Give Yourself A Medal and Come Home to Your True Self

We all have a True Self and when we live from this self we naturally engage in what interests us. However, if we’ve been hurt in some way as kids or young people we often end up putting away our True Selves in order to survive. The way we do this is, as I put it, by hiring a security team. The security team are “parts” of us that keep us safe by limiting our life force. Like any security team worth their salt they are highly trained to act at a moment’s notice and shut things down at the slightest whiff of danger. They give voice to the security messages they have learned to keep us safe, like “Don’t try new things,” “I could never do that,” or “I’ll fail.” It’s important to remember that the True Self never says those kinds of things! But how to get access again to your True Self? Here’s an exercise you might find surprising to make a little room for your dreams: 

  • Sit quietly and comfortably somewhere on your own. 
  • Stretch and yawn This helps shift neural states from activated to calm. 
  • Take three deep breathes in through your nose and out through your mouth with an audible sigh on the outbreath (ie, make a sound). The sound on the outbreath shifts you into your parasympathetic nervous system which relaxes and resources you and provides a more nourishing chemical bath for your brain and organs. 
  • Pick one of your security team people with a particular message and find someplace in the room for him or her to sit or stand. Is he on the left or right? Is she sitting or standing? If you allow yourself to be a bit dreamy and spontaneous and “irrational” you’ll find that these guards are usually outside you and take up duty in a particular place. If they feel like they are on the inside, where would you like to imagine them to be on the outside of you? 
  • Now, tell your guard (out loud or silently), “I know you’re just trying to protect me. Thank you.” 
  • Just that, just say thanks. No figuring out or analyzing. Just a recognition of the ways that that part has really gone to bat for you, most especially as a kid. The truth is, that part helped you survive. At first, all you need is one tenth of a percent of you to get behind the thanking. And of course, you need that part to give you more room. But have you noticed that if you fight with it, or try to ignore it, that it will speak up even more loudly. It’s just scared you’ll get hurt again. So thank it for being the brave veteran soldier trained to protect. See what happens. I guarantee you that you will be pleasantly surprised. 
  • When you are able to thank that part, not as a mental act, but as an act of gratitude, you are doing something quite helpful for your neural paths—you are accessing your heart and your right brain and their neural circuits (yes, the heart also has neurons). This produces feel-good chemicals instead of anxiety-depression-trauma chemicals. You are accessing your body in the present moment. You are practicing a new habit of being kind to yourself. You are beginning to come home to yourself. 
  • Now you may find something really cool happening here—Ask yourself who is it that is thanking the security guard part? The good news is that the you that can acknowledge how you’ve protected yourself—that is the True Self. You just stepped into your right brain and your heart, which can acknowledge both your difficulties and your truth. 
  • Breathe with this and hang out a while. You are waking up the blueprint you were born with! 
  • Don’t worry if the new experience only lasts a few seconds. That’s how we begin to come back home. Don’t worry if most of you thinks this is hogwash. If at least one hundredth of a percent of you felt this shift, that is great, that is how you begin. Let yourself mark the sensations and felt sense experience of that hundredth of a percent. Congratulations—you’ve unearthed the blueprint that is You.

Photos by Kathleen Dunbar

Move—Pray—Create—Sing—Love

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). 

I’ve boiled down the essential structure of safety and aliveness into the following seven areas. 

Move. Connect with your body. 

  • What: Exercise, do yoga, stretch, walk, hike, garden, dance. 
  • Why: Movement connects you to your body, flushes out stress-hormones, and replenishes you with feel-good hormones.  

Learn. Connect with your mind. 

  • What: Read, listen to inspirational or humorous podcasts, listen to a PBS history documentary, listen to interesting audio books, ask someone to teach you how to do something, exchange recipes with friends and try them out, find out how to make something on YouTube (I learned I could make a foamy latte at home by pumping heated milk up and down inside my French Press!) 
  • Why: Learning engages and balances the brain. You can’t be scared and curious at the same time, they are two different brain functions and two different parts of the brain. Learning helps you feel alive and helps you feel safer. 

Mindfulness. Connect your mind with your heart. 

  • What: Listen to meditation apps like Calm, use your sitting practice, listen to calming music, especially music with no language, or a language other than your own and let the music take you somewhere. 
  • Why: Practicing mindfulness creates and grows new neural circuits that help you return to, and live from, your Wise Self. You learn and embody resiliency, wider perspectives, compassion including self-compassion, and curiosity.  

Gratefulness. Connect with your heart.  

  • What: Sit, stretch and yawn, bring to mind something of beauty, kindness, appreciation, “take the elevator down” from your head to your heart, feel the gratefulness as a feeling, even putting your hand on your heart to really help you move from your thoughts to present sensations. 
  • Why: There are neurons in your heart as well as your brain. A lot of them! A felt, embodied sense of gratefulness helps us move from busy left brain, to more embodied, more compassionate right brain, balances all brain functions, flushes out stress hormones, turns on feel good-hormones, and calms and grounds us. 

Play. Connect with your creativity. 

  • What: Play a board game, learn how to sing a song, bake something you’ve never baked before, play a word game with your child, paint, draw, sketch, make a collage from magazine pictures and scraps, journal, do a puzzle, make a playlist and listen to music, make a silly video for Facebook! 
  • Why: You can’t be afraid and playful at the same time. If you allow yourself to play, you bring your brain back into balance. Allowing yourself to be creative actually helps you thrive and grow! 

Connect/Love. Connect yourself with your self, family, pets, friends, and the planet. 

  • What: Talk with friends and loved ones, pet the cat, walk the dog, snuggle, make a phone call, talk with someone far away on Skype, send a heartfelt or humorous email. 
  • Why: Love is the ultimate brain-balancer. A loving act given, received, or witnessed, helps us to let go of stress and bring in goodness, brings us out of busy thoughts into a more holistic way of being, and allows us to have compassion and gratitude for self and others. 

Nature. Connect with the planet. 

  • What: Watch the clouds pass by, listen to the wind in the trees, hear the birds, bring in flowers from your garden.  
  • Why: Connecting with nature is connecting with a force that is larger than oneself, and helps stimulate wonder, awe, appreciation, and fun. It helps us feel both our uniqueness and how our uniqueness is one small and beauteous expression of the larger, mysterious expression that is life itself. Awe balances the brain and inspires hope, peace and life force. 

Play with the bolded words to come up with your own words and activities to make your unique foundation.  

For example, this particular blog arose out of the following exercise. I was feeling overwhelmed with many projects, and I wanted to end each day feeling a sense of completion and refreshment. I decided to make a foundation by boiling down into the shortest words possible those acts and attitudes essential for a day to be fully satisfying for me. I came up with: Move—Pray—Create—Sing—Love and put them up on a little strip of paper on my fridge. Even if I don’t “get it all done” I can rest in the structure. It’s not about doing it all, it’s about feeling the structure. It simplifies things, because I can invite myself into what I know is helpful. 

  • For me that means Moving my body with stretching and yoga, and walks outside in Nature to expand my consciousness. 
  • Engaging my Mindfulness and Gratefulness practices. 
  • Learning and Playing through practicing singing, writing songs, and working on my novel (I’m a singer-songwriter and writer). 
  • Opening my heart to my partner, myself and others in acts of giving and receiving Love.

Gratefulness Reset Button Exercise for Calm

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 Short, Easy and Refreshing Grounding Exercise You Can Do Anywhere!

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.

Big Thanks to the Dinee People!—A Visualization to Blow Your Mind!

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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.
Be still.

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

A-Pollen Poem 10-01-13A-Pollen Poem 10-01-13