Saturday, August 23, 2014

Building a life

I love when I find something I wrote a year, or more, prior and can see the ripple of change the writing has instigated in my life.  It's like a stone cast into water.  The stone sinks out of sight, but the water has been displaced, causing a wave of movement outward. 

This happened recently.  I found a piece I'd written shortly after attending a workshop.  Being in the presence of a woman whose writing saved my life twenty plus years ago was like coming home after a very long, difficult journey and finding loved ones gathered with a bountiful meal and a joyful embrace.  Her voice, her presence, her dedication to the creative process, and to women especially, nourished and awakened, soothed and celebrated.  And though I tried to hold onto this energy, it faded, as all things do when not constantly fed.

Or so I thought.

At that workshop I made a vow to honor the path of all people, within my reach.  To encourage and support internal wisdom of self and others.  In the writing after the workshop I spelled out what that looks like for me.  And in finding the writing two days ago, I realized much of what I wrote has come to pass or is currently in the works.  Even more so, it gave me direction when I was feeling a little lost this week.


The prompt for this writing was: If I could live the life I want, how would I live?

If I were to live my life the way I want to, I would get up in the morning and ease into my day (most days).  I would either go to the gym or run or swim each morning.  Then I would have breakfast and do some writing.  I would write about living soulfully, giving generously, offering your gifts and talents and service with a whole heart, because that is all there is really.

Originally, September 30, 2013, the rest of these statements read “I would”, I would write…  Today is August 21, 2014, almost a year after the original writing.  It occurs to me, these are the steps to creating my new life.  So I have changed the “I woulds” to current tense, I write…and wow!

I write about art and about women and creativity.  I write about the birthing process – both art and babies.

I do healing work – of the body and mind and spirit.  I teach people how to listen to and care for their bodies.  How to let go of trauma.  How to free the body.

I practice yoga.

I cook and learn new recipes.

I garden and grow vegetables, herbs and flowers to be used in both the kitchen and the treatment room.

I travel to see my kids and my family.  I love them openly and completely.  I nurture my relationships. 

I travel to Europe, to Italy and France and Spain. 

I help build beautiful spas around the world, creating concepts and treatment menus that reflect the area and the culture.  I consult with spa directors on building a healthy spa culture.

I assist new mothers in making choices that support them and the baby and their family.  I empower women to be who they are, know what they want, listen to their internal guidance, and trust they know the way.

I teach young women the feminine process, the creative process.  I empower them to follow their own true path, even when it appears foolish to their family, or friends, or to themselves.  I am the medicine woman for my people – the scar clan, the women who face struggle and keep going.  Who love their art so passionately they will do it in small spaces and behind closed doors.  They will give voice to the child spirit who sings with innocence, loves with abandon, and rests in the bosom of the soul. 

I do not let others tell me I am not enough.  I do not settle for places that make me small.  I give voice to the power of the True and wondrous.  Shout from the rooftops that Creator is alive and well in me.  I walk humbly and easily among wealth and poverty, for I am not afraid to shine my light where I am needed. 

I write about women who matter, men who matter, children who matter.  I sit with the pain of loss, of fear, and of exhaustion.  I reach out and hold the hand of those who think they can go no further.  I bring hope and love to the lost, to the dying, to the fearful.

And I do not look back on my life as a failure, but as a journey that took me through addiction, recovery, lessons, joys, awakenings, challenges.  I use the pain of my story to sit with others in similar pain.  I rejoice with the celebrations of living, of getting up to do one more day, hoping one more hope, praying one more prayer.  I am confident with my family, for I know the young ones watch.  They pay attention, they know.

This is how I live my life going forward.  Say the truth, live in my soul.  Share wherever I can.

If you were to live the life you want, how would you live?

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Making Connection

A client told me this week, "You seem to know exactly what my body needs.  How is that possible?"
I told her, "Massage is very much like a dance.  I make connection and your body opens to receive.  If I am paying attention to your body's response, I will adjust pressure, pace, and focus in sync with you.  So we dance, we move, we breathe together." 
Sometimes, massage is an introduction to the body-mind feedback loop, one in which the therapist plays the part of compassionate facilitator.  Through touch, we become aware of our body in a new way, maybe for the first time.  We are in our body. 
So what does that mean, to be in your body?
Being in your body means being present in this moment, aware of the space you fill, aware of yourself in relation to your surroundings and to others in your vicinity, and engaged in the current situation.  So in the case of my massage client, she was in her body.  And she felt the connection.
Once you feel this connection in your body, it is difficult to forget.  And, like anything else, maintaining the feeling of connectedness takes practice.  Some activities to help you maintain connection are:
  • Breath Awareness
  • Walking barefoot 
  • Yoga
  • Massage
  • Dance
Really any activity that is performed with your full presence activates the connection in your body.  You engage the body-mind feedback loop.  And in doing so, you open yourself to personal wisdom, internal guidance, and the opportunity to heal.


