Left and Right Hemispheres of the Brain

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

Right Hemisphere

Left Hemisphere

Sensitivity to suffering

Attending to what is going on

in the relational realm

In the present moment

(what’s happening between us?)

Staying with the unfolding process

EMERGENCE

DEEP CONNECTION

(with nature and/or with another)

DEEP WARMTH

BOTH – AND

Can handle PARADOX

Values Individuality, Uniqueness, Connection

WE

Meaning > Happiness

Offers distance from emotions

Provides Stability/Steadiness

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

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

TASK > RELATIONSHIPS

Can provide WISDOM

(Why does this make complete sense?)

EITHER – OR

Values JUDGMENT

Creates Protocols and Frameworks

I

Thinks everything will turn out okay

(but there is an underlying paranoia)

There is no meaning

(except for what I WANT)

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

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

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

Slowing Way Down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Winter Update 2016

As many of you already know, I came to Mexico not just to travel and learn Spanish, but because I wanted time and space to process.  I wanted to have time to heal, to recuperate, to connect with myself.  I learned after I got here that I am also here because when I was in close proximity with my family I had a hard time maintaining my personal boundaries, and from this distance I actually have enough boundary (distance) to begin to know who I am, how I differ from those I love, and which feelings are actually mine.  It has taken me being here and them there for me to do that.

This Thanksgiving/Christmas I am here by myself, and though it feels weird to be here when all my family is there, and I have no plans to go back until spring, it feels exactly right.  I am doing a tremendous amount of emotional work, I feel incredible support, and I am grateful for this time to redefine myself in terms of my personal life, the way I work, and my evolving professional identity based on this growth.

The work I am doing is multifaceted and deep, and is absolutely blowing my mind.  Developmentally, I feel that I am finally completing my individuation process (that under the best of circumstances is largely completed by age 3, with a blessed make-up period at age 14).  At 52, I’m thrilled to finally be feeling the reality of this–what the Weinholds call psychological birth (with which comes a much stronger sense of a durable boundaried self).

This transformation process isn’t just something I woke up one morning and decided to do.  It’s an assignment that’s been shown to me and told to me in so many ways from mentors and way-showers, my own dreams and intuitions, and from just watching the patters of my life and following my guidance from day to day.  It involves a lot of not knowing, and that can be uncomfortable.  And it involves breaking out of old patterns, which is also uncomfortable.  It involves a lot of being with myself, which I actually can’t get enough of, and it has also involved being with others in new ways, which can be uncomfortable, but I’m willing–stretching myself, and eager to grow into this new, more embodied skin I’m stepping into.  I’m making progress in releasing control over outcomes, and my intention is to be more guidable by the forces of nature that are wiser and greater than my mind.  Notice that the photos I include below are upside down.  I decided that I was not going to be perfectionistic about this and left them upside down because today I’m not in the mood to troubleshoot that.  Progress!!

One of the ideas I’m currently developing I got from the Weinholds.  It has to do with the Drama Triangle I talked about a few blog entries back.  It also fits nicely with the section of Being In My Body that deals with self abuse (in the Violence and Abuse section of Chapter 5 – Healthy Adult Intimacy).

persecutor-diagram

rescuer-diagram

victim-diagram

What I am now noticing in my own processes, and the processes of my new clients, is a version of the Drama Triangle (DT) that is played out inside one person’s head.  The Weinhold book, How to Break Free of the Drama Triangle and Victim Consciousness deals primarily with the DT being played out in families, communities, and between nations, where it is so prevalent and so confusing.  When this chaos plays out inside one person’s head it can be even more so because it’s hard to see who is playing which role, and roles can quickly switch from one to another, which makes it all impossible to decipher without appropriate support.

Another idea I’ve been thinking about (also compliments of the time I spent in Colorado with the Colorado Institute for Conflict Resolution and Creative Leadership) has to do with Surrender, one of the key features of many spiritual disciplines. The way the Weinholds explain it, Surrender has a masculine essence and a feminine essence.  The masculine essence is our willingness to take charge of our lives without guilt or shame.  The feminine essence is our willingness to receive without resistance or judgment.  I am seeing how these two sides of Surrender play out in virtually every aspect of connecting, whether it’s between two people, or the parts inside an unintegrated mind, what I refer to in my book as the fragmented self.  There is so much to learn here as I play with this idea of Surrender, superimposed on the Drama Triangle.

