Knowing by slowing…

Body psychotherapy isn’t as odd-sounding as it once was.  People are beginning to understand that the mind and body are not really separate, that there are tissues in the gut, for example, that are much like brain tissue, that emotions are experienced at the body level, and that even those classic “psychological” problems of depression and anxiety are body experiences.   The mind of course is part of them;  the kinds of distorted thinking that we engage in when we are experiencing depression or anxiety can most certainly make things a lot worse.   But I am not sure that the chicken-egg question matters here….I personally don’t care if how you feel affects how you think, or if your thoughts are affecting your emotions.  The point is that things are pretty bad, one way or another, and how can you live more comfortably?

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So it is obvious, I guess, that developing awareness of what you are thinking can make a difference.  You can even change your habits of mind.  You can also change your habits of body, and your habitual ways of responding to situations, and those kinds of changes can be most helpful in trying to cope with symptoms of depression or anxiety.

Self awareness is the key to any kind of change.  You can’t change if you don’t know what you are currently doing.    And the key to self awareness is, for many of us, slowing down.  Slowing our everyday experiences so that there is time for self-reflection, slowing our thinking, so that we can become aware of thoughts as they arise and fade away, slowing our behaviour so that we can become responsive rather than in the perpetual knee-jerk of reaction.

What happens when you slow down?   Just take a moment to notice what happens….without judgment, without struggle, with compassion.   For many of us, slowing down generates negative thoughts (“this is unproductive,”  “I”ll never accomplish anything,”  “Does she think I’m not a busy person?  I don’t have time for this nonsense.”).   For some people, the open space of unstructured time feels uncomfortable, as if you should DO something.   For some, a bit of quiet allows us to feel our exhaustion, the fatigue that comes with forever and forever keeping up a front, being frantically productive and chronically stressed.

But without judgment and with compassion, what is it like for you to take time and space to just be?  What do you notice about yourself?   Who are you, really, when you separate yourself from the story inside your head?

Wherever you are is the place to work.  Notice sensation in the body.  Notice what you notice in your environment;  what are you sensitive to in this moment?  In the next moment?   Notice thoughts as they arise and fade out.   Notice which ones tug hardest on your attention.  Notice more sensations in the body;  try moving, and notice what that is like.   Can you feel the desire to move, the intention to move, before you manifest that intention into action?  Where in your body are you aware of that intention?   How do you KNOW, in your body, that you want to move?

Bioenergetics weekend in Massachusetts, November 2013

The time has come, the walrus said….or no, the flyer actually said, the time is NOW to get the Early Bird Discount on the fall weekend program that NANZIBA is sponsoring.

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Keynote speakers are Diana Guest and Gloria Robbins.  Both of these women have vast experience as bioenergetic therapists and I am looking forward to soaking in their wisdom.

The registration information can be found here:  http://www.nanziba.com/

It looks like a good opportunity for bioenergetic clients, for therapists who want to explore a body-based modality, and of course for bioenergetic therapists to explore the experience of bringing hope into the body.

Don’t forget to sign up NOW to get the best rates.

When do I get to be me? And who is that, anyway?

Having a little time off has given me some time to think and reflect.  Almost always when I take time for that, I end up reflecting on this work that we do together in the therapy room.  It is often profound work, and I am privileged to participate and challenged by what comes up.  So I have been thinking, and reading, about depression and anxiety.

Oak branches in March

Depression and anxiety are in different categories in the DSM IV, that important diagnostic tome that helps us to decide how to categorize “mental illness.”   But if we move away from pathologizing and into humanizing, many of the issues that come through the door of the therapy room have feelings at their core.   Either not feeling enough or feeling too much.  Depression and anxiety can have aspects of both.

Usually in depression, people can’t feel;  they have suppressed or repressed feelings for so long that numbness is a way of being.  But that might only be part of the situation.   Maybe sometimes, people have told themselves a story about what it is okay to feel, and when it is okay to feel that way.

