SOME HELP WITH HELPLESSNESS
Below is a transcription of the podcast episode, "Some Help With Helplessness":
What I want to talk to you about today is helplessness, and offer you some pointers, some help in the act of actually sitting with helplessness, which is one of the most difficult things on a spiritual path. There’s always a time in our spiritual evolution where the old ways don’t work, and the new ways have not fully revealed themselves. This is something that’s going on for most of us right now, where we don’t really fit into practices and behaviors the way we were, and we don’t really know where we’re heading. And this brings up a lot of anxiety and a lot of fear. The way most of us deal with this is that we just keep busier, run around more, keep our head up in the clouds by not being grounded at all, which actually makes it a lot worse. So, in this state that we’re in, there can and there usually is a tremendous amount of fear and anxiety as well as confusion. So again, most of us will first try to make our mask thicker by pushing through these feelings, by business, but of course there is always a pushback when we do this. So, we might just indulge in addictive behavior, whether that’s watching more TV or watching more movies or being on the Internet - which is everyone’s favorite thing. Just this kind of manic running around.
When we do things like this, when we’re forced to slow down in this kind of energy that we’re living in, things will quickly get very intense, and as much as that might feel like we’re being punished, it’s actually a compassionate pushback from the universe to make sure that we pay attention. So, of course this can be very frightening, it can be painful, and it can be so overwhelming that we can feel paralyzed.
To this point, it’s really helpful to understand that it has taken a lot of work on a soul level to get us to this place of paralysis and fear. This is actually real spiritual work; this means that actual progress is being made. When we’re in this kind of place, as unpleasant as it is - and it can really be scary - we’re healing by feeling these intense feelings, so it actually is a part of our process to feel these feelings. I know it feels that we’re stuck, I know it feels like it’s some part of us - or all of us - is dying. The thing that needs to be remembered, and these are obviously just words, is that the only way out of this thing is to go in, which is very counterintuitive for a culture that is always going out.
The two points to remember - again these are words - when the feelings come on us, it’s very intense:
1. The first thing to remember is that these feelings will pass, they always do; it’s not permanent. Even though, in that moment, the anxiety or the grief or the fear might be so, so intense - always remember: everything passes.
2. The second thing to remember is that all we need to do is to learn to tolerate these feelings. We don’t need to have answers, we don’t need to figure things out, we don’t need to run around… we just need to learn to tolerate it. And that might seem like a tall order, especially in a culture where we never feel, where we’re always running around, but actually, that’s the work.
In a lot of ways, it’s actually quite easy once we realize in our bodies that these feelings won’t kill us.
What we’re doing by learning to sit with these feelings is actually holding space for ourselves. That term is thrown around a lot in the spiritual circles and shamanic circles: holding space. We learn how to hold space for others, that’s what we do when we’re healing others, that’s what we’re doing when we’re raising a child, when we’re with an animal, when we’re with someone who’s sick. Doing it for others well is actually not easy, because again, we’re so scattered. Doing it for ourselves is even harder because it’s something that’s never fostered in our culture, because we’re so disconnected. Many times, when people think they’re holding space, they’re actually phoning it in, which is sort of what we do in this culture in general.
To say that these feelings that come up in these junctures are unpleasant is obviously an understatement. Those of you who are going through it, you know how intense it is. But this is what the dark night of the soul is about. When people use that term, it’s actually this: it’s a time when everything seems dark… yes, there’s a light around the corner, but in that moment, we don’t really know that. But again, we have to sit with this dark night of the soul and trust that this is the part of our soul’s quest to healing the personality, to going beyond the personality, really, that’s how you heal it.
Pretty much everything that we do is to avoid feelings of helplessness. This is why helplessness is such an intense thing, because we’ve actually never come across it. Everyone that I’ve worked with for 30-some years is running away from helplessness, we use all kinds of things, all kinds of behaviors. This is something that I see as a clinician. And one of the most twisted ways that we push away from helplessness is the use of spirituality. “Surrender” is such a great, beautiful word… no one surrenders unless they’re made to surrender, that’s just the way it is. It’s always amusing for me, painfully, when I see people, when they use even meditation, shamanic practices, this whole discourse with astrology, which can be a very powerful tool. But it’s very interesting how people constantly push away their helplessness or look for ways out of the helplessness by running towards astrology. “Oh, this is why I’m feeling this, and once this time is over, once this has retrograded… THEN I’ll feel better”, as opposed to “Maybe the function of this retrograde is to get me in touch with this pain, and now my job is to actually sit with it, not to look for some candy to actually make these feelings go away."
