June Resource Round-up

June 30, 2011


Thank you all, again, for a wonderful month of tending trust! While I know this has been true of every topic covered here, I’m struck this month by what a lifelong practice tending trust around our bodies has to be – how we can make huge strides in coming to peace with some aspect of ourselves, only to circle back on the same thing from a totally different angle of fear months or years later. And how our bodies are not static things, anyway, so coming home to them, hospitably, is, in a sense, coming home to many homes, each a little softer, more lined, and more experienced than the last.

I feel so much tenderness for all of us as I wrap up this month! – for the dear flesh and souls that we all are, with so much power and so much insecurity. If I could, I’d wave a wand and bless us all (myself included!) with the feeling of being loved and beautiful and lovable exactly as we are.

Instead, I’ll leave you with a song that says so well what I hope this work of tending trust can lead us all to do. It’s called “Coming Home”, and is from Trish Bruxvoort Colligan’s album Splash. (Click here to listen if audio player does not appear below.)

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Ever yours in trust,

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Articles, Books, Blogs

  • Dear Body Letters These are letters that readers of this blog have written to their bodies. Gorgeous, moving, honest, real. Please consider contributing a letter of your own, too – no matter what theme is happening at Trust Tending currently. The door for this is always open.
  • Jen Lemen has a wonderful post at Shuttersisters titled We Are Beautiful. Only two words for this one: go read.
  • Ev’Yan has a piece up this month at Sex, Love and Liberation titled You Are Beautiful. Another wonderful meditation on finding beauty just as you are. Ev’Yan’s whole site is deeply trust-nourishing – highly recommend you add it to your reader! Watch for her here next month, writing on the topic of sexuality.
  • As a wonderful continuation of the two articles above, Karen Walrond has a book out this year titled The Beauty of Different. While not all about bodies, you cannot help but see yourself and your body in a much kinder, even celebratory light after reading this. Highly recommend!
  • Rachelle Mee-Chapman, aka Magpie Girl, has suffered with chronic migraines for a very long time. She writes honest and practical articles about her experiences, and interviews other chronic pain sufferers at her Magpie Girl site. Clicking on the “Migrains/Chronic Pain” link in her tag cloud (here) takes you to the whole collection.
  • Click here to see all articles from Trust Tending’s Body theme.

Videos, Films

  • This video that Karen Walrond made in response to a recent study on beauty has a similar effect to her book. Highly recommend!
  • Breasts: A Documentary. This 50-minute film is an amazing piece – not because of any fancy footage, but precisely because of its realness. Amazon describes it this way: “Twenty-two women – most topless, all candid – reveal how their breasts have shaped their lives, from puberty to sex to motherhood and beyond.” I discovered this on Netflix years ago and it changed my life (I’ll talk more about this next month in relation to our sexuality theme). Highly recommend to all shapes, sizes, races, and genders!

Modes of Embodied Healing

One of the most revolutionary discoveries for me after a lifetime of a) feeling awkward with/in my body and b) trying to solve all my problems, find peace and discover the meaning of life by means of thinking, was the vast landscape of healing and discovery modalities that have nothing to do with thought. So much healing can happen completely apart from our thoughts! The wonder of it! (at least, for me… :) Below are some of the modalities I’ve personally explored, or hope to some day.

*Quick note: if you DO pursue one or more of these in your local area, listen to your heart as you do. There are wonderful facilitators of these, and not-so-great/safe as well. Quitting a class that took you a ton of mojo to even sign up for is not a sign of weakness or failure; it’s actually a sign of strength that you honor yourself enough to find a good fit. Even if someone you know and love RAVES about a certain class, your experience might be completely different. And that’s completely okay!

  • 5Rhythms Dance This is a movement meditation practice. The 5 rhythms refer to five different types of energy flow that we all experience in our lives every day (the link here takes you to an in-depth description of all of them at Wikipedia). Music guides your body through these five rhythms in a free-flowing, unchoreographed meditation. Mountain View, California has a thriving group of practitioners that I LOVED being part of some years ago.
  • Tai Chi and Qigong These are related Chinese practices that go back centuries – the former being a martial art, and the latter being a method of aligning all aspects of the body/mind/spirit for spiritual awakening. I had wonderful instructors for both whose theoretical understandings of their practices were clearly vast, but who gently and consistently encouraged me to get out of my head and my efforts at understanding all the “why’s” behind everything we learned in order to let my body experience in order to know. Really powerful reversal for me.
  • Belly Dance I took belly dance classes through an adult school in Fresno, California and completely lucked out with an instructor who made all of us feel completely normal, no matter our size, shape, or coordination level. My history is so far from dancing and open displays of sensuality that I still feel proud of myself for taking these classes and tickled that they were such wonderful experiences. If you look wistfully at this type of thing at all, I SO recommend you take the plunge and do it! Grab a friend to do it with you if you feel too afraid to do it alone. Or just revel in being completely unknown on your own! And don’t be afraid to drop a class if it isn’t designed for your ability level or if the instructor takes herself or you too seriously.
  • Tantra I have yet to experience this practice, but watch the videos at this link and just see if you don’t want to try it, too! (Thank you, Melissa, for this lead!)
  • Reiki This is an energetic healing practice with roots in Japanese Buddhism. Typically a patient lies on their back, fully clothed, while a practitioner rests their hands gently on or in the air above the different energetic centers of the patient’s body. I don’t understand how it works, but have had powerful experiences of things “shifting” while receiving treatments – on levels that don’t feel physical, and feel more profound, somehow, than words can describe.
  • Yoga I don’t yet have a practice of my own, but will start here when the time feels ripe for it (note the additional yoga options in the sidebar of that link). Marianne has also just launched a new Curvy Yoga course, in partnership with Anna Guest-Jelley, for people whose bodies are rocking curves. It looks wonderful and trust-nourishing, too!

