How Peak Experiences Are Made of Small Joys

 

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                                                                                   Is Self-Regulation The Key?

We have just had a peak experience and we are ecstatic. Why is it wise to steer our effulgent emotions into modest expressions? How would we benefit from understanding our own irrationality or our sticky nature? In craniosacral healing the accent is on learning new or additional skills to self regulate. Not just our positive feelings, most definitely our unpleasant ones.

We can express irrational behavior, arising from eventual disappointment, post the intensity of a peak experience. Because our hopes and expectations are tied up with desires to experience life consistently at a peak level. Which perhaps translates into wanting heightened involvement in all aspects of living. This is resourceful for obvious reasons and bad as it could be driving our cortisol levels to unmanageable highs, but so what; experience is everything (sic).

The problem arises when we can’t get past the monumental pressure we put on ourselves to live life on this edge constantly. Another setback occurs when people don’t repeat a peak experience. Or when they experience it not at all. They fall short of their projected reality (what they expect or want) and suffer thereof.

Is Self Actualization Only For Some?

Psychologist Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs model describes what could be a peak experience. Everyone would want to be on top of his pyramid having self actualized and reached human potential. An experience that’s “joyous and exciting” is peak, he says, and moreover it may introduce us to an expanded way of experiencing reality. We are then no longer the same person. We have different eyes and ears to withhold our world. That’s the good part.

While striving to reach top place, they also discover the difficulty of sustaining euphoria, as also the loss of their closest relationships.

In spite of everything, many clients that seek craniosacral healing consider themselves furthest from this self-actualization. They struggle with the notion that a peak experience – something of profound significance is not for them, and they are born to mediocrity. They hold scant recollection of moments in their life that were/are filled with joy, wonder or value. In therapeutic terms they are under resourced.

How May we Re-define a Peak Experience?

Chasing a need for experiencing life other than what is, keeps us looking for what’s not there, and missing what’s there. So-called psychosomatic illnesses translate from this profound discontent, in the way of negative thought patterns and irrational emotions turning into idiopathic dis-ease. So, does one need the familiarity of only a peak experience to sense ones connectedness with life? Not at all!

When crushed by experience of physical pain, for instance, it’s difficult to recall the most wonderful memories, from our bank. The default negative bias of our brain makes us remember the worst. In this healing touch therapy – craniosacral therapy – some clients for the first time tumble against a buried memory of having been happy, excited, deeply moved, or even feeling blessed. It is true then, in therapy clients begin to perceive reality differently.

I invite my clients to find within themselves or outside of themselves memories of smaller realistic representations of a peak experience. These remembered events should excite and inspire us; raise our HRV (heart rate variability); spike our vagal tone, (a term coined by Stephen Porges). A friendly face we regularly encounter, being on a nature walk, waking up to a feeling of ‘all is well’, sunburst sunsets, deriving satisfaction from watching our kids grow, stroking our pet, smelling sweetened rain-washed mud, letting a million expressions of sand particles on a beach explode on our feet…

Self-Acceptance Leads to Self Discovery

There are many ways to experience joy. There are other ways to have a peak experience rather than The Ultimate One.

Developing a new skillful relationship with our breath can also bring about a peak experience. It takes us closer to our heart space, where original joy resides. You can’t get any closer to the truth of who we are. In the succinct words of Rumi, “when you feel a peaceful joy, that’s when you are near truth.”

Similarly what we do in sessions is keeping it simple. Inviting the smallest of joyous, healthy, and steady places in our body to lead us to our truth. Connecting to our biology – our every cell – brings us to a place of self-acceptance, for in every cell are laid our happy and sad memories. We can choose to align with both and use the happy ones to release the grip of the sad ones, instead of pushing the latter away.

Fleeting Moments Offer Peak Involvement

For a client, felt-sensing joy or pleasure in the body versus it being a mind related activity, for the very first time, is indeed a peak experience. And this, unlike a peak experience from life, isn’t clung to, as these sensations are transitory in nature. We learn to enjoy them fully. Then we release them.

Keeping it simple also means to forget our fascination with form, to re-experience the same joy again and yet again like a novice. Only then can we fill up with awe each time – and truly experience the awesomeness around us. In the words of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow, “The self expands through acts of self forgetfulness.”

