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“Let that meek (quiet) darkness be your whole mind and like a mirror to you. For I want your thought of self to be as naked and simple as your thought of God, so that you may be with God in spirit without fragmentation and scattering of your mind.”

THE BOOK OF PRIVY COUNCIL , Author Unknown (same as THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWING)

“Do not imagine that when I call it a darkness or a cloud that it is a cloud amassed with vapours that float in the air, or a darkness such as you have in your house at night, when your candle is out, for such a darkness. With little imagination you could picture the summer skies breaking through the clouds or a clear light brightening the dark winter. This is false, it isn’t what I mean for when I say “darkness” I mean a lack of knowing, just as whatever you do know or have forgotten is dark to you, because you do not see it in your spiritual eyes. For this reason, that which is between you and your God is termed, not a cloud of the air, but a cloud of unknowing.”

THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWING, Author Unknown

Cloud of Unknowing is an ancient text and may be, some say, the origin of contemplative practice and dialogue within the Christian faith–we know meditation, contemplation, and philosophy around it is an ancient practice worldwide.

The Sufis did it, the Kabbalists did it, the Buddhists did it, the Mystics were everywhere, all over the globe and in every faith practice doing it. But what is it? Ah, the hard part. Deep inner silence, spiritual and corporeal centeredness, listening and hearing, and as always dealing with the “unknowing” of it all.

Whether we are deep in addiction, eating disorders, PTSD, or any disordered plane of existence we are plagued by the known demons and enemies in our minds, hearts, and souls. Part of addiction rhetoric says, “Let go and let God.” Mantras become mantras because they are so simple, succinct, and right on. This is no exception. Whether you believe in God, a universal force, or just human morality there is a part of us all that want to hold on to what we KNOW in life, about life, about ourselves. Knowing is comforting, even when, and it often is, it’s misleading.

When we KNOW we have no room to GROW. Unknowing however, as uncomfortable as it may be, leaves us ripe and ready for growth, change, and expansion beyond anything the known could ever provide. I say this with all humility as I struggling with my own battle of unknowing in my life right now. How I hate it!  And how I love it!  Maddening tis’nt’ it!

Can you spend a minute, an hour, a day intentionally “unknowing”?  Undoing all the dogmas, preconceptions, all the stuck-ness, ruts, predispositions….and just LET GO!  Give it a shot–it is scary like falling but also freeing like flying.

I am paragliding my way through the present, coasting across the sky to an unknown landing zone.  We will see where it leads.  Follow you own wind, paraglide into your own unknowns….and I hope everyone has a lovely weekend!

Where then, you say shall I be?
Nowhere by this tale!
Exactly you say this well,
for there would I have you.
For nowhere physically is everywhere spiritually.

THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWING, Author Unknown

 

“Serve, Love, Give, Purify, Meditate, Realize.” 

Swami Sivananda

What I expected to find in my foray into a monastic lifestyle and 5 am wake ups was a bit of delirium and a lot of discomfort.  This is true, there is no doubt.  But in the process, even 8 days into my 8 week internment into the monastic protocols of my Sivananda yoga teacher training I have also found a teensy bit of peace of mind that seems to, in my brighter moments, more than make up for complete body and mind exhaustion by day’s end.  Here is a bit inside my Sivananda world  and tandum work experience for a bit of insight into this whole endeavor:

Monday :

5am rising

6am-715am meditation

730 (early) to work-4:30pm TRAUMA THERAPY

5-600pm second work ADDICTIONS THERAPY

630pm Home to write some notes and go to sleep

Tuesday:

5am rising

6am-715am meditation

730 (early) to work-5:10pm (late staying and early coming most days because there is not enough time to come home between the two in the am and pm) TRAUMA THERAPY

5:30-6:45pm Yoga class (take or assist in the class)

7-10pm yoga academics class

10:30 Home for sleeps

Wednesday:

5am rising

6am-715am meditation

7:15-8:45am Yoga class

9-10:30am Yoga class (make up for missed class Mondays because of night job)

IF I can 11:00-12:00pm yoga class (make up for missed class on Friday because of night job)

12:30pm-9:00pm TRAUMA THERAPY

9:30pm Home for sleeps

Thursday:

5am rising

6am-715am meditation

730 (early) to work-5:10pm (late staying and early coming most days because there is not enough time to come home between the two in the am and pm) TRAUMA THERAPY

5:30-6:45pm Yoga class (take or assist in the class)

7-10pm yoga academics class

10:30 Home for sleeps

Friday

5am rising

6am-715am meditation

730 (early) to work-4:30pm TRAUMA THERAPY

5-7:30pm second work ADDICTIONS THERAPY

8:00pm Home to write some notes and go to sleep

Saturday

5am rising

6am-715am meditation

745-845am YOGA CLASS  (take or assist)

9-1030am YOGA CLASS (take or assist)

HOME FOR COLLAPSE J

Sunday:

7:45-8:30am Breathing class

8:30-9:00am Karmic yoga (ie: clean up the studio)

9-11:00am ADVANCED YOGA CLASS (take)

5:45-7:15 Meditation

7:15-8:15pm Vegetarian Pot Luck (mental note, must remember to make something each and every week—when I don’t know!)