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Do you have additional resources we need to know about? Please share in the comments if you do!

Either way, I hope to see you next week as we launch our new theme here: sexuality!

This month’s theme at Trust Tending is Bodies (description here). Click here to view and peruse past themes and to see a working list of themes to come.
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Interview: Insights on depression

June 28, 2011


Bodies are mysterious things, aren’t they? Physical, but emotional and (many would argue) spiritual, too. So when we find ourselves depressed, what are we to make of it? Which of our parts is to blame?

My own experience with a years-long depression, conversations with depressed friends, readings, and now, through notes that many of you have sent, all have me convinced that there aren’t formulas. Bodies can malfunction and bring on depression. Bodies can function fantastically and bring on depression (hello, normal response to loss, trauma, and heartbreak!). And bodies can experience dysfunction on one level (physical, emotional, spiritual) that leads to dysfunction in others.

What can be said, I think, across the board, is that American culture doesn’t do very well with depression. We like to keep things light. So when people – women and men – struggle emotionally, we a) want them to stop as soon as possible and b) consider their struggle – whether physically or emotionally or spiritually rooted – reason for judgment.

In an effort to shift awareness on this topic that affects so many of us, and as a move to grow trust where fear and frustration and (self) condemnation flourish, I’ve asked four people who have suffered with and through depression to answer the following question:

As one who has suffered with and through depression, what words would you offer others suffering with it, too, and what advice would you offer those trying to love them well?

Not everything every one of these people says will apply to you and your situation. But I hope you’ll find amidst their words a helpful nugget or more to hold onto – whether you’re depressed now, or are loving someone who is.


Alana Sheeren believes in love, beauty and the transformative power of grief. She has spent the last year writing about her healing journey after the stillbirth of her son at Life After Benjamin. She holds a Master’s degree in clinical and community psychology, and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in theatre. She lives and writes by the ocean in Ventura, CA with her husband and daughter, two cats and a dog.

Alana’s Answer:

Quiet your mind and listen to your heart. Your thoughts might paralyze but your heart – that deep, wise, loving heart of yours – won’t steer you wrong. If it needs to break, let it break so it can heal. If it needs the scent of green grass and a summer breeze, step outside. If it needs to hold a child, or read a book, or hurl rocks into the ocean, honor its request. Turn your face in the direction of healing as though it were the sun. The power of your intention will start the process, though it might be years before it’s done.

Get help. Find a therapist, a yoga class, a meditation practice, a tree in the park where you see beauty and feel like there’s a chance you’ll survive. Stop listening to your mind and lean gently into your heart. Take responsibility for your life without beating yourself up. It’s okay to be where you are. It’s okay for you to want that to change.

Remember that no matter how you feel, you are not alone. Others have been there. Others are there now. There are gifts in the darkness, though they need light to be seen. By virtue of being born, you are a miracle. By virtue of being born, you deserve love and the experience of joy. Stop for a moment and take that in. You might not believe it. I know it to be true.

And if you love someone who is depressed, remember they are not broken and it is not your job to fix. Take care of yourself. Live your best life. Trust their journey and your own. Love yourself well too.


Dave Ursillo is a 25-year-old writer, blogger and life-explorer at DaveUrsillo.com. He teaches people how to ‘Lead Without Followers’ in any walk of life by nurturing a quiet and profound sense of personal leadership.

 

Dave’s Answer:

The best advice I can give to someone dealing with depression (either yourself or someone you love and care about) is the advice that I would have loved to hear while I was dealing with depression, myself.

Depression is not random, like a virus you might catch from someone else. Depression is caused by either outsides circumstances (in our lives) or internal circumstances (ie, becoming caught up in our heads, through the quietly entrapping epidemic of “egoic thinking” – see Eckart Tolle’s Power of Now).

If I could go back in time, I would tell myself that this depression is not random and does not exist because it simply wants to make me a horrible victim to the incredible burden of sadness, hopelessness and woe. Indeed, I would wish for someone to tell me what I myself have learned: that depression arises to compel us to change.


Esme Weijun Wang loves sentences. She makes her living, and puts together a life, that revolves around stringing them together. At present she lives in San Francisco, where she works on her award-winning novel-in-progress in a living room painted with a color called Grandma’s Sweater. You can find her at her website, writing about mental illness/health, compassion/care, and the art of fiction at EsmeWang.com.

Esme’s Answer:

If you have the resources — and for the purposes of this short response I’m thinking of financial resources, but a well-structured support system of friends and family is just as key — do not settle for inadequate medical care. Do not refuse it, if you can find it. And when you find that bedrock of care, utilize it to the fullest of your abilities.

I’ve suffered through countless mediocre therapists because I was too passive to express discontent, and too pessimistic to think that I could find a truly good one. I’ve kept psychiatrists that diagnosed me with personality disorders when I was too young to drive and too naive to know the impact such labels would have on my emotional development. I’ve resisted hospitalization because I didn’t want to miss school, and nearly died as a result.

