Week 659: Attending to Self-Regulation

I recently listened to a conversation on the BBC about global responses to our new President-elect and what I heard got me to thinking about survival attachment dynamics. We know that children need caregivers who are, among other things, predictable, consistent, and trustworthy in order to develop a sense of secure attachment. When caregivers don’t have these characteristics, children tend to develop a fundamental insecurity at a deep, biological level.

As I listened to the news report, it dawned on me that Donald Trump’s tendency to be inconsistent, unpredictable, and untruthful is probably eliciting the same kind of anxiety and insecurity in many of us that we see in children whose attachment histories aren’t secure. These responses happen at basic physiological levels, given that attachment dynamics serve survival and we all carry these dynamics in us throughout our lives.

This got me to thinking about how important it is right now for all of us to have available ways we can soothe and settle ourselves, physically as well as emotionally. For this reason, I’d like to offer an experiment that has some strategies for settling your nervous system as well as your emotional responses, not to make everything feel okay but to offer your body-mind some ease.

One of my favorite ways to settle is to follow an out-breath all the way down inside me, as I imagine pouring myself into an open bowl resting on my pelvic floor. With the out-breath, I settle down into the bowl and, as my breathing continues, I stay there for a while, resting in the bowl.

Another readily available option is to bring your awareness to your legs and feet, orienting yourself to the lower portions of your body. If your feet are on the floor, take time to notice the sensations of contact between the bottoms of your feet and the surface under them. Push down a few times, engaging the muscles in your thighs and then take a moment to notice how you feel after you have pushed down and feel a solid sense of connection between your feet and the surface under them.

One of my favorite settling processes I’ve shared many times, is Tonglen. It involves focusing your awareness in the heart, becoming aware of the fire of love that lives there. Also become aware of any anxiety, fear, anger, or other emotion you are having that causes you distress and take a moment to recognize that countless people around the world feel the same thing at this moment. Then, if it’s all right for you to do so, breathe in their distress and combine it with your own, allowing the fire of love in your heart to burn away, transmute the distress. Then, on the out-breath, breathe out ease, compassion, peace—whatever quality you want—first into your own body-mind being and then out into the world. Do this breathing until you notice that you are settling down, coming more into regulation.

If you are uncomfortable breathing distress directly into your heart, imagine that you are surrounded by a light that neutralizes the distress before it enters your heart and then do the same process as above.

If breathing exercises work for you, there’s the yoga breathing practice of inhaling to a count of 4, holding a breath for the count of 7, and exhaling for a count of 8. I believe that Andrew Weil has developed this into one of his exercises and I think you can find recordings by him on-line if you’d like a guided experience.

One other process, one I use all the time, actually, is to take a moment to lean into the stillness that is always in the background of every thought, every feeling, every physical sensation, every action, every urge. It is an infinite field of stillness and you can simply rest there for a moment or two, allowing any activation to have time to settle.

The constant invitation during times like these is to find ways to re-center and regulate ourselves as we engage whatever actions feel necessary to meet circumstances with which we don’t agree. We now know that our brain can’t easily offer us solutions or options when we are highly activated, so it serves us and our communities to find ways to regulate ourselves when and as we can.

As with all these experiments, be sure to bring along curiosity as your constant companion and allow any judgments to simply arise, move through, and move on, as they don’t tend to have any information you really need.

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