reflectionsmassage

Reflections Massage Therapy

Radical Validation March 3, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Reflections Integrative Therapy @ 2:19 pm
Tags: , , , ,

“People are just as wonderful as sunsets if you let them be. When I look at a sunset, I don’t find myself saying, “Soften the orange a bit on the right hand corner.” I don’t try to control a sunset. I watch with awe as it unfolds.” – Carl Rogers

It’s raining today. A soft shower that soaks an already saturated ground. Winter in Portland and I’m finding that once again this external world is so aptly reflecting my internal world. Saturation has become commonplace these days: a soaking through of concepts, ideas, theories, and ideologies. The life of a graduate student, I suppose.

I ride the bus in to my office in the city, a half hour respite during which I do nothing but stare out the window and listen to podcasts. Recently, a story on This American Life gave me pause. It was a story about a young woman who had been sexually assaulted. In the course of the investigation, however, many people (including those closest to her) expressed doubt as to her truthfulness. So much so that the case was eventually dropped. To add insult to injury, she was then accused of false reporting. I won’t get in to the conclusion, which is both satisfying and disheartening, but hearing this story made me think about an article I read on the Existential Therapy approach to trauma. One of the main principles of this approach is Radical Validation.

I read this article, nodding along vigorously and underlining with wild abandon, until I came to this section. Radical Validation. It is not that I don’t agree with the concept, far from it really. It is that I am saddened and surprised that entire articles need to be devoted to a concept such as radical validation. Have we really become so afraid of wounds (ours and others), so obsessed with doing something that entire articles need to be written about the importance of validating someone’s experience, the importance of honoring someone’s story without immediately trying to shy away from it, shame it, or deny it?

I do not believe in a top down approach. I am egalitarian to the core. Maybe it’s my Libra tendencies, this need for equality. Or maybe it is simply that I believe that everyone has a story to tell. Everyone has an experience and just because I may disagree with their experience doesn’t mean it’s not true. And beyond that, even if factually it is untrue, our brains are so complex that the line between reality and fantasy can become so blurry, so fuzzed over that it can be hard to distinguish between the two. And yet, we don’t take the time to listen to one another. We spend our time crafting our response, rather than hearing what someone else is saying. We prepare our defenses or design our own stories, without really paying attention to what is happening for the other person.

To have radical validation we first need to listen, really listen to one another. This listening doesn’t mean we have to agree, it just means we are willing to sit and hear another’s story. We all have our wounds. And we all hurt and mend in complicated, sometimes unfathomably damaged ways. But when we listen to one another, we give those wounds a chance to breath. We stop digging at them; we stop making them deeper, more entrenched. We see one another, in all of our pain and complexity. And we pause here, in the listening; we sit in this still place together just for a moment. It is here that we see each other, here that radical validation occurs, here that we can say, “I see you. I hear you.” And in that brief moment, even if only for a breath, the nervous system can settle, the defenses can quiet and for that one moment we can stop working so hard at damming up our traumas and pain.

Carl Rogers, the daddy-o of Person-Centered Therapy said it so precisely, “I hear the words, the thoughts, the feeling tones, the personal meaning, even the meaning that is below the conscious intent of the speaker. Sometimes too, in a message which superficially is not very important, I hear a deep human cry that lies buried and unknown far below the surface of the person. So I have learned to ask myself, can I hear the sounds and sense the shape of this other person’s inner world? Can I resonate to what he is saying so deeply that I sense the meanings he is afraid of, yet would like to communicate, as well as those he knows?”

Beneath the theories and techniques and speculations on mental health, mental illness, and psychology lies one seemingly inalienable truth: no one gets out unscathed. Trauma, suffering, grief, heartbreak, these are unavoidable realities of this existence. Can we wear our scars and battle wounds as doors to compassion? Can we not shy away from the immeasurable grief that accompanies this existence, and instead invite it to the table, listen to it, allow it a space of full existence, and in such a process wrap it in scarves and shawls of compassion?

