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Filtering by Category: Body-Based Therapy

Mindful Compassion for a Healthier Social System

Scott Lilleston

It’s important to realize how much our economics, politics, business models, social media, entertainment, and education systems influence our minds. For better or worse, our individual lives are always intertwined with a greater collective system.

Our social system conditions  us to behave in particular ways. Unfortunately, this very patterning can trap us to conform to certain norms that aren’t within our own value system. In this way, we may end up feeling disempowered and out of control.

In Western society, the drive to consume and achieve individual sovereignty, rather than work towards collective goals, tends to be overdeveloped. In many ways, this leads to feelings of dis-ease, stress and isolation. Our innate drive for social connectedness and well-being can often take a back seat.

Understanding our emotion driven tendencies in the context of these systems empowers us to “get to know ourselves” so that we can operate more consciously and relate to one another better.

Consider our enormous drive to be accepted, approved of, valued, esteemed, desired, wanted, and loved; and on the other hand, to avoid being criticized, shamed, rejected, or forgotten. For the majority of us, social drives and needs are at the core of our sense of self. These are what motivate us.

As social creatures, we love to do things together; to become a “we” and not just a “me.” Forming groups that share interests and values is very important to develop a sense of security and belonging. Naturally, there is a downside to groups as well. Groups can become aggressive, competitive, and exclusive. The tendency to easily form into groups and then be aggressive toward “non-group” people is a dangerous bias. Evolution, after all, has designed our brains to be sensitive towards those who are a part of our group, and push away those who are not.

The key question is: Are we happy to just do what our brains seem to tell us to do?

Once we recognize that we do have the power of choice, we can begin to apply mindful compassion to work against that bias in order to genuinely live a more inclusive and gratifying life. Mindful compassion allows us to more clearly see where we get “caught” in life by pre-existing social systems that we don’t agree with. It is about seeking the truth of how we create suffering within our own minds and thus the suffering of the social systems we live in.

When we become wiser about our own suffering we can then begin to alleviate and prevent it in oneself and others.

When we lack mindfulness and compassion, we simply go along with society’s norms, because this is what our mind is driven to do. By applying mindful compassion we move from working only for personal benefit to considering the greater collective.

It is absolutely critical, however, that compassion is employed simultaneous to mindfulness because it allows us to deeply understand the trap. In this way, we can begin to courageously build the kind of society we want our children and grandchildren to grow up in.

Scheduling Solitude

Scott Lilleston

Our culture tends to view solitude as negative.

Solitude often carries a social stigma that implies isolation and loneliness. But solitude isn’t the same as isolation. The perceived sense of isolation seems to imply that being on one’s own is not a choice, but rather a character weakness when an individual disengages socially. Of course there are times when people experience social anxiety and feel withdrawn. But solitude is quite different. It’s an active choice to retreat inwards to restore from the activity of the world.

Unlike solitude, loneliness implies that you feel as if something is missing and you need it in order to feel secure and happy. States of loneliness can actually lead to panic attacks or depression, because there is often a void in a person’s life that can create an existential threat.

Loneliness is typically a triggering experience, such as a reminder of abandonment. Solitude, usually generates a sense of peace. Although learning to explore solitude may be scary for some in the beginning, it will most likely serve as a cornerstone for relaxation and development.

Solitude suggests peacefulness stemming from a state of inner richness. It is a means of enjoying the quiet and whatever it brings that is satisfying and from which we draw sustenance. It is something we cultivate. Solitude is refreshing; an opportunity to renew ourselves. In other words, it replenishes us.

Solitude is something you choose.

We all need periods of solitude, although temperamentally we probably differ in the amount we need. Some solitude is essential; It gives us time to explore and know ourselves. It is the necessary counterpoint to intimacy, what allows us to have a self worthy of sharing. Solitude gives us a chance to regain perspective. It renews us for the challenges of life. It allows us to get (back) into the position of driving our own lives, rather than having them run by schedules and demands from without.

Solitude restores body and mind.

Taking this type of down time allows us to drop our “social guards.” It is an opportunity to listen to our intuition, make better choices and take advantage of our inner guidance and wisdom. Solitude is an opportunity to see where we are swayed by external influences, such as belief systems, attitudes, and behaviors that make up our social sphere.