Monday, July 28, 2014

Body-Mind Feedback Loop

We've been exploring how the body offers wisdom, insight, connection.  As we become aware of the body's road map, subtle shifts may occur.  For instance, we may notice our breath is shallow as we are driving in traffic.  Or we may notice we are slouching at the computer.  These are examples of the bodymind feedback loop, informing through discomfort, pain, or other sensation.  Tuning in, listening, becoming aware, allow us to consciously make changes - relax our shoulders, breathe deeper and slower - which, in turn alleviates the discomfort.

As a massage therapist, I see the effects of poor posture, repetitive-use discomfort, chronically held tissues, and injuries due to ineffective feedback loops.  We are distracted.  We "push through the pain."  We numb our senses.  Our bodies are talking to us and we either don't hear, or we choose not to heed the message.  And then we wonder, usually down the road a bit, but sometimes more quickly, why we're hurting.

I've been discussing physical cues in the bodymind feedback loop.  But what about emotional cues? 

Our emotions are responses to stimuli - both external and internal - with psychophysiological, biological, and cognitive components.  Emotions influence behaviors and vice verse.  Emotions play a part in every experience, with or without our conscious awareness.

Much like the body's cues, emotional cues are rich with personal insight.  Let's try a simple experiment.

Get comfortable in your chair and take a few deep relaxed breaths.  Maybe roll your head gently side to side to relax your shoulders.

Now read the word: H A P P Y.

Say the word H A P P Y aloud and notice any sensation in your body. 

Notice any thoughts or memories that appear. 

Now breathe a few relaxed breaths.  Write down your observations.

For me, the word H A P P Y, lifts my eyebrows slightly, and raises my cheeks slightly at the corners of my mouth.  I have a sense of elevated mood.  These are subtle, but definite cues.

If I take this a step further, I sense warmth in my chest and see the color yellow, like a sunny veranda appear in my mind's eye. 

Emotional cues may fill in some of the picture that our physical cues draw.  For example, I am experiencing a tightening in my neck, causing my shoulders to raise towards my ears.  When I tune into this area, I am aware of shortened breath, a constriction of air, and slight anxiety.  I can be pretty sure that the tension in my neck is related to the constriction of breath, and the anxiety.  Now what do I do with this information?

My next post will explore pathways of using the bodymind feedback loop to begin healing and to deepen awareness.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Body-Mind: Exploring the Breath

My previous blog post took you through a brief body-mind awareness exercise.  It was an introduction to a deeper level of perception.    You may have noticed sensation, pain, shifts in breath, blocks, or any number of thoughts or feelings as you participated in the exercise.  Try the same exercise with another area of your body and notice what is similar, what is different.  Perhaps during the time since you first did the awareness exercise, your awareness of your feet spontaneously came to mind.  This is what happens when we start to look, listen, and observe.  We notice all kinds of things that previously went unnoticed.


Practicing body-mind awareness helps us “tune in” to our own experience, to our body, to our thoughts and feelings, and to our relationship to our surroundings.  It gives internal knowledge of our own experience.   This is wisdom in its purest sense – knowledge gained through experience.    And who better to be the expert of you, than you?


Let’s take a moment to tune in.  This time, as you breathe in, follow your breath into your body, into your lungs.  Does the breath enter through your nose?  Through your mouth?  Both? Is the exhalation the same?


Breathe in again and notice where your breath goes.  How far does the breath go in?  Is the pathway open and clear?  Or is the air restricted anywhere?  As you exhale, what do you notice? 


Allow yourself to just observe your breath in, and out for several cycles. 

Jot down your observations.  Remember to include sensations, thoughts, feelings, memories.


Next week, we’ll explore the use of intention with the body-mind.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Body-Mind: An Introduction

Our minds are constantly processing, evaluating, decision-making.  Our bodies function, for the most part, without much conscious thought.  So what happens when we bring our conscious awareness to the body? 

I’d like to offer a little experiment to explore the concept of body-mind connection: 

Take a moment to get comfortable in your chair.  

Place both feet on the floor and relax your shoulders.

Now take three relaxed breaths.

When I say the word feet, what is the first thought that comes to mind? You can make a mental note, or jot down notes.

Got it?

Now take three relaxed breaths again.

This time you will bring your awareness into your body and down into your feet…all the way to the soles of your feet.  You may want to close your eyes to do this.  What do you notice?  What is the sensation?  Stay with it for a few moments, breathing and “checking-in” with your feet.

