Sunday, 26 May 2019

Where activism meets embodied learning

A new day dawning in the Simpson Desert, 2011
From around the start of this decade, two things really arrived in my life and sent me on an enormous learning curve. One was political activism. The other was the Feldenkrais Method of embodied learning. Activism and Feldenkrais have created that learning curve, which has been a process of loosening shackles that once killed confidence, clashed with identity, and eradicated personal sovereignty.

Like many of us, I spent a long time being obedient, doing study, working towards a full-time job, a family, following a path that seemed to be “what you are supposed to do”. That led me to spending my 20s in impressive-looking positions at major media organisations, then into being a spin doctor for the Queensland Government, then to complete burn-out.

The burn-out was labelled a major depressive episode – falling into the category of mental health. But I was to discover that health doesn’t need categories, and of course, the burnout was about more than my mood. My body was breaking – it could not stand the strain of sitting, stressed and deeply unhappy, in a job that felt completely disparate to the faint sense of who I actually was, or was meant to be.

My government work involved researching and writing about policies and procedures around the lives of First Nations people, and then around the protection of the environment. I could see how both were being treated within the context of colonisation – controlled at the whim of government, and placed at enormous risk. The fact that I was so obviously a part of that colonial project meant that I didn’t go out and meet people who I would want to socialise with – I felt like I couldn’t justify who I was and what I was doing.

Thanks to my mental, physical and emotional health screaming at me, I was forced to stop.

I spent two years obeying various doctors’ orders not to engage in that work. I spent that time recovering (recovery from burnout can take years), and gingerly venturing into the world in new ways. I began trying to activate some dormant part of myself, the part that knows who I am and what I want to do. It still struggles to be heard, from years of obedience training, but it gathered enough confidence (or desperation) to begin some ventures.

I began engaging in community projects. Unfortunately, I felt compelled to give too much, in order to make myself worthwhile. In any case, I leapt in, and kept meeting people, forming connections, learning my limits.

I remembered that I always had been obsessed with plants as a child, and considered studying some kind of ecology course. As a taster, I volunteered with ecologists in the Simpson Desert. On returning, I heard about plans for a mega coal mine (Clive Palmer’s) to destroy a remnant nature refuge in the Queensland desert uplands. I got to work, got involved, but my burnout kept me in check. When my anxiety started taking over, I had to step back. I hated myself for being a flake but I was still in survival mode.

At the time, I knew there was something about the pairing of these two worlds. I knew that activism seemed to be the only thing that could save many species, including humans, from the forces I had previously worked for. At the same time, I could see that activism was populated by people constantly on the brink of burnout. I knew burnout, and I knew it was something best not to toy with.

But what is the alternative, when you’re fighting power structures based on greed and competition?
                                                                                                                              
As I continued to explore change theory, I met a couple from South Africa who had long worked in community development, who seemed to be working on wellness and wholeness in activism. I travelled to South Africa to find out more.

This idea of wellness in activism seemed to be my place in the world. At the time I was criticised for it. I recall one conversation about the South Africa trip, with a very committed activist, who said something to the effect: it's all very well to sit on a mountain and meditate your whole life, but how will anything get done? In hindsight, the answer is that there's no point getting stuff done, if you're doing it the same way that things have always been done, if you're replicating greed and competition, if you're living out self-flagellation.

As all of this was going on, I was trying to reinhabit my body, which I knew had taken a toll. Joints hurt, my back would snap into painful configurations. I was bound up in anxiety and flattened by depressive thoughts. So I overcame anxiety to attend courses at a yoga studio I’d been to years before, and there I happened upon the Feldenkrais Method.

I was wondering what to do with myself. The idea of further academic learning terrified me. I was looking around at yoga teacher trainings, not feeling called to anything.

It only took my attendance at about two Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement classes for me to become very curious. There was a state that I entered every time I did one of these lessons – a state of coming back to myself, despite my runaway thoughts, despite my physical pain, emotional distractions. It seemed this method offered the red herring of movement, and led you to a place of personal self-knowledge and sovereignty. Feldenkrais held the promise of something that I was later to understand as self-compassion. How to be gentle with yourself, how to find the ease to keep going, even when things seem too difficult.

