Awareness is like the sun. When it shines on things, they are transformed. – Nhat Hanh
Do you get it but you still can’t let it go?
Do you sometimes feel that you intellectually get something that has happened but the charge of the situation won’t shift? I noticed Lee Sales mentioning this about some of her traumas and I know this experience myself before I found a way to really let go. Often I work with people whose old ‘wounds’ are surfacing, decade old wounds still bringing tears, anger, fear. Still keeping them stuck in relationship dynamics even after someone has passed.
We tend to think that the solution is to understand it, to reframe and then we will be ok. I have consistently found this to only be of limited use, to understand is often not enough. Psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk states there are two types of self awareness neurologically. One tracks our narrative across time and the other is present based. They are localised in different parts of the brain, largely disconnected and only the present based awareness (based in the medial prefrontal cortex) can change the emotional brain.
According to Dr Pat Ogden the body’s language is that of the subconscious. It speaks to you through movement, tension and sensations.
The body stores memories so that it can remind you not to repeat the same miserable, scary or awful thing again but also wounds are often stored till we recognise the pain that has occurred. Wounds in this way are not that different to a three year old. They will keep craving attention until you give it. Until we recognise and reassure the body sensation representing the wound it will hang on to these reminders of pains, fears and sorrows.
Talking about the issue may give some relief, particularly if you are sharing it with someone who is showing empathy for your situation, but it will not be enough as it does not go deep enough. This is simply because cells can’t reason. It is just like talking rationally to your baby or dog. Nothing changes. Words alone do not penetrate or reassure. The root cause of the anxiety or pain is untouched by words unless they are imbued with the voice of love and tenderness and speak directly to the wound.
The way we let go of the wounds is by becoming aware of them as body sensations. Then recognising and imbuing the sensation with love and tenderness. Just like you would settle an upset child. If you have something specific that you would like to release you can use our RAISE exercise on the website. This process is all using the present based self – awareness.
So awareness affects emotions unlike the narrative ‘track’ which doesn’t. When the original memory or cause of the anxiety or pain goes back into storage after you have spent time with it in loving attention, it is now imbued by those new associations resulting in the system overall not being as intensely triggered by that in the future.
The present based self connects through awareness. We can only connect in the present. Self connection is at the heart of self compassion and self compassion is the first step in compassion, and a compassionate state is an expression of a healthy brain.
This is one of the reasons why Mindfulness or awareness of the body is the first and primary practice of mindfulness. Without it there is a risk that much of the change is just cognitive, which is not only less effective and slow but simply the wrong ‘tool’ for letting go of deeper wounds. It will leave you getting it intellectually while you still drag the emotions around for far longer than necessary.
Anything will give up its secrets if you love it enough. – George Washington Carver