Hold Steady the Light: How Empaths Can Impact the World More Powerfully

You and I have realized either in childhood or not long ago that we’re on the planet at this time for a reason. I’ve heard many of you say you’re compelled recently to arise from your yoga mats and meditation cushions and do more than cultivate a practice of inner healing and personal transformation; you’re ready to take action.

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Meanwhile the noise of our external world seems to have reached a crescendo—enough to make this empath want to hide in a corn field most days and ring in autumn with the crickets. In this era in which the brightest and the darkest in all of us has risen to the surface, it can feel increasingly uncomfortable to engage with people—especially amidst so much suffering. If we don’t know how to stay centered, we can get lost in the drama and aren’t much help then to anyone.

What I hear many of you asking, whether rhetorically or directly in our one-on-one coaching sessions, is how can we as highly sensitive people maintain a healthy nervous system as we go out into the world and carry out our missions, whether in our careers, volunteer work, or while simply walking down a city street?

I’m relieved we’re having these conversations. Now more than ever, I sense the urgency of pausing, taking a breath, and responding in a conscious, more deliberate way versus reacting in a manner that creates more chaos and conflict. More important than what action we take these days is how we move forward.

“Stay centered, do not overstretch. Extend from your center, return to your center.”    —Buddha

From my days as a highly sensitive child, I rushed to the scenes of people in need or stepped into the fires of conflict and tried to mediate. Worse, I didn’t know what an empath was or understand that I was one; when I’d hear that someone was in pain, I’d take it on unknowingly by running their energy through my own body to try to prevent them from feeling it. Half the time, I interpreted what I felt as personal mental illness. I operated this way until burnout rendered me exhausted, sick, and chronically depressed in my late-thirties.

As many of you know, I spent much of this summer alone, engaged in a personal retreat. During this time, I learned how to manage my energy by holding steady the light so that I could impact the world more powerfully. I promised to share what I learned, with the help of Jim Self’s Mastering Alchemy courses, by summer’s end. I’ve never found tools (including the shielding and grounding strategies most empaths have been taught over the years) more helpful than these for myself and for my clients. These days, I feel stronger, more capable, and more energized.

I now practice twice daily, a couple of minutes in the morning and again in the afternoon, or as needed (e.g., when entering crowded public spaces, speaking with an unhappy customer service representative, or being exposed to TVs broadcasting bad news). After familiarizing yourself with the techniques, you can practice them just a couple of minutes on your own.

On the evening of the solar eclipse, I created “Own Your Space,” a downloadable mp3 you can access here. The thunderstorm you hear in the background is not ambient; it’s real, so enjoy!

 

Allison Brunner, LCSW, RM, Body Talks Therapy

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Ditch Doom & Gloom and Birth a New World While Living It

A friend observed recently that I smile most of the time and seem “oddly at peace” in the midst of what feels to him like the Apocalypse.

“What Apocalypse?” I asked. I pointed to the lush green countryside, to squirrels chasing each other up a tree, and to orange lilies blooming near a horse pasture.

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While joking, as many people have, that my head must be in the sand, he pulled out his iPhone and tried showing me CNN’s web site.

I held up my hand, assuring him that I know well that current news reports a plethora of horrors each day. I don’t deny any of it or pretend it doesn’t exist. I know that people are suffering and that others are freaking out. Polarities (good/evil, kind/cruel, conservative/liberal, war/peace) have become more extreme.

What lay hidden in the collective, residing formerly in the world’s subconscious, has begun to shift into our conscious awareness so that it may be acknowledged, healed, and brought back into balance. This process, whether personal or large-scale, can look wild and messy, or even frightening. Meanwhile, entire systems are crumbling, creating space for those that better serve our highest good to arise. Whereas in the past we waited for others to lead us out of despair, we’ve become the leaders proposing heart-based solutions aligned with our noblest and wisest intentions.

When I utter these truths, some people insist that I must express concern over current threats to our safety, sovereignty, and basic humanity, lest I be deemed callous or privileged. “Aren’t you worried that XYZ issue will affect you directly?” Or, “You’re lucky you don’t have to care.”

In fact, I do have to care. What affects the least of us affects us all regardless of the way we categorize ourselves. I care so much that I’ve dedicated my life purpose to designing a brighter tomorrow. But I’ve chosen a new manner of engaging, and it’s one I share with you here in case it resonates. I invite you to try it to heal yourself personally, as a community, and to impact others globally without having to take on the heaviness of the planet.

