It started out as an ordinary family holiday, everyone gathered in the kitchen, the happy din of chatter and laughter, people cooking, people playing games at the kitchen table. We eagerly anticipated the feast.
I was sitting at the table having a delightful conversation with a family member who was in her first year of college, and I remember I’d just asked the question, “So tell me, what are you learning at college that has nothing to do with what you’re learning in your classes?”
I love asking people her age this question, and really what I was seeking was to remember the mind of a 19-year-old, and to see how the world looked and felt like socially and culturally through their perception. My body was in relaxed, aware anticipation, at rest and ease while I awaited her response, expecting something that would satisfy and amuse me.
But on a dime, everything suddenly changed.
Another family member who I’d been close to all my life but with whom I’d had some serious struggles and conflict over the years, swung around from the counter where she was slicing onions and waved her huge chef’s knife back and forth in the air in front of my chest, finishing her gesture with target precision, pointing it at my heart.
She was standing a couple of feet away from me, and I didn’t consciously THINK she was going to stab me, but my body felt differently as she said with a kind of hostility and hatred that didn’t match the occasion, “You know, that’s the problem with you, you always have to…”
Alarmed, I stood up, trying to grasp how the energy of the moment had switched from peace to aggression in mere moments.
In a blur of utter confusion, unable to make rational sense of the difference between what my brain expected to receive and what it was receiving, I blocked out her words as she finished her sentence about whatever was wrong with me, and turned around nonchalantly, returning to her onions.
The Hormones of Survival
My nervous system had switched from peaceful ease to survival mode in an instant. My heart was pounding and felt outside my chest, adrenaline was rushing through my veins. My body said “run or you’re gonna die!” but my brain resisted: it presumed I was safe in a house full of people who were trustworthy.
Talk about conflicting messages!
My stomach clenched with nausea and my body was shaking all over. My legs felt simultaneously rooted to the floor and as if they had been knocked out from under me. I held onto the back of my chair and felt a little out of my body. I could feel myself shaking my head as if that would clear the webs of confusion out of my overwhelmed brain.
I could feel my blood pressure escalate and it felt like a portal opened in the crown of my head, that my life-force energy drained out there, leaving me light-headed. Weirdly my tongue felt like it spontaneously had swollen. I realized I was holding my breath and then gasped for air.
I managed to mobilize myself, moved into the next room and tried to regain my bearings.
In a semi-unconscious act of self-preservation for which I will always be grateful, I took out my phone and took a video of my own hand shaking and trembling wildly, and I recorded my voice saying, “Don’t you ever forget this. This is what she does to you. Don’t you ever, EVER forget this.”
The Problem of Vigilance
It’s taken a long and painful road to understand, unwind and heal within me the conflict in that relationship, but it has been one of my greatest lessons in life and I’m grateful for that.
The situation has helped me to see that chronic stress and dishonesty in a relationship can place us in a state of vigilance. This vigilance simultaneously keeps us alert to spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical danger AND unable to discern clearly and navigate skillfully within it.
The act of recording the physical evidence of duress in that single event allowed me to start the process of being honest about the true nature of the relationship beyond my biases and my conditioning.
With the knife event, the violence of our relationship reached an undeniable crescendo. In the past, this person had slapped me, yelled at me, resented me, threatened me, and ignored and withdrawn from me out of spite. They had been habitually both aggressive and passive aggressive toward me. But there were plenty of good times and laughs, too, and that created within me a kind of blindness, or a blind loyalty.
In truth and in hindsight, it created within me an unconscious but ultimately self-destructive tolerance that only I could heal, and which had less to do with her and more to do with me, my beliefs, my expectations, and my interpretation of her behavior.
I began to understand that she was a stimulus to which I had a habituated response.
Over the lifetime of the relationship, I had been neurologically primed and programmed to a cycle of vigilance, avoidance, tolerance and/or submission. Our shared history, her erratic, at times manic or depressed, volatile and aggressive tendencies, coupled with my inability to express myself, assert myself or set reasonable boundaries, left me on guard for anything—in good times and in bad.
That’s energetically unsustainable if the goal is wellness and wholeness.
Removing the personality and objectively looking at the behavior liberated me.