What happens for me, personally, is that with these tools I can more easily recognize internal abuse when it begins to happen.  As is usually the case with my practice, new clients have been coming in with questions that invite me to expand to better meet their needs–which mirror mine in many ways.  Together we are cultivating different kinds of alliances that are better suited to meet our more refined needs.  What it feels like I’m developing is a fairly reliable well-balanced Inner Marriage that makes both Masculine and Feminine contributions to my day-to-day, moment-to-moment movement in the world.  And of course all of this is built on my new level of commitment to staying fully embodied.

I am immersed in ideas that are begging me to develop them, and I’m doing my best to keep up.  They include collaborations with other people, where we’ll have a chance to play with sharing leadership, and of course I continue to privately explore, write and follow my muses.  My attention returns again and again to such ideas as pleasure and play, healing touch, expressive movement and so much more.

Thank you for your interest.  I’d love to hear what you think or what you’d like.


Stay Tuned for my online course: Learning to Parent Your Tender Vulnerable Self: Getting Off The Internal Drama Triangle for Good

 I’ve been working on an Online Course based on the Drama Triangle and how it can play out inside us (with the different parts of the triangle represented by different parts of us in our minds: The Victim, The Rescuer & The Persecutor).  This online course will break the Drama Triangle down into simple terms so that it can be more easily understood and applied in order to stop inner abuse and self sabotage in its tracks.

During the course, participants will learn how to replace the Drama Triangle with its magical counterpart, the Empowerment Dynamic, to help overcome early relational trauma.  They will also gain a framework for better knowing when and how to trust themselves, which naturally impacts knowing when and how to safely trust other people.

I’d like for this course to provide the container for an online community where participants support each other in their process of becoming empowered and taking charge of their lives without guilt or shame and receiving their hearts desires without resistance or judgment. The class will include a series of lessons, visual diagrams, lectures, assignments, a sharing forum, one or more individual Skype session(s) and other materials to supplement learning, facilitate sharing, and deep, safe and lasting connections.

Look for it in early 2017.

Wake Up!

An important point of inspiration  for me is music.  I have yet to find better music to shift my mood or raise my vibration than that of Trina Brunk.  I highly encourage you to check out her albums and/or subscribe to her channel.  This morning, this song struck me in a new way.  It felt as though the angels were singing it to me, and my heart was open to hear it in a new way.

Here’s how it goes:

Life is calling your name.
Wake up!
Love is driving you sane.
Wake Up!
From your sorrow and slumber.
Wake Up!
Because life has our number.
Wake Up!

Right Now. Dive In              It'stime. Love is now.
Begin to wake up.               You are mine. Wake up.

To the dream in yor heart.
Wake up.
It's not too late to start.
Wake up!
I am calling to you.
Wake up!
You've got gifts coming through you.
So open the way, today.
Open your eyes, you are wise.
Play a part.
Open up your heart.

Thank you Trina.  I love you.

 

Learning to Mother and Father Myself

On the roof this morning I was reconnecting with myself after a day of feeling overwhelmed and ungrounded much of the day, yesterday. First thing I did this morning was write a list of things that I feel like all have to be done RIGHT NOW (which helped – they don’t). And while I was doing my stretches on the roof, with a tiny peek of the now-just-waning full moon to the west (we’ve been in full cloud cover for the past week), and the splendid sunrise to the east, I had a series of “downloads” from my guides and muses – you might call them inspiration (I keep my iPhone up there so I can listen to Trina Brunk, doesn’t matter how many times).  I e-mailed those “downloads” to myself so I wouldn’t lose them (technology can be so amazing when we use it consciously).

I cherish these nuggets of inspiration, and know that they will sit patiently in my Hotmail inbox until I can get to them. One of the downloads I got came from the realization (again) that I am fully supported, that I have all the time I need, and that when I feel overwhelmed, I can stop and parent myself. Feeling overwhelmed is actually a message from my younger self that I need some care and attention. I sometimes need to be reminded that I am held in loving arms. What occurred to me is that I could easily go back and re-read letters I had written to myself after a “playshop retreat” created by my sisters (Tami and Trina).

I’ll share the letters with you here. They are from my Inner Masculine and Inner Feminine.


From My Inner Masculine:

June 2013: My Dearest Toni,

I am so sorry I have not been fully here for you during the first part of your life. It has truly been my loss and I would like to reconnect now. I understand, now, how much I adore and appreciate you. I give you permission, now, to be all you came here to be, to be a woman in all senses of the word – to experience the joy of physical pleasure. Toni, you are the master of your experience and it is yours to explore pleasure and find what gives you joy and fulfillment. Go ahead. Take those steps. I will be here to support you if you’re not sure at first. I am here. I will continue to be here, whatever direction you decide to go. You will not disappoint me. I promise you this. Trust yourself. Your instincts are good. Your judgment, your discernment can be trusted. I am so proud of you, and excited about this work you are about to do.

