Toni Rahman Embodied – Mid-MO Tour 2017

After being south of the border for 4 years, Toni will be coming to Mid-MO in October to share two things:

1) Being In My Body: What You Might Not Have Known About Trauma, Dissociation & The Brain

  • Coffee & Conversation at Heart Body & Soul, followed by Book Signing on October 7, 10:30 am
  • Daniel Boone Regional Library – Local Author Fair on October 28, 10:00 am-2:00 pm

2) Pop-Up Clinics – a new way of networking and connecting with yourself and the abundance around you.  Read an article about Pop-Up Clinics in Ajijic Mexico here.

You can hear an interview with Toni on the Trauma Therapist Podcast here.

The Body Keeps The Score – Book Review

One of my favorite things to do is reading good books.  I finished reading Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score some months ago, but it has taken me a while to report on it.  Besides having gleaned 25 pages of quotes, I’m feeling the need to go back and re-read the whole thing.  This was a book of serious ahas.  Van der Kolk is himself a survivor of early relational trauma – a fact of which he was unaware until well into his professional career.  Currently the Medical Director of the Trauma Center in Boston, he is also a Professor of Psychiatry at Boston University Medical School and serves as the Co-Director of the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress Complex Trauma Network.  You can read more about him here.

“Trauma,” says van der Kolk, “drives us to the edge of comprehension, cutting us off from language based on common experience or an imaginable past.”  Its effects are profound and lasting when it occurs before we have language to describe it or even hope to get the help we need.  But, “like a splinter that causes an infection, it is the body’s response to the foreign object that becomes the problem more than the object itself.”

I love this book because Van der Kolk gives me words for things I had no idea how to talk about before.  And he validates suspicions that have nagged at me for decades.  For instance, when I was 24 and had already ditched my first husband and abandoned my three-year-old son, I was puzzled by the lack of pain I felt.  What was wrong with me, anyway?  I had many explanations, some of which had to do with depression, being clueless about what I was going to do with my life, and feeling incapable of caring well for a small child while trying to do all those things that I had been taught that a husband was supposed to do.  Van der Kolk calls this “Numbing.”  In describing what one survivor of developmental trauma experienced, he says, “He desperately wanted to love his family, but he just couldn’t evoke any deep feelings for them.”

Numbing may keep us from suffering in the short-term, but long-term is another matter.  “…though the mind may learn to ignore the messages from the emotional brain, the alarm signals don’t stop.  The emotional brain keeps working, and stress hormones keep sending signals to the muscles to tense for action or immobilize in collapse.  The physical effects on the organs go on unabated until they demand notice when they are expressed as illness.  Medications, drugs, and alcohol can also temporarily dull or obliterate unbearable sensations and feelings.  But the body continues to keep the score.”

“After trauma the world is experienced with a different nervous system.  The survivor’s energy now becomes focused on suppressing inner chaos, at the expense of spontaneous involvement in their life.”

The seemingly endless path of breadcrumbs leading me back to my own trauma included my status as “stimulus seeker.”  Though I am most likely on the mild end of this spectrum, survivors of trauma don’t feel quite alive if they aren’t in the middle of some kind of chaos.  Says van der Kolk, “Somehow the very event that caused them so much pain had also become their sole source of meaning.  They felt fully alive only when they were revisiting their traumatic past.”

“That is why so many abused and traumatized people feel fully alive in the face of actual danger, while they go numb in situations that are more complex but objectively safe, like birthday parties or family dinners.”

All of this is determined at a very physical level.  “If an organism is stuck in survival mode, its energies are focused on fighting off unseen enemies, which leaves no room for nurture, care, and love.  For us humans, it means that as long as the mind is defending itself against invisible assaults, our closest bonds are threatened, along with our ability to imagine, plan, play, learn, and pay attention to other people’s needs.”

Among van der Kolk’s research-based conclusions (and things to think about as you consider this idea he’s calling developmental trauma):

  • Exposure to stress relieves anxiety.
  • Addiction to trauma may be characterized by the pain of pleasure and the pleasure of pain.
  • Immobilization is at the root of most traumas (your heart slows down, your breathing becomes shallow, and, zombielike, you lose touch with yourself and your surroundings).
  • It is especially challenging for traumatized people to discern when they are actually safe and to be able to activate their defenses when they are in danger.
  • All too often, drugs such as Abilify, Zyprexa, and Seroquel, are prescribed instead of teaching people the skills to deal with distressing physical reactions associated with repressed emotion.

Real healing, he says, has to do with experiential knowledge: “You can be fully in charge of your life only if you can acknowledge the reality of your body, in all its visceral dimensions.”  Here, EXPERIENCE, not UNDERSTANDING is what we need.

“…neuroscience research shows that very few psychological problems are the result of defects in understanding; most originate in pressures from deeper regions in the brain that drive our perception and attention.  When the alarm bell of the emotional brain keeps signaling that you are in danger, no amount of insight will silence it.”

Treatment

“Treatment needs to reactivate the capacity to safely mirror, and be mirrored, by others, but also to resist being hijacked by others’ negative emotions.”

“…the great challenge is finding ways to reset their physiology, so that their survival mechanisms stop working against them.  This means helping them to respond appropriately to danger but, even more, to recover the capacity to experience safety, relaxation, and true reciprocity.”

