Central to the my approach when I’m working with people who are grieving is the idea that grief is healthy and normal and each of my clients are naturally resilient, resourceful and creative. Their grief reactions are not brokenness or illness or something to “recover” from – they’re a part of the experience of love and the physical, emotional, cognitive and spiritual changes in functioning that they’re experiencing are for the most part designed to facilitate their adaptation to living more authentically and wholeheartedly after loss. I believe that my grieving clients have all they need to transform their grief to growth, so my main job is to help them to reconnect with and have a deeper trust in their natural resourcefulness, resilience and creativity. Often our natural resourcefulness, resilience and creativity is more easily accessible through our body and emotions rather than our rational, verbal mind (which finds the ambiguity, mystery and groundlessness of death, loss and grief too confusing to “make sense of” the way that the rational mind likes to make sense of things), so I’m often emphasizing to my clients the importance of tuning into and experiencing their bodies and emotions.
For “rational” and logical modern Westerners who’ve been brought up in a world that preferences dissociation, left-brain thinking and verbal expression over experiencing the body, stillness, quietness, experiencing emotions deeply, “being with” mystery and appreciating non-verbal forms of expression, talk of “tuning into their intuition” and deriving wisdom from their body or emotions is often very difficult to understand and rife with myths and fears.
So I’m thrilled that my client, Rebekah McClain, has written about her own journey from dissociation and even deep disdain for her own body and emotions after surviving rape 11 years ago, to discovering the intuitive and transformative power within her body and emotions. Rebekah writes and speaks at Monster Under The Bed, where she seeks to educate and empower survivors or rape and people living with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Rebekah has given me permission to share her article here in the hopes that it can help to demystify the notions of intuition, the mind-body connection and the role of self-acceptance in enabling a grieving person to live wholeheartedly after loss.
Rebekah’s story is a wonderful example of the transformative power of self-compassion and the rich resourcefulness and growth that we can tap into when we begin to understand that grief (and in her case also PTSD) is a natural response to loss and trauma and yet we have all the resources we need in order to thrive and live wholeheartedly after loss and trauma. And I just love that Rebekah now calls her emotions “all my children” and attends to them the way a deeply loving mother would!
All My Children (Living In Loving Acceptance Of All Your Deepest, Darkest Emotions)
I’ve been reading up recently on the body-mind connection and it’s involvement with emotions and their manifestation differences in mind versus in body. As someone who has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a history of eating disorders, and who is a survivor of rape, total disconnection from my body has been a normal part of my life. I’ve always pushed my body to its limits, ignored or lashed out at physical reactions, mutilated or physically assaulted parts of my body that hurt or complained, and numbed my physical self from reactions. Pain and self immolation or destruction have been a way of control for me in the past, so when I embarked on a journey of connection and understanding with my body, I had no idea where to start, how to proceed, or what to expect.
The idea had never even occurred to me that I might be completely disconnected from my body, until I began a two month long course and support group on grief and learning to live wholeheartedly through grief and loss. About halfway through the course, one of the modules was on the body. If I was paying attention to my inner attitudes and thoughts more effectively at the time, I would have noticed it sooner, but although I always studied every module before our class began, in this particular module I was unable to connect to or fulfill the assignment requirements regardless of the fact that I tried very hard to do so. I ended the assignment the night before class with generic, general answers that were more thoughts than feelings in the body- any actual feelings of pain from my body were portrayed in my assignment as angry thoughts against my Judas body – and I almost didn’t attend class the next day because I blew the whole module off as insignificant and inconsequential. However, the next day I attended, groggy, distracted, and not completely present. This module was dumb in my mind and meant nothing, but perhaps I could get something else out of it.
