Surviving & Thriving

Vulnerability and Trauma

It has been difficult for me to get myself to write lately. I’ve felt like my walls are up. This experience has occurred in concert with working very hard in therapy to dig into my childhood trauma on a deeper level. I feel as though I can only muster so much vulnerability as an individual, and increasing it in one area has unfortunately decreased it in my writing. As I contemplated my experience for today’s #SurvivinggnThriving Tuesday, I pondered the discomfort I’ve had with the word vulnerability, and saw that it is because I associate it with threat. To be vulnerable means to open myself up to possible attack and harm.

What are we afraid will happen to us if we are vulnerable? By and large, I think one “attack” that we might fear is being invalidated. In terms of traumatic experiences, we might be discounted and told that we are remembering things incorrectly. If our memories are factual, we are exaggerating them. If things are really as bad as we say they were, we must have brought it on ourselves. If we were in fact innocent victims, we need to show signs of “healing” like forgiveness and love in order to have our experiences “count.”

While many factors influence the reasons that traumatic experiences—especially those of a sexual nature—tend to get discounted, one aspect that I think stands strong is the fact humans are exquisitely tuned in to each other as social animals. We may be expected to preserve the “tribe” at any and all personal costs. The pressure to conform to the idea that people get what they deserve and to believe that everyone is trying their best can outweigh our willingness to grapple with evil and with the nuance in the nature of human relationships. We may feel a need to trust in authorities such as political leaders, clergy and parents, even when some of the individuals in these places of authority betray their charge.

How can this focus on our place as highly social beings help us in being willing to risk vulnerability, especially when our trauma has come at the hands of other people? As hard as this truth is for me to accept, relationships are a major healing force, perhaps the major healing force from trauma. All of the evidence-based treatments of trauma include an aspect of witnessing, listening, processing, talking, displaying, feeling or in some way being with our past experience of trauma in the presence of a safe and caring individual. A refusal to be vulnerable is likely to serve as an impediment to healing in therapeutic relationships that are “good enough.”

Being vulnerable presents other risks. We may be rejected, judged, criticized, betrayed or humiliated. I’ve shared previously about strategies through which we might discern if another individual or group is worthy of risking vulnerability. There is no gain in allowing ourselves to be mistreated, even if we may sometimes think we can undo the original trauma by defeating it in an adult form. Nothing feels more like failure to me than realizing I’ve been “sucked in” to an adult relationship that mimics an aspect of my childhood trauma, having mistaken the familiar for the safe.

What, though, can we do if we know deep down that we are in a safe relational space, but our walls are still up? I’m still terrified of having unpleasant reactions to my blogs, but honestly thus far *knocks on wood* I’ve had really kind and supportive readers. In parallel, in many offline areas of my life where I’ve taken risks, I’ve expected to be attacked and instead found acceptance. I believe it takes a significantly greater number of experiences of trust to undo a hurt than it takes hurts to break trust. All I can do or any of us can do is to keep trying, knowing this reality. And I believe empathy is vital—for those who have managed to have a lot of safe and loving people in their lives, know that you are indeed privileged and consider offering support instead of incredulity to those of us who may shrink at the first sign of relational conflict.

How have you navigated the terrain of vulnerability? What behaviors do others do that allow you to lower your defenses? How do you find the motivation to open up again after a relational wound?

Goddess Thealogy

Wealth, Money and Anxiety: Spiritual Practices to Soothe Your Soul

I’ve decided the USPS’s “Informed Delivery,” an email service available in the U.S. which alerts you to incoming daily mail, should probably be called “Panic Attack Now” for those of us with anxiety problems. I recently received an email letting me know a letter was coming from the IRS. I wasn’t expecting a letter from the IRS, so I spent the next four hours in an absolute hysteria, binge eating pizza and reading every document online about the potential contents of letters from the IRS I could find. The letter, inconsequentially, was a notice about an online request I’d made. Nothing owed, nothing in error, four hours of my life wasted in service to the two-headed beast of anxiety and greed.