Mindfulness, or the ability to hover calmly and objectively over our thoughts, feelings, and emotions, is one of the primary tools van der Kolk teaches his patients.  This ability allows us to then take our time to respond,” he says, which “allows the executive brain to inhibit, organize, and modulate the hardwired automatic reactions preprogrammed into the emotional brain.  This capacity is crucial for preserving our relationships with our fellow human beings.”

Increasing “interoception,” or self-awareness, is another important feature of recovery, van der Kolk says.  “Because traumatized people often have trouble sensing what is going on in their bodies, they lack a nuanced response to frustration.  They either react to stress by becoming ‘spaced out’ or with excessive anger.  Whatever their response, they often can’t tell what is upsetting them.  This failure to be in touch with their bodies contributes to their well-documented lack of self-protection and high rates of revictimization.  And also to their remarkable difficulties feeling pleasure, sensuality, and having a sense of meaning.”

Noticing and then describing what they are feeling is a process van der Kolk helps his patients learn.  He begins the process by helping them talk about what is happening in their bodies, “not emotions such as anger or anxiety or fear but the physical sensations beneath the emotions: pressure, heat, muscular tension, tingling, caving in, feeling hollow, and so on.”  He also works on “identifying the sensations associated with relaxation or pleasure…their breath, their gestures and movements.”  He asks them to “pay attention to subtle shifts in their bodies, such as tightness in their chests or gnawing in their bellies, when they talk about negative events that they claim did not bother them.”

“…many programs (that try to help traumatized people) continue to ignore the need to engage the safety system of the brain before trying to promote new ways of thinking,” van der Kolk says.  He provides some ways to engage this part of the brain in his book.  Among them are:

  • Yoga
  • Theater Programs
  • Breath Exercises (Pranayama)
  • Chanting
  • Martial Arts
  • Qigong
  • Drumming
  • Group Singing
  • Dancing

“Our culture teaches us to focus on personal uniqueness, but at a deeper level we barely exist as individual organisms.  Our brains are built to help us function as members of a tribe….Most of our energy is devoted to connecting with others.”

 

A few more nuggets I thought you might appreciate:

  • While you need to be able to stand up for yourself, you also need to recognize that other people have their own agendas. Trauma can make all that hazy and gray.
  • (As infants) our most intimate sense of self is created in our minute-to-minute exchanges with our caregivers.
  • Children’s disturbed behavior is a response to actual life experiences – to neglect, brutality, and separation – rather than the product of infantile sexual fantasies.
  • Our lives consist of finding our place within the community of human beings.
  • Babies can’t regulate their own emotional states, much less the changes in heart rate, hormone levels, and nervous-system activity that accompany emotions.
  • Learning how to manage arousal is a key life skill, and parents must do it for babies before babies can do it for themselves.
  • Securely attached kids learn the difference between situations they can control and situations where they need help.
  • Kids will go to almost any length to feel seen and connected.
  • Traumatized parents, in particular, need help to be attuned to their children’s needs.
  • Dissociation means simultaneously knowing and not knowing.
  • Early attachment patterns create the inner maps that chart our relationships throughout life, not only in terms of what we expect from others, but also in terms of how much comfort and pleasure we can experience in their presence.
  • It’s not important for me to know every detail of a patient’s trauma. What is critical is that the patients themselves learn to tolerate feeling what they feel and knowing what they know.
  • Rage that has nowhere to go is redirected against the self, in the form of depression, self-hatred, and self-destructive actions.
  • Eradicating child abuse in America would reduce the overall rate of depression by more than half, alcoholism by two-thirds, and suicide, IV drug use, and domestic violence by three-quarters.
  • Social support is a biological necessity, not an option, and this reality should be the backbone of all prevention and treatment.
  • As long as people are either hyperaroused or shut down, they cannot learn from experience. Even if they manage to stay in control, they become so uptight that they are inflexible, stubborn, and depressed.  Recovery from trauma involves the restoration of executive functioning and, with it, self-confidence and the capacity for playfulness and creativity.
  • In order to recover, mind, body, and brain need to be convinced that it is safe to let go. That happens only when you feel safe at a visceral level and allow yourself to connect that sense of safety with memories of past helplessness.
  • Being traumatized is not just an issue of being stuck in the past; it is just as much a problem of not being fully alive in the present.
  • Antipsychotic medications such as Risperdal, Abilify, or Seroquel can significantly dampen the emotional brain and this makes patients less skittish or enraged, but they also may interfere with being able to appreciate subtle signals of pleasure, danger, or satisfaction.
  • As long as you keep secrets and suppress information, you are fundamentally at war with yourself. Hiding your core feelings takes an enormous amount of energy, it saps your motivation to pursue worthwhile goals, and it leaves you feeling bored and shut down.

I highly recommend this book.

Van der Kolk, Bessel. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body In the Healing of Trauma. New York: Penguin Books, 2014.

It’s A Body Thing

There’s something the body does that reflects what the nervous system does – a reflex, in response to a trigger.  I’d like to explore this with you.  When a person encounters a trigger, the body closes.  What I seem to be noticing with myself and my clients is a popular trigger called “ALLOWING A PART OF MYSELF TO BE SEEN THAT I WASN’T SURE I WANTED TO SHARE.”  Since for many of us, opening up emotionally has been so unsafe in the past, it can understandably be really frightening, and before you even know what’s happening, the body reflexively closes.

This is really important because it’s in those moments that we do connect – that we have connected without our defenses up – that the brain is re-wired.  Whenever the body is guarded and only the intellect is open and engaged, no rewiring gets done.  It’s just kind of the same old same old.