Learning how to be alone is essential in knowing what one wants in relationship. It is nearly impossible to have a healthy relationship when one is unable to be alone with him or herself.

The first relationship we must start with is the one we have with ourselves.

I propose that you give yourself the gift of your own time and energy. You are worth it.

In today's connected world, practicing solitude seems to be a lost art. Yet it is essential that we do not forget that solitude is necessary and healthy. The physical and psychological benefits to spending time alone serve as powerful evidence.

A Call to Healing Intergenerational Trauma

Scott Lilleston

That which is overwhelming and incomprehensibly painful in our lives does not disappear if left ignored. Our loved ones carry on all that we cannot. Likewise, we have done the same for the generations before us.

The effects of intergenerational trauma on mental health has become an urgent and compelling topic in the world of mental health these days, and in light of current global affairs, this topic feels more relevant than ever. Intergenerational trauma builds on the idea that what has been overwhelming, unbearable or unthinkable in the past falls out of social discourse. Yet very often, this trauma is passed onto the next generation.

The transmission of trauma may be particular to a family suffering a great loss, or it can show up as a shared response to societal trauma.

How do we carry secret stories from before our lifetimes?

The primary task of transmission is to resist disassociating from the family heritage and bring the story into social discourse. When stories of trauma remain as unconscious cues, anxiety is inherited through stories.

We might play out intergenerational trauma in our behavior, character, and relationship patterns. Trauma may reveal itself in mental or physical illness. Working to discover transmission means coming to know and tell a larger narrative of our family, one from the preceding generation. It requires close listening to the stories of our parents and grandparents, with special attention to the social and historical context in which they lived.

As a therapist, I feel that it is important to explore the ways in which our current lives are impacted by the events that our ancestors experienced. This is essential to the development of our values, because these often determine the answers to big questions such as: “Who am I?” and “Who am I to my family?”

As one navigates this precarious terrain of intergenerational transmission, it can feel like a painful process of separation. For many it might become an identity crisis as one breaks an emotional chain of intergenerational trauma. Piercing through the transmission means potentially ending a life defined by past traumas, behavior and belief systems.

Yet in order to break these destructive and painful patterns, we must take up the call to heal.

The child bears the burden of what the parent could not. The child, however, when given the tools and resources, has the choice of whether or not to author his or her own experience like previous generations.

By drawing trauma out of the shadows of generations and into the light, it is possible for past injuries to be healed so that future generations can be freed of the painful and destructive burden.

Leave No Wake: Listen to Your Body to Increase Emotional Intelligence

Higher Practice

The body will give you all the signals you need to get what you want if you know how to listen to it…

Have you ever considered that the knot in your stomach on your drive to work may be a signal that you’re no longer passionate about your job?

Or that a constant flutter in your heart when you are spending time with a new romantic interest means there might be serious long-term possibilities ahead?

Listening to these sensations that arise in your body, and the underlying feelings that they signal, will allow you to tune in to your emotions and the wisdom they are trying to convey.

Imagine that you have arrived at a house for a party. A new friend invited you, and you are eager to get to know this person better to see how this friendship will develop. After spending an hour or so at the party, your new friend has not approached you and your having trouble trying to enter a conversation with them, because they are preoccupied with other people.

Your heart starts to beats faster and faster. Your thoughts pick up speed. You begin to wonder if you misread social cues. You feel trapped. Should you go over and say hello? Is there anyone else to talk to? Should you leave? Is it silly to feel jealous over a new friendship? Does this person not care about you? Feelings of sadness, confusion and disorientation overtake you.

What do you do?

Think of emotion as a combination of three forces that come together at once. This includes your nervous system, your endocrine system, and your environment. Our brain begins to scan our environment to detect  facial expressions and body language. We draw upon memories as reference points in order to infer meaning about our current situation based on past experience. Our body facilitates an interconnected series of sensations and thoughts that we call emotions.

This is where “emotional intelligence” and awareness of the body come into play. Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand the needs and feelings of oneself and other people, to manage one’s feelings effectively, and respond to others in appropriate ways.

As we increase our awareness of how sensations signal certain thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, we develop emotional intelligence and the ability to work with our mind. As your emotional intelligence increases, you have more freedom to make choices from a grounded and less triggered place.

