My body loves acknowledgment …
… and I know your body does, too.
I know this because the body responds when we pay attention, listen, and acknowledge. In my many years of being a bodywork practitioner I have not only seen the body physically change its condition — from tightness to softness, from constriction to release — but I have felt these changes with my hands. I have felt tension release its grip without my massaging anything. When my clients paid compassionate attention to the parts that hurt, their bodies accepted these acknowledgments as peace offerings and then decided to let go. It’s as if the body says, “You mean, you noticed me? You mean, it’s okay to let down my guard now?”
It sounds so simple, but it works.
Once one of my college writing students approached me after class in distress. She asked me, “Can you help me with fear?” I was moved that my student felt safe enough to come to me with such a question. I must say I was expecting an inquiry about how to revise her essay, and I felt strangely relieved when her issue was so intensely important and universal.
We sat down together and I knew that no ordinary “pep talk” would do. How can you release fear in five minutes by merely talking through it? You can’t. But what you can do is listen to the body. And that’s what we did.
“Where do you feel the fear in your body?” I asked.
“In my chest,” she said and placed her hand there, rubbing her sternum like she was polishing a stone.
“Good. Just acknowledge that you feel the fear in your chest. Breathe that knowing in and let it be,” I said. “What does that feeling in your chest want to tell you?”
She seemed a little uncertain of my question, but after closing her eyes and focusing inward, she answered, “My body says I am safe,” and she took a full breath and then sighed. Her jaw unclenched. She looked at the clock, aware that we both needed to get going. “How can I feel better this quickly?” she asked.
“Because you were brave and you listened to your body,” I told her.
Our five minutes were up and my student moved forward with a lightness only the body can manifest in such situations. The body is always ahead of the mind when it comes to physical and emotional pain. The body knows how be our best advocate.
The art piece I created above is called “She Asks Her Hand Why it Hurts.” In the scene, the whispering birds represent the kind of dialog we can have with ourselves regarding our own discomfort. Sometimes I imagine a little voice in my mind which asks a little voice in a part of my body (such as my hand), “Why do you hurt?” or “What do you need?” When I listen carefully, I can usually hear a response.
The hand might say, “I worked too hard today” or “I gave too much to others this week” or “You forget all about me when you work on the computer.” When I can quiet the clatter in my mind for a few long breaths, I usually receive some insight. What do you hear when you ask a part of your body how it feels?
Find a quiet place where you can focus inward. Locate an area that you are curious about. Perhaps this area causes you pain or maybe this area is just confusing to you for some reason. Whatever the case may be, ask this place some questions as if it were a close friend or loved one. Ask your questions with curiosity and compassion and be open to hearing whatever it is your body has to tell you.
You can follow up this exercise by writing down the dialog as if you were writing a short story or play. Feel free to give this body part a personality, too! Is your elbow crabby? Is your stomach an excited teenager? Is your neck shy and reserved? Make this body part come to life and give its voice a chance to speak!
Spine Hawk, mixed media by Courtney Putnam
Alright, creative wonderfuls,
I know that you think about your spine. I just do. During my time as a massage therapist it was a rarity if someone didn’t ask for their back to be massaged. I did not often hear comments like, “You know, today my back feels so loose and free, you can just avoid even touching that area.” So that is how I know you think about your spine. You want someone to touch it. You want relief from its pains.
You spend at least a portion of each day feeling and interpreting sensations in your back and neck as you sit at your computer and take a walk and do yoga and sit to read and do just about anything. I am very conscious of my back right now as I write this blog post. I can tell my back wants to talk. I wonder what she would tell me if I gave her a voice? The spine is fascinating and complex.
First, here are some fabulous factoids you might find interesting to ponder:
- Humans and giraffes each have seven cervical (neck) vertebrae.
- There are over 120 muscles that make up the spine area.
- When we are born we have 33 individual vertebrae. As we age, some of these vertebrae may fuse together, like the five bones that fuse together to form our sacrum.
- Potentially, the spine is so flexible that it can bend to form two-thirds of a circle.
- Etymologically speaking, the word “spine” has evolved from “backbone,” “thornlike part,” “thorn prickle,” and “sharp point.” It wasn’t until 1922 that “spine” also referred to the back of a book.
