Art Imitates Life in The Last Jedi: the Power to End the Battle Between the Light and the Dark Resides Within Us All (Part Two)

WARNING: Spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi follow. Read at your own risk if you haven’t yet seen the movie.

When I was 9 and my sister 6 years old, a group of kids from the elementary school we’d just begun attending followed us home. They called us names and threatened physical harm. The intimidation escalated a week later as the girls chased us to our front door demanding we fight them. They tried to break in through windows where we stood defending ourselves with bug spray.

My sister and I told our mom, who paid a prompt visit to the children’s home to put a stop to the bullying. Their mother pushed and threatened to punch my mom who attempted to address the matter civilly. Later I learned that this same parent used physical violence daily to not only discipline her kids but to vent her frustrations and solve interpersonal disputes.

I cannot recall how the situation was resolved; I only know the confrontations ceased in our case (though not with our peers). The experience changed the way I perceived bullies, however. Every time I crossed paths with those kids in school, I felt sorry for them. They never seemed happy, and teachers didn’t seem fond of them. Eventually they were expelled due to continued misconduct. I saw through their inflated postures and defensiveness and sensed their pain.

This became the lens through which I viewed human behavior. I understood that almost no one is innately horrid. [i] Dig deeper into those who commit atrocities towards others, and you’ll find most perpetrators feel somehow afraid and unlovable. This doesn’t mean we tolerate nefariousness—that’s what healthy boundaries and a justice system focused on rehabilitation (preferably one like Norway’s) can address.

“There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love.”  —John Lennon

Part one of this article began exploring how we can end millennia of war and today’s increasing polarization between the light and the dark, as depicted in the Star Wars saga, including its most recent, The Last Jedi.

First, we realize that all humans have within us both light and dark. We see this in Episode V, Empire Strikes Back, when hero and Light warrior Luke Skywalker gives into his anger when fighting Darth Vader and consequently loses a hand. Shortly after, Darth Vader, the galaxy’s most villainous character after the Emperor, succumbs to the pull of empathy by saving his son’s life.

Second, with regard to nature vs. nurture, we understand that most who act like scoundrels are not born; they’re created. [i] (Read part one to understand this further.)

For centuries, we’ve seen each other as other. Each of us perceives at least one person or group as opposite us, a threat, someone with whom to compete or to overcome. But what if we experimented with the notion that we’re all the same fundamentally, connected by the heroism of being human, our imperfection, our power and our frailty, our love and desire to be loved, and in our fear of losing love or of being unlovable?

“To condemn you would be to condemn me, and we are the same. ”      —Garret John LoportoHow You Change PeopleWayseer.org

If there is someone whom you despise, can you at least acknowledge that “the Force” is within each of us and all that lives (in the plant kingdom, animal kingdom, etc)? Recall the Hindu greeting Namaste, meaning I bow to the divine in you. It doesn’t mean you have to like those to whom you nod inwardly.

Once you’ve got that down, consider the ways in which you’ve participated in harming those you scorn, perhaps not personally but people who remind you of them.  Let’s consider some of the most obvious recipients since these are the object of worldwide focus.

U.S. President Donald Trump demands hefty doses of attention, praise, and validation, while his former rival, First Lady, and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, stands accused of dishonesty and corruption. Might there be someone in your life whom you’ve coddled or idealized, used to feel safe and loved or to build yourself up? Whom have you belittled for being authentic, attacked for being vulnerable, or teased for not measuring up to impossible standards? Whom have you emotionally or mentally hurt or neglected in the past?

We’ve all engaged in these types of behaviors. Waste not energy on self-blame or guilt. Rather, let’s take responsibility for the ways in which we can foster healing and bring our planet back into balance and harmony.

 

We could begin with the ancient Hawaiian prayer or mantra, Ho’oponopo, used traditionally to heal relationships between two or more people. It can also be used privately to heal your relationship with and forgive yourself or to send an intention to heal past hurts and traumas between you and another person or group.

It goes like this:

Please forgive me.

