Overwhelm: The New Plague

Life gives us interesting experiences!  Most of the things that happen in my life, I can easily look at them, decide they are good, and proceed down the road, with gratitude.  Some things that happen take a bit longer to extract the joy, the lesson, the fun out of them.  One such situation has set me on a new thought pattern, thinking about the plague of ‘overwhelmed’.

I grew up in northern Missouri, and we had few first cousins, who all lived in Washington State.  So we really didn’t see them much.  We had quite a few second cousins in our area, with whom we weren’t that close.  One such cousin, eight years older than me, has also ended up here in my town, and is now needing assistance in maintaining his independence.  Congestive heart failure has slowed him down, put him on oxygen and a walker, and made him realize how disabled he’s become.

His mother lived with him for ten years before her death, and she was a hoarder.  His house was therefore filled with useless and unsorted items.  Even worse, she left her house back north full in the same way!  He’s spent years slowly trying to clean out her things in both locations, but hasn’t done a very good job of getting rid of things.  I realized that though one could imagine he’s a hoarder, he’s not!  He’s overwhelmed by her hoarding and can’t figure out how to get started.

Well, over the past month, with the help of two sisters, we’ve reorganized and cleaned a bunch of the house he lives in as well as cleaning out the house his mother left full of her things.  We’re helping him to achieve optimal health by helping him to feel less overwhelmed by his environment.  I think it’s critical.

The payoff:  in discussing this situation with others, I’ve realized how many people pounce on that word “overwhelmed” when I talk about his situation.  A friend told me she’s heard all the advice about doing one small thing a day, or making a list and getting organized, but that the overwhelm prevents her from even getting started.  Another who experiences stress and anxiety often and can’t seem to cope, likewise said the word totally describes how she feels too much of the time.  Even on the TV show, “Hoarders”, I find that in nearly every episode that word comes up.  Too many of us are too overwhelmed by too much, too much of the time.

To me, this echoes my earlier thoughts that most of us are living in a fear-based world….whether we fear for our literal survival, for  the ‘what would they think if they knew me?’ thoughts, for our own belief in our lacks of talents and capabilities, or for our need to keep ‘stuff’ (be it emotional, physical, or mental):  too many of us are overwhelmed in our current lives, and unsure how to get unstuck from these fears.

How do we get unstuck from the concept that we can’t even start the project of moving forward, because we fear that first step?  This, to me, is the new plague of our times:  the paralysis that comes from feeling that we can’t move forward because the path is too long and difficult.  How do we change that perception, and see everything before us a wonderful and intriguing journey instead of a torturous gauntlet that we already know can’t be overcome?  How do we decide we’re ready to plunge forward into whatever needs to happen?

And though I can’t answer that question, I’ll pose what I think is a more important one:  How do we, as therapists, as friends, as human beings, use our own personal powers to motivate, encourage, and assist others to break free of their overwhelmed syndrome and move forward in their lives?  This seems to me to be the definition of a good friend and a good person.  Though I can’t always do this happily and with enthusiasm, this is my goal.  I want to help others break through their fears and move into the light, the joy, the pure fun of living that too many of us keep at bay, because the journey may be overwhelming.

I’m reminded that Ernest Holmes, founder of Science of Mind, used to say:  “It’s simple, but it’s not easy.”  Amen.

Self-esteem, or Self-actualization?

I teach bodywork courses because I learn so much about bodywork and about life from my students.  When I teach, especially if I’m delving into something I’m not quite sure about, I force myself to get more comfortable with foreign materials and concepts that help me grow as a person.  I also have an opportunity to hear from others about new ideas, some their own, some from readings or course information they present to me.  I have an opportunity to allow myself to see and hear the world through many more eyes and ears than I have in my own body; these students bring me fresh information and ideas in every course.

Generally, something in a class situation will trigger a new thought or idea in me.  We may talk about information I think I know very well; someone brings me a new idea or a new twist on my old ideas, and it sends me to the textbooks, to the internet, to a new book I’ve not heard about before this time.  Or I’ll state what seems obvious to me; then be challenged, or informed I’ve been passed by in the real world by new information.  It’s a humbling and blessing experience.

Recently in a CORE II course, we began discussing my concept of self-esteem and self-actualization, and managed to refine it a bit more.  I’ve watched far too many on this planet at this time struggle with issues of self-esteem.  It seems Louise Hay has been right all these years since You Can Heal Your Life, when she suggested that low self esteem is at the root of many if not all illnesses and conditions that cause us problems.  Our discussion took us to the term self-actualization.  You may remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs:  we must have food, shelter, security, but we crave warmth, socialization, and other aspects that give us a rounded and full life instead of one in which we merely survive.  If our needs are reasonably met, we’re said to be self-actualized.

