The Five Pillars and Flipping the Switch
How to achieve this reduction in Tension and increase in Energy will be examined through the lens of Five basic Pillars:
These Pillars each individually influence our Tension and Energy. Further, they all Five deeply interpenetrate and influence one another. When I’m tired and tense my body senses a need for easy quick fix and tends to reach for poor food choices such as refined sugar to jump start Energy or “numbing” foods like heavy sauces, melted dairy, refined grains, alcohol to dull out Tension. These inevitably make me feel worse and more tired. I’m too tired for Exercise, so I’d rather just lie on the couch. Because I’m not moving much and eating junk, I don’t sleep very well, toss and turn, and awake without rejuvenation. All the worries and stresses I’m carrying make me tired and make my body Tense, so numbing foods are even more attractive and I don’t have much motivation. Not getting rest makes me feel somewhat Depressed. I don’t feel much connection to a central purpose or meaning in my life, activities aren’t that motivating, apathy is more frequent. A drink and a bag of chips on the couch with the TV sure sounds appealing……
Get the gist?
Each of these Pillars frequently feeds the other in a negative spiral and it’s hard to know sometimes how to get out of the Cycle.
However, the same is true luckily in a positive direction. As we begin to feed them in a better way, each one makes changing the others easier. When I’m eating well, lots of fruits and vegetables, energy-enhancing foods and elimination of draining foods, my Energy is already better. Now I feel like moving so I get a bit of exercise. Now I have even more Energy. The exercise also helps burn off Tension. Now I’m sleeping better because I’m genuinely tired from activity and my system is clearer. I awaken more refreshed to start my next day. My mood feels more buoyant and I feel more connected to my life and those that I love.
Our job isn’t to fix everything all at once. It’s to get the Switch to Flip so that we’re in the Positive Spiral, not a negative one. Then it gets easier and easier. Feeling Good begets Feeling Good, and who wants to feel bad?
Relationship to Food
How many cars can run the same no matter what you put in the gas tank? If we were to shove just any old liquid in there and hope the car could burn it, we’d have a dead car pretty quickly. Unfortunately, we sometimes take that very attitude with our human bodies. Our culture in particular has a historic habit of ignoring what we eat when it comes to health. Thankfully that has been changing over the past few decades. People are focusing increasingly on the importance of our diet and our nutrition. It matters a lot. Food is our primary source of all the nutrients that run the body and our primary source of physical energy.
An enormous number of diets have come down the pike over the past 50 years: Atkins, Zone, vegetarian, vegan, Paleo, macrobiotic, low-fat, etc. They often come and go like the wind. They may seem to be all different. However, upon further inspection, and coupled with the latest research, it is possible to begin to draw some conclusions from this wide scatter of information.
Several principles have emerged. First, the data is unequivocal that a diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables is the core of healthy eating. The number of studies linking high F & V intake to reduction in disease could fill a warehouse. They are the primary source of our nutrients, and we need a lot of them. The second is that research is tending to show us that grains (at least refined ones) are a problem and are the likely source of our skyrocketing obesity and diabetes. Thirdly, we need lots more healthy fat. These principles are not unrelated.
