Thursday, December 31, 2020

The Healing Crisis: coming back to the Self

As the end of the year approaches, I am reminded of some of the innermost thoughts I had shared with a few people, specifically my impression that the year 2020 was going to be an auspiciously significant one: a year that I was very much looking forward to welcoming in. As I reflect upon those impressions, one year later, there is a part of me that screams: what on earth were you thinking?! And, there is another part that is curious about how those past musings might (at all) fit into the enormity of what actually transpired during this year of 2020. More on this inquisition later.

There seems little doubt that many of us feel like we are living in one of the most seemingly disconcerting, terrifying and life-in-suspension periods of our lifetime. While we are trying to navigate our way through a pandemic of unfathomable proportions, we are also bearing witness to the legacy of human injustice based on “race” and other illusions, bleeding profusely.

In my role as a holistic therapist, I have been routinely hearing descriptive words like “surreal”, “unprecedented” and “overwhelmed” abound in their usage, as people search for ways to describe their observations and experiences. What seems to be an overarching theme of unusual, and extremely hard-to-deal with emotions rising to the surface is undeniably real. People are struggling, severely. Those with addiction issues are having an especially hard time due to the intensification of already existing mental health struggles, in conjunction with a steep decline in opportunities to distract the self with various forms of in person social contact.

My own senses implore me to recognize the 2020 covid-19 era as the heralding of a grueling yet magnanimous call to action, perhaps like no other I have been aware of in my lifetime. This particular call pertains to a relative “coming back to the self”. Coming back to the self requires a slowing down of sorts; a redirection of energetic resources; a vital shift in awareness. In slowing down, we usually find that we automatically allow ourselves greater room to expand our perspectives, and with a wider perspective we permit ourselves to recognize more clearly where our internal resources of power and freedom lie – as opposed to dwelling in feelings of powerless, fear and restriction – even in the face of increasing uncompromising physical parameters surrounding this covid-19 crisis.

During this confounding year I have learned more than ever that the first and foremost important step in the process of coming back to myself is remembering to breathe! Indeed, I have been realizing so much appreciation for the simple but profound ability to utilize my breathing system as an anchor; a guide; a powerful life force and essentially for having the good fortune to be able to breathe as a living human being in the world.

If it’s hard for you to relate to the process of breathing mindfully, I invite you to just take a moment – right now – to engage in a very quick and basic breathing protocol:

First make sure things are fairly quiet, and you are comfortable wherever you are sitting. Second, place your feet firmly on the ground and allow your hands to rest loosely, in some way on top of your upper thighs. Third, take a deep breath in through your nose and another breath out through your mouth. Repeat. Take care to allow the breaths you take to be as deep and as noisy as you need them to be (the deeper and the noisier the better!). If, after breathing in you are able to hold the breath for a moment, this will enhance the relaxation you feel as you exhale from your mouth. Notice your energy and focus shifting. That’s it!

Just one minute of steady, focused breathing can begin to relax frenzied, rigid and myopic mind states. Breathing allows the space and perspective for us to remain still…calm, and to be okay with our own inner company; to be less interested in the finessing of any performance of who we think we should be in the eyes of others; what we need to achieve or what we think we should be doing, and more interested in nurturing how we desire to exist in the world. Thus, moving away from any lofty preoccupation with the need to be a success in the eyes of the world towards a more grounded interest in showing up as our embodied selves. In essence showing up versus showing off!

When we start to prioritize, commit and eventually surrender to being in the harmonious flow of our natural selves, opportunities which grant us the space to feel, relax and BREATHE into the how we are, in the here and now, naturally begin to show up - without a whole lot of effort and force - in the material form of people, places and things.

Breathing mindfully lends itself beautifully to the exploration of a number of different potentially contemplative practices such as meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, Reiki, visual art creation, music composition, voice exploration and dance movement (just to name a few). There is something for everyone! Such contemplative practices can further assist us in moving towards an enhanced ability to tap into our inner resources (our own personal power) and away from the old, unsustainable cycles of endless, frantic searching outside of ourselves for comfort.

While for many 2020 has been a year which has been about blatant heartache; loss, fear, chaos and outrage, it has also been a year steeped in revelation; self-empowerment, resilience, unity, survival, triumph, surrender and personal transformation. Amidst the unfurling of a crumbling and unequal health care system, myself and many of the people I converse with have been recognizing the importance of taking power back through the exercising of more intentional choices around lifestyle practices such as nutrition, exercise, contemplative practices and substance use, all of which can offset health and wellness outcomes as these pertain to communicable and non-communicable illnesses.

An increased awareness of the importance of setting boundaries, bolstered by different opinions and levels of awareness surrounding covid-19 protocol has been clearly in effect, as people navigate how to keep themselves safe via social distancing. Additionally, many people I have been talking to have been describing a new found awareness of the importance of practicing patience with others as their ability to empathize increases in conjunction with their exploration of their own suffering.

