Holding Our Collective Breath

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“When you own your breath, nobody can steal your peace.” ~ Anonymous

I woke up very early the other day, too early for the time I’d gone to bed. As I tried to get myself back to sleep for a bit, I took a very, very deep inhale of breath. It shocked me how good (and foreign) it felt. I realized that in this era of global pandemic, I’ve basically been holding my breath. Many of us have.

But wait, I’ve been meditating, praying, doing some yoga, practicing good breathing. And I realized that’s the only time I’ve actually been breathing. The rest of the time, I’m in a state of fight or flight shallow breathing, which eventually feels almost like holding your breath. The chest grows tight, constricted, and the lungs just barely keep us going.

It’s understandable. We are all in a strange state. We are in limbo, yet hyper-vigilant at the same time. We don’t know how this will play out, we have little control, and we can’t plan for the future. We are in separate lifeboats just trying to figure out each day.

Our breath, thankfully, is part of the autonomic nervous system, bodily functions that happen without us thinking about it. However, our breath and heart rate reflect our state of mind, our emotions, and our fears. When we are scared, our heart rate quickens, and our breath becomes faster and more shallow. We are ready to run.

Only here, in our various states of quarantine, there’s nowhere to go.

Ironically, as we face this catastrophic Covid-19, as so many people are struggling to breathe and survive, it’s increasingly important to add a breathing practice to our daily routine. Here we are, in unprecedented times, wearing face masks when we do venture out, often feeling literally afraid to breathe! But breath is life, and it’s never been more important to breathe more deeply, to relax our nervous systems, and to live in the moment.

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”

~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Of all our autonomic nervous system functions, the breath is the one we have the most conscious control over. It has a direct influence on the vagus nerve, a nerve that runs throughout the autonomic system. Slow exhalations cause this nerve to relax and bring us closer to a feeling of well-being.

Besides relaxation, the benefits of deep breathing include boosting the immune system, lowering heart rate and blood pressure, reduced depression, improvement in  diabetes, and the management of chronic pain. For me, it also provides a sense of control. I may not be able to control the outward situation, but I can control my response to it. With regular breath practice, I control the effect of the pandemic on my nervous system. I control how much fear I’m willing to experience. Deep breathing in conjunction with meditation or prayer is extremely healing and centering. Even just stopping for a moment, taking a deep breath, filling the lungs, and allowing a long, slow exhale, can re-center us quickly.

“One conscious breath in and out is a meditation.” ~ Eckhart Tolle

When fear and anxiety arise, I use this simple technique to help me stay in the moment.

Breathing in think, “In this moment I have ___________. (water, sun, music, air, etc.)

Breathing out think, “In this moment I need nothing.”

Repeat until you feel calmer. Regulating our breath helps us focus on the present moment, and focusing on the present moment keeps our minds from spiraling into worse-case scenarios.

Dr. Andrew Weil recommends deep breathing as part of any wellness program. Here is a link to three of his favorite exercises. https://www.drweil.com/health-wellness/body-mind-spirit/stress-anxiety/breathing-three-exercises/

The world is, indeed, holding its collective breath. Let us take some collective deep breaths, calming the vagus nerve of the planet. Breathe deeply, fill your lungs, hold for a moment, then exhale slowly, blowing out audibly your fear and anxiety. Take some calming breaths for those who cannot – those who we hold in deep compassion; those working on the front lines of this pandemic, those who are fighting for their lives, those who are suddenly unemployed, and those who have been thrown into unforeseen grief.

I pray that one day, we will all breathe easy again. In the meantime, breathe deeply.

“Every breath we draw is a gift of God’s love: every moment of existence is a grace.”

~ Thomas Merton

You Are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

4/7/20

Covid-19 and Collective Trauma

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The paradox of trauma is that it has both the power to destroy and the power to transform and resurrect.” – Peter A. Levine

Lately, I’ve been conscious of trauma as it applies to society. Due to the outbreak of Covid-19, the world is currently in a state of collective trauma. Collective trauma refers to the psychological reactions to a traumatic event that can affect an entire society. For most of us, our daily way of life has drastically changed in the last few weeks. Freedoms and income have been reduced, and we are in a constant low-grade state of fear.

When a society experiences a collective trauma, such as 9/11, mass shootings, natural disasters, etc., our routines and relationships, those things that anchor us to our society are disrupted in such a way that it can leave us struggling to reclaim the purpose of our lives. In some ways, this can lead to a positive re-prioritizing of what is truly important. In other ways, it can leave us grasping for meaning and feeling hopeless.