For today’s #Thealogy Thursday, I decided to put my vast experience at freaking out over financial matters to use. I started this blog with posts about “Goddessing On a Budget” and have made significant improvements to my financial health in recent months, but, nonetheless, I consistently return to money worries day in and day out. I determined to spend some time here exploring the connection between money, definitions of wealth and spiritual practices within a Goddess Spirituality framework.

Who’s in Charge: Our Relationship with Money

I sometimes find myself wondering if I own money or if I am being owned by money. I’ve decided to conceptualize the way in which I connect to money as a relationship. Even on the surface, questions immediately arise. If I see money as a representation of material resources that have been transferred to me, ostensibly as a result of my labor, what can I do to engage in healthy stewardship of this possession? I believe that many of us see money instead as a reflection of our inner value, merit and basic “goodness” and we evaluate our self-worth accordingly. We allow money, wealth and income to serve as our master instead of our deserved and needed companion. We indenture ourselves to its whims and exalt its benefits, even while our lust for it remains unsatiated. We act as masochists, willing to prostitute ourselves with hour after hour of drudgery, thrashing at the chains of our self-imprisonment in its gleam. When a windfall or raise comes our way, we are kings and queens, either showering the excess on parades through shopping malls or sitting alone in our miserly office, stacking and restacking each coin, refusing others and ourselves even a few tokens of joy.

One of the reasons I think we often have an unhealthy relationship with money is that it is a resource embedded with a myriad of systems, most of which are inherently unfair and unjust. We may rightly earn a certain quantity of money through honest effort and energy while simultaneously failing to acknowledge that the structure through which we came about it is corrupt and benefits the few at great cost to the many. I cannot do justice within the context of this article to articulating the tentacles of greed and avarice winding through the employment and financial structure of American society. My own financial future hangs in the balance as I am planning to apply for Public Service Loan Forgiveness in a few years. As of the writing of this post, there is a bill being drafted in Congress to rescind this program. Because of the interest rate, I have six figures at stake. I detest with a passion the idea that a few hundred men at the seat of power in America have the ability to sign or not sign legislation that, with one stroke of the pen, would completely alter the course of my life. The tiny sliver of insight that has been opened to me through this experience has compelled me to contemplate what the daily struggle must be like for those who, by no fault of their own, were born with characteristics that put them at a much greater mercy to the systems of influence in which we find ourselves.

Despite my realizations about the inequitable situation in which we each find ourselves, there is something in me that chaffs at the idea of money being completely disentangled from labor. In a strictly financial sense, I’ve lived the American dream. I came from very little with no one in my family having a college education, and was able to get my doctorate degree and a well-paying job. I did so in part on the graciousness of long-dead scholarship endowment sponsors, but also through my own tenaciousness and determination. Because of my resulting tendency towards individualism, I feel internally conflicted over the idea that money and possession as things that are not actually “owned” by anyone but are instead best understood as the property of all. This idea rings true for many who practice Goddess Spirituality, engage in feminist thought or live a minimalist lifestyle and who believe society would benefit from increased interdependence and communal living. I’ve even come across a few people who have rejected the concept of money entirely. If we allow for ideas of cooperative living to enter our collective consciousness, we have tremendous work to do in order to achieve these goals on a even a small scale. How we better society in order to more equally distribute resources is a task I hope there are minds strong and able enough to realize progress within my lifetime.

Poverty of Soul/Inner Riches

In certain corners of the various religious and spiritual traditions to which I’ve been privy, I’ve come across a recurring theme of wealth and prosperity. The basic idea of each of these subgroups is that if one prays/believes/casts spells/ practices enough, one will acquire material possessions and riches. A fundamental lack within this viewpoint is to ask whether or not becoming rich is a worthy goal. Without a doubt, there is a minimal threshold of income or resources below which life becomes very challenging. It angers me to see spiritual practitioners of any faith exploiting impoverished individuals, parting them from the little money they do have in order to grow their riches. There are absolutely “female lifestyle empowerment brands” that hone directly on these needs within women and which seek to take advantage of a women’s desire to become enlightened or spiritual.