We began the class with a meditation, and as I did like meditation I distractedly participated, opening my eyes and moving here and there to keep taking notes so I could try this meditation on my own later. We scanned our bodies for our worst pain and were told to focus on this pain, to try and see ourselves as a whole from above and zero in on that part of ourselves, to come down and sit with the pain. This was incredibly simple to hone in on as my lower back had been killing me the past few months. It was so stiff and sore I couldn’t bend properly anymore, and simple acts of moving, stooping, twisting or bending concerned me as I was convinced it might snap in two at any moment. I had been half joking that I was becoming an old woman in the prime of my life, and I had been quietly worrying about my apparent aging. During the meditation I could feel a tingling or electric current throughout my longer limbs such as my arms or legs, but everywhere else felt dead. I had a numbness in my feet, stiffness and pain in my neck, shoulders, and upper arms, upper back, shins, eyes, and head area by my eyes, forehead, hands and forearms. It was difficult for me to maintain my breath ratio in the meditation, and although I was unaware why at the time, I think it was because of the deeply embedded emotions coming back up from the depths of my body. We were asked to sit with our one specific area of pain – the one area that needed the most work- to try to embrace it, to tell it we are here and are listening, trying to understand it, and to ask it what it needs.
In that time during the meditation, I realized that with my PTSD I had been hyper-focused on the negative, that I had cut myself off from my body and it’s wealth of support and information and monitoring. In cutting my body off from my life force energy and spirit I allowed pain, fear, burnout, and illness to enter my body and manifest itself in various destructive ways. My body was manifesting physical fear and trauma as sickness and physical pain or degeneration. As my body had always been there to support and protect me, I had withdrawn my spiritual support from my body and cut off the connection, isolating my fight into the realms of the mind (where I thought I may be able to defeat my enemy) while controlling and forcing my body to slowly die away with no allies to help it. My body had become another enemy in the realms of my mind. While floating above my body during the meditation, I watched my body and allowed it to feel the sadness and depression and aging I had inflicted upon it during the years of separation but had refused to feel or acknowledge in return. I was completely disconnected at this point, looking down upon myself as if a stranger, as if I was dead looking down at my unrecognizable, lifeless, tired, worn body, observing the final culmination of my actions and reactions throughout my life against my body that had always been there for me, and had tried its best to support my spirit within the constraints I had allowed it to exist. I floated down in my mind state to hover directly over my body and gently touch my face in a final gesture of thankfulness. I returned my focus on the area that needed the most work, my lower back, and as instructed, asked it what it needed. I asked it what I need to know from it, asked it what it needed from me in return for shouldering my burden – I asked it, “Blessed body, what do you need?”
It took about 5 minutes or more of me continuing my plea in progressively more sincere tones and truly changing my mentality to one of openness and curiosity before it answered directly, quietly, and kindly: “Empathy and love, tolerance and understanding; Empathy.”
The truth welled up inside of me and expressed itself as tears – in my mind’s eye, appropriately enough, for no reason. I had been unfair to my body. I had never given my body the opportunity to grieve its loss. I had directed my anger toward my body and had punished it for my pain. I had numbed my body in the past to complete the separation and had used pain as a way to feel that my body was there, that I was connected to this world in some way. I had in the past beat my body up and abused it or mutilated it. I always forced it to do what I or others wanted- as a method of personal connection or control, in jobs, or with the military. I had always served others in some way, never thinking or caring of the effects on myself- often to the detriment of my body. I had separated myself from my body, severed the connection. I didn’t think I needed my body, but my body had been there for me the whole time – it had been there to support me, not as a Judas, but as a friend.
