Thursday, August 14, 2014

Coming Home: A Body Story

A Spiritual Journey
and the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles
no matter how long
but only by a spiritual journey,
a journey of one inch
very arduous and humbling and joyful
by which we arrive at the ground at our feet
and learn to be at home
Wendell Berry
     I suppose to appreciate where I am I should share where I come from. Where I am now is that I have become a consciously loving occupant of my body listening to it and tending to it with utmost care. This is not where the journey began. In my late teens and early 20's I assaulted my body on almost every front. I was a bulimic with a low point of forcing myself to throw up seven grilled cheese sandwiches I had just binged on. I was a drug user who experimented with almost ALL of the drugs available. I did not honor my body sexually but was pretty promiscuous and finally I got into a violent relationship which culminated with me in the emergency room with a broken face. The slight scar over my left eyebrow is a constant reminder that I had abandoned my body on every front. I technically lived in my body but in no way did I have a relationship with it. My body mind relationship consisted of my mind alternating between numbing out and self bullying.
Today when I think of where I was and where I am I feel it in my body. I feel the compassionate warming in my chest, the relieved relaxing of my shoulders the calm slowing of my breath. I have come home and there are not sufficient words to convey how grateful I am to live in my body now. I  make more choices that nurture and grow my body rather than continually bombarding it with expressions of self loathing. But this has been and still is a long and winding road ...

     My body/mind/spirit healing journey began with a deep spiritual longing that led me to believe in and have relationship with God. This part of the journey needed to grow for about 10 years before the spirit led me to the breath and mind. As a massage therapist spending seven or eight hours a day in silence I knew I needed to find a positive mental focus or I would lose my mind. So I started linking mantra to breath as I worked. For a long time the breath was just linked to quieting the mind, but then one awesome day I began to notice how the breath moved the body. So my first introduction to my body was really just watching it breath. Around this time a wise woman noticed how much I loved my dog and asked me if I would consider applying the same compassion I had for my pet to my body. Those few words were pivotal and powerful.  After a few years of watching my breath it was clearly time to "find" my physical body and I was led to begin with the feet. Finding your feet is so important in so many ways, but I will mention just two. First when you find your feet it grounds you to the earth making you feel a little more solid and resolute and courageous and second when you find your feet you find your present moment. You become present in the here and now. I mean who thinks of their feet in terms of past or future? And it is in an awake present moment that growth occurs.

     I really want to  flesh this out but I want to cover a lot of ground in one page! So, then my foot awareness led me to the realization that I clenched my glutes all the time. It took a few years for them to relax but when they did my low back quit yelling at me. Simultaneously with the "glutes journey" I learned to find my core and began to trust the inner wisdom that lives there. Then my body led me to my jaw. When you unclench your jaw you often quit holding on to so much anger this in turn led me to notice my throat was constricted. This part was a little funny, I thought at first a constricted throat meant I wasn't speaking my truth, but really the truth was I was a lousy listener and once I learned to use my ears my throat softened.

     My journey continued as I spent some time contemplating how many times we are instructed in scripture to not be "stiff necked" and as I learned to relax my neck I noticed a funny correlation with my knees unlocking  Relaxed knee joints are crucial for whole body health, but in body mind language locked knees are a sign of stubbornness and as I unlocked them I became more emotionally flexible. Then my once broken face got my attention. As I learned the relationship that the nervous system has with the facial muscles I began to really apply myself to relaxing my expression and as my brow and cheeks softened anxiety began to leave. When your face is relaxed your body is not a friendly home for anxious thoughts. My spirit has led me to God and to the belief that if you really love God you have to love people and be a light to them. Well, turns out being a light to people begins with upturned lips and a relaxed face. The next steps in my journey are pretty current and on going. I am learning to cooperate with my nervous system. The nervous system is controlled mostly by our breath and our thoughts so a good access point to nervous system control is to cultivate a smooth long even breath. Also it is helpful to notice the effects different thoughts have on your body. Some thoughts harden us and some thoughts soften us. Focus on the softening obviously.
As I learn nervous system regulation I am simultaneously learning to observe the flow of prana in my body. If you vigorously rub your palms together and feel the heat you generated that is prana. But this life force acts much more subtly than that in every cell in our body and as you learn what nourishes your prana and what drains it you learn to live more responsibly in your body.

