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Open Heart. Big Fence.

March 30th, 2017 by Rachel Graves


A couple of weeks back, I shared my experience of numbing out for almost 10 years because I thought I was “too much”.  I got flooded with responses of, “OMG, me too!” Or, “This is exactly me, I just never knew how to put it into words.”  But the biggest response I got was a question – “How do you honor your needs without taking on the feelings of others and slipping back into that mindset of shutting down? What do you do when that too much message starts to bubble back up?”

Women are care givers, so we bare the burdens of those around us on the regs.  It usually leaves us feeling exhausted and uninspired.  A big part of what I do for work is showing up for others.  I provide a safe place, for them to work through their own trials and issues.  I hold space for them, and I support them but I do NOT take their issues on myself.  Danielle Laporte has a great truth bomb – “Open your heart.  Then put up a big fence.” And that’s become my philosophy as well.  I’m finally in a place where I’m committed to staying vulnerable enough to honor my feelings AND show up for yours, but equally committed to setting and enforcing boundaries as an act of self-preservation.

Step one

First and foremost, I get grounded, and stay grounded.   I used to completely disassociate from my body when I started to feel overwhelmed.  I would mentally shut down and go into autopilot to please whoever was in front me.  Or, I would just opt out, and run away.  When things started to feel hard – Byyyye.  This is honestly how I ended up making the trek from Memphis to Hartford almost 10 years ago.  I was running.  Now when I start to feel that overwhelm creep up and shutting down crosses my mind, I literally say to myself - Stay here. Then, I’ll physically ground myself by standing on my tip toes and abruptly letting all my weight drop into my heels.  I’ll repeat this as long I need to.  Feeling my own weight hit the ground beneath me, brings me back.  It reminds me that I need to sit with those feelings until I know what to do next. (This practice courtesy of the amazing Marcela Widrig - http://bodiesthatwork.com/)


Step two

While I’m feeling what’s there, I also make sure to breathe.   Breathing may seem insignificant, because…we’re alive, right?  Most of us don’t realize what shallow breaths we take every day.  We breathe from our throat and not our belly.  When I start to feel overwhelmed, this is where I practice belly breathing.  I take big, huge, deep breaths in through my nose til my whole belly is full of air.  I hold it for a second, and then blow all that air out of my mouth til my belly is completely empty.  I’ll sit with that feeling while breathing until I feel my heart rate drop.


Step three

I ask for and accept help when I need it.  This took and continues to take  practice.  In America, we’re wired to feel so much shame around our emotions and in asking for help.   Many other cultures don’t do this.  I was just watching a Joe Rogan podcast with Justin Wren, founder of Water4  (full podcast HERE) and he was talking about the work he’s doing in the Congo.  He describes the way the Pygmies feel their feelings so deeply because it’s all they have, and it’s a huge part of their culture.  He said in their culture, you go an inch or two wide, but a mile deep with people versus our American culture where we go a mile wide but not deep at all.  We try to dress up pain or death.  We distract ourselves with our toys and technology.  We numb out with drugs, alcohol, fitness, shopping, plastic surgery, sex, etc.  The Pygmies unabashedly FEEL pain.  They FEEL joy.  I saw the same thing with the people in Costa Rica just last week.  Many of them only have the shirt on their back, but are having the best day.  “PURA VIDA”, they’d say with a huge smile.  And isn’t that what we all want?  Pura Vida?

We need community and we need to feel.

Just this week, even after coming back refreshed from vacation, I was struggling with feelings of being a fraud.  Of not doing enough, or being enough, or writing enough.  I had gotten mired down in some of the news in the media and just felt really….small.  In the past, this would’ve paralyzed me.  But now, I followed my practice - I asked for help from one of my tightest circle of sisters.  I told them exactly how I was feeling.  They reminded me of who I am and what I stand for.  They held space for me to feel my feelings without taking them on themselves.  They provided objective feedback to help me get unstuck.  And they loved on me in the process.  I took a step back.  I re-evaluated.  I got clear on my vision.  And then I shook it off and started showing back up by taking imperfect action.


Step four

Finally, I take a cue from Glennon Doyle Melton and ask - What’s the next “right” step? And then I do that thing.  For me, movement is almost always the answer.  Sometimes structured, sometimes not.  Sometimes intense and aggressive, other times restorative.  One thing I know - I NEED movement. 

Many of these practices I learned or revamped at the 2016 I Am Power Retreat with Jarrett Arthur, Jennie Trower, Erin Brown, and Marcela Widrig.  Details for the 2017 retreat are being released THIS Saturday,  buuutttt.... I've been given the go ahead to give all my newsletter subscribers a sneak peek today so make sure you're signed up (YES I will be there again this year)!  I can’t say enough about this event or these women.  Way more on that experience in a future blog, but if you’re local-ish to me in Connecticut and want a taste of what IAP is all about, maybe you should consider signing up for EmpowHERed 2017 while there are still a handful of openings left.  During this full day workshop with Jarrett, Jennie and Erin, we’ll cover staying grounded, boundary setting and of course practical self-defense techniques.

Now that I’m back from vacation, I’ll be launching into my uber busy season.  I’ve got several local events like EmpowHERed 2017 coming up and I’ll be diving into the most in depth, in-person coaching program that I run at my gym.  I’m working to be able to roll this out as a virtual offering for YOU very soon, so stay on the lookout!

For many of us, based on conditioning, we view our feelings as a failure or as weakness.  I did for so long, but that reaction was just part of my much larger story.  The struggles with those feelings, is absolutely what led me to my work.

“The irony is that we attempt to disown our difficult stories to appear more whole or more acceptable, but our wholeness – even our wholeheartedness – actually depends on the integration of ALL of our experiences, including the falls.” – Brene Brown

It’s time to let go of the shame around feeling too much, or choosing not to feel at all.  How can you start to get clear on some of your feelings to make an impact in your world?

Posted in the category Mindset.