Friday, 23 March 2012

Lay down your weapons

I'd like to talk about sex.  This isn't a cheap ploy to get your attention (though if it's had that effect, I'm quite happy to have it.)  It's more a way of saying that what follows is a little exploration of my relationship to some quite intense areas of human experience and I didn't want you to be taken completely by surprise...

Good. Hopefully we both feel ready now.  More accurately, I want to share with you about my relationship with attraction.

It's been dawning on me recently that I often find being attracted to someone quite difficult. I don't mean that it's hard for me to get turned on. That happens very regularly and quite easily. I mean that I then usually find myself in a state of confusion as to what happens next.

I know I'm in good company. Enough songs, books, plays, films and poems have been written on the madness that often happens when two humans like each other in that way to convince me I'm not alone. But it was only recently that I started to get an insight as to what's going on inside me, and the light that this sheds on my wider relationship with the world. And it's this that I'd like to share with you.

It was on the dancefloor last week that I finally realised that I often experience feeling attracted to someone as an attack.

I don't mean that I actually believe that the person I'm attracted to is attacking me, but my body often responds as if I do. There is contraction in the muscles along the front line of my chest, diaphragm and solar-plexus, a shot of adrenalin goes through my body, and an immediate sense of urgency arises within me.

I'm guessing that this has quite a bit to do with biology. The sympathetic nervous system, which governs this sort of activation is often referred to by teachers of anatomy as covering “the 3Fs”. (The first two Fs being “fight” and “flight” – the third F being one of the most usual conclusions of mutual attraction between adult humans).

Now you may think that all of this extra adrenalin and excitement is a Good Thing. And in many ways it is. But for me it often hasn't felt that way, and I'm now starting to realise why.

As a craniosacral therapist I've known for some time that too much of a good thing, is too much. If there is more input going into the body that it feels that it can take, the body treats this as a problem. In ordinary language we in the West have a word for it, it's called getting overwhelmed.

And when we get overwhelmed by strong feelings, the body usually does something like what your home electricity circuits do when there is too much current. The circuit breaker gets activated – and then the lights go out.

The body's equivalent of this is that we find ways of distancing ourselves from these strong feelings. For most people this involves some combination of clamping down their muscles in some way, freezing, or “spinning out” (going into a day-dreamy state in their head where they are not really able to feel their body and all the strong feelings happening there). An alternative is to go into thinking and analysing what's going on and getting really involved with these thoughts, which again is the body's way of metaphorically sticking it's fingers in its ears and saying to the strong feelings “la la la, I can't hear you!”.

The key realisation that I had the other evening standing in front of a beautiful woman at my dance class is that I usually experience attraction as a very strong feeling. So strong it goes past the “this is rather nice and rather exciting stage” and well into my body's red-zone of “Iceberg ahead! – Man the lifeboats, abandon ship!”

It was fairly obvious to me that this is not the ideal response to standing in front of someone I fancy, but it dawned on me that this is usually, in one form or another what I do. I've noticed that when this happens I find it difficult to look them in the eye, I get convinced that they will see how attracted I'm feeling and they won't be OK with this – so I try not to show it, or to hide it, or to at least tone it down. Or I end up saying something daft. And then I wonder why they have started to look at me funny!

What has occurred is that I've felt a very strong feeling, my system has gone into overwhelm, and one way or another I've left my body and left being in relationship with the person I'm standing in front of. Which, all in all, is pretty rubbish really.

But it wasn't all sobering reality - the second part of the realisation that came on the dancefloor the other night was that it doesn't have to be this way.

I'd received some pretty good preparation for this realisation. I'd just spent a week doing some amazing workshops with Joanna Watters, Colin Harrison and Paul Wolflight exploring what it is to live as a human being in a body and I'd picked up some pretty powerful insights along the way.

Something really unlocked for me during a workshop with Colin and Paul on anger, called Passion for Change. The revelation is around what we all usually do with strong feelings (anger being a good example). Most of us when we have a strong feeling – take anger, either express it “You bloody idiot! Look where you're going!” or repress it (which involves finding some way of squishing it down and pretending it's not happening).

Expressing it feels good, at least in the short term. We've thrown away this strong energy and it is no longer troubling us. The problem is that we've usually thrown it at someone and they are now feeling the consequences. And assuming that they are not happy about this, we'll soon feel the consequences. We've also probably turned that person into an object, made judgments about them, and this usually ends quite badly one way or another.

