Book Practices for Feedback
Hi friends, thank you so much for helping me by trying out a few practices and reporting back on what you think. I am open to any and all feedback you have, including but not limited to:
-What general feedback or recommendations do you have?
-Did the wording make sense?
-Did you enjoy the practice?
-Is the practice helpful for you?
-Are there any typos, errors, or problems?
The sections are a little bit long, so I am making a menu at the top which will take you to any of the six practices on separate pages. Or you can just scroll through them all. I am also including the introduction to give you a feel for the book.
The title is undecided right now! I was going to call it: Compassionate Fire: Recovering Our Voices and Healing Past Traumas. However, I discovered there is another book called Compassionate Fire. So that is why there is some discrepancy on titles and headers.
Introduction: A Hero's Resilience
If your voice has ever been disrespected, you are a hero. Even if you have been tread upon, thrown around, and knocked down by tragedy or trauma, you are a hero. And especially in the most trying moments, when you are hunched on the floor and overcome with doubt, you are a hero.
Oh, I know. We are trained to think of heroes with rippling muscles and indomitable determination, who are only allowed one moment of doubt in the whole movie. We might not necessarily place ourselves in the category of those confident, idolized demi-gods of the ages.
We are a different breed all together: the real-life heroes and sheroes who are in the trenches of overcoming. We are overcoming the pain of the past and the dysfunction of the present. We are experienced at being knocked down and reaching out a hand for support as we rise again. We are choosing every day not to close our hearts off in this painful world, but to open up and spread more love from the fertile ground of gratitude.
The audacious act of choosing love in the face of pain and fear is not always the easy path. There may be thorny branches to duck under and tall grasses to wade through and people slinging anonymous insults to throw you off course. And that is why we need to seek out more loving heroes each day, and share our stories of hope.
I wrote this book as an offering of hope- a new version of the hero’s journey for everyone who is walking through the fire of transformation. On the surface, this story is about overcoming the trauma of sexual assault. Yet the healing journey is universal- every person who has felt undervalued, disrespected or heartbroken knows what it is like to carry pain inside. Most adults are functioning with a nervous system rooted in fear. Living in a trauma-induced state of hypervigilance has become so normal in our society we might not even recognize the pain that has always been clouding our vision.
We may experience the effects of trauma as a tendency to disconnect when faced with pain, or collapse into depression, or lash out at others, or self-sabotage when we get scared. We may feel perpetually keyed up and anxious, or we may be always sliding down the slippery slope of despair. We may find ourselves running away from discomfort, needing to stay overly busy and distracted to avoid feeling what lies beneath the surface. Trying to control and micromanage people and situations in order to stay safe? Staying hyper-vigilant to other people’s approval? Yep, those could also be stemming from buried trauma. The side effects of unresolved trauma can pop up in unexpected places. Yet there is profound power in acknowledging what we have gone through, and committing ourselves to healing. When it is time to face the pain and resolve the past, let this story and healing exercises bring you companionship and solidarity.
Your trauma may feel trivial, or it may feel severe. You may not resonate with the word “trauma” at all, yet often feel like a victim of life. No matter what our stories may be, we can overcome the pain of the past. We can heal.
We heal by walking through the fire. We heal by facing the pain. But what guides us through is compassion. We shower ourselves with love and acceptance. We trust we will emerge into the light. We trust that our own unique hero’s journey will be worth it when we experience the beauty of healing. That is why the book is called Compassionate Fire- the journey is paradoxically one of being gentle with ourselves, and simultaneously awakening our courageous warrior’s strength.
From where I stand, I see you are already whole. Your spirit has never been broken. Your soul has always been intact and one with All That Is. Certainly, the pain of trauma can obscure our radiant wholeness, like a black cloud covering the sun. Trust that you are not the black cloud. That is not your true nature. As you heal with strength and self-love, the beautiful light of your soul will shine through.
How to Use this Book
If I had read my own book five years ago, I would have stopped reading when I got to the moments of trauma. I would have put the book down, and shoved it to the back of the bookshelf because I was afraid of triggering my own pain.
If you are in the same boat, know that I am looking out for you, my reader and fellow warrior. I will issue trigger warnings for the brief recounts of my traumatic experiences. Feel free to skip over them- you will still be able to make sense of the book. If you choose to dive into the difficult parts, know that I will not leave you in the darkness and pain. Hope and resilience guide the story and healing practices.
As I walked through the fire of transformation, I found doorways to resting in my wholeness. I have gathered the keys as eight exercises that close each chapter of this book, called “Compassionate Fire Practices.” The exercises are a synthesis of ideas from my own intuition, from my experiences in therapy, and from numerous books on healing trauma and building spiritual resilience. Some of my students have been the gracious testers of these practices throughout my 14 years of teaching yoga, music, and creativity.
Each Compassionate Fire Practice has the potential to help you cast off the burden of the old stories, the old pain, the old ways of being. Yet the practices are not necessarily a linear sequence. A book is a linear form, but my own healing journey has not been a straight line. Healing is cyclical, like a spiral moving upward. We circle back to the same wounds, but each time from a new place of greater self-compassion and connection to our unbounded spirit.
This also explains why we may find ourselves saying, “I thought I already dealt with my death-grip on control (or the incident when I was 12, or the wounds I inherited from my ancestors . . . any struggle can be inserted here.) Any release you have experienced in the past has been real. You are not backtracking. You are moving up the spiral, and expanding your potential for self-acceptance and self-knowing as you revisit what comes up in the present moment.
Since it is not a linear journey, feel free to use the book and practices in any order that feels right to you. You may feel called to jump ahead, or start with just the Compassionate Fire Practices at the end of each chapter. My wish is for you to deepen your own inner trust and intuition as you read.
Here is a lay of the land, a preview of each chapter and healing practice.