3 Ways to Define Your Experience as Peak

An event is life changing and significant, when it brings with it, heightened self-awareness.

The event is complete unto itself, and generates a positive inclination in us towards all things.

At a moment like this, the experiencer orients to collective consciousness – at one with all.

3 Ways to Align Yourself to ‘The Peak Value’ of Your Experience

Find ways to ascertain the feeling that arises. Observe its emergence and decline. Its usefulness is your reward.

Live the peak moment as if it were your last. Nothing is gained from creating pain from remorse of its passing. Its short life is a gift.

Retain your ability to be in constant awe. You will be richly compensated for seeking out the smaller joys of life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Healing Personal Trauma

When we are born, science now says, we are an outcome of not just our genetic material, but also our in-utero experience. Our fetal-time engagement with life, whether soothing or disruptive, could have arisen from our mother’s state of mind and body. Our first taste of cortisol (the stress hormone) may come via the placenta; our second at our time of arrival based on the reception from our caregivers.

Relational stress in our adult life then becomes a reflection of all that went before. We are molded in life even before we become conscious of it. Epigenetics infers that our environment changes the way our DNA expresses.

Is all of the above enough reason to see a therapist? Absolutely!

Resolution Via Therapy

Let’s consider the different reasons a client seeks and finds recovery via therapy. Sadly, it’s the last bastion of help. My wish is that people find it sooner than later and learn to have more fulfilling relationships.

Applicable to All Ages

We are never too old for therapy, nor too young. Whether an adolescent, introduced to therapy by caregivers or a 50-year-old struggling to make sense of an embittered past and stumbling upon help; both types benefit from the understanding of a skilled therapist. The reason being brain cells are plastic and therefore can improve/modify cognitive function at any age.

The Mess in Emotions

Emotions are messy most people might agree. And that’s because as children we couldn’t develop healthy ways to encounter and integrate them, as a natural consequence of our life experiences. As adults we shun those emotions we have little practice of handling. We favor those that make us feel safe.

The Rise of Emotions

The subconscious doesn’t rest easy when there are all these unexpressed emotions stuffing its underbelly. For a long time though, the subconscious plays along with our relational patterns. In time however, it evicts what’s reprehensible to it.

The Battle With Emotions

The brain is a relational organ. It has neural pathways carved inside that pertain to our relationship with self, with others, and in general with the world. And we, without much thought, strengthen these pathways by working within unconscious relationship patterns. Until the time these very patterns cause us to fall into a relationship crises such as a breakup or a divorce.

Choosing Healthier Emotions

We can never be truly free individuals (free from stress and illness) until we actually become free. Till the time we only talk about wanting to be free, we haven’t yet befriended change. When we start to think, emote and behave differently only then do our neural pathways change to include new ones. And we are free to make new choices.

The ‘Unbearableness’ of Emotions

Previously we called it short-term gratification, when we could not wait another second, to satisfy our needs in the present moment. Now, we call it intolerance. We are intolerant of the experience we are having and want it to be anything but what it is. The experience could include a relationship with a person, a thing, or/and a situation. Our intolerance levels make us sick, in the mind and the body, and often enough in the spirit.

From Attachment Arises Emotions

We develop an attachment style from the time we get attached at birth to our primary caregivers. Humans thrive on attachment. Yet, our biggest misses, messes and losses are because of this ingrained pattern of relating to other humans. Should we stop to evaluate why our relationships suck, if not all times, sometimes, we would identify our style that needs a revamp?

Emotional Outcomes

All said and done, a few therapeutic relationships fail and a lot survive the negotiated pathways of trauma and healing, in a client. When a client sticks around for the time it takes new established neural pathways to form steady grooves, a lot of good can happen. Here’s what change can follow the directives of safe intervention.

Becoming tolerant of the whims of our life plan. Is changing our attitude towards suffering.

Having healthy self-reliance. Is knowing when to seek help.

Building inner forces of resilience. Is surfing everyday storms successfully.

Choosing relationships that strengthen intimacy. Is sharing vulnerable moments with significant others.

Trust is a multifaceted feeling. Is letting others in to share our innermost space.

Choosing a work environment to sustain daily wellbeing. Is knowing the importance of self-care.

