This article was originally posted on July 26, 2017, and updated on August 28, 2020.
As HeartWorks blossoms into her own creature, I’ve had lots of opportunities to work with shame. It’s becoming predictable. Creative new projects come to me in my dreams and half-wakefulness; I rise to make coffee or a cacao smoothie and ecstatically manifest these creative thoughts into something real in the world; I revel in the joy of the creative process and outcome … and then shame comes a knocking at my door. It’s the, “Who do you think you are?” kinda shame and the, “No-one wants to do/read/practice/join your shit!” shame.
So when this happened most recently I decided to try some exploration and experimentation when Madame Shame visited. Here was my process:
- It always starts with mindfulness. It has to start with mindfulness. Acknowledging difficult sensation, recognizing it as shame. Mindfulness is remembering to notice what’s going on. So I did that.
- Through the process of mindfulness I realized I had a choice: to 1) look for ways to escape upward and out of how I’m feeling, or 2) to plunge into the depths of my experience to get intimate with it. Given my core values of freedom, exploration, understanding, connection and self-care, as well as knowing that if I’m going to keep teaching others about shame I need to consistently do my own work, I chose the plunge. The escape (option 1) is sometimes the only option in social situations where I have responsibilities and no space, but the plunge (option 2) is the path to understanding and healing. The only way out is through.
- So I sat on the deck of the treehouse in the warmth of the late summer day and tuned inward. There I saw my familiar little girl, alone, isolated, half-frozen. Shame – the fear of being rejected by the tribe – was freezing her. She was the one I needed to take care of. So I intuitively went to one of the Mindful Self-Compassion practices, the Self-Compassion Break. I stroked my arms and said to her, “Oh sweetheart!” in a loving, connected way, over and over. She started to warm up just a little, but she was still alone and half-frozen in my internal landscape.
- I considered the practice of Labeling Emotions (noticing emotions individually and giving each of them a name in a calm, mindful way), but this felt as if it would distance me even more from her. Moving into my prefrontal cortex to “name it and tame it” would have pulled me right out of relationship with her. So I moved on without labeling any emotions.
- I moved on to the Emergent Somatic Expression practice. I went inside the treehouse, found some privacy, shut the door and sat on the floor. I tuned in to my body and allowed it to move in response to her. There was some shuddering in my body as I experienced some somatic sparks, but this did not comfort or warm her: she was still there alone and half-frozen.
- She started to tell me that she wanted to move, to dance. So that’s what we did. I have a beautiful Dancing Freedom sequence of music sent to me by Phoenix Onesong Marolda that guides me through the elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether. I played the hour-long sequence and I allowed my body to move in response; I allowed my little girl to move in response.
- Initially the little girl needed to grow big, to express herself as arms wide open taking up space, moving freely around the space, knowing that it was hers. She needed to not feel frozen. She needed permission. She got it.
- Then she transformed into an older part of me who also needed to take up space, to cover ground and claim real estate. She, also, had full permission to do that.
- Then I started to lose interest and my experience started to drift off toward some dissociation. Once again mindfulness was my tool and I noticed what was happening and that I was probably resisting the exploration and the healing process. I made a conscious effort to keep myself in the practice and dance on. Intuitively, I sat on the floor and rubbed my body all over in a way that warmed my skin and made me feel connected. Yes, this was what I needed. I did this for quite a while as Marolda’s voice and her playlist moved through fire.
- All through this process I was yawning. Not a lot of research has been done on yawning, but Robert Provine in his book, Curious Behavior: Yawning, Laughing, Hiccupping, and Beyond writes that yawning may be an indication that a transition is taking place – from “… sleep to wakefulness, wakefulness to sleep, anxiety to calm, boredom to alertness.” Provine points out that, “Olympic athletes sometimes yawn before their events; concert violinists may yawn before playing a concerto.” I often yawn while I’m doing deep inner work – moving from one state to a deeper state, transitioning downward and inward. Yawning is my body communicating to me a changing of things that my mind does not need to grasp.
- So back to my inner little girl. When I checked in with her at this point she had warmed up considerably and she no longer looked afraid. She had her eyes closed with a smile on her face which was tilted upward as if basking in the warmth of the sun. When I stopped rubbing my skin she opened her eyes and looked at me sort of indignantly as if to say, “Don’t stop!” So I continued to rub my body and she continued to bask in the warmth. We’d really gone full circle back to the Soothing Touch component in the Self-Compassion Break, but this time there were no words, just warmth.
- Once I felt that we were complete, I wound my body practice down and simply listened to Marolda lead me through air and ether. It felt important to honor the sequence of the elements she was leading me through and it was a nice transition out of my practice to simply sit and listen to kindness, soothing and permission along with sweet tunes and tribal beats. At the end Lydia invited me to gather up the wisdom from my work and I heard a wise, compassionate response to my original source of suffering: shame. My body’s wisdom said, “It will be OK.” My heart’s wisdom said, “You are loved and lovable.” My spirit’s wisdom said, “You’re on the right path. Keep going!” I was home.
- inviting mindfulness in as the committed witness;
- reviewing my soul’s purpose and core values to guide me; and
- getting curious about my internal terrain and getting to work with my Somatic Self-Compassion tools.
This was just one piece of my much larger journey. As I journey, others join me and I join others. I’d love to journey with you in one of the HeartWorks offerings. See you there!
- 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
- Podcast Episode 6: Highly Sensitive Person’s Guide to Anxiety, Isolation, and Quarantine - January 5, 2021
- Somatic Self-Compassion Week 1 Practice Cycle: What is Somatic Self-Compassion? - January 4, 2021