Monthly Archives: May 2014

Awakening (and feeling) into Addiction

It’s often taboo in enlightenmenty[1] circles to say “the body is the friend.” It’s funny how that happens. An awakening takes place and then all of a sudden people don’t think the body is “important” any more (chances are, they never did)—as if in oneness the body is excluded. If I sound a bit bitter here, it’s because I am.  And the reason is this: over and over people are told they are not their bodies, which is true, by the way. But that is misunderstood, and so people think they have to forget, disavow, rise above, eradicate, *insert other word that resonates*, their bodies. And what follows is, well, suffering. This suffering is directly tied to the belief that awakening is a permanent state (see my previous post Embodiwhat? and other tales of spiritual seeking), but it’s also tied to a deep dissociation from the physical form inhabited—the body.

After experiencing a period of bliss, only for it to “go away”, I often hear something like this from clients: “what have I done wrong?” There is a sense of guilt, shame, abandonment, and/or self-loathing. And even though they’ve experienced “no-self” and know that they are not their thoughts, these feelings (of shame, guilt, self loathing, and so on) and the unconscious thoughts that go with them prevail. The last thing many of us want to do is feel what we are experiencing, because it’s just plain awful, and also because society overwhelms with the message that we just need to “change our  thoughts.”

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I get a lot of correspondence from people who have had awakenings, and who have experienced “bliss” afterwards. But then they noticed old patterns emerging, or new ones forming. At the heart of these patterns is often a restlessness—of the mind and in the body—and lots of discomfort. This is pretty aligned with my own experience as well—I was plagued by loathing and debilitating thoughts, had painful body contractions, and was on emotional roller coaster.

Enter, addiction. The body serves many mechanisms—the mind thinks, the lungs breathe, ears hear, and so on. Addiction serves a mechanism as well. Breaking it down simply, addiction is an invisible mechanism, often kept alive by invisible problems. It’s a mechanism that the body comes up with in an attempt to help itself survive. After all, it’s only responding to the fight, freeze, or flight response that  it’s biologically programmed to experience. These feelings of flight, fight, and freeze keep the mind spinning, and the body in survival mode. To help alleviate this state of anxiety and the restlessness that comes with it, we turn to just about anything that will help us feel better. The desperate desire to “get back” to that awakened state often follows, and can be accompanied by various addictions—including food, sex, (spiritual) seeking, self improvement, drugs, etc—anything to keep the being busy and not feeling.

There is a way to “stop the madness.” It’s good old-fashioned looking at and journeying into thoughts, beliefs, sensations, actions, behaviors, patterns, and so on. It’s not a magic pill: no one “out there” is going to magically save you, nor is that old awakening going to magically “come back”.  It’s about you taking an honest look at what is moving through this thing called life, in that which you’re housed in—the body. It’s engaging with it, and in it. It’s inquiring into all the thoughts, images, sensations—it’s taking a look at what seems true, and then experiencing what’s actually true. Particularly important is spending a lot of time exploring the bodily sensations and energies that arise. This is what most therapists and modalities skip over, and I find that it is vital to explore the deep caverns of the biological mechanism if we are to break free from the false beliefs and thoughts that often get velcro-ed to these sensations. For me, this is at the heart of embodiment and is important to get to the heart of any addiction (or other emotional imbalance).

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There are lots of ways this can happen—and you don’t have to do it alone. In fact studies show that support can increase the chances that an addiction will be successfully overcome. (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMSHA), states that frequency of support is an important factor in overcoming addiction.[2]) There are supportive programs that can provide lots of tools for inquiring into what is going on for you, with you, so that you don’t have to try to handle what is feeling so overwhelming, all by yourself.

Living Inquiries offers a way to journey with addictions in a very unique way. The Kiloby Center offers an extensive outpatient program, and certified Living Inquiries facilitators offer Skype/phone sessions. Because we recognize that support is crucial for your recovery, there is ongoing support while you are in the program, as well as after.  Natural Rest groups are available free of charge via Skype throughout the week, as well as in person in some cities. Also available are free audio and videos, numerous Facebook groups (contact me directly for the various Facebook groups) and a chat group. This network, is here for you. Combined with your own deep willingness and readiness to look into your thoughts, behaviors, and sensations, facilitators are present to explore and journey along with you.

If you are suffering from spiritual seeking or any other addiction, feel free to contact me for more information, or click on the links below. Make friends with your body and your thoughts. In doing so, they are no longer things to fear or avoid. Instead, they become companions—and supportive companions at that.

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[1] My bud Tim Foley came up with this word, and my other bud Travis Enix just used it in his recent blog. Perfect timing, thanks Travis, and Tim!