I have a solar powered prayer wheel that sits on my desk. It spins at any amount of daylight. It spins even when it’s cloudy and raining, as if, even today, it knows that there’s something else beyond this persistent soaking rain. That sounds about right to me.

 

 

Claiming Self – Vision Fast reflections July 8, 2014

Filed under: Balance,Uncategorized — Reflections Integrative Therapy @ 8:30 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

“But you can bury your past in the garden by the tulips, water it until it is so alive, it lets you go, and you belong to yourself again. When you belong to yourself again, remember that forgiveness is not a tidy grave, but a ready loyal knight kneeling before your royal heart.” – Andrea Gibson

A month ago today I was on the final day of 4 days and 4 nights spent in the wilderness, alone, fasting. For those of you who have not experienced a Vision Fast, sitting alone in the woods with nothing to distract you from yourself is a lot like handing a glittery invitation to all of your monsters, letting them know you’re having a 4-day slumber party and they’re all invited. They come in and make themselves at home, taking big gulps from the 4 gallons of water you’ve carried out with you and making themselves comfortable under the tarp that is serving as your only shelter. And so, with nowhere else to be, you talk. You listen. You argue. You fight. You cry. You surrender. You accept. You reject. You bury and cut away and take in and throw into the air. You dance. You come to know the texture of these monsters, the way their skin folds slightly at the corner of their mouth when they are telling you their story – the story they want you to believe is also your story. You listen to these stories with your whole being resting into the ground, being held by the earth and the words are familiar because they are stories you have, in fact, been telling yourself for years. Their stories are the ones that you have long held on to, stories by which you have defined yourself. Their stories are the ones that kept your voice hidden, tucked tightly into your socks, convinced that it was safer that way, easier that way. Their stories are the ones keeping you awake at night, watching the way the shadows of the moon move through the trees.

But the more you listen to these monters, the more and more those stories that they’re telling you start to sound like fables. The fundamental un-truth of them begins to get louder than the words themselves and under all the listening you start to hear another set of words, another story bubbling up. This story is tentative at first, testing the ground that it is stepping out on to make sure it’s solid. And once it is certain, it begins to get louder and louder until finally you have to strain to hear the monsters’ stories. It is then that you realize that you’re trying to hear these stories that have kept you small and in fact it might be easier to hear this one that is building in volume and momentum, that rings with a truth that you know in your bones like the soil beneath your feet. And with your naked self, you slip first one leg and then the other into this story, pull it up and button it around your waist. Both arms in and it slides down over your head and then your torso. And it is here, in the clear light of day, with a breeze rustling the nearby branches and encirlcing you with the sweet butterscotch scent of Ponderosa Pines, that you step into and claim this story. This is you. Not those loud and pushy monters, guzzling all your water and shoving each other for the best spot under the tarp. This. Clear. Strong. Capable. Unapologetic. This story that you wear with the utmost east, because fundamentally it is you. You claim your story. You claim yourself. And finally, again, you belong to yourself.

And in this belonging to yourself again, you are your own witness, your own cheerleader, your own critic, and your own lover. In the month that has passed since those sacred 4 days, I have stepped in the incorporation phase and that has involved a practice of unconditional embodiment. Wearing myself, owning myself, belonging to myself, embodying this vessel I am blessed with. And if I’m being honest, it isn’t always easy to connect to the blessing. Sometimes it’s just hard, hard to be in my body, hard to be in this world with all of its microagressions, hard to stay with myself. But I’m learning to listen, even when it’s hard, and to not force it but to practice remembering that story that demanded to be heard over the cacophony of monsters. That story that every cell in my body knows to be true. The story that is me.

It doesn’t take 4 days alone in the woods with no food to belong to yourself. It takes quiet. It takes patience. It takes staying with yourself, even when you want to leave. It takes listening, and listening deeper to get beneath those stories that keep you small. And so I invite you, too, to explore this space of unconditional embodiment, this space of listening and knowing and owning your story, this space of belonging to yourself. Even if only for 5 minutes every day. That is enough. You are enough. My hope is that, with this practice, you, I, we all begin to bring a little more of ourselves into the world.