And so the thing that just occurred to me now is that when a person tells a story over and over again as if they hadn’t already told it to that person, they are temporarily disconnected from the memory that this actually was a shared telling; this was a valuable, precious shared event, and that the person you are telling it to would actually remember that.  So you are disconnected from the experience of having shared a moment of connection and being heard together.  The wires are down.  It’s almost like the fact that we shared it can “disappear.”  Just like that, our most powerful resources can disappear when we are triggered.  The good thing is that we can learn to reconnect.  Reconnecting involves being aware of and relaxing the body (including the nervous system).  Don’t worry.  It isn’t as hard as you might think.

You have abundant resources.  They’re all around you and they are also right there in your brain.  But, as you have probably seen or experienced, survivors of early relational trauma have learned to disconnect from things they feel and know.  It’s part of what the body does in survival mode.

I came across a really interesting thing in a YouTube video called The Shoe.  Maybe you saw it on Facebook.  If you watch the body language of this kid actor, which the director catches so powerfully, you can see it for yourself.  It’s a visual representation of that shift that happens: from when the boy is snarling in disgust and frustration with the broken shoe at about 1.3 and then he sees the other boy his age with new shoes.  At 1.33-1.37 his body opens and you can see him shift from isolation – his own miserable, impoverished world –  to a place of allowing, where he can see the things around him.  He can see what is happening with other people, and empathize with their experience.  In this case, this ability to empathize ultimately leads to a brand new pair of shoes and this powerful (if brief) exchange with the other boy.  The boy doesn’t have the layers and layers of repeated trauma and loss that an adult can, so the shift happens readily.  This shift is possible for all of us when we learn how to put down our defenses; when we learn to physically relax.  When we can, we automatically reconnect with all the resources available to us in this moment now.

Interpersonal events are amazing things, and there is just so much that is communicated below the level of our conscious minds.  I have been learning that if I can keep my primary focus on my own body, I can make use of the complex wiring systems that have served to make us mammals the wildly successful, sociable creatures we are.  If I instead pay attention to what’s happening to you (what I can see and comprehend with my eyes), I have a much more limited and mind-oriented framework to operate from.

Paying attention to the emotional state of others has been my default, but that – thank goodness – has begun to change in the past several years.  Staying with and tending to my own sensations in the moment give me much more valuable information.  Here is an example.  I work with clients who have triggers, naturally.  And I have had moments with clients where I can see that they are suddenly triggered.  Incidentally, being face to face with someone who disconnects from me emotionally, can be a trigger for me.  But as I learn to manage triggers, there is more of me available to just watch, and not get carried away by the emotion and the story and the personal memory of the trigger.

I am remembering a particular time in which I am face to face with a client who has just been triggered by me, and I notice myself kind of freezing up, and I notice that I’m not able to communicate with a relaxed, open, spontaneous heart anymore.  I notice that what I say or do after that just sort of comes from my head, awkwardly, which neither of us can access with the heart, and my client can’t hear anyway because they’re suddenly all closed up and protected.

In life, and in therapy, it is a good practice to reach for those moments where we are able to feel safe enough to open; those moments when we truly connect.  Maybe we won’t even consciously acknowledge them when we are in them, but we can certainly look back and say, mmhm….I was open then.

This makes me remember a time when I was in grad school when I felt safe enough to open up with a particular professor.  I had reached out to her due to her specialty in domestic violence.  It was in a moment of trusting and hopefulness that I reached out – and from a place of newly identifying as a victim of domestic violence.

It was obvious to everyone that this professor had a great passion for teaching DV.  I had reached out to her in that moment of unguardedness and shared myself, my personal interest in DV and how happy I was that she was teaching this course, and then I drew back.  I hadn’t retreated or closed up consciously.  But looking back, I certainly had closed myself off to further interactions with her.  Maybe it was because I had shared a part of me that I was not accustomed to sharing.  For whatever reason, I pulled way back, and at the end of my school experience, that professor pointed out that I had opened up to her and then closed up again.

That she had noticed it really touched me.  I felt kind of disappointed in myself for closing to a potential mentor/ally/connection, but my pulling back had been a reflex, not a conscious decision; a reflex based on an unexamined trigger.

At that point I probably didn’t have the tools to stay safely connected.  This was also the professor I went to at the late stages of working on my final project and broke down in her office because I needed help and she wasn’t helping me in the way that felt helpful.  I didn’t even know how to ask for the help I needed except to say I had no idea how to finish a particular section of my paper/project.  It was the policy piece in the realm of teen pregnancy prevention.  I had been reading about policy but I had virtually no real-world information or experience from which to draw.  This was my final project and I hadn’t the foggiest idea how to talk about changing legislation or influencing public policy.  I didn’t know enough about government; I was clueless about how to talk about it.  And she couldn’t really help me because what I “needed” was for her to write the damn thing for me.  So I broke down right there in her office, and I was either crying or near tears, and I stumbled out, confused, overwhelmed, disconnected, disappointed.

I pulled through and I patched it together, but it was an excruciating moment and I never did connect again with her about this and in the process I learned something about myself that I am reflecting on now.

All this has to do with a physical reflex.  It’s not something that one does to manipulate or punish another person.  It’s not stubbornness or stupidity (I can’t vouch for everyone out there; people can really only know their own experience and motives).  But as we learn about what is physically happening, we can more readily recover, stay in the present moment and make empowered choices.  When we can do this, we can also begin to understand that vulnerable emotions are fairly universal, though the disabling and alienating impulse to hide them is virtually as universal in our modern, Western culture.

