Our felt sense is so incredibly powerful to our healing and growth. Insight and reflection can help, of course, but the bodies experience of our reflections and insight are key to integration and re-wiring the brain and nervous system.
Next time you find yourself in reflection or analysis of an issue/experience, I invite you to drop into your body and observe your overall felt sense ... What sensations are you aware of in your body? How's the quality of your breath? Bring curiosity to your posture and body position (are you slumped forward, caved in, holding yourself/crossing your arms, sitting up-right, relaxed, numb, etc.?) Track any desire to move in a certain way and then I invite you to act on that desire or if you prefer, just imagine acting on the desire.
I invite you to take a few breaths after this exercise and if there's room, add some length to your exhale to help bring the nervous system to rest and digest, where we feel safe and in the moment. This is the space from within where we think more clearly and make decisions that are based on our response to the moment vs. a reaction from the past (often times subconsciously).
This is integration. Being able to experience both out thoughts/reflections while simultaneously experiencing our bodies response to said thoughts/reflections.
We all have one, the infamous Inner Critic. Many of us think the way to overcome this is to get rid of it all together or to ignore it and do anything to shut it out of our minds. I have learned that by pushing it away we simply make it stronger and sometimes even end up in a mental war between the inner critic thoughts and the part of us trying to convince ourselves otherwise. This is exhausting and to be honest, not sustainable.
What if we learned to be curious about the Inner Critic and see it as a part of us that's there to try to teach us something and maybe even there as a way to protect us.
Research says that if we build a relationship of curiosity with our Inner Critic and learn about it in the way we would when meeting a new person, we end up feeling more integrated, less anxious and more productive. The goal is for the Inner Critic to become background noise, which provides us the opportunity to step back and observe the voice, and how it may be serving us in the here and now vs. fighting it and taking ourselves out of the present moment. When we bring a sense of curiosity to the voice, we're able to dis-identify with it and therefore, use to when it's helpful and set it aside when we discern that it is not serving us in the moment.
So how do we build a relationship with the Inner Critic based on curiosity? Here are some steps to help create the shift:
1. Name it. "Hello Inner Critic (or whatever you choose to name it). I hear you. I'm aware of your presence in this moment. Thank you for showing up to protect me."
2. Be curious. Learn about it's function: how long it's been there, when it was born, who's voice it's taken on (e.g. is this how someone else has spoken to you before?), what it looks like, how it feels in your body (e.g. tight chest, shallow breath, disconnection from body, tension, etc.)
3. Address it's needs. What does it want, what are it's fears, how can we ease it's fears in a more functional way?
4. Look at the role of negative beliefs. What are the beliefs that the Inner Critic believes and tells us to be true? Do I think them to be true when I look at them? Again, be curious.
5. Be patient. Our relationship with our Inner Critic doesn't change overnight. Many of us have lived with it since we were young children. Remember, progress over perfection. Remember, the goal is to not get rid of it but to face it and discern it from our own thoughts and beliefs and explore it's presence with curiosity and compassion.
A favorite writer of mine recently wrote, "Where do good decisions come from? A calm mind" - Yung Pueblo
So how do we calm our mind when we are experiencing a chaotic internal storm? IT sounds so simple but as we all know (if we're being honest with ourselves) this is not always easy. Here are three ways to get out of your head and into the present moment, providing a more secure and calm internal state.
1. Notice how your body is breathing for you. By simply doing this, we are moving into a different part of our brain and being the observer of our experience vs. consumed by it. Next, if you want, maybe see what it feels like to hyper-focus on your exhale. Feel free to just do this or if you want to experiment a little more, maybe see if you can start to add length to your exhale. Try this: Inhale (4 counts); exhale (6 counts). Notice what, if anything, feels different.
2. Scan your body with your breath and notice what parts of you feel supported. Start by noticing your back again the chair or couch that you're sitting on. Or maybe your feet being supported by the ground. Or maybe placing your palms on top of your thighs and feel the weight/temperature of your hands on your body. Try to focus on these parts of your body for a few moments and reflect on how your body is experiencing this support.
3. Notice three things in your environment that you find interesting or evoke curiosity. Describe these objects to yourself in great detail. Notice how curiosity feels in your body. Notice if your breath shifts at all when you're in this state. When we're curious or interested in something, our body is in rest and digest mode vs. fight/flight/freeze. We tend to feel more grounded and stable when we're in this state.
All of these tools are ways to intercept the challenging or stuck thought patterns and drop into the moment throughway of our environment and/or our bodies. These are bottom-up approaches that work directly with our nervous system, which helps bring our nervous system to a calm state vs. a state of threat.
As humans we tend to have this need to just know the answers. We are uncomfortable with the unknown and with uncertainty or grey areas in our life. Being in this space can actually feel threatening and terrifying to our sense of self and well-being. Unfortunately, as humans, we also have to accept that knowing is not always an option for us. If we don't accept that sometimes we simply don't know, we fight a very natural way of being - in the unknown. When we think we need to know something right then and there and try to force the knowing, we might ignite a fight/flight/freeze response. And when we're internally in this space, we will not be able to come to a place of knowing because our bodies are just trying to survive.
What brings on clarity and deeper knowing is when our bodies are in a state of rest and digest. When we are here, we feel safe. When we feel safe, we can be curious about ourselves and people/things around us - including the unknown.
I have worked on this very issue of learning how to become comfortable with the uncomfortable with myself and clients for years. Here are steps that might be helpful to increasing your sense of curiosity in then moment:
If you want to be guided through this meditation, check out my Resource page for the recording (download to be able to listen anywhere) or visit my YouTube Channel for a free recording.