"Dropping" is not about changing our physical position, as in getting down on the ground. Rather, it is about shifting our attention inward to a deeper place inside ourselves. It's about letting go of the storyline, getting out of the chatter in our heads, and connecting with what's going on in our body. It's about moving toward what's at the bottom of the triangle: our core emotional experience.
To get a sense of what I mean, try this. Close your eyes for a moment and notice what happens when you do. As everything fades to black, notice how your inner experience suddenly becomes more apparent and feels nearer. Notice what's going on energetically for you. Notice what sensations you're experiencing in your body. Feel yourself "drop" into your experience.
Without visual distraction from the outside world, it's as if we've taken a step closer to our experience, as if we can inhabit ourselves more fully
. This is exactly what we're striving for when we drop--to be more fully present with ourselves. We're shifting our focus from looking externally to looking internally. As renowned couples' therapist Sue Johnson suggests, we're taking our internal "elevator" down to the ground floor.
In reality, we haven't moved anywhere. We're still in the same physical place whether our eyes are opened or closed. Our shift in experience has to do with where we place our attention. We can focus outward or we can focus inward. When we drop, we focus internally on what's going on inside of us. We move closer to our felt experience. This is what we need to do.
If it helps you to feel more in touch with your experience, you can close your eyes, but you don't have to. Simply by shifting your gaze from looking outward, to one that is inwardly reflective can make a big difference.
In any case, once we drop inside ourselves, our work now is to stay present. Instead of running from our emotional experience, we need to foster a new way of being with it. We need to accept it. We need to bring it into the light of awareness. We need to welcome and make room for it. We need to stay with it.
When we drop inside ourselves we begin to approach that from which we had been running. We turn toward the emotions, needs, and desires that we've been conditioned to fear. The feelings deep inside us that we've attempted to disavow or hide. They've been trying to get our attention for a long time, but we didn't realize it. We've been too afraid to stay present and listen. We've been too distracted to notice that they're there.
When we're triggered our natural tendency is to avert our attention and move away from our discomfort. But, when we do that, we're just perpetuating our distress. We're responding as though we're in danger, thus, validating and reinforcing our threat response, and never giving ourselves a chance to learn otherwise.
By staying with our emotions instead of reflexively exiting the scene, by leaning into our discomfort and moving through it, we're challenging the fallacies of our early conditioning.
We're calling its bluff and loosening the hold that fear has had and freeing ourselves from the past.
By staying with our emotional experience, by abiding with it and giving it room to breathe, it's able to move through us and come to resolution. We come to see that everything will not come tumbling down, our relationships will not be ruined, our feelings won't destroy anyone, nor will be we destroyed. We come to see that, ultimately, we are better for it. When we stay with our emotional experience and see it through, we grow our capacity to be present with ourselves and with others.
In doing so we develop a different kind of relationship with our emotional experience. Instead of responding to it as though it's the enemy, we befriend it. We give it a chance to be seen and heard, the same chance we'd give someone we care about who's feeling distressed. Someone who we want to relate to with kindness, patience, and respect. Don't we deserve the same?
When we're triggered, we need to become familiar with our experience. We need to get to know it. We need to meet it with open eyes and an open heart. When we do this, when we lean in and receive it with curiosity and a desire to understand, we are, in a way, reparenting ourselves. We're giving ourselves the kind of sensitive attention we so desperately needed early on in life. The kind of care and support that would have helped us develop and flourish. The kind of caregiving that can enable us to now do just that. How do we do that? Simply put: we just stay with our experience and allow it to unfold.
Okay. I know. Easier said than done.
It's challenging to stay put when we're feeling uncomfortable and want to run, or are feeling confused.
But, we don't have to white knuckle our way through it (although it might initially feel that way). The key to growing our capacity to stay present with our experience lies in slowing it down and making it more manageable. We can use our breath to slow down our experience and we can engage our prefrontal cortex. We can take a participatory observational stance, one in which we both allow ourselves to be with our experience while also observing it. We do this by paying attention to what's happening in our bodies, by mindfully observing and describing to ourselves our physical sensations, and by noticing any images or beliefs that accompany our emotional experience. This practice grows our affect tolerance--our ability to hang in there with strong emotions instead of being overwhelmed by them--and makes our emotions easier to be with. We notice them, name them, and watch them, as we ride out the waves of our experience.
Next week, I'll share an exercise that allows you to revisit a triggering relationship experience and work through the practice of staying until it shifts.