In the 1970s we first started talking about foodstuffs. Believe it or not, prior to that what we put into our bodies was just not given much attention with respect to health (by mainstream medicine anyway). Then along came cholesterol. The discovery that cholesterol was a significant component of the plaque that clogs up arteries, leading to heart attacks and strokes, raised the red flag on diet as a concern. Virtually overnight cholesterol became the demon of our diets. Fat was our greatest enemy. To rid ourselves of plaque we had to rid ourselves of cholesterol, so any foodstuffs with high fat and cholesterol were out. Eggs? Bad for you. Meat? Forget it. Anything with fat was condemned, and the marketplace was quickly filled with “fat substitutes” like margarine and adulterated foods like “egg whites”. We pulled a lot of stuff out. Problem was we have to fill that gap with something. So, we promoted eating lots of grain. For every piece of meat and egg we removed we replaced it with a bagel for breakfast and pasta for dinner. Fast forward 40 years. We have the worst obesity of any population on the planet and diabetes going through the roof. This in itself is just a correlation, not proof, but the mechanisms of metabolism that have been unearthed over the past decade of research have been shifting it from a correlation that is interesting to almost certain cause. We have learned a lot about metabolism. It’s hard to fault the conclusions we drew in the 70s. It made perfect sense. The most logical thing in the world was that cholesterol in the diet would be the main cause of high cholesterol in the body. It just didn’t turn out to be true. Metabolism is a lot more complicated than that, and the items that most contribute to obesity, layering of fat in the body, and mechanisms that promote higher cholesterol turn out to be refined carbohydrate. The number of studies replicating the superiority of low-carb diets to low-fat diets for weight loss and for lowering of cholesterol has grown steadily in the past 5-10 years. The nails in that coffin are adding up.
The other crucial issue arising in the carb/fat/cholesterol conversation is the role of fat. We should’ve seen this coming. This is not a mystery. Unlike the “logical” conclusion we leapt to in the 70s about cholesterol, current problems we are discovering (mostly in the world of neurology) were completely foreseeable. Cholesterol is a core constituent of an enormous amount of the functioning of the human body. All our adrenal/sex hormones are basically a cholesterol molecule with a few little added carbon or hydroxyl groups added on that change that molecule to estrogen or progesterone or cortisol or DHEA or testosterone (and a ton of others). Fat and cholesterol make up about 40% of the brain. The membranes of cells are full of fat. As we began down this road of determining to decimate the cholesterol of the body and make a policy of “the lower the better”, how did we not have on our medical radar that there could end up being problems with all the crucial aspects of human physiology that depend upon cholesterol? We had pretty big blinders on. The world of neurology is the canary in the coalmine that is sounding the alarm bells. Over the last 10-15 years studies have emerged showing poorer outcomes neurologically with lower cholesterol levels. We first saw this in the 90s in a study showing patients with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) with the highest cholesterol levels lived the longest and had the best outcomes. Huh? Wasn’t cholesterol supposed to kill you? This led to a slew of further studies and investigations. Cognitive decline, one of the most ubiquitous (and increasing) problems as we age is statistically significantly correlated with lower cholesterol levels in a linear fashion. Why is this a surprise? It’s quite logical and should have been on our radar all along as something to look out for in the war on fat. For the sake of our hearts we’re killing out brains. This doesn’t negate data showing higher cholesterol relationships with cardiovascular disease; there’s a lot of solid evidence there. But we’re going to have to find a medium happy point and learn the subtleties of how to manage this question much better. Just lowering cholesterol as low as you can get it is not a good thing.
Although the number of “fad diets” seem to be legion, upon closer inspection you can see that the ones that have enjoyed continued success among the populace through the decades have much in common regarding the above principles. Diets like Atkins, Zone and Paleo all share one major thing in common: huge removal of grain-based carbohydrate in favor of fat/protein. There are variations among them but this is their core commonality, and in my opinion, the reason that they’ve been successful.
So, much of the best information on diet can be boiled down to these three things:
- Eat lots more fruits and vegetables (probably at least 50-70% of total diet)
- Greatly reduce grains/sweets intake
- Eat healthy fat (things like avocado, whole eggs, fish, healthy oils like olive and coconut, nuts, seeds)
And finally, as a “number 4”, discover the items that your body likes and doesn’t like. Discover how food relates directly to your symptoms and how you feel every day.