I realized I feel fairly self-actualized…though none of us on the planet are perfectly there.  I remember a quote from Carl Rogers, who said he always reminded himself he was enough before he started working with a client!  I love that concept, and have decided I am enough, and I do enough, and I have enough.  I’m not wealthy beyond measure, but I feel wealthy.  My relationship with my partner isn’t perfect, but it’s healthy and happy.  My work is satisfying; my circle of friends is loving and my reflection time is fruitful.  Would I enjoy more?  Probably.  Am I satisfied with what is in my life?  Definitely.

This realization got me thinking about the truth that we as parents often work hard to instill self-esteem in our children.  I remember reading a book several years past, called Not Everyone Gets a Trophy.  It discussed this very issue; how too many parents are creating children who crave self esteem given from others, and never develop their own self esteem.  To me, they therefore can never self actualize!  I believe it’s only when we learn to create our own self-esteem instead of seeking it in the form of approval from others, that we can approach self actualization.  We must learn to meet our own needs, and in this age of helicopter parents (think hovering) some of us never get a chance to learn how to do so.

Like all good things, the best self esteem comes from within, from a deep core knowing that we are enough and we do enough and we have enough.  The best self actualization is truly of the self.  As long as we teach our children that we can and must provide these items to and for them, we fail them, and we fail us.  And frankly, as long as we feel the need to make our children’s lives pain free and full of self-neediness instead of self-esteem or self-actualization, we fail all of us, greatly.

Why Does Science Wish to Control?

For years I’ve perceived people and situations around me in black and white—I think most of us do.  For instance, I used to think of people as being either artists or salesmen; spiritualists or scientists, Democrat Liberals or Republican Conservatives, hearts or heads, me or them.  It’s what Tolle suggests we all do as we try to distinguish the ‘me’ from the ‘not-me’.  In his thinking, we try to enhance the me at the expense of the not-me.  Perhaps if we’re on the planet, it’s one of our great challenges to stop sorting, categorizing, and labeling all parts of our world so we feel more in control.  Perhaps our greatest challenge is to allow the world to sort itself and see that in fact, the less sorting done, the better our world can become.  And perhaps we could all learn to look for a balance point somewhere between art or spirit and technology or science, between heart and head.  Could we learn to respect all points of view, giving each tolerance if not credence?

This blog was triggered by an article recently shown me by two students of bodywork who have trained with me in the past.  They’ve found great results from the work I’ve shown them, but they’re now confused to read an article by a similar style practitioner who believes only in the evidence, and therefore discounts the type of work I do and teach.  How does one respond when a scientist labels my work as invalid because it doesn’t fit into his model?  How indeed?

I’m reminded of All Is Well, a recent book by Louise Hay and Mona Lisa Schulz, which suggests that science and intuition are two wheels of a bicycle, and we get much farther if we use both wheels equally.  I appreciate their wisdom:  science without intuition seems as dangerous to me as intuition without science seems to scientists.  I agree with Hay and Schulz that we travel much farther and more comfortably when we keep both wheels on the ground.  And here’s my beef:  that scientific community seems to believe that their current science is sacred, and their ‘me’ person chooses to disallow others from having a (not-me) viewpoint that might become more important than their own.  I suggest that a scientist is entitled to their reality, BUT they must allow others to hold equal regard for their own beliefs.  To suggest that their answers are the only correct answers is downright foolish, in my opinion.  I even devote a chapter to this Science vs Intuition conflict in my coming book, Getting Better at Getting People Better (out soon with Singing Dragon, London and Philadelphia).

Specifically, scientists are telling us that the release work I use, and teach, on the psoas muscle (which is buried deep on the front of the spine and reaches to the inside of the leg) is invalid.  My twenty-eight years of observing the phenomenon of getting release from this muscle tells me something good is happening.  Their observation that such work doesn’t fit their model and is therefore invalid, is maddening to me.  I have seen too much good coming from my work to disbelieve in it after all these years.  I theorize that these scientists are missing a large piece of the puzzle.  It may be as simple as placebo effect:  perhaps I’m doing nothing but making people feel better…is that a bad thing?  Perhaps they don’t realize that in my model, massage of the deep psoas muscle also stimulates both the blood vessels near it, and the digestive system, and the important vagus nerve, which I think of as the nerve of well-being.  I believe if they’ll widen their focus on research, they’ll find some valid projects that point to the importance of heath in this vagus nerve.

