This podcast explores the nature of the unconscious, how it interacts in our life and ways to shift our relationship to it. Developing our awareness and learning to interact with our unconscious is a game changer. For more insights and exercises check out the website SoundBodyWisdom.com.
This podcast discusses the workings of our unconscious and how awareness empowers us to make changes in our habits and conditioning. There is also a simple exercise to help grow your personal awareness and connect the dots of the practice.
In this second podcast of the series I offer an invitation to explore our core resources. We each have these amazing super powers but we sometimes forget that they are there for us to access. In this podcast, I make the proposal for why each of us is more brilliant than we currently imagine.
This is the first podcast in the series and it took the shape of an interview between myself and Sam Fisher. He asks questions about this practice and why I began developing and sharing it. This podcast will explore our being human and offer tools and insights through the Sound Body Wisdom practice. It’s a space of possibility expanded by science, mind-body practices and personal wisdom.
I have recently found myself simply saying ‘The Practice’ more often because practice is what underlies our life. It is interesting because in the realm of the Self there are so many influences and layers. We are influenced by where we put our attention and how we focus our energy and thoughts. But also by where we do not put our attention and let pre-conditioned habits keep running freely without question. The practice of the Self is both having awareness of the pre-conditioning and choosing what you would like to maintain or shift, AND, having awareness for moment to moment choices throughout your day.
Each of us can develop the tools that will uniquely serve the eccentricities of deepening our awareness. It takes some time and a bit of effort but you begin to recognize your own extraordinary habits, challenges and strengths. You can pioneer your own path for personal growth and uncover what that means for you right now. And no doubt, this will evolve as you move through your life. But no matter who you are or your life circumstances….developing and refining your personal practice of awareness will serve you in limitless ways.
Somatic awareness is another way of saying ‘felt awareness’. It is something we each cultivate personally and it is not found outside of us. When we broaden our Somatic awareness, our inherent wisdom of our body, energy and even life force align or develop. We might find that as this happens we notice a natural lessening of stress and health issues in our lives.
In order to truly practice this personal relationship of felt awareness you need to suspend so much of what we have learned throughout our lives. Felt awareness is not the model we generally have been taught so we need to actively seek it out and shift what we have already learned.
So much of our learning has been through habituation often corresponding to implicit learning. This is learning that happens without conscious awareness of actually ‘learning’ it. Examples would be eating or walking where learning occurs through passive, incidental and automatic acquisition. No conscious effort to absorb the learning is required
These habits of ‘being’ and unconscious knowledge can play a significant role in our lack of awareness to our own thought processes and disconnect to our felt sense of personal awareness.
Also, we have been taught a perspective of compartmentalization when it comes to our bodies, emotions and spirit. Part of this is the perception of the body as an ‘object’. If we can begin to expand our awareness and see the interconnectivity of our physical functions (brain, organs, cells, foods) with our emotions, thoughts and beliefs then perhaps we can realize that our wellness is something we have great influence with.
“Subatomic particles, and all matter made therefrom, including our cells, tissues and bodies, are in fact patterns of activity rather than things.”
Our bodies and health are not static occurrences but ever changing and dynamic. The body, mind and emotions are living systems that are influenced and influencing always. When you can touch the edge of your own awareness you realize it is not a fixed boundary but a landscape to continually expand. As living systems our nature is to constantly adapt and renew, not to be rigid or closed. We are in a constant dance of renewal whether we notice it or not. Awareness can allow us to participate in this, at a core level, consciously.
Embodying awareness can unwind the way in which we have learned to be in relationship with our bodies and lives. In being aware and not being attached to our thought processes/perspective we can change our ‘reality’ by changing our experience.
So, how can we do this? How do we shift something that seems habitual or occurring without conscious effort?
How do we begin to have a ‘felt sense’ of our selves and move beyond the idea of static lines and more into the interconnectivity that brings us the equivalence of winning the lottery?
What things can we do to live a more vivastic, in-joyed and embodied life?
Is it possible that even small changes in how we perceive our selves and life can have powerful affects on how we live in our own bodies?
What if all of this is much simpler than we think?
If any of these questions have struck a chord in you or inspired your own personal inquiry, then lets try some things.
It will be a little different from person to person since each of us has our own degree of perfectly beautiful challenges to work with; especially it seems when it comes to looking within our own thoughts and feelings. Wherever you are, that is where you begin. There is no hierarchy to this or competition as far as who wins the ‘most self aware’ award. This is for you and it is you who will shape and direct what you discover. Take as much time as you need. And honestly, as you begin to explore it will become more and more ‘second nature’ and less effort /work is needed.
Here are some things to try as you move into your exploration.
~Find 5 minutes in your day, when you are not too tired, to bring your focus to your breath (it could be right now). Instead of the usual expand the belly style of ‘deep breathing’ I want you to simply follow the sensation of the breath beginning at the nostrils.
For now, lets just concentrate on the inhales and let the exhales happen on their own. I want you to follow your inhales and see if you can trace the path of the breath through your body. Notice where you lose track of it, what the sensation feels like and how it moves. If you seem to continuously lose it at the nostrils, that’s fine, just be with that moment at every inhale with the intention to follow it further. If you are able to go beyond the nostrils see if you can begin to direct the breath through your body to area like your hands or feet. See if you can get creative with directing the flow and even see if you can connect any colors to your breath. See what naturally arises in the imagination because I believe ‘imagination’ is linked to intuition and body wisdom. There is no right or wrong way to do this. Follow your impulse and curiosity and notice what you notice.
~ Find a place indoors or outdoors to take your shoes off and walk barefoot. Set a goal for 5 minutes and in a location where your feet feel ‘safe’ from anything unfriendly. Begin by bringing your eyes to a soft gaze on a ‘far off horizon’. (This essentially means not tilting any direction but head floating on top of your spine with ease, eyes looking forward.) Your gaze is not fixed on any one place and your peripheral vision is open. First, just stand and feel your feet on the ground. Notice contact with the surface below you, skin sensation, weight sensation, temperature and balance. Be present with noticing all that you can while simply standing and the exchange of you meeting the ground and the ground meeting you. Bring presence to your breath and sensations throughout your body and notice any thoughts and emotions too. Then consciously choose to take your first step and notice all that is involved in doing that. Shifting your weight, muscle engagement, balance and so much more before placing that foot in a new location. This list doesn’t even scratch the surface of what goes into our balance and walking but this is where we begin. See how many layers you can notice in this simple process that we often do without thinking. Notice how it can change your sense of self in space with gravity, your emotions as you slow down and your mind/thoughts as you move differently. You might be amazed by what you learn.