WEEK 1 of yoga school completed.  WEEK 2 is moving forward–with or without my consciousness!  I am proud to say I have only had an emotional or exhaustion breakdown 1-2 times per day!  Hoping to maintain or improve over the next week!

“Education is not filling a pail but the lighting of a fire.”

William Butler Yeats

Day one of 57 days of yoga school has just begun.  And tomorrow I have my first (maybe ever) 5:00am morning rising.  I am an awful and vicious morning person–I feel that this experience will either surmount this issue or solidify it.  Hoping sincerely for the former to happen.  The latter would be detrimental to household harmony and inner balance that is the ultimate goal of this whole excursion into self. 

I am a bit intimidated by this intensive monastic retreat into yogic curriculum during which 5:00am rising is mandatory for 7 days a week for 6:00am meditations, as well as 7 yoga classes a week, 2 three-hour sessions of yoga scholastics Tuesday and Thursday nights, breathing class and advanced yoga on Sundays, and no meat, fish, eggs, music, television, internet only sparingly (I count my blog as my one indulgent foray into the cybersphere for this journey), alcohol, smoking, ect. 

The isolative nature of this process is one concern as with my husband a meat-eating, television watching, music listening, internet scouring, smoking (one habit I wish he would leave behind) individual plus both of us avid movie-goers…with my newfound passion project afoot we have little in the way of compatible schedules and extracurriculars. 

This foray into self, into body, mind, spirit and beyond is certainly going to test me and my life on many fronts.  First, and foremost, being COMMITMENT.  This is a 57 day commitment like nothing I have ever endeavored before and one that has to come in conjunction with all those other, already committed endeavors–like my fulltime job, and my recent addition of part-time work at another therapeutic facility.  Plus dogs and husband–oh, my! 

I shall have plenty of room to breathe on this journey but what about down time from my introspection and self-reflection and stretching muscles of mind, body, and will?  My teacher training instructor made a joke at the beginning of our first session together tonight saying, “This is going to stress you all in new and intense ways.  Teresa is a trauma therapist so when you guys have become traumatized by this strenuous experience, everyone can go to her.”  He admitted, with a sly grin, he had waited since I signed up for this program back in August to say that joke. 

My only question–where does the trauma therapist go with everyone coming to her? Hmmm.  I will ponder the intricacies of my trepidation and exhaustion at the thought of exhaustion.  One day at a time, right?  It has to be.  Day 1–check.

” There is more to life than increasing its speed.”  
Mohandas K. Gandhi
A common mantra within addiction recovery it seems that it is an applicable phrase to anyone wishing to better themselves and make their life more profound and centered in every lived day.  Now is the time for New Year’s Resolutions of grand proportions and many if not most of us tend to fall off the wagon of our hopes and aspirations fairly quickly following the turn over of a new year.  We set high expectations of ourselves and what we need to accomplish and when we falter for a moment we give up and fall.  New Year’s declarations seem to imply an all or nothing follow through but what if we gave ourselves permission to falter without judgement and found the courage to continue forward despite weaknesses? 
 
 
Everything and anything is overwhelming when we look past this moment, this hour, this day in our life.  It is great to have goals but if we don’t enact a liveable now, always planning for a better tomorrow, we are easily distracted and taken off track today. What if you lived now and only now–letting go of past and future–and just breathed in the moment and released out the tensions of what was or what should be.  Yogic philosophy becomes an excellent tool in remembering to be in the moment.  
 
 
Yoga begins with breath.  Its essence is breath and everything from mindset to movement stems off of our ability to be centered in our body and breathing in sequence with motion and life.  What a great metaphor and symobilic realization of living life one day at a time.  Breath, when recognized, is the most present-centered action anyone can do.  What is more integral and visceral in the living experience than breathing?  What is a more powerful tool of self awareness and self-regulation than breath?  For me little else comes close to being viscerally and poigniantly “in the now” than breath. 
 
 
So as we all move forward into our resolutions and affirmations for 2010 maybe finding a way and a moment in each day to come back to breath, to awareness of self–body, mind, soul–in the now can help us enact whatever we have resolved to do today.  And move forward taking each moment and each experience one day at a time.  Mantras are mantras for a reason–one day at a time is something that is simple to understand and difficult to enact but possible for all.  I plan to work much harder on my own present-moment living this year.  I have a serious issue of my own living in past and future and losing the present in the process.  .Rachel over at Suburban Yogini wrote in a comment that she is planning on making this her year of mindfulness.  I, in turn, wish to focus this year on present-centered living….one day at a time. 
 
