As a therapist, I’m constantly asking people to practice compassionate curiosity about the places that scare them. I believe that people are inherently good and intelligent. That’s why I’m so interested in those moments where we find ourselves acting “out of character” or doing something that we know falls short of our values. Fortunately, I have frequent opportunities to observe and experiment with this in my own life.
Just the other day, I noticed a wild impatience rise up in me at the gas pump.
I was running late. My tank was near empty. I had somewhere important to be. Each of the ten pumps at the station was mysteriously operating at an impossibly slow rate. Initially, I blamed the station attendant, but he was engaging with such kindness, that it was hard to stay mad at him. I thought of the owner of this broken-down establishment and how he’s probably taking advantage of the people in this far- from-affluent part of town. I didn’t get much satisfaction from that either. I had neither a short supply nor a delay in the pumping out of rationales to fuel my anger. With a death grip on the handle, I counted in rage: one drop, pause, two drops, pause.
Then I remembered: in breath, pause, out breath, pause.
I conceded to do this simple (and probably useless) meditation one time before I would tear out of there to find a normal gas station. At the pause on top of the in breath I could not help but feel a fullness in my lungs. This led me to notice discomfort and tightness in the area beneath my ribcage called the celiac plexus. It’s the “pit in the stomach” feeling. There I was, reconnecting with my “brain in the gut” or enteric nervous system (which houses 100 million neurons and more than 90% of the body’s serotonin, among other big wig neurotransmitters.) The brain in my skull had been determined to ignore the fear in my gut brain, because I had to be somewhere important and do something important. I certainly did not have time to feel scared.
It was too late. I had to exhale and pause. On the exhale I felt a release of tension. In the pause I felt emptiness, and in that spaciousness, I felt fear. In the pure experience of fear, I had no need to avoid, eradicate or change anything. And, surprise, surprise, it did not consume or derail me. By feeling in this stripped-down kind of a way, self-compassion and loving-kindness naturally arose. I felt empathy for myself, and that’s when everything opened up.
I became aware of the woman beside me who was laughing and speaking powerful words of wisdom. I felt gratitude and gentleness arising in my heart and mind which made me much better prepared to do that important thing I had to do. Previously, I had been expending a great deal of mental and physical energy in not feeling fear. Whenever I deny or squelch a feeling, I’m also cutting off full access to my cognitive and interpersonal resources. When I acknowledge what is alive and present, even when it includes discomfort, I allow space for that inherent intelligence and resourcefulness to emerge. When the brain in our skulls works in harmony with the brain in our guts and we approach our pure experience with curiosity and compassion, we are smarter, fiercer and freer to shine.
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Photo by Geoff Livingston
Camille Bianco MA, NCC
Camille Bianco MA, NCC earned her Master’s Degree in Transpersonal Counseling Psychology & Art Therapy from Naropa University. She began formal training in Art Therapy and Meditation in 2000 and continues to incorporate researched-based creative expression and mindfulness approaches into her professional consulting practices. Connect with Camille on Goolge+.