This is Personal: Humanitarian Pilgrimage to the Border

I’m heading to the border. Please read if you’d like to know the details, and how you can help.

These are not ordinary times. 

Many of you already know me.  I am an adventurous spirit with an itch to travel, a license to practice as a counselor and consultant with quite a bit of experience working with people who are struggling from one kind of trauma or another. 

I am currently on a mission of the heart.  Though I am from the Midwest USA I live in Guadalajara among kindhearted and welcoming Mexicans.  Every time I tune in to the news and world events I am compelled to do something out of the ordinary.  So, in October I’m taking a bus from Hermosillo MX to Tucson, where I will do some talks on trauma and embodiment. Along the way, I hope to learn more about the people and the overall situation at the border, and the folks who are providing care to refugees.  

In my experience, those who serve others are often less dedicated to making sure their own needs are well met.  And since the bulk of the work I do now is with people in helping professions (clinicians, administrators, healers of various sorts), I plan to team up with an organization or two at the border where I can do some volunteer work with clinicians and/or people in service on the front lines who could be experiencing secondary trauma and/or in need of some personal support.  So far I am looking at Kino Border Initiative and No More Deaths.

For me, these past few years have been about getting myself positioned to contribute more to issues I am passionate about.  This trip to AZ is just now taking shape.  I am in communication with Kino Border Initiative with the intention of seeing how it would feel to team up with them as a longer-term partner.  Partnering with an organization like this would require me to travel, but I can also follow up via video conferencing if I start with a client who could benefit from subsequent sessions.

With the help of Kino Border Initiative, I hope to offer my services free of charge to people who have been experiencing symptoms of PTSD, shock or burnout.  I have the tools, and I am equipped to just jump in and work.  Gratefully I find that with my tools, interacting with people who have experienced outrageous circumstances does not tend to impact me in ways that are overly stressful or overwhelming.

In this initial visit to Tucson, I will be taking as many opportunities as I can to speak to small groups about trauma. I believe that I can do these talks and offer my trauma therapy services on a volunteer basis if I can also sell some of my books, have a number of paid clients and paid gigs and possibly a series of hosts to count on and/or some orientation and/or rides from place to place to keep my expenses down.  So far, I have a few dear friends to see, some former clients and some professional contacts in the Tucson area who are helping me get the word out so that I can fund my trip. 

I am not averse to working hard, and I am not fussy about accommodations.  I know there is a lot of work to do, and I am ready to step up.  If I get the necessary support, I could see myself making the Tucson area a place I come on a regular basis.  As often as possible, while also taking care that I don’t over-commit or burn myself out.

Below I include the latest version of my itinerary.  It will change as the days go by and things firm up.

  • Oct 5 – Leave Guadalajara for Hermosillo
  • Oct 6-8 – Visit Friend/Publisher Mariana Ayon at Ban Pang Editorial
  • Oct 6 – Book Release Event at El Centro Zalzicán for Estar En Mi Cuerpo
  • Oct 8-9 – Leave Hermosillo via bus, possibly stopping in Nogales
  • Volunteering with Service Providers and possibly Refugees for one day, pending approval from KBI.
  • Oct 9/10 – Arrive in Tucson
  • Visit Friends
  • October 13, Sol Center Yoga Studio – Speaking on attachment and early relational trauma.
  • Facilitate Group Discussions & Workshops – Trauma Awareness/Self Care
  • Individual Sessions with Clients
  • Oct 17 – Leave for Temecula CA, where I will meet with Bengali family and talk some more about trauma.
  • Oct 19 – Return to Guadalajara

I can easily craft talks about trauma in very basic terms, and the importance of trauma-informed care.  I also can teach techniques for helping people who have just experienced a traumatic event to calm their nervous system down so they can think and attend to next steps. This can be learned by anybody for self use or helping others.

