Archive for the ‘meditation’ Category

One can always be more free. As the year comes to an end and 2013 is upon us, it’s a good time to let go of things one doesn’t want to bring into the new era.

As a baby, I got wired for trauma. Being operated on at 26 days old for pyloric stenosis, a blockage in the stomach, set the stage. As a baby, my belly was cut open and part of my stomach actually drawn out of my body to fix the problem. In many ways, I am still frozen, holding my body rigidly as I cope with a trauma that occurred 60 years ago. Amazing!  It’s called PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

So earlier this morning, I was sitting in bed with my legs extended, preparing for meditation. I settled in, covering myself with a blanket, allowing my body to sink into the earth and be held as I listened for my heartbeat and tuned into my breath. I realized though that my face was stuck as if it was frozen from the cheekbones up, including my nose. My lips were pulled back and my nose and brow were literally numb. I was smiling a weird lips-pressed-together-and-pulled-back type of smile, more like a snarl, and breathing as shallowly as possible.

What was going on?  I tracked the tension in the rest of my body–my shoulders, hips, chest–and realized that I was straining against something. Flash! In all likelihood, I was straining against whatever hospitals use to tie down infants who are going to be operated on. Back then, my head was secured to the table and here I was in 2012 still fighting to free myself.

Often in my morning meditation, I’m so busy dealing with the somatic repercussions of infant surgery that it’s a challenge to allow a meditative state to kick in. Some days, I simply deal with what I call somatic freeze and other times, I break through to information that my higher self has to offer.

One way I work with this rigid state is to allow my breath into the frozen area. I don’t forcefully bring breath in by taking a deep breath but simply allow my natural breath to return. I invite a quiet breath movement. In this process, I actually began to feel my nose and to exercise face muscles that I didn’t even know were there.

Another strategy to cope with PTSD freeze is imagery. During my meditation, a liberating fantasy brought excitement and a feeling of power.

I am a baby strapped to a gurney before surgery, wanting to escape. I rise and break the bands holding my head, shoulders, hips, and feet and grab the surgeon’s scalpel. It becomes a sword. I’m standing on the gurney now, a super-powered baby swinging her sword, daring anyone to approach. Oh, what fun!  I love watching their shocked and frightened faces. They run out of the operating room and I smash up the place. Oh, more fun!  

So am I suffering from frozen rage?  Am I stuck in that moment of facing my own mortality and being unable to do anything to save myself?  Yes!

I may have been given a local anesthetic before the surgery. I may have had no anesthesia but received instead a paralyzing drug. In this case, I would have been awake but incapable of fighting. Still I would have tried to be free. Certainly, my nervous system cried out, escape! Perhaps before being administered general anesthesia, I fought against being tied down. Since I had been starving for weeks and weighed only four pounds, I was pretty weak. I doubt though that I was fully anesthetized; the level of tension and stress in my body suggests I wasn’t.

My body has been engaged in a lifelong fight with itself and for the last 10 years, through meditation and Middendorf Breathwork, I’ve been finding freedom from this struggle. I am discovering my power. I am learning that more freedom is always possible. For 2013, I am getting a new face–less startle, more real. More truly me.

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After re-reading key sections of Peter Levine’s book Waking the Tiger, I conclude that it doesn’t have practical material that I can use to help me find relief from PTS (post-traumatic stress) symptoms while I sleep (see previous posts Parts I and II).  To heal from trauma, Levine’s advice is to work with a practitioner of Somatic Re-experiencing, a form of counseling he developed. Right on. His treatment seems awesome. However right now, I’m looking for ways that I can heal myself.

In meditation, an image was presented to me that is promising. Sitting quietly, I asked my higher self this question: How can I heal my nervous system so that I am always in joy and beauty?  The answer came in the form of an image and a knowing. The top part of a tube appeared. From the end came a wire that was coiled.  Pull the coil. There is plenty.  

When I wake up feeling tension in my neck and gritting my teeth, I imagine the tube with the coil. I picture pulling the coil and releasing the wire.  This work with imagery is a way of righting something physical that’s out of balance or stuck. I don’t understand how it works, but when I tried it, I felt relief. The best results came when in my imagination, I pulled and pulled and got a momentum going to the point where the wire was moving quickly and without friction against the sides of the tube.