~ For this exercise find a room where you can stand with eyes closed and make full body movements/gestures safely. Set a goal (or timer) of 5 minutes and while keeping your eyes closed begin to move your body. See what impulses you can follow and let the movements be 3 dimensional and on all height levels. See where you can bend and fold, arc and curve or expand and contract. Play with direction, speed and repetition. (Your feet do not need to be glued to the ground but stay in a relative diameter that maintains your safety with eyes closed.) Allow yourself to move in different shapes and forms even if you might find it embarrassing if you felt others were watching. This exercise is great for strengthening your kinesthesia and proprioception; which is our bodies built in awareness of position and movement of body parts in relation to self and space. We rely so heavily on our sight and habits that we often disconnect from this potent ‘felt awareness’ that we already have built in. Let’s reconnect and let it teach us.
Each of these exercises asks you to do something out of the ordinary that helps to develop and rebuild our inner felt awareness or somatic knowledge. Each of these is quite simple and yet can have far reaching affects when practiced a few times a week or perhaps every day. There are no limits to what we can discover using these as springboards into our own awareness. This ability to cultivate and bridge the inner sensation/experience with the outer world mechanisms is important. Otherwise we end up having either/or and truly we want access to both.
Our life force and intelligence is like a seed; constantly moving towards the light. In this practice there is no forcing, we are allowing what is natural to arise, to move towards the light, to show us what life is potential.
The Brain on Love
Definitions on the table
Self Love can mean many things to many people and has been a popular topic in many self-help books. It is something we often know and observe as being of critical importance to our general well being and yet it still eludes a majority of the population.
Since love can actually be quite subjective and ambiguous I thought I would offer a platform of accepted ‘definition’ before diving in.
The Self LOVE I am referring to is generally a part of ‘unconditional love’ and is quite different than the more popular ‘romantic’ version.
affection with no limits or conditions; complete love.
By straight definition, unconditional love can still feel a bit unclear and lend much confusion. So perhaps begin with an investigation of yourself. When you ask yourself what it means to love without any conditions or any limits, what answers do you get? Your idea might actually look different from somebody else because we have each had different experiences of love. But unconditional Love can exist regardless of the circumstances and is as authentic as our ability to offer it with no strings attached.
Since I believe unconditional Love for oneself (self love) is integral in our construction of positive self-esteem I am going to go further and also give a ‘definition’ of self-esteem to aid in bringing self-love into tangible form. Along with this, I would like to suggest that Self Love is a fundamental piece of the positive self-esteem pie. (They are actually synonymous to me so moving forward from the definition I will simply say ‘self love’ which will also include self-esteem.)
Self-esteem is the sum of self-confidence (a feeling of personal capacity) and self-respect (a feeling of personal worth). Self-esteem is a term used to reflect a person’s overall emotional evaluation of his or her own worth. Thus, it affects the way we are and act in the world and the way we relate to everybody else. Nothing in the way we think, feel, decide and act escapes the influence of self-esteem.
People with a healthy (positive) level of self-esteem: Tend to trust their abilities, consider themselves equal in dignity to others, admit and accept different internal feelings whether ‘positive’ or ‘negative’, find enjoyment in many activities in life and are compassionate towards others.
An article in the Oxford Journal said this about the broad spectrum of mental and physical health: “The most basic task for one’s mental, emotional and social health, which begins in infancy and continues until one dies, is the construction of his/her positive self-esteem”
So, the Self Love I am speaking of is critical to overall health, wellness and balanced living and is not related to narcissistic or self-absorbed behaviors. The above overviews of definition can hopefully offer a baseline from which we can understand its essence and move forward into personal exploration.
Bird’s Eye View
We can talk about macronutrients, micronutrients, supplements, balanced meals and how much water to drink in a day but self-love is one of the greatest nourishments and medicine we have. I realize that my writing often returns to or boils down to this essential element but truly it is because I feel it underlies all things. The self-love I speak about is not merely some warm and fuzzy or new age version but one that has all the elements of joy, sweat and tears. It is not convenient nor one-dimensional but a building block that each of us has lost/reclaimed with greater and lesser degree throughout our lives. It is an ingredient for health and well-being that is as essential as the air we breathe and food/water we ingest.
Love in this sense is not just an emotion but rooted in thought, genetics and the influences of history and experience. Self Love cannot be separated from these or isolated as just an emotion. It is part of the brain mapping that underlies most of our development on all levels. This interwoven tapestry of our thoughts, experiences and emotions has direct and tangible affects on our health and how we live.
Research is helping us to understand the impact of these and specifically the role of positive emotions like self–love. Our health and well-being are a complex web of influences of which self-love is one key ingredient. In fact, empirical studies over the last 15 years indicate that self-love is an important psychological factor contributing to health and quality of life. The protective nature of self-love is particularly evident in studies examining stress and/or physical disease in which self-love is shown to safeguard the individual from fear, uncertainty and buffer the impact of stressors (which are a major impairment to health across the board). They found that the level of self-love was a consistent factor in predicting the outcome of a patient after a stroke or could enhance an individual’s ability to cope with disease and post-operative survival. Even more recently we have been finding out exactly how self love/positive esteem changes our brains.
The affects of ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ self-thoughts are abundant and varied so I am going to just give an overview of our brains ‘on love’. Needless to say there is plenty of data showing that self-love (positive self-esteem) is some of the best medicine/nutrition for us humans so I will leave you to do more extensive research on your own.
Our Brains On Love
Our development of self-love starts early, actually in utero. From the time we are in our mother’s womb we begin to learn and absorb the deep sense of connection and love inherent in that relationship. Our brains are actually ‘wired’ for love because of this deep connection with mother. It is the essence of unconditional love and what we often refer to as maternal love. It also exists to different degrees regardless of our mother’s parenting skills post birth. Brain scans show that there is actually a synchrony between the brains of mother and child enforcing our sense of this inherent bond (and bonding is part of feeling this basic unconditional love).