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Years ago, I read or listened to hours of news each week, educating myself on the problems of the world. I immersed myself in humanity’s miseries, believing that if I felt others’ pain it meant I cared more deeply. I brooded with like-minded friends. Unified in our outrage, we insulted privately and on social media the intelligence of peers, family members, neighbors, coworkers, and strangers alike who disagreed with our views. We argued, resisted, and protested our way through conflict, believing our cause was just and our strategy true.

My friend James came to visit me one day in 2010. “You’re listening to the news,” he said when I opened the front door. When I asked how he knew, he said, “I could hear from outside [the anchors and pundits] yelling.” When I turned off the TV, my ears rang in the silence. I stood motionless for a bit, noticing how tense I was and how much anger my body held. My forehead and temples throbbed most times I tried tuning back in again thereafter, so I ditched my cable TV subscription and stopped listening to NPR during my morning commutes.

As my nervous system recalibrated over the next half-decade, there was a slow and deliberate adjustment in my attitude towards other human beings. I understood that we’re more alike than different, unified in our desire to feel safe and loved—even if our ideas of what the means or the end look like are different.

Neither humankind nor my physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual health were any better for my former us-versus-them mentality. It took me several years more though to admit that in my self-righteousness, I’d created little of service to the greater good. Rather, I’d mostly added fuel to the fire.

Fast forward to the Presidential election campaign of 2016, when people played the game of duality by aligning with Red, Blue, Green, Independent, Progressive, anti-Trump, Hillary haters, pro-Earth, anti-establishment, conspiracy theorists, Tea Party, etcetera. They vilified each other, bickering, name-calling, tweeting, blaming, and shaming on Facebook, podcasts, and other media outlets paid to shock and awe us into a perpetual stupor of conflict and battle.

I was disturbed by the division and tried pointing out how destructive it all was, thereby drawing more attention to the problem.

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“What you water grows,” a mentor told me once. I thought of her wise words when I realized that no one paid attention to or wanted to hear my Chicken Little rants about how we were all creating the very thing that we hoped to avoid.

So I considered instead the seeds I wanted to scatter, ones that would blossom into a world beyond winners and losers, filled with unity, harmony, peace, and love. Instead of talking about these qualities, I needed to embody them as best I can; it’s a daily practice of being the change, one in which I’m imperfect (and that’s okay). When the road gets bumpy or I’m feeling out of alignment with what I’m creating, I simply acknowledge what’s present, give it space to be felt without reacting from it, and then shift my attention back to my heart center.

We live in a realm of infinite possibilities; within them, in each now-moment, we have choice regarding which reality we want to create. There are some complexities to this, of course, but for the sake of this essay, allow me to demonstrate what I’m talking about.

Become cognizant for a moment of how you long for our world to look in 5, 10, or 20 years. Anchor it by visualizing and feeling it.

Peek then at a mainstream national or world news Web site, for example, or turn on the news for just one minute. Glimpse briefly at the social media pages of your like-minded friends who are the most outspoken on political matters. Notice the emotions that arise from within you and their associated physical sensations in your body. I wonder, from your current experience, do you feel inspired to create what you desire from a place of joy, happiness, or inner-peace? What would you end up creating from that space?

Alternately, I invite you now to become aware of your breath. Take a few moments to come back to center, remembering all that you love about your life and the people who are part of it. With your eyes open or closed, begin to notice everything that is already in alignment with your dreams. Mentally, emotionally, and physically note the ways in which the world is already exhibiting that which you envision. Keep a checklist as evidence, and seek out data to add to it each day.

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Imagine moving from here toward that which you wish to birth; as you do, notice your experience. How does it compare to your experiment with the former example?

Play with the latter daily. Give yourself a few weeks and reassess. You may or may not experience symptoms like those of a detox or withdrawal from the drama and noise or the ego gratification of touting how “right” you are (I sure did!). This is normal, and it’s more tolerable when we note the extra time available to play, have fun, hold doors for people, send love notes, exercise, and make people laugh.

How has your perception of the world changed? Do you feel more empowered, connected, and motivated to lead a movement toward the one you intuited lay just beyond the horizon? Does it feel as though you’re already living it now, and can this help you build momentum? What changes do you feel called to make in your life in order to sustain this state of bodymind?

Ask yourself now about whether or not you need to keep hearing the “bad” news and debating with people who have different opinions or viewpoints than yours. Do those behaviors still serve your purpose? It’s OK to be honest; your experience may be different from mine; it’s not right or wrong.

Feel free to send me a message describing your discoveries or whether you’ve begun to perceive through new lenses, seeing pots of gold where once there was gloom at the end of your rainbows.

