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Forgiveness and Stories March 7, 2014

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

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Another Trip Around the Sun December 24, 2012

Filed under: Balance,Gratitude — Reflections Integrative Therapy @ 10:38 pm
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Christmas is upon us again and this year I find myself reflecting on something new I’ve discovered about why I love this time of year. It’s not the presents (we stopped doing that in my family years ago), and it’s not just the music and lights and feasting. It’s not even the quality family time (although truthfully, that’s a big part of it these days). What I love so dearly about this time of year are those moments of quiet reflection on this trip around the sun that we have collectively taken. Christmas is a time for a collective check-in. What has happened since the last year? Where are we now? Who are we with? Because inevitably, as it does every year, things have changed. Certainly we have traditions. In my family this involves some sort of walk on the beach on Christmas morning  (often regardless of the weather) and toasting with a glass of Port to absent friends at dinner, and my mom grumbling at my side at church about the deviation from the King James Bible translation (the newer ones lack the poetry of the King James). These are all constants that I have come to expect and they are comforting in their nature. The steady posts as the rest of the year unfolds and we watch and experience the multitude of transitions and transformations that take place throughout the year. And then, once again, we circle around the sun and back to each other and we mark off another year, another place to settle and reflect on where we have been and where we are now. And to be grateful for that. Certainly there is much to be grateful for, even the sorrow. There have been deaths and births, weddings, completions, movement, and new life. There have been lessons on letting go and lessons on forgiveness, lessons on kindness and lessons on unimaginable hurt. And so today, I offer up to you, take a moment whatever you’re doing, however you’re spending this day (whether you celebrate Christmas or not), and let’s have a collective check-in. Where are you now?

I think in the wake of tragedy, I am finding myself feeling more deeply the gratitude I have for opportunities in my life, to live this life. Opportunities to be with my family, to play games with my nephew, to share a quite moment with my parents, and to walk on the beach with my siblings. Opportunities to love and offer light and support to those I love, opportunities to watch new little beings grow, opportunities to be welcomed home by my sweet dog, opportunities to explore and deepen into love and companionship with my lover, opportunities to do what I’m doing and be who I’m being in the world, and opportunities to continue to evolve.  And yes, that gratitude is not necessarily new this year. But my connection to all of these things has changed in this last trip around the sun because life has continued on, as it always seems to do. In the ever-evolving nature of this existence, we are given the chance over and over again to change how we see ourselves and how we see the world. These chances present themselves to us in the form of tragedy and pain and celebration and birth. This means that I get a chance to allow for my gratitude to evolve and change – to let in parts of these things that before could only linger at the surface, to deepen in to my connection to this life I am living and the people I am sharing it with.

And so again I ask, even if everything around you looks the same as it always has, where are you now? And even if those places feel dark, can you find some gratitude for the time we have all had traversing through the days together in this last year and an openness to the possibilities of what lies ahead?

Merry Christmas and so much light and love to you all!

 

Giving Thanks: Letting go and Letting it in. November 21, 2012

Filed under: Balance,Gratitude — Reflections Integrative Therapy @ 4:40 pm
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Every Thanksgiving that I can remember from birth-17 years old were spent in York Harbor, ME at my grandmother’s house with various family members in attendance, learning how to make gravy from the Turkey juice, sitting at the kid’s table, feeding the food I didn’t want to the giant goldfish in my grandmother’s winter fish tank. My first Thanksgiving not in this familiar setting was just after I turned 18, I sat on a beach on the coast of Kenya, 8 hours into my 24-hour solo experience, slicing into a fresh Mango at sunset. And in the years to come, after that deeply reflective, profoundly different holiday experience, I have found myself at tables with strangers, foreign tongues, new holiday traditions, old familiar family, newly created family, lovers, loneliness, warmth, abundance, non-tradition, and constant evolution. In the past 12 years, I have actually spent this holiday differently each year. As a lover of tradition and a creature of habit, this is kind of bizarre.

There’s a feeling of melancholy that this time of year holds for me. And despite my greatest efforts to the contrary, I find that it has arrived again this year. But, this year, unlike in the past where I’ve either resisted or swam in the melancholy, I am just watching it. I am seeing that in many ways this feeling is a pattern. It’s a place that’s familiar for me to go. It is the cliff outside my grandmother’s old home on the coast of Maine. It’s that perch that I know every crevasse of and can sit and listen to the ocean and it’s like I’ve never left.

But, the thing is, I have left. I have learned. I have uncovered the ability within myself to be with something without identifying with it. Without being it. And in that, I am beginning to shed the ties that those patterns have kept me tethered with.

There’s always been a strong sense of loneliness, of displacement, entangled with this melancholy. And frankly, some years that has been totally justified. There were a few rough years there with my ex, full of loneliness and bracing for her drunken outrages. And there was sometimes the sense of being an orphan, feeling disconnected from my family and without a safe, loving community. But in the past few years, a shift has taken place. And I’ve been participating in it without fully opening my awareness and consciousness to it, to the ways it is different and nourishing. So, here in this coffee shop, miles away from friends and family, immersing myself in a new family, exploring traditions crafted by others, I am beginning to let sink in a new way of being with patterns. And in that, I’m allowing for gratitude for what is, in this moment. And so in the tradition of Thanksgiving, I offer up a pie slice of what I am grateful for today, that I can actually allow sink and that I know is there beneath whatever emotions are churning on the surface.