Healing the trauma that comes from impaired attachment to caregivers. Is learning to relate to self, others, and the world differently.

 

 

 

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Feeling States (of Experiences)

                                                                                                          Photo Courtesy: Dipika Belapurkar

The Way it All Begins

At birth I didn’t sign up for being an emotional human. (This is for you too). I signed up for being, simply, a human baby. Yet, starting from the moment of my birth I encounter the feeling states of all these strange people hanging out with the one comforting person I know, dearest to my existence. My mother. And she’s not feeling entirely good herself, going by her pained expression as she strives to look excited and over-the-moon. Later, (on growing up), I am told she had suffered postpartum blues and she had hated the sight of me (nothing personal I assure you). What a downer that was for her.

Of course, my first experience is nothing compared to the emotional dramas of my childhood, adolescence, early working life, the career-scrambling period, midlife crisis, over-the-hill crisis…need I say more?

Is There a Way Out?

Do feeling states go away, ever? Like at 40, 50, 60 years of age? At death maybe. Like do they get transferred to someone else? Apparently not, we may project them on to our family and friends, and yet, being parts of our persona they stay with us, developing, changing, transmuting, diminishing, and showing up in millions of other ways, over time. If we learn to harness their wisdom, then we can grow and mature into people that are good and dependable to be around. Or else, we can by choice or design be swept away by their tidal force, each and every time a stressful experience impacts our life.

What may a therapist do with the feeling states of a client? Beneath the history, stories and significant life experiences, of a client, lies a veritable mine house of undetected and unresolved feelings. As a therapist I can help them put aside their cognitive narration to instead gently delve into what’s happening in their fascia, muscles, organs, and glands.

It’s natural that the soma or body of a client is super-charged with the feeling states of their experiences. Therefore the way is not out but in.

Under Examination

If I can experience, by placing my hands on their bodies, the interior of their being, then they certainly can learn to examine their own inner feeling states. Very simply put, they can begin to feel the effect of their external stressors in their body, in the form of sensations. Once these sensations are perceived, the feelings that go with them begin to lose their formidable grip, are modified, lessen their impact, and can be banished forever.

Anxiety; chronic pain; depression; anger; hopelessness; all forms and kinds of activation, appear as body sensations. I receive my over-activated client in the state they are in and with their help devise creative ways to befriend what were earlier vague and confusing signals sent to their brain by their bodies. Being friends with what is – is crucial to our successful understanding of their feeling states.

Being ok With What is

Our feeling states can reside inside us in the form of misunderstood sensations for the longest time. For instance, we can attribute pain and bloating in the abdomen to the meal we had yesterday in the restaurant. And, not make the connection to our overriding irritation at the houseguests that have overstayed their visit.

Getting familiar with underlying feeling states makes us touch the length and breath of these important markers to inflammation and pain. We come to know of their intensity and insanity, their relationships with other prevailing feeling states. Such as anger and sadness can co-exist. Our observation of them reveals to us the entire range, creating the undercurrents of our life.

I did say, right at the start, that I didn’t sign up (…..). But, now that I am thick in this feeling melee of sorts, I am decided that I have signed up for becoming embodied. As a therapist encountering the feeling states of many wonderful clients, I have witnessed the resolution of so many tears and so much resulting self-acceptance.

Being okay with what is (in our body), what arises, what leaves us is equal to embodiment.

A Parting Exercise

You, my dear reader, may try this technique right away, without meeting me in person.

Sit back and relax into your chair. Shut out any distractions, by closing your eyes. Look inward. Into the inner terrain of your body. Plenty of thoughts will charge in. Corresponding reactions within the body will surface. Pick on one of the latter that seems overly activated – annoyance, irritation, anything that creates discomfort or tension. Be here, at this sweet spot or edge, for 30 seconds. Too little time to be crushed by this experience. Good. Take your attention to another place in your body, where it feels calm, good, even healthy – another 30 seconds.

Travel between these two and observe the changes that ensue. You will be surprised by what your body sensations can do for you. They will bring you insight and self-awareness, two qualities that will help you to become more mindful in your daily life.