Allison Brunner, LCSW, RM, Body Talks Therapy

A New Way to Love: Put Yourself First and Allow Others Their Journey

Allison Brunner, LCSW, RM, Body Talks Therapy

Highly Sensitive Mystics’ New Moon Meetup Starts Next Week

“One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul,” wrote Clarissa Pinkola Estés, poet, Jungian psychoanalyst, and author of Women Who Run With the Wolves, in her Letter to a Young Activist During Troubled Times. “Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it.”

You, members of the Body Talks community, are beacons of light. Some of you have been seeking opportunities to join forces with like-minded folks to beam more brightly in what a few of you have described “a tough time to be highly sensitive.”

Join me to do just that, during the moon’s darkest phase of the cycle, at the Highly Sensitive Mystics first New Moon meetup, Friday, January 27, 7:15pm to 8:30pm. There are four spaces remaining for those who want to meet in person at 237 N. Prince St., Suite 303, Lancaster (above the Lancaster Trophy House). Ten additional, from San Francisco to Philadelphia, may participate live online.

We’ll start the evening by introducing ourselves, then open sacred space in the manner taught to me by one of my teachers, a shaman and practitioner of the sacred energy medicine ways of the Q’ero and the Machi and the female shamans of the Chilean Mapuche. We’ll read poetry (bring your own or a song if you’d like), bless the Earth, and engage in meditation similar to Tonglen to benefit those special to us and to beings worldwide. We’ll hold space for each other and set intentions and burn them in fire, close the circle, and sample a little food and drink.

This will be a smaller, more intimate gathering. As our community grows, we’ll move into a larger space. Until then, please be sure to R.S.V.P. here whether you’re joining us in-person or via Google Hangouts; your payment of $5 reserves your spot. (If you’re a part of my Meetup.com group, I’ve already received your R.S.V.P.). You may also contact me to place you on a waiting list should one participant cancel in advance.

Reach out to me by Wednesday with any technical questions regarding Google Hangouts (make sure you have a Gmail address, and then meet us here a few minutes prior to the start of the event).

In the mean time, I leave you with more from Estés: “I urge you, ask you, gentle you, to please not spend your spirit dry by bewailing these difficult times. Especially do not lose hope. Most particularly because, the fact is — we were made for these times.”

That includes each one of you.

Allison Brunner, LCSW, Body Talks Therapy

 

 

 

 

 

 

Highly Sensitive People, Now More Than Ever the World Needs Our Medicine

The timing of this announcement, given what we have been facing in our communities, our nation, and internationally, feels significant.

Years of planetary chaos seemed in late-2016 to reach a crescendo. All that lay hidden in our shadows with regard to what in humankind wants to heal (greed, violence, hatred, separation or the illusion of “the other”) moved into the light of our collective awareness. The crisis, like a global-scale Herxheimer Reaction, prompted some of my friends and clients to ask how we can take responsibility for and help soothe the world’s woes and bring us back into balance.

Moved and inspired by your displays of tenderness, compassion, and commitment to serve, I’ve felt a soul yearning to support you bearers of light to ensure your missions are accomplished. In order to create a community for and attract more who are similar in characteristics and attributes, I’ve reflected on what you all have in common. I came to the conclusion that you (and I) are what clinical psychologist and researcher Dr. Elaine Aron refers to as Highly Sensitive People (or HSPs).

We process stimuli more thoroughly than the average person and feel more intensely than others. Often this means we’re more artistic, observant and conscientious, exhibit greater empathy, notice subtleties in our environments, identify imbalances as well as solutions, put others at ease, and hold a vision for what is possible in creating a better world. We’re artists, guides, coaches, healers, empaths, intuitives, inventors, philosophers, thought leaders, and sages.

Many HSPs are not aware that their sensory processing sensitivity trait, when acknowledged, understood, and honored, is a strength—nor the fact that it is the very medicine Earth and its inhabitants need now more than ever. When an ailing child cries out for comfort (as humanity seems to be doing more and more desperately these days), it is the embrace and nourishment of the wisest and most nurturing caregiver that can most effectively lull the little one’s pain.

That is the gift that you possess, HSPs. When our own nervous systems are balanced and our physical, emotional, and spiritual needs met, we’re an unstoppable force for positive transformation in our families, communities, and beyond.

And this is where I feel called to serve, beginning now, in this auspicious hour.

