Get Curious

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Image Description: A thought bubble with a lightbulb inside. Public domain image.

A Stress Relief/Trauma Life Hack*:

Get curious.

Ask yourself a new question. Go down a rabbit trail of learning. Explore something novel. Get to know someone. Delight in something unknown. Try something new.

Every time we explore new things, we are creating new chemical reactions in our brains. Our neurons fire, and our brains develop new patterns and associations. This is invigorating and stimulating. When we have interest and feel delight, we ease stress.

Curiosity is also a pathway to empathy. It helps us imagine the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of others. It also helps us have empathy for ourselves: Why do I think these thoughts, feel these feelings, and do things this way? Both kinds of curiosity are helpful during times of trauma and personal difficulty.

So let’s get curious.

And I’d love to hear from you: What are you learning or exploring these days?

Renee Roederer

I want to thank three people (thank you!) who became patrons of my work through Patreon in March. If you’d like to support my writing through Patreon, that helps me quite a bit. And if you have interest in giving a one-time gift, you can do so here.

Thinking of you as well as we all muddle through the big health needs and economic needs of these days. Support to you too!

* I want to thank Shannon Dingle for a series of tweets she did in which she gave some valuable ‘trauma life hacks.’ I’m borrowing her phrase, so I want to give a nod to her work and her Twitter handle: @ShannonDingle

 

Sit and Smile

IMG_7461

Image Description: The blue and white cover of the book, Being Peace. Under the title, it reads “Thich Nhat Hanh,” naming the author of the book. The cover also says, “Introduction by Jack Kornfield.” At the top right is a quote that reads, “Being Peace is distilled wisdom, the language simple and clear. This book is for everyone. — Fellowship Magazine.” There are also images of two leaves falling to the ground.

A Stress Relief/Trauma Life Hack*:

Sit and smile.

Meditation is calming for the body. When we get quiet, sit still, notice our breathing, and clear our thoughts — or often more accurately, notice our thoughts as they come and go — we ease our nervous systems. We activate the calming mechanisms of the parasympathetic nervous system, and our fight, flight, freeze, and fawn reactions slow down and fade for a while.

We can also practice smiling.

I’m certainly not a person who tells others, “You should smile!” (Women hear this all the time, and it’s irritating. We also know that people are feeling grief, anxiety, and stress). But when we sit and smile, breathing in and out, we can shift some of the feelings in our body.

Here’s what Zen Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh shares in his book, Being Peace:

“I would like to offer one short poem you can recite from time to time, while breathing and smiling.

“Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment
I know this is a wonderful moment.

” ‘Breathing in, I calm my body.’ This line is like drinking a glass of ice water-you feel the cold, the freshness, permeate your body. When I breathe in and recite this line, I actually feel the breathing calming my body, calming my mind.

” ‘Breathing out, I smile.’ You know the effect of a smile. A smile can relax hundreds of muscles in your face, and relax your nervous system. A smile makes you master of yourself. That is why the Buddhas and the bodhisattvas are always smiling. When you smile, you realize the wonder of the smile.

” ‘Dwelling in the present moment.’ While I sit here, I don’t think of somewhere else, of the future or the past. I sit here, and I know where I am. This is very important. We tend be alive in the future, not now. We say, ‘Wait until I finish school and get my Ph.D. degree, and then I will be really alive.’ When we have it, and it’s not easy to get, we say to ourselves, ‘I have to wait until I have a job in order to be really alive.’ And then after the job, a car. After the car, a house. We are not capable of being alive in the present moment. We tend to postpone being alive to the future, the distant future, we don’t know when. Now is not the moment to be alive. We may never be alive at all in our entire life. Therefore the technique, if we have to speak of a technique, is to be in the present moment, to be aware that we are here and now, and the only moment to be alive is the present moment.

” ‘I know this is a wonderful moment.’ This is the only moment that is real. To be here and now, and enjoy the present moment is our most wonderful task. ‘Calming, Smiling, Present moment, Wonderful moment.’ I hope you will try it.”

— Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace, pages 15-16

* I want to thank Shannon Dingle for a series of tweets she did in which she gave some valuable ‘trauma life hacks.’ I’m borrowing her phrase, so I want to give a nod to her work and her Twitter handle: @ShannonDingle

Move Your Body (Side By Side)

brain-hemispheres

Image Description: A graphic of a brain viewed from above. At the top of the image, it says “Left Hemisphere” and “Right Hemisphere.”

A Stress Relief/Trauma Life Hack*:

Move your body side by side.