But this example strays from my point.  I believe it’s dangerous for any of us to shout too loudly about how our answers are the only correct ones for the rest of the people on the planet.  None of us has all the answers for every person each time; all of us have right answers for some of the people, some of the time.  I work to respect and keep abreast of the scientific community’s advances and discoveries.  I don’t agree with all the findings this community brings, and occasionally I’m proved right when science retreats from earlier, now untenable positions.  But I allow science the opportunity to do its work, without strident criticism.  I’d appreciate the same from science.  I trust my intuition which is grounded in my science.  I wish scientists would trust their science but ground it in intuition as well.

I’m reminded of a business card I was given by a student years ago.  It said simply, “Dear _______:  I don’t need your help today.  Love, God.”

Now That’s CORE Work, ch 2

My last post about CORE Work and the opportunity to practice it focused exclusively on my right knee, which blew out a little over a month ago.  At the time I was a bit concerned as I couldn’t put weight through it, couldn’t get up and down stairs easily, couldn’t twist, etc.  And, I was heading to Jamaica where I was staying in a second story apartment.  I’m happy to say that five weeks later, I feel about 90% rehabilitated…this morning I caught myself running downstairs while holding a cup of coffee, which hasn’t happened in awhile!

Yesterday I finished presenting a CORE I class here in Springfield, and as usual, it was a great learning for me.  As I/we talk and discuss, new ideas often present themselves, or new words show up to describe what we’ve been looking at for years, but suddenly see in a new light.  In this course, I decided it’s time to retire the concept of ‘trauma’ and replace trauma with the concept of ‘unresolved information’.

In other words, we can always decide we’ve been traumatized:  Daddy beat us or abused us; we had a bad car wreck at age 3 that left residual tension; we were environmentally poisoned by foods, chemicals, and people; we felt judged by too many.  Anything that comes into the bodymindcore can be perceived as trauma, or can be perceived as information.  While it may be a stretch, anything that comes into the bodymindcore may be perceived as nutrition; even the ‘bad’ stuff.  Personally, the plane wreck that nearly took away my ability to walk has been one of the greatest gifts in my life, and has absolutely fed my soul.  Would I like to receive that gift again?  Absolutely not!  Am I grateful for the gift I received?  Unqualified yes.  And I only realized, talking with a student, that I’ve been viewing that 27 year old wreck, all along, as information as much as I think of it as trauma.  The damage to my body has given me the opportunity to go deeper into my bodymindcore and find out what I’m holding, what I’m hiding from, and what I could let go of so I could feel healthier and happier.

The student was talking about the importance of good foods to health.  While I totally agree, my point to her was that whatever we ingest is nutrition:  thoughts, feelings, information from others which seems either positive or negative…all that comes into our awareness and our bodies can be used for good, to build us up.  It can also be used to tear us down if we either make bad choices as to what we ingest, or if we won’t allow that which is ingested to move through us.  It’s information!  It’s not trauma unless we give it that power.

Granted, when one is in a bad wreck and damaged severely, there’s trauma.  When one is beaten or abused by someone who holds the power, there’s trauma.  But perhaps trauma is simply more information than a bodymindcore knows how to process in the moment.  Perhaps being healed from this trauma is a simple as remembering to allow self to ingest, feel the trauma/information, process it and release it.  Too many of us fall down on that part–we decide that information, literally informs who we are and how we feel.  We allow our information/pain/trauma to control us.

Years ago one of my mentors talked about the acceptance by us of demons and energies from others in our world and from the world itself.  He believed much bad health came from attracting such demons to us.  I never liked his language; I preferred to think of these ‘entities’ as negative thought forms.  Eventually I chose to call them ‘unresolved thought forms’.  It follows to me that unresolved is the appropriate term when we talk about our traumas, and that in order to allow them to release more easily we can frame them as information instead of trauma.

How does this help us?  To me, it corroborates John Pierrakos’ work in CORE Energetics and his wife Eva’s work in Pathwork of Self Transformation:  Feel your feelings; allow your bodymindcore to live more fully in the environment where you find yourself, and keep moving forward into a larger environment, leaving behind the ‘information’ that no longer serves.

Simple?  Sort of.  Easy?  Not usually.


Many years ago, when I first met Susan Findlay, owner/director at NLSSM school of massage in London, she told me she would like me to offer a course on knees.  I responded that I didn’t feel I did good work with knees, but focused on getting better hips and ankles; then knees seemed to get better on their own.  Her response:  “If you’re not comfortable with knees, that’s the course you need to teach!”  At the time, I wasn’t pleased with her response; I’ve come to see the value in it since.

