I'm not a fan of turkey vultures, but one made itself known to me the other day as I was hiking. For me, they feel ominous, triggering fears that something "bad" is about to happen. I knew I was afraid because my heart started racing, and I noticed the thoughts about what I was making its presence mean (i.e. Who, or what was going to die?).
And yet, I kept going. I really wanted to complete my mission of mapping out a new Land Listening hike I was planning. My desire, and the potential benefit, outweighed the risk. It was clear that I wanted to fulfill my mission in creating experiences for people that will allow them to connect with who they really are, so they can uncover what is no longer serving them, and know the power they hold to affect the changes they want to see in the world (and a boatload of changes sure need to be made!).
If, instead of seeing the turkey vulture, I'd seen someone who didn't exactly offer cues of safety to my nervous system, my mind would likely shift to whether I could trust them—what they might do, or say, that could hurt me in some way.
But with the turkey vulture, it prompted me to turn inward—to trust myself, to care for myself.
To help me get to the place of accessing what choices were available to me, I started singing. I often do that when I'm on a trail. Sometimes it comes naturally, for fun, while other times, it's self-soothing (like when I see fresh bear scat). The singing relaxed me enough to where I could bring my Witness Self online—noticing my heart racing, and the fearful thoughts about what its presence meant. I could then see that the turkey vulture was just doing its thing—flying around above me—and realized that it couldn't hurt me physically.
It's not uncommon for clients to comment on whether they can trust various people in their lives (e.g. bosses, colleagues, partners, friends, etc), and I get it. For empaths (those who can feel others' emotions within their own bodies), we've learned to become so attuned to the people around us—what they might do, or say, that could generate uncomfortable, dense emotions—that we focus on meeting their needs. As a result, we tend to forget that trust is more about trusting our own inner wisdom, and ability to make decisions aligned with our own needs and desires.
So how can you remember to shift the focus from trusting others, to trusting yourself in relationship with others?
The key is to trust that you know how to care for yourself. Sometimes it's not possible to care for yourself during an overwhelming experience: Because our senses take in more bits of information than the conscious mind, the nervous system will take care of us by responding with the best approach—fight, flight, or freeze. That said, while you may not have control over the stress response, you do have control over the ways you can recover from the experience and return to the present moment, which ultimately builds confidence and trust in your ability to care for yourself.
One of the ways you can build this "muscle" is by noticing what you are feeling in the body (the sensations) and what you are feeling emotionally (and where those sensations are in the body), as well as the thoughts that show up. This awareness gives you the space to ask if the fearful thoughts are really true, and inquire about the true list of choices that are available.
Tension & Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE) is a great practice for developing this awareness. TRE includes a set of seven exercises designed to fatigue the psoas muscle which then prompts the body's natural ability to shake. As a TRE provider, I invite people to allow the shaking to occur while describing the sensations. I might also ask them what they are feeling emotionally and where they feel that energy is in their body and whether it wants to move, or I might prompt them to notice the thoughts that show up (some thoughts might even object to the practice!). Throughout the process, you'll get an opportunity to learn about trusting yourself with simple decisions. For example, you'll learn how to slow down, or stop, or to start again with the soles of your feet together and knees out, or whether it feels better to place the soles of your feet on the floor with your knees up. Participants are also invited to care for themselves when an emotion/memory shows up that feels overwhelming by looking at the most beautiful thing in the room, or feeling the points of contact that their body is making contact with the ground.
With a regular practice on the mat, listening to your body, emotions, and mind becomes second nature when on the hiking trails, or at the office, or driving the kids to school while they are arguing in the backseat—and when you can care for yourself in this way, you'll start to notice that you have more space to tune into your inner wisdom and see the choices available to you.
For me, on the hiking trail, I started singing. I took a video (which I also enjoy doing) and then when I'd hiked past the turkey vulture, I felt the emotional release. I let it flow and kept singing and walking. I knew it would pass and noticed the memory of my first encounters with turkey vultures that had been so traumatizing—when I'd see them (or Dad did) the day before my mom would end up in the hospital (there were six occasions). As I continued along the hike, the density of that energy that I'd been carrying, released from my body. Phew!
So now, I can see the turkey vultures and feel neutral. The trigger becomes less pronounced, or hopefully, goes away altogether—which makes it a lot easier to remain connected with what I need to care for myself, and move forward with my true desires.
If you'd like to give TRE a try (or come back for some maintenance), click here for more details and dates for my next "group shake" in the Boulder, CO area. If you are not local to the area, but want to learn more, schedule a free call with me and I can give you some tips to get you started (whether that is with me, another provider, or on your own).