I’m sitting here watching my roommate’s toddler. He’s fifteen months old and an adorable little boy. Big smile, laughs a lot, loves to dance when the music’s blaring (my kinda kid), and a TON of energy. He’s also reaching that stage where he knows what he wants (well, for like two minutes until he wants something different) and isn’t afraid to let you know when you aren’t attending to his needs.
As I started writing this, he wanted to get up onto the bar stool and proceeded to knock it over. Then he tried walking behind the entertainment system around all the cords. He knows what he’s not allowed to do. But since I’m sitting here typing, he’s going to find a way to get my attention.
I also find it interesting how he’s trying to communicate his needs and wants with me. Without the knowledge of speech, he’s using grunts, groans, and hand signals (a sign that I do not know, even after a frantic search on the web, and find out later that it’s his version of “more”) to get across what he wants. If I understand his gestures, he smiles and gets really excited. And yet, if I don’t understand him, he gets frustrated, angry, and at times, will throw a tantrum.
How do I know what you want if I have trouble communicating with you? And when you melt, I’m at a complete loss.
How do I take care of your needs if you don’t even know what they are?
He comes up to me and hands me my keys. As I reach out my arm and open my hand, he rapidly pulls the keys back shaking his head firmly saying, “No.” Then he thrusts the keys back towards me again. We repeat this process numerous times.
I watch this little guy with a different set of eyes.
I have a Little Phoenix inside of me. A boy just like him that wants to play, wants to dance, and wants connection. A boy who one minute is quietly content in his own world and then the next, wants to know that he’s not alone. There’s comfort having the presence of another. And yet, there’s a deep fear and internal pain when he realizes that this someone isn’t the person he’s bonded with.
My roommate’s child holds onto the child gate looking at the front door screaming mama over and over. Will Mama ever come back? Is she gone forever?
A few soothing words from me, he forgets about Mom and happily starts to read a book.
I notice how a child’s wants and needs are constantly in flux, one minute wanting one thing and the next wanting something completely different.
However, there is one constant: connection.
How we got that connection when we were kids is what becomes internalized within us as adults.
How we were nurtured when we were little is how we grow up nurturing ourselves. How well we can identify our own needs and wants and how willing we are to give that to us, will determine how happy we are in the world.
This is the core of who we become.
It all starts with how our needs and wants were attended to as children.
Speaking of which. I can write this later. Time to get down on the floor and play with this little guy!
Last week I had the option of going to Pound, a really fun fitness program at the gym involving aerobic exercise and drumsticks beating to the sound of music or going to a Shamanic Breathwork session run by a dear friend of mine.
I absolutely love Pound. High energy, good music, fun people. A great full body workout. I’m so content and happy after going there.
However, I’m a bit apprehensive and uncomfortable spending an hour doing deep breathing. I’ve done it once before, and yet, I get so concerned about being able to slow down my mind, get into a deep trance state, and doing everything correctly, that my anxiety level goes through the roof.
Sometimes, when we feel the most uncomfortable about something, is when we really need to dig in and do that which what we are afraid of.
I decided to take the leap.
The Breathing Session
There were six of us that sat in a small circle, introducing ourselves, while smudging and explaining why we were there.
Our facilitators explained the process (the following is just a fraction of the description taken from The Heart Beat Collective):
Your breath has the ability to alter your consciousness, calm your physical body, and still the mental chatter of your mind.
Shamanic Breathwork is a powerful somatic process that is based upon the premise that within each and every person resides an inner healer—an inner shaman—that knows how to heal, how to transform, and how to navigate through Life connected to Force that is greater than the Ego Self.
Using a connected, circular, breathing technique in conjunction with chakra attuned music, the Shamanic Breathwork Process allows individuals to experience deep healing and transformation on a spiritual, mental, emotional and physical level.
As we sit in the circle and discuss what’s going to come next, I feel that anxiety welling deep in the pit of my stomach.
“Tonight we’re going to breath for 60 minutes.”
I say WHAT?!? 60 minutes? You gotta be kidding me! I’m going keep breathing deeply, with a mask over my eyes, and be able to stay in an altered state for that long? Shoot, I can barely last 15 minutes meditating in the morning. Maybe I should have gone to Pound!