After birth, attachment and unconditional ‘parental’ support are significant elements in our development. These early experiences imprint the brain and also set the wiring for self-love, impacting our lifetime’s behaviors, thoughts, self-regard and choice of relationships. This continues throughout childhood and adolescence to create our particular map of ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ self-relationship pathways. And because we begin our lives neurally wired for love (from in utero), experiences later in life that are contradictory to this can end up concurrently causing feelings of profound disconnect (along with the impact and repercussions on our neural pathways).
There is ample evidence showing us our unconditional love is based in our neural pathways and showing that it stands apart from other types of love. In one study they looked at the brain imaging of participants who were shown different sets of images either referring to “unconditional love” or “romantic love”. Seven areas of the brain became active when these participants called to mind feelings of unconditional love (three of these were similar to areas that became active when it came to romantic love but the other four active parts were different) Of the seven areas that lit up during unconditional love, it showed brain regions associated with rewarding aspects, non sexual pleasurable feelings and human maternal behavior. Through the associations made between the different regions, results show that the feeling of love for someone unconditionally is different from the feeling of romantic love.
(image shows differences between ‘romantic’ and ‘maternal’ love in our neural firing)
Even though our early childhood experiences can impact the wiring of our brain and our tendency towards more or less self-love and positive self esteem, we also now know the brain can be changed and these neural networks can be modified and re-wired all together. We can actually make new choices for how we want to create our lives and our ability to experience love and positivity. We also know that feeling connected and cared for (loved) remodels the neural architecture of the brain too. Studies show supportive relationships are the most robust predictor of attributes in longevity, medical and mental health, happiness and wisdom.
JUST ENOUGH SCIENCE
Let’s try to simplify this so we can each appreciate and feel empowered around the essential mechanisms of our own brain/body.
Our thoughts and emotions decide whether and how neurons will fire and how they wire/unwire to produce structural changes in the brain. Needless to say, how our neurons fire and wire is the most essential function of whom and how we are. There is no sidestepping or avoiding this. Everything we are and become, not to mention basic motor (motion) functions, are based on our neurons and neural pathways.
Emotions are powerful influences activated by your perceptions/thoughts that then direct the processes of the body. Every time you have a thought or feeling, your body releases tiny chemical proteins called neuropeptides. (Neuropeptides are used by our neurons to communicate with one another.) There are more than a thousand different neuropeptides….each triggering its own specific physiological effect. Without neuropeptides, your body could not function. Hormones, for example, are neuropeptides, as are endorphins and adrenalin.
Together, emotions and (interpretive) thoughts will:
~ Produce physiological sensations felt throughout the body
~ Can create an imbalance where the resulting neuropeptides can cause physical symptoms to appear. Any prolonged negative mental state will weaken a correlating area of your body.
~ Release hormones into the bloodstream that affect the balance of all the body’s critical systems (circulatory, digestive, endocrine, immune, lymphatic, muscular, nervous, reproductive, respiratory, skeletal, and urinary…for overview of the systems see the end of this article)
~ Stimulate the basic cells of the brain (neurons) to fire in specific patterns.
~Sculpt the important synaptic connections between neurons of the nervous system/ brain.
~ Can shape the actions you take in any given moment, if you take any action at all.
~ Affect the heart. The heart generates the largest electromagnetic field in the body. One of the most significant findings is that intentionally generated positive emotions can change the coding of the heart. This ‘coding’ is transmitted throughout and outside of the body.
~ Love alters the brain most in stress response and immune function but also in many other ways. It affects our physiological and neural functions towards balance and wellness. Frequent episodes of stress and negativity can impair certain body systems the following 3 body systems in particular:
Long term effects of stress on the cardiovascular system can result in increased heart rate, damaged blood vessels, high blood pressure, and increase in serum cholesterol levels. All of which lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Digestive system (Actually our 2nd brain and command center)
Stress virtually shuts down the gastrointestinal system (GI). During the acute stage of stress, blood is diverted from the GI tract to muscles, where it is needed much more. Stomach peristalsis is reduced and sphincters are closed. The body reduces secretion of acid juices and digestion slows down. Needless to say this can lead to many illnesses and disease.
Your body naturally produces immune cells, called T lymphocytes, that fight bacteria, viral infections, fungi, and cancer cells. Elevated levels of adrenal hormones during stress suppress the body’s production of T lymphocytes and weaken your whole immune system. Not only does stress worsen existing infections, you also become more susceptible to immune system related health problems.
The above list gives a general overview of the very complex and important relationships between our emotions, thoughts and body. While we have a wide array of emotions to add richness and scope to our understanding of our self and the world our body actually narrows these down. Neurologically, your mind and body are generally in one of two overarching emotional states, either love or fear.
The number of nuances and intensities of these core emotions may be countless, but emotional responses and physiological sensations in the body are, in some way, rooted in love or fear.
Other labels can be used for love and fear. For example, for love, we can choose the words ‘empathy’ or ‘compassion,’ and, for fear, we can choose the words ‘anxiety’ or ‘stress.’ The point is that the label we use is … well…not the point.
What is essential to note is that these core emotions alter the physiological state of the body and mind in the overall direction of one or the other. When we look at love and fear as core ‘felt’ states, the brain responds to them each uniquely.
WHY DO WE CARE ABOUT NEURAL PATHWAYS?
Many fields of science are showing us that the brain is constantly rewiring itself based on daily life. This is quite exciting since the belief used to be that you couldn’t really change your brain because it was a static organ. Now we know that there is brain plasticity….it can change and stretch and reshape….or it can be reinforced to maintain the same neural pathways.
The brain maintains or creates new neural pathways and associations that feed and fuel our opinions, choices, memories, skills, fears and passions (to name a few). Everything we learn becomes part of our neural associations or pathways that we maintain or change through repetition.
Memories of your childhood can come back to you because they are all tied together or bundled together by these neural pathways or associations in the brain. Anything you learn, regardless of what it is, becomes part of the vast neuronal associations in the brain, which contain over one billion nerve cells.
When you learn to tie your shoes, ride a bicycle, drive a car, use a computer keyboard, or learn a musical instrument, your brain gradually develops and arranges the neural pathways to make your “practicing” become automatic. The more you practice, and the more quality time you put into your practice, the more that your brain pathways change. Fairly soon, you know how to tie your shoes and you don’t think about it anymore. This practice you have done has made tying your shoes become automatic. And this is true for any activity that you do.
It is exactly the same way with cognitive or emotional learning. As you learn, and then practice methods, strategies, and concepts, a new neural pathway begins to form. The more you practice, the more this new neural pathway or association grows.
