The Gift of Hard Times – Interview with Brooke Thomas

hard times

This week on the podcast I’m talking about digging deep during hard times. I’m recording these episodes before the election. So I don’t yet know the outcome. And honestly, even by the time these episodes air, I still don’t think we’ll know the outcome. But I do know that we’ve been whipsawed by the news cycle already for the last four years–and the run up to the 2016 election wasn’t exactly a cake walk, either. Right about now, we’ve been at it a long time. It’s easy to feel exhausted. Depleted. Maybe even hopeless. 

I’m recording this episode on the morning after the Senate Republicans confirmed Amy Coney Barrett. Last night, Elizabeth Warren tweeted: “Remember that hope isn’t given to us—it’s created by us.That’s what this week’s episodes are all about–continuing to create our own hope. 

Listen To The Podcast Here

Today I’m talking with Brooke Thomas about how the hard times are an invitation to re-connect both with our bodies and with who we are at our core. Brooke is the creator of two wonderful podcasts, Liberated Being, and Bliss and Grit. She’s an embodied coach, a teacher of the Realization Process, and she runs an online community dedicated to embodied awakening, Liberated Being.

I think of her as your spiritually awake bestie who grounds you, helps you wake up out of whatever illusion you’ve gotten hooked by, and makes you laugh. And I know she’s been through her share of hard times and has developed a practice to both heal from past hard times, and to stay supple and grounded during present tough times. I’m excited to absorb her wisdom. 

Brooke, you’re an embodied coach. Can you tell us what you mean by embodied? 

Sure. It’s really the ability to step out of the mind-stream. All that we’ve been taught that we’re supposed to be. And all of the thoughts that we have about who we are and what’s going to happen.And to connect with our lived truth as it’s arriving in a moment. So that has a lot to do with body connecting to the body and what it experiences. But it’s also more than that too.

So it’s not just tracking a bunch of sensation. It’s also how we are able to be aware and where we are able to be aware. Like how we’re relating to ourselves and to other people and to the world.

So, what’s your story? How did you come to be on this path, doing this work? 

I think like any of us who follow a calling, I was literally born to do this work. So for me, it started from day one. I had a birth injury. And so I grew up with chronic pain and neurological issues.  I had trauma in my younger life as well and through my adolescent life and young adult life. And so I had to heal, you know. It came to a place, especially, particularly my physical body when I was in college, where it was either really continue down a route of a very miserable life, like being on constant painkillers and constantly at doctor’s offices and being really low functioning, or find a different way. So that was the breaking point for me. And it has continued gosh, for a long time now, decades of leading me into a really fulfilling life.

We’ve talked a little bit about how you made a transition between being sort of a body nerd to being more of an embodied nerd. Could you talk to us a little bit about how your path sort of started at the body and how it’s evolved?

You know, it’s a funny thing and I’m endlessly fascinated by this because I’m not alone here. So many of my colleagues took a similar road unknowingly. It certainly wasn’t the plan. So Rolfing, quote unquote, fixed me. I had significant chronic pain and mobility issues at a very young age. I feel like I was 80 when I was in my early twenties. And I got better. So I became a practitioner and I helped other people feel better in their bodies. And when I started Liberated Being that began as a podcast called Liberated Body. I was talking with a variety of body nerds, lots of people who engage with the body in many different ways.

And I really thought that I was going to talk with all the smartest people out there about the body and figure out like the right way for bodies to feel perfect forever, which is like sweet and naive.  It really came from my desire for people to not experience the kind of pain and dysfunction that I had and that I was seeing in my clients. And a funny thing happened to me. I’ve seen it in so many others where the more I engage with the body. So beginning by receiving Rolfing manual bodywork, and then over time doing something like yoga and then doing more natural movement practices.

And then along came wanting to do somatic, meaning body or sensation based meditation. I just found that the more I cultivated this relationship with my body in whatever way, that it changed me. And it changed me in profound ways that I discovered that I was not what I thought I was. I was not what I had kind of been programmed to be.

And that there was a spontaneous trueness in any given moment. Um, and I don’t mean that in a perfect way. Like you can perfectly stick the landing on every decision or something like that. But I started to have a relationship with something much, much deeper. And it’s funny, we are such a disembodied culture that we have to point this out. And it’s like pointing at something that can’t even be perceived because we’ve been so disembodied for so long. Hundreds of years, really, maybe thousands of years. So it’s so simple and yet, so not common. We don’t encounter it that much.

Sometimes it’s helpful to talk about what something is by talking about what it’s not. When you say we live in a disembodied culture, can you give us an example?

Yeah. A lot of that comes down to conditioning, you know. And what we have been conditioned to be.  So that happens in families of origin. But it also happens in culture and conditioning really comes down to what the consensus is around, what the good one is and how to be that one. So it is a form of brainwashing in terms of how it functions. But I think that its intent is actually more benevolent than that. I think that our ancestors are just passing down like this is how this thing works. Like getting by in life and surviving and doing okay. And so we pass it down and pass it down.

So a common example for women is that the good one is tiny and quiet and subservient and giving. That’s a common form of female conditioning. And so if women learned that that’s the safest way to be, they’re going to unconsciously in an innocence, keep passing that down through the lineage.  And then we’re just kind of running a program almost of what we’re meant to be.

But maybe we’re somebody who’s born female and with a lot of embodied sense of agency and power, somebody who wants to start a movement or write a book, or just the one who sticks up for their friends on the playground in school and says no, and is like good with boundaries. That would go against conditioning. But it’s arising from something deeper, what we could call true nature. So true nature is our embodied self and what we’re not is our conditioning.

