Resource is Power in Dealing with COVID-19 By Payam Ghassemlou Ph.D.

COVID-19 is the uninvited guest that has crashed our daily lives. This virus has forced us to take a collective “time out,” and shelter in our homes. Most of our plans are now on pause, and we are living with a great deal of uncertainty. For many of us, fear, helplessness, and confusion are among the common reactions to the coronavirus outbreak. It feels scary to deal with an invisible enemy that can attack the respiratory system and jeopardize our well-being or the health of our loved ones. No one should feel judged for having an emotional reaction to this pandemic.It is important to have empathy for our painful feelings, and our struggle dealing with this situation. Everyone’s pain is unique, and no one deserves to suffer in silence. Reaching out and asking for help is a courageous act that we can do in response to our need for support.
When it comes to asking for help, it is important to notice where we experience our distress. We often notice our overwhelming emotions and our inten…

Breath & Love: A Different Kind of Intoxication by Payam Ghassemlou Ph.D.

The word intoxication often gets associated with substance use. Even though some people do experience a physical high through drinking or drug use, such behaviors have nothing to do with the real desire of the soul for elevation. There is a different kind of intoxication that comes from certain body-mind practices.  Such practice draws breath and love together with the intention of a journey into the heart, which is into an inner place you can call “home.”
Every journey has a beginning.The journey into the heart starts with awareness of breath, which is one of the most accessible paths to the present moment and has the potential for transformation. Breathing is an automatic bodily function that you can consciously work with. For instance, you can infuse each breath you take with a silent mantra, which can be performed anytime and anywhere. A mantra can be given by one’s mentor or can be found through personal research. A conscious breath that is combined with a deeply personal mantra …

The Royal Road to Nervous System Regulation By Payam Ghassemlou MFT, Ph.D.

Many years ago, my husband and I worked on a small movie project that involved reshooting and editing some of the scenes. Inspired by that experience, I view life as a movie with the opportunity to reshoot and edit some of the upsetting or disappointing scenes. The editing tool is our imagination. Life experiences can consist of traumatic or tragic scenes, but we don't have to live in the shadow of our tragedies. As Peter Levine, the founder of Somatic Experiencing stated, "Trauma is a fact of life, but it doesn't have to be a life sentence."

With the help of our imagination, we can come up with an alternative to any unsettling life experience. Since these events impact the nervous system, the most important part of this work is noticing how the body responds to the new take along with the bodily sensations that can arise. Noticing how our body responds to a positive replica of an event can help embody a new relationship to the original experience. Many of us have hea…

Becoming Our Own Protective Container

Becoming Our Own Protective Container
Payam Ghassemlou Ph.D.

As human beings, we need a sense of safety. We can’t thrive without it. Given the current sociopolitical circumstances in America, many of us don’t feel safe. As a gay man, it doesn’t make me feel secure when I witness the dismantling of our LGBTQ+ rights by homophobic politicians. Since the mental health of the individual and sociopolitical factors are deeply intertwined, no wonder we are seeing more anxiety, depression, panic attacks, and suicide than ever before.

At times like this we need to learn to become our own protective container. A vessel in which to settle ourselves and access our sense of safety. Luckily, we all have a protective container, which is our body. Our body has amazing protective and healing potentials. We just need to learn how to access it. A settled body can be a resource to contain us during turbulent times. By learning how to work with touch, breath, movement, gesture, form, and their accompanyin…

A Somatic Perspective on the Trauma of Growing up Gay by Payam Ghassemlou MFT, Ph.D.

For almost three decades, I have immersed myself in the life stories of many people of the LGBTQ community who had painful homophobic and transphobic upbringings. Many of the gay men’s personal narratives that I have heard are not very different from my own. Regardless of national origin, we are part of a tribe with similar stories of growing up in a homophobic and heterosexist world where our gayness was repeatedly assaulted. We are everywhere, and unfortunately so is homophobia. 

Many gay men have shared with me that as long they could recall they always felt different. They were unable to articulate why they felt that way, and, at the same time, they did not feel safe to talk about it. Some knew this feeling of being different was related to something forbidden. “It felt like keeping an ugly secret that I could not even understand,” described one person. Other gay men have disclosed to me that this feeling revealed itself in the form of gender nonconformity, which could not be kept …

Vortex of Love

When I notice my small house plant by the window, I see a love affair between the plant and the sun. This connection gives rise to the plant’s movement toward the light, and the sun validates this movement by pouring light on the plant. It is as if the plant is saying to the sun “I love you, and I need you,” and the sun keeps giving. In the words of the Sufi poet Hafiz, the sun never tells the plant “you owe me”. Such a love affair “lights the whole sky”.
Just as my house plant spontaneously moves toward the sunlight, there is in each of us a natural impulse for moving toward wholeness both individually and collectively. This striving toward wholeness can lead to embracing oneness of our humanity.
As my Somatic studies progress, I become more convinced that this movement toward wholeness and embracing oneness needs to involve working with our collective nervous system. We all have an autonomic nervous system that given proper care can shift toward a social engagement system. This enga…

Body Awareness on a Spiritual Path: Knowing vs. Sensing the Path By Payam Ghassemlou Ph.D.

For many seekers on a spiritual path, the body can become a sacred vessel, home to mystical experiences, and a container for love. Many spiritual seekers value the contribution of the body in deepening mystical practices. By noticing their bodily “felt sense” during prayer or meditation, they can embody such spiritual practices.  
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, a Sufi teacher, described spiritual life as a “love affair.” Sufis are in love with the Beloved, a Sufi term for God. This love story between the lover and the Beloved unfolds inside one’s heart, and it can touch different energy centers within the body. Rumi describes this Sufi love story as follows,
“The minute I heard my first love story, I started looking for you, not knowing How blind that was. Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along.”
The bodily “felt sense” of this love story can be experienced in many ways including a sense of aliveness and energetic vibration in one’s heart during zikr (a Sufi practice o…