I love you. You deserve deep satisfaction, contentment, and the fulfilment of your heart’s desires. You are good. You are pure. You are kind. You are enough.

Go forward. Be yourself.

Your Inner Masculine.


From My Inner Feminine:

June 2013

My Beloved Toni,

I adore you. You are a child of God. I give you permission to be all you came here to be. Take your time. Take all the time you need. I am strong enough to nurture you, while you explore who you are and what you will do next and next and next. How precious you are to me. I can’t wait to see what you next discover about yourself, your strengths, your yet unexplored gifts and qualities and potentials. I give you permission and my blessing to indulge in pleasure, to explore the world, inner and outer, to be great, to be vulnerable, to be playful, to be a beginner – to be exactly who you are now. I am holding this space and time for you while you do this very important work. Go ahead. Let yourself feel your emotions. It is safe to be in your body now. Listen to what it tells you. I will offer you guidance and direction through your sensory experience and I encourage you to enter the full expression of your deepest self, from this moment onward. You are enough. You are so precious to me. I love you so.

I will be here for you always.

Your Inner Feminine

Now Available!

web-page-bimb

Being In My Body is now available at Amazon.com

You can also get it at CreateSpace

I am in the process of scheduling a book tour for the spring, and speaking/training events for 2017.  If you’d like to get on the calendar, please e-mail me at:

e-mail address

Here’s what readers are saying about Being In My Body

“Toni has gifted us with a readable and rich handbook on how to deal with trauma. She carefully weaves well-researched information with examples and healing techniques. Toni stays with you as you read and you can feel her compassion coming through.”

David Richo, PhD: Author of When the Past is Present (Shambhala)

“Being In My Body is a testimony both to Toni Rahman’s personal work and her professional and clinical skills.  This book is not only easy to read and understand, but interesting and informative.

“Toni does an excellent job of explaining the different kinds of trauma, which is an important contribution to field of traumatology.

“I found myself feeling comfortable in my own body as I read her book, which told me that she was in HER body as she was writing it.

“Most of all, I appreciate Toni’s open-hearted writing style, and her compassionate approach towards herself, her family, her clients and her readers.”

Janae B. Weinhold, PhD LPC, Co-author of Developmental Trauma: The Game Changer in the Mental Health Profession, Counterdependency: The Flight From Intimacy & Breaking Free of the Codependency Trap

“Toni presents a unique and well-thought-out perspective on healing from trauma and attachment disorders. As a couple therapist whose business it is to put the dyad first, I nonetheless respect the importance she gives to individual healing. Toni offers a comprehensive primer on some of the key concepts for healing that are derived from neuroscience, attachment theory, and somatization/embodiment. And she brilliantly puts them together in a way that creates more than the sum of the whole.”

Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT is a clinician and teacher; he developed A Psychobiological Approach to Couple Therapy® (PACT), which integrates attachment theory, developmental neuroscience, and arousal regulation, and founded the PACT Institute.

Being In My Body offers a way for us to integrate with our bodies, not just to discover historic trauma, but also to obtain daily awareness of what is going on in our lives.  It seems so obvious, but we completely ignore our bodies instead of listening to them.”

“I feel like your book reached me in many different ways. So it was really a privilege to live with it over the last few weeks. I don’t think I’ll ever feel the same about or deal with my body in quite the same way (not that I disliked my body). It has opened new avenues for me to reconsider how I work with my body and perhaps bring out in the open locked memories and finally release them. Definitely serendipity for me at this time.”

– Stephanie Brooks, Business Manager, MSSD

“Being In My Body is a beautiful synthesis of powerful teachings, practices, and stories that have helped me tremendously in my still-unfolding journey towards greater self-understanding, self-acceptance, and embodiment. Toni Rahman has helped me understand the ways in which I experienced developmental trauma, how it has impacted me, and perhaps most importantly, what I can do about it in the present moment. This book has left me feeling empowered, supported, and deeply understood.  I have read many books that touch on these topics and themes, and what I found most unique about this book was Toni’s willingness to be vulnerable and open with her readers. As I read Being In My Body, I felt like I was being accompanied through difficult terrain by a gentle guide who was willing to share her own journey in the hopes that it would help others along on theirs. In my case, it certainly has, and I hope that many others will benefit as well.”

– Megan Farmer, Postgraduate Psychology Student, Calif.

Earthing (Grounding)

Remembering who my Mother is.  My human mother is not my source.  All things we need to nourish our physical bodies come from the earth, and they are abundant and available to us.  Remembering that my Father is unconditional love, support, guidance and abundance, available to me from the heavens, just because I am.