It was also around this time that the Feldenkrais Institute of Australia was bringing a professional training to Brisbane, for the first time in many years. So I signed up for the first year of the four-year training. I had a payout from the Queensland Government, who had made redundant my fallible, human self. I was extremely fortunate and privileged, and I knew it, and often this turned into the less-than-useful emotion of guilt.

However, this course of study was the only thing I had ever done (in terms of a life path) that I actually wanted to do. So I kept doing it, even though at times it didn’t make sense. The mind and the body are the same thing – WHAT?! But then the course gave me a concrete experience of this concept. And it’s not hocus pocus. It’s the nature of the human nervous system, the sensory-motor cortex, the brain.

The rest of the story is not written here, and it continues. The burnout, the depression, the ways of resolving internal conflict, ways of maintaining personal sovereignty, the learning – these are ongoing and challenging. Suffice to say, I have spent the ensuing years immersed in communities of people fighting for change, working to become autonomous from the power structures that surround us, always causing me to question how I understand the world. For that, I’m grateful.

Within these enormous learnings about the world, power structures, privilege, my own privilege, blind spots, weaknesses, I change. I rarely remember what it feels like to be the person I used to be, because my sense of self has changed at a neurological level – how I sense myself, hold myself up, move, propel. How I act in the world. How I act on the world.

And so I continue to attempt to bring these threads together into something cohesive: embodied learning, embodied knowing, activism, how to make change sustainable, how to dodge and weave opportunities for burnout.

I’ve had the opportunity to provide the service of embodied learning to people in activist contexts, people re-traumatised in conflict, and some with complex PTSD that they were never afforded the capability to control.

How to bring people back to themselves, to the ground, to reality, that is my work now. Making it happen while paying rent and living and business start-up costs in an increasingly insecure labour market – that is now the challenge!

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Mum says go with the flow

The world is changing before us. Sure, there's the obvious change, of human-caused global warming. There's the crescendo of neo-conservative imperialism (potentially before its crash), the rising up of people who have been pushed down and exploited by that imperialism for millenia. There is the way we passively receive information, and its control by the few rich white men, such as Rupert Murdoch and Mark Zuckerberg.

And there is the evolution of relationships. This is a brave topic for me to write about because it's one that I do not feel successful in. I have been single for much of my life, and along the way I have accidentally stumbled into some fortunate intimate relationships with some extraordinary (to me) people. This year has been different; I was no longer ready to just travel along until I happened to stumble. This year, I was just ready! I started to feel the now-or-never surging force that is female reproductive biology. This just so happened in 2017, which seems to be a time when Australians are going crazy for dating, but have no idea how to do it properly (by properly, I mean lovingly and with care).

I'm pretty sure this topic is exceedingly unattractive in some people's minds. "Ewwww, ageing women and their sexuality - gross!" they might say.

With some level of rage I say to them, without apology, this is reality. Some of us feel great ambivalence toward leaping off the cliff of having children. Those of us who are female in particular, reach a given age (perhaps late 30s - early 40s) and start to ask, what the fuck just happened? I was going to have kids by now.

So what did just happen? For me, I've witnessed and even been a part of a broad spectrum of experiences when it comes to falling in love, relationships, and raising children. I've seen people struggling tirelessly to raise children in poverty; people grappling with how to raise happy children under the auspices of a toxic relationship, or choosing to leave that relationship against their longheld wishes for a solid family unit; the adolescent fallout of resentful environments; people dealing with the horribly harsh societal judgments of how they choose to raise their children, how they choose to adapt to unexpected circumstances.

I'm part of a world where people feel entitled to ask me, because I'm a woman in my 30s, "Do you have kids?", no matter the personal story that might be associated with my "no". It's an area which, without a healthy relationship to bolster you, can feel a bit lonely and overwhelming and fraught.

Within a couple of generations, we are leaping from an idea of family that involved a man working and a woman staying home to raise children to ... every option you can imagine. The former is a great option. But as it turns out (and if only I'd realised this years ago), it's also a great option to be a single parent, or to be a same-sex couple raising a family, or to be a hetero couple where emotional / domestic labour is shared differently to in the old days, or to not to have children, or to live in an intentional community, or to commit to being an aunty or uncle, or planned co-parenting etc etc. We now have choice, and what makes any given option great is that it's your choice (in cases of people who feel so empowered), not someone else's plan for you.

