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

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Ground Your Self

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“Ground yourself. Strip yourself down, to blind loving silence.” ~ Rumi

Last week I was fortunate enough to be at a retreat where a yoga teacher reminded us all about the importance of grounding! I have to admit, I had let this area of healing work slip and it was truly an “A-ha” moment and a wake up call.

I thanked the teacher afterward and shared that I truly realized how my healing is usually focused above me, around me, and within me. I seek God above me, in the people and teachings around me, and I look within. I haven’t been remembering to include that which is below me! Spiritually and literally, that is where we find support, by connecting with the earth and allowing it to heal us with energy and balance.

Grounding can be challenging for survivors of trauma. We are very drawn to be in our heads, where we can logically make sense of things, think about our feelings (rather than feel them), and kind of float above the world that has hurt us. So we need to be extremely aware of the need for grounding. Grounding in connection with meditation and nature, has become a valuable tool in the healing of trauma.

“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

Grounding is a way of connecting our bodies to the earth. There are many ways to achieve it: meditation, mindfulness, prayer, walking, sitting, being outside, being inside. The action of grounding is really simply a shift in awareness. We shift our thoughts and presence from our heads to our body, to the ground. We feel the solid earth beneath us. We are aware of the strength of the chair or mat that supports us. We draw up the limitless energy from the earth and let it infuse our body and soul with its gentle power.

Because we live in houses and work in buildings and drive cars, it’s more important than ever to take the time to get outside, take off our shoes, feel the ground, get some mud or sand between our toes, and connect to the earth. For people with PTSD, this has been found to be extremely healing, helping us feel safe in our bodies, safe on the earth, and more balanced within.

When we are ungrounded, we may feel scattered, unfocused, anxious and unsafe. We may even feel a bit disconnected from our bodies at times, like we’re moving forward, but a part of ourselves is always a second behind, trying to catch up. Finding some time and space to sit and connect with the earth will help center us, help us tame unnecessary thoughts and find the balance we so desperately need.

“Let your roots grow down into God, and let your lives be built of God. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.” ~ Colossians 2:7

The Bible, along with other teachings, has many references to rooting ourselves in faith. Rooting ourselves to the ground, like a tree, gives us a place to grow from. Rooting ourselves gives us a strong base, so that the winds of change and hardship cannot blow us down so easily. Rooting ourselves helps us stay centered in the Divine, pulling up that energy and being a conduit for sharing it with others.

So I invite you to go outside, or go into your body, find a place to connect with the ground and really feel it. Grab a handful of dirt, thank the earth for its gifts, and feel the profound support of God solidly underneath you. Feel the healing love of God through the ground.

“Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.”  ~ Kahlil Gibran

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

March 19, 2018

Crawling Out of Trauma

“If all you can do is crawl, start crawling.”  ~ Rumi

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When I saw these ancient words of Rumi, they hit me right in the gut. What could be more true for someone who has suffered a traumatic experience? Who among us has not been there?

Even if you’ve not lived through a trauma, even if you don’t suffer with PTSD, you have probably been at the steps of profound grief, on the floor, or on your knees, and all you can do to move forward is – crawl. Often, it’s all we can do.

Rumi’s words are so comforting and inspiring at the same time, because they not only acknowledge that you’ve been knocked down, and you are weakened and overwhelmed by what lies before you; these words also acknowledge that the road forward – the road of healing – is inevitable. So start crawling.

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”  ~ Lao Tzu

In the early days and weeks of the aftermath of a traumatic event, you are crawling. Every movement, every question someone asks you, getting yourself out of bed in the morning – these things are monumental. They are heavy. They require every bit of focus you can muster because a good part of you is still in shock. You feel like you’re watching a movie of other people’s lives. The movie of your life has taken a shocking turn. This is not the story you wanted. This is not the part you wanted to play. And yet, here you are. This event is now part of your life, part of your past, part of your future. And this, you come to find, is where your power begins to come back to you. You decide what part it will play in your future.

And so….and so….we start to crawl out.

What IS that within us that drives us to start crawling? To eventually get on hands and knees? To stand? To walk? Survival instinct? The basic will to live? Anger and revenge? I’m sure the specific things that get us up off the cold, hard floor are as different as we are, but I do think that we all have an intrinsic, Divine spark that gets us up and pushes us forward, toward healing, toward overcoming, toward courage and toward the transformation the Holy Spirit has in store for us.

“We tend to forget that baby steps still move us forward.”  ~ Unknown

Crawling is forward motion. Baby steps move us forward. The point is to honor that fire in our belly that tells us to move forward, keep moving, and start taking the steps to right yourself, for you have been knocked off balance in a profound way. Get help. Make that call. Talk to others. Pray. Take steps.

I thought about this during a yoga class this week. I’m trying to regain some flexibility in my body and then hang on to it! In yoga, as in life, you are sometimes asked to do impossible things. And you look at the teacher and say to yourself, “Oh no, I could never do that.” But the teacher gives you options and reminds you that there’s beauty in the trying, and to only do what your body can do, and that’s enough. That’s enough! What a wonderful metaphor for life and for healing! Each day, take some baby steps and that’s enough.

“Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”  ~ Nelson Mandela

Yes, you will fall down again. Yes, you will take a few steps back sometimes. Be kind and forgiving toward yourself when this happens. You are doing your best in an impossible situation. Much is being asked of you. Be gentle with yourself, with your progress. For you will always get back up and move forward again. And when you are down and it’s so hard to get back up, remember to not rely on your own strength. Turn to God, again and again. God wants nothing more than your healing, so when you are crawling, reach up for strength. God will lift you.

Also, on those days when we have been knocked back a step, we need to remember to look back – look back to where we were in our healing two weeks ago, or two months, or two years. You will see progress. Your fears lessen, your flashbacks lessen, your engagement in life slowly increases. Look back, then look ahead again and take a step.

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

February 5, 2018

How Do We Dance with Dread?

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

Everyone, whether touched by trauma or not, has to deal with dread at some point. Sometimes we dread simple things; a test at school, Mondays, meetings, running into someone we’d rather not see. Sometimes we dread complex things; a diagnosis, a treatment, a triggering situation, the loss of a loved one.

How do we do it? How do we dance with dread in this life?

As long ago as I experience trauma, I still feel dread sometimes when I have to sleep alone somewhere. I dread the night. I dread the fears. I dread returning to a state of mind where I feel so vulnerable. I have turned to various things to help me sleep and feel safe. I’ve found that it’s much easier to find things to help me sleep than to help me feel safe. And that is what I actually dread, the battle to feel safe.

Dread is an interesting and complex emotion. On the surface, we can see that it’s a feeling of anticipating something with great anxiety and fear. Sometimes it’s based on nothing. We imagine an outcome that is built on the experience of others – things we have heard, read or seen. Other times it’s based on our own experiences, something we have been through, and fear may happen again. This kind of dread is tough because we have proof, real evidence, that this thing we fear could happen, because it did.

Dread is also a paralyzing emotion. It keeps us stuck in fear as long as we honor it. When we become focused on dread, we literally can think of nothing else. And sometimes that’s okay. There are situations where dread is a normal step in dealing with what is before you. It could be a medical diagnosis or the death of someone close to you. It’s entirely appropriate and necessary to feel that dread, walk through it and come out on the other side.

But it’s important not to get stuck there.

“Ive developed a new philosophy. I only dread one day at a time.” ~ Charlie Brown

So how does the Divine ask us to deal with dread? The Divine always answers the complex with the simple. What can heal our fears? Turning to God. What can help me feel safe? Reaffirming that God will not forsake me. What can assuage this dread? Finding our faith in the Divine Love of the Universe.

“Each moment contains a hundred messages from God. To every cry of “Oh God!,”             He answers a hundred times, “I am here.”   ~ Rumi

I am facing things I dread right now. A night alone, a difficult move, the inevitable loss of one I hold dear. I can obsess about these things, I can focus on the feeling of dread they bring. I have experience with these things, I know they are hard, and therefore I dread them.

But I have faith. I have met these things in the past and survived them. These experiences gave me lessons and growth I could not have achieved without them. So who am I to ask that I not have difficulty? I am human. Sometimes life is difficult. My life has been more difficult than some, but not nearly as difficult as many others. Once again, I give this dread over to the Holy Spirit to be alchemized into something new. This is my action. This is how I end the paralysis of dread. And when I do, I feel lighter and at peace.

“Does God promise absence of struggle? Not in this life…But He does pledge to reweave your pain for a higher purpose.”  ~ Max Lucado

This is such a beautiful quote from Max Lucado and helps us know that no matter how much we dread struggle, we are probably going to experience it. But God will take those struggles and use it to enrich our tapestry with deeper meaning and understanding.

So, as with all emotions that are not Love, we must turn over our dread – sometimes constantly – so that God can heal it. We can’t do it on our own, nor are we meant to. When we dance with dread, we must remember that we are not dancing alone, we have a Partner. Let God lead.

“You are but asked to let the future go, and place it in God’s Hands. And you will see by your experience that you have laid the past and present in His Hands as well, because the past will punish you no more, and future dread will now be meaningless.”                                       A Course in Miracles, Lesson 194

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

July 9, 2017

This is Your Brain on God

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“We expand what we focus on.” ~ Wayne Dyer

Healing trauma can feel so overwhelming. Good days and bad. Doing the work but not feeling better when we want to. Annoying friends and bloggers telling us to pray. Pray about it. What a bunch of mumbo-jumbo!

It’s not just mumbo-jumbo. Science is now proving that not only does trauma significantly change the brain, but so do prayer and meditation. New research is constantly studying the neuroplasticity of the brain, the ability of the adult brain to change and adapt.

Without getting too technical about parts of the brain, etc. suffice it to say that trauma definitely affects brain function. Brain researcher Viatcheslav Wlassoff, PhD, says this; “It is no use telling them to ‘get over’ it because PTSD fundamentally changes the brain’s structure and alters its functionalities.” In fact, new research in imaging is allowing the diagnosis of PTSD with PET scans, because the changes in the brain are indeed observable.