I am hoping that by working with my post-traumatic stress symptoms consciously, the patterns that create this condition will change. This process is very intimate and subtle; it requires trust and belief in self. I may seek help if the tension I feel during sleep doesn’t diminish but for now, I’m trying my own techniques and trusting I can make headway (pun intended). Will keep you posted.

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So I wake up in the night needing to pee. Before I get up, however, I notice that my back and neck are extremely tense and I am barely breathing. I’m not in respiratory distress, but I’m breathing shallowly and only through one nostril, my mouth closed. Flash of insight: Ok, it’s not the type of pillow I’m sleeping on that’s causing the pain I awake to each morning. It’s anxiety that I experience as I sleep!  In this tense state, I breathe in such a way that my body barely moves. I know intuitively that this experience is connected to my infant surgery for pyloric stenosis at three weeks old. And I think it’s more than a pain control strategy.

When I get up several hours later, I decide that writing with my left, non-dominant hand could reveal more insights. Here’s what I wrote: Maybe left hand knows something about this rigid pattern. I hold myself oh so still so I won’t breathe–caught between life and death. Frozen. If I lie still, I live. Brain? What happened?  Then I drew a sleeping bird and next to it wrote: Sleeping bird – dead bird girl. 

So why am I a “dead bird girl” over sixty years later when the condition that caused the pain is resolved, I am in no pain, the trauma is over, and I am alive? What would Dr. Peter Levine say, author of Waking the Tiger, Healing Trauma?  Here are a few quotes from his book that are helping me to understand my situation:

“When neither fight nor flight will ensure the animal’s safety, there is another line of defense: immobility (freezing), which is just as universal and basic to survival. For inexplicable reasons, this defense strategy is rarely given equal billing in texts on biology and psychology. Yet, it is an equally viable survival strategy in threatening situations. In many situations, it is the best choice” (95).

“In post-traumatic anxiety, immobility is maintained primarily from within. The impulse towards intense aggression is so frightening that the traumatized person often turns it inward on themselves rather than allow it external expression” (103).

“When we respond to a life-threatening situation, hyperarousal is initially accompanied by constriction in our bodies and perceptions. The nervous system acts to ensue that all our efforts can be focused on the threat in a maximally optimal way. Constriction alters a person’s breathing, muscle tone, and posture. Blood vessels in the skin, extremities, and viscera constrict so that more blood is available to the muscles which are tensed and prepared to take defensive action” (135).

So it’s like being coiled up tight, like a spring. During the operation, I (and my nervous system) coiled to survive but I never unwound!

“Hyperarousal, constriction, helplessness, dissociation are all normal responses to a threat. . . . As these stress reactions remain in place, they form the groundwork and fuel for the development of subsequent symptoms. Within months, these symptoms at the core of the traumatic reaction will begin to incorporate mental and psychological characteristics into their dynamics until eventually they reach into every corner of the trauma sufferer’s life. . . . Eventually the symptoms can coalesce into traumatic anxiety, a state that pervades the trauma sufferer’s every waking (and sleeping) moment” (143-144).

So is my nervous system still playing dead? And what do I do about my PTS while I sleep?  How cope?  Can I change this pattern?  Stay tuned for “PTS While You Sleep – (Part II).”

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For the first time in my life, I took a nap. Yes, that’s right–the first time ever. As far back as I can remember, I have never napped. I would even go so far as to call myself nap-phobic. Napping was childish. Napping was silly. More honestly, I simply couldn’t do it though I’d tried.

A few days ago, I lay down around 6 o’clock in the evening. I hadn’t even made dinner yet, but the long day teaching had left me spent. I thought, I’d love a nap. (Huh?  Was that me talking to me?)  Where  did that thought come from?  Anticipating pleasure?  Unprecedented!  Besides, PTSDers don’t nap. At least this PTSDer doesn’t……until now :). As I settled under the covers, the experience felt delicious and special. And after fifteen minutes, I awoke totally refreshed. So this is what they mean! 

