Many years ago I was introduced to this mysterious, powerful, and beautiful therapeutic modality called Family Constellations. Immediately fascinated and enchanted, I sought out a group or a therapist here in the Midwest, and had my own constellation done. I had to drive all the way to Sedalia, MO and the group that assembled there was quite small, yet still powerful. That therapist has since passed on, and I’ve moved forward in my life as well. In Mexico, I learned that Family Constellations work is extremely popular, and most of the therapists I met had been trained in it, use it in their therapies, and many offer regular groups. In 2013 I attended a 5-day “congress” about Family Constellations in Acapulco, Mexico, attended by a huge number of people, with speakers from all over the world, and my adventures south of the border kicked off that way – in the realm of the magical, Explicando lo Inexplicable (Explaining the Unexplainable). I began attending these groups in Guadalajara as often as I could. Often they brought me to tears, even in Spanish, because they worked with something much older and much more powerful than words. And I could feel things shifting and reaching greater integration in my body, a deeper, very resonant feeling that my problems are not so unique, and that so many of them have been passed down, from past generations. In the world of Family Constellations, things can be put right though. Repairs can be made, and it is a truly beautiful and awe-inspiring thing.
I’m telling you about this now because I have a desire to play with the subtle energies of this therapeutic modality, and as I am still learning how groups in general work, I won’t be charging what most constellators charge. And I want it to be available, even for people who have limited resources. Contact me if you want more information, if you think you and a few people in your community might like to set something up. We need anywhere from 8 to 18 people, and a place that is quiet and large enough for us to move around in.
I can see how my exposure to Family Constellations as well as my training and background in CranioSacral Therapy both shape and affect my EMDR practice, and I now use a kind of hybrid of all three with my clients. We have started a constellation group in Columbia and our first four circles have been extremely powerful. Having the ability to take my work into a group context excites me no end. I’ve included a couple links so you can check it out below. Let me know what you think.
Rupert Sheldrake talks about Family Constellations and the morphogenic field. You may want to Google that topic and follow your own curiosity.
The swirling blue on white figures in the image I include with this post make me think of the “as above, so below” phenomenon that we see in nature, and the correspondence between different planes of existence. Here, I almost see both the neurons that make up any living organism (or a brain!) and the humans that make up any living community. The design was part of the 2013 Constellations Congress I attended in Acapulco.
Happy October everybody. I wanted to let you know that the manual is up and available for purchase at Amazon. However, it is also available in PDF or Word format. Just let me know if you’d like your own copy. Just send me an e-mail and I’d be happy to give that to you for free.
To me it feels tragic that a person can go through any significant portion of their lives feeling alone and unsupported! I’d like to say that at the ripe old age of 56 I have put this feeling thoroughly and completely behind me. And I think this manual is what turned the key. I am so so so so excited!! I’ll tell you a little secret: I started taking tango lessons!!!!
But in all seriousness, the feeling of isolation, having only oneself to count on, and chronic touch deficit is entirely too prevalent in our society, and only exacerbated by Covid-19 and our political divisions. It is my belief that the current state of our country has its cause deep in early relational trauma, which leaves people feeling that they are different, alone, and lacking in essential resources and belonging. And people who feel like this are susceptible to the messages and shenanigans of narcissists and sociopaths. They have yet to find a durable and supportive tribe or connect with stable roots. As they move through life, these feelings become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Body Owner’s Guide for the Stewards of the New Earth: My Meta Self Owner’s Guide offers you eight chapters, channeled by eight loving ethereal masters, offering nuggets of wisdom in a format that can be read from start to finish or opened at random to spark your creative juices and inspire you to reach for more of what your soul is longing for. This handy reference book includes affirmations, dream interpretations and more, with the intention of bringing into focus a vision of a post-trauma future.
Though this manual was created for me, it is also intended to inspire you to strengthen your connections with your own angels, guides and ancestors. They are always there, and there is nothing they would like more than to see you learn how to care for yourself well. May this set you on the path of creating your own personal volume.
I remember, in 2013, prior to my second flight from the Midwest (the first being to Bangladesh, in 1994), giving my clients the following homework: Take a week to be just as lazy, selfish and irresponsible as you can be. I’m not kidding. If that is not possible, take two days. If that isn’t possible, then at the very minimum, take four hours. That was the advice I, myself, needed to take and so I finally did. But it took me this long to realize what that would actually look like, and what it really meant. In hindsight I wonder how possible it was for any of my clients to do this assignment without drastically changing their environment – the cultural, political and economic setting of the USA in the 21st Century. But why, you might be asking. Why this assignment? I will give you the long explanation now.