I understood that this person just embodied certain words and actions that produced within me an emotional reaction. Independent of whether or not they intended harm, my emotional reaction to their behavior was embodied within me, and it harmed me, no one else.
This was a wildly uncomfortable conclusion that didn’t happen overnight. It took a grueling number of years and more provoking events. I had to endure within me tremendous sadness and numerous cycles of painful grief as I mourned the loss of close family connection.
Overcoming decades of conditioning, I had to learn—to teach myself—to be dedicated to loving and caring for myself more than I was dedicated to upholding some belief agreement that didn’t support my life.
Tuning in to bodymind wisdom
My video helped me to begin the process of honoring my body’s interpretation of the experience without my brain’s conditioned analysis which caused an over-write of my spirit’s desire to thrive, not just survive.
My brain was firmly rooted in the illusion of and attachment to a false-and-limited belief of what I needed to tolerate as “normal family stuff,” at the expense of my own well-being. Formed long ago in my past, I unconsciously agreed to a definition of family without question. To my own spiritual, mental, emotional, and now, it would seem, potentially physical peril.
Our body is always offering guidance on what we should move away from or closer to, and we condition ourselves to override that guidance by over-analyzing the experience in our brain. Our culture is very mental-oriented. Often what we don’t realize is that over-thinking and over-analyzing is siphoning our attention and therefore our energy away from actually feeling the emotional energy, and therefore the body’s language, reducing our ability to effectively solve our problems.
A body of many brains
Energy medicine has taught me that we can view our nervous system as a series of “mini brains,” or intelligent centers of energy-information. Specifically, the nerve plexuses that emerge from our spinal column in our pelvis, sacrum, solar plexus, heart and neck are always responding to the energy and information of our life. They are always decoding and assessing the relevant benefits or threats of the people, places, conditions, and environments of our life. If we just attune our awareness to them and use our brain for what it’s meant for (decision-making) we’d feel less stressed.
The “mini brains” of our lower body are centers of consciousness and they are always assessing:
- Am I safe and do I have permission to take up space?
- Am I able to assimilate and do I have the permission to express myself?
- Am I able to act and can I direct my life?
If these aren’t met, the body can respond with fight, flight, freeze or withdraw response—feeling pain or heaviness in the legs, lethargy, feeling antsy or numb. People might have symptoms of digestive disruption, chronic stomach aches or difficulty deeply breathing in this state-of-being.
Our heart is the center of our energy process and it’s always working to guide us to intuitive, inner truth and wisdom in love. It would be wise for us to feel and “think” with our heart, which is inherently guiding us toward what’s most loving to us. We know this when we feel soothing, harmonic peaceful sensations in our chest.
The “mini brain” of the neck and throat and the big brain in our head are about the enlightened consciousness of verbal expression, creating with love, connecting to the mystical, multidimensional meta-reality we are a part of, and connecting to cosmic, divine, life-giving energy.
Tuning in to the wisdom and guidance of the whole body helps us to become aware of the habituated responses we have developed over the course of our life. More conscious, objective awareness of the body’s assessment helps us question the dissonant or incoherent (unbeneficial) energy of the conditions, relationships, and environments we have unconsciously normalized.
Why energy medicine?
The exquisite beauty of energy healing is that it can heal and inform the head-brain in an instant what can take years to consciously work out through excessive and redundant thought. In energy healing, the flow of highly coherent universal life-force is increased, and as it moves through the body, it supports the body in processing the emotional energy stored in our cellular environment.
All energy carries information, and highly coherent energy is intelligent, organizing energy. When we rest and get our thinking head-brain out of the way, it can restore, reorganize, re-order and regulate us back into centered wholeness.
Healing begins when we give ourselves opportunities to get out of survival, and when we give ourselves permission—we love ourselves enough—to withdraw from relationships that keep us in a disordered vigilance and which diminish our wholeness.
It takes time to learn how to trust our body and the information it is providing about our life. This is where the naturally easy meditation practice of Yoga Nidra can be helpful. To learn more about energy healing or Yoga Nidra meditation, book a private session or join an upcoming class or retreat. Text or call Diana at 207-249-2261 or email email@example.com with questions.