I’m enjoying a comparatively lovely morning on my yoga mat, feeling into my body, noticing it with fresh awareness and relishing the fact that I’m about to go deeply inward for the first time in a little while…when my husband walks in and interrupts my flow. My first reaction: frustration. Actually, it’s been my first reaction a lot, lately, as those of us for whom social distancing has brought our loved ones and close family members undeniably closer are experiencing.
One of the more challenging aspects of social distancing has been the reality that while perhaps we once had an 8-hour break from our counterparts and roommates, or at least social outlets, no longer. It’s been 24/7 intimacy.
As a result, I’ve had to be extraordinarily patient with myself.
Patient when I get frustrated; then, patience with the feelings of frustration.
Patient when I get interrupted; then, patience with the feelings being interrupted brings up.
Patience with the higher number of dis-resonant energies I am experiencing; patience with the time it takes to clear the energies, and patience for my increased need for self-care, awareness and energy practices.
Patience with myself for wanting things to be different; patience with myself for having that understandable desire.
There’s a Mars-Saturn conjunction in the sky right now. It has been active since the beginning of social distancing (it is exact, or at its peak energy on 3/31, though will be relevant thru mid-May, since Mars in Aquarius shares the sky with Saturn in Aquarius). Classically this duo is described as driving a car with the brakes on. Feel into it. Mars wants to move fast, have agency and freedom. Saturn curtails movement, making things slower, restrictive-feeling. We are all living this.
Just as every strength can become a debility in another circumstance, in a similar manner, in the right situation weakness or debility can give rise to great strength. This pressurized combination can certainly give rise to negative experiences and emotions, like, frustration and panic, but through limitation and curtailed freedom Saturn offers Mars a few things that are helpful: bracing clarity, focus, gravity, doses of reality, fruits of maturity and experience. We’ve all had the experience of being forced to work within limitations, necessity, and discover new aspects of our self in process.
As a practical example, when I am forced to work within the technical constraints of a design project, I learn about my current boundaries (can do this; can’t do that), and I also discover that knowing these limits and constraints makes me feel safe. I have realistic expectations now. This clarity and self-knowledge offers a certain freedom – even though limitation and curtailed freedom is involved. I have a feeling this is what many of us are learning, on deep inner levels.
How can we make the limitations and slowdowns we are facing work for, not against, us? When being at home so much amplifies issues, and our external reality slows down to a snails pace, we can really see the psychological triggers that frustrate. Chances are, these aren’t new — they have been here for awhile and we’ve known these triggers cause us unwanted stress. We can potentially use this time to go inward and make a few needed adjustments.
Leave the Red Zone & Come Back Home
I’ve been reading Rick Hanson’s book Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength and Happiness.
As a result, on the yoga mat this morning, I spontaneously found myself doing one of his practices called Leave the Red Zone. The Red Zone is Mars; it’s our hard-wired neurological habit of reactivity. When we work with our mind a little on this though, we don’t have to stay “red”. Hanson compares our brains to gardens — it is a mechanical thing largely designed for survival with its negativity bias toward looking for intruders and danger, and if left unattended, the weeds (like hyper-vigilant thoughts, rumination, worry) will take over. While it is valuable and useful at times to simply watch and deepen around what’s there, as in letting our thoughts be, there are other methods to cultivate a fruitful mindset.
There are so many great practices to try in the book, but here’s how you Leave the Red Zone:
1. Let Be. I notice my frustration levels rise. I name it. “Wow, I’m getting really frustrated.” Labeling helps give you a little emotional distance from it, or enough so you can observe it. Naming also calms the amygdala, the fire alarm bell in your brain, so you are less reactive. Let be with the feeling as long as you need, noticing, not trying to change anything.
2. Let Go. I don’t enjoy these feelings, but because I am letting be, I am not in resistance to them. I continue to observe and notice my body, areas of tension. I still feel “hot” and “fired up”. I start to realize this frustration isn’t isolated to this one event…a similar interruption occurred minutes ago, and they have been occurring all week. This softens me. I start to realize the tension I’m experiencing has more to do with me being hard on myself, thoughts like, “why am I being so reactive? -and-why am I having such a hard time with this?” In fact, a main awareness I observed during Let Go was that while I noticed he was actually happy to see me, yet I was still annoyed, and I felt really guilty about that.
As an aside, letting go, to me, isn’t just about letting the feeling go. Honestly, sometimes I am not ready to. But usually that means when I soften into it I can sense something else underneath that is holding it there (like guilt). Then I can realize this isn’t about the other person, but my relationship to myself and my feelings, which allows me to move onto…
3. Let In. I am softening into my experience now. I say to myself “wow, let’s be gentler on you” and I offer myself understanding by saying “this is an understandably challenging time.” I feel the impact of my own self talk, I really take the time to let it into my energy body. I feel a gentle release and lift, then, similar to the way I feel when I receive a compliment or some nice feedback on my character. It feels like I’m being stroked, or petted. Loving-kindness.
This is a key point Hanson makes in his book, over and over again: take the 10-15 seconds to really let in positive experiences– be that as self-talk, or pleasurable experience, like really appreciating a cup of coffee or our favorite song. Why? 10-15 seconds is the time it takes for a neurotransmitter to make a connection, and for the Ego to connect to what is True. Taking this time to slow down and digest the good increases our resilience against future stress. This plants flowers in the garden of our minds, and where flowers of positive responsiveness exist, weeds can’t take over.
(another way I play with “letting in” is a way Hanson also recommends: “You know what? I’m a good person.” This one feels universally good no matter what the situation, because it’s always the indisputable Truth!)
Frustration is a reality. In the cauldron of a boiling hot Mars and nowhere to go (Saturn), time and limitation is forcing us to cool down, work with our hot experiences. When molten metal cools in a safe container, new forms can appear. We all have to work with the (neurological!) reality of getting pulled into the red zone, so tools keep us from getting stuck.
In his book, Hanson actually compares the way we get stuck in negativity bias and negative rumination as a kind of chronic inner homelessness. I love this metaphor. We can all use this time to practice coming back home to ourselves… quite literally! After all, these are the collective Cosmic marching orders for everyone right now.
One thing I find is consistently true: There are as many ways to leave home and “get lost” as there are ways to get back.
We can always find our way back home to our self.
On that note, a friend just told me that my new book, Come Home To Yourself was “prophetic”. I’ve heard this several times now. Back in October, when I was pulling it together, reworking it, for publishing (it had been sitting on my computer in various forms for a few years) I remember feeling the nudge that this was the right subject for the right time.
So, let’s set the intention to come back home to ourselves, now. We’re all staying inside, anyhow.