Category Archives: Heidi’s Table

Calming the **** down! (13 Steps for when everything feels like too much)

Sometimes it all seems like too much. Whether this happens to you once in a while or almost every day at some point, it can be very helpful to have some  ways to calm yourself down. Here are some suggestions…

 

1.     Take 10 slow, deep breaths. Allow those breaths to reach all the way down into your gut (diaphragm) area. Put your hand right there –that place that if someone were to punch you they’d knock the wind out of you— and feel your hand rise with every inhale, and fall with every exhale. Do that for 10 breaths.

2.     Invite your thoughts to hitch a ride on your breathing, as if your breathing were a wave, or a train, or a car, or an [insert your favorite thing that moves that you can hitch a ride on]. Give your thoughts a place to rest, a place to put their feet up, and enjoy the ride.

3.     Notice your thoughts AS thoughts rather than hooking into or engaging their content and story and following them unconsciously down that same old same old rabbit hole again. That worry about ___? Hello, Thought. That urgent push to do something about ___ right this very second now? And hello to you, too, Thought. That regret about how you didn’t ____? Ah, there there, dear Thought. That looming and quickly approaching deadline for ___? I see you, Thought. If ___ really is something you need to address, it (and you!) will be much better off for you having calmed yourself down.

4.     Don’t take your thoughts personally. Did you make that thought cross your mind? No. Neither can you make that thought disappear. Thoughts come, thoughts go. Don’t take them personally. Notice them as thoughts. Let them come and let them go. If you have trouble not taking them personally, imagine your thoughts running around in a big field somewhere. My thoughts, when I do this, look like wild horses. They can run around but I don’t have to run around in the field with them. I like to sit on that bench there under the big tree while they do their thing, thankyouverymuch.

5.    When there is a thought or a family of thoughts that has got you by the throat and is not letting you sleep or breathe or enjoy your otherwise good life, dammit!, write the stressful thought down on paper and practice meeting it with inquiry and understanding. “My boss is a jerk.” “My child should get off her iPad.” “He doesn’t understand me.” “My children should call me.” “It’s too late.” “If I don’t have a child, my life has no purpose.” What’s your stressful thought? Write it down. (My favorite way to practice inquiry on stressful thoughts is called The Work of Byron Katie. Google it!)

6.     Close your eyes, breathe and take a moment to notice where in your body you sense or feel the upset. Is it heavy in your chest? Is it a lump in your gut? Is it thick in your throat? Is it fuzzy behind your eyes? Is it a pressure in your temples? Put your hand there and say, in your own way, I see you there, I see you. And breathe.

7.     Feel the support of the ground under you. During overwhelm and upset it can feel like our mind is a kite on a flimsy thread in a windstorm. Rather than being that precarious kite, turn your awareness toward the ground under the feet of the person holding the kite. Stand or sit tall and strong like a mountain and breathe into that ground. The ground never went away, you just forgot it was there. Let the ground support you.

8.     Notice the pull of gravity. As long as we live upon and call this dear planet Earth our home, we get to enjoy the force of gravity that keeps us from floating up up and away. The force of gravity is such a part of our reality, we GET to take it for granted. Take a moment to appreciate that there is always this force pulling you back to earth, back to home, back to ground, back to body. The pull of gravity toward ground is with you whether you notice it or not (whew!) — calm comes in noticing it.

9.     Practice being sensual. Turn your awareness toward your physical body. Take a moment to touch, to swallow, to yawn, to smell, to taste, to hear…and notice. Our senses are something else we get to take for granted. Take a moment to notice the world through your body’s senses and allow your thoughts to come and rest in your body.

10.     Let your body work up a sweat doing something physical. Allow the muscle of your heart to pump up its volume while you work it for 20 minutes. Maybe you’ll dork dance in the kitchen, maybe you’ll walk around the block several times, maybe you’ll run, maybe you’ll bike to the store instead of driving, maybe you’ll put on your favorite music and jump up and down… Work up a sweat, shake up the thoughts and let the ones that no longer serve (if ever they did) float away. Thought? What thought?!

11.  Practice the art of not being impressed by your thoughts. Sometimes a very juicy thought comes along, a thought that is really hard not to lasso in and call your very own. Practice the art of noticing and not being impressed by your thoughts, no matter how juicy or enticing. That thought about that same old thing that always bothers you? Hello there. No biggie.

12.  Bring to mind the calmest and most loving person, place or thing you know. Allow yourself, in your mind’s eye, to sit in this person’s, place’s, or thing’s presence with your upset. What are the qualities of this calm person, place or thing? Go there, be there, rest there. How are they (how is it) with your upset? By imagining it, you are practicing it.