Summing it up, I am interested in providing appropriate, high-quality therapies, knowledge and techniques to people who might not otherwise get it.  For this initial trip, I hope to work for a day (volunteer with 7-8 individuals or families).  For future trips, longer (up to 3 days).  The kind of therapy I do is research-based, of the highest quality available for trauma.  A lot can be done in a session or two, and even more if follow-up sessions are arranged via video.  I will see English speaking service providers who are suffering physical symptoms that are likely due to secondary trauma and stress, or helpers who have diagnoses of PTSD/Trauma.  I would also be open to seeing non English speakers if I can have appropriate interpretive support.  Adequate support would necessarily be someone with a mental health background/pastoral experience.

If you have read this far, thank you.  If you feel so moved, please send me some words of encouragement, pass the word to people you know in Tucson and others who are concerned about the humanitarian crisis at the border.  I trust I will find just the right setting in which to plug in, but your well wishes and support mean a lot to me.  The border is calling me, and there are important people there I need to meet.

I will be providing as much pro bono work as I can.  But there may also be people who would like to schedule paid sessions with me.  That income will help subsidize my volunteer work, so if you know of anyone who might be interested, please pass the word.  You don’t even have to be local.  I offer EMDR Therapy via Internet, and I can receive payments via PayPal!  Or if you feel like you would like to make a monetary contribution, it could help me expand my reach and the amount of trauma work I am able to do.  I promise I would spend it wisely, always with the intention of maximizing my positive impact in the region and making a difference.  My expenses will include the following:

  • Bus fare and Air fare.
  • Meals while I’m on the road.
  • Missed work while I am traveling.
  • Car Rental (I hear that Truro is an excellent and cost-effective option).
  • Incidentals – small gifts and compensation for hosts, etc.

Toni Rahman is a trauma-informed practitioner, certified in EMDR, and an EMDRIA Approved Consultant, who can provide consultation toward EMDR certification.  She is also trained in Advanced CranioSacral Therapy and SomatoEmotional Release and Hypnosis.

Affirmations to Address Blocks to Sweetness and Abundance

And the kicker, which is a combination of my conditioning and what my body instinctively knows: This really is a matter of life or death. I die either way. If I’m not attuned to or if I demand what I want/need. The ultimate double bind.

(As infants) “our most intimate sense of self is created in our minute-to-minute exchanges with our caregivers.”
“Early attachment patterns create the inner maps that chart our relationships throughout life, not only in terms of what we expect from others, but also in terms of how much comfort and pleasure we can experience in their presence.”

Bessel van der Kolk in The Body Keeps the Score

I get to reach out for what I want.
I am more of who I came here to be when I reach for what I want.
I get connection that feels sweet to me.
I get to have friends who give of themselves, who have skills, who do their emotional work.
Doing without is not a virtue.
Doing without is a way of shutting down and blocking the flow of good.
Identifying with doing without is another form of anger, resentment and unfelt pain.
God and I are on the same team.
God tells me what I want and need by giving me emotional responses, which I can attune to, and learn from.
I can be involved in this process.
It isn’t some mysterious process that happens behind the scenes.
If I stay in denial about my emotions and needs, I am telling myself that I am not worthy of my own care and attention.
There is no reward for applying austerity measures in response to scarcity.
I am totally worthy of the sweet stuff.
Doing without is not what gets me what I should have had in the first place.
Doing without is not what gets me what is already available and free for the taking: the really sweet stuff of life.
The really sweet stuff of life is free.
I am the one who gets to say what I like and what is sweet to me, in each moment.
There is no should when it comes to my desires.
I am completely worthy of pursuing my heart’s desires.
Spirit is right behind me, encouraging me to reach for and satisfy exactly that.
My heart’s desires are gifts, and I can attune to them, clarify them, and explore them.
I am encouraged to act on my desires.
I can be deeply satisfied even when I am reaching for other things I don’t yet have.
Me being deeply satisfied hurts nobody!
I can get what I want and need.
I release the pain, frustration, anger, resentment, and terror of not being well-attuned to in infancy and childhood.
I can let that go now.

