Getting Unstuck

The feeling of being stuck – whether because of a job we dislike, an impasse in our close relationships or because of a chronic health issue – is often exacerbated by the fear that lurks beneath this temporary stagnation. When I feel stuck in any area of my life, loads of anxiety-laden thoughts flood my mind and create an inner unrest. My mind does its best to coax me into entertaining thoughts like, “What if I stay stuck forever?” or “What if all I’ve worked to create in my life disintegrates before my very eyes?” or “There must be something wrong because I’m not accomplishing anything” or “I’m not going to be okay because I don’t know what to do next.” Many of us think (myself included!) that fear is what will propel us out of feeling stuck; that if we worry enough we’ll eventually find a way out. But in reality, the opposite is true. Fear does not create movement, it thwarts it. Remember: where our attention goes, so it grows; the more we focus on the fear, the less capacity we experience to notice new possibilities for movement and change.

Life isn’t as complicated as we make it out to be. There isn’t some intricate plan or mysterious solution deliberately hiding from our view. What is key is knowing where to place our focus. In this case we have essentially two choices about where to look when we feel stuck; we can either focus on (1) the trapped quality ridden with fear or (2) the resting quality filled with possibility. If we choose to focus on the resting quality, we likely are able to settle down and absorb what is actually happening in the present. When we do this, we see the myriad of possibilities, both externally and internally available to us. Focusing on the right place when we feel stuck (in this case the opportunity to rest, integrate, and open to new possibilities), and bringing our attention there again and again, illuminates the answers we need to feel fulfilled, alive, connected, and receptive to divine direction.

Let’s take a moment to incorporate a practice that supports finding possibility in stagnation. Find a comfortable position standing or sitting upright with your feet touching the ground. Now, shift your awareness to the ground beneath your feet. Feel the ground and get to know its quality-whether it is it soft, hard, smooth, rocky, warm, cold. Pay attention to how it feels to have the earth be a support for your entire body. Begin to notice what happens inside your body as you become aware of the solidness of the earth’s support. Do you start to feel calmer, more present, and looser on the inside? Move back and forth between noticing the support of the earth and then noticing how your body feels when it is supported in this way. Practice this exercise for a few minutes.

The invitation is for you to incorporate this simple exercise into your daily routine. It is something you can do anywhere-at home, in the office, or on line at the supermarket. The more awareness you bring to the ground and the support it provides, the more you’ll feel anchored when life throws you curve balls. Grounding yourself in the present is a primary step in finding growth and joy amid feeling stuck.

Your conscious awareness is not only a gift, but in this case, the antidote to feeling stuck. Consciously choosing how to relate to your experience allows you to connect deeply with what is. It is in this connection, both with yourself and your environment, that you will have a greater capacity to receive your next step. So, how can you find clarity, ease and fluidity today? What can you open your eyes to, breathe deeply into and connect with that will promote your wholeness and reveal what you need?

 

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Value in Who You Are, Not What You Do

According to the US Department of Labor, Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. This well-deserved holiday celebrates all we have achieved, earned and accumulated through our hard work. While it is encouraging to reflect in this way, this perspective places value on what we do rather than who we are. By solely focusing on our achievements we dismiss the truth – that to be human is to have value regardless of what we accomplish.

This Labor Day, celebrate yourself by taking stock in the qualities that make you who you are.  Ask yourself questions like, “Am I loving towards others, especially to those whom are difficult to love? Do I persevere, despite challenges? Am I quick to judge others based on appearances? Do I take the time to bask in nature? Am I able to cultivate compassion for myself and others? Am I forgetful at times? Do I sometimes lose my temper and inadvertently hurt others?”

Without judgment, become aware of the intrinsic qualities – generous/selfish, truthful/dishonest, loving/hateful, compassionate/judgmental, proud/shameful, connected/aloof – that you both like and dislike.  Gently cultivating this dual awareness paves the path to self-acceptance. The more we can accept our many parts, the greater value we believe we have and the less we need to prove our worth through our achievements. Remember, you have tremendous value simply because you’re alive.