My partner takes naps whenever she needs to. My friends tell me they nap. When I used to fast for the holy month of Ramadan, many fellow Sufi students told me that they napped before evening events or prayer service. How could they, I wondered. When I would lie on my bed at two in the afternoon on a Saturday, exhausted after being up since four a.m. and eating and drinking nothing since five, my eyes were still wide, as if my eyelids were being held open by tiny clothespins. What I didn’t know about myself then is that I had PTSD. Of course, I couldn’t nap. I was doing guard duty, protecting myself.

The day I thought happily about a nap, the sentry in her tower had agreed to let this part of me pass through the gate. I was given a temporary pass to visit this new land. The guard leaned back, laid her weapon on the shelf, and put her feet up, enjoying the view while I headed for the soft bed of pine needles under the trees. I napped happily and when I was through, I tapped the sentry on the shoulder and re-entered the known world.

Growing up, I never saw my mother nap. Twice a week in the evening, she allowed herself to lie down on the couch and watch television with the family–“The Untouchables” Thursday evenings and The Ed Sullivan Show Saturdays. On these occasions, she actually covered herself with a blanket and lay her head on a pillow. But I never witnessed my mother napping. In fact, she slept only five hours a night, if that. As I’ve written in a previous post “PTS Parenting,” my mother was a PTSDer. I’m not saying that anyone who can’t nap has PTSD. I am saying I couldn’t nap because I had it and didn’t know it, and it’s likely that the same is true for my mother.

I am on the threshold of a new relationship not only with my body but also with life!  The affirmations are working. I am safe. I am worthy. All is well with the world. Good is everywhere. My body is my friend. I am one with my body. Just this morning during meditation, I heard my soul tell me, I’m on your side. I am letting go of control and coming home to my body in a deeper way. Dare I say it?  I am healing from PTSD!

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After meditation today, these questions came to me:  Who were those nurses who took care of me during my health crisis as an infant? What were their thoughts and prayers as they cared for me?  What could they tell me now about my infant self that would help me understand my challenges?  Had they seen me grimace in pain?  

I wondered these things because I am working with a numbness in my face that I think is related to the pain I felt either before, during, or after my infant surgery.  I became aware of it this summer when the cranio-sacral therapist was treating my concussion. In trying to ease my tempero-mandibular discomfort (jaw pain), which had worsened after hitting my head ice-skating, he suggested I do some facial muscle repetitions. These exercises involved lifting my lip on the right into a kind of snarl and releasing it and then doing the same on the left. Trouble is, I could not execute this move on the left because my face was actually numb. What was the reason?  I don’t think it had anything to do with my head injury. It felt like a very old problem.

During the surgery, was my head tied down and secured to the operating table in a weird way?  Did the numbness start then? Maybe I was intubated for the surgery (a tube inserted into my airway), and the technology pressed uncomfortably against my face.  In meditation the other day, I was given the image of a man’s profile. His face was smooth and radiated health, but  in front of and just above his right ear near his temple, the skin was pulled so horribly  tight, it was alarming to look at. It was as if one side of the man’s face was pinched together from all directions, twisted, and then stitched into place.  The tense lines radiating out from the pinched skin pointed to an unbearable tension, but the man’s countenance was calm.

So today in meditation, I did some Middendorf breathwork in order to bring life into my face. I allowed breath into the restricted area and immediately felt the whole top of my head lift, like a lid from a pressure cooker. What relief!  I decided to follow the restricted breath to see what I could learn and found my self biting down, grimacing. As a baby, my face must have screwed up in pain. Maybe my breath was pinched off to this facial area as I restricted the air that would have expanded my diaphragm and pressed against my stomach.  Normally, breath massages our organs in a good way, providing movement in a rhythmic dance, but  for a baby with a stomach blockage and then a surgery, this harmony was not possible.

After the meditation, I was thinking about those nurses because they witnessed my struggle. (My mother was relegated to sitting in the hallway and could only watch me through a window.) They saw my face when my skin was punctured by an I.V. before surgery.  They observed me as I lay day after day recovering in my hospital crib under the oxygen tent. How I wish I could ask them some questions now. Once I pressed my mother to think about what my face looked like among “all those tubes coming in and out of every opening,” as she put it. She looked down, bringing her chin close to her chest, closed her eyes, and concentrated for several minutes–a behavior uncharacteristic of my mother. Finally she looked up with a serious expression and said: “Your eyes were closed.”

