Recently, one of my clients told me she had realized the lesson from her chronic pain was to be in loving presence all the time. When her fear came up, her body contracted, and she tended to move into isolation. How many of us resonate with this pattern? Some of us are not plagued with intense, disabling chronic pain, but most of us live in contractive isolation of some kind.
Where there is contraction, there is isolation. A contracted tissue is less in relationship with other tissues around it. This means there is less resource available. Cells throughout our bodies want to be in resonance and communication with one another. When strong walls are established between them, they suffer. In extreme, they become cancerous, losing touch with the community of the whole. I read recently that cells know when to die to support the community. Cancer cells have lost that knowing, or perhaps they just don’t care. They have lost their caring. They just keep on living and multiplying regardless of the good of the larger whole.
What if we lived our lives that way? There are those who say our world politics are cancerous. Living selfishly with a pervasive sense of danger and threat, each man for himself, is an expression of isolation.
Defensive Behavior Vs. Being
I was at a Continuum Movement intensive in Santa Monica some years ago when an earthquake occurred. We were all in deep fluidity melting into the floor. As the earth shook, every one of us opened our eyes and looked around at each other. This is our social engagement system in action. It enables us, as relatively small, weak mammals, to cooperate with one another to create safety for ourselves and our offspring.
In our overwhelmingly sped up, over-stimulating modern western world, many of us become stuck in our fight-flight or freeze reactions, as if we were still lost in reliving an old traumatic experience. In those states, our perception is different from how we perceive when the social engagement system is online. In defensive states, we perceive the world as threatening and prepare to act accordingly.
I remember being shocked once when I offered a highly supportive comment to a student in my training, only to be rebuked and accused of putting her down. I couldn’t imagine how she had come up with that perception, except to assume she was lost somewhere in her past. Porges’s comment about needing to dampen the defensive systems clarified this for me. She could not perceive my support as support. To her, it must be an attack or a put down because that was all she was capable of perceiving in her activated state. Her nervous system could not allow support in.
It is when we are lodged in these reactive, defensive states that we build protective walls inappropriate to the situation at hand. We actually are not present in the present, but are operating in our current environment as if it were the past. We are isolated in the past, like this student who was isolated from receiving a genuine offer of support.
Integration, Health and Love
Another speaker at the conference, Daniel Siegel, who coined the term Interpersonal Neurobiology, explained to us that health was integration. Where integration was lacking, there was dis-ease of some kind.
What is the most integrative, healing force available to us? I believe it is love. Loving presence can meet whatever arises, without defensiveness, without judgment, without the need for interpretation, being right, fixing it, or even doing anything. Can I just be present with what arises? To me, this is love.
When pain presents, when anxiety shakes us up, when we are afraid, we can be challenged to stay present. It can feel like too much.
Our job becomes finding what can support us in being present. What helps us to stay here in this moment, even when it’s painful, rather than returning to the past? Being present is about being with what is, rather than reacting to what if or what was.
Fear is never actually about the present moment. It is usually about what could happen in the future, based on what we have experienced in the past. If we can actually be here now, whatever it is, is not so bad. Even if we are in a terrible event, like a fire or a bombing or a hurricane, our fear is not of this moment. In this moment, we are actually ok; we fear what might happen next. If I am terribly ill or have been injured, my fear is not of the current condition; it is of the possibility of it never ending or getting worse or having to miss more work because of it or etc., etc. Our minds are very good at creating scenarios, usually based on our past. They quickly take us out of the present, as any meditator can attest.
Recent research has shown that mindfulness meditation actually shifts our neurobiology. The parts of our brain concerned with danger, like the amygdala, begin to settle and quiet as our pre-frontal cortex comes more online, with its ability to orient to present time. The result can include less need for anxiety or depression medications, as the meditator becomes more adept at self-regulation. Being in present time is the key. To me, this is love.
Loving presence is the ability and intention to be present with whatever arises. Awareness is the first step in any healing. If I am not aware of an wound, I am unlikely to take steps to clean it, protect it or in other ways support its healing.
I believe my client’s discovery applies to all of us. It is quite possible that all of our issues are opportunities to learn more about loving presence, challenging us to apply it in any situation. We can be grateful for all the hints we are given that we still can grow and learn by deepening our ability to be with even this moment with loving presence.
When we do this, fear may not disappear, but it often seems to dissolve. It becomes less important, having less clutch on us in our lives and our psyches. We become free to simply be, to be in relationship rather than in isolation, in loving presence with ourselves and each other. This is the setting for cellular resonance, integration, ultimate health. Our cells begin to sing in harmony with one another. We are no longer at war, in struggle, in defensive reaction. Instead, we can be in awe, nurtured by the loving presence everywhere.