The primary skill that I encourage my clients to develop in order to increase emotional intelligence is awareness of the body and how certain reactions play out through sensation. This awareness cultivates our ability to live in the present rather than ruminating on events of the past or fears of the future. It is easy to jump to conclusions based upon our interpretations of our experience. Rather than quickly reacting to the situation, we can take a moment to intentionally slow down and fully perceive what’s happening through all of the senses.

Another benefit of emotional intelligence, is an increasing awareness of how our actions and speech impact the world. Like tuning a guitar, you will find yourself more harmonized with your environment and the people around you. You will learn how to speak and behave in ways that are more genuine and clear.
Listening to your body and developing emotional intelligence will increase your ability to achieve your desires, live in a state of balance and have meaningful relationships. This is not a skill set that is generally taught to us or encouraged by society. But some of the best things in life are often things you have to discover on your own.

How to Be Your Own Best Guide

Higher Practice

It’s clear that inviting emotional, physical, spiritual, and psychological support into your life is essential. It’s kind of common sense that we all need support from others. But science backs this up too. As humans, we are relational creatures that need the support of community in order to feel balanced and healthy.

Yet, there is a belief that I have observed over and over again in my clients--myself included, at times--where we think that when it comes to our own self-care, we are on our own.

Usually a high degree of fear and shame drives this belief. Many people are embarrassed by the fact that they need or want help. Asking for and receiving help from others in our society is often seen as a sign of weakness. And we are trained that if we get help, we are giving our power away to another person in a position of authority.

Asking for support from others has nothing to do with handing over your own sense of authority.

I believe it’s just the opposite. When we rely on others—both professionally and personally—we discover a new strength. This strength comes from allowing yourself to be vulnerable and willing to be transparent in a way you never have before. This takes courage, strength, and flexibility. Hardly the traits of a disempowered person.

By taking charge of your growth in this way, you become more adept at knowing which reflections, comments, and ideas resonate with you. When you are able to stay connected to yourself while receiving someone else’s help you can also let go of anything that just doesn't make sense or support your growth.

In this way, you become your own authority, even though you are working with a professional in a position of authority who can help you.

Having professionals on your team of support is critical since they not only offer the expertise from years of training, but they bring the experience of practicing their healing art every day to the table. Their skills, perspectives, and depth of experience is irreplaceable.

Recognizing the value of their support and then asking for it is a huge step on the healing journey. It’s actually very empowering.

When the timing is right and you feel inspired to get help, you become the creative force in charge of your journey of health and growth.

Going to a healthcare professional means that you are hiring them to support you directly as your consultant. Only you know who and what brings you alive.

As your self-care abilities grow stronger, you will begin to trust the professional support in your life more and more. You will know how to ask for feedback and treatments that will be helpful to you. You will recognize that you are in charge and ultimately know best.

Having discernment and self-respect about who you are and where you are on your health journey is important as you share your vulnerabilities with those that you invite onto your team.

Choose people for your team—whether professionals, peers, or family—who have the capacity to hold all of you. This includes your darkness and your light.

They should embrace your complexity, nuance, ups and downs, while also practicing love, gentleness, compassion, and challenge.

How to Ally With Your Mind In a Way You Would Least Expect

Higher Practice

Do you recall as a child, the ease and joy of lying still in the grass as you watched a ladybug skirt across your arm?

Noticing with intent curiosity the sensation on your body as its legs crossed over your skin? Did you notice how pleasurable this felt, this sheer act of paying attention?

Mindfulness, such as maintaining awareness of the sensations of a ladybug on your skin—not only alerts you to the pleasure of a delicate ladybug, but it also trains the mind to focus and develop a sense of stability and strength.

Complete absorption in physical sensations—often so ordinary—allow us to drop from our perpetual thoughts, judgements, fantasies and criticisms, into the sanity and wisdom of our body.

AS A PRACTITIONER OF BODY-CENTERED PSYCHOTHERAPY I AM INSPIRED BY THE MESSAGES OUR BODY HOLDS DEEP IN ITS CELLS.

As we bring attention to sensations in our body—whether it’s a knot in our stomach or the feeling of a light breeze on our skin—we come into more authentic contact with what is true about our experience. We discover that we are not separate from our anger—I might notice, for instance, that anger is a part of who I am, and therefore I must tend to my anger as I would tend to my younger brother or sister, with love and care.