If you are repeatedly thinking negative thoughts (not practicing self-love), you are actually strengthening neural pathways in your brain that support continued negative thinking. More so, speaking the thoughts out loud appears to compound the building of those pathways. Alternatively, if we have thoughts that are positive, uplifting or based in Love then we can rewire our brains for stronger connections in these arenas. With repetitive practice, you can shift your feelings and begin a process of building unconditioned self-love and feeling more positive about yourself. As with the negative processes, speaking positive thoughts and feelings out loud can reinforce them exponentially. Like studying for any test, there are ways to get your brain on board to rewire and remember.
(this image shows the differences in neural firing based on whether you speak, see, hear or think about words)
LOVE IS RELAXING
A feeling of self-love allows our bodies (especially our nervous system) to relax. In case you didn’t know, relaxation has profound health benefits and self-love is a potent source. Relaxation is defined as being free from stress and anxiety and a sense of love specifically addresses these issues. Studies have shown that self-love and positive self-esteem create a sense of safety, an ease of anxiety and overall calm.
Relaxation research tells us that relaxation is our natural state of being and is connected to that feeling of love and safety in the womb. We can unwire the neural pathways of stress we have learned and use self-love and positive thinking to support relaxation wiring. Once we begin to make new choices we will become more aware of circumstances that cause us to tense up and be able to stay more at ease rather than react to the stressors in our environment.
We spend a lot of our time in a state of mental and physical tension or dis-ease. We tend to hold our breath, unknowingly clench our jaws, frown, and tighten our muscles. The consistent contraction of our muscles drains our energy, causing fatigue. Some research shows that 80 percent of illness is stress-related, that whatever your genetic ‘weak’ link (or challenge) is, stress will trigger it.
As the body starts to relax, certain physiological changes occur. Your pulse rate lowers and muscular tension releases. Relaxation brings mind and body into essential balance, reduces fatigue, releases and expels toxins and revitalizes many of our bodily systems.
And somewhat ironically, we are able to learn more when we are in a relaxed state too. So once you begin to practice self-love and create a deeper sense of calm and relaxation in your body (inside and out) it becomes easier to keep learning more ways to increase this overall state.
Some possible affects of relaxation:
~Improves concentration, clarity of thinking, decision making, memory , learning
~Calms your bodies stress responses while it maintains alertness
~Stimulates imagination, intuition and higher awareness
~Allows you to sleep better, fall asleep easily, stay asleep through the night
~Keeps you healthier by boosting your immune system and possibly diminishes triggers of disease.
~Slows aging process
Self-love generates relaxation and these bodily responses as a by- product. Again, we see that the affects of love and positive self-esteem are fundamental to our overall health and wellness and not simply icing on some intangible cake. Each living person needs this basic nourishment and now we have science to ‘explain’ more about why we need it, offer us insight to the impacts of its absence and tools for shifting.
So, why not fall in love with yourself every moment of the day? What gets in the way?
We know that one of our greatest obstacles can be our conditioned neural pathways but we also know we can shift these connections. (How/what we ‘fire’ is how we ‘wire’).
There are so many tools to help shift old habits and create new ones. Each of us is unique in which tools will serve us best so I have here a diverse list of suggestions for you to ‘riff’ on. Many will perhaps sound familiar but see if you can connect beyond the caricature of them and more into how they might be of service to you personally. See what appeals to you and sparks your own ideas as you grow this practice incorporating self-love language and existence into your daily life:
~ Awareness of your own thought and language habits is the key to this work. If you accept that you can change your life by changing your thoughts and words, then paying attention to your thoughts and words is critical. It’s all about awareness and shifting towards your version of unconditional love. How can you bring more attention to your language and thoughts right now?
~ Pay attention to your thoughts, and whenever you notice yourself in a pattern that is less than kind or loving, simply interrupt it. Break the pattern in some way either by speaking out loud your intention, drinking some water or even singing a song. Try doing this for 5 minutes to help enforce the shift from the negative thought pattern. This simple interruption has profound repercussions as it sends a message that change is in the air. It also doesn’t allow for the reinforcement of the negative to play out as usual.
~ Allow yourself to believe (interrupt the beautiful naysayers inside you) that you can do this and it is your birthright to love yourself without conditions every moment of the day. It is not about banishing these other voices inside of you. It is about meeting them with love and kindness and allowing space for something different.
~Practice treating yourself the same way you would treat a friend or loved one with care. In supportive situations would you scold or console a friend? React or comfort? Forgive or hold a grudge?
~ Practice forgiveness and be accepting of yourself even when it looks different than your conditioned expectations. Move towards appreciating yourself now, in this very moment and not for something ahead in the future or a held ideal from the past.
~ Look into your own eyes in the mirror and feel unconditional love and appreciation for the image you see reflected. Practice connecting the image of you with these feelings and eventually your own image will be a trigger for incredible feelings of positivity. (Studies have shown that a long love affair with the image of ‘self’ can calm sites in the brain associated with fear and anxiety.)
~ Healing touch. Next time you are feeling a lack of unconditional love for yourself, try to shift this through your own healing touch. Studies have shown that holding your own hand can reduce pain and touch in general can lower blood pressure as well as many other physical and emotional benefits. These benefits cannot be underestimated. You can simply hold yourself in a comforting hug, pat your chest/back or rub your arm…..anything you find soothing for yourself.
~ Start your day with an intentional vision. When you wake up say out loud your vision for how your day will unfold. One example might be: “My day is filled with unconditional love, positive interactions and activities that nourish me.” You can get specific or stay general; whatever feels best for you that day. If you want to super boost the affect of this you can go to a mirror and have this same conversation looking at your reflection.
~ Step away from or avoid situations that diminish unconditional love of self or others. If you notice you are in a situation or conversation that feels negative make a choice to step away. There is no need to judge others who might continue this behavior (in fact it’s healthiest to stay positive across the board) but you can decide for yourself that it is malnourishing and actually reinforces negative connections in your own brain. If stepping away is difficult perhaps try to shift the tone of the conversation by guiding it with gentle words of compassion and positive outlook as opposed to a sledgehammer of self-righteousness ‘I know better’ attitude.
