Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in. – Leonard Cohen, Anthem
A few years ago, I joined a gym with my twenty one year old daughter. As a soccer player, my daughter wanted a place to support her athletic conditioning, and as a middle aged mom, I wanted a place to nurture my bones as I aged.
We showed up for our first group class, lining up with thirty others, and were met by Shon, our trainer. An impressive athlete, former collegiate and professional football player, and long time coach, my first impression of Shon was ‘tough as nails.’
As he made jokes about ‘who was going to throw up today?’ and moved us through the warm up, I panicked: what had I gotten myself into?
What softened my fear: proximity
I was scared of those classes – and of Shon – for a while. Often, I wanted to avoid his classes because I felt so intimidated!
But then something really interesting happened. In 2019, when our gym was moving into new quarters, we were in a temporary space for a year. I spent many afternoons with Shon in a much smaller group.
During that time, I really got to know him, up close. I saw his humor. I saw how much attention and pride he took in his job – how much he wanted to give us a good workout. I saw his kindness.
Underneath the tough exterior there was deep caring, and love. I was finally able to receive that love when I moved closer to him.
Today, if you asked me how I feel about Shon, I would tell you that I love him. The love and gratitude that I feel for Shon is deep and wide.
But if I would’ve stopped at my initial fear and anxiety, I would’ve missed this – and I probably would’ve stopped going to his classes.
How fear deepens disconnection
Like my fear of Shon’s classes, if you self soothe by overconsuming – overeating, shopping, working, spending money as soon as you get it – or if you self soothe by minimizing/avoiding – dismissing your needs, avoiding conflict in your relationships, hoarding money – these areas of your life may feel ‘dangerous’ or scary to you.
When we have a lot of fear in our bodies and nervous systems, it’s understandable that we may want to avoid the things that scare us. We may hide, or avoid facing something. We may shy away.
You may notice this dynamic in your relationship with food.
So it’s no wonder that mealtimes can bring up so much anxiety! You may spend a lot of time thinking about food, craving sugar, or worrying about whether you’ll overeat at your next meal.
But when you actually sit down to eat, you may be feeling so much anxiety about food that you gulp your food down as quickly as you can – almost as if you were trying to be with food for as little time as possible!
You may keep your relationship with food at arms length in your attempt to feel safe. But distance and avoidance only deepens the disconnection, increases the anxiety, and increases feelings of ‘littleness’ or incompetence.
How disconnection impacts our experience
It helps to pause so I can explain a bit of what’s going on. When we’re out of relationship, we feel this disconnection as ‘separation’ in our bodies, brains, emotions, and nervous systems.
According to my mentor in developmental psychology, Dr. Gordon Neufeld, separation triggers several primal emotions in the body. One of these emotions is alarm – what we typically feel as anxiety. Like a physical alarm, we feel this clanging sense of, “Danger, danger! Something’s wrong!”
How disconnection impacts our perception
Alarm colors how we see, what we think, and what we feel. The mind – which likes to solve problems – can step in with stories, explanations, or interpretations to try and make sense of the anxiety, to try and explain what’s wrong.
But the mind, being mechanistic, often gets it wrong. It’s interpretations are often off, or skewed.
Have you ever had the experience of feeling disconnected from a friend, and then feel panicked that they’re upset with you – only to find out that there was nothing wrong?
This is an example of how disconnection colors how we see.
Separation creates more separation
Separation creates a painful cycle: when we’re out of relationship with something, we feel a lot of alarm. And when we’re feeling a lot of fear and alarm, we tend to distance ourselves in some way – either physically or emotionally.
On a global level, we can see these dynamics playing out in our world. On a personal level, we can see these dynamics playing out within our own being.
Separation breeds separation, which breeds more separation.
Separation isn’t personal
Fortunately, this isn’t the end of the story – we can soften separation, we can come into relationship with it, and we can shift this dynamic.
To begin, let’s pause and bring in compassion and connection.
You may pause and check in with your own body. With gentleness, what are you noticing? How is this article landing in your body, physically? Emotionally?
You may find it helpful to ‘rest’ from taking in any more information so you can connect with your body and your experience. Try breathing for a few moments while your hand rests on your belly or on your heart.
Once you’re feeling more connected, we can return to our exploration.
Here’s why I teach about separation in all my classes – and why I’m passionate about sharing it with you:
- When we understand how the felt sense of separation impacts us neurobiologically, emotionally, and spiritually, we can take our reactions to separation less personally.
- And when we recognize that separation is part of our shared human experience, and not a personal flaw, we can care for our experiences of separation rather than feeling ashamed or caught in them.
We become the connector that holds ‘all the parts’ rather than the scared, separate self.
Intimacy is the key
This brings me back to my story about Shon.
It sounds counter intuitive, but what heals separation and anxiety is proximity.
Getting really close to Shon – spending time with him, and getting to know him better – is what softened my fear and the stories of separation that I carried around about him and helped me see what was really there.
It’s also what softened my fear of the workouts.
Come closer to food
If you’re feeling a lot of anxiety with food or your body, or you’re feeling like you don’t know how to have a healthy relationship with food, likewise, I invite you to spend more time with food, not less.
Come closer. Get to know food, with gentleness, self compassion, openness, and curiosity.
Spend time in the kitchen, cooking a meal. Start seedlings, or begin a garden. Take a cooking class. Learn about your family recipes, or the meals that come from your lineage.
Before you eat, take a moment to feel appreciation for the gift of food and all of those who brought your food to your table.
Slow down and savor your food.
Really get to know food, your relationship with food, and how food nourishes you. You may be surprised by what you discover, what you see, and how your relationship with food begins to change.
“Everything wants to be loved.”
Intimacy and appreciation, I believe, are forms of love.
As Alice Walker writes in The Color Purple, “Everything wants to be appreciated. Everything wants to be loved.”
When we brings things close, when we really get to know them, we’re seeing with different eyes, and relating from a different place.
You may find out that food is not the scary thing that you feared it would be. You may find that your own capacity is also much greater than you thought.
And like my relationship with Shon, where I was able to soften my fears, and open and receive the care that he was giving me, you may find that food becomes a place where you can open to receive love and support, where you can feel deeply nourished and cared for.
It may even become a place where you feel gratitude and appreciation.
Imagine: food as a bedrock of connection, not its enemy.
Rather than a place of separation – the place where you feel like you’ve fallen the ‘most short,’ – food becomes the very place where Love is present, where healing occurs, where, as Rumi says, ‘the light enters you.’
Perhaps the poets say it best. So I leave you with these words from beloved poet William Stafford:
What you fear
will not go away: it will take you into
yourself and bless you and keep you.
To the light that heals, and to the love that bridges all separation, and to the fears that bless and keep us, Karly