Last night I took the dogs on a walk under the nearly full moon, relishing the dark coolness of the winter solstice. And now, as I write to you, I’m lit by the amber of candlelight. Six beautiful pillars glow beside me.
Darkness and light: they both cradle and support us.
Whether you’re celebrating the shortest or longest night of the year this week, I hope you feel held by the rest of darkness and the warmth of light.
How warmth helps us heal
Our hearts are so vulnerable, and they easily armor themselves in protection. Sometimes it can feel so painful to look ourselves, our habits, or our lives square in the eye.
To heal our relationship with food – and to soften any of our coping strategies – we need warmth, companionship, and holding. It’s how we come to know the tenderness that lives underneath the food, and it’s how our hearts unclench.
It is warmth, like the golden sun that inspires us to shrug off a heavy coat, that helps us see, and warmth that helps us let go. It’s the support that enables us to go into the dark, into those places where we find loss, pain, and vulnerability.
Warmth helps our brains, bodies, hearts and minds soften and relax their hold.
Warmth helps us feel cared for, seen, and heard. It helps us feel as if we matter, and make sense.
Warmth brings empathy, and mirroring – a felt sense that others ‘get us.’ And warmth helps us feel understood.
In Sarah Peyton’s wise and gentle book, Your Resonant Self, she says that ‘nothing soothes the brain more than feeling understood.’
As Sarah reminds us, it does us so much good when we let ourselves know, “You make sense.” And when others communicate this to us – ah! We relax and feel safe.
The person who best taught me this is my friend Sue – a fellow mom that I met when our children attended a small, rural school together. The first week I met her, Sue quickly sensed my overwhelm in moving to a new home and adjusting to a new community and offered to recycle my pile of moving boxes for me.
She had a vast reservoir of warmth and understanding.
When I shared a difficulty or hard part of my day, her most common phrase was, “Of course.” Two simple words, and I would feel my nervous system sigh in an exhale of relief and support.
When we’re caught in stress, fear, alarm or shame, we can lose this warmth, the resonance of, “Oh, of course.” I imagine all of us have felt more of this tension in our inner worlds over the past two years of a world pandemic.
We can get caught in our problem solving brain, and respond to our difficulties with shoulds, fixes, harshness, or marching orders.
Or we can employ strategies that we think will help – like positivity (“It’s not so bad; it’ll all work out!”), reassurance and cheerleading (“you can do this, you’ll get through!”), spiritualizing (“this is all for a higher purpose”) or problem solving.
While, yes, it’s true – solutions are possible, things often work themselves out, we have strength and capacities to help ourselves, and we can find meaning in our struggles – to leap to these conclusions without meeting ourselves where we’re at means we abandon the place in us that feels alone and that’s asking for companionship.
On a brain level, we’re meeting ourselves with our left, rather than our resonant right brain. Or as my mentor Dr. Gordon Neufeld describes it, “we go to the head rather than the heart.”
As we’re sensitive beings, we can feel this difference. We can feel the warmth of empathy and attunement just as we can also feel the coolness of disconnection, the empty hollowness of distraction, and the harshness of judgment.
What we most long for is to be met right where we are:
“I see how scared you’re feeling.”
“Are you feeling sad or frustrated that you’ve struggled so much with food?”
“It hurts to feel so much anxiety.”
“I’m wondering if you’re feeling overwhelmed and you aren’t sure what to do next?”
“Did you eat the jar of nut butter because you felt scared about getting the email right, and you were worried about what your boss might say if you made a mistake?”
These are examples of how we can offer ourselves the “oh, of course!” – the understanding that helps us relax.
It’s a paradox: the more we honor where we’re at the more we can support ourselves in taking that next step forward.
You can try this on for yourself the next time when you’re feeling overwhelmed by food cravings, when you’re grieving, when you’ve overeaten, or when you’re feeling sad, ashamed, frustrated, or stuck.
How does it feel when you pull up a chair and offer the warmth of, “Oh, of course?”
And speaking warmth, in closing, I share this poem from Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, which she offered yesterday on the winter solstice:
One Inner Bonfire
new ways of making light—
these longest nights
You can find Rosemerry’s gorgeous poetry here, where she writes a poem each day.