Part 1: Running Away from the Pain, explores my own experience of childhood and teenage trauma juxtaposed with the creativity and playfulness of youth. The chapter also touches upon why we are conditioned to believe the cultural lies about sexual trauma, and offers hope for healing and empowerment.
Compassionate Fire Practice No. 1: Diaphragmatic Breathing closes the first chapter. Building your fiery power through deep breathing and simple visualization, this practice can be grounding and calming. This section also gives suggestions on how to make healing practices part of your everyday life while staying grounded in self-compassion.
Part 2: Coming Undone to Come into My Body shows the possibility of re-integrating our bodily awareness when we have experienced dissociation, or a numbness and disconnection from our bodies after trauma. My own story of reconnecting physically came through the crisis of injury as well as amazing nature experiences, yoga, movement, and sexual exploration.
Compassionate Fire Practice No. 2: Body Listening offers an open-ended, gentle exploration of movement as a way to build our inner trust and healing.
Part 3: Feeling Safety from Within journeys through my spiritual awakening and the unexpected consequences of looking within. The second half of the chapter also explores the role of therapy in developing a sense of safety as well as explaining our biological responses to threat: fight, flight, and freeze.
Compassionate Fire Practice No. 3: Core of Safety allows us to create a “safe place” guarded by our internal protectors, or aspects of our psyche that give a sense of strength and security.
Part 4: A New Life tells the story of the freedom I felt after healing one particular trauma and how it opened me up to unexpected life changes. After we walk through the fire and feel our feelings, we may experience the rewards of our work: increased energy, motivation, inner trust, and creativity.
Compassionate Fire Practice No. 4: Rituals for Emotional Release offers many ideas for working through intense emotions to experience relief and freedom, rather than staying trapped in the feelings.
Part 5: The Dark Forest explores the way repressed childhood memories may resurface, viewed through the lens of my continued healing.
Compassionate Fire Practice No. 5: Embracing Your Younger Self builds heavily upon the third practice for developing a sense of safety through your nurturing protectors. This visualization can be practiced when your wounded inner parts feel safe enough to accept love and nourishment.
Part 6:Reclaiming my Voice is a triumphant testament to the role creative expression can play in healing the past.
Compassionate Fire Practice No. 6: Creative Catharsis explains how to create for emotional release and empowerment, while softening our inner criticism and attachment to outcomes.
[Parts 7 and 8 are still in progress]
As we journey together, please remember to give yourself compassion. If you need to stop reading for a while, my wish is for you to honor your needs. Pay attention to how you feel in your body and let your breath settle into a comfortable rhythm. Healing requires gentle patience; as soon as we try to force ourselves into a different emotional state it may slip out of reach. Pushing too hard may send us into fight, flight, or freeze mode. However, when we move slowly and honor the body, our nervous system will be invited to relax and heal at its natural pace.
Even with the intention of moving slowly and compassionately, you may hear a voice inside (or outside) urging you to push yourself to exhaustion. But healing trauma is not a marathon. We are not trying to beat our past into the ground through intense effort. Instead, we allow our bodies and our deep inner knowing to guide the process. We start to listen to the subtle internal nudges and rest when it is needed. We trust when it is time to take a break, or take some breaths, or take a walk. We may remind ourselves to drink extra water and nourish our bodies throughout the healing journey.
And of course, this book is not intended as a substitute for medical or psychological care. I am open about the pivotal role therapy and medication has played in healing my past traumas and I encourage all trauma survivors to seek professional support when it feels right. And if you are ever in crisis, please don’t hesitate to dial a local crisis line or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.
The pain of the past may seem a heavy burden at times. More than once I have angrily shaken my fist at the universe for all I have had to endure. And with good reason- many of us were thrown into the fire of pain at a young age. Yet little by little the heat can awaken our power. We begin to see we are no longer helpless. We begin to see that whatever trauma or abuse we have endured is not holding us back. It is propelling us forward, through the flames. When we are willing to square our shoulders and walk forward, we are transformed. The act of facing our pain takes us to a new level of wisdom, strength, and compassion. We embody the hero’s power that has been inside all along. We are rebirthed by fire.
1- Diaphragmatic Breathing
Fire Power Practice No. 1: Diaphragmatic Breathing
When we are constantly running from our pain, at some point we will lose our breath. I remember the ache in my side and the harsh coldness of the air hitting my lungs when I was trying to run the mile in high school gym class. At some point there was no alternative but to slow down and catch my breath.
In my life I had grown fatigued from running away from my trauma. Fortunately, I began to learn breathing techniques with my high school singing teacher, Tina. I only thought of deep breathing as a way to improve my singing; it took me years to realize how it also improved my life. Singing offers many emotional and physical benefits, but when you boil it down, singing is breathing. You take in a lovely, deep breath, and as you exhale your vocal cords vibrate to turn the breath into sound.
Now that I've spent years teaching singing, piano, and yoga, I understand why we are always hearing the advice to take a deep breath. Most people take shallow, constricted breaths, and rarely bring attention to their body as they breathe.
After sharing my intense childhood experiences, I'd like to offer you the first Shine Big Practice: diaphragmatic breathing. The steady movement of the diaphragm as we breathe consciously is incredibly calming to the nervous system. Our bodies and brains are flooded with nourishing oxygen and our racing thoughts are invited to slow down.
This miracle starts with the diaphragm. A large muscle somewhat resembling a shallow, upside-down bowl, the diaphragm is located beneath the lungs. It extends to the front, back and sides of our body.
When the diaphragm moves down, it creates a vacuum in the lungs, allowing fresh air to rush into our bodies. Once the diaphragm has begun its descent, breathing can be effortless. Imagine for a second that we breathed water instead of air. If you were underwater and opened your mouth, would it take effort for the water to enter? No. The water would naturally rush in. It's the same with air. Breathing can be an easy and effortless way to connect with our bodies.