So many of us, as survivors of early relational trauma, have been programmed for survival, though the danger is not what we think it is. So many of us have an inner critic that berates us mercilessly, perpetuating feelings of shame and self-doubt, if not self-loathing. It hurls names at its person, and depending on the words their family used to express their unresolved pain and shame, these might have included “lazy,” “narcissistic,” “selfish,” “stupid,” “irresponsible,” etc. Many of my clients are learning what to do with the part of themselves that spews these toxic messages. What we are learning together is that this abusive part is actually an automatic reflex designed to “protect” its person from feeling the overwhelming feelings of pain and loneliness from the past. It protects us from the pain and overwhelm of one or more tender, vulnerable parts that are stuck in the past, needing our help to get them out. But it is designed to remain undetected to our conscious mind, and that is what makes it tricky to deal with in a straightforward way.
Until we do bring consciousness, care and compassion to these unresolved issues, these parts will continue to get activated and wreak havoc in our lives. I knew this when I created Self-Abuse & The Drama Triangle, but I’m realizing it at a deeper level now, as I recognize with renewed clarity what a tremendous amount of my energy can still be wasted in self-doubt, self-flagellation and something just under the surface that is keeping me from feeling like my clear and shining adult self.
My inner critic is 14-15 years old. She feels indignant and she believes that she can’t stop or she will be just as outrageously unforgivable and deserving of repudiation as the ones responsible for the violence and neglect she experienced in the past. She believes that if she lets up, she will fail us both (she is operating from her adolescent perspective with righteous indignation and her 14-15-year-old determination to keep me from getting hurt). And so she continues to do her thing, just beneath the level of my awareness. Her toxic message – this survival reflex – gets kicked up as I diligently work to reclaim my original, First Nature, and say NO to the generations-old programming that kept me small and quiet by telling me that the world is an unsafe place and that I should not expect to be loved.
This reflex kicks in to preserve the status quo. With the incisiveness and sophistication of a terrified 15-year old, it scrutinizes and second guesses my motives, my choices, my decisions, my reactions, my performance, my physical appearance. She can go on and on and on before I recognize what is happening in there. When I ignore this dynamic over time, it chips away at my confidence, at my general sense of well-being, my health and my Life Force. This part does not trust me because of mistakes she is sure I have made in the past. She can be seriously abusive because she is terrified and she doesn’t believe she can ask for help and get it, and because she believes our lives and integrity depend on her keeping up this internal battery and its concomitant feelings of shame and self-contempt.
I am thinking of one of my clients who has figured out how to talk to his angry little one inside. His is only five years old. He shows me how firm but loving boundaries can be instituted and maintained with this little one, who has brought so much destruction to his closest relationships in the past. When he feels his angry little one starting to get agitated, he checks in with it. He reassures it. He has even learned to be preemptive. In the mornings he snuggles up with it, telling it that it is okay, and that he is big enough to hold it and protect it. You are safe now, he tells it. You can trust me to take your needs seriously. I love you. I am here now. I will not abandon you. It is your job to play and have fun now. You don’t have to be big and angry to keep us safe anymore.
Another client too, has learned to take a bit of time to attune to the disturbance and the players inside. Like mine, his is 14-15-years-old and has a tongue that slices him to shreds if he allows it. He is learning to talk to this inner critic softly but with assurance, pointing out the landmarks of his growth and success, what he is doing right. Reminding them both that he does not deserve to be punished, and never did. As the inner critic softens, he is freer to accept himself and his past mistakes and release the remaining shame, self-loathing, self-doubt and self-censure that he has stockpiled but failed to examine all these years. Together we form the alliance necessary to glean the wisdom from his life experience, to acknowledge his successes, and discern his real needs and the real maturity he has gained through his efforts and experiences instead of just trying to hide, amputate or erase this terrified, vulnerable part of himself, along with his imperfect past.
We need to be able to attune to and acknowledge the wisdom beneath the disruption, this hidden chaos inside. Because what other recourse does the powerless have than to revolt? The parts that feel powerless and abandoned need to be listened to because they showed up in the first place for a reason. They have wisdom that is profound and irreplaceable. But we do need to get support and take the time necessary to find out what is actually happening in there.
Just as important as recognizing that they are there for a reason and having compassion for these tender parts, it is necessary that we let them know that they are not allowed to abuse us or others anymore. We need to value ourselves and have enough substance – enough Self – to put into place firm boundaries. Though we have been programmed otherwise, we need to be more selfish to do this. As my sense of Self strengthens, that’s what keeping my commitment to doing a daily meditation feels like for me. It is a revolutionary act, holding nurturing routines in place, adjusting them as I grow to fit my continuously changing needs. And it is what is necessary to leave the status quo and achieve the change I really want.
This morning, as I put the finishing touches on my owner’s manual, I realize that I have been newly reconnected with envy and how much this emotion has impacted my life without my even knowing it. I was so clueless of envy, never thinking that word described any part of me. Well now I see how anger, jealousy and envy were so central to my life and experience, and how thoroughly I blotted them out, pushing them under so they could be hidden, so I could maintain my image of a “good girl.” Now I can see how this has contributed to the stifling of my reaching reflex. How it crippled my ability to want what I wanted and even to receive what was sweet and available all around me.
