There are essential acts and states of consciousness which we can identify and use to create a foundation to help us ground, grow, connect and thrive in both good times and times of stress (like during COVID-19).
You can do this anywhere, anytime. Gratefulness and appreciation of things like beauty, nature and witnessed or received acts of kindness switch our neural circuits. It’s like changing the channel on the radio from a dire news story to a meditative talk or music channel. This simple exercise flushes out the stress hormones and chemicals produced from fight-fight-freeze responses, and engages our parasympathetic nervous system to produce feel-good hormones and chemicals that help regulate us. A few moments of doing this exercise can really facilitate a shift. Making it a regular practice helps it be an important tool in your toolkit of wellbeing.
- Stretch your hands over your head and yawn and sigh aloud—this primes the pump of the right brain.
- Feel the little flow-and-glow of the stretch and yawn.
- Sit comfortably, neither slouching nor trying to sit up straight: find your sitsbones, let your spine rise from your pelvic bowl, allow your head to float on top of your spine. It’s okay to use the back of the chair to lean on, (just don’t slouch as slouching compresses your chest cavity and breath, which makes your brain start to be fearful as it isn’t getting enough oxygen).
- Breathe in your nose and out your mouth three times. On the outbreath make an audible sigh (ie, make a sound)—Ahhh. Making a sound when you sigh automatically signals your parasympathetic (calm down) nervous system that you are safe and allows it to produce the feel-good chemicals.
- Now bring to mind any of the following: a scene of beauty; an act of kindness you witnessed or received; the face of someone who cares about you (an easy person, not one you are having any difficulty with—the easier, the better), something lovely in nature.
- Let yourself feel appreciation for this scene or person.
- “Take the elevator down”—bring the beautiful sunset, the caring face, down into your chest and notice the sensations in your chest that accompany the sunset, the care, the kindness. Pay especial attention to any of the following: softening, spaciousness, slowing, flow.
- If you want, you can put your hand on your heart and feel what happens with that.
- Notice who is feeling grateful—this is your True Self.
- Thank whatever is beautiful and kind; thank yourself for participating. Notice what this thanking brings.
If you’d like to hear some calming and inspiring music, please check out my original trance-ambient-world music album that is up for an award. This is my Blue Lilah project and the album is Medicine Songs, find it here:
At The Beach*
*A variation is to go into the forest where a river is flowing nearby.
- Sit or lie comfortably in a quiet room.
- Let yourself softly breathe in and out several times. On the outbreath make a sighing sound.
- Now imagine yourself at your favorite beach. It could be a real beach you’ve visited, or an imaginary one.
- For this exercise, this is a beach where only you may go, so you have a lot of privacy.
- Begin to fill in the details of your experience: Feel the warm sand under your feet, or the cool pebbles if it is a shingle beach. See the immense sweep of the beach. What trees are there? What birds? What color is the water? Smell the salt air. Fill in all the details.
- Now especially listen for the pounding as the waves fall upon the beach and feel the reverberation in your bones. Hear the ssssst as the waves withdraw. Be with that rhythm, ever constant and ever varying.
- Now, give one layer of anything that you’d like to let go of to the outgoing tide. It could be a tension, an ache, a worry, a tightness. Just one little layer at a time. Don’t worry about trying to give it all away. Just give a little bit to the outgoing tide, knowing that the tide will take care of it. If a thought or worry returns, just give that next layer away also to the tide. Notice your experience as the layer leaves out, out, out to sea.
- As you let go of little layers, allow yourself to begin to notice yourself feeling more space for yourself or perhaps it is yummy softening. You might notice you are taking a bigger breath—savor the bigger breath and the spaciousness in your chest. You might notice the pleasant weight of your bones, the warmth of your breath, your feet on the ground. As you feel yourself slowing down and your mind empties, savor the quiet and the slowing pace. Let yourself take time with any relief, peace, spaciousness, weight of your bones, calmness, slowness.
- Notice in a playful way who is noticing—this is your True Self, your Home Base You.
- Thank the world for it’s beauty, and notice what that thanking brings.
- Thank yourself for allowing yourself to be with the beauty, and noticing what that thanking brings.
Here’s a peek into my “Day Job” (which I love!) as an experiential psychotherapist!