I’ve narrowed my niche, serving those among the 15 to 20 percent of the human population who identify as highly sensitive, by offering virtual and in-person emotional healing services, coaching, education, community, even transformational dance classes, so that you may heal yourself to heal the world, find support and power in numbers, and dare to shine your light far and wide.

Body Talks Therapy, the name of my new practice, is more than a nod to my somatic (or body-centered) approach to facilitating your self-empowerment; it acknowledges the sacredness of that which allows our spirits to live in form, where we can connect with our breath, with our five senses, and with our emotions, and experience the wonder, mystery, and miracle of being alive—even during turbulent times.

No one knows precisely what’s in store for the human race and for Earth, our beautiful home. But because of you, I am optimistic. With the unfolding of current events, I’ve witnessed your journey from shock and devastation to a willingness to peacefully rise up, embody your best selves, and to love others (regardless of their background or beliefs) with every bit of strength and resilience you have.

Since I was a child, I possessed a deep knowing that once I worked through my own pain and integrated much of my personal shadow with my light, I would play some kind of role in helping others do the same and to steer us in a direction that would serve humankind’s highest good. Often I felt isolated, unaware of those around me who were doing the same, and longed for a community of folks with a similar life purpose.

The Hopi elders have said that we, this generation, yes, we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.  From where I sit, you are the ones I’ve been waiting for. I bow to you; for the light in me recognizes the light in you.

Allison Brunner, LCSW, Body Talks Therapy

 

 

 

Be the Joy You Wish to See in the World

“I don’t know if I have it in me,” a friend confided in me recently. He was referring to the work that lies ahead in restoring harmony and peace on the planet following the election of Donald Trump for U.S. President and the outbreak of hate crimes and hate speech that have ensued.

Some clients and friends carry the heaviness of the world on their shoulders and in their hearts. In their commitment to alleviate post-election division and stand up for human rights and the health of our Earth, they seem exhausted, worried, and intensely focused.

While their emotions are warranted, I wonder how often they’re laughing.

Following several national tragedies last spring and summer, people processed their pain by doing what’s human and considered a natural stage of grieving: drawing attention to the problem, railing against a broken system, and posting violent videos on Facebook. Then I encountered in my newsfeed a photograph of a butterfly on the beach. A therapist friend musing at that day’s magic at the Jersey Shore had taken it.

She worried it was inappropriate, she later shared with me in a text. She didn’t want to seem insensitive.

Together though we intuited that it was exactly what the world needed. People were spiraling into a pit of despair; someone who was able needed to anchor some light.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” —Martin Luther King, Jr.

Albert Einstein proved that all matter is comprised of energy. Emotions are energy as well. According to the Law of Vibration, energy is always vibrating. The speed at which energy vibrates can be measured in hertz (Hz); one hertz equals one vibrational cycle per second.

Joy vibrates at 540 Hz, or 540 cycles of vibration per second. Anger vibrates at 150 Hz.

The lower the vibration, the slower the vibration; the higher, the faster. Fear vibrates at 100, for example, love at 528 Hz. [i]

When large numbers of beings not only focus their attention on but experience such high-frequency states as oneness, unity, forgiveness, communion, gratitude, and generosity, there is a palpable shift in our collective vibration. We feel it on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day, for example, and it’s measurable and explained by science.

Raising the planet’s vibration affects the way we think, feel, and act. It can impact the trajectory of our evolution.

The same thing occurs when we focus collectively on the world’s troubles and the weight of what lies ahead.

“If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.” ―Nicola Tesla

Make no mistake: we must feel our feelings in order to avoid suppressing and experiencing them later as physical, mental, or spiritual illness. As we’re called then to participate in our own way to create solutions, we can do so more powerfully and without burning out if we allow such higher-frequency emotions as joy, compassion and inspiration to motivate us.

It doesn’t always have to be difficult; it can be as simple as inviting friends to a good meal, hiking on a beautiful day, hanging holiday lights, singing out loud to music that moves us, dancing, gazing at nature’s wonders, and, most importantly, laughing.

For we must be that which we long to manifest in the world.

How do we do that when we’re upset or afraid? First, we cultivate self-compassion for the parts of ourselves that are hurting. Remember that emotions are impermanent and move through us in waves. As much as is tolerable, become present to what is and trust that it will pass; we cannot resist or will ourselves to feel differently. See if you can observe or witness your experience rather than identifying with it until the pain begins to shift. (For more, read “One Way to Heal Emotional Pain: Do Nothing.”)