If you are a trauma survivor, you are probably already aware of this. Your thinking, reactions, and processing of information is different. Your brain has been rewired to some form of protection mode, and God knows we need this. However, functioning long term in this mode is unhelpful and unhealthy.

As science continues to expand in its understanding of the effect of trauma on the brain, so will the treatments available. According to Alexander Neumeister, MD who researches the brain and PTSD, “People with cancer have a variety of different treatment options available based on the type of cancer that they have. We aim to do the same thing in psychiatry. We’re deconstructing PTSD symptoms, linking them to different brain dysfunction, and then developing treatments that target those symptoms.”

There is so much hope on the horizon for the treatment of trauma. But there is also new evidence that we can do simple daily actions that will help our brains recover.

This is where the mumbo-jumbo comes in. God. Yes, focusing on the Divine, prayer, and meditation, will connect new synapses in your brain that will heal, or at least diminish the strength of the changes trauma has created. And science is proving it.

“Be silent, only the hand of God can remove the burdens of your heart.” ~ Rumi

Richard Davidson, PhD, at the University of Wisconsin, claims we can change the brain with training and practice. He’s proven that the thinking brain connects to the emotional brain, so our thoughts can indeed influence our feelings and change how we react to certain stimuli. Quieting our thoughts also has a profound impact. In one study on people meditating for 30 minutes a day Davidson reported, “Just two month’s practice among rank amateurs led to a systematic change in both the brain as well as the immune system in more positive directions.”

Dr. Andrew Newberg, author of “How God Changes Your Brain” says prayer can absolutely heal. His new field, called neurotheology, studies the effect of religious and spiritual experiences on the brain. He has scanned the brains of Buddhist monks and Franciscan nuns. He found that in deep meditation or prayer, the part of our brains engaged in focus light up, while the part engaged in organizing sensory information goes dark. When this part, the parietal lobes calm down, our sense of self diminishes (in a good way) as we feel more oneness.

We’re fascinated by the words, but where we meet is in the silence behind them.” ~ Ram Dass

For people with faith, this research is not a surprise so much as a validation of what we already feel. Focusing on the Divine, prayer, and meditation lead us to feel more whole and healed. For people without faith, this is wonderful scientific evidence that meditation and mindfulness can truly help heal the brain that has suffered trauma. Focusing on the breath, closing your eyes, trying to empty your mind each day will speed your healing.

Whatever our beliefs, knowing that our brains are plastic and capable of change brings hope. Knowing that God and prayer truly do change the wiring of our brain means that we have the tools to begin and extend our healing any time, anywhere.

Knowing that science and the Divine are working together for our benefit is astonishing.

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

October 5, 2016

Note: I do not suggest that spirituality alone can heal trauma or PTSD. I merely suggest that restoring your faith, and finding a spiritual practice, can enhance effective therapy and assist in post-traumatic growth.

 

 

 

Patching Ourselves Up

“Frequently, as so many of our poets and psalmists and songwriters have said, the invisible shift happens through the broken places.”   ~ Anne Lamott

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What a beautiful thought. The shift happening through the broken places. As we seek to heal our trauma, to find the balm that will soothe our raw wounds, we often find ourselves feeling broken. We feel broken at the point of trauma or the memory of the trauma. We feel broken in relationships or in our ability to show up every day. We can even feel the deepest wound; that our spirit is broken.

How can we heal our broken spirits? How can we patch ourselves up enough to get our life back on track? How can we show our wound to the world?

I recently learned about a beautiful Japanese art of repairing broken pottery called Kintsugi. Broken pottery pieces are fixed with a lacquer that is mixed with a precious metal such as gold or silver, so the location of the repair is quite visible. The meaning attached to this custom is that the repair becomes part of the history of the piece of pottery. Rather than discard a beautiful bowl because it is broken, the repair becomes part of the story of the bowl. There is no attempt to hide the break. In fact, it becomes luminous.

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So it is with us. How many times have we tried to glue an object together, trying desperately to hide the breaking point, only to have it split apart again? How many times have we tried to glue our life back together, hide our wounds, only to have it split apart again? It seems we have a resistance to accepting that the damage happened, so we try to mask it. What if we practice Kintsugi on ourselves? Honor our wound by illuminating it?

“The wound is the place where the light enters you.”   ~ Rumi

This thought from Rumi echoes the essence of Kintsugi. A wound, a trauma, can be our opening to receive God’s Love. When we try to patch it up and pretend it isn’t there, we don’t leave ourselves open to true healing. If we honor our wound and slowly repair with golden light, the wound becomes a part of who we are, not a tragic scar we must hide.

This is not to take away the earth-shattering traumas we have dealt with in our lives. And it isn’t a thought you can come to quickly or even soon after a trauma. It took me many years to come to a point of accepting my wound. It took much soul-searching, spiritual reading, therapy, and Divine love for me to see that this repaired vessel is just as beautiful as before, and that the wound doesn’t detract from the beauty within, but deepens it.

            “It is not the wound that teaches, but the healing.” – Marty Rubin

Let us patch our wounds today with golden light. Let us patch them with the pure Love of God. Let us look at them with new eyes and stand in awe of our ability to heal.

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

August 4, 2016

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