These affirmations sprung out of my head after working with a client who shares my blocks around moving from scarcity to abundance.

The fear and pain and resentment that is trapped in a human body from infancy and childhood can be expressed in words.  Once the words are stated, a part of oneself can feel seen, heard and validated.  Once the feelings are acknowledged, they can actually be released.

Here are the emotions (not truths) expressed in words:

• If I do without (the sweet stuff – these profoundly necessary things: connection, being attuned to well, expression of my desires) I will be rewarded.
• The real reward comes if I am self-disciplined and accept doing without (without complaining or being upset).
• I will be rewarded with what I “really” need (what God thinks I need).
• If I accept the lie and tell myself I’m not worthy – for some reason – of the sweet stuff in life, then I will subconsciously believe that doing without what I really want will get me what I should have; that I will be rewarded and that I will then be worthy.
• Sacrificing gets me the good stuff, that I may or may not like or understand, but God knows better than me, so I’ll trust and accept that.
• If I accept the other lie that what I really want is not a trustworthy or reliable gauge of what I should have, I’ll eventually get what I should have.
• I can’t trust my desires, for sure. That will bring me unhappiness.
• Acknowledging my desires and outwardly reaching for what I want is selfish and bad and will only result in unhappiness.
• I will be punished if I act on my desires.
• There will be serious negative consequences if my wants and needs are deeply satisfied. It will probably really hurt someone I love.
• It is impossible for my wants and needs to be satisfied, so it’s an infernal waste of time to pursue that or focus on them.
• This really is a matter of life or death. I die either way.
• If I’m not attuned to or if I ask directly for what I want/need.

IDT Workbook – Now Available!

My new workbook is now available on Amazon! I’m so excited. You can get it here.

This course in a workbook will be your guide as you learn to recognize and eliminate internal/self-abuse and become a better, more loving parent to yourself.  It offers a practical, effective, research-supported framework including exercises to reduce the intensity and duration of emotional flashbacks, a symptom of Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) and unresolved early stress and trauma.

This course is designed to equip you with tools to use when you:

  • Often find yourself stuck in internal conflicts about what you want and where you are going.
  • Are sometimes so harsh and unrelenting with yourself that you cannot relax and enjoy what you have.
  • Find yourself getting triggered often or staying triggered for long periods of time.

Tap into your deepest potential by learning to focus your attention.  Dare to invest the time and commitment that is necessary to replace old, worn-out strategies to avoid feeling vulnerable and replace them with authenticity, integration and health.  Reconnect with your body’s social engagement system by safely directing your compassionate attention inward. 

Get ready.  You are about to learn how to calm your nervous system and experience what it feels like to be held in the safety and stability of the parents you never had.

Get your copy here.

Ode to the Mother

I am willing to remember what it feels like.

Wow.  So many of us are traveling the same path, though not realizing how others are quietly doing their own work that is so very similar to ours, right alongside us.

It was so lovely to see Trina Brunk drawing on her Paneurhythmy roots in her recent post, and this exquisite piece of music with her resonant, moving rendering.  I was listening to it this morning, wrapping my mind around the idea that for the past several decades I have been learning how to put words to how it feels to NOT feel/have this. 

I listened thinking first of the universal feeling of unbounded, uncontaminated mother love – when it does happen – and then I made the Earth Day connection.  (How ironic! Because it was the Earth connection I know – not the infant connection with my biological mother). 

Today it strikes me that increasingly, I have seen the importance of feeling what THIS does feel like, even though it is not strongly in my immediate memory.  And anger and resentment and fear have been blocks to reaching consistently for it (stemming from old feelings of unworthiness?).  Below is an affirmation set I wrote for a friend a week or so ago.  It was inspired somewhat by Trina’s Closer Than You Think system of clearing old trauma, but also by Theta Healing, The Work, and EFT:

  • I now release any feelings of unworthiness from all lifetimes past, present and future.
  • I am willing to release feelings of unworthiness.
  • I can allow myself the time I need to remember what it feels like to be completely worthy.
  • I allow myself to remember what it feels like to be completely worthy.
  • I am completely worthy.