Bilateral stimulation is a big form of stress release for the body. Swing your arms. Left side, right side in a repetitive way. Take a walk. Left side, right side in a repetitive way. Use your hands to tap on your chest or your legs. Left side, right side in a repetitive way. With headphones, listen to bilateral stimulation music on Youtube. Left side, right side in a repetitive way.

Bilateral stimulation is soothing. Even more significant, it can help the brain store memories in new, helpful ways. (More about that in a moment).

We are living a time of collective trauma, and in the midst of this, we can experience emotional flooding. We can have big, internal reactions of anxiety, irritability, restlessness, hyper-vigilance, and trouble sleeping. These physical feelings give us the sensation that we are continuously on guard, waiting for something challenging but unknown to happen. With all of these, our nervous systems are in a state called hyperarousal. Or, in emotional flooding, we can sense our emotions going flat or numb. We might sleep more, struggle to get out of the bed in the morning, have depressive symptoms, feel continuously fatigued, or get to a place of dissociation where we lose contact with our feelings — becoming disconnected from the moment, ourselves, or our typical lives. With all of these, our nervous systems are in a state called hypoarousal.

We might experience one of these more than the other, or we might bounce back and forth between hyperarousal (top of the next image) and hypoarousal (bottom of the next image). This can be jolting. If you’re experiencing any of these things, please know that they make complete sense given what we’re experiencing collectively, and you’re not alone. We can be very gentle and kind with ourselves in the midst of these things.

Somatic-Experiencing
(Levine, Ogden, Siegel)

In the midst of present, collective trauma, older traumas from our lives might resurface too, either in our thinking memories or in physical reactions in our bodies. We might not be aware that this is happening because the experience can be one of additional hyperarousal and hypoarousal without necessarily being one of thinking and recollection. We need to show ourselves gentleness and kindness here too.

Bilateral stimulation can be helpful.

When we experience trauma, individually or collectively, the memories of that trauma can be split in our brains. The thinking, recollection, logical memory of the event is stored in left brain, while the emotional memory of the event is stored in the right brain. And if these are not reprocessed physically (building brain connections between the thinking memory and the emotional memory) these can keep us feeling stuck. Hyperarousal is traumatic stress stuck “on” and hypoarousal is traumatic stress stuck “off.” In the midst of these, bilateral stimulation is soothing (try it!). And it can also help move these various forms of memory around in our brain so that they are no longer stuck.

One extremely powerful and effective form of bilateral stimulation is a form of therapy called EMDR. (Check out this article: The Best Drug I’ve Ever Taken Wasn’t Even a Drug. It was EMDR Therapy) EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. When we move our eyes back and forth side to side, or do other forms of bilateral stimulation, we can create a physical state that is something like our REM cycles of sleep. With a therapist, we can use these forms of bilateral stimulation to reprocess traumatic memories, shifting how they are stored physically in our brains and bodies. This helps us shift the ways we are stuck in post-traumatic states of hyperarousal and hypoarousal.

It’s amazing that this stuff works!

So I recommend doing EMDR with a therapist, and this can be done for large traumas and for smaller forms of stress too.

But you can try some forms of bilateral stimulation at home as well. Here’s one form of bilateral stimulation that I learned from Andrea Thomas, one of my colleagues. It’s called the Butterfly Hug.

  1. Cross your arms across your body in a self-hug.
  2. Allow your thumbs to be the “body” of the butterfly. Your other fingers are the “wings.”
  3. Tap your fingers — the wings — on your arms, left side, right side in a repetitive way.

This can be soothing. While you try this, tell yourself messages that are loving, kind, and gentle. Your brain and body are processing these messages at a deep, physical level. Bilateral stimulation makes those connections deeper.

What a great life hack.

Renee Roederer

* I want to thank Shannon Dingle for a series of tweets she did in which she gave some valuable ‘trauma life hacks.’ I’m borrowing her phrase, so I want to give a nod to her work and her Twitter handle: @ShannonDingle

Give Yourself a Hug

heart hug

Image Description: A red cartoon heart with white arms gives a self-hug.

A Stress Relief/Trauma Life Hack*:

Give yourself a hug.

Sure, you may feel silly, but try to put that away for a few reasons: 1) It’s good to give yourself self-compassion, 2) no one is watching, and most importantly, 3) this has great health benefits because it releases stress.

When we hug, our brains reduce chemicals like oxytocin and dopamine (big, feel good chemicals) and you know what? While it’s certainly great to hug another person, our brains don’t fully know the difference between an other-people hug and a self-hug, especially if we place good intentions of self care into that hug. Some are sheltering-in-place alone, and this is genuinely helpful.