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Understanding My Teenager

Teens are suspended somewhere between childhood and adulthood.  Powerful influences such as media, friends and culture send your teen messages about how to be in the world. To deal with this precarious time effectively, it’s important to remember that teens have two primary goals during this life phase:

Independence & Responsibility:

This is a tough time for parents also as their roles and needs change as their child becomes a young adult and takes on more and more responsibilities.  It is a positive sign when teens begin making their own decisions – it is a sign of independence, they’re learning how to make choices and run their lives. Independence and responsibility go hand-in-hand.  An independent teen without a sense of responsibility is an accident waiting to happen.  But an independent teen who’s burdened with responsibilities but who has no opportunity to make decisions will probably enter adulthood feeling resentful and victimized.  In both cases, the teen will be ill equipped to make intelligent decisions.

This becomes a balancing act for both parents and teens:  parents need to decrease control over teens and teens need to increase the amount of responsibility they take for themselves.  Parents can provide guidance by expressing their own opinions and values and teens can make their own decisions, within limits, as long as they are will to accept the consequences. There is a connection between using control and getting caught up in a struggle for power. Learning how to provide guidance and discipline while allowing your teen the freedom to explore and express him or herself is crucial for successfully parenting teens.

Seeking Significance & a Sense of Belonging:

Teens are trying to create an identity – who they are and what gives meaning to their lives while searching for ways to be important and accepted by their peers.  Seeking significance beyond home and family is necessary step toward maturing into adulthood.  Seeking significance can be achieved positively and negatively – often times with some combination of the two that will give the teen a sense of belonging.  Parents need to understand and respect that during this time, teens shift their focus from their families to their peers.  It can be frustrating to watch your teen embrace other people’s values, but it’s typical for teens to ‘try on’ ways of being as they search for an identity, a place to fit in.  Unless a teen’s action is harmful to self or others, a parent’s job is to listen, observe, increase empathy and allow his or her teen to create an identity that is separate and unique.

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Using The Power of Intention to Make Lasting Changes

If you’re looking to make a change in your life, setting an intention is a great way to make this change consciously and effectively. Choose one life area that you are ready to transform and follow the steps below:

How To Set Intentions
• Get clear on what isn’t working in this area. Envision what this life area will look and feel like once you’ve made a change (even if you don’t know what the exact change is going to be!). It’s important that you take on ONLY 1 goal at a time. There’s a temptation when we are feeling stuck, frustrated, or bored to run off a list of everything we’ve ever wanted to change or achieve. Don’t fall for it! You’ll more likely accomplish one or two goals than you will with a list of 10. Remember, you can always add new goals to your list as time goes on.
• Word it carefully. Let’s say your goal this year is to lose weight. Try not to think of it as “This year I am going to fit into my skinny jeans.” This sounds as if you’re going to force yourself to lose weight by sheer willpower; and willpower alone is nothing but a stress-bomb waiting to explode! Be nice to yourself by adding a dose of compassion – Really meeting your challenges with a sense of ease and care. Try, “This year I’m going take care of my body by exercising regularly, choosing more whole foods, eating only when I am physically hungry and ignoring what the media says about how I should look.” Be specific, gentle and realistic – this will guarantee a goal that’s attainable and genuinely focused on your well-being. Create a goal that is SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, reasonable and time-limited.
• Make a plan. Now that you’ve identified a goal to make this shift, break it down. Nobody accomplishes anything of significance by trying to do it all at once. The smaller the steps, the better. Take one step at a time, moving on to subsequent steps upon completion of each rung of your goal ladder. When trying to lose weight for example, your plan may include these steps:
1) Visit your doctor/nutritionist to learn about which foods your body needs for optimal functioning. Get informed of realistic weight loss benchmarks for your lifestyle.
2) Make a grocery list and shop for these new foods when you’re not hungry.
3) Schedule an appointment at the local gym to develop your personal workout plan.
4) Enlist a friend as your workout buddy and create a weekly schedule of your workout times. 5) Make daily time for self-reflection, i.e. journaling, gardening, walking, to ensure that you’re not using emotional eating to deal with difficult feelings or events.