“One way to breathe is in through your nose and forcefully exhale it out your mouth.” Our facilitators demonstrate. “You control the pace of your breathing. Think of it as your foot on the accelerator in your car. The faster and deeper your breaths, the faster and deeper you will go in this process. If you need to slow down, take your foot off the accelerator. If you find you are processing something strongly, step on the gas a little. This is your process, your personal journey. You do what feels right for you.”
Oh shit! I forgot that it was THAT kind of breathing!
Will I hyperventilate? Will I pass out like I did as a kid when we would breath hard and fast, then someone would squeeze you from behind?
I know, I know. My chiropractor tells me to breathe more. I can barely do it during meditation. Something I’m still working on.
But really, short, shallow breaths are just fine for me, thank you very much.
I really start to doubt my decision to come here tonight.
“There will be a couple of songs for each of the seven different chakras. The vibrational frequency from each song will exactly and correctly match the color of each chakra. The music will be LOUD. Don’t let this surprise you. It is all part of the process.”
Oh yeah. I forgot how loud the music was. I love my music turned way up. And yet, the experience during Shamanic Breathwork is different than what I’m used to. The only comparison I can make is picturing different sub woofers, thumping at different frequencies, situated in different corners of the room. The beat and tones resonate throughout the body. I mean, seriously, they resonate from the inside out. This stirs up feelings and sensations that’s nothing like going dancing at at a club and singing along.
Wait! One hour of that too? “Ugh, why did I not just go to Pound?” my inner critic repeats.
Almost instantly, my adult comforts Little Phoenix reminding him that we are in a safe environment, that I’m here, and whatever comes out of tonight will be good enough. We’re not here to do it “right”. We’re here to work on some of the uncomfortable emotions that have popped up within us this past week.
I lie down on the mat, have a pillow to snuggle up with, and put the blindfold over my eyes. I focus on relaxing (which for some reason makes me more tense) and wait for the music to start. As the music blares from the speakers I start to breath in through my nose and expel my breath out through my mouth in quick, short bursts. Just like I was taught!
Shhh. You don’t have to do it perfectly. I try and calm my mind.
I focus on the diaphragm and I pray the 60 minutes won’t feel like a lifetime.
I will admit. It took me quite a while to get out of my head. And about half way through I needed to go to the bathroom. Nope, not gonna go. I don’t want to “ruin” my experience or someone else’s. Eventually, I had to give into the physical sensations pressing against my bladder. Stop the internal mental fight and just get comfortable.
And guess what? The world didn’t spin out of orbit because I wasn’t “perfect”. Fancy that!
When I lied back down, finally relieved, I went right back to my breath. It had become almost second nature at this point. That was when I start having images.
The first was an image of me as an infant, lying alone in a crib. I don’t have any clue if that’s true or not. I just know the emptiness and loss I felt in that moment. I was alone. There was no one there.
I felt the craving and desire to have not only physical touch, but just someone in the room. I wanted connection and yet, there was nobody.
I didn’t feel fear. Like the kind of fear that Mom won’t come back. It was almost a normalized deadness within me. As if it didn’t matter if my mother was there or not. My body knew she wasn’t fully present. Even if she was there, I was literally all alone.
The next flash was me lying on my bed. I’ve had this vision before. The kicking and screaming against the wall. Yelling as loud as I can to get some sort attention. Anything. Just notice that I’m here. I’m hurting.
Someone, please comfort me.
And no matter how hard I kicked or how loud I screamed, I would always be ignored. My feelings did not matter. Only when I was a “good” boy, would I get some sort acknowledgement. Even if that was only to “show” me off to others.
This was followed by another flash. My mother crying, upset because she had been fighting with my father. Biological father? Step-father? It does not matter. They both used verbal abuse to manipulate and control her emotions.
I placed my hand on her shoulder and rubbed her arm. My connection, my love, my touch helped soothe my mother. I was able to change her emotional stabbing pain, at least, to a dull throb. It was then that she would truly see me. Comforting my mother gave me the connection, attention, and love I so desperately craved.