If we treat our emotions as something we must fight, or destroy, we disconnect from our bodies, stew in our thoughts and continually cause more suffering for ourselves. If you cannot be compassionate to yourself, you will not be able to be compassionate to others.

So, what is mindfulness of the body?

Mindfulness of the body is a practice that allows you to see the truth of your current experience—when you are mindful of sensations in the body, you begin to look at things deeply, understanding their true nature so that you are not misled into the confusion of the mind and its sophisticated web of suffering.

Mindfulness is the ability to maintain a gentle yet sustained inward focus of attention. It is the ability to notice, with heightened sensitivity, all that enters your consciousness.

MINDFULNESS OF THE BODY IS ONE OF YOUR GREATEST RESOURCES FOR ACHIEVING HEALTH, HAPPINESS AND FULFILLMENT ACCORDING TO ANCIENT WISDOM TRADITIONS.

So, why is the body so important in this practice?

Our body is where formative memories and beliefs are stored—it is the felt experience of the body that gives you access to this material. Total mindfulness means being completely in tune, being “one with” all of this.

By honestly and clearly attuning with your body--not separating your thinking mind from your sensing experience--you’re able to unwind material from the past that no longer serves you in order to lead a life of more passion and fulfillment. If you are listening closely to the messages your body speaks to you, you begin to discover a sense of purpose and belonging.

LIVING A PASSIONATE AND PURPOSEFUL LIFE REQUIRES ATTENTION AND PRESENCE.

By developing the capacity to continually return your awareness to the present moment—through sensations in the body and by following the breath—the mind is drawn back to itself in a positive way. You will begin to trust this process of returning to yourself over and over again. Before you know it, your mind and body will be in unison and your mind will finally become your greatest ally.

When you are completely in tune and in harmony with your mind, it becomes a relief and a joy to simply be alive. 

In the Temple of Your Own Backyard

Higher Practice

Many of us are familiar with temples as places of quiet, worship, and transcendence. These sacred spaces, found in all cultures and faiths throughout the world—more ancient than recorded history—are essential to the human experience for good reason. Even for those of us who grew up without a particular faith tradition or experience of attending temple or church know that the essence of the temple is stillness.

The temple invites us to cast off the busyness of our ego so that we can access a much deeper and quieter inner voice.

Mary Oliver speaks to this seemingly radical experience of stillness in her poem, Today:

“Today I’m flying low and I’m / not saying a word / I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep. /  The world goes on as it must, / the bees in the garden rumbling a little, / the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten. / And so forth. / But I’m taking the day off. / Quiet as a feather. / I hardly move though really I’m traveling / a terrific distance. / Stillness. One of the doors / into the temple.”

Nature is a doorway into the temple of our own Self. By spending time in nature—whether it is a park, deep in the wilderness of the Rockies, or our own backyard and garden—we allow ourselves the opportunity for quiet reflection just as people have done in physical temples for thousands of years.

Observing plants and the movement of critters, listening to the tune of a birdsong or low hum of insects, paying attention to the colors of a sunset... evoke a sense of stillness in our body, heart and mind. In stillness we return to our Self.

Time in nature beckons a natural state of mindfulness and attention to subtlety. Without technology, other people, and the demands of keeping up with all that we are balancing, we discover how simple and natural it is to drop into a state of profound attention to our internal landscape. As the chatter and noise of the world hushes we become aware of the dialogue unfolding in our own mind.

Drawing upon mindfulness in nature is a powerful marriage of two deeply healing practices.

If you have never experienced nature as a temple for self-discovery, I highly encourage you to begin with a simple five-minute exercise of “seeing” or “hearing” in order to become more in tune with your surroundings. By bringing awareness to your breath, the sensation of the sun, the breeze on your skin, and the sound of birdsong, you you might notice how the mind wants to interpret, become critical and make judgments. Notice how it begins to categorize and criticize elements of the present moment. When you continue to bring your attention to the patterns, shapes, colors, sounds, and movements just as they are, notice your tendency to label things, removing you from the immediacy of the present.

As you do this practice over and over, you will find that you can become more comfortable resting in the present where you can fully receive the natural world around you. In this space, you will begin to discover a reality that was previously hidden and more of who you truly are.

As Dorothy says in The Wizard of Oz: “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.”