Have you ever caught yourself saying that phrase to yourself, "This is SO intense!"? I know I have.
Last week I received a jolt of inspiration from a lecture by one of my favorite mentors, Stuart Alpert, at the Hartford Family Institute where I am on faculty. He was teaching about how to be with inner intensity. Stuart shared that as he was walking over to the church where he gives his lecture, he noticed he felt some fear along with a host of body sensations connected to the fear that were challenging.
What was most significant is that as he shared into the group about his fear, he was holding his fear with his seasoned awareness of noticing emotional reactions without reacting to them! That's an art!! So as he shared about his fear he wasn't just caught within his fear.
Honestly, I can't remember what else he taught in terms of the how to be with emotional intensity because I was so moved by this moment of modeling and teaching. For me the power of the teaching was in the loving and gentle honesty of someone who, after 50 years of teaching, can still have fear and instead of rising above the fear or fighting the fear could soften into the truth of being human.
Two weeks ago when I led Opening the Heart workshop at Kripalu, I too had opportunities to feel and be with my fear. So it was a perfect timing to hear Stuart's lecture where he shared about living his fear with awareness and the importance of learning to be with intensity.
It often happens to me that when I go to teach a workshop, besides bringing my inspiration to share what has meaning for me with others, I bring with me a place of fright...often fear about being judged. Given parts of my childhood, being judged and ridiculed within groups is a huge trigger for me.
Our body memorizes painful feelings from our past in what's called in the neuroscience community our implicit memory system or body memory. These old body-based memories can be touched or triggered in the now as I'm in front of a group and teaching or any host of possible triggers. I'm sure you know what some of yours are.
The key is staying present to the body experience that can feel intolerable. The window of tolerance is an important term used within the neuropsychology and body-oriented psychotherapy field that Dan Siegel coined in 2010. This term refers toa certain quantity or window of emotional and nervous system arousal that a person can comfortably tolerate. Noticing our window of tolerance for emotional intensity is so important! The odd thing about this window of tolerance is that the more we be with and observe without judgment strong or intense emotional states, the more the window expands. We are strengthening the prefrontal cortex that observes the emotional limbic brain and body experience-which helps to quiet down the limbic brain and relax the body!
In other words, noticing without judgment the tensions and uncomfortable sensations that are connected to our emotional reactions helps to transform them! So when we are experiencing our anger that can tighten our jaw and shoulders, increase our heart rate, and tighten our chest area or our fear that can grip us in our gut and heart and even make us a bit dizzy or dissociated, there is a simple practice for us. This simple practice that can be difficult to employ is to be with, to sustain a moment-to-moment awareness of the somatic or body experience of the emotion-to be able to tolerate that which feels overwhelming and intolerable. The only addition to being with is to add an energy of acceptance or kindness towards the discomfort.
By the way, Stuart Alpert, just finished his second book which is a combination of memoir and transformational practices and insights. It's called Roads Back in Time: Seeing the Invisible...Healing the Impossible, and you can order it at their website: http://hartfordfamilyinstitute.com/store/