When we feel differently than our story allows, we might experience anxiety.  There is a sense that something is wrong, really wrong.  If, for example, I am angry but my story tells me that I don’t get angry, then obviously something is seriously wrong and I get anxious.   We can get to a place where every time we feel ANYTHING, what we allow into awareness is only anxiety.   So we believe that the world is scary, or that we are scary, or that feeling anything isn’t possible because all we feel is anxious.  When there is part of the self that is not allowed to feel, either by depression (I don’t feel anything) or by anxiety (no matter what I feel it is always interpreted by my body as anxiety), then that part becomes stunted, or at least diminished….the voice of that part isn’t heard.

Could that be you?   Perhaps a whole part of you hasn’t really had time and space to become whatever it is going to become.   Maybe if you only had some time, some space, maybe then you would find this part  that has not yet fully developed.

Credit:  http://robertballew.com/2010/11/making-peace-with-your-body/
Credit: http://robertballew.com/2010/11/making-peace-with-your-body/

What has been waiting for the” right”time…when the chores are finished, or when the kids are grown,or when you’ve lost weight or whatever your particular obstacle is.  What is waiting there inside you? What is the part of you that is whole, perfect,complete just as it is?

When you open up space without judgment, allow just openness and reflection, what comes up?   Could that be a sign pointing to the “real you?”

 

Compassionate curiosity

I had to retrain my inner critic.   I had a critic who was so skillful, so sly, that she could find something wrong with just about everything I thought or did.   And she could present the criticism in such a way that it was clear that it was both 1) true and 2) necessary for me to know how bad I was.

Woohoo!    If I had a person in my life who treated me that way, I doubt that I would have stayed around for coffee.   But I lived with this person in my head for a long, long time.

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One of the side effects of having a strong inner critic is that often the real-life person (me, in my case) is extremely critical of everyone and everything else.   Well, it only makes sense….if that’s what you experience all the time, every day, then perhaps you figure that’s what your response to the rest of the world should be….ought to be…..MUST be.

Oh my gosh, there they are, all three of them in a single sentence….SHOULD, OUGHT, and MUST.   Hmm, my old favorite thought distortion….that there are shoulds, oughts, and musts in the world.   I remember the first time I ever knew that there were other ways to think about things.   An art therapist who was on some committee with me, many years ago, made some laughing comment about “shoulding all over oneself” but that was long before I was introduced to cognitive psychology and I had never heard of such a thing.  But before long, I was able to see that I not only “should” all over myself, but I was continuously “shoulding” all over other people as well.

thanks to http://www.minalhajratwala.com/ a lovely blog about writers, writing, and social media
thanks to http://www.minalhajratwala.com/ a lovely blog about writers, writing, and social media

In some stories, that would have been enough but no, I’m a pretty slow learner, and it took a lot more years, completion of my psychology training (which helped me to be ever more critical), and intensive body psychotherapy before I could start to really recognize the many manifestations of my inner critic.  First I had to detach myself from the messages I had been hearing from myself. And that’s where, finally, the title of this post comes in.

Light and shadow;  can we observe without judging, without labeling?
Light and shadow; can we observe without judging, without labeling?

When I can look at myself without immediate judging (“that’s okay, that’s not okay, I like this, I hate that, I’m doing well, I’m not doing so great”) then I have a chance to see what is really happening in my inner space.   When I can catch a passing thought and see it as a thought, then I can notice….Oh, that was a critical thought.   Hmmm, isn’t that interesting?   When I can have a friendly interest in my own processes, without having to change them, harden against criticism or melt into praise, then I am offering myself compassionate curiosity.

So what happened when I began to observe my own inner critic?  At first I was horrified to hear how much harsh self talk was going on.   Then I realized that some part of me was being highly critical of the critic!   (Yes, check out THAT logic…).  When I realized that the critic was originally a defense, yes, originally something that developed to help me to negotiate a difficult childhood,  then I could bring a bit of compassion to that part of myself.

In my bioenergetic therapy training program, we talked about ways to work with the critic:  our own critics, and the critics that accompanied our clients into the therapy office.  One plan was to figure out ways to off the critic….toss him off a cliff, for example, or trick her into leaving.   I decided to take a softer approach.  I decided to try to befriend my critic, and re-train her.  I wanted to be in charge, so I thought I would approach this situation as if she was an employee who had taken on too much responsibility over the years.