If you can identify with this, it is quite possible that you, too, have experienced such a neurological event.  If you have, you are in the right place to learn more about it.  Begin to notice when it happens without judgment.  Notice that it passes – it always does.  Do what you can to learn about how the nervous system works in trauma and under stress.  Pay attention to your own experience.  Eventually you can learn to recognize when it’s happening so that you are more able to stand back and observe your feelings instead of being overwhelmed or hijacked by them.  One day it will even be natural to share vulnerable emotions with others in responsible, attachment-enhancing ways.  Slow and steady.  Gentleness and curiosity will serve you so much better in this realm than perfectionism or high expectations.  And mentors and teachers are to be had if you know where to look.

The emotional work that you are being invited to do has to do with what Bessel van der Kolk and Steve Porges are talking about.  It’s noticing the moments when we do feel safe enough to open and connect (with ourselves and others); it’s acknowledging those moments – the moments when you let yourself be seen and you feel that you can let your guard down and your body physically relaxes.  That is when life turns around and you can operate from a place of presence, true empathy and compassion.  Reach for more of those moments.

The Shoe  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HX3BVdONvZA

Imagined Debt – Repost

Have you ever been here?

Nobody ever gives me anything I want.  I do so much for others, but it never comes back.  Why do I feel so needy?  Why do I always give and never receive?

I have.  It recently occurred to me that I had a blind spot, and that blind spot involved blocking the gifts of others, because of an imagined sense of debt that came along with receiving things others actually had and wanted to give me.  I was afraid of “implications.”  I was afraid of the “obligation” to reciprocate.  In the process, I often turned down the kit and caboodle.  I unknowingly rejected what was unconditionally given by others.  All along others were interested in sharing what they had.  All along I kept my distance because of fear.  And also because I had a fixed, rigid attachment to a particular thing or a specific action being delivered in a particular way.

Then I decided I wanted to be happy more than I wanted to be in control. An underlying current of resentment, and wanting to be right about a past hurt had kept me from opening to ever needing anything from anybody again.  And I had even forgotten what had hurt me in the first place.  Still, my body held the resentment valiently in place as an armor to protect me.

With the re-awakening of my body, I realize what it has been doing for me all these years.  I appreciate the gift, and release the rest.  It is not necessary to keep anything unwanted that comes with a gift.  If I imagine strings attached, or if there are strings attached, they are not mine unless I accept them.  Any conditions that have not been spelled out are Not Real.  They are only real if the person they belong to speaks them; puts them on the table, so they can be considered.  As long as they are just lurking, they are not real.  They are imagined.  They are not part of the transaction.  We are not respecting our boundaries or the boundaries of others when we “intuit” or honor strings over the expressed intention of the giver.

If we imagine debt and accept it as our obligation along with the gift, the transaction is soured, and the gift loses its value.  It becomes instead a transaction of confusion and chaos in our lives.

Our challenge is to practice accepting openheartedly the gifts that others are giving, knowing that gifts often come in shapes and sizes that are unfamiliar to us.  Accept the gifts given to you in the spirit of generosity they were intended.  You have an opportunity to graciously take them into your heart.  Recognize them for what they are.  Recognize their inherent beauty and uniqueness.  Feel them.  Experience gratitude for the spirit of the gift and the vulnerability of the giver in the act of giving.  Do not reject them out of hand.

Here is another idea:  Other people are not my source of stuff.  The gift is actually not the item or the service at all; it is the giving of it.  Any tangible byproduct that results from the transaction is yours, and you are free to do with it what you wish.

What if the stuff of a gift were just a symbol; a token.  And the real gift, always, were the connection and the energy that moves between people?  What if the only real gifts were the 5 A’s of mutual love and personal fulfillment that David Richo talks about in his book, Daring to Trust?

Attention ● Acceptance ● Affection ● Allowing ● Appreciation

People Are Not For Comparing

I am eating ice cream off a stick, tasting the sweetness and feeling the coldness with only half of my mouth.  I put my attention on tasting with the “awake” side with double focus.  The chocolate shell is melting quickly, but I have a plate to catch it when it falls, here at my table in a small ice cream shop in Santa Tere, Guadalajara, where I can watch people walking by on the sidewalk.  The air is hot and dry.  I recall how my mouth dried so quickly when I was sitting in the dentist’s chair, under her bright light, less than an hour ago.

I am thinking about so many things.  About comparing; the energy of comparing.  What happens when I am afraid?  I analyze and judge.  For me, it’s automatic: When I am afraid, I see people in terms of their threat to me.  What I’ve recently realized is that I’ve found “safety” in being “better” in some way.  Growing up, us children divided ourselves into two groups: “the good ones,” and “the bad ones.”  At least that’s how I made sense of the world in my childhood.  Mind you, it wasn’t that I was “good” but that I was in that group because nobody knew how bad I was.  Just me.  And often staying out of harm’s way meant maintaining or nurturing this divide.  Now that I think of it, I am definitely responsible for perpetuating this idea among my siblings.

Problem is, the “safety” I achieved from this strategy wasn’t safe at all.  It might have protected me from disapproval, physical blows and contempt that my sisters received when they expressed dissent, but in terms of relating with people, it put me at a very unfortunate and decades-long disadvantage.  My already stressed-out body responded to this constant inner chatter (analyzing and comparing myself to others) by bracing, warding off confrontation, and maintaining a steady flow of stress hormones.  Judging and dividing my siblings left me with a sense of uneasiness in groups, an inability to let my guard down with people who were different from me, to feel close or to take in the goodness that other human beings have to offer, through their very essence.