Find help worth trusting. Then trust that help when you have it.

If you are the one who loves someone who suffers with a mood disorder, try to be patient. This is not easy. But in times of frustration, ask yourself: is this the illness, or is this the person whom I know that I love? Sometimes it’s hard to tell, and the line between the two is often blurred beyond recognition. Help him or her by seeing the aspects that are symptoms. See the potential for transience. Have hope.


Liv Lane is an artist, writer, radio host, and speaker dedicated to illuminating the magic in each day. Find Liv at her Choosing Beauty blog and on Twitter (@choosingbeauty).

 

 

Liv’s Answer:

Years ago, one of my closest friends got swallowed up by depression and I didn’t know it. Her home was a disaster, she became practically nocturnal, she no longer cared about our common interests and nothing seemed to make her feel better. I knew nothing about depression, so I grew frustrated and took it personally. I thought she was being dramatic and disrespectful.

Eventually, our friendship crumbled. In hindsight, I wish I’d stopped delivering candy and, instead, driven her to a therapist or found other resources to help her get better. That wasn’t something she was capable of doing at the time; depression sucks the life out of you and leaves you with no energy to help yourself.

I didn’t fully realize this until I went through it myself. With postpartum depression and PTSD after the birth of my first son in 2003, every task – from getting out of bed to changing my son’s diaper – felt like riding a bike through sand; it required so much energy and effort, yet felt completely pointless. I put on a happy face for others, but felt like a walking zombie. It took two years – and lots of encouragement from my family – to gather enough courage and energy to seek help. Thank God I did.

For those in the throes of depression, making a simple phone call can feel like climbing a mountain. If you notice drastic changes in a loved one, hold on tight and help them find the help they need.

This month’s theme at Trust Tending is Bodies (description here). Click here to view and peruse past themes and to see a working list of themes to come.
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A ritual for growing trust alongside physical impossibilities

June 27, 2011


Sometime last summer I admitted out loud what had been a secret wish for a long time: I want to hike.

I’ve always felt like a hiker, despite my near complete lack of practice at it, but decided it was time to actually live into myself (so to speak :).

So I bought a pair of hiking shoes. And the thrill of it! They could have been the wrong size, for all I cared, as I walked on clouds from the store to my car. I was pursuing a dream! (The sketch from this post came straight from this experience.)

I bought a little book of local trail descriptions, too, and embarked the very next weekend on our family’s first hike.

And it was fantastic! I smiled the whole time. Even as I noticed my knees aching by the time we returned to our car, I felt that delicious YES of taking action on something I KNEW I loved to do.

My knees felt worse the next day, though, and it became clear that I couldn’t run OR walk for exercise that week.

By the second hike, I quietly admitted that steep declines aren’t things my knees handle very well.

By the third, that carrying kids makes everything worse.

By the fourth, that even a light backpack isn’t a good idea to carry, so far as my knees are concerned.

And as time has marched on, and my knees have made their presence known increasingly – with and without hikes – I’ve had to admit to myself that this dream I have of being a hiker can’t pan out according to plan. The full-length dream includes backpacking some day, which I know is completely out. But even the shorter version, where I’m on first-name basis with the staff at REI, am familiar with all the trails within a 2-hour radius of home, and have friends whom I’ve met hiking, too: not going to happen.

I can walk gentle slopes, holding a water bottle and a granola bar.

And while I know this is FAR more than some can do, I feel grief in it. Grief in a dream that felt so long in coming true, and then so HERE, so NOW already, and then so quickly out of reach.

I wonder whether you have experiences like this, too, tucked into the edges or smack at the center of your life. Moments where the soft filter of a dream gets pulled away and you find yourself squinting at a much starker view of what can, or more truly cannot happen with your body – not now, not ever.

Can trust find a place alongside of us there? – right there where light glints off impossibility? Where the bodies we have and the bodies we hoped to have diverge in our minds for good?

I think it can.

This ritual holds space for that possibility.

A Ritual for Growing Trust
Alongside Physical Impossibilities

Quick note: The examples I use for this ritual come from my dream of hard-core hiking. I want to honor the fact that this dream, while real, and a loss that I grieve, is a much less “core” dream about physicality than I imagine many of us have – core in the sense of touching deeply on our most tender, vulnerable spots. Dreams related to our gender or sexuality, to childbearing, and to a basic minimum of health or pain-free living feel deeper to me, somehow, and I hope that this ritual can hold space for trust in relation to those just as much as for the dreams that lie closer to our surfaces.

Part 1: Putting a Dream to Rest

Dreams that can’t be fulfilled are painful enough as it is, but when we carry them around with us ongoingly, treating them as though they’re still alive – or should be – the pain they cause us stays fresh, the wounds they create in us open. This first part of the ritual is designed to honor the real death that occurs when a dream can’t be fulfilled and hold space for grieving it.

