“I refuse to be vulnerable, it just seems weak.” Sharon sat across from me, arms crossed and shoulders up. “If I give in to my feelings it won’t change things anyway.” Her words were not the only thing that was being communicated to me. The anxiety in her body was as speaking as clearly as her voice, and I watched her breathing shallow and high in her upper chest as her hands fidgeted with a frayed bit of thread on her jeans.
“What would happen if we just slowed down enough right now to notice what is happening in your body?” I asked. “You mean right now?” asked Sharon. “Yes, right now” I replied.
Gently and precisely we tracked the muscle tension and agitation in her body as she struggled with the hard hearted part of herself that she thought was her strength. That hard-heartedness had grown up around her to help her manage her childhood environment where tender feelings were a luxury. No one in her childhood had meant to hurt her, but in their unavailability when she was scared or angry or sad, her parents forced her to desensitize herself from her pain. It became a source of pride for Sharon to be able to push through and ignore herself. Now Sharon had really good stories to help her make sense of her reaction to avoid feelings – like it’s weak and there’s no point anyway…
But actually Sharon’s whole pattern of avoiding feelings was driven by unconscious anxiety. Little signals in her body of tension and agitation arose when a vulnerable feeling was bubbling up. Those signals were mainly out of her awareness but they had a powerful effect on her, making her feel the urge to get away from herself. As a high achieving professional Sharon could dive into her work and disappear from herself at a moment’s notice and no one would blink an eye. Her workaholic lifestyle had brought her lots of carrots but she had come to me because she had begun to feel a deep sense of emptiness and lack of purpose despite her success.
As we carefully stayed with the feelings in her body Sharon and I shared a wonderful “aha” moment: her body let go of the tension all on its own. This surprised her, as she had always thought the way to manage discomfort was to push it down or push it away. She had the amazing empowering experience of her own warm attention soothing her anxious arousal.
Her soft strong heart melted the tension in her body.
This practice is simple yet so hard to do. We are used to being hard-hearted toward our uncertainty and our pain. Yet if we can approach this experience of anxious arousal with warm interest and non-judgment we let the body know it is safe.
Your intelligent body wants to be calm and settled, but it cannot let go until it knows there is no immediate threat to your physical safety. When you can be precisely attentive to your jittery, tight, tense discomfort and let the body take its own natural time without forcing or demanding or pushing or judging, you discover your real strength.
The strength of your own soft heart. You are so worth it.
Photo Credit: Mac