Energy Balancing Body Scan (Today’s Daily Presence)

Today I am feeling highly energized with nowhere to direct my anxieties. It is raining out so my daily run isn’t going to happen, but I needed a way to better balance what I’m feeling as well as to reconnect with my sense of my body. I brought myself into present moment awareness with a visual and breathing-centered meditation.

The meditation practice in which I engaged has a relationship with a Tibetan Buddhist practice I learned several years ago, but I have unfortunately lost my knowledge of its name and origins in the time since. If you know what I’m referencing, please let me know in the comments!

I started by imagining my body’s stale, negative energy gathering in the form of grey smoke in my fingers, toes and edges of my head. As I took deep breaths, I saw it moving towards the center of my body, and, in breathing out a deep breath through my mouth, saw it release and float away. I repeated this process, noticing and concentrating on areas of my body which felt compressed, tight or stuck. I imagined a negative pressure developing, drawing out the trapped energy to itself where it could be exhaled. I saw my body lengthening and loosening as this occurred.

I then moved into a state of reception, where I breathed in clear, healing energy and transmitted it from the core of my body down my torso, into my fingers and toes. It also coursed from my neck into the reaches of my head and ears. As I inhaled, the energy woke up areas that felt tired, warming those that needed to be warmed, and cooling those that felt inflamed.

I then engaged in stretching exercises to further open and release as well as soothe and calm my body. There was more of a sense of a need to balance than I have had in the past. With being on T, I finally feel that I have enough energy, which is a totally new experience to me. Determining how to keep it flowing without spilling over is still a series of trial and error.

If you try the meditation, what was your experience with it? Is it easier to send out spent energy or to draw in renewed energy? How does your body balance?

Mindfulness in the Winter Sun (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

I spent a short time in sitting meditation. I began by locating a window through which the afternoon sun was streaming. I sat cross-legged on the floor and, after closing my eyes, I centered myself on my breath. I took time to notice the pauses between each in-breath and out-breath.

My face felt warmed by the sunlight filtering through the window and I felt enlivened. I’d wrapped a warm robe around myself before starting the mediation, so “cozy” was a word that passed through my mind. There was little activity in the way of textures, noises or smells to distract me from the present. I felt drawn in by the light and wanted to rest in it.

I then brought my attention to my body, enlarging my sense of self to try to encompass as much of my physical frame as I was able to do. I felt a block when I got to my upper back, so I decided to move into a few yoga poses such as child’s pose at the end of the meditation session in order to release the tension I was experiencing in that area. I haven’t done this before but I like the idea of listening intuitively to my body during mindfulness and then responding accordingly.

Have you practiced mindfulness in various seasons and weather patterns? If so, which is your favorite? What pose might reflect what your body needs today?

Eight Mindfulness and Spirituality Practices to Start the Year Well

As we start the new year, I am more determined than ever to fully engage in the present moment as much as I can and to have that moment be held as sacred. I’ve included ideas here for myself as well as for you about how to enable this process. These practices might also be thought of as including self-reflection, sensory processing and grounding techniques.

1. Writing a poem

I am writing a series of poetry dedicated to animal encounters. This process has felt sacred to me as I draw deeply from each moment of time in which an animal and I exchange meaning. Other series I think would be interesting to try include weather patterns, plants, seasons and the sky.

2. Drawing a nature scene

I prefer my time in nature to be a slow process. What I mean by this is I am not focused on moving quickly through it by mechanical means like a jet-ski or ATV and that I let go of trying to “conquer” any aspect of it, such as completing a trail in as little time as I can. I once joined a walking group and spent so much time outside for a season, but the focus on walking fast and talking completely detracted from any mindfulness. Activities such as sketching and drawing can require tremendous patience and repetition, which enables me to pause and to be rather than do.

3. Practicing Breathwork

I shared recently that breathwork can potentially affect the brain-body connection in PTSD. Knowing this inspires me to spend time simply in awareness of my breathing. For those who do not have much free time, even a few minutes between activities can serve to help us recenter.

