Are you ready? Is something changing, or about to change, in your life? Your work? Your relationship? Your home? Your sense of who you are? Your level of gratitude and appreciation for who you are, your passions, your purpose, your…?
We are all changing continuously, moment to moment, day to day. In our modern, western culture, we learn to reject change. We call it “growing old”. We call it “uncertainty.” Insecurity. Immaturity. Lack of commitment….
We have so many ways to defend ourselves against our natural impetus for change. As little embryos in the womb, we cannot survive without change. This is growth. This is development. And this is true throughout our lives.
As little ones, we embrace change. We are eager to learn, anxious to be older, to go to school like our older siblings, go to work like mommy or daddy. As teens, we long for the day we can drive.
How do we lose this enthusiasm for change? How does it become the enemy to be resisted at all costs, rather than a welcome opportunity to learn and grow? What is it that occurs as we mature, and settle into the unconscious ruts and rituals of our lives? At what cost do we lose touch with the magic of newness? And how do we revive the zeal we have lost?
As I write this, almost everything in my life is new. I have just moved to a new country on a new continent with a new relationship. I am delighting in discovering the nuances of difference between the English I have learned to speak in Canada and the U.S., and the English spoken in the UK. At times, I enjoy mastering my ability to recognize British coins; at other times, when I am tired, I feel slightly overwhelmed by how aware I need to be, even doing the simplest tasks, like buying groceries.
My old habits are less relevant here. I must pay attention and make conscious choices every moment. I don’t have to work hard at acknowledging a new beginning. Instead, I must remember to stay present with all the newness. This is key.
This awareness is the essence of my intention in life and work, and what I most desire to offer my clients, students, and all I encounter. I acknowledge that all the change I am currently adjusting to challenges me to practice even more consistently the skills I have been developing over the years. The simple act of observing my breath and sensations, being with each moment as it arises, supports me in drinking in and digesting my new environment, rather than being flooded by it. I have learned to orient to something deeper and more consistent than the outer reality I encounter. This aids me in riding the waves of life, like resting on the fulcrum of a teeter totter, rather than balancing on the faster moving ends. Instead of being drawn into the details of each up and down, I perceive changes within an awareness of the larger whole of my life and the world I live in.
I believe we all desire, at the deepest level, to be more present in our lives. We have learned, through meeting various conditions of our lives, to pattern our behavior in relatively predictable ways. We require patterns and habits in order to function. As the teeter totter moves, my body needs to shift its balance accordingly. This is a largely automatic response. If I had to figure out the intricacies of how to balance with each shift, I would soon fall off! Similarly, if I needed to plan each finger movement involved in typing this article, it would not be available for you to read! It would simply take too long and too much effort to produce. If you needed to think about how to open your mouth with every bite, you would still be eating breakfast and not have the time or energy to read this article.
We see such challenges in stroke victims as they re-learn how to maintain balance and to move an affected hand. Like little children establishing these patterns, people with neurological issues often need extra sleep. They need time to integrate what they are learning (or re-learning). They also require the added rest to recover their energy. This also applies to new beginnings.
Anyone can become drained when dealing with the demands of newness. It is important to recognize change and the learning it requires. Otherwise, we may negate our needs, complaining about the demands of our lives, our jobs, our relationships, etc. We tend to expect things to stay the same. This may be our first mistake. Life is constantly changing, and we must be, too!
Recognizing, accepting and meeting change requires awareness. We cannot adapt to change easily if we deny or miss that it is there. We become aware by being present in the moment. If we go along with life just expecting the same old thing, we may not notice change until it is too late.
Perhaps you have heard stories about animals in Asia predicting a tsunami. They apparently survive where humans don’t by sensing danger and leaving the area before it hits. A report from National Geographic states that “animals can sense impending danger by detecting subtle or abrupt shifts in the environment,” and that humans once also possessed this “sixth sense.” (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/01/0104_050104_tsunami_animals_2.html).
What is this sixth sense? I am not an expert in animal sensation, but I do have expertise in human awareness. I have been repeatedly amazed by how much I and other humans can sense when we slow down and pay attention, when we bring our awareness into the present moment, beyond our usual habits and patterns. This is presence.
The Power of Slowing Down
In our modern, western culture, we live at an unnaturally fast pace. We depend on our habitual routines to keep up. As technology has accelerated, so have we. I watch with both awe and horror as young children master video games I can barely comprehend. They are much too fast for me! I am interested in the information delivered by body sensations. It is impossible to be fully aware of our sensations at such high speeds. As we slow down, our awareness can deepen and widen. We shift into a more natural mode of perception, like little children and animals.
As an Occupational Therapist, I am saddened by my knowledge of how the speed of technology can interfere with development. Sitting at a computer, for example, challenges the small child’s ability to learn in their natural way, through movement and the body. Children learn quickly these days to dissociate from their bodies, losing touch with an important source of information. This may relate to the epidemic of learning and behavior problems, as well as other developmental delays.
Slowing down, we return to sensory awareness, and enhance our ability to integrate new information. We may more easily sense danger or change in its early stages, like animals before a tsunami. We can then take appropriate action to prepare ourselves. In an accelerated mode, we tend to miss what is happening around us. We are too busy or distracted to notice the subtle changes in our environment that could warn us of an upcoming storm, or body changes that could be early signs of cancer, or the changes in our partner that could be signs of dissatisfaction in our relationship. When we overlook these early signs, we may be taken off guard and are less able to adapt.