I’ve recently given myself an opportunity to test my theories about bodywork, much more strongly than I might have liked.  A few days ago I severely injured my right knee….working for several hours on a friend’s cold concrete floor, with lots of kneeling and twisting.  After several hours with just the right twist, I heard a loud ‘pop’ and felt that my knee was very unhappy.  As far as I could self-diagnose, it seemed I’d either damaged my lateral collateral ligament or torn the lateral aspect of the meniscus.  Either way, I couldn’t put weight into the knee, couldn’t bend or flex, and couldn’t get comfortable for quite some time.

Background:  for the past several weeks I’ve been working with David Berceli’s Trauma Release exercises, and I think have been making great progress in getting my left leg restored to function.  That’s the leg that was injured most in the plane wreck I survived in 1987.  Since then, I’ve damaged both knees on several occasions; it was in my head that I’d get my feet, legs and knees to match each other and function more fully together by using Berceli’s work, and I believe that is/was happening.  Perhaps some of the stretching I was doing also prepared me a bit too well!  I was really chasing my toe and ankle hinges to give me more lift in my toe pushups; and overdoing is always a possibility when one works at self-improvement.

Anyway, what an amazing opportunity to self-rehabilitate!  And I’m pleased to say it’s working:  48 hours after the initial shock, I was back to about 75% function in that knee, and continuing to feel stronger by the hour.  I think the ‘formula’ that’s working for me gives us all something to think about.  While I can now negotiate lifting myself up a step through that leg and knee, I can’t yet sink through the knee without a great deal of pain, and I don’t see the value of too much pain.

So what’s working?  Why am I getting better, without MRI’s and surgery?  First, I’ve not pushed myself too fast or too far…there’s very little twisting involved, and precious little bending and flexing yet.  I’m only beginning to trust myself to give a bit of flexion while still doing most of the the lifting work through my arms, and I have a pretty good sense of what’s too much and what’s just right in terms of the paces I put myself through.  The big toe pushups, again and still remain the single most important piece of work I can find to rehabilitate the entire line, but especially the knee.  Second, I’m always interested in breathing, or at least in staying relaxed while I work to rehabilitate.  When I push too far and too fast, I stop breathing.  It’s that simple.  Third, I tend to want to look for longer lines of transmission in my body.  I’m as interested in what’s happening in my big toe on that foot, and what’s going on in my low back, as I am in what the knee itself has to say.

And last, I do subscribe to the ‘use it or lose it’ school of thought.  I’ve seen too many frozen shoulders or creaky knees where patrons told me that it hurt if they moved, so they quit moving.  Well, how does one expect to get better if one hides from the challenge?  While I can understand the thought process, I can’t condone it.  We must move through pain and fear to get to the other side!  I truly believe that too much of what we call debilitating is simply fear-based lack of movement into and through a problem spot.  And so far, this experience is bearing me out on that thought.

So, the good news:  another learning experience, another healing, another opportunity to practice what I preach.  While I’d prefer to not put myself into these situations, I’m thrilled that I can still find my way out of them.  I’m slowly returning to a regular climbing of stairs and full range of movement through the knee hinge, and it’s coming.  I believe all of us could be inspired to slowly but with purpose, move into and through the pain and fear, and return to function and joy.


Lately, more and more, I’m encouraging students and patrons to allow themselves to be vulnerable; when they’re learning new ideas in courses or when they’re trying to use their bodies in different ways as I challenge them to move through their pain.  It’s an intriguing idea to many that they might allow their weaknesses to come out and talk to them.  Too many of us will do whatever we can think of to do to not allow our vulnerabilities to show, or be felt.

The word ‘vulnerable’ comes from the Latin root which means ‘to wound’; therefore ‘vulnerable’ could be seen to mean ‘woundable’.  While this isn’t exactly the definition and the feeling I’d like to foster in those who come to me for help or instruction, it’s not far off the mark.  I’m not interested in getting my patrons or students to be wounded, but I am interested in getting them to feel their old wounds and allow the feelings trapped in them to surface and then release.