For those of us already dealing with PTSD, this collective trauma can trigger other traumas to rise to the surface. We may find we are having trouble sleeping, nightmares, generalized anxiety, or hyper-vigilance may be rearing their heads again. Others may find they are having a surprisingly calm reaction to all this, as being in a trauma state is not strange to us, and we feel able to function in this state better than others.

Traumatic events can trigger past traumas, and who among us has not experienced some level of trauma? So we as a society have this huge collective trauma and our own historical traumas slamming us all at once. It’s a lot to deal with and process! And we’re confined either with partners, family, friends, or alone. Being alone can be most challenging as there is no distraction from your own thoughts.

If you’ve been feeling some of this, the dis-ease that has been engendered by this disease, there are practices you can undertake to ease the trauma response. We must regularly engage in self-care, find comfort in spiritual practice, stay connected to our tribe, and begin to reframe our relationship to historical trauma.

“Radical self-care is what we’ve been longing for, desperate for, our entire lives – friendship with our own hearts.” ~ Anne Lamott

Self-care is the best thing you can do for yourself right now. Stay centered and grounded as much as you can in whatever way works for you. Exercise, yoga, meditation, bubble baths, reading, and creative expression will connect you to your center. We cannot face this event coming from a place of scattered emotions and thoughts. Limit your news to a single check-in every day to keep from going down the black hole of information saturation. Go outside and find a place to connect to nature. None of these things cost money and can help you find some balance amidst the chaos.

If you have a spiritual practice, there is no better time to enhance and build upon it. Read, study, pray, and fill your soul with comfort, fill your mind with faith. Read the inspired words of those who have overcome darkness. Viktor Frankl, Elie Wiesel, and Mother Teresa, for example, are inspiring in their ability to hold onto faith in the midst of great suffering. Turn to your spiritual practice at this time to help you hold onto your faith, and to get a glimpse of the big picture. The world has survived many traumas and will survive this one as well.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” ~ Viktor E. Frankl

In these times, we must find a way to stay connected to our tribe. Facetime, Zoom, Marco Polo, social media and good old fashioned phone calls are our life-lines now. Resist the urge to isolate, to avoid the changes we’re all adjusting to, and reach out. Write letters, send cards, connect with people you’ve been meaning to re-connect with. You have time, and everyone needs to hear from the people they treasure.

Lastly, start to reframe your relationship to historical trauma. If we are here, we have survived trauma, personal, ancestral, historical, and collective. This means we are resilient and we have developed coping skills that not everyone has. We know how to self-calm, self-care, rise above, forgive, and even help others. Build on the resilience you’ve developed thus far! We are strong, flexible, wise souls and our energies are needed in this crisis.

               “We can make ourselves miserable or we can make ourselves strong.                    The amount of effort is the same.” – Pema Chodron

We are in a state of collective trauma. So let us attempt to join in collective healing, first by taking good care of ourselves, then by contributing to healing the energy of the planet. We all need the energies of compassion, positivity, balance, and calm right now. Let’s practice this in our daily lives and see what healers we are.

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

3/20/2020

Why We Sometimes Hold Onto Trauma

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“The sooner we heal our traumas, the sooner we liberate ourselves from the people who hurt us. By hating them, we hold onto them. We cannot heal.” – Vironika Tugaleva

As I have studied, learned and written about healing trauma, I find I’m guilty of assuming that if you have been through trauma, you must want to heal. I forget that some souls perhaps don’t want to look at it, deal with it, or get better; at least, not now. I forget it until I’m face to face with such a person and I realize they are still holding onto a trauma from long ago – sometimes decades ago.

I used to wonder “What are they getting out of it? What’s the payoff?” Which sounds cold when you’re talking about a trauma survivor. But this is the thought I jump to when I see someone not making progress years after trauma. In reality, it’s far more complicated than my question, and of course, the reasons are as individual as we are. So in digging a little deeper, I found the reasons for holding onto trauma fall into three large categories (with many sub-categories).

The thought processes are basically the following:

Moving past trauma lets the person who caused it off the hook.

Moving past trauma means I can no longer be let off the hook.

Moving past trauma means I will have figure out who I am if I’m not suffering.