Upon this realization my body became light and joyous. The pain and stiffness subsided and gave way to lightness and tingling or a feeling of an electric current, as though my body could finally, joyously reconnect with the vital spiritual energy it needed and gain the connection of a much needed ally. When I realized the extent of disconnect from my body and what that disconnection was doing to me as a whole, I set off on a journey to reconnect to and understand my body. What did my body need in this moment? What could I do to produce empathy and become friends again with my body? I realized I love my back because it’s MY back. I adore my back – my back is here for me. My back loves me in return. It shoulders my burdens for me and wants me to be ok. It will always be here for me and try to help me until my body dies. This was a revolutionary discovery for me. Instead of fighting my body (And complaining: “It can’t focus anymore, it hurts, it’s falling apart, my mind isn’t working, I can’t sleep,” etc) I chose to ally with it. I chose to trust it, allow it to be, allow it to feel, chose to partner with it, and reached one of my best mantras for living in the present – If it’s happening, be for it. Allow yourself to be and exist however you do in this particular moment. Nothing about your story in your head matters, only the present moment in and of itself is real, and your emotions are feelings located in your body so you can live an effective life in synergy with your greatest ally. Do what your body needs and allow yourself to play. The play will create its own purpose so long as you listen intuitively to what you need and allow fun and creativity to happen. Your body knows what it truly needs better than your mind thinks it does.
Although I’ve worked in this way with my emotions in body since then, and I’ve been able to transcend my emotions recently in arguments to keep my cool and stay on point in discussion rather than engage in self centered emotional arguments, it has been harder for me to stay in an emotion and locate the root in my body. Although I had been trying to notice roots of emotions in my body, I hadn’t been able to specifically pinpoint their location successfully. Perhaps I wasn’t feeling my emotions to their fullest in my mind to begin to locate them effectively in my body. Perhaps when I felt some of my emotion I allowed myself to become mentally lost to it, sticking to the more ingrained habit of disconnection. In any case, that all changed one day while driving to work as I became suddenly enveloped in the emotion of the present moment, specifically anger and irritation (often referred to as road rage- but on a milder level). I felt sudden, intense anger rise up as I uttered choice words in the direction of the other driver. As I felt the anger flash in front of me, I simultaneously felt a hardening, a weight, in the pit of my stomach. Instantly I noticed it as I had made a habit by this time to try and look for origins of my emotions in my body. As I was driving I chose to stay with the feeling and sensation in my body, and a funny thing happened. I could feel my mind shift to other thoughts and various hues of a myriad of other emotions, but if I chose to notice and stay with it, the pit was still present in my stomach. I was mentally able to overcome my anger quickly, singing my favorite songs while looking out at the beautiful scenery in happiness or awe while driving, but I could feel that I had just piled more anger atop years of buried anger in the pit of my stomach. I could feel it because I chose to keep checking into the sensation in my stomach, consciously staying with it and was able to feel years of anger as a weight in the pit of my stomach. It wasn’t a feeling anymore – it was a physical sensation, a tangible result of years of not feeling or refusing to understand my anger to its fullest extent.
As I sat with the physical feeling, allowing my mind to go about daily activities (my mind was fully over the emotion by now), I approached the pit in my stomach as one would approach a crying child. I told it I was here, I was listening, and I would feel and support it. I asked it what it needed, and instantaneously it responded in a shout: “Love!” I embraced it, told it that I loved and appreciated it, that I wanted to understand it, that it was needed and that I would take as long as necessary to listen to it and stay with it. And then something absolutely unexpected happened. It almost completely dissipated – instantly. I kept checking back in and noticed that it would creep back after a little bit, I would validate my love for it and my acceptance of it, ask if it needed anything else, and it would disappear again. It was beginning to trust me.
As with any journey I’m on a course, reaching points closer and closer to my desired destination. No results come overnight, and as I progress and practice I become better at understanding myself and my emotional “children” within me. My child of anger still exists in the pit of my stomach, but I have been in the process of understanding it and befriending it so it can become a mentor and a personal council on where I’m at and how I’m doing in my life rather than an enemy, a blemish of the soul, or something to be ashamed of. Every day I work closer and closer to wholehearted living, embracing the me in the present – the person I currently am in the now – as good enough, and as a team; my body, mind, friendly emotions, and soul can create the future and the present moment of my dreams.
This article was written by Rebekah McClain and originally published at Monster Under The Bed.