Although money matters, I believe focusing on money, wealth, status or possession above other life goals such as relationships with self and others is an invitation to additional suffering and emptiness. Research has consistently demonstrated that having more money does not lead to happiness once we reach a certain income level. I’ve lived on both sides of the tipping point; it has taken me years on the plus side of it to see how much the additional work I was doing to continue to increase my income each year was bringing me down rather than building me up.

Not everyone has the privilege of being able to say that they have enough money consistently or to even renegotiate their relationship with income. If we are facing challenging times financially, I believe these moments offer us an opportunity to value our inner strengths and to find comfort in our collective struggle. We all have a wealth of internal characteristics that allow us to weather difficult moments; giving yourself permission to notice and appreciate these abilities despite financial setbacks may help to refocus your minds and allow you to move forward with handling the situation instead of beating yourself up for poor planning or blaming the situation for being unfair (even if one or both of those things is also true). There are also many resources dedicated to developing a sharing community instead of one based on competition.

Whether we are struggling to make ends meet or to reduce our cravings for “more” in the way of status and possessions, meeting our spiritual needs consistently may allow us to align our thoughts about money to reasonable terms. I genuinely fight with this on a regular basis; I seem to be able to have a rich spiritual life or a healthy budget, but both at the same time feels outside of my grasp. Paying attention is always the first step for me in realizing when the scale has tipped too far in the “I must have all the pretties and meditate 3 times a day” or the “I will record every purchase and spend an hour a day budgeting for the next two years” side of things. Both are important, both are valuable, and the other goals I have in life such as developing deep relationships, improving my physical health and connecting with nature also need time in the rotation. Spending time in ritual that centers around our relationship with money may be one way in which we can improve our relationship with our finances.

Acceptance and Empowerment Ritual

As with any spiritual practice I share, customize this ritual to your own needs and preferences.

For the acceptance aspect of this ritual, I see the purpose as twofold. First, I want to us to engage in acknowledgment of our inability to plan for everything and of the competitiveness and desire for comfort that are a part of human nature. Secondly, I want us to release beliefs about the connection between wealth and spirituality—in essence—the false belief that good people/behaviors are rewarded, and that bad people/behaviors are punished. As I’ve stated in other writings, I’ve seen way too much evil in this world to believe in karma and just desserts.

For the empowerment aspect of this ritual, I wanted to focus on developing a healthier relationship with money. I chose themes such as individual money management and advocacy for more equality in our financial systems as potential focal points. Taking time to set concrete goals or to explore the beliefs we hold about these topics may free us from automatic assumptions and behaviors that disempower and limit our financial lives.

Materials:

Green tea

Teacup and hot water

Paper slips

Marker

Twine

Journal and pen

Five coins

Five popsicle type sticks. Write the following phrases on each one: 1. Personal money management. 2. Stewardship of money. 3. Gratitude for bounty. 4. Positive systems of influence. 5. Advocacy for equality. OR choose 5 phrases that represent empowering financial concepts to you and write one each on the sticks.

Instructions:

  1. Cast a circle and call in any elements or Deities that you wish to have present.
  2. Brew the tea.
  3. Spend time contemplating your beliefs about how much control you “should” have over money, how much you desire more money, and the extent to which you think being “good” or acting positively will lead to more income. Write your beliefs on the slips of paper.
  4. The green in the tea here symbolizes greed, envy and desire. Rather than reject or deny these emotions, allow yourself to explore them. What do they look like or feel like? Where are they held in your body? What behaviors do they lead to? Sip the tea as you allow yourself to connect with your envy. Is there any emotion or thought underneath of it? Any desire that it is hiding? I often realize my envy is rooted in wanting to be accepted and loved by others, for instance. Feel free to journal about any self-discoveries you make.
  5. Roll up the slips of paper and tie them with twine. If you wish to do so, you can connect them and hang them up in a location where you will see them when engaging in financial matters as a reminder to check in with yourself and your thoughts in your relationship with money. You can also rid yourself of them if you wish to symbolize releasing them.
  6. Lay out the five coins in the shape of a pentagram. Begin to lay the sticks to connect the coins in an order that feels intuitively aligned for you. As you place each stick, read the phrase and contemplate one or two aspects of the concept with which you wish to be empowered. For instance, when placing “positive systems of influence,” I determined to learn more about things like micro-lending and other investment tools that focus on giving money to those who truly need it instead of corporate shareholders. Feel free to journal your ideas. You may want to light a candle in the center to symbolize your growing empowerment in your financial life. You can leave the arrangement as a reminder for a period of time, or, if you are crafty enough, fashion a decoration out of it using the twine.
  7. Close the circle, thanking any elements and Deities that you invited.

If you choose to enact any part of this ritual, either as a spiritual practice or as an experiential inner work session, feel free to share your insights. I would also welcome your reflections on your relationship with money and financial systems. Lastly, I invite discussion of the activities in which you engage to balance your focus on the various goals and aspirations which you set for yourself.

Embodied Heart, Surviving & Thriving

The Walking Wounded: Struggles in Recovery from CSA

Today’s #EmbodiedHeart post feels particularly vulnerable as I take a hard look at my potential for recovery and functioning as a childhood sexual abuse survivor and as a person with multiple chronic physical and mental health conditions. The insight I’ve gained from this personal reflection has allowed some of the internal distress and discomfort that’s become particularly acute for me the past six months to make more more sense to me. My insight has not yet led to a particularly workable solution, so I am hoping to learn about how my readers have handled similar situations. I will say that ideas like “look on the bright side” or “remember others have it worse,” although not entirely without merit, are typically experienced as invalidating rather than as useful in most situations like mine.

I’ve unfortunately set myself up in a situation where I need to maintain a high level of performance across a variety of domains in order to stay on top of my finances and to preserve my living situation. My job is high stress and demanding. I have sufficient funds coming in but face an uphill battle to get my student loans paid off. I have to stay in my job at least a few more years in order to have the possibility of my loans being forgiven realized. As a homeowner, I am solely responsible for the upkeep and repair of my house. Without my family in my life, maintaining close ties to friends and acquaintances takes on a heightened sense of importance. My health is assisted by the fact that I stay active and eat a decent diet, but both of these behaviors require constant effort and monitoring. In short, I feel overwhelmed by trying to keep up with the demands of my life, while simultaneously becoming increasingly aware of the toll it is taking on my mind and body. I know that the situation in which I am in is largely my own doing, but that sense of “choice” doesn’t mean much when I can’t see a quick way out to a lower stress environment.

Despite the external and internal pressures under which I find myself operating, I’ve kept on keeping on for years. Recently, though, I’ve heard a loud “no more” from inside. Parts of me feel as though they are holding on to dozens of tangled strings, attempting to contain my mental health symptoms and body sensations. They are threatening to let loose of all of them at once, which I can only imagine would mean a severe deterioration in my functioning. I had a few years of significant impairment in my 20’s. At that time, my internal system believed I was in a safe enough environment to let go and then found out it wasn’t. Now, though, the issue is less motivated by hope and more by exhaustion and frustration.

I had a breakdown in therapy last year in which I shared with my therapist that I perceive myself as having full-blown PTSD and other disorders, but the pressure I feel to maintain my functioning is so strong that I can’t even allow myself to experience the acting out of the symptoms. Instead, I think I dissociate further and tuck away any loose articles that might tumble out of the overcoat of “I’m good, I’ve got this” in which I blanket myself. Something always gives, though, when we dissociate, and the hollowness and joyless outlook with which I am currently struggling is one such outcome.