What a glorious musical piece; what a glorious expression of YOU, Trina.  To support us all in feeling loved and worthy of this huge unconditional love.


Pain

It is normal to have little sensitive points in our body. These points tell us about how the body is functioning. They are sore or sensitive not to tell us how we have failed. They are not there as a form of punishment. Making the pain along these points stop hurting is not our objective.  It’s not that we can be healthier if they don’t hurt.  I think sore points are our body’s way of saying This needs attention. There is a story here, and it wants to be told. And “this” is not just a point on your leg.  “This” is a point on a map – the map which is possibly on a meridian line that runs through the gall bladder and up into the jaw, and that that point of pain is like a little push pin.  It’s like a little light blinking, saying: HERE.  THIS IS HOW YOU CAN CARE FOR YOURSELF, BY NOTING THIS, BY BEING CURIOUS ABOUT THIS, BY SLOWING DOWN, ASKING FOR HELP AND APPLYING THE INFORMATION YOU RECEIVE.

Pain Really

Pain is when I’m simultaneously reaching for something and smacking myself back for reaching for it.

I’d like to open up a conversation about talking about pain, talking about our pain with other people.  Gosh, where to start?  All kinds of feelings of shame and embarrassment come up for me whenever I am telling people these days about the most exciting and the most fascinating project that I’ve been working on, which is correcting my bite, so that my body functions like it was intended to function, and I am not chronically defended or clenched and body parts are not cut off from my awareness.  And with some people I can approach the subject more easily.  But with other people, they have this reflexive response to the mere mention of pain (you included, maybe).  They think it is their responsibility to do something about it, when all I really want is to see if this is anything similar to what they experience.  I mention that I’ve had pain and chronic clenching, and for me that is progress – cause for celebration, actually.  But they reflexively wince, and apologize for my experience, which they are not in any way responsible for.  I am learning about the pain from my childhood and how to put words on it and share my ideas with other people because my numbness is parting (subsiding).  I am having moments of feedback from my body which is what I want, which is possibly what you want, too.  So what I’m talking about when I say “pain” is not anything approaching suffering.  Suffering is akin to victimhood…it’s got an element of powerlessness to it that makes it inescapable, possibly helpless.  So for you right now, suffering might be the ongoing barrage of information about how you are not living up to some expectation that you or some other person put on you, or a chronic resistance to the changes that are going on in your world, or a non-acceptance of something that life has offered you (emotions included).  Or it is you unknowingly fighting against yourself.  So you just suffer (tolerate, and cope in whatever way you can) it.  

I am thinking and talking about the pain in my neck or discovering from some therapist or another that this is happening in my body because of something I reflexively did to cope with my emotions as a child, and the last thing I want is to be that person who is obsessing about their pain, wallowing in discomfort – the person who talks about themselves incessantly.  But I am longing to share my ideas with other people because this is such a vast topic and I really don’t think I’m the only person doing this, and I think it is incumbent upon us all to take responsibility for bringing our unconscious pain to awareness so we can properly care for ourselves and move past the pain and suffering; to move into the fully-lived embodied present.  And we cannot do that alone.

Retreat from Pain

 

What is pain anyway, but information.  It’s upsetting to me when I tell my dentist that my tooth doesn’t feel right.  The tooth feels like it is being pushed out, I tell her.  I feel frustration when even talking about what’s happening with my tooth because it doesn’t “hurt.”  It is holding frustration.  It feels like it is being pushed out by my body.  When the dentist tries to pin me down for a better explanation, and she goes about tapping it to determine whether it “hurts” or not, I’m just like, “It doesn’t hurt, but if you don’t stop that I AM GOING TO SMACK YOU.”  That’s NOT physical pain. It’s a flavor of sensation (frustration? despair?).  Nuance.  It is information wanting to be acknowledged, to be put into words.  Heard.  

