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The Art of Titration

Fall equinox has come and gone, it’s officially autumn. You may notice the days becoming shorter, maybe more time alone, or at home with roommates or family, and a slight turning inward. This can confront us with ourselves, sometimes in peaceful and sometimes in painful ways.

As we come face to face with the uncomfortable parts of being human (physical, emotional, mental) there are many techniques to help us touch what is painful, and then let go. “When we resist pain – by physical tensing, emotional reactivity, mental judgment or behavioral avoidance – our identity, becomes linked with it. We are the victim of pain. Pain is the enemy. Resisting turns unpleasantness into suffering. This is sometimes presented as an equation: Pain x Resistance = Suffering.”

But if we dive in wholeheartedly, we may feel overwhelmed, or a sensation of drowning in our own suffering, which as you know, is deeply uncomfortable. So what’s the balance between avoiding our pain and drowning in it?

Touch and go, or titration.

Titration in the therapeutic context was coined by Peter Levine. He recognized that slowness, pacing, and even moving our attention away from the object of pain and back again, is the only way our nervous system can process what’s happening and move towards health and integration.

Trungpa Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist teacher, spoke of touch and go as a way to work with recurring thoughts, stories, emotions that won’t leave us alone as we’re practicing mindfulness. Rather than push them away, we touch them, we acknowledge them, we may even make them welcome, and then we let them go. We exhale. We come back to the present moment.

These methods allow us to touch or embrace what’s occurring, rather than reject it. From here, we can choose how much we want to be with it, and then we can let it go.

Here’s are a few examples of how to work with titration or touch and go.

Imagine someone has hurt or wronged you. Your mind continues to return the story again and again, replaying what they said, what you said, and all the reasons you have to be angry, upset or wounded by them. You feel justified in your feelings, but you they are torturing you. The continual replaying of the situation is maddening and exhausting.

Take a grounding breath. Take another.

Notice what’s happening in your body, what are the sensations that are alive in this moment? Maybe tension, tightening, anxiety, collapse…maybe something else. Allow the sensations to be there by simply feeling them. Emotions are most likely wanting your attention as well, simply welcome them. Let them express by feeling them, as they are. And then, breathe out, and let them go. Notice your surroundings, sounds, smells, sights around you. Or notice other places in your body free from intensity.

“Resourcing is simply moving one’s attention away from the strong sensation to a pleasant or neutral area in the body, to something pleasant or neutral that is external to the body, or to an image, message, or memory that gives a sense of ease and safety. This aids the sympathetic nervous system in helping the body to relax and, in a deep way, we realize that what we are is larger – the ocean – and pain is waves.

You can repeat the back and forth pendulum of touching what’s unpleasant and returning to what’s neutral or pleasant as many times as you like. In this way you are neither denying the truth of what you’re feeling, nor being overwhelmed by it.

Grieving is another example of how this method can support us. If you’ve ever lost someone close to you, due to separation or death, you know firsthand how completely overwhelming the emotions and sensations can be. As sadness, anxiety, anger and other emotions arise, we may put a hand on our heart, take some deep breaths, feel the waves of intense emotion roll over us. This is being with our experience, as it is. This is how we process life. However, if an experience feels overwhelming, it is probably not helpful to stay with it in a continuous way. At this point, finding an external resource such as nature or someone to support us becomes more important than staying directly with the experience. So we find resourcing to turn to, is there somewhere in nature you find soothing? Is there a friend you can reach out to? Do you have a pet or favorite tea or song? These are all ways of touching the pain, and letting go. Of titrating between big emotions and resources. This is compassion in action, knowing how much we can handle and when to shift our attention. This is self love at its best.

At the Strength in Motion wellness community, we believe in a mind-body-soul approach towards finding and sustaining balance. We feel honored to be on your path in some way and are here to support you in living to your greatest potential. Click here to find out more information about who we are and how we may be a support to you.

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