~ Engage the power of gratitude. Several times a day, take a moment to look around you and verbally acknowledge what you are grateful for. It can be something as simple as seeing a bird fly by, hands that touch, sun that shines through trees or a pen with ink. These observations support your brain wiring towards the positive and towards self-love. There is no hierarchy or measurement of gratitude for our brains, the expression is pure and simple and the affects follow this simplicity.
~ We all realize that life is sometimes painful. There are times when we find we have to speak about negative, painful or unpleasant things. During these times, speaking about our pain can help us unburden ourselves from it and might even be a part of our healing. Remember that even during these times, unconditional love can co-exist. Let your practice of self-love be even stronger so you can learn that they are not incongruous. Once the challenge or pain begins to lift, follow up with words and discussion around healing and action. Actually speak and envision feeling better even before you feel ready to do so. You will be paving the (neural) path for yourself as you continue to take steps on your journey of healing and building positive experiences even during life’s challenges.
~ Super charge any of these. If you really want to boost any of these practices, write down your unconditional love affirmations, words of gratitude or positive thoughts, before during or after you speak them. Engaging all parts of the body (physical, visual, auditory) sends even more signals to reinforce love and positive feelings. Find as many different ways to engage these thoughts and feelings somatically (body, mind, spirit, emotions) and create practices that work for your own energy or creativity.
~ Be consistent. Transforming the neural pathways of the brain takes time, patience and practice. Like any exercise the work must be done regularly to affect change.
Self -love has many benefits for us as individuals but it also teaches us how to express love in the most balanced and fundamental ways. As we give to ourselves we are able to receive and also give more love to others in many forms. It becomes an abundant resource that is a great investment in growing our unconditional self-love bank.
And remember, our habits and conditioning around self-love have been in the making for a lifetime. The shift into total self-love might take a little time and patience. Be gentle and loving without conditions as you find your personal way through the map of YOU.
I wanted to look at the art and challenge of self-acceptance; the practice of accepting ourselves with all of our unique foibles, idiosyncrasies and less than shiny bits. (No ifs, ands or buts.)
This practice is so essential because it fundamentally informs the way we perceive the world, others and our own self. And our perceptions create our ‘reality’……or at least how we feel about it and choices we make.
My question to you is this:
When you think of yourself and look at the complete/everything included version, do you allow all your different parts to show themselves or are there some parts you consistently keep hidden away? (Hidden except for when they manage to act out or until you can tuck them back out of sight.)
Are there parts of your self you don’t show due to shame, embarrassment or simply feel they are ‘unacceptable’?
Are there parts of yourself you don’t like?
This is interesting territory to look into because it is a natural human response to avoid things we don’t like or enjoy. It seems quite ‘normal’ to ignore those less than savory parts or tuck them outside of the light of who we (want to) see ourselves to be. (And many of us have our parts that we might struggle with….)
The truth is, I have yet to discover a way of fully seeing, loving or accepting oneself that might include a severing or rejection of certain parts of our selves for any reason.
With this in mind, if we are participating in any form of blacklisting or diminishing of certain parts, I don’t see how we will be able to fully enjoy the nourishment of self-acceptance and authentic self-love.
(Again, when I say ‘authentic self-love’ or acceptance I am speaking of the kind where there are no caveats or strings attached. It is a state of being without an ‘if’ or ‘but’.)
It can be quite a puzzle because what we have generally learned is to only acknowledge or truly show the parts that we like or are ‘acceptable’. And since this is status quo, it seems like this behavior is a no brainer, right?
But what if…
What if the key to consistent and grounded self –love/acceptance is actually about gathering together all parts of us? Even if we don’t like them, what if we choose to invite them in and accept them as is?
What if we gave these parts caring face time (and not just when they are ‘acting out’ or causing a ruckus inside of us)?
Here’s what I know; each of us have these parts that we might want to reject or hide, even from ourselves. And each of our reasons and relationships with these parts are unique to our own lives. That is why there will always be a unique approach we each need to discover for ourselves. But I fully believe each of us can discover this approach and a deeper sense of self-acceptance without question.
These parts that we try to ignore always find ways to speak up and get out from under wherever we have ‘hidden’ them. This internal dynamic creates a tension and even a setup for pitfalls. It can support a system of continuous push/pull that leads to a sense of internal struggle, depression or self-deprecation (to name a few). It can also fuel dynamics you perpetuate in your external relationships with others. These inner dynamics can cause replicated behaviors of rejecting others, reacting as opposed to communicating or favoring only that which is simple/pleasant. (I am sure each of us can connect the dots along these lines somewhere in our own lives)
Learning to recognize how we shut out or snub certain parts of ourselves and then choosing to integrate them back into the ‘whole’ can actually free up energy we are exerting to keep them ‘out’ or hidden. This acceptance and integration that we can cultivate is a tool that benefits not only ourselves but also our interactions and relationships with others. It can bring a sense of calm, empowerment and renewed energy within us that has a domino effect throughout our lives.
Learning to “ride the bike”
I realize that this is generally easier said than done and I don’t offer any of these suggestions lightly. For me, the practice of the self is one that requires attention, patience and a whole lotta kindness. The metaphor of riding a bike works pretty well here and all the qualities of: focus, consistent practice, encouragement, repetition, willingness, effort and…. falling over.
When we first learned to ride a bike we might have gotten frustrated, had a bit of a cry, felt scared or even fallen but somewhere in the process we simply needed to take a breath, trust and try again. We didn’t typically accept that falling over was all there was to it and stop there.
Accepting and loving our selves without question is similar in this way. First we need to recognize there is something beyond our conditioned patterns to move towards. To a certain degree I am not even sure we are aware of this ‘self -practice’ that can help cultivate an all round more pleasant ride in our lives. Many of us have reached the point where we can at least function on autopilot so why fix something ‘if it ain’t broken’.
It’s as if we don’t realize we can cruise smoothly on our bikes and tend to think that constantly falling over every few feet is as good as it gets. But imagine the difference if falling became more infrequent and you could actually enjoy sailing downhill with your feet on the handlebars. Suddenly even the challenges of hills and traffic became more manageable or possibly nourishing.
When we engage the qualities of awareness, focus, willingness and kindness and apply them to our own personal growth…anything is possible.
If living with less stress, tension and criticism were possible would you choose to move in that direction?
If cultivating more self love and energy were within reach would you try or practice something different?
If yes, then try this.
Our ‘small stories’: Affecting Change
I read somewhere that ‘our small story can only sustain itself if it remains unconscious. Recognizing it is the beginning of the end.’
