What strange times to be witnessing! I am sure you have all received multiple emails pointing out what to do and not to do, how to recognise Covid-19 symptoms, how to support your immune systems etc... I am not here to add just another voice to the same. Hopefully you will find some helpful information that may give you a sense of what may be going on inside you.
As we all are grappling with this worldwide Covid-19 situation, we are shown with great clarity the way different people’s nervous systems respond to stress. Some find themselves into a fight/flight response, for example: mobilising and stocking up groceries, getting angry at the political leaders or people around them for their "inadequate" or otherwise "excessive" response, going into self isolation before it is a requirement. Some go into a freeze/collapse response, behaving as if nothing was happening and going about life in a business as usual fashion, feeling utterly helpless and paralysed with hopelessness, or assuming that we can chant or pray all of this away (spiritual bypass is a form of dissociation). Some people try to grasp the situation, rationalising and making meaning and stories to feel a sense of control. Some look outside themselves for someone to blame, pointing fingers at the way others respond to stress in a constant quest to avoid sitting with their own emotional discomfort.
Personally I feel I have oscillated from one extreme to the other of all of the above before finding my centre again (only to loose track of it as the wind blows).
One thing though, is important to understand; these are all "intelligent" (even when inadequate) and unique responses of our nervous system to this situation of uncertainty and fear. Like Thomas Hübl points out, the virus pandemic is triggering us on a global scale to feel into collective trauma (our reactions are amplified by equal reactions of those around us), as well as into our own histories of personal trauma. The way we react to this emergency is a mirror of our very own learned patterns of coping with trauma and survival and we may find ourselves pushed to the edge of our own challenges.
An invisible enemy like a virus is likely to make us feel under attack from all directions, so look out for signs of hyper-vigilance and increased levels of anxiety. Bring yourself to the here and now feeling your feet on the ground, do a check-in with your own felt sense, focus on longer exhalations to calm that racing heart which may be keeping you awake at night. You may also try to refrain from making projections of the future from a place of terror; chances are you will see no positive outcome: your brain can see of the future only what is in the present moment, so unless there is a degree of nervous system regulation, the scenario will be rather gloomy. Listen to the wise horse of the picture above, when you cannot see a way through, just take the next step, and then the next and the next...and so on: mindful awareness in a nutshell. Listen to Rick Hanson TedX talk again and practice daily your dose of happiness.
I am doing my best to stay grounded in reality, noticing what makes me falter while also setting boundaries to negative stimuli (too much "information" or videos of Trump are not good for getting in touch with my inner sense of peace), while also being open to observing what happens both within me and without. This is what I call presence, a witnessing of the inner processes, a giving time for things to arise and pass, a compassionate stance, devoid of judgement: like sitting with oneself, in contemplation...If there is one good thing coming out of this situation it is time!
One last thing which may affect some of you: in order to guarantee everybody's safety, I have decided (before the government imposes the same ban) to stop seeing clients in person; but as we all are learning how to connect, support and care for one another from a distance, I have decided to offer DISTANT HEALING. I have already tested this a couple of times and I feel confident that a combination of Somatic Experiencing (to bring regulation to the nervous system and reframing of experiences where needed), followed by a calming distant Reiki (to settle into a state of peace) work best. Get in touch if you would like to book an online session to manage anxiety or to just treat yourself in such difficult times.
One of the most significant consequences of relational and shock trauma is a sense of disconnection from ourselves and others that comes from an impaired capacity for emotional and physiological self-regulation. Our ability to be present to strong emotions without feeling overwhelmed is directly linked to how we were met in early life by our primary carers. Equally, our capacity for regulation of such physiological functions as breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, sleep etc. can be compromised when we have been subjected to difficult life circumstances from an early age. Such dysregulation is what makes us perceive the world as unsafe, both inside and outside ourselves.
