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Travelling Inward January 13, 2013

Filed under: Balance,Gratitude — Reflections Integrative Therapy @ 6:40 pm
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The last three years have been full of travel for me. Not the travel that involves backpacks and trains and someone noisily rummaging through their luggage in a shared room at 3 in the morning. No, this travel has been internal. I have been journeying to wounds and scars and memories and strength and health and all the while learning that growth comes whether you are moving or not.

The first few years after I moved to this town, I remember being afraid that my growth would stagnate. Someone asked me years ago what my biggest fear was and at the time, without even a forethought, I said simply, “stagnation.” I was afraid to stop moving. Because in my mind, to stop moving meant to stop growing. At that point my most profound experiences of growth and transformation had come only with a backpack upon my back and foreign tongues swirling in my head. Pushing myself outside my physical comfort zone was the only way that I knew how to really grow. It was in that space that I shed the stories, shed the performance of myself and got to the essence of me. And then I’d come home again and cling desperately to that essence, vowing to not lose what I’d learned about myself and the places I’d come to discover – vowing to not go back to the old way of being.

But after about 6 months of moving to Boulder, with no big travel plans in sight, and the novelty of moving to a new place wearing off, I began to fear that staying in one place meant that those periods of profound transformation would come to an end. Or at least a temporary end until I packed up and took off again for someplace new that pushed me outside my comfort zone and reminded me of the essence of myself.

But, instead, something else happened. Something that has only become really clear to me in this time when I am in fact packing up my backpack and preparing for another journey. 7 years after moving to this town, 7 years filled with struggling to really unpack and settle in, I find that the growth that has happened while staying in the same place is profound on a level that I’d never known possible.

What happens when our internal environment becomes where we are out of our comfort zone, not our external? What happens when the places that push us and challenge us are not a foreign language or the uncertainty of ones location, but the foreignness of our own internal landscape.

Because it’s not about place, at least this time around. It’s not about something outside myself illuminating my essence. This has been an internal process and as such, I carry it with me. It is no longer about being afraid that when the external environment changes I will lose contact with this way that I know myself. And there is something so profoundly liberating about that. There is freedom in knowing myself in this way, and knowing that this self will continue to grow and change and evolve. And with that evolution I have learned to check in and to witness and to see the ways that things shift, and to trust in the unfolding.

I am comfortable now, in this once foreign landscape. I can speak the language, I know the gestures, and I have found some sacred hidden places that are full of joy. This land that was once unfamiliar to me, has become my home. And that comfort might be temporary, as all resting places really are. Inevitably, deeper travel will be spurred and more growth and learning this internal space will occur. The comfortableness arises not necessarily from knowing myself (because that which I know now is bound to change, thank you evolution). No, the comfortableness comes from trusting, trusting my inner explorer and trusting this self that I have come to discover and indeed, love. Trusting the growth and change and trusting the courage to continue exploring, to continue venturing beyond the reaches of what I know and being curious about what else is there.

This internal journey, in the way that I have known it for the past 4 years, is coming to a shift. An end of sorts, a transition into something else. It’s time for this self that I have discovered to go back out into the world. To learn what its external comfort zones are now, and to push it right out of them. It feels bittersweet, as transitions often are – full of sadness at the ending and a readiness for what is to come. And in this transition between coming and going I find myself feeling grateful for the events that set me on this journey and grateful for the beings that have walked with me through some dark and scary places – reminding me of the ground beneath my feet when it felt as if there was none. And surprisingly enough, I am grateful for the constancy of my external environment (in whatever ways anything is really constant) holding this space for me to delve into my own foreign depths.

This internal landscape is not all known to me, there is so much more territory yet to be discovered, more wounds to be healed and more tenderness to be found. And so I continue on, with this dance between internal and external. Inhabiting this body in a way that I only could through my internal explorations and carrying it out into the world to now allow my external environment to be the unknown, and to discover new landscapes with these new eyes. All the while knowing that I have found a home in myself, a land that still contains so much un-navigated ground but that now has some familiar resting places to come to when I need to catch my breath and recharge. This travelling is exhilarating and exhausting work. Thank god I get to do it.

 

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Maitri May 10, 2012

Filed under: Balance — Reflections Integrative Therapy @ 10:26 pm
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“This complete acceptance of ourselves as we are is called maitri, a simple, direct relationship with the way we are.” – Pema Chodron

I got myself a tattoo for my birthday last October. The most visible one yet. The next one’s going on my forehead. Just kidding. But there is something significant about the visibility of this one, and it’s not because I’ve learned to make peace with permanence and impermanence (because I haven’t actually). It’s on the inside of my left forearm and it’s a ball jar with a label on it: maitri.