I’m so sorry.

I love you.

Thank you.

Don’t force it. Notice your emotional response. Is there resistance? If so, then simply say it to yourself. Be patient and kind with yourself. Let this be a practice, a journey.

Kylo: Did you come back to say you forgive me? To save my soul?

Luke: No.

[Kylo advances, drawing his lightsaber. Luke defends with his, and they fight.] 

Luke: I failed you, Ben. I’m sorry.

You may also enjoy this guided version.

Worldwide conflict will not end long-term until we’ve resolved the battle between light and dark within ourselves. It’s much easier to love our enemies, so to speak, when we’ve healed and learned to love ourselves.

Another favorite practice of mine is metta bhavana or loving-kindness mediation. For 15 or 20 minutes, breathe gently and recite the following to yourself:

May I be filled with lovingkindness.

May I be safe from inner and outer danger.

May I be free from suffering and healthy in body and mind.

May I be happy and at ease.

Feel each word and experience its effects in this now-moment. When you are full, either in this session or in a future one, extend the prayer to others, changing the “I” to “you” or “they.” Practice first on someone whom you love easily, until you feel able to pray for a national or world leader or someone you’ve labeled foe, for whom you struggle to find compassion.

May you be filled with lovingkindness.

May you be safe from inner and outer danger.

May you be free from suffering and healthy in body and mind.

May you be happy and at ease.

Prefer a guided meditation? Try this one.

Notice over time how your attitude towards others changes. You may even begin effortlessly to treat others with radical kindness.

What happens when someone’s poor behavior is met with grace instead of the shunning or criticism they expect? It confuses them. It even rewires their brain. If this occurs repeatedly, they begin to see themselves in a more positive light. Depending on the individual and how deep their wounds, it could take between a few days and an entire lifetime. Try not to think about how long the road ahead. Consider the power you have to in each interaction to make just a tiny bit of difference.

You have the power, with your love, to alchemize fear and hate and to light up the world, putting a stop to the cycle of fight, win-lose, peace, and more fighting. And don’t forget: you’re not the only real-life Jedi. There are thousands of us around the world who have chosen once and for all to put down our lightsabers and open our hearts. We don’t have to convince everyone. We need only to tip the scales.

That’s an ending I’d like to see in the Star Wars saga’s Episode IX. Does anyone have access to (and could share this with) J. J. Abrams?

Allison Brunner, LCSW, Body Talks Therapy

[i] Oxford University Research Psychologist Kevin Dutton argues that between .75% and 1% of the human population is born with untreatable psychopathy or brain abnormalities precluding the Hannibal Lectors of the world from feeling empathy or remorse. For the purposes of this article, we’ve focused on the remaining 99% to 99.25%. As noted above, though, this is all about tipping the scales.

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Bring the “Love and Light” Into Your Darkness

In my teens through mid-thirties, I was diagnosed with severe and recurrent Major Depressive Disorder as well as Generalized Anxiety Disorder. A well-meaning friend who witnessed me struggle to get through my days recommended a then-popular book by Dr. Wayne Dyer, though I can’t recall its title. Its premise was that if you simply change your thoughts, you can change your reality.

I devoured chapter after chapter while riding the bus to and from work one day, hopeful that something so simple might be the solution to lifelong anguish.

Aspiring to be among Dr. Dyer’s best students, I thought about happiness, well-being, and churning out articles that that would knock my boss’s and editor-in-chief’s socks off at the magazine publisher that employed me. I also envisioned a few rainbows and unicorns for good measure.

But the dark clouds remained fixed in my world, and where I expected beautiful, white legendary creatures, I met horned inner demons who seemed to get louder and more intimidating the more I tried to ignore them. My boss too remained unimpressed with my moodiness and its impact on my ability to meet work deadlines.