For much of the past half-century our cultural eating has moved increasingly toward concentration on just a few elements, none of them very good for us, that are cheap to make and produce. The great American diet is mostly made of various combinations of wheat/grain, corn, dairy and sugar. Don’t believe me? Go take a look. Read labels. See how many products out there don’t have one of those four in them and usually near the beginning of the list. We think we are eating a varied diet when often we are just recycling and repackaging these major items in different shapes and formulations. One of the hallmark principles in the world of allergy is that you can make the human body allergic to almost anything if you just bombard it enough. Well, we have been under bombardment now for many decades, and we have a culture with escalating obesity and diabetes as a result. Many of us have become either overtly allergic, or at least significantly intolerant, to certain foodstuffs. In my medical practice, it has become undeniably clear over the years that foodstuffs are at the heart of an enormous number of human maladies that we throw drugs at all day long. Fatigue, malaise, sinus conditions, reflux and gastritis, bowel dysfunctions, headaches, rashes. These are just a few of the most common complaints that often have food intolerance at their core. I didn’t think it was near so prevalent when I first started practicing. I thought a lot of it was hype. Over the years, however, I have learned a lot from my patients. I have been astounded (as have they) at the degree to which their food intake was making them miserable. After experimenting with Elimination Diet I began to notice that a tremendous number of my patients would come back in and say exactly the same thing. I mean exactly. “Well, doc. I have to say, I didn’t really believe you. I never could have believed that food was doing this to me.” Same words. I thought it was a conspiracy. As a result, over the years the elimination diet has risen to the number one intervention that I engage with patients. When you watch person after person get rid of multiple complaints (that they’ve often had for decades and had treated with multiple medications), you become a believer. It’s frustrating to watch the resistance that my field has to this information. If a treatment doesn’t come from a pharmacy in an expensive pretty pill or through a scalpel, we just can’t seem to believe it would have much merit. That is truly unfortunate, mostly for our patients. For we are missing one of the greatest tools at our disposal for extending help.
The point of this Elimination Diet is not that this be the diet for the rest of your life. Many of the items will be things you will put back in your diet as you find there’s no consequence from them, but there may be several items that you find are linked directly to symptoms and to how you feel everyday. General fatigue and “brain fog”, for instance, are the two most common complaints that are so often about food.
A common question I receive is, “Why eliminate all these items at one time?That sounds awfully tough”. Well, it’s not the easiest. But, it’s not as hard as you think, either. Certainly you can try removing them one at a time. The problem with that path is two-fold: It takes a lot longer and so lots of folks give up, and it’s not nearly as successful. As for the first issue, most of us only have willpower available as the sole driver of behavioral change for a short time, days to weeks usually. Months if you’re really disciplined. It’s hard to sustain change on willpower alone if you’re not getting any tangible benefits. Secondly, there is so often more than one offending foodstuff. So let’s say that both wheat and dairy give me bloating and a sense of maldigestion. If I remove wheat and the dairy is still present, I’ll still feel lousy. I will wrongly conclude that the wheat is not an offender because taking it out made no difference. Same if I try dairy first.
To overcome both of these shortcomings, the very best method is to take all the offending agents out of the diet for a very short time. We can sustain nearly any change for 10-14 days on willpower. Furthermore, we usually get benefits much more quickly than that, most by at least the 7 day mark, and some a lot sooner. The point is to get to the place of feeling significantly better as quickly as possible. Once that is achieved then the elimination diet has been successful. Then we begin to reintroduce foodstuffs one at a time to see what causes return of symptoms and are thus able to determine what agrees with my body and what doesn’t.
What Do I Eat?
It can seem daunting when looking at the Elimination Diet. “Well, gosh, what am I going to eat?” is a very common response I hear. The truth is it’s easy. And delicious. There are now hundreds of thousands of fantastic, easy-to-make recipes available that make this endeavor far more practical and enjoyable than it once might have been. Here are just a few of the plethora of helpful locations out there to help you if you wonder what to eat.
World’s Healthiest Foods Recipe Engine. This site has choice lists where you plug in exactly what you’d like in a recipe, exactly what you don’t like in a recipe, and any combination of the two. It then spits out hundreds of recipes that conform to those parameters. Just plug in “no wheat, corn, dairy, sugar” and see what delicious recipes come up!
Zipongo. This site has amazing stuff with beautiful pics. You can put anything you want in the search engine and it will bring up a plethora of great recipes with that item(s). Each thumbnail has picture of the dish, # of people it serves, and time it takes to make it.