For me, pain, right now, is information.  It is necessary, it is desirable.  I want to know about my body. 

I notice that when I cop to having sensations I don’t have shame.  But when I cop to being in pain or having been in pain for a long time or having chronically tensed muscles (against some numbed-out historical stressor), I’m slipping over into another territory, which people interpret as “suffering” and the moment people do that, I want to just retreat into my solitude because I don’t want to be that person.

Being Vulnerable Has Been Dangerous

So maybe that is why we have healers.  Because good healers are naturally curious about the kinds of sensations we are getting because that’s what they work with.  That is their medium.  And when we talk to other people about our journey with pain (physical or emotional); our experience, and we are reaching for understanding; we are reaching for more information to help us emerge and know ourselves and overcome suffering, it’s scary maybe because being vulnerable has been dangerous for us in the past.

Dear Diary

2/13/19  Thoughts Today

I went to visit my sister Tracy yesterday and while I was at her house I was really grateful to have her in town so I could just go to her house, sit on her bed and do what I wanted to do.  Yesterday I pulled my Spanish homework out of my bag and I just started reading.  She was on deadline, and she waved me to her room, told me to make myself comfortable.   She had a very comfortable bed and she also had some construction going on in her house. I was happy it was not my problem.   The landlord and her plumber were there and had the bathroom torn apart.  “The toilet is chupando agua,” I heard one of them say  (sucking water).  Maybe there is some kind of leak so they told her she can’t use it until it’s fixed.  They told her she could go downstairs and use the one in the apartment that is being renovated on the ground level. 

I was noticing some feelings: Admiration and also a little envy.  Tracy’s house is amazing. She has started to develop some really healthy routines and self-care strategies.  She has developed what seem to be some really healthy friendships in her neighborhood and she kind of “lights up” when she talks about them.  She brought me some nettle tea, I ate some grapefruit I had packed in my bag, and when she was able to take a break, she invited me to the kitchen so we could prepare some lunch.  She was so excited.  I noticed that when I was trying to talk to her I was having trouble finding my words.  I was stumbling, groping, grasping.  Place names.  People names.  They just weren’t coming.  And I wanted to share with her so much.  I wanted to be big and social and important like her.  And I also noticed that she was very attentive and very (as usual) very good at advocating for herself (a bit differently  this time, maybe), but really attuning to me and demonstrating her care and loyalty to me, regardless of my inability to express myself as fluidly as her. 

Digesting later, what that experience was like, I noticed some negative thought patterns that come up and tell me that she’s doing it better, that I should be different – that I’m behind.  All those things definitely irrational today (relics from her being 6 when I was 2, probably).  But they helped me identify the feelings.

When I give such negative thought patterns my time and attention I can see that I’m exactly where I should be.  I have so so so much support: human support, economic support, emotional support, physical support, divine support.  I have what I need and I have permission to ask for more.

I talk to myself gently: My house is simple and uncluttered because visually I need that.  My life is spacious because that is what I’m asking for.  My systems are still under construction.  I’m still developing systems because my whole structure is rearranging – with my diet – requiring things that are soft to eat.  Exploring – feeling my way through that whole process and having extra appointments to support the physical reconstruction and anatomical adjustments that are being made to correct my bite.  I’m grateful for exactly where I am right now.  There are so many things I’m looking forward to and the project I’m working on right now (which may not look that exciting; that doesn’t vibrate at such a social level), but is mine to do right now: fixing my bite so that I’m not in pain all the time!  And that is a project that has an end point to it.  I will be completing those physical things – the re-patterning of my muscle memory.  The fixing of my molars so that I can eat without pain and the application of my braces so that my teeth actually look like they have been cared for and that I have the means to take care of myself well.  And maybe even opening up my avenue of expression so that I can more easily and fluidly and confidently express my thoughts and ideas.