  1. Clarify the dream that cannot be fulfilled. This may be a no-brainer in your situation, but it may not be readily understood (I hadn’t realized, for example, that my dream of hiking actually involved an increasingly rigorous regimen, culminating in backpacking and friendship circles connected with the sport). Take some time to get clear about what it is you had hoped could happen, and write this down. Make edits until you feel a sense of completion about what you’ve named. Copy your final phrase or paragraph onto a strip of paper.
  2. Name your feelings around the death of this dream. These can be feelings you felt weeks or months or years ago when you first realized this dream couldn’t be fulfilled, or feelings you feel today, or both. Apathy and numbness count as feelings, too! Write these down on a strip of paper, too – or an entire page or more, if it takes that much space.
  3. Honor your feelings around the death of this dream. Find some way to communicate to yourself and your feelings that you see them, and respect them. Find a little bowl to put your description of them into and light a candle reverently next to it. Float a flower for each one in a bowl of water. Collect pebbles to represent each of them and keep a little jar for them on your window sill. Whatever works as a mean for you to say and see visually, “I feel these things. I grieve.” If your feelings are primarily numbness, this deserves honor, too. Your psyche is protecting you against pain.
  4. Find an object to represent your dream. This needs to be something you can literally bury in the ground. A rock will do. Or a leaf. A flower. Or it could be some human-made thing. If you’re a person who really likes metaphors, make sure your object connects meaningfully with your dream, such as the particular shape or color of a flower or stone.
  5. Identify a plot of earth where you can put your dream to rest. Ideally, this will be a location you can return to if/when needed, and out of reach of pets or children’s digging plans. If you live in a high rise or a complex without a suitable spot, find a special place at a park or even the yard of an understanding friend. Somewhere away from the city or at a vacation spot works, too. Close to home is not essential.
  6. Lovingly put your dream to rest. Dig a hole big enough to hold your symbolic object and your written description of your dream. If you want, wrap your symbolic object in your dream’s description before placing it in the hole. Cover them up, letting yourself feel whatever you feel. If you feel nothing much at all, that’s fine, too. If you come from a religious tradition with clear rites or rituals around death, consider whether some or all of these might work right here, as you put your dream to rest.
  7. Honor whatever feelings arise, over time, in relation to your dream. This might mean repeating step three above, and/or returning literally or in your mind’s eye to the place of your dream’s burial. Sit at the site and cry if you need to, even months or years later. Place flowers of remembrance there – again, literally or only in your imagination. Or even as a center piece on your own dining table! Done with true intention, these moves of honoring this death and the feelings it evokes can be powerful and healing, no matter how literal the action taken.

Part 2: Welcoming Rebirth

In the very same world where death and loss and disappointment abound, metaphors and experiences of life and rebirth do, too. I think of the mythical Pheonix, of the cross and resurrection, of night turning to day, winter to spring, seeds losing their lives in order to sprout and grow a hundred new ones. The second part of this ritual is designed to hold space for new dreams to get born out of the grief and “ashes” of the one you put to rest. It’s not about replacing your old dream, as that one can’t ever be replaced and needs to be honored in its own right.

  1. Get more deeply curious about the dream you already put to rest and identify the values at the heart of it. My dream of hiking involved a number of values: nature, and my wish to not only see and appreciate more of it, but to actually move through and past my fears of it and the discomforts that often accompany it; community; and physical fitness. Write down the value or values you see at the heart of your old dream.
  2. Consider this value or these values to be like seeds. And take one of two actions with them:

    • If you’re ready, be an active “gardener” with them, consciously cultivating a new dream (or dreams) that incorporates one or more of these values. For me, this might mean identifying all of the local trails that are designated flat or easy, and getting to know every one of them personally. And inviting friends along! It could mean joining some sort of nature club in my area, or hanging out at REI more often, making a point of asking questions of the staff and learning anecdotal things from them about bugs, snakes, or trails in my area. Maybe there’s a nature photographer whose work I could fall in love with. Or ten! Maybe there’s a poet whose nature-inspired work I could use for meditation – or better yet, could sit in nature somewhere to read!

      The point here is not to try to grow a dream that looks almost like the old one (though this could potentially work, too), but rather to cultivate dreams that allow the values at the heart of my old dream to be expressed.

      If your values include things like youth, strength, beauty, and parenthood, you may need to explore some redefinitions at this point. Strength doesn’t always have to be physical. Youth can be a frame of mind. Beauty can come in so many forms that have nothing to do with the way Hollywood defines it. Mothering and fathering can happen with people that are not your parents or children by blood.

    • If you’re not ready to do something so active about growing a new dream, consider writing your values down – the ones you identified at the heart of your old dream – and placing this list somewhere where you’ll see it from time to time. Seeds don’t always need active work to start to grow, and you may discover a new dream sprouting in you, with time, where you least expected one to grow.

  3. Regardless of the active or passive approach you take to cultivating your “seeds”, take some moments each day, or even once each week, to open your heart to a new dream’s rising. Out loud, or just inside yourself, say something like, “I open my heart to a new dream and to the joy of its fulfillment.”

    If your grief about the old dream is still too great to say something like this honestly, you may have more grieving you need to do before anything else. Grief is important, transformational work, so consider space for it every bit as essential to your future joy as any kind of positive thinking could be. Maybe your repeated line could be something like, “I honor my grief.”

In my mind, and in my heart, the two parts of this ritual seem like they need each other. Like even if they don’t happen in quick or close succession, each alone isn’t fully complete.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

I’d love to know your thoughts on this – regarding this ritual, but anything beyond it, too. Have you had experience with the grief of unfulfilled dreams? Have you discovered helpful…or not-so-helpful…ways of responding to it? I’d really love to hear.

