Sending Calming Signals (Today's Daily Presence)

Today was filled with stress, albeit good stress because I was challenging myself in positive ways. Even though nothing went wrong and I didn’t feel triggered per se, my body is responding as though I am in danger. My heart is racing, I feel physically numb and my time perception is warped. This is a signal to me that my PTSD reactivity is on high alert, and that I need to spend some time reconnecting to my body. The easiest and simplest way I know to send it a sign that I am safe is to regulate my breathing.

Breathwork is not limited to breathing in and out slowly. For me, it starts by noticing my breath. The act of paying attention to my breath in and of itself soothes me. When I allow my breath to happen only on an unconscious level, I tend to breath in a very shallow and quick manner that leads my body to think it is danger (and which results from the perception of threat). Next, I invite my diaphragm to contract and relax at a slower pace. Finally, I allow for pauses between my in and out-breath.

A multitude of health benefits have been linked to slow breathing. Unhurried respiration eventually lowers my pulse rate. It may also help my heart to beat more efficiently and my oxygen exchange to be fuller. Six to ten breathes per minute is apparently what has been shown to lead to the best outcomes; I haven’t timed myself but ten per minute would likely be closer to where I’m at. Have you checked in with your breathing today? How does your body respond to you noticing your breath? How does slow breathing, if you are able to practice it, affect you?

The In-Gathering

As I worked through what I need after feeling invisible, experiencing invalidation or simply having a stressful day, I realized my inner world is best honored by ritual. My spirituality is at its deepest when I follow my own natural rhythms. Whenever and wherever, I can honor each part of myself. I invite you to customize the following for your own practice.

Setting the Scene

Create a space for ritual. This can be as simple as lighting a candle, laying out a special cloth, or brewing a cup of tea. It can be creating an elaborate altar or traveling to a place in nature to which you feel called. All that matters is that it is made sacred by your intentional presence.

Begin by centering yourself on your breath. Invite your senses in, one-by-one. If you having trouble focusing, play calming music or listen to nature sounds.

A Safe Place for All

In turn, welcome* each part of self. Some I chose to honor are the vulnerable, the eager, the nurturing, the brave and the wise. You may have other parts that need representation. Allow each to share with you whatever they want to share, without judgement. Ask the other parts to sit back and grant space while each one shares. Parts may make a request of others, which should be held with care.

Body, Heart, Mind and Spirit

After each part has shared, concentrate again on your breath. Inhabit every corner of your body. Listen to your body as a whole and through its systems, observing what it needs. Focus on what it may want to reveal or release.

Allow your emotions to channel and course through your body. Meet each one with a loving embrace. Notice them shift and dance.

Attend to your mental state. Notice the pattern and pace of your thoughts. Observe them come and go.

Finally, turn to your Spirit. Allow it to reveal itself to you through your senses. Touch the moon and sun cycles, the sky, earth, rain and fire and the season. Let nature guide you deeper into your soul.

Symbols of Love

Breath again, and ask of yourself, all of yourself present, what love looks like here and now. To the best of your ability, provide this love to yourself. Note any hesitancy, and then move through it with care. Embrace yourself.

A Closing Prayer

Finalize your ritual by spending time in quiet meditation, honoring yourself for making time to gather yourself whole and to recognize your worth. Incorporate whatever words and movements feel holy in this moment. Be the prayer your soul needs to feel.

*If you are new to inner/self-work and you hold a trauma history, this practice could be destabilizing. I encourage you to first work with a trusted therapist before engaging in this ritual and to take as slow of a pace as needed. Self-care practices such as spending time in nature, running a gentle bath or settling into your breath may be safe places to start to connect with parts of self.

Deepening the Stretch (Today's Daily Presence)

Today’s Daily Presence card centers on the lower back, a site easily filled with tension, pain and discomfort. When I bring my attention to this area of my body, it feels blocked, so locked in muscular tautness that I cannot sense any communication from it to the rest of my being. I believe that this is more the result of my posture than a holding in of emotions, but, if I’m being honest, it’s never relaxed enough for me to be able to tell the difference.

I chose to honor this area of my body by engaging in yogic stretches to try to loosen it. In doing so, I quickly realized that the lack of maneuverability my hamstrings afford probably contributes to the limited range of motion of which my lower back is capable. This article confirmed my suspicions. So, I added some hamstring stretches and felt at least the lowest part of my back release a bit.

Overall, since I’ve been on T, I have had a significant drop in my chronic pain and have become less consistent in stretching. Connecting the muscle groups as I did today has shown me how easy it is to adjust my comfort level with minimal effort and attention, so I hope I can be more cognizant of what my body needs going forward. How is your lower back today? Does any discomfort you feel there relate to your hamstring or other muscles?

