I was wide awake and sure it was time to get up so I checked my phone and she told me it was only 2:51am. My awakening was hand-in-hand with an internal cortisol-related rant about someone else being wrong. Cortisol wakes us up – one of the reasons it’s hard to sleep when we’re anxious. Our system can’t both invite us to shut down and protect us from danger at the same time.
I was disappointed that it wasn’t time to get up and distract myself with my morning coffee – I’d just have to lay in bed with the rants. I started to feed them, to entertain them, to invite them in for a hot drink and snacks, because they were so compelling. I was drawn to their promises of validation, victory and virtuosity.
But then, maybe because it was the middle of the night and I really wanted to go back to sleep, a little wedge of mindfulness inserted itself and said, “Hey, you’re getting sucked into an internal drama … again … and this approach hasn’t successfully resolved this issue in the past, so it won’t resolve itself now, at 2:51am (probably 3:00am by this time). Fortunately I agreed with myself and started to do something else.
I first turned to a Mindful Self-Compassion practice called “Meeting Unmet Needs” which starts by validating anger, then validating the soft emotions underneath the anger, then uncovering the unmet needs underneath those soft feelings, then invites our inner compassionate voice to meet those needs directly. I could validate the anger and quite easily get in touch with the soft emotions of abandonment underneath. The unmet needs were to be seen and heard and respected.
Then my practice moved to a Somatic Self-Compassion practice called Belly Heart Head Wisdom for a Dilemma where we check in with each of these three sources of wisdom. Meeting Unmet Needs feels as if it starts at a place of “high” emotion (anger) then moves down to a place of more grounded emotion (abandonment) then almost underground to the things that we need to feed our roots (to be seen, heard and respected). Belly Heart Head, on the other hand, can start from a grounded place (the belly) and then move upward through our heart and head wisdom.
When I checked in with my belly, she was very clear about what I needed to do, and that was to remove myself from the situation that made me feel unseen and unheard. She had no doubts about that. “Quit!” she yelled at me. I moved up to see what wisdom came from my heart area, and what she was doing was trying to adjust to accommodate not listening to my belly because I hadn’t decided take belly’s advice to quit. Heart was feeling the emotions of abandonment that came with not quitting as advised. When I moved up to my head, she also was adapting to my ignoring of my belly’s advice and she was in rumination around anger and who said what and what I was going to say and all the rest, etc, etc (you probably know how that goes).
Extreme survivalist, Ed Stafford, talks about how folks who are still in touch with ancient wisdom know that our main source of wisdom is our belly, and that our heart and our head are in service of that main font of knowledge. Our belly offers the base wisdom, our heart adds an emotional piece to support that base wisdom, and our head adds in some creativity around how to act on that base wisdom. My system was getting in touch with what it feels like to ignore the base wisdom – a bunch of internal acrobatics that could be avoided. When my base wisdom of core values and sense of purpose is ignored, I create heartache and headaches for myself.
I feel back to sleep feeling somewhat more enlightened by my head, heart, belly discoveries, and then as if to bring it home, my dreams did some follow-up work. I dreamed I was by a railway track surrounded by a lot of people and some kind of vehicle was moving very fast down the railway track. I was afraid that people wouldn’t see it coming so fast, and even as I was having that fear, I was horrified to see the vehicle run into a child. My immediate gut response was “You are not equipped to handle the aftermath of this tragedy” and I turned away from the scene before I saw any more than a few seconds of the accident. Other parts of my system might have urged me to go and help out, out of a sense of duty, but I knew that there were plenty of other people there to help out, and I also knew the emotional and psychological toll it would take on me to be involved. My gut was protecting me.
In my dream I made my way back to my expensive room at a retreat center to find a group of elder women had moved in to it to watch a religious documentary. My head me told me that I couldn’t be so bold as to kick these women out of my room (because that would make me a bad person), but my belly and heart knew I needed to set a boundary. So I asked the women to find another room seeing as I had paid for this one and I needed to rest. They took their own sweet time, and I needed to keep reminding them by continually moving the furniture, but they eventually left. I had successfully set a boundary.
My belly is in no doubt about where my boundaries are, be it in choosing which tragedies to try to integrate or in inviting other people (even elders) out of my sacred space. As I lay in bed at 5:56am (a much better time for waking) I reflected on how it might be if I always went with the wisdom of my belly – how different my decisions and my whole life might be. Belly might be clear, but my heart holds fear and memories of loss of love and she can override belly. And then head gets involved and spins the story to make me feel less of a victim, but also shields me from heart.
If you’d like to try either of these practices, you can find Meeting Unmet Needs here, Head Heart Belly here, Belly Heart Head Wisdom for a Dilemma here and Head Heart Belly Support During a Challenge here. In the upcoming Somatic Self-Compassion Online program, we’ll be doing work to get more and more in touch with the wisdom of our three “brains” in the service of self-compassion. We’d love to see you there!
- Podcast Episode 9: Compassion in a T-Shirt: In Session with Kristy Arbon - June 13, 2021
- Somatic Self-Compassion Tree of Practices and Neurochemicals - May 2, 2021
- Podcast Episode 9: Favorite Things on my Morning Walk - January 27, 2021
- Podcast Episode 8: Slow News Days and Companioning the Neutral - January 22, 2021
- Podcast Episode 7: Self-Care as the Shit Hits the Fan - January 6, 2021