Since trauma can make us feel powerless, we will combine the deep breathing with the intention of strengthening our internal power. In the yogic tradition, the third chakra at the navel is the center of personal power. As I breathe, I like to visualize an ever-glowing flame within my abdomen to represent my strength.
Don’t worry if you have complex feelings around your inner fortitude. We can have all kinds of misgivings about becoming more powerful- and most of them come from the ways power is abused in our culture. But we are not aiming for the pseudo-power of domination over others. We are cultivating our inner authority to stand our ground. The key lies in strengthening our own power alongside our compassion for ourselves and others.
If you find yourself overthinking it, feel free to throw out all the instructions about where to place your attention and take a slow, easy breath that feels right for you.
How to practice Diaphragmatic Breathing:
Sit or lie down comfortably with your spine elongated and aligned.
Place a hand on your belly button. Keep your hand here throughout the practice to monitor the movement of your diaphragm.
Imagine a steady flame behind your navel in the center of your body. Your focus and awareness will add fuel to the fire, helping it grow stronger.
Allow your diaphragm muscle to move downward, initiating a slow, easy breath. As the diaphragm moves down, it pushes the organs in your abdomen outward to make space for the life-giving air to fill all parts of your lungs. As the air comes in, it is like your belly is getting fatter and you will feel your hand moving outward with your abdomen.
When it feels right, exhale at a comfortable pace. The diaphragm will steadily return to its highly domed shape and your abdomen will come inward again.
Repeat, repeat, repeat!
Add sound (optional): Practice steps one through three. When you feel ready to exhale, speak or sing a meaningful phrase repeatedly until you feel ready to inhale again. For example: “I am learning to love myself!” Choose a sound or phrase that feels natural to you right now.
I practice both the silent version and sound version of diaphragmatic breathing in different situations. You can practice silent diaphragmatic breathing as you read this book, during a meeting, phone call or while you watch TV. When my husband was in an anxious, near panic-attack level period in his life, his MD recommended 20 minutes of diaphragmatic breathing a day. He practiced it diligently and attests that it changed his life.
The sound version of diaphragmatic breathing is beautiful to practice in the morning or before bed. Singing has been shown to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. To me, that is proof that we are all born to be singers regardless of how we may sound. The key is to start in an environment where you feel safe, and release judgment over how you sound. Instead, focus on feeling the meaning behind your words, and that is what will make it beautiful.
Now we get to talk about the logistics of building a habit. Tying your practice in with another activity in your regular life will make it easier to remember. For example, you can set the intention of breathing into your power center for a few minutes right after you wake up in the morning, or right after you take a shower, or on your coffee break at work. You can also use a cue, such as anytime you feel the urge to check your phone. When you experience the urge, then you know it is time to practice diaphragmatic breathing first.
Sometimes it can feel overwhelming to try to incorporate a new practice into your life, especially if you are someone who beats yourself up with guilt any time you don't make time for the new habit.
Self-compassion is key when we are starting something new. You may catch yourself thinking self-critical thoughts along the lines of:
I'm no good at this breathing stuff.
I'm a failure because I can never make any real changes.
I'm too busy (or angry or depressed) to try something new right now.
I'm a hopeless case so this probably won't help me anyway.
If you have even mild versions of these thoughts, ask yourself if you would speak to a close friend the way you are speaking to yourself. Chances are you would be a lot more kind and encouraging with your friend. The practice of self-compassion starts with bringing awareness to your thoughts, then injecting kind and compassionate thoughts into your day. It’s about reminding yourself it is okay to be human and make mistakes. By easing ourselves out of self-criticism, we actually free up more motivation to try again instead of giving up.
Building this foundation of self-compassion will also help with all of the subsequent Fire Power Practices. Please don't feel like you need to practice them all at the same time. I include eight diverse exercises because different people will be drawn to different practices. Furthermore, one Fire Power Practice may be helpful at a particular stage in your journey, and later you may leave it behind and grow into a new daily practice.
Fire Power Practice No. 2: Body Listening
We typically think of movement as a means to an end, whether the goal is losing weight, building strength, having fun, relieving stress, or getting from point A to point B. When we are recovering from trauma, however, we can learn to feel safe in our bodies by stripping away all the goals and practicing movement for movement’s sake. We can build trust through listening to our body’s impulses and urges.
When I teach Body Listening to students, a common hang-up is the worry of doing it wrong. As long as you move in a way that does not cause pain, there truly is no right or wrong way to move when practicing Body Listening. In the exercise below, I recommend starting with gentle stretches for your neck and back, since those are common areas for holding tension. However, once you get comfortable deciphering how your body wants to move, you can dive right into your own free movement.
Chronic pain is another obstacle some people encounter. If you have a health condition or are experiencing pain, check with a health professional before trying this exercise. If you get the green light, focus on the areas of your body that feel alright. For example, if you feel pain in your back but lying on the floor feels comfortable, you can lie down and move your ankles, neck, and arms freely. Even if some parts of your body feel uncomfortable, you can still feel trust and joy through Body Listening.
How to practice Body Listening:
1. Find a space where you can move freely without bumping into furniture or objects. Close the curtains and door to create a feeling of privacy. You may also wish to turn on some music that you enjoy.
2. Stand with your feet slightly wider than your hips. Gently stretch your neck to one side for ten seconds, and then stretch to the other side.
3. Stretch your neck forward, so your chin nears your chest. Let your neck hang freely for ten seconds, then gently bring it back up.
4. Roll your shoulders in gentle circles, with first the right shoulder moving forward, then the left. Continue this fluid motion as long as you like.
5. When you are ready, let the shoulders be still and take a deep breath in and out.
6. Begin moving your hips in a circle, first moving gently to one side, then forward, then to the other side, and backward. Continue circling your hips and torso, letting your back muscles loosen. You may change directions after a few rounds.