So I’m just listening to you talk and thinking about the programming that we all have and loving hearing about true nature and how that’s different from our programming and the kind of mind chatter that can drive us so crazy. But I can also imagine that realizing that a lot of what we’ve thought throughout our lives is programming. And knowing that there’s true nature, that sort of lies underneath that. But being sort of in between those two things could be confusing or like you don’t know what to latch on to. Could you talk about that a little bit? Because I think that relates to hard times.

It is confusing if we think we’re only programming. Cause then we’re trying to reject one program and put a new one in. And that still comes from that mental disembodied place. It’s actually much, much less confusing and we don’t need to shun our sweet conditioned selves who did not choose that conditioning. And they’re engaging with that unconsciously and in an innocence.

So it’s not about crossing a finish line where we’re deconditioned, you know, and fully embodied. But more that we welcome in, we see it for what it is. And we welcome that part in, and that we’re able to be in touch with something that says no to the conditioning. So to use the example that I gave, if we’ve been taught our whole life, that women are supposed to be quiet, dainty, sweet, and subservient, and somebody’s expecting us to be that way.

And we really dislike this person and we really do not want to be sweet and subservient to them. And we want to say no, or you’re full of shit, or I’m busy and set a boundary that comes from not imprinting, a new program. That I’m going to be like the badass that’s always setting boundaries or whatever that would be swinging the pendulum to the opposite of the conditioning.

Instead, it would just be noticing. And if you know, those listening can feel it there’s something in the body that says no. Or like, I don’t like this. There’s something about how we become aware of something other than just, I should act out this conditioning. And it is a practice, you know? So I run an embodied practice community because this is something that we gradually and tenderly and lovingly go through. It’s not about racing to cross the new finish line or spiff ourselves up in that way.

What’s the opportunity wrapped up inside hard times? I mean, no one gets through this life without them, and collectively, we’re all in some pretty hard times together. Where’s the hope here? 

I think hard times is actually what breaks our ability to keep running our conditioning. And I think that we’re seeing that in our personal lives with everything that we’re going through globally, and we’re also seeing it in our cultural lives. So there’s a reason why the pandemic pulling the emergency brake on everyone’s lives, everything in the U.S. that we’re going through with our government and the election and calls for racial justice and equity, the me too movement. Like there’s a reason why these things are co-writing and it’s because hard times pressurize us. They feel so horrible that we have to get really real.

We can’t just go through the motions. We can’t just keep up the momentum of how we’ve been taught to be and what we’ve been taught to ignore and what we’ve been taught to prioritize, because suddenly it’s broken the conditioning. It can’t just effortlessly run anymore.

And we say, you know, as in the example I was giving before where a woman might want to set a boundary, right? What do I want to say no to, what do I want to say yes to? What’s actually broken here that I was taught was wonderful and actually it’s not working? And so I think that it’s not to bright-side it, like, isn’t it wonderful that we get to go through such a challenging time? It’s not wonderful. It’s very painful and people are really suffering. But I think that the potential inside this kind of pressure cooker is that it’s going to break a lot of the conditioning. That’s been passed down through generations and that no longer works for human beings to thrive together.

On your podcast Liberated Body you always ended each episode with an exercise (that you called home play, which I loved) that folks could do to experience the things that your guests had discussed. Do you have a practical takeaway that listeners can try to help them feel more embodied during a time when it’s very easy to get lost in a swirl of thoughts? 

I do. And embodiment is essentially an experience. So I always love to do this as opposed to talking about it. So it’s a little bit like we are training for a marathon right now, and we’ve been doing hill sprints for nine months and or a year. That’s not sustainable. So a practice that we can do to come into presence is to become aware of the present moment through our senses. And this is the rest interval for our nervous system, so that we’re not just grinding ourselves into the ground with everything that we have to be aware of. So becoming aware of what are you able to see right now. And just taking a moment wherever you are of looking around the environment you’re in and you can even drop the phrase and internally to yourself. This is what this moment looks like.

And just notice that if you’re able to slow down enough to notice what this moment looks like, that it is by definition, a safe moment. And so it’s giving our nervous system that information. This is a safe moment I can rest. I don’t have to keep doing this hill sprint. Just for this moment, so I can recover.

And we can also use hearing. So what am I able to hear right now? And shifting to that sense, this is what this moment sounds like. And just feeling what that feels like in your body, when you slow down enough to drink in the world, through your senses like that.

Anything else you’d like to share? 

No, I think, um, just on the tails of that home play, you know, giving ourselves permission to rest is not bypass. It’s actually the ability for us to grow our capacity and to show up and to be in the challenging times and to meet this moment. So I’m seeing a lot of people who are overwhelmed and there’s this feeling that if they aren’t overwhelmed, they’re doing something wrong and we really need to give ourselves the rest interval as well. So I would say, give yourself permission to have that.

Where can folks who would like to connect with you find you? 

So liberatedbeing.community is where the practice community lives. And that is about to expand with some other teachers, which I’m really excited about. And the podcast is called Liberated Being, and my personal website for coaching is Brookethomas.me.

Daily Tiny Assignment

So Brooke gave us a wonderful, tiny assignment that if you didn’t do during the interview, I invite you to go and do now. And that is to just sit quietly and see what you can see and then hear what you can hear. So that you can bring your attention into where your body is in this moment.

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