 
There are some people who eat an orange but don’t really eat it. They eat their sorrow, fear, anger, past, and future. They are not really present, with body and mind united.
Thich Naht Hanh
 
 
Mindfulness, as I described in the prior post, can be applied to eating and for some this can be in a life-saving kind of way.  Those that suffer from body dysmorphia and issues such as overeating, bulimia, and anorexia have trouble with self-love that is so intense, intimate, and palpable that it invades them from every angle both inside and outside of their physical beings.  I have heard people with disordered eating describe a feeling of being detached from their bodies, disconnected from their physical and emotional selves, and a genuine viewpoint of food as “the enemy”. 
 
 
This kind of disordered eating and contorted life view goes beyond just the everyday guilt over indulging in too much chocolate or sigh of remorse when reading a scale that reveals two more pounds in our weight.  Eating when tied with eating disorders becomes inextricably linked with emotion–eating for pain, eating to hide pain, stretching the body’s physical limitations for survival to a masochistic extent becomes more than a preoccupation and turns into a life-threatening compulsion.
 
 
The problem with eating when it is tied to emotions, much like any addictive behavior, is that the satisfaction found in food is only temporary and the pseudo-healing only superficial.  After deprivation, purging, or over-consumption a person is left not only with the original pains below the surface but also new pangs of guilt and shame.  It becomes a vicious cycle and obliterates any chance at eating for enjoyment or looking at food as other than a substance to be despised and obsessed over.
 
 
So, as it seems I always find, a discussion about food leads back to issues of trauma, issues of the mind/body connection, and a desperate need for a present-centered perspective on life.  To be present in the moment means, at least for one second, to force oneself to shed the pain of the past and focus on where the pain is in the present.  In focusing on pain and it’s origins in the present moment there is a way to find the root of unhealthy habits, behaviors and compulsions.  If we can focus on how food is making us feel in the moment, as we eat it, there is a way to break that cycle of pain and betrayal within ourselves and with our relationship with food and find what the real pain is below the surface. 
 
 
Mindfulness, breathwork, and a yogic mindset bring a body/mind connection into work with disordered eating and with any person who might find food or other addictive behaviors as a mask they use to hide from themselves and their inner pain.  Through this practice mindfulness and mind/body attunement becomes a gateway to learning the self better.  I had a client tell me that she yearned to be a yogi for years of addiction because of the freedom it seemed to hold but after achieving a yogic life she still found an inability to connect with it in  a soulful way.  Sometimes we have to start with baby steps, the yoga breath, the quiet mind, the present moment and one day at a time to get to a place where a yogic mindset can be fully appreciated. 
 
 
Whether we are dealing with traumas, addiction, or just emotional pain of any kind there is a struggle to find inner peace and sometimes a feeling of ambiguity in how to get there.  Sometimes it begins with small steps of self acceptance, self-reflection, and an ability to eat an orange for the sweetness of its juicy flesh and not for fear, anger, sadness, or any other emotional cause. 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
Operating Table by MikeIsNeat on flickr

“The body never lies.”

Martha Graham (famous dancer/choreographer)

  

 

Practice what you preach…it is essential, no?  It is a bit of a duh, if I do say so myself.  Well I just had a moment of sorts over the last 72 hours—a long harsh moment of reality thrust upon me, necessarily and with excellent timing (in the script of my life this is just where I would put such a revelation).  It was a moment—call it a “duh” or an “aha” or an “epiphany” if you will—that reminded me of the importance, non-optional and crucial nature, of holistic living in my own life. 

 

I talk about it with passion until I’m breathless and I vocalize it to anyone who will listen—a complimentary medicine and holistic approach to life is vital for full mind, body, and soul healing.  And although I work towards my own holistic health in baby steps I am not quite the vibrant enactor as I am the vocalize—I am a bit sluggish, sometimes even a bit resistant for all of the reasons I know that people are. 

 

I am stagnant in my old ways of thinking and living.  I am full of negative learned behaviors cultivated with great art over the years.  I am sluggishly lazy about making the alterations in full that would be necessary for living a truly clean, green , and healthfully mean life.  It is a scary prospect—to so drastically change our life patterns.  Yet at the same time to do so is so logical and such a small concession in the grander scheme of things—taking into account a longer, healthier, and less painful existence on all levels.

 

This week has shown me, that like the diabetic person that has not option of whether to take care of their body and their diet as they must do what is necessary or suffer serious, even life threatening consequences, I too must look at my holistic health from a more serious perspective.  Every move I make, or don’t, every substance, hormone, and edible thing I put in my body affects the state of it. 

 

I have (as much as I have been trying to ignore the severity of it for some time) a very serious and chronic illness which only becomes more pervasive and debilitating with time.  I am in a crucial stage of “change” or “be changed for the worse”.  I am on the precipice of a life and a body that could go either way and I have to treat the care of this bodily casing as if it were a life or death situation—it is at least the life or death of my womb that is at stake (not to mention the surrounding organs that are often ravaged by endometriosis like the bladder, bowel, appendix, among others–two out of the three I already have scar tissue on from fusing of organ to organ , by endometriosis growth, prior to my first surgery). 