The need to feel regulated, at ease in our body and our life, is so important that when we are overwhelmed by emotions or out of control physical sensations (think high levels of anxiety or panic) we seek the regulation that we need, often at any cost. Adaptive, yet in the long run self-destructive behaviours such as addiction to substances and behaviours, are all attempts at eliciting the inner regulation that is lacking. As a consequence we can feel alienated from our own bodies and from the people around us; we feel alone and dead inside, even when we go through life as if all was well.
It is through supporting healthy ways of regulating the nervous system using somatic awareness that we can increase our resilience, therefore bringing back a sense of belonging. I cannot stress enough how important it is to focus our attention onto what Peter Levine calls the felt sense because it allows us to bypass what is the naturally hard wired "negative bias" of our brain and the fixated narratives we know so well. You have probably noticed that in our sessions together I often invite you back to feeling into your bodies even when, to begin with, we have to spend some time recognising that there are indeed sensations inside of us and that we can begin to feel safe experiencing them.
In this TedX talk by neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, he explains very clearly how powerful this way of working is. When we are somatically present to a positive experience, we can bring it to life turning it into a trait of our personality, hardwired in our brain. Please, have a look at the video, several times if necessary, and begin paying attention to those experiences that give you a sense of being loved, cared for, joyful, worthy of attention and more. Do let me know what you think of it.
One last thought. Our sense of reality is not constructed in a vacuum. It is a conversation between our lived experience and the signals we get from others. This is the process through which, as babies and then children, we all begin to make sense of both the inner and outer worlds by comparing our felt senses with the reactions of those around us. This way we also learn what’s safe and not safe. It is when we feel received, held, seen and heard by an attuned other that we can begin to feel dafe with what we hold inside. It is in a safe connection with a regulated other that we can access our self-regulating mechanisms...when we feel connected, we feel alive.
'Humans carry with them an intrinsic and inalienable place of inner knowing that some call the “true self." A place that, no matter how deeply buried, can always be returned to' (Anna Holtzman)
We are at the cusp of Winter, when the longest night meets the shortest day. It may feel very dark indeed, but this moment also marks the precise moment when light finally begins to creep back in. This awareness has brought me to consider how the darkness outside does find a companion in the darkest parts of our Soul, those places that we shy away from because they feel dangerous and scary.
A big part of the way I work with people these days feels like bringing light to those dark places by moving into one’s body and feel what arises from within, not in terms of naming that which comes up, but rather witnessing and becoming aware of the physical sensations. This is not something we are familiar with, especially if and when the sensations are unpleasant. To describe what we feel (and at times even to be aware that we feel something), requires a language that is at best unfamiliar.
On paper it may seem self explanatory to just notice the sensations, but when an unpleasant feeling arises, usually the mind launches into whatever inner story/narrative accompanies this feeling (a few examples would be: "I am not good enough", "I am a looser", "I am unlovable"; all self-representations that have become associated with certain unpleasant feelings as a way to 'explain' or justify them). When this happens you are NOT feeling the sensations, you are thinking them based on old thought patterns. At this point redirect your mind away from the thoughts and back into the body sensations, naming and describing them (it will sound something like: my chest feels tight, there is a knot in my stomach, my left shoulder is tense, I feel breathless and sweaty ...). It will be helpful to breathe into the sensation to allow it to exist. You may even feel the need to cry, shake, panic...just allow that and keep breathing.
The mind will likely seek refuge in the old stories again (after all they came about to avoid feeling the feelings); when this happens just redirect your awareness and breathing to the sensation, trusting that it will leave and observe as it does that, without actively trying to change anything (we cannot will sensations away, we can only witness them as they slowly go). It is important to notice in the end that you have survived the experience and were able to stay with that which was unpleasant and difficult.
Do not get me wrong, this is not easy and, like anything new, it requires practice and patience. Be kind to yourself if at first you seem to be unable to feel anything, or if you go straight back into 'thinking' mode; just allow that to happen. The next time it may be slightly easier. Just know that getting familiar with your inner states is time well spent which will repay you with more presence, self regulation and a sense of belonging into your body.