Monday, July 30, 2012

Finding F.L.O.W.

 It rained yesterday, after months of parching, dusty dry days, the likes of which this river-crossed state has never seen.  Soft gentle rain fell throughout the morning hours, giving the scorched earth a much needed respite.  No doubt, the trees will show a wide dark ring of mean season beneath their bark; a lasting imprint of nature's sometimes cruelty.  Yet the trees have been offered opportunity for recovery, a chance to drink in nourishment enough to sustain them until cooler, wetter days return.

The dark rings of trauma might be seen beneath the skin of many of us.  Once suffered, trauma will never be undone.  It might be tempting to allow those dark scars to define our future, expecting (like the pessimists of the first blog entry) that to hope for better, might borrow trouble.  To give in to this temptation, is to choose a narrow path through life, one that isolates in the name of "safety."  There is another path, that like the healing rainfall, offers recovery in the water's flow.

Dan Siegel, proposes a simple model of health; a river flowing between two banks, with one side being characterized by chaos, and the other by rigidity. The point of this illustration is that ill health (mental, physical and spiritual) is generally made up of symptoms that fall to one "river-bank" or the other.  Think "Anxiety" (chaos) vs. "Depression" (rigidity); or, in the language of post-trauma diagnoses, "Intrusion" (chaotic reminders of  helplessness and overwhelming terror) vs. "Numbing" (rigid blocking of emotional and physical sensations).  So it follows that health is more a keeping to the middle part of the river, staying in the flow, so to speak.  A simple, but effective, conceptual model of recovery.

I love to be near water.  It soothes my spirit to listen to burbling, splashing, even crashing sounds of water in its many forms. The idea of flowing waters accompanied my meditations during preparation for childbirth, and soothed the fatigue and nausea of chemotherapy.  Perhaps it is not coincidental that I was born under a water sign of the zodiac.  Or maybe it is a universal experience to find healing in water; as human beings, water makes up over 97% of our bodies; we can survive for days without food, but not without water.  Whatever the reason, I became curious about the effects of the experience of, even the sound of the word, FLOW.  Contemplation of the word led me to an appreciation of its use as an acronym for recovery practices.  The particulars are common ideas, but the acronym is of my own making, so I will claim authorship, with credit due to my training in Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS),, and its developer, Dick Schwartz.

F.L.O.W. refers to mindful attention to unconscious processes via physical and emotional signals.  Instead of pushing past a stiff neck or headache, or the tightness in your gut, take a few moments to sit with that signal from your body.  In other words find and feel its presence. Consider that it holds a message about something you may benefit from attending to, and take the time to listen and learn from it.  In the spirit of all meditative practices, it is essential to avoid making judgments about the body parts or the ideas that may be present in that moment of awareness, so be open to whatever thoughts, images or feelings arise.  It is only by such non-judgmental attention that you can act as a witness to your own story of loss or of hope, and thereby understand the meanings, and inform the intentions, that will carry you forward into recovery and personal development.

Find, Listen, and Openly Witness: FLOW.

Taking the concept of FLOW further, it becomes a powerful tool to support healthy functioning in many realms.  If we are blocked in mind or body - for example plaque in the coronary arteries, or floundering in a state of grief - there are consequences to those blockages (e.g., heart attack, depression, relationship disruptions...).  If instead we actively attend to signals of blockage, we can support movement of whatever the source may be, and get things flowing again.  This doesn't imply that we have control over what happens to us in life, only that we have opportunities in our approach to how we manage those challenges.

Flow can be seen throughout bodily systems: circulatory, respiratory, lymphatic, digestive, hormonal..., and in the range of human emotions available to experience.  Nature is always in a process of flowing; rivers and tides; wind currents; seasons; planetary orbits; and in cycles of life and death.  Seasons change, trees grow, droughts occur, and healing rains arrive, so take a tip from mother nature and go with the flow.

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