Blue Apron. Also a great site with great recipes. Scroll down on the homepage and you’ll see recipes of the day that you can just click on.
The information you glean from this process may be one of the single most valuable pieces of information you will ever discover about your health. It is knowledge that will serve you the rest of your life. You may go back off the wagon at some point, we almost all do, but it takes the mystery out of why we feel lousy or are having symptoms. And we know how to fix it. This is what creates sustainable change. As we always say at ChooseWell, we all just want to feel better. Once we do, it becomes a very powerful driver for change. If I learn through repeated experience that every time I drink milk I go from normal bowel function and good energy to feeling lousy and having cramps and diarrhea, then over time my engagement with that foodstuff will drop dramatically. It’s no fun feeling bad once you’ve tasted feeling good. But, you have to taste what feeling good really feels like. Many of us have gotten used to a degree of feeling bad that we have come to think is normal. Give an elimination diet a chance to show you otherwise. I promise the vast majority of you will find invaluable information in the process.
Motion and Exercise
Exercise and movement are one of the central ways that our body “cleans house”. It keeps the blood flowing and all the parts working, removing toxins, increasing basal metabolism and improving the overall functioning of the body. If there is a miracle elixir, it’s exercise. As with high vegetable/fruit intake, virtually every study ever conducted examining exercise and a certain disease has shown significant correlation between exercise and reduction in that particular disease. Conditions as widely varying as getting colds, diabetes, and depression have all shown to be statistically significantly better with exercise. In fact, there is no antidepressant medicine that has ever been shown to have a more powerful effect on depression than exercise. Think about that.
Also like nutrition, there is no “one size fits all” for exercise either. Many people need high-energy, high-aerobic activity; many need slower-movement forms such as walking, yoga and tai chi. A blend is often the very best.
There are two very important principles:
- Find something you like to do. Nothing will derail good intentions faster than trying to force yourself every day to do something you really don’t enjoy.
- Something is much better than nothing. Begin slowly. It’s very easy to get into an “all-or-none” type mentality with regard to exercise. We can feel too tired to tackle an hour on the treadmill, so we often just end up staying on the couch. A 10-15 minute walk can be hugely beneficial to your health, even if just every other day. There’s a principle in exercise that the body gets a metabolic boost about 3 days after exercise begins. So, if you can stick with it for three straight days, your body will begin to feel better and actually crave more movement.
Bottom line: Move!
Managing our Sleep
Sleep is one of the most overlooked of the pillars. In a society where accomplishments, achievement and “doing” are most highly prized, rest is not something we get awards for. What our culture fails to realize is how essential to truly lasting achievement the capacity for rest is. Sleep is not the dead time of the day, something we “have to do” for a while so that we can then back to the important productive parts of life. Enormous amounts of activity are occurring during sleep. Our body is attending to very important repair work, cleaning damage, repairing DNA, removing toxin. It needs time to attend to these tasks to be ready for daily activity. Similarly, there is evidence that during dream states major neurological restructuring is occurring; the brain and nervous system are organizing the input of the previous day. At a deeper spiritual level, sleep and dreams have long been revered in many cultures for providing deep insights into our emotional world and guidance for our lives.
Recent research has exploded regarding the importance of sleep. One in particular examined the all-important bodily function of glucose (sugar) handling and insulin resistance. These are the functions that go awry with diabetes, and early signs of insulin resistance are a predictive warning sign for other disease states such as cardiovascular disease. In this study, participants who were deprived of sleep for just three days showed significant alterations in blood sugar handling and insulin resistance such as is seen in the pre-diabetic state. After just three days. Follow up studies have further demonstrated that those who have 6 hours of sleep or less on average have nearly five times the rate of development of diabetes over the next five years compared to those with 7-8 hours/night or more. New studies are surfacing every month on the negative impact of lack of sleep on our health. It is truly an epidemic, and our culture’s lack of honoring for the concept of rest is having substantial impact on our incidence of disease. How much is needed? As above, most estimates reaffirm the age-old adage of eight hours per night.
