People Are Not For Comparing

I am eating ice cream off a stick, tasting the sweetness and feeling the coldness with only half of my mouth.  I put my attention on tasting with the “awake” side with double focus.  The chocolate shell is melting quickly, but I have a plate to catch it when it falls, here at my table in a small ice cream shop in Santa Tere, Guadalajara, where I can watch people walking by on the sidewalk.  The air is hot and dry.  I recall how my mouth dried so quickly when I was sitting in the dentist’s chair, under her bright light, less than an hour ago.

I am thinking about so many things.  About comparing; the energy of comparing.  What happens when I am afraid?  I analyze and judge.  For me, it’s automatic: When I am afraid, I see people in terms of their threat to me.  What I’ve recently realized is that I’ve found “safety” in being “better” in some way.  Growing up, us children divided ourselves into two groups: “the good ones,” and “the bad ones.”  At least that’s how I made sense of the world in my childhood.  Mind you, it wasn’t that I was “good” but that I was in that group because nobody knew how bad I was.  Just me.  And often staying out of harm’s way meant maintaining or nurturing this divide.  Now that I think of it, I am definitely responsible for perpetuating this idea among my siblings.

Problem is, the “safety” I achieved from this strategy wasn’t safe at all.  It might have protected me from disapproval, physical blows and contempt that my sisters received when they expressed dissent, but in terms of relating with people, it put me at a very unfortunate and decades-long disadvantage.  My already stressed-out body responded to this constant inner chatter (analyzing and comparing myself to others) by bracing, warding off confrontation, and maintaining a steady flow of stress hormones.  Judging and dividing my siblings left me with a sense of uneasiness in groups, an inability to let my guard down with people who were different from me, to feel close or to take in the goodness that other human beings have to offer, through their very essence.

Prettier, thinner, more deserving, etc.  In my adult life it has remained mostly unconscious, but it has never left me, particularly in social situations where I do not feel I have enough control.  It has been very, very present: “I am safe if I am on the right side of this divide – you over there; me over here.”  That’s how my attention was oriented.

As I gain tools, and a general understanding that judging and comparing are actually things that signal that I’m experiencing vulnerable emotions (feelings I had learned to automatically disconnect from), I’m vigorously exploring healthier alternatives.

This habit of comparing has affected all my relationships.  I’ve found safety in partners who are “good enough” to make me look good but not quite as “right” as me.  I found comfort in relationships where my opinions were the ones that “counted” (in my mind, for one reason or another).  That required – you guessed it – me feeling somehow “one up.”  I wasn’t at all confident in my ability to advocate for myself or negotiate.  And I had no concept of what it might be like to coexist peaceably alongside someone with whom I disagreed (who must be wrong, of course).

Moving through life like this did nothing but perpetuate my anxiety and fear about my place in the world.  Judging and comparing others always does this funny boomerang thing; fear of being judged and coming up short is always the result.

I did not know that I was chronically afraid, that I felt threatened by the “betterness” of other people, much less how to turn that around.

My lifestyle now offers me a time warp through which, rather than living afraid, I now Iive more consciously and at peace.  And my body, as a result, is learning to relax as my senses come back online.  I follow what gives me pleasure, choose what I desire, filled with gratitude for all that I have.  Since I live with a nervous system that is no longer on high alert, I am more aware of what there is to appreciate in this sacred moment, and in the other beings around me.

There’s a profound difference between seeing others through a lens of guardedness and anxiety and removing that lens and just allowing pure sensory information to enter, no longer needing to be “one up” somehow.  But this distinction is – more than you might imagine – a product of the nervous system.  What has happened to me in the past four years was a subtle but life-changing shift.  It has affirmed in me a deep knowing that I don’t need to pretend to be anything I’m not.  That I am safe, as perfectly imperfect as I am.  That all is well.  That regardless of what happens, I will be okay.  None of this was possible when I was constantly analyzing my safety based on how I measured up to those around me.  That kept my body tense and poised for battle.

In my new life, there is time to do my emotional work.  It is safe to feel what I feel and know what I know.  Though I am alone, I know that I am safe and have adequate support.  Alone, what I enjoy and what I want matters immensely.  I am curious about what amuses and entertains me, and it certainly varies from day to day.  And my interactions with others is based more on what I like and what leaves me feeling affirmed and inspired.

