning my attention to SENSING.

I’d feel my bodyweight pressing into the mattress and pillow. I’d feel the rhythm of breathing. I’d recognize that I was in my home, in my bed, and that there were no immanent threats to my safety. (Except those anxious thoughts.)

And I’d tell myself, “I AM SAFE.”

A few rounds of this every time an anxious thought arose, and I finally went back to sleep.

Since that experience, I’ve really been honing in on what it’s like to feel safe.

It feels good.

I am grateful.

(Apologies to David Whyte for a play on the title of his latest series, Half a Shade Braver.)

Seeing differently, peripheral awareness, Carlos Castaneda, joy, lessons

This post is to let you know that I’m doing a short presentation entitled “Seeing Differently” at Austin’s first Free Day of NLP tomorrow. The event will take place at Soma Vida, 1210 Rosewood in East Austin from 9 am until 4 pm. You can come and go as you desire.

I’m on at 2 pm. If you’re on Facebook and want an invitation or to see the whole schedule, send me a message!

Because I only have 10 minutes, we’ll do some exercises so attendees can experience seeing differently rather than go into the science and history of it. Afterwards, I’ll be available for questions and insights.

The basic premises are:

  1. Although we humans have two ways of seeing, foveally (focused) and peripherally, our peripheral visual capabilities are underused and can be developed.
  2. These two ways of seeing have different neurological wiring and create different states/experiences of awareness. Thus using peripheral vision creates peripheral awareness.
  3. Developing peripheral awareness can result in natural altered states of consciousness in which we experience less anxiety and more joy.
  4. Practicing peripheral awareness gives us more resources in life, whether it’s seeing a bigger picture than customary, feeling more centered/grounded/solid in your body, enhancing your other senses, being better at sports and martial arts, and finding your way around in the dark!

I believe this is what Carlos Castaneda was getting at with the following quotes:

Everybody falls pray to the mistake that seeing is done with the eyes. Seeing is not a matter of the eyes. Seeing is alignment and perception is alignment. Seeing is learned by seeing.

When you see, there are no longer familiar features in the world. Everything is new. Everything has never happened before. The world is incredible!

To perceive the energetic essence of things means that you perceive energy directly. By separating the social part of perception, you’ll perceive the essence of everything. Whatever we are perceiving is energy, but since we can’t directly perceive energy, we process our perception to fit a mold. This mold is the social part of perception, which you have to separate.

I first encountered peripheral awareness in my evolutionary NLP training with teacher Tom Best, who learned it from the master, Nelson Zink. Katie Raver (creator of Free Day of NLP) and I co-ran a meet-up in Austin a few years ago in which we taught people to do peripheral walking.

The way I teach it, there are three parts: peripheral awareness, peripheral walking, and night walking.

I’m now offering lessons combining peripheral awareness and walking in my private practice, teaching 1-3 people at a time how to do it, using downtown trails. You can book a lesson online at http://thewell.fullslate.com.

What I’m reading, April 2013

Taking stock of books I’m currently reading, just read, or soon to start:

The Reality of Being: The Fourth Way of Gurdjieff by Jeanne de Salzmann. My Fourth Way  group undertook reading this book aloud together. De Salzmann was one of Gurdjieff’s long-time students. She wrote about his teachings in a straightforward way, making them understandable and accessible. Her heirs found her undated notes after she died at 101 and published them a couple of years ago.

The book is about waking up the Essential Self. There are many, many passages I could share, but this one is from early in the book:

Gurdjieff taught the necessity of self-observation, but this practice has been mostly misunderstood. Usually when I try to observe, there is a point from which the observation is made, and my mind projects the idea of observing, of an observer separate from the object being observed. But the idea of observing is not the observing. Seeing is not an idea. It is an act, the act of seeing…it is an experience that can take place only if there is no separation between what sees and what is seen….

Next up for my book group is Practical Work on Self, by E.J. Gold. After that, we’ll be reading Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson: All and Everything, by Gurdjieff , which will probably take us two years, accompanied by a commentary.

On my own, I’m currently reading Gurdjieff: Making a New World by J.G. Bennett, about Gurdjieff’s searches for ancient wisdom (which has me using Google Maps to get familiar with the geography mentioned — Gurdjieff traveled from the Caucasus region to Egypt, Ethiopia, Tibet, Siberia, Italy, and points between in his searches, done on foot, horseback, and by rail before 1915).

Before starting Beelzebub’s Tales, I plan to  read In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching by P.D. Ouspensky, an account of his teachings by an early student.

I’m also interested in reading J.G. Bennett’s book Enneagram Studies to learn more about Gurdjieff’s understanding of the enneagram. He used the enneagram symbol extensively, but I’m not sure how it relates to the system of understanding the fixations that keep us asleep.

It’s not hard to understand the attraction of someone who believes wellness must include body, mind, heart, and spirit to the Fourth Way of Gurdjieff. I like the format of my group: We take turns reading, engage in discussion, do exercises.

I’m interested in Gurdjieff’s teachings, but I wouldn’t call myself a follower. I’m more of an explorer seeking wisdom. By the way, although he was fluent in Turkish, Greek, Armenian, Russian, and other languages, Gurdjieff didn’t write in English, and apparently a lot of what he wrote was embellished for teaching purposes and not necessarily straightforward, so to understand his teachings, it helps to read what his students wrote.

I do think he was a remarkable man and urge anyone interested in his life and teachings to at least see the film Meetings with Remarkable Men, or read his book of the same name, an account of his search for ancient spiritual wisdom.

Another book on my nightstand is called mBraining: Using Your Multiple Brains to Do Cool Stuff, by Marvin Oka and Grant Soosalu. It includes recent findings in neuroscience about the head, heart, and gut brains and how using these multiple brains can increase intuition and wiser decision-making. The authors’ background is Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), cognitive linguistics, and behavioral modeling.

Our modern culture emphasizes the head brain. We try to think our way out of problems. Farming and civilization have been around for 12,000 years, and we are still killing each other. We are now ruining the planet we live on. In my opinion,  more intelligences are direly needed! I would surely like to have more resources, to use my multiple brains appropriately and experience less conflict, more intuition, better decisions…

So how do you tell which brain is operating? How do you know which brain is best suited for a given situation? How do you know when they’re not working together? How can you strengthen the brain you use the least? How can you ensure all three brains are in alignment for important decisions, relationships, and well-being?

Read the book and learn!

I’m in a different book group reading a book unrelated to the above books except as it applies to my quality of life. We are reading Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence to become knowledgeable and mindful about the role of money in our lives. We use a study guide (available for $5 from The Simple Living Network) developed for groups using the book to start on the path toward financial freedom. We meet seven times.

So far, I’ve added up my lifetime earnings (way more than I thought), started tracking every cent that comes in and out, started an inventory of my possessions, calculated my real hourly wage, and come up with a way to determine whether my spending is fulfilling and aligned with my values.

The authors have gotten feedback that after implementing the nine steps, people have reduced their expenses by 25 percent within 6 months and say their quality of life has gone way up. I’m finding this very helpful since I’ve transitioned from being an employee with a regular paycheck to being self-employed.

I’m also making my way through a couple of bodywork books, which I’ll write about another time.

If you’re reading this, you’re a reader. May you find books that nourish you!