Who Do You Want To Be? The art of embodiment and play for women on the rise.

Who do YOU want to be?
The Art of Embodiment and Play for Women on the Rise
Michelle Hardeman-Guptill LMFT

Who do I want to be in this moment?

Gabby Bernstein, The Creator of the Spirit Junkie Movement and Author of “The Universe Has Your Back”, has a great exercise that she gave to her students in which she suggests four questions for the day (I use this often before difficult conversations with others or in situations
where I need extra courage).

Who do I want to be?
What do I want to feel?
What do I want to give?
What do I want to receive?

She touches on something so deeply true and I am feeling called to add my own unique flavor to it.

We all have situations that push us past our comfort zone. We all have situations in which the “old me” (old behaviors/roles) are no longer an asset and may in fact be a hindrance to our progress in some area of our lives. We all have transitions in our lives that call for us to step into different roles, practice different skills and where we face different expectations for our behaviors that can feel daunting, scary or just plain difficult.

The good news is that if we can imagine it, we can make it so.

The human consciousness movement is proving through research over and over again that the power of our imaginations can literally change our physiology, our world view and mindset, our ability to attract abundance and to create the life we desire.

There is also research to show that just dreaming up something we want is not enough. We have to FEEL it. And we live in a culture that dismisses emotion, fears emotion, restricts emotion and shames emotion. Many people tell me that they feel numb and that calling up emotions when they are not directly in an experience is extremely difficult. Feelings require presence and many of us struggle to be present.

In my work as a trauma specialist, drama therapist and transformational breakthrough coach – through classes, workshops, trainings, research, groups, practical and personal experiences – I keep running into the same core concepts:

  • Mindfulness helps us become more aware and present to our experience reduces reactivity or acting blindly from our subconscious urges and instead provides us with choice. It puts our spirit back in the driver’s seat and helps us take back control of our minds.
  • Recognizing judgment and replacing it with acceptance helps us reduce the charges we experience with others who may push our “shame buttons” or shed light on a deeply held insecurity. It increases our capacity for forgiveness, deeper connections and increased confidence in our own abilities.
  • Sharing our stories and what we are experiencing helps us to transform and release that which no longer serves us and reminds us that we are not alone. This helps us to reduce shame, increases connection and relieves us of stored emotional energy that can then be accessed for our work, our dreams or our creative endeavors.
  • Recognizing when different “parts” of us are speaking or running the show helps us take back control of our behavior and our thoughts and allows us to step into our power. We can shed old roles we no longer wish to play and “try on” new roles that will help us move forward, increase our confidence and rediscover lost aspects of ourselves.
  • When we allow ourselves to be emotionally present and release our fears that emotions will take us over or cause damage or cause people to fear/shame/reject us, we become our most deeply authentic selves and learn to regulate our emotions and put them to use (the way they were originally designed to be).
  • When we get back into our bodies and discover where our emotions are held we can shift old stories, trauma and stored emotions. We can allow our body wisdom to guide us and learn to trust our bodies again. When we are embodied, we are telling our brain that we are safe. Feeling safe opens the door for us to explore, take healthy risks and reminds us that we are capable. It helps us drop from our heads to our hearts and wombs and this magnetizes people to us.
  • When we remember to play, really play, get silly, loosen the adult “persona” and laugh, we can reclaim our vitality, our joy and our connection to our youthful spirits infusing our lives with renewed energy, relieving stress and increasing flexibility.
  • When we are in community we thrive! We are witnessed and held in whatever we happen to be experiencing. Community for women is our LIFE”S blood. We heal our wounds through being in conscious community. The power of group can increase the power to manifest our intentions 10 fold.

Over and over again, no matter what the reason someone originally steps into my office – when these concepts are explored and find a home in their daily lives, my clients say that they feel incredible relief, have increased insight, and actually change the behaviors that stop them from living their purpose, having healthy relationships and thriving in their personal and professional lives.

Take a moment and ask yourself if you are struggling in any of these areas.

Two Highlighted Tools for Deeper Transformation

  • Role Play and Role Rehearsal

Most of us have heard that public speaking is on the top ten list of biggest fears for people. When I have spoken to people about theatre and improv they often say “Oh I could never do that”.

What is interesting though is that we have been “role-playing”our entire lives! When we were little and played house or dress up or cops and robbers. When we practiced asking someone out or saying yes in the mirror or “practiced” kissing. When we rehearsed our acceptance speech for a promotion or an award. When we mentally rehearsed asking our boss for a raise.

