I don’t know how many times I’ve been told this by health care providers, and/or read it. “Healing isn’t linear; progress isn’t a straight trajectory; setbacks are a part of the process.” My history of being alive on this planet and rational, logical, thinking would say that this is true. In those moments when I am feeling well, energized, vibrant, clear-minded, and my energy feels directed into something meaningful and beneficial, it feels easier to recognize this. To look back and say “oh yeah, that was rough, but it was temporary, and I am so grateful for what I learned about myself and from my body during that time.”
I’ve found it is quite a bit more challenging to access this perspective when I am IN IT. And for the last month, I feel like I have been IN IT. For the last couple of years, I feel like I have been plugging away on my healing journey, consulting with health practitioners, reading, reflecting, and rearranging the way I approach life to create more space for health and vitality to pour forth. There have definitely been ups, downs, and even spirals, as I’ve found healing can actually occur in a circular fashion; patterns emerge and re-emerge and I learn more deeply from them, how to be with them, and how to move through them or allow them to move through with each iteration. I felt capable of holding space for that. I was in acceptance with it (for the most part).
And then last month, I experienced a GI episode that felt more severe than any other pain I remember experiencing. It was a truly scary experience, and the aftermath has been shaky as well. It feels scary that there is a lack of clarity around what took place. Perhaps it was just an acute, episodic form of gastritis, or an ulcer, or pancreatitis, or an endometrial cyst bursting. It is possible and even likely that there are subconscious emotional and mental patterns that are connected to these physical symptoms. I am hopeful that there are tests and practitioners that I will be connected with who work with me to get to the bottom of it.
But right now, I feel no closer to understanding what took place in my system than I did the day it happened. And I would actually be ok with just letting it go, except since then, I have trouble digesting many more foods, and experience bouts of vertigo, brain fog, and waves of panic that bring me back to my first experiences with panic attacks in college. Right now, all of the time spent reading about different protocols and healing methods and working with practitioners feels all for nothing. Right now, feeling good, vital, energized, and productively accomplishing goals feels very far away. Right now, my mind is latching on to all of the health challenges I’ve experienced over the past couple of years and is projecting them onto the future with thoughts like “what if this is how I feel for the rest of my life?” “What if I am never able to accomplish any of my personal or professional goals?” “What if I am unable to take care of/provide for/support myself for the rest of my life?”
And while I do know that this experience won’t stay the same (the more present we are with our experience, the more we recognize that our experience is always shifting), I don’t know for how long these symptoms are going to hang around. I don’t know if or when my digestive system will feel robust again. I don’t know if or when my hormones will regulate themselves. I don’t know if or when my menstrual cycles will ease up in severity or this adult acne will subside. I don’t know if I will accomplish the personal or professional goals that I have been working towards.
What I DO know, is that I am not the only one who is feeling this way. What I do know is there are many of you out there too, who are not feel as well as you once did, and are feeling like you are IN IT. There are many of you feeling overwhelmed by the vast amount of information, clinical and anecdotal, traditional and alternative, and are wondering where to start. There are many of you who are feeling lost and alone in this journey, and starting to lose hope, or starting to wonder if the practitioners who told you “it’s all in your head” or people in your life who’ve said “you’re just too sensitive” are right, and you should just ignore it and try to “act normal” even though you feel like you are only minimally functioning compared to how you used to feel.
I do know that I don’t have the answers for you; I won’t be another well-intentioned voice saying “just cut this out, or add this in, or try this supplement, or read this book.” I won’t say it because I’ve been on the receiving end of it, and tried it, A LOT of it, and while some if it helped some of the time, no one thing has been miraculously transformative for me. I don’t know your story, your history, and your healing truths. But I do know that feeling empowered is CRUCIAL to healing. So I WILL help you find your answers. I WILL support you, honor your voice, and your instincts. And as for my own healing journey, I will continue to show up. I will continue to love and care for myself in the best way that I know how. I will continue to learn and seek growth in the process. I will continue to honor my healing truth and seek the support I need to do so.
In The Way of Meditation class this past weekend, Rev. Michael Beckwith said, “we are not here to be do-gooders. We are here to be PRESENCE.” Do-gooders act or do what they think is best, without consulting those they are trying to help. Presence allows, holds space for, and is willing to be on a journey with someone without needing to place their ‘right way’ onto them. Presence asks, “how can I be of benefit to you, right now?” And while I know that when we are feeling weak, scared, and in pain, it can be tempting to give our power over to an “expert” who take control of the situation, I encourage you to stay engaged in your healing. Stay present. And if I can offer strength and support to your own healing essence, please, don’t hesitate to reach out.