If you do the above correctly, chances are the activation will be gone. You will feel light. Sorted for the moment perhaps; no desire then to reach out for alcohol or other substitutions, like social media. What we endeavored here is called pedulation, a term from Somatic Experiencing, coined by Peter Levine.

My clients in time, with perseverance, learn somatic skills like this one to intervene when their stress levels rise.

 

 

 

 

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The trauma from avoiding trauma resolution

                                                                                              Photo credit: D Belapurkar

The word trauma has Greek origins and means wound. A dictionary meaning of trauma is “severe emotional shock and pain caused by an extremely upsetting experience.”

Trauma an Inside Story

For most individuals trauma is what happens ‘to them’ and not what happens ‘in them’. Such people carry around for years unresolved trauma inside, for they still hope to change what’s not in their control; that what’s on the outside. A healing touch therapy such as cranio will help you know the inside trauma as well.

Negative feelings, thoughts and emotions spring within you, from what you perceive or from your reaction to the upsetting experience you have had. Little realising this, you end up harbouring great feelings of injustice and anger, arising from deep-felt and long-lasting hurt.

Consequences of Trauma

Emotional wounding is the consequence of trauma. Which also declares the longer you hold on to any disturbing experience the more you shut yourself down at a heart level. In many other bodily ways you express a similar response. A shut down.

The aftermath of trauma is far reaching. Which is not limited to your individual self, but impacts all others you are in relationship to.

Think anxiety and panic arising from not getting what you want in your close relationships. Fears of intimacy and vulnerability come from refusing to show yourself to your partner in true light, lest you are ridiculed or made fun of for your beliefs and thoughts. So you pretend and hide even from yourself, in time losing touch with your real self. Lack of emotional maturity gives people few tools to tackle shame that arises from failed relationships.

Relational Issues

Relational issues these days are as common as a cold. They come and overstay leaving in their wake deeply felt feelings of aloneness and depression. When you lose touch with a realistic sense of time and space, you begin to imagine the worst and become fearful of life itself.

Trauma from life issues is very real. It’s connected to severely disturbing events such as natural calamities and to unforseen events like accidents and deaths. When left unresolved, flashbacks to these events leave us grappling with PTSD, sleeplessness, chronic idiopathic pain, migraines, etc.

Craniosacral healing has a cognitive impact leaving you in a better place to handle difficult emotions.

Trauma Resolution a Must

Everything in your external world becomes a trigger for you, when you are in a physically and/or mentally weakened state. Instead of confronting your fears you fall sway to avoiding that which displeases, alarms, or even causes you short term frustration. But does that mean you are okay and should carry on in life irrespective of how you truly feel?

Not at all. Inside you, fears could be staging an inferno that could raze your self-belief to the ground.

The current good news is that trauma has an adversary. Large-scale breakthroughs in recovery therapy. Thanks to the efforts of pioneering neuroscientists, psychotherapists, craniosacral therapists, and healers. So there’s every chance of rediscovering your life purpose and not wasting your precious life in a smog of hopelessness.

What can you personally do to counter the ill-effects of trauma?

*Make emotional healing your priority. Don’t await a physical illness to prompt this effort.

*Learn to navigate childhood/developmental traumas to emerge as skillful partners in adult relationships.

*Seek to become safe and secure inside you first.

*Gain authenticity in your interactions and work towards developing trust.

*Your neural terrain inside is a good indicator of your wellbeing and resilience towards trauma. Know your thoughts and reshape them into positive ones.

*Just as you share your stories of trauma, spread your good fortune of recovering from it. Embody a life of gratitude.

*Have regular craniosacral healing with your therapist. For top amongst craniosacral therapy benefits is trauma resolution.

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Healing Touch Therapy

                                                                                      Photo credit: Dipika Belapurkar

Do we give much thought to the warmth we receive from the rays of the sun? Yes, we do, in an autonomic way, when our largest sense organ – our skin – informs us that we have had enough. We then consciously choose to step out of the sun to protect ourselves from the heat. Likewise when we receive any touch from another human we don’t like, we withdraw ourselves bodily. Our skin is remarkable at identifying touch sensations as hot, cold, itchy, creepy, pleasant, unpleasant, painful, sharp, etcetera.

In all cases such as these our life is greatly influenced by the information our skin sends via nerves to our brain and the decisions about actions transmitted by our brain to the rest of our body. This is our daily living.

