Experiencing the terror. The imminent danger of being swallowed by the forces of your emotions into the hopeless abyss. Tumbling, severed strings, into the darkness.
I am in constant battle with the demon of emotional imbalance. Dis-ordered moods. I no longer pathologize the conditions of my mind, my spirit, my emotions with a label. Emotional disturbances, frequent fractures with my connectivity to the here and now, are the stuff of my everyday life. Before my eyes open each and every morning, I scan my inner landscape in preparation to meet the day as it gathers outside my window. Just how powerful today the enemy, my self?
“In order to heal, it has to hurt like hell” is the mantra, which has dictated my interaction with my distorted relationship with reality.
Perhaps, I think, I have been wrong about this.
After my latest major psychological/spiritual episode late last year, I opt to do things differently. I decide to concurrently take the terrifying plunge and change my meds by consulting with an unconventional and highly respected psychiatrist. I follow this with five days working one-on-one with my master yoga teacher, an aruvedic healer. At first glance, an unusual choice, this combination of western psychiatry and ancient natural healing.
It turns out this leap of faith, this movement into unchartered territories, was without doubt the wisest decision of my life.
“Well, I must be in the right place,” I note, when the doctor opens the door to find me holding his copy of Carl Rogers’ On Becoming A Person. “A psychiatrist with this book in his waiting room. Exciting.”
His eyes light up. Five minutes into our meeting and he can hardly contain his glee when I tell him I’ve known for 20 years that my problems have nothing to do with depression, that my imbalance is directly related to dysfunction of my HPA Axis. And when I note having reported about ‘brainzaps’ before any doctor had an inkling of their existence (that I had actually created a blog “Brainzaps”) he is nearly rhapsodic. We talk like colleagues about dysfunctions of the glutamatergic system, the enteric nervous system , and how Effexor XR with its neuronal excitatory signaling is absolutely counter indicated for my particular endochronogical proclivities.
Ten minutes in, we know we are about to launch into a magnificent therapeutic relationship.
Staying with the darkness allows something to happen that escapes us if we are hasty. If we resist our natural tendency to take flight before painful experiences, we can descend into the dark aspects of the unconscious, which is necessary if we are to make contact with what Goethe calls ‘infinite nature.’
With a highly finessed flick of his Honoré de Balzac Mont Blanc fountain pen, he scribbles a script guaranteed to squelch the cortisol rushes tout de suite, a drug he says we will use as a ‘bridge’ in our journey to end my reliance on pharmaceuticals forever. He sends me off with his blessing to delve in the ancient wonders of Aruvedic healing. “Be prepared, he says. “The stomache is, after all, the second brain.”
” I would surround myself with beauty no matter how primitive and artless–objects, colors, sounds. I would eat and drink well.” Carl Jung.
The little house on Clement Street sits across the way from foresty Lincoln Park and the Legion of Honor. I take off my shoes and enter rooms scented by Bergamot Beeswax candles. Mungbeans, broccoli, sunflowers and fenugreek sprout in the sunlight of the kitchen. The sound of mantras resounds throughout the house. My teacher radiates love and acceptance as she sits me down at a table, which I share with five tightly wound pink peonies. I will observe them each day as they open.
“We can not hope to address your emotional imbalance until we deal with your digestion,” my teacher says. “Your lack of appetite. You will not sleep until your body reconnects with its natural rhythm. Right now, there is too much vata. So, first you will eat. Then you will rest. Then we will begin the work. The mind is the second stomache.”
But before anything, she sends me out into the garden where I walk for ten minutes while swishing pure Sesame Oil around in my mouth. Then on to a tiny bathroom where after scraping my tongue, I scrub neem into my gums.
A glass of warm water, brown with herbs to aide digestion. A sliver of lemon and ginger to awaken hunger. A small salad of sprouted beans and spinach, some kraut, seasoned with pink salt and a blend of cumin, turmeric, coriander. Cream of broccoli soup and kitcherie.
Small portions all, yet I have not eaten this much in months.
Five days of being fed. Resting. Breathing. Walking. Meditating. Having oils massaged into my scalp, all over my body. Resting. Breathing. Walking. More oils. Resting. Breathing.
With all this love, with all this caring for, I sleep more deeply. The new med (which is NOT, by the way, a psychotrophic) kicks in. I am no longer waking four or five times each night. The rushing leaves my chest. Yet still my mind is unable to rest. It ruminates. Worries. Clings. Meanders. My body relaxes. Softens. My spirit stills. But my mind can find no peace.