Healing Presence (Today’s Daily Remembrance)

Living in the present moment has enabled me to gain perspective in regards to my trauma history. If I’m grounded, I’m less likely to get lost in a sea of negative thoughts or to make irrational decisions based on negative emotions. My dog, my meditation practice and my time in nature are my most reliable conduits into present moment awareness.

Dogs live for the moment. My dog can occasionally show signs of holding a memory or anticipating the future (for example, if I mention a bath or going to the store), but he spends most of his time anchored in the here and now. When I find myself lost in panic, he will sit with me or demand a snuggle, and I can detach slightly from the pull of before and after.

I am not the most regular in my practice of mindfulness, but I do return to breath-work whenever it enters my mind. Finding my center, especially in noticing the gaps between each out and in-breath, reorients me into my body which allows me to come present. Giving my full awareness to simple actions like sitting or walking with intention serves as an additional current-moment touch-point.

Finally, immersing myself in nature helps me focus on the present. I especially appreciate the beauty of trees and love the texture their bark provides underneath my fingertips. The sounds of leaves crinkling in the wind and the warmth of the sunlight on my skin make every moment special. If my present is captured outside with my dog while I open my field of awareness to all of my senses, I am not only here for it, I’m joyful. What helps you ground and center? What best connects you to the present?

At the Center (Daily Works of Art)

In the last half-year, there has been an internal shift unlike any I can remember experiencing. I’ve started T during this period of time, so I’m certain that coming into alignment with myself as a non-binary person has played role in this change. My image of myself has been transformed as I’ve created my present.

I’m a relationship disaster. I get close to people, building up connection and hoping that “this time” something will stick and it won’t go sideways. Every single time, though, that there is a breach of trust, when I feel betrayed, used or mistreated, my trauma surfaces to an insurmountable level and the whole thing breaks apart. My deep-rooted attachment issues win the day, no matter, it seems, how much I try to will them into the background or how hard I work in therapy to undo them. I get re-traumatized and cut more deeply after every experience. I do not heal and I do not grow in my capacity to love by failing at it. The only beings I’ve ever loved are my dog and myself. Relationships with others matter and I will continue to engage in them, but they do not complete me.

My career is equally unable to give me a sense of fulfilment or meaning, despite the fact that I know what I’m doing is valuable. Every trigger I experience there makes it harder to show up the next day. I wade through it, but I don’t derive my joy or sense of purpose from it.

I care about the human condition and the planet, but I’m not an activist. Even though topics such as human rights stir my passions and I advocate for equity, I am not enough of a True Believer ™ in any cause to dedicate my life to it. I find meaning here, but it is fraught with disappointment and despair to an intensity where it is not enough, on its own, to sustain me.

I’m left, then, with the possible sources that most people turn to for their deepest nourishment a shallow bowl of thin soup. Finally, after twenty years of suicidality and less-than-ness, knowing myself to be a loner, a Not a True Believer ™ and an unmet career potential achiever, I may have hit on why I’m here. This dish is a rich stew, with layers of flavor and body.

My core is my inner world. I know my interior to a level of detail I’ve rarely encountered in others. And yet, I scrub the corridors of my mind and sweep the reaches of my heart and still I uncover things about myself I didn’t know before. And I refuse to see the gift of self-knowledge through the lens of navel-gazing self-absorption. We die alone. Life is coming to that realization and finding a reason to keep living.

I haven’t found my inner world in order to escape there and shut myself off from reality. Instead, my physical experience is at the center of my inner world. I live embodied. No, I’ve found my core because it is the root of my spirituality and creativity. I have something to honor and something to express because, in knowing myself, I find my entryway to the universe. I do not live to romance a perfect love, to make the world a better place or to achieve a capitalist monument to money, fame or innovation. I exist to live present, sacred and as a witness to the present and the sacred.

I’m a nature photograph of only the trees and the mountain. No caption to draw attention to the threats of the future. No human figure outlined as the subject. No metaphor for the accolades I’ve garnered. Only the holy now and the lens to see it.

My way of being is not the best or the singular way through life. I fully support those whose center is the periphery of my image—the happy family camping, the environmentalist chained to the tree, the goal-setter summiting the peak. There is pain in finding my focus, because I think it is trauma more than biology that has led me to it. A life unspoiled as mine was might have a depth I cannot achieve in which everything I’ve described is blended into a harmonious entree. But my point is simply that I have something for which I exist, even if it isn’t typical, appreciated or noticed. I’ve found my purpose. Attempting to compel myself to locate it elsewhere is a distraction from my fundamental source of joy and hope. I’m in this light, of this breath, reflecting divine presence.