These are not light issues, not light thoughts. They are huge and overwhelming and no wonder people are often reluctant to confront these feelings! Let’s dive deeper.

“Moving past trauma lets the person who caused it off the hook.” This thought is often accompanied by other, related thoughts. If I forgive, then they’ll think they didn’t really hurt me. If I move past this and become stronger and more resilient, they’ll think their actions had no effect on me. If I forgive them, I’m weak.

The reality check to this thinking is part logic, part spirit. Logically, we have no idea what another person thinks of us, even they treat us poorly it’s more about them than what they think about us. And when we second-guess others’ thoughts and motivations, we give them even more power over us, thereby remaining stuck in the past. Spiritually, forgiving and moving on is something we do for ourselves, not for them. The longer we hold onto anger and withhold forgiveness, the longer we are in a state of inertia that we perpetuate. We don’t let anyone off the hook by moving past trauma – we break the chains that are keeping us in a dark place, so we can begin to climb to the light.

“Forgiveness is not always easy. At times it feels more painful than the wound we suffered, to forgive the one that inflicted it. And yet, there is no peace without forgiveness.” ~ Marianne Williamson

“Moving past trauma means I can no longer be let off the hook.” This second reason people might hold onto trauma is pretty insidious. Sadly, some of us find that in sharing our trauma we are seen as a victim, and people around us can start to let us off the hook. If we have certain unmet needs inside us, this can feel pretty good. It also gives us valid reasons for not fully dealing with people and situations in our life. We can start to use it as a way to avoid life, people, and in the worst cases, work and responsibility. I think all of us who have gone through trauma have been through phases of this. With therapy and hard work, we usually get past it.

The reality check to this thinking is realizing that again, you’re giving the trauma and whoever you associate with it, the power to keep you from fully engaging in life. Every time we use it as a way to avoid life, we empower the trauma, not ourselves. I’m not talking about the times we need to practice PTSD self-care and carve out safe, quiet time. If we’re honest with ourselves, we know the difference between self-care and avoidance. And if we’ve really gone down a dark path and avoid work and responsibilities, it will undoubtedly cause people who care for us to have to pick up the slack or bail us out.  It’s so important to take an honest look at how our healing impacts others, usually our family. If we have avoided therapy, or are playing on being a victim, not a survivor, we are denying our full and beautiful light from coming forth. Our inner wells of strength and faith are deep, so turn this fear over to God so we can truly conquer trauma, and not live it again every day.

We can make ourselves miserable or we can make ourselves strong. The amount of effort is the same.” ~ Pema Chodron

Moving past trauma means I will have to figure out who I am if I’m not suffering.” This thought manifests as many different thoughts that allow the trauma to define you. I’m a person who was profoundly hurt. Trauma is my identity, therefore in my pain I feel safe. We naturally do identify with being a victim of trauma initially. This should fade and assume a back-burner position in a healthy identity as we heal.

If it doesn’t, as a therapist I once knew said, “It doesn’t feel good, but it feels familiar.” We know how to play that part, so we play it because it’s comfortable, it’s easier, and we’re tired. But the danger, the reality check in this thinking, is that you’re once again giving your power to the trauma, not the recovery. You’re living a role, an identity, that was forced on you, not one you’ve chosen for yourself. Your true spirit, your true nature is on that back-burner. Invite it to come forward, try to open yourself to what the Universe has for you next. When you put a foot on this path of letting that old identity go, new possibilities will unfold!

Healing trauma is rich, unrelenting, exhausting, and rewarding. There are so many modalities now to deal with PTSD – therapy, EMDR, tapping, and of course, I believe, taking God with you every step of the way can only enhance your experience and restore your faith more quickly. So who could you become as you move past trauma?

We can only know when we begin to climb out of the quicksand. Staying stuck can only pull us down into depression, health issues, addictions and more. Healing is the process of getting un-stuck, of creating movement, of creating energy to move, of letting go.

“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

 

“You Are on the Fastest Route”

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“It is worth remembering that the time of greatest gain in terms of wisdom and inner strength is often that of greatest difficulty.” ~ Dalai Lama

I have done a lot of driving lately with my car GPS turned on, helping me navigate and stay aware of what may lie ahead. Every time you head out on a new route, Siri politely assures you that, “You are on the fastest route.” In case we were thinking about a side street, or thinking we know better, Siri assures us it’s all under control. We can just sit back and drive.

