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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.

 

 

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.

 

 

Taking it to the next level* February 6, 2012

Filed under: Balance,CranioSacral,Massage Therapy — Reflections Integrative Therapy @ 10:03 pm
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*The title of this also happens to be my self-designated theme for 2012

I’m learning to stay put these days. You could call it a practice. A practice of allowing a subtle and slow network of tendrils to root down into this soil that my feet have trodden these 6 years. A practice of allowing the familiar to be home. A practice of unpacking with no intention of repacking at some arbitrarily designated time in the future.

It might seem strange that I have to practice staying in one place, but let me tell you, even though my address has been within the confines of this one state for the past 6 years, my eyes and heart have been elsewhere. And within me there has been a part that never really unpacked, never really settled in, never really let this feel like home. I’ve always thought that I’m supposed to wander. I’m supposed to explore and discover and create and re-create home over and over again until I decide to stop. Boulder was the first stop on what was going to be a multi-year journey exploring what it means to create a home. Ironic, really, that I thought bouncing from place to place would be how I learned about creating home. But it also meant a safety in always being able to leave – never being tied too strongly to a place that I could just up and leave whenever I wanted. Self-preservation at its finest.

But instead, for various reasons, I came to Boulder and stayed. I stayed for a relationship. And then I stayed to finish massage school. And then I stayed to give myself a little time to figure out what to do next, where to go. And then I stayed to study CranioSacral. And that is coming to an end shortly. This spring I will be free from my tie to Boulder, free to head on to the next destination, free to go out in search of home. Free to find…what I have here.

But time is starting to do funny things as I inch into my next decade. Suddenly the feeling of having known a person or a place for multiple years feels…rich. I have friends getting married soon and I have been witness to their relationships from the beginning. And the idea of getting to watching those relationships make the transition into marriage and then possibly the creation of families, I want to see that. I want to get to be a witness to the unfolding lives of those I love. And by not saying, “Where to next?” I am allowing that time to play out as it will.

In that expanse of time, there is space for depth. There is room for me to allow these relationships that I’ve cultivated, be they clients or friends, to go deeper. Because there’s time, there’s time to allow for the organic process of depth, there’s time to get to know people on a new level. To encounter a depth that comes, not from a shared intense experience, but rather from sharing in the small victories and little deaths that we encounter on a daily basis.

So, I am here now, I have unpacked my bags and let myself be held by a space that is familiar yet constantly changing.

For so long (perhaps since I moved here) I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Boulder. I wanted Boulder to be something else. I wanted it to be somewhere else. But, ultimately, what it really came down to was that I wanted me to be something else. So perhaps this finding home in a place that I’ve actually called home for years now, really speaks more to finding home in my own skin. It is less about what an external place is, or could be, and more about where I am internally.

It means letting myself rest into the familiarity of my external environment while also trusting my own evolutionary process. For years, the most transformational times that I had were when I was traveling, moving, pushing myself to the edge of my comfort zone, and then jumping out of it.  And so I was convinced that to keep growing, I had to keep going.

I talk a lot about processes. Processes and practices and how there’s really no end point to anything (expecting of course for the ultimate end point) when it comes to our personal evolution and consciousness. I asked a Cranio mentor recently if you can ever not go deeper. She just looked at me and smiled and asked what I thought. Of course not. There’s always a new layer to uncover, explore, rest into.

So, these days, I’m learning how to go down instead of forward, in instead of out. It’s hard. It’s harder than packing a bag and leaving; harder in some ways than being in a foreign country and not speaking the language. It’s harder because there’s nowhere to run when it’s hard, no next town to explore and get lost in, and no train to physically move me into a new place. There’s no avoiding the monsters that take this opportunity of stillness to make an appearance. It’s hard because the foreign country is my own self and I am exploring this territory in a way that I never have before. But, I’m exploring it in this way, in part, because the space that I am in these days in familiar. I am not learning a new grocery store, or the fastest back-roads route across town. I’ve done that. I’ve spent 6 years doing that. I have built the foundation in a lot of ways that allows me to deepen in to this place and explore its depths, and my own in the process.