Attention to the internal emotional stress of worry during our waking hours may be needed to improve the sleep. Sometimes the mental activity doesn’t seem particularly stressful, but we nevertheless can’t seem to make the mind “go to sleep”. This is where body-centered relaxation work can be extremely helpful, shifting our attention away from the active mind and toward a relaxed experience of the body. Other relaxation practices are helpful, as well as techniques such as “dream remembrance”, where we place ourselves back into the context of a dream from which we have just awakened.
It can also be important to examine the activities occurring in the hours prior to sleep. Frequently, high-activity mental tasks, exercise, or TV can aggravate the mind’s difficulties calming down. Slower body-centered activities, such as a really hot, relaxing bath in the hours before bed, can make a big difference. Avoiding certain foods, especially caffeine and sugar can be important. Alcohol, although it initially acts as a sedative, often has a rebound effect of anxious stimulation 4-6 hours later, interfering with a good night’s rest.
Another frequent problem is undiagnosed sleep apnea. Usually a product of increased weight or sinus issues, it is much more frequent than most of us realize. Air has difficulty getting through the nasal passages which leads to decreased oxygenation during sleep and reduction or elimination of essential Stage 4 deep sleep (when most repair is accomplished). Proper diagnosis often requires a sleep study.
A word of caution is in order regarding sleep aids. They can often help in the short run, but quickly become either physically or psychologically addictive, and later lead to sleep deprivation. The reason is that many prescription sleep aids interfere with key stages of sleep, usually stage 4 and REM sleep (the primary dream state – also a time of critical brain restorative functioning). If one is having trouble getting any appreciable hours of sleep, then the first need is for more hours. In this case, sleep aids can be helpful for the short term. However, with prolonged use the nightly reduction of natural stage 4 and REM sleep will begin to cause consequences due to the critical restorative functions that are being missed. This is why those on long-term use of sleep aids seldom feel great. Weaning off these can be an essential component of overall energy improvement, and often more natural means such as certain herbs can be helpful.
Managing our Stress
The other critical pillar that most influences our moment-to-moment sense of well-being is our internal emotional stress. By this I mean all the feelings, often under the surface, that are the natural responses to our world and our lives and are deeply connected to our history. They are based on the ways we have learned to engage the world since the time we were small. All of our feelings, if not experienced, engaged and appropriately expressed, will get buried in the body in the form of tension or will be projected outward onto our world, usually with unpleasant consequences. This tension directly translates into bodily consequences, eventually leading to problems in the function of those areas of the body. Typical examples are stress gastritis, tension headaches and lower back pain.
Emotional stress is just like the trash in a house. It is not a bad or a good, it just is. It is a natural by-product of daily living. We cannot live without accumulating trash, and we cannot exist in this body without having feeling responses to our world. Our feelings about life are intimately tied to our sense of meaning and purpose. The key to health is how they are handled.
Most of our culture and upbringing teaches us to take the emotional garbage and put in under rug, in the closet or behind the door – anywhere we can forget about it. Or, like some homes, we are taught to just leave it strewn all over the floor so that we have little room to live and everyone is tripping over it. Many of us were taught to just swallow it and “move on”. But, like with real garbage, sooner or later the house begins to get toxic. As the door to the closet begins to bulge, we then need to stand and hold it shut. Eventually there’s another door and we have to pay a servant to come and stand and hold it shut. The amount of internal resources required to handle all the garbage continues to rise, and the available free energy continues to go down. What we need is a better way to handle the garbage. We need to attend to it, examine closely exactly what we’re throwing away, and then put it in the proper place, package it up, and take it out of the house to be dumped somewhere more appropriate. This is how the house stays clean.
