Freezing Without Falling Off the Edge

mountainsThe day of the Fall Equinox I felt myself starting to slip a bit. Throughout the week I found myself getting frustrated because it was so beautiful outside and I kept having to be inside for work and then on the weekend I was in a teacher training all weekend. Stuck inside once again. Stuck. Trapped.

All of my attention rested on not being able to be outside. I started to slip a bit further, focusing on the things I wanted to do and couldn’t. Like go outside or gather hawthorn berries – becoming agitated with the knowledge that the berries will only be there for a certain amount of time and knowing that I might miss them completely. If I had to be stuck inside and missing out on the things I wanted to do then couldn’t it at least also be raining? To reduce my temptation and desire to be outside. That would surely help me not feel stuck. Couldn’t the weather just change to suit my needs – that was obviously the only way to feel better, right?

I knew something was going on and couldn’t quite put my finger on what. Throughout the training I found myself hitting new edges and walls, triggers coming up for me in some of what was being asked and experienced. It was interesting to me because it wasn’t words or images or interactions with others that were triggering like it has been in the past – it was the assignments and having to move through them without feeling like I could or like I understood how to. That was what brought up deep responses of freezing and not knowing exactly what to do while also feeling the need to figure it out without time to process. It felt like ancient stored responses surfacing – going back to being a kid and trying to figure out how to handle complex situations in the best way I knew how.

Feeling stuck in place and needing to move at the same time.

In the first yoga nidra offering that night many long-held beliefs surrounding past trauma also sprung up clearly across the screen of my mind and then I knew. A light bulb went off, as I understood that it was trauma responses infiltrating my thoughts and yet the ride wasn’t over. Though this was really important information to receive.

The thoughts that started out as not being to go outside or collect berries grew deeper as I gave them energy. I started telling people in the class how I was upset to be inside. I told one person and then another and another. Why? For support? Understanding? Camaraderie? No. I fed the energy a little more each time I said it. Each time it wasn’t discounted. It didn’t need to be said for any reason other than keeping the energy alive and feeding what I believed to be true, searching for reinforcement.

In a few days the thoughts had grown from the berries and expanded to include so much more of how I was stuck in life. I went back to some good old staples of mine: how nothing has changed for so long. How there are no external changes. Everything is just the same. Same apartment. Same job. Still single. No family. The energy of being stuck continued to grow and expand – the thoughts I grabbed for encompassing more and reinforcing more. As these thoughts grew, my blahness grew; my ties to past trauma grew and my focus on desiring large sweeping changes in my life grew. I could feel more of a rut growing in my brain as all the old depressive thoughts that used to run freely along it received attention, wanting to flourish once again.

Feeling stuck in place and needing to move at the same time.

Even as all this was happening and I knew something was off I also had in the back of my mind the revelations from yoga nidra that the trauma was resurfacing right now. That information was helpful in understanding my state of mind and wellbeing. I held onto this information even as the rest of me felt like I might slide off the face of the planet.

Throughout the training and outside of it I kept hearing the Yoga Sutra pratipaksha bhavana being mentioned. Suddenly I was hearing about it every day. Seeing it in Facebook posts and online. It was everywhere, calling me to listen.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 2.33: “When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite [positive] ones should be thought of. This is pratipaksha bhavana”. The idea is that by cultivating an opposite thought when we are in a state of suffering, we can move towards healing and entering the opposite state. Not to say we brush the painful experience under the carpet or try to get away from it – it’s explored, understood and you can also remember that there is an opposite state and that you can move freely from one state to another with practice. We practice this in yoga nidra with the pairing of opposites.

It took me years to understand that this was even a possibility in concept. If I was in a state of pain and suffering, I was supposed to stay in it, wasn’t I? Wasn’t I in it for some reason? Something I did or didn’t do leading to this consequence and I should suffer as a result. More than that – wasn’t it who I was as a person? If I wasn’t suffering all the time as my thoughts dictated then what else was there? It took ages for me to have a slight inclination of “what do you mean I don’t just have to stay here”? And the realization that “no, you don’t have to” took hold over time in little bits until this moment of readiness.

Pratipaksha bhavana. The words kept floating into my mind as an invitation saying, “try me” and “remember you do not have to stay in this state”.

I actively chose to rest my attention on the opposite state. I reminded myself it was “just” the trauma taking over and working its way out. I then kept reminding myself of the Sutra and its definition.

What happened was quite powerful. Within twenty-four hours of focusing mostly on the intention and idea that there is an opposite state (without even defining what it was) I had so many new thoughts appear. So much changed within me. I kept telling myself that many things have changed over the last several years and from that I saw for the first time the value of where I am. That maybe being in the “same place” for “so long” was a way for me to finally see how great everything is instead of always looking for what isn’t working or what isn’t present.

That burst of a revelation started to feed different energy. Instead of feeling stuck in all the parts of my life I could see that my life is actually pretty sweet internally and externally. It took about twenty-four hours for me to feel completely grounded and easeful. I saw that I didn’t need to make any massive external changes in order to feel different or better.

While looking at the opposite state to where I was I came to remember it’s also okay to be where I am.

After a lifetime of constantly looking for what’s missing. What’s not there. What’s not happening. What’s not changing. To be content with what is. To instead now value what is.

I value where I am. That is a new perspective. And as the new thoughts came through, the groove that was growing and leading me in the direction towards depression filled in and no longer pulled me away. It’ll likely come back; it’s long held. Only now I know it can change and heal.

As my focus of attention changed, my thoughts changed and my energy changed. I was feeding a different state. The more I focused on what I valued and had going for me the more I could see how I truly authentically wanted to live my life in the future. Future plans I’d never considered before as possible started to appear and felt completely right and not only possible but probable. True. Understanding and clarity around what I want to do and who I want to be came through in ways that it never had before accompanied by the knowledge that I don’t need to get there right now. That I can stay exactly where I am while also growing those new parts – the areas I want to foster and allow to flourish – and the rest will fall away.

No longer stuck and needing to move at the same time; freedom coming from within the movement from one state to another.

Thanks to a foundation of working with these energies through different practices, it took about twenty-four hours of dedicated focus practicing pratipaksha bhavana to move to a completely different state from where I had been. I no longer felt any depression or blahness. Instead I felt happy, bright and full. Excited by the magic and profound power of this practice and content with all the new information and insights I discovered by going through it. Feeling healthy and glowing in this other, blissful, state of being with no need for justification or reasons why. Amazed at being able to change the weather (at least internally) and to become unstuck without falling off the edge of the planet.