I began a dialog of sorts in my journal, and basically re-wrote the job description.  I thanked my critic for the years of protection, and spent quite a lot of time reflecting on the ways that my strong internal demand for certain behaviour saved me from an angry parent, from dismissal from my graduate program, from neglecting my children despite my fatigue.   Then I just informed her that things were now different.  I was an adult with good habits and didn’t need anyone constantly harping about me.  What I did need, though, was support.

Support is one of those ambiguous terms.  People may mean very different things by that term.  So I did with my critic what I suggest clients do with family members:  I carefully described what I wanted for support.   I wanted, for example, my inner voice to learn to say things like  “Good job on that!” and “You are working hard enough” and “It is okay to take a break.”  Actually, I modeled those kinds of comments on the statements that my therapist offered to me over the years.

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Did it work?  Well, it was a program of change, and, like most changes, time, practice, and consistency have been involved, but yes, it did work.   I have to be vigilant, as I expect most people who have lived with an ornery inner critic for about 45 years would have to be.   But I can recognize my negative self talk, I can notice it without labeling and just say, oh, yes, there it is again.   I wonder if there is something going on that has that critic reverting to old behaviour?  And with that gentle sort of curiosity, I can look deeper without fear of what I might find.

Finding the deep desires of your heart

What is your heart’s desire?  What do you REALLY want?

Thanks to http://www.djrichardsdesign.ca/2011/11/16/hearts-desire/
Thanks to http://www.djrichardsdesign.ca/2011/11/16/hearts-desire/

Notice what happens inside you as you sit with that question.   What is my heart’s desire?  What do I really, really want?  Watch your mind generate all sorts of answers, excuses, plausible reasons not to even consider the question, and perhaps even responses that are socially appropriate.

Maybe you were taught that it is rude to WANT something.  Maybe you had many experiences of disappointment in your wants, to the point that you stopped WANTING.  Or you told yourself you didn’t have any WANTS.   Maybe you are very busy trying to make sure other people get what they WANT, and your own little wants have lost their voices.

Watch your thoughts as you start to consider this question.  Notice if you resist the question itself (“I don’t need to read this stuff.”)  Notice if you reject your ideas about what you might want.   How do we get past the mind’s pattern of criticizing itself?   It is hard to know what you really want if you have an inner critic telling you to shut up all the time.

A beautiful place to sit and ponder
A beautiful place to sit and ponder

Now try an experiment.   Get up on your feet.  Yes, you, right now, on your feet!   Jump up and down a little bit, get your breathing going.    Now hop around on one foot, then the other foot, and maybe even wave your arms around up over your head.    Yes, get silly and move around vigorously, shaking your head, letting your jaw go loose, maybe letting some sound out of your mouth….
“ahhhh,   ooommmmmm,  raaaahhhhhh,    bbbrrrrrrrr…” whatever sounds come out as you are jumping, jogging, shaking, and waving.

Oh, yeah.  Just let ‘er rip!  Let your body move, let your voice come out, get energy flowing all through your body.   It could be a dance, could be cheer-leading, could be gymnastics or calisthenics  whatever works for you, but it needs to be vigorous, free, and energetic.  Yahoo!

Now let your body come back to a still place.  Feel your feet firmly on the ground, feel the breath in your body, notice your heartrate, still elevated, and notice what is happening in your thoughts, in your mind.   And now, just standing there, let your answer come….What do I really, really want?   What is my heart’s desire?

Let go of any judgment, any self-criticism.  What do I want, now that I have let my body start to have its voice?  Just notice what ideas come up for you, and see if you can make note of them without commentary.  What do I want?  What does my heart want most right now?   Nothing is off limits…whatever arises for you, that’s what you want.

And your job is to let it be okay that you want what you want.   That’s all….you can want whatever it is that you want.  Just wanting is a big thing for many of us.  This  exercise is a beginning. Your heart’s desire is there waiting for recognition.

What did you find out when you tried the little experiment?   I wonder what would happen if you did it several days in a row?  Could you get more skillful at letting the body’s truth come out?  Could you start to recognize self-criticism and learn to just let that go?