How To Follow Through With Intentions
• Write it down. Write down your intention and your plan of action. Stick it up on the fridge, on your bathroom mirror, wherever you know you’ll see it. That way, you’ll have a constant reminder of your goal and your action plan.
• Get Connected. The best way to ensure that you stay on your path of transformation is by involving others in your goals. Ask friends, family members or co-workers to help hold you accountable for the intentions you’ve created for yourself. Commit to having a weekly check-in time to share where you are in your action plan for reaching your goal. You can also serve as a support for those in your life that have set intentions as well. Creating a buddy system in this way not only holds you accountable, but will help to motivate you to stay on this new path that you’ve created.
• Practice Mindfulness. With this intention, really pay attention to the activities you involve yourself in, how you treat yourself and how you treat others. Pema Chodron, a well-known Buddhist nun, encourages us to use 4 words in our daily life: STOP, NOTICE, APPRECIATE AND SHARE – We want to take a break each day to recharge our batteries and really notice what we’re doing and how we are being in the world. Then we can appreciate it – if you have engaged in actions that support or hinder your new goal you can appreciate that either you’ve stuck to your plan or maybe that you need a little extra support. Then, it’s up to you to share your insights with others so that they can continue to support you in reaching your full potential.

Wishing you much ease and joy as you begin to manifest the life you envision for yourself.

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Dumping Depression for Vibrancy

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression affects approximately 14.8 people and is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for those between 18-44 (http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-numbers-count-mental-disorders-in-america/index.shtml).

Numerous studies have demonstrated a direct correlation between our moods and ability to effectively express our emotions and our physical health. Strong evidence exists that negative mood states and/or suppression of negative feelings increases one’s susceptibility to illness, while improved mood and use of adaptive coping skills to deal with life difficulties lead to fewer illnesses, faster recovery, and a longer life span (Salovey, Rothman & Steward, American Psychologist, 1/00). It seems plausible, then, that achieving our most vibrant self is simple and logical, right? Improve our mood, don’t use cigarettes, drugs, or food to deal with problems, and vibrancy abounds! Well, for a few it may be that easy, but for the majority of us it is a journey that requires patience, compassion, and a willingness to explore uncharted inner territory.

Rest assured, however, that reaching wellness isn’t as daunting a task as it may seem. The path to vibrancy begins with nurturance and self-care. Follow these five simple tips and you’ll be spring-boarded toward an exhilarated spirit, healthy body, and overall sense of vibrancy:

1. Get outside–Nature calms the storm in us and offers us a sense of wholeness and connection like no other force. Take advantage of spring: go for a walk on the beach, have a picnic lakeside, or just listen to the songs of springtime birds. Fresh air and spring breezes will invigorate your senses and help you to reconnect with your inner spirit.

2.Use your body–Numerous studies continue to prove that exercise increases positive feelings and decreases negative ones. As we increase our heart rate and get our blood flowing, we release endorphins–chemicals in the brain that are responsible for positive moods. So, if you’ve got a body, use it! Join a gym, take a dance class, go for a walk, practice yoga, or stretch while on your coffee break. Whatever you do, just get moving.

3. Express yourself–Many of us have difficulty dealing with and expressing unpleasant emotions. Stored up, forgotten feelings and experiences often manifest as physical blockages in the body. Self-expression, then, is the key to overall health. Use the creative arts–paint a picture, write poetry, keep a journal of thoughts and feelings throughout day, sing in the shower, or talk to a trusted friend. Whatever you do, don’t keep feelings bottled up inside. The more often you express yourself through creative and healthy means, the easier it will be to deal with life’s many challenges.

4. Slow down and breathe–Save time in your day, even just ten minutes, to practice deep breathing and meditation. Breathing more deeply increases the balance of blood flow throughout your body, while meditation has been linked to increased feelings of happiness. Clearing your mind and listening to your body is one of the best ways you can nurture yourself and connect to your core.

5. Make connections–Get together with friends or make new ones. Social relationships promote health and well-being and lead people to feel positively about themselves and their surroundings. Join a club, visit a museum, or try a new activity and be open to engaging in new social circles.

 

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Finding Freedom In the In-Between

For some of us, this past weekend may have been filled with celebration, commemoration and connection. Freedom is at the core of what motivates us to grow and heal, and, ultimately propels our evolution as a species. Being free has always been and will continue to be that which is most sought after and cherished. Yet, why do we only acknowledge this precious gift on just 1 day out of 365? Why not experience the joy and ease of our freedom on a daily, moment-to moment basis?

