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Guest Post by Nina Lalumia

At least since the time of Aristotle (the fourth century B. C.), the idea that there are four basic elements–earth, water, air and fire–has been an important theme in our culture. Aristotle himself used this idea to understand the physical world. He thought about the four elements much the same way that chemists today understand elements such as hydrogen and carbon. The basic idea is that underlying any change that we perceive there MUST be something that remains stable and the same. Physical change is understood as different mixtures, additions and subtractions of elements that do NOT change. Aristotle also understood the human body as composed of all four elements: earth because the body has solidity and we eat food that comes from the earth; water because we have blood, sweat and tears, and because we drink fluids; air because as long as we live we are constantly breathing air in and out, inhaling and exhaling; and fire because we are warm and seem to burn the food we eat.

But the four elements can also be understood in a psychological or spiritual manner. The thoughts of our mind are airy, because they can drift like a balloon to many different locations in space and both to the past and to the future. Still today we may call a person an “airhead” if their thoughts and words float all over the place like a balloon tossed about in the wind. In contrast, our body is relatively stable: it cannot travel in time (not yet, anyhow!), and it travels from place to place only gradually and with effort–certainly before the advent of modern methods of transportation. And we describe a person who is present and focused as being  “grounded.”

These symbols–air for the mind and its floating thoughts, earth for the relatively solid and stable body–are helpful for me in understanding a difficulty that I have. As a strongly empathetic person, I often feel invaded and overwhelmed by the thoughts and feelings of other people. I feel that I have very weak or porous boundaries. It sometimes feels like I live in a room that has no doors or windows that I can shut. I feel that I have no peace or privacy in which I might be able to give attention to my own thoughts and feelings.

I reckon that many empathetic or highly sensitive people (HSPs) have similar experiences. But I recently learned an important lesson from Caroline van Kimmenade, who produces the website thehappysensitive.com. This site offers many useful resources for understanding what it means to be a highly sensitive person, an empathetic person or an empath, and how to manage these abilities, these vulnerabilities, and live happily and productively. She also offers online coaching.

Caroline pointed out to me that in many cases I am the one who crosses boundaries into the space or territory of other people. The way I do this is by thinking: by trying to figure out what other people are thinking or feeling. My motivation for doing this is to avoid conflict: I’m always trying to please other people or at least avoid upsetting them. Then I adapt myself in order to act and be the way I think will please them.

The important realisation that I had is that, although I often feel invaded or controlled by other people, this particular phenomenon is something that I am responsible for. I don’t have to let my airy balloon thoughts float over into other people’s space or territory. I can bring my airy thoughts back down into my earthy body. Paradoxically, the best way for me to do this is to focus on my breathing. Yes, of course breathing involves air, but the activity of breathing in and out is the most noticeably constant activity of our body. In particular, normal healthy breathing involves the motion of our diaphragm, the complex muscular layer at the base of the rib cage. When we breathe in, it pushes down into a bowl shape, and we feel our belly expand. This muscular motion creates an empty space, a vacuum, in our chest cavity and draws air into the lungs. That’s the real work of breathing. Breathing out normally requires no effort: we simply relax the diaphragm, it comes back up, flattens out, and air easily flows out of the lungs.

So what I mean by “focusing on my breathing” is directing my attention to these activities of my body. When I intend to do this, for a while my airy thoughts still tend to float into different times (past and future) and different places (in particular, into other people’s spaces). But the basic technique of meditation is to notice when your thoughts float away, and gently draw them back to focus on your breathing. As far as topics go, the activity of breathing is not very interesting. This is a good thing, because eventually our thoughts settle down back into our body and rest there. For all intents and purposes, we stop thinking about anything at all. We remain aware, but are not thinking about anything in particular.

One obstacle to reaching this state of resting back into the earthy body is actually thinking about our breathing. For me, this takes the form of inner thoughts counting my breaths, giving them numbers, or an inner voice saying things like “In and out, in and out.” I think this is my mind’s way of resisting rest, of holding on to its own activity and independence. I have found a way to deal with this: I say simple words with a rocking, lullaby rhythm: Breathe deeply in and then starting on the next breath out: “La, la; La, la; La, la Loo, two, three, and…La, la; La, la; La, la Loo, two, three, and…” The first ‘La’ is a breath out, the second ‘la’ is a breath in, and so on for each pair of sing-song syllables.

My ten sing-song syllables play the role of what many practitioners of meditation call a “mantra.” The strategy in any case is to give the mind something fairly empty to chew on. Eventually, if all goes well, it calms down and we are simply breathing and simply aware, but not thinking about anything. The airy thought balloon has landed back in the earthy body.

After a fairly brief session of this kind of meditation, I can open my eyes and my mind again and see things more clearly. I can feel that I have needs and wants just as other people do. I grow more aware of my own feelings and can separate them from the feelings of others.

Now I am in a better position to put healthy boundaries in place: primarily by having the courage to say No to some things, and by saying Yes carefully, slowly–only after considering my current feelings and thoughts, and after considering the consequences of saying Yes. Am I truly ready and willing to accept the consequences of saying Yes–come what may? If I don’t take the time to consider such things, I am liable to say Yes only to please other people–or to do what I THINK will please them.

It is much healthier to talk with the person or people involved. Talking–real talking out loud–like breathing, is something we do with our bodies. Our vibrating vocal cords and the shaping motions of our mouth, tongue and teeth shape sound waves that set the eardrums of other people in motion, and so on.

I speak and the other listens; the other speaks and I listen. If all goes well, we can reach an agreement, a plan, a boundary that at the very least we both honestly can tolerate. It may get better than that, but we shouldn’t let it get worse.

These are things that I have learned about and am still finding difficult to put into practice. But when I do put them into practice, things go better.

