Grow in the awareness of pain you hold in your body
“No pain no gain” used to be a personal slogan as I ran another mile or grinded bike gears up another mountain. I was an Ironman athlete and I loved feeling tough and crushing pain, fear, sadness. Those feelings made me feel vulnerable. They threatened to overwhelm me. During the grittiest chapter of my life, I packed my two dogs, a bike and dining room chairs and drove across the country from Maryland to California. I drove alone. I began a new job, stepping in to rescue a collapsing treatment program. I had just ended an engagement with a man that was hard to break up with, despite many attempts before. I finally took a job cross-country so it wouldn’t be easy to fall back into the same pattern. My heart was broken because I never had emotional safety. He was unable to love me in a way that created emotional safety and comfort. This relationship triggered the trauma of adoption and repeated abandonments by my adoptive parents. I slept on a blow up mattress when the verbal job offer began 70k less than promised.
Lack of emotional safety and consistency is devasting to the human spirit. The history passed down from our ancestors is that survival and protection happens in tribes. We are meant to be attached. Babies are genius connectors, mirroring sounds, facial expressions, vocalizations to create a bond with caretakers they depend on.
Pushing ourselves to crush hard feelings by overworking, oversocialing, overexercising, overdoing only gets us so far. We must constantly be distracted to achieve a little bit more peace of mind. There will never be enough awards, accolades, or friends to quiet the ungrieved pain and unprocessed feelings.
Provide comfort to neglected parts of you to resolve emotional and physical pain
These unprocessed feelings and memories live in our body. At one time, we felt hurt, overwhelmed, abandoned, embarrassed, ashamed, disrespected, betrayed. These are the hardest emotions to experience as a human. It threatens our survival. So the part of us that had the sensations buries those emotions deep into the body and out of our awareness. And another part of us rises to protect us: a strong jaw, a tight belly, a protruding chest. These are all parts of us, exiled and protectors, that we can trace with sensation. It’s important to not be afraid when you realize you have many parts inside of you. Many ages, many memories, many opinions. These are an accumulation of parts of you that arose out of experiences and relationships. They came about for our survival. And they usually run the show silently out of our awareness.
Locate a challenging sensation in your body. Begin by noticing the sensation. Notice images, colors, feelings, even shapes and sizes. A knot in the belly, a flat pressure on the chest, a lock in the jaw are examples.
Place hands on the sensations, offer curiosity, compassion and presence. Wonder what this part of the body is holding for you?
As you pay attention, ask it what it has been holding for you? What does this part want you to know?
The body will sometimes show memories or begin telling a story. It’s important to separate thinking for this part. Ask and wait for the answer.
For some people, this is a presence and awareness practice to notice very very subtle sensations and feelings. For others, the part can begin chatting away. This usually is a sign that this part trusts you to lead it was calm, clarity into soothing, emotionally validating territory. If we judge, contract or constrict, this part will not speak to us. Only until we are ready to be aware will it trust us to speak. And for others, many other parts will jump in because you are finally paying attention! The upset belly began but then the locked jaw took over. It needs your attention first. In this instance, make note of the prevalent sensations and negotiate who needs to go first.
How do you feel towards that part? If there is judgment, shoulds and shouldn’ts, ask the judgmental part to step back. If you feel empathy, openness, curiosity, then proceed.
Listen to their stories.
What did you need dear one?
I’m sorry you didn’t get that.
Let me give you that now.
I see that you needed …
What do you need from me now so that you don’t have to carry that anymore?
This step will often offer advice for your daily life choices. It is common for it to want the calm, courageous, compassionate, confident one, the C-Self (aka “Soul Self”) to make changes in your life. Examples are strengthen emotional boundaries, commit to setting limits with others, spend time nourishing yourself in a particular way that is meaningful to you.
When it feels complete, take time to thank all that showed up. It is important to journal and take notes at this point. You will likely forget what came up in your meditation at a later time. Create a list of actions steps that you will continue to nurture these parts of yourself and make changes that protect, nourish and comfort them.
When you are done writing, I invite you to do the Comfort Movement Meditation that is part 3 of this step. This can help create even more awareness and help these comfort awakenings settle in the body.
Dr. Elizabeth Esalen's book Elevated Bliss Factor is a personal practice to find inner peace, joy and bliss. Creating Comfort is the first step in The Elevated Bliss Factor practice. Dr. Esalen offers a Comfort Orientation, a Comfort Meditation Practice, and a Comfort Embodiment Practice. Dr. Esalen is also the CEO and Founder of The Lotus Collaborative eating disorder recovery centers and Luminous Healing Center for wellness, trauma and PTSD recovery.
Beginning with Comfort
Most epic adventures begin with discomfort, the way of life the Hero is no longer satisfied, the spiritual aridity that permeates the Heroine’s life. Our journey however begins with comfort.