Now, I am reclaiming my envy, and with it perfecting my own reaching reflex. Every hint of envy is my new best friend because it tells me what I want more of. It no longer needs to remain hidden. As with anger, it can now inform me. I am so grateful for everything in my current life that is helping me develop my reaching reflex. Films, Netflix, free time to reflect on my relationship with people I have judged as selfish, irresponsible or lazy. Newly admiring their ability to enjoy their lives and allowing myself to distill my own understanding of my unique constitution, tastes, values and desires as similar and distinct from theirs. I am so thankful for my clients. Each one of them a tremendous gift. So thankful for each day, a dance, a step closer to a life that is even more filled with the things that I have been afraid to ask for. A calmable nervous system. People who help me calm my nervous system. People with whom I can and do regularly play and explore the wonders of this experience called Life.
As I sit here with rubber bands between my molars, I feel the “opening” of my avenue of expression. It’s uncomfortable but it is fundamentally changing me. Expanding my ability to experience joy and pleasure. Expanding my ability to express and share myself. I feel everything falling into place just as it should.
I am learning to enjoy liminal space these days, not exactly knowing what will happen next, and it’s uncomfortable sometimes. But it’s okay. Better to be in this space than to jump prematurely to the next thing.
I vigilantly work on recognizing self-doubt when it comes up, I attend to the tender vulnerable feelings underneath, and step in to make sure that nobody is abusing me inside.
Here’s what I can watch out for, lurking in the shadows:
Feeling critical of myself
Comparing myself with others
Feeling critical toward others
Negative self-talk (You’re irresponsible. Who do you think you are? etc.)
Nurturing a stronger, more reliable sense of Self means that I can more readily step back and recognize this as the abuse that it is, and that it says nothing whatsoever about me. Once I recognize that I am doing this again, I can firmly but compassionately redirect that energy. I am committed to mastering the skills necessary to do this.
In the spaciousness of my life, here in my Mexican retreat, I can recognize that disruptive younger part of me now and tell her that I appreciate her and all she has been through. I speak to her softly, lovingly, and assure her that I am committed to learning how to be embodied, how to gracefully navigate the world as an adult and how to live a life that we have been worthy of all along. I let her know that I’ve got this now, thanking her, but assuring her that she can safely rest now, and do what she, as a 14-15-year-old, enjoys. Supported in my village and with my ancestors and guides, I am in a position to keep her safe now, and I let her know that I am committed to doing just that.
I let her know that I am learning the skill of turning feelings into needs. When she feels critical or judgmental, I can understand that she is scared or envious or angry or ashamed of being scared or envious or angry. I can help her know that her tender vulnerable feelings are okay, that there is a place for them, and that it doesn’t hurt anyone on the outside when she makes me aware of them. I can be curious about what she is feeling without making her wrong. And once I know what the feelings are, we can work together to figure out what she needs. This can take some work, but I am up for it. And I am worth the effort it takes. I am anything but lazy, though from the outside I might be judged otherwise. That is why it is so important that I surround myself with people who share my values and worldview at least a large part of the time.
You are enough, I tell her. You no longer have to be better than anyone else. You can just show up. We have all the love and support we need. We are thin enough. We are attractive enough. We are smart enough. We work hard enough. We have plenty of money. We have enough time and resources to take care of ourselves, and I am committed to taking the time I need to stay adequately attuned to your vulnerable needs, preferences and potential. This may be the most important work of all. And then I make sure that my schedule is open enough to stay attuned to her needs and appreciate her contributions to my life. Some may call that selfish or lazy or irresponsible. I call it coming home to my fully embodied and integrated self; making my body a place where it feels good to be, where I truly belong.
It is normal to have little sensitive points in our body. These points tell us about how the body is functioning. They are sore or sensitive not to tell us how we have failed. They are not there as a form of punishment. Making the pain along these points stop hurting is not our objective. It’s not that we can be healthier if they don’t hurt. I think sore points are our body’s way of saying This needs attention. There is a story here, and it wants to be told. And “this” is not just a point on your leg. “This” is a point on a map – the map which is possibly on a meridian line that runs through the gall bladder and up into the jaw, and that that point of pain is like a little push pin. It’s like a little light blinking, saying: HERE. THIS IS HOW YOU CAN CARE FOR YOURSELF, BY NOTING THIS, BY BEING CURIOUS ABOUT THIS, BY SLOWING DOWN, ASKING FOR HELP AND APPLYING THE INFORMATION YOU RECEIVE.
is when I’m simultaneously reaching for something and smacking myself back for
reaching for it.