All I ever wanted…

“All I ever wanted since I arrived here on Earth were the things that turned out to be within reach, the same things I needed as a baby — to go from cold to warm, lonely to held, the vessel to the giver, empty to full. You can change the world with a hot bath, if you sink into it from a place of knowing that you are worth profound care, even when you’re dirty and rattled. Who knew?”

This quote is from an article in the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/14/eating-healthy-habits-how-to-satisfy-your-soul_n_1940936.html) that is an excerpt from Anne Lamott’s new book.

It sure made me think.  To go from cold to warm…from lonely to held….from empty to full.  All body states, all states of being in the body.   We think, and so because we think, we assume that thinking holds the answers or the keys to our well being or our sense of “okayness.”      Thinking is an important tool, for sure.  It is essential for solving problems, and for generating new creations.  But to FEEL okay is a body thing.

 

It is funny, or at least ironic, that we assume that we need to THINK about stuff in order to feel better.  We certainly know that our thinking can make us feel worse.    So we make the logical assumption that we need to think in order to feel better.  But what if that is a false assumption?

Maybe we just need to FEEL in order to feel better.  Maybe we need to get in touch with what our body is experiencing right here and right now.   If I can’t feel what’s going on in my body, then I am out of touch with the largest part of myself.   So when I can’t FEEL, I need to move some energy in my body so that sensation becomes available to consciousness.

Check in right now.  What are you aware of IN YOUR BODY?    If you aren’t feeling all that much, get up, swing your arms around, pick your knees up, one after the other, jog in place, or do a few old-faithful jumping jacks.  Move enough so that your breathing changes.   Then slow your motion until you find a place of stillness, and check in again.  What’s there for you?  Where are you on the cold-to-warm, lonely-to-held, empty-to-full continua?  What is your full experience right in this moment?

 

 

 

Days of darkness

Dawn is easy to find this time of year, in New Brunswick.  It happens so late in the day that most people who are not teenagers are likely to up when the sun appears.   By the same token, the sun sets early, too….earlier and earlier for the next six weeks.   I am grateful to be living here on Atlantic time.  When I lived in Bangor, Maine, on Eastern time (but only a wee bit to the west of here), the sun was effectively gone from the sky well before four pm in latest fall.   It always seems hard to me to go to work in the dark and return from work in the dark;  to have all of the daylight hours taken by work, presumably indoor work.  But when I lived in Maine, that four pm darkness was really hard to take.

 

 

 

We exacerbate the body’s struggle with the dark hours by adding a time change to the situation.   The decision-makers don’t live here.   They live in a more moderate, more temperate, more middle place, one where the length of day doesn’t fluctuate as much with the calendar.   They may also live a more indoor life.   When the light your body lives in is generated artificially, internal processes change.   There are concrete, physiological reasons why people feel better in the summer, at least in this climate, and sun exposure is a part of that.    So as the days grow longer, I get out my therapy lightbox and make sure that most days I get some sunlight or some light from the box.   I notice the ways that we as a society create cultural experiences and values to help us get through this darkness.   I carefully consider what I need and want to support me in feeling well and whole while the darkness feels encompassing.  And I actively try to think positive thoughts about the dark days.

 

What changes do you notice in your body as the days get shorter?

How do you honour the body’s needs?   Are you able to sit back and reflect on what you need during this time of year?

Can you notice the pull of social demands around the holidays and then choose whether and how to join in?  More on that later….

 

 

Retreat!

 

There was something so lovely for me about the bioenergetic retreat at Belcourt Center on Prince Edward Island  this year.  I know it was the last of 24 years worth of retreats.  I know that it was my tenth year to participate.   I expected to feel sad and somewhat bereft about that.  However, I didn’t.  What I noticed was my ability to enjoy the moment had increased.   Instead of looking about me and thinking things like “this is the last time I’ll do this…” I was able to look about me and enjoy the experience.   It wasn’t even particularly heightened by knowing it was the last time.  It was just a lovely opportunity to be present and to stay open to whatever would be coming into my awareness.

 

Retreat:    the word itself suggests going away from something, moving back.  In some ways, I guess, we retreat from the stressors and pressures of our everyday lives to spend time with ourselves, with our inner spirits, with our bodies and our experiences.   I wonder if it is really necessary to go away to do that?