So many of us struggle and feel shackled by our circumstances, relationships, thoughts or feelings. We often turn to external solutions to soothe our internal maladies and then get discouraged when we still feel stuck and depressed. We spend endless amounts of energy attempting to find some “fix” that will give us a sense of relief, even if fleeting. Eventually, this vicious cycle leads us to despair and so we’re left waiting for the 4th of July to celebrate what has been available to us all year long.  I want to remind you that freedom is neither transient nor illusive. It is ever present, waiting patiently for you to acknowledge and experience its life force.

If we examine the nature of all life, we see that it is an ever-changing balance of contraction and expansion, effort and surrender. We witness this melodic dance with each sunrise and sunset, with each change of the seasons. So, where then can we find and reconnect to the freedom that is our God-given right? Well, we must pay attention to the in between; that big space that flows between our desperate attempts to find happiness and our collapsed sense of giving up. Freedom is the vibrant color between the black and white of our extreme existence. Reclaim your sense of freedom by noticing the moments when you’re not efforting or submitting; the times in which you welcome things just as they are without contracting against them or expanding beyond your boundaries. It is in the in between of all life and the in between of each moment that freedom lies.

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Sustaining Our Wholeness

At the moment of our conception, we begin life with the potential for wholeness.  We are then birthed into the physical world with a full sense of aliveness; balanced, connected, and attuned to ourselves and those around us.  We are whole, complete, and perfect.  As we pulsate through time and space we endure wounding, usually unintentional, and internalize these events that then harden our hearts.  As we mature, life becomes an arduous juggling act of responsibilities, emotions, needs, and wants.  This constructed chaos can take a toll on our well-being and leave us with a sense of imbalance, creating a disconnect from both our own true nature and that of others.  This detachment drives us to live in our mind, despite our body, and fuels the wearisome cycle of our superficial search for completeness.  We get tricked into believing that wholeness exists outside of ourselves–through the love of another or maybe through the endless accomplishments that attempt to prove our self-worth.  Yet beneath the surface of our thoughts, we may sense unevenness about our daily experience as we move along our unique journey of life.  It is in this sensing or deep knowing, that we find the spark that has the power to return us to our original wholeness.  Coming back to ourselves in this way, reveals our capacity to sustain our inner balance, opening to a life filled with ease, abundance and joy.

Reuniting with ourselves requires that we take a candid self-inventory; one that discovers and encompasses both the inner gifts that we are willing to own as well as the inner demons that we struggle so tirelessly against.  Begin to ask yourself questions such as, “What do I like about myself? If I could change one thing about myself, what would that be? What values have I taken with me into adulthood? How do I spend my time? Where do I fit in? When do I feel most unlike myself?” As we authentically answer these core questions, we gain a heightened awareness into the essence of ourselves and ultimately see the paradoxical, imperfect nature of our humanness. Becoming aware of and allowing the both/and of our inner landscape—giving/selfish, truthful/dishonest, loving/hateful, compassionate/judgmental, proud/shameful, connected/aloof—without judgment or aversion, are the seeds that actualize our true nature once again.  Attuning to our paradoxical nature in this way, just as we did when we took our first few breaths, provides us with a sense of completeness, of nothing lacking. Allowing and accepting our imperfect foundation leads us to a fluid integration of our many parts.  This integration is both the stream of tranquility and the sustenance of our wholeness.

Maintaining this integration requires that we compassionately return to the truthfulness of our existence, again and again.  This homecoming—coming back to ourselves—compels us to cultivate self-awareness, which softens our hearts and promotes radical self-acceptance through moment-to-moment allowing of each experience.  It is our birthright to be deeply connected to ourselves, yet it is our choice to devote time to settling in, in this way.  Well-known writer and Buddhist nun Pema Chodron reminds us to “Stop. Notice. Appreciate. Share.”  These four words can be pivotal in staying awake to who we are, while providing us with a simple structure that will support the daily integration of our many parts, ultimately connecting us with our true essence.