Everything at our disposal then, in our life, becomes as a way of not going to these places, right? We are in a culture, as I say over and over, where this is not a practice that’s encouraged by any means, and again that’s an understatement in itself. Something that needs to be remembered with helplessness is that sitting with it is an act of process. It’s not a matter of just lying on the floor and, you know, flailing around. It’s actually a very high-level, refined practice that calms them when these feelings come over us - that we need to teach ourselves to literally sit and realize we’re helpless, and it’s amazing how fast it softens that sharp fear, that sharp anxiety.
So, what I’d like to do with you now is to practice it. Let’s say, and a lot of times the feeling that comes up initially is profound anxiety, let’s say you’re just overcome with this anxiety. And you catch yourself, you go like: “All right, I wanna actually go for a run, I wanna go to the gym, I wanna watch a movie, I wanna read this astrology site…”, whatever the thing is, put it down. First and foremost, as we always talk about, start with breathing, drop your breathing in your belly and feel your feet on the ground. Take some deep breaths in the belly and the chest and let it out. Here’s a nice energetic trick when you’re feeling super, super anxious: on the left side of your body where your nipple and your armpit, in the middle where they meet - it’ll be on the left side much more than the right - at nipple level, there will be a point, and just start palpating it with your right hand, that’ll be really, really sore. Actually, it will be really, really painful. For most people, because their adrenals are so tired this is the case, but when there’s a really strong sensation of anxiety or panic attack, this point will feel like you’re shot there. So, feel your feet on the ground and just hold this point and rub it. See if you can find that, it’s pretty straightforward once you find it, it’s right on the bone there. Feel the feet and rub that, and just feel how that actually relaxes the chest.
So we’re breathing, we’re rubbing the point, and we’re feeling our feet on the ground. At this point, if you need to make any sounds, either with the breathing, either saying “aaah”… just let things out. Now, the throat’s like an elevator going down, so start from the top of your head and start scanning down. Now start feeling. Feel your body, but also feel the emotions. Go into your throat and feel if you feel anything there. Breathe as if you’re breathing from a mouth that opens up in your throat. Your mouth right now is in your throat and you’re breathing in. Feel - not think - if you feel anything there. Is it tight? Is there some grief there? Frustration? Anger? You can keep rubbing that point on the left or if that feels better you can let it go. Usually, that point will hurt for a little bit. Go further down to the chest level. Breathe into your chest. What do you feel here? Does it feel tight? Do you feel anxious in there? Frustrated? Grief? Joy? It’s kind of crazy how we don’t know what we’re feeling until we pay attention… because we’re so in our heads. And you can do it much slower than we’re doing it now. I just want to give you an example of what it is you’re doing, and then you’re just going to be working your way down. Feel your stomach: if you have digestion issues, if you have acidity, if you’re constipated a lot, if you have loose stools. Go into your guts, what do you feel? What’s going on in there? This is, by the way, a very useful thing to do when you think you might be being triggered by certain foods; before you eat, hold that fork, hold that spoon, hold that food in your hand, and feel it in your body. Your body will tell you, you will know. It’s not a mental thing; it’s a kinesthetic thing.
You’re going to keep breathing. You’re going to go further down. Feel your back. We hold a lot in our backs, both upper and lower. You can move your shoulders around a little bit. Breathe into your lower back. There’s a lot of exhaustion for a lot of us, for our adrenals are very exhausted. Adrenals are these glands that sit on top of our kidneys and we usually feel that exhaustion in our lower back, which is a part of this pushing against this anxiety and this terror. That’s on an unconscious level. So breathe into the back. Then, as a woman or as a man, breathe into your sexual organs. This is a place we’re so disconnected from, most of us. So really feel it, not think about it, but feel it. Then, if there’s pain, if there’s tightness, if there’s numbness…
And you want to keep going down and we’re going to actually now go into the legs and the knees. The knees are another place where we hold a lot. As you’re doing this, pay attention to your neck, how you’re holding it. Is it leaning forward, if it is, just pull it up a little bit from the base of your skull. Then go into your feet, feel the hands and the feet, feel how they connect and feel the tension in them.
And then, as you’ve scanned everything, you’re going to come back up again and go through the jaw, go through the tongue, move it around, feel it. Just sink all these energies into the ground through your feet, literally by feeling the feet. So remember, once you make friends with this space, you can become a master of your own journey, you’re not running around with your head cut off from your body, which is disastrous in the best of times, but certainly so now that a lot more is asked of us. You don’t have to have answers, so if things are coming up for you right now, regarding to relationships, friendships, family, work, just sit with it, you’ll be shown, but it’s only one step at a time. And making friends with this part of yourself, this helplessness, will make the journey much easier, and also will bring to you the answers you’re looking for. But you have to listen to it from a different place. The head, which is a disconnection, which is a defense mechanism that actually brought this disconnection and these problems to your door, is not going to be the part that’s going to help you find solutions. We have to learn to step away from the mask to know actually what feeds us.
Make some room for your Self every day.
You are that you seek.