You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you are too busy; then you should sit for an hour." - Zen Proverb
Our minds are funny about time like that, aren’t they? When we are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, it can feel like the last few seconds we will ever experience are ticking away, and we become paralyzed with indecision on how to spend them. Yet, almost all of us can recount a time (no matter how long ago) when we felt relaxed and in the flow, and hours passed by that felt like only minutes.
This morning, I woke up feeling the former. My mind woke already scanning my to-do list over the next few days, and if I hadn’t been aware of it, I would have done what I’ve done in the past:
rush to get up, hurriedly get ready, maybe/not eat breakfast, pretty much hold my breath until I got to work, and then spring into “doing” whatever fell in front of me- ALL.DAY.LONG. as the tension, anxiety, and irritability mounted.
Sound familiar? It can be a challenging pull to intervene with. Thankfully, (over the past couple of years) I have created a new routine to replace the default:
I wake, take a deep breath and say a prayer of gratitude for another day, brush my teeth, wash my face, drink a glass of water, and meditate.
I have carved out a special place in our homes (we’ve moved, and I create a little nook wherever we go) for this practice.
I sit down and take a deep breath. I check in with my body (just notice what sensations are presenting themselves where). I write down what is present and any dreams that I had/remember.
Then I set a timer and meditate. I follow my breath: the belly moving away from the spine on the inhale and it’s moving toward the spine on the exhale. As the breath deepens and flows, I zoom my attention out to the body and my surroundings.
I (attempt to) neutrally observe thoughts. When the mind (I say “mind” and not “I” because the mind is not who we are; how can it be if we can also watch it?) gets distracted, I come back to following the breath. Time and time again. I come back to the breath.
At first, this practice felt wildly uncomfortable; my mind was heavily resistant to sitting still. “This is a waste of time. Why are you doing this? It’s not working. You could be doing X, Y, Z, on your to-do list.”
Thankfully I had experienced teachers, and also a deep desire to “be a good student” (which actually supported me in this practice), and that kept me showing up. Slowly, over time, I realized I am in WITNESS to the mind, I am the OBSERVER of it. It doesn’t control me. It’s content is not me. And I can choose how I want to respond to it. We can choose. If we choose to let it run in the background without becoming clearly aware of what it is saying, we are likely being controlled by its actions, and also perhaps missing out on our mind/body system trying to communicate with us.
I was reminded of that this morning. I felt the discomfort of overwhelm and a racing mind as I moved through the first part of my morning routine. I sat down on my meditation cushion and said “what’s up?”. What I noticed first was that the base of my body felt light, and super ungrounded, like it could float up off the ground. My head, in contrast, felt so heavy that it could fall over forward! What’s up with that?
How I interpreted that feedback, was that my root chakra (which is concerned with survival and base needs) needed some love, and my third eye chakra (concerned with intuition) was feeling smothered by overthinking and overanalyzing in the mind. In other (less mystical) words, I needed to get out of my head and into my body. I also became aware of the most present causative factor: I am leaving for an international trip in a couple of days. I tend to be a nervous flyer, and a light sleeper, and this trip entails three flights, including an overnight. When I feel afraid or unsafe, my default tendencies are to plan, control, and stay really busy to feel like I am “doing” something.
I noticed this as I sat with the breath. I acknowledged it (we must if we want it to release). I spoke kindly to my body/mind: “Ok. I can see you are nervous about the upcoming travel. I understand. What can I do to support you, right now?”. And almost immediately my whole system exhaled, and solutions became readily available:
So that’s the system that really supports me. I am sharing it in the hopes that it can serve as a template for you to create your own.
Stress is at the root of almost every illness, and is an exacerbating trigger for those chronic conditions our society seems to be plagued with today.
We cannot control our outer world. And to the ego mind, who THRIVES on PERCEIVED control, that really sucks. But we CAN learn to control how we respond to EVERYTHING internally and externally, which in turn influences our thoughts, emotions, biology, physiology, and the way we experience the world around us.
That’s pretty powerful.
And it all begins with becoming intentional about what you want, and aligning your energy and actions with that intention.