In all of this, I'm but one woman who has taken a long time to start working it all out. I was raised in another era, by another generation. Often I feel like I'm moving through treacle, making little progress. But the progress is subterranean, and probably pretty rapid really. And it's led me to 2017, when I've been contemplating all manner of strategies: online dating (barf! - sorry, but that's been my experience of this nebulous phenomenon so far), discussions with single mothers by choice, discussions with rainbow families, discussions with a male friend about sperm donation.

It's led to me really considering how I want to spend the next 20 years of my life during this extraordinarily transformative era on planet Earth, when no-one really seems to know what the weather will be like in a few decades, nor whether having children is a major contributing factor to that, nor whether these kids of today will be dealing with a really trying time ahead.

In 2017, all of these conversations, attempts at dating, this practice of opening myself to possibilities, have led to massive dips in mood, the likes of which I can't recall experiencing (although we humans are good at not remembering shithouse feelings).

This morning I had a conversation with my mother, a woman who stayed home to raise nine children - with all of the joy and frustration of that. My mum has seen my tears, my grief at not being a mother when at times I know it would be the most natural course for my life to take. She's seen me helping to raise my nieces and nephews. And she has recently been touched by my loving (though you're probably not supposed to call it that) relationship with a child with a disability who I support for (some of) my paid work.

She told me I could talk to her about any problems. I said my problem was just the big one: I wanted a family. Straight away, in a moment of maternal saliency, she made a suggestion: rather than trying and searching and going to all this effort, and being disappointed, maybe I should go with the flow. And suddenly, I sighed with relief. I don't have to look at those dating sites, which seem to require superhuman resilience to interact with and still avoid depression. I don't have to strategise right now as to when I might have a baby and what method of conception I might use-because-otherwise-I-might-run-out-of-time. I don't have to question every time I see people buying consumer crap for their kids whether I'd just end up being a selfish contributor to global destruction, or whether I could be steadfast in navigating a course of child-rearing that feels truer to me. I don't have to decide today what course my life will take.

I am allowed to live from day to day, among the chaos and confusion, amid the red herrings, the information assault, the stress of survival in late capitalism, the unfounded dreams and futile comparisons: if only I could just be one of those enlightened gurus making money out of abundance consciousness in a heavenly forest retreat with sea views, all the while trusting the universe.

My dreams must be founded on my reality. My reality is this moment. My reality is, it's difficult for me to dream up the future because the future is overwhelmingly uncertain. It's difficult to dream up my future without limits because it's something I've never found very easy. My reality is, I don't really own much, don't really have anything to show for myself economically despite the extreme highs and lows of my wage-earner career. My reality is, my heart remains open despite the pain that inflicts. My reality is, just going with the flow, and not trying to control the outcome, is sometimes the only thing that makes any sense.

My reality is, writing always creates some form of resolution. The act of sharing these thoughts and feelings gives me comfort, in the knowledge that often such sharing creates resolution for someone beyond me, if only one soul.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Making sense of learning

The zone of proximal development: The gap between what the learner has already mastered (the actual level of development) and what he or she can achieve when provided with educational support (potential development).

Working with the zone of proximal development, working with what you know, and expanding from there. With my client today, my intention is to work with what she knows, and to build from that. And to work with what I know and build from that.

What I know is that life begins in each moment, and life ends in each moment; that some of us want to dive into that mystery, while some of us linger cautiously on the edge.

When you're in a state of massive learning, immersed in it, all you can do is sink or swim. The first thing you need to understand in order to swim is how to float.

To float is to trust, to trust that that which is below you will hold you. To trust that you can let go of the fears that get in your way, and prevent you from finding the simplicity of floating. And to acknowledge the fears are doing their best to serve you, and to be gracious with them.

Perhaps gratitude is a similar attitude to the attitude of floating. It brings awareness to that which supports us, that which has brought us to the point where we are now, which is alive, miraculously and through the slimmest of chances, alive.

Alive, thanks to the things that feel good, like eating a big delicious breakfast with fine coffee, or sex, or a friend's listening ear, or a hug, or the sound of music, or the act of lying under a tree. Alive, also thanks to those fears that hold us back, make us hesitate, stop us from crossing the road when a bus is coming, stop us from swimming in the aftermath of a cyclone. Alive, thanks to the joys, fears and traumas of our own lived experience, and the lived experience of our ancestors, collected in our DNA.