I could go into the symbolism of the jar, but I think that’s a whole other entry. The focus of this right now is on the label, the word maitri. Maitri is a Sanskrit word that was shared with me by a very wise woman in my life a few years ago. It has a few different interpretations, including loving-kindness (Metta meditation) and friendliness, but the one that resonated the most with me was “unconditional friendship with oneself.” And this. This felt pretty important to permanently affix to my body. As Pema Chodron says, “complete acceptance of ourselves as we are.” Anyone who has ever tried this can most likely attest to how freakin’ hard that is.

So, in light of this, I ask you: is it possible to engage in radical acceptance of yourself, exactly as you are, warts and all, as they say? Accept the flaws and the beauty, trusting that they really are one and the same. Accept the things you wish were different, the things you’d like to change, the things that maybe keep you from being where you want to be. Accept it all, just as it is, just as you are, right now. But wait, that ‘s not all. The potency is not limited to accepting what is but also in holding space for a shift: radical acceptance while simultaneously holding the possibility of something else. For example, I accept that throughout my life, I have developed this pattern of retreating and guarding myself to keep people from getting too close. In this practice of maitri, though, my work is in accepting that pattern, witnessing it, holding it in non-judgment, and then asking myself “what else is possible here?” Is it possible for me to do something different this time? Is it possible to let myself remain open just a fraction of a second longer this time, thus ever so slightly changing the pattern? Is it possible for me to give myself permission to go fully into this guarding pattern, trusting that I am also capable of moving out of it?

When I say radical acceptance, I mean radical. I mean, all of it. I mean the demons and shadows and murky, muddy, dark places of yourself that no one has ever seen – that you have barely let yourself see. I mean holding space for all of the places in yourself that you judge, all of those places you have deemed shameful. You don’t need to love them (at least not right now), but can you hold them, can you accept them? Can you trust that they served a purpose in your life at one point, maybe not in a way that you can understand right now or not in a way that has any sort of story around it, but they did serve you at one point? In whatever way, they somehow contributed to you being present right now.

This is a big undertaking, I will be the first to admit that. But, I’ve got a proposal for you, if you decide to embark on this path. It can be really hard to trust that things can be any different than they are (or have been). So for the time begin, I’ll trust in that possibility for you. Because of this I am certain, we can all grow, we can all change, and we can all heal. And what that might look like, I have no idea (for me or anyone else), but I trust that there is always the possibility of something else. And I’m walking this road, too. And I know that the darkest places in myself only look this dark to me, just as the darkest places in you are only that dark to you.  So, what do you say? Meet you there?

 

Theory and Practice. Talking and Walking. March 26, 2012

Filed under: CranioSacral,Massage Therapy — Reflections Integrative Therapy @ 8:23 pm
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Theory and practice. Lately I’ve been finding myself aware of this pairing – not a binary or a dichotomy and certainly not hinting at any sort of mutual exclusivity, but two friends I tend to meet for coffee pretty regularly these days. Theory is better about showing up. Theory is always on time and guaranteed always has plenty to say. Theory is easy and comfortable to be around, even when it’s challenging. Theory and my head are like two peas in a pod. We can talk until the cows come home about what it means to live open-heartedly and what it looks like to step into vulnerability. We’re really good about talking about that…

Practice on the other hand. Practice is that sometimes-flakey friend who is pretty much always late and only really shows up because we’ve had to have a few conversations about its reliability. Practice and I generally get a cup of tea (we gave up coffee 4 months ago) in our to-go cups and go for a walk.

Theory and I talk. Practice and I walk.

And sometimes I don’t want to walk. Sometimes it takes a lot of energy to engage with practice, so I choose sides and hang out with theory and it’s more comfortable.

But lately I’ve been getting…bored with theory. I know, I know! How is that possible?! Theory is entertaining and engaging and exciting and stimulating. All of that is true, certainly. But theory lacks action and as Spring has decided to show up big time here in Boulder, my body is needing action. Shake off the winter, stretch and move and clear the hibernation from my system and get back into the practice of living, of being in this world.

So practice and I are meeting more regularly lately, and theory comes along too, and the three of us are engaging in the process of what it means to unite theory and practice – have practice teach me how to integrate theory – and live from that place. It’s exciting, actually. And challenging. Hanging out with practice sometimes feels like moving my body in a new way. Like I’ve had an injury that I’ve been guarding, but it’s healed now and I am learning this new mobility that is possible.