Quantum physics’ principle of resonance states that when two frequencies are brought together, the lower will always rise to meet the higher. By stepping into joy and embodying our best selves, we transmute greed, separation, fear, and the like. With every thought, word, giggle, and guffaw, we can change the world—and yes, even those who hold political office.

[i] Letting Go: The Pathway of Surrender, David R. Hawkins, M.D., Ph.D., Hay House, Inc., 2012.

Allison Brunner, LCSW, RM, Body Talks Therapy

Love Yourself to Heal Our Nation

Following is an essay I wrote almost two years ago; following the U.S. Presidential election of 2016, its relevance remains:

Tuesday, November 25, 2014, about 18 hours after the announcement in Ferguson, Missouri, that White police officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted for fatally shooting unarmed, Black, 18-year-old Michael Brown last summer:

Helicopters hover about a quarter of a mile from my office on the ninth floor of a skyscraper in downtown Philadelphia. I’m trying to communicate something to my client but am distracted by the noise and the emotions it evokes. Thwop, thwop, thwop, thwop, thwop. The chopper blades quicken and seem to multiply, and my heartbeat hastens to match their cadence. I stop mid-sentence. “I’m sorry,” I tell my client. We exchange pained looks. We know that just a few blocks away protesters are chanting through megaphones as they prepare to march up Broad Street and demonstrate.

I can feel our nation’s collective rage, grief, indignation, and confusion gnawing at my heart and my gut in a way that briefly interferes with my ability to stay in my body—because I feel like I should be doing something. Part of me wants to cradle the nation in my arms and soothe it as I would a distraught child.

I look at the human being sitting across from me. I know that this is where I’m called to be, in this moment, supporting her on her journey so that she can heal and go into the world and touch others similarly. I breathe, bow inwardly to what’s present, and focus my attention on her.

In the moments that follow, the separation between her, me, and the hurt people all over the country dissolves. By touching into the place in myself and loving that which is human in me, I am anchoring the space and holding compassion for her humanness, for everyone’s humanness. Here there is unconditional positive regard and love for all beings.

At the close of my work day, I tend to e-mails, text messages, and missed phone calls. I’m invited to an organized rally in which its photograph on Facebook is, I’m told later, of a protester throwing a molotov cocktail back at the police who threw it into a crowd. Why would they post a photo that could mistakenly lead people to believe their aim is violent, I ask organizers. I’m attacked for my ignorance regarding the “iconic image” and sent private hate mail to my Facebook inbox. “A violent system must be overturned by a violent revolution,” a stranger wrote to me.

My body moves as if underwater, and my thoughts disappear into fog. I decide before I meditate to check my Facebook newsfeed to find out whether the protests taking place all over the country have remained peaceful. What I discover is that people are not just hurting. They’ve lost their minds. I scroll through my smart-phone and see folks lashing out via social media, using terms like, “punks, pigs, Nazis, animals, bigots, racists, animals, savages,” and on and on. One article after another emerges, pointing fingers this way and that. No one is listening to anyone else. Most have become hypnotized into an “us vs them” mentality.

Everyone has a right to their anger, I tell myself. You’re a therapist, you know this. Rage comes out sideways. It must be felt before it can heal, I repeat the mantra I tell my clients. Then my own tears begin to fall. “I have a right to my grief, too,” I whisper. Just as I counsel others to do, I allow the sadness to move through me, give it time to just be.

I sit in meditation afterwards, asking then letting go of the question: How can I serve the greater good in this turbulence? The answer feels warm in my “gut” and then translates into words, for me, for you, for all who wonder, what can we do?

Everyone’s role in healing our planet is unique. For some, it’s writing, acting, painting, or singing. For others it’s legislating, organizing, rallying, or wearing a police badge and enforcing the law. Still others must raise a new generation who will change the social climate. And others will change the world by being their best selves. Only you can access the wisdom within yourself to know exactly how to play it.

But the message is this: It starts with you. Love yourself. Because if you don’t, then you cannot fully love others in that deep and selfless way that facilitates the mending of others’ hearts. If when you witness other people’s behaviors and are quick to label them with hate or with even the slightest tinge of judgment, then you do not love yourself—for the external is a mirror to your internal world. If you accept your imperfections with full compassion, then your perception of the flaws in others will shift as well. Rather than a “punk or a pig,” you’ll see a human being who is afraid, suffering, or does not love himself.

You’ll see something else: that he is you. That they are us. That the only distinction between yourself and others is three-dimensional in space and time. You’ll know on a level beyond reason: We are ONE. There is only one human race, indivisible. Separation is an illusion.

—Allison Brunner, LCSW, RM, Body Talks Therapy