Feeling Emotions In Your Body

As I was growing up, I remember crying quite a lot. I guess it’s normal for kids to cry often, especially little girls. Even as a teenager I have many memories of crying myself to sleep at night. It seems sad, but I actually miss those days. Now I go literally years without a single teardrop. That’s a good thing, right? Well, not exactly. Not crying doesn’t necessarily mean you’re happier than if you cry every day. Crying is a release. It’s a release I’ve actually been longing for and unable to find for a long time now.

Until recently I didn’t think too much about it. I figured if I wasn’t crying, I must just not be sad enough. As an adult, I’ve always thought of myself as not a very emotional person. However, as human beings we are all emotional creatures. Unfortunately some of us have just cut ourselves off from those emotions. I don’t necessarily know if it’s a natural defense mechanism in my case, or if it’s because of the SSRI that I’ve been taking for around 6 years now. Perhaps neither, or a combination of both. I suppose the reason doesn’t matter.

It’s only come to my attention lately because I have been working with a few kundalini meditations. For some reason, each time I do one of these practices, I feel this deep pit of emotion open up inside of me afterward. I’ll randomly feel the urge to cry throughout the rest of the day. It feels like there is so much feeling welling up, but still I am unable to fully release that energy. Although I’m sure I need that release, it’s not a pleasant experience. So, true to form, I’ve been shying away from kundalini, despite my interest in it.

With emotion front and center in my mind, I happened to stumble upon a podcast that was talking about just that. The woman being interviewed even described exactly how I’ve been feeling, but haven’t been able to put into words. She said that she never really understood it when people talked about feeling their emotions in their bodies. For her, emotion was always a mental state, not something you necessarily felt physically. She even talked about the way she likes to visualize walking down a staircase from her head into her body in order to find that deeper, primal connection with herself.

After hearing that, it dawned on me that I haven’t been feeling into my body at all for a long time now. I guess part of me even felt powerful and strong for never crying. But courage is sitting with those emotions, not blocking them out. I want to make an effort to really rediscover what it feels like to experience life from my whole being, not simply living in my head all the time. I feel like I’ve been taking this body for granted, not fully embracing it as a part of myself. I’ve somewhat disassociated from my body as I’ve grown older. I’ve lived the last decade or so of my life as if I’m just this floating head, completely disconnected from the physical world.

Even though it feels scary, I’ve been trying to come back to my bodily sensations when I notice myself getting too caught up in my thinking mind. It seems like the only two emotions I feel anymore are anxiety (if that can even be considered an emotion) and anger. So I’m going to start there. I’ve already noticed that allowing yourself to be open to the experience of whatever it is you’re feeling let’s you have the space to really be present with it. It feels much better than trying to avoid or control it.

The next time you feel yourself starting to get overwhelmed, take a few breaths and tap back into your body. Let go of any thoughts you might be having and simply ask yourself, how do I feel right now? What is going on in my body? Maybe your chest feels tight. Maybe your clenching different muscles. There’s no need to try to change what you notice. Just noticing it is enough. Give yourself permission to feel whatever it is. Forgive yourself for the way you feel. Offer yourself compassion. Emotions, even painful ones, are just another part of the human experience. They teach us about ourselves. They connect us to others. They are energy moving through us. Trying to avoid these feelings just causes them to become trapped within us rather than flowing in and out of us like the breeze. Let’s relearn how to let go. Become the curious observer of your own human experience.

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Defining Moments

Each of us have moments throughout our lives that come to define us. It might not even seem like a memorable event at the time, but looking back years later we come to realize that it was an important turning point for us. One of the things I find most beautiful about the human experience is how often some of our darkest hours turn into something to be grateful for down the road. We are able to find resiliency and meaning in the most difficult and harrowing of circumstances.

For some reason, I have really been contemplating my past recently. When I was younger it seemed like my memory was an organized folder of events laid out in order. As I’ve collected more and more experiences though, that folder has become a complete mess with huge sections that seem to be missing entirely. As a child, I was sure I’d want to remember everything about my life and have detailed records to look back on fondly once I was older. However, at some point, maybe around the end of high school, I changed my mind. It felt like I was collecting a lot of notebooks full of worthless musings rather than important accounts of my daily life. Besides, I had yet to feel any need to look back through those early diaries.

Now it seems like I’ve changed my mind yet again. I’m quite distressed by how cluttered and unclear my memory has become. At some point I’d like to start working on a timeline of my life, adding details of whatever form as they come to me. That is a daunting endeavor, but I thought I could at least start by recounting some of the significant, what I would consider “defining moments” of my adult life.