I was talking to a teacher of mine recently about something I struggle with and she asked me if my belief was really the way things are or if it was my circumstance at one point and is no longer. Of course, being the wise one that she is, she hit the nail on the head and it was another moment of recognizing the places that I still get stuck. Just because something was a certain way does not mean that it is still that way, but sometimes it takes reframing it and actively engaging with now to realize that things have shifted. Over and over.

So, here I go back to Theory and Practice. Theory can help us recognize patterns and learn how to repattern, but it’s practice more often than not that helps us see when we’re actually somewhere new. That what we’ve always held that we’ve known is in fact different. Because by engaging with practice we’re actively participating in the evolution of our lives. Practice is integrating theory into our systems and living from that place.

Need a more concrete example? I went to yoga tonight. I’ve been going to this class now for about 3 months, my first foray into more advanced classes after 3 years of practicing yoga. I’m pretty diligent about it, but every Monday afternoon I get a little trepidatious. It pushes my edges, makes me feel uneasy, mostly because it invites in all of the really loud insecurities that I’m good at quieting when I stay within my comfort zone. But I started going to this class because it was time to move from theory to practice. Intellectually I’ve been exploring what it means to find my edge and to inhabit my body, to know my body and be present with it. But it’s hard to know what it’s capable of if I keep it comfortable, ya know? So in a way, going to this yoga class, with all the attendant uncertainty and self-doubt is my way of engaging with the practice of knowing and exploring my body as well as the Self that inhabits it that gets doubtful and insecure. It gives me a chance to be present with myself and to witness the voices that try to keep me from stepping outside my comfort zone. It’s rewarding like I’d never imagined. In part because I’m learning to integrate the theory of presence and self-awareness.

It’s hard. No two ways about it. Like I said, sometimes I don’t want to go for a walk. Sometimes I just want to cradle a cup of hot tea in my hands and talk. But that’s why practice is a practice, right? It’s not necessarily supposed to be easy and sometimes we’re really not good at it, but we keep at it. We keep at it and through that we learn how to show up for ourselves and we learn to trust that. We learn to see what’s right in front of us, to be with it, and we learn that there’s room for all of this – the talking and the walking.

 

Exploring rigidity January 28, 2012

Filed under: CranioSacral,Massage Therapy — Reflections Integrative Therapy @ 11:39 am
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“For nothing is fixed, forever and forever and forever, it is not fixed; the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock. Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them because we are the only witnesses they have. The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.” – James Baldwin

This quote has resurfaced in my life after almost a year and it just so happens to jive beautifully with where my mind has been these days. So, I thought I’d bring it in again, revisiting the notion of nothing ever being fixed. That’s what happens when nothing is ever fixed, we get to revisit old places and see what’s changed.

Last week my yoga teacher asked, over and over, “Where is your rigidity?” The third time I was in a standing forward fold in a completely different position than I’d ever been in when approaching that pose, and initially, after cursing the universe, I responded in my head “It’s in my @#$#!% hamstrings!” But, instead of shouting that into her encouraging face, I breathed and sunk deeper into the pose and it was then that I understood what she meant.

Where is your rigidity? In that moment, my rigidity was around doing a pose in a different way. It was in the fact that I wanted to move in a different way than she was telling me, solely because that’s the way I’ve always done it. I was out of the groove that I’d so diligently created by executing the same motion over and over again. My rigidity was in the fact that I was so focused on the discomfort of trying this pose in a new way that I failed to recognize the depth and openness I was finding in places in myself that that pose usually never accessed.

Sometimes rigidity can show up in the form of pathologizing. The most clear definition of pathologizing is to “Regard or treat (someone or something) as psychologically abnormal or unhealthy.” And we do this all the time in our bodies and minds. We fixate on pain or patterns, feeling that it’s wrong that they exist. And we fixate on changing them, making them be something else, making them go away. And often in the process of them, we make ourselves wrong, for having or experiences that which we’re pathologizing. But here’s the thing. Those patterns are there for a reason, they are your system’s way of managing its experience, and they are, in essence, a brilliant mechanism – a learned behavior or pattern. And we may not like them, or want them there, but they served a purpose at one time. Maybe they no longer serve us and then we enter into the work of letting go. But that’s awfully challenging when we’re so fixated on changing them. That seems contradictory, I know. But, let me explain. When we fixate on something, we hold it in place. We focus our attention on it, we get myopic, and we take away any space that thing might need to shift into something else. Because here’s the thing, and I know it’s not the first time I’ve said this here, everything’s always changing, all the time. Even that which we’re pathologizing. And by fixating on it, we don’t let it change.