What does a client experience in a Healing Touch therapy such as craniosacral? The touch receptors and the nerve endings or neurons (specialized nerve cells) in the client’s epidermal and dermal layers classify together as the somatosensory system. This system is super sensitive to the stimuli and signals it receives from a healing touch, the therapist’s healing touch.

The Simplicity of it All it Seems

A craniosacral therapist lays hands gently on a client’s body, with just enough pressure to make contact.

Astonishing interaction happens. Mechanoreceptors and thermo-receptors respond to the pressure and vibrations felt and the coldness or warmth in the touch. Neurons in the client’s superficial connective tissue body get primed to begin a cascading stream of information to some complex centers in the brain. The brain uses this information in ways to protect the organism.

Healing touch is simple and non-seeking and it derives information by merely listening. A client once asked me, “Do hands really listen?” Yes they do, with the help of the most sensitive mechanoreceptors present here called Merkel’s disks and Meissner’s corpuscles.

Craniosacral Therapy Benefits

Craniosacral therapy benefits the client’s brain. When the client’s higher brain centers perceive a touch as healing, they respond to its emotional context as well. A resourced therapist is this emotional context that could induce the release of happy positive neurotransmitters in the client’s body.

On-going stress and trauma are two significators of how healthy our mental and physical states are. It’s rare to find individuals with neither. Assuming that clients withhold such information initially, a gentle non-invasive touch can help a client’s mind relax and settle into an open space. For any restricting patterns in the body to arise and resolve, a cooperating mind plays a key role.

Touch as a Resource

How and when does the client’s brain decide it’s safe to let go? When the sensory system of touch is not impaired in a client, the response is fast and considered. This client’s mind relaxes in the blink of an eye, sending information to the body to follow suit. Inner resources are amply available to deal with stressors.

At times healing touch from even a therapist takes multiple sessions, to admit a sense of trust in the client’s system. In my experience a client’s auditory and visual systems can be induced as well to arouse sensations of touch. Softly shared verbal suggestions, visualizations, memory reconsolidation, all provide ways to support craniosacral healing.

It stands to reason that we need all our senses to collaborate together, to give us a unified picture of our environment. Yet, the primary sensory system of touch is what this is all about. How remarkable that healing can happen through touch.

 

 

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Thinking About Therapy?

                                                                                    Photo credit: Dipika Belapurkar

I am often asked why ‘craniosacral therapy benefits’ don’t necessarily include rapid-fire dissolution of symptoms, to relieve clients of chronic pain.

Clients often understand the logic behind sustained therapeutic effort to rid themselves of pain that’s been with them for a long time. But, at times when it comes to absolute repair of their pain-filled situation it’s difficult for some people to have patience, in order to uproot the root cause of pain. They would rather quickly pop a pill.

Suffering in Linear Time

Why is popping a pill, a previously held desirable outcome of pain, no longer the most favoured line of remedy or relief? Because, perhaps, alternate therapies such as craniosacral healing are making us re-position health as something we eminently have inside us, rather than acquiring through effort and intervention from outside.

If you have suffered physiological symptoms for decades, it means there are unfavourable changes in your body that have already taken place over time. Changes that perhaps cannot easily be reduced revised or eliminated. Every change has a complementary neural pathway in the brain maintaining its own integrity. One of the ways this light touch therapy called craniosacral can help, is revisiting those newly built unhealthy neural pathways and reprogramming that which doesn’t help our thriving.

Bringing Consciousness to Your Healing

So if you are thinking of trying a craniosacral treatment, come prepared with knowing it’s not a miracle cure. Each client’s body responds according to how long it has suffered and how distant it has grown from its own recuperative powers. A single session of anything is never enough to bring about change. Persistent and collective effort to build across all aspects of ones life – relaxation, nutrition, fitness, emotions, thoughts, etc, will help in this healing process.

Like a tree that uses external resources like sunlight and water, with the explicit purpose of building its own inner strength, we too must continually replenish ourselves via healing therapy.

