Roadblocks to a Practice: Overwhelm & Spiritual Bypass
The MBSR courses offered at the Somatic Center are modeled after the original programs Jon Kabat-Zinn developed. But just as yoga props help people of all sizes, shapes and health, come into physical alignment in their yoga practice, Somatic Experiencing can add support to the basic mindfulness practice, allowing for greater alignment with the body’s underlying physiological processes.
For those who find meditation overwhelming and sometimes destabilizing, core practices can be modulated while your system builds capacity.
For those who are curious why meditation doesn’t seem to ‘work’ for them, we look at the physiology of ‘spiritual bypassing’ (coined by psychologist John Wellwood) and how one might avoid this detour.
Background: The Body in ‘Freeze
Like a possum playing dead, humans can ‘freeze’ in response to an overwhelming threat. It’s the primal brain’s best defense when fight or flight fail1. If the survival energy of this ‘freeze’ doesn’t get released through action, it may stay locked in our system as symptoms of stress or trauma.
In such cases, its like walking around with a smoke detector going off inside of us saying, “Danger! Danger!” The physiology of our system thinks there’s still a dangerous threat out there somewhere, and we stay hyper vigilant. This will continue until the survival energy is somehow released.
Freeze can also look like someone who’s really laid back or depressed, in which case, the smoke detector battery has pretty much lost its juice.
We see this around us every day, because both behaviors have become normalized in modern culture2. And each behavior creates its own flavor of disconnection to life. With survival energy connected to primal feelings like terror, grief, anger or shame, reconnection with the body can be a challenging and delicate process. There was a reason it waasn’t integrated at the time of threat. The person or environment lacked capacity for metabolizing the threat as it occurred.
Important to know, however, is that the body knows how to metabolize this energy when given the right conditions. Slow is the way to go.
SE Informed MBSR
In SE terms, the body-scan of a ‘Mindfulness’ practice is a crucial, but advanced skill. Why?
When we meditate, the process of bringing our conscious ‘neo-cortex’, witnessing mind to our body, may re-build a connection that got severed in a traumatic event. Reconnection begins the process of releasing that survival energy. Again, slow is the best way forward. Unpacking this energy too quickly can destabilize a person. For another, they may ‘bypass’ overwhelm and go back into ‘freeze’. All the while, bringing themselves to their practice while the benefits to be gained in meditation elude them.
Most SE interventions used in this course are for slowing things down as one makes contact with the ‘freeze’. Built into the teachings will also be this notion of ‘freeze’ so that folks can begin to track for themselves what’s happening in their own bodies as they meditate.
Upcoming MBSR Courses
Fall 2019 – Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program STARTS Sign up
Oct 24th, Th PM, 6-8:30am, + Dec 1 full day – Northampton, MA
Course ends Dec 12th 2019
A $50 deposit is non-refundable
Full Fee is non refundable after course start
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1. Peter Levine, Phd
2. Peter Levine, ‘Waking the Tiger’, and Robert Scaer, MD, ‘The Trauma Spectrum’