Something interesting that I noticed yesterday when I was doing goat yoga in the park outside the library is that when a baby goat jumps on your back, and their little hooves nudge and shuffle over your shoulder blades, and their tail switches against your neck, and their furry body bonks the back of your head, you can't help but be in the moment. Being
in the Moment is something I've been working on for years and with varying degrees of success. Day-to-day moments like walking the dog and doing the dishes and checking in books at the library are moments I can manage. These are quiet moments where I can reasonably expect what is going to happen next.
Also, it helps to be on vacation, dog paddling around in the cool water of Woods Hole, Massachusetts. And now I can add: Sit in a Park and Let Baby Goats Jump on Your Back to my list. But what I really want is to stay present in moments without the cool ocean water and without baby goats.
Moments that are uncomfortable. Stressful. Scary. These are the moments when I slip into what I've learned is a trauma response. You may have heard of this as "Fight, Flight, or Freeze." It's our body's way of protecting us when we perceive danger. Of course when you really ARE in danger, these responses good. They are automatic, self-protective, and essential for survival.
The trouble is, later, when you are no longer in danger, your body may still be hard-wired for these responses, perceiving threat where there is none. An example is a soldier home after battle who cowers at the sound of fireworks or a car backfiring. But trauma response also occurs in survivors of childhood abuse, victims of natural disaster, or any number of life-altering events.
In my case I may run away or I may lash out at someone, but typically, I dissociate. In other words, I disappear. Disappearing seems like the most innocuous of the three responses, and I even used to joke about it, how when things get too rough I can float right out of my own head, and what a fun trick that is. Except,
it isn't fun. Because the thing about disappearing is that when you do it, you miss things. Important things. Like bits and pieces of holidays and birthday parties. Your child's graduation. Your own wedding. And when you "come back," which you inevitably will, you are jittery, wrung out, sad and ashamed.
There is the added element of powerlessness. Something happens to trigger you, and you respond, as if a button has been pushed. I don't know who I am speaking to here, in this moment, or who might need to hear this, but I have recently learned that there is a space between the trigger and your response.
And you can sit in that space and ground yourself. With some practice, you may be able to take a breath and keep yourself from floating away.
The goats don't know what yoga is, the goat handler told us at the beginning of the yoga class. They are just here. Clomping around in the grass on a lovely day in the park in front of the library building. Stopping to inspect and munch on a leaf. Pooping on someone's yoga mat (okay, that was MY yoga mat!). And every now and then
clambering joyfully onto someone's back. I mean, me. They were clambering onto my back. And weirdly, I liked it.