The crabapple tree is going to have a great weekend. I can see her through the burgeoning green of the maple in my side yard. The crabapple sits in my neighbor’s yard, currently housing an assortment of songbirds who are shuttling back and forth to a local feeder. But the tree is focused on what’s happening in her flowers, not on the birds. Birds are secondary, irrelevant. The pink is deep, almost red, lightening at the edges of buds so swollen that they seem about to burst. The day is sodden and cold, so the buds are just waiting, just gathering moisture and strength, awaiting the next time the sun makes an appearance. When that happens, well, you better watch out! The crabapple is going to bloom, with a no-holds-barred eroticism that will pull every bee in a county mile into her orbit. Watch out! That sensuous hot pink, the seductive perfume….the tree will be humming as you walk by, humming and buzzing with the activity of a thousand winged things, all frantically doing what they do and the tree herself will be regal, vibrant, basking in the pleasure, taking it all as her due, enjoying the brush of stamen on pistil, the dusting of pollen, the industry of bees, the enjoyment of human passers-by. Oh, what a weekend she will have.
The sensuality of spring is everywhere. Birds are loud and demanding. The frogs in the little pond across the street spend every evening declaring their intentions. The onions and potatoes in my kitchen bins are insistent: sprouts happen, they tell me, and spring cannot be denied.
I feel it, too. I feel the urge to create, to make something new. I dig my hands into the soil of the garden, watch my mind generate ideas, stir up a new recipe in the kitchen. Long spring days that last well into the evening, warmer weather that draws one outdoors, the smells and sounds and skin sensations of spring….all beg to know, what will you make? What will you create? What will you bring to this season of growth and newness?
This morning I had a large load of laundry to hang up. I found myself rushing to get it finished, hurrying to complete the task because I had another task to complete or maybe just because I wanted to get back to my cup of coffee. The point was that I was going to spend twenty minutes hanging laundry and I could do it with my mind in the next task or in irritation or in feeling rushed, or I could hang laundry and practice being present to myself as I did it. So I decided to take this task moment by moment, and try to see when I was derailing and when I might actually be in the present. Hanging laundry doesn’t take a lot of attention and I can attach many memories and thoughts to it, so it was a bit of effort to stay present. In fact, I was thinking I’d write a blog post about hanging laundry and that was yet another way I escaped the present moment! Ahh, the monkey mind can be a clever fellow.
The most potent sensory moment was in snapping out my cotton flannel pajama pants and tossing them over the line, feeling the cold wetness on my hands and the dryness of my skin, smelling the damp cotton and the briefest sense of the enjoyment of the future of pulling on clean pajamas….maybe that was a memory and not a projection, but in any case, it was being present to my own inner experience as well as what was coming in from my senses. I might have enjoyed more spending that twenty minutes sitting on my meditation cushion in silence, but I still would have needed to hang the laundry, and so I am choosing to see that as part of today’s practice. How can I BE when I am still doing? This is one way.
Be-ing is something that I can access all the time. When I am deeply into thinking or remembering or reacting or otherwise unaware of myself, I can stop, notice my sensory experience, take stock of myself (“what do I notice in my body NOW?”) and connect once again to the ground of Be-ing. I don’t need silence, my cushion, or even a quiet space, although they certainly can help. But I am “being” all the time, even when I am not able to notice it.
How do you find yourself in the midst of a lot of doing?
Just in this moment, right now, check in with yourself. Notice what you sense in your body. Notice how you are holding yourself, your position in space. Then notice sensations in your body. What comes into awareness? Now check your breathing. Just notice your breath in your body.
If you notice thought, that’s okay. That’s part of what you’re checking on. See if you can let the content go for a moment while you finish checking in.
As you shift into this mindful moment, see if a desire to move or change something is there. See the desire before you take the action. If you do make a movement or other change, notice how you are then, too. Did you get what you were seeking?
This is how we get to know ourselves, on a moment by moment basis. Who you are in these moments is who you are in your life.
