Separation. Divorce. Abandonment. Rejection. Betrayal. A break-up of a meaningful relationship. A bottomless pit of despair. You have been there. Probably more than once. Some connections are simply over, the maximum opportunity for learning took its place – you recognize this, acknowledge, release and move on with grace. And some are forced into ending – you recognize this reluctantly, acknowledge it with reservations but the release seems to be impossible, but release you must! So you find yourself curled up into a sobbing embryonic ball in a ditch, feeling run over by a truck or abducted by aliens. Break-up on the Richter scale of 10: ‘total destruction of buildings, bridges and roads’, your entire world crumbling and collapsing, your sense of gravity and orientation profoundly shifted from the known reference points. The brain is inflamed and the mind-body connection is severely damaged. Basically, you are having a funeral for your ‘happily ever after’ dream.
The author Mauly Len Carton calls ‘falling out of love’ an active creation of absence. In relational bond you have created the whole culture of ‘Two’ with its unique language, rituals, habits. Breaking up is an act of erasure of this lost culture. Imagine a painting, your most prized art-piece of cosmogorial value that is not for sale. Ever. It evokes a sense of home-coming and it is healing to your soul. Just being in its presence makes your heart sing. Now you are looking at the empty frame and the song in your heart is a mere whimper. From a neurological point of view, empathic loving connections are necessary for our well-being. It is good for the immune system! If a sense of belonging and acknowledgement is linked to our perceived sense of safety the opposite should also hold true. It is important to address the sense of loss and grief, yet it is vital to remain grounded. I was aware that it was my own job to recreate the song and to reconstruct the painting into a new masterpiece of my choice, filling it in with the new colors and textures of new experiences and joys. And the only way to do it is through my own mind.
The rational mind knows raw toxic emotions eventually heal. I secretly wished to fast-forward my life to that point in the future. Weeks? Months? Years? If I didn’t know what I know now, I would still be stuck in the perpetual cycle of despair, wallowing in my own self-pity instead of recognizing a huge potential of this time as extremely fertile soil for healing and transformation. No mud, no lotus, right? It is not a ‘12 Easy Steps’ program. It is not easy and it is not a program, it is a process. I affectionately refer to it as ‘Fix My Brain’ boot-camp.
A bit of a background information first. In a short span of one and a half years I went through a divorce from a 15 years marriage (it was amicable but still emotionally taxing). I moved to a place of my own, started a new career path, got into relationship with the love of my life (as I perceived it), became a full-time mother of the bright 9 year old boy, watched a friend to pass away from cancer and took a decision to break-up with my boyfriend while still being madly in love with him (mutual and extremely hard decision). The break-up coincided with the funeral. While attending the funeral on a gray rainy day, a few days short of Thanksgiving I had the sense of being at two funerals at once.
I do not have one single family member on this continent – I am originally from the Old World (an adventurous European of a Russian descent that had landed in Colorado 15 years ago); all my relatives still reside on the other side of the Atlantic. My boyfriend’s family became my surrogate family during the last year; and they were unwaveringly gracious and kind to me. I didn’t have any time or energy to stay connected with my old social circles and most of my closest friends are scattered throughout the world. To sum it up, the three months post break up was the loneliest darkest time in my life.
Because I study and teach neuroplasticity meditation I could predict the emotional challenges ahead of me. I was aware of a huge vacuum to be filled. I’ve also became my own subject for practicing all the techniques I teach to others. Most certainly Neurosculpting® tools became my saving grace. I already knew the doorway to fixing my heart was through my mind. I can’t stress enough that if you are going through an emotionally hard time, please realize that this is extremely powerful and precious for your personal growth. I hope you will be convinced by the time you are done reading this. After all, you are going through a threshold of giving a birth to a new self!
To maintain my relative sanity while attending to my daily responsibilities of being a mother and working, my mind had to make sense of what happened. What were the underlying causes? How did I sabotage myself? What role did I play in this two-way dynamic? Why is love not enough? Not even with someone who is spiritual, intelligent, quite brilliant, is just the right amount of crazy and feels like your other long-lost-half. What is wrong with us human species when it comes to love and attachment? Most importantly, how do I learn my heart’s song again?
