‘Notice your patterns, bring self-compassion to your experiences of protection, and take delight in your times of connection.’ Deb Dana
We might yearn for a life of perfect peace and harmony, but in reality we know, of course, that we sometimes need to protect ourselves from threats, or struggle for recognition, or negotiate complex politics in our community. Our nervous system is designed to move effortlessly between the different arousal states required to rise to the challenges, and to also savour the joys, which our life brings. Ideally, we have times in each day where we feel relaxed and are able to take pleasure in our environment, and other times where we become engaged in meaningful tasks which activate our full potential.
The problem for many of us is that our nervous systems have become less adept at moving smoothly between a state of relaxation and a state of activation. We are often on alert, gearing ourselves up for the next challenge, and find it difficult to wind down. The reasons for this are complex, and probably involve a combination of factors, including our modern lifestyle, a brain hard-wired for survival, our existential awareness, past experiences, and anxiety about the future. Where my cat seems to have no trouble switching between being playful and active to completely relaxed within seconds, the same cannot be said for me!
When we are in a state of protecting ourselves – whether it’s protection from the sabre-tooth tiger or during a re-structure at work – we are not always at our best. Our focus tends to become narrow, we can be mistrustful of others, and we might be more prone to outbursts, or else withdraw in a way which is not constructive. As Deb Dana says, it can be helpful to bring some self-compassion to ourselves when we are going through difficult times. We can notice our patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviours when we are feeling threatened; we can acknowledge, with friendliness towards ourselves, some of the unhelpful ways we might be over-reacting or withdrawing; and we can explore new ways of coping and implement these over time, without expecting ourselves to be ‘perfect’ no matter what curveballs life throws at us.
At the same time, learning how to ‘take delight in your times of connection’ can greatly enrich our lives. We are best able to feel a sense of connection when we are relaxed, feeling safe, and not busy rushing from one task to the next. This doesn’t mean we need to give up work and stop looking after our families! Some people are naturally good at stopping for a break from time to time and really savouring their cuppa or walking around the garden or sitting back and enjoying their surroundings. Yet even if it doesn’t come easily, we can all learn to build moments of connection into our lives. Next month, we’ll explore some of the ways we can practise this.
This month, notice of some of your patterns of ‘protection’, of how you strive to keep yourself safe. When you become aware of a moment of protection, take time to notice how it feels in your body, what kind of thoughts go through your mind, and what behaviours you are most likely to turn to. As you sit with this awareness, bring self-compassion to your experience, an awareness of our common humanity.