Engaging your intensity
The environment you grew up in, parents, school, friends, teachers, siblings, toys, the neighbors dog are all factors that influence the organization and sensitivity of your nervous system. In turn your nervous system greatly influences the way in which you know and live in the world.
I was recently working with a client who by outward appearance seems mild in his manner. He has an analytical job, enjoys video games over exercise and relaxes by flying his drone. The client said to me with a sheepish confessional curiosity, "I think I may be afraid of heights.". He then went on to convey a story of how over the past several years he has frequented thrill ride amusement parks such as 6 flags and gone through the gut wrenching experience of excited anticipatory dread while in line, only able to look away from the very ride he was about to embark on. Being that close, looking away was all he could bare while hearing the the ride goers screaming as they wizzed by while he stood in line awaiting his fate. He would then like most everyone else at the park, walk through the ride line awaiting his turn, building an internal feeling of intensity, until it was his turn to embark on the rides guaranteed delivery of release of all of that internal build up. He conveyed in an excited retelling that there are even signs that say your back and neck may be misaligned by riding this ride! The ride truly warned the riders that real bodily harm, danger, even survival might be at stake. Like many of us who go amusement parks or kayak the Colorado river, we do so with some semblance of consciousness that we are in for a thrill, a experience of our intensity generated through action.
My clients curiosity about heights and his fear of them revealed that he actually sought heights in the form of rides or going up and looking over the edge of tall buildings as a way to viscerally feel these primal states of survival. He sought these experiences out to feel his aliveness. Intensity allows us to feel a bigger sensation. The bigger or more systemic the sensation, the more aliveness we may feel.
His inquiry into his "fear of heights" opened up a new possibility of his self understanding regarding his life narrative. This outwardly appearing mild mannered man had a strong internal desire to find ways to really feel himself. His social expression of being mild mannered was a muted version of himself left over from a household were tradition dictated that children's place was to listen and behave in a narrowly defined "good boy" manner. It did not leave room in the home and family system for self expression of his great internal excitement. This led him to being a bit of a punk in his adolescents using his quick wit rather than physicality to demand attention and create a defense in the jungle warfare that is at times youth.
Fear of heights can be used as a scale to know yourself. For some, peering over the edge of a tall build produces a noticeable feeling of sway in one's stomach. For others the mere idea of approaching the buildings edge results in a debilitating experience of freeze rendering the action of going to the precipice impossible. There is no such thing as "fear of heights", rather there is your unique nervous systems sensitivity to the perception of what heights mean to you. This meaning of heights is a result of all the factors the contributed to the development of your nervous system.
The way we can participate, engage and change our experience is through the awareness of our personal scale of intensity. When we generate intensity it too is done so on a scale. This scale is felt by us through sensations such as a feeling in our stomach, tensing in particular parts of our bodies, change in breath. The moment you become aware of any of these sensations of intensity, you are then on the path to participating with them and in doing so changing them.
My clients realization that what he had been doing for the majority of his life was minimizing his expression of intensity only then to seek ways to express it on a grand scale. Hawaii's Kilauea volcano is currently expressing the Earths version of held intensity followed by release.
The work that now follows for my client is to create a new self participation with his intensity scale that does not require suppression or grand release as the only possibilities. We have begun to move his suppression up the scale to a greater daily experience of self expression. Gently allowing himself to notice the tension of holding and allow himself to be 10% less tense. In doing so, there is less intensity on the higher end of the scale that needs to be released. This is a social experiment for him to see how his more expressed self will be received by his tribe of family and co-workers. Allowing this self expression to grow slowly will be safely familiar for him and his community. The doing of this he will change the way his nervous system relates to intensity as he will have a relatable intensity sensation scale to work with.
There is nothing wrong with seeking intensity and having what shows up as fear. All of our responses and how we are organized in this life, are there for a reason. The work we get to do is generate a self awareness of the sensations we have and how we interpret them on a nervous system level. Doing so allows us efficacy and that leads to liberation.
I hear reaching enlightenment on a roller coaster is a scream.