o-ver-whelm (v.): to overcome completely in mind or feeling; to overpower, especially with superior forces; destroy, crush; to cover, bury, or drown beneath a mass of something; defeat completely; to give too much of a thing to “someone;” to inundate.
Harsh words when they’re all put together like that – overwhelming in their own right. But I think I can confidently profess that this has been the state of affairs as of late, for me individually, and surely for our country and the world as a whole. Just trying to stay informed and aware of all that is happening in our environment, and our social and political culture is overwhelming – leaving ripples of confusion, doubt, fear, anger, grief, and uncertainty as to where to turn. Where to place our energies…in what direction and toward what end? How, when, and in what order? What’s the hierarchy? The priority? It might all be important – but trying to do it all at once can leave us paralyzed and not able to help anyone, least of all ourselves.
As a psychotherapist, I operate mostly on the micro level, 1:1 with the individuals I work with. I don’t think there’s one way, and certainly no one “right” way to digest and try to make meaning of the world – of our lives, our relationships, our contributions. But for me, as least at this particular juncture of my life – what I am giving back happens mostly on the individual level. In order for me to do that, I have to tend to my own internal chaos and overwhelm as best I can, so that I am able to show up with presence and energy to hold space and share in relationship with those that I work with. My role at the Trauma Center is also expanding: as a teacher, trainer, and supervisor – with more potential for a macro influence, and I look forward to all the lessons and opportunities that are to come. But for now, for today…in this particular offering, I’ll speak more to healing and giving voice to our inner wounds as a way to ultimately contribute to the collective.
Chani Nicholas offers a beautiful perspective on this (I’ve been reading and resonating with a lot from her lately):
“The connection between the pains of our past and our present is begging to be realized at every turn. Repeatedly demanding our exhausted attention. We must make these connections in order to stop reliving them…this [type] of transformation is the kind that brings us to the edge of our emptiness. To the brink of our existence. To our knees. So that we might understand just how massive our work here [on earth] is. So that we might understand how it is the only thing worth doing. We must find a way, find many ways, find all the possible ways in which to heal ourselves and the world.”
And since our collective attention is often so very exhausted, it’s important not to get overwhelmed in our efforts to find all the different ways to heal – to not get exhausted in our attempts to find ways to think about and live into this greater responsibility to our personal and collective healing. In the immediate wake of my miscarriage 7 weeks ago, I was surprisingly very clear in what I needed…at least at first. Luckily, we had grandparents available to watch my almost 2 year old (navigating all of this while being a mother of a toddler is a very unique type of overwhelm, with further rich content to explore at a later date…). So with childcare in place, I was then given space to dip into what I knew I needed: solitude; reflection; writing; music; and yoga. Taking a moment now to remember and reflect upon the fact that when it really came down to it – in the moment, I did know exactly what I needed. For me, and perhaps for others, that doesn’t always come easily. Not only knowing what you need; but trusting that you know what you need, that you know what works for you. I have a tendency to want and try to do it all, and sometimes get confused and uncertain as to what I “should” be doing, or what would be “best”: Massage? Accupuncture? Sound healing circles? Women’s Equinox gathering? Astrology? Herbs and teas? Essential oils? Yoga? Swimming? Therapy? I’m sure the list can go on…
Sources of distress and self-doubt are so often due in part to some outward preoccupation with the external parts of ourselves, others, and the word as a whole. And I’ve been reminded of this a lot lately. Both in how our internal self is projected, viewed, judged, interpreted or valued, and in the expectations that we place on other people, places, and experiences. The way that adjectives such as “right, wrong, good, and bad” come into play, and how very disappointed we can get when our expectations of both ourselves and others fall flat. The physical, emotional, and spiritual energy it takes to navigate these processes, and be bombarded with questions such as: How am I perceived by others? Will I be accepted?…and further more, authentically and genuinely understood? Am I a “good” friend, daughter, sister, wife, mother? How should I be handling tantrums with my toddler? What is the “right” way? What is the “best” way? What is the “best” way to take care of myself? What does my marriage “look” like?….and if it looks different from others’, does that mean something’s “wrong” with mine? Being disappointed when someone didn’t say the “right” thing to me at exactly the “right” time, etc. All those kinds of questions. Questions that I thought I had already gone through in middle school, of which the adult versions feel even more unsettling.
A common denominator in most of these questions is that “outward-directed-ness,” as well as the almost always absent sense of the “true inner self” in the present moment. A preoccupation and analysis paralysis of the “What could/would/will this mean or look like”/ “What is the right way” vs. “What is the now?” / “Can I get connected to myself in this moment and then maybe go from there?” Get connected with my “now,” tend to my “now” in the way that I instinctually know how, and then be able to show up and participate with other people’s “nows” – with the world’s evolving and changing “nows,” and contribute in perhaps a more wholehearted way. I just don’t know how effectively we can do all that without looking at our personal internal wounds, and what needs healing and tending to. What needs tending to in a way that is nurturing and kind, and not critical, comparative, ranking, prescriptive, or judgmental (i.e.: that was the “wrong” way; this is the “right” way; that is the “best” way; this thing/ that person/ those words will make you feel “better”, etc.)
My “now” consists of sitting next to my husband on a train to New York City for a wedding, while my son is with his grandparents. Typing and listing to music. Grappling with a still somewhat fresh and recent loss, and trying to pick up all the pieces. All as I simultaneously (there-in lies the challenge) take care of my son, work, show up for my family and friends, tend house, and try to take care of myself, while my husband has been traveling 6 out of the last 12 days on 2 separate trips, and I’ve been sick for 11 of them. So sick in fact that I lost my voice yesterday, and my husband lost his today (he got sick too). So we’re on our way into a shared weekend together and we have laryngitis – we literally can’t speak. And I wonder…if perhaps, that’s just what we need. Sometimes words can get in the way (especially for an over-processor like me…).
A few blogs ago I spoke of the importance of naming things. And I still deeply hold true to that belief – giving voice, awareness, and meaning to our thoughts, feelings, and experiences allows for ownership, legitimacy, empowerment, and connection. But sometimes language can force us to label something that maybe doesn’t need to be labeled, or succumb to rank or judgment. Language has limitations, even for the most eloquent of speakers, and could, itself, be a source of disappointment if something isn’t said or expressed in the way we had hoped it would be. And when we step away from language, we actually step into an entirely different part of the brain – the part that allows for space and capacity to notice what is “feel-able” in our bodies – to get in touch with that deeply innate sense of self, that sense of “I-ness,” and access a way of embodiment that offers opportunity to be fully present in this exact “now.” Herein lies so much of the fundamental core components of the type of yoga (Trauma Center Trauma Sensitive Yoga, TCTSY) that I offer my clients. It’s exciting to see how its’ theoretical and neurobiological underpinnings have a way of being applied to so many parts of our lives (more food for thought for another time….).
Could these next couple of days encourage a type of presence that perhaps can be more easily accessed through present moment embodiment, without distractions and demands of past narratives; anticipation and predictions of the future; preoccupation around perceptions, and limitations of language? And even still, could this reminder stick around when my vocal chords start working again? As with so much of the work that is ours to do…the unfinished work has a way of cycling back to us…urging us to look again, to look deeper…even when we look away, gently nudging us to look back again.
And the work may never be “done,” but it may start to look and feel differently. And maybe, just maybe have a lighter, more manageable quality to it. A kind of: “Oh yeah, you again – I remember you…I got this.”