Hugs also stimulate the vagus nerve. Yesterday, I wrote about the importance of activating the parasympathetic nervous system (it calms our fight or flight responses). The vagus nerve is a special hack to know about, because it plays a big role in that system. When we hug, we stimulate pressure points in our skin called pacinian corpuscles, and these receptors fire signals to the vagus nerve. Among other things, the vagus nerve plays a role in regulating blood pressure. Hugs, including self-hugs, activate this system and frequently, lower blood pressure.

So give yourself a hug. Give it a try!

Renee Roederer

* I want to thank Shannon Dingle for a series of tweets she did in which she gave some valuable ‘trauma life hacks.’ I’m borrowing her phrase, so I want to give a nod to her work and her Twitter handle: @ShannonDingle

Listen to the Birds

bird

Image Description: A perched, baby robin.

A Stress Relief/Trauma Life Hack*:

Listen to bird songs.

A recording will definitely do, but if you can listen to the real birds outside chirping away, even better. Bird songs calm our nervous systems.

Fun Facts: The sounds of birds are lovely, and they remind us of spring (great things). But they’re also calming for evolutionary reasons too. When our early human ancestors heard birds chirping and singing in the trees, that meant there probably weren’t any predators around. So everyone could be more calm and less on guard.

And our bodies remember this. So listen away!

Bird songs, along with other forms of calm, activate our parasympathetic nervous systems. And in a time of collective trauma, this is what we need. Our autonomic nervous systems have a 1) sympathetic nervous system which ramps up our ‘fight or flight’ responses, and a 2) parasympathetic nervous system which calms them down.

So in times of stress and trauma, we want all the life hacks we can muster to activate the parasympathetic nervous system.

Bird songs are a good one!

Renee Roederer

* I want to thank Shannon Dingle for a series of tweets she did in which she gave some valuable ‘trauma life hacks.’ I’m borrowing her phrase, so I want to give a nod to her work and her Twitter handle: @ShannonDingle

Out of the Depths

This is a sermon I prepared for Northside Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor this morning on Psalm 130. The video above is from Facebook Live. If you have any challenges accessing the video in this post, feel free to go here.

I begin by reading Psalm 130. (I also set this Psalm to music if you’d like to hear it here).

Psalm 130 (New Revised Standard Version)

A Song of Ascents.
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you may be revered.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.
It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.

Out of the depths….

Out of the depths… from the depths… from feelings… from longings… from confusion… from situations so difficult we don’t know how to put them into words… from our minds… from our hearts… from our bodies… from our deepest selves… deepest selves that often don’t have words or firm definitions either…

Out of the depths — from these depths — we cry to you, O Lord.

And psalm says, “Lord, hear my voice.”

God Beyond Us,
God Within Us,
God Around Us,
God Larger Than Us,
God That Finds Our Story, even our hidden stories without words,

Hear the voice we don’t even know how to voice.

Please find it with us.

Find our voices, give them expression, and place them together.

This is a psalm of lament, and this is a psalm of hope.

It’s interesting that these often find their way together. Lament and hope often accompany each other during difficult times. I appreciate something that my friend Marcia Detrick once wrote. She says,

“Lament and hope are not opposites. Nor are they mutually exclusive.

“In my heart and life, lament and hope often co-exist very peacefully as friendly companions to one another.

“There may be pressure to accelerate our grieving, and to put boundaries around our lament.

“But my lament is grounded in hope, in a belief that the world could be better, should be better, and has the real potential to actually become better.

“The shared lament of others over the last few days has brought me great comfort and great hope.

And she closes with these words,

“If ever we stop lamenting evil, all hope will truly be lost.”

There are times when we need to lament, and there are times when we need the lament-song of others, even if it is wordless. There are times when we need to hope, and there are times when we need the hope-song of others, even if it is wordless.

Can we sing songs of lament and hope, even without words? Can some part of us be expressed and heard deep down, even in silence?

Our bodies do it all the time. And we are living a time of collective trauma. In times of trauma, our bodies and our collective embodied life find ways to cry out.

And perhaps in ways we can’t fully articulate, God, the Ground of All Being, God the Love Beyond and Within All Things, hears these voiceless-voices and even enables us to hear one another. So we lament together and hope in one another too.

In the Hebrew Bible, Psalm 130 is grouped together with a number of other psalms, and these are called Songs of Ascent. As pilgrims traveled to Jerusalem for three annual festivals, they traveled upward into the higher elevation of the city. These Songs of Ascent have been important songs of collective worship. In this Psalm, we encounter one voice crying from the depths, but we also hear a voice beckoning the voices of all of Israel — “Oh, Israel, hope in the Lord,” — the psalmist invites, “for with the Lord there is steadfast love.” This upholds and serves as a foundation for all things, even during our times in the depths. Especially our times in the depths.