Carrying It All (Today’s Daily Presence)

For today’s Daily Presence, I selected a card that focuses on meditation and relaxation for my feet. When I spent a few minutes thinking about this area of my body, the first word that came to mind was “work.” My feet are responsible for bearing much of the weight of my entire body as I walk. Their burden is heavy and I pay them far too little attention as a reward.

I’ve never tried a self-massage for my feet, so I found a massage resource and engaged in the techniques listed. I found the “sole rub” and “thumb circles” to be the ones that woke up my feet the most and made me feel as though they had been stretched and soothed. I was surprised to find that my ankles seemed to be carrying more tension than my feet.

I’ve sustained ankle and foot injuries over the years, and sometimes have aching in them, especially if they are in an awkward position when I sleep. I’m too quick at times to take an anti-inflammatory medication, rather than to slow down and check in with them with touch. I am grateful that I’ve been able to afford sturdy and high-quality footwear as I think that, as someone who is on my feet for my job, it makes a huge difference. What is your relationship like with your feet? What is your favorite way to pamper them?

A Still Trust (In the Cards)

I selected the Ground card from my In an Open Hand deck. This card invites one into a sitting meditation, focused on noticing one’s experience during stillness. A settled presence is, for me, an invitation to trust and connect.

My childhood relationships with key figures involved a complete lack of stillness. There was either distance or an unpredictable swinging between being overrun and being abandoned or shut out. There was no stable, kind, present adult.

I hold as an image of Divinity an image of a huge figure resting in meditation. Seated in gentle, loving presence, unhurried and unbothered by the wildness of my heart. Able to withstand my inability to connect and to love. I can come and go and still he,she,they remains, willing to simply be with me as I need them to be.

I believe each of us is able to offer this presence to ourselves and to others, if we make regular our engagement in meditation and in simply being rather than doing. One question my card asks is what stands up when I sit, and I would say what rises up in that moment of sacred presence is connection. How much I long for real experiences that mirror this inner world! Perhaps that is what “church” would look like for me, simply being with others in the flow of Divine Presence. How do you feel in the presence of stillness (your own or others)? What comes up for you when you spend time in silent meditation?

A Little Song and Dance (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

I’m not feeling well today (again!), so I decided to play soft music and move my body gently to the rhythm. I’ve found a lot of comfort in recent months with having meditation music playing in the background, especially when I am engaged in creative activity. My dog instantly settles himself as well!

I incorporated physical movement into my relaxation today and found that my physical pain diminished as a result. Simply focusing on my body itself instead of getting lost in the stressors in my mind has a healing effect. I notice my muscle tension often lessens as well. How have you connected with your body today? Which music, if any, appeals to you when you are stressed or feeling ill?

More than Giving Voice (Today’s Daily Presence)

The area of the body on which my Daily Presence card focused today was my throat. I associate this area with my voice, but, as I spent time in mindful meditation with my throat, I realized that this body part serves multiple functions. It is also a pathway in receiving nutrition and air and in expelling waste products such as carbon dioxide. As such, it is a place of both power and vulnerability.

Given that our throat has both receptive and expressive capacities, I wondered what balance I have been achieving. My employment involves a lot of talking, which often leaves my voicebox strained. In addition, I have GERD which can cause acid to erode the lining of my throat. Because of these factors, I think my throat is in need of receiving soothing care more than it is in need to being used more forcefully to assert my strength as a person. I decided a way to honor this area of my body would be to make a cup of calming tea, so I settled on chamomile.

As I’ve been trying out my Daily Presence cards, focusing on one area of my body at a time, I am continually surprised at how much I’ve been overlooking in terms of what my body needs. I think my go-to is to realize I don’t feel great and to conclude that I need to rest or exert myself less, but when I spend time centered on my breathing, simple being in my body, I find a lot of nuance and complexity is going on if I only listen. What is your throat needing from you today? What messages is it communicating to you?

Shrugging My Shoulders (Today’s Daily Presence)

Every card I’ve pulled from my Daily Presence deck, which centers on meditation and relaxation related to a particular area of the body, has felt serendipitous in its connection to what I needed that day. It was no surprise, then, that today’s card focused on the shoulders, an area of my body that holds much of my anxiety. I chose to focus on a progressive muscle relaxation to ease my tension.

Whenever I’ve participated in progressive muscle relaxation, the area of my body I cannot wait to get to is my shoulders. Drawing them up to my ears and then releasing them provides more stress relief than the practice does for most parts of my body. The muscles in my shoulders are extremely taut and inflexible, so I often repeat the practice several times. When I tried it today, part of my upper spine cracked and shifted, indicating to me that attention to this area was sorely needed. What area(s) of your body might benefit from progressive muscle relaxation? How does your body respond to the practice?