The wholeness and freedom we seek is our true nature,
who we really are.
~ Jack Kornfield
By the time we reach adulthood, many of us have spun so far away from our true self that our body has forgotten the joy of just "being," and our overworked and overthinking mind doesn't remember how to reset itself to a baseline state of innate ease and wholeness—which stems from the root word health.
When we lose connection to our authentic self and voice, all kinds of physical, emotional, psychological, and mental symptoms arise out of our mysterious, infinite well of holistic intelligence. Because these symptoms cause pain and discomfort, we treat them as enemies rather than messengers, and find it hard to trust that they are on our side to alert us that something is wrong.
In my sessions with clients involving body talk, these very same symptoms are quite clear and vocal that their ultimate goal for us as an organism is ease, peace, flow, and wholeness. And they know exactly what kinds of unconscious beliefs, misconceptions, and negative patterns are getting in our way.
Unfortunately, very few medical doctors and mental health experts share this radical know-how, and even fewer educate their patients that mental dis-orders and physical dis-ease are often sane signs and unopened gifts of intuitive and spiritual order, symptoms of protest that are resisting societal and mental patterns that are mis-aligned with and threatening our core integrity.
Because we are not taught to question or challenge our automatic thoughts and harmful societal patterns as the possible culprit of our problems—we are often not even aware of them or their contents—we view our symptoms as personal weaknesses, blocks, and deficits, and develop a love-hate relationship with them.
Love: We seem to intuitively get that they are a gold mine of sorts, so we protect them. We overidentify with their painful, vulnerable underbelly and past. We adopt them as our favorite pet peeves, and we spend most of our energy to shape our lives around them.
Hate: We simultaneously do all that we can to rid ourselves of them and don't give them the smidgen of undivided attention to really listen and hear what they are all about.
For instance, when I ask my clients what their symptoms offer them, they are often confused. When I ask them what their lives would be like without them after putting them in a mild trance, they often say "empty, meaningless, without purpose, without direction, without meaningful work, without identity, without a basis for friendship, scary, lonely" before they get to any notion of “happy, free, fulfilled, and peaceful,” even though their relentless longing to be freed of them propelled them to seek therapy.
The Missing Link - Paradox
In between our polarized feelings and perceptions of the problem lies the paradoxical link that our dualistic, pleasure-pain mind keeps missing. Fortunately for us, it's possible to activate our holistic wisdom and paradoxical thinking muscles by resetting ourselves. Many of us don’t realize that we have far more untapped brain plasticity as well as "whole body plasticity"—a soulful sense of dynamic wholeness—than our intuitive resilience is able to make use of in one lifetime.
Interpersonal neuropsychiatrist and mindfulness expert, Dr. Dan Siegel, has been a longtime advocate of our brain's hidden potential and power. He claims that our brain consists of more than the two fleshy hemispheres in our coconut skull. Our peripheral nervous system and even our cells are intelligent, interconnected communicators of mind activity that can lead us back to the living, walking miracles of joy and mysterious love that we are.
Our True Heart-wiring
All of us daring rebels with a soulful cause can use our innate wisdom to tap our symptomatic gold mines and boost our collective power. It is possible to reactivate and hone our sensitivity to positive, adaptive opportunities. We also need to reset and shed false stories that our crisis-focused, fearful, and negatively-slanted antenna that picks up every speck of danger and risk is the residual of our hardwired, inherited reptilian and limbic brain structure that helped our ancestors respond appropriately to wild animals and survive.
Wild mammals that are on the top of the food chain also have amygdalas. It gives them bursts of energy that fuels their flight-fight response but this by no means predisposes them to an anxiety-riddled life. Our cultural conditioning, brainwashed scarcity mindset, and denatured ego-self seem to be primarily responsible for creating this socially constructed modern-day neurosis more than our biology, a speculation that is not only supported by the first-hand encounters and reports provided by Maroons and indigenous people who live in the Amazon rainforest amidst wild animals, piranhas, crocodiles, poisonous frogs, insects, and snakes. Cutting-edge brain research has discovered that our amygdalas light up just as much by survival opportunities that are positive, creative, and novel.
Research psychologists, Willing Cunningham and Alexander Todorov, claim in their article, How Happy Brains Respond to Negative Things, that “our amygdala can no longer be viewed simply as the brain’s fear center.” Their research findings show that we're able to compensate for our negativity bias by consciously focusing on opportunities for creative resolution and that “the amygdala may also be at the heart of compassion . . . It seems that even at a very deep, instinctive level, we are wired to see people in need and help each out—and that doing so might help us to be happy.”
The Present-Moment Antidote
The most potent antidote to societal stress and overwhelm is still free, right under our nose, and always accessible to us, no matter our stature or position in life. We can drop into and reset our body, mind, and attention to present-moment awareness, and free ourselves from distracting thoughts, limiting stories, and skewed, modern-day pressures that throw us off all day long.
These are the three main anchoring and attention points that I use to lead clients back to the powerful, here-and-now present moment in a sitting meditation (which is just one of the many ways to return to present-moment awareness beside yoga, tai chi, exercise, creative endeavors, writing, dancing, walking, and the like):
1). Continuously return to the breath without force or judgment.
2). Use the five senses––smell, sight, sound, taste, and touch––to enhance grounding and body awareness. Some of my highly sensitive and aware clients tune into trauma and overwhelming emotions when they turn inward and focus on bodily sensations. If you experience this, make sure to focus only on body sensations and input that's directly connected to present-moment stimuli provided by the location that you are in at that moment.
3). Use qualities of weight and gravity, progressive relaxation (tensing and releasing muscles), and input through the five senses to discern and diffuse intense sensations that are intruding from the past or future and threaten the true here-and-now.
Learning to be at least one degree more present in here-and-now wholeness than in wounding can offer us a tremendous sense of control and a 180 degree shift in well-being. We're no longer swept up in the movie and at the mercy of every threat and scary thing the actors are going through. We experience it but are aware that we are safe in our seats, our soul's true throne, and have a buffer to process whatever needs to be processed and heal.
Our unprocessed feelings, intuitive inklings, yearnings, and triggers become the perfectly imperfect raw materials to explore and express ourselves and our soul's purpose. To love or hate these parts will begin to feel as futile as loving our in-breath and hating our out-breath. With practice, we learn to see ourselves as an ongoing, unfolding piece of art, always in progress and evolving—as long as that reset button is consistently used to shift back to present-moment wholeness when we find ourselves swallowed up by past wounding and future fears.
Infuse as much loving kindness and compassion as you can muster when this happens. Try to ward of negativity with a swift aikido move; don't fight it. Yield and anchor in expansive wholeness, and it will move right through you. Only the deeper message will eventually remain for you to integrate in your inner core and inner well of wisdom.
Be Sacred. Be (a) Well.
I am Loraine Van Tuyl, PhD, CHT, holistic psychologist, spiritual teacher, depth hypnosis practitioner, and shamanic healer from the Sacred Healing Well, and am devoted to helping wisdom keepers, seekers, healers, and teachers dive deep into their self-healing potential and carve out their sacred dream paths in service of their dynamic whole self and the greater good.