 

I can no longer say, “Tomorrow I will live better,” or, “Just one more bagel can’t hurt,” or, “I’m just too tired for yoga today.”  I have to effect a lifestyle commiserate with the seriousness of my health, the necessity for self-care as a priority, and an active holistic approach to healing that I know to be so vital.  I can no longer sit on the sidelines of my body and wait to see what happens.  Proactive is the only way. 

 

It is hard, we all know, to shift so drastically the things that inhabit our daily lives, routines, and ways of being.  I know mine is somewhat of an extreme example of how everything we do, consume, imbibe and how it affects our internal and external health, but in some ways this drastic perspective on living is something we should all work harder to enact—and no one knows better than I how much of a struggle it is to do that. 

 

But I know, too, that my every moment and lifestyle decision affects me holistically so I must live taking my whole self into account.  I know that when I have steak, dairy, soda, and white bread my cramps worsen.  I know that and I ignore it quite often. 

 

My body gives me all the signals I need of how to care for it and thus far I have been very capricious with this precious and delicate physicality that I have.  But I can’t be a sideline player in the game of me versus endometriosis.  I have been reminded and reinvigorated by the knowledge that this illness will get worse—how fast and how much is really up to me, every day, and in the choices I make. 

 

We have much of the control over our living, but so often we don’t enact proactive (w)holistic health because it seems too hard or too much.  Well, I can say from experience that the alternative, what can happen when we don’t care for this precious container for our mind and our soul, is much worse than working hard to live well.

 

I hope that this–my life, my body, my situation–can be a reminder to everyone of how precious this life is and how precious these bodies are we have been given.  We owe it to ourselves to take the best care possible of it before something (and something can happen to anyone) happens that makes us realize it is too late to effect changes and damage has been done.  I, myself, am at my own precipice, facing my own “duh” moment and I have big changes to make to create a life  not just of forethought and promises of change, but a life of making that change—I am the one who loses if I don’t.  Life is not a sidelines game and our bodies are vital in the holistic care of ourselves—body, mind, and soul.

 

Daily yoga, clean eating, and beginning active courses of acupuncture will be my first steps to getting my body to a better place to fight the internal enemy that waits, biding  it’s time to eat away at me, from the inside out.  I can create a defensive line that can really save or at least preserve my internals for a longer time, not to do that would be dangerously capricious.  I no longer want to be dangerously capricious. 

 

This blog, this move, this timing of beginning yoga school soon and actively working towards a more yogic, meditative, healthier lifestyle seems (as I said above) to be almost a scripted path I am on.  What a more perfect time for me to be forced to take seriously the severity and vital nature of this life path I am treading on and the life health I am preaching to others.  “Practice what you preach!” my life is yelling at me from every angle imaginable–or beware the consequences. 

 

I prefer to listen to what I have been given and make the necessary changes to myself and my lifestyle that have been a long time coming and necessary to have a long time yet to come.  Endometriosis may be the internal enemy but I would rather to be fighting against the enemy, not aiding its troops with my every action.  I know for everyone effecting changes of any kind is a huge undertaking and no easy task–change is hard.  But change will come whether you enact it or something else does.  Proactive living is much more empowering.  I hope to finally be able to say, with no wavering, or equivocating, that I truly, holistically, practice what I preach.  I must, my body tells me so.

 

 Acupuncture heart by Sharon Pazner on flickr

“The body is your temple.  Keep it pure and clean for the soul to reside in.”

B.K.S. Iyengar, Yoga: The Path To Holistic Health

 Old Sidesaddle from Early Montana days by Bitterroot on flickr

The essential joy of being with horses is that it brings us in contact with the rare elements of grace, beauty, spirit, and fire. 

Sharon Ralls Lemon

  

As a little girl I was in love with horses.  I was mesmerised by dark beautiful flanks and haunting equine eyes watching the films Black Beauty and National Velvet and ached for a horse of my own and wide open fields to ride her in.  I remember from as little as five going to the reservation near our house and running ahead of my parents on the trail so, away from their sight, I could mimick the sound of hooves on dirt, creating a  rhythmic beat of feet on paths and with my imagination, as I stared straight ahead, I could believe I was sitting atop a horse of my own, meandering down trails on a Saturday afternoon.  But I was a suburban girl from an area where reservations were as close to fields as I got and where riding was too expensive to really be possible. 

 

Right before entering middle school I saved up an entire year of allowances and odd jobs money for summer camp  riding school which my parents promised I could take if I could earn enough to pay for it.  I made just barely the allotment, maybe a little less (and my kindly parents pitched in the remainder) and I remember the heart pounding glee of walking into the barn on that first day of class–the smell of hay in the air and the sound of hooves on the dirt.  This was the closest I got to really being anything like the “country horse girl” of my dreams. 

 

Because, as a suburbanite raised person, I am not a country girl.  I may be one in spirit or musical orientation, but I have never been able to qualify myself as a bona-fide, born and bred, workin’ boot wearing country girl.  I aspired with great adulthood imaginations during my time living in Fort Collins, Colorado, surrounded by pickups, cowboys and horse ranches, but I was never able to bring it to fruition–I lacked any of the practical skills and I could never two-step.  The closest I got were a few wonderful rides on horseback through the mountains of Estes Park, care of the local tourist ranches. 