Every time I hear that message I think of my spiritual life. There have been so many times in life when the lessons have come so fast and hard that I begged God for mercy, just a little breathing room, just a little time to REST. But I firmly believe this life is a large schoolyard where we are given lesson after lesson, as we are ready for them, in order to grow our souls. So I know that I am given what I can handle when I can handle it. Even when it doesn’t feel like it.

“The challenges we face in life are always lessons that serve our soul’s growth.”    ~ Marianne Williamson

Lessons come at us in many forms. It can be a small, gentle reminder, or a painful trauma. I’ve observed the resulting growth is in direct proportion to the magnitude of the lesson. For example, if I’m having some kind of pity party, God will put in front of me someone who is much worse off – a reminder to be grateful and do what I can to help others. On the other hand, having survived a traumatic attack, the lessons contained in regaining my self, conquering crippling fear, gaining a deep understanding of forgiveness, and moving forward in life with courage and faith are lessons I could not have learned as quickly in any other way. My faith in this process is as much a part of me now as breathing.

“Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at the moment.” ~ Eckhart Tolle

I love this quote from Eckhart Tolle because it is so simple and straightforward and implies such trust in the unfolding of the Universe and our place in it! We are always on the fastest route if this is true. We cannot help but be in the right place at the right time.

Many times in the midst of an experience, especially something around loss, trauma or pain, we naturally don’t want to be there. We want it to end, to get better, or change in some way. This is a natural fight or flight response. It is only as we recover, as we heal and as we turn to God, that we can see the reasons things happened the way they did. The lessons are not apparent in the moment, only in reflection.

“Regardless of how hard, challenging, frightening, or difficult experiences may seem, everything is just as it needs to be in order for us to heal, grow and learn.”                      ~ Iyanla Vanzant

However much we may want to avoid the learning, or skip out on lessons, they are necessary for our growth. It’s only human to want to avoid pain – even Jesus asked that “this cup be taken from me.” But we know we must walk through the experience for a lesson to be fully realized and integrated.

We are on the fastest route – but how do we get through the moments of pain and challenge? Trust. It always comes down to Trust. Trust in the Strength of God to sustain you through life’s darkest hours. Trust that the path you are on is truly the fastest route to your enlightenment. Trust that God will send you people, places and pets that will serve to hold you up and heal you when needed. Trust in the mighty life force energy within you, trust that it is part of God, part of all the good in the Universe, and a force of Love.

“God never uses anyone greatly until he tests them deeply.” ~ A.W. Tozer

We must believe that a slower curriculum would not serve us, so let us try to trust every day that we are on the fastest route. And let’s buckle up – it has been and will continue to be a bumpy ride. Find good companions for the trip, and know God is behind the wheel.

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

March 7, 2019

WHEN YOU CAN’T FIX IT

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“Surrender – giving up what we think should be happening for what is actually happening.”          ~ McCall Erickson

 

I’ve been musing about this thought lately. There are times in life when tragedies happen, people you love are suffering and YOU CAN’T FIX IT! There’s nothing you can do. Nothing.

THEN WHAT DO WE DO?

We are beings who love doing, aren’t we? We’re all raised with such focus put on our ability to be capable and fix things. Problem? I’ll solve it! Predicament? Here’s what to do! Something broke? I’ll fix it! So when life throws us situations that we can’t actually fix, what can we do?

I’ve been struggling with this recently, both with my father in hospice care and passing last year, and with someone dear to me being in a depression. They were in physical and mental states I could not fix. I felt completely helpless. It was not in my power to make these situations any different.

I felt everything within these life challenges – grief, despair, LOTS of anxiety, frustration, anger, and guilt. Surely there must be something I can do! Have you been there? I believe most of us have if we’ve lived very long at all.

So what DO we do when we can’t fix something? I’m no expert, but here are the things I found I could do.

Be present. Simply be with the person who needs help. This is a natural instinct. I remember observing children when my son was in pre-school, and if one of them was upset, several other children would move and simply sit by that child. Not saying anything, just letting him or her know they’re not alone. It was powerful and comforting. Mere presence is often underrated. In his last months, my father was so comforted by the presence of people he loved. We didn’t have to do anything but just be there. Some people who may be depressed or recovering from trauma will push us away, but we need to gently find ways to be present with them anyway. In my life, when I’ve tried to isolate, I am eternally grateful for those friends who showed up and didn’t let me drown in the abyss I was creating. And if you can’t be with someone in person, call them. It helps.