I came upon this extraordinary piece of “medicine” in Joseph Campbell’s Hero With A Thousand Faces. This “poem” is an utter gem from a longer healing work and very sacred story of the Dinee (Navajo) People. I began to use it as part of my spiritual practice. I’d do my usual going inside into a meditative state while listening to music (I am, after all, a musician, and music is a main vehicle for me to meditate). And then I’d ever-so-slowly inwardly repeat the medicine poem. From the first time I’ve done this, I’ve always had extraordinary experiences—profound expansion, groundedness, peace, awe at life, delight, love. My body released its aches as I felt nourished by a deep sense of aliveness flowing through me.
I began applying my experience as an offering for the clients in my psychotherapy practice. When a client expresses a longing for a greater experience of Self, a transpersonal thirst, an awakening of personal and universal truth, I suggest an exploration: “I have an idea! How about a visualization! It’s based on a poem from the Dinee people. First I’ll introduce you to one of the words they use, so you can bring your own experience to it. Then I’ll recite the poem several times and you can see where it takes you!”
With the client’s agreement, I ask them to close their eyes and send them inside to their best poem-listening-to place. First I invoke their response to the word “pollen” as the Dinee use it:
I begin, “In this poem the Dinee use the word ‘pollen.’ For them, pollen isn’t the make-you-sneeze stuff. For them, pollen is the life source, and the pollen path is the path to the center. Pollen for them is corn pollen, and it has a very sacred story. . .
“. . . Let yourself imagine a field of corn, tended by the people of the village. When the people see the corn, they see an amazing story, for corn is one plant that needs human hands to help it grow. In fact, corn will die without humans to help it. If a corn cob falls into a field the kernels cannot make it through the tough husk to resprout—they need to be taken by human hands and planted. Long ago corn did not have the shape it does today, it was small and wild, and in order to feed the people, they learned how to bring the corn to the form we know now. The Dinee people see the growing of corn as a pact between the human and the divine. The source of life shows up in the corn, but it must be tended to by human hands in order to be used . . .
“. . . So the people of the village are alive with this amazing gift. In the corn they find the magical bridge between oneness and diversity, between the sublime extraordinary and the magnificent ordinary. It’s the story of the connection of infinite and finite. It’s the sacred dance of oneness and duality. For the Dinee, the life source gives the people the food to feed them, and the people receive it and use their hands and wisdom to plant and harvest. But it’s much more than that—it’s the story of the creation and life, and a way of right relationship with all things. It’s a lived acknowledgement of the kind of partnership that makes a deeply lived life possible. The symbol of this partnership is the pollen of the corn, where it all happens. The Dinee always save the corn pollen and use it in ceremony . . .
“. . . Let yourself see the people of the village gathering the corn pollen, and how in their hands they gather the meeting of the divine and the human. They celebrate a sacred event where life force manifests its connection with the earthly. The divine and the human come together, not only to feed the people of the village, but to nourish their spirits with the great sacred story of life. . .
“. . . So that is a little of what the word pollen signifies in this medicine poem. And now let yourself feel into that word pollen, and feel into the experiences from your own life that resonate—how you are longing for that sacred dance, or the times in your life that you have experienced the meeting of the two, and the sacred story. And like all good stories, let it be beyond your mind to understand, let the understanding come from your heart.”
Then I invite the client to take a few deep breaths, settle into their chair, and give me a nod when they are ready. I then, really slowly, recite the poem several times . . . and wait.
Put your feet down with pollen.
Put your hands down with pollen.
Put your head down with pollen.
Then your feet are pollen;
your hands are pollen;
your body is pollen;
your mind is pollen;
your voice is pollen.
The trail is beautiful.
I am always astonished at the response this poem evokes! Clients experience a profound, grounding, uplifting, expanding access to the Self connected to the Web of Life. It is always extraordinary and lasting—something we often refer to in future sessions. For one client it was a deep turning point in the therapy.
As a variation, after I speak about the pollen, I put on some trippy music, let the client listen for a while, and begin to repeat the poem several times while the music is playing, letting the effects of the poem and the music take the listener on a journey.
Of course I am giving only a very abbreviated version of what pollen holds for the Dinee, a little sketch of a great spiritual treasury. I honor their wonderful ways. I thank the Dinee and their medicine people for their wisdom and generosity in gifting us with these sacred words. Here is a good resource to learn more about The Pollen Path: Source of the Sacred: Navajo Corn Pollen
For some trippy music to journey by, please listen to my just released Blue Lilah trance-journey-new age CD Medicine Songs. I’m happy to share my music. Find it at bluelilah.com
Photos by Kathleen Dunbar, Mono Lake Area