Developing a Relationship to Self
Our culture has programmed us that we are incomplete by ourselves...that to be whole, we must find relationships that fill the voids within us. So most of us search for what is missing, and project our needs onto others, because we think we aren’t enough on our own. If we haven’t cultivated our own relationship within, we often expect our family, friends and intimate partners to fill emotional voids, which can put strain on those relationships.
When I retweeted the above comment this morning, a friend and I started having a conversation about the topic, and in the process, she asked me about what it felt like to have that inner experience with self. It is a really difficult thing to articulate through twitter, or even here really, as it is a very personal experience that may be a little different for each of us. For me, I might feel a shift of understanding, like about why I've been blocked in a certain area of my life, or about why certain patterns repeat, but other times it might feel like an unexpected surprise being shown to me, like when an answer comes out of nowhere during meditation, or my body all of a sudden releases into a posture like I have never experienced before. It connects me to a sense of wonder about things I have not yet discovered within myself, and each time that happens, it makes me feel similar to how I have felt in the past making new friends or having a
new interest in someone as a possible romantic partner. But it's with myself! When I shifted my focus there a few years back, after another romantic relationship crashed and burned, it changed EVERYTHING about how I interact with others, romantic partners or not.
So even though I shared a few insights about some of this on my timeline at the time, I feel like this might be a good time to share some of the things I practice to cultivate a deeper relationship with self, and what my experience of that has been.
Let me start by saying, we all have our own path and timeline we are walking in this life… While we all share the commonality of being human, each of our experiences of our time on Earth is very different. Our histories, upbringing, culture, traumas and joys all contribute to that path, and how we view it. What I share here is not meant to be the Ultimate Guide to Connecting to Self, but hopefully will give you some ideas of how I was able to connect some of those dots in order to help you see similar, but possibly different, opportunities for this in your own life. And feel free to share your own tools and tips here if you care to! I am constantly evolving, and always looking for new ideas and vantage points.
Connecting with the body: what do you feel, and where do you feel it?
Yoga* has been a game-changer in my life. I started practicing in my early 20’s, and even though my practice has stalled out at times, I have held a dedicated routine with it for the last 6 years. This is one of the most important things I have done, as it has been the cornerstone of developing a deeper relationship to my body.
Early on, when I first started, I did it because it was fun and trendy. While this was also when I
was first introduced to the concept of chakras, and understanding that physical feelings in certain parts of my body usually correlated with certain emotional feelings happening at the same time (sometimes indicating a challenge, sometimes open and receiving in abundance). This was the start of paying attention to my body more, not just how to align my body in a posture, but also where I would feel resistance or openness, how that could vary from day to day (again, sometimes correlating with certain emotional states), and how to better read what my body needed on any given day. “What do you feel, and where do you feel it?” was a mantra one of my teachers would repeat in class often, and it is one I will use for the rest of my life now, both on and off the mat. This simple question brings my awareness inward, and sparks inquiry to understand what is happening in my body, instead of being allowed to get caught up in outward distractions, neglecting what my body is trying to tell me. Our bodies have their own intelligence, and are communicating with us constantly.
How much do you understand your body, and what it is trying to say to you?
Energy work, energy awareness, and the untapped fires within
From there, chakra awareness led me to learn about tantra. Early on, I was focused on the abstract and limited view of tantra as sexual energy play, but tantra is really so much more. It really is a holistic philosophy and spiritual practice that is applied towards how one lives their life in it’s entirety, sex being just one part of our lives. But back then, I was just focused on the sex...lol
This interest eventually led me to understand how I subconsciously squandered and misused my own energy resources (when I was not actively thinking about how I was engaging), and helped elevate my awareness about what my thoughts and actions were creating, verses thinking life’s experiences were unfolding by fate alone. I learned that it didn’t matter if I was conscious of the process or not: the life around me is a mirror of how I engaged in the world, including in energetic ways we often miss or ignore.
A word about “energy”
This term can be used in a variety of ways, and has more than one meaning, so allow me to explain how I use it:
Each of us has a life force within us...an essence that is not our physical body, even though we can experience it as a part of our physical body...a more “subtle body” if you will. If we die tomorrow, our life force leaves while the shell of our body remains. It is our consciousness...not our thinking mind per se (as some of that thinking is mindless compulsion), but pure consciousness: awareness and attention. When we tap into it, we can feel the deep aliveness within, and connection with what we are engaged with..
When exploring tantra* (and also yoga), we learn that there are specific parts of the body that contain energy centers (often visualized as spinning wheels) that tap into certain physical, emotional and spiritual connections or reactions we feel within. These locations in the body are also where major nerve plexus bundles reside, so there is some scientific explanation that ties in to all this. Centuries ago, none of this was understood to the degree it can be explained today, but the wisdom was inherently there. Anodea Judith’s Wheels of Light is one resource that helps bridge the gap between the ancient approach with modern understanding of the chakra system (which is the foundation for tantra practice and rituals).