There are steps such as a slightly reduced workload and more vacation time on which I’ve embarked to attempt to rectify the situation. My fear is that I won’t be able to fully placate the parts of myself who are completely fed up by my inattention to my inner needs and who almost seem to desire for me to “lose it” so that everyone else will witness the folly of my attempt to appear to have it together. I keep reminding myself that, as a general rule, decompensating to the point of needing intervention is very likely to be retraumatizing and brutal, not the posh vacation with room service which pieces of my mind seem to believe it to be.

My internal imagery for my experience one of running a race far beyond what my body and mind can take, with my single-minded focus on the finish line obscuring from me the fact that my shoes are torn beyond repair and my skin is crusted with salty dehydration. Now that I see the state in which I am, I know I need to recalibrate my intention and take some rest periods, but I also realize I have to keep moving forward, albeit at a slower pace. There is no reasonable option in which letting myself sink into the sandy landscape surrounding the track will do anything for me other than cause me to wither to a helpless shell of myself in the blazing sun. There is no one coming to save me, just as no one came to save me a child in an abusive home. Now, though, I believe I can look to my fellow travelers for at least encouragement as I plod along.

What have you done in situations where you felt you were in over your head? What resources have you leveraged to reduce your burden? How have you found the energy to keep going?

Goddessing Self Care

Moon-time Howling

For today’s #GoddessingSelfCare Sunday, I will be examining focusing on how women can engage in healthy and healing behaviors during our moon-time and throughout our cycle. This time is especially fraught for me as I suffer from PMDD, which stands for premenstrual dysphoric disorder. I describe my experience to others as having full-blown depressive episodes around the time of my cycle, which dissipate rapidly once bleeding commences. This experience can feel animalistic to me in its rawness and rage, even as I seek to reclaim it as part of my femininity. My writing here regarding moon-time is primarily aimed at those who identify as women, although I think it could also be useful if you have women in your life for whom you would like to serve as a support person.

The physical aspects of being a woman of child-bearing age have never been easy for me. I went through puberty earlier than most of my peers and did everything possible to hide the fact that I was getting my period. I would get severe stomach problems every month, to the point I’d need to leave school. I now experience migraines that correspond to my cycle. My mood swings during the premenstrual time are extreme and leave me feeling disillusioned with life and detached from those around me. I am prone to rage. My PTSD symptoms also increase significantly.

Given the distress I experience with my cycle, Goddess Spirituality has opened a new world to me in terms of the ideas of “red tents” and “moon-time.” There are dueling theories regarding whether menstrual huts served places to separate women who are viewed as spiritually unclean, or as places for women to gather during their cycle because of its sacred power. I think the former is much more likely than the latter in many societies, but I hope women gathering together in this way can become something we claim as sacred ground for us to celebrate our feminine experience. I think there is a good deal of cultural appropriation as well in what we make of these rituals, so I hope that we can develop new practices that are not overly reliant on customs and practices that may be sacred to a culture different from our own with which we are unfamiliar.

After coming to an understanding of how menstruation can be celebrated instead of shamed, I feel more able to view my experience as part of the general ebb and flow of life. In gathering in community with other women, I’ve seen how common some of my experiences are. I feel encouraged to take the time where things get especially rough for me as an opportunity to turn inward, and to release those things in my life that are no longer suiting me. I have high points as well throughout the month and I put more effort than I used to into harnessing the energy and strength I have at these times towards accomplishing tasks, so that there is less to do at low points.

I’ll be describing the self-care that I’ve personally found useful throughout my cycle, but I do want to note that you may not find yourself following the same pattern. Some women are energized during their time of bleeding, and drained around the time of ovulation. Others may not notice these changes. Trans-women as well as women with certain physical conditions may not have a traditional menstrual cycle, but may still identify with the ebb and flow of energy throughout the month.

