On Monday I had the honor of sharing some favorite meditation practices during a workshop on the Neuroscience of Resilience with an engaged group of job-seekers. When we are in times of transition or challenge, being able to engage our parasympathetic nervous system to calm the body is key. We can bring a sense of equanimity and balance to decisions and actions we take.
The group was excellent. They participated readily, brought their perspectives into the room and asked great questions. I really enjoyed pulling together the presentation and materials for this session. I had in mind the struggle of being between jobs and careers, and I know this can be a place of uncertainty and stress. It can also be a place of discovery and growth, should we choose to embrace that side of the process.
It takes self-compassion to remain resilient in the face of challenges or struggles. Those of us who have harsh inner critics can feel as though we need to “reprogram” ourselves in a way. Self-criticism can be so habitual that it feels automatic. But when we access that higher self, that inner mentor, and allow ourselves some kindness, paradoxically we find it easier to take actions and move forward.
This group is able to tap the resources of Career Partners International, so they are fortunate to have support during their transition. I hope I was able to add to their toolkit of resources to help them along the journey. What a great privilege it is to be able to share on a topic I have studied for so many years for my own benefit, and on behalf of the teams I have led.
This is an edited post originally written in April 2018. It is even more relevant as I learn to embody these concepts through soma yoga, and coach using somatic awareness as a tool for accessing inner wisdom.
One of my favorite meditations from Insight Timer is by Anna Guest-Jelly called “May I Know What I Know.” It involves a body scan in which we are moved through body starting with the feet, and moving through each region. After the exercise, we consider if there are any places we could not feel, that may have been “offline” from our awareness, so to speak.
The more I practice this body awareness and deliberately tune into places in the body that may be mysterious, the more I tune into my emotions. Sometimes I realize why there are “frozen” parts – those emotions may be difficult ones, like grief or anger.
I am still learning to feel those emotions all the way through, and sit with them without trying to escape. It is an exercise in compassion and patience to realize I have habitually escaped those feelings, or pushed them under with distraction, food, or other buffers (like busy-ness or overwork) rather than to be still with them.
Now that I realize these feelings are an important emotional compass, I have begun to “invite myself back” more often. I tune into that channel – my gut, my shoulders, my back, sometimes my lower spine, when they are trying to tell me something. Rather than get lost in thought, and spinning mental energy, I aim to come back to the body, invite my whole self back.
This tendency to abandon the body and thus abandon ourselves is promoted by our culture. Feeling our emotions and tuning into our intuition often dismissed. But as I do it more, I acknowledge the many times when I have buried my own desires in favor of pleasing other people.
Women are well-conditioned to attend to others’ needs. We take care of partners, children, bosses, teammates, even parents sometimes. But we do not always attend to our own bodies, our own yearnings. I inadvertently learned (from family and culture) that I should ignore my own needs in favor of taking care of others. This abandonment does not serve us long-term though.
Even the airlines tell us to put on our own mask before helping others. Inviting ourselves back can feel like a radical act of rebellion for women. Patriarchy demands we attend to the comfort of our family members, remain small and and of service, never demanding anything for ourselves. And yes, I think it is patriarchy that promotes this idea of the “good daughter” and it is one we must dismantle.
When we invite ourselves back, we ground ourselves in our truth. We allow ourselves to live in greater harmony with nature, and with our bodies. We begin to understand the connected nature of all people, of all parts of the universe. We feel compassion for ourselves and for others in their struggles. We make different choices that are more sustainable for ourselves. We serve others with a spirit of generosity rather than resentment.
Inviting ourselves back means we set appropriate boundaries. We say no to things that do not align with our purpose or intention. That can be very hard for those of us who were trained to say “yes” to everything we are asked to do. We can be perceived as “uppity” or trouble-makers, or not those nice girls we used to be.
It is a daily practice, inviting ourselves back. It does not simply happen one day, and then all things change. It is a conscious choice, a habit that grows easier with regular practice. If we want to make sustainable change in the world, I believe it is non-negotiable. The world needs our whole and integrated selves. Our souls call for this as well.
Consider inviting yourself back today. Center on what your body is telling you. See what emerges as you learn to pay attention in this way.
A potential client gave me a topic idea that I am exploring to create a workshop. I realized I have 10+ books on my bookshelf about the neuroscience of resilience. Kind of crazy when you get to create presentations on topics that you’ve been studying for years just out of your own personal interest!
So in readying myself to organize the outline I wanted to share a few thoughts here as I work on that. I am hoping to partner with a yoga teacher I know in order to create some practices that people can implement on the spot as part of the workshop.
