Weekly Practice in Conscious Living

814th Week: Being Kind Doesn’t Mean You Have to Agree

In a recent On Being broadcast on NPR, I heard a story about Howard Thurman’s grandmother. Howard Thurman was a prominent figure in the civil rights movement and was an influential theologian. He was a mentor of Dr. Martin Luther King and also one of the principle architects of nonviolent protests. His grandmother was a former slave who owned land in an area where there were also white people.

Apparently, Thurman’s grandmother had a neighbor, a white woman who apparently was unkind to all in her neighborhood and not just to Thurman’s grandmother. At one point, the neighbor began to gather chicken droppings from her chicken coop on a regular basis and dump them on the garden of Thurman’s grandmother. Rather than retaliate, his grandmother turned the chicken droppings into the soil each time they arrived. In time, her garden flourished because of all the natural fertilizer in the chicken droppings.

The neighbor woman eventually became quite ill and, because of her way of relating to people, no one was willing to visit her or help her. One day, Thurman’s grandmother went to visit the woman, taking her a large bouquet of flowers. The woman was surprised and delighted to receive the flowers and commented on how beautiful they were. Thurman’s grandmother said in response that the flowers were so beautiful because of all the neighbor’s contributions of fertilizer to her garden.

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Weekly Practice in Conscious Living

813th Week: Cultivating an Internal Sense of Safety

Recently, I had a conversation with a colleague that revolved around the subject of cultivating an internal sense of safety. We talked about how external safety isn’t a sure thing and, in these uncertain times, doesn’t ring true as a possibility for many people. 

My deepest sense, as we talked, was that the only place I could find a reliable sense of safety, and it’s a relative thing, is inside my own embodied core presence. This is because embodied presence is something we carry within us all the time, even when we’re unaware of it. 

I’ve talked many times about the dynamic of “foreground/background”. Depending on what we experience in any given moment, feelings of activation, distress, overwhelm, and/or shutdown may have moved into the foreground of our awareness. When this happens, our internal steadiness and embodied core presence slide into the background and we no longer experience these qualities of our inherent being.

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Weekly Practice in Conscious Living

812th Week: Managing Uncertainty

One of the things that most of us find challenging is to manage uncertainty. It’s a natural response to be uncomfortable with not knowing what’s going to happen next or where we are headed, individually and collectively. For some people, finding conspiracy theories offers an experience of “knowing what’s going on” that calms the discomfort most of us feel around uncertainly. For others, anxiety becomes a constant companion and they have difficulty truly soothing themselves. For yet others, becoming numb and shutting down is their natural response to constant and mounting uncertainty.

Also, I want to affirm that having a response to uncertainty is certainly normal and not necessarily something that needs the kind of process I’ll describe below, so please be gentle with yourself when circumstances elicit discomfort and anxiety about the future.

As I’ve been thinking about how we can expand our capacity to be uncomfortable and find some degree of equanimity, I found myself thinking about a concept I have taught for many years—a process of uncoupling trauma-based associations, called over-couplings in the Somatic Experiencing® world. Let me define these terms as I did when teaching SE.

Trauma over-couplings are associations that become “glued together” during times of overwhelm or distress. These are individual elements of experience or learnings that actually don’t belong together. One common trauma-based, attachment-oriented over-coupling is: If I do what I want, they (whoever “they” might be) won’t love me. Those two things don’t really belong together and especially so in adult life. Another common trauma-based over-coupling is: Unless I know what’s going on, I won’t be safe. The problem with trauma-based over-couplings is that they predict something that may not, or probably won’t, happen. They often arise from childhood experiences where we were not only ill equipped to have options available to us but when we also weren’t mature enough to understand what was happening. 

I’d like to offer one way to deal with these trauma-based over-couplings. I called it “therapeutic dissociation” in my book, Getting Through the Day, but it’s actually a form of uncoupling adult awareness and options from those arising from earlier overwhelming experience.

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Weekly Practice in Conscious Living

811th Week: Tracking Frequencies, Avoiding “Adding Logs to the Fire”

I had a conversation recently with a friend who was agitated and highly distressed about the current political situation in the U.S. As I listened to them, I found myself wondering if they were aware of the qualities they were radiating into themselves and into the environment around them because of the intensity of their agitation. This got me to thinking about the power and importance of cultivating an awareness of the frequencies with which we resonate from moment to moment.

One of the practices I follow as best I can is to notice the tone and quality of my internal state and how that translates into what energy and qualities I radiate into myself and my environment. This doesn’t mean ignoring distress. If I feel grief and need to actively allow it to process and move through me, or if I feel outrage and need to act on behalf of what I want to support, that’s important too and can happen without generating additional activation. 

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Weekly Practice in Conscious Living

810th Week: Cultivating A Sense of Connection

As we collectively continue to be met with powerful challenges of loss, grief, change, and concerns about the future, having practices available that allow us to ground ourselves, re-center ourselves, and orient to a more heart-centered perception and awareness is more important than ever. One of the practices that I have found comforting during difficult times is to remember that I am part of a much larger context of connection and to orient my awareness toward ways of experiencing that sense of connection.

For this week’s practice, I’d like to share one of the approaches that helps me feel more grounded during times of distress and uncertainty. It relates to something I say all the time, which is, “We’re not in this alone.” As much as we may feel disconnected at times, from an energy perspective, and from the perspective of collective consciousness, it’s impossible for us to be truly alone, impossible not to be connected to our larger collective presence, comprised of each of us and of all our earth-kin.

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