A Lesson in Orienting from My 6-Year-Old Son
A few weeks ago, I accidentally cut myself.
While cleaning up after dinner, I thrust my hand into a big bowl full of soapy water, forgetting that the cheese grater was in there.
I know, I know. Not my finest hour.
Long story short, there was a lot of blood, swearing, and room-spinning relief when I saw that my fingertip was still attached and didn’t require a hospital visit.
Sitting just a few feet away from this drama, was my 6-year-old son.
He watched the whole thing unfold, slowly eating his cucumber slices, staring at me with a concerend yet calm, unwavering gaze.
As my finger started to throb and my legs turned to spaghetti, I forced myself to take note of his composure.
“Are you okay Mom?”
“Yes, I’m okay Russ.”
“Can I help put the bandaid on?”
“Not yet, buddy.”
You see when you have a dysregulated nervous system, and you know that you have a dysregulated nervous system, you need to look for islands of calm during the anxiety typhoons.
That day, my son was my island.
In my mind, I knew the cut would heal, and it was no big deal.
However, according to my body, I was about to be devoured by a grizzly bear.
Over the past two years, I’ve gained a lot of regulation and built some impressive capacity for stress in my nervous system.
These days, it takes a pretty intense incident (like running my finger through a cheese grater) to spike such a huge stress response in my body.
This is a good and normal thing.
But … it wasn’t always like this though.
For the longest time, my reaction to stressful stimuli would be greatly disproportionate to the actual event.
Two years ago, if I had almost grated the tip of my index finger off – I would have been a mess for a few days, not just a few hours.
Like millions of other people living disordered and dysregulated lives (248 million worldwide according to the WHO), I was unable to find calm during the storm.
So many of us are stuck in chronic fight or flight and have become so used to being in this state, we don’t even know what calm and regulation feel like anymore.
Throughout my journey to nervous system healing, I learned about various methods one can use to restore balance.
One way to bring regulation back to your nervous system is to search out elements of calm or safety in your environment, especially during an “activation”.
This seeking out the calm is called “orienting” and it’s one of my favourites.
These elements can be something as simple as the deep green of the cedar tree outside or the texture of a leather sofa, or in my case, the kind and calm gaze of my son.
When we can gather enough awareness to notice these “safe” things during an intense somatic response, we build resilience and teach our nervous system that we are okay and not really in danger.
We need to take in the pleasant details of these elements and feel the discomfort of the stress, all at the same time.
Orienting does take practice at first, and if we are super dysregulated, we should only do this a little bit at a time to avoid overwhelm.
In a complex sea of pharmaceutical and psychiatric intervention, this practice seems almost too basic to work.
But, it does work. Over time.
I’m living proof.
“Can we put the bandaids on now, Mom?”
“Yeah, let’s do it. Can you get the first-aid kit, please?”
Since learning about orienting and its stabilizing benefits, my anxious body has made great strides in returning to homeostasis.
Orienting allows us to connect with our innate, bodily intelligence, one which we are only beginning to understand.
Our bodies have a mind of their own and are always working for us and telling us what they need in order to serve us well.
We just need to learn to listen.
“You know what you need, Mom?!”
“What’s that, buddy?”
“Some Polysporin and root beer.”
“Yeah, buddy! That’s exactly what I need.”
At that moment, my heart was so full of love.
Even during our most anxious and dysregulated moments, there will be islands of beauty and calm to remind us of how good things can be.
We can return to the state in which we were meant to live and prosper.
We owe that to ourselves.
To learn more about orienting, I highly recommend checking this video out.
Maybe this information can help you or someone you care about.
Thanks for reading! See you next time.