So I meditated, I read, I inquired, I asked for help. I entered ‘Get to Bloody Know Yourself University’. Looking back at this process three distinctive stages of healing emerge:
Becoming your own Parent
I acknowledge – my ego was shattered to shreds. The old negative ‘not good enough’ story came up like a tidal wave, threatening to overwhelm me and keep me hooked in the circuit of self-pity. From my study of brain neuroplasticity I am aware that our thoughts are not facts, however, they are real and they are neurologically linked to the old patterns and neural maps we have created throughout a life-time. Emotional pain caused by the thoughts keeps us hooked in the toxic network and is as real as physical pain. Lisa Wimberger in her book ‘Neurosculpting’ writes:
“Science has only began to unfold and actually map certain mind-body relationships. We have now come to an understanding that the very same neurological pathways in the brain that activate during physical pain can also activate with emotional pain. These neurological implications match what you know in your heart to be true: emotional pain is as real to the mind and body as physical pain.”
Consider your body’s reactions to your emotional state: do you feel an actual ache in your heart? Do you feel like you could vomit when your emotions are triggered? Are you losing your appetite? Your sleep? Physical sensations reacting to your state of mind in the feedback loop is tangible and it depends on your own story or rather, your relationship to the story.
It felt my ego was bruised and raw, like a fresh bleeding wound of a small child that needed my help. Panicking and getting overwhelmed was not an option. I had to get out of my limbic system (part of the brain that houses fight-or-flight center and also part of the brain that would rather keep me in the auto-pilot mode of ‘poor little me’ story) and move into the higher gear of the prefrontal cortex to start acting in a rational, proactive way, like a wise loving parent would. And like a loving grounded parent I had to do it with love, empathy and compassion. The prefrontal cortex serves as a CEO of our persona, it is the most evolved part of our brain and is involved into concentration, attention span, judgement, impulse control, and critical thinking.
It is essential that during this time we unite the body and mind and come back home to ourselves. Thich Nhat Hanh in his book ‘No Mud, No Lotus’ writes:
“We are truly alive only when the mind is with the body. The great news is that oneness of body and mind can be realized just by one in-breath. Maybe we have not been kind enough to our body for some time. Recognizing the tension, the pain, the stress in our body, we can bathe it in our mindfull awareness, and that is the beginning of healing.”
Breath. Shake. Meditate. Whatever brings you into the present moment. Put away that lost culture of ‘Two’ objects, remove your connections from the social media, remove all the triggers that send you into spinning. Gently untangle the emotional cords you have established with your former lover.
Most importantly, get on the self-care wagon: eat well, sleep well, exercise. Take care of your basic needs! Self explanatory, right? But if you are like me it’s probably the last thing you feel like doing. However, you simply must! In the same way as getting out of bed, taking care of children, going to work, paying bills and so on. And believe me, five minutes of a jump rope under the open sky made a tremendous difference in my whole day! Our brains need healthy well-balanced diet to collaborate with the best version of ourselves. Load up on blueberries, turmeric spice, coconut oil, DHA oil, nuts and healthy proteins to boost your brain and speed up your emotional recovery process. Overindulging in unhealthy carbs will accommodate the limbic system stay in the default mode and run the puppet show of the reactionary short-fuse version of self.
Imagine what would make your crying inner little child feel loved and nourished on the inside? Our brain loves predictability and sense of safety. Rearranging your home to reflect the sense of ‘a safe nourishing heaven’ is a good start. Create a ‘safe womb’ of your environment. Surround yourself with signs and reminders of love. I placed cards and gifts from my dear friends so I could see them daily as a reminder that the story ‘I’m not worthy of love’ is not real! I love fresh flowers – I made sure to buy a simple cheerful fresh bouquet along with my groceries. Many sunflowers added sunshine to my dark days! I love water. I tried to indulge myself in hour long bath soaks with essential oils at least once a week. Once the ache seemed unbearable and I cried in a tub, imagining it feeling up with tears and then watch them drain for good. It might sound strange but it was a helpful visualization technique.
