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.