I’d like to open up a conversation about talking about pain, talking about our pain with other people. Gosh, where to start? All kinds of feelings of shame and embarrassment come up for me whenever I am telling people these days about the most exciting and the most fascinating project that I’ve been working on, which is correcting my bite, so that my body functions like it was intended to function, and I am not chronically defended or clenched and body parts are not cut off from my awareness. And with some people I can approach the subject more easily. But with other people, they have this reflexive response to the mere mention of pain (you included, maybe). They think it is their responsibility to do something about it, when all I really want is to see if this is anything similar to what they experience. I mention that I’ve had pain and chronic clenching, and for me that is progress – cause for celebration, actually. But they reflexively wince, and apologize for my experience, which they are not in any way responsible for. I am learning about the pain from my childhood and how to put words on it and share my ideas with other people because my numbness is parting (subsiding). I am having moments of feedback from my body which is what I want, which is possibly what you want, too. So what I’m talking about when I say “pain” is not anything approaching suffering. Suffering is akin to victimhood…it’s got an element of powerlessness to it that makes it inescapable, possibly helpless. So for you right now, suffering might be the ongoing barrage of information about how you are not living up to some expectation that you or some other person put on you, or a chronic resistance to the changes that are going on in your world, or a non-acceptance of something that life has offered you (emotions included). Or it is you unknowingly fighting against yourself. So you just suffer (tolerate, and cope in whatever way you can) it.
I am thinking and talking about the pain in my neck or discovering from some therapist or another that this is happening in my body because of something I reflexively did to cope with my emotions as a child, and the last thing I want is to be that person who is obsessing about their pain, wallowing in discomfort – the person who talks about themselves incessantly. But I am longing to share my ideas with other people because this is such a vast topic and I really don’t think I’m the only person doing this, and I think it is incumbent upon us all to take responsibility for bringing our unconscious pain to awareness so we can properly care for ourselves and move past the pain and suffering; to move into the fully-lived embodied present. And we cannot do that alone.
Retreat from Pain
What is pain anyway, but information. It’s upsetting to me when I tell my dentist that my tooth doesn’t feel right. The tooth feels like it is being pushed out, I tell her. I feel frustration when even talking about what’s happening with my tooth because it doesn’t “hurt.” It is holding frustration. It feels like it is being pushed out by my body. When the dentist tries to pin me down for a better explanation, and she goes about tapping it to determine whether it “hurts” or not, I’m just like, “It doesn’t hurt, but if you don’t stop that I AM GOING TO SMACK YOU.” That’s NOT physical pain. It’s a flavor of sensation (frustration? despair?). Nuance. It is information wanting to be acknowledged, to be put into words. Heard.
For me, pain, right now, is information. It is necessary, it is desirable. I want to know about my body.
I notice that when I cop to having sensations I don’t have shame. But when I cop to being in pain or having been in pain for a long time or having chronically tensed muscles (against some numbed-out historical stressor), I’m slipping over into another territory, which people interpret as “suffering” and the moment people do that, I want to just retreat into my solitude because I don’t want to be that person.
Being Vulnerable Has Been Dangerous
So maybe that is why we have healers. Because good healers are naturally curious about the kinds of sensations we are getting because that’s what they work with. That is their medium. And when we talk to other people about our journey with pain (physical or emotional); our experience, and we are reaching for understanding; we are reaching for more information to help us emerge and know ourselves and overcome suffering, it’s scary maybe because being vulnerable has been dangerous for us in the past.
I went to visit my sister Tracy yesterday and while I was at her house I was really grateful to have her in town so I could just go to her house, sit on her bed and do what I wanted to do. Yesterday I pulled my Spanish homework out of my bag and I just started reading. She was on deadline, and she waved me to her room, told me to make myself comfortable. She had a very comfortable bed and she also had some construction going on in her house. I was happy it was not my problem. The landlord and her plumber were there and had the bathroom torn apart. “The toilet is chupandoagua,” I heard one of them say (sucking water). Maybe there is some kind of leak so they told her she can’t use it until it’s fixed. They told her she could go downstairs and use the one in the apartment that is being renovated on the ground level.
I was noticing some feelings: Admiration and also a little envy. Tracy’s house is amazing. She has started to develop some really healthy routines and self-care strategies. She has developed what seem to be some really healthy friendships in her neighborhood and she kind of “lights up” when she talks about them. She brought me some nettle tea, I ate some grapefruit I had packed in my bag, and when she was able to take a break, she invited me to the kitchen so we could prepare some lunch. She was so excited. I noticed that when I was trying to talk to her I was having trouble finding my words. I was stumbling, groping, grasping. Place names. People names. They just weren’t coming. And I wanted to share with her so much. I wanted to be big and social and important like her. And I also noticed that she was very attentive and very (as usual) very good at advocating for herself (a bit differently this time, maybe), but really attuning to me and demonstrating her care and loyalty to me, regardless of my inability to express myself as fluidly as her.