Prettier, thinner, more deserving, etc.  In my adult life it has remained mostly unconscious, but it has never left me, particularly in social situations where I do not feel I have enough control.  It has been very, very present: “I am safe if I am on the right side of this divide – you over there; me over here.”  That’s how my attention was oriented.

As I gain tools, and a general understanding that judging and comparing are actually things that signal that I’m experiencing vulnerable emotions (feelings I had learned to automatically disconnect from), I’m vigorously exploring healthier alternatives.

This habit of comparing has affected all my relationships.  I’ve found safety in partners who are “good enough” to make me look good but not quite as “right” as me.  I found comfort in relationships where my opinions were the ones that “counted” (in my mind, for one reason or another).  That required – you guessed it – me feeling somehow “one up.”  I wasn’t at all confident in my ability to advocate for myself or negotiate.  And I had no concept of what it might be like to coexist peaceably alongside someone with whom I disagreed (who must be wrong, of course).

Moving through life like this did nothing but perpetuate my anxiety and fear about my place in the world.  Judging and comparing others always does this funny boomerang thing; fear of being judged and coming up short is always the result.

I did not know that I was chronically afraid, that I felt threatened by the “betterness” of other people, much less how to turn that around.

My lifestyle now offers me a time warp through which, rather than living afraid, I now Iive more consciously and at peace.  And my body, as a result, is learning to relax as my senses come back online.  I follow what gives me pleasure, choose what I desire, filled with gratitude for all that I have.  Since I live with a nervous system that is no longer on high alert, I am more aware of what there is to appreciate in this sacred moment, and in the other beings around me.

There’s a profound difference between seeing others through a lens of guardedness and anxiety and removing that lens and just allowing pure sensory information to enter, no longer needing to be “one up” somehow.  But this distinction is – more than you might imagine – a product of the nervous system.  What has happened to me in the past four years was a subtle but life-changing shift.  It has affirmed in me a deep knowing that I don’t need to pretend to be anything I’m not.  That I am safe, as perfectly imperfect as I am.  That all is well.  That regardless of what happens, I will be okay.  None of this was possible when I was constantly analyzing my safety based on how I measured up to those around me.  That kept my body tense and poised for battle.

In my new life, there is time to do my emotional work.  It is safe to feel what I feel and know what I know.  Though I am alone, I know that I am safe and have adequate support.  Alone, what I enjoy and what I want matters immensely.  I am curious about what amuses and entertains me, and it certainly varies from day to day.  And my interactions with others is based more on what I like and what leaves me feeling affirmed and inspired.

I’m thinking about the other evening that I spent with my sister, Tracy.  It was a very strange visit.  I’d had a long day.  I was returning from the lake, where I pack in a lot of socializing and play.  Back in Guadalajara with Tracy, I noticed my faculties failing me.  I literally felt “retarded,” kind of stunned, not at all able to express myself or even find simple words that I needed.  Her being four years older, there are a lot of things about Tracy that can trigger me.  But this time, while it is true that I was triggered and my body was not acting right, I did not go into an emotional flashback like I have during longer visits with her.

I had been looking forward to seeing her before she left on her trip to Texas.  Throughout our visit I was trying to understand what was happening, holding off on any self-judgment or despair about how stupid I was in comparison to her.  I was able to just notice the sluggishness of my mind.  I didn’t blame Tracy for directing her attention outward and interacting with others in her fluent Spanish from time to time as the evening wore on or for moving at a vibration that was too high/fast for me.  She was excited about her upcoming trip and her travels are always interesting to me.  Besides, it was a short enough visit, and Tracy is super kind, so I didn’t feel judged or even embarrassed, really.

As usual, my relationship with Tracy gives me so much to chew on.  Spending time with her always provides me with information that I can use to grow.  I “got through” the visit continuing to hope that I could rebound and be my fully-functioning before it was over, but I didn’t.  My brain didn’t come back online until after I left.  I did leave fully connected to my sense of humor, my curiosity, and a knowing that I would eventually recover, and that Tracy loved me unconditionally.

Among the triggers that tripped that night were:  Being the little sister.  In our family, Tracy has always been the one who reaches out for what she wants.  That hasn’t come so naturally for me.  Tracy is in full swing with her vibrant, exciting career, a career that she declared so many years ago when she went to school for journalism in her early twenties.  Tracy is many years ahead of me in terms of language acquisition (Español), so our visit threw me back to being two (when she was six) and she got real good at telling everyone what I meant, thought and wanted.  Or so I hear.  Tracy’s home here in Mexico has taken shape rapidly; a reflection of the amount of time she has lived in Mexico and the many harrowing and costly trips she has made across the border with trucks, cars and caravans.  She actually has furniture.

With my sense of humor intact, I could recognize, that evening, that there really was no competition involved here (and there never was), no one up or one down.  I could also recognize that I was not functioning at my best, and that it wasn’t her fault.  Some days I am likely to return, momentarily, to my habitual way of comparing and judging.  I apologize in advance.  But when I do, I more quickly remember that it is no more than a red flag to alert me to my own vulnerable feelings.

