Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
Moving Through the Discomfort of ‘Not Knowing’
Category:
Mind

For many people, 2020 has become a time of deep reflection, contemplation and oftentimes discomfort. “There are so many things that are currently out of our control,” notes Esalen faculty Ben Geilhufe. “People are fighting for their lives due to COVID-19 and other health issues. People are continually fighting for social justice, physical safety and emotional safety in the face of more than 400 years of systemic racism and white supremacy in this country. People are fighting to feed themselves and their families and to stay housed or locate housing. There are so many sources of overwhelm.”

As we all move through uncertainty in the midst of significant change together, we reached out to several Esalen faculty and discovered the ways they move through discomfort during major transitions. They include: Lucy Caldwell, a social psychologist and venture philanthropist, who helped conceive the Women's Visionary Leadership Summit last year at Esalen, which takes place again this year October 16-28; and Ben, the director of community-based clinical programs for the University of San Francisco Child and Adolescent Gender Center.

What are several actions you take when you notice discomfort?

"For me, the discomfort that arises during major transitions—and even smaller transitions—often centers around the unknown. What will happen? Will my loved ones be okay? Will I? When I notice my discomfort during my own overwhelm, I explore what is triggering the discomfort and what my emotional and cognitive experience is in response. I return to my training in mindfulness and slow down, naming what I observe to be true in my body. What emotions am I experiencing? What sensations? What thoughts are connected to my emotions and sensations? Over the last few months, these thoughts have often focused on lack of control. To navigate this, I have made lists of what I don't have control over to name and externalize the fear or the anxiety. I then return to what I do know and what I currently have control over—and make some more lists. Some days, I've had to do this three or four times. I have focused on creating a solid routine and on giving myself understanding and compassion when I don't stick to it. My routine includes some kind of movement every day—walking in my neighborhood, pacing in my house, yoga—playing music and three meals per day. I set alarms in my phone for my meals because I noticed that eating was the first thing to slip my mind during overwhelm. I focused on my basic needs: sleep, food, air, water, shelter, clothing. I am incredibly privileged to have access to all of those things as we navigate these larger transitions."
—BEN GEILHUFE

"I have come to understand that it is precisely in the moments of significant discomfort that I make the greatest leaps. This has been true both in my personal life and in my career, and to such an extent I would offer that the discomfort itself may be the mechanism that fuels the engine of transformation. During such times I have found it essential to focus on the fundamentals and have an honest inner dialogue with myself to clarify and orient toward what matters most. Perhaps the best analogy comes from growing up swimming in the ocean. As a large set of waves forms on the horizon and I feel my heartbeat intensify, I move toward the cresting wave with strong forward strokes. It is a necessary propulsion to avoid becoming tossed about in the churning white water. For me, these forward ‘strokes’ are defined by summoning my inner reserves of courage, amplified curiosity to learn and seek out wisdom, honing my own values by asking myself the revealing questions and doubling down on the practices that help me to nourish myself (breathing, time in nature, moving my body, writing and friendship). I also find that aligning myself to service and the deeper purpose beyond my own self-interest is a vital guiding force during such periods of transformation. A wonderful place to begin is to ask myself each day: ‘what can I do today, in this moment, in this week?'"
—LUCY CALDWELL


What have you noticed when you’re on the other side of the discomfort?

"I don't see transitions and the discomfort associated with those transitions as having a defined beginning and tangible end. So for me, there isn't an ‘other side,’ but rather a new section of road that I'm walking as I navigate change. I notice my physical body and my emotional experience growing accustomed to the change. In my body, I notice less tension in my shoulders, more ease in getting to sleep, more of an appetite and less hyperarousal, in general. In my emotional experience, I notice more patience with myself and with others, more interest in a wider variety of activities that may bring me joy and more of a willingness to explore new activities or new relationships that I may not have had capacity for while I was navigating higher levels of discomfort. In my experience, the absence of discomfort has meant one of two things:

1. I've disengaged from what is happening to the point that I no longer feel impacted by it.
2. The cause of the discomfort has subsided.