Many professions incorporate role play into their trainings – think police officers responding to a scenario with a hostile arrestee, a group home staff member who role plays de-escalating a child, in managers training you are asked to role play firing or reprimanding an employee, for many job interviews you are often asked to play out a scenario (maybe not acting it out but exploring verbally what you might do in a particular situation). Role play is an embodied experience.  It is rehearsal for life.  It helps learning sink that much deeper and our bodies remember!

For many of us the idea of “practicing” something IN FRONT of others is the real problem. We are fine practicing in our mirrors at home. We know it is valuable. But doing it in front of others can feel daunting. What if I do it wrong? What if I look stupid? What if I can’t remember what to say because my fear of being watched and “graded” exceeds my capacity to be in the moment, trusting my knowledge?

We also know that “practice makes”…well maybe not perfect but at least more confident. Major corporations bring in improv artists to teach their employees how to be more flexible, spontaneous and to engage in out of the box thinking.  Part of the magic is getting past our own judgments and fears and realizing that when we relax, get spontaneous and speak from our hearts and lived experience rather than our heads, we can do things we never thought were possible.  We are so great at getting in our own way!  When we shatter the illusion that there is a perfect way to do something or that we cannot trust our intuition or our own inner knowing we can rise above our fears, our old stories, even the way that we literally move through the world.

We KNOW that role play works, but many of us don’t see the relevance in our everyday lives.

Did you know that the brain doesn’t know the difference between you imagining to doing something and actually doing it? Smelling a flower and then pretending to smell the same flower, recalling how it felt can cause the same exact synapses in the brain to fire. Looking at a brain scan you wouldn’t be able to tell which was the “real thing”.

This is good news and bad news.

The bad news is that our subconscious drives 80% of our behavior. This means we are unaware of what is “driving” our behavior 80% of the time and our subconscious is responding to the training that it was received over time about how it “should” be responding at any given moment.

Oh spiders are scary – that’s my cue to remind you to scream and run out of the room.

Oh people are yelling – that means that things are going to escalate quickly, better check out or get the hell out of here.

Oh speeches are anxiety producing – great I’ll remind you by making sure that your tummy starts to ache and turn your face white and give you a little extra incentive to avoid by making you want to throw up oh and I can help you practice your “bowing out speech”.

Can you see how our subconscious, in it’s sweet desire to protect us, can actually be stopping us from moving forward?

The good news is that we have learned many ways to “play” with the subconscious. Hypnosis, meditation, guided visualization, role play, ceremony, projective therapy, storytelling and metaphor, and sharing our experiences with others in a sacred space. It is designed to protect us AND to follow our lead. Our ego on the other hand will throw up a lot of resistance to change, even if our subconscious knows that we can handle it. Working with both our ego and our subconscious can change EVERYTHING!

Can you imagine being able to recognize when your ego is running the show and quickly getting your subconscious on board to take over and provide the guidance necessary to transform a fear into a superpower, change your internal programming from scarcity and lack to abundance to deservedness, reframe negative experiences into the very gifts that move us to our next level of personal and spiritual growth, remind us of our innate worth and ability to be flexible, confident and joyful in the face of change?

Our subconscious is the realm of imagination, emotions and metaphor. So….we have to “reprogram” it using “All of the above.” Imagining something isn’t enough. We have to feel it. Feeling isn’t enough, we have to imagine it. So what is left? What is missing for many of us? What about those of us that are kinesthetic?

Role play. Acting things out. Having an embodied experience with others present to witness our transformation…this seem to be a lost art. The missing puzzle piece.

Women are remembering how important this is. Sister circles are popping up everywhere in person and online. Embodied women remember deep in their bones that THIS is where real transformation happens. In sacred, liminal space where imagination, feeling, body and community all meet.

Role play can be done using only the imagination and accessing feelings. This is the masculine version of embodiment.

Women on the other hand NEED to move our bodies, to dance our emotions, to step into the roles we desire (like that of the queen or wise woman) and FEEL it, while experiencing the attention, compassion and often adoration of our fellow Sisters so that we can truly OWN it! We NEED to express ourselves. To be deeply seen and held in our emotions in order to transform them at the deepest levels of our beings, our psyches and our spirits. We know this to be true. We know that when we can commit, in front of others, step into this new “role” or story, allow ourselves to be present to the feelings it evokes and shouting it from the rooftops in real time, in our bodies, with the collective power of our sisters – miracles occur.