Most of us had experiences as a child of scraping a knee, or having insect bites or cuts that got infected and formed scabs.  Many of us remember the desire to pick at those scabs; to see if the healing had yet occurred.  Most of us knew and intuited that if we picked too often and too deep, we impeded the healing.  Yet, sometimes, picking off the old scab and allowing fresh energy to permeate the wound could also be a step in the healing of that wound.  I think sometimes bodywork, and life, are like that.  Occasionally one must go ahead and dig into the wound, expose the painful and vulnerable parts, and then start fresh.  Clearly, it’s not a good idea to only poke and prod a wound  (“Don’t pick at that, you’ll just make it bleed again!”); but it’s also not necessarily a bad idea to dig into the wounded places a bit.

Lately I’m intrigued by two disparate authors/practitioners:  John Sarno, MD, author of The Divided Mind, and Peter Levine, psychologist and author of In An Unspoken Voice.  Both seem to me to illustrate this idea of digging into the vulnerability, appropriately, to facilitate the healing.  While they come at healing from different directions, I find it interesting that Sarno as a physician supports the idea of finding the vulnerability in the mind, while Levine as a psychologist supports the idea of finding the vulnerability in the body, in order to release and resolve the trauma stored there.

Sarno’s work is based on his model of TMS or Tension Myositis Syndrome.  He suggests that nearly all of us suffer from some degree of this disorder, which is psychosomatically induced by the stressors of the world.  He sees PTSD  (posttraumatic stress disorder), fibromyagia and chronic fatigue syndrome or CFS, and repetitive motion disorders such as carpal tunnel as all manifestations of TMS.  He believes all these conditions originate in a personality that feels it must be perfect and good, more and more of the time.  He feels he can help those patients who will first be vulnerable enough to recognize themselves in this profile, then allow themselves to feel their repressed feelings.  He has amazing success with those who will allow their vulnerability.

Levine, on the other hand, works more specifically with PTSD, and has found that if he can simply get people to slow down and work through their own body movements with awareness and vulnerability, often the slow motion, non-thinking expression of stuck energy will allow them to unwind the PTSD.  By anchoring his clients’ work in the body’s vulnerabilities, he’s able to help them release and resolve the trauma stuck in the bodymindcore.

Both these practitioners understand and agree on the need to get patients, clients, or patrons to decide to allow their feelings to move into and through their tissues.  Think of this!  The allowing of feelings is something many of us don’t do well.  Allowing feelings suggests that we look at our wounds, dig into the scabbed-over parts and draw a bit of fresh blood so that we can move energy again.  Nobody likes fresh blood!  Yet, if we can’t allow such movement of energy, we remain stuck.

Can you allow vulnerability to be a healing and helpful word, or do you insist on putting a band aid on your wounds?

While The World Holds Its Breath

The longer I work, the more I’m convinced health all comes down to knowing how to breathe.  It may be this plague for our times is caused simply by the inability to remember to breathe in and out, gently, slowly, uniformly and often.  This plague could be and has been identified in many ways:  panic or anxiety, fibromyalgia, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, repetitive motion disorders, or as John Sarno calls this condition in The Divided Mind (Harper, NY, London, Toronto, Sydney), TMS or Tension Myositis Syndrome.  To me, all are signals that something has taken one’s ability to breathe away.  One is either holding their breath, forgetting to breathe, or waiting to exhale.  Too many of us forget the simple procedure known as breathing.

If we subscribe to the concept that the world feels unsafe to most of us, you can see why we might be holding our breath.  Perhaps it’s as simple as childhood abuse issues that caused one to hold their breath and try to be invisible.  Perhaps it’s watching too much TV news and feeling unsafe in one’s neighborhood or world.  Perhaps it’s being in a relationship where one feels unheard, misunderstood, or threatened.  For whichever of many reasons (nearly as many reasons as there are people on the planet) too many of us are afraid to take a deep and cleansing in and out breath.

Recently a student in one course asked me what I thought of people who seem to be locked at the top of an inhale:  what I call an ‘inspired’ person.  His question was basically, what do we do to help them?  My answer is simple:  teach them to inhale, but also to exhale.  This led me to remember that many people are what I think of as ‘expired’ people; those who never bother to bring any air in beyond a small and essential minimum.  Again, we must teach our clients, and ourselves, to breathe!

A new client presented himself to me this week; he’s been having a series of good bodywork from a well known therapist whose work is highly respected, and rightly so.  Yet after many sessions, this man had no concept of how to breathe, and so hadn’t made much progress towards releasing or resolving the tension in his body.  In one session, I quickly saw that his inbreath reached a count of two.  As I worked I coaxed him into longer breaths, with very little success.  Finally, deciding he was an achiever, I challenged him to bring in breath to a count of five instead of two.  It worked!  Fairly quickly, he was learning to take long, nurturing inhales and exhales, which he’d never bothered to do in the past.  We made remarkable progress in one hour, predicated on his learning to breathe in and out.  First and foremost.

