Resurrection is a strong word. I was surprised, myself, when I saw it emerge on the page. Resurrecting your life implies it has been dead. Is it true?
Of course, you say, I must be alive or could not be reading this page. Well, on one level that’s true. On other levels, it may be that aspects of you have been dead or as-if dead for a long time. How do we resurrect what may have been dead, when we may not even be aware of its deadness? Or its existence?
These are important questions. Just as significant may be the question of how aspects of us may have died or shut down in the first place.
In previous blog entries, I have referred to various early prenatal and birth events that may have left deep imprints on our personality, attitudes, beliefs, relationship styles and tendencies, as well as other habits and patterns in our lives. This is a common focus in the field of Prenatal and Birth Psychology, but, to me, it is important to also acknowledge and learn to access the potential of this early time in our lives.
When we are affected by very early trauma, we often lose touch with our earliest, most essential potential. Today I would like to talk about that potential and how it can benefit you now.
Enthusiasm and Potential
When little ones first come into being, they are propelled by an inherent life force, a kind ofenthusiasm for life. When we are not traumatized through our arrival process, we engage our lives with this attitude, strengthened by curiosity, playfulness and an urge to fulfill ourselves, whatever that may mean.
If you have ever attended a natural birth, where birth attendants acted only in support of natural birth process, rather than intervening out of fear or need to prevent distress, you will know what this inherent embracing of life can look like.
I remember the first birth I attended. Maya, the little girl so named because she was born on the first of May, shocked us all by immediately lifting her little head and looking around the room at each of us, almost before the rest of her body emerged. We were all deeply touched by her sweet eye contact. We felt an equal eagerness to meet this new little being amongst us.
Take a moment now, as you read this, to consider how you feel reading about this birth. Do you feel a resonant kind of enthusiasm for life? A curiosity? Amazement? Or do you have some other kinds of feelings? Doubt? How could a newborn have lifted her own head and looked around the room like that? Babies can’t lift their heads on their own. Newborns can’t see. This is nonsense. Babies can’t feel enthusiasm. Babies’ nervous systems aren’t developed enough to respond to a situation like this. It was just reflexive. These, by the way, have been the responses of otherwise sensible scientists and researchers who have not believed in the sentience of little ones.
What is your response? Do you feel awe? Do you feel anger? Sadness? Delight? Stress? Do you feel your feelings? Do you feel your body? How does it respond to this story? Is there tension somewhere? In your shoulders? Eyes? Back? Feet? Are you holding your breath? Check out what you are aware of in your body in this moment. What is it telling you?
How we respond to birth stories and reports can inform us as to our own early experience. Not feeling in your own body may relate to a dissociative experience when you were little or to a somatic re-enactment of anesthesia given to your mother at birth. Anesthesia is designed to stop us from feeling pain. This involves not feeling. We may learn at birth to react to stressful situations by similarly not feeling.
Dissociation may be considered a kindness of nature to reduce the suffering of animals in distress. If a saber-toothed tiger is about to eat you and there is nothing you can do, it may be helpful to leave the sensations of your body and not have to feel the pain. As little ones, we usually don’t have other options available to us when under stress. We can try crying for mom, but, if that doesn’t work, we aren’t strong enough to fight or fly. We need to withdraw into dissociation to prevent full overwhelm. Unfortunately, once we have learned to react to a situation this way, we may automatically react to life stress the same way.
No matter how long we have practiced this dissociative pattern, our life energy, our life enthusiasm, remains beneath it. We might even appreciate the intelligence of a system that is capable of protecting essential life forces by causing us to withdraw from overwhelming stimulation of the senses. If you have tended to dissociate in your life, consider that this has been a survival mechanism. It has enabled you to get this far in life. It may not serve you today the way it did when you were little, but it was an expression of your bio-intelligence. You made it through whatever terrifying, painful or otherwise intolerable situation you may have encountered before you had a mature enough nervous system to process it, or before you had other defensive strategies in place to deal with it. Can you possibly find an appreciation or gratitude for this dissociative mechanism that kept you from being completely overwhelmed back then?