This month’s theme at Trust Tending is Bodies (description here). Click here to view and peruse past themes and to see a working list of themes to come.
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Living outside the lines

June 23, 2011


I’m not sure how often or even clearly I was fed this line, but somewhere in childhood, I came to believe that I could not be attractive without bangs. I believed this through my early 20s, suffering the torments of rain, wind, fog, and humidity for the sake of looking my best.

Somewhere after college, however, that line began to wobble, and I felt constantly hidden and frustrated by the bangs I had worn for so long. I wanted the freedom to walk in the rain without worry. I wanted to get up in the morning without my eyelashes catching the strands that would reach them after sleep. I wanted the way I looked on the outside to more closely resemble the freedom I was coming to feel internally (my fine hair required bangs to be coaxed and sprayed into place).

So I grew them out.

Can I just tell you I still feel giddy, to this day, about that decision? It was a move toward something I wanted, rather than away from something I feared.

Fast-forward to last summer. It’s hot out, and the kids and I are going to the beach. In addition to spider veins, my legs have developed full-fledged varicosities, bulging masses on both of them. My height and accompanying history of feeling watched has made me self-conscious about wearing short shorts anyway, but add these veins to the mix and I’m sentenced to a lifetime of skirts and capris every summer, no matter the heat.

But on this particular day I’m so hot. And my swim suit bottom is actually made as short shorts. And I know that in addition to wrangling two intractable preschoolers, I’ll be carrying so much gear from our car to the sea that the thought of wearing capris over top of my swimsuit, as per my usual practice, makes me want to faint.

And a slow, sheepish smile creeps across my face as I realize that no one really cares what my legs look like. (Why have I not thought of this before?) I’m not trying to win beauty contests here, anyway. I’m not trying to trick some unsuspecting man into loving me for my looks. And considering the company I’m keeping on this day, and the bags of sand toys and sun block and tupperwares of snacks, I’m probably not eye-catching material for anyone, regardless of my physique.

So by god, I wore my swimsuit shorts without covering them up. I walked down the street with my gaggle of kids and gear, white, veiny legs blinking and glowing in sunlight, exhilarated by the freedom I’d just discovered.

I made a move toward something I wanted, rather than away from something I feared.

And I’m wondering: do you have lines like I’ve had in my life…like I continue to have…about what you surely can and cannot do with your body? Ways you simply must wear or color your hair, colors of fabrics you have to avoid, cuts of clothing or shoes that can’t ever be worn by you?

Or maybe your lines are about activities that are off limits for you and your size/shape/race/athletic (in)ability: dancing; yoga; sports; zumba. Or how about swimming in public places? Revealing that tattoo you had done in your youth? Oral sex with your beloved?

How does it feel when you bump up against the fences that these lines create around your living? Do you ever look longingly past them to the other side? Do you ever daydream about actually wandering out past them, shudder at how it would feel or come across, and dutifully obey the lines another day?

Here’s what I want to tell myself and all of us about such things:

Those lines you’ve always believed about your body and what you can and cannot do with it? They aren’t set in stone. They may not even be true! And the more you’re able to live into the life you want, rather than live to avoid the shame you fear, the better all of us are for it.

The more we can peer out from our hiding places (long pants, padded bras, full-coverage make-up, slimming undergarments, hair dye, eyelash extensions, too-busy-to-take-that-dance-class-excuses, et al) and see people comfortably embodying their actual size, shape, color, texture, and (dis)ability, rather than working to stifle or cover it all over, the more freedom we’ll all feel to step, as we are, into the light of day. Or, as it were, the beautiful darkness of night.

Want to try a baby step beyond your lines already? I’d love to hear about (almost :) any steps you take! Large or amusingly small, I will celebrate whole-heartedly with you!

P.S. I love the way this song flips lines about wrinkles on their head (click here to listen if audio player doesn’t appear below). Surely songs like this could be written about all of the “lines” that we carry!

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This month’s theme at Trust Tending is Bodies (description here). Click here to view and peruse past themes and to see a working list of themes to come.
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Short People

June 22, 2011


This is a guest post by the lovely Pamela Hunt-Cloyd. If you haven’t read her Walking on My Hands, I hope you’ll click over and add it to your reader. Despite what she might say about it, her writing epitomizes what trust tending means to me. And while you’re at it, go read this that she posted at Lindsey’s A Design So Vast yesterday. Teared me up in the very best way.

I don’t remember the day I realized I was short. Short, small, petite, diminutive, wee, miniscule, cute. All of those names sound so sweet, don’t they? Our society loves its women small. In elementary school I had a friend, Amy, who was tall. There was always a look of surprise in the other mom’s eyes when they saw her. “Wow,” they would say, “I bet you’re as tall as the boys.” When they saw me, it was different. “Oh,” they would whisper to my mom, “She’s so tiny.”

But there are other memories too. Once, when I was in first grade, I was getting a drink from the water fountain during recess, and after I stood up, there was a big kid blocking my way. He was a foot and a half taller than me, fifty pounds heavier, and wearing a brown shirt. “Hurry up Firstie,” he said, and I remember the feeling of panic that came over me. That panic that only little kids have, that great fear of bodily harm, abandonment, and loss. I quickly ran away from him shaking, and I never wanted to go back to school again.

When I told my mom about it, she asked me what Firstie even meant. “It’s what they call first-graders,” I said and my mom laughed. “Well,” she said, “You are in first grade.” My mom was five feet tall when she was nine years old, and then she only grew about an inch after that. As a tall girl in her childhood, my mom didn’t really see things from my perspective. It was clear to me that this was a battle I had to fight on my own.