Self-Care During the Waning and New Moon Phase

The time of the month leading up to and when we are bleeding correspond to the waning and new moon phases. Your energy may begin to decrease, and you may feel overwhelmed by the responsibilities you have in your life. You may find yourself withdrawing from others. Your emotions may be heightened. This time of the month and moon cycle offers an opportunity to:

  • Deepen your inner work. Your intuition is ripened and ready to release new knowledge. Use this time to learn more about yourself and your unconscious needs and desires.
  • Connect to your support system. Even though the impulse is to pull away from others, staying in touch with them and opening up the vulnerabilities you may be experiencing can enhance your relationships. I often find myself having more meaningful and longer conversations with a select person or people during this time.
  • Attune to your body’s needs. My body proclaims its needs loudly during this time. I ignore it to my peril. I tend to be more likely to schedule doctor’s appointments and adjust my habits to ensure healthy nutrition and sleep during this time.
  • Refresh your environment. I tend to redecorate, organize, clean and update my physical surroundings during this time, releasing any physical materials that are no longer needed. Surrounding myself with fresh flowers, scented candles, incense or other fragrant materials keeps me in touch with beauty even if I feel “gross” physically.

Self-Care During Waxing and Full Moon Phases

When the bleeding time ends, we enter a stage of energy and excitement as our bodies build towards the full moon of ovulation. You may experience a feeling of needing more in your life. Sexual desire could increase. Creativity blossoms. This time of month and moon cycle provides a chance to:

  • Set goals. The beginning and middle of my cycle can be a place where I take the reflection I did during my moon-time, and decide upon the specific goals that will get me closer to what I am seeking in life.
  • Direct your energy flow. There are times during this part of my cycle in which my energy can feel abundant. If I’m not careful, it gets spent on activities like making expensive purchases or starting a project for which I don’t truly have the necessary time or resources. It takes sustained effort for me to ensure I am channeling the energy I feel into productive and healthy endeavors.
  • Participate in community action. I am more interested in spending time with others at the start of my cycle. I find it useful to balance my engagement so that I don’t over-commit for the rest of the month, and so that I take advantage of this time to dig into relationships and activities.
  • Rejuvenate self-care behaviors. I find it easier to make positive changes in my eating, sleeping and exercise behaviors as I approach ovulation. My body has fewer cravings and I have the energy needed for vigorous exercise.

Your experience throughout your monthly cycle may mirror mine or may unfurl differently. What changes, if any, do you experience throughout the month? How does your energy peak and descend? How are your emotions and relationships affected by these changes? Women’s cycles have been stigmatized and ridiculed throughout human history; it is vital for us to stake our claim to our experience as our own unique way of being a woman in the world, and to find the common ground we all share.

Inner Work

Elemental Psychic Bathing

One of my many struggles as a trauma survivor that I experience is a difficulty in channeling my internal energy. Specifically, after a negative emotionally-charged event, I tend to hold on to and recreate the feeling again and again. It is as though I’ve walked through a sandstorm and keep finding grains tumbling off me in every direction, unable to shake myself clean.

When positive experiences happen, I have the opposite problem. I find myself unwilling to accept the natural ebb and flow of these feelings. I’ve tasted a delicious morsel and keep biting into random pieces of spiritual savories, refusing to wait until another special occasion for a nibble. For today’s #InnerWork Wednesday, I will be exploring a method for restoring internal energies to homeostasis.

Discharging Negative Emotions

Before I get in to specifics, I want to couch my guidance here carefully. The process I will be describing is intended for situations where something went wrong externally during your day and has already been resolved. So, if it is an issue within a relationship, you’ve discussed your concerns with the other person or made a clear plan to do so. Or, if it is a situation where something has physically broken and needs to be repaired, you’ve identified the problem and set in motion a fix. I do not see this technique working well if you are procrastinating in taking practical action in the real world; it isn’t a substitute for confronting what is causing you anxiety, anger and/or sadness.