I spend a fair amount of time thinking about how much I have to do, how much I want to do, and whether I can make those two points match up. New Age-ish philosophy would suggest that there are no limits, that limits to oneself are entirely invented by the mind and thus can be transcended simply be believing that There Are No Limits.
But what if your limits reflect something good and healthy? What if your “limits” are really your boundaries? I have limits, for sure. I have boundaries, physical, social, and behavioural boundaries that I don’t generally cross or allow others to cross. These things keep me safe, maintain my integrity.
Boundaries are a body experience. When you feel yourself sitting on the chair, or feel your feet pushing into the floor, you have an increased awareness of your body in space. As you push those feet down, you can feel your muscles become activated, feel the blood flow more vigorously, feel your inner space. You know, without even having words for it, where you begin and where the floor ends. And you also know that the floor can and will support you without invading you or making you conform or hurting you in some way.
However, if that floor was made of Jell-O, or was covered with nails sticking point up, you would have a different experience. You would still have your boundary….where my body is….where the floor is….but your boundary would tell you that you cannot trust the floor to hold you, or to hold you without impinging on you.
Your BODY tells you that, when you explore the boundary between your body and the floor. Limits are a good thing, I tell you!
I have social limits as well. I don’t let people touch me without permission. I don’t say “yes, I’d be happy to do that” if I really am not happy to do that. I do not invite people to my home whom I don’t want to see. Those limits are also good for me.
In other places, I want to test my limits, and maybe even shift the boundaries a bit. Getting older has actually, much as I hate to admit it, meant that my joints are stiffer and less flexible. When I practice yoga, for example, I try to ease my body gently past some of these physical limits, or boundaries. When I run, I notice that I can shift the limits….training has that effect. But those are active choices I get to make. I am happy to know what my limits are, and grateful that when I want to move past them, I can sometimes do that. But more grateful that I have them firmly in place for my own safety. Boundaries help us know where and what we are, and help us in relating to other people. More on that part…later….
I am fortunate in my life to be able to take a bit of time to contemplate, to reflect, and to consider my experiences. I am not often in reactive mode any more: I don’t know if that is a change due to my age or to my life circumstances. Maybe both…and maybe a lot of therapy in the middle has been influential!
Anyway, I have noticed two things lately that have made an impact on my thinking. First is this irony: I recently posted with great joy about the silver maple trees preparing to bloom (see here). Well, now they are open and my sinuses are responding: I am foggy-headed, thick-thinking, and have a dull pain that moves around in my head. Yes, I can claim the source but it still left me wandering around the house yesterday, wondering what it was I needed, what did I want, why was I feeling so…bleagh?
So I did what I know is the thing for me to do when I can’t figure it out. I drank two glasses of water and headed to the gym.
What is it about the gym? What is it about moving all that energy around in your body that makes you feel so much more like yourself? I don’t have any answer for that, but the experience made me remember a “rule” I had made for myself back when I was running long-distance. The “rule” was this: “It is always better to run.” This was a guideline for when I was waffling around indecisively. Without fail, running improved my waffling and generally improved my sinus symptoms, even though I was often out in the offending allergens.
The second one is a bit different. I have an injury to a shoulder: something a bit intractable that I hope will be cured by strengthening my back and chest, providing more stability to a joint that is easily strained. Today is a rough day for the shoulder, probably because of having to use it to work with back and chest. I found myself wallowing, in that fogged-in, wandery kind of way, having work to do, having things to consider, having many items that probably needed my attention, but being completely unable to point my attention where I wanted it to go. I finally acknowledged some organic realities: I was hungry, my shoulder hurt, and more caffeine was not going to unfog this brain. So I found food and ibuprophen and then took twenty minutes cuddled up under a blanket, gazing at my most miraculous blooming cactus and breathing. I didn’t try to do anything at all, didn’t “try” to meditate, contemplate, or even reflect. I just sat with what I was experiencing.
