At the core of our human experience, before the stories, the narratives, the judgments, the intellectual concepts, or the dogmas come into our awareness, there is a life force. This life force is the impulse of the soul, it is Love. We are connected to it fully first thing in the morning. We were connected to it fully when we were born. It is at the base of all experiences, it is the breath of our life, the heart of our being, at the heart of be. We knew this force innately when we were young and we played freely and explored it, with awe. Now, as adults, we are invited to return to it, to remember this core impulse, this love, that stems from within.
Either this force is allowed to flow, or it is not. Naturally, without interference, this love wants to move, transform, and grow. It also deeply wants to make itself known to our awareness.
The energies provided from our environment from conception onwards can be put into two categories: either the energies from the environment were life-giving or life-threatening. Experiences and environments either invited growth or invited protection. An environment of growth is where there is unconditional love, acceptance, and freedom to feel and express in one uninterrupted movement. It is a milieu in which there is very little judgment, control, or unexamined fear. I remember this as playing freely in the forest with my friend. Nature was a life-giving energy during my childhood. My friend and I talked to fairies and laid on our backs on bright green moss, looking up at the trees and the clouds dancing. I remember this energy when I’d have an idea for a show to entertain my friends or plan game and I could just act on it, make it happen. When the environment invites growth, when it is safe for us to simply be, our soul recognizes itself, we become aware of our grandeur and brilliance, and our life force is invited and allowed to move and grow in the way it intended to.
On the other hand, when the environment requires protection, for whatever reason, that impulse of growth is interrupted, limited, inhibited. Protection mode is a state our whole body goes into when it feels unsafe. It is often referred to as the fight-or-flight reaction in the body or the sympathetic system. In the face of perceived danger, the body adapts. Cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine, the endocrine system’s stress hormones, are released to give us more energy. Blood starts to flow away from the vital organs and toward the extremities to be able to fight the threat or run away from it. The blood thickens to help clot faster in the event of an injury. The breath becomes quicker and shallower. The heart rate rises. The immune system weakens by virtue of energy being expanded to other systems. This is all very good in the face of true danger. If we find ourselves in life threatening situations where we have to fight or run away from a dangerous animal, for example, these body reactions are very important. But in our modern society, we tend to tap into the sympathetic system of the body even in the face of non-life-threatening stressors, like a conversation with our boss, a crazy work deadline, the pile of dirty dishes on the counter, the news, despair we take on from someone else, or even internal stressors like negative thoughts and undesired emotions, whether conscious or not. The body doesn’t see the difference between real and perceived, and it adapts to the stressor in the same way it does with the real threat.
As a child, I remember this feeling. It came up in the classroom when I was yelled at and singled out for being distracted (and distracting) and not attentive. It came up when the tension was high in our house. When I knew I’d better tiptoe around and measure my words, as it felt that an emotional bomb could go off anytime. It came up when I’d feel adults around me saying words that didn’t match their energy and it was confusing to me. When I was 5, we lived in New Brunswick for a year so I could go to English school and we stayed with my mother’s cousin for a few months. One evening before bedtime, I walked over to the kitchen where she was tiding up from dinner to say good night to her. When I tapped her back to get her attention, I accidentally startled her. She abruptly turned around, showed me her fist, and said: “If you do this again, I’ll punch you in the nose.” I remember my body getting hot. I remember being so confused and scared. (As my body carried this memory, I became more prudent with adults.)
The thing is, even if they happened a long time ago, our body responds today in protection to past traumas and we still get triggered in our body. In fact, many of us live in constant fight-or-flight, mostly unconsciously, because of childhood traumas. Many of us live under stress everyday. And most of the time, the emotional stress is not caused by an actual distressing situation, but by suppressed emotional pain and the worry of possible future pain, outside our conscious awareness.
When the body is in protective mode too often, our whole being is affected. Our physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing is compromised. That is why under stress, we can’t optimally function or heal easily from an illness. On the contrary, when the body-mind-soul feels safe and is relaxed, it taps into its parasympathetic system, which is the body’s natural rest state. This state supports the body’s growth, healing, and cell regeneration. In this state the body-mind-soul can thrive. When we are in growth mode, we feel connected in the moment, at peace with the past, and excited about the possibilities ahead. We experience peace and joy that are unconditional.