Digesting later, what that experience was like, I noticed some negative thought patterns that come up and tell me that she’s doing it better, that I should be different – that I’m behind. All those things definitely irrational today (relics from her being 6 when I was 2, probably). But they helped me identify the feelings.
When I give such negative thought patterns my time and
attention I can see that I’m exactly where I should be. I have so so so much support: human support,
economic support, emotional support, physical support, divine support. I have what I need and I have permission to
ask for more.
I talk to myself gently: My house is simple and uncluttered because visually I need that. My life is spacious because that is what I’m asking for. My systems are still under construction. I’m still developing systems because my whole structure is rearranging – with my diet – requiring things that are soft to eat. Exploring – feeling my way through that whole process and having extra appointments to support the physical reconstruction and anatomical adjustments that are being made to correct my bite. I’m grateful for exactly where I am right now. There are so many things I’m looking forward to and the project I’m working on right now (which may not look that exciting; that doesn’t vibrate at such a social level), but is mine to do right now: fixing my bite so that I’m not in pain all the time! And that is a project that has an end point to it. I will be completing those physical things – the re-patterning of my muscle memory. The fixing of my molars so that I can eat without pain and the application of my braces so that my teeth actually look like they have been cared for and that I have the means to take care of myself well. And maybe even opening up my avenue of expression so that I can more easily and fluidly and confidently express my thoughts and ideas.
I think about why this was not taken care of before, in the “developed” United States, where I grew up and lived for so long. More feelings. And understanding. Compassion for myself and for my parents. I mean, how could I have taken care of all of this in the US? A single mom with no insurance for dental care? Making barely enough to get by? How could my parents have taken care of this with nine children, aversion to credit and boot-strap values? They couldn’t have. And I couldn’t have while I was raising children either. But that’s another topic. That is what I’m thinking about today.
I feel like I have been following a trail of breadcrumbs to the diagnosis of TMD or Temporomandibular Joint Disorder, which I received with a huge sense of relief in November. I followed one un-ignorable breadcrumb to another: the inability to chew because of pain and sensitivity, months and even years after getting dental work on several molars; developing what seemed like tendonitis in my right arm; chronic, never abating pain in the neck; one chronically constricted muscle along the right margin of my spine; the inability to sit for very long before experiencing back pain; difficulty standing without slumping. My massage therapist and others had mentioned mouth guards, and how well they worked for a lot of people. My chiropractor noticed that the pattern of lock-up I experience seemed to originate somewhere around my right neck/shoulder. My CranioSacral therapist said that there was an irritated nerve in my molar, but that the tooth was healthy enough. An iridologist in Missouri said that there was something significant going on in my jaw/shoulder area. I clearly had a problem. Now the breadcrumbs had finally led me to a solution.
Since I’ve been seeing a specialist recommended by my
dentist, and have been wearing a mouth guard, I have been slowly recognizing
that for many years I had been unconsciously clenching – not just in my jaw,
and jutting it forward, but other places in my body as well. Little by little I bring consciousness to
places in my body where I had been unknowingly tightening my muscles. And I am learning, slowly, how to direct my attention
toward those places with love and care.
And even more slowly, I am learning what it feels like when I am truly
relaxed. As I do, the pain is going away
as if by magic.
I have been instructed to wear my mouth guard night and
day. Wearing it during the night was
helping, but not enough. Dr. Citlali, my
specialist, explained that my jaw is so habituated to being in a forward
position, that I will need some time to train it to be where it is supposed to
be. After having the guard and using it
night and day (when I’m not eating), when I take it out, I notice that my teeth
come together differently. Now it feels
a little odd because it will take a while for me to get used to having it in
the right place after having it forward all these years (maybe +50?).
This makes me think about how that misalignment must have been impacting my teeth. When I was always chewing using my molars in a way that they were not designed to be used, with the jaw jutted forward, they just didn’t line up right, which caused undue wear and tear on them. They served me as best they could under the circumstances, but with time, they wore down, chipped and cracked. Now I understand why I have always needed so much dental work on my molars. Before this treatment is said and done, I’m going to need to raise the height of the molars themselves because form follows function; my teeth have changed to accommodate my jaw movement patterns over time. As a result of my jaw being relaxed and in the right place, many muscles (that I had no idea I was clenching) begin to relax. This one little thing has had an impact throughout my entire body.
The good news is that in response to the treatment (ongoing work with Dr. Citlali via the mouth guard) my body is relaxing and settling into its new normal. I am noticing a ripple effect. My arm (I couldn’t use that arm without pain) is back to normal. My back feels somewhat improved, but it’s all the way back there and I still can’t really tell for sure. The brittle feeling I was having in my feet and ankles is gone, and I sense my feet as newly supple and responsive to the demands I put on them.
With ongoing care scheduled (I have an appointment with the
kinesiologist and two massages with my favorite massage therapist in the next
couple weeks), I hope to bring even more awareness to those places so that my
new normal will be relaxed, stronger and even more resilient than before.
