Purpose: How to let stress wake you up.
We co-create stress. Something happens outside of us and our body responds. We become tense. Our shoulders tighten. We feel it in our belly. A part of us begins to twitch. Our body is reacting to the situation. We embody the experience. The journaling technique of Downloadings is an effective way to work with the emotions by writing down what we are experiencing at this moment. Downloadings can energetically change what is happening inside us, reducing the physical ramifications of stress. This technique is like downing a couple of aspirin—both bring physical relief in about twenty minutes. But Downloadings offers more than the temporary relief of an aspirin because writing has the ability to get to the root of a problem, not simply treat its symptoms. Once we have the list of what we are experiencing we can learn from it.
Inspiration: How heavy is the teacup?
At a meditation retreat, a Zen master hands his student an empty and asks, “How heavy is this?”
The student knows the theory behind a koan, that they are riddles to be figured out and when decoded it will elucidate wisdom. She thinks for a moment, and says, “Eight ounces?”
He rings his bell. She has failed. They bow to each other and she goes back to her meditation cushion.
Twice more, over the next two days, the experience is the same.
“How heavy?” Her answer. He rings the bell. They bow to each other. She leaves.
On the last day of the retreat she enters the Zen master’s office and sits down. “Don’t bother giving me the cup. I have no idea what you’re getting at,” she says.
He chuckles and hands her the teacup. “How heavy the cup is depends on how long you hold it. If you hold it just long enough to take a sip of tea, it’s not at all heavy. But if you hold it up in front of you for an hour, it would seem quite a bit heavier. And what if you held it, just like you are now, for a week? Or a month? Or a year? It would cripple you!”
Have your writing tools handy. Get comfortable and close your eyes. Begin to notice your breath. The way it comes in and moves out. Just observe. Don’t try to change anything. Do this for a few moments. When you are ready, send your awareness to your feet, all the way to your toes. See if you can feel them with your awareness. Notice the bottom of your feet. Move your awareness up to your ankles, then slowly up your legs. To your calves, knees, thighs. Become aware of your trunk, abdomen, and belly. Then bring your awareness to your chest. Keep going – your fingers, hands, and arms. Spend a few moments at your shoulders. Then travel up your neck, over your face, to the top of your head. Once you have felt your entire body with your awareness, let go of it all. Relax. Notice your breath. The way it comes in, the way it moves out.
Let your awareness settle onto your neck and shoulders. Feel the weight of all the worries and regrets you are currently shouldering. As these concerns, fears, regrets, worries, obsessions, become visible, download them. Make a list. Write just one or two words for each. Keep going until it feels like there is no more “up there” to unload. Then, check in with your belly, your abdomen, anywhere in your body that you know you hold your stress. Do this until your entire body feels like there is no more load upon it. This should take between 5 and 10 minutes.
Now that you have the raw material down on paper, review your list and write down anything else that comes up. It may be in the form of an emotion or feeling, an insight or image, a memory, a connection or insight, or a question. Take your time. Give your body the chance to tell you what it wants to.
Example: This is a downloading list I did soon after treatment ended.
- Tamoxifen. Excuse to gain weight?
- Mom’s cancer is back
- My cancer could come back
- Getting older
- Dog. I want one. What if Jonathan doesn’t?
- Leaving my job
- Money, won’t have enough
- Chemo Brain effects
- Memory Loss
- Afraid of dying
- Afraid of pain
- Afraid of failure
- Lovemaking/loss of libido
My body failed. It got cancer. Now I’m in menopause, I’m fat, have memory loss and have to take anti estrogen drugs, and deal with the side effects. Hot flashes. What else? Can I really leave my job? What about chemo brain? Will it go away, or morph into aging loss? I am holding a lot of sadness. My mother is in pain. I hold so much fear.
Much of what we worry about happened in the past or hasn’t yet happened and probably won’t at all. Now its time to review the list and identify what is in the past or in the future.
- We can’t change the past. It is done, over, finished, yet often its residue resides in our body. Look through your list. Is the item something that happened in the past? If so, write P next to it.
- Is there something on your list that hasn’t happened yet? When we worry about the future we are creating a fantasy, entertaining ourselves. But worry causes stress to manifest in our body. If the item hasn’t happened yet, write an F next to it.
Whose business is it?
Now it’s time to discern who’s business each item on the list belongs to. If you were running a business and had a list of chores, you would pay each employee to do what they were responsible for, not for the work they did that was someone else’s responsibility.
Mine: Does the item belong to you? For example, you may be worried about how many desserts you are eating. Because it is your hand feeding your mouth, you could decide to do something about that. If it is yours, then write MINE next to it.
Someone Else: Are there items on the list that belong to someone else? You may be concerned about how many desserts your partner is eating and how that will affect their health. But given that they are an adult, and that it is their body, they are the one who has to address it. It is their business. Write Someone Else next to it.
God/Universe/No-One: Which items listed are outside the realm of human control, like weather, illness, life or death? By each of these write God or Universe or No-One, whatever is comfortable for you.
Here’s my list marked up:
- Tamoxifen. Excuse to gain weight. –– F Mine
- Mom’s cancer is back –– God
- My cancer could come back –– F God
- Getting older –– F God
- Dog. I want one. What if Jonathan doesn’t? –– F Some One Else
- Leaving my job –– F
- Money, won’t have enough –– F
- Chemo Brain effects –– God
- Memory Loss –– God
- Afraid of dying –– F Mine
- Afraid of pain –– Mine
- Afraid of failure –– Mine
- Lovemaking/loss of libido –– God/Mine
Where does this lead?
Only the items remaining that are not in the past or, future or belong to someone else or are god’s business are your items. These are the ones you can actually do something about. Circle these. Then ask yourself, where does this lead? Write down what comes to mind. Write what comes to mind about the items that are yours to keep. Your body will give you the information. Trust what comes up in your mind.
Here’s what I wrote:
Allow the sadness. I am sad about the pain of life, the swiftness of life. All this fear! So much out of my control. Most out of my control. Can I be gentler with myself?