[2] http://www.edrugrehab.com/recovery-statistics-what-works.html

 

Love your body; just say no to cultural conditioning

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I came across this article today and it got me thinking about the work I’ve done with clients and myself regarding body images- how we see our own body as well as other bodies. In the article, the author asks the question: “Does geography influence the body types we idealize and are attracted to?” The author goes on to talk about the research done, and the results.  First, the research: “There’s a lot written about the effects of culture and media on the bodily standards we uphold. But the International Body Project, a survey of 7,434 people worldwide, aimed to investigate whether there were more base-level factors motivating our ideal body types, too.”  Then the results:


The researchers found that places with low socioeconomic status tended to value heavier female body types, while places with high socioeconomic status tended to favor thinner bodies—possibly because body fat acts as an indicator of status when resources are scarce. And the effect of media shouldn’t be underestimated: “Our results show that body dissatisfaction and desire for thinness is commonplace in high-SES (socioeconomic status) settings across world regions, highlighting the need for international attention to this problem,” the researchers write.

I happened to be reading something[1] that further suggests that geography influences how we see our body, but contradicts the above study. In studying an Amazonian jungle tribe, Daniel Everett learned that those with body fat were viewed as lazy and untrustworthy (“fat means corruption”), because hard work and a strict work ethic were very much a part of their cultural norms. So even though there was a low socioeconomic status, they valued thinner body types, but for different reasons.

There are many variables that lead people to consider certain bodies as attractive, and others as unattractive, but it seems clear: geography and the cultural norms of the area are directly linked to body image. The ideas related to body image are passed down generationally, and literally become part of the culture and are taken as “truth”. If I look to my own familial norms and beliefs, as well as the culture I associate myself with, I notice that how I view my own body (as well as other bodies) is tainted with biases and viewpoints expressed by my parents, relatives and the culture I most connect with. Here comes the value of inquiry: if not examined, those biases will continue to hold “true”, and I will judge myself and others accordingly.

Body image is literally the way I imagine or remember my body to look like. If you have ever done inquiry, if you’ve ever looked at images coming from the mind, you will know that all images are based on imagination. Yes, all memories too are based on imagination- how we perceived or imagined events to have happened. As such, body images are based on perceptions- how we imagine or perceive our bodies to look. Woven into those perceptions are various meanings. In reading about the studies referred to above, it’s easy to see that beliefs and opinions about ourselves (and bodies in general) influence how we see ourselves (and others). Inquiry can help untangle those often-unconscious beliefs and opinions- the invisible meanings that are part of perception.

Inquiry can help us get a sense of how thoughts/beliefs, images and sensations are linked together. When I close my eyes and imagine my thighs, for example, what words arise? What sensations in my body arise? I might hear the words/thoughts in my mind say “urgh! They are too big” or “I’m so lazy.” There might even be commanding thoughts: “I need to exercise!” When I look closer on that image of my thighs that my mind has conjured up, is there an actual command anywhere on that image to exercise? Is that image actually saying anywhere on it, all by itself, that the thighs are too big or that I’m lazy? Or, is there an actual threat anywhere on that picture? And if you bring your attention to the body, is there a bodily contraction that seems to be connected to that image?  If your answer is yes, it’s because you’re doing something that lots of us do all day long, which is velcro thoughts (beliefs), images and sensations together. Through inquiry, done on your own or with the help of a facilitator, those thoughts, images and sensations can become un-velcrod.  And when they are, you’ll be able to experience a body that is not weighed down with images that are conveying imagined stories that aren’t actually true.

What is true for you? What kind of stories or beliefs do you attach to various body images, to your own body image? What kind of beliefs about the body have you accepted without question? What sensations in the body arise, as you even consider such questions? Take some time for yourself, rest, and inquire.

 

 

 



[1] Don’t Sleep, there are Snakes. Daniel Everett.  p.159

EmbodiWHAT? and other tales of spiritual seeking.

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Embodiment, being fully present in this body, is a bit of a buzzword these days in the spiritual community. It’s been on my mind for a while now, not so much as a concept but as something that I’ve been experiencing for myself and with a lot of the people I work with. What I’m mainly noticing is how people say they want an embodied experience, and yet what they say about their experience points to the opposite. If anything, they often want to “get away” from the physical/bodily experience they are having, as opposed to meeting whatever is actually happening. I’ve decided to write about it, not because I’ve figured embodiment out, but because I too experience resistance to embodiment, and it wasn’t that long ago that I didn’t want it at all!

For a long time my silent or not-so-silent prayer was, I want to be here- in the “now.” Yeah, not too original, but that’s what I really wanted- to be fully in the present. This was before I’d heard the term embodiment, but looking back this is what I was praying for. I thought I was doing pretty well, actually. In fact, I thought that I was mostly “there.” And I continued to hold onto this mantra, to keep me “on track.”