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I tossed Dr. Dyer’s book and opted instead for more psychotherapy with someone who warned me against the pitfalls of esoteric teachings that promote spiritual bypassing, a term coined by Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist John Welwood in the 1980s. It refers to, in Welwood’s words, a “tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks.” [i]

What happens when you repeat affirmations or chant mantras in the mirror about how lovable, powerful, or abundant you are, for instance, while squashing beliefs that you’re loathsome, weak, and lacking? Or worse, what occurs when you ignore the chest pains, jaw clenching, gut pangs, or other ways your body tries to communicate to you that something within is out of alignment?

Remember American Beauty character Carolyn, the ambitious real estate broker and disdaining wife who drove around listening to motivational speeches on tape. She did what so many of us have been taught to do: think positive and visualize success while never acknowledging thoughts and emotions that indicate otherwise. Some of us were taught by our parents and other authority figures to buck up, get over it, snap out of it, move on, look on the bright side, find the silver lining, make lemonade out of lemons, and so on.

If you understand human nature, you picked up on the fact that Carolyn believed deep-down that she was unworthy or unlovable. She had minimal awareness of her true self, which lay hidden beneath the layers of “I’m not enough” buried in her subconscious.

She drove underground and disowned the aspects of herself she feared would keep her from the “worthier” tribes of society. But you can’t hide from your own shadow indefinitely. When you try, it either comes out sideways or in emotional breakdowns like this one:

 

or this one:

 

What lies buried within our shadow can contort and fester if ignored long enough. It can manifest later as chronic mental- and physical-health problems or in judgments and behaviors towards others that are cruel, passive aggressive, dishonest, or manipulative.

Carolyn needed help. Either from herself or with the guidance of a nonjudgmental witness or professional guide (a psychotherapist, shaman, or other depth worker) who has done her own shadow work and knows his or her way around the dark. Carolyn needed to turn off the positive thinking tapes and spend some time bringing the light of awareness and compassion to the hurt aspects of herself that she’d disowned.

Such leaders in the positive thinking communities as the late Louise Hay, Dr. Dyer, and Jerry Hicks, as well as Hicks’ living wife, Esther, were not wrong when they professed that our thoughts create our reality. But this truth is a little more complex than most of us who study the Law of Attraction have interpreted it.

You can think with your conscious mind all you want to about success, as Carolyn did. But that which remains buried in the subconscious can be an equally if not more powerful point of attraction—because what we deny and resist pushes back with equal force and is mirrored back to us by our external life circumstances.

Success, healthy relationships, fulfilling work and careers, financial wellness, and the like come to those who know that their personal value is not dependent on them but that they deserve to live full and happy lives.

And yet even this is an oversimplified explanation of the more complex Law of Attraction. For the purposes of this article, however, I’ll leave you with this.

What does happen when you speak or hear the positive statements many people use as affirmations or to override the shadow that lurks beyond the light? Take a deep breath, tune into yourself, and simply notice what emotions arise when you read a few statements below. Work with each individually and take notes.

There is nothing wrong with you.

You are enough.

It’s OK to be imperfect.

Notice where in your body you experience any emotional responses and the physical sensations that accompany them. Place your awareness, if it’s tolerable, right into the emotions or physical sensations. What else comes up for you? Images? Memories? More emotion? Non-logical thoughts that are the breadcrumbs to a deeper layer?

These are aspects of you that have wanted your acknowledgement and healing for either many years or for most of your life. Can you witness what you’ve discovered with a balance of detachment and deep compassion, as though you were listening to a dear friend or loved one?

Imagine sitting around a fire next to them for no more than 20 minutes, holding space for what arises. Let these aspects tell you their story. Allow them to feel what they feel and you to feel what you feel as well. All the while, breathe long, slow breaths of self-love and compassion right into the center of what may feel uncomfortable.

If the intensity of the emotions or the stories these aspects of you have to share are too intense, stop the exercise and seek the assistance of a counselor, mental health practitioner, somatic therapist, shaman, or other depth worker. (Please note that this exercise is contraindicated for people with deeper trauma or a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or complex PTSD, psychotic disorders, or dissociative disorders).

If you have questions about how the exercise works, send me an e-mail.