Going for meditation on the roof had so many rewards for me today.  I saw two morning stars before sunrise (Mercury and Mars), and before returning to my workday, I downloaded a to-do list from my angels.  You can read the grounding meditation I did today before doing my regular stretches and tai chi here: contacting-planet-earth.  While doing the exercise, I realized that I have been challenged on so many occasions when it came to breath work, and direction of breath, and timing of breath.  This has repeatedly come up when I’m trying to get coaching, or expanding my body awareness.  I always get mixed up and am breathing out when I should be breathing in and vice versa.  This morning it occurred to me why.

I have been working on releasing an old intergenerational pattern I inherited from my maternal line: the direction of energy flows in reverse, from the child to the parent, instead of the other way around.  This switcharoo is a huge boundary violation as it is a violation of one of the most basic laws of nature.  I identified it and felt a lot of feelings about it when I was a young adult.  Sadly, I am now learning that it did not stop with me, as I had intended.

What came to me today in this grounding meditation was so interesting.  Through it, I am learning to work with my breath to correct this deeply ingrained and habitual reversal.  As I do so, I will watch what else changes in my life.

As with any habit, that is practically as old as I am, it takes time and dedication and persistence to overcome it.  I intend to overcome this in myself at a physical, spiritual and psychological level, and in so doing at least reduce its damaging impact on me, my children and grandchildren.

My old pattern: When I breathe in, I have this sense that I am breathing up, that my energy goes up.  In a healthy, perfectly functioning body, however, according to ancient energy theories, there is a subtle energy that moves from the top of the head down the spine to the tailbone on the inhale.  In correcting my reversal, I can easily think of all the love and support and guidance and abundance I consciously know about, from “father sky.”  I can allow it in, feeling so abundantly supported and loved, just because I am.

The trick is in reversing what I’ve been doing for so many years, which is to start the breath from my solar plexus and allow it to move up through my chest and my throat.  Next, the exhale: The subtle energy returns from the base of the spine to the top of the head.  Up and out come all things I no longer need.  And I can release them with my breath in a puff.  Any time you get the urge to complain, take a deep breath and then release this complaining energy up through your spine to the top of your head (instead of dumping it on someone you care about in attempts to connect with them).  This is another way of “giving it to God,” who is quite capable of and happy to take care of it for you.

The other thing that connected for me during my mediation is that I have habitually walked very heavily on my heels.  In a recent bodywork session I heard, “You are afraid of the future.”  I responded very confidently that this wasn’t so, but my therapist said, “That’s not what your heels say.”

In this meditation, we are instructed to balance the weight of our bodies evenly between the heels, the balls and the toes of the feet.  And in doing this, I became aware of how different it feels to be more balanced front to back.  Here is what Deb Shapiro, in her book, Your Body Speaks Your Mind, says about this:

“Digging your heels in implies that you are holding on tight to reality, your stubbornness indicating a fear of change.  Your feet indicate how you feel about where you are going.”

Contact me via e-mail if you’d like me to send you the recorded version of this meditation.  It is less than three minutes long.  Again, here it is in a Word document: contacting-planet-earth

Becoming Embodied, One Ache at a Time

Bringing my spirit back into my body.

That is what I’m about.

Those places that let me hear from them

Are God’s voice, calling me back where I belong.

 

So yesterday I started to notice a real achiness in my lower left back–in my ribcage when I turned my body in a particular way.  Oh no.  Now what? was my initial response.  What’s wrong now?  Why me?  I quickly ruled out travel.  I’d actually made a very long journey, but it had been kind and it had been a couple days since I had arrived home safe and sound.  I went to bed hoping that it would be gone in the morning.

No such luck.  So I made tai chi and my date with my beloved on the roof a priority.  First thing, I was on the roof with my tea in hand.  No gorgeous sunrise, though.  Not even visible stars, with Hurricane Matthew roaring off in the east somewhere.  As I listened to Trina Brunk on my iPhone, I heard her words and they penetrated my soul, opened my heart.

Remembering that my task is to live what I ask others to do, I brought my awareness to my ribcage.  Tight.  Frightened.  Abandoned.

And I realized that as my spirit enters my body, it may need to do so little by little.  And that is what is happening here, though without realizing it, I had been resisting it out of fear.

And so I made an adjustment in my perspective.  Today my spirit is entering my ribcage.  Am I going to greet it with “You are too much!”  “Go away!” “You are such a pain!”  It is asking me for my caring, tenderness, touch.  Curiosity, listening.