So, my curiosity these days is around the small ways that we can make space for those things we once pathologized. Give them a little bit of room in some way to do things differently, and see what happens. Be encouraging of their shift, instead of judgmental of the reasons they’re there

Listen, as a control freak I am well aware that this is a daunting task. The idea of stepping back and letting something unfold as it will, as it needs to, with no say on my part, it’s frankly a bit difficult for me to grasp sometimes. Particularly as a massage therapist, I’m trained to think that I need to do something to a muscle or a joint to effect some change. But CranioSacral is teaching me that in fact sometimes the most powerful doing comes in simply listening, supporting and trusting that the body knows exactly what it needs to do to move out of a pattern. My most powerful doing is in being present with the entire process. And I have to tell you, that is no easy task.

So, I return again to this question of rigidity. Is my rigidity in thinking that I need to do something, always? Is it in not feeling safe enough to relinquish my illusion of control? Is my rigidity fundamentally in not trusting the very system that I am in contact with – be it my own or someone else’s?

A very dear friend of mine once said to me, “Don’t pathologize your neuroses.” Let me tell you that in and of itself is a practice. But here’s the thing. All of those things that we pathologize, all of those things that we make wrong, we learned them – either consciously or unconsciously. And as such, we can learn something else, some other way of being, of coping, of managing, of surviving, of existing and expressing. It is absolutely possible. After all, you did it once before.

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

Just a reminder… June 7, 2011

Filed under: Balance,CranioSacral,Massage Therapy — Reflections Integrative Therapy @ 10:23 pm
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A little while ago, a wonderfully insightful friend stated that one thing they know for certain is that healing is hard.

I feel the need today to revisit that, in part because in all of the writing I’ve been doing about shifts and resourcing and perspective, I think that every once in a while it’s important to remember that this is hard. Maybe not all the time, but certainly sometimes. So today, selfishly, I’m going to take this opportunity to remind myself of all of the pieces of healing that need some reaffirming sometimes.

Healing is hard. It’s messy. It does not go as planned. It takes time, and patience, lots and lots of time and patience. It’s never really done. It involves revisiting old patterns – sometimes even reengaging in old patterns. It means asking for help – and then learning to accept help when it’s offered. It takes being kind to ourselves and gentle, and often that only comes after hearing the hurtful judgments we hurl at ourselves. Healing means sitting with things that are uncomfortable, sitting for as long as we can stand it to allow those uncomfortable pieces to be heard and seen. It often requires a shift in perspective that sometimes takes us being slammed over the head with before we learn to accept it.

It takes courage. It takes courage to sit quietly with oneself, to sit with those wounds we wish would heal. It takes courage to be introspective. It takes courage to be present with all of those parts of ourselves we wish we different. It takes courage to accept oneself exactly as you are – a piece that I feel is absolutely fundamental to healing. It takes courage to let go of behavior or thought patterns that feel so entrenched in who we are, yet are no longer serving us. It takes courage to sit with that empty space that is there in the moments after we let go, before the newness of who we are evolving into comes in.

It takes permission: to be messy, to check out, to check in, to connect, to take time, to take space, to ignore, to change your mind, to mend, to make repair, to give yourself a voice, to make mistake after mistake after mistake, to change your mind, again.

And at some point it comes to making peace with the fact that the work of healing is never really done. It is a process and as such, does not have an end point per se. Or perhaps I should say that the process of being human is never really done. It is entirely possible to heal old wounds and to have their presence in your life be through feeling the tensile strength that comes from scars, and learning to wear those scars, giving you an awareness of your own resilience. But perhaps the end result of wounds closing up is not really the point. The point is the versions of ourselves that we get to meet along the way.

Here’s the addendum to that statement, though. Healing is hard, but it happens. It does. It might not look the way your envisioned it, and it certainly might not happen has quickly as you want – but it does happen. Sometimes the healing is subtle: one day you move in a way that used to be painful and you realize that it’s not anymore (and maybe it hasn’t been for a while), and not only that but you don’t need to guard against that old pain, so your body begins to reorganize and you learn a new way of carrying yourself. Or things that used to trigger you suddenly don’t send you into a tailspin like they used to. And sometimes it’s not so subtle and you get to be fully present and embody your healing as it’s happening. And through that you get to feel just how capable you are, just how resilient and just how intelligent your system really is.

Healing an old physical wound often results in a greater range of motion, or more strength. Healing an emotional wound can bring us to depths of compassion and empathy, for ourselves and others, that we may not have previously accessed. Regardless of the wound, in healing, our capacity grows. It is hard, yes, but it happens. It’s happening all the time.

 

 
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