And so we bring our voices today,

Our feelings… our longings… our confusion… our situations so difficult we don’t know how to put them into words…. our minds… our hearts… our bodies… our deepest selves… our deepest selves that don’t often, have words or firm definitions either…

Out of the depths — from these depths — we each cry out,

“Lord, hear my voice,”

And as we do this in so many ways, And as we do this in our own vulnerability,

We might hear each other’s voices too — even the ones below the surface, even the ones in the depths.

Even in social distancing and quarantine, we might be gathered together, and we might encourage one another in lament and hope alike.

And when we lament together, when we find ourselves heard, we might find hope in that kind of experience. We find our neighbors in that kind of experience. We find love in that kind of experience.

For many years, I have shared a phrase with a dear person in my life. Perhaps we’ve been saying it back and forth to one another for an entire decade.

“The mystery of goodness,” we say. We use this phrase in a variety of ways.

“I didn’t expect that at all. It was the mystery of goodness.”

“See, you’re worth it! The mystery of goodness.”

“Just try it. You’ll be surprised. It will show up. The mystery of goodness.”

Each time, our phrase has addressed the ways that life often hands us unexpected gifts of connection, meaning, and purpose.

Our phrase has not always been spoken in moments of joy and surprise. More often, we’ve spoken this phrase to one another when life experiences have been painful and hard – sometimes overwhelmingly so.

Our phrase has never been a pithy saying between us. Instead, we allow it to speak to realities that are deep, grief-filled, and challenging. That’s because our phrase is not ultimately a phrase. It is a way of viewing the world.

We have encouraged each other, daring to speak, daring to cry out, and daring to believe – sometimes when it felt nearly impossible to do so – that despite the losses and injustices of the world, and despite the losses and injustices in our own lives, goodness comes too. And in the end, though we lament, we hope this goodness will see us through.

We hope…
that love and life have the ultimate say,
… that goodness has the ultimate say,
… that connection, meaning, and purpose have the ultimate say,
and the ultimate claim upon our lives.

Despite the pain we feel and the pain we know, we hope that life also turns on the mystery of goodness, and
We are loved into life.

Let me be clear here: This is not pithy. We are talking about something challenging. This way of viewing the world is the hard-wrought work of having hope when nearly all feels lost. At times, we all need to invite others to hold out this kind of hope for us because we cannot begin to believe it for ourselves.

And it’s for good reason: In our lives and in the lives of our communities, we have experienced death, trauma, abuse, depression, war, racism, addiction, unemployment, divorce, poverty, other forms of loss and injustice, and now, a pandemic. That is unprecedented.

This is hard work. It is challenging at times to believe in the mystery of goodness. But we are all invited to hope even just a little more. We are invited to lean into that hope so much, in fact, that we help bring goodness into the world and into the lives of one another.

This morning, I find myself reflecting upon the mystery of goodness, wondering if it might be revealed in our voices — even the voices that are internal, deep, and hidden. When we cry out in lament, I wonder if the mystery of goodness can come to accompany us too.

Can we allow ourselves to hope for one another?

Can we turn that hope toward others who cannot possibly see the light at the end of the tunnel for themselves and those they love?

This is not pithy. It is a way of viewing the world, and It is hard work.

And so,
-To the friends who have lost multiple family members in one year,
-To the friends who are in the throes of depression,
-To the friends who are homeless and regularly skipping meals,
-To the friends who are divorcing,
-To the friends who are incarcerated,
-To the friends facing terminal illnesses,
-To the friends losing sleep in a pandemic,

With our many voices, we do not diminish your pain.

We enter it, and with love,
We hope for you.We hope the unexpected gifts of life made new. We hope the Mystery of Goodness.

“Out of the depths, I cry to you, O Lord,” we dare to utter .

“Lord, hear my voice!”

In that cry, may we also hear one another.

Renee Roederer

A Musical Setting of Psalm 130 — Renee Roederer

ocean public domain

Image Description: The sun shines low on the horizon over a dark ocean. Public Domain.

Many years ago, I set Psalm 130 to music for congregational singing. On Sunday, this psalm will be read as part of the Revised Common Lectionary. These words seem so fitting for the emotions of these days.

An audio recording is above, and the psalm text is listed below.

Psalm 130 (New Revised Standard Version)

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
   Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplications!

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you may be revered.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.
It is he who will redeem Israel
from all its iniquities.