Through my studies in psychology, mindfulness and meditation, Buddhism, Mysticism, diverse spiritualities, metaphysics, and self-compassion I have learned quite a bit about the practices of self-study and internal listening. While there are many methods that we I use with myself and clients to engage in this process of being present with what is in order to heal and rebuild a deeper connection with the heart, one that I many if my clients continually resonate with and benefit from it one I developed a few years ago. Through my own process of sitting with my heart and the layers of beliefs and feelings that arose, I intuitively found this self-healing method which I call MAPS. It is an acronym to help provide a framework for somatically grounded, heart centered, shadow work and healing, which breaks down into 4 steps:
M: Mindfully notice the suffering that is present. This is the step where we consciously tune into our experience of suffering on a somatic, emotional, and cognitive level with mindfulness. We bring our mindful attention to our bodies and notice the sensations that arise, becoming curious about them. We bring our mindful attention to our emotions and identify the different feelings that are present, being open to them. We bring our mindful attention to our thoughts, and notice the content, pace, flavor, and quality of them without judgement or following them.
A: Allow the feelings to be present. In this step we take our mindful noticing of our suffering even further by truly accepting what our experience to is by allowing it to be. By letting go of our minds (now that we have noted our thoughts we can release them with gratitude) and allowing the felt experience of our emotions in our heart and body we give space to the shadows to be known and understood by welcoming them into the forefront of our consciousness.
P: Peel back the layers of feelings and beliefs to get to the core of our present suffering. After we become mindful of our suffering, and allow it to be, we are ready to work with our heart to understand our suffering. With gentleness and compassion ask your emotion what it is believing. An answer will arise, and in this first layer of belief it may be one you are familiar with from your regular conscious experience of this suffering. With all answers that arise, allow them to be. In that allowance of the belief to be seen and heard, another emotional layer will appear in response to it. After allowing the next emotional layer to be present and felt, again ask this feeling layer what it is believing. Again, an answer will arise stating a new belief. This will again be followed by another layer of emotion. With mindful compassion, gentleness, and allowing we continue to peel back the layers of feelings and beliefs until we find the core of our suffering. This is the place of not only the core belief at the root of our suffering, but the core wound that began it. This is something you will intuitively know and feel. There will be a sense of a bottom to it, and you can recognize it often because it revolves around feeling unworthy in some way. This step is the meat of the practice and depending on the shadow we are working with and how hidden it has been from us (i.e. how many layers we need to go though to get to the core), it may go by quickly or take some dedicated sitting time.
S: Soak with self-compassion. In this final step, after we have identified the core belief at the root of our suffering, it is time for healing this wounded aspect of self with self-compassion. There may be tears, perhaps a lot of them. There may be moaning and/or sounding. There may be the desire to punch a pillow or stomp your feet. There may be exhaustion and silence. In whatever way it is that your heart wants to express this core wounding, allow it. By allowing and witnessing this expression, you begin to release the emotional energy of the suffering, freeing yourself from it. When the expression has come to its completion, you now have the honor and opportunity of becoming your own source of compassion and healing. By placing a hand on our heart with a compassionate touch and speaking to yourself in a compassionate tone, offer yourself the compassion that you need to hear and receive. This could look like acknowledging the suffering, and the pain of this core wound and the core belief that arose from it. It may include offering yourself forgiveness and understanding. It may be the offering of loving words and affirmations to yourself. It may involve the recognition of how this suffering is common to humanity. It may be the declaration of a commitment to more deeply love, accept and protect yourself in the area of this wounding. Listen to your heart for guidance, as it speaks through you and acts as both the source and recipient of your compassion. The heart will let you know what it needs.
When this process feels complete, continue to listen to your heart. What do you need next? How does your self-compassion continue outside of this sitting practice? Whether your heart guides you to make a cup of tea and watch a movie, to take a shower or a bath, to go out into nature, or to call a family member or friend, continue to strengthen your connection to your “heartuition” and deepen your healing and integration process by listening to the wisdom of your own heart.
With love and gratitude,
Alicia Sunflower (aka Alicia Gleason, MS, LMHC, NCC)