We recognize ourselves and the world through shapes. For the purpose of this discussion, let us look at the meaning of shapes.
1.(n.) To adapt to a purpose; to regulate; to adjust; to direct; as, to shape the course of a vessel.
2.(n.) Form of embodiment, as in words; form, as of thought or conception; concrete embodiment or example, as of some quality.
3.(n.) A piece which has been roughly forged nearly to the form it will receive when completely forged or fitted.
4.(v. i.) To suit; to be adjusted or conformable.
5.(n.) To design; to prepare; to plan; to arrange.
6.(n.) Dress for disguise; guise.
7.(n.) That which has form or figure; a figure; an appearance; a being.
8.(n.) To image; to conceive; to body forth.
9.(n.) A model; a pattern; a mold.
10.(n.) To form or create; especially, to mold or make into a particular form; to give proper form or figure to. (http://thinkexist.com/dictionary/meaning/shape/)
We look at these letters and recognize its shapes. We look at the furniture in the room, the models of vehicles, the songs and the evocations of emotions and thoughts. There is an agreed basis that we don't question daily, but which we take for granted as the building basis of this reality. Similarly, we carry and present ourselves as shapes. Friends and family recognize as to what has been established and familiar. Strangers often peg us into a stereotype of what presents itself in the moment, for example from the way we dress or hold our stature whether uprightly or sloppily. We recognize ourselves through familiar shapes as well. We know we are sad when we feel a particular shape, heart aching, or recognize anger because of the heat and sudden compactness in our bodies. Similarly wonder presents itself as a particular configuration in our bodies and our faces light up.
When we come to this world, we are open to being informed. The way we hold our bodies, emote and think are directly correlated to our time and place. As I work within generations of the same family, I see similar ways children, parents and grandparents hold their sternums and lower backs. I note the trajectory of their affect to not be too different from each other. The adage "the apple doesn't fall very far from the tree" has proven to be more true than not. Unless we stop, reevaluate and bring awareness to this "belonging", we get stuck in this identity. The question is: are we at ease and at peace with this configuration? What benefits and payoffs are we getting from this shape?
In my work, I return again and again to the quality of openness to being informed that we all started with. We open this conversation and continue the curiousity and enthusiasm to be morphed into something new that is more optimal to a life that has more ease. Essentially, the intelligence of the body-mind will not adapt something new unless it is functional to itself. A particular thirty-year-old adult has lived in the most intelligent way its system has known to adapt and survive. No matter what anyone else thinks, whatever he has done has worked from the perspective of survival. These strategies of thinking, emoting, moving are strategies that worked to get him here. At this particular moment, these shapes are no longer the optimal way for him to thrive. What is familiar is no longer comfortable. When we recognize somatically that forcing ourselves to be small is not the same at being at ease in ourselves, then we caress that longing to be who we truly are, not by being defined by another in reaction to survival. We then walk in the world with an open heart, an exposed belly, occupying our width, breadth and length as a body. There is nothing to hide and protect.
Think of it as upgrading the system.
The phrase "letting go" is so familiar to hear in psycho-spiritual circles. What does it really mean to let go? Let go from what into what? Why would that be valuable to us? A quick answer is to flourish as human beings. To be well.
As a movement educator, I observe many people who move as though their shoulders are on a coat rack. Bodies look suspended on the air while legs and feet appear to be disjointed from the torso. To simply tell someone to relax often does not simply work because the whole system doesn't know how to hold itself any other way. Ignorance is simply not knowing. It is also true in this case. Relaxation and letting go are visceral learnings, just like learning a language. I've been in movement classes where teachers speak of moving one's ribs and watch students struggle with this leap. To see someone in point A and want them to be in point B without understanding the gap between A and B fails to successfully address learning.
I was a reading specialist many years ago and taught children with different abilities how to decipher letters, put them together in order to read and then to comprehend. There were many steps from actually seeing the letter on paper to learning it multi-modally in the brain to finallly enunciating it with delight and certainty. It wasn't about simply addressing the learning challenge but also skillfully working with the emotional pretzeling around it.This is the similar process for how to relax and let go. To avoid reductionism, let us look at a few different possible ways that a learning is created.