Rainer Maria Rilke in his ‘Letters To A Young Poet’ writes on sadness: “Only those sadnesses are dangerous and bad which one carries about among people in order to drawn them out; like sickness that are superficially and foolishly treated they simply withdraw and after a little pause break out again the more dreadfully…. the future enters into us in order to transform itself in us long before it happens. And this is why it is so important to be lonely and attentive when one is sad…”
Becoming your own parent doesn’t mean distracting yourself from suffering by giving your inner child ‘another shiny object’ to focus on. It doesn’t imply denial of your feelings. It means being ferociously present with your emotions and acknowledging them so you can release them.
Meditation teacher, Cierra Navarra makes a perfect analogy: you hold your quivering heart as if it was a large egg about to break wide open and your job is to provide it with the most nourishing soft and strong support. Guess what’s about to hatch from this egg? It’s a new you! So take heart! You are on your way but you have to be patient and kind to yourself during this time. Hopefully you’ll learn to maintain this attitude toward yourself for the rest of your life.
Cierra also talks about three enemies of compassion that sometimes mask as compassion. They are: overwhelming grief, judgemental anger and pity. Those are doorways into reactionary fight-or-flight center that will keep you stuck in the downward spiral, playing emotional soundtrack to the ‘poor little me’ movie in your head. You may trick yourself into feeling quite justified to feel angry, vindictive or victimized ad infinitum. So catch your mind getting off track and come back to holding your own hand gently yet firmly. Promise to be there for yourself always.
Becoming my own parent who is wise, empathic and compassionate was my first step in getting closer to myself. The key was to figure out a healthy balance of letting myself grieve without overindulging in it. Healing takes time. Be patient with yourself.
Becoming your own Best Friend
True friends are there for us unconditionally. They can offer a listening ear or a hand to hold. They can be brutally honest and push us into stretching our limits. With friends we can cry and laugh without feeling awkward. We can be ourselves, at our best and and worst and feeling fully connected. Sometimes they tell us to get our heads out of our asses and see things for what they are. They also might organize an impromptu road trip, open a bottle of champagne as a surprise or throw you into a fountain (yes, I have awesome friends!). Simply put, friendship is healthy. In this stage you rekindle your love of life.
You decide what makes you feel alive. I literally made a list of ‘Things that make me happy’. Some of those: going out with friends, walking in a park, jumping a rope, playing music, dancing, going on adventure, taking photos, visiting a new place, having a snowball fight with my son, reading poetry, meditating, brewing green tea in my favorite Japanese teapot, watching a movie with my son, reading a book, visiting a bookstore, arranging flowers, burning incense, making a collage, playing didgeridoo, having a foot soak, drinking coffee while watching sunset… Simple like that.
If you wish, give yourself a makeover. A healing power of a new hairdo can’t be underestimated! Same goes for a different wardrobe. Wear your best for yourself. Rethink your image. Get your radiant beautiful self back in shape. I love essential oils. I would perfume myself with my favorite Egyptian oil before going to bed. Taking advantage of my olfactory sense to make myself a little happier.
Definitely spend quality time with friends but most importantly, befriend your spirit. Emotions will rise inevitably. ‘Recognize, acknowledge, release’ became my mantra. Admittedly I had a big gap in my life to fill but it also allowed me to refocus my energy on other things in life. I thrive on adventure. With a perspective of a lonely Christmas at home (my son went away for the holidays with his father) I arranged a road trip to one of my favorite destinations – Moab, Utah. My spirit recharges in nature. My heart soars whenever I take it out into the wild. And if you are to celebrate your first Christmas solo, I advise to do it in style! I hiked to the Delicate Arch in the Arches National Park and drank champagne in the Garden of Eden. I also took my traveling tea-pot along for a tea ceremony at the stunning Dead-Horse Point, meditating above Green River during the sunset. On the Christmas Eve I watched ‘Thelma and Louise’ in my room and watched the magnificent stars outside my humble rental cabin before going to bed. I felt like the most fortunate human alive!