With this kind of care, education and support, I can learn
to notice when I am clenching or drawing in, and anytime I tune in, I will more
easily and automatically be able to return to a healthy, relaxed state.
Through my healing process, I am bringing loving, conscious attention to obviously affected places, and my body in general, and am definitely feeling results. Over the years, my legs did not really seem to be part of me, and it felt precarious to move through life in a fluid and grounded way. By comparison, I can look back at times when it felt as though I was walking on tree stumps. What I experience now is so much more fluid and integrated. Like my right leg – my shins – my heels. They are now parts of me. I walk with more connectedness/awareness, more fully inhabiting my feet and lower legs.
So, the journey continues.
I am super excited about this, and I am interested to see what happens
People ask me what I mean when I say embodiment, and it’s a subtle thing, really. If you are busy all the time, you run the risk of missing it – that is, until you are faced with debilitating pain, chronic aches, or unexplained disorders. But that is really not what I’ve come here to talk about. For me it’s much more fun to talk about what I’m experiencing in this process, which is more like watching grass grow than going to a doctor for a prescription and a more sadly standard cure. My way, of course, is worlds more empowering and fulfilling. There are so many dimensions to what I want to talk about, so it’s hard to know where to begin, and like I said before, it’s subtle but life changing – winding but profound – when you commit yourself to it as a way of life.
Mammals lick their young. Watch a mother lion lick its cub. (skip to minute 4 if you don’t have much time) This activity is nothing like what happens when a stressed-out working mother bathes or otherwise cares for her young. When a mammal in nature cares for her young she is relaxed herself. The motion almost a meditation.
When I was on the roof the other morning, just before sunrise, I thought of her in that warm meditative place, as I rolled an empty olive oil bottle around on the knotted and burning fibers of my muscles and ligaments and attachments, along the length of my lower leg. As the sky had turned from twinkling stars to glimmering-on-the-rim to rosy and then bright, I rested in my quiet place inside. As the hardness of the green glass met the various places on the leg I adjusted my motion so as to appropriately meet each complaint, each whimper, each outcry of rage for having been neglected and taken for granted for so long with not so much as an ounce of consideration for its never failing loyalty and devotion. Imagining the mother, adjusting the pressure of her tongue so as to have the desired effect…the seemingly compulsive motion of the tongue designed to work out the knots, soften the stressed and defended places and render the tiny thing completely undefended…never having to ask for warmth, closeness, connection, or attention to its needs.
Since I took up the practice of bringing the bottle with me to the roof, originally for the purpose of rolling my feet, I notice that I walk on cobblestones a lot easier and with a whole lot more grace and agility. Since I have been working on my quads and lower legs, I have begun to build a relationship with my legs. They tell me where they hurt, but only if I ask. They tell me how much pressure to use, but only if I’m present. They tell me what they want, but only if I’m unhurried. And, despite some old fear that their needs can never be met and that giving them attention will be a colossal mistake, they soften. The pain subsides and I discover more about my legs that I never knew before. No-touch zones turn to touch-with-care zones. Touch-with-care zones turn to burning-like-fire zones. Burning-like-fire zones turn to boy-that-feels-good zones, and on and on it goes.
Along with this relationship I’m building with my legs I am making connections about various parts of my body and how they work together. For example, I had a bodywork session with a German friend (who worked with my shoulder blades, asking me to engage muscles I had no idea I could operate), who left me with an increased ability to – might I say delight in – lowering my shoulder blades, pulling them down against the contracted and chronically tense and indistinguishable muscle mass around my neck and shoulders. With her help, I made some progress, and with the next bodywork session I expect to reclaim another formerly estranged and exiled body part.
I noticed, the other day, a sweet sensation of delight after pulling up some leg warmers over my leggings. A sensation I don’t think I’ve ever noticed before. I wonder in astonishment. How have I gotten to be this age without knowing how the various parts of my body relate to one another in a kinesthetic way? I’ve taken the anatomy classes and I’ve memorized a lot of anatomic terms, but it’s the finding of them in my body that’s always alluded me. It’s the knowing of them sensually that I’ve tragically missed. And in re-membering each one – slowly, tentatively – I understand why I cut them off in the first place. There is so much information stored there!
This morning, for example, tending to my leg, and all those burning sensations, I begin to make connections in my mind. This is about an old story that started when I was 15 or 16. Wanting to run but can’t run, my inner 16-year-old tells me. Wanting to run but can’t run wanting to run but can’t run. My life depends on it, and I can’t run, but needing to run. It burns.
I have not always had the presence of mind, the inclination, the patience or the curiosity to explore that sensation I called pain and shoved aside with disgust. I was stronger than that. No self-respecting person admitted to pain, much less indulged in giving it attention.