 

“I thought faith would say “I’ll take away the pain and discomfort.” But what it ended up saying was “I’ll sit with you in it.” ~ Brene Brown

 

Listen without judgment. Sometimes people need to speak their dark thoughts out loud. We all, at times, need that person who will listen without judgment. My father needed to talk about death. Others I’ve known needed to admit they’d thought of ending it all, or running away from their life. To sit with that, and provide space for that, is a gift. Have you felt that? The times when you just say something out loud, you are heard, and you feel a weight lift off your shoulders? And the scary thoughts become less scary. They’re more scary when we keep them in. Friends and family aren’t therapists, but to be able to listen and not judge, to just respond with “That must be painful to think about,” or “I’m sorry you’ve felt so desperate, but I’m here for you,” can provide much-needed comfort.

Allow.  Allow people to be where they need to be. Remembering that we all have a path to walk and we don’t really “get” our lessons until we walk that path is so important. And we see so clearly what others must do or how they should be to fix their issues, don’t we? But by being present and listening, we allow them the space, the glorious window through which they will ultimately see their own unique path themselves. Know they are on their path, and the path God has for them doesn’t need fixing.

Visualize.  If we believe we are spiritual beings having a human existence, then we must know the power of seeing the truth about a loved one. When those I love are in a crisis, I take time each day to visualize them as they truly are, a beautiful spiritual being. I see them whole, happy, healthy, or simply wrapped in the love of God. If you feel you need to do something for someone, this can be very powerful, especially if you don’t live close enough to be present in person.

 

“Prayer is where the action is.” ~ John Wesley

 

Pray.  Prayer is a very active response to feelings of helplessness. Gandhi said, “Prayer is not an old woman’s amusement. Properly understood and applied, it is the most potent instrument of action.” In many situations, it is imperative to pray and take action, but this is not always possible. Sometimes, all we can do is pray. And those are the times to remember that prayer is not passive, prayer is not a last resort, it is a powerful action we take as we turn a situation, a concern, a person, over to God. Praying for the best outcome for a person or situation, not what we think should happen, but for what God knows is best. Trust. Have faith. Surrender. Pray.

I’ve found in my life these five things help. Sometimes it’s just a thought, sometimes it’s me railing against what is, struggling to allow and visualize, but at least I feel like I’m doing something.  Maybe I can’t do anything physically, but I can spiritually. Maybe I can’t fix it and make it go away, but I can love it and ultimately find the gifts in it. I can try.

You Are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

December 5, 2018

Sharing an insightful poem

I came across this poem called “Angry at God” and thought it would be helpful to many of us who have been through all kinds of trauma. It was written by Pastor Steve Garnaas-Holmes. His website is http://www.unfoldinglight.net.

 

Angry at God

         My complaint is bitter;
God’s hand is heavy despite my groaning.
… I would lay my case before God,
and fill my mouth with arguments.
… But on the left God hides, and I cannot behold God;
I turn to the right, but I see nothing.

              —Job 23.2, 4, 9

How could God let terrible things happen?
OK, get it out. Say it.
God, you’re a failure.

God can take it.
They’ve heard worse.

Now, what do you mean “let things happen?”
Should there be no suffering? No mistakes? No freedom?
Should God control every little thing?
No? Only the ones you choose?
Or by some obscure formula?
Only if you’re good enough, or pray right?
Please, don’t go there.

Stuff happens. Germs happen. Earthquakes happen.
Evil happens. People who hurt do awful things.
You know, don’t you, God does do something about that.
God has sent you to heal, to do justice.

But who do you think God is anyway? Some guy?
God is not a person. God is Love.
Not just a loving person, but Love Itself.
The Divine Energy, the Heart of All Things,
not some guy at a control panel.
Love manipulates nothing but changes everything.
Love is the gravity, the light, the Oneness,
the air in which everything unfolds.
Even loss. Even evil.
Your very anger at God is God, loving, longing.

When you look and can’t find God
you’re looking for a guy.
Stop. Look for Love.
Love isn’t “somewhere.” Love is,
weeping, singing, pouring forth in the darkness.
Let even your rage be love.
Let go of complaining about the darkness,
and let the light pour.