Sometimes, the fears get in our way, but they're just doing their best to protect us from harm, pain, damage. Knowing your fears, thanking your fears, is perhaps a pathway to calming your fears, letting them rest when in fact you are supported.

To get to know your fears takes patience, quietude. For me, getting to know my fears, diving into that mystery, raises the head of an inner critic who says I'm too emotional, too feminine, too complicated. But really, I'm just very curious, about life, how it works, how I work, how people work.

And I'm curious about how we give up the unnecessary work, how we come into a state of alignment: body and action and words aligned with mind and intention and feelings, the superfluous holding patterns gradually falling away, falling to the ground, to the earth; and our gratitude, falling to the earth, where it belongs.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Anxiety and depression: the body's barometers

Today, the stasis returns to tell me all of the stories of disempowerment. How do we become so infused with disempowerment? Perhaps we learn it’s safer to sit still, because otherwise you might fall. Pride comes before a fall. Defiance loses her grip and gets thrown around by forces greater than herself. Anger screams and isn’t heard. She rises up and isn’t seen.

“I know better” is an affliction. Whichever way you apply it, you’re equally culpable. I look at social media sometimes and find an enlightened being telling me how to live my life. This reminds me of disempowerment.

It’s important to me that a person with knowledge does not assume to be more knowledgeable than anyone else. That’s because a fundamental core of my beliefs and my practice – ideally – is to honour that every being has lived experiences. None of those experiences are more valuable or more important than others. 

The only person with any right to determine the importance of an experience, is the being who has lived that experience. So don’t tell me which experiences of mine are important, and I’ll pay you the same respect.

It's frustrating that there is an archetypal force that lives in me (along with a trillion others): the archetype of the guru. When someone calls me a wise woman, it is meant as a compliment, but it sits uncomfortably, because who is to say I’m comparably wise, compared to what, compared to whom? I have habits of thought, action and emotion that are so limiting, and no matter how much I reflect on them, and pinpoint and bookmark and try to work them out, they arise again.

So, as a practitioner, all I can do is offer you my expertise, which is simply my lived experience. I undertake to make no judgement on yours. I undertake to respect you as a sovereign being. There is enough space within me (because I am the earth, as are we all), to receive all that is happening with you in this moment, or at least, all that is allowed to be seen, sensed, gradually revealed, in this moment. It is an honour to know you in this way, to be with how you really are.

*****

My grander vision is for us to understand our reality with less illusion, to live our potential more fully, to move through the world more easily, more resilient to the shocks.

For years, I worked in office blocks and towers, in a very superficial world known as “communications”. It was a world in which I didn’t move, creativity was worn down and the “security” of the gilded cage was enough of a carrot (apologies for mixing metaphors) to keep me from noticing the stick: the anxiety, the depression; in other words, the suppression of spirit, of self.

*****

Yesterday, a former colleague and old friend of mine, another who went through a major burn-out while in the same industry, interviewed me for academic research. She is investigating the phenomenon of burn-out in communications and PR (I guess we are carrying out the wounded healer responsibility in our various ways). It was a MASSIVE conversation.

When my friend asked what might be needed – in organisations and in individual situations – to transform the culture that leads to this phenomenon, I had a lot to say (it seemed to bubble up from some very deep, swampy place). In a nutshell, the solution I see is for people to get real, to stop living in constant denial, to embrace anxiety and depression as the body’s barometer that something isn’t right.

In the conversation, I had the opportunity to talk about the places where I used to work until about six years ago – the cubicles in high-rises in Brisbane city / Meanjin, where people in positions of colonial power made arbitrary and uninformed decisions about Indigenous communities, about what pieces of our environment were to be saved, and what pieces destroyed. I witnessed how even the advice of experts with university training was ignored, and this was acceptable, for example, when coal seam gas exploration was first allowed in Queensland.