But my attention and curiosity turns any pain into an important piece of information I can use to take care of myself. Pain, as it turns out, is not better ignored. It is better used to tend to real needs and real wounds, which with a little care and attention, eventually melt into pure consciousness, connectedness and bliss.
Now I am not afraid of becoming a slave to my old wounds and pain. I stroke and caress. I tease out the knots. I soothe the burning muscles into submission. Now, as I do this, I know that as my body relaxes, as I care for it and become better acquainted with its nooks and crannies, a million tiny connections are made, sending signals to my brain that I am okay, that I am worthy of attention, that I deserve care, that my needs are not too much, and that there is nothing wrong with my body that a little TLC can’t make right.
Three weeks ago I had a Horse Therapy session with Tonya Crady in Festus MO. It took some coaxing for me to do it, but I finally agreed, having been called in many ways to find out more about this mysterious healing modality. This was my chance. I knew Tonya, and I knew she was good people. The therapy itself gave me plenty to chew on, with Tonya’s support in assigning meaning to each of her three beautiful horses and seeing what they did when they encountered me. During the session, Tonya gave me a task to complete and watched how I went about doing it, and took pictures of me throughout the session. She also instructed me to pay attention to the other animals that showed up in my life on the day of the therapy, during the therapy and afterwards. Days after the therapy we went through the pictures she had taken, which told me a whole lot about myself, what I’m up to on a social and emotional level, and a whole lot of other things I could have never learned in traditional psychotherapy. Today I am arriving at some very exciting new realizations about defenses I have used against intimacy and what the Universe is trying to tell me about it.
The therapy session itself was kind of puzzling. Trying to figure out what it all meant, trying to do it “right,” trying to do it efficiently, as my mom was kind enough to wait for me in the car while I did it, circumstances as they were. We were there anyway, she encouraged me to do it, so I did. After it was over, we all got into Tonya’s jeep and she proceeded to drive us back to her house where Mom’s car was. It had gotten quite dark and when we were about halfway to Tonya’s house we all saw the possum with his gleaming eyes staring us down, there in the middle of the road. Tonya slowed down to a crawl in her jeep, assuming that the creature would run and save itself, but when we got to where the animal was, we heard a sickening bump as the vehicle struck the animal. Or did the animal strike the vehicle? Tonya looked at me with an agonized grimace. It had not been her intention to kill the little guy. During the next several days, more dead possums showed up along with Skunk and Armadillo. Armadillo is said to represent armoring as a defense. And Skunk also showed up representing defensiveness. They all showed up as carrion, though.
What I’m coming to believe is that this phase of my life is about living without defenses. The primary defense that was put on the chopping block that night was Possum, followed by Skunk and Armadillo.
Possum freezes, plays dead. His nervous system shuts down so that his predator thinks he’s dead (or gone), and often the predator will lose interest and leave him alone long enough for him to escape. Freezing, playing dead, shutting down until the danger is gone, and then leaving when the coast is clear is exactly what I learned to do, watching my sister Tracy’s attempts at independent thought, questioning authority, or fighting for her rights in the family, which brought a whole lot of noise and resistance from our parents, and sometimes even what seemed to me like violence. It all felt like too much. Individuating seemed like something I, personally, would never be able to pull off, being 4 years younger and so much smaller, so I avoided all that and did my best to get along. I had defenses at my disposal, like stinking up the place with stinging criticism or an unflattering “truth” when the opportunity presented itself or if backed into a corner. And for sure I armored myself to the hilt.
This might explain why I was so shy and felt so generally unsafe to be playful or controversial or vulnerable around groups of people. Instead I was serious and hardworking. I was “the good one.” I listened carefully and did what I could to offer support.
This also might explain why I am affected the way I am when a loved one escapes injury or experiences a close call – with my daughters in particular. While talking to Tracy yesterday I was explaining how when my oldest daughter told me about a close call she’d had, and how thankful she was to be safe, I noticed that the image of the disaster she escaped was still stronger than the information I got with my eyes when I saw her, all intact and smiling afterwards (more than two weeks ago).
I don’t have much in the way of childhood memories, but I get a strong sense that when we were younger, and Tracy was being threatened with violence and when there was a lot of noise and angry discussion going on, I must have been terrified for her safety and mine, and probably dissociated, and didn’t ever quite recover from that. Unlike Tracy, who was duking her way out, knowing what she wanted, and believing that she could cause a ruckus and still have a family and a home afterwards, she moved through the normal cycles of discomfort, vocalizing her discomfort, getting various reactions from our parents; sometimes getting her way and sometimes not. In any case, she didn’t learn that resistance was futile, as I did. She could feel the rewards of her small victories, which at my age probably didn’t make much sense to me, whether it was fighting to be able to listen to a popular radio station, watch a TV program, stay out an hour later with friends or get an allowance.