I’m about to tell you something very secret: there is an old-timey village in the mountains that I sometimes go to in my mind’s eye when I’m very upset and it all feels too much. In this village there is a group of wise old women — their laps are wide, they have chin hairs and don’t care, their eyes are fierce and ever so kind at once, and they have all the patience and wisdom (from eons of experience) in the world. They are never in a hurry. Sometimes they do a drumming and dancing ritual around me, sometimes they go off and concoct or cook me a magical brothy thing or potion for what ails me, sometimes they chant sounds in an ancient language to put me to sleep, and sometimes they hold me while I cry. They see me; they honor me; and they are never, ever upset by my upset.

13.    Practice the tenderest kindness imaginable toward yourself today and give that kindness a physical expression. Maybe you’ll put your hand on your heart or reach your arms around you and squeeze the remarkable being that is you. Notice you. Even and especially when you are at your most upset, anxious and stressed, take a moment to notice how you are showing up and doing the best you can. Hooray! I, for one, am so happy there are people like YOU in the world.

Relax (pretty much ANYWHERE)

“How would you like to feel when you leave here today?”

Over the years I’ve heard my question answered in many ways but there is one intention that is, by far, the one that clients say the most:

Relaxed

What a worthy intention! When we are relaxed, hard things somehow become softer, easier. Tight places become roomier. Annoying things feel more neutral, and maybe even, humorous.

Being relaxed allows for seemingly impossible things to shift and settle into something new, something which tightness and anxiety may not have allowed us to see before. Relaxing clears space for the next and best thing to happCrazy-Cat-Sleeping-Positionsen unimpeded; seen that way, relaxing makes better things possible.

I’m certainly not one to tell people who are feeling anxious or tense to “just relax” — it’s annoying, to say the least, and a bit insulting, too. After all, you’re smart and you do your best, and if it were so easy, I’m sure you would have already.  But I love helping people relax, and today I want to tell you two things that make relaxing much more likely to happen:

1. Acknowledgement

Think of acknowledgment as saying hello to what is there, even when (or especially!) when what is there for you is unpleasant or hard. It’s a nod of recognition, a way of letting the unpleasantness or tightness know that you see it. It’s a little bow of respect. You may not like it, and you may wish it were different than it is but you are saying, nonetheless: “I notice you. Hello.”

Tension, anxiety or whatever word best describes what is hard for you, deserves your noticing and respect. After all, it is there for some good reason. Maybe it is trying to protect you. (Letting you know, for example, not to take on anything else.) Maybe it wants you to remember that “no” is a valid answer needing no further explanation. Maybe your body —through tightness and anxiety— is trying to express something that is off (like how you keep smiling and pretending everything is fine when it isn’t), or out of balance (like when you sit for hours on end, not letting your body get movement or fresh air).

Our bodies hold a wealth of wisdom and I love helping my clients learn to listen to their bodies, but simply acknowledging what is there for you right now and saying hello to that is always a good place to start.

2. Support

It’s hard to relax when we don’t feel supported.

Imagine you’re entering a room and are looking for a place to sit and the only chair available looks kind of sketchy. You aren’t sure it will support you. If you sit down at all, you’d probably do so very tentatively, holding back some of your weight and then only letting go a little bit at a time until you know that the chair is stable and strong enough.

The support of the ground or of the furniture we sit upon is something we often get to take for granted. Thankfully, most chairs we go to sit in do support us.

Habitually tense and contracted places in your body can become so accustomed to tightness that even when your body is fully supported and by all accounts could be resting, those places may have a hard time letting go. If your body remains on high alert and tight when you would love to be resting, take it as a signal to pause and notice the support that is already there for you. Especially notice the support right under and around the place of tightness. And then, after you have said your “hello I see you there,” take a conscious and deep breath and as you exhale, notice if there is any softening, any relaxing, that is ready to happen.

Yes, it’s hard to relax when you don’t feel supported, but feeling supported can often be as close and as possible as an intention to give a nod of acknowledgment followed by a conscious noticing of the support that is there… it’s worth pointing out that the support is there whether you notice it or not; the magic, however, in this matter of relaxing, is in noticing.

Go ahead. Next time you have a hard time relaxing, practice saying hello, notice the support that’s there, and on your next exhale, see what happens. Maybe, like me, you will hear the ground saying to you:

“It’s OK. I’ve got your back.”