4. Connecting with nature through each sense

I love forest therapy and the relationship it encourages between mindfulness and nature. My favorite practice is to notice how each sense is affected by being outside. With a bit of planning, this encounter can be tailored to an individual’s sensory needs and abilities.

5. Engaging in a Body scan and movement

I sometimes find myself reacting emotionally to a situation, and, only after I get some time for self-reflection, do I realize that my physical state either contributed to or has been impacted by the encounter. Spending time checking with each body system and sending it healing energy helps me feel grounded.

In the past six months, I’ve also educated myself about ways to stretch specific parts of my body such as my toes. Doing so not only frees me of physical tension, but it also helps me expand my sense of inhabiting every aspect of who I am. Becoming embodied can be a challenge for those of us who have endured trauma, but doing so has allowed me to more fully process other aspects of my identity such as being trans.

6. Drawing a card

I believe that qualitative as well as quantitative data and information are useful, and I find that using tarot and oracle cards helps me release some of my compulsions towards liner thinking so that I can also take in “big picture” viewpoints. Experiencing insight through not only written but also through illustration is also enabled through the inclusion of various decks I have.

7. Listening inwardly

I’ve shared my process for doing inner work. I sometimes find myself wishing I could pause social encounters, check in with myself, and then reengage. I may need to find a way to do this IRL as so much of my out-of-body, out-of-time response is due to not having enough brain power to process my internal and external experiences simultaneously. When I make time for this practice, I often realize that much of the anxiety and anger to which I’d been reacting for hours was due to an inability to fully hear myself.

8. Holding Sacred Ritual

There is a good deal of overlap between the practices I’ve listed above and scared ritual in which I might engage. I have at times kept to a Pagan calendar as well as honored the full and new moons, but I did not find myself relating to these holidays any more than I relate to the ones most Americans follow. Ritual, for me, works best when it is held in anticipation or response to lived events. In particular, I want to engage in it at times where I feel scattered from myself and in need of reconnection.

Conclusion

Which of the mindfulness and spirituality practices that I’ve shared have you found to work the best for your needs? What else would you add as beneficial? What barriers, if any, might you need to overcome to allow yourself to be in the scared moment?

Appreciating the Winter Season (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

It finally feels like the heart of winter where I live, with snow covering the grass and a cold wind blowing. I at first was displeased with having to spend time today snow shoveling, but then decided to take the opportunity to check in with each of my senses in an outdoor setting. My pup accompanied me on my journey.

I started by noticing the temperature. My face was uncovered so it was quite cold, but I soon observed how toasty my hands and upper body felt in my gloves and coat. The sensation of the wind blowing by intrigued me, as it felt as though it was sneaking past my defenses and trying to infiltrate every pore.

The smell was, for once, crisp and clean. Several of my neighbors burn wood for heat, which I hate as the smoke is highly irritating to my lungs and the odor lingers on my clothes after only a brief time outside. They’d given it a rest for once (or perhaps the wind had cleared it away) and I could detect only the scent of the snow.

I forgot to give much attention to what I was hearing, but it was in general quite quiet outside as well. There was a neighbor shoveling in the distance and a dog barked occasionally, seemingly agitated after I’d chopped up the ice on my driveway with my shovel. There were few traffic sounds.

In terms of vision, I felt bored looking at the dead, light-brown grass peeking through the thin layer of snow here and there. I then remembered my flash of insight this fall in regards to including the sky in my observations. I looked up and the most subtle, beautiful set of blues, whites and greys awaited me. The sun was hidden but the sky looked cotton-covered in a soft palette of clouds. I read in the last few months about the Cloud Appreciation Society. I am too lazy to join their ranks but I think they are on to something as I feel so rewarded whenever I remember to look up.

All in all, taking a few moments to connect to the experience of winter, rather than to simply shovel it out of the way, helped me reset my mental state. What is the weather like where you live (thoughts to those in NSW in Australia right now!)? With which sense do you most appreciate colder temperatures? If you practice mindfulness in nature, how does it affect you?