It is possible that you don’t have a tendency to dissociate. I am writing this as if you do because we live in a highly dissociative world culture in this 21st century. In the modern western world, we are taught early on to ignore or distrust our bodies in favor of mental reasoning. We learn to cut ourselves off from our first order of experience – our sensations – and to jump ahead to interpretation, or to the interpretations of others.
Even if we have some ability to sense and be with our sensations, how likely are we to stay with them in the speed of everyday life? For example, as you read this, do you have a sense of your body? The internet is a wonderful way for us to connect across the world, but it also speeds us up beyond our biological capabilities. I am reminded of a comparison I once heard, that our brain to brawn (body) ratio when driving a car is the equivalent of that of a dinosaur! Remember, the dinosaurs are now extinct. They were not able to adapt to a new environmental situation. We may need to find ways to counter this brain to brawn ratio if we as a species are to survive. Do you sense your body when behind the wheel of a car? Do you sense it when watching television, talking on your mobile phone, playing video games, or in any of your other daily activities?
Sensing the body is now known to change our neurobiology. Parts of the brain develop more fully when we practice mindful awareness. I believe this can help counter a dinosaur-like brain to brawn ratio, as we learn to interact with events from the present time oriented, socially adept pre-frontal cortex of the brain and its related social engagement nervous system, rather than reacting automatically from a past fear-based orientation of the amygdala, the sympathetic fight-flight nervous system, or the parasympathetic freeze/dissociation nervous system.
Take some time to sense your body and breath as you read this. Feel free to pause in your reading until you feel settled in your breath. Let yourself be aware of what you sense in your body. Which parts of your body stand out for you in this moment? Do you tend to be most aware of areas of discomfort, pain, tension, holding? Are you able to orient to what feels ok or even good in your body? Take some time to scan your body, head, neck, chest, breath, diaphragm/stomach area, belly, pelvis, back, arms, hands, legs, feet. What stands out for you? What do you notice that surprises you? What do you tend to be aware of habitually? Can you challenge your habits a bit and guide yourself to notice areas or sensations you are not accustomed to noticing. This might mean noticing any sensations at all. Or it might mean sensing that little space between your right index finger and middle finger. Or where your neck meets your head. Or the base of your left big toe. What can you sense in this moment that is new for you?
Return to Potential
As we inquire as to what is new, as to what is in this moment, we begin to return to the potential of the little one. Coming back to Maya, everything in the room was visually new for her! She had not seen us before! She had not seen a room full of people, colors, shapes and forms before she was born.
In this newness, there is infinite potential. As we develop and mature, we make decisions. Our cells change in certain ways, even in the embryo, establishing that they will become heart cells or liver cells or skin cells, etc. Throughout life, we make choices and change in response to our life conditions in ways that tend to set us on certain paths. Other pathways become less apparent or available to us through this process. The more we repeat our same choices and decisions, the more rigidly we become set on our path.
Returning to the newness of each moment is one way to recover our early potential. We can do this through making conscious, aware choices, rather than acting automatically out of habit. Various mindfulness based practices support us in being present to each moment in ways that facilitate this kind of awareness in life.
If you know me, you already know that I tend to mention Continuum Movement as I find it such an effective and accessible practice for dissolving our patterns and coming into presence in each moment. Returning to the concept of resurrection, Emilie Conrad, founder of Continuum, has compared the fluidity we are capable of to a snake shedding its skin. Each skin represents a life or period of life being let go of. In order to resiliently meet each moment as it arises, we must relinquish each past moment. We must die and be resurrected again and again. Otherwise, we try to meet the current situation from a stance established for the past and not necessarily appropriate or helpful for the present.
Continuum is of course not the only way to practice death and resurrection. Any practice that really brings us into the moment will facilitate our ability to be present and will take us that much closer to our original potential.
And in this moment, are you still aware of your breath? Your body? Your sensations? If you stay with them, what changes? How does the room look? What is new? How are you being resurrected in this moment? What is new? What is your potential?