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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.

 

 

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.

 

On being between trapezes September 4, 2012

Filed under: Balance — Reflections Integrative Therapy @ 11:23 am
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I was out walking Lucy this evening, strolling the dirt alleyways in my neighborhood and I started thinking about transitions. While pretty much every parched cell in my body is excited that summer is beginning it’s ending march, still…I see the water levels dropping in the creek beds, the dying off of summer wildflowers, the fact that when I was finishing work yesterday around 8 I needed to turn another light on in my office, and a part of me feels a twinge of sadness at the passing of summer. Don’t get me wrong, this one was particularly brutal and about 2 months ago I found myself longing for the crispness of fall. And while that’s not yet upon us (it was 90 degrees at its hottest today, definitely not fall yet), public schools have been back in session for a few weeks (whatever happened to starting after labor day?!), CU started up last week (this is the month that anyone in their right mind avoids Target like the plague), the regular summer events have wrapped up and while the Wednesday evening farmer’s market is in full effect still, it’s getting dark by the time the tents are brought down and the veggies packed up.

And maybe the sense of transition is so strong for me right now because I’m moving again and I’m looking at the face of transition of home and what that means for me and how I’ve worked with that in the past. In many ways it feels a little like I just got here, but in reality it’s been about 9 months and truth be told, I’m not sure where I’m going to be landing in a week. There’s so much uncertainty in this transition and I find that I’m grateful for the environmental transitions right now because it reminds me of the natural course of all of this.

I do not do transitions well. Maybe my lack of anxiety around this move and the uncertainty is stemming from denial rather than a surrender and trust in the universe. Who knows? What I do know is that being in between trapezes is scary. Not having something familiar to hold on to, not really knowing what the next thing is going to look like.

So what do we do in the in-between? How do we find grace in transitions and gentleness with ourselves as we move into uncharted territory? Here, I take a lesson from my nephew. He doesn’t do transitions well, either, and he’s not ashamed to demonstrate that. I sometimes wonder if we ever really get better at transitions or we just learn how to cope in different ways than when we’re 2. But he seems to move through them easier if there is something familiar, no matter how small.

And so, let’s call this: A Transition Object and go find one. Maybe it’ll be a crab apple from the tree that hangs over my porch, or maybe a stone from the trail near my house that I’ve wandered up countless afternoons in the past 9 months, or maybe something that I don’t even know yet but it’ll jump out at me and let me know that it’ll be my familiar as I move into the unfamiliar. It will help remind me that while everything around me is shifting into something new, there is something solid that I can hold on to. For as long as I need to.

Because that’s the other piece. Inevitably the unfamiliar becomes familiar, we recognize faces, remember names, establish routines, find the best parking spot, recognize where we are when we wake up in the morning. It’s the beauty of transition, it’s not permanent. Not that anything is, but really the nature of transition is that you move from one place (mental/emotional/physical, etc.) to another and the movement is transition, but then you arrive and you move out of transition.

So, wherever you are, you may be noticing the hints of transition coming up on you, or you may be in the throes of it at the moment, or you may be moving out of it already. Whatever the case may be, can you find a sense of mindfulness with the temporary nature of transitions? Feel the strength that is required to remain airborne between trapezes and the courage it takes to trust that another trapeze will swing your way – and before you know it, you’ll be in flight with something to hold on to. At least for a little while.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

 
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