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.

infused water

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). 

 

Advertisements

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

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.

Invite Your Anxiety to Tea.png

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

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.

I 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.

—Allison Brunner, LCSW, RM, Body Talks Therapy