Step 2: Move your attention to the unpleasant sensations.
Once you feel grounded in the pleasant sensations, it is time to allow your focus to turn to some of the unpleasant ones. If you find that your attention is moving all over the place to many different sensations in the body, focus on one or two that are demanding the most attention and let the rest go.
Note that the body often has a strong impulse to stay in activation. The automatic elicitation of the relaxation response does not always occur in cases where our nervous systems are stuck in patterns of activation. If at any point the sensations become truly intolerable, you may resource yourself by bringing your attention to a place in your body that feels strong. If the activation is extremely intense, this might feel like touching into just a tiny molecule of strength in the most distant part of the body. Keep your attention there, allowing yourself to feel the comfort of that sensation and helping it to grow and spread throughout the rest of your body. You might find that it helps to call in images of people or things or places that comfort you or bring you strength. If the activation continues to be too intense or unbearable, you might need to step outside of the difficult sensations by moving your eyes and looking around your physical environment. If you notice that you start to dissociate from the sensations because they are too much to sustain, know that this pattern also is an important protective mechanism of the nervous system. Pay particular attention to what this dissociation feels like so you can learn to recognize when it is happening and trust that you will come back into the sensations when you are ready.
All of this said, also know that the stress response is part of an intelligent built-in system designed to orient us to danger and protect us from harm. As uncomfortable as we may feel while under the its grasp, it’s important that we do not judge it, as it has a very important function! You will gradually build your capacity to tolerate the unpleasant sensations.
We advise our clients to trust in the contractions of labor and we provide encouragement that the pain will eventually bring a powerful release. We know that when they are in transition and feel like they are going to die it is usually a sign that the baby will soon come. The same is true of the sensations that come with our own nervous system activation. In order to move into a pattern of release, we must be willing to be present with the uncomfortable sensations that come with the activation. When the sensations begin to feel overwhelming, it is likely a sign that you are ready to move into the next step of the exercise.
Again, ask yourself the following questions:
- Where in my body do I feel the unpleasant sensations?
- What words would I use to describe the characteristics and qualities of the sensations I feel in that part of my body?
- Do they have size and/or shape?
- Are they a certain color and/or texture?
- Are they heavy or light?
- If the sensation was a thing, what would it be?
- Do they have movement and, if so, how do they move? In what direction(s)?
- Do they go from outward to inward or inward to outward?
- Can I notice the edges and, if so, where do they begin and end?
- Is there a center point to the sensation?
- What happens next when I stay present with the sensation? How does it change?
- Are there certain images that go with the sensations?
- Does focusing on the sensations evoke certain emotions?
- Do I feel compelled to move or behave in any particular way in response to the sensations?
- Do I attach any particular meaning to the sensations?
- Stay with the unpleasant sensations as long as you are able and see what happens.
Explore them with pure curiosity without judging them. As you follow the sensations, notice:
- Where do they go?
- Do they become more intense?
- How do they change?
- Where or how do they move?
- If they are stuck, how might they move if they could?
- If they could say something, what would they say?