How can I make a retreat for myself without having to head off to Prince Edward Island, or wherever is different from HERE?  Perhaps rather than thinking about what I want to retreat FROM, I could think about what it is I would like to retreat TO…in other words, what am I turning towards in my life?

Retreat can also be a turning toward something….where is this stream going? Where am I going?

 

  • Toward…greater self awareness
  • Toward…equanimity and inner peacefulness
  • Toward…..an ability to be with all of my feelings, no matter how uncomfortable, or how much I would prefer not to experience them, or what my thoughts about them might be
  • Toward….health, relaxation,  and wholeness

Creating space to listen to my inner voice, remembering and committing to my mindfulness practice, eating nourishing food in a nourishing way, embracing relationships with a commitment to be present to whatever comes up….those are ways I can retreat toward my identified goals.    I can try to “retreat” on a daily basis when I sit in the morning, when I take a “mindfulness moment” to be fully present, when I move my body to check in on my inner experience.

It seems possible to make a space for all of that in my everyday life.   What about you?  What would you turn toward in a retreat?   How could you make that happen in your life?  Drop me a note about how you can “retreat” to being more in the world this week.

 

Thanks to Lee Ann McPherson for the stream photo;  to Government of PEI for the lupins, and to an unknown but appreciated photographer for the lovely pile of rounded stones;  inukshuk of sorts.

 

The Body Doesn’t Lie

There is no point in hiding anything because whatever you are hiding is sitting right out there in the open in your body and your behaviour.   Who I am, who anyone is, is not a secret.  Except sometimes from oneself.  And then, I just have to open up to the possibility that I am deluding myself.

That was Number 8 from a previous post on things that I learned in training to become a body psychotherapist.   I have had a number of queries and comments about this one.  It seems to be less clear to readers than some of the other items.

Well, I guess I can understand that.   What I had learned is that we are who we are, all the time and under every circumstance.   We don’t get to hide behind a mask of who we want to be, or who we wish we were.  We don’t get to pretend, not really, that we are someone else.   Well, maybe we can pull it off for a little while, or maybe everyone we interact with is just too busy with their own pretensions to notice.

Reich suggested, a long time ago, that we develop defenses against our anxiety and neuroses that actually end up embodied.  The defenses are psychological (okay, that  was not Reich but Freud and others) but they become embodied.  In other words, part of your body.

For example, some people tend to “do for” other people a lot.  In fact, whenever they are activated (energy gets moving, perhaps due to fear or anger) they do MORE for other people.  They move their anger into a hidden place and clean up after dinner, wash another load of laundry, make a casserole for another neighbor, and ignore their own exhaustion and their irritation, suppressing those sensations in order to “be nice.”  These folks are likely to just sink under the weight of their life struggles, feeling hopeless and despairing.  This is a defense against the feelings that come up with struggle, with interaction, with living.   People with this type of defense may often have constriction in the shoulders, rounded shoulders, collapsed ankles and arches, and a head that tilts forward rather than sitting atop the spine.  Sometimes the upper back will become thickened and rounded.   These body structures are related to the way that the person functions in the world.  This person, rounded, low in energy, will often fall into helplessness when faced with frustration and threat.   (See http://reichandlowentherapy.org/Content/Character/Oral/oral_communicator.html  for more information)

Another person will have a different defense:  instead of curving and collapsing into defeat, he or she may mobilize into action when emotion comes up.  This person might work harder, longer, and try to always, always do his or her very best, no matter what.  This person might struggle particularly with being too close to people, and might keep his or her heart tucked away.  You’ll often see a person with this defense being kind of pulled back in the upper body.  Shoulders will be level or pulled back a bit, the head may be pulled back, and there is a sense of not wanting to get too close.   This person will often have tightness in the diaphragm, and may struggle to soften the body at all.   Anxiety makes him or her tighten up even more, and adhere more closely to the “right” way of doing things.  She finds her defense in a rigid way of looking at the world as well as in rigidifying her body.