I’m thinking about the other evening that I spent with my sister, Tracy.  It was a very strange visit.  I’d had a long day.  I was returning from the lake, where I pack in a lot of socializing and play.  Back in Guadalajara with Tracy, I noticed my faculties failing me.  I literally felt “retarded,” kind of stunned, not at all able to express myself or even find simple words that I needed.  Her being four years older, there are a lot of things about Tracy that can trigger me.  But this time, while it is true that I was triggered and my body was not acting right, I did not go into an emotional flashback like I have during longer visits with her.

I had been looking forward to seeing her before she left on her trip to Texas.  Throughout our visit I was trying to understand what was happening, holding off on any self-judgment or despair about how stupid I was in comparison to her.  I was able to just notice the sluggishness of my mind.  I didn’t blame Tracy for directing her attention outward and interacting with others in her fluent Spanish from time to time as the evening wore on or for moving at a vibration that was too high/fast for me.  She was excited about her upcoming trip and her travels are always interesting to me.  Besides, it was a short enough visit, and Tracy is super kind, so I didn’t feel judged or even embarrassed, really.

As usual, my relationship with Tracy gives me so much to chew on.  Spending time with her always provides me with information that I can use to grow.  I “got through” the visit continuing to hope that I could rebound and be my fully-functioning before it was over, but I didn’t.  My brain didn’t come back online until after I left.  I did leave fully connected to my sense of humor, my curiosity, and a knowing that I would eventually recover, and that Tracy loved me unconditionally.

Among the triggers that tripped that night were:  Being the little sister.  In our family, Tracy has always been the one who reaches out for what she wants.  That hasn’t come so naturally for me.  Tracy is in full swing with her vibrant, exciting career, a career that she declared so many years ago when she went to school for journalism in her early twenties.  Tracy is many years ahead of me in terms of language acquisition (Español), so our visit threw me back to being two (when she was six) and she got real good at telling everyone what I meant, thought and wanted.  Or so I hear.  Tracy’s home here in Mexico has taken shape rapidly; a reflection of the amount of time she has lived in Mexico and the many harrowing and costly trips she has made across the border with trucks, cars and caravans.  She actually has furniture.

With my sense of humor intact, I could recognize, that evening, that there really was no competition involved here (and there never was), no one up or one down.  I could also recognize that I was not functioning at my best, and that it wasn’t her fault.  Some days I am likely to return, momentarily, to my habitual way of comparing and judging.  I apologize in advance.  But when I do, I more quickly remember that it is no more than a red flag to alert me to my own vulnerable feelings.

And as I do my emotional work, my body relaxes.  Intrinsic to this growth journey I’m on is taking responsibility for who I am, getting clearer about what’s important to me, and through staying connected with my entire system, returning again and again to conscious awareness of not just what is okay with me and what isn’t, but what I like, what I need and what I don’t.  The effect this has had on my nervous system is enormous, and that evening with Tracy gives me evidence of this.

When I am physically relaxed, novelty is the spice of life, and not a threat.  In this state of receptiveness I more readily greet the unknown with playfulness, laughter, and delight.  I don’t have to be perfect to be good enough.  Recovering from developmental trauma involves relaxing the body so that the world can be experienced as the rich and delicious place that it is.  Each of us brings our own gifts, our own essence to share in the world.  We are surrounded by inspiring, talented, brilliant and interesting people.  Not one of us more or less than the other.  Just different.  People are not for comparing.

Slowing Way Down

I’m watching the sky light up this morning.  I begin watching well before the sun comes up (6:45 is early enough, actually), so that I can be a witness to the contrast of the darkness, where the stars are still visible.  It’s nippy out, and I have leg warmers, fluffy socks, and three layers up above.  I’m wearing a fluffy purple muffler to keep my neck warm.  I’ve finished my tea and I’m at a point now where I might usually go and start my stretches because nothing is really beckoning me to continue watching the pre-sunrise sky in the east.  Then I notice two little groups of birds flying with each other.  They are flying in tandem.  They make sort of a figure 8 in the sky; they float toward and through each other and then out again in this rhythm where they are repeating the pattern over and over and over again, flying with each other.  It seems to me that they are playing.  As they continue this pattern, it’s kind of hypnotic to watch, and interesting too because they know what they are doing and they are doing it purposefully, and for some reason that I can only imagine.

