As we await the end of this long winter, as we learn to maintain presence in a world that appears to be going mad, and as we deal with our own private lives and the issues we personally face, we might be experiencing spiritual, emotional, and mental discomfort more acutely. I have chatted with a few people in the last couple of weeks who have shared that they have been experiencing low-level anxiety, agitation, anger, and depression, for what appears to be no reason.
When people ask me, “How do I get rid of this?”, one of the first questions I like to ask is, “How does this experience feel in your body?” In other words, where do you feel tension or discomfort, irritation or inflammation in your physical body when you are aware of these feelings? What does it feel like? How do you respond to these physical expressions?
Turning toward the body and extending it care and rest can have a huge effect on the experiences listed above. It is unusual for most of us to do this however, because we are a thinking species. We are quite proud of our mental faculties and our abilities to analyze and plan and fix and solve. When these uncomfortable feelings arise, we tend to go to the mind for answers to “fix” whatever is “broken,” bypassing the body altogether.
Always be willing to question the premise.
What if nothing is broken when these experiences come? What if there is nothing to fix because these experiences play an important role in our expansion and evolution? What if everything is exactly as it should be? What if, instead of going to the mind to ask, Why is this happening? How do I make it stop? we chose to be present, focus on the breath, and get in touch with our body?
Choosing to pay attention to the body can help us ground and connect more deeply to our Heart. The mind can take a rest. We can stop thinking for a second, stop analyzing, and stop wondering why or asking how. When we are focusing on care of the body, our attention is diverted from self-judgment. And we can give the brain a little break from trying to form an escape plan.
Many times over the years, when I have shared that I had a cold, felt blue, threw my back out, had a headache, or stubbed my toe with well-intentioned fellow healers, I have been asked, “What do you think the root emotional/mental/spiritual cause might be?” Many believe that mental and physical maladies are untreated subtle energetic imbalances in almost all, if not all cases. The idea is that if we identify the emotional, mental, or spiritual imbalance, by identifying it and then healing it, we resolve the physical issue.
On the face of it, it makes sense. I think how we go about it might not. What this well-intentioned inquiry does is remove me from my physical body and places me in the seat of the mind through self-inquiry. It puts me in the roles of Identifier and Fixer – mind activities – when my body is asking me to be with the body. Awareness is wonderful and can be very healing. I believe in the power of self-inquiry and a willingness to be with and examine myself. But I believe there is a time and a place for this and that it must be done through the Heart. When the body is crying out, when a person feels like they are in survival mode – this is the time for rest, love, support, compassion, grace, and above all else – no judgment.
And sometimes a stubbed toe is just a stubbed toe. We are human beings living a human life on this planet where everything we do affects one another and sometimes stuff happens. Determining whether or not an experience is a “stuff happens” moment, or the result of imbalance in the subtle anatomy, for me, involves surrender and time. If there is something deeper to explore, there is no forcing it. To become aware of the unconscious, “deeper” underlying issues that might be present, I have to trust that I will become aware of those when they are ready to appear. In the meantime, I care for my stubbed toe, stay present, and breathe.
My personal experience – with depression, anxiety, sadness, grief, and more – has taught me that there is no real and lasting escape plan that the mind can offer and that there is no eradicating the issue through the mind. In fact, trying to out-think (run away from) an uncomfortable experience can intensify and draw out the experience. I think this is because the energy wants to be seen and acknowledged through the Heart with compassion and faith. Sometimes a willingness to stay in the room and be with that feeling is all it takes for it to dissipate. Other times the energy desires more attention and time, and if we allow that – if we surrender to it, the experience is a lot less painful. There is more grace and compassion present.
My recent reminder….
A few weeks ago, on a Thursday, depression descended out of nowhere. It had been years since I felt that plummet but suddenly down, down, down I was falling, unable to breathe deeply into my toes and suddenly unable to bring myself to care about, well, anything. I couldn’t make weekend plans with my husband because I didn’t care and I didn’t foresee a moment when I’d be getting out of my chair in the near future. My brain started to send warning messages, “If you don’t snap out of this, your students and clients are going to get upset!” and “Oh no, remember last time? This could last WEEKS!” But it was too late – I couldn’t care. It’s not that I didn’t care. I literally couldn’t care – about anything. Depression is a strange and difficult thing to experience let alone explain.
I had been here before. I recognized it immediately. Though I was surprised that it felt the need to visit, I shrugged, opened the door, invited it in, made it sit right in front of me so that I could look it in the eye and acknowledge it. “Hi. You’re here. It’s been a while. I see you.” And then I let myself off the hook, trusting that nothing lasts forever – even when it feels like it will never end (kind of like this past winter). I chose to focus on my physical body, turn the mind-games off, and just exist as-is. I decided to be be with that energy as long as it wanted to stick around. I decided to be kind to myself in the process.
Over the next couple of days I noticed moments when my mind would try to sneak in and “take care of it.” How can we get rid of it? How can we heal it? What’s wrong with you, Tana, that this is here? Identify that and BAM! Problem solved! Each time my brain tried to elbow its way in, I felt the sensation – or lack of sensation actually – weigh more heavily. I backed off each time, saying, “I see you, you are here and I am here and we are here together.” I stayed with it, giving it and myself compassion and grace.
