Tuesday, August 23, 2016

FLOWING to Well-Being: F is for Feeling

The phrase “go with the flow” is commonly heard in mindfulness oriented groups, but what does it really mean?  The word “flow” has an underlying appeal that brings to mind the movement of water, burbling streams and rhythmic waves.  Perhaps we have an inherent understanding of flow, based on our bodies composition of 97% water, but could the term have deeper application to our well-being?

When I was writing my book, Unkind Gifts: An Insider’s Guide to Recovery from Trauma and Loss, I asked myself the same question about the meaning of the word flow, and discovered it held a key to self-exploration and expression, as well as opportunity for enhanced healing from loss.  As I reflected upon the letters of the word F-L-O-W they revealed a connection to particular practice oriented words: Feel, Listen, Open, and Witness.  These words effectively describe the heart of healing.  In the months ahead, let’s consider how each of these concepts plays a role in wellness and recovery.
F - Feel.  Life is so full of hurry and hurt that we learn from a young age to ignore and deny our bodies.  Social messages about not being “good-enough” as we are, come from every corner, especially so when it comes to how we look and feel.  Weight loss products and pharmaceutical interventions occupy the vast majority of the advertising slots on our television screens, and more indirect suggestions for buying everything from groceries to luxury cars bombard us with a message of “buy this and you will be more attractive, more sophisticated, more popular”, and so on.  In other words, “Who you are is not enough, and if you spend your money on this or that product, we can make you better.”  Is it any surprise that drugs, depression and debt are the problems that plague our society?

These social messages along with an understandable wish to avoid negative emotions and physical pain cause us to turn away from or actively block feelings.  Doing so has negative implications for our self-awareness and for our communication in relationships.  If we ignore the body’s signals about pain, we risk missing important opportunities to address imbalances while they are still correctable.  If we block our attention to emotional pain, we seek external sources of blame and may misunderstand our own position in our social environment.  Seeking external causes for our own pain is a bit like looking at someone else’s house for our missing keys; shouldn’t we check our own couch cushions first?
If we take the time to hold a calm, steady attention to our bodies, we can tap into blocked or intense mind-body energies to see what may be contained within them.  These energies are often made up of doubts and fears about our own capacity to handle challenges in life. They may hold losses from earlier times, even some from earliest childhood, and/or may be based on misinformation.  A past negative experience can create distorted perceptions about the present, leaving us vulnerable to a continued sense of victimization or unworthiness.  By sitting with and Feeling those key experiences we can address our childhood-based confusion, and take in more up to date information.  For example, a child whose parents are financially stressed or suffering their own depression may get a message of unworthiness or being unwanted, and may take that message to heart leading to hesitation and low self-esteem in adult relationships.  If instead they can sit with the negative message that they have carried, and see the larger context of parental overwhelm, they can release the blocked access to alternative signals from friends and family, and participate more effectively in their own relationships.

In terms of our physical health, we need to know our body’s baseline functioning in order to notice if and when things may be off balance.  Disregarding pain or fatigue may cause us to miss important cues about self-care or the need to seek medical support.  In my own case, had I not been able to check in with my body prior to know the changing conditions of my breast tissue, I might have missed the emergence of the cancerous lump that was quickly consuming healthy tissue.  Such a missed opportunity might have robbed me of the chance to be here today, sharing my story with you.   
Whether physical or emotional, stress and fatigue can create a ticking time-bomb of immune system failures or disrupted relationships.  The only way to prevent such disruptions is to attend with compassion to the inner workings of your bodymind energies.  Ignoring your own internal signals for extended periods will never lead to a better outcome, even though facing those fears may be hard.  Instead, make some time to sit with your Feelings, reflect and find opportunities to express them and don’t be afraid to reach out if you need help.  Just noticing your Feelings is the first step to FLOWING into well-being, Next time we will explore how to Listen and respond effectively to those Feelings.

Ellen C. Ranney, PhD. Is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice.  She specializes in work with trauma survivors and their families.  Dr. Ranney is the author of Unkind Gifts: An Insider’s Guide to Recovery from Trauma and Loss, (c)2016, available at www.unkindgifts.com.