So I invite you to dive into this writing exercise (below). If your spine were another “thing” in the world, what would it be? No huge time commitment needed. Give yourself just five minutes to write if that’s all you have time for. The point is to check in with yourself and engage with your creativity. No pressure, just a little “push.” Got it?
Writing Prompt: Spine Metaphor
What is the life of your spine like? On a typical day, do you feel expansive in this area or cramped and compressed? What words come to mind to describe how your spine feels? What sensations live in your spinal area? Write about the purpose and function of your spine, as well as how you experience your spine in your body. Don’t worry if the words that arrive don’t seem to make sense. Keep writing. Allow your body to speak to you and through you. Breathe. Press your back up against your chair or the wall.
Now imagine your spine is not your spine at all, but something else. Is it a ladder for your headaches to climb to reach your head? Is it a river flowing from your cranium to your sacrum? Is it a snake? A rain stick? Is your sacrum a drum? Are you half-giraffe? If you get stuck in your writing, I recommend that you connect with your spine by doing some small movements and stretching in your torso. What does it feel like when you gently bend forward, back, or to the side? How does your spine respond when you engage with it? Perhaps this movement will help you to reveal the metaphor.
As always, what comes to you is what is meant to arrive on the page. We’re not going for perfection here; instead, we’re going for connection and expression. What does your spine say? And notice if the sensations in your back shift and change as you give your spine a chance to be seen, heard, and understood. Our bodies LOVE acknowledgement!
After you’ve written, please share a snippet of your writing or a reflection about your writing process in the comments below! I’d be honored to hear from you.
with sacrum drum beats,
ZenPen, my e-course for process-oriented, body-based writing begins on May 5th!
Yesterday I gave my last one-on-one bodywork session. It was a 90-minute massage with a generous soul who surrendered to the relaxing experience and gave me the gift of witnessing, one more time, the power of healing intention and healing touch.
I was moved. I was sad. I was grateful. I was grounded. I had come full circle.
Twelve years ago I began practicing Reiki and eight years ago I began my practice as a massage therapist.
It took me a summer sabbatical, a soul-searching autumn, and New Year’s insights, plus listening to my gut and higher wisdom a lot to realize it was time to change course and channel all of the healing experiences I have witnessed and facilitated into my writing, art, and teaching. It was nine months of hard, heart-full work!
This change in my practice is a leap, but not an enormous one. I’ve been infusing the creative arts and healing arts for a while now and it took some burn-out, a realization that I am an empathic sponge, a book deal, art sales, a teaching gig, and my ZenPen online course to see that I was already showing myself the way. I was already making decisions toward my new goal; it just didn’t feel like it because I hadn’t taken down my massage business shingle.
Here’s my wisdom star-blast from this experience: Sometimes all you need to do is look at how you are already doing what you want to be doing and inflate it, expand it, shine the light on it. Make it so big in your heart and mind that it becomes clear (even if it’s hard to admit) what needs to fall away in order to make room for what you are already doing!
Can you think of something that you are ALREADY leaning into, something that you are already doing (even just partly) that you can magnify so you can manifest it?
And there’s the saying goodbye part. I decided to document and ritualize my last session because I didn’t want it to become a blurry smudge in my memory. So I blew out the last candle still lit in my room after the massage.
So what is next?
To make ends meet (and to have some fun, too), I am teaching college writing. It’s interesting how much of the healing arts I bring into the classroom, including essential oils! Our course theme is HAPPINESS and my students are “Happiness Detectives.”
I am working on my book Body Cards: Insight from the Body, Wisdom from the Soul, due out in the Spring of 2015.
I am creating art and working at ways to more efficiently sell my art and art products.
I am a student in Marie Forleo’s B School, learning how to become a soulful, skillful, tech savvy online entrepreneur so I can continue to provide healing-infused creativity inspiration in the form of free e-books, videos, and audios, as well as official e-courses! This is the greater leap part: I’m saying “Hello World!” and more fully embracing having a strong online presence so I can be of service to others from all over the world through these great inter-webs of ours.