7. As your hips move, check in with what sensations you feel in your muscles.
8. Ask yourself the question: how does my body wish to move right now?
9. Be patient as you allow the answer to arise.
10. Follow the sensations to move in any way your body wishes. Remember there is no right or wrong in Body Listening, only comfortable or uncomfortable. You may hear the message to run or leap or dance. You may feel the urge to lie on the floor and stretch. You may wish to curl up in a fetal position. You may wish to massage your body. Give yourself the gift of trusting that however you find yourself moving is just right for this moment.
11. Continue moving freely for as long as you wish.
Through breath and movement, we can learn to love our bodies. If we have been trespassed upon, we can reclaim our most sacred territory. It may have felt safer to just evacuate and never again return to our beautiful bodies. But moment by moment, we can claim the space for ourselves through our own awareness. We can come home to our sensations, and bring love to the surprises we may find.
But remember that Body Listening is not about the end result of feeling better or making anything happen. It is about the ongoing process of inhabiting our bodies. Healing is truly a continuing journey, as much as we wish it could be a singular event, a miracle, or even a month-long affair.
Fire Power Practice No. 3: Core of Safety
When we have been traumatized, we may lose our feeling of safety. Even when I have been at home with the doors locked and no threats present, I have often felt like my nervous system was on high alert. I have felt the urge to protect the parts of my body that have been wounded years ago, even though I can logically see that there is no danger present.
If we are in danger, we want to act to save ourselves. We want to call for help, escape, fight back, or, when appropriate, stay still until the danger has passed. But what about when we can objectively understand that there are no threats, but we struggle to feel safe? The Core of Safety practice can help us relax and feel protected.
In this exercise we begin by transporting ourselves to an imagined safe place where we feel completely peaceful and protected. It is a common trauma coping technique taught by many therapists, and most people will also be able to practice it on their own. Often the imagined safe place is a beautiful spot in nature, and you can strengthen your inner safe place by spending time immersed in the healing sights and sounds of the outdoors whenever it feels right. However, as you practice the visualization, you don’t need to feel limited to real places or even the laws of physics. If you want to float on a cloud, go for it! I like to imagine my safe place as a cozy hut with an impossibly soft and warm bed, with a river and forest just outside. That way I can go pet the river dolphins or take a walk or curl up in bed. It is not rooted in a specific past experience, though you can most certainly take yourself back to a memory in which you felt safe and calm.
The other aspect of the Core of Safety practice is to get to know your inner protectors. These are parts of your psyche that feel strong, wise, and brave. At first, the idea that we have different voices inside our head may seem strange. Don’t worry, this is not a sign of being crazy. We all have different aspects of our psyche and we can consciously learn to access the parts that feel strong and heal the parts that feel wounded. Many therapeutic and healing modalities recognize the value of working with our diverse inner aspects.
The first protectors we will explore are inner warriors that keep us safe from outside harm. They may take the form of an animal, a person, a superhero, a giant, a goddess, or other divine form. They may carry weapons or they may have magical superpowers. You can have fun with the details. The key is that they are a part of your own internal strength that exists to accept and protect you.
In addition to our warrior(s), we can also get to know our nurturing protectors. For me, my nurturing protectors take the form of an inner mother and father. They are an archetypal presence and are not connected to my external parents. That way, the protectors can be ever-present and not subject to getting tangled up in human characteristics and memories. The nurturing parent energy gives compassion, love, and reassurance. They are the images and felt sense behind self-compassion and self-forgiveness.
Some people like to start by imagining an actual person whom they trust as a form of caring and protection. If someone loving, accepting, and strong comes to mind, then follow your intuition if you feel called to visualize them as a protector. Eventually you will be able to take the strength-giving qualities you appreciate about that person and recognize them in yourself, preparing you to meet your inner protectors.
If visualization of the protectors doesn’t feel natural, try writing or drawing. Begin by writing an invitation: “I am ready to meet you, my inner protectors!” Then let your pen take the lead to reveal the parts of yourself that are ready to be your strong inner warriors and nurturers!
No matter which method you choose, don’t worry too much if you are “doing it right.” Just trust the images that come to mind. They can always evolve or change form in the future. The goal is to use our imagination to tap into the brave and resilient parts of ourselves to instill feelings of safety and calm.
How to Practice Core of Safety
Find a quiet, comfortable place where you will not be disturbed for ten to twenty minutes.
Keep a journal or paper and pen nearby for the final part of the practice.
Let your body sink into the chair, floor, or bed where you are sitting or lying down. Feel your muscles releasing.
Take three deep breaths, letting the tension melt away with each exhale.
Now we are going to imagine a place where you can feel safe. It can be someplace you have visited in reality, or it can exist only in your imagination. It could be a lovely place in nature, or a comfortable indoor setting where you feel relaxed.
Once you have decided on the general setting, let your mind fill in the details. What would delight your senses? What plants or waterfalls or beautiful decorations to you see? What kind of furniture or surface would you love to relax on? What sounds do you hear? What scents meets your nose? Make the experience as vivid as possible.
Speak outloud an invitation to your inner protectors: “I am ready to meet you. I trust you will be a wise warrior to keep me safe. I trust that you want only my highest good.” Remember that the inner protectors can be human, animal, or mythical.
One at a time, ask your inner protectors to tell you about themselves. What are their strengths? What are their commitments to the vulnerable parts of your psyche?
When you are ready, write down a detailed description of your safe place. Then list the messages you heard from your inner protector(s). You may find it helpful to draw a picture or make a recording to help bring you back to your safe place and the feeling of protection in the future.
Before you reenter your daily life, imagine that your inner protectors can come with you. Their strength and courage will help you draw firm boundaries, speak compassionately to yourself, and create a shield of protecting energy.