Time Enough (In the Cards)

Today’s card invited reflection of how the pace of my life is going. I decided to focus on how I hold my sense of presence and time in situations where others are present. I believe that my experiences here will guide me in finding places where I connect with a felt sense of safety.

I went out to a restaurant with a group of friends last night and noticed a moment pass where I would normally feel like time was “up,” where I’d become impatient and want to leave. After my reflection on having PTSD, I believe this surge of anxiety occurs when, as a result of either internal or external stimuli, I come to view the experience as containing threats from which I want to flee. At dinner, in the moment this would have happened, my internal system instead read “you are safe” and I was enveloped with a wonderful sensation of calm and a near-hallucination of a clock shutting off. What time it was and how much time there was left in the encounter weren’t my most pressing concerns.

In almost every other social setting, I feel as though I am in a race where the goal is to survive until time runs out. Maybe I’m trapped on a level of the simulation or my programming is broken! In all seriousness, the intensity of needing to rush through and have whatever is happening end is overwhelming. I look forward to events much more than I enjoy attending or remembering them.

I do not believe I am able to engage in mindfulness or present-moment awareness in the presence of others for any length of time. As soon as at least one other person is in the same room as me, I lose my connection to my body and my sense of time becomes at least slightly distorted. Every day when I leave my job, I find myself waiting for myself as I leave the building, crawling back into my skin and inhabiting my breath and my rhythm for the first time in hours. Who I am around others is often only a shadow-shell of my true self.

My experience of time is less affected in outdoor spaces, where the elements help me reconnect with my body and remind me of shifts outside of my own reactions to stimuli. If waiting rooms were parks and grocery stores outdoor venues, I would perhaps respond with less rage. Small, confined rooms such as medical offices are especially taxing. I recall a few moments where I felt highly connected to friends; most of them occurred in green spaces with people far and few between.

This reflection has enabled me to note a direct connection between where I am and how intact my perception of time remains. People are not the only variable; fresh air and a luxurious amount of room in which to rest or walk about also play major roles. What factors affect how you perceive time? To what extent is your connection to your body impacted by the presence of other people? In which spaces do you feel safest, where a sense of more than enough time and place are pervasive?

A Bit Unbalanced (Today’s Daily Presence)

Today’s card was an invitation to concentrate on my nervous system. I decided to reflect on the state of balance between my sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. In case you are unfamiliar with these terms, our sympathetic system is the system that responds to emergency situations and either compels us to fight against a threat or to flee from it. Our parasympathetic system can cause a collapse response but also dominates when we are relaxing. Both systems activate (although the parasympathetic response is stronger) when we have a freeze response to a threat. This article go into great detail about how each system works.

As I’ve shared previously, I am someone for whom threats seem to be everywhere. Given that I have PTSD, I scan every environment in which I find myself for possible dangers and stand ready to activate my sympathetic system at a moment’s notice. After being on T the last six months, I have observed an increase in the likelihood of a fight response, which is helpful in some ways as I do not feel as immobilized by anxiety as I did in the past. For example, I’ve started to engage in a confrontational way on a social media site, something I would have never done before and which feels as though it is channeling my general state of hostility. On the whole, whether it is to escape or confront, my sympathetic system turns on in many situations where it is not necessarily needed.

I also struggle at times with my parasympathetic system activating after chronic stress. This leads me to withdraw from others and detach internally through dissociation. My issues with dissociation seem to have gotten better after starting T, but I am struggling mightily with engaging socially. This article explained the Polyvagal Theory, which I’d only read about previously in passing, and has left me with the impression that connecting in a calm, happy state with others involves different body-brain pathways than dissociation or fight-flight. It also postulates that PTSD is related to swinging from active systems of reacting intensely to stimuli and passive systems of shutting off.

