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Courage July 18, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Reflections Integrative Therapy @ 10:23 pm
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“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.

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Dreaming in darkness December 24, 2011

Filed under: CranioSacral,Massage Therapy — Reflections Integrative Therapy @ 6:55 pm
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This song came on during my flight this morning and this line struck me:

“If the night isn’t dark enough the moon won’t glow.”

It’s Christmas in the airport, a hub of travel traffic, a cross-section of the country (or at least those within the socioeconomic strata that can afford air travel, or even to live away from family), and I am making my way to the East Coast from Colorado. Trading bluebird mountain skies for the rich chill of the Atlantic in December.

Solstice was Wednesday night and so while that marks the official start of winter, it also means that from here on out the days start getting longer again. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the darkness and light of this time of year. It feels like there’s so much emphasis on celebrating and gathering and…consuming (let’s face it, shopping could well be considered the most pervasive coping mechanism we as a culture have developed), in part to make the light all the brighter in the midst of the darkest nights of the year.

But why? What is it about darkness that we try to avoid, try to soften with so much light? Is it the introspection that darkness invites? What do we find in those quiet parts of ourselves that don’t often get our attention during the rest of the year? Why is it only in darkness that we give ourselves permission for that self-exploration? Perhaps it’s security, in that darkness it’s harder to see the parts of ourselves we keep hidden. But, I think it’s more than that. And I think it demands a re-framing of how we interact with darkness. I think there is comfort in the darkness. I think it speaks to the dualities that we embody, a world of both/and rather than either/or. There is room for all of it, for the light and the dark. And at the risk of being cliché, they need one another. Just as any duality that we embody needs one another, darkness and light depend on each other in essence for their very existence. And within us all, there is room for both. The possibility of light makes delving into darkness a little less scary, and the presence of darkness allows for a turn inward – a move towards an inward process of self-exploration – before stepping back out into the light It reminds us of the impermanence and cyclical nature of existence. Darkness gives way to light; light gives way to darkness, and on and on. Every day in fact.

And so with Christmas, my intention going into this week with family and friends is to rest into darkness and marvel at the light, holding gratitude for both. In navigating the tricky territory of grief and allowing myself to move through loss, it feels important to keep a candle burning to help guide me out of the darkness, but not illuminate too much. There are lessons to be learned in the darkness, rich teachings and comfort even to be found in those moments when sight is dulled and instead the perception that comes from feeling must step to the foreground. There are learnings in even the darkest places of ourselves.

Wednesday night, as the snow came down, I stood on my porch marveling at the illumination of the sky. It’s that night sky that gets nearly as bright as daylight when it snows because of the snow reflecting off of the ground light. I stood outside as the moment of Solstice came and went and realized that this was the longest, darkest night of the year, yet here I was able to clearly make out all of my neighbors homes and yards. And it dawned on me, maybe darkness doesn’t always look dark. Perhaps in those places we are expecting to be the darkest, we actually find the most illumination.

 

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.

 

 

 

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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