Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
INSIGHTS: The Importance of Belonging with Steven Harper
Category:
Healing
Steven Harper, wilderness leader, author, and Gestalt facilitator, on a hike

The crisis of our pandemic-era well-being is a well-told story these days. In addition to many life-or-death situations, the majority of us experienced separation from loved ones and some form of isolation. Experts say reclaiming our sense of connection and belonging is a prime mode of healing and cultivating resilience. In fact, it’s actually primal.

“It is in our evolutionary DNA to belong and feel connection or we literally would not be here,” says Steven Harper, author, wilderness guide, and Gestalt facilitator. 

“When we don’t feel our belonging, this turns on older parts of the brain, primarily the amygdala, the part of the brain that regulates our fight, flight, freeze response. From there, our sympathetic nervous systems light up, quickening our heart and respiration rate, raising our blood pressure, releasing stress hormones into our system to prepare for action.” 

In some cases, fight or flight is needed to survive — a feeling most of us know too well after the last year and a half.  As we move forward, Harper says, tuning into our rest and restore systems to heal, repair, and cultivate resilience is best done through authentic connection. 

His upcoming August 2021 workshop, The Ground of Belonging: An Embodied Inquiry into Resiliency in Changing and Uncertain Times, will feature practices of awareness, mindfulness, and neuropsychology with self, others, and the natural surroundings.

Here, Harper shares thoughts on somatic intelligence, co-regulation, and the critical value of truly listening with compassion. 

Christine Chen: During anxious times, why is it important to stay connected?

Steven Harper: When our connections are threatened or weakened, our nervous system and physiology feel fear which is often experienced as anxiety. One of the quickest and most skillful ways to work with anxiety is to feel an authentic connection with a person, community, animal, nature, or anywhere else that can let the animal part of the body-mind settle and rest in connection.

CC: Why is it so important to have a sense of belonging to a whole? 

SH: In a very practical sense, when we know our deep belonging to self, other, and whole it is harder to do damage and harm to self, others, and the very planet we live on. We need to find some belonging at the intrapersonal (me with me) before we can belong to the interpersonal (me with other humans), from there we can more easily find our belonging to something larger, perhaps greater than human — the transpersonal (an inherent separate ‘me’ disappears).

CC: How do we improve our somatic intelligence to respond to current challenges with resilience? 

SH: Much of how we engage with self, others, and the world is reactionary. The necessary first step is to cultivate awareness of ‘what is.’ In a state of reactivity without awareness, we tend to deepen the grooves and well-worn paths. Awareness cultivates choice. With more choices and awareness, we can lean into trusting the organism’s responsiveness and capacity for self-regulation.

CC: We are often asked to regulate ourselves. What is co-regulation? 

SH: Co-regulation is entering the territory of the interpersonal and non-human world. In a heartfelt dialogue with a trusted friend, time touching a beloved animal, experiencing direct contact with wild nature — these are all moments where co-regulation can happen — where our parasympathetic nervous system can be activated. This results in a slower heart and respiration rate, lower blood pressure, release of a number of the body’s regulating hormones: especially oxytocin, the chemical of connection and belonging.

CC: What does it mean to truly listen to one another? 

SH: True listening defies a formulaic answer. True listening includes more than just my ears and cognitive brain. Our organism is always listening through all of our sense organs. Can we listen with our heart? Can we listen with our skin? Can we listen without planning a response? Can we listen without the need to give advice, analysis, or judgement? Can we offer open presence? An open listening heart is one of the greatest gifts we can give another.

CC: Why is compassion absolutely crucial right now? 

SH: We need compassion for ourselves if we are going to move forward with open curiosity and capacity to learn. We will absolutely need compassion when we feel harmed by another and others. This becoming- more-fully-human path is filled with moments where having compassion as an ally is the only way through.

CC: What are the wise traditions you turn to during challenging times? 

SH: I have a regular meditation practice that supports me before, during, and after challenging times. I am an emotional being, so approaches like Gestalt Practice allow great space for me to explore, contact, and express emotions. I am a very physical being, so some type of practice that allows me to be mindfully physically engaged with myself, others, and with the natural world have served me well.