I’m already adapting my website to reflect the changes in my business model and will be making more changes in the next few months!
What this means to you…
If you’d like to join me on this journey of creativity and healing, I’d love for you to subscribe to my email list. When you do, you will be gifted with some body-based writing prompts to get your body-wise creativity flowing.
I have moved my blog HERE to rising-bird.com, and I’ll be closing my wordpress.com page “Healing Next Blog” in the next few weeks. So re-set your bookmarks, subscribe to the Rising Bird Flock and you’ll be hearing from me more regularly, about two times a month.
I wish you all the best in whatever leanings or leaps or longings you are listening to and manifesting — and I look forward to connecting with you here.
Actually, I don’t think there is a problem with being positive, but I’m more concerned with the harmful implications of our view of its opposite.
Here’s what I mean:
Positive thoughts = positive responses in the body (yay for thinking positively!). There is scientific evidence that proves that the way with think impacts how we feel. Positive thinking increases endorphins, produces the feel-good hormone oxytocin, improves immune function, and gives us a sense of possibility and hope. All good things.
“Always say “yes” to the present moment. What could be more futile, more insane, than to create inner resistance to what already is? what could be more insane than to oppose life itself, which is now and always now? Surrender to what is. Say “yes” to life — and see how life suddenly starts working for you rather than against you.” ―Eckhart Tolle
Mr. Tolle has a point. And before I tell you the following story, please humor my husband by rolling your eyes and thinking to yourself, I’ve told you that a million times! Got it? Okay, here I go:
Dorothy and her dog Lark. (Click this photo to visit Dorothy’s website!)
Today my friend Dorothy came over and gave me a Reiki treatment out of the goodness of her heart. Dorothy is a friend who is compassionate by nature, immensely thoughtful, and incredibly resourceful. She is honest, curious, and intuitive. She is a friend who (thankfully) does not engage in small talk. When Dorothy and I talk, we mean business — as in what-is-the-meaning-of-life business. We don’t talk about the proverbial weather. We talk about our inner weather — the barometric pressure, sunshine, hailstorms, and flash floods we feel inside. We “wonder if” a lot and we ask more questions than we answer. She is a treasure to me and one of the Wise Women of this world.
As Dorothy was giving me Reiki today (with my cat Selkie nestled between my legs), I received several bits of insight regarding my sabbatical. In a nutshell, here is what I gleaned:
1) I don’t need to “figure this out.” I am already doing what I need to do right now in this moment and this summer. What if I don’t make a huge change? What if I follow my desires and see where they take me?
2) What if I followed JOY instead of sorrow and struggle? What if I sought out activities that made me feel LIGHT? What if I went out dancing or joined a drum circle or ran through the sprinkler with a feather boa?
Selkie’s participation in today’s session.
3) What if I said YES to my calling to be influential to more people? What if I didn’t shy away from it? What if I acknowledge that I already impact people (and celebrate that) and set the intention of expanding my voice and influence? What if I let go of the fear in that?
4) What if I thoroughly embraced my healing gifts (and threw away the idea that doing so is egotistical) and ENJOY being a force for transformation in this world? What if giving wasn’t a burden? What if I decided right now that it wasn’t a weight on my shoulders and that I have all the resources I need to refill my reserves and be well, healthy, delighted?
5) What if I said YES to being just as I am now? What if I said YES to life, even with its bruises and sores? What if I said YES to feeling moments of joy even so — even though life has illness and trauma and tragedy and death in it? What if saying YES to life in the face of these things is the only true path to acceptance? What if I allowed myself to even taste this idea?
Now it’s YOUR turn:
What can you say YES to right now? What is already working? What is already good? What can you acknowledge about yourself that is pretty spankin’ awesome? Build on the answers to these questions. Build on your yeses. Saying YES is like taking one step on a staircase. Once you’re there, what can you accept, let go of, embrace, or acknowledge that will take you to the next step?
I officially started my summer sabbatical on June 9, left for Maui on June 11, returned from Maui on June 20, had skin cancer surgery on June 27, and it’s now July 8 and I feel like I have been on a three-part harmony of sabbatical time, including 1) Rest, 2) Recovery, and 3) Wracking my Brain.