For me this means that actually becoming aware of our habitual patterns towards not fully accepting ourselves is the first step towards change.
~We realize that we have divisive habits that use up crucial energy and are not serving us.
~We realize that the habit of diminished self-acceptance can perpetuate the same behavior towards others in our lives.
~We acknowledge that we are capable of developing new habits that are more sustainable.
In order to affect change we must have clarity, keep it simple and on some level see it is achievable. This way we can decrease resistance, avoid gumption traps and maintain a sense of inner encouragement.
So, in learning how to ride this bike we start small and simple. You get to discover your own tweaks for what works best for your own personal environment.
Since we are focusing on self-acceptance of all parts of our selves this is where we will hone our attention. At some point during your day (perhaps just before bed) take a few minutes to survey the range of your thoughts and feelings and see if there are any moments you notice a lack of self acceptance or a diminishing thought about some part of yourself.
Just notice it and see if you can take a breath with it and find some way to perfectly accept and acknowledge without judgment this feeling or thought. Try to create a field of acceptance without question and embrace this ‘part’. Notice what this type of acceptance feels like in your body…the sense of it. And that’s all. You can do this with as many thoughts as you have the energy to fully find acceptance for and when you feel complete (even if this is after just one)….you simply let it go.
Creating a memory for the felt sense of acceptance is powerful. It’s like programming a computer or building a bridge….as you practice it allows more access to your ability to create acceptance.
This practice may sound too simple but it is amazingly potent to begin by accepting the parts that are often the ones doing the bullying. This small act can set a trend towards getting to know what this type of acceptance feels like in your body, creating a memory to access it more easily in the future and building bridges for integrating all your different parts no matter what they look like. It also flips the ‘game’ or conditioning on it’s head. We generally play out these habits in a particular way and if we can interrupt the usual M.O. then we open up the gates for other possibilities.
This is the laboratory of you….and you are the genius within it all. You never know what you might discover….experimenting with the practice can uncover new truths, solve old mysteries or perhaps just give you wings for flying on that bike of yours.
One of the most vital endeavors of being human is to discover anything that limits our ability to grow and thrive. Sometimes we must come to redefine what this means for us personally.
The wisdom is already within you. You are as powerful as you can imagine.
The idea of ‘health’ is not a new topic of discussion. And there is no end to the opinions and variety of ways to be ‘healthy’. As I navigate my own questions regarding health I am committed to discovering more about what my body may (or may not) know. And what I am learning is that my body knows a lot….if I can develop my listening skills.
As people navigate their busy schedules and the overwhelming amount of information about health….I wanted to explore some basic connections around our personal wisdom and intuition. For me, there is no ‘cookie-cutter’ approach to this and we need to find balance between what we read and what we learn from our own bodies.
With the internet and shelves packed with books we have an abundant and growing access to information. At times it can be a tiring process to discern what is helpful for our own needs. And this is where my own intuition (body wisdom) comes critically into play. It becomes my internal compass to navigate these waters and steer me towards arenas perhaps most fruitful for exploring.
So, the place I ‘begin’ is with my own intuition or ‘gut’ feeling. All external information, no matter how compelling, needs to be in balance with the wisdom of my body as a dynamic entity. I have a pragmatist within me but due to the fact that the world (and our bodies) are ever evolving and there are always infinite (and sometimes inexplicable) possibilities…..I feel a clear need to live in balance between my developed intuitive sense and research/data. I also have discovered that there is no concrete ‘right or wrong’, ‘black or white’ when it comes to ‘health’ and living our diverse lives.
So, with all the abundance of information and without pointing the finger in one direction for anybody…..I would like to propose we each discover for ourselves what our body may (or may not) already know. This practice will help reconnect us to our sense of ‘intuition’ by developing our awareness.
This is of course a life long journey but every journey begins with at least 1 small (and perhaps simple) step.
Here are some basic starting points to consider…
1) The first thing that seems important is an interest in learning. Regardless of why….. try to develop an interest and/or investment in your own health and nourishment.
2) Open to the possibility of change or being outside your comfort zone….even for a moment or two.
3) Open to the idea that there is no ‘right or wrong’/ ‘black or white’ way to approach this. Discover what works for you. This may or may not look similar to what worked for somebody/everybody else.
4) Meet this experience without judging yourself or the things you observe. Respect at all times, as challenging as it might be, is a key piece of the puzzle.
These 4 points are fairly straightforward as a springboard for yourself or as little reminders.
(And you might also discover a few others that work for you.)
I find them to be a great support for this practice of cultivating awareness/intuition while keeping in mind it will look different for each person.
To get started, here are a few suggestions to help get the ‘ball rolling’. They are by no means the only possibilities to begin developing your awareness…. just there if you need them as you find what works for you.
~Try taking a few moments when you first wake up to notice if you feel ‘rested’ or any other sensations that present themselves.
~Take note during your day of any physical sensations (fatigue, bursts of energy,lethargy, clear thinking, headache, any acute pains). Don’t dismiss anything. Think of it like a treasure hunt and that there are ‘clues’ everywhere.
~ Notice how you feel before, during and after meals. Also notice how you feel about eating and your approach. Is it fast on the ‘go’ or do you sit down and relax etc?
~ Notice how you feel when you spend time with different friends, time alone, watching television, being outside and so on.
~Take note of any shifts in your emotional states during the day or the week. Are there situations that stir particular emotions for you? What are they? (even if it seems like something as obvious as ‘I am happy spending time with my friends’ etc)
Remember, a critical piece in noticing is to not judge any of it. To not diminish or inflate any of the observations. Start with a commitment of 1 week (or every other day if a week seems like too much right now). You will need to discover your own dance with this….perhaps you will write things down or find a schedule for your observations. Whatever works for you to actually engage this practice is perfect.
Without being ‘goal’ oriented allow yourself, over time, to integrate this practice of awareness into your days. Keep re-visiting it for set amounts of time until you find it’s happening with less effort and feeling more ‘natural’.
I realize that we are a culture that has gotten used to quick fixes/gratification and that you might feel disappointed that there is no ‘answer’ (per se) here. It is more akin to answering a question with a question.
But intuition truly comes through the vehicle of awareness and these first steps of observation are the path to rebuild this vital foundation of awareness. I feel that developing this is critical for understanding our own health and well being.
