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Seeking embodiment in a foreign land February 24, 2013

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

 

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We’re All In This Together November 6, 2012

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

 

 

Monsters and Demons…and Dinosaurs November 1, 2011

It’s All Saints Day today, the scattered detritus of a night of revelry strewn across the sidewalks in front of my house. Last night my door was visited by skeletons and vampires and a zombie or two, some politicians, a dinosaur, a few princesses and a clown. Halloween. In my typical habit of reading into meanings, this holiday in particular has got me thinking about monsters and demons and why on this one day during the year do we let them out of the closet to roam the streets.

What is it about the monsters that both frighten and inspire us? Perhaps Halloween has become such a significant holiday not just for the sugar rush, but also for the chance to look monsters in the face and not fear them so much.

A wise person I know said recently, “If you hate the monsters, you are just another monster.” And that has stuck with me as I visit with some monsters, both physically and mentally.  How do you find compassion for those parts of yourself or of others that terrify or anger you?

One of the fundamental pieces of CranioSacral Therapy is appreciation. Appreciation for the brilliance of the system, for the inherent health and for the inner physician. And this applies to pain. This applies to holding patterns and coping mechanisms that we’ve developed. This applies to the way we jump to judgment as a way of barricading ourselves and protecting ourselves from…ourselves. This applies to those moments when we are so triggered it’s all we can do to get out of bed. And it applies to nailing a handstand in yoga because we trust our body to hold up. It applies to recognizing the true extent of our capacity. And it applies to those moments of quiet when we feel rested and content in our bodies. All of this deserves appreciation because this is all our system exercising its intelligence.

But, I am not going to be the first to say, appreciating pain is about as difficult as having compassion for monsters. How do we soften in the face of fear and suffering? How do we trust that we do not need to hold so tightly to our armor, or our holding pattern, or our anger? What if we could learn to appreciate what those monsters have to teach us? What if we could find compassion for them and as a result for ourselves?

It’s a leap. It’s a leap that we’re not often willing to take, or perhaps not even aware is an option. So, on Halloween, we set lose our monsters, let them roam the streets, check things out, see what’s changed in the past year. Maybe we are a little gentler with them this year; maybe we see them in a different light. And I’d offer an idea. What if we don’t put them away, but let them hang out a little longer? Let them talk, let them rant, let them scream. And listen to them. Because those monsters are no different than the dinosaurs and princesses and clowns (ok, those are still scary to me) that also inhabit our lives. And they have just as much to teach us about what it means to be human.

 

 

Being human October 3, 2011

“…The heart itself cannot actually break, for its very nature is soft and open. What breaks open when we see things as they are is the protective shell of ego-identity we have built around ourselves to avoid feeling pain. When the heart breaks out of this shell, we feel quite raw and vulnerable. Yet this is also the beginning of feeling real compassion for ourselves and others.” – John Welwood

 

Finding my ground again after an incredibly intense week of CranioSacral training, and vulnerability is bouncing around in my head today. Apropos given the way my last week went. But I’m considering this new space around vulnerability I find myself in now, so I figured I’d take this opportunity to share my ruminations.

What is it we’re afraid of with vulnerability? Is it a fear of being judged? A fear of losing ourselves? A fear of being seen? As a bodyworker, I am acutely aware of the position I am asking people to put themselves in. Most people I work with have no relationship with me outside of the confines of my orange-walled office. Within minutes of meeting me, I am asking someone who has no connection to me to undress and get on the table and be seen in a way that most of us aren’t seen on a day-to-day basis. And not only that, but by getting on the table, one is essentially surrendering control, giving me permission to touch and manipulate their body. There is a level of exposure in massage and bodywork that I have a deep amount of respect and reverence for. Getting on the table, no matter how good a massage feels, is not often an easy task. It can feel incredibly vulnerable. I have so much gratitude for people’s willingness to step into that vulnerability and show up in the way they do.

And that happens in trainings as well, as the past week made painfully clear to me. The vulnerability blind-sided me, in fact, in its intensity, complete with triggers, lots of emotions, and a fair amount of physical pain. On the last day I was sitting in the circle while we were doing a check-in, and I’d shared the space that I found myself in and the difficulty that I’d been having during the week. I listened to others talking about their experiences and I marveled at our ability, mine and others, to step into vulnerability. To open and share and finds words, or actions, to express the places (dark and light and everywhere in between) we’d found ourselves in during the course of the week. Not everyone talked, but everyone was there and held space for those who wanted to share. And I found myself feeling perhaps more intensely than ever before the enormous presence of a group of people showing up for each other and themselves. In that moment, vulnerability was not something to fear, but rather to celebrate and honor. I recognized our ability as humans to connect with each other, to share our hearts with one another, and to hold each other with compassion and grace.

The other piece that I recognized in that circle was the universality of the human experience. Peers were sharing their stories of the week and I found myself resonating with so much of what was being said, connecting to pieces that felt true for me – maybe not in that module, but that I could at least recognize as having felt at some point in my life – and I saw that while experience manifests differently for everyone, the underlying emotions are the same. There is a universality and a connectivity in the shared experience of being human. Underneath the layers, anger is anger; sadness is sadness; loneliness is loneliness; joy is joy. And that commonality is really only accessed when there is a willingness to lean into vulnerability.

