Transformers Blow

Accepting what I don’t have control over. I did what I could; I booked to stay at a place with confirmed reliable internet. I booked in a populated area that is known for good internet (some have said “the best internet in Costa Rica”), and reliable power. I did what I could, and yet I have been here for a week and have been truly unlucky so far. The router at my place needs to be replaced (thanks to me it is getting replaced though), and tonight before my online class a transformer blew up the road from me – rendering me completely unable to teach my class. If it wasn’t for a very expensive text message and help from an awesome friend/coworker I wouldn’t have even been able to let my TA and class know what was going on. The other residents here said “this has never happened before”. It’s just how lucky I am I guess. So much so that they’re now calling me bad luck! 

I’ve been having a really tough time not stressing over the possibility of my inability to come through on my responsibilities. I attempt to lower the risk as much as possible, but it is ultimately out of my control and yet completely renders me helpless to fulfill my duties and expectations others have of me. And I feel like a failure. I feel like I’m letting people down. I feel like I’m ruining my reputation. Thankfully, this class, has been the first thing that I’ve been unable to fulfill, but the fear it will happen has been plaguing me. The loss of income is one thing – with my whole income currently dependent on power and internet, but the thing that stresses me more is how I am not coming through for others. 

But what can I do? I can tell them I’ll make it up to them. I had an idea earlier today to send out emails to all of my students and clients warning about the possibility of these things and how I will be doing my best to avoid it; however, if it happens I promise it will be made up for in whichever way they prefer. Unfortunately when I arrived back to my place to send those email, the power was out. I still plan to send them out as soon as power is restored. For my students I’m missing class with as I type, it won’t be hypothetical and I’ll be adding an apology and a plan to make it up to them. I guess that’s how I keep my integrity here. I have no power over the power. It’s ridiculously frustrating, but it is the truth. And this is the truth even if I was in Canada. Somehow, because I chose to come to Costa Rica, this feels more on me. But then again, if I was in Canada that is also a choice, is it not? And funnily enough I wouldn’t even think to say “well, I chose to be here, so this loss of power from a snowstorm is on me”. Our brains are funny things. 

I’m reading a book right now on decision making, and how we very often falsely use “resulting” to determine whether we made a good decision or not. That is when you base the quality of decision on the quality of outcome. It’s exactly that that I’m doing when I think I made a bad choice coming here, or that it’s my fault and I should have seen this coming. Really though, the result of missing class tonight has nothing to do with the quality of my decision to come here. I need to remember that. If I had a flashlight or candles I’d be reading “Thinking in Bets” right now until it is seared into my memory.

So, aside from warning them, telling them I’ll make it up, and then of course doing it, what can be done? I think I need to acknowledge that there’s a limit and once I hit that limit, I need to let it go. Let it go and not sit here and suffer. Not decide that I need to sit here staring at my computer, which I should be on teaching right now, punishing myself. If I could let it go, I may focus on trying to figure out something I can eat or do something valuable like meditating. 

What is it about feeling we are being bad if we find joy in these times? If we let it go and enjoy ourselves by using the opportunity for good? Why does even the idea of that make me feel like it would mean I’m not truly sorry it is happening? The truth of course is it really doesn’t change how I feel about the situation. I am still frustrated, disappointed, and upset that circumstances occurred and made me unable to fulfill my duty to my students and coworker. That won’t change whether I sit here willing the power to return and cursing myself for it, or whether I sit on the porch and mediate. And it doesn’t make it any less bad for others. It isn’t like they are benefiting from me stressing out. There’s nothing I can do to make it less annoying for them now, and the only benefit I can provide is from my actions after the fact. I must trust that people will have faith in me to make it right, and that even if they don’t, I will come through as that is the only way I can prove myself. Though I struggle with the idea of people feeling let down and angry with me, I cannot control it, and I can only do my best. At this point, it means trusting that I will do what I can when I can, and whether or not it’s enough for them, it must be enough for me. 

By now class is probably over. I’m very sad I missed it. I was really hoping that at least the power would come back during class, and I’d get to complete it and apologize to them directly and timely. How can I redirect the anger to the situation and not to myself? When it comes to others, I will absolutely own my part and make it up to them because I don’t want them to have to suffer because of this, and I am the teacher/professional here. But for me, for now, how do I stop myself from owning something that really doesn’t belong to me? I did what I could, but it still feels yucky. I think the distinction that’s important here is to acknowledge that this situation feels yucky, I don’t feel yucky because I did something wrong. It just sucks. And I know in my heart I can be proud of myself as long as I do my best. Just like I would be of anyone else. 