Explaining the specifics of why this might be ‘true’ isn’t a straightforward answer. In many ways it is like wisdom that comes to you through a ‘back door’…..when you least expect it. And that’s why I suggest letting go of any ‘goal oriented’ approach.
Our reclaiming of intuition through awareness is more of a circular journey with intentions than a direct shortcut to an answer. And certainly it is one of curiosity, trust, peripheral vision and unexpected discoveries.
I want to also offer a quick addition here to help ‘de-mystify’ intuition. Over time I find more people have forgotten how to access their intuition and consider it in the realm of the mystical or ‘special’ abilities. Science has actually been studying intuition and discovering that it is a noteworthy function of the brain/body. They have some theories and studies but of course they have no definitive ‘answer’ about it. And that is where I think we get hung up. When something is without measure it must be ‘mystical’….so basically, how can we trust it? I think over time we can truly re-develop our intuition as a resource to our wisdom and (among other things) it can be a dependable guide balancing our journey in ‘health’.
This short piece of writing can only perhaps scratch the surface or offer a ‘spark’. I am always delighted to correspond with people to help with creating personalized practices.
Sitting with my tea, I was watching the movements of this mind…..playing the intermediary (or multiple advocate) for the unfolding of thoughts I was having. I was amused by the constant tweak in perception these contrasting advocate roles offered, how it could show me some new aspect to the thought beyond my attachments.
Then my thoughts shifted to photography. I have been reflecting on this passion of mine with more consideration lately as I realized that it is something that has never faded for me. That these ‘captured moments’ never fail to evoke or stimulate something within me.
And then I recognized that each moment in my life is like the experience of looking at a photograph. Each moment I am filling in the blanks, writing a story and unwinding a string of sensations. Each moment I am compelled by the images in front of me or the creations of my mind’s eye. With patience, commitment and awareness I learn about ‘myself’ through this exchange/practice.
In any given experience, each of us may view an event and walk away with very different interpretations.
We may, or may not, have similarities to what we perceive from the ‘same’ stimulus.
The art of life (or the life of art) is every day and the elaborate witness that is you and I brings such a particular nuance to the viewing. I hope that there will always be passionate exchange about our perceptions…..but I also hope that we don’t forget to honor one another along the way. And perhaps, along the way, open ourselves to the ever present ‘tweak’ that is accessible to us. Not as a form of abandoning our beliefs but as a practice of learning from the ‘divergent advocates’ available and within each of us.
If you are someone that knows me…or perhaps reads any of these ponderings….you would likely know that I spend much of my time examining my thoughts/heart space, dismantling my sense of ‘self’ and attempting to see all of life from as many perspectives as possible (without my brain exploding).
I don’t practice any of this as a form of nihilism or self deprecation…..but as a path towards not being controlled by my attachments, to grow more deeply in open-hearted compassion and broader awareness.
I live with a fully intact personality and trove of opinions that can burst on the scene at any time, but they dwell side-by-side with this practice.
For me, the most important commitment is to love others and myself without any conditions or judgment. (Authentic love comes as the foundation and then after that are all the opinions and personality.)
Generally, it’s my own fears or smallness that gets in my way of this. I have found that the more I explore this ‘path of me’, the more available and free I am to love without constrictions.
Why would we ever withhold our love or think for one moment we are ‘better than’ or ‘not as good as’ someone else? And yet we are prolific at doing this very thing. Each day we experience divisive thoughts based on: social standing, education, economics, physical appearance, gender, evaluative comparisons……on and on.
So yes, my curiosity seems to continuously boomerang back to: Why not love our selves and others fully, without conditions? Why engage in the knee jerk human patent of judging one another? What gets in our way of creating a life that embraces that we are all fundamentally equal, yet diverse, without exception?
I am always finding new doorways to explore this practice and recently I have had a few ‘new’ doors present themselves. One of them has been this thing we call ‘death’ (and the never-ending maze of personal attachments we base on our perceptions of living.)
I have had the honor of spending time with a good friend as he goes through the transition from this physical world: to converse openly and with our mystified soft hearts about this life, the transition of energy and perceptions.
He was amazed to witness for himself the gradual shift in how day-to-day moments could feel so different, the challenge of having his once strong physical body not be ‘his own’ anymore, the journey to let go of copious attachments and the ability to see from new spaces in his heart/soul/energy. This time with him has afforded me new opportunities to examine a few more standard foundations that affect my every day thoughts. More specifically, our linear relationship to living, aging and apprehension/denial of our own mortality.
It has offered new prisms through which I gain insight and follow my curiosity in this laboratory of me.
Along with this, I have started getting to know a person that lives within the local transient/homeless community. Having conversations about what has changed for her since becoming ‘homeless’, the tangible shift in how people treat her and my own sense of ‘us/them’ while being invited into their circles……..
Both of these experiences in different ways have been potent in demonstrating the lines we draw and perceptions we cling to sometimes. The need to feel safe or comfortable even if that means choosing to shy away from examining these defining judgments, the status quo script or beliefs about self and other whether due to life circumstances or our own mortality.
I find myself surrendering more and more to how little is ‘certain’ in our lives (even with these days and routines that might unfold as expected or planned). We all know there are ‘no guarantees’ in this life and yet we invest a lot of time and energy towards trying to control and bend this ‘truth’ as much as we can. This can potentially look many different ways: the eye cream we dab on to ‘prevent’ aging, the gossip we speak about other individuals, the material objects we surround ourselves with, the inner voices that declare we are somehow not ‘good enough’ or the small untruth we tell in any given moment….
We have so many movements of the mind enabling us to sidestep this possibility of the unknown and all that we cannot control or predict in this life. So many inflexible or stylized thoughts we use to maintain our position on the map of living …..to somehow offer a guarantee of where we place in the scheme of things. No matter whether they are subtle or strongly apparent….we are running these scripts daily.
It seems that we don’t often greet the uncertainty of living (which can feel threatening) with open arms. Instead, we often try to manipulate or distract from it. We become frightened by the unknown open space of questioning and feel vulnerable to the varied ‘truths’ in each moment. There is much more comfort and safety in trying to control ‘reality’ and shape it into the existing (inherited) images that we already have of the world and ourselves. This might create temporary relief from the uncertainty that is inherent in being human……but ultimately it is just a tool we all use to create more comfort and accommodations.