  • Playfulness and Spontaneity

Many of you have seen that meme on facebook or instagram of the little girl with her arms splayed, mouth wide open with water splashing on her from a sprinkler that says “Remember her?” I fricking LOVE that picture!

I have run into some women who don’t remember her. Or at least they say they don’t remember her. But I remember one day when I invited Susan to a game of tag and it seemed everything inside their mind was screaming “NO” while her body said “YES”. She sheepishly stepped in, red cheeks and all and fairly quickly got tagged. She let out a little startled squeak and experienced that familiar moment of freeze, and she told me later that all of the memories of being left out of games at school, being the last picked for dodgeball, isolation and loneliness, the memories of being unable to be a “kid” because she had to be so responsible at home…all of those things happened in a split second of time and blindly at first she began to run. Then Susan began to notice the smiles around her and something began to shift. No one was laughing at her. No one was jeering at her. No one was excluding her. The smiles are genuine. They were inviting. Something began to loosen. She began to run faster. She found a target and tagged them and then she giggled. She ran away quickly so as not to be tagged again. Her smile was wider. Red cheeks now because of excitement and exertion rather than her fear. She had a reparative experience that rippled out into other areas of her life.

Something in her remembered.

Susan may not intellectually understand all that happened during that tag game, but she was aware of some of those ripple effects. She was aware that she was a little more relaxed the next day. That she smiled a little more at work. That she was beginning to notice all of the places and people that she DID feel connected to rather than focusing on those that she felt excluded her.

When we become aware of our patterns and the subtle shifts in those patterns when we try something new, push through our own comfort zone and learn to play with what makes us uncomfortable, it can make small ripples out into our world. For a tidal wave we need MORE. We need consistent practice at coming back home to our bodies, our joy, our imaginations and to rediscovering the power of play.

When you think of play what do you think of?

Some think of physical play (sports, tag).

Some think of intellectual play (chess, cards).

Kids role play and use imaginal play (somewhere along the way we have lost this aspect).

As a therapist who “plays’ with kids, adults and even seniors, I am here to say that the power of role play, emotional play and imaginal play are a lost art and that reclaiming it can increase our vitality, creativity, emotional, mental and physical flexibility, spontaneity, trust in ourselves and our inner guidance and expand what we believe is possible. In a group setting it has the additional benefit of increasing our capacity for deep empathy, compassion and heart connection.

Think about the impact of this in your family. In your work. In your social connections. In your spiritual development.

Life is serious enough! When are you in play?

Play can be a substitute for exercise and is an incredible stress reliever. While technically play is “purposeless” and that is what makes it play…it is possible to commandeer play and reflect on it’s purpose after we jump in and get ourselves dirty and exhausted with it. We are adults after all. The more we can have spontaneous and purposeless play the more relaxed we become. We can also use it consciously to expand the capacity for play in our everyday lives.

When I was an after school rehab specialist I would “play” for three hours. I had no need to go to the gym! I was exhausted but satiated afterward. I felt joy. I felt connected. I felt lighter.

Believe me there was work involved. Managing the group dynamics, handling outbursts, helping the shy kids engage and the disruptive kids to chill. But that is like life isn’t it? We have to handle shit. We have to manage the dynamics of our families or our friendships or our colleagues. We have stressful or emotional interactions.

But do we have PLAY?

That is the question that I have to ask today.

How important might it be for you to re-engage with play? What might you gain? How beneficial might it be if you examined the roles you are currently playing and seeing if they are still in alignment with WHO you want to be. What might you be able to do now that you aren’t already doing? Are you ready to take the steps needed to CHOOSE who you are?

My work brings together the elements of mindfulness, embodiment, play, rehearsal for life, feminine psychology, ritual and a deeply respectful, safe, no-bullshit space for you to explore who you are and who you want to be.

I work with women who are ready to rise. Women who are rising out of one role and transitioning into another – PTA mom of the year to book writer, divorcee to dating queen, empty-nester to wise woman, employee to budding entrepreneur, small time business owner to internet sensation, loner to networker, invisible one to truth teller, victim to phoenix, corporate badass to healer, man eater to relationship Goddess. Whatever you are rising from, I am here to support you with my big juicy heart, my wild creative spirit and my deeply rooted spiritual/psychological guidance.

Let’s play!

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