I’m still facing east and it strikes me that these birds are right there, in my line of vision, and I keep watching.  It seems to me that there are no other little groups of birds doing anything anywhere else.  But this little group of birds has positioned itself right in front of me.  And I just continue to watch them until they merge and become one group.  And that one group of birds continues flying in my line of sight back and forth and around.  And there are little outsiders, and I watch how they have to fly extra hard to catch up, from time to time, to avoid falling out of the group, and the distance they have to fly to stay in the formation is bigger.  But they do their part to continue to be with the group, and the group continues to function like a group and it just keeps moving and dancing and doing what it does.

I think about this group of birds, and what motivates it to do what it does.  I can’t imagine that it is striving for perfection, or that any of those individual birds are working on a technique, or that they are trying to get it better than any other little group of birds or needing to get any better than they were before.  They are just doing it.  They are flying.  They are flying because that’s what they do.

I’m admiring patterns these days.  Some patterns that are emerging are the similarities I see between bodywork (tai chi, etc.) and being with other people.  The three levels of patterns that are occurring to me are 1) Slow down, 2) Let Pleasure In, and 3) Don’t Try; Just be.  Today I’ll focus just on the first, but I know they are also all woven together.

Slowing down when spending time with other people improves the quality of the connection.  It improves the likelihood that what is being shared is a person’s deepest truth and not some unexamined word pattern that emerges from habit or old wounds; discharge of (and/or distraction from) unfelt emotions, or defenses against really being known.  Our culture does not currently support being slow with one another, but I say this is where so much richness, beauty and potential lies.  What would it take to create an environment in which taking two deep breaths before responding would be natural?  And a listener would not rush in to fill the silence.  An environment like this would offer an unspoken, “There is no need to rush.  Take your time.  Take all the time you need to express yourself fully.”  How amazing and how terrifying would that kind of environment be?

I desire to mend old ways of relating with others: hiding, controlling, defending.  It is my intention to get better at staying connected with myself and my felt sense as I share myself with others, so that I can benefit more from the connection that human sharing can offer.  Talking before connecting with myself, I have found, can result in saying things that might be “true” but are unkind, or “true” only at a superficial (usually injured, egoic) level.  What I communicate when I am fully grounded and embodied is an expression of what I value, it invites a response from you that is an authentic expression of you, and the sharing creates something of value that simply nothing else can.

With the body, in activities such as yoga or tai chi, we are gently coaxed into asanas or forms that are different from what we would habitually assume.  Such activities give us opportunities to slow down – to explore and know ourselves better, to listen to our deeper truth, and to improve the quality of our lives.  Slowing our movements down allows us to bring awareness to unconscious ways we have used our bodies to avoid discomfort or pain it might have just been more “pleasant” to ignore.  When we rush from Point A to Point B we are likely to take the path we have habitually taken, whether it’s the most elegant, most expressive, most effortless, or most ergonomically sensible path.  When we take this path (from A to B) unconsciously, despite the extra effort this route may cost us (both in terms of its inefficiency and the energy required to keep information outside of awareness), we inevitably communicate our unconscious pain in the world – at the very least to the unconscious selves of others, who have brains designed to pick up such information.  Such subtleties match up with other information patterns they have stored in their memory banks, beneath conscious awareness and are likely to later trigger unconscious responses and unexplained emotions in your relating with one another.

In slowing down, we may feel something we’ve been avoiding.  And we might not like that, actually.  But in slowing way down, we may make connections, and gain understandings about ourselves we never had before.  In slowing down, we bring consciousness to those painful places we’ve been avoiding, to find out what is actually there.  And in bringing consciousness there, we can understand that the pain is nothing more than sensation.  You thought that was pain.  But approaching that sensation with curiosity instead of judgment, with gentle exploration and generosity in terms of time and pacing, this “pain” might actually offer you information that heals and pleasure that you hadn’t afforded yourself before (which besides feeling good, brings resilience, vitality and gentle supportive presence to the body).  It’s not the scary thing we’ve been spending so much energy protecting ourselves from and avoiding.

When the person I’m with is accelerated, I feel compelled to share what I have to say quickly.  I am somewhat skilled at meeting other people where they are vibrationally, and have built my identity around matching and attuning, and blending in.  Unknowingly, I have postponed developing the ability to claim my own vibrational frequency and maintain it in the presence of another.  As a result I have often settled for the superficial (shiny, exciting) interaction that happens between two people, when what I am yearning for is so much more.  The pleasure of a particular kind of connecting that I yearn for is one in which I am unguarded, grounded, and connected with exactly who I am.  Grounded, in this moment, is nothing more than being attuned to my senses in this moment, being willing to slow down and take those two breaths before responding, and speaking only those words that I need to speak to express my experience in the moment.