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The word “mergulent” came to me today during meditation. I had been trying to relax but kept tensing up, so I asked my soul to help me: How can my body and soul be one?   Next thing I knew, I was traveling inside my body–actually moving effortlessly as in floating. I wasn’t seeing anything, just sensing movement and somehow knowing that I was inside my body. As soon as I realized the incredulity of this, I snapped out of it. But I feel I’ve discovered a key. A key to the oneness of body and soul and mind. A key to soothing PTS (post-traumatic stress) and possibly healing from PTSD.

The other day, a very wise friend and I were talking. I told her about the fact that when I sit quietly in preparation for meditation (I keep typing “medication” for “meditation”), I must cope with a lot of somatic tension left over from feeling, for most of my life, unsafe in my body. She mentioned that the cells of our bodies  are “co-operating components” * within each of us and that we are living examples of well being because our cells have agreed to co-operate with our souls in this human form.  I must have been thinking a lot  about this because just before I went body-traveling in my meditation, I affirmed the thought that my cells participate willingly in my life experience. Soul and cells are one unit agreeing to wholeness. We can create well being at any time by reaffirming this dynamic relationship.

I am reminded of the work of Barbara McClintock, a ground-breaking scientist, who I learned about years ago in a cell biology class at Columbia University. She postulated that the organelles, the bodies in the cytoplasm of our cells–the nucleus, mitochondria, endoplasmic reticulum, ribosomes–were actually at one time organisms that gave up their individuality or evolved over time to work in a communal way as parts of the unit of the human cell. The cell and its organelles became one working unit, communicating with other cells.

“Mergulence”–the human mind remembering the dynamic relationship of our cells (our bodies) and our souls. I am happy thinking of this term.  Throughout my day, when I catch myself in PTSD mode, holding my breath or locking a part of my body in tension, or being startled by some benign occurrence, I can re-affirm my wholeness through mindful mergulence. I can call on body and soul to unite. In this way, I regain the power of the present.

*from the Teachings of Abraham, Esther and Jerry Hicks

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Each morning before meditation, I read inspirational material to set my mind on the right track. Lately, I’ve been re-reading Marianne Williamson’s book A Return to Love. Because of old somatic patterns linked to my infant surgery and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), I have a lot of resistance to sitting still in peace, allowing my soul to communicate with me. I am getting better, however, at relaxing my body so that I can simply listen and receive. A Return to Love is my current companion in this process.

Marianne Williamson, a spiritual teacher, writes about her understanding of  A Course in Miracles. I don’t know where the Course originated, but I recognize wisdom when I meet up with it. On the back of the book, The New Age Journal states  that the Course is “a self-study program of spiritual psychotherapy.” It is based on the teachings of Jesus. She mentions the word “God” a lot, perhaps turning off some readers, but I don’t mind. Substitute “Creator” or “Wisdom” or “Spirit,” whatever works. Reading her book each day softens my patterns and allows my body to be less defensive and  more open.

Here are some of the passages from the chapter “The Body”  that have helped me trust and yield to my soul’s messages:

To see the body as a means by which the world is transformed, and not an end in itself, is a healthy perception of the body.

A Course in Miracles says that “health is the result of relinquishing all attempts to use the body lovelessly.”

There is a healing force within each of us, a kind of divine physician seated within our minds and in communication with every cell of our being. This force is the intelligence which drives the immune system.

Healing results from a transformed perception of our relationship to illness, one in which we respond to the problem with love instead of fear. 

Today in my meditation, I heard the word “beautyfruit.” I love it!  I’m not sure what it means but as I live my day, I keep the word in mind and ask for understanding. Thinking back to my reading of Williamson, I believe the term refers to my body. My body is a beautiful fruit, nourishing and sweet, precious and sacred–a living extension of my soul and mind. I love thinking of myself in this way. My body is generative, and I love it for all the ways it takes care of me.

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