To quote one of my wonderful guides, Pedro, “The world needs more of you in it!” I couldn’t agree more.

 

 

Forgiveness and Stories March 7, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Reflections Integrative Therapy @ 5:40 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Days and years have passed since I sat in the middle of my empty living room, one arm around Lucy, as the tears that I’d thought I’d lost in the years of that relationship made their way out of my chest and down my face. I wept that night, wept for all the ways that I had finally come to feel the fear that moved my body through those years. I felt the panic of loneliness and the sorrow of failure. I could not maintain what I had worked so hard to create, what I had sacrificed so much to have. And there I was, with a home that was empty, a living room devoid of any life I recognized.  So I cried. I cried and I cried and I filled those empty rooms with the tears that I had been too afraid to cry when they were full. I cried until my insides became as empty as those rooms and there was nothing left in me to wring out.

 

After that first night, sleeping on my mattress on the futon frame we’d found outside a dumpster in North Boulder, I started filling the rooms – first with color, new color, then with furniture and pictures and long-hidden parts of myself. With time, that empty living room transformed into one filled with dinners with friends and a comfortable chair and Lucy’s bed by the fire. It became my home, mostly because I had filled it with me in a way that I never had when the rooms were full before.

 

For months and years I lived in the stories of those empty rooms, the pain and fear that hid in every dent of the bathroom wall or broken picture frame. The rooms were full of me now, but the stories of how that came to be still decorated the empty spaces. I hung those stories up in my closet, wore them as easily as my favorite sweatshirt, wore them so often I couldn’t distinguish between their fabric and my own.

 

I don’t know if this is about letting go of stories or forgiving yourself. And maybe they’re no different. Maybe to let go of the stories that we have woven so closely into our own fabric that we cannot distinguish them from our own essential being, we first must forgive ourselves. Maybe that is how we release. Forgiveness. Unconditional forgiveness. In forgiving, we recognize and honor the fallibility inherent in being human, and the beauty and certainty of that fallibility. We learn to humble ourselves to ourselves, humble ourselves to all that we do not know. And we forgive ourselves. We are fallible. We make mistakes. We make really really big mistakes. We hurt ourselves and we hurt other people. And to live in this world, I have to trust that none of that hurt comes intentionally. And so we learn to forgive ourselves. We find permission to forgive ourselves. And in doing so, we give ourselves the opportunity to release those old stories. Those stories that we have told ourselves over and over again, so many times that we are convinced they must be true and there is no other way. Those stories that drive our choices and decisions. Those stories that we so deeply come to identify with that without them we are not even certain of who we are. Those stories.

 

And when we put those stories down, stop wearing them around everywhere we go, we begin to see what else is possible, what else is true. What else is possible is that perhaps we are able to step into a deeper truth, something more about the core of who we are as human beings, rather than who our stories have told us we are.

 

And if we want to, we can write more stories. And maybe those stories will be written from a place of compassion for ourselves and for others, from a place of maitri, from a place of honor and respect for the place that exists without stories.

 

My home now is full of me, it’s full of my lover, it’s full of my dog (very full of her hair), it’s full of stones and driftwood and pictures of foreign lands. It’s full of books and a wood-burning stove and my favorite chair. It is full of different choices. It is full of forgiveness.

 

 

 

Train Rides in India February 3, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Reflections Integrative Therapy @ 11:10 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Reading through my journal from India, today’s entry a year ago:

February morning on the train to Goa, the landscape slowly changing outside the window. Slums and unfinished high rises, rooms open like gaping mouths, giving way to open space, the occasional river and a blue sky desperate to be seen through the haze of burning trash. Make-shift homes dot the side of the tracks. The land seems to devour, slowly, patiently, whatever tries to find stability in it. Rusted out tractors succumbing to the relentless presence of all that is not human.

