This past weekend, I visited a park near where I live that has an incredible conservatory: some of the most beautiful plant specimens I’ve ever seen.
I was entranced by this bromeliad, in particular, which was a beautiful example how I feel today: as if my true life is the one I live within myself. My life situation has not always been a happy one. But my own light has never been extinguished. I’m just beginning to see it fully.
In reading and studying the book The Power of Now, I’ve realized a brutal truth: I have been identifying myself by my past pain, mostly from being a domestic violence survivor.
But is that who I really am?
The answer, of course, is no. No one can be classified as one thing, or even many things. We’re all too complex for that. I didn’t set out to identify myself as all this pain on purpose. It’s the only thing I’ve known how to do, until now.
What’s strange is that when I had this realization, I thought it would be difficult to let go. As I wrote about in my book, it felt impossible to let go of this pain and trauma, because it seemed like it was part of me. Even physically part of me.
It wasn’t difficult to let go — not at all. I brought myself into the present moment. I connected with my inner self. I took a few deep breaths, and I surrendered to all of that pain. Just as I had done while I was trauma therapy, and I spent hours grieving for the life I had lost, I surrendered to everything that was causing me pain.
In that surrender, I found a quiet space inside where I can feel peace beginning to take root. I’ve separated myself from that identification with past pain. I see it as something outside of my “self,” and I have no need for it anymore.
I don’t want to feel pain anymore. I don’t want to identify myself with past pain anymore.
I’ve surrendered to it, and now it’s gone.
But I remain.
OK, as promised in my last blog post, I’m sharing a simple technique from Tolle’s “Practicing the Power of Now” that can help anyone with PTSD — or anyone else, for that matter, who ever feels anxious.
One of my main PTSD symptoms has been trying to anticipate what other people are going to do or say. If you think about it, it makes perfect sense. When you live with an abusive person, you never know what will set him off. So you walk around wondering if the simple act of breathing is going to make him lash out. You watch his every move, hang on his every word, searching for a clue: is he angry? WIll he try to harm me now? Will he try to kill me now?
I’ve spent the last few months really working on ridding myself of these symptoms. Something in the Tolle audio book that has helped is simply becoming rooted in my physical body.
If, for example, I’m on the subway and I start to feel anxious about other people’s movements, I can return myself to my physical body and focus on it, instead of on my racing thoughts (“Will he bump me with his elbow?” “Will she scowl at me when I have to push past her?”). I simply start to watch those thoughts pass by, and I concentrate my attention on my physical self. I start at my feet and work my way up, noticing how I’m physically feeling.
I also focus on my breathing. I breathe consciously and notice how it physically feels to inhale and exhale.
Within a couple of minutes, any anxiety I had has passed. I can continue to literally watch any anxious thoughts and not judge myself for them. It’s almost like they’re not a part of me.
Have you ever tried techniques like this (also called “mindfulness,” I believe)? If so, please leave a comment. I’d like to hear if they work for you.
Part of what domestic violence survivors deal with is a constant state of anticipation. We watch other people and try to figure out what move they’ll make next. We try to determine what people are feeling when they’re not talking: are they happy? Sad? Angry? And what did we do to cause these feelings?
It’s a horrible way to live. Because it’s not living — at all.
I never even knew I was “living” this way until I went through trauma therapy. Since then, I have tried to learn how to eliminate this part of my inner life because it has been incredibly damaging to me. I do wonder how the stress has affected me physically in ways I can’t see. On the outside, I see myself beginning to succumb to some old-age symptoms (and I’m only 52!), and I want to reverse this trend.
I’d thought about taking classes in meditation, but what stopped me is the same thing that prevents me from taking yoga classes: I still have problems being what I perceive as physically vulnerable in a group of strangers.
Instead, I bought a recorded version of Eckhart Tolle’s “Practicing the Power of Now.” I tried reading his book “The Power of Now” and couldn’t get through it, although I may try again. The “Practicing” book is good because it actually does give practical exercises for being in the present moment instead of ruminating on the past or trying to anticipate or predict the future.
I’m almost finished with my first listen, and then I’m going to listen to it a second time. After that, I’ll share some techniques here, once I’m more comfortable using them, myself.
For now, I’ll leave you with this thought: the future is an illusion. And any anxiety I feel about the future is also an illusion, something I’m creating, myself. Since I created it, I can destroy it. And that’s what I’m choosing to do today: to crush the anxiety I feel much of the time and replace it with love for myself.