Posts Tagged ‘peace’

Roberta Baker Veiled Woman with Spirit

Roberta Baker
Veiled Woman with Spirit

I have become increasingly aware over the last month or two of just how terrible I am about self compassion. I was better about it for a bit towards the beginning of getting serious about the mindfulness meditation, but then it seemed as though the internal directive to treat myself harshly redoubled and I was harsher than ever, when I most needed to be kind.

Last week, while I was searching for MP3 recordings of mindfulness meditations to download onto my phone, I stumbled across an audio training program of 6 sessions on mindfulness and self compassion. It’s called “Self Compassion, Step by Step” and it’s by Kristin Neff. It combines some “lectures”, exercises that are designed to demonstrate what she is talking about, and meditations to put it into practice. Dr. Neff comes across as being gentle, compassionate, and genuinely wanting for the listener to benefit from learning how to be more self compassionate. Based on the first 2 sessions, I highly recommend it, if you are at a point where you feel like it is right for you to work on mindfulness and self compassion. You can get the series either through her web site or via Amazon.

I find that I have to take the series in measured doses, because it has a real impact on me. I’ll listen to a session or part of a session, wait a day or more for my system to process what I have heard and practiced and then listen to the next. Tonight I listened to the end of the session on Loving Kindness and I found that it reached deep inside of me. (As I understand it, compassion is being with the self or other in you or another’s suffering, while loving kindness is about being with the self or other and wishing good things for yourself or them.)

When it got to the meditative practice, she had the listener first imagine a being (person, animal) that the listener has very positive feelings towards (I used my daughter) and imagine saying, “May you be safe. May you have peace. May you have health. May you live with ease.” Then the listener transitions to sitting with the other and including both parties: “May we be safe. Etc..” Finally the listener transitions to “thanking the other and letting them go” and just practicing the loving kindness on herself. “May I be safe. May I have peace. May I have health. May I live with ease.”

This is where things got very intense for me. It was like most of my energy was focused into the “may I have peace” portion of the mantra. The others still mattered, but they were more at the surface, while I could feel the section on peace being drawn deep inside. It was like I could feel it flowing and swirling around and between my different parts, going deeper and deeper and it suddenly became clear to me what a profound lack of peace I have lived with my whole life. I have been able to find periods of happiness and I am establishing more and more safety, but peace? No peace. How can there be peace when at some level I am always managing the trauma reactions?

“May I have peace.” As I felt this part of the mantra swirling down among my parts, bathing them in something soothing, I started to cry. Sometimes crying hurts, but this time it didn’t. It didn’t really “feel good” either, because it was deeply felt and deeply connected to a painful place, but as the tears ran down my face and fell onto my hands held over my abdomen (where is seems that my most vulnerable parts shelter), it was as if they were being offered as another soothing balm to all of me that has felt the never ending acid of being betrayed and hurt by those who should have protected me. There is no peace when I try to believe what I was raised to believe: the sky is green and the grass is blue. Such craziness only leaves me with a sense of everything being wrong for now and always. But today, I realized that I can wish for peace for myself. I can work towards that peace.

So after the meditation ended, I mentally “wrapped” myself in a blanket of caring and “sank” into the wish for peace for all of me. All of the traumatized parts. All of the aspects of me that struggle to cope- no matter how badly they botch the job sometimes. The me that is afraid to feel the pain of life. The me that tries to pull it all together. Every bit of me that is so thirsty for peace.

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Kate Themel Weighing Options

Kate Themel
Weighing Options

I mentioned in Trust in the Therapeutic Relationship- Part 3 that my willingness to explore my anger with Mama Bear allowed me to access the rage that I feel towards my mother for not protecting me. I have been choking on that bottled up anger for a couple of weeks and just hadn’t been able to express it. Every time I started to, I would get caught up in a need to be “reasonable” in regards to my mom.

When I finally began to access and express the emotions in session, the feelings were overwhelmingly intense and raw. I felt as though I was simultaneously being ripped apart by the emotions and that I was still struggling to retain control of what I was feeling and expressing. I sobbed, doubled up in a painful ball, while Mama Bear acknowledged the intensity of my rage and pain and sat with me in support and as witness.

Eventually, the intensity eased and Mama Bear asked if we could take a step back from my rage at my mother and make sure that we had addressed all of the issues related to my anger at her, so I could leave the session feeling connected to her, rather than at odds with her. I found myself shaking my head, and she asked, “You aren’t ready to move away from dealing with your mother, are you?” I started to shake with intensity again and I knew that I desperately needed to say something that I have been keeping trapped inside.

“What is it, C?”

“I need to say something.”

I struggled to get the words out and Mama Bear gently said, “Just say it.”

It was like a dam burst and the words were half way torn out and half way pushed past terrible resistance. “How the hell could my mother keep on sending me to my grandfather?!? He was raping me with things!! She was supposed to protect me!!!” As I halfway yelled this out, in anguish, I cried, but then to my surprise I found myself calming after I finally got the words and attached emotion out. I kept on waiting for more explosive emotions, but instead I found myself falling into a state of almost relaxation. It was as if I had fought a battle and I knew that I had won it for the moment and didn’t need to fight anymore right then. I had managed to speak my truth out loud and nothing bad had happened. In fact, I felt safer than I had in awhile. For the time, the battle inside was quiet.