* * * * * * * *

Notes on words

This sense of ‘grounded’ or ‘grounding’ arrived quite recently. The OED gives this quote from Allen Ginsberg in New Age Journal (1976): “Trungpa’s position was that ‘psychadelics’ are too trippy, whereas people need to be grounded; everything is uncertain enough as it is.” Trungpa was a teacher of Buddhist meditation.

‘Mantra’ comes from Sanskrit and was first based in Hinduism, where it meant the intention one has in mind when saying or doing something. ‘Manta’ and related Sanskrit words are the roots of our word ‘mind.’

This post is based upon personal reflection regarding the third chakra (solar plexus chakra) and the role it plays a role in extreme introversion and shyness.


 

Blocked solar plexus chakra – The third chakra is the seat of one’s personal power and sense of self. When this chakra is open and balanced it allows you to express yourself with confidence and to show your ‘real self’. On the other hand, when this chakra is blocked you are extremely shy and sensitive, which may lead you to either hide your real personality from people or hide away from life in your introvert’s cave.

How the blockage happens – Blocked solar plexus chakras result from abuses of authority. You may have had a controlling, smothering or overbearing parent (often this kind of parenting is culturally considered ‘normal’ and is passed down from generation to generation). You may otherwise have attended an extremely strict school which made you feel powerless. Due to your boundaries having invaded or invalidated by (a) person(s) in positions of authority over you in childhood or adolescence, you are not able to assert your personal power in healthy ways. Since you are unable to defend yourself psychically due to weak boundaries, human relationships are often fraught or overwhelming. For this reason you may choose to hide away in the introvert’s cave where it is safer.

How the blockage clears – Clearing blockages in the solar plexus chakra can be the work of (a) lifetime(s). Due to the cultural programming we experience, many of us will never succeed in unblocking the solar plexus chakra and may even worsen the blockage over the course of a lifetime. There are many ways we may give up our personal power without realising it, for example by being in a relationship with a controlling partner or as being an adherent of a religion that restricts and controls. Another common way of giving away one’s power is to claim state benefits for life. Many more people give away their power by not following their own dreams, but instead giving themselves up by having children, or by trying to win the approval and love of one’s parents or romantic partner. (BLOCKAGES HERE ARE EXTREMELY COMMON!) When we experience the world from the position of a blocked solar plexus chakra, we are likely to have blind spots regarding the habitual ways that we give away or do not claim our personal power in life and thereby keep ourselves stuck in a blocked state. However, if you are open and willing to work with the solar plexus chakra it can be unblocked overtime. The ways to unblock the solar plexus chakra are various and many, however, in a practical sense it will involve learning to claim back your sense of individual authority so that you develop healthier, stronger boundaries that enable you to get out into the world without getting drained. Most likely this will require you to learn how to stand on your own two feet and to move beyond the need to reach for or seek approval from other people.

When energy is free flowing – When your solar plexus chakra is clear and energy is free flowing you are able to enjoy socialising and meeting new people. In everyday situations you will not feel shy or over-sensitive and you will absolutely not get drained. Since you approve of yourself, it doesn’t bother you to be around people who challenge you in some way or whom do not agree with your ideals.

When the blockage comes back! – Work undertaken to unblock the solar plexus chakra is not a one-way street that lasts forever. This is why extreme shyness or introversion may sometimes return, leaving you feeling as if you have gone backwards in life and have once again become overly shy. Extreme shyness or introversion may again occur / come back if you have been in some way traumatised or your personal power has been abused. Typically this could happen if you have a bad romantic relationship experience in which you gave up your needs or in which there was a lot of drama. However, the trauma itself can be any situation that triggers you to feel powerless and unable to act (not always a romantic relationship). (PERSONAL NOTE: a severe trauma of this kind happened to me one year ago and I have only just got my confidence and self-expression back).

What it feels like when the blockage returns – When the blockage returns you feel the comeback of all your old social fears. Extreme sensitivity and social anxiety may also return with a vengeance: you may find yourself nervous about doing even little things such as asking for help in a shop. On top of this, you may feel extremely sensitive to the energies around you and feel as if you can feel the emotions of others when you are physically close to them or look in their eyes (this is a clear signifier that your psychic boundaries are porous and weak). If you are in this weakened state, any effort to push against your comfort zone will be extremely hard and inner feelings of avoidance will be strong.

Getting unblocked, again! – Getting unblocked takes both time and assertive action on your side. Sometimes radical change is necessary and you may have to go away for awhile or stop seeing the person(s) the trauma was triggered by. Having space from any person(s) who violated or invalidated your personal boundary gives you time to heal and strengthen yourself again.

What you can also do – The solar plexus chakra can be strengthened by incorporating more yellow foods into your diet, having yellow decorations in your home, or by wearing yellow clothes. Some of the ways I personally do this are by drinking a kind of ‘tea’ made from slices of lemon and ginger and sometimes honey as my regular hot drink; eating yellow dal soup (Indian soup) most days; and by wearing yellow pyjamas! Oh yes, and the yellow colour in my Jade Joddle branding was also intentional for this reason. I have steadily been incorporating more yellow into my life over a four year period (at the time of writing) during which time I have become steadily more expressive and able to show my ‘real self’.

Still not sure if you are blocked? I am not part of the ‘I’m an introvert and proud’ movement as that seems to come hand in hand with justifying why it’s good and necessary to hide away from life in the introvert’s cave. I also think that despite any propensities towards introversion that we may have (solar plexus chakra blockages) we can in the course of a lifetime learn how to show ourselves more and also learn to be more socially open, if we so desire. In fact I 100% know that is true because I have experienced both sides of life and I know which one feels better.