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

Spiritual Director Erin Miller Shrader Now Offers Counseling at Body Talks Therapy in Lancaster

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Spiritual director, yoga teacher, Registered Nurse, mother, wife, and friend Erin Miller Schrader

“One of my first memories occurs around the age of 4. I am on the swing set in our backyard in the hour just before sunset. I feel the breeze on my sticky summer skin and watch the last golden rays of sun dancing on the treetops. Suddenly a sense of deep recognition fills me. It feels like home. Like belonging, and peace, and incredible joy. Like a deep exhilarating sigh through my whole being.

For the rest of my life, I have been finding ways to re-experience the magic of that moment and to help others have that experience. I have come to understand that I was resting in our true and eternal nature in those precious moments.

“As a spiritual director, yoga teacher, registered nurse, mother, wife and friend, I find ways to move in the world that help us all to experience the homecoming and the joy of our true nature. I have also had many experiences of feeling deeply exiled from this joy, what has been termed the Dark Night of the Soul, or Spiritual Crisis. Even in those times, when I had no felt sense of the Holiness of my nature, I blessedly carried the memory of my child self and drew hope from it like an amulet.

“It is my great joy in this world to aid others in accessing their own experience of deep joy, peace and belonging. My work is to help you create your amulet, something to hold when the darkness sweeps through, as it inevitably does in this Earth life. One of my favorite quotes from Ram Dass captures my work exceptionally well: “We are all just walking each other home.”

— Erin Miller Shrader, Sacred Grove Wellness

For more information or to schedule an appointment with Erin at the Body Talks Therapy office in The Lancaster Trophy House at 237 N. Prince St., Suite 303, Lancaster, PA, call (717) 870-4225 or e-mail onesacredgrove@gmail.com

From Dark Night to Rebirth: Psychotherapy and Counseling for Spiritual Awakening and for the Spiritually Awakened

“When I get through this, I will help others do the same,” I vowed on a chilly December afternoon as the winter-white light barely shone between thick raindrops pouring against my bedroom window. Huddled beneath blankets and feeling lost in mental darkness, I focused on my breath and tried to create space for the emotions that were arising. The future reality I’d just created with my heart and mind—that one day I’d offer others the comfort I longed for in that moment—brought me peace.

For this was my Dark Night of the Soul (also known as a spiritual depression), on the heels of the most profound spiritual experience (or kundalini awakening) of my life.

About a half-year prior, I’d awakened from the dream in which I’d played the role (as we all have) of someone who was unlovable or not enough, that I was a victim, and that I was unsafe. It was more than life-altering; it was lifetimes-altering. For weeks after, I wandered around as though I was watching a movie in which I’d once been an actor who didn’t know I was acting and mistook each scene for reality.

Upon realizing the truth of who I was (perfect, holy, divine, powerful, and so much more), I experienced a shift in my sense of Self. I’d broken through Abraham Maslow‘s apex ceiling of self-actualization and reached self-transcendence.

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Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

 

Everything beautiful outside of me I perceived as a reflection to my own beauty and an expansion of my Self. Peering into the eyes of a cottontail rabbit, hearing a coyote call at dawn, watching the moon rise at dusk, or gazing at bright-white clouds against sunlit-blue skies, I could easily cry or laugh with the kind of bliss we feel when in love!

I was in love with myself. Madly. Passionately. For the next several months, I was on a honeymoon with the All-That-Is.

Because I had allowed in so much light, literally and figuratively, by summer’s end I sensed my inner shadow elongating. What had remained unacknowledged or lay dormant in my subconscious, cells, energy field, and ancestry was illuminated, calling out to be healed.

My experience was more intense than it needed to be; I learned later that this had much to do with some deep-down beliefs I held regarding personal transformation and growth having to be painful (more on that a few paragraphs later). If you can relate, though, to some of what I describe following, please know that it is temporary. Seek the support of a spiritual healer, shaman, or a transpersonal psychotherapist trained in kundalini syndrome if your symptoms are similar. (They can be easily misdiagnosed.) [i]

I began to doubt my recent peak experience, wondered if I’d made it up or was tricked. I grew increasingly uncomfortable. I was ultra-sensitive to sounds, tastes, light, color, smells, texture, and other people’s emotions. I seemed to have sprouted antennae that sensed the subtle differences in the vibrations of people, places, and things. The grit, grime, and angst I once found endearing in the city where I lived for 16 years aggravated my nervous system. It mirrored what within me was releasing as I shed layers of who I was not.

Spoken words and even thoughts projected colors and images in my mind; those that were negative affected me physically and emotionally. I lost interest in my friends and in the activities that once inspired me.

Fortunately I’d read books, letters, and personal accounts by Thomas Moore, Adyashanti, St. Theresa of Calcutta, Pamela Kribbe, Eckhart Tolle, St. John of the Cross, and others during years prior, which described experiences similar to mine—so I understood that I was not crazy.