 

I have also, for quite some time, been a great proponent of animal-oriented psychotherapies.  I know from personal experience (much the way I do with my own practice of yoga) the healing benefits that can be derived from a relationship with an animal–their silent acceptance free of judgement, their love without conditions, and their quiet ability to intuit emotions and pain in another. 

 

It was my greatest hope to be able to combine my therapeutic practice with an animal oriented approach and even throw in body/mind elements to create innovative holistic practices.  The idea of truly being able to bring this to pass just seemed a bit too much to hope for.  Well with recent fortuitous events it seems that I may be able to find a way to enter into the amazingly inspiring world of Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP), which I spoke about briefly in my Friday list from last week. 

 

In this pursuit and active research into the is therapeutic area (I am perhaps a compulsive researcher) I have learned about and ran into some passionate and wonderful people involved in EFP.  One thing that I have found, overall, as I explore all of the holistic realms of the complementary therapies is how many amazing and vibrant people there are out there and I am only lucky to have fallen into their path.  I am forever grateful for where my passions have led me so far and where they continue to lead me.

 Angel Smile Farm Grazing

I happened upon, this past week, a wonderful little patch of heaven called “Angel Smile Farm” in a rural area of Southern Florida right on the periphery of the metropolitan cities of this Southern tip of the state.  This farm is something that replication images could barely do justice to and radiates the kind of beauty and calm that leaves one breathless–at least this “one”.  It smells like freshly cut grass and stallions and looks like something out of a glossy equine photo shoot.  The front corral is edged with crisp white fence posts that stretch out into the distance.  A long sandy path takes you down to an equally crisp white barn with bright mexican blankets and splashes of turquoise and leather that feel quintessentially country with a touch of softness and feminine decor. 

 

The owner is a woman, Maurette, with a friendly laugh, a bold personality, and a passionate heart.  She is one of many people I have discovered in a short period of time with a passion for working to heal through horses.  She, like myself, is full of hopes and plans and dreams for where this work can go and I only had to see her farm once to fall immediately in love with expanses of blue skies and green fields speckled with palms and rugged Floridian trees.  It takes little imagination, even for someone like me who teems with imaginative wells, to imagine such a place being  a site for emotional healing or for someone like Maurette to be a person to bring those hopes to fruition. 

 

I am enthused at the prospect of becoming intermingled into this equine world that seems inexhaustible in this area of the world.  I have found my home in Florida, in the work that I am doing, and the professional and personal adventures which are following with each step I take. 

 

My dream is to find a way to bring all of these worlds together into a cohesive whole.  My teeming imagination envisions a center built on an expanse of land much like the one I discovered and fell in love with this week.  A center under which someone could find all manner of holistic treatment–where psychotherapy, yoga therapy, equine facilitated therapy, creative arts therapy, and so many others can work hand-in-hand, collaborating and overlapping at points for the most complete therapeutic healing approach.  A place that could help those in emotional need of effecting changes in their whole selves–mind, body, heart, soul. 

 

The more I meet amazing people with passionate hearts full of the same yearning to make change and healing happen whatever it takes, the more confidence I have in a future that includes all of these things.  Having met people like Maurette of  Angel Smile Farm, Michele of Heal My PTSD, as well as Geri and Penni of Kula for Karma, I become more confident in the potential shifts for the better in the future of healing both locally and nationally. 

 

I wrote in my prior post titled Elephant Tears about elephants experiencing trauma and finding healing again.  This post I’ve explored how animals, particularly horses, can assist in human healing.  One thing I know, there is something magical in both large majestic creatures–horses and elephants. 

 

There is something intrinsically wild and free watching a herd move.  The earth rumbles and they beat out a rhythm only nature could write.  Their intrinsic freedom provokes the same in the humans they touch–evoking a strength and invoking a freedom in a person that is potent.  Both animals have done muchto help me understand healing in a multidimensional way.  Both make my heart race and my soul ache for a taste of what they have inside of them. 

 

 

Below are some Links to Lists of Therapeutic Riding Centers around the nation enacting this fantastic work of equine facilitated psychotherapy. 

*I have no formal knowledge of these centers, this is just meant as a general reference list for those that are interested. See the NARHA website for a comprehensive listing of accredited horse therapy centers.*

 

NARHA (General Website address: See “CENTERS” link for all variations of links to accredited centers):

http://www.narha.org/

EFMHA (Equine Facilitated Mental Health Association):

http://www.narha.org/SecEFMHA/WhatIsEFMHA.asp

Maryland Horse Country Comprehensive Listing of Psychotherapy and Physical Therapy Equine Programs:

http://www.mdhorsesource.com/therapy.htm

NARHA Premier Accredited Centers: (National and International)

http://www.narha.org/Centers/center_status_search.asp

NARHA “Horses for Heroes” Program (for Veterans) with links to nationwide facilities:

http://www.narha.org/Horses%20For%20Heroes/NARHAHorsesforHeroes.asp

 

Angel Smile Farm Barn  

Where in this wide world can man find nobility without pride,
Friendship without envy,
Or beauty without vanity?
Here, where grace is served with muscle
And strength by gentleness confined
He serves without servility; he has fought without enmity.
There is nothing so powerful, nothing less violent.
There is nothing so quick, nothing more patient.