For many people, it can initially be difficult to hear their inner warriors or nurturing protectors over the blaring noise of a different protector energy: that of the inner critics. You know, the voices in the head that say mean things to you? They are actually protectors that are trying to help you. It just turns out that their method of protection (criticism, fear, judgement, self-blame) is extremely ineffective.
Let’s explore a few examples to make it more clear how these voices may have a positive intention. If you are thinking about applying for a job you are passionate about, you may hear doubts in your head. “You are too stupid/unqualified/inexperienced to do that job. They won’t want to hire you. Don’t waste your time.” The inner critic is likely remembering a time in the past when you were hurt by rejection or criticism from the outside. Wanting to shield your vulnerable parts from more of the same pain, the inner critic tries to convince you to not take the risk.
Or when I was considering starting trauma therapy, my inner critic kept shouting that it was too expensive. When I listened a little harder, my critic was saying “You don’t deserve to spend so much money on yourself. So many people in the world are suffering more than you. You aren’t worthy of this devoted attention from a therapist-it would be self-indulgent.” This protector energy has been working since I was five to keep me from unburying the pain that was repressed. And initially, the critical protector was life-saving for my splintered-off, vulnerable child. I did not have the resources or understanding to process the trauma. Repressing the memories can be a very adaptive function. Yet for me, the time came when my critic steering me away from facing my pain made life even harder. As an adult, I now could safely reprocess my pain with loving support. I was ready to reclaim the energy that had long been trapped in the biological freeze response so I could go beyond surviving. My inner voice of unworthiness had a positive intention, but it was no longer serving me.
If you have a critical protector voice, the way forward is to acknowledge it from the standpoint of your wise inner self. The critics really really really want to be heard! And transformation happens when we simply listen and then say, “Thank you. I see how hard you have been working to keep me safe. I appreciate your efforts, and we are going to try a different way to stay safe.” Once it feels heard, the voice of the critical protector will usually chill out. With love and patience, the part can even agree to take on a more positive role as an inner cheerleader, warrior, nurturing protector, or other form of helper.
This process is taken to great detail with Internal Family Systems Therapy, or IFS. If you are ready to dive deep into working with your parts, I recommend the book, Freedom from your Inner Critic: A Self-Therapy Approach by Jay Earley and Bonnie Weiss. You may also wish to work with a therapist trained in IFS for additional support.
When we get to know the different voices we hear inside, we invite powerful transformation. We are no longer helpless victims to the running commentary of the mind. We can even see the patterns of how outside events are triggering our own wounds. Then we bring loving attention from our wise and strong aspects to heal the parts that feel vulnerable. We will explore this more in the fifth Fire Power Practice, Embracing Your Younger Self. As we listen inside, we can step into our power with a new inner congruence. We can build resilience, safety, and strength that flows much deeper than the conscious mind and moves with us throughout our everyday lives.
Fire Power Practice No. 4: Rituals of Emotional Release
When we wish to leap into a life of more love, joy, and balance, it is tempting to think we have to avoid all “negative” emotions. But if we suppress sadness, grief, anger, or resentment, it doesn’t go away. It will keep bubbling up at inconvenient times.
When I first became interested in spirituality, my meditation and yoga practices did help me feel more steady and hopeful. But I also fell into a harmful trap of trying hard to be peaceful and calm while denying my deeper emotions. Somatic Experiencing therapy helped me release some of the shame around having strong emotions and sensations. But when I thought I was “done with healing,” I easily slipped back into periods of only trying to feel the “positive” feelings.
Many people refer to this habit of denying emotions as the “spiritual bypass.” While genuine peace and calm feel wonderful, most of us cannot maintain that state all the time because we have anger, resentment, grief, or shame buried underneath. These strong emotions are part of the human experience, and come with the trauma territory. If we berate ourselves for not always being peaceful then we layer on extra shame for this seeming “failure.”
The solution is to let ourselves feel the emotions in a safe way. If we repress the strong emotions we are likely to turn them against someone else or take it out on ourselves. But if we can create a conscious ritual to release the emotion, it can become an act of self-love and self-care.
Through the process of release, we can bring awareness and attention to avoid staying stuck in the painful feelings. We are consciously moving through them to create more space. It is similar to how we can remove unwanted items from our closets to make more room for what we love. When we let go of the old anger, fear and sadness we free up energy for enjoyment, creativity, and inspiration. But here’s the thing: the mind can’t create a magic wand to make the emotions disappear. Often, even talking about them with someone you trust will not fully liberate what is trapped inside. We have to let the emotions be felt. When we consciously turn toward what we have been pushing away, our bodies can guide us to feel the sensations in an empowering ritual.
What will the ritual be? You get to decide. I have compiled a list of practices for releasing pent-up emotions, and I encourage you to try anything that resonates with you. Trust yourself and let your body take the lead.
When undertaking a ritual of release, please use safety precautions when applicable. I personally am a big fan of writing and then burning the pages, and I take the items outside to burn in an old flower pot. I always take a bucket of water to keep nearby incase the flames should spread. Likewise, breaking items could require eye protection or even the full protective gear that is used in rage rooms.
If you feel overwhelmed or scared by the idea of releasing your rage, grief, or resentment, there is no need to rush into the ritual or even try anything at all. Your fear or trepidation may be a sign that the professional support of a therapist could help to move through the stuck emotions. As you have heard me say before, one-on-one support from a compassionate professional brings a sense of safety and manageability to the overwhelming aspects of healing trauma.
Before you begin, take a several diaphragmatic breaths and offer yourself reassurance. For example, you could say to yourself compassionately, “May this action release any emotions that are keeping me stuck in the pain of the past.”
-Write out all the angry, resentful, hurt, scared, or guilty thoughts you may have toward another person, a past experience, or toward yourself. When you are through, rip up the papers to recycle or burn.