Repressing the feeling is even worse. We lose contact with our body and with what is really happening, we leave relationship with our environment or whoever we're with, and we squish down this uncomfortable energy, where it gets stored in our body like toxic waste, ready to leak out or explode at inopportune moments.

As you've probably guessed by now, there's a third way. And it doesn't involve anyone getting blasted or squished. It's called conducting.

Here comes the hard part for me. I'm going to do my best to describe something that is fairly new to me, and which can't easily be put into words. A bit like a person who has tasted 1 or 2 strawberries trying to describe the taste to someone who has never tasted one before. (Although I may be about to describe something that you know very well and that you do all the time. In which case, well done to you – I only wish you'd told me about it. A long time ago. It would have saved me a lot of heartache!)

Conducting is having the feeling. (Imagine an east-end London accent at this point) – really “ 'avin it!” - 'avin it large. It's really inhabiting the feeling, breathing the energy of it around your body. Perhaps even moving your body a little to allow the energy to circulate. Letting the feeling be what it really is, which is a felt sense of a particular flavour of energy in your body and enjoying and celebrating that energy (rather than getting bothered about where it came from or where it's going).

This is the opposite of catharsis, which is trying to throw away the energy. It's inhabiting the energy, letting your body hum with it, and then using it creatively or letting it simply pass through.

On the workshops I experienced consciously doing this with the strong energies of attraction, anger and hostility. It was really empowering to realise that I could feel these things – really feel them, without feeling that I needed to do anything about them. I didn't need to express or repress – I could conduct. And the great thing about conducting is that I was able to stay in my body and stay in relationship with myself, with my environment and with anyone I was with.

And standing in front of this very lovely dancer last Tuesday night this is just what I did. I felt the strong feelings running through my body and breathed into them – not being scared of them as I often am, but really allowed myself to have the feelings as mine. “This is my attraction, in response to you”. I felt amazingly energised and excited. I felt completely in my body and I felt comfortable with the feelings. I felt no need to hide them or make excuses for them. I felt no compulsion to act awkward or weird. I felt lit up like a torch – a beacon of attraction and I was beaming myself right at my dancing partner – loving being me, loving being me with her. It was beautiful. And it didn't mean anything anymore than an flower, a lion or a waterfall means anything. It was just what was happening, and I was loving it.

The dancer in question confided in me afterwards that this dance had been a particularly beautiful experience for her too and had really opened her to dropping into her body and her sexuality, which was amazingly touching for me to hear.

I realised that I had from time to time stumbled on this way of being in relationship with strong feelings by accident on quite a number of occasions in the past, but without being aware what I was doing. The difference is that this time I was able to make a conscious choice to feel what was happening and to love it. It tasted like freedom.

I recognised that I now have the possibility of doing this whenever I'm feeling strong feelings, whatever those strong feelings may be and to taste the freedom that comes with embracing my life.

And I recognise that the old patterns are still running. That my reflex reaction to feeling a strong feeling will often be to slip into “identification” (thinking that the feeling is part of me, and therefore not something that I can choose to feel). Once I'm in identification the strong feeling becomes a “problem”, the person or object that caused it becomes my oppressor and I become the victim. I become fixated on what's happening out there, instead of feeling what's happening in here. I then feel that I need to “do something” about the perceived problem. I feel unsafe. And I start trying.

And there is another way.

To conduct my feelings is to leave the victim identity behind, to stand in my power and to love my life, in relationship with the world.

My prayer is that I do that more. Lots more.


Lay down your weapons
You're not under attack,

Though it often seems that way.

Yes, there are big waves coming in.

Big feelings, huge sensations, gigantic emotions.
So massive they threaten to engulf you.

Big BIG waves.
And they are coming this way.

You know what to do with big waves.

Grab your board, jump on,
turn it around and start paddling.

Feel the Ocean under you as it grabs your board,
Stand up in your glory and ride,

Celebrate the turbulence and the froth,
The curves in the swell.

Revel in the conversation between you and the sea.

Ride the waves,
all the way back to the shore.

You can't fight the waves.
But you can surf them.

Lay down your weapons.
You're not under attack.

It's just the Ocean being the Ocean.

You and the Ocean are two parts
of the same whole.

Of the same love.