"The “night sea journey” is the journey into the parts of ourselves that are split off, disavowed, unknown, unwanted, cast out, and exiled to the various subterranean worlds of consciousness. The goal of this journey is to reunite us with ourselves. Such a homecoming can be surprisingly painful, even brutal. In order to undertake it, we must first agree to exile nothing." (Stephen Cope)

Last week referred to the three modes available in terms of how we respond to situations.

  1. Rest and digest
  2. Fight or flight
  3. Demobilise

The relatively recent knowledge of this third option, demobilisation helps to explain so much of what has been previously misunderstood about trauma and more importantly how we deal with trauma.

Rather than thinking of the three modes as options, it’s more accurate to think of them as stages. What happens with trauma is that we stay in fight/flight mode and are not able to move back to the rest/digest phase.

The vagus nerve sits at the core of this levelled response.

What happens in the body during stage one: rest/digest

  • Ventral vagal complex (VVC) is activated
  • Parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is aroused
  • We have a wide range of facial expressions
  • Breathing has a slow normal rhythm
  • Heart rate slow and rhythmic
  • Blood flow includes the digestive and elimination functions
  • Vision includes peripheral
  • We feel calm, centred and relaxed
  • Also referred to as the tend and befriend stage because we have the capacity to consider, reflect and observe ourselves

What happens during stage two: fight/flight

  • Dorsal vagal complex (DVC) is activated which connects from the diaphragm to the stomach, kidneys and intestines
  • Sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is aroused
  • Facial expression changes, tone of voice and speed of speech
  • Sweat glands activate
  • Breathing shallows
  • Heart rate increases
  • Blood flow is directed to the periphery, away from digestive functions
  • Field of vision narrows
  • We are hyper-vigilant

What happens during stage three: demobilise

  • Dorsal vagal complex (DVC) is still activated
  • If there is no way out or we perceive there is no way out we revert to vital processes only
  • Heart rate drops again
  • Breath shallows more
  • Gut stops working or empties
  • The ability to sense physical pain reduces

It ‘s not a problem that we activate stage one, in many instances it keeps us alive. It is absolutely necessary for survival that we are able to access this stage instinctively and quickly. The fight/flight response might very well have kept you alive therefore we need a level of gratitude for that stage kicking in at that time. The body above all else priorities the preservation of life and this is evident through the stage one responses.

The polyvagal theory, tells us that once the threat has passed and relative safety has returned, we can move back to rest and digest mode. We cannot undertake self-growth, development and reflection unless we have shifted out of fight/flight and there is a requisite level of safety in the body.

The body doesn’t pick and choose what to do in any given situation, it always begins at level one and if that doesn’t suffice then it elevates to level two. If that doesn’t bring a resolution, then it elevates to level three. Here’s how the stages look in a situation.

Stage 1: Rest/digest response | We consider our options, we are observant and reflective about our situation. We look to those around us for help, we call out, we seek comfort and support.

Stage 2: Fight/flight response | We don’t have the capacity to consider the array of options present. We fight off the attacker, we run to safety. We can only react not reflect.

Stage 3: Demobilise | We shut down, play dead and conserve energy for vital survival processes only. If we are held down, trapped or pinned, we will demobilise. We don’t consider anyone can help us nor do we feel there are any options at all.


We are designed to spend the majority of our time in the rest/digest mode, feeling calm and relaxed and able to consider options and reflect. Given this practice is a form of self-enquiry, it’s essential to operate from this mode whilst doing the practice.

Predictability is key in this mode. Predictable equals safe. Safe is stage one. We must source predictability from the body because life will never deliver it to us. We move from spot fire to spot fire; work issues, family conflicts, corona virus. Life is unpredictable and will always be unpredictable.

Given this emphasis on predictability, you might have noticed there is a predictable sequence followed in the practice.

  1. Recalling your inner resource
  2. Recalling your overall life desire
  3. Body relaxation
  4. Noticing the messengers
  5. As needed move back and forth between messengers and inner resource. Referencing your inner resource is designed to bring you back to the safe and predictable mode of rest and digest.

This is why we listen to the same recording for an entire week. For this work, you need predictability not variety. We need to learn how to recognise when we’ve left rest/digest mode and how to quickly return back to it.

The practice this week is a 15 minute audio recording focusing on the breath layer. A slow exhale stimulates the vagus nerve. This is the engaged nerve in the rest/digest mode. Find a safe, predictable, comfortable location to do the practice. Aim to do this everyday. You can do it multiple times a day.

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