It seemed sudden, my awareness in an instant, my noticing that my shoulder was easing and more relaxed, my head was clearing, and my upper body beginning to relax. For the first time I was able to see clearly how that low-level discomfort (read: pain) in my shoulder was creating tension in neck, jaw, head and face, and how creating some space there shifted everything. Soon enough I could get up and move into doing something…not because I HAD to (I can always do what I HAVE to do) but because I actually wanted to…my body felt more like it belonged to me.
I have been a body psychotherapist for years and for years before that I was in training and in therapy myself. Yet I am continually amazed to see how my body IS me, and how the messages from the parts of me other than my mind are so very influential. Allowing for space and time to explore my inner experience allows me to see how that experience may limit me, or how it may free me. The experience of chronic, low-level pain pulls on energy reserves and causes the body to tense as if to protect itself. Finding a respite from the pain means that the body has a respite from its vigilance, and there is more energy available for living life.
Daylight savings time starts on March 13th. Before that, we’ll have some enlightening experiences here in the Canadian Maritimes. Daylight will come by seven am. This is a Big Deal, considering that in winter, most of us go to work in the darkness. On the other end, before the clocks change, it will be light-ish outside until seven. And when the big shift happens, of course it will be light until eight pm. Unfortunately, the sun will also be rising at eight am (again). Living on the far western edge of the time zone means something different than living in, say, the middle of the time zone.
But messing around with the clocks is one of those time-honoured things that logically makes no sense whatsoever (you gain an hour? lose an hour? Not really…..twenty four equals twenty four) but we do it because everyone else does it. What makes a bigger difference for most folks is the actual change in daylight hours, which is a function of seasonal change and the tilt of the earth’s axis.
On a practical basis, early morning light means I don’t have to carry a flashlight along with the poop bag when I walk Max the Labrador in the morning. It means that when I head home from the gym in the early evening before supper I don’t have to turn on my headlights. It means that outside activities can continue later into the day. It also means that my internal clock, which appears to be set to “hibernate” from the short days in December, has re-awakened.
I love that re-awakening process. I like to watch it in the world and in myself. Today, gray and cloudy and peculiar as the light is for late February, I can look out the office window and see the buds on the silver maples. They are near to bursting: silver maple buds form in the fall and when the juices start flowing the tress flower very early. You do have to look pretty closely to see those flowers: these are not flaming hibiscus calling for attention. They are pretty subtle, feathery dark red things that open far earlier than most. I’ve been living side by side with silver maples for ten years now, and I love that they are a very early reminder that the light has changed and that spring is coming, just as inexorably as winter came a few months ago.
Another sign that I am waiting for is the song of chickadees. Chickadees are a very common bird here; so common we might miss what signals they bring. The characteristic “dee-dee-dee” call is heard all winter in our woods. But spring brings another sound; a two-pitched dropping tone….maybe like from the fourth to the second of a major scale? Yeah, my music theory is a little sketchy…but the sound is also characteristic of late winter/early spring in this part of the world. I have an ancient association with it from my own children’s childhood. There was a little segment on Sesame Street about tapping maple trees. The horses pulled a sledge through the woods, while the farmer gathered the sap, and the sounds were of the animals, the sledge and the “dee-dee” of spring chickadees. My Dearly Beloved, who knows about this stuff, tells me that chickadee call is all about finding a mate. It is most decidedly a spring thing, and becomes increasingly rare as the season wears on, birds are nesting and raising young, and that biological urge goes underground for another season.
I notice signs in myself. I am eagerly awaiting the first of March so I can start feeding my houseplants again. This is a rule I internalized from somewhere…stop fertilizing in October and start again in March. I have no idea if there is a good reason to give them a break in the winter but I am willing to do it, as it supports my need for seasonal rituals. The other thing I notice is my sudden interest in gardening again…what shall I try THIS year? Where shall I put the tomatoes, for example? What flowers worked best in the boxes last year? Those thoughts, like the silver maples, have been in something of a dormant state for a few months. I actually remember being relieved when I put the garden to bed in the fall…but a little time off from something can make it more attractive.
