Are you in your own skin?

We don’t always show up the way we want to, especially when feeling under pressure. Do you find yourself changing depending on the situation and people you are with? Some examples might be in work meetings with senior managers where you find yourself stumbling over your words in responding to questions. Perhaps you become robotic when presenting in front of certain people. Maybe you shy away from difficult conversations, even withdraw from some people, unable to be open. Perhaps you’re overly-sensitive and pay too much attention to the opinions of others or find any criticism crippling.

All of this can mean we are not in our most resourceful and creative state. We don’t bring our real strengths and gifts to the table. And the outcomes of our conversations or plans are not as we intended.  When we are strongly triggered, we may even lose ourselves completely, become hijacked by some strange alien within ourselves and behave in ways we later regret and may even feel ashamed of.

In order to grow through these experiences of falling short of our capability, we need to understand what is actually happening in the body and not just analyse it rationally. We are not heads on sticks. To be fully effective, we need to move beyond cognition to a felt experience through the body. 

Yet many of us live at a distance from our bodies, unaware, often lost in thought or out of control at the behest of a part of ourselves we don’t understand. We are not present. And if we are not present, we are not in our most resourceful state. The capacity to feel through our bodies is crucial to personal presence, communicating with impact, building relationships and making wise decisions for the greater good not just ourselves.

Business leaders particularly, often identify strongly with their minds, with their thoughts and ignore their feelings, and even their bodies.

As the poet Tagore said:

“A mind all logic is like a knife all blade. It makes the hand bleed that uses it.”

So, when we become this other less resourceful version of ourselves, what’s really going on and what can we do about it?

In asking the question am I in my own skin, ultimately, we are asking a deeper question, who am I? Beyond my body, beyond my feelings, beyond my mind? Who am I really?

Depending on which model of the psyche we use (Assagioli, Jung or Maslow – too name just a few), they all have one thing in common – our true identity is as a being of pure awareness. This being of pure awareness is known by many names Atman, Soul, Buddha nature or Higher Self with a capital S. It is our innermost essence. It cannot be seen our touched, yet it is eternal and everlasting. It is beyond our body, mind and feelings YET finds expression THROUGH our body, mind and feelings. This is a crucial point to understand.

In podcast No. 11  which accompanies this post, I take you through an exercise developed by renowned psychiatrist Roberto Assagioli founder of Psychosynthesis. The exercise demonstrates how to differentiate between your true Self and your mind, body and feelings in order to strengthen the connection to your true essence without dissociating from any aspect of yourself. Again, this is vital given the huge issue we see today of spiritual bypassing which has nothing to do with genuine enlightenment or embodied wisdom.

Being at home in your own skin builds greater capacity for presence, confidence, aliveness and connection. We can embody more of our true potential. This deeper connection with our whole self, mind, feelings and body means a more intimate connection with our emotional life and the ability to use the wisdom of the body in everyday life. When the mind, heart and body are one, we can sense the truth more clearly through our bodies. We are able to ask, what does this energy that I’m feeling now say about this person or current situation?

And this brings a heightened ability to tune into people’s motives and the atmosphere around us. It means we can discern more clearly who is motivated by wisdom or an inflated or fearful ego. Vital when making decisions.

If we are disconnected from ourselves, we are therefore disconnected from others. Which means we don’t communicate effectively or build healthy relationships. Instead of clarity, we create confusion and frustration. Instead of inspiration, we create stagnation and boredom. Instead of intimacy, we create separation and mistrust.

So why do we disconnect from ourselves? That’s a big question and takes us into the realm of trauma. An important and complex subject which I’ll talk about more in the next podcast. Suffice to say for now, that a situation becomes a trauma when it overwhelms us to the point that our resources for managing stress fail. The psyche is extremely clever and creative in building survival strategies to manage experiences that overwhelm us. First the psyche dissociates from the event, creates a split in the soul and then represses pain and memory of the traumatic experience into the unconscious. Of course, this creates all manner of problems in everyday life when we encounter situations which we perceive as threatening because they remind us unconsciously in some way of the original trauma. The keyword here being PERCEIVE. Because we are unconscious of our internal reactions, we find ourselves acting out in ways we later regret.

The psyche and body keep a record of everything that we ever experienced from the point of conception. Anyone who has done deep bodywork to release trauma will know this to be true. We are at the behest of the innermost foundations of our being. And to become more embodied we need to repeatedly ask what unconscious complexes and dependencies drive me and seek to make these unconscious patterns conscious. To quote renowned psychiatrist Dr Franz Rupert:

“everything you need to know for your own trauma healing is within you. You can access this information when you are ready to take the risk.”

And this is key to self-mastery.

There are of course examples of mild, common dissociation which include daydreaming, driving hypnosis when we arrive at our destination having been unaware of the journey, or “getting lost” in a book or movie, all of which involve “losing touch” with awareness of our immediate surroundings. These dissociated states are not problematic in themselves but signify how easily we drift off and are not present.

Shallow breathing or even holding our breath is an immediate clue we are dissociating from the current situation and our feelings in order to protect some threatened part of ourselves.

As voice coach Kristin Linklater once said:

“If you are holding your breath in any way, part of you is absent.”

To be fully effective, we need to move beyond cognition to a felt experience through the body.  Real change is embodied. We need to remember that the personality is a process, the human being is constantly remaking his or herself and every new level of your life requires a new level of you. And when it comes to organisational change, it is embodied values that allow leaders to drive transformational change.

So what can we do to become more present?

  • Learn to breathe properly. Too often we are breathing too shallow and unaware of the breath at all. Focussing on your breath for a few minutes is a powerful practice to bring you back to yourself and no one will notice even if you’re in a meeting. We lead the mind into the heart by means of the breath. Its how we contact our body and our feelings. And the heart is much needed in many organisations now! Consider a regular practice of breathing or take up meditation, yoga or breathwork.
  • Try some grounding movements. Stand up, stamp your feet, stretch your arms and your body. Exercise, run, walk, cycle – get moving physically. Being grounded is vital to embodying our true self. To quote Rilke “If we surrender to the earth’s intelligence, we could rise up rooted like trees.”
  • Keep a journal and start identifying your triggers. Learn to reflect in order to understand more about yourself. Ask how can I bring more awareness to this issue? What can I do to shift things?
  • Practice observation. The process of observation changes the things we observe. It’s the golden law of quantum physics. It is the ability to see without being caught by what we see. When we wash our eyes, in other words change our perception, we shift our reality. And when well developed, the power of observation gives rise to a great sense of peace. This change in consciousness creates the gap in which we can choose to respond more wisely rather than become hostage to unconscious patterns and reacting blindly.

Being in your own skin means living ‘here’ fully, wisely and lovingly. The goal is to connect with our true Self and master, direct and CONSCIOUSLY utilise all aspects of ourselves body, mind and feelings as a harmonised whole. Embodying our true Self is to recognise that we were always a being of pure awareness, it was just covered up. We are all divinity in disguise while playing the various roles we must play in our daily lives. Coming home to ourselves, being truly alive and comfortable in our own skin is the most powerful place to be. The root of all influence lies in our inner being. As the famous yogi teacher Paramahansa Yogananda said:

“The deeper the Self-realisation of a man, the more he influences the whole universe by his subtle spiritual vibrations.”

So are you in your own skin? And if not, whose skin are you in and why?

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