Dysregulation of the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems are linked with a ridiculously long list of negative health outcomes and ultimately early death. I think this knowledge only serves to increase my anger at others, both my parents whose behaviors set me down this path and the people in my current life who add to my reactivity through their inconsiderate actions. Side note: Hostility was also noted as an outcome! It feels very unpleasant to read an entire scientific journal article that lays out detail after detail to which I can perfectly relate, and to feel relatively helpless to make changes because the structure of my brain and nervous system have been so altered through my experiences.

The one positive note I found at the very bottom of the article was that mindfulness practices have been shown to have some efficacy in addressing PTSD symptoms. This has been my lived experience; the main pathway through which I’ve reduced my dissociation has been through present-moment awareness. I feel a renewed commitment to this practice after this scientifically-grounded confirmation.

The switch I seem unable to flip is that of neuroception, meaning that I unconsciously conclude nearly every place I’m in and person I’m around is unsafe. I don’t feel consciously safe either. There isn’t necessarily an internal conflict as I genuinely believe most people cannot be trusted and most physical environments hold hidden dangers. I think I will pay more attention to tracking where and when I have a sense of safety, in order to examine whether there are any consistent features of my physical or social surroundings that assist with achieving this perception.

I watched the movie “Angel Has Fallen” yesterday (spoiler alert). The last scene was a spot-on representation of PTSD. Both the son and the father experienced negative effects of fighting in wars. They wanted to work on healing together, so they went to a “Zero Gravity” treatment center where they got into sensory deprivation tanks. The scene shows each of them gently floating on their backs in their own pool of water while wearing a swimsuit. They are both starting to relax and then, unexpectedly, the lights are turned off (to increase the sensory deprivation). They both start to immediately freak out. I think that scene will stick with me for a while as it so perfectly represented the reactivity of the nervous system, even in moments of calm, for people with PTSD. If you have PTSD, what is the interaction you observe between your sympathetic and parasympathetic systems? What, if you read them, did you note in the linked articles that connects with your experience? Which environments and/or practices grant you the highest degree of a sense of safety?

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.

Writing a Poem (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

I haven’t written poetry in quite some time, but I’ve been feeling more reflective lately so I decided to spend today’s simple pleasure summarizing my thoughts in a poem.

This Time

Scouting the crest because that will save us.

Forecasting evaluating preventing all harms.

And still death—crumbled leaves and a chill in the air—encircled us.


Holding on fondly in pious regret for what’s been.

Cherished tokens, our hands shaking to cradle.

But rain dirt sun wind will blot out any trace of our footfalls.


Here—in snowdrift, puddle, wilted flower or fresh forest—as we are.

Before and after hallucinations our minds concoct.

Within each heartbeat and breath, whole universes dawn, descend and are reborn.

Spending Time in Nature (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

Intimacy with nature need not involve a miles-long hike into the deep forest. Anything of the earth can provide a touchpoint that reconnects to our senses. With this in mind, for today’s simple pleasure, I took a walk to a local park to enjoy the start of the fall foliage.

I began my walk through my backyard which is filled with trees and bordered by a stream. I heard a rushing noise and thought it was odd that the stream was flowing with so much intensity on a bright, chill day. I finally perceived that the sound was instead being produced by the slightly-dry leaves rustling against each other in the birch trees. It is at once a gentle and a playful noise that I wish I listen to on repeat.

The scene then transitioned into viewing the stream which, as it enters the park, is filled with reeds. The grasses of the reeds are browning and mowed down, but a few solitary cattails stand proud. I was surprised to see insects and a bird hopping around as we had frost last night; the last breath of summer could still be heard.

After steering my dog past a distracting bunch of humans, I made my way to a park bench lodged underneath a tree. The shade the tree provided was cold, with an edge. I centered myself on my present awareness of my senses and my body’s response to those senses and felt soothed.

As I made my way home, the colors I saw seemed to radiate with a vibrancy I find only in fall. Green, red and blue seen in low humidity are crisp and energizing to me. I could make this walk a hundred times a year, but it is only when I direct my attention to my surroundings moment by moment that the inherent beauty of nature makes itself known. What was the most recent experience in nature you had? What impression did it leave on you?