- When you being to feel overwhelm or anxiety or shutting down, stop what you are doing. I mean full stop. You may feel like you’re very busy, running late etc but I believe that learning that you can be in masterful relationship with your emotions and with your experience of overwhelm is worth the 3 minutes this practice will take.
- After you have hit the pause button, begin to get super curious about what is really happening. Ask yourself, what is happening in my body right now? Is there an emotion coming up? What is it that I’m feeling? It is super, super important at this stage that you let go of the story and focus on what is happening, physically. Take meaning-making out of the process for a sec. Just notice heartbeat, temperature, things like: my boss walked into the room and then I started to sweat and my mind started racing. Just notice, don’t tell a story and don’t make a judgement just yet.
- Get in touch with the raw, core emotion as it is expressed in your body. Notice that this inquiry is in fact a detour from the story of whatever called this overwhelm up. You might think initially that you are overwhelmed because you can’t pay your bills, because your ex is acting like a jerk, because you have a headache for the fourth day in a row or that your kid won’t sleep at night. Whether any of these things is true or not, does not matter right now. Focus all of your energy into getting inside your emotion as it is expressing itself in your body. You’ll know you’re there when it feels super simple and super raw. You will feel vulnerable. It will be something like ‘deep, aching sadness that I feel as heaviness in my chest’ or ‘aloneness that makes my whole body numb’ or ‘something I can’t quite put my finger on….it feels like I’m not even in my body.’
- As you get into touch with the raw experience, as you allow yourself to feel it, name it and claim it, notice that there’s no clinging to it or saying it’s ok or not ok. You are just simply letting the sadness or anger or strange feeling flower open.
- As you feel it, you then are able to let it go. With as much intensity as you leaned into feeling, feel that much intensity in your surrender as you offer this sensation and emotion back to Spirit or the Earth. Feel it being received. Feel it being welcomed by Spirit-as-you-know-it accepting your gift. Spirit and the Earth have the capacity to break this difficult emotion down, to digest it down and turn it back into pure love. It may take awhile, it may happen really fast. Time is not an indicator of how well it is going!
- Breathe in to what you feel, breathe out the feeling. The ritual we do in Earth Medicine is to breathing in, feel what is happening, breathing out we blow the experience out. You can simply blow it into the hands of Spirit (if you happen to be at the grocery, for instance) or you can find a leaf, a stone, or a stick and blow the pain into the object. When you feel complete, you give the object back to the Earth so she can do the digestive work. Putting your pain into these objects will not cause harm. What feels harmful to us humans is good nutrition for the Earth, including her stones, flowers and leaves. Just as compost is made from shit we actually nourish the earth by letting go of our emotional shit too.
- Keep doing this until you begin to feel shift. Notice what is changing, in your body and in your mind.
- From this place, notice how you created connection and engaged in loving choice, even if it was challenging. Notice how you are now available to meet your circumstance-your bills, your ex, your kids, your body-from a place of feeling that its workable and something you can be creative and even audacious with.
