Welcome and Witness

Mar 21, 2022 | Breadcrumb Trail

~~This being human is a guesthouse.  Every morning a new arrival.    (Rumi)

The recently departed, dearly beloved teacher Thich Nhat Hanh envisioned our human consciousness in two segments  — the living room, where what we are aware of within us at any given moment is visiting, and the storage below, where everything else is. If we consider our typical day for a moment, we recognize that the living room is a dynamic place, with parts of us coming and going between these inner spaces across the arc of the day, through peaks of energy and troughs of demand, and through our encounters with life, triggering and encouraging.

How does this living room observation land in the blog of a holistic medical clinic?  We’ve been talking about how our mammal nervous system is a highly evolved precision threat detector, able to support our survival via its hair trigger sensitivity to danger, and the physiological stress reaction it mobilizes when threat is detected.  Think of the triggering effects on you of global pandemic, war in Europe, political strife at home, climate change etc. But our nervous system ALSO takes its cues of safety and danger from the living room within.  So if the parts of us carrying burdens of fear, frustration, sadness, anger and grief spend alot of time in the living room untended, the inevitable result will be lots of ongoing stress signaling to the nervous system. We know beyond doubt that chronic patterns of stress signaling and reactivity disrupt healthy physiology.

To be well, we must interrupt that cycle.  While we can’t control which parts of us arrive to the living room and in what state, we can learn to make our inner living room a welcoming place.  We can learn to attend to whomever arrives with kindness and respect. And the best thing to learn is that like the people we care about — our friends and children and partners and coworkers ~~ the parts of us on the inside can be helped to feel alot better by welcoming them.  When the stories of their distress are heard and acknowledged. This is how our parts find more ease, being accepted, just like we do. The poet Rumi suggested it centuries ago, and modern neuroscience concurs — meet these parts at the door laughing and invite them in. When the living room within becomes a space of kindly tending, our watchful nervous system notices, and tells our body it’s safe to relax and heal.