I return home and follow her instructions. Stock up on organic Indian spices. Ghee. Chai. Turkish Apricots. I begin cooking. Mung soup. Dal. Quinoa with Mint, Cilantro & Red Onion. Carrot Soup. Beets and greens. Chickpea breads. Drink only warm water or chai, which I sweeten, if at all, with brown coconut sugar. I listen to the music of Snatam Kaur, Mirabai Ceiba, Jai-Jagdeesh. Burn beeswax candles. Place fragrant peonies, lavender and stargazers in my home. I limit use of my cellphone and computer. Am asleep by ten.
“Listen to your heart,” my teacher says. “You are loved. You will heal. Trust your heart. Your inner teacher.”
Two days before Christmas. A two-hour candlelight Yin Yoga Class. A new teacher. She scents the room with Frankincense and myrrh. We hold each asana for five minutes.
I stay with it, settling in each posture up to edge of pain.
I notice a subtle shift. Colors seem to have a scent to them. Smells vibrate. My feet connect more smoothly with the earth.
After the holidays, I begin exploring brainspotting, a new modality of addressing trauma
Brainspotting involves working to modify the mammalian ‘midbrain,’ (home to the the flight-fright response triggered by trauma). The process involves bypassing the ‘thinking brain’ (the left prefrontal) and using the intuitive right brain to access both the mid- and the hindbrain.
Here’s an example. A young woman is asked to focus on some trauma from her childhood. She locates the spot associated with being five as being to the right and upwards. She focuses on that spot and experiences a sense of weight within her chest.
By intensely honing in on these ‘trauma cells’ where painful feelings or memories are lodged, the conscious brain “observes’ the unconscious brain and begins “traveling down the neural pathways that are unpredictable and kind of mysterious to our conscious selves. But by doing it, we’re actually watching the brain process the experience and watching the brain healing itself.”
Visoka : state free from pain, or suffering; Va : or ( other practices from 1.34 to 1.39) Jyotismati : inner light , supreme or divine light … Or By Perception Which Is Free From Sorrow And Is Radiant (Stability Of Mind Can Also Be Produced ) Patanjali Yoga Sutra 1.36 (Parisamvad)
Leaping into Darkness
I find myself brainspotting Thursday night at an Ivengar Yoga class. The instructor has us place chairs at the top of our mats and we move through a progression of postures in preparation for the evening’s final asana. A shoulder stand.
I’ve done shoulder stands from the floor before. But this time, our end posture involves not just the inversion but also moving the buttocks away from any contact with the chair, without the support of your hands on your back. After launching your legs over your head, you move your body forward so that it is only you on your shoulders. You hover in space, seeking balance in darkness. Unsupported. This is no leap into darkness, trusting a net will appear.
No. You are the net.
As I mull over whether to venture this far tonight, my conscious mind travels at unprecedented speed and connects with deep feelings of my inability to trust. Of not trusting others, but perhaps, more importantly, not trusting in myself.
And as if a magnificent light shines intensely and transformatively on that feeling, I awake to the knowledge that it is no longer serving me. That I have moved beyond this. And, simultaneously, something shifts just enough and I am able to risk.
I move my body a few inches away from the chair.
In the very first moment, I feel blessed and utterly exhilarated. Courageous. Triumphant. Amazed.
But then, as my legs struggle for stasis, my consciousness rapidly cycles between moments of absolute terror and bliss. I can only compare it to the utter intimacy, one experiences when making love with someone for the first time. That co-mingling delicious tension between total vulnerability and fear, anticipation and moving forward into the moment. Being there. Fluttering, ironically, while in absolute balance.
After class that night, as we pull on our shoes, scarves and coats, I ask the teacher what would happen if you could not hold the pose, if your body could not support you, if you lost control. She shrugs, as if it would be no big deal.
But to me it seems enormous. As if something catastrophic would occur.
“Would you die?” I ask.
And in that moment, I realize that I actually care. That for the first time in I don’t know how many years, I actually want to live. I have such an acute awareness of how much more I have to accomplish. Of how many secret yearnings I hold in my heart of hearts. And I feel such gratitude that I am finally untethered to this profound battle with darkness.
I listen recently to a lecture about applying the concept of loving kindness to oneself. The teacher encourages you to imagine your interactions with a person you love and respect. To think about how you would fight for them, advocate for them. Reserve a sacred space that is theirs only, a space and a time in which you would nurture and cherish them.
And then, he says, trade places and imagine that person is you.
It is not until you learn to do the same for yourself that you can truly heal.
“When you adopt the viewpoint that there is nothing that exists that is not a part of you, that there is no one who exists who is not a part of you, that any judgment you make is self-judgement, that any criticism you level is self-criticism, you will wisely extend to yourself an unconditional love that will be the light of your world.” Harry Palmer.
(cross posted from Daily Kos … Just to keep track of my progress … )