October 9, 2018

We Who are Never Not Broken

 

   108c422f971b4a0bf73376756c83d9d2-rimg-w608-h720-gmir“Between each wrinkle is a warrior, wounded but willing to show up. Underneath scars are soldiers fighting struggle and stigma. Life’s battles mark us, yet build us.” ~Dan Phillips

Years ago, I was trying to offer counsel to a young man who had returned from the war in Afghanistan and was suffering from PTSD. His life was upside down, and treatment felt extremely slow to him. He desperately wanted me to give him a time frame for when he would feel better. He asked me how long it would take to feel normal again.

I didn’t have the words then to tell him he would never feel “normal” again, but that would be okay. His experience and his healing would integrate into a new normal if he kept up with treatment and focused on the process of healing, rather than the outcome. I did tell him healing was different for everyone and impossible to put a time frame on; so keep going to therapy, keep working at healing, and ask for God’s help. I often wonder how he is doing.

I thought of him recently when I learned about a Hindu goddess called Akhilandeshwari. Translated from Sanskrit, her name is commonly referred to as “she who is never not broken.” Akhilanda means never not broken. Eshvari refers to a supreme ruler. It is understood among her believers that the brokenness is exactly what makes Akhilandeshwari strong. She is depicted as riding a crocodile across a lake, a symbol of not only conquering fear, but using it to get to the next stage.

As soon as I read about this goddess, it resonated with me. Yes, I am never not broken. A part of me will always feel broken as trauma’s wounds are deep, cutting to the core of our being. However, that wound is exactly what makes me a warrior, a writer, a healer, and a messenger. The brokenness gives me my power. The wound sent me deeper to God.

“God uses our wounds in beautiful ways, to heal our souls of deeper maladies.”

~ Jennifer Clarke

I invite you to take a moment to try to shift your thoughts about this trauma, this wound you carry. First, acknowledge that it will always be with you, it is always part of you. You may not think of it very often, or you may still be newly healing and it is ever-present. I invite you to accept it as part of you, rather than wishing it away. Accept that it is as much a part of you as your heart or lungs. It just is.

Now take a deep breath as you allow this wound to be part of you. Feel a softening around the trauma, and your thoughts about it. Honor the healing you’ve already done and feel the tremendous power around that. The power and wisdom you’re gaining could not have come about any other way. Only through the healing of the wound.

Take another deep breath and as you exhale feel the marriage of these thoughts. 

I am never not broken.  

This means I am always healing.  

This means I am building strength and faith and power

   beyond who I was before.

                   

This simple exercise can help us acknowledge our wound, and start to see the gifts in it. Just as mending an object often makes it stronger than before, so mending our wounds makes us stronger than before.

“A really strong woman accepts the war she went through and is ennobled by her scars.”     ~ Carly Simon

Part of healing trauma and PTSD is, of course, effective therapy. If your trauma is fresh (or if it is old and you never really looked at it), you need therapy to truly deal with it. I can’t stress this enough. My purpose is simply to give you spiritual tools with different ways of looking at your trauma, to invite God in to your healing process. 

Let us march forward as “we who are never not broken” knowing that is what empowers us, for the best healers are those who have been healed. We are an army of faith and love.

                                “Don’t moan that you’re broken, be happy that you can break                                so that you can continuously remake yourself.”  ~ Shivali Bhammer

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

September 9, 2018

Being At Peace with the Past

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“If you don’t make peace with your past, it will keep showing up in your present.”                     ~ Wayne Dyer

Making peace with the past, with our memories, is such a crucial factor in healing. Being able to look back somewhat objectively at traumatic events in our past is something we strive for. We don’t always get there, but we keep trying. To be able to say without upset, “Yes, that happened. But now I am here,” is empowering and affirming.

Recently, I moved back to the state where I lived during my 20s. I am within driving distance from where I lived when I was sexually assaulted. Recently, I had occasion to be in that neighborhood, near that apartment. I had not been by it in 35 years. When I moved out, I never went back, needing to stay away from it. I wondered how it would impact me to see it again after all this time. So I drove by.

Why did I feel compelled to do this? I wasn’t looking for drama or to be triggered. It has been a very long time. I think I was simply curious. How would it compare to my memory? How would I feel seeing it?

I knew the name of the street but didn’t remember the address, only the general area. I drove straight to it like no time had passed. I found the building, looking much the same as it did 3 decades ago, and drove down the little alley that ran alongside the bottom floor apartments. I found my old apartment and drove by slowly, seeing the interior in my mind as I did so. The porch was filled with belongings of the current resident, bicycles and boogie boards. But it looked much the same.