And as I do my emotional work, my body relaxes.  Intrinsic to this growth journey I’m on is taking responsibility for who I am, getting clearer about what’s important to me, and through staying connected with my entire system, returning again and again to conscious awareness of not just what is okay with me and what isn’t, but what I like, what I need and what I don’t.  The effect this has had on my nervous system is enormous, and that evening with Tracy gives me evidence of this.

When I am physically relaxed, novelty is the spice of life, and not a threat.  In this state of receptiveness I more readily greet the unknown with playfulness, laughter, and delight.  I don’t have to be perfect to be good enough.  Recovering from developmental trauma involves relaxing the body so that the world can be experienced as the rich and delicious place that it is.  Each of us brings our own gifts, our own essence to share in the world.  We are surrounded by inspiring, talented, brilliant and interesting people.  Not one of us more or less than the other.  Just different.  People are not for comparing.

Decolonization and my Refrigerator

Decolonization.  A great word to describe what is happening in my world today.  It’s an idea that you have to experience to “get.”  For me, it’s a newfound commitment to living within my means.  Not drawing on nonexistent resources or borrowing from the future.  And you know what?  It’s amazing.  Going through life, moment by moment, using my gut as my guide, never wandering too far from joy and pleasure in just the right measure, checking in to see what my purpose really is, as many times as it takes.

This is where it’s at folks.  It is breaking to smithereens all the ways I used to feel about the world, first and foremost that I don’t get what I want, or I don’t get the support I need because, you know what?  I do.  If I can quiet myself enough; if I can receive; if I can listen.

My refrigerator had been giving me fits.  The freezer’s been just fine, mind you, but down below, it’s more like the temperature of a root cellar.  And about a month ago I had figured out how to deal with a different problem: it was freezing everything.  So what I own is a refrigerator that is trying to make up its mind.  I know better than to try to ask some technician to look at it.  That will be an investment of very questionable value in terms of both time and money.  Instead, I get to have this experience, which as it turns out, is kind of fun.  I’m decolonizing.

I have been intimately aware of my addictive patterns around food.  I devolve down a well-worn groove from good intentions to just a little more of the comfort food, to full-on surrender to my cravings.  And I’m forced to find my way back to myself again.

When I came home to my decomposing celery and spinach I got mad.  But then I made soup.  My heart ached because I had just bought whipping cream for my tea but then I made cream of spinach soup and used the sour cream for my potatoes.  It was divine.  I froze what was left of the spinach and I went to the market looking for what would keep better in my “root cellar,” began to make more frequent trips to the market (on my bicycle), and purchasing less each time.  I also had to stay on my toes (conscious) about planning meals around what needed to be used up first.  I made smoothies out of things I’d never used before, and used my dehydrator.  And I became even more conscious about scouting out foods that were on sale or offered as surplus.  When I do this I know that I’m more likely eating what’s in season and local – at least at my neighborhood market here in Guadalajara.

This, my friends, is what it takes for me to avoid seductive patterns that offer the illusion of comfort; that lure me with their “convenience” but actually lull me into unconsciousness and addiction.

Underneath all that, I am discovering as I listen, are my unconscious fears:

  • I’m not going to have what I need.
  • Taking care of myself well is a thankless, all-consuming drudge.
  • My food needs are overwhelming and unreasonable.

Well.

Now I can see them.  Thank you Spirit.  Here is what I’m shifting that to:

  • I have what I need.
  • I am not alone in caring for myself.
  • I am well supported, though support sometimes comes in the form of change and I don’t understand it at first.
  • My needs are normal.
  • Meeting my needs is actually a lot easier than I thought.

The thing is, I need to keep my focus more on the short-term, and not extend my food planning out so far.  This is what it takes for me to come out of addiction, to follow my guidance, and live, fully embodied in the present.  I’m not sure I’m going to ever fix my refrigerator.  I may just begin seeing it as another instrument of God – slowing me down, bringing me back to myself, reconnecting me with my purpose, and helping me to live more sustainably and aware of my body’s needs and the planet.

Getting to the Roof Without a Ladder

My birthday is February 4.  The week before my birthday this year, the ladder to the roof went away.  It’s happened before.  The landlord is renovating an apartment on the other side of the street.  It always comes back, though.  Eventually.

But it’s been several weeks now, and that’s given me a chance to notice all the things I give up when I can’t get to my roof in the mornings.  Firstly and most obviously are my exercises.  Without access to my roof, I start the day sedentary and don’t seem to be able to overcome the inertia of that kind of start to my days.  I also really missed the little magical things that always seemed to happen on the roof while watching the sun coming up, watching its movement patterns and the visual show it puts on every morning, whether I take the time to notice it or not.

I had spent some time with my sister Tracy on my birthday, and I had been telling her about the ladder situation.  She had suggested I buy my own ladder.  Well that might make sense to her, I thought, with her money flow and low tolerance for inertia.  But I was saving up my money.  What about belly dance classes, braces?  Pocket money for my upcoming trip to Cuba?  And besides, there was just no way I wanted to add to my already too-large collection of belongings that one has to move with them from place to place.  I am, after all, a traveler.  I could hunker down.  The ladder would come back.

So here I was, this morning, with still no access to my roof, when I began to look around at the things I had in my house that I might be able to stack up so that I could climb up and out through my patio.  Bingo.

Returning to the sacred time I spend with myself.  It’s all available to me once more.  All I have to do is decide that it’s what I really want.  The sky, exercise, the sunrise, nature, my beloved – all available to me.  I had allowed myself to disconnect from the sweetness of that part of my day.  Unlike Tracy, I had learned to accept too easily that things I want just aren’t available.