Yes, I think I can do that.  What else might be in order?  I could check with a couple books to see what “ribcage” might suggest.  What it means in the universal language of dreams and nature.  What I already know is that this has to do with breathing deeply, turning to the left and flexibility in the face of expanding capacity.

I can rub myself gently and be aware of this tender place in my beloved, vulnerable body.  I can slow down.  I can pause and say, “I notice you, and I’m wondering what you need.  Are you okay?  You have been protecting me and supporting me for all this time, and I have not even acknowledged you.  I am so grateful for what you do for me.  I honor your presence in my body as part of my system.  I recognize that you have needs and I am interested in understanding what you have to say.  Your pain is not so great that I need to shut it out.  I am not afraid of you.  Thank you for communicating with me.  You matter to me.

Ahhhh, that feels better.  And I can add Mantak Chia to my meditation regimen, which will encourage me to breathe more consciously and bring awareness to my organs and inner energy flow.  I realize that I am needing a little more structure to provide boundaries to my days.  I also realize I am needing a durable but expandable container that allows for movement of the whole, while protecting the vital vulnerable parts inside.  Thank you, ribcage.  Welcome, spirit, into my body.  Thank you for your wisdom that I can know with just the right timing and in just the right way that I can understand and allow this amazing, transformative process.  I am willing.  I am grateful.  Aho.

Bioenergetics – Bodymind Pioneer, Alexander Lowen

Lowen, Alexander. Bioenegetics: The Revolutionary Therapy that Uses the Language of the Body to Heal the Problems of the Mind. New York: Penguin Books, 1975.

This book amazed me from beginning to end.  There is just so much richness in what Alexander Lowen leaves as a legacy for our continued work in the field of holistic health.  Born in 1910, and living a very productive life almost until his death at age 97, Dr. Lowen followed in the footsteps of the famed Wilhelm Reich, who influenced many in his day and whose work continues to represent the foundations of the mind-body connection in the realm of psychology.

I will highlight some of the most compelling parts of Bioenergetics below, and include some quotes to help illustrate the areas of thought that most intrigued me as I prepare to launch my book: Being In My Body: What You Might Not Have Known About Trauma, Dissociation and The Brain.  I also include a collection of exercises that employ the body’s involuntary aspect that I adapted from Bioenergetics that you may want to experiment with here: Bioenergetics Exercises

Like Wilhelm Reich, Alexander Lowen saw the first step in any therapeutic procedure as 1) getting the patient to breathe easily and deeply and 2) to mobilize whatever emotional expression was most evident in the patient’s face or manner.

It is intuitively known that the body tells us so much about the person inhabiting it, but the writers who have been able to capture this relationship rarely do so in such a thorough, elegant and informed way.


Freedom is the absence of inner restraint to the flow of feeling, grace is the expression of this flow in movement, while beauty is a manifestation of the inner harmony such a flow engenders.  They denote a healthy body and also, therefore, a healthy mind. (pg 44)


Below I include a few more excerpts regarding the ways we communicate with others without even knowing it.  I appreciate the wisdom and the knowledge that come from Lowen’s medical background. “Our first impressions of people are body responses which we tend eventually to ignore as we focus on their words and deeds.  Words and actions are to a large extent subject to voluntary control,” he says.  “They can be used to convey impressions that contradict the expression of the body.”  We might get an impression when we first meet someone, for instance, that they are fearful or anxious.  Over time, we pay more attention to their words, and don’t pay as much attention to the way their body expresses its story of anxiety and fear.


The other person may not feel afraid despite his expression of fear.  If he doesn’t, it means he is out of touch with the expression of his body.  That generally happens when an attitude is of long standing and has become structured in the body.  Chronic holding or tension patterns lose their effective or energetic charge and are removed from consciousness.  They are not perceived or experienced.  The body attitude becomes “second nature” to the person, at which point we say that it is part of his character.


Over the lifetime of the individual, the importance of being aware of the body and its wisdom cannot be underestimated, Lowen says.  “A person must also keep in touch, and that means a commitment to the life of the body.”


The self cannot be divorced from the body, and self-awareness cannot be separated from body awareness.  For me, at least, the way of growth is by being in touch with my body and understanding its language. (pg 117)


Lowen, like Reich, had a lot to say about pleasure, and the importance and impact of pleasure on the human organism.  So much negative energy still lurks in our subconscious from our culture’s roots in Calvinism, harking back to messages from our churches about the evils of hedonism so that it is almost taboo to bring it up in scholarly or “respectable” circles.  Finding such a comprehensive work like this from back in 1975, an informed person might wonder why the concept of pleasure is not more integrated into our modern healing modalities.  I have lots of ideas about this, but that may have to wait for another blog post.  In the meantime, we might just say, using Lowen’s words: “People come to therapy with various complaints: depression, anxiety, a feeling of inadequacy, a sense of failure, etc.  But behind each complaint is a lack of joy and satisfaction in living.”

