River of well being

This concept of balance and wellbeing has been coming up for me over and over so I’m going to share. In The Whole-Brain Child Dan Siegel defines mental health as our ability to remain in the “river of well-being”. One bank represents chaos, where you feel out of control. Confusion and turmoil rule the day. The other side is the bank of rigidity where you are imposing control on everything and everyone around you. This is no good either.
Sometimes, I find, life feels a bit more like a luge run. I was in a luge camp once when I was young. The first lesson you get in luge is if you hit one wall to steer into it because inevitably you will hit the other wall with double the impact and that will probably lead to a major wipe out. Steering into the wall you just hit requires self-awareness and the faster you are going the harder the crash.
E A Meek wrote a thesis for her PhD in Depth psychology on a similar concept related to creativity: creative flooding. We want to aim to be in a state where creative flow is manageable. When our creativity is blocked life is stagnant and depressing. Not talked about as much, is the state of creative flooding where we are overwhelmed and overloaded.
In DBT they stress the importance of acting from the Wise Mind. Emotions can give us a lot of information to help us connect with our environment and other people but too much emotion is overwhelming and chaotic. The rational mind is also important for making a good decision based on the facts and previous experience but too much and one becomes robotic and distant.
Finally, another more esoteric look at this concept of well-being comes from an Anthroposophical book I picked up last year called The Spiritual Tasks of the Homemaker by Manfred Schmidt-Brabant. He writes “In anthroposophy there are two great spiritual powers that try to disturb our balance: Lucifer and Ahriman. The Luciferic forces lead the human being away from earthly life, detach him from obligations. The Ahrimanic powers force the human being into a form, bind him fast. Ahriman is the solidifying, Lucifer the dissolving element…everything can disintegrate into chaos – or end up in sterile order. But balance has to be maintained, a middle ground found”

Stories I find empowering and inspiring

Shambhala warrior prophecy as told by Joanna Macy (video from book Active Hope):

Universe Story  by Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme (book)

Born with a Bang  by Jennifer Morgan (book):

Mindwalk (movie):

Frederik the mouse by Leo Lionni (animation):

The man who planted trees by Jean Giono (animation):

 

 

My favorite practices for managing creative flow (especially during difficult times)

Breathing Through – Joanna Macy

Morning Pages – Julia Cameron

Waldorf Wet on Wet Watercolor – Sarah Baldwin

 Collage

  • ripping books and magazines up and gluing them back onto canvas, paper or board.

 

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Gestalt: I am wholly(holy) other than the sum of my parts and processes

Grounding Techniques

When Creative Flooding becomes overwhelming it is helpful to have a toolkit of grounding techniques or ways to decrease intensity of experience. It is important not to overdo this so much that it stops, just slow it down so the process is gentler and less disorienting.  Over-medication, in my opinion, is the biggest danger in a genuine spiritual emergency.
Many of these tips are taken from this document: Integral Approach to Spiritual Emergency

1) Food – Eat heavy foods, especially those high in protein and fat or complex carbohydrates.
Avoid raw fruit and vegetables, simple carbohydrates like sugar, refined foods and stimulants like chocolate or caffeine.
Eat food with sensory mindfulness.

2) Exercise – For me walking or gentle stretching. Walking a labyrinth or gentle gardening. Focus on sensory awareness. Notice what you smell, see, hear, feel, taste.

3) Sleep – warm baths, power down electronics, keep work out of bedroom, write down ideas and put it away, read boring book, aromatherapy (lavender)
Possible Supplements: Calcium (1000 mg am and pm), Magnesium, Homeopathic remedies for anxiety and insomnia, GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) nutritional supplement, 5-HTP and L-theanine, Melatonin.
Herbs: Spearmint, holy basil and chamomile teas are mildly relaxing, passionflower tea calming without sedating, Kava, hops, skullcap are more potent. Valerian tincture is a stronger herbal tranquilizer.
Alcohol: Obviously can be misused but can provide the needed relief to take the edge off.
I feel pharmaceutical medications are over-prescribed and often recommended/used for longer than needed or healthy.  I recommend this guide if you want to get off them. Harm reduction guide

4) Stress – Often this can be psychological/sexual/spiritual stress and as each person is different you will have to experiment to see what intensifies the experience and what helps modulate it.
Contemplative practices are often helpful but can also be overstimulating: http://www.contemplativemind.org/practices/tree
These are the ones I have found helpful:

  • Mandala coloring
  • Labyrinth walking
  • Mindfulness practices such as focusing on breath or on my sensory awareness
  • Prayer and reading about myths and saints
  • Mantra writing (Likhita Japi)
  • Mandala weaving
  • Music/dance
  • Journaling
  • Concentrating on a candle
  • Flower arranging

4) Nature – walks in nature, looking at clouds, working outdoors, breathing fresh air. I like to go see water and throw rocks. I’ll go into this more as I explore how Ecopsychology has helped me integrate.