Each day, in the morning as you arise and in the evening as you lie down to sleep, begin a practice of mindfulness, using the structure of Stop–Notice–Appreciate—Share.  First, stop.  Take a comfortable seat in a quiet place.  Next, begin to notice the quality of your breath.  Is it shallow or deep, forced or easy?  Begin to fully experience—watch, sense, hear—your breath. You will become distracted with thoughts, yet each distraction is an opportunity to return to yourself.  Returning to the breath again and again, that is, shifting our awareness from thoughts to the sensations of the breath, connects us to our true nature and deepens our sense of completeness. As you go through the cycles of distraction and awareness, gently bring yourself back to the breath, without judgment or disdain.  As you settle in, identify one thing in your experience that merits appreciation.  Maybe it’s your ability to take the time to stop, or maybe it’s the calm you feel as you sit.  Maybe it’s appreciating the pain you feel and your ability to develop compassion for others.  Once identified, share this appreciation with others.  Sharing takes on many forms—through helpful actions, through verbal expression, or through prayer. This simple practice of authentically being with ourselves is all we need to reconnect with our completeness and perfection.  It is the ground that fully supports and sustains our wholeness.

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Growing Your Emotional Wealth

More times than not, when we hear the word “wealth” we think of those sought after greenbacks and ways to get more of them into our life. According to the dictionary, wealth is “the state of being rich and affluent; having a plentiful supply of material goods and money; the quality of profuse abundance.”  What is interesting is that the word “wealth” originally came from an old English word “weal”, which means “well-being” or “welfare” and this term was used to describe the possession of such qualities.  So, when did material possessions become synonymous with wealth?  Not sure.  What’s important rather, is to view money as energy that hooks our attention often at the expense of our emotional (and sometimes physical) well-being.  Below are a few tips to guide you in growing your emotional wealth, so that you can experience the quality of profuse abundance in all areas of your life.

 

  • Honor where you are–Allow yourself to feel whatever emotions show up in your life. Treat your feelings with the utmost respect; don’t evaluate their rightness or wrongness and don’t attempt to shut them off or sweep them under the rug. The experience of negative feeling states–sadness, anger, grief–is just as important as the experience of positive feeling states – joy, excitement, love.  Being fully present to our experience opens us up to receive all of life’s gifts.
  • Express yourself–Communicate your feelings; get them out of your body and into the tangible world. Call a friend, write a letter, draw a picture, or scream till your ears hurt. The more we listen to and acknowledge our feelings, the more we’ll believe in our right to be self-expressed. And remember, the higher our self-expression, the better we feel about ourselves and the more positive things we attract into our lives.
  • Set goals–Having desires is quite different from setting goals. Holding ourselves accountable, by creating real-life goals, feeds our confidence and self-worth. Tell yourself you can do anything you put your mind to and chances are you’ll achieve all you’ve ever hoped for.
  • Help others–Giving back to your community is a sure-fire way to cultivate abundance. Knowing that you’ve genuinely helped another and making personal connections grows our sense of belongingness, community and support. As Flora Edwards said, “In helping others, we shall help ourselves, for whatever good we give out completes the circle and comes back to us.”
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How Does Somatic Experiencing Work? An Interview with Dr. Peter Levine & Dr. Ruth Buczynski

What Resets Our Nervous System After Trauma?

with Peter Levine, PhD
and Ruth Buczynski, PhD

Dr. Levine: When I first started developing my approach to trauma – and this was in the sixties and seventies, so it was way before the definition of trauma as PTSD – I noticed how many different kinds of sometimes even seemingly ordinary events could cause people to develop symptoms that would be later defined as trauma, as PTSD.

And I also was really curious why animals in the wild – because the parts of our brain that respond to trauma are really quite the same in all mammals, including us – and if they became so easily traumatized, they probably would never survive because they would lose the edge, and then they wouldn’t survive nor would the species survive.

“I discovered that these reactions that reset the nervous system are identical with animals and with people.”
So I realized there must be some powerful innate mechanism that helps people rebound; that sort of resets our nervous system after encounters with trauma, highly arousing encounters with trauma. And I discovered that these reactions that reset the nervous system are identical with animals and with people. The difference is that we learn to override it because of fear of powerful sensations.

And if we could just be guided – I know it is an oversimplification – but the basic idea is to guide people to help them recapture this natural resilience. And we do this through helping them become aware of body sensations. And as they become aware and able to befriend their body sensations, they are able to move out of these stuck places.