With the two primary pandemics that we are currently navigating—the COVID-19 pandemic and the pandemic of systemic racism—there is no tangible end. The discomfort fluctuates, but there is no end to it. There is no end date on the calendar for the virus. Anti-racism is a fight that began centuries ago and will continue for centuries to come—hopefully with more change as the fight progresses. Our discomfort will shift and fluctuate as our experiences within the pandemics shift and fluctuate, and that will have different meaning for all of our different bodies. My goals in the past few months have been to support my physical and emotional experiences with routine and self-care, as well as noticing when my discomfort decreases due to disengagement and taking action to re-engage. "
—BEN GEILHUFE

" Sometimes there is a big emotional release that can bubble up in the aftermath of major shifts and I have learned to surrender and let this part in. It is the pent-up release of having to hold everything together during the big ascent. In some cases, I have decided to create a ritual or rite of passage to mark the close of the last chapter and the beginning of a new one after a period of major change. This can be as simple as me going into the woods and writing in a journal or can include a more intentional gathering with friends and loved ones to share stories and break bread and dance by a bonfire. There are so many possibilities when we open ourselves to the idea of celebrating life’s milestones with love and intention. One major shift I experienced lately was in regard to learning more about my blind spots and lack of awareness on aspects of racism and race relations both within myself and within our culture at large. Being born in Mexico and growing up in a diverse community, and within a family with progressive views on race, I had assumed the identity of being ‘not racist’—full stop. What I did not realize until the upswell of events surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement was the extent of my blind spots and the way in which holding this identity in static terms was preventing me from doing the inward journey of full self-reflection and responsibility as both an individual and within the communities I am a part of. I am now replacing my internal label with a much more humble beginner’s mindset to learn, and deepen my commitment to understanding and helping to heal these collective wounds and injustice with greater focus and stamina."
—LUCY CALDWELL

“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?



About

Esalen Team

Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
Category:
Mind

For many people, 2020 has become a time of deep reflection, contemplation and oftentimes discomfort. “There are so many things that are currently out of our control,” notes Esalen faculty Ben Geilhufe. “People are fighting for their lives due to COVID-19 and other health issues. People are continually fighting for social justice, physical safety and emotional safety in the face of more than 400 years of systemic racism and white supremacy in this country. People are fighting to feed themselves and their families and to stay housed or locate housing. There are so many sources of overwhelm.”

As we all move through uncertainty in the midst of significant change together, we reached out to several Esalen faculty and discovered the ways they move through discomfort during major transitions. They include: Lucy Caldwell, a social psychologist and venture philanthropist, who helped conceive the Women's Visionary Leadership Summit last year at Esalen, which takes place again this year October 16-28; and Ben, the director of community-based clinical programs for the University of San Francisco Child and Adolescent Gender Center.

What are several actions you take when you notice discomfort?

"For me, the discomfort that arises during major transitions—and even smaller transitions—often centers around the unknown. What will happen? Will my loved ones be okay? Will I? When I notice my discomfort during my own overwhelm, I explore what is triggering the discomfort and what my emotional and cognitive experience is in response. I return to my training in mindfulness and slow down, naming what I observe to be true in my body. What emotions am I experiencing? What sensations? What thoughts are connected to my emotions and sensations? Over the last few months, these thoughts have often focused on lack of control. To navigate this, I have made lists of what I don't have control over to name and externalize the fear or the anxiety. I then return to what I do know and what I currently have control over—and make some more lists. Some days, I've had to do this three or four times. I have focused on creating a solid routine and on giving myself understanding and compassion when I don't stick to it. My routine includes some kind of movement every day—walking in my neighborhood, pacing in my house, yoga—playing music and three meals per day. I set alarms in my phone for my meals because I noticed that eating was the first thing to slip my mind during overwhelm. I focused on my basic needs: sleep, food, air, water, shelter, clothing. I am incredibly privileged to have access to all of those things as we navigate these larger transitions."
—BEN GEILHUFE