Help for your broken heart

Help for your broken heart

A friend recently wrote me of her broken heart. She is crying every day –heart crushing sobs– and tells me that her tears have absolutely no regard for time of day or place where she might be. Earlier this summer she started trying to date other people but then stopped. She feels terrified of ever being in a relationship again: “I don’t think my heart can take it.”

What follows is my letter to my friend, who told me she’d love it if I shared it. We hope it will help another broken heart, maybe yours, maybe someone’s you know.

Have a question or a matter you would like me to write about here on my blog? Drop me a note by email or by using the “Dear Heidi” boxes located on my blog just to the right of this post.

My dear friend,

I feel for you. So much! What grief, whether from now or from way back when, though I imagine it’s some concentrated combination of both. How hard the cyclical experience of what you describe must be, that yearly repetition of ending and then beginning only to end again… So hard. No wonder you are feeling such pain, and, I imagine maybe even some stiff cocktail of emotions like anger, like despair, like who knows what all, for it certainly is hard to tease a whole tangle of heart-crushing and sob-inducing kinds of emotions apart.

It’s not about anyone being to blame, whether it is he for coming back and sleeping with you each fall only to break up with you again by summer, or you for going back to him each fall and being heartbroken again when he breaks up each summer. Our dear minds get some kind of momentary satisfaction from finding blame, but blame heals nothing for anyone and ultimately serves only to deflect from the thing that truly will help. The more useful and ultimately healing thing to wonder about, and the thing to bring every ounce of your energy to is this: how can I be with this now? Whatever is appearing, at any given heart-rending moment: how can I be with this now?

Maybe you close your eyes and feel and sense exactly how the whole heart-crush of it is in your body right now. Notice where it is. Maybe put your hand there and be with it in that way.

Sometimes when I have a hard time being with something —this is especially true for those very big emotion kind of things like what you are describing— I bring to mind people and beings, imagined or real (it doesn’t really matter) who would be able to be with it. These are people who would be incredibly compassionate and moved by what I am going through, though, ironically, they would also not be freaking out about it, not because they don’t care but because they have a bigger and wider perspective and probably they know something I don’t. Those are the people, in lonely and alone and heartbreaking moments, I bring to mind. Actually, I call it “channeling.” (I like to channel, among others, Tara Brach, Kuan Yin, Byron Katie, my therapist, my teacher and friend, Barbara. Sometimes, these days, I even channel an entire village-of-old wherein the elders take care of me. I do this when I don’t have it in me to take care of myself, and when the part that is upset feels so large it feels like the entirety of me.)

Related to the question “how can I be with this now?” it can also be very helpful to wonder: How would this [heart-broken part of me] like for me [or the people I am “channeling”] to be with it? And then pause and sense what kind of company it wants… Maybe it wants a very quiet kind of company. Maybe it wants a song. Maybe it wants to show you something. Maybe it wants to sit under a tree in the park.Maybe it will let you know it wants touch. Maybe it needs the metaphorical village curanderas to make a witchy brew for it. Maybe it wants to hear the beating of a thousand drums. Maybe it wants you —in your mind’s eye— to sit there right next to it where it can feel you. Maybe it wants you in the same room, nearby but not in direct sight… The point is, find out how IT would like you to be with it.

And don’t forget flesh-n-bones people, my friend. Let people help you. Let them know you need company. Let them know you need a cup of tea. Let them know you need a place to stay. And if tears come in barre class, so be it. Good for you for being at your beloved barre class. And if tears come in the grocery store, so be it. I remember once breaking down sobbing on the side of a street over yet-another-moment in something not unlike what it sounds you are going through. A woman came and asked if I was OK. She asked if there was someone she could call for me. She cared, and in that moment, I was not alone. The people who couldn’t handle it —a woman on the side of the street crying— didn’t come. The woman who could, did. Let the people who care and who can step up to help, help you, my friend. You are not alone.

It’s no wonder you are terrified of being in a relationship again. No wonder. Please know that your next relationship will come in its own good time. Not your time, not my time, but its good time. What a relief, isn’t it? Your next relationship will come when it comes, the timing of which you have no idea about now. Good about that. Its timing is simply not any of your business right now. Whew!

Of course something in you would, right now, be telling you how terrified it is about you being in a relationship again. Of course. Please know that its terror applies to now. Right now your heart can’t take even the thought of another relationship, and with good reason: look at the right now pain you are experiencing over the relationship which you are grieving right now. Try as best you can to resist extrapolating from your right now experience onto your future self. Now brings all you can handle and your only job is to take care of your now-heart right now. And when something in you now shows you pictures of your future-self not being able to handle another relationship, know that that is your now-self dressed in a future-self costume and take it as a signal to be with right-now-you. Resist the temptation to believe or disbelieve what the scared parts of you are saying, and the scary pictures of an imagined future they are projecting on the screen of your mind.