It’s not possible to be truly compassionate with ourselves or others when we are running on adrenaline and cortosol, on guard, defended and triggered.  That is why I recommend learning how to slow down, calm the body, connect with yourself and then communicate with those around you from a grounded, mindful place.  It takes more than a sound bite to express oneself.  And it takes more than sitting in front of the television to relax after a stressful day at work.  Changing gears after living a high-vibration lifestyle for years and years is something that has to be done on purpose; it doesn’t just happen on its own.  That is what I have put my mind to doing, and let me tell you, I will never turn back.

 

The birds this morning, in their flying and being who they are reminded me that we all know who we are, though we might have temporarily forgotten.  We have worked so hard to cover up what makes us uniquely us, to mask it, or to make it different so that it is acceptable to someone else.  The birds’ message to me this morning was: Don’t try; just be.  Right now, do what is necessary to reconnect with the God-given greatness of all that you are.  Be right here in this moment, now, and play as if right now were all that there was.  You have a way to express yourself, and you have your own, inherent vibrational frequency.  Re-member that it is right to want to do what you do effortlessly, naturally, and with great playfulness and joy.  And then give yourself permission to go out and do it.

Now Available!

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Being In My Body is now available at Amazon.com

You can also get it at CreateSpace

I am in the process of scheduling a book tour for the spring, and speaking/training events for 2017.  If you’d like to get on the calendar, please e-mail me at:

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Here’s what readers are saying about Being In My Body

“Toni has gifted us with a readable and rich handbook on how to deal with trauma. She carefully weaves well-researched information with examples and healing techniques. Toni stays with you as you read and you can feel her compassion coming through.”

David Richo, PhD: Author of When the Past is Present (Shambhala)

“Being In My Body is a testimony both to Toni Rahman’s personal work and her professional and clinical skills.  This book is not only easy to read and understand, but interesting and informative.

“Toni does an excellent job of explaining the different kinds of trauma, which is an important contribution to field of traumatology.

“I found myself feeling comfortable in my own body as I read her book, which told me that she was in HER body as she was writing it.

“Most of all, I appreciate Toni’s open-hearted writing style, and her compassionate approach towards herself, her family, her clients and her readers.”

Janae B. Weinhold, PhD LPC, Co-author of Developmental Trauma: The Game Changer in the Mental Health Profession, Counterdependency: The Flight From Intimacy & Breaking Free of the Codependency Trap

“Toni presents a unique and well-thought-out perspective on healing from trauma and attachment disorders. As a couple therapist whose business it is to put the dyad first, I nonetheless respect the importance she gives to individual healing. Toni offers a comprehensive primer on some of the key concepts for healing that are derived from neuroscience, attachment theory, and somatization/embodiment. And she brilliantly puts them together in a way that creates more than the sum of the whole.”

Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT is a clinician and teacher; he developed A Psychobiological Approach to Couple Therapy® (PACT), which integrates attachment theory, developmental neuroscience, and arousal regulation, and founded the PACT Institute.

Being In My Body offers a way for us to integrate with our bodies, not just to discover historic trauma, but also to obtain daily awareness of what is going on in our lives.  It seems so obvious, but we completely ignore our bodies instead of listening to them.”

“I feel like your book reached me in many different ways. So it was really a privilege to live with it over the last few weeks. I don’t think I’ll ever feel the same about or deal with my body in quite the same way (not that I disliked my body). It has opened new avenues for me to reconsider how I work with my body and perhaps bring out in the open locked memories and finally release them. Definitely serendipity for me at this time.”

– Stephanie Brooks, Business Manager, MSSD

“Being In My Body is a beautiful synthesis of powerful teachings, practices, and stories that have helped me tremendously in my still-unfolding journey towards greater self-understanding, self-acceptance, and embodiment. Toni Rahman has helped me understand the ways in which I experienced developmental trauma, how it has impacted me, and perhaps most importantly, what I can do about it in the present moment. This book has left me feeling empowered, supported, and deeply understood.  I have read many books that touch on these topics and themes, and what I found most unique about this book was Toni’s willingness to be vulnerable and open with her readers. As I read Being In My Body, I felt like I was being accompanied through difficult terrain by a gentle guide who was willing to share her own journey in the hopes that it would help others along on theirs. In my case, it certainly has, and I hope that many others will benefit as well.”

– Megan Farmer, Postgraduate Psychology Student, Calif.