Personally I like to ride the line of looking for a certain amount of logic and facts to explain things with keeping an open mind, and yes, sometimes suspending disbelief, because I know there is still a lot we have not figured out about how our bodies, or the world (or the universe…), totally works. Every day is an evolution of knowledge, and I want to stay open to that. We don’t know what we don’t know, and in the interim we explain things the best we can, until we know more.
Examples of how you might experience energy fluxes in the body:
Chest hurting when heart is broken or are mourning a loss, or connecting with sense of joy/love when open (heart chakra)
Butterflies in your stomach when doing something new and exciting, or “gut” reaction when feeling a red-flag about someone/something (solar plexus chakra)
Tightness in the throat & difficulty speaking when trying to express difficult emotions (blocked), or crisp/clear voice when singing/speaking with words flowing easily when open. (throat chakra)
Bouncing legs/active feet when anxious, or feeling extra strong/tall/solid when balanced & activated (root chakra)
Finding natural feeling of flow and hip movement when connecting dance to music, or stagnant sexual/creative energy when blocked (sacral chakra)
I have also expanded my awareness of inner energy and how to engage it through reiki*. My gateway here was attending a workshop about engaging chakra energy play in BDSM at Dark Odyssey a few years back. One of the presenters talked about being certified in reiki, and how it can be used to help facilitate healing, as well as engage and work with energy during play scenes. It was a fascinating concept that built on my already stoked interest tantric sex (I was still all focused on the sex stuff at that point…). I was just starting to work with examining and healing old trauma (which can get trapped in the body...more on this another time), so took some classes soon after in order to have this my toolbox for self-healing, as well as experimentations in my play scenes (consensually of course...one should not do energy play unless it is negotiated and agreed upon).
While there is much that is not known or understood about how reiki works (won’t know more until proper studies are done…), many support using it to help calm the parasympathetic nervous system, which can aid in the body's ability to heal. Since there are not any known adverse reactions to it, there is little restriction to using it, though belief in it’s abilities varies. From my own experience, reiki self-practice has helped me create deep states of relaxation that increased awareness about where I was unconsciously holding tension (or energy blocks, if you will...), and allowed me to deepen intention for relaxation and release. One cannot accurately describe how another may experience reiki healing, but there is a noticeable shift in states that I have felt in my practice that has led and confirmed my practice. It has aided in healing and balancing parts of myself I would not have been able to otherwise, but I also understand that it is a tool that works best in conjunction with other practices, and continued care/attention to maintain results.
My stance is that there is much we still don’t know about what our bodies are capable of, or how they fully work. (yeah, we know a lot, but we just found out a few years ago that neuroplasticity is still available throughout adulthood…or that the clitoris has interior legs...) While I believe our bodies have natural mechanisms that are built in to self-heal, our dependence on Western medicine has limited cultivation of these abilities or options. Reiki helped me start thinking about this more.
Of course, I think Western medicine has it’s time and place...there are some things it is better suited for, for sure. But I don’t think this is always the first thing we should go to when trying to regain health and equilibrium, nor should it be the only things we can trust. Western medicine is not perfect, and has it’s blind spots.
When considering developing a deeper relationship with self, developing instincts and awareness for self-healing is a key component for that. If we don’t have a solid, consistent connection or sense of self (which includes understanding the messages our body is sending us at different times, and why) it makes it harder to identify an imbalance that we might detect early, which would allow us to intervene with a simpler treatment or lifestyle change . It takes time to learn to differentiate between what various sensations might mean, and as well as what is the best course for how to respond to them. Additionally, we are conditioned to “push through” or “play hurt” sometimes, and ignore things that are not obviously debilitating. I have learned that my ego can be active in blocking discernment here, which is part of how/why ego awareness has become more active exploration the last year or so.
As someone who enjoys writing, journaling is a natural fit for me to get abstract thoughts down for concrete contemplation. I don’t have a set format for how I use journaling, nor dedicated practice (in part due to current time limitations in my day, plus I am just not one that has firm habits or rigid schedules...I need more variety in life), but I generally use my journal for:
Creative exercise-writing out streams of consciousness without stopping/correcting/editing
Capturing random thoughts and inspirations before/during/after yoga
Purging overly active thoughts/anxiety
Helping to process and investigate challenging feelings so I can understand them better
Cultivating more gratitude, and awareness of the abundance already in my life
My meditation is often combined with my yoga and reiki practices, but I am currently working on developing a separate practice of breath work and sitting mediation to expand my options and experiences. (Look for more resources on this in my forum soon).
I also find that the yin-inspired yoga classes I have attended meld meditation more deeply into the entire practice (yin yoga combines postures that focus on and stimulate specific meridian lines used in Chinese medicine to help balance certain body functions). With this type of yoga, there is less movement and more passive poses held for longer amounts of time, which gives greater time to settle into the breath, as well as the awareness/focus/inquiry into the body. This allows for the entire practice to feel like a mediation state, instead of just having a focus on beginning and ending meditations, or the short and always changing focus due to continually changing poses (this is a type of mediation too, but a more active one with different effects).