 

Ronald Duncan, “The Horse,” 1954

 

   

 

Moon Silhoutted Trees Mosaic by ctd 2005 on flickr 

        African proverb: “The ax forgets, the tree remembers.”

        Maya Angelou, Even the Stars Look Lonesome, 1997

 

 

When I left home for Fort Collins, Colorado at twenty I was running away.  Running away from my trauma, my memories of places, memories of the faces that had become blurred, and the history of a life that (at the time) I didn’t want to remember or own.  So, I went half way across the nation hoping for geographical healing and what I confronted was everything I left behind.  First, subconsciously, through painful mistakes, symptomatic responses in overdrive, and a very unhealthy and volatile relationship.  Then, intentionally, when two and a half years into my “new life” and many falls downward I realized that my demons, my ghosts, and my life didn’t disappear just because I did. 

 

I remember sitting in my first trauma therapist’s office and her making me do what I now know to be “The Empty Chair” Technique from Gestalt therapy and just crying all the tears I had been holding in for the person I was before my trauma, for the person I had become after it, and for all of the unnecessary years of guilt and shame I had bestowed on myself.  It was a first step on a very long journey that continued to include falling down, but at least it didn’t involve any more running away. 

 

Six months after the afternoon in that office I moved back to New Jersey—to confront myself and my memories in the place from whence they came.  I realized once I stopped hiding inside myself I no longer had to hide externally. 

 

On the brink of my move to Florida (just a few months ago) I wanted to make sure for myself that this was a move forward not a fleeing situation.  I find myself very attentive to my own self assessment—making sure I am making conscious decisions for viable reasons so as never to fall back into the trunk of my own car on the road of my own life again.  Most of me knows this will never happen, but the intellectual part of me just wants to think it through anyway.  I realized that in coming back to my hometown and confronting the faces and places that had haunted my mind I had been made free to find my home again.  Not home as a place on a map but as a space in my heart. 

 

I found home in my family, my friends, the new memories I created, and those I could let go of by confronting them.  I found home, most recently and most poignantly, in marrying my husband:  marriage being something I never thought I would do—some for feminist precepts that I held to tightly, but ultimately deep down I think I had cultivated a pervasive fear of trusting someone that implicitly with me—mind, heart, soul, and body

 

I found home in this past year in the most intimate way I could—In a family of my own, in love that gives all and allows the heart to receive all, and in learning in another that I could completely trust myself.

 

I realized in assessing my Florida move motivations that this physical move was essentially just shifting to another point on a map; the real move was a move forward to a life with my family of two plus (now) THREE dogs and an embracing of whatever is to come without fear. 

 

Trauma is like falling to the bottom of the deepest ravine or being pushed off a cliff’s edge into a frigidly cold ocean.  It is the hardest thing to climb out of and it takes all the strength you may have and often then a bit more than that.  You create new strength and new muscles you never had before in the process and it leaves you with a new sense of fearlessness.  Once you have seen the bottom of the coldest ocean and fallen from the highest peak the rest of life’s problems pale in comparison. 

 

Do you have weak points?  There are moments.  No one is impervious to life or feelings or memories.  There are moments when I wake up with a startle or I jump when someone comes up from behind or get a chill when I see a man leering at me, but they are identified and moved beyond—they are not paralyzing and immobilizing like they once were. 

 

 I don’t see shadows in my room every time I open my eyes or sleep with the lights on or numb out, block out, or space out to avoid the pain.  I do not fear life, fear love, fear touch anymore.  I do not hyperventilate and shake from some unknown triggered memory.  I do not hate my body (most days J).  I do not categorically hate men.  I do not wait for the day when the other shoe will drop or anticipate my world falling out from under me. 

 

I can move and move on without carting all that past pain around with me.  I can talk about healing from my own perspective as well as from my “therapist” chair.  I can, when hard days come (quoting, randomly,“Sex and the City”):  “Breathe and reboot.”  I can find my center, find my quiet mind, find my yogic self that can take life in.  I can let the past go enough so that I can keep breathing, breathing deeper, and breathing in this new life, new move, new dog, and whatever else is next. 

 

I will never run away again.  And I will keep remembering to run without fear into my future.

 

 

An Arabian Dream by TAYSER on flickr

          Experience is not what happens to you;
          it’s what you do with what happens to you.