My brother-in-law Dr. Ralph Harvey, a family practitioner and adjunct faculty member at Michigan State University, sent me a recent message about the work he’s been doing as he experiments with alternative techniques.  I found this piece exciting:

“~Slow breathing- ~ 6 breaths/minute brings down sympathetic tone, (which allows parasympathetic tone to rise)


~slow breathing/decreased sympathetic tone is accomplished by the Vagus nerve and the signal is bi-directional. One of the outcomes is increased Heart Rate Variability ( HRV). Increase in HRV can be seen as a marker for other body changes…like overall decrease in inflammation


~ increasing HRV is associated with:

~ Improved cardiac function- marked improvement in patients with severe end stage heart disease.

~relaxed brain wave patterns… increase in 12-15 hz over the sensory motor cortex

~decrease in LDL bad cholesterol

~decrease in stress hormones, including decrease in cortisol…(which may indirectly improve diabetic control via hepatic glucose output)

~decreased release of Tumor Necrosis Factor from the spleen in inflammatory disorders ( think rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease.)”


In other words, think of nearly any condition in the body, and realize that a good breath may be the beginning of correcting the underlying cause of the problem!

I’ve just worked my way through In An Unspoken Voice by Peter Levine (North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA 2010) in which he claims that much of what we see as problems in the body can nearly be traced to PTSD or posttraumatic stress syndrome.  He believes much of what’s wrong with us could be alleviated if we’d simply learn to revisit the frozen parts, slowly and with breath.  While it’s more complex than that, in general his ideas are simple, yet profound.

I’ve long tried to convince my patrons to learn to expand their breath capacity and their ability to exchange oxygen by breathing out even longer than they breathe in…so for example, if they can breathe in for a count of 8, in invite them to try to breathe out for a count of 12, which insures a cleansing of the lungs.  It works.  And slow, long breath is very possibly one of the keys to a good and long life.  So simply pointing out to our patrons, clients, patients that they don’t breathe, and challenging them to learn how to breathe, could very well put us out of business!  This is something we all should want to achieve.

How about you?  Are you inspired?  Do you refuse to exhale?  Or are you expired?  Do you refuse to inhale?  Or are you stuck somewhere in between, or inhaling only tiny blips of breath which keep you minimally alive?  Are you ready to make a change, and help those you help to help themselves?

Do You Take Up Space?

Recently I completed a great CORE II course in London with ten eager and intelligent students.  I feel that these students and I are having a positive impact on the way bodywork is practiced in the UK, as I’m presenting to them the idea that good bodywork is even more than knowing the science and anatomy. It’s also about being a present, caring, communicative and safe partner for their clients.  Our results in the course sessions, both on each other and with models, show that this is an efficient, effective, and totally supportive way to do bodywork.  So thanks to these students for their attention and enthusiasm!

In addition to learning some interesting communication skills (I now know why Brits wear ‘bum bags’ as opposed to what we call them!) one of the students shared an interesting observation she’d made in the past while on a skype course.  She observed that Brits tend to put longer pauses after someone speaks than do Americans.  What at first seemed to Brits to be rudeness on the part of Americans, or might be perceived as shyness or tentativeness on the part of Brits by Americans, was actually just a difference in habit and culture.  The British tend to give a respectful pause before continuing a conversation while Americans tend to jump right in on the tail end of a sentence without time for reflection.  Interesting!  As she mentioned this, I realized how true it is, and how much better I’ve become at allowing that pause since I’ve been coming here and spending time (not that I do it all that well, but I do see the virtue).

This led me to think not only of this cultural difference but of others as well.  I remember my one trip to Czechoslovakia many years ago, before its division into Czech and Slovak republics.  My partner Gloria was walking down a street and speaking with her hands, quite forcibly.  As she was looking at the person she was talking to, she never noticed a Czech man approaching from the other direction, and nearly ran into him.  He calmly ducked out of her way and continued walking…she never even saw him!  Some of us do tend to take up lots of space!  I sometimes think that as the US is such a large country and has a history of anyone who begins to feel claustrophobic being able to pick up and move to more open spaces, we’ve been spoiled and just naturally assume space is ours to inhabit.  Whereas my European friends, who have been living in closer proximity for many years, think nothing of being satisfied in far smaller personal spaces; be they apartments, houses, gardens, tube rides, or sidewalks.