I thought I’d share some of my sabbatical experiences in pictures.
First, there’s me — and more specifically my emotional life, which is all over the board.
Some days contentment and confidence are my friends and other days I rotate from frustration to sadness to exhaustion. I found it’s actually hard work being on sabbatical. At least the way I am doing it. This summer is not only for taking a break from bodywork sessions, but it’s a time for figuring out what I really want for my life and for my business, and figuring out what I really want is hard — hard like pushing-your-entrails-out labor. I am swayed by what I read, influenced by what people say, impacted by the financial realities of life, called to help, questioning my impulse to help, and laughing and crying and writing and making art and taking walks and starting all over again.
Second, there’s Walter — my husband, my partner in this life — who is taking a sort-of sabbatical this summer, too.
He’s a college writing instructor and is (mostly) not teaching this summer. He’s been a man of glorious action this summer, with a solid and impressive regimen of activities, from practicing his ukulele to walking around Greenlake to blogging to learning to ride a longboard skateboard. As I type this right now, I hear his three-chord strums and some singing. It’s a lovely sound and I admire how he is so committed to a daily practice of all he is wanting for himself. He reminds me that diligence, practice, consistency, and intentionality can feel so rewarding.
And of course there is Selkie, my sweet cat who just turned 11 in May.
Selkie is a loyal companion, especially in the realms of napping, finding comfort, and remembering playfulness. Selkie has a bed on my desk and often sleeps as I work, and when he feels I have been at the computer too long, he simply sits on my keyboard and meows in my face. Big hint taken.
Books have been my friends over this sabbatical for sure.
I can’t seem to finish one book start to finish, but rather I find myself rabidly reading various chapters in several books, rotating them, and circling back again while foaming at the mouth. I did read a novel all the way through while in Hawaii, which was a lovely break from my book-hopping with business and self-help fare. My sabbatical books have a special spot in my office just for them, and I thank them every day for just being there, even if I don’t crack them open.
Ah, so many questions! Soul-searching requires a lot of questions and frustratingly, not a lot of answers appear like a ka-pow! response. Here are some of my questions:
As an entrepreneur who has done bodywork for 11 years and who is also a writer, artist, teacher, mentor, coach, and [insert something else here I have forgotten], there is a lot to consider as I shape my business. The questions “what fulfills me?” and “what drains me?” have been essential questions for me and ones I think we should all ask ourselves. What enlivens you? What sucks the life out of you? Feel it in your body.
There has been art-making. Even on some of our hot, hot summer days, I have heated my plate of encaustic wax and gone to town.
I’ve been working on my own pieces, but also offering healing art sessions to those who want a “little a” artist experience. I LOVE introducing people to encaustic painting because the nature of the art form itself is so unpredictable that it’s easy to throw our inner critics out the window as we work. So yes, yes, art is my friend this sabbatical. Sometimes it is even my saving grace.
I have made sure to play this sabbatical, too. This picture is of our rubber ducky floating in our kiddie pool. A kiddie pool that cost $8.96. Simple, inexpensive pleasures are the best.
Interestingly, I’ve had so many social engagements so far this summer that I’ve been kind of exhausted, introvert as I am. But playing with friends and family has been lovely, especially with the kids and babies in my life who teach me about authenticity, simple joy, and curiosity. My little friend Tenley recently asked me, “If this is a kiddie pool, why doesn’t your kitty go in it?”
And last but not least, surrender has been my north star so far on this sabbatical. And oh yes, it is so so hard to do.
How do I surrender to this time off and allow what needs to surface to surface? How do I not force things? I have this finite period to “figure stuff out” and there’s (major) pressure there. Come September, my goal is to feel refreshed and to know in which direction I am going. How can I take action steps toward my goals AND surrender to life at the same time? It’s tricky business for sure, but my garden Buddha reminds me every day to breathe, let go of one thing that burdens me, and to surrender to the flow of the day.
So there you have it. There’s much I am exploring, discovering, uncovering, demolishing, rebuilding, and creating — and I will share more with you here. For those of you who have taken a sabbatical (or taken some time off in any form), what did you learn about yourself in the process? What was challenging? What was nourishing?