     This journey is on going and not linear. At times I feel awakened and transformed and other times I think I am back near square one and just want to stuff something in my mouth. But the regard I have for my body has bloomed into a love that will no longer allow numbing.  TKV Desikachar  says, "The West is a bodyless culture" and sadly so many of my numb massage clients and my decades of disassociation support this observation. But it doesn't have to stay this way. As a matter of fact it cannot stay this way. It is time for us to come home. To learn to live in our bodies is certainly the beginning of personal healing and perhaps a road to corporately healing a hurting land. This is why I shared this journey, so that perhaps today you will look down and discover your feet and begin your journey home  Peace on the path....

Monday, August 4, 2014

But Company Doesn't Love Misery

"Do not grieve for the JOY of the Lord is your strength"
Nehemiah 8:10

     Misery is both a defensive shield and an offensive sword. When we wrap ourselves in misery  people who love us both jump to relieve our misery and also refrain from asking us to take on more of lifes unpleasant tasks. Using misery in this way is a sneaky and treacherous activity for so many reasons. But before we explore that side of the misery equation, let's expand on what I mean by misery. You don't have to be a downtrodden English orphan in a Dickensian tale to be miserable,  You can just be applying judgment to peoples actions and not be satisfied with their actions and that is miserable. You can be holding on to strong opinions about "how things should be" and feeling victimized because things aren't going your way and that is miserable. You can have an inflated sense of self that tells you you're entitled to "more" and when that more doesn't come you are miserable. You can be making yourself sick so no one expects much of you and that is miserable. You can be addicted to something numbing in an attempt to avoid pain and that is miserable. On the same hand, you can be in a war torn famine and  disease filled land and NOT be miserable, how is this so? . Misery is really just the attachment to things "being the way we think they should be". A trivial example of this is the combination of three factors in my life, the first that my grandmother repeated the phrase "eat past 10, join dead men" so often it became etched in my mind as truth and the fact that my night owl husband likes to eat late and the third factor is that I like to eat with my husband. By releasing any of  my opinions to how it " should be" sooner I could have saved us both years of misery. But I didn't and now its blog material so not all is lost! But you see, I did not have to believe my grandmothers words if her statement were really true most of Europe would be dead of dinner by now. I did not have to eat with my husband every night I could have left a plate on warm for him. But instead I cloaked my face in misery, usually about 9:45pm, throwing in a few well timed sighs, so hubby would hop to and prepare to eat. Let me say now this was not a useful strategy. Instead of creating the fellowship of a shared meal I was creating a lot of indigestion.

     So, if misery is so powerful why not use it sometimes to prod someone to action? Well, first of all it has a short shelf life and your misery only encourages loving actions in others for so long and then as they become "immune" to your misery you are left alone and even more miserable. We all try to avoid miserable people after awhile and sadly loneliness exacerbates their self inflicted misery. Second, misery never travels alone, rather it brings it's companion emotions of victimhood, self righteousness, and  (the illusion of) control. The victimhood part of it where we hold the illusion that others are causing our misery is so disempowering. I was upset at dinner because I wanted to eat with hubby and at a certain hour. His night owl tendencies weren't the cause of my misery, but rather my attachment to my desires were. Equally dangerous to the disempowerment of victimhood is the hard shell of self righteousness which removes from us the ability to see others fully and make room for them to be a whole and complex person with us. And holding the illusion of control is tantamount to just living a lie. The truth that sets us free also tells us we are not in control.

     Once, we realize that other people really do not have the power to make us miserable but that it is an internal choice, it is important to not turn on ourselves. It is easy to try to compartmentalize our less desirable parts and try to eradicate or silence them. But the internal war this creates is the most miserable state of all. So, its important  know that the part of you that is causing your misery is probably doing so in a misguided attempt to keep you safe. That part of me really didn't want to die from a taco at 10:01PM!  Now it's time to love on that less evolved part of yourself but at the same time not let it be in charge of your actions. you love your toddler, she just doesn't get to run your life. Love it and hug it and put it in a corner of your mind while your inner WiseSelf takes charge. Using misery to try to control life is like punching yourself in the face to try to get someone to notice how pretty you are. They will notice pain and damage, but will they truly see your soul?  Misery is an offensive shield that cracks with only a few blows and a defensive sword that only nicks and annoys but does not cut deeply. It does not have the power to keep us safe and it does not have the power to change others. So maybe it's time to lay down our weapons of  judgment, opinions and control and free our hands to hold some of the deep joy that comes from living an "out of control life"... peace yogis