What is the magic of time-travel empathy?
There are different times in each year that I like to take time to slow down and acknowledge just how many miracles I have been blessed to experience in relationship with others. I enjoy recognizing invitations to deepen my capacity to both self-connect and connect with others and listen to the wisdom of our bodies through its felt-sense, becoming more and more horse-like. This year began with knowing I was stepping into a new beginning of my life, in partnership with my majestic herd, and collaboratively growing with warm community. This continues to be an ongoing relational practice.
A huge part of my learning journey has been intentionally developing my ability to be willing to trust that not only is it possible, but that it's safe, to receive deep, meaningful support for myself. Allowing myself to be vulnerable, transparent, and curious in relationship within a collaborative community of others--sharing resonant space, exchanging warm, resonant language, and maintaining open hearts and minds. This way of being in relationship transforms life and the ripples go out far and wide.
I remember sitting in a circle of others, who held the sacred space of witnessing my process, as I gathered my sense of self, took a deep calming breath into my belly, and imagined I held the hand of my younger experience. The pattern for my younger self was to immobilize, withdraw, get really quiet, and hope no one noticed. When I pay attention, I can feel my own reaction of withdrawal. Sometimes it feels like embarrassment, sometimes like hopelessness, sometimes like terror. As a little girl it did NOT feel safe to be seen and soothed, especially openly in community. In that moment last week, however, I smiled in acknowledgement that I was ready to do something radically different. I was able to take the deep dive of trust into a new (and large) community of support, where the magic of time-travel empathy awaited me.
I let someone else respond to my experience with empathy for my body, someone who slowed everything down, who moved much more slowly than my mind usually moved on its own. I noticed what happened when I was willing to receive resonance for how it felt to be me. I heard a soft voice ask, "Do you need acknowledgment of shock? Did you stop breathing? Was it like you became invisible? Was is impossible to be seen and known for who you really are? Do you need to know that you are loved? That you are held with delight and welcome on this earth? Do you need to physically sense that you are wanted?"
I even experienced it was possible to be comfortable with long silences as I was held with warm resonance within the time-travel empathy processes. I wept as I was supported to connect present-day alarm and confusion with past moments of receiving someone's anger and mixed messages. To experience another person being soft and responsive to my earlier life experiences as Gloria, was a dramatic shift for the young child who had been trapped, caught in power dynamics, and who had sworn to be silent to avoid more harm.
What happened as I opened the door to that inner prison? I was supported to take as long as I needed to let my body calm and come back to balance. My empathy support of warm accompaniment invited the inner-child to time-travel when she was ready, and her beautiful black horse flew to her in the blink of an eye and transported her to present time, to come safely home.
When humans experience trauma it makes sense that they develop patterns to ease their inner pain and discomfort. The pattern becomes a remedy; an attempt to calm the inner felt experience. The little ones hidden within us, the ones we do our best to take care of with these self-harming remedies, are formed and then left behind by experiences such as: an intensity of loneliness, of terror, or of rage. When the experience recedes, it leaves in its wake messy, tangled parts of self. These parts are unchanging in their needs, forever famished, forever needing us to feed them something that is almost what they want most, but which can never be enough, because the remedy or compulsion is never the missing thing itself.
When we slow down and are willing to receive resonant accompaniment, (someone who stays beside us with warmth, care and curiosity) our trauma experience is accompanied in an entirely new way. As we repeatedly receive support in this way, we lay down new neural pathways of support between our prefrontal cortex (social engagement system) and amygdala (emotional alarm system). So, when we get stimulated in the future, we can begin to recognize there is a new choice available to us! Rather than being stimulated and immediately being hijacked to the pattern of activation, i.e. moving swiftly to our familiar strategy of remedy such as sugar, video games, withdrawal, alcohol, work, recreational drugs in an attempt to regulate, our inner resonant self-witness is available to catch us, right where we are in the moment, with lots of empathy and acknowledgement that we make sense.