What might have made this morning different, however, was the mounting of irrefutable evidence.  I was better off when I could connect.  Doing without was causing me a level of discomfort and annoyance that I was willing to notice and tend to (along with that spark of an idea that came from Tracy).

Today is a day of real celebration.  My happiness actually matters to me.  A lot.  I am creating new neural pathways in my brain.  I need not settle for a life that does not provide my most essential needs.  I’m now in the market for a new place to live.  It will have easy and regular access to the skyline.  It won’t have two jynormous media signal towers that keep me from sleeping well.  In the meantime, I am aware.  I will not as easily forget, when my connections to source are taken away, that I am powerful and that I can restore them.

I have resources, and I desire to stay connected to the sweetness that is my source, my beloved.  Whatever is necessary to maintain that connection is available to me, even if it means I need to move the furniture.  I need not accept disconnection, and Source, in her way, is happy to support me in my efforts to reconnect.

Left and Right Hemispheres of the Brain

Yesterday, while listening to an online class by Bonnie Badenoch, PhD, LMFT, where she is talking about how we need other people to regulate our emotions (our whole lives, not just as infants and small children), I gleaned a very concise description of the functions of the right and left hemispheres of the brain.  Being an EMDR therapist, my ears perked up.  But she took it further than that.  In her description, the emphasis she placed was on the relationship between the two hemispheres (EMDR is a therapy that successfully integrates left and right hemispheres in order to resolve trauma that has remained frozen, often for decades).  Early in her talk (which is free and available online, she points out that effective therapy follows the client, allowing the healing to happen on its own (which is what both EMDR and CranioSacral therapy do.  Here is a simplified version of what she said.

Right Hemisphere

Left Hemisphere

Sensitivity to suffering

Attending to what is going on

in the relational realm

In the present moment

(what’s happening between us?)

Staying with the unfolding process

EMERGENCE

DEEP CONNECTION

(with nature and/or with another)

DEEP WARMTH

BOTH – AND

Can handle PARADOX

Values Individuality, Uniqueness, Connection

WE

Meaning > Happiness

Offers distance from emotions

Provides Stability/Steadiness

Takes what we receive from the other hemisphere and disassembles it so that it can be used to create systems that we can rely on.

It has to freeze things in order to take them apart and use them.

TASK > RELATIONSHIPS

Can provide WISDOM

(Why does this make complete sense?)

EITHER – OR

Values JUDGMENT

Creates Protocols and Frameworks

I

Thinks everything will turn out okay

(but there is an underlying paranoia)

There is no meaning

(except for what I WANT)

I want to take this a step further and suggest that adequate self parenting, which is necessary to overcome early relational trauma, could be thought of in terms of the relationship between the left and right hemispheres of the brain.  And if you wanted to get really crazy, between the Inner Feminine and the Inner Masculine (which has been referred to – I suspect – as the Divine Marriage).

Which brings me to this point at which I want to share a recent experience with you.  In a moment of inspiration several months ago, I drew (with the help of a collection of slumped postures online) a profile of myself that I had projected onto another person, who I then felt slightly judgmental toward.  It occurred to me that I might put the image out on Facebook, tagging a few friends who I thought might have knowledge or resources to “read” that posture to see what it had to say (I said it was a client I needed help with).  I had been doing tai chi and listening to Trina’s song, This Simplicity, when I heard the lyrics, “What the soul is longing for, and what this body needs.”  Everything stopped while I wrote down these words, which I used, along with a very practical, physical question, What happened to this body from a physiological perspective, and why does she hold herself this way?  The questions I asked came from two different places, and from the responses I got on Facebook, two different answers emerged.  To what can we attribute these two different approaches?  Before Bonnie Badenoch, I would have, hands down, said Inner Masculine and Inner Feminine.  Now, if I need to, I can say Left Hemisphere and Right Hemisphere.  If you’d like to see what emerged, use the links to read more (you can enter through the portal that feels most comfortable to you)!

I’d love to hear which portal you used, and what you think of the material you find there!  If you are curious about what your soul is longing for and what your body needs, we could try continuing the Facebook conversation.  As always, I’d love to hear from you!

Slowing Way Down

I’m watching the sky light up this morning.  I begin watching well before the sun comes up (6:45 is early enough, actually), so that I can be a witness to the contrast of the darkness, where the stars are still visible.  It’s nippy out, and I have leg warmers, fluffy socks, and three layers up above.  I’m wearing a fluffy purple muffler to keep my neck warm.  I’ve finished my tea and I’m at a point now where I might usually go and start my stretches because nothing is really beckoning me to continue watching the pre-sunrise sky in the east.  Then I notice two little groups of birds flying with each other.  They are flying in tandem.  They make sort of a figure 8 in the sky; they float toward and through each other and then out again in this rhythm where they are repeating the pattern over and over and over again, flying with each other.  It seems to me that they are playing.  As they continue this pattern, it’s kind of hypnotic to watch, and interesting too because they know what they are doing and they are doing it purposefully, and for some reason that I can only imagine.

I’m still facing east and it strikes me that these birds are right there, in my line of vision, and I keep watching.  It seems to me that there are no other little groups of birds doing anything anywhere else.  But this little group of birds has positioned itself right in front of me.  And I just continue to watch them until they merge and become one group.  And that one group of birds continues flying in my line of sight back and forth and around.  And there are little outsiders, and I watch how they have to fly extra hard to catch up, from time to time, to avoid falling out of the group, and the distance they have to fly to stay in the formation is bigger.  But they do their part to continue to be with the group, and the group continues to function like a group and it just keeps moving and dancing and doing what it does.