1. Discovering Neuroplasticity

This may seem like a silly, impersonal moment to consider as one that defined who I am now, but looking back I know I would not be where I am today without it. Although my education in psychology has not necessarily been a great financial decision in the long run, it provided me with a wealth of information that is priceless to me. I wanted to study in this field because the brain has always fascinated me. I wanted to understand what is was about me that made me feel so different and separate from everyone else. I wanted to learn what was “wrong” with me and how to fix it.

One of the most impactful, useful pieces of knowledge I collected in this pursuit was the concept of neuroplasticity. From the brief bits of psychology I had learned before that, I had assumed that after a certain age (an age I had already unfortunately passed) the brain stopped developing. I felt hopelessly trapped in the thinking patterns and habits that I had already unconsciously been developing my whole life. I wasn’t happy at the time, so I would never be happy.

Finding out that no matter how old we are we have the ability to actively and intentionally change the pathways in our brains, strengthening and forming new connections, was groundbreaking. For the first time in my life, I really felt like I had control over my own happiness. It gave me the hope and confidence I needed to finally trust in all the woo-woo self help nonsense I had always cast aside as wishful thinking. That was the day my journey to create myself truly began.

2. Hopelessness, Helplessness, and Heartbreak

The second defining moment I had as an adult was losing the love of my life for the second time. Although it happened once before, I felt the second instance was more devastating, more final. When this person came back into my life after years of no contact, I actually cried from sheer joy and gratitude. I still remember wishing I believed in God at the time so I would have someone to properly thank for my unimaginable good fortune. Little did I know that hardly over a month later, I would have been cursing that same God as it all came tumbling down around me.

I won’t get into the details, but when he left that day, the pain was so great that I numbed myself from it. I sat is silence for a long time. I was speechless, directionless. I felt utterly hopeless. I felt no other option other than to surrender to that immense ocean of sorrow before me. But that surrender allowed something beautiful to bloom inside me. It made me realize that clinging to the image of happiness I had always had in my head, wouldn’t make it any more possible. I accepted that perhaps I may never achieve that particular dream.

As heartbreaking as it was to let that dream go, when I did it allowed me the space I needed to realize that what I had been envisioning certainly wasn’t the only possible form of happiness. I knew that I had the ability to craft another, different, yet equally happy life for myself. Even if that life would be one I’d spend alone. At that moment I felt a shift. I felt a swell of energy inside me, urging me not to give up just yet.

This is the night I remember when I hear people talking about their “dark night of the soul.” Painful as it was, it taught me that I am much stronger than I thought I could be. It has given me a new image of my inner strength and resilience. It forced me to finally take the reigns of my own life.

3. Yoga Teacher Training

The previous life events were what I believe ultimately prepared me to delve deeper into my yoga journey. When the stars aligned and I somehow found myself in teacher training, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Before then I thought yoga was just about exercise and flexibility. I was shocked and delighted to find that there was so much more to it than that. I am so grateful for all of the amazing things I learned in teacher training that have helped me to continue to deepen my own practice.

It has even helped repair my relationship with spirituality in general. After years of ardent atheism following a Christian upbringing, I never thought that I would be open to anything anywhere near religion or “faith” ever again. I still consider myself an atheist, but that hostility and hatred I once harbored for anything religious or spiritual has finally faded. Yoga has helped me make peace with a lot of the grey areas of life and make peace with myself in general. It is a privilege and an honor to be able to share what I’ve learned and continue to learn with my students each week.

Overall, the combination of these three events in my life completely changed the trajectory I felt my life was on when I was younger. Contemplating these moments reminds me just how amazing this life really is. Just when I start to feel like I know it all and can predict exactly what will happen for me next, life surprises me yet again. What a beautiful thing it is to be a part of this world. I can’t wait to find out what else the universe has in store for me. Stay curious, keep learning, and be open to everything that comes your way. You never know how important it might be.

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Staring Down Anxiety

Anxiety is a bully. It feeds off of the fear that it creates. The longer you avoid something because of anxiety the harder it becomes to face. Fear is a powerful motivator. It doesn’t really matter if the fear is rational or not. Sometimes anxiety and fear become inseparable. They swell and become monstrous in size, looming over us. We do our best to hide from them. But they are inside of us, so no matter how hard we try, how much we practice, there is nowhere safe to seal ourselves away.