Through Horse Therapy, I learned that I can get what I want and need, I am way more powerful than I ever imagined, and I have not only adoration, but also support and cooperation from those around me. What is required of me is to believe in my power and worth and ask for what I want.
Here are the other animals that showed up:
The support Tonya received to help her prepare for the session and set the foundation for the session:
Barn Swallows – sun rays and playfulness; showering home with love and protection
Frog – connects us with world of emotions; supports us in time of change
Turtle (with missing foot) – take it slow. Be gentle. Abundant wisdom.
Groundhog – Ability to watch out for danger and move to safety; family, community.
The support I received to help me prepare for the session and set the foundation for the session:
Deer (in a large group with babies) – Sensitivity, intuition, gentleness; fertility
The support I received during the session:
Lightning bugs – Illumination
During the night after the session, I spent some time lying in the bathroom floor with cramps. I processed some old memories about an ongoing trauma from my late teens having to do with my first husband and how our relationship began.
The support I received after the session for processing and release:
Possum – protects itself by dissociating, playing dead, becoming immobile
My old, automatic defenses are useless to me now, they don’t really protect me. I can’t armor myself, cause a big stink or play dead anymore if I want to get what I really want, which is deep and rewarding closeness with other people. I release the need to use these defenses any longer. I allow myself to move through life in my power, using my voice to communicate with others about who I am, what I want, and what I need.
The support I received even later, for processing and release:
The support I received even later, for processing and release:
Pooping Squirrel – Don’t be so serious; have more fun. Release.
Baby bunny – fertility, innocence.
Another important thing to note is that the session was on Saturday, two days after the full moon. Lots of planets were retrograde. We were still in the very powerful activation of release, with a need to slow down and just be where we were. All of this served to kick up what had been in the shadow, so that it could be released.
Animals that have visited since:
Groundhog – watch out for danger, boundaries, and hard work; helps us bring up stuff to work on
More squirrels – fun, playfulness
Cricket – cheerfulness, good luck
Grasshopper – good Luck. Trust your inner voice. Take a leap of faith and jump forward without fear. This has to do with change on a larger scale, and has to do with how you perceive myself. You are taking the right steps to move forward in your current situation. Go ahead and move forward, to get past what is hindering you.
Blue heron – immerse yourself in the world of feelings and look for your own truths. If you only ever look at yourself in a negative frame of mind, you never really understand your true potential or see the opportunities that come your way. Heron tells us that we need to really reflect on our feelings and get to know who we are intimately to find our true calling in life. He tells us to claim responsibility and face the enemy that lives inside us all. Sometimes he wants us to find balance with our truths inside, work on our inner weaknesses and develop the inner strengths we possess so that we really own our spirituality.
Turkey (maybe) – a spirit animal closely associated with honoring nature and the Earth. Symbol of abundance, this totem animal encourages us to honor our sources of nourishment, whether they are physical, emotional or spiritual. The turkey reminds us to develop a harmonious relationship with the land and our environment and consider them as foundations to our well-being and sustenance. The Turkey totem is a powerful guide to unlocking the fullness of life and feeling content with what we have instead of accumulating material belongings to seek happiness.
Cardinal – in this case, cardinal symbolism is reminding you to be clearer with your intentions. Moreover, setting a clear and insightful goal for yourself will accomplish everything you are asking for and more. The key is to focus and set your intentions clearly to expedite matters.
Hummingbird – lightness of being, swiftness, independence, courage, sensitivity, determination, love, beauty, endurance, wisdom, vitality, hope, and enjoyment of life.
Owl – intuition, transition, wisdom, silence, observation, quick wit, independence, power, intelligence, and protection. Prophecy and wisdom.
You can find Tonya Crady here. Drop her a line if you want to set up an appointment.
Mariana is my Spanish teacher, my friend, my translator and now my publisher. Here she describes her publishing house, Ban Pang – Casa de Harina Editorial.
Thanks to Mariana, my book is going to be available to speakers of Spanish anywhere in the world. Being In My Body (Estar en mi Cuerpo) is now available in Spanish as a PDF. Read more about the book here. You can get your copy here. By August 18 it will also be available in paperback!
This past couple days has been so interesting, as I wrestle with my body’s terror about being the center of attention and knee-jerk reactions to staying present in situations where resources are coming from others to me, specifically. It’s really stretching my mind and my understanding and challenges the wiring of my brain. Not always fun, and not always comfortable, but always held in love and gentleness and so much kindness and creativity.
Hope you like my photo collection! Watch for more photos from the shoot which will be appearing on Facebook and other forms of social media over the next couple months. They will make up the launch for Estar En Mi Cuerpo, but they will be professional photographs by Kitzia, who I am sure you are going to love. For those of you who don’t know, Estar En Mi Cuerpo is the Spanish title for Being In My Body, What You Might Not Have Known About Trauma, Dissociation, & The Brain. The other women in the photos are so dear to my heart – my translator, Mariana and her sister, Margarita.