The same thing happened again a few years later. “Out of my way Firstie,” a burly kid said to me in the lunchroom. Only this time, I was in fourth grade, and I had on my favorite velour shirt: Izod, with the alligator prominently placed. I was outraged.

“What grade are you in?” I asked, putting my hands on my hips.

“Second,” he said, in a voice that also said, What’s it to you?

“Well I’m in fourth grade,” I said and his face showed surprise.

“Oh,” he said, quickly backing up, his eyes wide. “Sorry.”

I watched him hustle away with his lunch tray and felt victorious. There was power in being the underdog, I realized. You had surprise on your side. I sometimes wonder how that tiny, miniscule, early experience affected me. It’s possible that it made me into a certain kind of person.

There is a way you can be when other people discount you that you can’t be any other time. Dani Shapiro and Katrina Kenison have often talked about “writing in the dark.” Creating when no one knows what you are up to. Protecting the undeveloped image until it is ready for the light. Hiding the secret, creative self as long as you can until the work is finished.

For a time, that was what being short meant to me. It was a prolonged youth, a delayed adolescence. It was a chance to hide for a while and then pounce. Now, at thirty-eight I am not sure what short means to me. I think much more often about how much I weigh than about how tall I am. But really, isn’t it the same thing? Tiny, cute, diminutive, wee. Our society loves its women small.

As I have gotten older, I have noticed that sometimes I use my size as an excuse to play small. I find that I react rather than act, that I am still learning how to take responsibility for my own life. I have always been able to sneak in after the bell and hide behind the tall people. Even as a teenager, I could get away with paying the child’s price to get in. I never had to stand tall or stare out over a crowd. I never had to say this is who I am and you’re going to have to deal with it.

As it turns out, there is a cost to shirking the full price of admission. It’s interesting, what the body teaches us, isn’t it? That the container of our soul can have such an influence on what we decide about our lives, about what we conclude about our own worth. Being small, for me, is easy. It’s convenient and it’s safe. Sometimes I take my six-foot husband’s pants out of the dryer, hold them up, and marvel at how exhausting it must be to stand so tall every day.

But there is always a danger in too much comfort. There is a tipping point at which a dog hiding under the table ceases to be considered an underdog. For me it’s a constant struggle to remember that only my body is small, to realize that even if my five-year old son is almost at my shoulder, I am still the grown-up. Being short is no excuse for living small. Nothing is.

This month’s theme at Trust Tending is Bodies (description here). Click here to view and peruse past themes and to see a working list of themes to come.
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On being tall (and other body extremes)

June 21, 2011


Before I begin today’s post I want to say thank you, again, to those of you who have offered letters to your bodies. What amazing gifts! Every single one has teared me up and filled me with reverence for who you are and the honest ways you’re engaging yourselves. If you haven’t read the letters yet, I hope you will! And as ever, please consider writing one yourself. If you do, I don’t think you’ll be sorry you did!

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

This post and the next are devoted to tending trust around height. I’m 5’11″, so I’ll be covering the tall end of the spectrum, and my new soul-friend, Pamela, who is 5’2″, will be offering her words about shortness here tomorrow.

So. Where to begin…

You know that bit of wisdom you hear sometimes about there always being more to the story? I want to relate this to height.

I have always been tall, and have felt my height like a current, pushing me ever up on “stage”. Stages, for me, have come in many forms: feeling stared at and pointed out by strangers (not because of beauty, but because of my size); being the person, among groups of friends, that salespeople and servers and teachers direct their comments to; feeling an unspoken abdication of leadership to me, for anything from initiating conversation to asking the next question to deciding where to sit or which direction to face.

I have felt out in the open, constantly, with no where to hide, and often with the added expectation to say or do something.

There are times when this has felt natural to me, and normal, but just as many that have felt awkward and strange, and the normal adolescent wish to fit in and blend in startlingly present – even now, well into adulthood. Even when the force of this current has felt normal, “normal” hasn’t always meant comfortable, either. My normal has involved a lot of forcing my spine straight and shoulders back – literally and metaphorically – when everything in me wants to shrink.

I could say so much more about the way my early height, and boys’ seeming lack of romantic interest in me, shaped and continues to shape my self perception as a sexual/sensual being (more on this next month!), or the way I embrace and resist the challenge my height is to patriarchy in my relationships with men, or the wish I sometimes (secretly, abashedly) have to slide into a more comfortable subordinate role in relation to them.

But my point is this: my height has ushered me into certain roles and not others, certain beliefs about myself and my rightful place in the world, and the sense that options other than these simply aren’t mine.

And in one sense, this really is true: I will never be a short, curvy woman. I will never be a gymnast, nor could I have been if I’d tried. And I will never be a woman easily dominated or hidden well in crowds (…or anywhere else, for that matter! :).

But here’s what I’m asking tonight:

What if trust – for me, and for anyone who feels trapped or frustrated, sometimes, by the roles their bodies usher them into – could be nurtured by challenging the notion that these roles are the only ones available to us?

We are complex creatures. We hold whole hosts of personas within us. We want to be weak and we want to be strong. We want to be sexy and we want to be regarded outside the realm of attraction. We want to lead and we want to follow. We want to hide and we want to be seen…and sometimes, to shout it from rooftops or shake our thang BIG.

