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  • Writer's pictureAnnelisa MacBean

Attention to the Middle

When I’m activated, when personal and collective patterns of shame, rage, and fear are taking over my consciousness – two options generally appear. One is to move away, to dissociate and project my focus and the unwanted feelings outside myself. I want to bail from the body, abandon the energy surging within me, and do whatever I can to remove myself from the vulnerability that underlies the angry eruption. The other option is to drown in the feelings, to become fused with the shame and resentment, getting all snarled up in the tension and resistance. When this happens, I lose perspective; I can’t sense or distinguish the bodily space in which the emotions are appearing. I become the experience of hate and resistance, identified with the thoughts and feelings. I know these reactions are not neurotic, evidence of my failure as a human being, or a sign that something is wrong with me. These are adaptive strategies cultivated at a very young age to protect my fragile little nervous system from total fragmentation. These reactions were my long-ago best attempt at self-care, so I respect the role they have played in my life. However, the reality is that I no longer require that level of protection. I am now in possession of capacities that were not available to me as a child. To replace my outdated circuitry with new wiring, such as curiosity, empathy, and attunement… to replace that overwhelming sense of explosive urgency with patient pauses that allow me to discover an embodied way to respond . . . this is an emerging, evolving possibility. I’m learning to bring neutral attention to the space between the old, entrained reactions. I notice warmth in my heart as I discover I have the choice to focus intentionally on my thoughts, emotions, and sensations. I find the pain underlying my rage when I don’t resist or avoid, but observe. This is a kind of intimacy with myself, a sensitivity to the energy that allows me to witness the movement and force of feelings while remaining free of enmeshment. Intimacy without fusion; connection without collapse. Close, but not so close I drown. While it may sound like a monumental task, it is actually a very simple movement from awareness to choice. Once I am aware that I have a choice, choosing is easy.

Once I choose and intentionally focus my attention, new circuitry gets laid down quickly, both in my own brain as well as the collective psyche of our culture. I have come to understand that my personal work in this regard is an offering to the greater whole, and I am deeply appreciative of the benefits I derive from the work of others, each one of us becoming increasingly responsible for finding and choosing the middle, and lifting the collective experience in the process.

This is a contribution we can all make to this world, which seems to need this sort of attention now more than ever.

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