Shallow Living

Shallow Living — It’s easy to get caught up in our dramas, mess up our bodies, and then just sit there, wondering what went wrong.

Wayne C. Allen

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it’s easier to hide

Despite being retired for the last almost 6 years (!!!) I still think about the mind / body connection.

A friend and I were talking about Bodywork the other day… and that brought to mind a 16-year-old client I worked with, years ago.

I’d love to have a photo to show you, as seeing her as I see her would help you to relate to what I’m about to describe.

Here is the Bodywork part.

Working down from the top: she was —

  • a pretty girl with wide eyes, whose “look” shifts from wide-eyed astonishment to guarded fear.
  • Her jaw was locked, her mouth barely opened.
  • Her shoulders and neck were rigid, and if I said anything positive about her, her shoulders would rise to her ears, a position called “turtling.”
  • Her shoulders were also tilted, left side higher.
  • Her chest was sunken in.
  • When she moved, there was no natural movement to any part of her body.
  • And… she had a stomach ulcer.

What I saw told me a lot about the young woman.

  • Her eyes gave away her confusion about how the world works, and about how she works.
  • Her confusion shifted to a self-protective stance when pressed to talk about herself.
  • Resistance to talking (the fear being that one will inadvertently reveal something best kept hidden) was demonstrated in her stiff jaw and throat.
  • Her turtling often happened after I made positive comments. It’s an automatic “I don’t want to hear this,” (shoulders over ears, so to speak) reaction — she thought positive comments were either wrong, or manipulative… or both.
  • Turtling is also a self-defense mechanism — a way to hide from whatever fearful thing is coming.
  • A caved-in chest is indicative of “heart-hurt”: she’d been hurt by someone or several “someones” whom she loved.
  • Lack of movement is a way to contain life energy — it’s being kept under tight control, lest she feel something.

An ulcer is Third chakra stuff,
it relates to self-esteem issues… a wish to “dissolve the self.”

Our emotions are meant to be a sine wave. (See the image below.) We’re thinking about the amplitude — the height/depth of the wave.

The norm is for the body to seek balance. So, for example, if I’m unwilling to explore and express my anger, I’m automatically limiting the amount of joy I’ll experience. If we limit our expression of the “down side,” we’ll also limit the possibility of feeling the “up side.”


My client had told me that the “house rule” was, “Don’t express sadness or anger in front of my parents, as they find it uncomfortable. Stuff your feelings. Things will get better on their own… some day.”

She physically demonstrated the body of a person who was stuffing everything she felt. She did so by tightening her muscles to hold herself in.

When I said, first session, that her type of holding could lead to stomach problems and even eventually ulcers, she smiled and said, somewhat proudly, “I already have one!” Ouch.

She was actually pleased that she’d learned to contain herself… despite the fact that all of that blocked energy was literally eating her alive. Because her stomach hurt, she’d already tried the normal Western coping mechanisms — drugs, alcohol. It hadn’t worked, so she was seeing me for her “depression.”

Now, depression isn’t an emotion, any more than paranoia is an emotion. It’s a state of being.

Depression at its core is a repression of feelings… achieved by going into a state of inertia.

It may feel like sadness or despair, but it’s actually a tool to repress feeling what’s really going on.

As a socially acceptable “illness,” depression garners sympathy and Prozac.

What chemicals like Prozac do is, it gets people right out of the sadness and firmly into neutral.

My client was on an antidepressant that also helped her sleep. However, as a side effect, she had little or no affect. At age 16, she was in neutral… she had no passion… for anything.

And this, our society declares, is somehow OK.

Needless to say, I disagree. We need to find outlets for our feelings, our containment. We need to scream, to pound a heavy bag, to (safely) let all of the repressed feelings out.

We need to commit to actually feeling our feelings; to be willing to accept all of ourselves. The sad parts, the happy parts, the drippy parts, the grieving parts, the horny parts and the neutral parts. None of it is bad, none better than another.

We need to have a look at our bodies… at what we are holding on to. Perhaps we can choose to stop settling for OK and average. We might stop pretending that holding ourselves to a narrow band of feeling is somehow a mark of enlightenment.

Or, we can continue to deaden ourselves to the possibility of life lived in its fullness.

Either way, the clock is ticking.

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web\‘s Simple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever. See: –The Phoenix Centre Press

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