For the past 12 years I have worked with defence force and emergency services personnel in the capacity of mental and physical health rehabilitation. Over this time I have held space for a range of conditions including post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), chronic pain management and sleeping disorders.

A few things have become apparent.

  • This group of people are exposed to significant, out of the ordinary events.
  • They are expected to get back to work the next hour, the next day, the next week.
  • They don’t tend to ask for help.

The current global climate shares striking similarities. Not just for defence and emergency services but for all of us.

All of us.  In this together.

The beauty of this course is that it does not attempt to fix people. This is not because it deems the job to be too gigantuous but because it works on another principle.

You’re already ok.

Buried underneath trauma, anxiety, depression, overwhelm and pain – you’re ok. 

More conventional “therapies” try and pull people out of their trauma. This course takes you by the hand and encourages you to go the other way.

In not out. Inward to the centre where you’re already ok.

The simplicity is also its challenge.

As we navigate through life we collect “stuff”.  Some ends up being diagnosed and dealt with while some remains a source of confusion and overwhelm.  At its worst, impossible to distinguish, identify or locate, it becomes debilitating. Some of the stuff we collect is grief, trauma, anxiety, negative self-talk, addictions, chronic pain and insomnia.

If we acknowledge that we are collectors, some days collecting more and other days less, it becomes pertinent to ask where it’s collected. We collect and store this stuff in our layers.

This course visits these layers in a systematic way. It follows a path you can recreate over and over, to etch what will hopefully become a well worn trail. Unlike conventional therapies, an example being talk therapy, we are not visiting these layers to eradicate what has been trapped. It is not about digging around to find out why you’re anxious or why you have PTSD or why you’re angry. It’s about learning to sit with what shows up.

When that skill is learnt, it becomes irrelevant what’s collected. It doesn’t matter – you’ll be able to sit with it.

From this point forward let’s re-label “stuff” with the word trauma.Society wide we tend to think about trauma as severe, significant presentations of PTSD and mental health disturbances.  The actual definition of trauma is something that applies to all of us.  

Trauma is any experience that leaves a residue in the body rather than moving through. With this definition in mind, we are all susceptible to picking up bits of trauma and it collects not just from big, life-shattering events but also day to day conflicts and interactions that don’t align with our core values. Importantly what might not be a source of trauma for one person may leave a residue for another.

The layers that are explored in this course are;

  1. Physical
  2. Breath
  3. Feelings and Emotions
  4. Thoughts and Beliefs
  5. Joy
  6. Awareness

THE THREE PRINCIPLES

EVERYTHING IS A MESSENGER

Everything you’ve collected and stored in a layer whether subconsciously or otherwise, is a messenger. If you have a mildly sore shoulder and ignore it, it’s likely the discomfort in your shoulder won’t get better but will gradually get louder and louder until the sensation becomes so apparent or debilitating you are forced to stop and tend to it. One way or another you will be asked to deal with what’s going on.

We not only notice what messenger we’ve collected but where it can be felt in the body. For example if at some point during the practice you notice a wave of sadness. The practice will encourage you to firstly notice the sadness and secondly where it’s located in the physical body. In the past we might ignore or disassociate from unpleasant feelings. We often get busy doing something else so we don’t have to deal with it.

What the practice will prompt you to do is stay with it, often for longer than you’d like.  The feeling of sadness might be in your throat or your stomach or your left calf. The practice will keep encouraging you to linger for longer in that physical location. It is both the challenge and the point to just stay when you’d really rather not. Not to try and fix or work out why or how or when but just to stay.

ALWAYS TRAVEL WITH AN INNER RESOURCE

An inner resource is a security blanket, a safe haven that is used to bring you back to feeling warm, secure and at a ease. To find your inner resource, think about a person, place, animal, event or perhaps memory that invokes feelings in the physical body of warmth, security and ease. The memory or image is the start point while the important element is that you physically feel the warmth, security and ease.

It might change over the course of a few practices or you may land upon it right away. Either way is perfectly fine.

If you were to set your inner resource as your favourite stretch of beach, what would happen if that part of beach were to wash away? Likewise if you set your inner resource as your dog, what will happen when your dog passes away?

In both of these examples, if you start with the beach and dog as the initial thought and then wait to see if a wave of physical body sensations shows up (ie. warm, cuddled, sun on skin, feeling of sand under foot, feeling of soft dog fur under hand) then it will not matter if the beach erodes or your dog passes away. The important aspect is that you have access to the physical body sensations that come from the beach or dog.