Living our lives at high speed also leaves us vulnerable in another important way. We lack the time and space we need for rest and rejuvenation. We become stuck in the mode of the sympathetic (fight-flight) nervous system that is designed to operate for short periods of time during emergencies. In this mode, our blood is primarily directed to our big muscles and structures required for fight or flight. Organs essential for digestion, reproduction, and repair are put on hold until the crisis is over. Then, we are intended to have time to rest and recover (parasympathetic nervous system).
In our modern world, we humans seldom know how to rest, even if we have the time. Instead, we collapse in front of the TV or DVD player, and are bombarded by violent, speedy over-stimulation. Rather than being replenished, our resources become further depleted. When a real emergency arises, we have less ability to meet it. Even less threatening challenges of everyday life can become overwhelming when we lack the resources to cope. What might otherwise be a welcome change, may feel like the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
What does it take to welcome and embrace change? First, it is important to be aware that the change is happening.
How does change manifest in your life? Are you aware of change? Do you have expectations about continuity? Yes, it is reasonable, if you have a job that pays the bills, to expect it to be there when you go to work each day. It is appropriate to expect your mate to be with you as promised, for your children to appear when you arrive to pick them up at school, for your clothing to be hanging in the closet when you go to put them on.
We depend on a certain amount of permanence in our lives. Yet, all of us have encountered situations where that permanence is interrupted. The mother of a friend is diagnosed with cancer. A relative is in a serious car accident. A spouse loses his or her job. The company you have invested in fails.
Chances are you or someone you know have gone through such challenges. In case you are one of the lucky few who has not encountered any tragedy or loss, I remind you of the daily news. Hurricanes, volcanoes, earthquakes, forest fires, floods, war, crime, economic crashes. I could go on. My purpose here is not to depress you or to emphasize the extreme suffering so easy to perceive on the planet just now. My intention is to point to the often unwelcome incidence of change.
Just reading about these challenging events can be stressful. What are you aware of in your body as you consider the last two paragraphs? Do you notice tension anywhere? How deep or shallow is your breath? How relaxed do you feel? Can you feel your body resting on the chair or whatever is supporting you?
Most of us have patterned ways of reacting to stress and change. These patterns can be helpful in dealing with emergencies. Our tendency, however, is to slip into patterned reactions as soon as stress arises. Our modern, western lives are inherently stressful, speedy, and over-stimulating, with little or no true rest. We spend most of our time in a stress response, geared for emergency. When an actual crisis, or extreme change, comes along, our chronic tension reduces our ability to effectively respond to what is. Our lack of present-time awareness lessens our resilience.
How much of your time do you spend thinking about how something is going to turn out, if you did the right thing, or what you can do or say next? Maybe the thing you obsess over isn’t even that important. It might be what to have for dinner.
Have you ever found yourself lost in planning the future or reviewing the past in this way and not noticed something demanding your attention in the present moment?
Letting Go, Letting Ourselves Be
We learn as little ones to grasp and hold onto what we cherish. We learn to attach names to each object. Cup. Nose. Mama. Juice. We must learn through our adult years to establish ourselves firmly in our lives, and then let go. We struggle to develop a career, a family, skill in whatever sport or hobby we choose. Then, as we age, we gradually shed these identities, often struggling in this direction as much as we did coming in.
I have been learning so much in the past months about letting go. When I release my hold on what was once so important to me, I am free to embrace the present. My work for many years has been about facilitating this ability to be present in the present. As I settle into my new life in the UK, I recognize an opportunity to start anew once again. Along with deciding about furniture and where put my things, I am also looking at new ways to support you in being present and more fully embodying your life. I invite you to join me in this new venture.
Please take a moment to consider what is most important to you in your life. Make a list of what is most dear to you. As you consider these things, people, activities, places, or whatever it is that is meaningful to you, include in your awareness your body language. One of my favorite teachers in my Dance/Movement Therapy training, Susan Aposhyan, used to talk about listening to “all of our people.” Take time to listen to your bones, your skins, your muscles, your heart and other organs, as well as your intellectual brain. Each aspect of you has important information and perceptions to contribute.
As you consider the messages from your body, you begin tuning in to sensations. If you find it difficult to attend to a particular aspect of your body, try starting by observing your breath. Let yourself be aware of how fast or slow it is, how deep or shallow, how easy or effortful.
Let yourself be aware of the chair or other structure under you. Can you sense the weight of your body as you rest into the support of gravity? You may have a sense of your body, or part of it, pulling up from the surface under it. Just noticing. Nothing you need to do. Just sensing. Just being aware. Just being.
We begin this journey into being in present time by practicing being aware. You may find that, just from following the suggestions of the last two paragraphs, your breath has slowed down and deepened. Your body is starting to shift from sympathetic fight flight mode to a more relaxed parasympathetic rest and rejuvenation mode. This is a first step.
If you find yourself attracted to this kind of slowing down and developing awareness, I suggest you continue to practice being aware as often as you can. Remind yourself of your breath and the support of gravity under you whenever you think of it throughout your day. Take moments here and there to deepen into this awareness.
One of my intentions for this series of articles is to support you in being able to develop this skill of being. Please join me for this journey of awareness and exploration. I suspect you will find, as I have, that you discover within yourself new levels of pleasure and aliveness. I look forward to exploring with you.
I offer classes, workshops, seminars, professional trainings, as well as private therapy and mentoring, both in person and via phone and Skype. For more information, please refer to my website at www.cherionna.com or email me at email@example.com.
Read more articles on this kind of awareness practice in relation to healing, Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy, and Continuum Movement.
If you are drawn to become a Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapist while deepening your awareness and presencing skills, please consider my upcoming trainings, starting in November in Nelson, BC, Canada and Portland, OR.