A point is coming, but first a story
A story served with wackiness. Because, believe me, I am no stranger to the ways of wacky.
So, this is not at all the point, but last night I went to a yoga nidra class here in Portland. And I’m still recovering. Not my body*, of course. It’s the heady mental trip that gets me.
* For the uninitiated: yoga nidra ≠ physical. No moving. Hard-core guided relaxation.
Also brain-rewiring to plant subconscious seeds re: stuff you want to work on.
If you’ve never tried it, take it from me — yoga nidra is a pretty ridiculously awesome practice, especially if you’re lucky enough to land a teacher who doesn’t wander too far into the whole annoying “welcome to the journey” stuff.
Even as ridiculously awesome practices go, last night’s was especially so. And one specific exercise (mental exercise, we weren’t actually moving) just knocked me out.
And there’s a neat little self-work change-yer-habits take-away in there, which I’ll get to eventually. But first let me tell you about this one particular (mental) exercise.
Here’s what happened.
The exercise goes like this. You’re in this incredibly floaty relaxed state and you’re directed to think of words. And then to try to awaken the word-sensation so you actually get the vibe in your own body or body-mind or whatever.
Hot/cold. Pleasure/pain. Heaviness/lightness. The idea is to use this conjuring-up-of-sensation-at-will as a way to deprogram old patterns and remind your mind that everything is temporary.
Course if you like being all metaphysical and stuff, you could go deeper into theory-land and talk about breaking through human-constructed dualities and oneness and things like that. But — never fear — we’re not going there.
No, this is about the exercise itself. I was fine until the pleasure/pain. That was the one where it all went all intense.
The specific pleasure and pain sensations are entirely up to you to choose. And the sensations you’re summoning up can be physical, mental, or emotional. Any or all. It’s your call.
No matter how many times I’ve done this exercise (ten? fifteen?), I’m not actually able to choose anything. Whatever I try, one just comes up. In fact, the exact same sensations and the same memory come up every time for both pleasure and pain.
** Personally I prefer gentler “bypass the pain” work. (Who coined the phrase, “Comfort rocks.That’s why there’s a zone for it!”)?
I’d never “conjure up pain” with a client. We play safe. Self experimentation only.
Also: it’s always emotional pain more than mental or physical. Yes, being human and all, I’ve had my fair share of both pleasure and pain in the physical, but when I give myself the cue (or the permission) to intentionally (and temporarily) conjure up these experiences**, it’s the emotional that surfaces and wants attention.
Pleasure, pain, sensation, memory
For me, the pleasure perception is always that feeling of unexpectedly running into someone you love, and feeling that wild, palpitating rush of joy-shock-adrenaline combined with an outpouring of loving-kindness and good-will brain drugs.
Usually the mental picture that arises is a memory of turning a corner and seeing my childhood best friend coming towards me, walking her dog and grinning from ear to ear. Occasionally the memory features someone else, but it’s always the exact same “Hey, I didn’t know I was going to see you and now there you are and it feels seriously joyful” feeling.
The pain perception I get doesn’t alter at all from one practice to another. It’s always one particular scene and one particular image. Here’s what it looks like.
In this memory I’m in Israel, where I lived for ten years. More specifically I’m in my boyfriend-or-maybe-ex-boyfriend’s flat. He’s in Berlin. Without me. For three whole months. Background: many break-up attempts followed by repeated get-back-togethers despite this clearly being a bad idea for all concerned.
Anyway, in the memory, I’m sitting there watching the phone and smoking (yes, this is before I knew how to resolve habits) and my misery is so acute that I can’t even get close enough to it to define it (Is it sadness? Anger? Regret? Remorse?).
Who knows. It just hurts. Like the dickens. In an all-consuming broken-hearted kind of way. I’ve conjured up the pain and it’s pretty awful.
All that is a ton of background, but I’m working my way to the point.
Now getting slightly closer to the point. Point approaching.
Everything I’ve described up until now is just what happens for me in yoga nidra practice, and each time I imagine that I’m getting better at releasing some attachment to both the pleasure stories and the pain stories.