Alexander Lowen believed that the restrictions in our bodies keep us from moving the way we were designed to move and that this lack of movement keeps us from experiencing anywhere near the full extent of pleasure that we are capable of experiencing–not in the sense of having ultimate experiences or in owning more symbols of material wealth, but simply in the everyday sensory experience we can potentially have of being alive and interacting with those around us.

I love that Lowen includes self-expression as an important source of satisfaction and pleasure.  Maybe that is why the arts have always been so important.  But self-expression is so much more than the arts.  Lowen says that it is connected to our mental and physical health.  “No living organism is a machine,” he says,


Its basic activities are not performed mechanically but are expressions of its being.  A person expresses himself in his actions and movements, and when his self-expression is free and appropriate to the reality of the situation, he experiences a sense of satisfaction and pleasure from the discharge of his energy.  This pleasure and satisfaction in turn stimulate the organism to increased metabolic activity, which is immediately reflected in deeper and fuller breathing.  With pleasure the rhythmic and involuntary activities of life function at an optimal level.


Our experience of pleasure also shapes our interpersonal relationships.  “Every muscular tension blocks the individual’s reaching out directly to the world for pleasure,” Lowen says.  “Faced with such restrictions, the ego will manipulate the environment in furtherance of the body’s need for contact and pleasure.” (pg 145)

When we are parenting our children, it is important to remember the importance of self-expression.  Not that children should be allowed to always have their way, or to be disrespectful, but that they need avenues, permission and often support to help them learn how to express themselves.  This has implications in the proper passage through the normal stages of child development.  Lowen says, “Pleasure and satisfaction are, as I have said, the immediate experience of self-expressive activities.  Limit a person’s right to express himself, and you limit his opportunities for pleasure and creative living.”

Supporting a child in learning to express him or herself also facilitates the development of healthy narcissism, without which the individual can grow up to be very manipulative and indirect about getting his or her needs met.  In fact, this lack of support and often a concomitant discouragement of the child’s expression of emotion is an important part of what compels a child to learn to dissociate and disconnect from his or her felt sense.  Lowen says, “There is an inadequate sense of self because of a lack of identification with the body.  The person doesn’t feel connected or integrated.” (pg 154)  Here are some more snippets from Bioenergetics of what Lowen had to say about dissociated feelings from childhood, and coping strategies individuals use when they experience early relational trauma.


Given this history, the child had no choice but to dissociate himself from reality (intense fantasy life) and from his body (abstract intelligence) in order to survive.  Since the dominant feelings were terror and murderous fury, the child walled off all feeling in self defense.

an inner feeling of needing to be held, supported and taken care of.

  …these traits are masked by consciously adopted compensatory attitudes.

an exaggerated independence which, however, fails to hold up under stess.

The denial of feeling is basically a denial of need.  The psychopathic maneuver is to make others need him so that he doesn’t have to express his need.  Thus he is always one up on the world. (pg 161)


My training in CranioSacral Therapy (CST) first introduced me to the idea of opening up the avenues of expression (in the throat and jaw), which suggests to me that John Upledger, DO was likely influenced by the work of Wilhelm Reich.  For those of you trained in or familiar with CST, here is a quote you will likely appreciate: “The avenues of self-expression through movement, the voice and the eyes must be opened up, so a greater energy discharge can occur.”  CST is one effective therapy for treating early relational trauma resulting from the denial of self-expression in childhood.

Here is how Alexander Lowen describes successful therapy.  Notice the importance he places on connecting present-day experiences with life history, and how he describes the energy effects of successful treatment.  With its emphasis on breathing, feeling and movement, it is closely related to today’s idea of mindfulness:


…the emphasis is always on breathing, feeling and movement, coupled with the attempt to relate the present-day energetic functioning of the individual to his life historyThis combined approach slowly uncovers the inner forces (conflicts) that prevent a person from functioning at his full energetic potential.  Each time one of these inner conflicts is resolved, the person’s  energy level increases.  This means he takes in more energy and discharges more in creative activities that are pleasurable and satisfying.


In the process of writing Being In My Body, I became much more aware of my infant rage and my 14-year-old rancor and disdain.  It’s almost as if the creative process of writing this book gave me a forum in which to voice these feelings, and explore the reasons for them, and the process itself allowed me to bring them to consciousness.  As with any creative endeavor, it is an example of self-expression.  The process has compelled me to reconnect with my babyhood, and hopefully open myself to the experience of greater and more satisfying interpersonal closeness.  Also from this vantage point I am beginning to see the ways I protected myself from such closeness in the past.  The message in this passage spoke to me.