My family. I am grateful that even though I am not with them right now, I want to be. My friends, for the years that we spent together (and probably will continue to in different manifestations) crafting a version of this holiday that finally made it resonate with my soul. My lover’s family who have opened their doors to me, welcoming me into their traditions. My love, herself, for sharing in this adventure of opening and deepening and revealing and loving in a way that feels nurturing and unconditional to a degree I never believed possible. Solitude. I am grateful that I can take this time for myself, to be tender with myself, to reflect and release and honor all that arises for me at this time, and move through it into something new. The tenderness to allow for old patterns and beliefs to die away, making room for something new. To take the cynicism I have long held around this holiday and transmute it into gratitude for what is in this moment. I am grateful for family, those we’re born into and those we create and the sometimes-vast differences between them.

Gratitude for what we’re all learning here, the processes we are engaged in, the healing and growth we are moving through together, the tender places in our hearts we are learning to let others see, the opening that we are allowing for and the practice of remaining in that openness for a split second beyond what feels comfortable, to allow a little more light into the darkness, a little more compassion for the raw places in all of us.

And today in particular, I am grateful for my grandmother, for the family and traditions that she created. I am grateful that even though I wandered some years, I always knew that there was a place for me at her Thanksgiving table, a glass of ginger ale by my plate.

 

Letting go…or how I ended my summer vacation. September 20, 2011

“To live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.”  –  Mary Oliver

This oft-quoted passage from Mary Oliver has been in my head a lot lately as the practice of loving and letting go has been a constant work these days. I’ve been finding myself saying good-bye an awful lot lately. But, loving and letting go shows up in so many different forms that it felt appropriate, on the eve of the end of summer, to ruminate for a while on holding on and letting go.

Summer is waning, the days are growing shorter and the morning chill lasts a little longer than in weeks past. Stock is taken of the summer’s activities, what goals were accomplished, what projects completed, what trips taken and adventures had. And with one eye on that, I turn the other to the coming months of vibrant colors, cooler days and more of an inward twist.

How do you face the change of seasons? Is there a grieving process, do you mourn the days no longer? Is there excitement about the newness that the upcoming season will hold? Do you have a ritual to say good-bye and welcome in the new?

And, because this is where I’ve been these days, I can’t help but turn those three tasks inward. I think this applies both to our interactions with others and our surrounding environment, and also to how we interact with ourselves. There are parts of myself that I have loved. Held against my bones as if my very life depended on them. And yet. And yet. Something about this time is calling to me to let them go. Let go of these parts of myself that I know and love and understand and find as comforting as an old flannel shirt. Because that shirt has a lot of holes in it these days and frankly, it doesn’t really fit anymore, one too many dryer cycles. So the time has come to let go. Easier said than done, believe you me. But life has a funny way of helping you along in doing hard things that need to be done. And by “help” I mean, it will find a way of forcing you to do it, even if you don’t want to.

I look at this, too, with bodywork, and the difficulty in changing a holding pattern. The ways that patterns that we’ve adopted are familiar and comforting because they were what we did to manage our experience, they were how we coped. In some way, our life depended on those patterns. And yet. And yet. Now, the experience that we were managing has passed (and if it hasn’t, you have full permission to hang out in your pattern!) and so perhaps it’s time to let it go.

And the inevitable, and perhaps more straight forward realm that Mary Oliver was speaking to (listen, I like to read into things, ok?), letting go of those we love. But to start with, loving those we love. Loving others, holding them close, sharing hearts and lives and adventures. And then, when the time comes to let them go, to let them go.

For me, there is a fear of the void. The space after letting go, before the newness has moved in. And perhaps this is where the seasons can help. The transitional time means some days of shorts and sweatshirts and others pants and flip-flops. Brilliant late afternoon sunshine and warmth, and chilly mornings. In essence transition, neither here nor there, you get to enjoy a little bit of both on any given day. And there is play in that space in between, movement even. A fluidity that allows for deliberate behavior; a consciousness about the coming days. In this time we can give ourselves permission to grieve, to mourn the loss of what is no longer, see the ways in which it impacted our lives and offer it gratitude.

Perhaps it seems so easy to do because I’m just really excited about fall. It’s my favorite season, in part because here in Colorado you get all the beauty and sunshine of summer, without the stifling, soul-sucking heat. August nearly fried me. And fall signals my birthday and I get 5-year-old excited about that. So, while I was a little saddened that it was dusk when I left my office at 7 tonight, I’m delighted to feel a crispness in the air when I open my door to take Lucy for a walk in the morning. And my home is certainly quieter without the constant hum of ceiling fans.

So, yes, there is a lot in this transitory time about letting go. But what about the joy of experience? The ways we celebrated summer? The brilliance of our body’s coping strategies? The beauty in how we’ve known ourselves and the experience of self-discovery? And the wonder in loving others, opening our hearts to friends and lovers and family and giving love wholeheartedly? What an amazing thing to be capable of!

So, as a more specific directive to tag onto Mary Oliver’s, I suggest that in the letting go we also offer gratitude to those parts of ourselves that nurtured us at some point in our lives, to the ways the season held us, to the gifts and lessons and love another brought into our lives, and let them go, knowing that we are forever changed because of them.

 

 
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