Tension is who you think you should be, relaxation is who you are.
- Chinese proverb
In today’s world, it may seem difficult to imagine life without tension. There are hundreds of stresses we must deal with every day. But people who struggle with eating disorders experience tension on a much deeper level – soul tension. This is the tension of expectations and whom a person thinks they should be.
It is the belief that they should be thin, their hair should be longer, their hair should be shorter, their nose should be smaller, they should make more money, they should live in a better house. Relaxation is the knowledge that a person’s worth is based on their soul not their body or their bottom-line. This soul self is not sculpted by external definitions. When I think of this quote, it brings this soul tension to mind and reflects the difference between ego/mind and soul.
Our minds are great things if and when we are actually in control of them. But when a mind runs out of control with no soul self at the helm, people get into trouble and ego rules the day. Someone with an eating disorder might wake up feeling o.k. And then the thoughts of all the things on their to-do list come flooding in. Then suddenly they remember the fight they had with their mother and the paper they haven’t finished, and the next thing you know they feel “fat” and the jeans that fit yesterday seem two sizes too small. In these moments it may seem impossible to find that healthy voice inside saying that it is o.k., that they are o.k., that they are overwhelmed not overweight. Someone’s eating disorder voice may be screaming that not only can they not fit into their jeans, but they are also a complete failure in their life.
Our media-centric culture adds to this soul tension. We live in a society geared to things of the ego. There are countless ads, images, stories all around us about how we should look, what is ideal, what is attractive. Couple this barrage of false information with the loudness of an eating disorder voice, and a person’s soul self has been successfully bound and gagged. When someone is not tuned into their soul self, their life is filled with tension. They care more for the size of their jeans than the size of their heart. They worry more about how they look than how they act. They are more focused on the money they earn than the lives they touch. Their weight is more important than their purpose.
It may seem like a daunting task to counter these image-obsessed messages. But there are antidotes that can keep our pure, soul selves present and awake. There are “soul moments” in every day. We just have to keep our eyes and hearts open to them. Notice the sun rising, a baby smiling, a warm interaction, an unexpected phone call from a dear friend, the smell of fresh flowers, the feel of sunshine on your face. In my practice, I ask clients to keep track of their soul moments. It can be difficult at first, but even one soul moment is a starting place. I will have them bring their soul moments into group to share and build on. Another favorite activity at Monte Nido, our residential treatment center, is drawing angel cards. These cards are meant to awaken the soul and bring spiritual wisdom and healing by calling on our guardian angels. I have each client pick a card (without looking) and share with the group. Each card represents an aspect of the soul such as integrity, surrender and compassion. I then ask the clients to reflect on how they can manifest the meaning of their chosen card in the week. In group the following week, we will review how this experience was for each person and what they experienced.
It is a worthy practice to spend time tuning into soul self – listening to the quiet whispers and paying attention to the soul stirrings. Being grounded in soul self brings ultimate relaxation, and forever quiets the tension inducing should's.
Tension-who you think you should be (ego/mind)... Relaxation-who you are (soul).
Some “soul” resources we recommend:
• Find out more about angel cards and order your own at www.angeltherapy.com
• “Care of the Soul” by Thomas Moore
• “A Path with Heart” by Jack Kornfield
• “Stand Like Mountain, Flow Like Water” by Brian Seaward
-Carolyn Costin & Keesha Broome