I do not have interest in being calm, seeking calm, cultivating calm. If given the choice between calm and wild I’ll choose wild every time. To be wild is to flow, it is to be in genuine response to life as it is happening, without any sort of contrived strategy. To be wild is to be wholly accepting of myself as wholly holy, and to know that you are too. To be wild is to be free enough to see each moment and circumstance as workable, as an open and endless invitation to deepen my intimacy with life, to explore all the cracks and crevices, to call in the rainbow and find the gold enfolded within. To be wild is reject nothing, inwardly and outwardly but to know my heart to be great enough to hold all that is without reaching for cover. To be wild is to extend my hand to life in every moment, knowing that it is reaching for me also. This wasn’t always so. For many years I put all my eggs in the basket of believing that if I could somehow just get calm, I could get a handle on my life, figure things out, make better decisions, then I would finally find my way back to who I really am. It was ironic that, looking back, I declared I was on a path of self-discovery, yet I already ‘knew’ what I was looking for was a woman who was calm and had her shit together. How can we discover what is already known? Are we willing to go on a journey where the outcome is yet a blur of light? Then one day, I woke up from this fantasy. Being calm is simply a story we tell ourselves, a myth we live by, that tells us that there is a magical realm called ‘calm’ that, once we get there, we will finally be acceptable, our lives will finally make sense. But if we look in closer and take a sniff at what is happening here, this myth of being calm is simply the same old narrative that says, “You have no worth, authority or validity until you are something that you are not.” As children we are told to ‘calm down’ when we are being wild and silly. And while as a parent I know sometimes there is a need for the adult to step in make sure everyone is safe and secure in their play, I notice (even in myself!) that in parenting we are willing to play the ‘don’t poke your eye out’ card when there is really no true danger. Taking a look at my inner landscape, I see that what is really happening is that the rambunctious play is stirring up discomfort in me and there is a need to put a damper on it. Don’t get too wild, the inner disapproving adult says. And as girls grow into women, many of the culturally sanctioned forms of femininity are simply infantilized expressions of childhood. Many women still today are on a quest for calm, buying into the story that to be calm is to be better. I recently had a wise woman friend of mine tell me, “When I was in my twenties I thought I would be happy if I was thin and sexy. Now I keep thinking I’ll be happy if I’m calm and organized.” We can begin to untangle this myth by looking at what being calm really means. For each of us, if we get curious about what we actually seek when we are seeking calm, we can learn a great deal. For some, calm simply means ‘available for connection’. We sense that we are shut off somehow and we wish to have a sense of genuine connection with ourselves and with others. For others, calm is a catch-all word for just wanting the anxiety to stop. For others it is about being in choice and feeling like they are capable of making change. I am all for meditation, breathing, yoga, counseling and energy work. Good grief I have engaged in all of these in my own life for over 20 years and call on many of them in my work with others! The question is not about the technique we are using but what we are in service too. If we live our life from a map that says that these beautiful things-connectivity, openness, ease and choice are not available to us unless we are in this other state called ‘calm’ then we are setting ourselves up for struggle. Every day we face situations that call for us to show up in ways that are immediate, intense and immense. How can we possibly find the connection, openness and choice we seek if we believe that we have to first separate out from our circumstance and go through some sort of routine to change our state? To me this smacks of inefficiency, stuckness and to be honest, sounds darn near impossible. I am interested in what is possible. There is so much more that is possible. In Earth Medicine, we walk a path of removing barriers and shedding the beliefs that keep us limited. We do ritual and engage in practice not to escape from the overwhelming circumstances in our bodies, relationships and communities, but we call on them to give us the strength and savvy to dive deeper in. It is completely possible that you, just as you are, are capable of being connected, open, generous and in your choice even when you are not calm. You can be sad and still be connected, open and in choice. You can be angry and still be in connection, openness and in choice. You can be tired, sweaty, smelly, ill-informed, and off-balance and still call in these tools. You don’t have to be any different that how you are. If we can agree to entertain the idea that calm isn’t a baseline requirement to live in the accountable, connected ways we want to live, we might then take a look at overwhelm. Generally, when we start to think that we ‘need to create a calm mind’ what is really happening is that we haven’t given ourselves permission to feel. Especially when those feelings are confusion, anxiety and grief. And we can extend so much compassion towards ourselves- and others-when this unwillingness to feel picks up the reins. Many of us got the message loud and clear when we were little that many emotions were not safe, that our tears and rage made others uncomfortable and that that was bad. Or that certain emotions would cause us to be separated out from those we loved. We can lovingly tend these parts of ourselves that are truly terrified of the consequences of letting ourselves feel. But the truth is, if we are genuinely interested in living from our authentic self and knowing her voice, her likes, we have to become intimate with her, even when she’s an intractable pile of goo on the floor. We have to lead with a trust that she knows something no one else can teach us. That within the folds of her sorrow there is pure gold. Earth Medicine is a path of integrity, honesty and accountability. There is a recognition that on some level, we have said “yes” to everything that we are experiencing in every moment. From this perspective we can see that overwhelm is a choice. Overwhelm is an agreement we have made to not feel. If we want to get out of overwhelm we can engage a super simple ritual practice called, ‘drop what you’re doing and feel’. Earth Medicine Ritual: Permission to Feel