The desire for an intimate closeness underlies all feelings of love.  The individual who is in touch with the baby he was which is still part of him, knows the feeling of love.  He is also in touch with his heart.  To the degree that one is cut off from his heart or his babyhood he is blocked from experiencing the fullness of love.


In the following quote, Lowen explains the reasons we must work with the entire person, including the parts that may have become fragmented in response to various early relational traumas.  He says that a healthy adult “is a person who is aware of the consequences of his behavior and assumes responsibility for them.”  However, he says,


if he loses touch with the feelings of love and closeness he knew as a baby, with the creative imagination of the child, with the playfulness and joy of his boyhood and with the spirit of adventure and sense of romance that marked his youth, he will be a sterile, hidebound and rigid person.  A healthy adult is a baby, a child, a boy or girl and a youth.  His sense of reality and responsibility includes the need and desire for closeness and love, the ability to be creative, the freedom to be joyful, and the spirit to be adventurous.  He is an integrated and fully conscious human being. (pg 60)


I am still very much processing what Lowen has to say about repressed emotions, and the pleasure of connected love.


“Knowledge becomes understanding when it is coupled with feeling.”

If a person is not mindful of his body, it is because he is afraid to perceive or sense his feelings.  When feelings have a threatening quality, they are generally suppressed.  This is done by developing chronic muscular tensions that do not allow any flow of excitation or spontaneous movement to develop in the relevant areas.  People often suppress their fear because it has a paralyzing effect, their rage because it is too dangerous, and their despair because it is too discouraging.  They will also suppress their awareness of pain, such as the pain of an unfulfilled longing, because they cannot support that pain.  The suppression of feeling diminishes the state of excitation in the body and decreases the ability of the mind to focus.  It is the prime cause for the loss of mind power.  Mostly our minds are preoccupied with the need to be in control at the expense of being and feeling more alive.

I have defined love as the anticipation of pleasurePsychologically, it involves a surrender of the ego to the loved object, who becomes more important to the self than the ego.  But the surrender of the ego involves a descent of feeling in the body, a downward flow of excitation into the deep abdomen and pelvis. This downward flow produces delicious steaming and melting sensations.  One literally melts with love.  The same lovely sensations occur when one’s sexual excitement is very strong and not limited to the genital area.  They precede every full orgastic release. (pg 223)


The result of successful body-mind therapy leaves a client feeling more integrated.  That is, parts that were cut off from one another have reconnected.  Obviously, I include EMDR  and CranioSacral Therapy among effective body-mind, re-integrating therapies.  Here is how Lowen describes such integration.


Releasing [blocks] by using both a physical and a psychological approach makes people begin to feel “connected.”  That is their word.  Head, heart and genitals, or thinking, feeling and sex are no longer separate parts or separate functions.  Sex becomes more and more an expression of love with a correspondingly greater pleasure. (pg 88)


I particularly like what Lowen says about clients and touch.  Though he had very strict boundaries about professionalism and sexual relations between therapist and client, he felt that touch was a very important part of therapy. “It is incumbent on a therapist, therefore, to show he is not afraid to touch or be in touch with his patient.”

What Lowen says about our energetic connection with the earth, through our feet, is the same message one gets when studying the Chinese healing arts and martial arts.


…the legs, which are our mobile roots.  Just like the roots of a tree, our legs and feet interact energetically with the ground.

the more a person can feel his contact with the ground, the more he can hold his ground, the more charge he can tolerate and the more feeling he can handle.  This makes grounding a prime objective in bioenergetics work.  It implies that the major thrust of the work is downward – that is, to get the person into his legs and feet. (pg 196)

Whatever its origin, every holding pattern represents in the present the unconscious use of the will against the natural forces of life. (pg 204)

The remark that “a person has both feet on the ground” can be taken literally only in the sense that there is a feeling contact between the feet and the ground.  Such contact occurs when excitation or energy flows into the feet, creating a condition of vibrant tension similar to that described for the hands when one focuses his attention or directs his energy to them.  One is, then, aware of the feet and able to balance himself properly on them. (pg 97)


I absolutely loved the following image, as it was one I had come close to on my own.  Mine included the human body as a metaphor for the earth, which I logically connected with “mother,” but not with the joy and pleasure that Lowen creates in his imagery in the paragraphs below.