And throughout a lifetime, whole seasons of any of the above can cycle through.

Maybe you’re tall and you want to go incognito for a while, completely off-stage.
Maybe you’re short and you want to lead powerfully or take up more space, and without needing to fight for the honor.
Maybe you’re obese and you don’t want to be silent and shameful about the space you take up, or rely on jokes or anything else to make others comfortable around you.
Maybe you’re wiry thin and you feel a full-bodied, sensual self wanting to express itself through your very (thin) limbs.

Could it be that the beliefs we have about ourselves are every bit as powerful as the societal expectations of us, and if we shifted our beliefs, and gave people around us different cues about who we are, no matter our appearance, we’d discover clear adjustments made in others’ expectations of us…and whole new words of possibility open up for the roles we can fill?

What if those of us whose bodies are extreme (and anyone else for that matter!) made a habit, then, when chafing at the roles we feel are ours to fill because of the bodies we inhabit, of asking:

What if there’s more to my story than this?

Maybe the person you are…the person I am…has far greater leeway to express diverse personas and roles than our bodies, and the chapters we’ve lived so far in them, might lead us, or anyone else, to think.

If you’re new here, welcome! This month’s theme at Trust Tending is Bodies (description here). Click here to view and peruse past themes and to see a working list of themes to come.
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Dropping the disguise

June 17, 2011


One of our biggest sources of shame, it seems to me, is feeling like we’re uniquely flawed: gross, ugly, bumpy, stinky, flat, gigantic, sickly. We often want to hide our perceived flaws, too, and so move through the normal challenges of life with the added work of keeping parts of ourselves hidden. I get this image of us all slinking around like kids in a game of detective, missing out on the ease of walking leisurely down life’s street as we dash from tree to tree, hedge to building, trying to keep cover.

I want to talk overtly next week about some of the hiding I’ve done in my life, but before that happens, I want to tell you about a page I’m setting up here as a place for all of us to drop the disguise, so to speak, and talk honestly with and about our bodies.

The idea came from yesterday’s post about rituals for coming home to our bodies, and specifically the exercise of writing letters to our bodies.

I’m wondering whether any of you might be willing to share with the rest of us a letter that you write to your body. I’m wondering whether you might gift us with the knowledge that we aren’t alone in having body issues; that both shame and pride, gratitude and indignation are normal; and that it’s possible to blow our covers, sometimes, and discover ourselves to be safe and actually stronger, and more hopeful for it.

Here is the page that I’ve set up. My soul sister, Kate, has graciously offered a first letter, and I encourage you to click from there to her site to be amazed at what she’s lived through these last months…years, really…all with her sights set on learning to trust. I’m in awe of you, Kate.

And if you feel at all inclined to offer your own letter, please do! You can tell me to post it anonymously if you wish, or have me include your name and website address, if you have a site to share.

Here’s to your body, and to all of us in our squiggly lines of moving more toward trust!

P.S. Can you help me spread word about this page? It feels like such an important space – both for those searching for ways to connect more meaningfully with themselves, but also for those who might find healing or hope in reading others’ letters. Thank you!

This month’s theme at Trust Tending is Bodies (description here). Click here to view past themes and to see a working list of themes to come.
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Rituals for coming home to your body

June 16, 2011


I’ve been thinking so much about coming home to my body since writing that last post, and have decided I want to get super practical with this one. Sometimes a-ha moments are best incorporated into our lives slowly, even subconsciously, like a feather floating effortlessly down from the sky.

But I’ve found that sometimes my biggest epiphanies need to be given weight and feet. Something to make them tangible and to communicate to my whole self that I’m taking them seriously.

So in the interest of consciously connecting with my body, and the groundedness and integration and trust that makes possible, here is a list of things I plan to do. I’ll write them in the imperative, in case any of you wants to join me in trying them, too.

Rituals for coming home to your body:

  1. Sit and notice your hands for 10 whole minutes. Notice if they remind you of your mom’s or dad’s. Think back to childhood, remembering activities your hands helped you do, and let your memories move through your life up to the present. Consider how important your hands have always been to you. Consider doing this exercise with your feet, too.
  2. Write down a list of important things that have happened to your body. Traumas, injuries, surgeries, births, miscarriages, ecstasies. Honor this list in some tangible way: lighting a candle for it; bowing, literally toward it; setting it on a table or shelf or dresser top with a bouquet of flowers to symbolize its honor and importance.
  3. Pretend your body has languages that speak in the form of tensed muscles, knots, aches/pains, feelings of pleasure. If you could translate these to English (or whatever is your mother tongue), what is your body saying to you right now? What might it have been saying repeatedly for some time? Write these messages down and give them an internal bow of respect. Consider whether you want or need to respond to them in some other way.
  4. Write down a list of your body parts, starting with your head, and moving down to your feet: hair, eyes, nose, mouth, ears, neck, shoulders, back, chest, stomach, pelvis, legs, feet, etc. Next to each part, write 5 words that you associate with it. These may be adjectives, feelings, or even names of cities, events, or people that have some significance to that part. Ponder the thoughts and feelings each list of words evokes.
  5. Write a letter to your body. Talk about whatever comes up as you sit to write: grievances, apologies, observations, advice.

    I wrote a letter like this yesterday and the lovely soul sisters at 3 Sisters Village have posted it today as part of their summer series, Books, Bodies, Banter. I hope you’ll go read it as inspiration for your own letter writing, and while you’re there, check out the wonderful, trust-nourishing work that Monica, Tammy, and Melissa are doing.