Our emotional bodies are no different. We have to attend daily to taking out the garbage, and we need to realize that few of us were taught how to do it well. We have to learn new ways of processing it, using tools that we haven’t known up until this point. Often we are raised to believe that the trash is radioactive and shouldn’t be touched. It will harm us. We should pack it away and pretend it isn’t there. Often we’ve come to believe that if we attend to the feelings “down there”, it will be a bottomless pit and we’ll never get out. We also may believe the process will drain us of all energy and suck us dry. The reality is exactly the opposite. What happens when we fully embrace and feel our feelings we free up enormous amounts of energy that have been used daily to keep the garbage packed away. We can stop paying all the internal “servants” who have to monitor the trash. We will have more energy now available for the things in life that matter to us. Further, there’s only a finite amount. It isn’t a bottomless pit. The more we empty, the less there is to attend to the next time. In addition, because most of the trash was never really examined in the first place, we often find long lost treasures. We find the capacity for real relaxation and peace instead of just surviving each day holding our noses to avoid the smell. We regain our house. We get our bodies back.
The key to learning new ways of handling the emotional trash is that we need safe help. If we could just do it alone we would’ve already done so a long time ago. We’ve been taught that the trash is toxic to handle and therefore we avoid it. Or it’s become ugly to us and seems to hurt other people, so we’re afraid of it. It doesn’t feel safe. We need safety in order to go back to it. We need someone helping show us that it’s ok. When we have that safety we find that our bodies know exactly how to clean themselves out, they just haven’t felt safe enough. The place where the house metaphor breaks down is that real houses can’t clean themselves, but our bodies can. They just need a safe environment in which to do it.
Examining how emotional stress impacts our body’s health begins with noticing bodily tension. As mentioned before, all held feelings turn directly into bodily tension. They are inextricably intertwined into one physiologic event. There is no such thing as feelings that are divorced from our bodies. They aren’t just connected, they are the same thing. We can’t have a feeling without a simultaneous physiological correlate – a tense muscle group, an increased heart rate, goosebumps. Most of us spend most of our day tensing up around all kinds of experiences -conflicts with others, our spouses, children, our workplaces, as well as tensing from all the worries and concerns we carry around in our heads. It’s important to begin to notice how those translate very quickly into tension in the body. Frequent places are the stomach, the lower back, the upper back and shoulders, and the chest. With safe help we can begin to learn how to release that tension in ways that don’t hurt ourselves or hurt anyone else. When we do we get clearer thinking, more intimate relationships, reduced addiction drives, physical improvement, and more capacity for humor and humility.
How to start? Breathing is a key indicator. As soon as tension ratchets up, our breathing shallows. With tension we also tend to breathe with high “chest-breaths”, rather than breathing in and out from the abdomen. To test this in yourself, place your hand on your belly and take a breath. Does your hand move inward or outward? For many it will be inward, while all the air is moved in and out at the chest level. This type of breathing is appropriate for our “fight-or-flight” response and for high energy activities such as sex and vigorous exercise. It is not intended to be our baseline breathing method however.
Deep abdominal breathing should be our default mode, where on the inhale the abdomen swells outward and the chest barely moves at all. This deep belly breathing returns the body to a more relaxed state, ready for engagement. High chest breathing sends out stress hormones, neurotransmitters and chemicals that stimulate heart rate and blood pressure and ready the body for immediate action. It serves well when we are engaged in an appropriate activity where those effects are needed, but the rest of the time this chronic outpouring of stress chemicals just serves to drive the brain nuts. The mind keeps reading that the body is in tension and it needs to engage some kind of problem, so it starts looking for the problem. Chronic worry is the result. Most of our emotional pain is nothing more than chronic worry brought on by the chronic state of tension of the body. When that tension can be unwound, the mind begins to calm down and instead of problems, looks for signs of how good life is.