There is something, for me, at least, in seasonal awareness, and seasonal ritual. We put little fairy lights on a timer in a big houseplant in October when the days get short. When March 13th comes, it will be close to the time when we remove them, because the sun provides the light we seek. There is comfort in these seasonal rituals, small as they are, comfort in listening for the chickadees and watching the maples bloom. The world around us may be full of chaos, but earth turns, seasons change, and we go on.
Chickadee and Silver Maple blooms are Creative Commons licensed
If I am unwilling or unable to feel my emotions as they are happening, then I have to do something to keep them from being in my consciousness. So I tense my musculature, tighten and constrict so that nothing gets through.
Okay, so today is only Day Three, and maybe that’s a little early to be making any statements about this new practice of mine. I am trying to commit to a 28 day practice of engaging in the sequence of bioenergetic exercises that David Bercelli has pulled together and labeled “Trauma Releasing Exercises.” Click here to go to his website: trauma prevention
I’m not sure I entirely accept all of the claims made by the proponents of the method but I do know that the first part of the series is profoundly grounding and the second part opens up the opportunity for the body to discharge a lot of energy in the form of movement. I also know that when I work through a stress-release, stress-release sequence of movements, I usually can feel a lot more and mostly I feel better.
The FEELING more is what counts for me. I am pretty good at shutting things down in my organism, i.e., my body. I look quite contained and relaxed, and situations and events do not visibly distress me. I also have chronic tension in my neck and shoulders (my physiotherapist would just shake her head at this point) and sometimes stomach upsets and sometimes trouble with sleeping. If I am unwilling or unable to feel my emotions as they are happening, then I have to do something to keep them from being in my consciousness. So I tense my musculature, tighten and constrict so that nothing gets through. Not feelings, not energy, and if I am particularly tight, I can even limit the flow of fluids through my tissues. And I am not alone in this: many people are expert at this sort of shutting down. So opening up is a good thing!
On the weekend, I was delighted to have a group of bioenergetic therapists and trainees visiting me in my home and office. We shared a lot of good ideas and some of our particular interests. Margaret Bernard of PEI led our group through the TRE and that was a great reminder for me that daily bodywork is really a must for me to stay connected to myself. I can readily connect with my thinking parts but find connecting with the feeling parts takes more attention. TRE helps me to bring that attention and also to let go of the holding and constriction.
So in only three days, I’m noticing that my feet are connecting to the ground differently. I have increased flexibility in my toes, which is a bigger deal that you think. Toes are a critical connector to the ground, and thus when we have good movement in our toes, they can hold on better. Really! Take off your shoes and try it. Squinch up your toes and try to walk around. Yes, really do it. Do it until your feet have some intensity of feeling in them, say, a seven out of ten. (Intensity, also known as PAIN!!!) Then mindfully spread out your toes on the floor, feeling everything (relief?) and try walking with all of them active and engaged. Aahhh……thank you, toes.
So toes. That’s good. I also notice that when the vibrations get going,, I can let them move quite readily up my body but that things get hung up at my diaphragm and throat. This is not new news to me; I know that I have blocks there, pretty typical ones from childhood. But when I allow myself to make a sound with those vibrations, the blocks ease up a bit. And when the sound starts to soar, almost like it isn’t part of me, then my body opens up to laughing and sobbing and all sorts of spontaneous movement. It is very cool.
I stay aware in this process, too, because I know that these kinds of unusual movements often permit the free flow of thoughts, memories, images, and sensations in the body-mind. This is access to my unconscious, and I don’t want to miss a thing! What I have found is that after I am finished (and how to decide to be “finished?”), I sit to write in my journal and the ideas are also flowing….ideas about so many things, not just the constricted content of my usual thoughts. Who knew that bioenergetic exercise would also open up my thinking self?
I’ll keep doing my daily practice and let you know how it proceeds. In the meantime, you can do TRE also…there are books and videos available from that website and also therapists and bodyworkers who are trained to help you learn the sequence. You can find a practitioner on the website. You can also just follow your body into movement and charge and discharge, but I know that can be harder to do than it sounds. Let me know how you do! Below is a video about TRE.