For the second time in this course I let my partner (this week, Jordan) hold me in the space of panic I felt during my son’s choking incident. I had anchored in a moment from it during our group inquiry in class last week as well, and noticed then that there was another moment, another scene in my mind, that I had not taken to inquiry. So, I went there with Jordan this week.
I wasn’t sure that I would be able to feel all the feelings just through this week’s exercise (it wasn’t exactly inquiry, after all), but it worked powerfully! I had to go very slowly (as I had last week with Nanou Anne) in order to really see what was happening in that moment. Those moments were SO full, of thoughts and sensations! They feel totally overwhelming when I think of them outside of inquiry. Inquiry, however, is spacious and strong enough to hold it all and let it move through me. This week’s exercise was as well.
The first sensation I noticed was an intense constriction just under my ribs. It felt like a dark gray fist that pulled everything into itself. I couldn’t breath as I felt into it. It sucked the very life out of me, or so it seemed. I saw the dark tunnel beneath me and felt myself slipping towards it.
(Interestingly though, as I remember the sight of that tunnel in my mind now, I see that there was light on the other end of that tiny opening, way at the bottom. So strange! I interpreted it as leading me to a pit that I would never escape from, but as I look again I see that it opened into a bright expanse, though it was a very small space to fit through – similar to the eye of a needle).
When Jordan asked how that sensation was supporting me, I was stumped for what felt like a long time. This sensation felt like a death sentence, a one way ride to a point of no return. I couldn’t relax in it, and I could hardly breath. How in the world could this be supporting me?!”
Though as I sat with the question what arose was a sense that this sensation was somehow holding me together when i otherwise felt like my limbs and head might just detach and float away. This response seemed strange, for I wasn’t sure how I would come apart like that, but that’s what arose. I let it be there, without understanding it.
Next I noticed a rush of tingling in the back of my head. The front of my head felt like it hit a gray cement wall and couldn’t move or see beyond it. It was totally stuck. But the back of my head felt like it had exploded somehow and I felt warm, throbbing, tingly sensation all across it, and down my neck.
As I sat with Jordan’s question “How is this supporting me?” I could feel how this explosion of energy in the back of my head opened a space opposite the constriction at the front of my head. It was as if a back door had blown open to let in light and fresh air. As if the jail cell wall had burst open.
I became aware that, and Jordan named it at the same moment as it came to me, that this energy was centered in and around my brain stem, the old reptilian brain that turns on survival mechanisms. This part was keeping me alive when the constriction under my ribs felt like death.
(Incidentally, I have seen several times now how my physical sensations at different moments of this whole long episode match the sensations my son felt at each stage. I felt constriction under the ribs when he couldn’t draw a breath. I felt light-headed and weak in the limbs as he was losing consciousness. I felt that I had dropped off the end of a rope at the moment that his seizure ended and he lay limp in my arms, unconscious and no longer attempting to breath. I told Katie that it seemed I felt everything in my body that he was going through and she simply said, “That doesn’t surprise me.”)
Next I noticed how that same buzzy, tingly energy spread all across my shoulders and down my spine, and my spine felt very erect, as if it were holding me up at attention. I saw this was supporting me by literally holding my body upright, not allowing me to fold into a ball around the constriction under my ribs, and not allowing me to faint with fear. This sensation was keeping me in an alert posture, a power pose of strength and readiness. It was so good to notice how I was showing up as a super hero, ready for action. I had so judged myself for feeling such intense constriction in the upper gut and in the forehead. I had thought I was failing because I didn’t have a plan and couldn’t release the tension in me. But what I saw in this exercise was that the rest of my body, and especially the spinal cord and brain stem, were fully charged, exploding with energy. I see that I am usually so focused and identified with my thought and the front of my head, that I am almost completely unaware of all that is going on when that part shuts down. I never knew the back of my head could take charge when it needs to, which is exactly what it did. It determined my actions and kept me awake and alert, it kept me breathing (against the efforts of my constricted thinking) and kept me upright.
Next I noticed a weak, tingly feeling in my legs. It was similar to when their circulation is getting cut off that they start to go a little numb (but before you change positions and the circulation starts up again with that big tingly feeling). I saw how harshly I had judged that sensation, telling myself I was weak to feel it, and that I needed to pull myself together and deal with the situation. I felt like that tingling was evidence that I was failing at meeting the situation with fearless confidence.
Now, however, when I was asked how that sensation was supporting me I could see that my legs gave up some of their circulation in order to prioritize the brain and spinal cord. My vital organs needed oxygen as I experienced that incredibly tight constriction under my ribs. I could see that my legs, and also my arms, gave a portion of their oxygen to my brain stem that needed to work. As I saw this I felt a tremendous amount of gratitude for the way my legs sacrificed their normal strength, giving freely to the parts of my body that needed it more. I saw my whole body working as a instinctual team, so swift and graceful, giving energy exactly where it was needed.
What a different picture this is that what my thoughts had told me. My thinking was screaming at different parts of me to stop feeling weak or shaky, to hurry up and come up with a plan before I fucked everything up forever. Now I can see that my thinking so totally missed the beautiful, coordinated effort that every part of this animal body performed in perfect timing. Nothing went wrong at all. Everything showed up just at the moment it was needed.
At the end of our session I felt an intense stillness around me. I had used so many words to describe what I saw to my partner as I choked on tears and felt waves of sensation splash through my body, and now I felt suspended in a sea of wonder. I didn’t need to breath, and yet I noticed that breath came.
Wow, experiencing goose bumps all over ‘my’ body while reading this post!
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