It probably all started in elementary school. I imagine I was sitting there, an innocent, naive, sweet 3rd grader, when someone laughed at my clothes and said they were from K-Mart. “Yes, they are! How did you know?” I proudly acknowledged. I had no idea of classism. I had no idea that it was not “okay” to be proud of shopping at K-mart. But I wondered what made these kids interested to laugh at me. (For readers unfamiliar with K-mart, it is a very low price department store.)
Since then I have spent a lot of time pondering why people hurt other people. Pondering how we respond to this pain. Pondering how we protect ourselves from hurt. Pondering what the impact of pain is on us. My brain has learned a lot of theory, but for me, it was really only when I brought my body into the experience that I got more satisfying answers. Answers that are hard to articulate, because they are felt in the body – but I’ll give it a go.
One big thing I do in response to trauma* is block myself from feeling it. However, blocking myself from feeling pain, also blocks me from feeling the wisdom that my body gives me access to. Then I get stuck in my head, making decisions from my “rational mind” which operates off of very limited information and is far less creative. Access to the wisdom of my body grants me so much more information. But some if it is painful. How do we process the pain while not limiting the joy and wisdom as well?
In exploring this question, I realised that my yoga practice is about being mindful of sensation. When I go into a yoga posture, if I feel no sensation, I have no information. I’m not learning anything, not challenging myself, I’m in my comfort zone. This can be useful if its a relaxation pose – it allows me to observe my thoughts more closely. But in other poses, sensation is my guide. How deep do I want to go into the pose? How long will I hold the pose? I observe the sensations and allow my body to guide my brain through the pose.
But when I go so deeply into a pose that the sensations turn into pain, I know it’s time to back off. And this is the interesting thing to me about feeling the effect of trauma*. It needs to be felt. But we don’t need to overwhelm ourselves with more than we can handle. This is much easier when deciding how far to go in a forward bend. But how do we regulate the amount of pain we feel when our body is reacting to intense trauma? We need the wisdom of our body, we can’t block its messages completely, (unless we are temporarily in need of spending time in a relaxation pose), but how much can we safely feel at a time?
I modulate the level of sensation in my yoga practice with my power. I know I have power. As I move into a forward bend, I know I will not be crushed in it and forced to go deeper and feel more than is healthy for my body. I use my power to regulate the level of intensity. And if I’m feeling no power today, I stay safe in a relaxation pose. This practice makes me feel more aware of my power and feeling stronger, to handle more intensity. So could the same apply for feeling the effects of trauma? First, we tap into our power. Recognize what we can control and what we can not. Being careful with those things we can not control, but owning and claiming what we can control. Feeling the sensation slowly, staying in our power. Knowing we have control. Stepping back when we need to, stepping in when we can.
As I explore this awareness, I’m becoming more aware of the ineffective “relaxation poses” I use off the mat to avoid feeling sensation – staying busy so that I can’t hear my body, overeating so all I can hear my body say is, “your tummy is full”, other addictions that prevent us from feeling. Preventing me from feeling when it would be healthier for me to feel, but I want to avoid it. Now when I get on social media, I’m asking myself, “What would my mind hear if I didn’t keep it engaged with this silliness? Where am I afraid it might wonder off to?” Trying to keep my mind in tune with my body, to feel the power and the wisdom. Feeling the sensations, feeling the power and listening to the wisdom.
I’ve also started noticing how I resist and block “unpleasant sensations”. Not trauma, just things like, the temperature is too hot. The shower is too cold. Rather than judging them, what if I just allow my body to be aware of the feeling of heat and cold? Feeling sensations deeply as a reminder that this is life, in all its beautiful vibrancy. I find myself often blocking out the TV or loud voices to focus on the task at hand (yoga, meditation, writing, reading…). But if its a pleasant noise – good music, birds singing – I embrace it. What if I allow it all to become part of the beautiful symphony that is my life in this moment? Allowing the sound of the TV to merge with traffic sounds into an amazing chorus. Letting the chorus wash over and through my body and feeling it with my entire body instead of just my ears.
Many people find it difficult to follow the news because there is so much that is difficult to hear. Sometimes its easier to put on blinders than to acknowledge the pain in the world. I don’t want to be numb, nor ignorant, so how do we handle the pain of learning about the world, without overwhelming? My current practice is to go deep with the emotions and allow the sadness, anger, intense emotions to wash over me. I acknowledge my connection to the grieving of the universe. I come into my power, by owning what I can and can not do. I acknowledge my small acts of rebellion. I let go of my feeling of personal individual responsibility for immediate global transformation. Breathe. Feel what it feels like to be a human who can feel emotions intensely. Gratitude for emotions. Gratitude for the opportunity to take small steps towards transformation which bring me into my power.
*I recognize I use the word trauma very loosely. For me, it can include anything classically considered trauma, the stress on the body of bullying, the trauma of living with oppression, as well as the stress caused by other microagressions.