My personal struggle with negative emotions, especially anxiety and anger, is that they persist well past their needed moment. For instance, I recently had a roof leak. I hired a roofer to fix the leak. He made repairs the same day and everything seemed in order. Instead of having even the tiniest faith that things would be okay, I obsessively checked the leak area every 30 minutes or more for hours, and began to go to other areas of my house that have minor problems, checking them as well. My initial burst of anxiety at seeing a stream of water where it should not have been simply would not downshift even when the coast cleared. I needed a way to let go of the energy I’d accumulated, which is why I turned to a psychic bath.

Taking an elemental bath gives you an opportunity to get creative and to use your imagination. I find it difficult to imagine complex visualizations, but the emphasis on physical experiences helps me during this ritual. You can use any of the four elements (earth, air, fire or water). It is likely that the element will change depending upon your emotion. You can also incorporate a physical sensation or practice into this ritual. For instance, you might light candles or a fireplace for fire or run a bath for water.

When I’m facing overwhelming anxiety following a stressful situation, and the purpose of the anxiety has run its course, the element that connects most effectively for me is air. I imagine myself in a desert or a high plain, in the midst of gale-force winds. They swirl and nearly knock me over with their sheer intensity. Any residue of anxious energy that clouds my psyche is stripped away, reabsorbed into the ether. The anxiety may have different colors, depending on the exact situation, such as green or black. I imagine these colors being dissolved into clear as they are carried away, each atom scattered from the next until they become part of the whole. I am left calm, sedate, and windblown. I may need a drink of water or a bath in order to balance the intensity of engaging with the air element.

No matter the element on which I center myself, I find it necessary to imagine it at peak intensity. I think this because my internal energy needs an external force of equal magnitude in order to be shaken loose. I do want to emphasis that I do not see any part of myself letting go or leaving, rather, I see the emotions which the various parts of myself carry as being adjusted. I do not have an internal barometer or thermostat; my feelings seem to be either all the way up or non-existent. Or both at once. This exercise enables me to readjust mentally without having to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms. If you experience greater graduation in your feelings than I do, your visualizations may also be less intense. Perhaps a soft breeze is all it takes mentally to remove excess anxiety.

Harmonizing Positive Emotions

At the end of an event or experience I am enjoying, I often feel as though I’m slamming into a wall. My emotional high-point has crested, and I am not willing to accept the lull that follows. In order to better titrate my experiences, I’ve found that elemental bathing which centers on water is the most useful.

Imagery and physical practice involving water can be used as a way to “blend” emotions and transition between emotional states. The metaphor of ocean waves approaching and retreating from a beach allows me to reconnect with the idea that my internal energy ebbs and flows; it is not stable and cannot always be at high tide. As I sit with this mental picture, I find my internal state swinging like a pendulum and then gradually slowing and centering.

I can also recognize the extent to which liquid water comprises my physical state. We are made almost entirely of water, and still we need to ingest it to sustain life. Here the active practice of mindfully drinking tea or water infused with herbs can refresh my body as well as calm my internal cravings to keep a positive mood afloat.

Literal bathing or soaking allows me to steady my energies. As I repose, I visualize the intense energy of excitement, happiness, connection and joy swirling and dashing through me. Gradually it begins to soften and loosen in the water. It dissolves outward, spreading to my surroundings with a burst of light and fragrance. These emotions can be draining if we try to hold on to them for too long; I believe they are meant to be shared and to inspire creative activity. As someone who struggles with depression punctuated by brief episodes of hypomania, my desire to always be in an “up” state can sometimes compromise my inner sense that this state is unsustainable. Frequent practice with the equilibrium offered by the water element has been beneficial.

Whenever I read about any technique related to emotions or cognitions, I find myself in a state of hypervigilance, scanning for any potential judgment or criticism. With that in mind, I want to note that I do not see this practice as even remotely all-inclusive or relevant to everyone. You may be able to modulate your emotions with little effort needed, or you may not wish to alter your experience of internal energy in any way. I am simply offering one possible practice that has connected for me. I look forward to learning more about the rituals and methods you use in relation to your emotions and energy states.