Just as right now brings all you can handle now, right now also bring all that you need right now.

Rumi comes to mind.

Every part of you has a secret language.
Your hands and your feet say what you’ve done.

And every need brings in what’s needed.
Pain bears its cure like a child.

Having nothing produces provisions.
Ask a difficult question,
and the marvelous answer appears.

Build a ship, and there’ll be water
to float it. The tender-throated
infant cries and milk drips
from the mother’s breast.

Be thirsty for the ultimate water,
and then be ready for what will
come pouring from the spring.

[This is a part of Rumi’s poem “Joy at Sudden Disappointment,” translated by Coleman Barks. I found it on page 169 of my beat up and dog-eared “The Essential Rumi.”]

Friend, you are much bigger than all of this. Some of the very upset parts of you are feeling difficult things so intensely that they seem extremely big, so big that it is tempting to believe that those parts ARE you. But you, my dear, are bigger, you are wider, you are older, you are wiser. How do I know? For you are noticing them. See if you can spread the biggest possible blanket for all the parts arising in you to be, to rest upon. For surely they want rest. You don’t have to fix them. You don’t have to make them go away. You don’t even have to heal them. Healing happens. Just spread the blanket and let them be there. They will surely also bring, as Rumi says, what’s needed.

And when some part or another in you expresses some great sense of urgency about needing you to do or fix or make some big decision right now? Notice and listen. Surely it wants relief and it wants you to be OK. Of course. Say, there you are, I see you, but don’t let your next movement be determined from that part, for it is limited and partial. Just be with it and listen. I say “just” not because it is necessarily easy to do, but rather because it is all you need to do. And, come to think, it is actually much easier than all the frantic kind of movement we of this age and time are used to watching transpire all around us. But we do not need to be at the beck and call of urgency.

A practical point, is there any way you can move out of his place? Even though he’s not in town for most of the year, I imagine that living in his place necessarily makes all of this —and ending the cycle you describe— much harder. It is very likely that moving out would shift things energetically. Maybe you move into somewhere temporarily, even just a month or two or three, while you take care and make space for your next place (of living) to become available… Remember that you can ask for help. Sometimes it is only in the asking, in the putting forth of our need, that the immediate next step becomes available. Asking is a powerful practice. Allow people to say yes. Remember, the ones who can’t handle the woman crying on the side of the street, won’t come. The ones who can, will. Give them, give you, that opportunity.

When can you come visit us again?

Thanks for the info on the swimming hole. Two and a half hours was, indeed, too far. The cabin we stayed in was magical. We will go back.

I send you all my love. Please let me know if I can help. If any of what I wrote did not fit or is not welcome, please just give it right back to me, for at the very least, maybe I needed to be reminded of everything I’ve told you.

Heidi



 

Dear blog reader,

Would you like company and guidance while you listen and sense into something difficult of your own? Would you like to learn to be with yourself in the ways I describe in this letter? You can book a session HERE. I work with people in-person at my office in Cambridge, Massachusetts and remotely, via Skype, FaceTime or phone.

Make an Online Appointment


A few of the people I “channel” have been  —not coincidentally— my most trusted teachers over the years. In particular the following three offer a powerhouse of wisdom and support:

  • Tara Brach | Insight Meditation Teacher who has taught me to sit still in an intentional way (some people call this meditation) and how to be with what, then, arises. I adore her. Her podcasts are excellent, free, and always uncannily pertinent.
  • Barbara McGavin and Ann Weiser Cornell at Focusing Resources | Barbara and Ann have turned Gene Gendlin’s Focusing into a very learnable process with immediate implications for how we relate to ourselves –and all our parts– as well as to the people in our world. Focusing is a process of listening to the body and being with hard things, big or little. Some of my hardest and most stuck inner places of struggle have changed as a result of listening and being with myself in this way.
  • Byron Katie | When I am stressed out, there is at least one untrue thought I am assuming to be true. Before I notice that I am in the grips of a stressful thought or story, I am at its mercy. But when I meet that thought with the kindness of inquiry, it has a way of unraveling. I never know exactly what will come of asking Byron Katie’s questions, but invariably I end up in a place less stressful, at the very least, and sometimes my eyes are opened to possibilities that turn my stressworld on its head.

Until next time, take care of your dear self and remember to ask for help if you need it.

Heidi

Heidi’s Table

2464 Massachusetts Ave. #405
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