I flashed to the present, my inner child screaming for someone to notice him, someone to connect with him, someone to love him. A wound so deep that to be alone and without that connection was akin to standing on a bed of hot coal.
“Look at me! See! I am here! LOVE ME!” was emanating from every single cell in my body. Until…
I heard it.
Someone else in the room was crying.
Was she ok? Did she need something?
My visions dissolved from my mind. I was back in the room. I wanted to comfort. My body got rigid. I was on high alert. Nothing about my own internal pain mattered any more. I needed to make sure she was ok.
Once she’s ok, I’ll be ok. I know my body will remain taunt unless I get up and take care of her. Just take off the mask, roll over and help her calm down.
I heard a different voice. A soothing voice.
The woman in the room is being taken care of. Someone is there for her. She’ll be alright after all.
My tense body finally relaxed, and as I started concentrating on my breath again, the session ended.
The Art Project
When the breathing stopped our next step in our process was to draw our experience. We were given both white and black paper to choose from with a colored pastel set. There was a circle drawn on each and we were to draw our experience inside the circle.
Well, that inner critic was still lurking just below the surface. “You can’t draw! It’s going to look terrible. And then we have to share this with everyone else?”
I grabbed blue (well it was more a blue-green color) and decided to color my “safe” place. The sky. Where I feel the most at peace. “Just color the sky,” I said to my inner child, “for that is where we love to be.”
I can’t paint the sky without adding the Sun. I take yellow and make a small circle.
The most beautiful thing for me is a sunset. Especially viewed from the flight deck at 40,000 feet above sea level. In fact, if you depart at just the right time, you can watch the sunset over an airport, then ten minutes later, watch it re-set over the horizon. Those are the best two-in-one days.
I add oranges, reds. Oh…and some purple too.
As I start to add the color, I think about the story my daughter and I wrote when my mother passed away: Sunsets, a Gift from Grandma. We believe that Grandma paints the sunsets. And we always thank her when we have the opportunity to admire her masterpieces. A few weeks ago, with one amazing sunset, I thanked Grandma, while my daughter thanked her cat. Her cat had been with her for over 16 ½ years and had recently passed. My daughter knew her cat was helping Grandma out.
As these memories flooded my mind, the tears started to fall. I did not resist. I let the emotions come.
My mother has been gone for over 13 years. I missed her. I wanted to hold her. And at the same time, I wanted to ask her, “Why?” Why did you not hold me? Why did I have to be the one to comfort you? Why were you unable to comfort me? Why was a husband more important in your life than I?
In my typical “stick-figure” way, I drew myself lying alone in a crib. Added gray above to symbolize how lost I was as a baby. I drew myself lying on my bed, kicking the wall, adding red and orange above to symbolize how mad I was. And as I tapped further into what my anger meant, I realized that it wasn’t the specific situation that made me mad, I was angry because no one acknowledged my feelings. I truly believed that nobody cared.
I then draw what I crave. What I desire most. Connection.
I draw me and another woman. For the first time, I don’t picture it being my ex. Just another woman who appreciates all aspects of my personality. The good, the bad, the ugly. One that accepts me for who I am. One that understands that at times I can be needy, but still wants to connect, not out of obligation, but because she too desires to share her life with me. I color above the two stick figures holding hands a different shade of the sky, my safe place.
I look at my work, full of emotion. And then the inner critic starts his attack. The funky looking stick figures. The boxy lines of a crib and bed. Nobody would ever know what it is unless I explain it.
It was at that moment one of the facilitators said about the artwork, “No matter what, it will be perfect. Because it’s yours!”
I write that at the bottom of my picture, tears streaming down my face.
Just like listening to someone else process their insights through group therapy, the shares we had about our experiences was icing on the cake this evening. Of course, at the beginning, I couldn’t still the inner critic because my experience didn’t seem as “deep” as some of the visions the other people had. The questioning “did I do it right?” came up time and time again.
