This was the theme of my yoga class the week of Thanksgiving. After spending a week in my psychotherapy office hearing about the trepidation folks have about the holiday, as they reunite with family and friends, wondering who will get along with whom? Who may criticize whom? And, what will so and so say? These moments can sometimes bring along joy, but also bring along moments of triggering emotions and thoughts. It is not just about a holiday as we can get caught up in reactivity on any day. It takes a great deal of present moment attention to learn how to respond to someone rather than react.
When we react, we are often speaking from the mind moments of the past or the projected ones of the future. We are not in a grounded place, as it is only when we are present focused that we are feeling truly grounded. Therefore, emotions get the best of us, we may feel out of control, or notice our mood shifting to feeling judgmental and intolerant. All of this fuels the cycle of reactivity, rather than responsibility. Taking responsibility of one’s emotions and thoughts leads to responsible words, ones that come from “responding” in the moment from a grounded place.
So, how doe we get grounded? How do we attend to the present moment and take notice of what we’re thinking, feeling so that we can use this information to respond? Our body is a great place to start as it often holds the answer. Your body will give you the first signal that you are starting to feel stressed and uncomfortable. I am sure you know what I mean. Tightness begins to take hold in your muscles, your hands may become clenched, maybe sweaty, and you can feel a quickening of your heartbeat, a quickening of your breath. A client of mine reported she could feel her face flushing when we was getting “worked up.” These are all signals that your body is getting ready to react. They are all normal, natural physiological responses when our system somehow feels under “attack.” The problem is, these visceral or body responses are delivered from a part of our brain, the reptilian brain that is responsible for reacting in the moment, without any awareness of thought. It is our job to attend to the signals and call conscious thought into the process to become aware of what is happening.
Now, we all know a Thanksgiving dinner, in and of itself, is not the problem. Instead the problem often lies in what we are holding in mind before we get there and old stories, and old relationships filled with old stories. The anticipation of the event often hypes up our nervous system before we even get there or the first guest arrives. Thoughts such as, “I hope Bob doesn’t talk about his new car again,” “I hope no one questions me once again why I’m not married yet?” And the infamous feared discussions on religion and/or politics. Our nervous system and body are already a bit charged prior to even getting started. From this charged place it is easy to react, rather than respond. It is from this point that the mind will follow. All of a sudden you may notice yourself drifting away as Aunt Sally goes on and on. You may find that there are many thoughts running through your mind. What you are noticing is the quickening of the mind. It is from this point that the desire to react in words as fast as possible starts to arise to defend, protect, or make a point. Once we fall into the mind-activated place, it can be tricky to slow it down just through thought alone. This is where we can turn to the body for assistance.
What does it look like to “call the body for assistance?” Well, it is actually quite simple.
Prior to a gathering, take a breath and notice areas of tightening and holding in your body by doing a simple body scan head to toe. While standing take your arms overhead and take a big inhalation, as you exhale through your mouth swing your arms down along your side to let it go. Do that a couple of times and then rescan your body for tense places. Notice how that automatically shifts the experience. Continue to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Release breaths like this, is exactly that, a RELEASE! It is a release to your tightly wound nervous system, and sends an automatic signal to your brain to slow it all down. When you are in a hyped up state physically, you can sure bet that you are more likely to react, rather than respond from a grounded place.
What is the grounded place and what does that feel like? A grounded place is one in which the nervous system is calm, where you can notice your breath is at a steady, neutral place, and you are aware of any holding, and/or tension in your body. From here, you are able to take a pause, notice what’s happening in your body first, regroup by taking a breath, ground through your body by feeling your hands, your seat, and your spine. Take another pause, and then decide if what you are about to say will be helpful and necessary. It is only when the body is calm that you can effectively respond, rather than react from old, habitual places in the mind.
So, see what it is like to attend to your body and breath first, then pay attention to the thoughts that follow and the desire to speak. Ask the question, is what I am about to say helpful and necessary to both the other and myself? If so, speak from a responsive heart. If not, take a breath, and recognize that what was about to be said was an old reactive place that no longer serves you or anyone else. Enjoy the felt sense of “grounded.”
MAY ALL BEINGS LIVE IN PEACE AND EASE.