When the body is in protective mode, when it is combatting against a life-threatening element, we can’t optimally live and thrive. We can’t do both well at once. In his book The Biology of Belief, Bruce Lipton talks about how the energy used to protect oneself takes away from growth. He explains:
“The mechanisms that support growth and protection cannot operate optimally at the same time. In other words, cells cannot simultaneously move forward and backward. (…) In a response similar to that displayed by cells, humans unavoidably restrict their growth behaviors when they shift into a protective mode. If you are running away from a mountain lion, it is not a good idea to spend energy on growth. In order to survive -that is escape the lion- you summon all your energy for your fight or flight response. Redistributing energy reserves to fuel the protection response inevitably results in a curtailment of growth. (…) Inhibiting growth processes is also debilitating in that growth is a process that not only expands energy but is also required to produce energy. Consequently, a sustain protection response inhibits the creation of life sustaining energy.”
That is why stress and unprocessed emotional pain eventually take away our joie de vivre, our ability to love deeply, and our vitality and we don’t get to experience the extent of who we truly are. The protective mode of the body keeps our soul’s desires from being fully known to our conscious awareness, it keeps love from fully manifesting through us.
If we could be in growth mode all the time, it’d be no problem. We would be light and love beings creating at will, never hurting ourselves or any one! But because we didn’t grow up in a vacuum, and we are after all three-dimensional beings, living in a material world and subjected to the laws of duality and separation, we all have adopted certain protective patterns and integrated them into our bodies.
To varying degrees, we have all experienced emotional traumas. We have experienced a separation from knowing with every cell in our body that we are safe, loved, and that we matter. It can be the experience of our birth, going from the warm watery womb of our mother to the cold atmosphere of the earth or a premature birth and having our gestation period interrupted and not being able to be held by our mother, isolated for months in an incubator. It can be the severed connection from a parent experienced as a child lost in a shopping mall for minutes or the separation experienced from a parent leaving the home to never return. It can be the hurt experienced after proudly bringing an art project from school only to have it ridiculed in front of our siblings, or being told repeatedly that we are stupid and won’t amount to anything. It can be the distress felt by the mother while she was pregnant, because she was overwhelmed by the unplanned pregnancy, or the father’s inability to bond with his child after the birth. It can be the trauma of abuse by a parent, a caregiver, a sibling, a family member, a neighbour, a friend, a priest, a schoolteacher, or a coach. It can be the trauma of devastating accident, an injury, or the death of a loved one at a young age. These hurt leave unique traces in the pathways of our bodies.
Our adaptability is very useful in situations like learning to walk, ride a bike, or how to write. Even our incredible resilience in the face of adversity is what makes us survive the most intense situations and supports us in taking the actions that are needed. Our adaptability and resilience are gifts and recognizing that they play a vital role is important. There is an intelligence in the madness of suffering.
However, in order to move beyond protection into growth, beyond survival into thriving, it is important to recognize that these energetic patterns are unconsciously running the show. They were important back then but today, they might not serve us anymore.
That is our healing work as adults. To go back to a full body awareness of this life-force, of this innate love. To go back to simply being. To support our body in remembering its primary function as a processor of energy, as conduit for the soul. As adults, we are constantly presented with opportunities to fully feel these past traumas, once and for all. We get to choose. We might avoid them for a while, perhaps unconsciously at the beginning and then consciously because we don’t want to feel the feelings. But the situation will continue to occur and reoccur, until we open ourselves up to the healing.
I want to be clear. When I talk about processing these ancient patterns, it’s not about traumatizing ourselves over again by dwelling in the memory and the hurt. It’s about reestablishing a proper movement, an innate flow in the body. It has very little to do with the actual memory in the mind or the mental distress. It’s an impersonal kinaesthetic process.
At first, a loving presence will be needed, or at least a loving attitude towards ourselves. That day in the leadership course, had I not been supported by the teacher or the group, I would’ve right away engaged my habitual pattern of flight. I was looking for the exit door. But instead of leaving, I stayed. I was in a womb-like environment where there were no judgments and a tremendous intention for growth. Growth took over me. Love took over me. I felt my life force pushing through the layers of the onions, layers of past emotional pain living in my cells and taking its rightful place within my being. There was barely any content attached to the experience. It’s only afterward that I realized the story related to the healing.
Reacquainting ourselves with feeling at a cellular level and with the way our body processes energy, is the work of Be Feel Think Do. It is the core of living an embodied spirituality. It is the path to remembering who I am. Feeling clears the body and allows it to be an ideal conduit for our soul to express through and reveal itself to us. Feeling the emotions as sensations in the body allows for the patterns to lessen their grip on us. It gives us a chance to see more clearly and make choices that will support a growth environment in the body an din our life. A growth environment is the state of simply being, without interference from fear. This is how we were meant to be.