(and just to be clear…..I participate in forms of daily control and distraction and can thoroughly enjoy the time I spend there…..but for me it is about finding a balance and an awareness of what I am choosing and why. I have no hard and fast lines or judgments about any of this…..just curiosities)
It seems that if we seldom participate in a practice of examination and questioning, we come to believe we (or others) are whatever arises in our conditioned minds. We have gotten so used to looking outside ourselves for ‘answers’ that we have forgotten to be curious about who it is that’s doing the looking.
If we are willing to investigate the spaces in between our thoughts we might discover a relationship to uncertainty that begins to feel more comfortable. We might fully witness the vast energy we exert to conform our lives to an ‘acceptable’ version of the image we desire….. and then choose to utilize that energy in different ways.
Yes, we have such incredibly intricate and compulsive responses in the mind……. but it is within this complex web that we can find a vast and rich resource. We don’t seem to realize that the raw and layered material of ‘us’ is the path. You can learn from any teacher or teachings……but I feel that to truly find wisdom and compassion…….you must discover yourself. Because you are the ‘truth’ and no one else can take you there except for you.
Yes, all these teachers/teachings have left us road maps but ultimately you must travel that road yourself and ask questions along the way. Each person’s path is unique and at times you will need to improvise, but it is a mystery only you can discover.
It reminds me of a story about a student and a Zen master. The student approached the Zen master saying ‘I have come to learn THE path’. The Zen teacher sat for a moment and replied with loving emphasis, ‘You are the path’.
When we begin to recognize that so much of how we experience life is a reflection of the mind, then each experience becomes an opportunity to discover our dance with this process; The actions, opinions, and thinking that we use to shape our sense of safe reality, the attachment we have to ‘knowing’/control and the lack of compassion / kindness in relation to self and other when immersed in these attachments.
Each moment we get to choose what version of theater we would like to engage and if we want to perhaps take a peek backstage. Understanding with greater depth what lies behind curtains can offer a broader experience of the magic. We never arrive at a final act or answer but we get to continuously be present in the open space of uncertainty with a welcoming breath.
I have no new sharing of tools as I close from these ponderings. My practices are ones I have previously offered that I find help me to cultivate awareness and humility…….
After I click ‘publish’ I will continue to sift through depths where my conditioned mind and personal perceptions make for entertaining theatre. The theatre that is me, you and the world around us. The subjectivity of it all……….
I sometimes feel like a puppy trying to catch its own tail. Circle upon circle and eventually I sit down, take a breath and continue my spiral dance later with new vigor and delight. All these words and they don’t ever seem to come close ….to this journey of living.
Take care and thanks for connecting…….
“It’s undeniable how brilliant you are, in an unreliable world you shine like a star.”
These are the opening lyrics to a cheesy Pop song I enjoy. Listening to it today, I reflected again on the ease with which we give away such love and adoration to others…..but not typically to ourselves.
Generally speaking, when we sing a song like this we are singing about someone else.
I reflected further upon my own journey with ‘love songs’. Remembering that about 10 years ago I made a shift in my way of relating to songs like this.
At the time, I was going through some challenging events personally and I had such a focus on external love and relationships. (And yes, there had been a ‘break-up’ involved in this personal exploration.) And I realized that what felt like unbearable ‘suffering’ was my persistence in wanting to have someone be the focus of these ‘love songs’.
Since I couldn’t change the fact that there was no ‘somebody’ and I couldn’t change the radio playlist…..I had to shift my perception and focus.
It took some negotiating at first, but eventually I realized I needed to whole heartedly sing this to myself. Every time and without exception I needed to be able to put myself as the ‘somebody’ in the song.
It couldn’t just be the occasional ‘positive affirmation’ or lip service. I needed to have the same verve as if I was singing it to someone other than me.
(Don’t get me wrong, I am an uber romantic and I enjoy having someone to sing these songs to…..but now, I am equally able to sing them to myself.)
As I have shared this perspective with people there sometimes seems to be a hesitance; a worry that this could perhaps be seen as narcissism.
I find this fascinating……
How could unconditionally loving oneself be seen as ‘excessive self-love’?
(I would imagine a narcissistic personality would mean there are problems arising from an out of balance self- centeredness that disrupts other interactions.)
I am simply talking about the pure and unfettered loving of oneself that is our birthright.
No more, no less.
Why would we choose anything else?
And once we have this resource within ourselves…are we not even more capable of offering it without conditions to another person?
For this reason…… I sing loud and with a big heart…..
…….for me, for you and for the romantic joy in it all……
After teaching a recent workshop I was reflecting on ‘improvisation’ and how it is a consistent tool I utilize in my work (and in life)….. so I thought I would share some ideas.
I feel that improvisation takes you ‘off script’ and into being more present in ‘the moment’. It can also develop our intuition and senses. It can be engaged in many different ways (in performance, in travel, cooking, making friends, work etc) but often it asks you to turn off the ‘auto pilot’ we are using most of the day. I think auto pilot serves a purpose to be sure, but it can also impose some limitations.
I feel improvisation is about opening up to possibilities or seeing options you didn’t realize were already there. It can create new pathways for thinking, seeing and being. Some of the ways it can achieve this is by taking us out of ‘ordinary’ space and time, asking us to step to ‘one side’ of typical and potentially pushing our comfort buttons.
Being ‘off script’ can be unsettling….you don’t know what comes next….and it is in this ‘unknown’ that you can discover a new way of being in your body, your thoughts and in your experience of yourself and living.
I truly believe we can shift our habits of thought and perspective in ways that can remove limitations put in place over time. This shift can have benefits in our health, creativity and our perceptions of self.
Improvisation assists this by interrupting the rapid fire ‘auto pilot’ of ‘shoulds’, routine and statements of what defines things. Improvisation can help us observe these patterns by juxtaposing new possibilities and simply interrupting the ‘typical’.
This interruption can allow for more potential by cracking a window in our conditioned thinking and behavior.
Our ability to more fully know (and express) ourselves is one of the most significant explorations we have in this life. To remain open and curious about ourselves is a continuous gift; the journey is never complete and is always teaching us something. And when we give permission to perceive ourselves and the world in new ways, it creates a domino effect that also touches others.
We each are amazingly brilliant beings and the effect our thoughts and perceptions have on one another (and ourselves) is quite tangible……
…..in life and on stage…..I always endeavor to remember this……
Thanks for reading…..