So often we come to a point, a divide, and we can either chose to move forward or deepen in. I ask you to think, which do you most often choose? Do you go to the depths when there is a pause in movement? Or do you say, “Ok, what’s next?” I think that both modes hold a purpose and there’s a need for both, certainly. But, if you’re like me and your tendency is to say, “Ok, here I am at a resting point. What comes next? Where am I going now?” I invite you to deepen into that pause. And you just might find that even in depths there is movement. In stillness there is change and potency. Staying put and going in doesn’t mean inviting stagnancy. In fact, quite the opposite. By staying put just a little bit longer an entirely new world may unfold before you. And if not, you can always pack your bag and go looking for one elsewhere.

 

Arriving March 27, 2011

Filed under: Balance,Massage Therapy — Reflections Integrative Therapy @ 3:30 pm
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Upon returning home from Hawaii a month ago, a dear friend of mine asked me if there was anything in particular that helped me arrive home. It was a question no one had posed to me before in all of my travels and returning, at least not in such a way, and being the ruminator that I am, I began thinking about it. What helped me arrive? What were things that I did upon returning home that helped me to land? Were there foods that I liked to eat? Particular rituals that I performed? Or did I simply walk in the door, drop my bags, sigh and declare my return?

So, a month later, I find myself entertaining the same question, this time after a week in the Florida Keys with my family – a decidedly different experience than bumbling around a Hawaiian island, but wonderful nonetheless. I am faced with the similar feeling of missing the ocean (my life-blood) and this time around, missing family and the familiarity of a place that I have returned to over and over for the past 15 years.  And it was vacation – in the truest sense of the word, slow and languorous, sun and salt water-filled.

Perhaps the question of arrival comes down to transitions. How do you face transitions? Do you jump right in, never looking back at what you’ve left? Do you dwell on what is no longer and only with a begrudging resistance give in to the new? Do you actually enjoying floating in the in-between, reveling in the uncertainty, in the pause between activity?

So, on my first day back in Boulder, a gloriously sunny day with an ever so slight hint of Spring on the way, I find myself thinking about what it means to arrive somewhere. Today I am taking the opportunity of an open day to go slowly. To unpack and put my clothes away, to do laundry, to sit in the sunshine with Lucy, to catch up with friends and to get my feet back on old familiar trails because all of these are pieces of my life here that I cherish, that remind me I’m home. And I am doing this today with an awareness of the felt sense of gradually settling back in to life. Occasionally, I will feel a contraction against that, a resistance to the reality that vacation is over. And I give in to that resistance as a part of my arrival.

Flying presents us with such a funny puzzle. On the one hand it expedites our travel-time, allowing us more of our precious vacation time actually spent on vacation. But it’s also somewhat disorienting in the way it transports us so quickly from one place to the next with little regard for the transition that is involved in leaving somewhere and arriving somewhere new.

I leave you with a few questions that are bouncing around in my head today, what is the difference between arriving and simply showing up? How do you notice it in yourself? Big or small, how do you face transitions? This doesn’t have to be arriving home from a trip, it can simply be walking into a room or a situation – meeting a friend for lunch – do you jump in or do you go slowly to allow yourself to settle in this new space you find yourself in? What is it that lets you know you’ve arrived?

 

 

The wheels keep turning… March 11, 2011

Filed under: Balance,Massage Therapy — Reflections Integrative Therapy @ 8:32 am
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I’ve been back in Boulder for a little over a week now, after 10 days in Hawaii. This was it. The last of the 50 states for me to visit and it felt appropriate that I’d saved Hawaii for the end. I spent 10 days bumbling around the big island with a dear friend, camping on beaches, eating fresh fish and swimming like it was going out of style. To say I love to travel would be an understatement. “Itchy feet” a friend of mine once referred to it. I have a hard time staying in one place for too long, part of what makes the fact that I’ve lived in Boulder for 5 years such an astounding fact.