And I felt…nothing. I think I had been expecting some kind of emotional reaction, but I truly just felt a little curious and very objective. As I made my long drive home, I wondered why I was so unaffected by seeing the apartment. It has been a long time, and I’ve done SO much work to heal what happened there. But the greater truth I came upon is realizing that the trauma isn’t part of the building. It’s only part of me.

The gift God gave me that day was truly seeing how we make associations and assign feelings to places and time periods that are not actually part of that place or time. The associations and feelings don’t exist apart from us. We truly carry it all with us; the good and the bad. 

                      “When we deny our stories, they define us. When we own our stories,                             we get to write the ending.” ~ Brene Brown

The building is just a building. It holds whatever memory or feeling I assign to it. I don’t need the building to be triggered, or feel sad or scared. I can conjure that up on my own with a single thought, wherever I am in time and space. The boogieman doesn’t live there, he lives in my mind and memory. Much like a childhood home can hold triggers and memories both good and bad, those feelings aren’t part of the house – we carry them with us throughout our life.

A building can only hold what I give it. I see now that I had nothing left to put on that building. Nothing. And though I know I’m fully healed, this was even more evidence to me. If you’re struggling with healing from trauma, I hope this gives you hope. There will come a day when you are objective and curious and grateful and know that you are fully healed.

“Everything changes once we identify with being the witness to the story,                     instead of the actor in it.” ~ Ram Dass

I also don’t mean to take away from those of us who do need to revisit a place to make peace with it or find closure of some kind. Our healing processes are so unique to each of us individually, so I completely validate the need one may have to return to a location to move the healing along. Because looking at a past event can be like looking through a lens that is out of focus. A bit dim, blurry, with little detail. But in physically revisiting, we can pull the memory into focus, see it more clearly, and take another step in healing.

Where are your memories? Where do you need to make peace with the past? The gift we are given is the knowledge we can do that anywhere. We don’t have to go to the place or sit in a building, for it’s all within us; the past and the tools to heal it. When we ask the Divine for guidance we will be led to a place of healing and wholeness, and that place is within.

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

7/24/18

Releasing Emotions in the Body

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“The body is the most reliable truth meter.”  ~ Adyashanti

Recently, I found myself in tears during a yoga class. It was near the end, and as I tried to keep my face down and roll up my mat, I felt the teacher come and stand near me, lending supportive energy as she chatted with another student. I knew she had noticed my upset and probably recognized it for what it was – a healthy release!

As the teacher had recently explained, certain poses, especially hip openers, can release emotions we’ve been holding onto. Fear, trauma, grief, anxiety, depression – all these murky feelings get stuffed down from our eyes when we do not cry, our throats when we do not scream, our hearts when they are broken, and settle in our hips.

That day, I was overwhelmed with grief about my father, who passed nine months ago. So although I understand the stages of grief will go on for a while, and the feelings of sadness were not daily anymore, my body released more grief in that class, and I felt better because of it.

Yoga teachers and massage therapists will tell you they see this all the time. Our bodies are silos, storing all of our past experiences and present worries. When we are able to find ways to release, in supportive environments, we let go of some of that stored “grain.” Combining physical attunement with a more neutral, relaxed mental state allows these emotions to be liberated.

“If we do not work on all three levels – body, feeling, mind – the symptoms of our distress will keep returning, as the body goes on repeating the story stored in its cells until it is finally listened to and understood.” ~ Alice Miller

In this quote, Alice Miller is expressing what science is coming to understand. Peter Levine, Ph.D. (In An Unspoken Voice), and Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. (The Body Keeps the Score) research, explore and write about the evidence that much of our trauma is held in our bodies, and with this knowledge lies hope for releasing it as well!   

Just think about how much we hold in. We are taught from a young age to hold. We hold onto uncomfortable emotions caused by abuses and traumas we suffer as children, showing the world a face that says everything is okay. We hold it together as we grow, facing cruelty at school, disappointments and broken hearts. We hold our breath, sometimes not daring to breathe deeply out of fear or sorrow, sometimes not breathing at all if the terror or grief is too great. We hold still, not wanting to call attention to what we see is our broken self. We hold back tears – so many tears that we are certain we would drown those around us if we let them go.

A law of physics would tell us that this holding has to release at some point. And we see it around us in all its unhealthy forms – illness (turning it inward) and violence (turning outward). The challenge then, for us, is to find healthy ways to release it from our physical being.