Allison Brunner, LCSW, RM, Body Talks Therapy

[i] Fossella, Tina. “Human Nature, Buddha Nature: On Spiritual Bypassing, Relationship, and the Dharma (An Interview with John Welwood). 

 

Mother Earth’s Embrace: an mp3 Download to Support You in Times of Stress, Anxiety, or Emotional Overwhelm

Following is a reprint of Mother Earth’s Embrace: A Natural Remedy for Anxiety, to accompany an mp3 I used to share with clients in need of support between one-on-one sessions. I hope you find it helpful and look forward to sharing another with you in the months to come.


 

Mother Earth’s Embrace: A Natural Remedy for Anxiety

Wrinkled brows, a tight jaw, and eyes wide with dilated pupils. Legs cross and uncross, fingers pick cuticles then press the forehead. Breath fills lungs then exits before reaching the stomach.

MEEI observe the body language of a client seated across from me. Caught in the turbulence of her mind, she’s disconnected from the now-moment and her body.

She speaks rapidly, seeking safety in potential solutions too many to track. “What if” this and “maybe that?” Underneath what she’s saying, I hear, “If I just do that, I won’t have to feel this.”

Softly, I name what I’m sensing. Her eyes water in response. Her throat tightens, and she looks into her lap. Tears slide into the corners of her mouth. Energy flows through her body once more. She’d been holding on tightly and just needed a safe space to feel before moving into a calmer, more spacious state.

So many of us cope with our fears of feeling—and with our fears in general—by escaping into our minds and seeking solutions or distractions. It’s a behavior that helped us feel safer when we were too young, too small, or too vulnerable to deal directly with actual threats. Over time, this became habitual and we never learned that it was safe to simply feel.

But the mind is no refuge. It can create all sorts of thought forms, including worst-case scenarios to which our nervous systems respond as though the scenarios are happening right here and right now.

I invited my client, and I invite you, to soothe your frazzled nerves, ease your anxiety, and create a safe space to tolerate your emotions by engaging in an exercise I use daily, as frequently as necessary (you can’t overdose).

First, connect with your breath by simply noticing it. Then exhale, squeezing out the oxygen from your pulled-in abdomen so that when you again inhale, you fill your belly first and then your lungs. Notice the sensations in your body as you breathe. If you feel the urge to cry, to yell into a pillow, to grunt, to squeeze your pinky fingers with your ring fingers and thumbs, allow yourself the release.

Feel the heaviness of your body. Mother Earth holds you close to her through gravity. You’re safe; she won’t let you float away. Visualize this and track any emotional response.

Again notice your breath and your body’s weight, held up by Earth; she prevents you from falling through. Linger here for a while, noting the experience of being embraced and supported by Earth. See if you can take in her nourishment. What is it like?

Imagine your hearbeat in sync with the Earth’s. You are an extension of her, made of the same vitamins and minerals and nearly the same percentage of water. The stardust that comprises her is in you as well. Hang out with these truths for a a few minutes.

Extend your awareness to your five senses, noticing sounds, colors, smells, the taste of your mouth, the temperature of your skin. Remember your breath and that Earth breathes through you.

Explore the now. What is true in this moment? Not the next hour. Not even tomorrow or next year. Can you stay here a while longer? Can you carry the now-moment into the next moment, then into the next? Can you remember that this quality of presence, that this stillness, is available to you any time you need it?

Can you remember too that you don’t have to do any of this alone? You’re supported by something greater than yourself, that which is as miraculous and divine as you. Carry a photo of Earth with you as a resource, if it helps. Consider connecting with her directly when your feelings are more intense.

Nuzzle into a tree. Press your cheeks to some grass. Allow her to cool you with ocean waves or to blanket you in sunlight. She’ll never leave you. She’s here for you always.

(Download “Mother Earth’s Embrace” guided exercise on mp3 here.)

—Allison Brunner, LCSW, RM, Body Talks Therapy

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.