I think about why this was not taken care of before, in the “developed” United States, where I grew up and lived for so long.  More feelings.  And understanding.  Compassion for myself and for my parents.  I mean, how could I have taken care of all of this in the US?  A single mom with no insurance for dental care?  Making barely enough to get by?  How could my parents have taken care of this with nine children, aversion to credit and boot-strap values?  They couldn’t have.  And I couldn’t have while I was raising children either.  But that’s another topic.  That is what I’m thinking about today.

Ripple Effect in My Body

I feel like I have been following a trail of breadcrumbs to the diagnosis of TMD or Temporomandibular Joint Disorder, which I received with a huge sense of relief in November.  I followed one un-ignorable breadcrumb to another: the inability to chew because of pain and sensitivity, months and even years after getting dental work on several molars; developing what seemed like tendonitis in my right arm; chronic, never abating pain in the neck; one chronically constricted muscle along the right margin of my spine; the inability to sit for very long before experiencing back pain; difficulty standing without slumping.  My massage therapist and others had mentioned mouth guards, and how well they worked for a lot of people.  My chiropractor noticed that the pattern of lock-up I experience seemed to originate somewhere around my right neck/shoulder.  My CranioSacral therapist said that there was an irritated nerve in my molar, but that the tooth was healthy enough.  An iridologist in Missouri said that there was something significant going on in my jaw/shoulder area.  I clearly had a problem.  Now the breadcrumbs had finally led me to a solution.

Since I’ve been seeing a specialist recommended by my dentist, and have been wearing a mouth guard, I have been slowly recognizing that for many years I had been unconsciously clenching – not just in my jaw, and jutting it forward, but other places in my body as well.  Little by little I bring consciousness to places in my body where I had been unknowingly tightening my muscles.  And I am learning, slowly, how to direct my attention toward those places with love and care.  And even more slowly, I am learning what it feels like when I am truly relaxed.  As I do, the pain is going away as if by magic. 

I have been instructed to wear my mouth guard night and day.  Wearing it during the night was helping, but not enough.  Dr. Citlali, my specialist, explained that my jaw is so habituated to being in a forward position, that I will need some time to train it to be where it is supposed to be.  After having the guard and using it night and day (when I’m not eating), when I take it out, I notice that my teeth come together differently.  Now it feels a little odd because it will take a while for me to get used to having it in the right place after having it forward all these years (maybe +50?).

This makes me think about how that misalignment must have been impacting my teeth.  When I was always chewing using my molars in a way that they were not designed to be used, with the jaw jutted forward, they just didn’t line up right, which caused undue wear and tear on them.  They served me as best they could under the circumstances, but with time, they wore down, chipped and cracked.  Now I understand why I have always needed so much dental work on my molars.  Before this treatment is said and done, I’m going to need to raise the height of the molars themselves because form follows function; my teeth have changed to accommodate my jaw movement patterns over time.  As a result of my jaw being relaxed and in the right place, many muscles (that I had no idea I was clenching) begin to relax.  This one little thing has had an impact throughout my entire body. 

The good news is that in response to the treatment (ongoing work with Dr. Citlali via the mouth guard) my body is relaxing and settling into its new normal.  I am noticing a ripple effect.  My arm (I couldn’t use that arm without pain) is back to normal.  My back feels somewhat improved, but it’s all the way back there and I still can’t really tell for sure.  The brittle feeling I was having in my feet and ankles is gone, and I sense my feet as newly supple and responsive to the demands I put on them.

With ongoing care scheduled (I have an appointment with the kinesiologist and two massages with my favorite massage therapist in the next couple weeks), I hope to bring even more awareness to those places so that my new normal will be relaxed, stronger and even more resilient than before. 

With this kind of care, education and support, I can learn to notice when I am clenching or drawing in, and anytime I tune in, I will more easily and automatically be able to return to a healthy, relaxed state. 

Through my healing process, I am bringing loving, conscious attention to obviously affected places, and my body in general, and am definitely feeling results.  Over the years, my legs did not really seem to be part of me, and it felt precarious to move through life in a fluid and grounded way.  By comparison, I can look back at times when it felt as though I was walking on tree stumps.  What I experience now is so much more fluid and integrated.  Like my right leg – my shins – my heels.  They are now parts of me.  I walk with more connectedness/awareness, more fully inhabiting my feet and lower legs. 

