By Deb Kennard, Founder of the Personal Transformation Institute. Deb offers a free live webinar every month. This will be the topic of her webinar airing on Dec. 1, 2020 from 1:00 to 3:00 EST.
This year has been a difficult time for so many, it is a time of darkness, transition, loss and grieving. It is not easy to be present in the moment with so much individual and global angst. How can we grow and transform from this collective experience of suffering?
The holiday season is here and in the US it is a time of darkness, gradually getting darker and darker until after December 21st when the tide turns from darker and darker to lighter and lighter. How can we harness the power of darkness to move toward the light of transformation and increased freedom?
Carl Jung said C.G. Jung: “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
The transformation from darkness to light occurs daily with the rising and setting of the sun. Each day is a transformation and a new beginning, moving from darkness to light begins with birth and may continue into death, as we go toward the light.
To be transformed it is necessary to tolerate the darkness. After nearly three decades of working as a psychotherapist, I have found that the ability to go toward the darkness within us is directly related to the speed of which we get through to the light of awareness and transformation.
I often use the metaphor of a tunnel, which can also represent the transformation of birth. When we are in the darkest part of a tunnel it is wise to keep moving forward, as we move toward the darkness we are able to move through to the light. The darkness is the unknown, the undiscovered, the unseen and many of us are uncomfortable with not being able to accurately predict what is coming. Trying to control the process of transformation actually inhibits it, we can only set the conditions for the transformation to occur and allow for the result to appear. Nothing else works, yet we continue to try to control the outcome.
As a psychotherapist and a teacher to mental health professionals I have seen the healing power of being with what is here. To be able to tolerate this present moment and all that is here without cutting off or trying to manage it, is a simple, yet powerful way for our brain to allow and process past experiences stored in our brain. Those memories of the past are stored in a way that limit us and keep us stuck. This is really the secret to transformation and freedom.
If we can be present and attuned as we access a disturbing memory, we are allowing the activation of that memory to move from the part of our brain that is reacting to the part of our brain that recognizes the past is in the past.
“I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, most of them never happened.” – Mark Twain
Allowing what is here and observing it sounds simple but it is not always easy. Being anchored to this present moment as we allow for the implicitly stored memories to surface along with the emotions, bodily sensations, thoughts and perceptions is not easy to do. The nature of our physiology is to move toward survival, often at the cost of our freedom. In order to survive an overwhelming event our system is built to cut off from the experience and move into survival defenses, this helps us stay alive in those moments of perceived danger. We mobilize and take action automatically in the service of survival
To ensure our survival, our nervous system has evolved to react to anything that remotely resembles a past overwhelming event, and our physiology acts as if it is happening again. What appears to be an over-reaction is our physiology attempting to keep us alive. Although this over-reaction helps us survive it also keeps us from thriving. When we are reacting to the past in this present moment we are not fully present, we are in a defensive mode and unable to clearly see the truth of the moment. This is a very simplified explanation of how our human physiology reacts to traumatic experiences in the service of survival.
When we are reacting to the past instead of the truth of this present moment we drag along baggage and we are more likely to react than respond. The baggage can appear as a belief like “I’m unloveable”, “I’m not good enough” or “I’m not safe”. If we closely examine the experience we can see how our physiology creates our perception with a body sensation. Although it is truly an illusion, the past is experienced as present and we often believe that illusion is the true reality.
How can we move from surviving to thriving?
Once again, the answer is simple but not easy. To be with what is here without grasping for what is not here or moving away from what is here is key to unlocking the door to freedom. If we can be in this present moment and observe our perceptions as they arise through thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations, we are changing the pathway in our brain. So simple, yet so rarely practiced.
More common is the quick fix of anything that takes us out of the present moment experience by numbing or distracting us. We know we are in a quick fix when we find ourselves in a cycle of needing something to keep us from being miserable. Even as simple as a cup of coffee, if we are addicted or habituated enough we are a prisoner of sorts. There is a trance-like quality to our behavior and the road is easily taken and difficult to get off of. This is also our physiology, the more we do something the more we are likely to keep doing it.
So how do we begin to get out of the reactionary brain and into the present moment. There are many paths that will lead you there, all of which include being with what is here, observing and allowing the experience to unfold without constricting, grasping, avoiding or reacting.
What do we do instead? If we can instead have awareness of this present moment using curiosity, observing the various aspects of the moment as it arises we are on the path to freedom. That path is paved by practicing observing body sensations, thoughts and emotions as they arise and becoming curious about how this reaction may actually be a past memory surfacing. Creating this neurobiological pathway is key to transformation. The more we practice observing the more we are able to see the truth of this moment and recognize illusion of the past. We are able to move from surviving to thriving as we allow what is here to be here, without judgment. We can then allow what is outside of the light of our awareness to be illuminated, from darkness into light.
May you remain calm and curious throughout the darkness and know that just as the day follows night, the light will eventually shine again.
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