We each have learnt a baseline as what is the comfort zone for breath retention, speed and length. That means the sacrum, the belly, the ribs, the lungs, the jaws, the little toes recognize this pattern as familiar and comfortable. It is associated with a sense of safety. Sometimes safety means not sensing one's body fully or feeling one's emotions to completion. Looking at it from the perspective of attachment and bonding theories, the infant's breath follows the rhythm of the mother's breath. If the mother is chronically anxious and depressed, then the infant uses this as a model for what is possible. True but inaccurate and limited. This becomes the baseline for what is possible within that neuromatrix. It is not about letting go of that "story", but creating and adding another story that encompasses a spectrum that includes wellness that matures. It is a conversation. Alive. This opens up the conversation between the maps etched in the cortex with the input from the periphery of the nervous system. Think brain and skin. They are truly modifiable by experience.
For thousands of years, breath has been a doorway in spiritual technology. Breath has been known to be the link between body and mind. The Satipattana Sutta of the Buddhist speaks directly as a meditation instruction to know for one's self the effects of a short breath on the body-mind and to know the effects of a long breath on the body-mind. In this process, one understands and knows one's self. Yes, breath is somatic. It is also an intersection of what compels us in our lives, often unconsciously.
To go out of this pattern means to learn a new pattern. We are rewiring the nervous and psycho-somatic circuity of the individual. Biofeedback is one modality that addresses specifically the relationship of this neuro-chemical dance with relaxation. This is why it is used with some success in patients with chronic pain. Unfortunately, when someone also has deep unresolved trauma, deeper levels of relaxation triggers the trauma. It is then very important to work with someone skillful about this relationship. I use Neurovascular Integration to support the resetting of the parasympathetic nervous system. Because we live in a culture that has the sympathetic nervous system (stress) turned on most of the time, we need all the help in balancing it with the parasympathetic nervous system (peaceful and powerful).
Chronic pain is biopsychosocial disease and interjecting at any point in the cycle breaks the pattern. A few tangible ways to break the cycle is to be curious, delighted, grateful, feel one's vitality, feel love, see beauty and appreciate a blessing in one's life. By understanding the loop of the physiology with the psychology, one can introduce positive feedback that builds resiliency. What is resiliency and why do we need it? According to positive psychology, resiliency i s 1. the capacity to be realistic, 2. to sense trust and faith, 3. to have the capacity to reinvent one's self, 4. to have the ability to create and maintain a social support system and 5. to have a sense of humour. Resiliency is linked to good health.
Movement and social support are the most important parts of health. Our bodies are hardwired to resolve dangerous situations that trigger the "withdraw, protect, resolve" pattern primarily through movement. Think of a baloon filled with water as opposed to a bottle with water. Our cells, tissues, bodies respond accordingly. Trauma laden tissues are rigid, either in freeze, flight or fight mode. Our tissues need to feel safe to circulate and soften. The body has its own innate intelligence to spontaneously self correct given the right kind of information. A human being that feels safe can truly relax, let go and attend its energy into flourishing.
It begins with a thud. It doesn't end there. Awareness goes beyond mindfulness. As awareness deepens, there are nuances and textures. Some of the qualities of presence are perceived: radiance, stillness, strength, warmth, and many others. The present moment reveals itself in ways unimagined.
Identity is felt as a familiar holding of tension as the body. Often, we don't even know when we are holding ourselves in a particular contraction. Only when there are degrees of relaxation that awareness lets us know the contrast between what is familiar and what is comfortable as a felt sensation. Letting go is not a cognitive idea. It is a somatic experience.
Often to solve a problem, one has to find the solution elsewhere. We all have experienced being in an airplane caught in a turbulence. The pilot must stir the airplane above the turbulence for it to be calm.
Finding solution in chaos is not the answer. Journey to that place of stillness in yourself. The answer will come.
Emotional literacy is a learned skill. Often we give ourselves more space, more generosity and kindness to learn a new application for our computer than we do for ourselves in learning a new way of dealing with anger or disappointment. Face the simple facts. The baseline of which our parents modeled for us is simply a baseline that is finite and is based on what they know in terms of emotional skills. It is not about judgment or pointing to where they went wrong or right. It is all about skill acquisition and having enough practice to master it. What happens with emotions is that often is gets tied in with shame. Learning a new skill requires vulnerability and making room for not getting it just right. If you shame someone who is learning an excel program, it is more than likely not going to progress very rapidly if at all. Yet, we engaged in these behaviours in ourselves when we are emoting.