            Adlous Huxley

 

* MY STORY to be continued tomorrow with the post “Full of Sound and Fury: A Survivor’s Tale”. *

 Woman in the Mirror by MCSimon on flickr

  Woman in the Mirror by MC Simon on Flickr

 

My girl puppy has a habit of looking herself in the mirror and barking ferociously.  I doubt it is because she hates the sight of herself, or she is angrily eyeing the bit of fat under her chin.  Most likely it is the fact that she is a dog and she thinks the dog in the mirror is an oddly similar looking intruder that she can’t quite get at.  All the same, the sight of my little girl, all dressed in fur, looking curiously at herself in the mirror often leaves me thinking, “Et tu Gaia? Et tu?”

 

Ecoyogini’s blog post yesterday entitled “Feminist Yoga” reflected on body image and sexualization issues as they impact even the yogic sanctum.  Her post led me back to a book I have loved and kept for well over a decade minding the body: women writers on body and soul which discusses issues of body images and the correlating sentiments of women writers. 

 

As I begin a new job I find myself standing in front of the mirror a little too long every morning weighing multiple issues: do I look professional enough, do I look appropriate enough, and yes, am I showing “too much” flesh.  From a feminist perspective those thoughts link back to a much bigger issue than me–or my puppy–in a mirror.  These inflicted restrictions on the self come from a larger determining body–culture, society, and yes, gender perceptions and stereotypes. 

 

We all coexist in a society plagued by issues of domestic violence, sexual violence, and external abuses that are more often inflicted on women than men.  It is just statistically true.  They can lead to body dysmorphia, and subsequent body issues from anorexia and bulimia,  to cutting and trichotillomania (hair pulling) as well as other masochistic behaviors which women inflict (statistically much more than men) on themselves, on their bodies in a horribly punitive way. 

 

1 in 6 women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. 

17.7 American women have been victims of  attempted or completed rapes.

Women are 5 to 8 times more likely than men to be victimized by an intimate partner.

Roughly 33% of girls and 14% of boys are molested before the age of 18.

 

Some women who have survived sexual trauma or abuses will gain weight as a protective shell, to try to avoid sexualization by hiding their body within their own body. Some will become overly sexualized and sexually active as a way to take power back over the act that betrayed their innocence and their bodies.  Some will carve into their flesh as a means of eradicating emotional pain by distracting themselves with the release of blood and ache in a physical way. 

 

Many others will use the cutting, other self abuses, and weight gain or particularly loss (as in anorexia) as a self punishment for abuse in their lives they blame on themselves.   The use of overeating, undereating, and purging (bulimia) is also used as a method of control over the self when other things in the world have not been controllable for that woman– such as the abuses or control inflicted on them by some external force. 

 

Women intake all the world’s garbage and bile about body image and take it in or purge it out in ways that can be deadly.  And even when it is not physically deadly it can be catastrophic for a woman’s self image, capacity for self-love, and ability to take care and heal themselves.  These disruptive and unhealthy coping mechanisms woman have used as shields to protect against future harm. 

 

And as minding the body explicates on our image of ourselves, our perception of what is “right” or “good” for a woman, and what we “should” be is not limited to the self-abuses inflicted following being abused by another person.  Our bodies can be our abusers. 

 

I think of my endometrioisis and the pain it brings me.  As I sit here now I feel the ripples and spasms fluctuate through my body and I try to list what I did or what I ate today that might have, on my part, contributed to the ache.  minding the body also references issues around infertility, cancer, and other physically, biologically inflicted wounds that jar and mangle the parts of ourselves we see as “woman” or as “beautiful” by the standards and precepts we have been given to judge ourselves.

 

Some days I hate my body.  For its shape with thick bold curves and an ever expanding waistline with every year.  For the pains it brings me.  For how I look in my clothes or the parts of myself that seep out of even the most professionally geared garment just due to my biologically endowed physique.

 

On days like today, when I probe into the whys and hows, I feel frustration at having those moments of self-loathing.  I feel that I should “know better” but of course knowing is not feeling and we all have to work constantly not to submit to what we have been taught is the only acceptable perfection as a woman: to be overly dramatic the image of a Stepford wife pops in my head, devoid of any emotional depth or ache, a perfect chef, with a non-existent waist , and whispy blonde hair. 

 

So how do we love ourselves when it feels that so many images and perceptions of beauty tell us, for one reason or another, not to?  For the everyday body image issues of a cursory lack of self-satisfaction I would say taking into account all of these external forces and maybe applying a little of the perception piece I talked about yesterday can be a starting point.  But often the pain of the body and hate of the self can be rooted so much further than skin deep.  It can come from pains and aches that are far below the surface and far beyond the reach of what can just be seen by the eye or in a mirror. 

 

 The premise of body-oriented studies and therapeutic treatments is the opposite of self-loathing and idolizing the impossible; it is meant to be self-embracing.  It is a potential holisitic antidote to the pain many women contain within their hearts, minds, and bodies.

 

Yoga and body-oriented therapies can work to mend some of that pain by creating a safe and healthy relationship with the body and a way for someone to love themselves and care for themselves by learning how to enjoy what their body is capable of.   Yoga is being used and spoken about more and more in reference to trauma (as I have talked and written about before) and for eating disorders.  Other methods that access our bodies to help us love ourselves and heal include dance therapy and anything else within the arena of movement arts. 