But, it’s been almost a year and a half since my last big trip, and I was ready.

One thing that happens for me, almost instantaneously when I’m traveling is that I start thinking. Not in the cyclical, spiraling, going nowhere thought patterns of my day-to-day living, but thinking with clarity, with forward momentum. I credit the actual physical moment that I’m experiencing with my ability to not get so stuck in my thought patterns. So, needless to say, the wheel of our rental jeep hit the pavement and I was off, both physically and emotionally.

One of the pieces that I love so much about movement is the physical reminder that nothing is ever fixed, nothing is permanent, everything is moving and changing and dying and being reborn all the time. Somethings take longer, sure, and can feel like they’ve always been a certain way. But in truth, everything is shifting, just at different rates. That is nowhere more apparent or in your face as it is while traveling because physically, everything around you is changing minute to minute. Your perception of time shifts because of how much information is being taken in by your system all the time.

There’s some permission in this realization, I think, I hope. Where it really hit home for me was in recognizing how often I’ve applied that “fix it and be done” approach to my health or my body or my mental state. I want things to change, to shift, to be fixed. And then I want to wipe the residue from my hands and be done with it. Ha! I say to myself, haha! Not possible. For nothing we tend to is ever really complete. We revisit things over and over again in our lives and so much self-judgment can creep in when we criticize ourselves for not “getting over” something. But, here’s the thing that Hawaii taught me: we’re human. Daily we are battling our own imperfections and those of the world around us, perhaps even working to find some acceptance of all of it. This practice of being human is in some ways a tug of war, or a balancing act, or any other cliché that depicts the constant push and pull, give and take of allowing what is to simply be there: accepting it without wallowing in it or magnifying it in a way that doesn’t serve our healing.

Because I think that true healing comes in accepting ourselves with all the attendant un-fixedness. In my body I have an imbalance in my hips, sometimes it feels fine and doesn’t bother me and sometimes it’s all I can do to walk for 5 minutes. But it used to be that when it would flare up, I couldn’t stand for more than a minute or two without experiencing debilitating pain down the back of my leg. It’s not like that anymore. It’s not completely gone, but it has changed so much in the years since it began. And I have learned to make room in my body and my life for to times when it does flare up. I’ve been receiving bodywork regularly for years now. I wear orthotics. I run pretty much only on trails now, no more pavement. I take care of my body. Yet, sometimes when I bend over to put Lucy’s leash on, something slips and that familiar twinge returns. For a while, it frustrated me to no end. Each time it got better, I thought I’d fixed it. And each time it happened again, I thought I’d failed at taking care of my body.

Over the course of this I’ve learned some new things about my structure, delved into new poses in yoga, and found additional ways of addressing what happens. It’s almost as if the time between each flare up is a chance for me to care for my body and expand the tools that I have to do that. And then my hip flares up again and I get to use my new tools (as well as the old ones) and things change. And each time the pain is there for a shorter and shorter duration. It’s as if, each time we revisit something that has been difficult for us in the past, it is an opportunity to see our own growth and to approach that difficulty from this new place in ourselves.

So, I am finding some gratitude in these cycles, in revisiting pain, as well as joy, and getting to see the reflection of my growth and evolution in those moments. And the acknowledgment that nothing is ever fixed has also quieted the voice in my head that says “c’mon Alicia! I thought we’d dealt with this and moved on!”

This could sound pretty hopeless and in some ways it doesn’t really help my case as a massage therapist, but the point of this is to say that it does help – it all helps. Sure, nothing is ever really complete, nothing is ever really done, but with some acknowledgement and acceptance we can find easier and less painful ways of dealing with and addressing those things that we wish we could fix and put behind us. And a pretty solid dose of compassion for oneself – always.

 

 

 
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