I woke up this morning with a depressed feeling. Not depressed in the clinical sense of the word, but a steady pressure on my chest with tension around my throat and tears behind my eyes. Maybe the word is suppressed or pressurized. I’ve come to know this feeling as grief. It’s my deep sadness about losing something. This morning I felt sad about losing the way in which I used to engage with people pre-Covid pandemic.
Immediately, my personas swooped in to rescue me from my grief. I hadn’t even made it out of bed yet.
A persona is a repetitive strategy we (often) learned when we were young to get our needs met and mask uncomfortable feelings. Usually these strategies aren’t very effective in our adulthood and they certainly aren’t satisfying, but we keep employing them because they’re familiar and we’re scared or don’t know how else to get our needs met.
First, let me introduce Indecisive Doer. The part of me who tries desperately to find something productive to do, but is both indecisive about what to do and unsatisfied by anything she chooses. Her inner monologue goes something like this: What should I do today? The day is young, I can’t waste it on this feeling. I had big plans for today! What do I want to do? I don’t know. I should know. Ok, I’ll take a shower and then figure it out. Maybe I should meditate first. But I want to drink my tea. I have to do all that before my son gets up or I’ll never get any time to myself. I just need to figure out the right order in which to do all the things and then I can start!
All that annoying indecision led me to half-heartedly turn toward my sad feeling. Clearly, I wasn’t getting anywhere with Indecisiver Doer so I guess I’ll have to do something with this feeling. “Oh, no, no, I don’t think so!” says Perfectly Processed as she dives in for the save. Perfectly Processed loves to use all of the consciousness tools I know to get rid of my uncomfortable feelings. She’s sneaky because practicing the ways that I learned to love myself, create ease in my day and be with feelings makes perfect sense. However, her motivation is what keeps me from actually being with what I’m experiencing. Like Indecisive Doer, she’s rooted in the belief that what I’m experiencing right now is not what I should be experiencing. The idea that maybe I’ll just be sad for the whole day sounds perfectly preposterous. Her inner monologue goes like this: You just need to get these feelings out, honey. That’s all there is to it! I’ll help you find just the RIGHT process and we’ll get through this together, I promise! Trust me, I know SO MANY ways to move through this stuff. Something’s gotta work, right?
I unconsciously created these personas, or strategies, to save me from my grief (and other feelings as well). They were born out of the fear that I’m having the wrong experience. Even with all the practice I’ve had accepting and allowing my feelings, I just now had the thought, what if I could allow this feeling for as long as it wanted to be here? Without trying to fix it? REALLY? Feel depressed for what… hours? The whole day? A week?
That thought freezes me in fear. My fear revolves around not knowing how long I’ll be grieving. And yet, I can feel my curiosity growing. Hmmm… I wonder how I can be with my grief now? And now? And now? Then there’s an opening. I intuitively get an image of carrying something around with me today to symbolically acknowledge my deep sadness. I can take it along with me, periodically check in on it and give it love and attention. Hmmm… perhaps I can be with my feeling and also go about my day. How could this be as simple as saying “Today is Saturday and I feel sad.”?
I’m now sitting here with a stuffed seal on my chest. Yes, I’m petting it and allowing my imagination to imbue it with my sadness. Being with my grief like it’s a dear friend… or a baby seal.
In Yoga Nidra meditation there is a practice (settle down now, Perfectly Processed) of alternating between being the witness of a sensation/feeling (separate awareness) and knowing we are the sensation/feeling (oneness). Consider this: How could something you’re sensing be separate from you when the act of sensing is part of you? Richard Miller explains in detail:
We mistakenly assume a sensory impression is a phenomenon separate from ourselves. The fact is sensory impressions are not separate from the mind that perceives them. At the moment of perception, there is only perceiving and the idea of being a separate perceiver arises only as a mental formation after the fact. In the actual moment of perceiving there is only perceiving. When we refuse a sensory impression, such as the sound of the ticking clock, we are in a manner of speaking, refusing ourselves because ultimately we are made of the same substance of the impression that is being perceived. Trying to block a perception is a movement born in conflict. We are trying to get rid of something that is ultimately our own self.– Richard Miller, Founding President of Integrative Restoration, a form of Yoga Nidra
You can try it right now with a sound. Focus on the sound as coming from outside you. Now focus on your sense of hearing. Your sense of hearing is part of you. You are the sensing of the sound. Drop into that part of you that feels the sound. Alternate between witnessing the sound as separate from you and experiencing the sound as part of you.
Sometimes imagining a feeling like a friend or something else you love, something outside yourself, can be a gateway to befriending that feeling. If your friend or pet was grieving, you could support them by being with them while they are grieving. Imagine sitting on a porch swing with your feeling, your arm around it like it’s a close friend. Beam a sense of comforting attention and love toward your feeling-friend. Now switch to noticing your body sensations associated with that feeling. In my case, it was a heavy feeling on my chest, tension around my throat, and teariness behind my eyes. I say “was” because I just did this exercise and the heavy feeling spread out and dissipated. The tension on my throat is there, and now I can also sense a cool effervescent sensation in the back of my throat. My eyes see more clearly and take in my surroundings actively instead of passively behind a curtain of tears.
Alternate between being with your feeling like you would a close friend and dropping into the sensations in your body. See if at any point you carry your loving attention over from the former experience to the latter. Follow any impulses that arise in you, like moving, making sounds or grabbing your own stuffie.
It occurs to me that I began opening up to this feeling yesterday during a session with my playmate and co-creator, Kristina Turner. We were playing with complaining about all the things we couldn’t do during this Covid pandemic. Yes, I said playing with complaining. We discovered our complainer personas and interviewed them to discover what they most wanted. I believe allowing myself to play in this way opened the gateway for me to feel my deep inner sadness. I realize that I had been avoiding complaining and feeling for many weeks.
I first learned how to befriend uncomfortable feelings in my Conscious Leadership and Transformation program with Kathlyn Hendricks. Both graduates of this two-year immersive program, Kristina and I currently co-facilitate an ensemble of dynamic explorers who love to play through transformation. Our Conscious Living Transformation Circle is open to new participants right now. There’s more information on Kristina’s website.
Our only requirement for joining Circle is that you are familiar with the teachings and principles of Kathlyn and Gay Hendricks. You can find more resources about their work at the Foundation For Conscious Living. This free online series of five 1-hour classes is a fantastic introduction.
If you want to read more about playing with personas, check out this blog I wrote, Play As A Way To Dissolve Self-Criticism. The most effective way for me to bring awareness to the personas trying to run my life is for me to play them out loud like I did here. Once I give them the stage for a while they reveal the feelings that I’m ready to befriend and be with.