“Remembering to be as self compassionate as I can and praying to the divine that we're all a part of.” 
–Aaron

“Prayer, reading, meditation, walking.”
–Karen
“Erratically — which is an ongoing stream of practice to find peace.”
–Charles
“Try on a daily basis to be kind to myself and to realize that making mistakes is a part of the human condition. Learning from our mistakes is a journey. But it starts with compassion and caring. First for oneself.”
–Steve

“Physically: aerobic exercise, volleyball, ice hockey, cycling, sailing. Emotionally: unfortunately I have to work to ‘not care’ about people or situations which may end painfully. Along the lines of ‘attachment is the source of suffering’, so best to avoid it or limit its scope. Sad though because it could also be the source of great joy. Is it worth the risk?“
–Rainer

“It's time for my heart to be nurtured on one level yet contained on another. To go easy on me and to allow my feelings to be validated, not judged harshly. On the other hand, to let the heart rule with equanimity and not lead the mind and body around like a master.”
–Suzanne

“I spend time thinking of everything I am grateful for, and I try to develop my ability to express compassion for myself and others without reservation. I take time to do the things I need to do to keep myself healthy and happy. This includes taking experiential workshops, fostering relationships, and participating within groups which have a similar interest to become a more compassionate and fulfilled being.“
–Peter

“Self-forgiveness for my own judgments. And oh yeah, coming to Esalen.”
–David B.

“Hmm, this is a tough one! I guess I take care of my heart through fostering relationships with people I feel connected to. Spending quality time with them (whether we're on the phone, through messages/letters, on Zoom, or in-person). Being there for them, listening to them, sharing what's going on with me, my struggles and my successes... like we do in the Esalen weekly Friends of Esalen Zoom sessions!”
–Lori

“I remind myself in many ways of the fact that " Love is all there is!" LOVE is the prize and this one precious life is the stage we get to learn our lessons. I get out into nature, hike, camp, river kayak, fly fish, garden, I create, I dance (not enough!), and I remain grateful for each day, each breath, each moment. Being in the moment, awake, and remembering the gift of life and my feeling of gratitude for all of creation.”
–Steven
“My physical heart by limiting stress and eating a heart-healthy diet. My emotional heart by staying in love with the world and by knowing that all disappointment and loss will pass.“
–David Z.


Today, September 29, is World Heart Day. Strike up a conversation with your own heart and as you feel comfortable, encourage others to do the same. As part of our own transformations and self-care, we sometimes ask for others to illuminate and enliven our hearts or speak our love language.

What if we could do this for ourselves too, even if just for today… or to start a heart practice, forever?


Learn more about attending The Ground of Belonging: An Embodied Inquiry into Resiliency in Changing and Uncertain Times.

Register

About

Christine Chen

Christine Chen is the host of Esalen Live! and Chief Editor of The Journal. She is a two-time Emmy winning journalist, best-selling author, California native, and senior teacher of yoga and Ayurveda on Esalen Faculty.

Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
Category:
Healing
Steven Harper, wilderness leader, author, and Gestalt facilitator, on a hike

The crisis of our pandemic-era well-being is a well-told story these days. In addition to many life-or-death situations, the majority of us experienced separation from loved ones and some form of isolation. Experts say reclaiming our sense of connection and belonging is a prime mode of healing and cultivating resilience. In fact, it’s actually primal.

“It is in our evolutionary DNA to belong and feel connection or we literally would not be here,” says Steven Harper, author, wilderness guide, and Gestalt facilitator. 

“When we don’t feel our belonging, this turns on older parts of the brain, primarily the amygdala, the part of the brain that regulates our fight, flight, freeze response. From there, our sympathetic nervous systems light up, quickening our heart and respiration rate, raising our blood pressure, releasing stress hormones into our system to prepare for action.” 

In some cases, fight or flight is needed to survive — a feeling most of us know too well after the last year and a half.  As we move forward, Harper says, tuning into our rest and restore systems to heal, repair, and cultivate resilience is best done through authentic connection. 

His upcoming August 2021 workshop, The Ground of Belonging: An Embodied Inquiry into Resiliency in Changing and Uncertain Times, will feature practices of awareness, mindfulness, and neuropsychology with self, others, and the natural surroundings.

Here, Harper shares thoughts on somatic intelligence, co-regulation, and the critical value of truly listening with compassion. 

Christine Chen: During anxious times, why is it important to stay connected?

Steven Harper: When our connections are threatened or weakened, our nervous system and physiology feel fear which is often experienced as anxiety. One of the quickest and most skillful ways to work with anxiety is to feel an authentic connection with a person, community, animal, nature, or anywhere else that can let the animal part of the body-mind settle and rest in connection.

CC: Why is it so important to have a sense of belonging to a whole? 

SH: In a very practical sense, when we know our deep belonging to self, other, and whole it is harder to do damage and harm to self, others, and the very planet we live on. We need to find some belonging at the intrapersonal (me with me) before we can belong to the interpersonal (me with other humans), from there we can more easily find our belonging to something larger, perhaps greater than human — the transpersonal (an inherent separate ‘me’ disappears).

CC: How do we improve our somatic intelligence to respond to current challenges with resilience? 

