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.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Into the unknown


Today, I invited a workmate around for some one-on-one Feldenkrais practice on the table. She is a personal trainer, working with strength and fitness. She is aware of her body, but somehow she knew I was offering a different kind of awareness.

As we were entering a process of movement exploration, my friend made some very interesting observations. She noticed that the movements made her aware of loads of things she hadn't been aware of before - things going on in her. Because the touch was so unobtrusive and the movements so gentle, she was able to feel much more than she does in say, a massage. It seemed there was so much to notice, her mind could barely keep up.

That is what it's like to enter this kind of learning for the first time. It's discovering the tiniest tip of the biggest iceberg.

And I commented that she had hit upon one of the principles of this method, which draws on the Weber-Fechner law (aka the field of psychophysics, aka sense physiology). So basically, the quieter the room, the more you can hear in that room. If drums are being played loudly in the room, you won't hear a pin drop. However, if the room is completely silent, you will hear the same pin drop. (It gets more complicated if I try to explain it fully, but that is the gist.)

When you reduce the stimulus, when you calm the nervous system and quieten the mind, the doors of perception have the opportunity to open, expanding the options for how you experience the world.

Another very interesting thing my friend / colleague / guinea pig said was a question: she asked me about how I work. If I were to see a client like her, she asked, with all of this stuff going on, and the first visit was just about getting to know her - how she moves, what movement patterns are happening - would I then have something to work with on the second visit? Would I know what to work with?

The answer was an honest: "I don't know."

And then it hit me. I'm right at the beginning of my education in this field. I have been to multiple training segments (and, granted, haven't quite finished the training course), where I'm immersed in the method, travelling through states approximating confusion, euphoria, frustration and Eureka moments. Learning. But when I meet an individual, who has this pain, that constraint, this difficulty, I sometimes don't know where to begin.

Actually, that should be, I almost always know where to begin but sometimes don't know where to go.

So I'm going into the unknown. And that is the practice. Learning to go into the unknown. The only way I'm going to learn it is by bringing more and more curious souls to the table, to discover themselves in a new way for the first time, and - if they like it - maybe the second time and maybe the third time.

So today, although we took a few twists and turns in our exploration, and I wouldn't call the practice a "Functional Integration" (which is what a one-on-one Feldenkrais lesson is called), my guinea pig totally got what the practice was about, she found movement options she hadn't had at the start of the lesson (which completely surprised her) and she was keen for more. I guess you can call that success.

Note to self: it's like ATM. Start with the classics, learn your scales, ie. have a couple of solid FI lesson structures to refer to as a starting point.