Are there actions you’re taking or have heard about others taking to connect more consciously with your/their bodies? I’d love to hear your ideas!

And if you try any of these things, I’d love to hear about your experience with them. I’ll report back on Facebook as I do #s 1-4, and hope you’ll feel free to share there or hear, too. I truly am interested!

Here’s to your body and to you finding it to be an ever more safe, hospitable home!

This month’s theme at Trust Tending is Bodies (description here). Click here to view past themes and to see a working list of themes to come.
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Coming home

June 13, 2011


You know that feeling of desire for someone? The arousal of imagining your hands or lips or body against theirs? Of wanting to know their weight in your arms, the smell of their neck, the sounds of pleasure they can make? And how that wish can grow and even sweeten when it isn’t quickly fulfilled?

And you know that feeling – either in your own experience, or maybe vicariously through watching love scenes in movies – of a long-held wish finally being fulfilled? The surprise, almost, of feeling that skin, that warmth – the very feel and weight of it that you’ve only ever imagined – near you? How wondrous and joyous that can be?

I watched a video about skin cancer last week that got me wondering whether that feeling – that sense of wonder and joy and even startle at getting to feel the realness of a body/soul that’s been long wished-for – could be one we experience in relation to our own selves. To explain…

I have had seasons in my life when I’ve felt more and less embodied. I went through a season in my late 20s and another in my early 30s of seeking out experiences that would help me feel more at ease in my skin. Belly dancing, two types of Thai Chi, and 5Rhythms Dance were all things I pursued, and I remember feeling more connected with myself during both of those seasons than I ever have before or since.

My current life season, however, while involving lots of physical motion, has left me feeling much less embodied. The work of raising kids and of thinking and writing here has left little space in my days and brain for noticing my body. Apart from my time at this screen, I’m rarely without kids under foot, so that, too, makes it difficult to take time for anything beyond the bare essentials of hygiene and grooming, and when some part of me is injured or aching, time beyond popping an Advil or just gritting my teeth through the pain while I work at more pressing tasks at hand.

In essence, right now, I’m a brain, a soul, and a worker. I’m not a body.

And then I watched this video.

And while this wasn’t the point of the video at all, it was between the 3:30 and 4-minute mark that I realized, with something similar to that wonder and joy and startle I wrote about above – that I am a body, too. Though the feeling wasn’t sexualized in any way, it was sensual. It was the way movies often have angels feel when they get to experience physicality again, or someone whose beloved has died miraculously getting to hug and hold that dear one’s living, breathing body once again.

I am a body, or at least I’m living in one (or some combination of both!), and this is the body that’s housed me for 30-some odd years. This is the same body that had stitches at age 3, and ran home-made obstacle courses at age 7, and raced barefoot across the yellow cross-walk lines during all those desert summers to avoid the even hotter asphalt beneath. This is the body that stepped on a bee, that wished – always wished – to be shorter and curvier, that traipsed across the globe at 16 and heard the hippos’ nightly calls across Lake Nakuru. This is the body that camped, that rocked the volleyball court, that developed stress-induced hypoglycemia, that bore two kids.

This is me. I’m still here. The shock of it!

I say all of this wondering whether there are many of us here, living our days as though we are brains and workers, disconnected from the flesh that is our home. And I say it wondering, too, whether coming mindfully home to ourselves, to our flesh, might be a doorway to a way of feeling and being in the world that’s grounded in a comforting, reassuring way – no matter whether our bodies are far from what we’d wish them to be in terms of height or weight or dexterity or function or not.

Could it be that looking ourselves fully in the eyes, and in the face, and in the neck, and the torso, and arms, and hands, and legs, and feet – greeting ourselves, maybe literally, in the mirror each day and growing in that practice more comfortable with what we find and see and discover there: could it be that this is a move toward the wholeness and the trust that we long to know on every level, every day?

This month’s theme at Trust Tending is Bodies (description here). Click here to view past themes and to see a working list of themes to come.
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Everybody poops and pees

June 11, 2011


You guys, I’m so tired. Moving is hard work, and as much as I wish I could do it without skipping beats, my beats have gone totally missing. I feel much more like curling up in bed than thinking deeply or creatively about anything – let alone unpacking more stuff!

But this is what bodies do, right? They hit up against their limitations. They get tired and over-stimulated when they don’t get enough sleep and have way more decisions to make than they normally do and way less time alone. They think they can do more than they can sometimes, too, and then have the shocking wake-up or slow, torturous dawning that no, actually NO, you cannot just keep trecking on like what you’re doing is nothing.

I found the following song a few years ago when a friend introduced me to kids’ singer Tom Hunter, and return to it, if only in my mind, whenever I need the reminder and reassurance that I’m not alone – that when it comes to having physical and emotional limitations and getting pushed, often reluctantly, up against them, we’re all in the same boat.

The chorus says,

    Everybody has to eat
    Everybody has to breathe
    Everybody poops and pees
    Everybody loses teeth

…but I always swap out lines for whatever physical or emotional thing I’m facing (and, quite honestly, sometimes with tears of feeling so comforted).

Wanna play too? I’d love to hear in the comments what line you might add to this song today.

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This month’s theme at Trust Tending is Bodies (description here). Click here to view past themes and to see a working list of themes to come.
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