Morning glories grow amidst feces and layers of waste. And it reminds me that the lotus blooms in the mud.

My edge today is that this, the rawness and dirt of this, makes me so uncomfortable. I say that and I struggle to find beauty in all of this. And then I see a woman laying vibrant cloths out to dry and a simple red-framed shack and my edge blurs a little. Perhaps the dinginess is not out there but rather this window through which I gaze that is tinted and tinged. How do I clean this window, how do I clear the glass so that I can take all this in through a lens not so clouded by discomfort?

Or perhaps all of that is some of it, being with discomfort. Not trying to see the flowers in the trash, but seeing the trash. Seeing the suffering and the dirt. Letting it make me uncomfortable because it should. I will leave here in a few months and return to a land that fears the messy-ness of reality and humanity. Where authenticity is a struggle because honesty and speaking your truth is sometimes messy. There is a truth to the filth, to the dirt, and to living a life in it.

 

Seeking embodiment in a foreign land February 24, 2013

Filed under: Balance,CranioSacral,Gratitude,Uncategorized — Reflections Integrative Therapy @ 8:41 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

“Life is glorious, but life is also wretched. It is both. Appreciating the gloriousness inspires us, encourages us, cheers us up, gives us a bigger perspective, energizes us. We feel connected. But if that’s all that’s happening, we get arrogant and start to look down on others, and there is a sense of making ourselves a big deal and being really serious about it, wanting it to be like that forever. The gloriousness becomes tinged by craving and addiction. On the other hand, wretchedness–life’s painful aspect–softens us up considerably. Knowing pain is a very important ingredient of being there for another person. When you are feeling a lot of grief, you can look right into somebody’s eyes because you feel you haven’t got anything to lose–you’re just there. The wretchedness humbles us and softens us, but if we were only wretched, we would all just go down the tubes. We’d be so depressed, discouraged, and hopeless that we wouldn’t have enough energy to eat an apple. Gloriousness and wretchedness need each other. One inspires us, the other softens us. They go together.” ~ Pema Chodron

It’s not just because I am settling into the town that is also the exiled home of the Dalai Lama that the quote from Pema Chodron resonated with me this morning. This land that I find beneath my feet these days, this foreign soil that no matter how much it reminds me of other places that have felt like home, continues to feel foreign; the sights that assault and delight my eyes, the suffering that meshes with the celebration. My system is learning embodiment in an entirely new way.

It is learning what it feels like to shut down in the face of beauty because the memory of suffering is too close to the surface. It is learning that all the time that I spend talking about universality doesn’t amount to anything if there isn’t some sort of embodiment to back it up.

I am moving in cycles with this traveling. I am moving towards myself and away from myself, towards others, away from others. Towards universality, away from universality straight into the arms of ego.

But these cycles are teaching me something, something I didn’t even realize I needed to learn until it landed in my lap in a moment of intense agitation and discomfort this morning. You see, I am fantastic at the mental part of path-walking, process-working, evolution. Super fantastic, even. I can explain my way in and out of all kinds of mental states. And yet, when it comes to embodiment, I am woefully unskilled. Unpracticed may be a better way of putting it. In the throes of trauma some years ago, my mentor at the time said to me that the mind understands things well before the body. I “got” that then, I understood it in my head and even had moments of understanding it in my body. But it wasn’t until this afternoon, damn near 4 years after that conversation, that I began to understand the slow trickle of embodiment. Or rather, the potential slow trickle. I know some people for whom embodiment is the first place they go and intellectualizing comes later, if at all.

But for me, it’s slow and I am learning how much resistance I have put up to embodiment. How much it scares me in some way. It scares me because if I’m feeling then I’m feeling and if I’m feeling  then I must certainly be bringing whatever it is I’m feeling into the world around me, infecting the space around me. Dramatic, I know. But it inspires a lot of the resistance I have to being embodied.

And so India, in all its suffering and splendor has become my classroom. It is the place that is forcing me, sometimes gently sometimes harshly, to embody these principles I have long talked about, long intellectualized.