Create new memories and rituals to untangle the old connection and let go. I became my own shaman. I was burning notes and letters. I was setting intentions. I was creating a funeral to the dreams we shared. There is a lot of resistance to letting go, perhaps that is the whole point of the healing process. Letting go will happen if you don’t cling to the past. It is not about ‘unloving’. Love is of infinite quality, but the attachment has an expiration date. Realize that your future deserves your full attention. As Mark Twain said:
“Plan for the future, because that is where you are going to spend the rest of your life.”
Becoming your own Teacher-Student
My inquisitive mind craves understanding, now it was demanding more knowledge of my psyche in order to make a perceived sense of order in the emotional chaos. I had some deep spiritual revelations and insights that were meaningful to my spirit but I also had to appease my logical side. We are prisoner, prison and a hero that escapes the prison; all rolled into one. To escape this prison of ‘broken-heart’ story I embarked on educating myself on subjects of emotional intelligence and relationships. I realized that I don’t have enough understanding of these issues. I actually naively believed that love is enough. When there is will, there is way, right? Apparently not.
I read anything related to relationships I could: psychology, philosophy, neuroscience, digests, blogs, alternative healing modalities, Buddhist texts, metaphysics, scientific research, TED talks. The most insightful explanation about what goes wrong between two people in love was a psychological phenomenon described by a clinical psychologist Robert W. Firestone, Ph.D. as a ‘fantasy bond’, or a substitute for a truly loving relationship.
Each of us develops an attachment pattern that affects everything from our partner selection to how well our relationships progress to, sadly, how they end. It is established in early childhood attachments and continues to function as a working model for relationships in adulthood. Destructive fantasy bonds, which exist in a large majority of relationships, greatly reduce the possibility couples have of achieving intimacy.
In their research Dr. Phillip Shaver and Dr. Cindy Hazan found that about 60% of people have a secure attachment, while 20% have an avoidant attachment, and 20% have an anxious attachment. The latter comes from a framework of insatiable emotional hunger while the avoidant personality develops attitude of not admitting their emotional needs at all, acting in a pseudo-independent way as a coping mechanism of emotional self-preservation. Two people with the opposite styles of attachment attract each other to work their wounds through, creating this illusion of connection and closeness as an imagination of love and loving. I guess that’s what author and relationship expert Mark Manson refers to speaking of dangers of idealizing love.
The good news is that the attachment style you developed as a child based on your relationship with a parent doesn’t have to define your ways of relating to those you love in your adult life. If you come to know your attachment style, you can uncover ways you are defending yourself from getting close and being emotionally connected. You can work toward forming an ‘earned secure attachment.’
Fortunately, even science comes to our aid. In their paper ‘Does attachment theory really matter?’ psychologists Mary Sykes Wylie and Lynn Turner write:
“Today, rather than envisioning human beings in terms of the age-old divide between mind and body, for the first time in history, science appears to be bringing mind, brain, and body together in one whole and complete human organism… From our very first mother–infant bond, we experience relationships in this same, still mysterious, primarily physical way as did our primitive hominid ancestors. Like them, we look into each other’s eyes, we smile and gesture, touch and stroke each other, make soft, friendly sounds, breathe in each other. Through these ancient signs and signals, we come, as they did, to know each other and by knowing each other we come to know ourselves.”
Neuropsychiatrist Dr. Daniel Siegel writes on attachment styles:
“I loved the way attachment research showed that fate (having less-than-perfect parents) isn’t necessarily destiny. If you can make sense of your life story, you can change it.”
We can heal emotional pain by manipulating our physical realm. Consider the work of neuroscientist V. S. Ramachandran who created an effective treatment for phantom-limb syndrome. His mirror treatment was able to heal illusionary pain of a phantom-limb by a fictional story of mirror reflection, tricking the brain into perceiving a missing limb as ‘coming back to life’ and being able to exercise it. Fiction on top fiction took care of pain, resulting in changes in the brain circuitry and diminishing the pain path of the phantom-limb. Perhaps in a similar fashion the story of my ‘new masterpiece’ starts re-emerging and becoming a new reality to my brain? In the process of erasing the lost culture of ‘Two’ I’m also erasing my story of ‘broken heart’, replacing it with a ‘new whole me’ story.
