Dissociation and finding balance in cycles

The idea for this essay started as I was reading a Pitchfork article about dissociation and music, that was a surprisingly nuanced and interesting take on dissociation in the cultural zeitgeist in general and songwriting more specifically. It tied together and stimulated some thoughts I’ve been mulling over about this particular cultural moment, and the influence of social media and the 24 hour news cycle creating pressure to make a constant running commentary about the horrors that are ongoing as well as consuming that commentary relentlessly. Increasingly the automatic and repetitive nature of how sometimes respond to these continued crises has me thinking that this too is a form of dissociation, except that often we’re still talking. As has happened the last three essays I’ve written, new and completely enraging news emerged while I was still in process. I found myself reflecting on the ways that we succeed and fail to pull ourselves out of dissociative loops. (And while I am feeling quite a lot and have a much to say about it all, I’m going to take my own point and leave that to the more relational dialogues that are possible in conversation rather than broadcasting my feelings here.)

In the last Reiki 2 training I facilitated we had a discussion about dissociation vs trance. It can look sort of similar on the surface, but it’s completely different. Or maybe another way of putting it is that some trances are therapeutic and others are not. The key for me is that therapeutic trance is deeply embodied, so much so that your body becomes your primary environment. You are so connected to yourself and the collective that your physical environment is no longer primary. Whereas dissociative trance is disembodied, out of body, detached, and disconnected. To be in a therapeutic trance, whether it’s light or deep, brings a connection to oneness and there is no past, no present, and no future. It allows us to honor our strengths and limitations, and find balance.

I would venture to say that doom scrolling and obsessive news consumption is a form of dissociative trance (and a reexperiencing and hypervigilance response too). I myself am a daily reader of the news, but I have to often check in with myself and ask “am I learning something new or am I just experiencing the same disturbance and obsessing? Is learning more about this a meaningful action? What is a meaningful action? What am I feeling right now?” Exposing yourself to content can be a form of connecting to feelings and processing them, but it can also be a freeze state that contains the illusion of movement, where we feel there is virtue in immersing ourselves in a certain feeling in the absence of knowing what else to do about it. Sometimes meaningful action doesn’t feel like nearly enough and we must hold those complicated feelings in a state of “unresolve” for a period of time, resisting the urge to busy ourselves as a form of numbing.

This dynamic is present in the spiritual and psychological community as well. The somatic version is dropping into grief/sadness/rage intentionally without any follow up regarding connection and resourcing. What exactly is the value of doing that if there’s no recalibration and capacity to find deeper connection and support? How can grief, rage, trauma, hopelessness move and invite other experiences alongside it, without some active intention to bring in something else? Sometimes suffering can feel like a badge of awareness, where cultivating joy becomes an affront to others. As a commentary culture we seem increasing out of balance. On the other side is the spiritual bypassing and avoidance that also promotes disconnection, trying to eliminate or suppress rage in favor of more “healthy” emotions. (If you don’t know, I think rage is healthy! Rage is an extension of love, for ourselves, for those who are suffering…the key is to bring that frequency of love back into it so it’s not all burning and no transmutation).

As I’ve been in a deep dive of psychic development, mediumship, and deepening energetic connection and clearing, it is increasingly glaring how important cycles and allowing cycling is for health of all kinds. This earth, this universe is constantly changing and moving through cycles. Cycles are the natural resetting and recalibration process. You cannot pick one part of the cycle and live there without consequences to your health and the health of the planet. One could say energetically that the energetic quality of dissociation is stagnancy.

Cycles are also about dualities, that are held in alternating and simultaneous fashions. What does that mean?

Beginnings and endings are a simultaneous duality. Generating and releasing are alternating patterns within a cycle, and they too include dualities. Like when you’re finally developing some momentum in making needed changes, but you’re also grieving your old life and struggling with fear and doubt. In these apocalyptic times that duality/alternating frequency is all around us, in the destruction we witness but also in the increasing movements towards liberation and spiritual awakening.

I’ve always been drawn to shadow work and release work because of my personal history, a function of necessity and familiarity in that particular part of spiral. But when we are primarily oriented to what needs to go, we can lose sight of orienting to what is bringing in vibrancy and renewal. Generally speaking when cycles are moving at a steady pace they are more in balance. (An example of how imbalance creates chaos and harm, consider global warming where the cycle accelerates in one direction without leaving time for adaptation).

So it’s been a bit of a shock for me, I’m embarrassed to say, that moving and resolving heavy/painful/stagnant/unwanted energies is equally about the degree that you can generate vibrancy, love, and a consistent flow as it is about release.
On a personal note that has greatly resolved fears I was struggling with about the intensity of this work. And it offers meaningful context for what it is to grieve, weep, channel rage into meaningful action, transmute trauma through collective ritual AND cultivate ruthless compassion, universal love, connection to the divine and vibrancy at the same time. I don’t know about you but the rage/grief/WTF part of my cycle is quite adequately sustained by the collective environment whether I want it to be or not, the part that needs more of my active participation is cycling back to joy, hope, compassion, and connection.

I’d like to close there and leave us with some questions and ideas to contemplate and hold:

If you examine your own cycles, are there points that you tend to rest in or prefer? 

Are you leaning into the side of heaviness and grief, could you use some balance of cultivating hope and joy? Or are you leaning a little too hard on the “living your best life” side and push away the pain and suffering of those around you? 

Do you alternate rapidly between the two or hold them at the same time? How long are these cycles? (In my experience, in spite of conventional psychological wisdom, if we are deeply empathically connected chances are we are cycling quite quickly between a wide range of emotions)

An exercise to help your mind make sense of this might be…

To craft some affirmative statements that hold those dualities. 

Or allow yourself to engage with more challenging and heavy emotions while doing something fun and joyful. 

Maybe you could make a playlist that explores moving through a wide range of experience, or shifting gradually between opposite emotions. 

Write yourself a letter from your future self that weaves together the heartaches and challenges of your life now alongside the gifts and small (or big) successes you have experienced. 

Draw a lifeline of the most impactful experiences in your life, positive and negative using that line as a wave to show the ups and downs.

Offer yourself the grace to accept that it’s natural to fall out of balance, and it can be easy to correct it if you’re willing to initiate change in yourself.

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