And the reason India is doing that so strongly is that the essence of embodiment is presence. Yes, there it is, that word again. I cannot embody something, I cannot allow something to permeate me, to be felt in my body and not just thought in my head, if I am not present. And in this time of travel, all I really can do is be present. This is a foreign place, I don’t have the distractions of home to pull me away. I am constantly taking in, observing, engaging, participating, absorbing, seeing, smelling, walking, feeling, hearing. I am in a sensory soup, and I am present to all that my senses are engaging with. To a degree that is sometimes exhausting.

I should clarify here. In truth, I’m actually pretty good at embodying the good stuff. I’m pretty good at feeling whole and grounded in myself when experiencing joy and elation and bliss. That’s not all that hard for me. It’s learning to embody the darkness. To not contract against the pain or the sadness, but rather give it its due, give it it’s space to be and exist and move on. When I am not in a space of embodiment, I contract against those challenging feelings, I don’t give them space to exist and I don’t give them space to move.

But in this journey through foreign lands, with only my own mind and my partner for daily contact, I am beginning to learn that until I am able to be in a space of embodiment, I will simply wear down these grooves that my mind creates by thinking things, rather than allowing space to feel things. And at some point, if I keep that up, I will get stuck in those grooves and it will be that much harder to get out and to do things differently. India has shown me my edge, my plateau, that place that I’ve come to in my daily life that I will not move from until I begin a practice of doing things differently.

But, lord, what an intense place to learn about presence. How do I allow myself to be present with the child splayed out on the ground with a bloody bandage over it’s head while it’s mother sits by begging from the constant stream of passersby heading into the train station? How do I allow myself to be present to the people whose livelihood centers around other people’s waste? How do I allow myself to be present to the charred remains of a man’s pelvis as it is taken from the ashes of his funeral pyre and thrown into the Ganges? Is it really possible to allow those experiences to be felt in my body knowing that they are just as real on this plane of existence as the fullness my heart felt at the sound of a little girl giggling after an exchange, or the kindness of strangers on countless train rides?

Because that’s what I’m learning. My movement, my openness, my embodiment of both the light and the dark is how to transcend all of it on this path of joy and compassion. And it isn’t easy, but travel is a constant practice of presence and so here I am. Engaging in this practice of learning to embody my experience, this experience of existence. I am learning to allow myself to remain open just a split second longer than I would like to, to resist my own resistance for just a moment, to let a little space in for a little light or dark or both. To step into the embodiment piece of this existence with wholeness and compassion, and to allow for the joy that I know is beneath all of it.

 

 

We’re All In This Together November 6, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Reflections Integrative Therapy @ 7:39 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

So here we are on election night, the polls closing one by one and the results starting to come in. As I watch the sky outside my window turn from blue to purple (that’s not a metaphor, I promise) my thoughts turn from political turmoil to how I spent my day yesterday. It was another spectacular fall day here in Colorado and I spent it in the woods near my house harvesting Osha root. So, instead of heading down the political rabbit hole, speculating about results and the future of this country, I’m going to direct my attention right now to this root and the lesson it offered me as one of my favorite plant teachers.

Osha is fabulous for immune support and respiratory support; it’s warming and moving. It’s has many many medicinal properties, but beyond its healing power in the body it is a great teacher. You see, Osha grows amongst Aspen trees. You may or may not know this but an Aspen grove is actually one organism, it has one root system – like Mangroves. Aspens have a network of roots underground connecting them to one another, and in this web of nourishment is where Osha roots down. Osha grows by being held in the complex root system of another organism. And this is what Osha teaches me: to provide and receive support for one another’s growth. To be held by a greater community and to root down in this support, gaining nourishment and strength, to be both the giver and receiver of support because we cannot grow alone. We need each other to heal and to grow.