-Let your feelings come out through art by scribbling mercilessly with a crayon
-Pound a punching bag, pillows or a mattress with your hands and feet
-Get some old dishes or breakable items that are cluttering your cabinets, or get some from a thrift store. Then find a safe place to smash them. As you clean up the mess afterward, give thanks that you are finally able to release what is no longer needed!
-Fill a few water balloons and freeze them overnight. This provides a satisfying smash outdoors with minimal clean-up.
-Even if you have never practiced martial arts, try some punches and kicks in the air. Try combining each blow with a gutteral sound such as the tried and true, “Hi-YA!”
-Book yourself a time slot at a rage room to destroy items, or try axe throwing in a safe environment.
-Try using a wet dishtowel or other soft, heavy item as a whip against sturdy furniture. I like to vocalize the resentments I am releasing as I rhythmically pound my whip.
-Put on music with a good beat and wildly stomp your feet for as long as you like
-Yell or speak outloud your feelings. Then imagine that you are gathering up all the thoughts that have piled on the floor, and throwing them out the window onto the street.
-Feel your inner power with animal sounds: growling, howling, hissing, cackling, or anything in between
-Try a drumming class or drumming on your own. A yoga ball can make a forgiving drum at home.
-If you have any photos or physical items that remind you of a person or situation long ago that was traumatic, you may consider destroying the objects. You could also get a second-hand item such as a teddy bear, doll, statue, book, piece of clothing or picture frame to represent the person who wronged you and go to town with smashing, cutting or ripping it up.
-If you have difficulty crying but feel like there is grief you would like to release, watch a sad movie or read a sad story. Be accepting of whatever feelings do or do not arise.
If I am letting loose with the anger or resentment indoors, I like to light a candle afterward or put an essential oil in a bowl of hot water to invite in new, healing energy. I take several deep breaths and congratulate myself on facing this layer of pain. It takes courage to release what is trapped inside so I wish for you to feel proud and accepting of anything that occurs.
Once you have tried a few rituals of emotional release, you may come up with new ideas or modifications. As long as you are not hurting yourself or others, you can try your own methods of channeling the pain trapped inside. Trust yourself!
Some feelings may be freed into the wind with just one short emotional release session. That is beautiful! But don’t worry if you sense there is a whole reservoir of anger, grief, or shame left inside still. A longer ritual can help. I heard about doing 21 days of writing your angry thoughts and burning them from one of my favorite authors, Tosha Silver. Three weeks felt overwhelming, so I committed myself to seven days. When those seven were up I was in the groove and starting to have fun, so I continued for the full 21 days. By the end I had a full ritual of writing all my “F**-you” feelings toward the person in question, and then using a long hot pack as a whip against my bed while I shouted anything that wanted to come out. Sometimes I mixed in punching or stomping. When I felt that adrenaline-assisted loud part was complete, I held the angry pages in my hands and sang a sanskrit mantra for releasing what is no longer needed. Then I tore up the pages and put them in a special box, with the intention: this no longer belongs to me. Every few days I took the ripped pages (and sometimes photographs) outside to the old flower pot to burn them up. I buried the ashes.
One more thing: some people worry that expressing anger will make them more angry toward others. My experience is the opposite. Repressed emotions are prone to bubbling up at unexpected times and landing on whoever is near. But when you bring conscious awareness to the process of release, you can truly liberate what has been simmering inside and free up energy for more joy and self-compassion.
Fire Power Practice No. 5: Embracing Your Younger Self
I used to roll my eyes when I heard people talking about “the inner child.” I remember my host mother in Ecuador going to a retreat to get to know her “niño interior.” I smiled and nodded as she told me about it, secretly thinking that it was stupid. She was an adult, for goodness sake. How could there be a child hidden inside? And if by chance she and this crazy retreat leader were right about the inner child, I definitely did not want to meet mine.
Yet as I went through therapy years later, I kept seeing an image of myself as a small, scared child. I called her Little Sara. She yearned to be held, soothed, reassured. She was so scared that she was bad or unlovable. She had held on bravely for years, staying buried with my trauma. But a soul needs nourishment, and she was so hungry for a loving embrace. Through experimentation, I developed a version of this visualization which I call Embracing Your Younger Self.
Recently, I discovered that many psychologists have written extensively on similar processes for healing the inner child. Once I had seen the transformative power of giving love to this wounded aspect of my psyche, my resistance to the term “inner child” melted away. I was able to embrace not only the vulnerable child within, but to enjoy the silly, playful, and creative aspects of my childlike energy as well. When we can heal and care for the inner child, it doesn’t mean they go away. We can approach most of our lives from the standpoint of the responsible, caring adult. Then when we are ready to be creative and have fun, we can turn on the inner child playfulness. Freeing the child within brings unbounded joy and flow. We can access the rapture of a small child playing and laughing without judgement or worry. If you want to explore the different aspects of the inner child, I recommend the classic book, “Recovery of Your Inner Child” by Lucia Capachionne.
If you don’t relate to the idea of an inner child, you can still open up a compassionate dialogue with the vulnerable parts of your psyche. You may simply notice where in your body you feel fear, anxiety, or tenderness, and ask gentle questions as you focus there. You may find an animal, image, phrase, color, or sensation represents your deep vulnerability. And working this way, you can bring love to that wounded part and restore it to wholeness and safety.
Before we access the joy and delight of healing, there is often a process of gaining trust with the wounded parts. For some people, unresolved childhood wounds may be severe and obvious. But even if you don’t wouldn’t consider your childhood traumatic, growing up in our culture forces everyone to splinter off parts of their self that were deemed unacceptable. This is related to Carl Jung’s concept of The Shadow, which consists of all the parts of ourselves we try to push away, hide, and deny.