Gardening and cleaning for me is also a type of meditation. The focus and presence in tending to the plants, and digging in dirt, or cleaning something well, often helps me turn off “busy” parts of my brain and allow deeper presence to come through. Meditation is about a deep state of presence, and I think there are a variety of ways to achieve that.
Spending time in nature is also a meditation for me...a walk in the park, or gazing out on open water or up at the stars are ways I contemplate, and keep perspective about, my place in the world.
Reflection & Introspection
I believe many of us do this in our own way, but the quality of the results may vary depending on the tools we have developed, and what lens we look through. I try to be aware of avoiding lenses that keep me stuck in the past, or activating emotional patterns/response on purpose. How aware we are of ego has a lot to do with this, as ego will try to create certain narratives to fit the identity we may be attached to. A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle took my emotional intelligence to the next level, including understanding the diligence needed here, just like in all my other practices. I try to remember that I am more than my history or past, and show myself kindness when examining any mistakes or missteps.
And whenever I reflect on past experiences or actions, I routinely try to consider the following for full perspective:
Culture and societal pressures
Family history/upbringing/repeating patterns
Biological influences, such as hormone fluxes or other chemicals that get triggered in the body, which can influence emotional response & processing
Rituals are important for creating the lives we want. They help create patterns in our brain that develop the programs we want to manifest. Many of the above are part of my ritual practice, but here are some of the rituals I practice & why:
Making my bed as soon as I get out of it: starts the day with an accomplishment and helps create momentum.
Doing something in the morning to connect with how I am feeling that day, before thinking about other obligations/responsibilities. This helps me stay grounded to my own sense of purpose, needs and desires, and keeps them separate from what I do for others.
Burning sage or other herbs/grass/flowers to help cleanse myself and/or home, or any object that may feel like it is holding stuck/blocked/toxic energy.
Soaking in warm salt baths, getting bodywork like massage, to help release/renew energy.
Creating aromatherapy oils to use to help stimulate/support focus on certain intentions.
Observing the seasons and other natural rhythms of nature to sync myself with all that is around me.
Walking barefoot or laying in the grass to feel connection to earth and nature.
Doing date nights with myself (just like I want to experience romantic dates with other partners) to remind myself that I don’t need to rely only on others for romance or pleasure, and deepen my connection to self.
Quarterly check-ins/resets at season changes (equinoxes and solstices). I often try to do this with special dietary fasts and digital detox when possible.
So these are a few of the ways I have worked to build a deeper relationship with myself. Yeah, it takes work...as much work (if not more) than any other important relationship we engage in. This is part of how I came to embrace the identity of being solo poly-because my primary relationship is with myself. Once I started doing this, I no longer worried about who I was dating or not dating, in part because I was getting what I needed from myself! In turn, this has taken so much pressure off my other dating relationships, and what gets projected onto them. It’s sort of amazing… Because yeah, I still seek having relationships with others, but now find them easier to navigate and enjoy when I am not seeking fulfillment from outside myself, and have found what I need within. <3
May love be abundant for us all, inside and out!
*Please note that while I have been informally studying tantra for a few decades, I do not have formal certification and likely won’t due to it not being a part of my own culture or heritage, and something I cannot embrace fully at this time, as to respect it’s traditions. I have been drawn to it out of my own curiosities about what is possible in my own body, mind and spirit, but have come to understand why it’s important to be mindful of what practices we adopt, and how, from cultures not our own.
Another similar concept that shares ideas and rituals along the same line (but not the same cultural content) might be labeled “sex magic”. As of late, I have started to shift my focus there due to the tie-in I feel with my own heritage, but also concepts I am drawn to for working with different energies, and techniques for manifestation.
This distinction is important to me, in part due to how I incorporate these concepts into my offerings. As I think about my own culture and privilege, I want to be aware of how often Whites are co-opting and profiting off cultural practices of groups that have been historically repressed. To study tantra, yoga or reiki for my own knowledge, understanding or self-healing is one thing (when also done mindfully…), but I want to be careful of what I profit from, and to what degree I hold myself up as an “expert” of a culture that is not mine, and I have not taken the time to fully study and embody in order to have the full understanding of certain practices.
I do hold reiki I and II certification, and the practice of energy healing with hands dates back thousands of years, in various cultures, even before it became more well known in Japan, so do not feel it is exclusive to one culture as some other practices might be. (Read more about the history of reiki.) If I use the term "reiki", it is as a general term for energy healing/manipulation through the hands, or laying of hands on the body. I do not practice it in a strict manner or discipline when treating or "playing" with others, and use intuition and negotiated boundaries as my framework for that engagement.
I find inspiration and insight in many places, but always want to be respectful of how I might talk about or incorporate those things into both my personal and professional practices. As of 2020 I have decided to shift how I refer to my energy work offerings to present them in ways that show proper respect for culture and heritage, and do not to weaken or confuse these philosophies or practices through my interpretations. I will continue to use some terms when appropriate to reference something direct, but am shifting my vocabulary to include more generic references of "energy work" or "somatic work" to encapsulate a variety of techniques and disciplines of mind/body/spirit practice.