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Focusing Your Procrastination Away

 

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Socialising and spending quality time with people whose company we enjoy is a remarkable way to heal ourselves. Meditation at the other end of the spectrum, whilst keeping oneself company, is yet another way of self-healing. When we pick a friend to spend time with we do so keeping in mind certain things. Like will this friend listen to my stories with undivided attention? Will he or she offer me empathy rather than advice? Will this friend sit by me quietly and not shower me with opinions like, “you should have….or you should not have….done this….or that?” Being a friend to another in need is one of the most enriching experiences one can have, if only one has the ability to offer pure compassion being to being.

A Friend to the Friendless
For those who suffer from the void of not having friends with whom to unburden, life can become self oriented. Such people look to themselves for healing. The answers to life’s difficult questions lie within and they go on a search into psychological depths.

Luckily, alternate therapies of different lineages have ample methods and directions to go about healing oneself. One such glorious path is called Focusing. Psychologist Eugene Gendlin has left behind a legacy of life-changing potential derived from the use of this therapy.

The Felt-sense of Focusing
Focusing uses the concept of “felt sense”, an ability to recognise that which falls between a feeling state (in the mind) and a sensation (in the body), both arising within the mind-body construct. Mostly, we live life without knowing the kind of daily warfare taking place within us, as we are concentrated a lot on the external. Consequently harm is being done at a psychological as well as physiological level, much of it out of our conscious awareness.

Using a partner, or a therapist, in this work is highly beneficial, to work through the deeper complexities of nature. But, that ought not to stop anyone from trying focusing on themselves by themselves.

An Example to Narrate
Words are perhaps not as explanatory as delineating a real life example.

A client with an ingrained issue of procrastination came to me once, whose presenting problems were constipation and idiopathic abdominal pain. Over sessions he developed an ability to recognise the vague sensations inside his body as arising at the times when he put things on the back burner. Specially difficult things for him, such as resolving an emotional dispute at work, as well as with his partner. Initially, the felt sense of the vague feeling inside his chest area was “fuzzy” and “difficult to catch.” It was familiar though. And for years he had done nothing to understand and change it.

So, now he learnt to be a true friend to himself. Instead of running away from this “annoying” thing inside, and cramming his attention on trivia, he learnt to be present to whatever was arising in the moment. Sitting by quietly and observing. And sure enough developing self-compassion in this way changed the earlier felt sense to “frustration.” Be curious.

What’s Next
He befriended his frustration over a few sessions because it wouldn’t go away and neither would it give. He asked it questions like, “what do you want from me?” “is there anything I need to know?” and “can we help each other?” And then it did. He reached a spot inside where anxiety welled up at the thought of being a failure. He had learnt early in his childhood years to withdraw from emotional interaction, for fear of not measuring up to others’ expectations. Tears followed and the felt sense of anxiety conveyed to him a need it had to express itself as joy. “Be joyful,” it said. We called this his “insight.”

He had hit his hard spot, which eventually softened into a felt sense of “happy gooey” stuff. He felt a release at a body level, and not an intellectual one. Therefore this change was here to stay.

He’s still not past getting anxious, but he’s learnt to use focusing on himself and not let anxiety stop him from communicating when he needs to. In a joyful way. In time his GI issues cleared up.

Digging Like an Excavator
Our psychological issues are multi-layered mostly, in accordance with the depth of our conditioning. To go to the source of our behavioural pattern, we have to dig like committed excavators. Some call it peeling an obdurate onion that stings us mercilessly right until we reach its core. Maintaining a parasympathetic stance is of utmost importance. The body likes being cared about. So be gentle.

Doing focusing only until the 2nd or 3rd peel is like reaching the end of a deliciously bathed-in-chocolate mud-pie dessert and then leaving the table distracted by a phone call. You come back and it’s gone. Similarly, abandoning your or your client’s discovery without real reason, before its integration, can send its felt sense scuttling under cover. So be patient.

Focusing Works Like Magic
Choose to end the session when something has shifted and the body sends a signal that it’s enough. Come back another time, another day to take off where you left off, if the body leads you there.

Feelings that we are afraid to expose in front of others can surface during our sessions with self or with our therapist. Like the first ebullient sun rays at dawn that burst through a cloud formation, surprised at their own ability to shine so brightly after a night of darkness.

Not unlike that are our hidden feelings that are given allowance to breathe at last.

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