So, the journey continues.  I am super excited about this, and I am interested to see what happens next!

Anxiety as a Substitute for Grief

Anxiety and Repetitive Repeating/Looping Neurotic Thoughts.

These are coping mechanisms designed to protect you from pain – Deep. Terrifying. Buried. Pain.  So it’s really a very adaptive coping mechanism whenever you’re a child and you don’t have a parent or older mentor you know you can go to for help or support.  Whenever you are a small one, dealing with the pain of facing the world and your emotions is just too much to do alone, when you don’t have adequate support.  But as adults, we can begin to see that these repetitive/looping thoughts as they really are when we are all grown up.  They are just lies.  With just a little guidance, we can do the work of exhuming these buried hurt feelings and letting ourselves put words to them.  Then they can become harmless stories.  By reconstructing the stories, we can gather all the pieces together in one place, so it’s no longer in the shadow, and when it’s not in the shadow, it’s not so scary anymore.   Feeling grief is work, but it’s quite do-able for an adult.

You already have what it takes to parent yourself well.  Check out my online course if you’d like more information on how to parent yourself as an adult.

What is Embodiment, Anyway?

People ask me what I mean when I say embodiment, and it’s a subtle thing, really.  If you are busy all the time, you run the risk of missing it – that is, until you are faced with debilitating pain, chronic aches, or unexplained disorders.  But that is really not what I’ve come here to talk about.  For me it’s much more fun to talk about what I’m experiencing in this process, which is more like watching grass grow than going to a doctor for a prescription and a more sadly standard cure.  My way, of course, is worlds more empowering and fulfilling.  There are so many dimensions to what I want to talk about, so it’s hard to know where to begin, and like I said before, it’s subtle but life changing – winding but profound – when you commit yourself to it as a way of life.

Mammals lick their young.  Watch a mother lion lick its cub.  (skip to minute 4 if you don’t have much time) This activity is nothing like what happens when a stressed-out working mother bathes or otherwise cares for her young.  When a mammal in nature cares for her young she is relaxed herself.  The motion almost a meditation.

When I was on the roof the other morning, just before sunrise, I thought of her in that warm meditative place, as I rolled an empty olive oil bottle around on the knotted and burning fibers of my muscles and ligaments and attachments, along the length of my lower leg.  As the sky had turned from twinkling stars to glimmering-on-the-rim to rosy and then bright, I rested in my quiet place inside.  As the hardness of the green glass met the various places on the leg I adjusted my motion so as to appropriately meet each complaint, each whimper, each outcry of rage for having been neglected and taken for granted for so long with not so much as an ounce of consideration for its never failing loyalty and devotion.  Imagining the mother, adjusting the pressure of her tongue so as to have the desired effect…the seemingly compulsive motion of the tongue designed to work out the knots, soften the stressed and defended places and render the tiny thing completely undefended…never having to ask for warmth, closeness, connection, or attention to its needs.

Since I took up the practice of bringing the bottle with me to the roof, originally for the purpose of rolling my feet, I notice that I walk on cobblestones a lot easier and with a whole lot more grace and agility.  Since I have been working on my quads and lower legs, I have begun to build a relationship with my legs.  They tell me where they hurt, but only if I ask.  They tell me how much pressure to use, but only if I’m present.  They tell me what they want, but only if I’m unhurried.  And, despite some old fear that their needs can never be met and that giving them attention will be a colossal mistake, they soften.  The pain subsides and I discover more about my legs that I never knew before.  No-touch zones turn to touch-with-care zones.  Touch-with-care zones turn to burning-like-fire zones.  Burning-like-fire zones turn to boy-that-feels-good zones, and on and on it goes.