We all know a lot about other people without consciously thinking about it.  We react to cues like the above ones without even really realizing that`s what we are doing.    Some people, for example, seem to be repeatedly victimized.  I had a friend once who asked me if she had a sign on her forehead, because she was so often the target of bullying and abuse.   There was something in her energy or in the way that she held her body or something that communicated her vulnerability to predators.   There is no way that those predators were all body psychotherapists!  But they could see or intuit something about this person.  Similarly, we all experience people as trustworthy (or not), as authentic (or not), as a good connection (or not).  Sometimes these differences can be explained by our own history (“She reminds me of my Great Aunt Ida who was a mean old biddy and so I don’t like her.”) but sometimes the input comes from the other person.

So….we have our defenses and they are structured into our bodies.  Here is an example:   my shoulders are typically all bound up, with poor range of motion and frequent bouts of painful tension into my neck.   I have struggled with anger:  pushing it down so I don’t feel it, ignoring it in my body, and forcibly restricting myself from using my fists to express it.  I also tend to have trouble taking things from other people:  taking support, taking help, taking gifts (“Oh, you shouldn’t have…”) and certainly struggle to reach out to grasp something that I want.  When I was a child, I was told by my mother that it was impolite to ask for something that you wanted, and that you should always wait until it was offered and never, NEVER take seconds on any food.   Well, I took that teaching seriously!   And ended up with a body that was structured to NOT reach out to get what I wanted, and to NOT push back or strike out in anger.  Fortunately for me, I was able to work on those defense strategies in therapy and particularly in bioenergetic therapy, and developed awareness and alternatives.  But my defenses will always be my defenses.  That`s what Reich meant by character…our defenses create our character.

Instead, anger driven underground comes out sideways….in a kind of dance that we call passive aggressive.  That’s a topic for another day….but a good one!

Go to zozzle if you like this mug….

It is only when I think I am in control (“Aha!!  She thinks SHE is in control….”) that I delude myself.   When I think that I am aware of myself, that I know what is going on, and that I don’t need to do my bodywork, don’t need to spend time in mindfulness, don’t need to reflect on my life and my process…that’s when I risk self-delusion.  But the body does not lie.

If your body is giving you messages, pay attention!   You don’t  need to run away from your life and live on a secluded mountain top, but you need to attend to what your body is telling you.  If you are not sure whether the message is from your body or is a thought you are having, see if you can let the thought go and just be with the body sensations.   If you start from the body rather than the mind, you’ll be able to see what IS.

And that’s the gist of number eight.

Reflections on learning through therapy

A couple of weekends ago I was privileged to share group supervision with my colleagues from my bioenergetic training group, and International Trainer Louise Frechette.  I had some thoughts prior to this weekend, and a lot of thoughts since then.  I’ll share more of the reflections later but for right now, I want to share a list of things that I learned through my personal therapy and my training.   Those two things are profoundly intertwined.  Bioenergetic training is predicated on doing your own work, for as many years as it takes, and so a lot happens while training.
Anyway, more about that later.  Right now, here are…..Ten Things I Learned In Training to be a Bioenergetic Therapist:

  1.  It is okay to make a mistake.
  2. It is okay to say “I made a mistake.”   Self-deprecation (“Oh, that was dumb…”)  does nothing for me or for anyone else.
  3. If god is watching me making my mistakes, she is certainly cheering me on rather than criticizing me.
  4. I don’t have to know everything.
  5. I do know something.
  6. When I can’t remember that I do know something, I can look again at the body.   The body will remind me of what I know.
  7. Some defenses are useful but only if you know when you are using them, and why.
  8. There is no point in hiding anything because whatever you are hiding is sitting right out there in the open in your body and your behaviour.   Who I am, who anyone is, is not a secret.  Except sometimes from oneself.  And then, I just have to open up to the possibility that I am deluding myself.
  9. I don’t have to do it alone.  In fact, I don’t have to do ANYTHING alone.   I can ask for help, and I can wait until support is available.   Things that are hard, overwhelming, and are too much for me can be challenging, stimulating, and enriching if the time is right, the resources are available, and I have support.
  10. I am just as okay as each of the people who come into my office.  I am just as okay as each of the people who have come into my life.  I am just as okay as my bioenergetic colleagues and my sister trainees.   It is okay to be who I am, and I can extend that welcome to others.

 

Imagine living life as if you are okay.  As if life is okay.  How about that?