I think about this group of birds, and what motivates it to do what it does.  I can’t imagine that it is striving for perfection, or that any of those individual birds are working on a technique, or that they are trying to get it better than any other little group of birds or needing to get any better than they were before.  They are just doing it.  They are flying.  They are flying because that’s what they do.

I’m admiring patterns these days.  Some patterns that are emerging are the similarities I see between bodywork (tai chi, etc.) and being with other people.  The three levels of patterns that are occurring to me are 1) Slow down, 2) Let Pleasure In, and 3) Don’t Try; Just be.  Today I’ll focus just on the first, but I know they are also all woven together.

Slowing down when spending time with other people improves the quality of the connection.  It improves the likelihood that what is being shared is a person’s deepest truth and not some unexamined word pattern that emerges from habit or old wounds; discharge of (and/or distraction from) unfelt emotions, or defenses against really being known.  Our culture does not currently support being slow with one another, but I say this is where so much richness, beauty and potential lies.  What would it take to create an environment in which taking two deep breaths before responding would be natural?  And a listener would not rush in to fill the silence.  An environment like this would offer an unspoken, “There is no need to rush.  Take your time.  Take all the time you need to express yourself fully.”  How amazing and how terrifying would that kind of environment be?

I desire to mend old ways of relating with others: hiding, controlling, defending.  It is my intention to get better at staying connected with myself and my felt sense as I share myself with others, so that I can benefit more from the connection that human sharing can offer.  Talking before connecting with myself, I have found, can result in saying things that might be “true” but are unkind, or “true” only at a superficial (usually injured, egoic) level.  What I communicate when I am fully grounded and embodied is an expression of what I value, it invites a response from you that is an authentic expression of you, and the sharing creates something of value that simply nothing else can.

With the body, in activities such as yoga or tai chi, we are gently coaxed into asanas or forms that are different from what we would habitually assume.  Such activities give us opportunities to slow down – to explore and know ourselves better, to listen to our deeper truth, and to improve the quality of our lives.  Slowing our movements down allows us to bring awareness to unconscious ways we have used our bodies to avoid discomfort or pain it might have just been more “pleasant” to ignore.  When we rush from Point A to Point B we are likely to take the path we have habitually taken, whether it’s the most elegant, most expressive, most effortless, or most ergonomically sensible path.  When we take this path (from A to B) unconsciously, despite the extra effort this route may cost us (both in terms of its inefficiency and the energy required to keep information outside of awareness), we inevitably communicate our unconscious pain in the world – at the very least to the unconscious selves of others, who have brains designed to pick up such information.  Such subtleties match up with other information patterns they have stored in their memory banks, beneath conscious awareness and are likely to later trigger unconscious responses and unexplained emotions in your relating with one another.

In slowing down, we may feel something we’ve been avoiding.  And we might not like that, actually.  But in slowing way down, we may make connections, and gain understandings about ourselves we never had before.  In slowing down, we bring consciousness to those painful places we’ve been avoiding, to find out what is actually there.  And in bringing consciousness there, we can understand that the pain is nothing more than sensation.  You thought that was pain.  But approaching that sensation with curiosity instead of judgment, with gentle exploration and generosity in terms of time and pacing, this “pain” might actually offer you information that heals and pleasure that you hadn’t afforded yourself before (which besides feeling good, brings resilience, vitality and gentle supportive presence to the body).  It’s not the scary thing we’ve been spending so much energy protecting ourselves from and avoiding.

When the person I’m with is accelerated, I feel compelled to share what I have to say quickly.  I am somewhat skilled at meeting other people where they are vibrationally, and have built my identity around matching and attuning, and blending in.  Unknowingly, I have postponed developing the ability to claim my own vibrational frequency and maintain it in the presence of another.  As a result I have often settled for the superficial (shiny, exciting) interaction that happens between two people, when what I am yearning for is so much more.  The pleasure of a particular kind of connecting that I yearn for is one in which I am unguarded, grounded, and connected with exactly who I am.  Grounded, in this moment, is nothing more than being attuned to my senses in this moment, being willing to slow down and take those two breaths before responding, and speaking only those words that I need to speak to express my experience in the moment.

It’s not possible to be truly compassionate with ourselves or others when we are running on adrenaline and cortosol, on guard, defended and triggered.  That is why I recommend learning how to slow down, calm the body, connect with yourself and then communicate with those around you from a grounded, mindful place.  It takes more than a sound bite to express oneself.  And it takes more than sitting in front of the television to relax after a stressful day at work.  Changing gears after living a high-vibration lifestyle for years and years is something that has to be done on purpose; it doesn’t just happen on its own.  That is what I have put my mind to doing, and let me tell you, I will never turn back.

 

The birds this morning, in their flying and being who they are reminded me that we all know who we are, though we might have temporarily forgotten.  We have worked so hard to cover up what makes us uniquely us, to mask it, or to make it different so that it is acceptable to someone else.  The birds’ message to me this morning was: Don’t try; just be.  Right now, do what is necessary to reconnect with the God-given greatness of all that you are.  Be right here in this moment, now, and play as if right now were all that there was.  You have a way to express yourself, and you have your own, inherent vibrational frequency.  Re-member that it is right to want to do what you do effortlessly, naturally, and with great playfulness and joy.  And then give yourself permission to go out and do it.