The good news is just like a schoolyard bully, anxiety is easy to defeat. Bullies rule by fear more than might. Standing up to them is all that we really need to do. When we experience anxiety, the body is on high alert. It is telling us to get the fuck out of there. It feels like we will certainly die if we do not somehow escape the situation and the emotions we are feeling. Thankfully, there is still some part of us that knows this is untrue, that these feelings are unfounded.

When we listen to our anxious feelings we are reinforcing the brain’s believe that this fear response was correct. The good news is we don’t have to listen to our anxiety. It feels counterintuitive. Centuries of evolution have programed us to heed these warning signals from inside. Luckily we are intelligent enough to outwit our instincts. Don’t allow your anxiety to bully you anymore. Here’s a little meditation I am working on to help me stand up to my anxiety.

Face Your Fears Meditation

  • Take a deep breath and notice what anxiety feels like in your body. Do you feel tense? Numb? Energized? Do a full body scan and take note of any places you can feel nervous energy in your physical body.
  • Now start to take more deep, conscious breaths. Inhaling for a count of four. Hold for four. Exhale for four. Hold for four. Repeat this cycle a few times.
  • As the nervous system begins to relax, try to release any tense areas you identified earlier.
  • Let the breath return to its natural rhythm as you turn your thoughts to whatever is making you anxious.
  • Visualize yourself accomplishing or overcoming whatever it is you’re anxious about, experience the positive emotions of your success in your body.
  • Imagine what it feels like to be powerful, confident, brave.
  • Imagine how good it will feel to face your fears and overcome your anxious feelings.
  • Repeat to yourself softly, “I am brave. I am brave. I am brave.”
  • Now imagine it has already been done. Your anxiety vanquished, it evaporates.

Feel free to use, edit, or tweak this meditation any way you see fit. If the suggested mantra feels a bit empty or corny to you, pick one that resonates with you more. If that particular form of pranayama doesn’t suit you, incorporate another such as nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breath.) The words and breath you use in a meditation aren’t necessarily important. The most important thing is the emotions you draw forth. If the words courage or bravery don’t make you feel anything, instead you could try to imagine a time when you felt brave or imagine what it would feel like in the future.

At the end of the day, anxiety can only win if we let it. I know you are strong enough to face your anxiety and overcome it. It may never go away, but we can learn how to work with it instead of against it. We get to decide how we perceive this life. For so long now I’ve chosen to view my anxiety as a burden, something that constricts me and holds me back from living the life I want. But I don’t have to look at it that way. Instead, I am going to use my anxiety to my advantage. I don’t have to feel ashamed that things that are easy for others may be quite difficult for me. Each challenge I face, however small, is a gift. It is a chance to step into my own power. It is a chance to believe in myself. It’s an opportunity for triumph, an opportunity to be brave.

Inhale Courage Exhale Fear. Inspiration Support Saying, Motivational Quote.  Modern Calligraphy In Floral Wreath Frame. Stock Vector - Illustration of  concern, panic: 119681270

Psychedelics

Alex Grey 2 - Hads Trippy - Image via Thingstolookathigh com

Yesterday I watched a Ted Talk discussing the effects of psychedelic substances on the brain. I clicked on this video absentmindedly, not really expecting it to tell me anything I hadn’t already heard before. To my surprise I was given new insight into why my psychedelic experiences have been the way they are. It also gave me even more reason to believe that psychedelics really do allow us to connect to some deeper consciousness, a divine connectedness. It is a glimpse beneath the veil of our earthly illusions, and the things we think and perceive in these altered states are perhaps more real than the reality our sober minds produce.

I knew that taking psychedelics altered the way our brains perceive the world. I knew that they break down our biases and inner walls so to speak. They remove the shackles of our well worn neuronal connections and allow us the freedom to explore the vast possibilities of our consciousness and perception. What I didn’t know is that this brain state is very similar to one we’ve all experienced before: childhood. Apparently a child’s brain works in a very similar way to a brain on psychedelics. Isn’t that fascinating? I had often described my experiences with LSD as being a child again in a new world. Nothing is taken for granted. Everything is fascinating and new. There is so much joy and curiosity and discovery to be had.

As children none of us were too enmeshed in certain ways of doing things or seeing the world. There were many more possibilities open to us. As we age, our brains naturally start to sink into patterns, strengthening certain neural networks while allowing other, less used pathways to shrivel and shrink with disuse. Eventually we begin to feel trapped in our ways of thinking and seeing the world. It feels impossible to change or view the world from a fresh perspective. And in reality, while it is still quite possible for us to change, it will be much harder than it might have been when we were younger.