Now, I look at those places from across the river, I look at those older towers, and the airconditioned hollow blocks of former rock that keep sprouting among them on this subtropical country. And from that view, again, I get the sense that the people filling those buildings are not given the opportunity to be in the full reality of this country. In those towers, they don’t have the opportunity to be directly on the earth, they don’t have the opportunity to experience the heat of the atmosphere, they don’t have the opportunity to experience the reality of living below the poverty line. Those realities happen somewhere else.

So it’s easy to become divorced from those realities. And it’s easy to become divorced from the people whose lives your decisions directly affect. And it’s easy to become divorced from yourself. 

I did the latter – divorced myself – because I watched people making policy decisions on whims, treating scores of talented people (included myself) as dehumanised foot soldiers, treating those affected by the decisions as existing in a faraway and unimaginable universe. I felt complicit, because my role was to sell the spin. I couldn’t bear the pain of that, so I squashed it for as long as I could ... until it sprang into action and chased me.

The healing journey took in many experiences, from the acute treatment of antidepressants, naturopathic remedies and talk therapy, through journeys into nature and into the physical reality of my body and my mind, to a growing sense of self and a growing confidence in truth and resilience.

Ultimately, these things known as anxiety and depression woke me up, and gave me a shove in the direction of returning to myself and sovereignty: a clearer sense of reality (without the spin!). That is what I wish to share.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Notes from a musical interlude

Yesterday, a sweltering day, I was invited to a high-culture choral recital at Federal Hall. We sweated but there were hand fans, and the music transfixed.

It was a benefit gig for refugees and the music was divine, but my mind was restless. Luckily I had a notebook on hand. It's a new notebook with the title "My Business Dreaming".

The following writing began in the hall during a recorder interlude and continued into the sacred songs. It's a reflection on my first week of having a public practice, getting overwhelmed with the busyness of life and transition, and attempting to run away to the hills and the light of an intense moon.

Disclaimer: high humidity sends me troppo.

***********

What I offer is the elusive obvious. How do we bring ourselves to notice how we feel, when perhaps we have been avoiding just that? My role is to be a channel for Mother Earth: earth energy.

(I love it when the Altos feature, Their presence is so precious: not the top end, not the bottom end, just floating in between. Neutral buoyancy.)

There is a great sense of lack which exists in me today. As the super full moon approaches, I relive the past full moon. A breakthrough does not exist without doubt. There was doubt leading into that full moon with Uncle Lewis. There is doubt leading into this full moon. I don't know if I should be here. I don't know where to be.

On this Country. I've travelled from one Country to another today. I've travelled from the familiar to the foreign. All the while, my bloodline leads back to a latitude much farther from the equator. I'm not sure how we belong here, the settler culture, with our white skin, our stark sunlight. I was told what Lewis said: that anyone can hear the land. I wonder what the land here is telling us. It feels like something beyond the current stories. It feels like wisdom arising from a deeper place. It calls on us to do less. To do less to others. To have less done to us. This time calls for clarity. The emotions are channeled into action, and non-action (noticing, observing). Both have their place.

Monday, 31 October 2016

The power of subtlety. The power of reflection.


We can learn a lot from the moon.

Two weeks ago, I was at Girraween National Park at the headwaters of the Murray Darling Basin, the Clarence, the Tweed. I was learning stories and songs of the land with the guidance of custodian Uncle Lewis Walker. I was among others who had gathered to learn.

It meant a lot to me as this was my first journey with Uncle Lewis and it was the country where I was born, a country which until that time had remained something of a mystery to me. I’d felt that place, but hadn’t been able to explain it. Uncle Lewis began to give me an understanding of how a human can explain it. And the place where I’d grown up took on a completely new life. I started to hear what the rocks meant, see what the ridges meant, feel what the waters meant. Even our shadows on the rocks held stories and meaning. I began to understand a new way to make sense of this natal place.

I held an excitement at the opportunity to be in a place unencumbered by city lights, where the super full moon in Aries could be experienced in all her power. As the cycle approached its zenith (it was the eve of full moon on my arrival), I took myself for a walk away from the campsite where we’d opened with ceremony around the sacred fire. I took myself through the trees to the water of what is known as Bald Rock Creek.

Walking under the pure guidance of the full moon in a place unilluminated by electricity is a phenomenon I have savoured more ever since one such experience in South Africa in 2013. I was at a nature reserve known as Towerland, a place of ancient human ritual and richly diverse fynbos and bird life. I was gathered with women from around the world, in retreat from their roles at the coalface of social and environmental change, a place where we could rest in time, and – as it transpired in my experience – learn about the intense power of subtlety.