SH: Much of how we engage with self, others, and the world is reactionary. The necessary first step is to cultivate awareness of ‘what is.’ In a state of reactivity without awareness, we tend to deepen the grooves and well-worn paths. Awareness cultivates choice. With more choices and awareness, we can lean into trusting the organism’s responsiveness and capacity for self-regulation.

CC: We are often asked to regulate ourselves. What is co-regulation? 

SH: Co-regulation is entering the territory of the interpersonal and non-human world. In a heartfelt dialogue with a trusted friend, time touching a beloved animal, experiencing direct contact with wild nature — these are all moments where co-regulation can happen — where our parasympathetic nervous system can be activated. This results in a slower heart and respiration rate, lower blood pressure, release of a number of the body’s regulating hormones: especially oxytocin, the chemical of connection and belonging.

CC: What does it mean to truly listen to one another? 

SH: True listening defies a formulaic answer. True listening includes more than just my ears and cognitive brain. Our organism is always listening through all of our sense organs. Can we listen with our heart? Can we listen with our skin? Can we listen without planning a response? Can we listen without the need to give advice, analysis, or judgement? Can we offer open presence? An open listening heart is one of the greatest gifts we can give another.

CC: Why is compassion absolutely crucial right now? 

SH: We need compassion for ourselves if we are going to move forward with open curiosity and capacity to learn. We will absolutely need compassion when we feel harmed by another and others. This becoming- more-fully-human path is filled with moments where having compassion as an ally is the only way through.

CC: What are the wise traditions you turn to during challenging times? 

SH: I have a regular meditation practice that supports me before, during, and after challenging times. I am an emotional being, so approaches like Gestalt Practice allow great space for me to explore, contact, and express emotions. I am a very physical being, so some type of practice that allows me to be mindfully physically engaged with myself, others, and with the natural world have served me well.

“Remembering to be as self compassionate as I can and praying to the divine that we're all a part of.” 
–Aaron

“Prayer, reading, meditation, walking.”
–Karen
“Erratically — which is an ongoing stream of practice to find peace.”
–Charles
“Try on a daily basis to be kind to myself and to realize that making mistakes is a part of the human condition. Learning from our mistakes is a journey. But it starts with compassion and caring. First for oneself.”
–Steve

“Physically: aerobic exercise, volleyball, ice hockey, cycling, sailing. Emotionally: unfortunately I have to work to ‘not care’ about people or situations which may end painfully. Along the lines of ‘attachment is the source of suffering’, so best to avoid it or limit its scope. Sad though because it could also be the source of great joy. Is it worth the risk?“
–Rainer

“It's time for my heart to be nurtured on one level yet contained on another. To go easy on me and to allow my feelings to be validated, not judged harshly. On the other hand, to let the heart rule with equanimity and not lead the mind and body around like a master.”
–Suzanne

“I spend time thinking of everything I am grateful for, and I try to develop my ability to express compassion for myself and others without reservation. I take time to do the things I need to do to keep myself healthy and happy. This includes taking experiential workshops, fostering relationships, and participating within groups which have a similar interest to become a more compassionate and fulfilled being.“
–Peter

“Self-forgiveness for my own judgments. And oh yeah, coming to Esalen.”
–David B.

“Hmm, this is a tough one! I guess I take care of my heart through fostering relationships with people I feel connected to. Spending quality time with them (whether we're on the phone, through messages/letters, on Zoom, or in-person). Being there for them, listening to them, sharing what's going on with me, my struggles and my successes... like we do in the Esalen weekly Friends of Esalen Zoom sessions!”
–Lori

“I remind myself in many ways of the fact that " Love is all there is!" LOVE is the prize and this one precious life is the stage we get to learn our lessons. I get out into nature, hike, camp, river kayak, fly fish, garden, I create, I dance (not enough!), and I remain grateful for each day, each breath, each moment. Being in the moment, awake, and remembering the gift of life and my feeling of gratitude for all of creation.”
–Steven
“My physical heart by limiting stress and eating a heart-healthy diet. My emotional heart by staying in love with the world and by knowing that all disappointment and loss will pass.“
–David Z.


Today, September 29, is World Heart Day. Strike up a conversation with your own heart and as you feel comfortable, encourage others to do the same. As part of our own transformations and self-care, we sometimes ask for others to illuminate and enliven our hearts or speak our love language.

What if we could do this for ourselves too, even if just for today… or to start a heart practice, forever?


Learn more about attending The Ground of Belonging: An Embodied Inquiry into Resiliency in Changing and Uncertain Times.

Register

About

Christine Chen

Christine Chen is the host of Esalen Live! and Chief Editor of The Journal. She is a two-time Emmy winning journalist, best-selling author, California native, and senior teacher of yoga and Ayurveda on Esalen Faculty.

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