Here’s the funny part:  hidden within my prayer, was the belief that if I was fully in the present, I’d always be happy and peaceful. *That* was what I really was after, unconsciously.  I didn’t want to literally be “here and now” at all, I realized, as my prayer started to get answered- when I started to step more fully into the present state of this human body.  Oh, THIS is now?  Ummmm, no thanks (ie, EWWWWWWWWWWW). I much preferred that other state of being.  You know the one- “oneness”- where things are easy and simple and, well, blissfully boring.

Yeah, I admit it; I’d bought the bill of goods that was selling presence as a blissed-out state of being. Otherwise known as that “permanent place” spiritual teachers wrote and talked about, people were paying lots of money hoping to learn how to finally “get there, and stay there.” The tenets of this state included: forgetting about the body, setting aside preferences and distinctions, and dissociating from the full variety of emotions. Basically, denying being human.  Instead, connecting with “oneness” was chased, at any expense- monetarily, physically, and emotionally.

As I started to connect with my body, as embodiment started to happen, I slowly started to realize how much I had bypassed aspects of myself in order to try to maintain the “perpetual experience of oneness” that spirituality often pointed to. As I worked with people who were experiencing addiction issues as well as deep trauma, I started to realize that spiritual seeking was a huge addiction in and of itself, as well as something that was reinforcing somatic trauma. I was working with people who were denying aspects of what it means to be human, and I realized that I’d been doing the same. In denying aspects of my humanity, I was keeping aspects of myself in the dark- in the shadows. Those aspects were powerfully influential- they were out of my attention, and unconsciously dictating many beliefs and behaviors.

An interesting thing started to happen when I started to shine the light on those beliefs and thoughts: lots of other shadows started to pop up. Acknowledging those shadows was not always pleasant, but then something else started to happen: those shadows lost their power. Bringing aspects of myself into the light that I’d never wanted to see, allowed them to be seen, and then released. The more that happened, the more embodiment happened, and the less scary it was. In fact, it became very empowering. And as I worked with clients, I was noticing the same experiences with them. Behaviors and stories that had once been laden with shame and guilt were being gently pulled apart, and in the wake was compassion, forgiveness, and spaciousness.

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Being an embodied human being isn’t what I thought it was, that’s for sure, but I’m immensely grateful for what it’s brought me.  I still find that it’s pretty hard to talk about what embodiment is, beyond saying it is being in this body, fully, in the present. And maybe that’s why it is so easily misunderstood, and why there is so much spiritual seeking going on.  Over all, it’s much easier to say what it’s not.

  1. It’s not a state of permanence. This seems really important to state, because I come across people all the time, including myself, who seem to think there is one abiding state of being. That belief inherently has an immense amount of suffering as part of it.
  2. Embodiment’s not a state that can be achieved. This is basically reiterating #1, but that’s how important and how deep these beliefs go, so I’m saying it another way. Embodiment isn’t fixed. It’s not static. It’s not something that is accomplished, once and for all. For spiritual seekers, this one can keep seekers entangled forever.
  3. It’s not a state of being. Again, notice the overtones of #1 and 2. Embodiment doesn’t have one flavor- it’s not a state of “being happy” or “being at peace” or “being surrendered.” It’s ever changing. There is no right way to be a human being. The possibilities are vast- and “oneness” contains all of them.
  4. Embodiment’s not about feeling a particular way or acting in a certain way.  See number 3, and continue to think outside the box. I have had people tell me that I’m not spiritual because I get angry, or use certain kinds of vulgar language at times. You can spot spiritual seekers (looking for a quick fix from current suffering) a mile away when typical aspects of being a human being are considered bad- anger, sexuality, eating habits, dress, and so on are easy targets used to “measure” spirituality.
  5. It’s not identifying yourself as a body/focusing only on the body.
  6. Embodiment’s not identifying yourself as not a body/avoiding the body.
  7. It’s not easy. Almost every aspect of our society teaches us that being here, in this, is avoidable, and that our lives will be a lot more enjoyable if we do whatever it takes to avoid our actual experience.
  8. Embodiment’s not as bad as you think. A little bit of inquiry can go a long way. Send me an email if you’d like to learn more.
  9. It’s not easy to talk about. It’s like throwing rocks at the pink elephant in the middle of the room, which keeps disappearing only to reappear when you’re least expecting it, now as pink hermit crab.
  10. It’s never “done”.  If you come across anyone, including a teacher or a therapist, who tells you that they’ve “been there and done that”, smile big and keep on walking.
  11. Lastly, and maybe most importantly, embodiment’s not a candy bar.  This just seemed really important to point out because with a candy bar on the market called “whatchamacallit”, it seemed really important to be clear on that.

I’ve wanted to do a top 10 “embodiment’s not” list for awhile. Most of my ideas came to me while running, only to vanish once back home. So this is what you get. You know what would be fun? For you to list some of your very own observations about what emodiment’s not. Feel free to leave them in the comment section or send me an email at llmeuser@me.com