And with that, can you please go fucking meditate now?!?

State Shifting

Sounds like something out of a science fiction novel, but it is actually one of my main goals for this year. I want to be a master state shifter. And very much like I’d imagine as I picture this as a Star Wars movie, in order to be a master state shifter, I’m going to need to train.

I find the practice of state shifting absolutely fascinating. State shifting, for those not familiar, refers to shifting between safety, fight/flight, and freeze. The practice of state shifting, is doing things to deliberately help yourself change your state. To change from being in our sympathetic nervous system to engage our parasympathetic nervous system (of course, it also goes the other way, but most of my efforts are in the service of down regulation). 

I usually delve into a topic that intrigues me by reading more about it. This hasn’t been the case with Polyvagal Theory, or the practice of vagus nerve stimulation and state shifting. In part this is due to timing, my inability to get books from amazon before I left the country, and space, having already overfilled my suitcases with books and food. So this time it’s different. It may not have been planned to be different, but it is and I’m grateful. I can see how reading about it more will be fun and I will do it once I’m back. For now though, I’m going to do what I often fail to do – at least until later. I’m going to actively pursue the topic through experimentation. Actually applying the ideas and the strategies I’ve learned. And I’m super excited about it. 

There are many ways we can do this, by activating our vagus nerve. And, as it turns out, they are much more effective than being told to “calm down”. The techniques I have stumbled across while doing my initial research and learning are:

  • breathing exercises (especially where exhale is longer than inhale) 
    • some people practice the opposite in a fast paced way to shift into fight/flight but this is not something I have tried, I find my body goes there enough unintentionally 😛 )
  • anchoring to safety (visualizing a time when you felt safe)
  • singing, chanting
  • audible sighing 
  • being around animals
  • being in nature (some studies have found even having plants near you inside can have an effect)
  • long distance looking (where you are focusing on looking at things in the distance, not close up as we often do with our screens and reading)
  • cold showers 
  • ice on your face/back of neck
  • heat; warm drinks, warm blankets
  • smiling
  • hanging (arms over your head)
  • sitting/lying on the floor 
  • squatting down/changing body position
  • walking barefoot
  • laughing
  • playing a wind instrument/blowing bubbles (anything that involves a long exhale)
  • connecting to other people (allows for co-regulation)
  • meditation
  • using calm tone and nice language with ourselves (showing compassion)

This list may not be extensive, but there are plenty here to play around with. Since I am on a hiatus from the Canadian winter, I am dedicating some time to experimenting.

What I find interesting while looking at the list, is that there are many things that are more a part of my daily life while I am in Costa Rica (and to some extent during summer months at home). Being in nature, being warm (from the weather), walking barefoot, lying/sitting on the floor, and spending more time long distance looking (for birds, etc) are natural for me when I’m here. Perhaps these things alone give me a greater sense of being grounded in a safety state. No wonder I crave this environment. 

So far I’ve been making sure to meditate, do breathing exercises, practice compassion, change my body position (including doing heart openers), have cold showers (so far has been more like start and finish with cold shower), and use ice on my face/neck. 

I have been trying audible sighing, but I have noticed a block when it comes to doing the more audible ones (sighing, chanting, singing, etc). I am letting my self consciousness of other people hearing and judging stand in my way, and though I am not okay with that, for now I am just noticing and letting it be. Years ago when I was at Earth Dance, there was a lot of practicing of free sounding. At first I was so uncomfortable with it, but over the days it became freeing. I left Earth Dance having learned how freeing and healing it can be to let go of tension in that way. Over the years I’ve clearly gone back into my silence and my discomfort for it has come back full force. This research about the vagus nerve is enticing me again to explore this practice, and conquer my discomfort with it. 

The ice has so far been my favourite technique that I have tried. Or, perhaps, my favourite out of the “new” ones. I find it has an instant affect on me, where I feel calmer and more settled. I have tried this mostly when my body is already very warm though, like after exercise in this plus 30 weather, and when I’m in a panicky state (which also raises my temp). More experimenting to be done, but it’s proven helpful enough to keep in my toolbox (or freezer :P). 

It is not my goal to avoid shifting out of safety, I know this will never be the case. I understand it is part of life and healthy to be able to shift through all of the states on a regular basis. I do, however, hope that with practice and go-to strategies, I can help myself shift back into safety more quickly, and that knowing I have tools to do so will empower me even more. Doing hard things is empowering, and knowing you can handle hard things is even more empowering. Being certain of my ability not only to handle the hard things, but to handle them like a Master State Shifter – who knows what kind of opportunity comes from that level of empowerment.