For the first couple of days of the retreat, there was something in me that was jumpy: something was missing. I soon realised, it was men. So this was an opportunity for me to learn that an experience can be complete, safe, enough, more than enough, when co-created by none other than women. (There is no intention in this writing to exclude people of other genders. The retreat was attended only by people who identified as women.)

It was on the third day, as the sun was setting and the moon rising, that we were invited to enter the mountains together. We were then offered an invitation to “solo mission” as deep into the mountains as we wanted, for as long as we wanted, through the night.

It was a germinal experience of trusting myself and/or trusting Nature. I trusted the moon, the land, I trusted my human abilities to see deep, rich visions in unadulterated moonlight. I could see mountain ranges, flowers. I saw rocks that reflected the moonlight.

The silence atop the mountain was a silence I’d never known, and – conversely – the volume of frogs in a valley lake was some of the loudest sound to reach my ears. But perhaps the key ingredient was subtlety. The silence gave power to the frog sound.

Back to Girraween, October 2016: as I hopped over rocks lit by the moon, I was drawn to the intense contrast of shadows, which spoke to the power of the super full moonlight. I happened to have a camera in my pocket, so I took a photo. All that appeared on the screen was blackness. Cameras are not automatically attuned to moonlight; humans are.

As the night progressed, I returned to the campfire, where only men were gathered. One of these had shown a completely unexpected interest in me, and had shown an interest in the walk I had done. So I showed him the walk, I pointed out the shadows. We talked about shadows. We talked about many things.

It became an opportunity for us to meet at this place and offer each other something akin to unconditional love, to attempt to be in the love of the place, together, without expectations of each other, apart from tenderness, care and respect for the duration of our meeting. I was showered with what seemed like superlatives, speaking to the immense power that this man witnessed in me, through my ability to hold space, hold the space of the feminine, among the dynamics of men around the fire. He had witnessed the power of subtlety not only in the full moonlight, but in me.

Coming away from that weekend, the moon waned, and my heart threatened to close. I was sad to leave my home country, to leave Murri time, to leave the magic of walkabout. But the surprising thing is that all of those things keep coming back to me, keep staying with me, no matter how everyday working / living in the city make me aware of my well worn defences.

There was even a night that I walked the river with friends to sit at the base of Kangaroo Point Cliffs. I felt the serpentine nature of the ancient river bed, saw the living breathing body of the earth in the cliffs, sensed that the city was just a temporary fixture swaying on the banks of this ancient place. And I realised that much of my dreaming is held in this place; part of me rails relentlessly against that. She longs to rewild, sleep under the stars, all of those seductive things that the man at Girraween represented to me.

As the moon waned further, and the new moon approached, I decided to call on a few women to gather with me, to experience the dark evening of new moon, at that place on the river that I’d begun to witness anew. It was exciting and frightening, like many things this month. I held in my mind a memory of another moment in 2013, when I was invited into a new moon gathering with women at a community outside Mullumbimby; I entered a tepee with a fire in the middle, and a circle of dimly lit faces. A powerful woman held the space and facilitated us to meet the earth, meet each other, meet ourselves in an evening of witnessing, reflection and spaciousness. This is my idea of new moon ritual.

So this new moon, I sat with a kindred spirit, with the elemental forces of the river, the trees, the cliffs, the wind, the fire of a single candle. We sat across the river from the “razor blade” of a highrise as my friend saw it: the imposing new government office tower (it's been six years to the moon since I walked away from overpowering towers; my friend also has experienced their destructive potential). And in that place of relative darkness, we attempted to create a new ritual, a new honouring of cosmological phenomena, of feminine power, the power of subtlety.

And in this darkness, I discovered that despite what was happening, my shadows remained in the depths of my mind. Something about this wasn’t enough.

Where was the powerful woman to facilitate this circle? All this circle had was me. Where was the remote tepee, the sacred bush fire? All this circle had was distant city lights and a candle flame. Where were the men? All this circle had was women.