Let’s look at some of the ways the child may be wounded and send a part into hiding. For example, a kid may naturally be talkative, energetic, and loud. If their parents are unable to handle the child’s natural, healthy energy, they may be constantly telling the child to be quiet. Then the child learns that their natural desire to be heard is somehow wrong, or bad, or “too much.”
In the same way, most of us received complex messages that often made us feel ashamed of our genitalia or elimination organs. In some cases, the psychological tucking away of “shameful” parts occurred through omission. When the prevailing message in a family or culture is, “We never talk about this,” it often leads us to feel that our sexuality and elimination are wrong or gross or bad. Once we realize this, we can reclaim all of the functions of our body as healthy, natural, and pleasurable.
Very often, our psyches splinter off into wounded parts due to messages from peers as well. We get laughed at for the way our body looks. Or the way we talk. Or for being “different.” When some part of us is rejected, we feel the pain of that rejection as a threat to our safety. Our human evolution has made us very sensitive to being accepted by the tribe. And long ago, abandonment did make us much more vulnerable to predators. There is a biological reason rejection feels like being thrown to the lions.
When an aspect of our personality gets sent into hiding, there is often a Critical Protector part guarding the door of the wound. It tries to keep you safe by avoiding pain, rejection or criticism from others. When we go back to the talkative child who was always shushed, the Critical Protector might be saying, “Don’t speak up” when you are in uncomfortable situations. Even in adulthood, the protector is hard at work trying to keep you small and safe.
As we touched upon in the Core of Safety practice, the best way to deal with the Critical Protectors is acknowledgement. Let them know you appreciate their efforts to protect you from future pain. Then, ask if they are willing to let you speak to the wounded part they are trying to protect. When you can approach with love and gentleness, the childlike, vulnerable parts may feel ready to be heard and healed.
In the Core of Safety practice, we also learned about Nurturing Protectors. These inner adult parts are patient, accepting, and unconditionally accepting. You can visualize them as the adult you are now, or as an inner god or goddess, or in any other form that feels right. Or you may not see an image, but can recognize a patient, compassionate voice within. Writing or drawing may help you access your caring inner adult. No matter how you experience them, the nurturing protectors are the key to helping the wounded inner child to feel safe. It may take just one day or it may take many months, but when you show up consistently as the Nurturing Protector your wounded child will become healed and whole in your loving embrace.
If you have intense, unhealed trauma in the past, this process requires special care. See if your inner child wants to come into your safe place in the present, without going into the painful memories. See if she wants to be held and nurtured the away from all threats. If that doesn’t feel right, I recommend diving into past traumas with the professional support from a therapist or healer. The right therapist can stand in for your own Nurturing Protectors as you reprocess painful memories, When the trauma feels particularly intense, you deserve a safe and trustworthy support person to help you navigate your journey. And the end goal of any good therapy is to help you stand on your own two feet, so you can learn to access your own Nurturing Protectors to navigate life’s everyday stresses.
The goal is not to eliminate the different voices or parts of our psyche. The goal is to help them all feel loved and heard. And the part that is offering love is the wise, mature adult you are in the present moment. In IFS this part is referred to as “Self.” For the purpose of this exercise though, I will simply call the loving adult “you,” while “your younger self” refers to an image of yourself from a past memory, be it from childhood, adolescence, or adulthood.
How to Practice Embracing Your Younger Self:
1. Keep a pen and blank journal or paper nearby in case you wish to write during the practice.
2. Sit or lie down in a comfortable place where you will be free from distractions.
3. Begin by grounding yourself with four deep, diaphragmatic breaths. If it feels good, let yourself sigh loudly on the exhale.
4. State your intention of getting to know your wounded younger self and any protector parts that may be keeping them in hiding.
5. Allow an image of your wounded younger self to appear in front of you in the present moment. Feel her presence. Let your eyes radiate complete love and acceptance as you sit across from her.
6. Ask your younger self how you can support her. Would she like a hug? If she is not ready for an embrace, perhaps she might accept a gift such as a beautiful flower, a song, poem, or a comfortable place to curl up. You may wish to speak out loud, hear the words in your head, or write them down.
7. From the standpoint of your nurturing protectors, speak or write to your younger self reassuringly. Let her know that she is good, and safe, and that you love and accept her. Let her know that it is not her fault. Remind her that she can grow, and heal, and move past this pain. Let your embrace melt away her fright. Let her feel worthy, and whole, and beautiful in her imperfection. And let her know you will support her unconditionally. Your love and acceptance come in an infinite flow, always available.
As you practice, you may experience mental chatter. If you try to visualize your younger self but soon stray to worrying about something completely different, give yourself compassion. Just kindly let those thoughts evaporate and come back to the visualization. With practice, your focus will improve.
If you don’t get any messages from your younger self, just concentrate on sending love and acceptance. When your inner self feels safe enough, you may feel that connection when the time is right. As with all the practices, don’t worry too much about “doing it right.” Just give yourself the time to practice and embrace whatever experiences may arise.
Finally, keep in mind that there may be parts of your psyche that feel it is unsafe to talk with the wounded inner child. These protector parts may prevent you from making contact with the buried childlike voice. Remember that this is a natural reaction and the best way forward is to listen to the protector parts with an open mind. What is the motivation behind the desire to keep the inner child buried? How is this aspect of your psyche trying to help you, even if it is causing more harm than good? Let your curiosity guide the inner conversation. You may eventually discover that your protector parts are ready to take on a new role to help your inner healing. Here again we see that we cannot force ourselves to heal. Pushing will only keep us stuck. We must patiently and gently allow healing to move through when the time is right.
Fire Power Practice No. 6: Creative Catharsis
Music has provided a lit path to express my pain and hope through art. At the same time, there have been moments when I have become overly focused on creating something that sounds good. That kind of creation has its place, for people who wish to share their work with the world. However, I have often felt the need to let my creativity come through in a way that feels less goal-oriented. I needed a medium where I could create something ugly or painful just for the act of release. I found my raw self-expression through abstract art, putting color to the page with chalk pastels that my mom had given me.
