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

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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

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

Connect to the “Now”-Moment to Soothe Your Nervous System

What happens when you simply notice a sound or two as far away from you as possible? Or if you’re in a room filled with noise, connect instead to the sound inside of yourself. Try it now for just a few seconds. Then notice your breath, and deepen your inhale and exhale if you’d like.

Come home to yourself, to your body, in this moment. Allow everything to be as it is. There is no tomorrow, no yesterday; sit with “now.”

What just happened to your nervous system? Did you notice a shift?

For the 15 to 20 percent of the population deemed Highly Sensitive People (or HSPs), some type of mindfulness practice (including the simple one I’ve just described) can increase the likelihood that our sensory processing sensitivity trait feels more like an asset than an annoyance.

HSPs are much more aware of our surroundings than our peers. We’re more easily stimulated and expend more energy processing what we perceive—thus increasing the release of stress hormones (including cortisol and adrenaline) into our bodies. While this can serve us in many ways, we also need to relax and recharge in order to maintain overall balance.

Another of our tendencies  is to wander off in thought, coloring with our rich imaginations all sorts of scenarios. On one hand, we’re more creative as a result and can foresee and address problems before they arise. On the other, we risk becoming anxious or paralyzed with inaction. It all depends on whether we’re able to return to center.

“With the act of breathing in mindfully, you go inside. Your body is breathing; and your body is your home. In each breath, you can come home to yourself.” —Thich Nhat Hanh

Among the services Body Talks Therapy offers to support your nervous system is Mid-Day Mindfulness, a 20-minute practice in which we can participate together, Tuesdays at 12:30pm, either in-person or online via Facebook Live (in the closed Body Talks Therapy: HSP Community group). If you’re busy at that time, you can watch the videos later.

Unlike formal sitting meditation, in this practice you’ll be guided on where to focus your attention (whether on physical sensations, body parts, watching your breath, connecting to your five senses, or witnessing thoughts and emotions). From time to time, I may also suggest we tune into images or consider ideas to address some of the psychospiritual or emotional issues we’re facing as a collective. (Watch or follow along with the video below for an example.)

You’re welcome in advance of each session to cue me in on a topic you’d like me to include in our sessions.

To join me in person at 237 N. Prince Street, Suite 303, RSVP here. Otherwise, I’ll sit with you all in cyberspace. 🙏🏻

Allison Brunner, LCSW, Body Talks Therapy

One Way to Heal Emotional Pain: Do Nothing

As a client, I fell in love with experiential psychotherapy with each shift from emotional or existential anguish to insight, clarity, and release. Like any human being, I long for relief, and my clients do the same.

Often, though, we circle back to a clearing, and there is no place else to explore. We’ve done all we can “do.” We’ve examined every angle, we’ve scoured the unconscious, perhaps we’ve even reintegrated fragmented parts. But the present moment now calls us to sit with what is, even if what’s present is uncomfortable.

Often, that’s what life asks of us: to sit with discomfort instead of trying to fix it.

A therapist friend and I joke that we are addicted to self-growth. Like an artist who cannot not paint, she and I cannot stop reflecting, stretching, and navigating the depths of our underworlds. I wonder too, if like me, she prefers this “doing” to “being.”

Other non-clients look to me for answers: Should I break up with so-and-so; should I take an antidepressant; how do I forgive this-or-that person? What should I do?

Even if I had the answers, they’re not mine to give. So I sit with people in the questions and be a loving presence as they dip into their angst. That is where much of the healing lies, in the murky waters where we can’t see where we’re going or do much while we’re in it. Sometimes the most healing thing we can “do” is nothing.

The trick is to be mindful when doing nothing. Alternate between feeling your feelings and observing them with some distance. (Do not get mired in or over-identified with how you’re feeling.)

First, see if you can rest in your emotion, whether it’s sadness, anger, depression, fear, etc. Identify where it lives in your body. Say hello to it. Notice its size and the boundaries or edges of it. If you’re able to tolerate it, then I ask you this: Can you purposely feel it even more? (You may think me harsh, but to resist your feelings strengthens them.) Notice what happens as you do this. Take your time.

Next, add a special ingredient—one that can transmute your suffering over time: awareness. Observe the emotion that is present. Notice that it is part of and not all of you. Now re-label it energy.

You’ll note that, as Quantum Psychologist Stephen H. Wolinsky, PhD, explains, you, your emotions, and everything around you is basically energy. The matter you can perceive with your eyes (e.g., furniture, the walls of the room) is denser energy.  Your emotions and the space around you are lighter, less condensed, so they seem invisible. They are energy too.

See if you can rest your awareness in the space around you, then to the space beyond (perhaps outside the room and into nature). Imagine now that some of the molecules of that space enter your body and float between the molecules of energy we formally referred to as emotion. Spend some time here. Notice the way it feels.

Finally, allow even more space to enter into the formally denser energy of what we called your emotions, your body. Re-label all of it energy. There is no longer a difference between any of it. It’s all just energy.

You can use this exercise as often as you’d like, but its purpose is not to get rid of your pain. If your intention is to surrender to what’s present, over time you’ll likely see a shift and find relief. For everything is temporary and this, too, shall pass.

Disclaimer: The exercises, tools, and insights I offer on this blog will not work for everyone. Each of us is unique, and I am not the expert of you, your mind, your body, or your experience. Listen to your own body-mind wisdom. None of my writing should take the place of a licensed mental health professional if you are experiencing unyielding or overwhelming distress. If you are having thoughts of harming yourself or others, I urge you to call (800) 273-8255 or go to your nearest emergency room. 

Acknowledgments: This exercise combines techniques originated by Quantum Psychologist Stephen H. Wolinsky, PhD, and author of The Open Focus Brain, Les Fehmi, PhD. But I credit my own therapist foremost for introducing me to this work, for guiding and supporting me through my dark nights of the soul and in inspiring me to become a therapist and to integrate her knowledge and methods into my own skill set. She’d likely have written this differently, but I confess unabashedly that I’ve modeled most of my own therapeutic approach after hers. From the bottom of my heart, Martha, thank you. 

—Allison Brunner, LCSW, RM, Body Talks Therapy