As a person who has struggled with anxiety and depression in my past (and have come through a recent decade of robust mental health) I believe my experience can be helpful to others. I have read so many great books on this topic and will list some favorites here (this doubles as my bibliography for the session).
The Chemistry of Calm by Henry Emmons, M.D. (2010) – especially Chapter 3 on the Roots of Resilience. This whole book is a gem for anyone who has ever suffered anxiety.
This latter book was referred to me by a kind Employee Assistance Program (EAP) counselor for whom I am still grateful. He identified the hidden grief I was processing back in 2010. If it weren’t for him, I might have lost my job since I had been put on a performance improvement plan (giving only 90% at work instead of the 110% I customarily give).
The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W. (2010) – especially Guideposts #2 and #3 on Cultivating Self-Compassion and Cultivating a Resilient Spirit.
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D. (2014) – this book again brought me to yoga in its explanations of the physical mechanisms that keep trauma “locked” in the body (both physical and mental).
Overworked and Overwhelmed: the mindfulness alternative by Scott Eblin (2014) – I heard the author speak at a leadership event for my company and I knew he had important messages for me. Scott tells a powerful journey of his diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis and the steps he takes to manage it. He actually became a yoga teacher in order to teach some of the things he was learning to take good care of his body. Another inspiration for me.
Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain and Body by Daniel Goleman, PhD, and Richard J Davidson, PhD (2017). I knew meditation was starting to have an effect on me when I made a commitment to practice in February of 2017. This was the evidence I was looking for, that thoroughly reviewed the science behind how these practices change not only our current state but also our gene expression.
My premise is that human beings are (by nature) resilient. AND there are things we can do throughout our lifetimes to increase our own resilience in the face of difficult times.
I have many more. These are the ones that were top-of-mind as I scanned the shelves to work on my course outline. I will have WAY more than material than I can cover in a 2-hour session, but I can always hand out a reading list of suggested resources for those interested.
There is powerful energy created when women with similar journeys and struggles connect and share stories with each other. It is a combination of relief and joy when we realize we are not alone.
I witnessed this in my learning circle on Monday night, and I was inspired to consider how fascinating it is that we connected, and all of our commonalities. I am also pondering how best to facilitate some practices that can help us stay grounded and centered along the journey.
Of course, y’all know I’m an evangelist for meditation and yoga, so we will explore some simple practices that I have found to be particularly helpful. I am also requesting that they commit to some small daily action, with the support of the group, to help build and maintain their ability to show up at their best, at home, work or in the community.
Since this is the first time I have offered this series, we will see where it goes. But for now, I am so honored and grateful that these amazing women have elected to join me in staying open to learning practices that will support their growth.
I found myself with a little extra time yesterday between commitments. I took advantage of the time to meditate for a bit. It got me wondering about “thought cascades” and the way in which our minds work.
Thoughts appear during meditation, like bubbles. Jon Kabat-Zinn called them in one of his meditations “secretions of the mind.” They just float or bubble up. We don’t need to get rid of them or feel frustrated that they keep coming. We just need to notice them.
One thought leads to another…and another…and another. Really the mind can be quite tedious when we observe it. “Why can’t it take a damn rest?” I wonder, but this is typically when I am trying to get to sleep. I am a lot more compassionate with myself during my daytime meditations, apparently.
Thought cascades tend to produce certain emotional states as well. If we find ourselves ruminating on a problem, or a stressful situation, we bring ourselves back to the breath and the sensations in our bodies. I often notice my shoulders have tightened up or my jaw is clenched. I did not used to notice that.It took pairing yoga with meditation for me to understand it.
On Monday I had an interview for a new contract that excites me. I tried to notice my thought cascades during the interview and afterward. I realized my mind creates a trail of expectations, assumptions and details, making up stories freely as it tumbles along. At least I know from Dr. Brené Brown’s work that this is perfectly normal. In fact, our brains reward us with dopamine as soon as we “tell” an internal story, whether or not it is actually true.
This is why meditation has become such an important daily practice for me. For over two years, I have spent at least 5 minutes a day on this practice. Actually for the past year, it was much more than that, but I started small to make it do-able.
Thought cascades for someone with particular neuro-diverse conditions can be especially problematic. Most people seem to have “brakes” for ruminative thought loops. Not everyone’s neuro-chemistry supports this easy compartmentalization. What is amazing is that focus can be built and nurtured, even for people like me! Meditation is a tool for doing that.
Now the cascades are quiet and flowing. Sometimes they are turbulent and rushing. Every time I bring myself back INTO my body, feel the aliveness in my hands, my feet or my heart, thoughts slow down and the volume descends. There is no greater gift than being able to dial it all down when needed.