Dreamers & Schemers kicked off our March session, as always, with an overview of the Three Agreements that uphold our sacred space. This month, since we were about to delve into the topic of fear, I really wanted to emphasize the importance of honoring the self by being gentle and self-compassionate in our self inquiry. In terms of honoring other, I wanted to introduce the idea that sometimes the best way of honoring someone else is by trusting that person’s strength rather than rushing in to comfort at the slightest show of tears. Sometimes the rush to comfort victimizes the other or distracts us from what’s going on inside ourselves in reaction to external distress. Being a compassionate witness is being able to remain centered and expansive in the face of another person’s discomfort, trusting that if the other truly needs help, she will ask for it. As for beginner’s mind, it would come in especially hand during our guided visualizations. To get the most out of them, we have to be able to step out of all our judgments and expectations, effectively emptying ourselves out so we can receive what we can through our intuition rather than being bombarded with messages from our critical voice.
GETTING TO KNOW YOU
The questions I put into the circle today were: What fear have you overcome? and What fear are you currently grappling with? I shared that perhaps the greatest fear I’ve overcome is moving on with my life without one of my parents. The fear I was wrestling with at the time (it has temporarily abated) was uncertainty in my future. I was deeply touched by what everyone else shared, especially since to some extent or another vulnerability is something that everyone in the group is working on. It was interesting how we all share certain fears, and how when one person is brave enough to voice her fears aloud, it makes it a little bit easier for everyone else to admit to their own.
Before diving into our energy work we had a brief discussion on shielding as one of the basic building blocks of energy work, along with grounding and centering. We will continue our discussion of boundaries next month, when we move up to the sacral chakra and talk about emotions, so don’t worry about missing out if you couldn’t make this session.
SITTING MINDFULLY WITH FEAR
We opened our work on fear with a reading from Jeff Foster‘s Way of Rest, which is a constant source of inspiration for me. I always find just what I need to hear when I turn to those pages. His message to “trust the process” was exactly what I needed to hear given my recent angst around integration (which, I’m happy to report has dissipated…at least for now!).
I decided to reintroduce a meditation we did last year, one inspired by the work of Tara Brach, because fear continuously spirals back into our lives, and we are challenged again and again to make room for what comes up. We never fully “conquer” our fears. We move through them, one by one by one.
To illustrate my point, I shared a funny story about how last year I got really cocky one morning. I no longer remember the particulars, but last summer I felt as if I’d surmounted my tremendous fear of uncertainty, and as I was walking to trapeze class, I actually said aloud to the Universe, “I’m not afraid of anything anymore, so bring it!” Hahahahaha. Minutes later I found myself hyperventilating on a board some twenty feet above ground. My instructor had decided it was the day I learn to take off independently, and the feeling of no one holding me back from that chasm before me filled me with terror I had never felt before. They had to send a second instructor up just to help me breathe! (Everything worked out in the end, and I can now take off and even swing out of safety lines!)
My point was, we are never “done” dealing with fear. But that fact doesn’t have to be disheartening! In fact, what I am seeing in my life is that the cycling back of old fears doesn’t necessarily signal failure on my part to deal with my stuff. Instead, I choose to see it as an invitation to mastery. The fear I described above was quite new to me, since I’m not generally afraid of heights, but I think it was showing me the fears I have around self trust (which I have to develop as I get more and more independent as a flyer). But one of the most persistent fears in my life has been uncertainty around the future. I faced it when I finished grad school without any employment—let alone career—plans. It came back to haunt me when I decided to shut down my youth work and let myself grieve and recover from burnout in silence. And then cycled back when my husband and I came thisclose to leaving the city either for upstate NY or Singapore. Most recently, my fear of uncertainty reared its ugly head for no real reason other than my monkey mind constantly wants to know what The Plan is all the time. The best I can do in this situation is just to remain present to myself, rather than allow my mind to run off into a future that hasn’t yet happened.
Tara Brach teaches that our minds are powerful enough to rewire our body’s habitual responses to fear. She reminds us that fear is “real [it’s experienced bodily] but not true,” with the exception of the rare, immediate threat to our lives. The mindfulness meditation directed us to pay attention to our felt sense so we can familiarize ourselves with how fear manifests in our bodies. Then we worked on making compassionate space for the fear, checking in on how it shifted in the process, and ended with a series of questions that were so powerful it brought tears to people’s eyes. I consider that a solid success!
I segued into this next exercise by recounting Tara Brach’s observation that when we actually turn to face our fears we learn that they aren’t as scary as we thought they would be. In fact, one patient of hers recounted how one night he managed to look into the eyes of a shadowy figure that regularly haunted his dreams, only to discover that he was faced with a rather comic figure.
In that spirit, this next portion was dedicated not only to making room for what we fear, but actively embracing those shadows into our lives. Practicing Amanda Owen‘s Monster Celebration is probably the most fun I have ever had doing shadow work. If you want to know what is standing between you and a goal you’re struggling to reach, this is a handy tool to turn to. Every time I throw a party for one of my monsters, I learn something new. I have never met the same monster twice, nor have I intentionally invited the same one back, so I can’t speak to the depth of the work possible, but this exercise often gives me a clue as to what I’m dealing with in any given situation.
There was a terrific demonstration of beginner’s mind from someone who had done this exercise before, and half expected to get the same monster, but remained open enough to meet a new one. We also heard about someone who learned something empowering about herself upon meeting her monster. (Applause!)
HEALING ANCESTRAL FEAR
So far we have learned how fear is created by the mind but held in the body. Now we consider how we inherit fears from our ancestors. I not only refer to certain habits of mind or emotional patterns we pick up as learned behavior, but to the fears we hold unconsciously on all levels of our being, from deep in our DNA (as studies on mice have shown) to what we might more loosely call our “spirit.” Thich Nhat Hanh deals in the latter, and offers a brief meditation to help us heal ancestral wounds.
I also offered everyone the opportunity to connect with their ancestors using the method we learned last month so they could learn more about how to deal with fear in their lives. It was interesting to hear how the experience changed for those who did the visualization last month.
TRE (Trauma / Tension Release Exercise)
I had originally planned to cap the evening off with a brief introduction to TRE, which would have wrapped everything up in a neat little bow, but, alas, we ran out of time. This is a method I learned last year through a training with TRE Los Angeles, in the company of two other Dreamers & Schemers.
TRE gives us a concrete, physical way to release fear that is very different from some of the more mental or emotional methods we covered above. Think about it: When we experience a real threat to our safety—a near miss on the highway, for example—our impulse is to “shake it off.” When we do this we reach deep into our animal instincts. On the most primal level, we know that to move past fight/flight/freeze, we need to, well, move. Shaking has a very real, physiological effect on our bodies. When we shake we may not know what we are releasing (it could be your grandmother’s old stuff), but it does our bodies (and minds, hearts, and spirits) good.
In case you’re wondering if TRE leads you to be overwhelmed with sheer terror or by an unending ocean of tears, fear not! An emotional response is not (always) a part of the process, and you may not even be consciously aware of what you are shaking off.
I point you to this YouTube video to get a better overview of the entire method. Halfway through you will be able to see what the actual shaking looks like (though they cut short the warm up exercise that are recommended for novice shakers).
Next gathering is Thursday, April 13, and we’ll be tackling the sacral chakra. So be mindful in the coming weeks of anything related to emotional and creative expression, as well as all things sensual, sexual, and pleasurable!