On Sunday evening of that same weekend, just as quickly as it arrived, it left. I caught my breath and I suddenly felt everything again – concern, awareness, motivation, responsibility, desire, movement, appreciation. I also noticed something re-enter which I wasn’t aware of before the depression visited: feelings of insecurity I had been holding, worry that I was inadequate in a certain area of my life, and anger seated from a place of judgment I was holding against myself which I was extending , as tends to happen, to others. In this particular case – there were underlying issues that I wasn’t aware of that wanted to be brought into the Light for healing. I can promise you that had I tried to force myself to make inquiries or tried to “fix” the depression, I would have missed the awareness that arose as the depression lifted.
That experience lead to writing this blog post, Burning Man – on being a healer and our responsibility to self, in which I share, “Love and Light” is a phrase often used. And it can have tremendous potency when uttered by a person who is intimately aware of their own capacity for “Hate and Darkness,” as well as all the energies in between. I have since learned that nothing can truly be swept under the rug or warded off with spells or talismans. The energy is present and it wants to be seen. This is the Age of the Mirror.”
People sometimes look at me like I’m crazy. “Just BE with it? That’s your big solution? That’s how you heal?” Yes. It’s part of my healing. And it took years of clearing thought forms and beliefs, of learning how to ground in my own body, of experiencing the Heart and learning how to become more and more intimate with and trusting of it before I could “just” be with it. I fought it for a long time. There were a lot of thoughts and beliefs I needed to clear or transmute. The experiences of depression and anxiety showed up for me time and time again – giving me ample opportunity to lean into them and learn how to exist differently, how to shift my perspective, how to surrender and find in that surrendering great freedom.
I relied on mentors and guides and healers and teachers who helped me to reframe or release my inquiries, to show me where my thinking was blinding me from the Light of my Heart. It was a group effort, make no mistake. Can we go it alone? Sure. Sometimes we even have to. When we can ask for help though, I believe we thrive when we do. Asking for help is a lesson unto itself. As much as we’re wired to think our way through “problems,” we’re also conditioned go it alone. But that doesn’t make it the ideal way of being in the world. We’re allowed to buck the system. In fact, I strongly encourage it.
If you’ve been struggling with finding your footing in the midst of challenging emotional, mental, and spiritual experiences, I encourage you to reach out. Find a heart-centered mentor, healer, coach, guide, counselor – someone with compassion and grace, who understands the role of the mind in relation to the Heart, someone who will be neutral and honest with you. Someone who will help you see the gifts of self-care, as well as self-inquiry. Someone who will help you consider when to cut yourself some slack and when you can dig deep. You can begin this search simply by asking your Source to send someone your way. Healing – it can be simple. And sometimes it is not. Both are accepted. Be kind to yourself in the meantime, and don’t forget to breathe.
One of the Practicum Assignments I ask practitioner candidates to complete is an essay that poses the following questions: “What does it mean to you to be a healer? How has your understanding of this role changed throughout the course? What responsibilities do you believe you have to yourself and to each of your clients as a healer?”
I ask this question because it’s important to get clarity about the roles the ego and the Heart might be playing as we begin to work with others. It is important to realize that our personal healing work is not complete and that in fact, the practice of healing we are about to embark upon is one of the biggest Mirrors we will face in our lives.
When I first started working with others in my healing practice, I was a different person than I am now. I took too much responsibility and in all of the wrong areas. I assumed too much. I spoke a lot of things at people and I didn’t ask enough questions. Subconsciously, I created goals for each of my clients. “They should be X instead of Y for optimal living and we have to get them there.”
I didn’t see that I was working from an immature perspective. I couldn’t see that truth because I hadn’t yet burned myself up – not enough anyway. Because make no mistake, I’ll never be done burning.
Being a candle is not easy; in order to give light one must burn first.
My candle was still fairly new looking.
I have experienced Grace through many experiences over the years. These experiences have shown me that healing isn’t about performance. There are no benchmarks to success. Healing isn’t a simplistic cause-and-effect, one-and-done experience. Healing is a process of becoming more and more familiar with the self, bringing forth all of our difference aspects, including what we might label the “shadows,” with gentle compassion and inviting each into the Light. Sometimes to be integrated. Sometimes to be released – to burn. Not having done enough of that in the early years myself, there was no way I could offer myself as a witness holding a space of compassion for others in their own burning.
That’s not to say it was all for naught. How else do we learn but by being in the experience? In each session, with each client, there was a give and take: each of us learned something from the other and in so doing, learned something about ourselves so that we might bring an aspect of ourselves into the Light. So that we might sit down with that aspect and look it fully in the face and say, “Hi, I see you. It’s nice to meet you. I’d love to know more about you – to truly see you so that you might be integrated more fully into my experiences, in a healthier way.”
“Love and Light” is a phrase often used. And it can have tremendous potency when uttered by a person who is intimately aware of their own capacity for “Hate and Darkness,” as well as all the energies in between. I have since learned that nothing can truly be swept under the rug or warded off with spells or talismans. The energy is present and it wants to be seen. This is the Age of the Mirror. In my brief lifetime, never before has the collective consciousness been so exposed. And we have never been so ripe for our own healing – if we are willing to see ourselves in “the other.” To see ourselves not as separate or above or better than or smarter than – but to see ourselves as a part of our community – the whole, inclusive community.
In our personal work of healing – of Being Deeply with Ourselves – full of Grace and Compassion, we walk into the darkness sometimes. The grace and compassion, which sees and quells the Fear, comes from walking into the darkness, holding our candle with one hand and offering our other hand to our neighbor. (Feel free to bring a backpack of extra candles).