Transforming our pain into art can make the feelings less overwhelming. It can give a sense of meaning and purpose to what we have gone through. And it can also teach us self-compassion, as we learn not to judge what we create but simply let it come into existence.
As a music teacher, sometimes I get students who tell me “I’m not creative.” Yet with enough prodding and encouragement, those same students can make up a beautiful melody on the piano, a unique creation never heard before and never to be heard again. I think a more accurate statement would be “I’m not comfortable with the creative process.” When harshness, judgement, or perfectionism dominates our mind, then creativity will be blocked. We have to step into a more open frame of mind, beyond “good” or “bad” or our preconceived notions about what the end result should look like. That is why I stress the fact that you do not need any skill at drawing to experience a creative catharsis through moving your pen across the paper. Your end result may look like brown scribbles. It matters not. The only thing that matters is tuning into how your arm and hand wish to move, and following the movements.
How to practice Creative Catharsis:
1. Gather your materials: blank paper of any color, or a white board or chalk board, as well as drawing implements (markers, crayons, chalk, pastels, colored pencils, or paint)
2. Loosen up your muscles with Practice No. 2: Body Listening. Move in any way feels good right now, following your sensations.
3. When you are ready, reach for a color you feel drawn to. Pick up the marker or drawing implement and quickly move it across the page to create lines, circles, or scribbles. Remember there is no right or wrong; you are creating abstract art with only the objective of letting the emotions come through. You may even wish to use your non-dominant hand to let go of all expectations.
4. If you wish to switch colors, let your hand find the new color to layer onto the page. If words are arising, you can also add words to your abstract expression.
5. When you feel your process is complete, remember to release any and all judgements about the end result. Creative Catharsis is entirely about the process.
When we can let the judgements go for even a moment, then creating can become an act of pure self-expression. Buried pain can be seen and released. We build the muscle of self-compassion as we accept the forms, colors, ideas, and emotions that wish to be expressed through the body.
You can practice Creative Catharsis through any medium that calls you, be it movement, sound, words, or visual art. The key is to focus on the act of expression and to celebrate the process as it unfolds.
Fire Power Practice No. 7: Stream of Love
When someone else's misdeeds are still causing us pain after the fact, we do not benefit from clinging to our anger, helplessness, resentment, or feelings of being “right.” But we can’t just wave them away or try to willpower our way straight to forgiveness.
Before we may consider forgiveness, we often need to reprocess the memories in a supportive environment and release the trauma patterns from our bodies. Intertwined with facing the memories, we may need a way to release the emotions safely. Feel free to revisit the fourth practice, Rituals of Emotional Release for ideas on how to do this.
When our vulnerable parts feel safe enough, relaxed enough, and have had their chance to throw any necessary fits, we may feel ready the peace of forgiveness. There’s no need to rush to this point, as getting fixated on any destination in our healing can keep us stuck. If you are uncertain, feel free to try the Stream of Love practice and see what comes up. Honor your body and stop or slow down when needed.
As the name implies, allowing a stream of love to move through us can give feelings of release and forgiveness, We can tap into an unending flow of light. It’s important to note that this love is not coming from a finite reserve within us. The love flows in abundance and we are merely a conduit. If you believe in a higher power, you can imagine a divine source for the love. But belief is not necessary, as everyone has access to unending love and we can call the source anything we like.
Once we fill ourselves up with love, we send love to the person who is bringing us down. This ultimately becomes a source of strength, allowing us to rise above the past pain.
For many people, practicing only steps 1-6 will feel right. Step seven invites you to imagine the person who is causing you distress. This is very useful for everyday life situations when someone is provoking your frustration, anger, or disappointment. If you have undergone a traumatic experience, though, imagining your attacker(s) can be very overwhelming. If this is the case, I recommend you do not try to visualize any perpetrators until you have done a lot of processing and healing of your trauma. You will know when the time is right, so there is no need to push yourself.
How to practice Stream of Love:
Sit or stand with your spine elongated and relaxed.
Notice the movement of your diaphragm as you breathe deeply and comfortably.
Imagine you have your own personal sun shining a few feet above your head. The light is warm and soothing.
Imagine the crown of your head opening like the petals of a lotus flower. As you inhale, let the light emanating from the sun fill you with warmth, energy, and love.
As you exhale, imagine the light streaming down as a waterfall pouring straight into your heart, then bending and flowing outwards in front of you.
Repeat steps 3 and 4, focusing on the sunshine with each inhale, and letting the love pour through you and out into the world with each exhale.
If you are ready, imagine the person who has caused you distress, pain, or anger in front of you. You may wish to imagine them very far away or place them inside a cage to give yourself a feeling of safety.
Return to the warmth of the sunshine as you inhale. When you are ready to exhale, feel the loving light coming through your heart and traveling straight into the stressful person’s heart.
Repeat the process at least three times, You may wish to add spoken or imagined words as you send love, such as “I forgive you,” or “I see that you were acting out of your own wounds.”
Finish by filling yourself up once more, letting the light permeate every cell in your body with soft, loving energy.
Remember that sending love to the person who has wronged you is ultimately what will set you free. Even if they have never apologized or rectified their behavior, you can still heal your own life through forgiveness. We become rooted in our power as we let go of the past.
By the way, this process can be done with the love directed at anyone, not just people who have caused distress. It is very similar to a version the Buddhist practice of Metta meditation, which is the sending of loving-kindness. You can send light to someone you love, or someone who is suffering, or a stranger at the grocery store. You can send love across the world to a region affected by disaster. But that is not to say we are trying to “fix” anyone or control any situation by sending love. That can become a very mucky tangled mess. We are simply spreading love instead of fear with the hopes that everyone may become free.