Articles July 14, 2018

Titration: Skillful Means for Self-Regulation

Jill Satterfield

Learning how to titrate is one of the most powerful and skillful ways to self-regulate, re-find balance, and stay in the present moment when we’re working with strong states of mind, heart, and body.

Titrating is a somatic approach to managing stressful or painful situations, feelings, thoughts, and memories. When we titrate, we are moving both towards and away from something so that our nervous system, heart/mind, and body can process what is occurring and not become overwhelmed.

When we are working with what is, we are feeling our feelings, noticing our thoughts, hearing sounds, feeling sensations—whatever is arising in the present moment—hopefully with kindness and not taking everything so personally. If this seems challenging, you are right, it often is, which is why we practice cultivating this capacity. It’s also why we need to equip ourselves with supportive skillful means like the ability to titrate in the interim. By learning skillful, practical, and sane approaches to working with where we are in the moment, we self-regulate. We become healthier and better able to recover our balance and negotiate our current challenges.

There’s an unfortunate myth going around in some spiritual and mindfulness circles that we must sit with our pain, face it, stay with it, and not run or hide from it ever. There is a modicum of truth to this view, however, in times of deep trouble or acute discomfort, walking straight into a fire isn’t always the best solution and can cause the opposite reaction to what we might be seeking—shutting down promptly rather than opening up.

Yes, we want to feel our feelings, whatever they are, but staring them down isn’t always beneficial, especially when a traumatic memory, painful truth, or stressful trigger threatens to pull us into a vortex of deep discomfort. We can, however, work with what we are experiencing in smaller doses so that we can manage situations, emotions, and stronger states of mind without getting lost in the downward spiral of despair, anxiety, depression, or general angst.

So, for instance, rather than feeling that we have to just swallow something someone is saying to us that is mean or belittling, we need to be able to step in and out of what we are feeling and experiencing to avoid being overwhelmed. By coming back into the present and taking a pause, we can re-collect ourselves and know the best direction forward or away. We can take skillful and compassionate action where needed—an action that comes from the clarity of being in the present moment and seeing what needs to be done or what needs to be left alone. Action or reaction from strong emotion, discursive thinking, or triggers isn’t always the best solution and can cause great internal and external harm.

Sometimes the most available way to practice moving into and away from a swirling mind or a heavy heart is by noticing and feeling what is happening internally, touching into feelings briefly (not denying them), and then literally turning the steering wheel of your mind towards what is in the room, noticing the colors, shapes, objects, light, etc.

Another way to return to the present moment and away from potentially harmful states is to feel your feet on the ground, wiggle your toes, or feel your shoes on the floor. Not only can the body bring us back to the earth—what is now, not what might be later. Getting outside, breathing deeply, and taking in the sights, smells, sounds, and colors is a supportive way to come back into the present and air out the heart/mind. Deep breathing can also be a way to manage strong states and environments.

Essentially, anything non-harming that helps us to return to something in the present moment is helpful, and adding skillful tools that give us the means to avoid magnifying a story or presupposing a future that hasn’t arrived is skillful means. Going on retreat or taking a class are additional supportive tools as they bring us together with like-hearted people for important conversations. They open the doors to deeper and more sustainable practice and give us a break from being online or at work—both of which we need dearly.

May these times that call for as many of us as possible to be awake, kind, thoughtful, and prescient be our opportunities to move forward towards alleviating stress, suffering, harmful behaviors, and ways together.

Jill Satterfield

Jill Satterfield

Guest Teacher

Jill Satterfield is an international mindfulness and meditation teacher. She integrates somatic and contemplative psychology with 35 years of Buddhist practice.

With her primary teacher, Ajahn Amaro, Jill was the first to offer mindful movement in silent retreats at Spirit Rock and Insight Meditation Center over 25 years ago.