I sit and write at my table that overlooks my garden. It’s raining a lot. Here in Gumbaynggir country and all up and down the east coast of Australia, we are in the midst of torrential downpours, flooding, big seas and strong winds. There are intermittent breaks in the rain that give me time to tend to the garden without getting drenched. I’ve just returned from a walk to the beach with my umbrella and it was refreshing to be out in the wildness…and stay reasonably dry.
Since my operation, I’ve experienced significant changes to my sleeping patterns, moods and levels of energy. There has also been an increase in nightmares. I notice the part of me that wishes that these would just go away, stop, leave me alone. Noticing this desire, I smile and I hold myself close.
Sometimes, I can just drop back to sleep. However, the nightmares that launch me into being wide awake, I choose to experience as an opportunity for me to practice self-care—in particular, self-empathy which can be used for any situation where there has been a trigger from something that has happened that brought discomfort, fear, worry or pain.
After a triggering event or, in my case, a nightmare, you may need to self regulate your nervous system first. It is likely that you will have your own trusted ways of doing this. For me, self regulation can be as simple as pausing and connecting with:
and feeling the ground support me. I feel soothed when I put my hand over my heart and notice the breathe. I might get a drink of water, do a short mindfulness practice and/or offer myself self-empathy. The self-empathy practice is foundational to Nonviolent Communication (NVC) and the form that I use comes from the Ongo program written by Jesse Wiens Chu and Catherine Cadden.
Take a moment to think about when you felt triggered—or when things didn’t go quite the way you would have liked.
Write down what happened—what did you say and/or do; what did the other person say and/or do. Include the thoughts that you are telling yourself (about you and the others in the situation.) Bring in a kind and gentle curiosity and just write it all down. Don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense just keep writing. Stay clear of analysing, justifying, condemning… just note observations of what happened and the thoughts about what you are telling yourself.
Then take another breath or two and bring your awareness to the chest area—you may find it helpful to put your hand on your chest. Note what you are feeling. Write the feelings down. You may want to check out this list of feelings here. Write down body sensations too. Again, bring a kind and gentle curiosity to this exploration.
Take another breath.
Bring your focus to your abdominal area. And be curious about what Needs are present for you in this moment. Write these down on your paper. Once you have a few needs on your page that really resonate. Take a comfortable position and meet the ‘energy’ of these needs. How does this need live in you? Can you recall a time when this need was met? How did that feel in your body? Take some time to breathe into each need. Notice if your mind comes in and says, ‘this will never be possible’. Just noting the minds resistance to being with the energy of the need. Go gently.
Take as long as you wish to explore this and note any requests that come up in the practice. Requests for yourself and/or for the other.
It can be hard to welcome in all that is happening, just as it is. Know what is best for you. You may want to connect with an empathy buddy, counsellor or a friend to talk. Do what you need to do to take good care of yourself and the situation.
Two nights ago, I turned on the light after being woken from another nightmare at 4am. There was a sense of intense worry. Which is not a usual state for me. I reached for my journal and started to write down all the things that were worrying me. It was like someone had turned the volume up on the ‘worry’ thoughts in the back of my head and given me a prime seat to be aware of them. I wanted to show up for them—actually their loudness and persistence demanded it of me.
It was a long list and to save writing the full page here and maintain confidentiality, I will summarise—family, friends, community, social justice, politics, the justice system, the global situation—scarcity of resources, war and climate change. Just to name a few. I’m sure you will be familiar with some of these concerns in your own life. On my page, I wrote each line starting with, I am worried about…. This simple act of acknowledgement began to soothe my nervous system.
On the next page, I wrote down all the feelings and sensations in my body. Some I named more than a few times keeping the flow of writing happening: sadness, fear, anger, loss, anxiety, weariness, tiredness, heat in my belly, fear, tightness at the temples, sadness, anger, helplessness, curiosity, tiredness…. I think you get the drift. Opening to the awareness of:
When I felt a shift in my energy I then connected to my needs. This part of the practice is important as that is what the ‘worry’ energy is pointing to.
Worrying… helps no one and yet, when it’s there, turning towards the worry can reveal what is calling out for attention and what is needed. When I turn towards the worry using self-empathy I can create a greater capacity to contribute to my own and others wellbeing.
The Chant of Compassion—Namo Avalokiteshvara, Plum Village Chanting