During the practice you will bump up against some of your collected trauma, pain, discomfort, thoughts or beliefs. When this becomes overwhelming, your inner resource is your safe refuge, giving you access to physical body sensations of warmth, security and ease. Once the overwhelm has been replaced with warmth, security and ease, the practice will prompt you to return back to what is present in the layers.

Here’s an example. Imagine a warm cup of tea. Visualise the tea. Then feel the sensation of the warmth in the throat and belly from the tea. Over time, can the visualisation of the tea drop away and you can stay with the feeling of warmth in the throat and belly.

THE PRACTICE IS FRAMED AROUND AN OVERALL LIFE DESIRE

This is a deeply held wish, a desire that inspires all elements of your life; relationships, career, health, finances. It gives your life purpose and meaning.  In formulating your overall life desire, people often describe an obligation.

One way to approach this is to reflect back upon your life as if you were one hundred years old. What mattered in the end? What would you like your legacy to be? 

As you spend more and more time becoming aware of yourself, your overall life desire will often work its way up to the surface and make itself known to you, rather than you trying to go out and find it.

WHAT IS THE PRACTICE?

The practice is a form of meditation based on self-enquiry. This means that rather than the script describing an image, story or point of focus for you to visualise or follow as is the case for other types of meditation, you are provided with gentle prompts and a map to navigate your layers, to see what may have collected there, to sit with it and observe it from a few different perspectives.

WHAT CAN YOU EXPECT?

Each week we will focus on a different layer. You’ll be emailed some information to provide context along with an audio recording. Please read the information first and then listen. If you can, please listen to the short recording, like a guided meditation, everyday. If everyday isn’t possible, try for 3-4 times per week.

There are no physical movements. You can listen to the practice seated or lying down.

READING THE ROOM

It is glaringly obvious when we find ourselves in the presence of someone who lacks the ability to read their current environment.

A yoga teacher who demonstrates a sequence of advanced postures. If she looked up at her students, she would see they haven’t moved past the first one. 

Our politicians rarely look out at their audience to see what’s important to the collective.

We expect our leaders, parents, bosses, partners and children to read our situation and respond accordingly. However we rarely do this for ourselves. We rarely read our own bodies and all the collected trauma it houses. This can be because we don’t know it’s a thing we need to do and/or we don’t know how to.

The leading expert on PTSD is psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk. His work centres around the idea that trauma as it collects, is stored in the body. Unless therapy involves an interaction with the physical layer, the trauma can’t be eased.

THE ROLE OF THE BODY IN TRAUMA

In times of great distress, the most functional thing to do is to get out of your body.

  • A person dealing with a significant emotional event
  • Recent bushfire situation – the most functional thing to do is to help the community, get busy, fight the fire
  • A person dealing with grief
  • Current COVID-19 situation – the most functional thing is to get on with it, assist children and parents, re-negotiate time, finances and future

The threat might have long passed but you may still be operating in this mode. The longer you spend “out of the body” the more that becomes your mode of operation.

This “out of the body” mode is more specifically described by the polyvagal theory. It is one of three available modes:

  1. Fight or flight (“out of the body”)
  2. Rest and digest
  3. Tend and befriend

It’s likely you haven’t heard of the third mode, tend and befriend. This is the sweet spot and where this course is taking us. A few things are required in order to access this mode.

  • To be located in a physically safe and predictable external environment
  • To shift to an observing role
  • To welcome what comes up

In order to encourage these requirements, the practice takes advantage of “Autogenics”. This concept was developed in the 1930’s after it was found that people who felt relaxed described their limbs as heavy and warm. Research was conducted and it was discovered that if we spoke about warm and heavy to ‘unrelaxed’ people, the relaxation response could be enticed.

Welcoming what comes up is linked closely to viewing everything as a messenger.  We spend a great deal of time judging, overthinking and analyzing. It is difficult but highly illuminating to move to a space where we don’t seek to understand our trauma, our thoughts, our pain, our discomfort but just to sit and welcome it.

When you hold something back, there is an inevitable response of hardness and separateness. When you welcome, softness shows up in its place.

At this point recall the definition of trauma, anything that leaves a residue in the body rather than moving through it. Events, emotions, words, interactions, conflict – anything that doesn’t align with your core values.

 The practice this week is a 30 minute audio recording focusing on the physical body layer. Find a safe, predictable, comfortable location to do the practice. Lay down or sit, it’s irrelevant but set a high standard for safety and comfort.

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