I tell myself that I’m steadily getting better at unloading all the residual, old, stuck stuff from my present self. All the stuff that really belongs to my past self that I don’t necessarily need to keep holding on to. That this is just one more way that I’m rewriting old patterns and living by what I believe in.
This time though, things veered sharply off course. Sure, when we got to the pain point, my subconscious (or unconscious or whatever is in charge) dropped me smack-dab into the usual memory.
But this time, I — as in, me: the person writing these words right now — was there in the room too, along with my hurting-self-from-then. There were two of us: Then-me was sitting on the bed, looking at the phone, and Right-now-me was standing by the closet watching Then-me.
Keep in mind that I have done stuff like this before — going into past memories to do some sort of clearing-things-up, so it didn’t feel weird or unfamiliar. But it wasn’t like that either.
Here’s where it gets a little wacky
It was like this: Right-now-me was really wanting to give Then-me some kind of help and support. A hug. Words of comfort. A useful technique.
Or even just a reassurance that “Hey, I happen to know for a fact that one day your life will be seriously great in every way, and you’ll have a partner who madly loves every single thing about you.”
I didn’t make the offer out loud or anything. Just in my thoughts.
And instantly the room went dead cold. Ice. Then-me wasn’t looking at me but it was as if she knew that I (Right-now-me) was there. And Then-me was unequivocally rejecting any possibility of help and support.
Do. Not. Want.
It was as if there was a ring of icicles surrounding Then-me and she wanted them to stay there.
So I said to myself, “Okay, even though I’m really wanting to give my past self this help and support, she doesn’t want it. And I can respect that, so I’ll just sit down and leave her alone until the yoga nidra teacher moves me on to the next exercise.”
I sat myself down — yes, all this is still happening in my consciousness and not in real-time — and did nothing. And the room warmed up, and Then-me appeared to soften and even smiled. Not at me, but yeah, it was a smile.
And you know what? I knew with a sudden and absolute doubt-free clarity that she was really, deeply relieved that I wasn’t trying to take away her pain. She needed her pain because the pain, even though it was full of all kinds of horrible, was defining her at that moment, and anything trying to relieve her of this pain was an enemy.
Once I’d stopped sending out those “let’s-do-something-about-your-pain” vibes, she melted. And, you know what? The pain was gone. I tried, but I couldn’t conjure up the pain anymore. No more hurt. It just seemed more like a memory of something that was.
Okay, HERE’S the point
Thanks for hanging in there. We’re at the take-away.
The main moral-of-story, for me at least, is this: you gotta acknowledge your pain — and not just your pain, but your relationship to your pain and your need for your pain way, way before applying any technique that will ease that pain.
I already talk a lot about the importance of meeting yourself where you are and really, all of the techniques I use with clients and students are based on the completely counter-intuitive concept that you can’t do anything with the stuck before you acknowledge it and let it have its say. That you can’t release your resistance until you let it be there.
But this extremely personal experience that I’m sharing with you, blog-reading stranger, took that knowing and that conviction to a way deeper place.
You have to let the pain feel safe. It doesn’t matter which technique or what methodology you’re using. This holds true for all of them.
Imagine a continuum stretching from the more conventional, not-at-all-wacky methods (conflict resolution and mediation) to my Emergency Calming Techniques or the MPDFWD — Magical Procrastination-Dissolving Fairy Wonder Dust (which are more complex and nuanced and also slightly wackier), and all the way to pure all-out-wacky spiritual/energy practices.
It doesn’t matter. Whatever you’re doing to work on your stuff***, you gotta let your stuff be there first. Let it be what it is. Let it know and really trust that you’re not going to rush in and try to fix it or zap it away. All you’re going to do is sit there and let your stuff feel safe and secure.
*** The “Don’t Try This At Home, Kids” qualifier: you can do a ton of self-work on your own, but be careful when dealing with old hurt and pain. Personal traumatic experience mileage may vary.
You are just going to let the pain have its pain.
That is what opens that hard-to-find-door. And the thing that is right past the door is the moment when the pain decides it doesn’t need to be there anymore.
P.S. Interesting. You know that bit about choosing an intention (sankalpa if you’re into that whole Sanskrit thing) to work on? I’d completely forgotten, but mine had been “I’m ready to get better at feeling safe receiving help and support”. Sweet.