Now, the reason this concept of personal space so appeals to me is that I begin to believe part of our job as bodyworkers is to help clients or patrons feel good about taking up more space!  I’m not suggesting we want to make people dissatisfied with their living quarters, or to invite them to speak more loudly or longer.  But I do think it’s worthwhile to encourage our patrons to decide that their personal space could be larger, and that they could inhabit more of the space around them.

For some time I’ve been considering researcher Stephen Porges’ comment in an article I read: “…the thing is, can we get people to feel safe?”  Safety is beginning to denote to me the idea that we can invite people to keep their feet on the ground, their heads in the clouds, and their hearts out in front of them, while they speak their truth from an open heart and throat.  I think too many of us, in most cultures, have decided to shrink in and take up less space.  Perhaps we had abusive parents or older siblings and worked to maintain invisibility.  Perhaps we grew taller before our peers and tried to hide the fact.  Perhaps we took to heart the message that we weren’t good enough and decided to take less space to support that logic.  For many reasons, many of us are hiding.  My bodywork means to encourage people to take up their rightful space.

On the other hand, in some ways, especially in the US, children are being encouraged to take up too much space!  I heard of a book titled Not Everyone Gets A Trophy  by Bruce Tulgan, which talks to this topic…we seem to believe we need to raise our children to have a full head of self-esteem, and in the process, I’m not sure that we’re not creating a generation that doesn’t understand the responsibility of sharing creation with others.  It’s an interesting balance we’re trying to create—to make sure each individual understands their worth and their right to personal space without allowing them to impinge on the space of others.

When we feel safe in our personal space, I believe we have less need to take larger spaces for ourselves.  On the other hand, when we feel unsafe and cramped in our space, I believe we unhappily try to reach out for more space, often inappropriately—through inappropriate speech, actions or thoughts.  It’s these yearnings for the space we can’t find in ourselves that cause us to be unhappy, and eventually ill, in our larger world.  How safe do you feel?

Do I have any answers?  Nope.  Do I have lots of questions?  Always.  That’s what I enjoy about the space I occupy.

Can’t Get No Satisfaction

I remember Mick Jagger singing his heart out about this; at the time I was young and foolish and satisfaction was such an easy concept…I need what I want, and once I get it I’ll be satisfied.  Nowadays, I’m not so sure I understand satisfaction at all…to return to those glorious years, “I’ve looked at life from both sides now; I really don’t know life at all.”  (Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones, Both Sides Now by Judy Collins).  But then, nearly everything I used to be sure of has more gray space than black and white these days.

Anyway, if you follow my posts with any frequency, you know how taken I am with Stephen Porges’ polyvagal theory, suggesting that our vagus nerve controls our well-being, and that the fibers we normally think of that serve the adrenals give us the ‘fight-or-flight’ response.  He believes older and deeper fibers give us the ‘freeze’ or ‘play dead’ response as well, and I suggest that the fourth position on our adrenal dial is ‘feel’.  The longer I work, the more interested I am in encouraging clients or patrons to feel their trauma, their pain, their emotional hurts, during the time I’m working with them while they stretch and breathe.  It seems to me we’re getting much more intense bodywork done, and results are good as witnessed by clients who really appreciate the way I work.  And the quote from one article about Porges that has really stuck with me is along the lines of “…the thing is, can we get people to feel safe?”

Safety…satisfy.  I’ve never bothered to notice the similarity of words before, but as we look, we see that most of the sounds in one are in the other, just as god/good, live/liver, heart/health, he art.  I think the creation of word sounds is much more complex in its development than we understand!  To get back on the track, safety and satisfaction are two similar concepts.  How can we be satisfied when we’re unsafe?  How can we be safe if we’re unsatisfied?

We live in such interesting times; this morning’s news on facebook showed a car under a truck; the young man driving had been texting.  His phone was still in his hand, but his head was in the back seat.  We’ve lost control of our world!  We can’t control those around us to ‘do the right thing’ as we can’t even always control ourselves to do the right thing.  We never know if a trip to the corner grocery will be our last outing on the planet or if we’ll live to enjoy another day.  We don’t know if a disturbed and bullied shooter lives next door, waiting for an opportunity to make a final statement.  That stress has got to be adding up and causing problems to our adrenal system, which then chooses to deny the ‘feel’ stage in favor of fighting, fleeing, or playing dead.  Is this the world we want?

Of course not.  And/but,  allowing any of the dial markings except ‘feel’ to rule our bodymindcore on a regular basis means that we aren’t dealing with our stress in the most healthy way.  Instead of consuming, digesting and eliminating our feelings, we’re choosing to over-consume (give too much attention to the news around us), or to over-digest (let the unhappiness churn in our guts), or to not eliminate them (never let them go).  Not healthy!