What was interesting to note was not only was I apprehensive about sharing, many of the others were also. And just like I didn’t think my experience was something people could relate to or even that important, the body language of this safe space showed they were just as hesitant to open up about their experiences as well. They too, believed their own inner critic.
And then one talked about the image of standing on the beach, the waves crashing against the shore, and walking into the ocean to grab the bottle that held a message, a message only for her. And another one explained the message that was in her bottle and how much she appreciated the guided meditation from the facilitators.
My inner critic went balistic.
“Wait, when did the facilitators talk about the beach and some message in a bottle? Crap, did I fall asleep?” Fear radiated in my body that I again did not do it right.
Why is it so hard to fight those perfectionist thoughts?
I breathe (hey, I do use breathing) and I comfort myself.
As each of us got over the, “well, I don’t see this is that big of a deal,” mental barrier we had, we see the similarities in our stories. The childhood wounding. The carried emotions from our parents that weigh us down in our adult lives. We see how those wounds keep us trapped in negative self-talk. And even deeper, how these beliefs permeate and taint the very relationships we have with others.
It’s all about learning how to let go of those patterns. Let go of those beliefs. And learning how to love ourselves for who we are and all our imperfections.
Like my daughter believed when she was five, “I Love Me,” we lose that when we get older. Instead of having that trust and love in who we are, we end up believing what the world shows us.
We compare ourselves to others. We shame ourselves because we don’t meet up to our own expectations. We lay a burden of guilt that weighs us down because we made a mistake. We are forever worried what everyone else thinks about us, that we conform our lives to appease the outside world.
We have this illusion that love and connection comes from outside of us; from someone else’s acceptance of who we are.
We forget love and connection comes from within. And rather than just live life, we live everyone else’s by trying to comply to their standards.
As I sat and listened to everyone, I noticed that what we want and crave the most, is to love that child inside of us. To love us so deeply that we trust everything will work out. That fear will melt away. That we are lovable. That we are worthy. That we are enough.
That not matter what, we are safe and we are ok.
I asked a question during my share. “My fingers were dirty, so I thought, I’d just leave fingerprints all around the outside of this circle. What in the world could that have meant?”
Without missing a beat, one of the facilitators, who had previously acknowledged that she too had an intellectual brain, constantly trying to find meaning and logic to the world around her, which prevented her from accepting and letting go of the thoughts that dominated her meditation practices, said, “You are stepping outside and are no longer conforming to the box you’ve always put yourself into. You’re allowing yourself to expand your consciousness to the next level. In doing so, you are shedding the limiting beliefs that were passed down to you as a child. This is the next phase in your growth. I can’t wait to see what happens when you come back for more.”
Love Your Inner Child
We are who we are because of how we were raised. Many times, we hold onto our childhood wounds into adulthood. And this wounding shows up in our relationships with others, especially how we parent our own children. It becomes a story that gets past from one generation to the next.
We have a choice.
We can try and hide from these wounds. We can compartmentalize them as if they don’t exist. We can medicate them through addiction. We can keep ourselves busy to distract from them.
We can also live a life of being a victim and blame our parents for who we’ve become. It’s always someone else’s fault. Why should we take responsibility when someone else didn’t give us what we needed?
This is how a lot of people cope and deal with painful issues from childhood. Unfortunately, these wounds eventually get triggered, and without the tools to manage those triggers, we end up hurting ourselves. And when we hurt ourselves, we hurt others.
We have a choice.
We can spend time typing away on the computer and let the child entertain himself alone. Or we can close the laptop, even if just for a while, get down on our hands and knees, and interact with the child.
We can stop doing the things that avoid giving our inner child attention and start taking the difficult steps to identify the wounds from childhood that plague us.
Just like a child does not yet know how to speak, we too have not learned how to pinpoint what it is we are lacking and the language of how to heal ourselves from that loss.
We can do the deep inner work of healing ourselves. We can learn to nurture and love our inner child as the precious, lovable soul that our child is.
This is the next step in my personal journey.
Not to find love from something outside of me. My next step is to truly love the little child inside me. An on-going, life long process of integrating my adult with my inner child.
Together, hand in hand, we will Rise From the Ashes.
Together We Will Heal