Yet I had expected miracles, a diploma for acing Earth School, a portal to exit the matrix of human existence (not yet understanding that my role was to anchor “heaven” on earth).

“The miracles you seek are in the mundane,” said a shaman who became my guide. She too had once traversed the Underworld and, like Persephone, emerged intact. “You want to see heaven? Look in a blade of grass.”

Her laughter and her calm certainty that I was going to be OK were the soothing balm for my soul and medicine for my heart. As the months wore on, she not only reminded me of sacred mysteries I felt I’d once known, she sat shiva by phone as I grieved my former self.

On Good Friday, the day collective awareness was on death and resurrection, she told me gently, “The belief that this has to be hard is just a belief.” No one expected me to carry a cross and be crucified, she pointed out. Light pierced through the darkness. I laughed. She laughed with me. And when we hung up the phone, I laughed myself to tears.

The spell was broken.

I’ve kept my promise to extend a welcoming hand to you too as you cross the bridge between harsher duality-based living and the world that together we are birthing. I understand that it can feel disorienting at times, but I also know that our intentions are powerful enough to navigate this transformation with grace and ease.

I write this now for two reasons:

1. To encourage you to put up lights in your Dark Night, to rename it Bright Night or whatever name you choose, and celebrate. We’re not Jesus. We’re not Persephone. We’re the co-creators of a new reality filled with peace, joy, unity, and unconditional love. And we can make this fun.

2.  You don’t have to “wake up” alone. Yogi, spiritual director, Registered Nurse, and awakened supermom, wife, and friend Erin Miller Shrader of Sacred Grove Wellness has begun offering counseling and energy healing part time at Body Talks Therapy‘s Lancaster office.

I too will continue to offer somatic, psychospiritual depth work and energy healing to assist you (whether awakened or awakening) in bringing compassion into your own shadows and fully embodying your Higher Self. I’ve found that the more healing work we do in preparation for our awakening, the easier it is to navigate the purification process when it occurs.

Meanwhile, know this: What you feel now is an indication of what’s leaving you because it no longer resonates with how bright you’ve become; the discomfort is not who you are. Breathe. Try not to think of how long it will last, for the mind can create more suffering. Stay in the present moment; it is a portal to healing past and future.

Sing. Cry. Take salt baths. Cook gourmet meals. Dance.

You are not alone. And you are so loved.

Allison Brunner, LCSW, RM, Body Talks Therapy

[i] Spiritual transformation impacts us physically, emotionally, and mentally, so trust your instincts, heed your inner wisdom, be kind to yourself, and use caution. Take good, physical care of yourself, because being human is divine. Safe and slow can be the most powerful way to accessing the ultimate love within.

 

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

Allison Brunner, LCSW, RM, Body Talks Therapy

Return to Your Body in a Celtic-Inspired Movement Medicine Class

Join me on Thursday, March 16, St. Patrick’s Eve, for a special Movement Medicine class, 7:15pm to 8:30pm. To music recalling an era in which the Celtic Nature traditions lived embodied, we’ll dance beyond thought back into our own bodies. This authentic movement practice offers a fun and safe way to realign the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of ourselves and to reconnect our hearts with the perfection of our humanness.

For centuries, we in the Western world have hungered for an antidote to the collective wound created when Christian Romans in the 1st Century AD and the Saxons in the 5th Century AD nearly wiped out or drove into hiding a culture that understood that the higher intelligence and expression of Source energy (or God/Goddess) runs through all living things (our bodies included), that human beings and nature are interdependent, and that truth and divinity are within.

The Christians of that era labeled Celtic lifestyles primitive and their beliefs blasphemous toward the patriarchal version of God who reigned from on high. They taught us that human beings (women especially) and our bodies are inherently evil, emphasized reason over intuition, and urged us to beg for the deservingness of redemption.

The truth is, though, that we’ve never required redemption, were never less than deserving, and were perfectly imperfect all along. But such disempowering teachings (and others like them) have contributed to the suffering of most people on this planet from the distorted notion that we are bad or unlovable and that we must spend our lives proving our worthiness.

Together, we’ll heal these ancestral injuries with somatic practices that include breath awareness,  the exploration of old, familiar patterns of seeking refuge in our thoughts (and honoring the safety this provides), connection to our five senses, body scanning, emoting though movement, and allowing our bodies to express what within us longs to shift, let go, and forge a new way of being.

Please note: Because this dance community has outgrown the space on King Street, Movement Medicine classes will be held every first and third Thursday of the month at Mulberry Art Studios‘ main location, 21 N. Mulberry St., Lancaster, PA. Thus, classes are now $20; but when you bring a new class member, each of you pays half. RSVP in advance to pay by credit card or pay cash in person. Drop-ins are now welcome!

Allison Brunner, LCSW, RM, Body Talks Therapy

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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