Because I realized that trauma was about being stuck in these high levels of arousal or in low-level, shutdown levels of arousal and dissociation. So it really became a matter of learning how to help people to contain these sensations and help them to move through, back into life, to discharge, as it were, these high-levels of activation.

And in animals – and in humans – I noticed it [trauma] as a particular type of sequence involving shaking and trembling.

“It really became a matter of learning how to help people to contain these sensations and help them…back into life, to discharge…these high-levels of activation.”
We can help move these people out of these high states of hyper arousal back into balance, back into equilibrium. We want to help people come out of shut-down and dissociation, come back into life, and it’s possible to do this in a safe way; in a way that really largely ensured that people weren’t overwhelmed – you know, that was a problem in the therapies at that time which were very cathartic.

“…if you just overwhelm the person, the nervous system really can’t tell the difference between the trauma and just being overwhelmed overloaded.”
So they would have people with really big reactions, and often people would feel better after that – probably, at least in large part, because there was a releasing of endorphins and catecholamines, adrenalin-like hormones, and neurotransmitters, and so the people, in a way, they felt a tremendous relief, even a high. But then they would go back into the same trauma patterns afterwards.

So I realized that, again, if you just overwhelm the person, the nervous system really can’t tell the difference between the trauma and just being overwhelmed/overloaded in the same way.

So that really is the basis of the core aspects of somatic experiencing. And because it was a naturalistic way of approaching things – learning from animals in the wild, from ethology – to awakening those resilient instincts that exist within us because we are mammals.

The Nine-Step Method for Transforming Trauma

Dr. Buczynski: Let’s go through briefly your Nine-Step Method for transforming trauma.

Dr. Levine: The first thing is that you have to create a sense of relative safety. Remember we talked about the social engagement system – you have to help the person feel just safe enough to begin to go into their bodies.

“…From that sense of relative safety created by the therapist and the environment, we help the person to support initial exploration and acceptance of sensations…”
Then, from that sense of relative safety created by the therapist and the environment, we help the person support initial exploration and acceptance of sensations. And we do it only a little bit at a time, so they “touch into their sensations” then come back into the room, into themselves.

The third step is a process I call “pendulation.” That’s a word I made up – what it means is that when people first begin to experience their body sensations, they actually feel worse for a moment. It is probably largely because they have avoided their sensations. So when they feel them, they feel worse.

This is like a contraction. But what I have discovered is when you help support people, they discover that with every contraction there is an expansion. So if they learn just to stay with these sensations just momentarily long enough, it will contract but then it will expand. And the rhythm between contraction and expansion, that really gives people the sense, “Oh my God, I’m going to be able to master this!”

So, again, when they get the sense or rhythm, of contraction/expansion, it needn’t become threatening. It just becomes, “Oh, okay, I’m contracting, and now I’m expanding.”

The fourth step, which is really the first, and the second, and the third, and the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth, is what I call “titration.” And by titrating, by just dosing one small amount of experience at a time, this creates an increase in stability, resilience, and reorganization of the nervous system. So titration is about carefully touching into the smallest drop of survival-based arousal…

“Pendulation is the rhythm between contraction and expansion…and titration is about carefully touching into the smallest drop of survival-based arousal.”
Dr. Buczynski: So sort of like a homeopathic approach to trauma? A homeopathic dose level of approaching…

Dr. Levine: Yes! Yes, that’s it! Yes, that is exactly a really good analogy – and it may be more than just an analogy. You know, we have a number of homeopaths, particularly in the European and South American trainings – and, you know, they get it – the idea of the smallest amount of stimulus that gets the body engaged in its own self-defense mechanisms.

Then the fifth step is to provide corrective experiences by helping them have active experience that supplants or contradicts the passive response of collapse and helplessness. So as they recover active responses, they can feel empowered – active defensive responses.

