We are all born with an innate knowledge of what we need and what we want. It would seem that for many adults, we have lost touch with these inner mechanisms. One of the very first things that I share with my students is to learn how to re-establish a dialogue with these inner mechanisms within their bodies. Instead of going into stories, explanations and narratives about why things are the way they are; we instead talk about the physical sensations that result from these experiences.
Our minds like to categorize experiences in an effort to make sense of things and often, at least on a subconscious level, an experience that we are having now will trigger something in the mind, somehow linking it to an event from our past. If you smell a chocolate cake baking in the oven, you may be reminded of a previous occasion or occasions when you enjoyed eating chocolate cake. On a different level however, a colleague may express a need to speak with you. Based on their body language, you may feel a sense of unease as your mind decides, based on past experience that the conversation is probably about something negative. Whether your perception is true or not doesn’t matter. Your body reacts on a chemical level to what you perceive to be true in this moment and a cycle begins.
Like a storm that rapidly builds, there are warning signs in the initial phases that you can become aware of. Based on your own neurological patterning, you will likely feel something physically first. It might be a tightening of your chest or throat, a gripping in your stomach, an increase in body temperature or sweating. From there, you may experience a surge of adrenaline and feel a quickening in your heart or an increase in your blood pressure. Depending on your past experiences and what your mind is associating the current experience with, you will have your own unique pattern. In a sense, this is the calm before the storm of thoughts and emotions that will begin to craft the explanation and story for why you are feeling this way. Given enough time, you may begin to imagine the conversation that you will have with your co-worker and so on, until you are fully in the storm of thoughts and emotions that may consume you.
Many of us have been given the message that we shouldn’t feel ‘bad’ or ‘negative’ emotions. And our culture tends to encourage the stifling of behavior that falls outside of socially accepted levels of sarcasm, blasé and humour. We are encouraged to entertain or distract ourselves when we feel depleted and to numb ourselves when we feel uncomfortable. But if we can become knowledgeable about our patterns that rear up when we encounter trigger situations, we can create new patterns for ourselves that allow us to live our lives with freedom, ease and a sense of lightness.
And this begins by tapping into the physical sensations that we feel. Notice the patterns that you have throughout your day. How are you seated? Are you gripping or clenching any of your muscles? How are you breathing? What do you feel physically in your body?
There is a mistaken concept around meditation that it is about turning off your thoughts and controlling your mind. Like everything else, we have ideas about what meditation should be like and who it is for. Because of this, you may have an idea in your head that you are too stressed out to meditate, that you couldn’t sit still or that it would drive you crazy or be horribly boring.
What I would like to suggest to you is something a little more pragmatic. You can say, “I have had enough today.” You can acknowledge that you feel stressed or spread thin, frustrated, tired, angry, or sad. You can give yourself permission to feel whatever it is you are feeling. A study in British Columbia showed that students are showing less empathy these days and the hypothesis around why this is so, was based on the fact that children are not given enough empty pockets of time in their days anymore. Their little schedules are as packed and chaotic as our adult ones. Give yourself permission to clear your schedule, even if only for 5 minutes between meetings. Go in the bathroom stall and shut the door. Sit in your car with the music off. And once you are there, instead of trying to force yourself into a different state of mind, instead of fighting with how you are actually feeling; close your eyes and allow yourself to feel the physical sensation. Don’t try to change it in anyway but allow yourself to feel it. Let yourself notice your patterns that exist.
From there keep your awareness on what you are feeling and if the sensation changes, let your awareness naturally shift to that new sensation. It may be helpful for you to label the sensation you feel. Just avoid investigating it beyond that. Let go of the story or narrative behind the sensation and just feel the sensation in its pure form.
If an emotion comes up, do the same thing. You can name it but avoid the story behind it. Drop into the emotion and let yourself feel it.
Thoughts can be tricky as they come in a torrent but even then, what is the flavor of the thought? Is it based in worry, fear, or planning? Name it and let yourself feel the essence behind the flood of words.
In my experience with stress and anxiety and all the joys of dealing with other humans, I have found that the more I practice these techniques; the more able I am to notice the initial triggers that set me off. As I learn my patterns more and more, I have found that I often can nip the storm in the bud before it begins. I can say “I have had enough today” and taking some quiet time for myself to sit with the physical sensations that are unique to my own psyche, they seem to dissolve, more quickly on some days than others. I find myself having a stronger dialogue with what I need and want in a given situation and more aware of the situations that tend to trigger a reaction in the first place. This is empowering for me and I find I am able to go into situations that were previously terrifying for me with a great deal of more ease, confidence and freedom.
Stefani Wilton and Contributors
Finding beauty in the midst of joyous imperfection