Lisa Wimberger writes:
“It takes courage and faith to let go of the thoughts that define us, whether we define ourselves as schizophrenic, aggressive, depressed, or countless other labels we can identify with. With science in our corner, cheering us on with our gifts of neuroplasticity and pain management, we can perhaps find a level of trust in our ability to reshape our stories in the pursuit of well-being and mind-body-spirit union.”
I hope that your grief and emotional turmoil will soon start resembling a profound gift. The gift of deep familiarity with yourself.
I spent most of my life in denial of my feelings, especially the unsavory ones. My mind developed strategies to pretend that I don’t have emotional needs, after all my personality is optimistic, adaptable and easy going. An inner child pleading ‘please love me the way I am’. I grew up in a family where words ‘I love you’ were never uttered and expressing emotions was a sign of character weakness or mental inaptitude. For many years I couldn’t quite understand why I wasn’t feeling at ease in my own skin. The dichotomy of overflowing with empathy on the inside while projecting aloofness and uncaring on the outside was driving me crazy, and probably was really hard on people that loved me. My passive-aggressive defence mechanism was a well-oiled machine, functioning perfectly to keep me in a victimhood mentality. By the grace of becoming sick a few years ago and having to face my old unaddressed PTSD from a sexual assault, my life-long ADD-like patterns, many other unproductive habits and now the latest turmoil I am more familiar with my emotional make-up than I ever was. I am also convinced that it is our reaction to what is happening that matters more than the storyline.
Dr. Barbara L. Fredrickson (the director of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory at the University of Michigan) states that positive emotions does not equite to feeling ‘happy’. Positive emotions are very subtle, unlike the negative ones that scream at you. However, you can always cultivate joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe and love in your life.
As you come closer to your wholeness (the word healing comes from the Old English ‘haelen’ and one of its meanings is ‘to make whole’) you may agree with this simple idea: a flower blooms not to perform and deliver so it can be appreciated by someone for its beauty and fragrance, it blooms and turns towards the sun simply because it is alive. The life force running through a flower is the same life force running through you and through all of us. Perhaps, only when you are fully alive, fully present and accept yourself 360° degrees, with all your darkest shadowy crevices and brightest most brilliant facets representing the best human qualities in you, you are ready to know the Other? What a tremendous gift!
What if you slept
And what if
In your sleep
And what if
In your dream
You went to heaven
And there plucked a strange and beautiful flower
And what if
When you awoke
You had that flower in your hand
Ah, what then?
-Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Born in Latvia, Vija has lived, studied and worked in Riga, Amsterdam, Leeds, Bangkok, and New Delhi, and currently lives in Denver, Colorado. She speaks five languages and one day hopes to master one more.
Vija came to her first Neurosculpting® class with Lisa Wimberger in 2011 and has been using her mind to sculpt her brain ever since. Neurosculpting® has helped Vija to combat PTSD, to re-wire various unproductive habits and limiting beliefs and to discover a more integrated path in both her professional and personal life.
Vija has practiced meditation in varying forms since her late teens and undergone Buddhist study with Sakyong Mippham at the Shambhala Buddhist Center in Red Feather Lakes, CO in 2005. Vija is also a certified Children Yoga instructor with Aura Wellness Center in Attleboro, MA. Vija had worked as a patient liaison for the Namaste Hospice in Denver for a few years. Always a seeker, Vija has been pursuing knowledge of human condition and self-discovery, especially after having a spontaneous out-of-body experience and multiple dream visions. She is in constant awe of unlimited human potential and is extremely motivated to share powerful Neurosculpting® tools that she uses on a daily basis herself.
Vija has a B.A. in Communication and a B.A. in Social Work. She is also a published author and a visual artist.
Vija teaches core Neurosculpting® classes and is available for private consultations.
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