"Better three hours late than a minute too soon.”
I remember when I was young time seemed to go on forever. My days were shaped by others; particularly my parents. It is time to wake up, it is time to go to bed, it is time for lunch, it is time for dinner, it is time to go to the store, and it is time to go to school, and so on. It felt as if time was not mine and I was a slave of sorts to time. I would play and wait after school until it was time for dinner. I couldn’t eat before then. My mother wasn’t the type who invited help so that it wasn’t even a thought as I got a bit older to ask if I could help her in the kitchen to prepare a meal. Weekends could last so long with lots of unstructured time. I also think that as adults it is easy for us to forget that what seems like a short period of time for us can seem like an eternity for a child.
We can say to a child, I will be right back; it might be 5 minutes for us, and seem like forever for the child. Time is also important for us in an internal way. The time it takes for us to really digest and understand something new for us takes its own time. For one person, an understanding can come in an instant, and for another, it can take years.
There is another way that time is spacious. I was working with a young woman who was experiencing an anxiety attack. Her heart rate was at least 122 beats per minute and she was nauseous and also would vomit at times throughout the day. As I was speaking with her, I asked her if she knew the trigger for this anxiety. She said it began on Saturday as a Jewish holiday had ended. I asked her the importance of this, and she said that suddenly there was nothing for her to do. What became clear was that those words had great meaning…if only we understood them. In addition, after she spoke those words she became without words…she only experienced feelings of what I would call dread and fear. I had asked her mother what was going on during her pregnancy and birth and she related how, about two months before her due date she had a placenta crisis and became very frightened. She also delivered early as the cord was wrapped around her neck. Then, shortly after her birth, her older daughter became very sick and had to be hospitalized.
With this information and with being with this young woman in the throws of anxiety without words, only feelings, it felt like she was experiencing moments in utero and after birth. She must have been extremely frightened, felt her mother’s fear also without knowing separation from hers, and was suddenly thrown into a different world. Something about the sudden change from what was expected of her during Passover into a different world where she didn’t know what she could do and felt at such a loss, triggered a memory in her reptilian brain that was still fully alive. Suddenly she was living in those early moments. Time became spacious in the sense that she was at once living in those early, scary, unknown times, and also in the present. Her young brain knew not that she was actually now a young woman in a safe world. Her conscious brain and cerebral cortex knows that she is, in fact, a young woman living at home with people she loves surrounding her. Those two brains became at odds with each other; each one living their own truth. Time became an experience of two periods of time at once. The key here is to help her to recognize what is going on, help to give her words to understand her young traumatized experience, and also to work with her body through acupuncture, cranial/sacral work, energy medicine and gentle massage to help her present self to be able to soothe herself. We even had her mother with us to hold pressure points on her forehead to help relieve stress so she could feel her mother actually with her in the present and the living past. Putting these two worlds together and helping her to find ways and words to help her and to speak with herself are also crucial.
This type of experience happens to us all at times. Trauma does live within our early brains that only remember action and reaction and the traumatic feelings. We find this occurring with our returning veterans, with those who have been traumatized and abused in life and in experiences such as this woman was experiencing. What happened with her is that she was so very young and at a crucial time for her brain development and at a time when she had no words or skills to help her to understand or deal with what was occurring in her life. We can learn to work with our traumatized selves. We can learn words to speak with us and to help us to bring our two worlds together. We can learn to work with the spaciousness of time. Here too, I remember how my father talked about so often about the crucial development time of the last three months in the womb and also the first three years of life. He spoke so eloquently about what happens to us during that time frame and how crucial it is for understanding how the brain develops, and how trauma can affect our developing minds and influence our health in all ways.
Learning how to see the spaciousness of time and how to make it our friend and ally is a very helpful skill for us as humans to become the whole, vital and healthy souls that are so possible.
Shift Your Story/Shift Your Life: Simple Exercise That Can Promote Big Results
We all have times in our lives where we are triggered in such a way that we react instinctively in a very primitive way. Take out a sheet of paper and a pen. Think about a time when you have been triggered and regressed in your feelings and reactions. Maybe you had someone pass on who you were close to and you can’t stop crying, maybe you broke up with someone and you fall into a deep depression, maybe you fell and hurt yourself and find yourself unable to breathe and having a panic attack, maybe you have some pains that won’t go away and there is really nothing physically wrong, and so on. Take a moment and take anything that comes to mind without censor. You may not consciously understand why you are drawn to that memory, but you are. Write down what happened and how you felt. Take about 5 to 10 minutes to write down what comes to you and what feelings you remember.
Then, take a moment and think about how old you feel, or how old you were and what this feeling reminds you of. When this occurred, you felt ... and the last time you remember feeling this way was when... What was going on in your life at that time?
Another example was one that happened to me when I was learning to scuba dive. I had to go down to the bottom of the pool and take off my mask and change tanks, and then put a new one on and come up. When I had to take off my breathing tube I went into a total panic. I couldn’t do it. I found out later that I was born being strangled by my umbilical cord. I had told my parents what happened and they told me about my birth.
After you trace what was happening, write down what you would say to this self at that time. What words can you tell this younger self to help him/her to understand what was happening? Write them down and write down what feelings you feel as you give your younger self-words.
If nothing comes to you, don’t worry and don’t belabor this exercise. Try it again sometime when you find you are reacting to something, if it feels right to you. This is for you and about you. Again, feel free to share your experience if you are so moved.