Along with this relationship I’m building with my legs I am making connections about various parts of my body and how they work together.  For example, I had a bodywork session with a German friend (who worked with my shoulder blades, asking me to engage muscles I had no idea I could operate), who left me with an increased ability to – might I say delight in – lowering my shoulder blades, pulling them down against the contracted and chronically tense and indistinguishable muscle mass around my neck and shoulders.  With her help, I made some progress, and with the next bodywork session I expect to reclaim another formerly estranged and exiled body part.

I noticed, the other day, a sweet sensation of delight after pulling up some leg warmers over my leggings.  A sensation I don’t think I’ve ever noticed before.  I wonder in astonishment.  How have I gotten to be this age without knowing how the various parts of my body relate to one another in a kinesthetic way?  I’ve taken the anatomy classes and I’ve memorized a lot of anatomic terms, but it’s the finding of them in my body that’s always alluded me.  It’s the knowing of them sensually that I’ve tragically missed.  And in re-membering each one – slowly, tentatively – I understand why I cut them off in the first place.  There is so much information stored there!

This morning, for example, tending to my leg, and all those burning sensations, I begin to make connections in my mind.  This is about an old story that started when I was 15 or 16.  Wanting to run but can’t run, my inner 16-year-old tells me.  Wanting to run but can’t run wanting to run but can’t run.  My life depends on it, and I can’t run, but needing to run.  It burns.

I have not always had the presence of mind, the inclination, the patience or the curiosity to explore that sensation I called pain and shoved aside with disgust.  I was stronger than that.  No self-respecting person admitted to pain, much less indulged in giving it attention.

But my attention and curiosity turns any pain into an important piece of information I can use to take care of myself.  Pain, as it turns out, is not better ignored.  It is better used to tend to real needs and real wounds, which with a little care and attention, eventually melt into pure consciousness, connectedness and bliss.

Now I am not afraid of becoming a slave to my old wounds and pain.  I stroke and caress.  I tease out the knots.  I soothe the burning muscles into submission.  Now, as I do this, I know that as my body relaxes, as I care for it and become better acquainted with its nooks and crannies, a million tiny connections are made, sending signals to my brain that I am okay, that I am worthy of attention, that I deserve care, that my needs are not too much, and that there is nothing wrong with my body that a little TLC can’t make right.

Difficult Women – Book Review

Roxane Gay’s title, Difficult Women, speaks to any woman who has felt difficult to love.  I had long since owned that title and studied the qualities that made me “difficult” in relationships.  I had searched tirelessly to identify the conditions to which I might attribute this unfortunate state of affairs.  So when my sister, the day before her wedding, gifted me this book and began to explain her intention, maybe for fear that I would feel labeled or defensive, I waved her off.  Thank you!  I told her.  I love it already.  Gay’s writing pulled me in from the very first paragraph.  Her voice captures all the ways women might be considered difficult in intimate relationships yet at the same time looks deeper at who they are and why.  We come out of this reading experience so much richer for having explored these stories with her.  They are fiction – products of Gay’s imagination.  But for me, each is a window into a rich and ornate chamber of its author’s mind.  This book leaves me so much richer, with a stronger sense of how a woman might be loved well, even if temporarily.  It leaves me with a broader vision of how a woman can allow her difficult self to be loved and why that might add value to her life.  It leaves me with a clearer personal understanding of the complexity of myself, love and relationship and the natural grit and beauty of coupling in its infinite forms.

And I feel a little less difficult after having read this book.

 

Other books by Roxane Gay I plan to read:

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body

An Untamed State

Bad Feminist

Ayiti

& several comic books in Marvel’s Black Panther: World of Wakanda series

 

“I vigorously encourage women and people of color to be ambitious, to want and work for every damn thing they can dream of. We’re allowed to want, nakedly, as long as we’re willing to put in the proverbial work….I am ambitious because I love what I do, not simply for ambition’s sake. Ambition is what allows me to take creative risks and try things I never thought I could do. Ambition makes me a better thinker and writer. Ambition makes me.”                       — Roxane Gay