A mother is an infant’s first ground, or to put it differently, an infant is grounded through its mother’s body.  Earth and ground are symbolically identified with the mother, who is a representative of ground and home.  (pg 97)

My patients failed to develop a sense of being grounded or rooted because of a lack of sufficient pleasurable contact with their mothers’ bodies.

A mother who is herself uprooted cannot provide the sense of security and grounding a baby needs.


Here is what Lowen has to say about empathy.  I like that he makes the distinction that one person cannot feel another’s feelings.  I happen to believe that we can mirror another person’s unconscious feelings if we, ourselves, are desiring at some level to bring our own unconscious feelings to consciousness.


Sensing another person is an empathic process.  Empathy is a function of identification – that is, by identifying with a person’s bodily expression, one can sense its meaning.  One can also sense what it feels like to be that other person, though one cannot feel what another feels.  Each person’s feelings are private, subjective.  He feels what is going on in his body; you feel what is going on in yours.  However, since all human bodies are alike in their basic functions, bodies can resonate to each other when they are on the same wavelength.  When this happens, the feelings in one body are similar to those in the other. (pg 101)


In this book, Lowen describes various character structures which use words like masochistic, psychotic, and narcissistic.  In this context these words are descriptive, not diagnostic, and I found many of the ideas to strike close to home.


There is also a masochistic element in the psychopathic personality, resulting from the submission to the seductive parent.  The child could not rebel or walk away from the situation; its only defense was internal.  The submission is only on the surface; nevertheless, to the degree that the child submits openly, he gains some measure of closeness with the parent. (pg 162)

..submissive attitude in his outward behavior, he is just the opposite inside.  On the deeper emotional level, he has strong feelings of spite, negativity, hostility and superiority….He counters the fear of exploding by a muscular pattern of holding in.  Thick, powerful muscles restrain any direct assertion and allow only the whine or complaint to come through. (pg 163)

On a conscious level the masochist is identified with trying to please; on the unconscious level, however, this attitude is denied by spite, negativity and hostility.  These suppressed feelings must be released before the masochistic individual can respond freely to life situations. (pg 165)

The psychopathic character had something his parent wanted; otherwise he would not have been an object of seduction and manipulation.  As a child he must have been aware of this and got from it his first taste of power.  True, he was really helpless, and so his power was only in his mind, but he learned a fact of life he used later: Whenever anybody needs something from you, you have power over them. (pg 182)

Neurotic anxiety stems from an internal conflict between an energetic movement in the body and an unconscious control or block set up to limit or stop that movement.  These blocks are the chronic muscular tensions mostly in the striated or voluntary musculature which is normally under ego control.  Conscious ego control is lost when the tension in a set of muscles becomes chronic.  This does not mean that control is surrendered but that the control itself has become unconscious. (pg 219)


Lowen believed that the life of the body resides in its involuntary aspect.  Many of his exercises involved experiencing these involuntary functions of the body.  I am including a collection of exercises adapted from Bioenergetics for you to play with here: Bioenergetics Exercises.

For a really nice interview with Alexander Lowen in his later years, you can go here.  I encourage you to read this book for yourself if you are a body worker or if you would like more information about Bioenergetics, the body-mind therapy created by Alexander Lowen, MD.  Though Dr. Lowen is no longer with us, we can access his works and legacy here.

My book, Being In My Body, is about reintegrating body function after trauma.  You can check it out here.

The Art of Effortless Living

I’m reading a fabulous book that was required reading for a recent 4-day SomatoEmotional Release class I attended in St. Louis in August. Below are a few excerpts from:

Stop Trying. Start Living.  The Art of Effortless Living.  Do Less, Let Go, and Discover Health, Emotional Well-Being, and Happiness, by Ingrid Bacci, Ph.D., 2000.Berkley Publishing Group, New York, NY.

This couldn’t be more timely for me.  If you’d like to read the toni-style cliff notes, click on the link above.  I’m pasting in a few of my notes below.

Also, while I’m thinking about it, Boundaries 101 class is going to be offered at the Columbia Area Career Center for the third time beginning November 12.  Monday nights for 5 weeks.  6:00-8:00 pm.  Check it out!

pg 233:  When we stop allowing our fears to control us and focus instead on developing inner balance and vision, then we become capable of deeper partnership.

pg 234:  …healthy relationships depend on understanding that relationships are not in our lives to support our needs or foster our dependency.  Instead, relationships teach us, often through difficulties, how to transcend our own limitations and to share with others from a place of mutual empowerment.

pg 239:  You are not meant to ask someone else to give you what you need.  That is so much less rewarding than discovering that you can give yourself what you need.  You are not meant to accept the low standards that rule our world.  You have the capacity to transform those standards and to inspire others to follow in your footsteps.