When we breathe down through the body and stay open and accepting, feelings often become much more accessible. It is imperative at that point that we allow ourselves to fully feel them. Our bodies know how to discharge emotional energy quite well and quite safely, as long as our heads get out of the way. It’s the top-down control mode of the head that keeps it from happening or controls the process tightly so it’s like squeezing a high pressure tube of stuff out through a tiny crack. When we make the crack a lot wider it comes out easily and fully and much more quickly. Unfortunately, many psychotherapeutic environments, especially those that are cognitively oriented, fail to understand the nature of the emotional body and emphasize staying in the head to analyze and understand things. That part comes secondarily and naturally when our bodies can unload the tension. It shouldn’t lead; it follows. The failure to engage the body with the head “out of the way” is just another version of being afraid of our insides, of feeling that what’s inside is either unacceptable or is dangerous and will hurt us. It’s the opposite of trust in the wisdom of the body and of our insides. It knows far better how to get to a better feeling place than our analytical heads do. They key is having safe space. That means when I go fully down into my feelings I don’t get hurt and no one else does either. Having a safe, supportive, experientially-based, knowledgeable person holding that space for us is essential. That can be a therapist or counselor well-trained in experiential process bodywork, or it can also be a very neutral other person or loving friend who knows that territory very well inside themselves and can thus hold space for another without interfering.
I know of no better, more thorough, exploration of this process than what has been elucidated by the late Dan Jones, a person who penetrated the nature of our suffering in a gifted, loving and startlingly lucid manner. I present his “dissertation” on Worry here as I cannot improve upon it.
We all just want to feel better.
A foundational component of our sense of well-being is being connected. There are three essential levels to this:
Connected deeply to ourselves
Connected to safe “others”
Connected to something larger than ourselves
The levels are not separate things, merely aspects of connection itself. In fact, they cannot really be separated. Each as a starting place leads inevitably to the others. It is one connectedness that extends throughout all of them.
Connectedness To Self
Essentially this means a place of compassionate Self-Honoring. This is not an egoic sense of “I’m so great. Everyone should be like me.” It’s not self-aggrandizement. It’s the place of taking it easy on oneself. It’s having a deep sense of compassion for all that you have been through, all that you have struggled with, all that has happened to you in the past, and that you have made it through to this point in your life. It is a continuing cultivation of the inner sense: “I Am Enough”.
Virtually every form of our internal suffering starts with some version of how we’re not enough. How we haven’t measured up in some way. How we’ve fallen short. How everything will be ok once we……….
Sound familiar? Are you acquainted with that inner voice?
This is a never-ending struggle and guess what, it’s never enough. As long as we’re on that treadmill, the bar we’re trying to reach is constantly above our heads and being placed ever higher each time we reach another rung of the ladder.
We have to begin to address the mechanism of “not enoughness” and its faulty message at its core. It’s a mode we live in. Something we shift into out of habit and old conditioning. We can shift out of it. We can feed ourselves something different.
There are myriad techniques, pathways and modalities that humans have invented for millenia to connect better with Self.
Some common ones include:
- Centered Prayer
- Tai Chi and QiGong
- Creative Hobbies/Activities
Each of these processes can be a very effective pathway toward more inner connectedness. The crucial aspect to all of them that it is not the technique itself that does the trick. It is in how we engage them that the benefit is derived. The technique may get us a little better relaxation or a more supple physical body, but the true benefit comes when we are engaging first a sense of compassionate connection with Self and then using the technique as a pathway or method to cultivate that connected place of compassion. The sought-after connectedness comes not from the technique but from the compassionate heart-attitude itself. We fall in Love with ourselves and what we are doing.
Connectedness With Others
Connecting deeply and compassionately with others is the essence of living fully and well on this planet. We’re surrounded by a lot of “others”, both human and non-human forms. Being at odds with the world around us becomes a constant source of the Tension we are trying to reduce. On the other hand, feeling connected to that world is a place of increased Energy.
We have to recognize that the first “connectedness” of Self, as discussed above, is crucially linked to our connection with others. We cannot connect well with others if we are disconnected from self. Just can’t. We can delude ourselves a lot that we can and are. We often can think “Well, I just serve others. I don’t look after myself very well.”. It doesn’t work that way. When we try to connect with others while being in a non-loving state with self, it’s really just martyrdom. We’re the selfless servant that is put upon, taken advantage of, tired and worn out from ‘service’, and our reaching out to others becomes trying to fix them so that we feel better. So, first and foremost, we have to appreciate the inextricable tie between love of Self and love of Others. They can never be a “vs”, only a both/and. Sometimes the reverse can happen. We can begin to truly connect with others and it leads immediately to more compassion for Self. If it’s not leading to that, then it’s a delusional state.
