Have you ever had one of those mornings when you awoke instantly overwhelmed? That yet again, you had managed to transform every single thing you wanted and loved to do into a torturous task, an onerous obligation?
Well, I had one of those mornings today. The kind where I felt like a failure before I was even fully awake. But now, after talking to a friend who also happens to be a talented therapist, I feel as though the weight of the world is no longer on my shoulders like an anvil of despair. Instead I feel light, filled with possibilities, bliss — as though I just returned from a spa. And all I did was talk to my friend as I stared at the tip of my pen!
Last year, when I was living in a RV full-time with my family in Mexico, my friend and I decided to strike up a barter. Every week, we’d chat with each other over the phone or WhatsApp, either audio or video, and trade time with each other listening or helping. Because my background is in writing and editing, I helped my friend with some editing in her own personal creative writing, and because her training is as a professional therapist and life coach, she used whatever tools she had in her toolbox to help me when it was my turn. (Honestly, I feel like I got the better end of the bargain, but my friend says she also enjoys it when it’s her turn to chat with me, when she’d often ask me to press the “mute” button on my phone and simply listen to problems going on in her life without me actively interrupting her with my two cents — this has helped me grow immensely as a better listener, something I suck at, as someone often impatient, finishing other people’s sentences and anxious if I can’t hear myself speak to fill up the silence.)
Anyhow, today when it was my turn to chat with her about my problems and what’s been going on, she listened, then told me she had just returned from a Brainspotting training. (Immediately my mind went to a movie I loved, Trainspotting, with Ewan MacGregor). She said she’d like to try Brainspotting with me, if I didn’t mind. “Of course not,” I laughed with her. “I always enjoy being your guinea pig.” One of the best things about my friend and I is our propensity to laugh out loud while talking to each other. Her happy clients often comment on how her sense of humor employed during their time together can be so profoundly healing; I whole-heartedly agree.
After telling my friend about all the people and tasks overwhelming me, to the point of feeling like an absolute failure today, my friend told me that me feeling this way was probably connected to the emotional trauma and wounds from my childhood with an over-critical mother and lack of “attunement.” What the heck was that? “You know when you first gave birth to your son and your eyes locked together?” I nodded, remembering that time so long ago, back in the end of 2004, when I lovingly locked eyes with my baby. “That’s attunement,” she said. She told me that when agitated, I’m back in those feelings of not being attuned, telling me briefly about Brainspotting. Founded by David Grand, who discovered “Where you look affects how you feel,” brainspotting is a way to get you out of your thinking mind, your neo-cortex, and into your mammalian and emotional brain, the sub-cortex. From the website: “It is the brain activity, especially in the subcortical brain that organizes itself around that eye position.”
My friend had me think about the overwhelm I felt earlier this morning that was weighing me down like a heavy anvil. She asked about all the people I had named that I perceived were disappointed in me, were judging me. “So how does that feel in your body,” she asked. I told her I felt it in my chest, heavy the shame and despair, my own disappointment in myself for not being able to get back to people, to get stuff done, including my own personal creative writing projects.
“On a scale of 0 to 10, how activated or agitated are you?” she asked.
“About a ‘8,’” I said.
She had me put one hand on my chest where I felt the heaviness of disappointment and agitation and then had me close my eyes to do a bodyscan to look for a point in my body that felt calm and neutral. I found it in the middle of my back.
She then instructed me to hold up a long-ish pen (I used a tall Tombow dual-brush purple pen), ideally a pointer like a teacher would use (I laughed and suggested a Harry Potter wand; I knew my kid had one somewhere we had bought him one year for Christmas).
Next she had me focus just on the top tip of the pen. Then I was to move it along the x-axis, first left. Then middle. Then to the right. All this time I stared at the tip, that point. She had me compare which point felt the most calm. I discovered it was in the middle.
She then had me just stare at the tip of my pen I held up in front of me in the middle, the tip of my pen at eye-level, feeling the calm. Then she had me move the pen up and down, slowly. She said I did it too fast, so I moved the pen up and down the y-axis more gradually in front of me. She had me stop at a point where I felt the most calm. I found that when I moved the pen upwards, I felt surprisingly more calm. Now I stared at it, letting my body enjoy the sensation of utter calm. She didn’t talk. And neither did I. Soon I began to lose track of time.
She interrupted me to ask me, “On a scale of 0-10, how agitated or activated are you now?” I told her I was now at about a ‘3.’
Are you happy with the ‘3’? Or would you like to go down to ‘0’?
“Zero,” I laughed. “Of course. I mean, why not?”
So then she had me try it without the pen. I shut my eyes and she had me imagine that reference point, that spot that was similar, she said, to a dancer’s who uses a spot to twirl. I remembered taking a jazz/ballet class once as a teen and learning how to fixate my eyes at a spot in the distance as I spun my body, always returning my eyes to that particular spot. She said this was the same thing. Even with my eyes closed, I was to imagine that particular spot that made me feel calm.
Next she had me simultaneously focus on the calm spot on my back I had initially discovered earlier at the same time as I focused on the imagined spot of that pen in front of me. As I focused on both spots, I felt a tranquility wash over me like a cool mist. Again, I lost complete track of time, as if in a sublime trance. All my troubles disappeared. I actually forgot I was on a FaceTime video call with my friend until I heard her voice call my name!
“What the hell?” I marveled as I came back to reality. “I felt like I was at the spa. This is like magic!” She laughed and said this was powerful work, and she was happy she was able to try this out on me for the first time. To become certified in Brainspotting, she had to go through 50 clients.
“Well, now you have only 49 to go!” I told her and we laughed together. I told her I’d hunt for the perfect wand for her.
Before our call ended, she told me that this was something I could practice on my own. That I could even use this practice of spotting when talking to someone I feel nervous with, at a party or wherever. She said I could imagine the spot in front of me as I talk to that person. She said if interested, I could seek out a Brainspotting therapist near me. But this was something I could also do on my own. The next time I feel agitated, I could return back to this practice. These were her instructions:
How to Try Brainspotting on Your Own
- Rate from 0-10 how agitated or activated you are.
- Do a bodyscan and search for a point in body that’s calm and/or neutral. (This can be different each time you do this.)
- Use a wand/pointer/tall pen or pencil and move it along the x-axis — from left, then to middle, then to the right, keeping your eyes trained on that point the whole time. Decide which position on the x-axis you feel the most calm.
- Stare at that spot and wait until you’re calm.
- Rate your agitation/activation and gauge if you should repeat process (adding in the simultaneous focus on that calm spot in your body plus the spot in front of you). Or not. If you feel good, simply stop and enjoy the bliss!