“By helping them supplant the passive response of collapse and helplessnes, they recover active defense responses; they can feel empowered.”
When people are in the immobility response, when they are in the shut-down state, what happens is that normally in animals, it’s time-limited. I was out on the beach the other day and some of the kids on the beach do this for fun – they will take one of the pigeons and hold it. They will come up very quietly behind the pigeon, hold around its wings so it can’t move, and then turn it over and it goes into this complete immobility response. It doesn’t move. It looks like it is dead – it is so-called “playing possum.” But then, if they [the kids] leave it for a moment upside-down there on the sand, after a few seconds, it pops out of this immobility state and flies off as though nothing had happened.

But if you frighten the animal when it is coming up or if you frighten it when it is coming in, it stays in that immobility a longer amount of time, a much longer amount of time – particularly if you re-frighten it.

So the thing is, we frighten ourselves. Normally the exiting out of immobility is time-limited – you go in and you go out. When people are coming out of immobility, if they are frightened of those sensations, that fear then puts them into immobility.

So I call it “fear-potentiated immobility.”

“…we uncouple the fear from the immobility and the person comes out of the immobility, back into life.”
In this step, we uncouple the fear from the immobility and the person comes out of the immobility, back into life. And, again, when they come out, there is usually a lot of activation, a lot of arousal. So when the person comes out, we have to be prepared to help them contain that sensation of arousal and then move through that, back into homeostasis, balance and social engagement. So that is the sixth step.

And the seventh step is to help them discharge and regulate the high arousal states, and they redistribute the mass of the vital energy mobilized for life-preserving action, while freeing that energy to support higher-level brain functions.

Step eight is engaging self-regulation to restore dynamic equilibrium and relaxed alertness. I like that word better than “homeostasis” because homeostasis implies a static state, and this dynamic equilibrium is always shifting. So we go into a high level of arousal, but dynamically we turn to a balanced equilibrium.

And then the ninth step is to help the person reorient in the here and now; contact the environment, the room, wherever they are – the emergency room if it is the emergency room, the recovery room if it is the recovery room – and reestablish the capacity for social engagement.

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Finding Stability AND Freedom in Relationship

With February upon us, thoughts of love and loss are likely on our minds. For those of us not in an intimate relationship, we might fantasize about the stability that we hope to experience once matched with the right partner. For those of us already coupled, we might have private dreams about more passion, spontaneity and fun with a different partner. More often than not, we tend to look for either stability or freedom because we have been told that these paradoxical qualities are not symbiotic. What if, though, we didn’t have to choose? What if we could have both stability and freedom in our relationships? Security and spontaneity? Safety and passion? With a conscious commitment and the proper tool set, intimate relationships provide the best opportunity for us to both heal old wounds and grow into the fullest expression of ourselves; in essence, to become whole. Our wholeness, however, does not lie in our partner or in being perfect or in being conflict-free. Wholeness is found in the integration of the many internal contradictions we experience on a daily basis; that we are loving and cruel, honest and dishonest, courageous and cowardly. In relationships, like in life, when we integrate the both/and of our experiences and avoid the trap of ascribing to extremes we experience real love.

So, how then can we experience both stability and freedom in our relationships? My wise yoga teacher answered this question recently by instructing, “The more you ground and find stability in your legs, the more freely your heart can open.” This was profound for me. Here’s why:

Stability is a sense of being grounded and flexible (which, by the way, is different than rigidity which is brittle and inflexible). The way we incorporate stability into our relationships is through boundary setting. A boundary is something that separates one person from another and flows in two directions—inward and outward. Stability is achieved when our boundaries are clear regarding what we protect against or absorb such as abuse, love, or our partner’s emotional state (that’s the inward direction) and what we are capable of containing such as our impulses to blame, shame, or criticize our partner (that’s the outward direction). When we have clear boundaries, we experience stability; a groundedness in ourselves. This stability allows us to consciously choose to let go of past grievances, expectations, and resentments. Letting go and anchoring on our internal foundation opens the heart and is the gateway to ultimate freedom; the freedom to be self-expressed, spontaneous and fully alive.

On my yoga mat I realized that the only way to experience freedom and open my own heart is through my own stability. And, the more I opened my heart, the more stability I needed to anchor upon to remain undefended. Finding our stability, rather than clinging to rigidity, is the foundation that actualizes our vulnerability, connection, and aliveness. This month may you find your stability, clarify your boundaries, open your heart, feel boundless freedom and experience your whole-est you.

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