Imagine a cart being pulled over the soft earth. Once you’ve made tracks in the dirt, it is easier to follow those tracks again. The more you follow those particular tracks though, the deeper they become. Eventually it will be quite difficult to make new tracks or break out of the ones we have been taking. A child’s mind is an image of virgin land, no tracks, no footprints even, just a great expanse of possibility and wonder. This is one of the reasons, I believe, that adults tend to enjoy children so much. While our own minds may feel incapable of breaking free of our patterns on their own, spending time with a child is sure to be full of surprises and new experiences. Children have the ability to pull us in new directions we would have never considered on our own. Kids are funny. Kids are weird. Kids are surprising, unpredictable even. That is the magic of a newly developing brain. That is the magic we may all experience again for ourselves with the help of psychedelics.

This comparison to a child’s mind helps explain a lot of the experiences I’ve had with LSD. The idea that psychedelics are able to break down our preconceived ways of seeing the world only strengthens my conviction that the feelings and truths I’ve experienced in that altered state of mind are real. LSD isn’t making me hallucinate or become delusional. LSD helps me to break through the illusions that I live inside of. It helps me see the world for what it is again, through fresh eyes, with the innocence and imagination of a child. I don’t for a second believe it’s a coincidence that one of the reoccurring perceptions people come away from a psychedelic experience with is that we are all connected. There is a powerful feeling of connectedness, contentment, joy, peace, trust. It is reconnecting with the wisdom of the universe, a deep sense of reassurance that everything is as it should be. There is also the ever present image that everything in life is a cycle, and that it’s okay to have faith in and surrender to that cycle. Now more than ever, I feel confident in that belief.

Alex Grey's “Gaia” | Pinkocrat

The Weight of Our Actions

I was watching some show the other day and there was a scene depicting a kid being bullied. This led me into a long reverie about when I was younger and all of the cruel acts I witnessed or was the target of in school. I particularly remember being made fun of one day for drawing anime in class. Even though this was a mild mockery and only happened one time, it led me to stop drawing for years. Back then I would have done anything to just not be noticed.

I began pondering the vast difference in experience between the two parties involved in bullying. To the bully, it is pretty meaningless. It seems like just a way to pass the time or have a laugh. It isn’t a significant moment in the bully’s life by any means. However, to the one being bullied, it can be a life-changing experience. It can change them forever. It cuts so deep. It leaves emotional, if not physical, scars. I doubt most bullies ever stop to consider this inequity of experience. While it may mean little to nothing to them if they were to just not pick on someone, the target of this attack could be spared so much anguish.

This lead me to thinking about how this might apply in other areas of life. As I don’t bully people, I wondered how I might still be able to use this insight myself. I started to consider all of the things that my mother would always pester me to do as a kid. Clean the cat’s litter box, put my shoes away, put my clothes in the hamper, wash the dishes. I get so frustrated with my past self for being so obstinate and inconsiderate. It would have taken me only a few minutes to do all of those things. I had plenty of free time. No job, school was always easy. I spent most of my time lounging around watching TV. Yet I couldn’t be bothered to do these tiny little things that would have meant so much to my poor, overworked, under-appreciated mother. I want to kick myself every time I think about it.

At the time, of course, I didn’t consider this at all. I was just thinking about myself. I started to wonder if there were still things like this that I overlook. Are there still tiny things that I could be doing that would mean the world to those around me? The answer is yes. Sometimes it’s just the gesture itself that counts.

Whenever I am at work and I go wash out my coffee mug, I will also wash any other stray dishes in our communal sink. And sometimes my coworkers repay the favor, washing my mug before I get the chance to. I don’t think any of us would be overly burdened by washing our own mug once a day, but it is still touching each time I find it already washed. There are small acts of love and consideration like this waiting for us everywhere.

Perhaps you just got a bonus at work and have extra cash so you leave a generous tip for your waitress even though she was struggling to provide good service because she was new. You might not think twice about this event, but the waitress may be moved to tears. You never can tell what small acts of kindness like this could mean to someone.

I hope to carry this out in my own life in the form of a game. Just a lighthearted excuse to be creative and find new ways that, with minimal effort, I can spread maximum kindness. It might look like cleaning the snow off of my neighbors car in the morning after I do mine. Perhaps it’s giving some undivided attention to my pets when I first get home instead of immediately getting distracted by something else. Maybe it’s making a point to leave positive reviews online when I truly enjoy a place or product. All of these things would be simple enough, and not be burdensome to me by any means. But it could make or break someone else’s day, month, or even year! Imagine what it would be like if we all took the time to find these little opportunities for spreading goodwill in our lives. Let’s all try to do at least one small thing like this every day. It’ll be fun.