Our quest is to find the ways we can soften and open, surrender to joy and gratitude. This is not a positive bypass. This first step grounds us in ways that we are taken care of. Life is already challenging enough. We need simple ways to begin our growth and exploration that root us firmly in self-care.
How do you experience comfort in your life?
Comfort can be found everywhere once you start paying attention to it. Begin this inquiry by gathering your current comforts and making note the areas in your life that lack comfort. Make an action plan to actively bring comfort to areas of your life that need it.
A Woman’s Call to Freedom from the Harrowing Tightrope of Others’s Judgement
Lewis Carol got it right when Alice was trying to get into Wonderland and she kept eating potions that made her too big or too little. The struggle for all humans, and especially women, is to find a balance between being too much and too little. If I’m too mousy I’m not leaning in. I’m giving my power away. Or if I want to take back the reins to my life, I’m bossy or bitchy. Heaven forbid I’m the “S” word—Selfish!
When I was younger I would wish upon a star that someday I could define my life. Then I’d finally be an adult. Nobody told me that adulting, especially while female, would be so challenging. Society has conditioned us all to think it’s normal to subject women to constant critique. It’s maddening to live with endless judgments that you are always doing something wrong. I’ve been told I’m too skinny, not beautiful enough, not smart, too weak, won’t amount to much—the disease of too little. I’ve also been told I’m too pretty, too emotional, too ambitious, too slutty, too bold, in your face—the disease of too much.
One thing that is for sure: I find this tightrope of scrutiny too narrow and harrowing. My younger years were riddled with abuse and ways in which I erased my selfhood to survive. I took in the bullying and made myself wrong, lacking, and bad. I was miserable. And when I made the decision to leave it all behind, to not be a powerless victim to others’ opinions and mistreatment I felt so empowered. I began to live the life I dreamed of. Yes graduate school was hard and so was starting a business, having a child, and daring to believe in myself. Everybody loves a comeback kid. As a wounded woman I wasn’t much a threat to others, yet!
Life changed after years of being poor, unable to make rent or take a break. I finally earned a paycheck at age 36. I could support myself. At age 40 I treated myself to my first world vacation. I bought my first new car! I found my soul mate and fell in love. I shared my joy with the world. I wanted be an example of a woman who dared it all to be herself. I was living my dream life— fully in my power, a lady boss on my terms. I freed my victim-martyr identity and allowed my bold, glorious soul to shine. I felt tremendous gratitude and shared that with the world. Then suddenly I became too much.
I became a show off, too vain, too shallow, too materialist, too “braggy”. People mistook my desire to express the gratitude and elevate the joy in the room as wanting all eyes to be on me. People misunderstood my love of travel and photography and thought it was an attempt to rub glamour in their faces. People thought my intent was to make others feel bad about themselves.
People interpreted the freedom I feel in my body with sexiness and femininity as vain and self-obsessed. People believed my love of play for lack of ability and skills. I had a doctorate but was still labeled a dumb blonde. People assumed I’ve always been a privileged princess who married for the money when my greatest pride is in being self-made and a provider for my family.
I made others feel bad about themselves and was told I should tone it down. The real heartbreaker was the assertion that I was letting women down. My self expression was too loud, my joy filters were not realistic, and nobody should be sparkly if they want to be taken seriously. I was a role model or an oppressor to womens’ self esteem. I was a champion or I was a Kardashian. I was endlessly too much or too little.
I can say, that despite others’ idealism or judgment I am trying to live my best life without sacrificing myself or others in the process. Ultimately I want freedom, mine and yours, from the narrow and harrowing constructs that seek to suck the marrow out of our brilliance. I want freedom from the tightrope narrative that we either have to be lacking or perfect—the double messages that reduce us to scared, insecure, ruthless bullies. When we try to control others so that we feel good inside, we unleash our oppressor on them.
I want the freedom to be messy, anxious, angry and vulnerable. I want to eliminate the dichotomy that I can’t be strong, deep, smart, vulnerable AND sexy, needy, bold, emotional. I want to be freaking brilliant and not have the answers. I want to be irreverent and sarcastic while overly sentimental. I want to be valued as a fierce, sensitive, loving woman!
While I sincerely wish you your freedom on your terms I want my freedom on my terms-
I want to bash the extreme polarization of black or white thinking, too much or too little. I want these stupid constructs and narratives to smash into a million little pieces of tender unique snowflakes and full spectrums of light. I demand as shards of glass we shred oppression and unite in a mosaic of love.
May you be both too much and too little, and gorgeously, brightly— YOU!
Dr. Liz Bliss Esalen is a mother, wife, entrepreneur, psychologist, CEO, healer and writer. Her life’s passion is to be a champion of the Light, and empower people to restore faith, love, joy and peace again after profound loss. She is the Founder and CEO of Luminous Healing Center & The Lotus Collaborative, thriving, holistic organizations committed to employee wellness and guiding individuals, groups and families through trauma and eating disorder recovery. She draws upon her own transformational journey, clinical psychology education and entrepreneurial leadership to inspire others.