"I have come to understand that it is precisely in the moments of significant discomfort that I make the greatest leaps. This has been true both in my personal life and in my career, and to such an extent I would offer that the discomfort itself may be the mechanism that fuels the engine of transformation. During such times I have found it essential to focus on the fundamentals and have an honest inner dialogue with myself to clarify and orient toward what matters most. Perhaps the best analogy comes from growing up swimming in the ocean. As a large set of waves forms on the horizon and I feel my heartbeat intensify, I move toward the cresting wave with strong forward strokes. It is a necessary propulsion to avoid becoming tossed about in the churning white water. For me, these forward ‘strokes’ are defined by summoning my inner reserves of courage, amplified curiosity to learn and seek out wisdom, honing my own values by asking myself the revealing questions and doubling down on the practices that help me to nourish myself (breathing, time in nature, moving my body, writing and friendship). I also find that aligning myself to service and the deeper purpose beyond my own self-interest is a vital guiding force during such periods of transformation. A wonderful place to begin is to ask myself each day: ‘what can I do today, in this moment, in this week?'"
—LUCY CALDWELL


What have you noticed when you’re on the other side of the discomfort?

"I don't see transitions and the discomfort associated with those transitions as having a defined beginning and tangible end. So for me, there isn't an ‘other side,’ but rather a new section of road that I'm walking as I navigate change. I notice my physical body and my emotional experience growing accustomed to the change. In my body, I notice less tension in my shoulders, more ease in getting to sleep, more of an appetite and less hyperarousal, in general. In my emotional experience, I notice more patience with myself and with others, more interest in a wider variety of activities that may bring me joy and more of a willingness to explore new activities or new relationships that I may not have had capacity for while I was navigating higher levels of discomfort. In my experience, the absence of discomfort has meant one of two things:

1. I've disengaged from what is happening to the point that I no longer feel impacted by it.
2. The cause of the discomfort has subsided.

With the two primary pandemics that we are currently navigating—the COVID-19 pandemic and the pandemic of systemic racism—there is no tangible end. The discomfort fluctuates, but there is no end to it. There is no end date on the calendar for the virus. Anti-racism is a fight that began centuries ago and will continue for centuries to come—hopefully with more change as the fight progresses. Our discomfort will shift and fluctuate as our experiences within the pandemics shift and fluctuate, and that will have different meaning for all of our different bodies. My goals in the past few months have been to support my physical and emotional experiences with routine and self-care, as well as noticing when my discomfort decreases due to disengagement and taking action to re-engage. "
—BEN GEILHUFE

" Sometimes there is a big emotional release that can bubble up in the aftermath of major shifts and I have learned to surrender and let this part in. It is the pent-up release of having to hold everything together during the big ascent. In some cases, I have decided to create a ritual or rite of passage to mark the close of the last chapter and the beginning of a new one after a period of major change. This can be as simple as me going into the woods and writing in a journal or can include a more intentional gathering with friends and loved ones to share stories and break bread and dance by a bonfire. There are so many possibilities when we open ourselves to the idea of celebrating life’s milestones with love and intention. One major shift I experienced lately was in regard to learning more about my blind spots and lack of awareness on aspects of racism and race relations both within myself and within our culture at large. Being born in Mexico and growing up in a diverse community, and within a family with progressive views on race, I had assumed the identity of being ‘not racist’—full stop. What I did not realize until the upswell of events surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement was the extent of my blind spots and the way in which holding this identity in static terms was preventing me from doing the inward journey of full self-reflection and responsibility as both an individual and within the communities I am a part of. I am now replacing my internal label with a much more humble beginner’s mindset to learn, and deepen my commitment to understanding and helping to heal these collective wounds and injustice with greater focus and stamina."
—LUCY CALDWELL

“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?



About

Esalen Team

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