When I find myself heading back to the kitchen for more food when I’m not really hungry, and then heading back to the living room to watch something I’m not really interested in, as happened last night, I’ve learned to ask myself, “Have I gone under the ice?”
The answer is almost certainly yes.
The real questions are: What would I rather go numb to? What feelings am I trying to avoid?
I’m not sure when I began using the phrase “going under the ice” to describe the state of emotional numbness that keeps me functioning on top of my experience, often able to suppress (almost) all of the pain and, especially any anger, underneath. Probably it’s at least 30 years ago. Probably it popped up in my spiritual director’s office when I was trying to explain how it could happen to me that someone would ask me about an important event in the past, or some choice in the present, and I really wouldn’t have any feelings about it at all.
I am sure “going under the ice” as an internal coping phenomenon began in my early childhood. In my family, it simply wasn’t safe for me to feel or want anything different from the way things were – which was usually pretty awful.
I do know it is at least 30 years that I’ve been trying to “excavate the iceberg” – to uncover and deal with what I’ve repressed. And also to be able to know, in the present moment as it unfolds, what it is I want. This process of allowing myself to know and respond to what matters to me has been a slow and inconsistent “rising” – and learning how to rise – from under the ice.
The moment of coming out from under the ice is never comfortable. I have to notice and figure out how I’m going to respond to what I so much wish were not there. It feels momentarily overwhelming. It’s also much better than the alternative, and I’m capable now of remembering that.
If I’m under the ice, when I eventually do stop stress eating/zoning out, my old workaholic patterns are almost certainly bound to kick in. It’s the other side of my coping coin. I’ve spent way too much of my life flipping between avoidance by food/mind numbing out and avoidance by overwork.
I don’t mean to suggest there isn’t room in life for letting your mind, spirit, and body rest – including with mind/body comforts. Absolutely there is! But consciously choosing to do something restful and/or refreshing is utterly different.
The discomfort of coming out from under the ice doesn’t last. It dissolves – and quickly, if you allow yourself to notice it, thereby allowing it to pass. You will know what you need to do next as soon you let what is alive in you rise to the surface and become mindfully present to that.
This is the core spiritual practice I have worked, and am still working, to develop in my life: the ongoing practice of presence. The mindful awareness of what you are experiencing, extending outward to take in the experience of others turns out to be a delicious resting place.
This state of conscious isn’t judgmental. It isn’t forced. It is just aware.
The practice of presence automatically connects you with Presence – the Source Energy of Being, in which you are always immersed, the Awareness which is always holding you. This is a state that can’t be fully described, but it can certainly be experienced.
There are many ways of bringing yourself mindfully into the present. Here are three questions that help: What is going on with me right now? Why? How am I reacting to that?
Next time, more on reactivity, how it hijacks awareness – and how to choose responding instead.
Last night I realized I needed to talk to my husband about a subject I’d been avoiding. So I asked for a conversation, and he said yes, and right away my energy started to shift. I was still anxious, but I was back out from under the ice, which was immediately better.
The thing is, you can’t really breathe under there.
With You on the Path,