“Love is seeing the Good in all people and all situations, and acting accordingly.”
From that state of Self-connectedness, our compassion cannot but extend. It’s impossible for Love not to radiate.
Just like compassion is the key for ourselves, it is the key to connecting with others. We always think we know what’s going on inside another, inside their long journey, but we don’t.
Some ways that we can connect with others:
- Forms of service like volunteering
- Deep listening to another
- Seeing the “good” in all with whom we engage
In other words, it begins with how we hold things in our Heart, and it also includes then the action that follows from there.
“You do not know what wars are going on down there where the Spirit meets the Bone.”
Connectedness with Something Larger
This simply means a recognition somewhere deep inside that something greater than me exists and it can be connected to. It can take on many, many forms from a religious/spiritual pathway to simply a belief and honoring of Love itself and its importance. It is higher, larger “something” that we surrender to. The surrender is the key. It is a letting go, a sense of being held, a sense that something larger has our deepest, best interests at heart and is there for us on our behalf.
Some common ways of cultivating this connection include:
- Religious/spiritual Path
- Community Service
- Centered Prayer
As you can see, many of the ways of connecting are the same in all three “types” of connection. Funny how that works.
Tension is who you think you should be; relaxation is who you are –Chinese Proverb.
At our essential core we are unconditionally loving, peaceful, calm, connected, and wise. All of us. ALL of us. This part, this essential “isness” cannot be damaged. It cannot be broken or lost. It can only be so covered over with tension and pain that we can’t feel it anymore. We don’t experience it, so we think it’s gone. The river of Worry is the part of us constantly searching to get it back, and we mistakenly think that fixing one more part of Life will get us there. It is a sacred search, just with usually the wrong focus (“problems” outside ourselves) and the wrong tools (all the ways we go about “fixing” those things and numbing our pain). We must always remember that the search, and all of its wrongheaded foci and tools, comes from the most sacred part of ourselves. We just want to get Home. Real joy is the experience of that Home. It has nothing to do with the presence or absence of “problems” in our lives. It’s not a place to get to, it’s who we are.
So, the overall approach to our Worry place can be our same two-fold approach – how to decrease Tension and increase Energy. For emotional stress, we are talking about how does my body hold tension, where does it come from, and how do I safely release it? For increasing Energy, we are talking about what internal processes and practices feed my sense of connection? My sense of purpose and meaning? My sense of being Loved and Loving?
My experience is that these two journeys work like two sides of a coin. They are deeply connected, are essentially aspects of exactly the same “thing”, and feed each other. The tensions, sufferings and pains we carry are just patterns that have been accumulated through our life (or even before that if you are so inclined). They get piled like detritus into our bodies and obscure our inherent deeper connection with Self and the Universe as a whole. We pack the tensions in our bellies, our neck and shoulders, our backs, and any myriad of other places available inside. As this occurs energy gets sucked up and becomes unavailable. It’s as if each time we pack away tension and hold it in the body a piece of our available energy has to go attend to that place, until after a while there’s just not very much left. As we lovingly explore those areas of tension, feel them, allow them to release (on their terms, not our head’s terms) energy that was bound up attending to them is freed up for use. The act of going toward our pain and suffering, which beforehand we imagine as exhausting (i.e., leaving us with less energy) is actually profoundly the opposite. We gain our Energy back.
No matter which of these two you start with – engaging the Tensions or engaging the Core Energy – it brings you to the other. When we work on connecting to and clearing out the Tensions, our Core Energy is waiting there to greet us. We don’t have to go and find it. Conversely, when we connect to that Core Energy, it stimulates all that the Tensions that are in the way, all that is in need of healing, to come to the surface to be dealt with and cleared. Bottom Up or Top Down, it doesn’t matter. They are two aspects of the same process of connecting and healing.
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