And with this new lunar cycle, I felt frustration at all of the learnings I seemed to have forgotten, learnings such as these. That women, even quiet women, make more than enough of a gathering. That every place is sacred and deserving of reverence and ritual. That I can be the conduit for subtle power.

That the lessons I’ve learned already, I have yet to learn again and again.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Seasonal ingredients

This isn't a recipe blog. It's a place where I put words when I need to express or process something about my deepening understanding of the body-mind, otherwise known as somatics, otherwise known as the process of experiencing life.

So, why the reference to seasonal ingredients? Well, my favourite way to cook is to pull together whatever is fresh and at hand, thus inspiring me to create some kind of alchemical flavour bomb that feeds and nourishes.

This evening, while making one such bomb, I listened to a talk that alerted me to some fresh ingredients which I will soon bring to my public practice.

The talk was a conversation with Hakomi teacher Manuela Mischke-Reeds on "How Kindness and Body Wisdom Unravel Trauma Stories". Hakomi is a method that keeps making itself known to me. It originated with Ron Kurtz, who - among many other things - studied with Moshe Feldenkrais. It seems to me Ron Kurtz gathered some very potent ingredients.

I had my first Hakomi session with a friend the other day. He's training in the method; we've agreed to do swaps. As far as words go in describing it, Hakomi is an experiential form of psychotherapy - a form of psychotherapy that has every intention of inviting one's entire, embodied experience into the picture. And the magic ingredient is kindness.

This looks like one of the next places for my learning to go.

There were several things that really struck me about Manuela Mischke-Reeds' approach to trauma. Firstly, she described trauma as complete overwhelm which could result from a major event AND something that could accumulate over time.

In her words: "too much, too fast and no metabolising. The experience is too much for me to handle, it’s coming too fast and I have no way of metabolising - literally - physically, somatically, emotionally, spiritually. I cannot digest the experience." It broadens the way we think about trauma.

Metabolising. What an interesting word. Metabolising emotion. Metabolising spiritual experiences. Metabolising shock. Yes, how does one do that when the pace of life won't allow a moment's reflection?

Manuela brought into the discussion the experience through the media of being alerted to tragedy over and over, how this can be one such accumulation. Work is stressful. Someone is mean etc etc.

I began to see some of the unlikely (but, on reflection, obvious) ingredients that have informed me, and will inform my practice.

I worked in the media. I operated at the pace of the daily news cycle. My brain trawled for throwaway stories. My bosses pushed me to get the stories that would disturb people - both the readers and the players in the stories - which I found both impossible and futile.

It wasn't until I was in the real ratrace - living alone, catching a train to the city every day, working on a computer, communicating with people soaked in stress, firing off cortisol, pushing myself to meet deadlines, creating content that often was - again - futile, useless, unused. Serving egos that had no vision of where they were going, except up the career ladder - that ...

I burnt out.

Just before I stopped working, I asked my boss for emergency time off. It felt as though something was gaining on me and I could no longer outrun it.

Manuela described trauma as a "perceived threat to survival". That's what I was experiencing in many ways (I haven't fully described all of the ways, and all of the experiences that had accumulated, some more shocking and life-threatening than others). But just that daily grind was life-threatening. The attitudes I faced daily and the attitude I felt compelled to perpetuate to be in that environment were life-threatening.

It was lifeless.

Gradually I have come back to life. And, as a wise and unconventional psychologist once said to me, the way to do that was through my body.

I spent four years training in a professional Feldenkrais program, going through intensive periods in which I would go deep inside my experience of myself, my body, my feelings, thoughts, images, ideas, stories, attitudes. I've come out feeling as though I've been through a tumble dryer, wondering, WTF is the Feldenkrais Method? How am I going to practise it?

Well, that's the thing. I don't have to practise "IT". I will practise with all of the ingredients.

Through some guidance from a knowledgeable coach of healers and the like, I realised that the Feldenkrais Method is an ingredient. Just as my experience of jumping from the corporate ladder and running for my life is an ingredient. Just as my keen consumption of that talk tonight is an ingredient.

These are just several of countless ingredients that will come together in any given combination at any given time in service of healing and wholing whomever happens to be in the mix. And whatever is at hand, whatever is fresh, will inspire me to create some kind of alchemical flavour bomb that feeds and nourishes.

Please stay tuned - my practice will have a home very soon.