I train individuals on how to cultivate choice. Human beings are like gardens. A garden needs cultivation for a seed to grow into a strong, well-rooted tree. The seed needs not only water and sunshine, but also the care of a gardener who will create the conditions to help it mature in its earliest phase of growth. Similarly, we as human beings, need an apprenticeship in the art of cultivation. Letting go of old habits is just but one phase. Even if we desire and know how to let go, what are the choices to let go into. Where do you land when you let go? How do you know when you've arrived? What are your bodily cues that tell you when you are centered or ungrounded? What body postures do you engage in when you are relaxed, happy, angry, anxious? Not as an idea, but as a felt sense in your body. I teach you to create a wider baseline experientially, which means more embodied choices. When you are ready to let go at any moment, you are letting go into a choice of being.
My work with you includes connecting to your power, ease, lightness and sense of ground and commitment. These are your resources that you come back to repeatedly as we touch places of pain and contraction that are begging to be loved and brought attention to. You will train in coming to your center, falling out of balance and learning to find your way back into your center. Choice is an embodied experience, not just a cognitive decision.
My work with you includes how you use your skeleton, muscles, intention and energy in your narrative of yourself, both when you are alone and when you are in relation to others. We will address the ways you have learnt to gather yourself, in the ways it serves and limits you now. We will explore how you know your personal space on a somatic experiential level and how you negotiate personal space somatically with another person. I will teach you new ways of gathering yourself that come from a place of strength, rather than a knee-jerk fear-based reaction. All the movement work we engage in will be functional, completely related to how you show up in your daily life. This is the difference between ease and pain. This is a choice.
At this moment, stop whatever you are doing just for a few seconds. Notice where your arm is. Is it mid-air, on your lap or touching the chair. In your mind's eye, where does your arm begin and where does it end? Now begin to move your arm in a direction and notice what you are doing with your whole self. Does your arm move from the shoulder towards your fingers while the rest of you remains still and separate from your arm? How much of you is participating in your movement of the arm? Now do the same with the other arm. Which is more awake to YOU?
When I work with individuals, I notice that often, they use parts of themselves in isolation of the rest of themselves. A classic example is the use of arms in activities throughout the day. Notice how you use yourself when you open the car door, turn on the shower, type on a keyboard, make a gesture while sharing an exciting date, reaching for your cup of coffee, etc.
Do YOU come with yourself or do you leave YOU behind? To what extent do we bring in our mechanistic view of the universe in our relation to ourselves as bodies. The repeated leaving behind of ourselves creates a tremendous amount of tension and overwork for our arms while the rest of the body is underutilized. It's like we move against ourselves rather than with ourselves. It takes awareness to notice, to include, to appreciate and to move as ONE.
Next time you use YOURSELF AS YOUR ARM, how much of YOU is there? Pick one activity, like reaching for the door or reaching for a cup to be a time to check in. Let me know what your discoveries are.
I would like to add another dimension to the word "gathering". Gathering means to take into and bound into one's self something from the outside. We've heard the word "boundaries" used frequently. I prefer the word "gathering" instead. Gathering one's energy, gathering one's resources, gathering one's strength, gathering one's self to form one whole to survive and thrive through a moment.
Please reflect how you gather yourself? When you feel dispersed, how do you bring yourself back together? Imagine light that brightens every direction. What would it be like to gather light back to a focal point? Gathering implies semi-permeability and a dynamic process rather than a static block. Gathering comes from a place of power. Gathering is an act of nourishment. Gathering is a journey of collecting, from old places and new ones just discovered. Do you gather yourself into your belly or into your heart? Do you gather yourself from behind your spine or from under the soles of your feet? When family and friends gather, what is that like for you? Do you see yourself in the center or in the periphery of the gathering? Are you more familiar with gathering dried leaves, smiles, fresh fruits or dirty laundry? Do you gather with delight or from a place of absentmindedness? When was the last time you gathered your blessings? Happy harvest.
Opening our hearts can sometimes be so easy. Other times challenging.
Here are a few tips to do when you find yourself collapsing:
1. Place your hand on your belly and actually feel your belly going up and down.
2. Imagine your sternum with your favourite color and it is giving off a glow forward.
3. Move your right shoulder one centimeter back and then one centimeter forward. Do at least three times as though you are moving in honey.
4. Do the same with your left shoulder. Slowly. Gently.
4. Notice the tenderness you feel for yourself. Breathe.
5. Say to yourself, "Thank you my heart."
My name is Kathrina Peterson and I invite you to participate in this forum around awareness and movement. I have been a Buddhist meditator for over 20 years and have been exploring in depth what it means to develop as a human being: physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. This is my passion, both on a personal and a professional level. I welcome you to share thoughts around what it means to be awake.