Write down your experience.  How is this different than hearing/reading the word, feet?

Let’s take it one step further.

Holding awareness with your feet, stand up and walk around the room. 
What do you notice in your body as you add movement? 

Complete the exercise with three relaxed breaths.

Welcome to the body-mind - the awareness of a completely personal experience, your internal source of feedback.  It includes your whole life's experience in the present moment.  And you can access it simply by checking in.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Wag the tail

I started this project in my head on the way to work at a job that I was desperately ready to leave.  I had given intent to leave and agreed to stay on while they searched for my replacement.  I found this both a relief and a burden, as what I wanted, no, what I needed, was to find breathing room, recoup and heal from the wounds of living in a world that demanded more, more, more while offering little recompense. 

A move to Texas to be with my daughter as she gave birth to my first grandchild a few short years ago blessed me with a beautiful experience, one I could not have imagined.  At the same time, the job that got me there turned out to be a lesson in humility.  And with dwindling savings, I sought work in the same field, feeling deep down I needed something different.  I accepted a position in California, which meant another cross-country move, away from my daughter and my new grandchild.  Four months in Texas...sounds like a country song. 

I moved back to Southern California, closer to a man who had watched me leave, had been hurt by my departure, but was willing to open himself once again to our possibility.  My job was a 65 mile commute – each way.  I bravely set out to make this work.  I was exhausted within a few short weeks.  We moved to Irvine so I could take the train.  I would be a train commuter.  It worked for a while. 
I was stressed at work, knowing I had a train to catch.  He had worked his schedule around my train schedule, so if I missed the train, he also missed appointments.  And then there were days when I had to drive so I could have my car.  Southern California traffic on the 5, with a border patrol checkpoint hallway home made for a long drive after a long day of work.  I felt my soul being sucked dry and the replacement was anger, bitterness, resentment, and negativity.

I registered for a workshop with Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes in Colorado.  I had used her book, "Women Who Run with the Wolves" for years as a reference and bible.  The workshop changed me.  I was warmed and opened and loved in the presence of women just like me.  Women who longed for a life of fulfillment and depth and connection.  We sat with this teacher who loves full throttle, laughs from the belly, and speaks in a voice so clear, so true.  It was like coming home, to a home I have only had glimpses of.  Home, a place of rest and recuperation, safety and healing.  It had been so long since I felt that open and free!  My heart pumped this new blood into my veins, full of possibility.  When I say new blood coursed through me, I mean I felt an urgency and necessity to live differently, to fulfill a calling deep and dangerous.  I left the workshop prepared to forge into this new life, without knowing what it was or how to get there.

I again put my resume out there, looking for new work.  I listened to audio-recordings of Dr. Estes’ other works on my commute to and from work.  It kept the energy alive.  I just knew I was moving forward, that something wonderful was coming.  And when it didn’t fall into my lap, I became bitter again.  I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing for much longer.  I had lost motivation.  And my lack of interest tainted my environment at work.  I had become one of those disengaged, disillusioned people I had seen for years in jobs they hated, but felt they couldn’t leave because of the responsibility to family, or financial obligation, or appearance to others.  Stuck.

One day my boss called me into his office to discuss my lackluster performance.  In the midst of this conversation, he asked me if my heart was still in the game.  I told the truth.  What a relief!  We agreed that I would stay on while they looked for my replacement.  This is probably the most civilized interaction regarding ending a relationship, work or otherwise, I’ve ever encountered. 

This brings me full circle to why I am sitting here this morning writing.  At the workshop in September, we did ceremony surrounding forgiveness.  And in this ceremony, we made a vow to act on this forgiveness.   My vow is to honor the path of all people within my reach, to encourage listening to internal wisdom and to trust and listen to my own internal wisdom.  It is to this vow I now write. 

My hope is to offer wisdom from walking this path.  I do not have all the answers.  I have not walked this earth with grace or dignity at all times.  I have worked hard and I have fallen hard.  I have gotten up time and time again, many times with the help of loving family and friends and teachers, sometimes with the single voice inside that calls deeply and with clarity.

I do not have a one-size-fits-all method of healing or a guaranty or a plan that will spell it all out for you.  What I have is heart and a desire to help others heal.  I have the ability to sit with your pain and not run away.  To see and hear the unlovely and find grace in it.  We spend so much time shoving down or pushing away that which we fear, loathe, or are ashamed of.  So much time in fact that some of us live a lifetime in the preservation of face without ever letting go.  We can’t live fully because our unruly tail might slip out from beneath our well-pressed skirts.  I say, “wag the tail honey!”