Yoga, massage, reiki, and other forms of healing are effective but can be costly. You can also find release in a soothing bath, an intense workout, vigorous dancing, tactile art, or a project that requires physical exertion. There are many ways to loosen what you are holding onto. Find what feels right for you, and know that different kinds of emotions may need different kinds of release.

“The cure for the pain is in the pain.” ~ Rumi

When it comes to releasing what we are holding onto, we must also allow ourselves to be held where it is safe. If you have a supportive partner, let that person hold you while you cry and release. Being held by the right person for the right purpose is profoundly healing.

And most importantly, in your own private space allow yourself to be held in God’s love, wrapped up in Divine comfort, and sink down into that place where only Love exists, and let go. God will hold you, God will hold space with you for all those feelings and God will eventually help you up.

“Love falls to earth, rises from the ground, pools around the afflicted. Love pulls people back to their feet. Bodies and souls are fed. Bones and lives heal. New blades of grass grown from charred soil. The sun rises.” ~ Anne Lamott

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

June 29, 2018

Radical Acceptance

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                       “Radical acceptance is the willingness to experience ourselves                                 and our lives as it is.” ~ Tara Brach

In searching for images and quotes for this blog, I recently came across this photo – barbed wire with a tree growing around it. I resonated with it immediately. Because the sufferings of life become part of us, don’t they? Our pain, our trauma, our PTSD, our grief – healing doesn’t mean it goes away, it means we learn how to grow with it and in spite of it.

Like the tree, we are impelled to grow. The tree continues to grow in spite of everything that happens to it, short of being cut down. So do we, hopefully, continue to grow in spite of what happens to us. We have a choice, of course. We can stop where the barbed wire entered our life, we can remain stuck there, allowing it to twist our trunk and ignore or delay healing. Or we can accept that barbed wire, feel the full effects of it, and figure out how the very act of acceptance helps us grow stronger.

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” ~ Haruki Murakami

Trees, especially old trees, are just so solid, so fierce and stately. If I think of myself as a tree, I see all the elements of growth that I also need.

Deep roots: I need the deep roots of grounding myself daily. Connecting myself to the earth, to the solid ground under me, so my mind doesn’t take off running to scary places. When I place myself in a grounded state, I am tree-like. I can bend with the wind without losing my footing. I stand firmly within myself. I feel the solid support of God and Mother Earth holding me up and anchoring me down. Fierce. Stately.

Water: I need nourishment to those roots so I can grow. Nourishment comes in the form of self-care, love, friends, and daily connection to the Divine through prayer and meditation. When I “water” myself, I grow, I heal. It seeps up through every cell and connects me to myself, to others, and to God. I am nourished. I am fed.

Air: Did you know there’s a photosynthesis of the soul? We breathe in faith, (you sometimes can’t see it, but breathe it in anyway), and breathe out doubt and fear. God is the oxygen we need to heal and to grow. Breathe in Divine air, breathe out the toxins we keep inside. And like carbon dioxide, God will take those toxins and transform them into more oxygen, more healing. We must keep breathing and breathe deeply!

Light: The tree needs the sun as we need God’s light. But rather than shining down on us, we find it by looking within. When we ignite that light within, it warms us and puts a balm on our wounds. When we ignite that light within, it speeds us on our healing path. Miraculously, when we ignite that light within, it shines out and warms those around us.

New Growth: Each time I reach a new place of healing, a new level of forgiveness, I feel a new branch grow. I feel leaves sprouting forth. As I encompass, envelop and send love to the barbed wire, I swell toward the sky, branches reaching up, drinking in the sun, arms open to receive God’s gifts. When we invite God on our healing path, new growth is inevitable, and we expand in our own individual way because of the wound, because of the barbed wire. Fierce. Stately.

“When we become aware that we do not have to escape our pains, but that we can mobilize them into a common search for life, those very pains are transformed from expressions of despair into signs of hope.” ~ Henri Nouwen

So let’s be this tree today. Let’s use and honor these elements of deep roots, water, air, light and new growth. Wounded with barbed wire, but accepting that it’s part of us.

It’s a thorny pain, and sometimes it still hurts, but it’s part of our path and the choices we have and will make. I own this barbed wire. I am who I am because of it, and for that I am grateful. It has made me turn to God over and over, grow in faith and forgiveness, and it has made me fierce and stately.

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

04/28/2018