When I return to the initial musings on 2020 articulated in the first paragraph of this piece of writing, the idea of the “healing crisis” is one that seems to fit. In many healing communities, the "healing crisis" is understood to be a period of time during which things feel unusually hard for an individual who is authentically engaged in healing work. Such hardship might show up on spiritual, mental, emotional and physical levels in the form of confusing transpersonal experiences, disturbing thoughts, intense emotions and even medical situations as the individual is invited, through the healing process, to “wake up” enough to identify, heal, release and ultimately transform patterns which have outlived their usefulness, with a view to moving forward on their (divine) life path. While this is not always the most comfortable experience, moving through is necessary in order to come out on the other side.

In the here and now, the healing crisis paradigm fits well into my idea of what 2020 has been all about on a global level. With all its pain, sorrow and darkness, I take some solace in recognizing the intensity of this year as a collective growth period –indeed, a period of soul expansion for the whole world – and I look forward to welcoming in the light.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

The Futility of Expecting and Demanding Apologies in Unyielding Interpersonal Situations

Are you someone who frequently finds themselves getting caught up in the idea that someone “owes” you an apology? Do you find yourself obsessing about this to the point where you feel angry and resentful? Do you even find yourself berating the person you view as the “offender” and demanding the perfect apology? If so, then um, WHOA. HOLD YOUR HORSES! Read on to learn why this pattern of relating to others is not only misguided, but also self-defeating behavior, largely speaking.

It’s likely that if you are angrily dwelling on the importance of receiving an apology from someone, you are viewing yourself as a victim and the other party as the victimizer (these cognitions may be fairly unconscious). While this may or may not be true, first understand that if the offending person has not already apologized to you, they do not believe/are not aware that they have anything to apologize about (yet). This could be the case for a variety of reasons, but the point is: they do not share your perspective.

If you harangue a person for an apology who does not legitimately agree that they owe you a “sorry”, any one of a few things might happen: the person may be so taken off guard by fear based shame that they apologize on command; the person may deny that they have anything to apologize for, and simply refuse to oblige or the person may feign an apology to humor you. In the latter situation, you may experience the apology as lacking authenticity and fall into the trap of refusing to accept it because it’s not perfect in your eyes (a slippery slope, indeed!). If you decide that you are okay with the shame based and otherwise false apologies, a precarious dynamic between you and the person is likely to (re)emerge because of the lack of emotional integrity existing within the relationship. Problematic behavior is unlikely to change if any acknowledgement of such is insincere, or elicited from fear based shame. It’s quite clear to see that ultimately you are not going to “win” in any of these scenarios, so why not do yourself a favor and stop playing this game?

Although we have relative control surrounding our own thoughts, communications, behaviors and choices — we can’t control the thoughts and actions of others, and it is an illusion (or abusive, as I will get to later) to move through the world as though we can.

Next time you find yourself in a situation where you feel aggrieved by something someone has said or done, so much so that you doggedly believe you absolutely require an apology, start by reminding yourself to step back from the situation. You can step back by taking several deep, long breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Next, mindfully check in with yourself about what you might be feeling on a deeper level (perhaps powerless, fearful, wounded and/or unvalued resonates?) and ask yourself how you can locate your internal resources to assist you to process these feelings. At this point you will probably have figured out the futility in demanding an apology. Rather, you may realize that the best thing you can do in this type of situation is to communicate your observation of the problem; set your boundaries around the upsetting behavior and maintain a distance from the person/situation if the behavior continues.

If you are choosing to remain engaged in continually triggering relationships, or are constantly feeling sorry for yourself regarding the bad things that others have done to you, you might want to ask yourself what you are unconsciously gaining (and losing) from maintaining a “victim” role. You should also note that constantly harassing others for apologies can actually be experienced as abusive, especially if the person is genuinely confused about your stance; if you are shaming the person and if this person holds social group status which pushes their power down in relation to you. Therefore, while you may feel like an entitled victim, you can quite easily actually slide into victimizer status in these types of situations!

At the end of the day: while an authentic apology can be one of the most profound and beautiful things the giver and the receiver can experience…

…a forced apology means absolutely nothing. Some exceptions to the above one- on-one interpersonal “rules” include legal situations involving systemic social injustice, in which apologies around systemic medical malpractice are mandated (for example) as a component of demonstrating accountability and parents or teachers who impose apology requirements onto young children in conjunction with efforts to impart skills in social decorum and empathy.

On a final note, consider that most people who are genuinely sad, disappointed and hurt by the behavior of others, although they may pursue accountability in certain circumstances, do not aggressively and persistently demand a “sorry” from someone they truly experience as oppressive. They move on emotionally from the situation, knowing that if, and when the other party gains the awareness to see the error of their ways ~time can be an amazing insight balancer~ that person will initiate an apology…but they don’t hold their breath. So…set your boundaries; move on when necessary, let the chips fall where they may, and don’t hold your breath for an apology from anyone, rather: breathe deeply, mindfully and lovingly with much respect for yourself.