 

The body is the entry point for so much pain and for many women it is where their trauma entered them, invaded them, and brought them to an emotional place where they feel hate, shame and blame for their own selves.  The body is a place of much trauma and pain for many women and is a place where healing can begin.  Yoga in particular can teach us to breathe again, teach us to move with empowerment, and can bring a sense of love for the body that contains so many memories of pain and hate. 

 

The practice of yoga must be touched on lightly and often, with trauma, I think if someone is going to try yoga or body therapies as a means to healing from trauma they should work slowly, work with someone who knows trauma, and often starting small and individually  before entering the often bombarding sphere of a classroom.

 

This is also why I think it is so important to have more trauma-oriented yoga professionals because as a teacher you never know who will enter your class and what they will bring with them as well as what the class, with its access of the body, may bring up for them in a powerful way.  It is also why I think it is important to have more and more training for yoga professionals, mental health professionals, and persons from a trauma background that explain the nature of trauma and the relationship to the body and mind as well as a way to use yoga in a healthy way for traumatized persons.  Whether the trauma is internal–illness or injury–or externally inflicted there is a need for all people entering into this field of mind/body connection to be as educated and aware as possible. 

 

That is why I have begun formulated and giving such trainings for professionals of many fields and persons who are suffering from trauma.  If you want more information on my endeavors please see the “Trainings” Section of my website Embody (W)holistic Mental Health or for information on trauma and yoga you can look at the articles on the same website. 

 

I want to thank EcoYogini for focusing on such an important issue as body image on her blog and giving me the inspiration to focus on this area that is so important to me.  

 

My thoughts and heart go out to anyone suffering from trauma and pain emotional and otherwise.  I want every woman to know that I am thinking of you as I write this and the pains you might have suffered.  Love yourself in some way today.  Do something for yourself because you deserve it. 

 

 I plan to eat some cheese and stretch.  Because I love cheese as much as a mouse and stretching as much as a cat. 

 

 

daring by MC Simon on flickr

 daring by MC Simon on flickr

 

You use a glass mirror to see your face.  You use works of art to see your soul.

George Bernard Shaw

Unpaved Road Home

 

They say, whoever they are, that the road to hell is paved with good intentions but what happens when the road isn’t paved at all? 

 

The road to my new house (shown above) is definitely not paved at all and I’m pretty sure I unintentionally stumbled upon the metaphor for my life right now.  The road I am walking, the path I am taking is definitely an unpaved route.  It is rough and wild, with persistent weeds poking through the center and potential surprises with every semi-cautious step. 

 

I feel like potential avenues abound and the opportunity for the new and surprising is invigorating, I don’t know what’s next but I feel something on the horizon that leaves me buzzing with energy. 

 

At the same time I remember the experience of jumping out of my car on the first day in Florida with the same buzzing.  I was invigorated by the junglish and wildly overgrown pocket of road that hid our home and the few small surrounding cottages from the view of the highway complexes and strip malls.  I excitedly pressed my feet into the soggy earth only to screech at the three thistly balls that had wedged themselves into the flesh of my foot pad.  Beauty with hidden prickers. 

 

I, again, see the potential for metaphor in this experience.  The excitement of the new, of potential, holds in it equal potential for prickers.  Often hidden prickers.  A new blog, a new website, a new state, a new job, new speaking opportunities, and writing opportunities–so many amazing possibilities for wonderful things but also for mis-steps. 

 

I admit that I am both excited about the jungle of the new and afraid of what thistly things might be burrowed in the rich soil.  It does not mean that I will not surge forward and enjoy the buzz but it does mean that I will be aware that nothing comes in a perfect package and not expect life without error.  Overzealous expectation: that has been a past flaw that I recognize in myself. 

 

Part of the meditative, internal knowing of oneself that is part of the constant journey of contemplative practices, spiritual and personal attunement, and what is such a valuable benefit of practices like yoga necessitate us understanding our good and our bad, our unhealthy patterns, and the bumpy unpaved nature of life’s road. 

 

I have learned from living in Florida thus far that a sunny day can go dark in minutes and fluffy blue skies will at some point turn black and angry.  I know there are thistles in even the greenest earth.  And sometimes a beautiful warm evening may contain a flying beetle attack (this is a very personal experience that included a twitch-tastic panic attack). 

 

Sunny Beach Day

 

Light can turn dark and we have to know that and be able to breathe and quiet our mind even more in preparation of the darker days.  It is easy to smile at the sun, we must also learn to smile at the black cloud.  That is a lesson I am learning and working towards daily.  I think it is a lifelong pursuit. 

 

As I walk down my unpaved path and drive down my new unpaved sandy street coming home from work I am still both excited and anxious; but I accept both parts of myself and work towards a smile whatever the weather. 

 

 

The road to success is always under construction.

Lily Tomlin

 

Dark Beach Skies

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