Ten years ago, Naomi embarked on an academic mission. She wanted to gain a foothold in a new career path in the sciences, and she succeeded. But there was a price. Over the years, she noticed a subtle tightening and hardening, both physical and psychological.
It was focused in her sternum, heart, and throat, and it seemed to be related to communication issues and a hardening against herself. She had a sense of not being right inside, along with doubts about whether she was adequate to the task she had set herself. She yearned to feel free and connected—to express herself in a bright, grounded but also fluid way that connected easily with other people.
It wasn’t that Naomi always felt uncomfortable. She had lots of moments when she was expressive and at ease. Intensive sports like bike riding and tennis were a great release, helping her to feel more present in her body and focused in her thoughts. She also practiced regular meditation, and that had a freeing, relaxing effect. Being around people she trusted was another thing she enjoyed. With them, she could open up and express herself in a way that only rarely happened at work, where she was under pressure to perform. She was concerned that if she fully let go there, she would slip up and say the wrong thing in an intellectually demanding environment. Most of all, she wished she could carry the feeling of freedom and brightness into all areas of her life.
What created Naomi’s sense of unease to begin with? Her background was strongly rooted in things like spirituality, prayer, and bodywork, but she felt that the people she grew up with were dysfunctional and unsuccessful. That led her to seek a radically different career in the sciences. In itself, that’s a neutral thing, but for Naomi, it was tied to a rejection of a part of her background. Unfortunately, our backgrounds don’t just fade away because we don’t approve of them. By judging the people she grew up with, Naomi unconsciously judged a part of herself as inadequate in her new environment, and that created anxiety. Luckily, Naomi was aware enough to sense all this, and she knew what she wanted: to be grounded, free, and connecting easily in all situations.
A New Solution
What was the solution? I led Naomi through a guided meditation to re-evaluate her past patterns and create new internal resources that would serve her better.
A positive intention – The first step was to point out that every habit or response has an original positive intention. It might have outgrown its usefulness, but at one point, it served a purpose. Naomi’s habit of hardening around her throat, sternum, and heart acted as a self-protective, moderating tool, a way of ensuring that she would perform up to par in an intellectually challenging environment. The habit had started in college and then carried over to her job.
Sensing emotions – I also asked Naomi to become aware of any emotions she was sensing in the tight areas of her body. She described the feeling as intense anxiety, though she couldn’t pinpoint it as being tied to any specific situation or thought. It was just a feeling of not being grounded in her body or comfortable with herself. To her, it was a feeling of deep insecurity.
Recognizing imagery – Next, I asked Naomi whether she had a specific image that she associated with feeling good and strong. She wanted that feeling of freedom, luminosity, and fluidity—to be present in her body and easily connecting with people in time and space.
Putting them together – The final preparatory step was to combine the two things. Naomi was to imagine herself in her ideal state but in a difficult situation. How did that feel? Well, to Naomi, it felt great. She could see herself moving and connecting freely, but she had lingering doubts about whether that free, relaxed state was compatible with the intellectual demands of her job. On a mental level, she believed it was possible, but on an emotional level, she was scared. That told me that her body had lodged emotions that needed a deeper treatment. If that didn’t happen, the subconscious lodged emotions would continue to conflict with her mental imagery.
A grounding support – Naomi’s desire to feel present in her body was supported – literally and figuratively – by grounding stance. Feeling her physical connection to the floor and experimenting with subtle shifts in weight bearing would help her get a rooted sense of groundedness that she could always access. It would also introduce her to the idea of choice—that she did, in fact, have control over her reactions from a strong, centered, flexible place.
Next, I drew her attention to three main points:
- Her ideal mental image
- Her instinct to protect herself
- The softer, vulnerable emotions that lay beneath that
From conflict to mutual support – These might seem like they were in conflict, which is OK, because conflict is a normal part of human life. The goal now was to experiment with these three aspects and bring them together. Instead of seeing them as conflicting, they could be viewed as mutually supportive, flexible choices that could be made from the basis of a strong, grounded connection.
Testing the waters – Naomi’s next step was to imagine herself in different situations, some difficult, some safe. As she imagined them, she would call up her ideal image of how she wanted to be and then notice her response in each situation. From there, she could experiment with different adjustments to her attitudes and responses. Shifting back and forth like this, slowly and gradually, would give her a sense of the validity of both modes—protection and openness—and show her that she didn’t have to go from one extreme to another but could consciously vary her reactions according to each situation.
Listening to the body – Naomi’s body would also start to respond to the shifting patterns on its own, and she might feel some physical disorientation, but that was a good sign. It meant that her body was shedding old, outworn patterns and learning new ones. This could take some time, and it would have its ups and downs over the longer haul, just like any learned practice. Sleep was also a big help with this process, as Naomi learned after the meditation, and she was encouraged as much as possible to honor any tiredness she felt.
Naomi’s feeling following the guided meditation was one of relief. Her new choice was really a new understanding: that she had a choice—in fact, many choices—about how to respond in any given situation. She no longer had to reject a part of herself but could express the whole variety of her being from a strong, grounded place. In her words, she had caught a glimpse into a simple but rich practice that she could return to over and over again to deepen her awareness. Her own experience of the shifts was subtle and easy, while for someone else, it might be a more dramatic adjustment. But as Naomi reported a week later, she was very, very happy—and that’s what counts.