Seeing the commonality between us, in that moment, had a profound effect on me. I felt held and seen and supported because something in me began to trust that while my specific experience might not be something that anyone in that room could relate to, they were able to contact the underlying feelings. And it began to melt away any shame that was there for the experience that I was having. And finally, in a very sweet moment, I felt seen. Not for my issues or the things that I was pathologizing in my head, but for being human. For experiencing the complex range of emotions that goes along with the territory of being human. And by acknowledging my experience, I was opening up to that and stepping into a place of authenticity. Yes, I am happy a lot of the time. But I am also sad sometimes, and sometimes I’m even angry, and sometimes I’m tired, and sometimes I’m needy, and sometimes I’m insecure, and sometimes I am, well, you get the point. I’m human.

It is a gift we give one another, I think, to show up in authenticity and to be vulnerable in that, because it allows us to be more present with ourselves and others. And it gives others permission to connect to themselves. Their vulnerability, yes, but also their authenticity.

And then I read over this and cynical me takes over and says, “Alicia, sometimes you’re too quick to look at the bright side, the learning opportunity or positive thing to come out of darkness and it minimizes how hard this is. Sometimes it sucks to feel vulnerable and exposed and seen and you’re making it sound too easy to just think about what a great learning opportunity you’re having when you’re feeling blown open and exposed.” So, it seems important to listen to that part of my brain and acknowledge that it hurts. That it sucks. That naming our dark places is uncomfortable. And sometimes, just naming something doesn’t make it go away, sometimes it magnifies it. And then what? Then we have to sit with it, be uncomfortable and wait it out? Just because we’re human. I can tell you that most often when I’m in that space, I say to hell with this. If this is the human experience, you can take it and shove it, because this hurts too much. But guess what? That’s a valid response to being uncomfortable. It’s a pretty human response. So, there’s room for that too.

All of this is to say, this doesn’t wrap up neatly. It’s not as simple as leaning into vulnerability and trusting that you’ll be held, or even that it will feel good to be seen in your vulnerability. Maybe it’s been your experience that you won’t be and it sure as hell won’t feel good. But, in this training this past week, I realized that part of the healing work that I do (both with others and with myself) is to step into that vulnerable place, over and over again. To take care of myself in that vulnerability. To answer someone genuinely and with integrity when they ask me how I’m doing. To open and soften here and there so I can connect with my own humanness and in doing so, connect with yours too. And through that we can provide enough space for each other to hold that whole big beautiful spectrum of emotions – what it means to be human. And in doing so, actually see each other.

And if we can acknowledge those moments when the world brings us to our knees and we feel our vulnerability, maybe sometimes that vulnerability won’t feel so scary and we will be able to recognize (even if only for a fleeting second) that those moments aren’t the ones that destroy us, but rather make us more human.

 

 

 

I don’t know…gulp. April 19, 2011

Filed under: Massage Therapy — Reflections Integrative Therapy @ 8:16 pm
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So I had this amazing realization the other day: the world, this great big beautiful mix of land and water and air that we all inhabit, actually keeps on keepin’ on whether I am right or wrong. And what’s more, it does not in fact explode or implode or suffer any other form of mass destruction if I don’t know something. New flash, I know. But here’s the thing. I really don’t like being wrong. It’s not so much that I always have to be right, but I really don’t like realizing I’m wrong about something. It feels…uncomfortable. Because in my mind, I’m supposed to know everything, right? Which leads to the next realization – there are things that I don’t know. There’s actually quite a lot that I don’t know.  Yet, somehow I’ve managed to convince myself that I’m supposed to, and if I don’t, I’ve failed somehow. At what? I’m not quite sure. Being human?

But here’s the flaw in this thinking – ok, maybe there a few – being human actually entails not knowing. Because that’s how we grow, that’s how we evolve.

When you cut yourself, your body jumps into action and repairs that wound with a whole arsenal of things I’m not even going to pretend to know. The point is, after that repair, that patch of skin is actually stronger than it was before the wound. See where I’m going here? In our quest of perfection, or to not project, in my quest for perfection, I haven’t typically left a lot of room for myself to be wrong. And one of the problems with that is that when we’re wrong about something and we acknowledge it, we are often also given an opportunity to make repair, and through that repair we can strengthen what is there. So, to not allow for space for that, also means to not allow space for repair and strengthening.

So, in listening to this mind-blowing realization, I am playing with curiosity. I am learning to digest the fact that not knowing something doesn’t make me less of a person, nor does it make me bad or stupid. It simply means that I haven’t discovered something new just yet. And it’s a chance for me to play with curiosity.

In my work, while I have a great expanse of knowledge about the human body – it’s anatomy and functions – when a client presents an issue, the best I can do is use the tools that I have to hypothesize. In actuality, I don’t know anything about what is happening for them. I can’t. I’m not inside their body. I can’t really know what’s going on. But I can have curiosity and an openness to exploring that. I am in fact a much better healthcare provider when I surrender this idea that I know what’s going on and embrace whatever is in front of me with curiosity. In large part, because it makes me far more open to what may surface.  It also means allowing myself to not be perfect. Gulp.

In playing with this further, though, I think perhaps the most enlightened being are in fact not “perfect” but rather fully embrace the imperfections that are inherent in existing in this world – and by embracing them they are able to transcend them.

And while I in no way can claim enlightenment, I would like to offer you this piece that has come from these earth shattering realizations and the subsequent self-reflection and work I have been doing: all of our imperfections are simply opportunities. Opportunities for radical acceptance, opportunities for growth, opportunities for repair, and maybe even opportunities to learn something we didn’t already know. They present themselves to us everyday and everyday we are given the opportunity to get a little bit uncomfortable for the sake of our own growth and evolution.

 

 
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