Ice Cream Party

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

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

Invite Your Anxiety to Tea

Much of this article by Allison Brunner, LCSW, is reprinted from Natural Awakenings magazine’s (Lancaster/Berks edition) November 2016 issue.

Many of us know it well: a gnawing in the pit of the stomach, an ache in the chest, shallow breathing, rapid heartbeat or a lump in the throat. Roughly 40 million Americans (or 18 percent of the population above the age of 18), according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, experience anxiety as a full-blown disorder.

Most of us encounter the symptoms from time to time. Hardwired to avoid pain, we do everything we can to self-distract or problem-solve our way out. We try to convince ourselves we’re “worrying about nothing”. In cognitive approaches to psychotherapy, too, we examine the validity of the thoughts that create suffering and attempt to assuage our fears by labeling them irrational.

But how effective has that been for you?

Running and thinking (or arguing with our thoughts) exacerbate angst. The worse we feel, the more afraid we tend to become, wondering how long the discomfort will last or whether it may worsen and turn us crazy. Our minds are adept at tricking us into believing that what’s really a mouse in the closet is a six-foot monster with fangs.

What if we tuned into our bodies when the symptoms, like little lights on an automobile dashboard, indicated distress? What if we pulled up a chair and invited our anxiety to tea, so to speak? When we take the opportunity to face it, feel it and get to know it a little better, it calms. We can drop beneath it and find that where it was trying to turn our attention is an emotion that is far more tolerable than panic or fear. There may be sadness, grief, disappointment or anger—only a mouse when compared to the anxiety monster.

Try the following next time the body-mind gets noisy.

Find a safe, quiet space where you can turn your attention inward. It’s best to sit on the floor and allow yourself to feel the support of the earth beneath you. Squeeze all of the breath out of your belly, if you can; then fill it first, before your lungs, with fresh air. Notice whether your body is holding tension and relax if you’d like.

Let go of thinking. There is no future, not even a few minutes from now. There is only this moment. Breathe.

Enhance your feeling of safety by focusing on an object in the room that gives you pleasure. Notice the quality of light where you’re seated. Feel the texture of your clothing against your skin. Notice any sounds, smells, the taste in your mouth.

Where in your body are you feeling anxious? What are the physical sensations that accompany it? Place your awareness in that area. How much space does it take up? Does it have a shape; is it solid or diffuse; does it have a temperature?

Stay out of story. Remove the labels (good, bad, awful, terrified) from what you’re feeling. Simply allow yourself to feel what you feel.

What does your body want to do? Does it want to curl into a ball while wrapped in blankets? Do you need to cry into a pillow or scream? Do you need to shake, punch or kick? Allow the release.

Emotions move like waves; they don’t last forever. Give yourself 15 to 30 minutes to ride this one, rather than being pummeled by it, and know that the nervous system will calm again. When we resist, anxiety persists and either somaticizes or intensifies.

Once the waters still, ask your body what it needs. Reconnect to your five senses and where you’re situated in time and space. Soothe yourself with a warm bath, lit candles, low lights or relaxing music. Make yourself a warm cup of tea. After you’ve braved this storm, those in the future will feel more manageable.

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Body Talks Therapy owner, coach, healer, and facilitator of a community of Highly Sensitive People, Allison Brunner, LCSW, will facilitate a workshop on Thursday, May 11, 7:15pm to 8:45pm, at Mulberry Art Studios’ Mulberry on King, 253 W. King St., Lancaster (off-street parking is available against the side of the building, near the entrance. Join us for a combination of psychoeducation, hands-on learning, and experiential practice of tools for coping with and minimizing or even eliminating your symptoms of anxiety as a way of protecting yourself against the emotions that scare you.

Bring a pen and paper or journal. If you prefer to express yourself through art or music, bring the tools to do so. We’ll engage in body awareness and somatic work (grounding and resourcing), mindfulness practice and strategies, guided visualization, “parts work,” and journaling.

RSVP and pay here in advance. For questions, contact info@bodytalkstherapy.com.

Allison Brunner, LSCW, RM, Body Talks Therapy