Years ago, one of the parents of a very rural school district where I was teaching gave me an incredible gift.  On meeting me he said, “Mr. Cherry (sic), you may not be the best music teacher in the world, but you’re the one we’ve got.”  At the time I couldn’t decide if I’d been complimented or insulted; I’ve subsequently decided his meaning was “I don’t know you, but you’re here.  My kids will treat you like you’re the best teacher in the world.”  And they did.  He lead me to realize that it was up to me to decide what safety and satisfaction felt like.  I could remain in the belief that I didn’t do enough for those kids, or I could make peace with what we did accomplish.  I can remain in the belief that stepping outside my door may get me killed, or I can decide it’s OK to feel my fear feelings and take the risk.  I can practice risky behaviors on a regular basis, or I can choose to be more prudent in my choices.  I can feel as safe as I choose, even in an unsafe world; I can feel as satisfied as I choose, even in an unsatisfying world.

How satisfied do you let yourself feel?  How much of the time?  I believe true health begins with moving the dial towards ‘feel’ more of the time so that you consume, digest, and eliminate life’s moments instead of hoarding them, or choosing to not partake, or keeping them bottled inside without expression.

My favorite affirmation:  “I am satisfied with my progress and my process.  I am proud of my efforts.”

Your Emotional Age; Your Chronological Age: One Advances, One Might Not

Lately I’ve been observing people in a way that intrigues me.  For years, I’ve been watching friends, clients, family members and anyone who comes across my path (including myself) and wondering if the behaviors I see in them represent a ‘stuckness’ or frozen-in-time aspect of their person.  Specifically, I think many of us experienced one or more traumas early in life that caused us to remain locked into the emotional state of that chronological age.  In other words, I think many of us have never grown up.  We’re still using the emotional skill set of a five year old, or a twelve year old, or a nineteen year old—wherever we somehow allowed ourselves to get stuck.  I’ll include myself in this category…in some ways I can still relate to various traumas from earlier times and see how they’re still affecting who I am and how I behave at this time.

In my thinking, probably most of us can relate to two specific times when we were traumatized:  puberty and moving on from high school.  These were two tough times for most of us.  When we hit puberty, uncertainty was the rule.  Am I good enough?  Do I look like the rest of the gang?  Do I blend in, or stick out?  Then as we left school, either from graduation or dropping out, something else happened…for the first time for most of us, we were really on our own.  No one was now taking care of us, paying our bills, making sure there was food on the table and clean socks in the drawer.  Something inside many of us then decided to shut down, to regroup around that which was familiar, develop our coping skills that we never turned loose…we allowed ourselves to get stuck in one of these times.  Perhaps we never got over our grief at having to learn to take care of ourselves, or our ‘not good enough’ of puberty.

Obviously, any age can be the age where one is traumatized and gets stuck…borderline personalities, for example, have often had the loss of a parent or special person at an early time, somewhere around three years of age.  Can it be that part of that borderline personality is their inability to develop past that loss?  Can it be that in some ways they’ve never gotten past the three year old’s needs that were unfulfilled?

Years ago a colleague told me she really didn’t want to be touched by another colleague; something about him just felt ‘wrong’ to her. I suggested to her that she see him as an adolescent; what I called ’50 (physical age), going on 13 (emotional age)’.  Once she realized that his emotional age was stuck around 13 and he therefore behaved like an adolescent boy, and gave him some slack, she began to really both like him and appreciate his work.  I recently observed a couple with a two year old child; as they were having marital difficulties, one and then the other had to become more responsible for the child in single parent mode.  As one parent seemed to be stuck emotionally somewhere in the three year old range, and the other at around eight, who is a fit parent?  Too many of us seem to be living with the baggage of the old personality challenge, unresolved.’

It’s an intriguing realization to observe others or more especially the self, and see if one can pinpoint roughly where their emotional clock stopped…to discern what the ratio of physical age to emotional age is.  Often just framing the question allows one to see another, and the self, as ‘emotionally very young, physically much older’.

And again, I’m very aware I don’t have my baggage resolved either…I still seem to be stuck around that adolescence and its attendant ‘not good enough’ attitudes.  But I believe stopping to think about what traumas we’ve each experienced, how they affected us at the time and how they’re still affecting us will allow us to decide if perhaps it’s time to ‘grow up’ emotionally and catch up to the physical age.

So what about it?  Where are you, emotionally, and how does it match your chronological age?  Is it time to make changes?