Friday, July 7, 2017

The rewiring of neural circuitry

It takes practice to rewire neural circuitry, to re-encode pathways with empathy, attunement, and compassion. Unfortunately, for most this foundation was not available; there was not a holding environment that could contain, dance, and play with the magic of a little emotional being.

Intellectual understanding, while important, is not enough. It takes action in the moment, a new response to the eruption of dysregulating thoughts and feelings, over time, to reorganize the nervous system and re-author a new, more integrated narrative about who we are.

The good news is that you can begin right now, no matter what is going on in your life. Instead of urgently seeking relief, become curious about the unique ways you become activated in relationship. Instead of falling into the habitual extremes of dissociation and fusion, enter into communion with the burning, the charged, and the claustrophobic, unresolvable alive world of feeling.

The journey of metabolization occurs in stages, which we cannot skip. Initially, we must train ourselves to stay with the intensity for very short periods of time, titrating and pendulating the overwhelming thoughts and feelings, going back and forth testing our window of tolerance. Slowly, we discover that even though it may feel otherwise, we can endure this material. Our survival is not actually being threatened. Before we can begin to move deeper, we must first know in an experiential way that staying with it is not going to take us down.

Once the nervous system has the experience that it can tolerate very small doses, we then stay for two seconds, instead of one. We move from merely “tolerating” to starting to contain it, realizing it is not some enemy coming at us from the outside, but a lost aspect of ourselves, longing to be allowed home.

Once contained, we can begin the journey of accepting it. Not “acceptance” in that we are condoning or settling for something – or that we “like” it or “want” it to stay – but in the sense of a fiery, compassionate willingness. We are willing to experience what has come, finally, for we sense that resisting what is, this whole play of experiential avoidance, is the root cause of nearly all our psychological suffering.

We are no longer willing to abandon ourselves. No, I’m not going to do that any longer. Even though it takes everything in me, I am going to move toward my vulnerability and care for it, re-encoding a new pathway. Even though I will not be “perfect” at it and likely “fail” over and over again, I will remain steadfast in my vision.

This is where the work shifts to a more heart practice, where we aren’t as interested in clear insight and pure awareness, safe as a witness on the sidelines, but rather begin to explore what it would actually mean to open our hearts to our pain. To hold it like a mother surrounding and enveloping her baby. This can be pretty radical and truly goes against the grain. We start to bring kindness to the feelings, to the parts of ourselves we had to disown at an earlier time.

It just moves on from there, with deeper and more integrated forms of awareness, compassion, and exploration, traveling into the core of whatever arises and touching it with our hearts. Eventually we may even come to love our triggers, longing to hold them and know their subtleties, standing in awe at the opportunity to learn more about love as it comes into form.

Depending on the degree of trauma and dysregulation, this work is often best done within a safe (yet provocative) relational container, where we can make use of an attuned other’s calm and soothed nervous system to help contain, hold, and integrate this material. That’s not to say that we cannot do a lot on our own. It is kind to allow ourselves to at times turn to another for help, while at other times to stay contained and practice on our own.

In this way we can become vehicles of love in action, knowing that this work we are doing is never for ourselves alone. But is for life everywhere.

My new book – The Path Is Everywhere: Uncovering the Jewels Hidden Within You – is now available 

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