As I sat there, pondering over what I was experiencing inside, I had a huge change in perspective. I looked up at Mama Bear and said in wonder, “It really was her job to protect me.” That thought lifted a heavy weight off of my shoulders. Yes, it really was my mother’s job to protect me, not mine to protect her.

Over the next few hours, I thought about the session and in particular that portion of the session. I considered the terrible pressure and distress that I often feel when I am trying to “protect” my mother from my emotions and the blame that I place on her. The conflict and resulting self blame just about make me sick. I then contrasted it with the sense of peace and relaxation that I felt after I allowed myself to express some of my truth out loud and I realized that I am harming myself in an attempt to shield the mother in my mind from my truth. This harm doesn’t only affect me, it also affects my husband and daughter, because it keeps me from being fully present with them. It has to stop. Whether or not I really needed to, I believed that I needed to protect my mother from some unpleasant realities when I was young. The chance of my being abandoned was too terrifying to risk, because she was my only safety in a world where other people hurt me badly. But my mother no longer is my safety. In fact, the way that I have things set up right now, I am getting very little that is positive out of our relationship. My safety in the now comes from my taking care of myself and the support that I receive from those around me. So I need to take care of myself. I need to stop harming myself by trying to take care of my mother.

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I have always loved the ocean.  Some of my earliest memories are of being at the beach with my mother.  My family was poor at the time, but we lived within biking distance of the beach and it was free and made us happy, so she would take me there regularly.  Living in a warm climate, we were able to go to the beach year round.  I loved to do all of the things that a young child does at the beach- play in the sand, drag around kelp strands, look for seashells, and paddle in the water.  And being there day after day lodged a connection to the ocean deep in my soul.

Even though we moved around, the first 18 years of my life were spent living within 10 miles of the ocean.  And I grew to love it more and more.  There are years when all of my joyful memories seem to be centered around the ocean and I realize now that my time there helped me to develop as a person.  I spent many, many days covered in sand and swimming in the ocean.  When I was 10 or 11, I learned to jump off of sea cliffs.  Now the ones that I jumped off were only about 10 feet high or so, but for a 10 year old, it was a huge feat of courage.  I was able to experience my body as being strong and capable as I grew more and more skillful at swimming in the ocean.  I learned to snorkel and I felt so at peace and happy, swimming out in the reefs with my friends, and experiencing myself as being a part of a greater wholeness with the water, the sun, the wind, the reefs, the fish, and the other ocean animals.

However, spending so much time in the ocean, from an early age, I learned to have great respect for it.  Even when it is fairly calm, I still won’t turn my back on the ocean, because I once saw an unexpectedly large wave knock my mother over and drag her across the reef, leaving her badly cut up.  I can see, though, that it was confidence building to learn how to deal with something that is potentially so dangerous.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to live near to the ocean for most of my adult life, and after 6 months or a year of not seeing it I start to crave contact with it.  Not in an active sort of a way, but more like a low level ache of something important being missing.  And then every time I am able to go back, there is a sense of homecoming and I can feel my soul being filled up.  Over the years, almost all of our vacations have involved either the mountains or the ocean.  I couldn’t say which I love more, however I have some memories of the ocean that will always bring a smile to me.  On 3 different occasions, I have had the unforgettable experience of swimming in the ocean with wild dolphins.  It was such a gift to have them voluntarily either stay close enough for me to see them in the very clear water and hear their clicks, or even to have them approach and swim around me.

To my satisfaction, we did live fairly near to the ocean for a period of 3 years, while my daughter was younger.  It was about a 40 minute drive to the beaches that we frequented, but I made it as often as I could.  I was delighted to find that my little girl had an instant and intense connection to the ocean, as well.  I had a hard time keeping her out of the water, even when it was cold enough so that her lips would turn blue. I would hold her on my lap wrapped in a towel while she shivered until she had warmed up enough so that she could jump up and dash back for another round of ocean play.  I loved to watch her while she jumped over or ran away from the waves, splashed as hard as she could, threw balls for the dogs at the beach into the surf, and started to learn to swim in the ocean.  My memories of these trips seem to sparkle like the sunlight dancing over the waves.  It gave me so much joy to be with her while she came to love the ocean as much as I do.

As much fun as it was to take my daughter to play at the beach, I believe that I actually valued my time alone with the ocean most of all.  I was fortunate enough to work in a location that allowed me to walk to the ocean and spend time with it during my lunch break.  The location wasn’t completely isolated, but that part of the beach was fairly difficult to access, because you could only reach it via a steep path down the cliffs, which left the beach largely empty.  When I was hurting or otherwise stressed, I would walk down and sit on the beach.  It felt like I could open myself to the ocean which was large enough so to absorb all of the pain that I had in my soul.  I imagined the emotional poison all draining out of me, running down the beach, and disappearing into the ocean.  In its place, I then would fill my soul with peace and strength.  While I wasn’t thinking of it that way at the time, it was the place that I would go to in order to become grounded again.  Sometimes I wept and I would come away feeling lighter.  Sometimes the tears could not come, but at least I would feel calmer and more confident that, somehow, things would work out.

So now, one of the methods that I use to remind myself that I am in this time is to think of one of my happiest times at the ocean as an adult.  My daughter, my husband, and my dog are all in the memory, reminding me of my connection with the people I love most and an animal who also had a special place in my heart.  And when I remember to, it allows me to reach out for a source of strength, peace, and well being.

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