Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Holding the lost one


Usually when we speak about the shadow, we're referring to less desirable experience such as disowned jealousy, rage, selfishness, and shame. Most often, the shadowy underworld is seen as the dark repository for “negative” aspects of ourselves, i.e., our phobia around intimacy, unacknowledged narcissism, and the full retinue of the ghosts of our unlived lives.

But it is not only negative aspects of the personality that we disavow, split from, and project. Many of us have lost the capacity to access and embody more “positive” experiences such as contentment, pleasure, creativity, sexuality, spontaneity, and awe.

Even the very organic, life-giving capacity to rest, to play, and to explore within the formless, less known areas of consciousness can come to be associated as risky and perilous in the psyche and nervous system, and therefore sequestered into the darkness of the psychic and somatic forests.

Especially tragic (and heartbreaking) is the reality that some of us have become disconnected from the simple experience of joy, cut off from a natural sense of elation at being alive.

I was once working with a man who was suffering from depression. Over time, we discovered together how unsafe it was for him to feel and express joy, how the experience of simple delight, spontaneity, and pleasure had become tangled in his nervous system with danger and threat, and the likelihood of unbearable, painful rupture with critical attachment figures in his life.

During our sessions, there would be times we would become aware of a very authentic, childlike, causeless joy coming to the surface, and how simultaneously some anxiety or even an annihilatory sense of panic would co-arise with the aliveness and the quantum, pregnant nature of what he was touching into.

In response, he would quickly change the subject, generate some sort of conflict between us, “leave” the room and go back into a prior conversation or nervously ask a question, or even just close his eyes and start to meditate. It had become urgent for him to disembody from that level of openness, spontaneity, and simple, playful elation at being alive, especially if he knew that I was witnessing that within him.

After this happened a few times, as the trust deepened between us, we were able to slow way down and become curious together and explore what was happening in those charged moments. Slowly and safely. With any judgment or shame, or some heavy agenda that he be fixed or cured or healed or any of that. There’s no safety in that sort of dense psychic agenda.

What was most essential was that in those moments he have the experience of being felt and understood, repairing those broken circuitries of love, empathy, presence, and warmth, so that he could feel again and express himself in a space of holding and trust.

In this field where he felt safe-enough, he was able access previously unmetabolized images, perceptions, emotions, and bodily sensations, as well as early memories of how his father reacted to the boy’s joy and excitement, responding with aggression and rage, dismissing and rejecting him, demanding that he “grow up” and stop embarrassing the family. And how in response to that, his mother shut down and turned away from him to avoid the conflict.

He felt so lost, alone, unseen, and disallowed to be who and what he is, a man who longs to know joy and to play and dance and explore his body and emotions and relationships – and even the Divine - from this open place.

He came to see how he had equated feeling full of life and natural states of delight, interest, play, and spontaneity with being judged and rejected. Over some time, he began to unwind this organization and was able to slowly re-awaken to this spectrum of experience and touch the natural joy he had disconnected from at an earlier time in his life (for very understandable reasons).

While the “shadow” is often associated with darkness and the unwanted, it is not only “negative” experience that finds its way into the shadow, but any psychic, emotional, or somatic material that has not found an attuned home within the relational field.

To retrieve the lost joyous little boy and girl is an act of love, really, not only for one’s self but for all of life.


Image by Shlomaster

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Resting your nervous system


I’m often asked about the role of the nervous system in healing, and how things like trauma and relational wounding affect our capacity to feel safe, intimate, and connected with life. As well as about the relationship between spiritual transformation, unintegrated emotional-somatic experience, and things like our attachment organization and the effects of early (mis)attunement on the developing brain (and little heart).

I’ve recently created an 18-hour self-guided home study course - Resting Your Nervous System - to explore all this, weaving together teachings and practices from the fields of depth and somatic psychologies, trauma studies, relational neuroscience, and the meditative traditions.

You can work through the course at a pace that is right for you, from the comfort of your own home. The course consists of 12, 90-minute video sessions, each of which include guided practices and exercises, talks and presentations, and responses to commonly asked questions. The material is also offered on audio as well as through written transcripts, which you can download.

Some of the topics covered in the course include:

• The importance of resting the nervous system, especially in uncertain and transitional times
• How any integral approach to our spiritual lives must include awareness of and sensitivity to trauma and relational wounding
• How the felt sense of safety is the foundation for psychological growth and emotional healing
• The essential role of the body in healing, especially in times of overwhelm and stress
• A not-too-technical, experiential understanding of the nervous system and its role in paths of transformation and healing
• A fresh look at what trauma is and how it is more common than we might think
• The relationship between trauma and feeling unsafe, and how “safety” is the ultimate medicine when it comes to trauma recovery
• Trauma, the nervous system, and the workings of implicit, emotional, and bodily memory
• How and why we cannot “think” our way out of trauma and other types of relational wounding
• The meaning of integration and how trauma is a dis-integrating experience, and the need for experiential process in healing the emotional brain
• Neuroplasticity, caring for ourselves in a new way, and the encoding of new neural circuitry
• The role of the “other” in healing - self-regulation and regulating with another
• Neural integration and the importance of linking together the layers of our experience
• The unconscious investment we may have in not healing and honoring the realities and implications of what true healing will always ask of us
• Establishing a list of specific, individualized practices and exercises you can engage in the moment when you notice yourself activated and overwhelmed
• The importance of understanding our own “window of tolerance” and learning to navigate and widen our window over time
• The role of contemplative practices such as mindfulness, breathing, and yoga - and discerning when they are being used in healthy vs. less-than-healthy ways
• How mindfulness- or meditation-based practice is not always the most wise, skillful, or compassionate approach to working with trauma and other relational wounding
• How spiritual beliefs and practices can overwhelm our nervous systems and can also serve as unconscious pathways of self-abandonment and even retraumatization

I find this material to be rich and multi-layered and essential for those of us interested in an embodied, contemporary, emotionally-attuned, trauma-sensitive approach to spirituality and healing, a spirituality that will really filter down into our bodies, relationships, and out into the neural circuitry of the world.

I hope you find the course beneficial, if you do end up joining, and I look forward to staying in touch over the months to come.



Learn more about the course here 

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

The body knows, the heart knows


So many of us feel shame related to our trauma, wounding, and sensitivities, as if they’re evidence that we’ve failed, it’s our fault, that something’s wrong with us, and that we’re broken and beyond repair.

Even if we “know” this isn’t accurate, that cortical knowing is no match for the subcortical fires in our limbic and bodily circuitry, where unmetabolized grief, sadness, and rage dwell as the shattered children of our unlived lives.

The emotional pain is tragic in and of itself, but underneath is a psychic homelessness and deep sense that we’re alone, which is really at the root of trauma. Here, we long and burn for the missing companion.

As human beings, we are wired to co-regulate - to rest, explore, and play within a relational field. We were not crafted to “do it all on our own” - the nervous system that goes with this particular star is one designed to flower in a relational vessel.

We can do so much for one another, to transmute personal, collective, and transgenerational trauma and trance: The words we use, the softness in our eyes, our presence when we listen, taking the time and the care to ensure that the other feels felt and understood.

So many of us are living in a way that has been toned toward a felt sense where it’s just not safe to be who and what we are.

If you want to help someone in your life, start by helping them to feel safe.

While the mind may conclude that a moment of safety is inconsequential, the body knows, the heart knows. If we look carefully, we may see just how that one moment ripples out into the neural circuitry of the world.


Photo by RitaE