We are biologically geared toward a negativity bias. In fact, it takes 5 positive interactions to override one negative interaction. Consider this in terms of watching the news, taking in social media, or fighting with family members even. Also consider that, once triggered, the nervous system starts to turn to old, habitual patterns of safety first. Not necessarily because they’re the best form of safety, but it’s what is known. I’ve discovered that I’m geared toward hyperarousal, meaning I become reactive in a variety of ways.
Recently, after several significant “negative” events, I found myself in a triggered state, and I ended up in a domain I now call “the help zone.” I land here typically when something scary and overwhelming happens to someone I care about—they get terribly sick for example—and, already triggered, I can only see how terrible things are and how important it is that I fix it all. The impulse to “help” really becomes an impulse to control in the face of overwhelm—I can save them and myself from the fear, the grief, the pain if I just keep helping.
I know this domain pretty well, but in the past I haven’t noticed I’m there, trying to override the negative with what my nervous system has come to recognize as a way of soothing, until I am exhausted, resentful and frustrated, and not at all present to my own life.
This time, I woke up a little faster, thanks to some not-so-effortless self-observation, a few well-placed reminders, and a series of positive interactions that brought me back online. By this I mean back to a state of discernment, a place settled enough to respond to life rather than to continue reacting.
For me, this began by reaching out to the right people for support. My friend Rhonda kindly suggested I ask myself, “who’s backyard am I in?” (i.e. emotional and physical boundary zone) and if I strayed outside my own to inquire if I actually belong there. Outside that zone, my perspective narrows, my body and mind constrict. The whole exchange wreaks havoc on my nervous system and it takes more than a few positive interactions to get myself back.
So how do I get myself back? This question inspired me to write a little “in case of emergency” list that might help cultivate the awareness needed to be present to my own backyard, to step back and widen my perspective, and to see with a renewed sense of clarity. I’m sharing with you my own frame of reference. Maybe you have your own “lost self” you need to contact from time to time. What returns you to center? Perhaps it’s what or who breaks you open and animates your life. Like an emergency phone call, how do you contact yourself in an emergency?
How to Contact Myself in an Emergency:
Put on the breaks and slow down.
Moving too quickly causes accidents.
Start with a hand on your heart.
This is where coming home begins.
Become aware of your breath, then notice
how your body feels, your mind.
Is there space in there?
If you realize you’re in the tight place, head immediately
to a body of water. If this happens to be your bathtub
fill it with warm, scented water and slide in like you’re
entering your baptism.
Soak until you feel your muscles let go.
Snuggle in for a movie night with your family.
Or snuggle into your bed alone with a perfect book.
Go for a walk with a friend who knows you well enough
to ask exactly right questions and let you meander talk your way
through self-observation. And to make you laugh
at yourself and life.
Pay close attention to nature—the incredible movement
of love in the world. A sunrise, a sunset, the glisten of snow
on your deck, the Sycamores like a community of solitary
wise elders gazing over the flow of the Potomac River.
Breathe it all in. It will change tomorrow.
Make a pot of soup and a cup of tea.
Wrap yourself in a cozy blanket and settle in with your journal.
Remind yourself of some very important things—you are worth
your own care.
Get some sleep.
Then call the person who doesn’t need your help
but who loves you. Talk about nothing,
which is the daily everything.
Sit quietly with your cat and listen to his steady purr.
Let his furry body keep you right where you are.
That stillness will bring you home.
Join me for class on:
Friday, February 25 • 9am -10:30am
This class will blend yoga movement, contemplation, meditation, and conversation for a new way to explore our practice in community. Covid vaccinations required for in-person practice at the Harmony Space in Shepherdstown. Limited spacing available.
Online practice via Zoom. Video recording sent to all registered guests.
$15 Reserve your spot via text to 401-440-0279.
Advance payment required to Venmo or Paypal.
Paypal to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Venmo to: @Christa-MastrangeloJoyce