It’s been a tough past few months (and longer than that for those of us in swing states) of political rhetoric and slander. What I’m aware of in this divisive climate is that tomorrow regardless of who is president, we still have to take care of each other. Right? Because the fact of the matter is, when it comes down to it, we’re all in this together. We’re all struggling and fighting and breathing and thriving and surviving in this and we need one another.

As an East coast transplant to Colorado, I recently found myself pouring over photos and stories of Superstorm Sandy and they brought me to tears over and over again. Not at the destruction, but at the humanity. At one human being helping another. People showing up for one another, taking care of one another, strangers supporting strangers – with not one question of who they’re going to vote for in the upcoming election.

In this political climate it’s so easy to be swept up in the divisive rhetoric, to allow for the polarization that politics seems to thrive on. But, tonight, I want to offer a gentle reminder. We’re all human. And we’re all in this together. If we take a lesson from the Osha plant, we allow ourselves to be held and supported by those around us. We root down into the soil, seeking nourishment. And when the time comes, we offer up our strengths in whatever way will best serve our community. And no matter what happens tonight or tomorrow or in the next four years, we need to keep taking care of each other, supporting each other, and growing together.

 

 

Courage July 18, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Reflections Integrative Therapy @ 10:23 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

“You never wish on a shooting star, you wish on the ones that have courage to shine where they are. No matter how dark the night, no matter how hard the fight” ~ Andrea Gibson

In yoga today, my dear teacher greeted us with the news of the soon-to-be passing of a member of our community. She sat, poised, with tears readying themselves to fall to her lap, unapologetic for the emotions pouring forth. And in doing so, she was the catalyst for each of us doing that as well. Holding space for one another to be unashamed, unapologetic, deeply honoring of the movement of emotions within each other. Tears could be heard sporadically around the room through the class, sniffling, sighing, hearts breaking, hearts mending, grief honored, life celebrated. And I think what floored me more than the grief, more than the contemplation of death and loss and life, was the profound courage of every person in that room to show up. To be in whatever place they were in, to allow for whatever needed space. And to courageously hold space for others, to collectively create a web, a net, in which we could all rest. This was a room full of people, some friends, some acquaintances, some strangers – holding space for one another and allowing themselves to be held in such a space.

And this past weekend I had the great honor of marrying two of my very dear friends. At some point in the ceremony I talked about that day being a courageous day, and as I reflected deeper on that, I see the courage they both hold not just on that day, but in agreeing to the work of a life spent shared with another – the blessings and bounty and challenges inherent in such an agreement.

I see courage in my sister who daily confronts and negotiates the shame and frustration she feels with her body in the midst of fertility challenges. And yet, she continues on, day after day courageously doing what needs to be done, teaching classrooms full of other people’s children. She faces every day with her body not doing the one biological function it is uniquely designed to do, and she courageously does not give up on it. Does not give up on herself.

It’s not just courage in the face of life-changing events, though. It’s courage in the every day.

Courage in those friends who work towards a dream, courage in those who are willing to question all they’ve been taught, courage in those who advocate for themselves, courage in those who tend to the wounds without knowing why or how, courage in those who wake up every day committed to bringing whatever authentic version of themselves feels most present, courage in those who are walking a path that no one around them has walked before – that no one around them understands. Courage in those willing to express – to weep or to cackle or to howl – because their cells are calling out for them to do so and to not would be a stifling too wounding to bare.

Courage in my lover who allows me to see parts of her being, allows me to witness places in her that are vulnerable and sacred. Who follows the river of her feelings, allowing for rocks and waterfalls and pools and invites me to dangle my feet in, becoming a part of her flow.

I am humbled by the courageousness I see around me every day. Sometimes it’s bold and sometimes it’s subtle. Sometimes it is in opening your heart to death, or welcoming in a new life, and sometimes it is in getting out of bed every morning. Sometimes it is in singing your heart and sometimes it is in allowing the tears to very softly and gently land upon your cheeks without trying to brush them away. Whatever it is, I bow to you. I bow to your courage. And I bow to your heart. And I offer my gratitude for the inspiration that you bring.

 

 
%d bloggers like this: