Because while serious posts about consent are all well and good, some days we just need something utterly silly.
One of the most potent things I have found, both in my training and with my clients, is the utmost importance of self-care. For every acute problem, every chronic stress, every relationship explosion, cancer diagnosis, loathed job or existential crisis, self-care comes up again and again as not just the most important, but the very first thing that needs doing.
This is true not just for my clients, but for me, and other practitioners. As they say, you’ve gotta make sure your own oxygen mask is secure before helping others. And as the Rubenfeld principle goes, self care is the first step to client care. And, lest we forget that other principle: each client is ultimately responsible for his or her own healing.
So it’s not all that surprising that when a client tells me something difficult, and I can feel my mirror neurons firing and my shoulders tightening, my breath growing shallow…the first thing I need to do, before I can even respond, is to check my own breath, my own body, return to my center, and respond from there. If I do anything else, I put myself in it with them. And, as anyone who has had someone so upset over something that happened to you that you ended up taking care of them knows, nothing good can come of that.
In my own continuing therapeutic journey, I’ve recently been introduced to Oasis in the Overwhelm, a little book by ex-Catholic nun, nightclub singer, type A go-getter, and Rubenfeld Synergist Millie Grenough. Its essential core is four 60-second strategies for re-centering and calming yourself, basically at any time and place.
I already have a number of strategies that I use for this, and I pass them on to my clients when I feel they are needed. And of course there are more involved self-care pieces: working out more, eating better, getting enough sleep – all those things that your doctor is always telling you to do.
But for people who want solutions that they can learn quickly and use anywhere…I have to say that this is pretty fabulous. Once I internalize them myself, I will definitely be incorporating them into my practice. Hint: they involve stretching, breathing, checking in with your body, and focusing on an object of comfort.
Go check it out.
I recently discovered the wonderful little comic, Things Without Arms and Without Legs (A Comic About Creatures Who Are Kind), and it delights me.
But as adorable and lovely as they are all on their own, I was especially taken when I found this old post, about some favorite topics of mine: vulnerability and shame.
“Dear Things,” begins this post, which addresses the creatures directly and seeks to know what it is that their creator likes so much about them.
You don’t carry shame. Shame that slowly steel the stars, creeping up like pollution and city lights. Stars diminishing in number, the weakest lights smothered first, then a narrowing field of the brightest lights, and maybe the smog will take them too.
Things, you don’t carry shame. Sometimes you feel guilt, but that is different. Sometimes guilt can face the risk of turning into shame and presses against you, but it is a puzzling thing to be looked at, to be asked questions, treated firmly and kindly and put down. There is no shame in worry, no shame in vulnerability, just an open, natural questioning. For you, shame is not a natural piece of star stealing virtue. Even shame is something you look at without shame.
The post then links to this wonderful video by Ze Frank:
And of course, in the end, it all comes back to Brene Brown.
Many layers of linkage for a Friday. Enjoy, everyone, and come back here and tell me about your experiences with guilt, shame, and vulnerability.
I was reading Psychology Today’s recent article, The Power of No, this morning, and it got me thinking about a question that haunts alternative sexuality communities, or should.
The question is this: in a world where we accept the feminist precept that rape culture exists – which needless to say, I do – how do people – especially men – negotiate consent responsibly? And in particular: what can good men – men who do not want to contribute to this culture, but also want healthy, fulfilling sex lives – do?
In the mainstream world, women have been speaking up about phenomena like Schrödinger’s Rapist: the idea that anyone a woman meets may sexually assault her, and she is best served by behaving as if he will until she knows otherwise. With rape culture being what it is – an environment where men are often subtly or overtly taught to feel entitled to women’s bodies, and where women are taught that being nice is more important than protecting your boundaries – it’s not just difficult for women to say no, or for men to hear and respect it. It’s equally difficult for women to say yes, and mean it. The larger culture around sexuality in this country doesn’t teach us how to say, and hear, no, or how to hear, or say, yes. It teaches us to make moves, use lines, seduce, talk people into bed – or to accelerate sexually without getting a further green light. It teaches us to resist, or be coy, or play hard to get so we won’t be labeled sluts. Men who refuse to participate in these dangerous games become “nice guys” – many of whom wind up not behaving so nicely; women get trapped into a virgin/whore dichotomy, where their choice to say yes or no depends on how they want to be regarded, not on what they actually want.
In such an environment, is it any surprise that people don’t feel like they have any agency with regard to their own desires, their own bodies?
Groups such as polyamorous, queer, and BDSM communities, as well as other touch- and sex-positive groups, are under extra pressure to make sure that their members negotiate consent and boundaries well, because the frequency of initiating contact is so much higher than in the mainstream, monogamous world. While these groups are by no means immune from abuse, rape, and other violations of bodily autonomy, they are places where people are deliberately practicing the skills of negotiating consent, all the time.
In my experience, the result of this practice, and the self-policing that communities like this tend to do, is incredibly beneficial. In the most obvious sense, it gives people the opportunity to practice saying no fairly often, and saying it in ways that minimize a sense of rejection. It also gives people practice hearing ‘no,’ and responding to it in a respectful way. Moreover, though, it gives people practice saying and hearing ‘yes’: an option that is impossible in a world where it is never clear whether your ‘no’ will be respected. In the best of these types of communities, the need to frequently negotiate sexual and romantic boundaries provides a kind of laboratory space for people to experiment with agency, specificity, and desire: yes, you may touch me here, but not there. Yes, I’d like to do this with you, but not that. Yes, I’d like to be this to you, but I can’t be that for you. Someone else will have to fill that need.
In the best of circumstances, this kind of environment helps teach the men in it that asking is okay, so long as it’s done without pressure and so long as a ‘no’ is met with immediate, respectful backing off. In turn, this teaches women that such a thing is not only possible, but the norm – which makes it safer for her to say ‘yes.’
What would it be like, I began to wonder as I thought about this, if all kids were taught early on how to negotiate specific, ongoing, and enthusiastic consent? If our culture wasn’t so afraid of, and screwed up about, sexuality that we could talk about it openly enough to exercise it healthily? What if “How To Say, and Hear, No – And Yes” were a required class for every college freshman? What if people who are not, and will never be, involved in alternative sexuality communities had some other means of practicing these essential skills so that they could flirt, date, have sex, live together, get married and raise kids in a way that involved conscious, clear, joyful choice?
If you wonder about this too, and want help finding your own boundaries and agency, contact me for a consultation.
I was taken with David Kanigan’s post the other day, quoting Florida Scott-Maxwell on aging, and including this beautiful photograph of I-know-not-whom, but surely one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen of any age.
I include the entirely of the quotation he included here, because it is worthwhile:
Age is truly a time of heroic helplessness. One is confronted by one’s own incorrigibility. I am always saying to myself, “Look at you, and after a lifetime of trying.” I still have the vices that I have known and struggled with— well it seems like since birth. Many of them are modified, but not much. I can neither order nor command the hubbub of my mind. Or is it my nervous sensibility? This is not the effect of age; age only defines one’s boundaries. Life has changed me greatly, it has improved me greatly, but it has also left me practically the same. I cannot spell, I am over critical, egocentric and vulnerable. I cannot be simple. In my effort to be clear I become complicated. I know my faults so well that I pay them small heed. They are stronger than I am. They are me.
~ Florida Scott-Maxwell, Measure of My Days
As I crest 40, and go through massive changes in my own life and subtler ones in my own body, I consider what it means to age. I came across another quotation I loved just the other day, from my man Carl Jung: “Life really does begin at forty. Up until then you are just doing research.” As I see my first wrinkles, my first grey hairs start to set up shop in the streets of my skin, I consider what my research has led me to thus far. Research slowly becomes knowledge, but it seems to take much of a lifetime. And as Maxwell says, over time, those things we know – and perhaps dislike – most about ourselves can become what defines us, even as experience leads us to better choices and more settled lives.
I am overly sensitive and at times gullible (one of my loved ones is kind enough to call it “credulous”). I cannot resist a good argument. I love to sleep and enjoy wine. I cannot express things in an uncomplicated way (In my effort to be clear I become complicated). I would always rather be doing something creative and different, at times to the foolish exclusion of the mundane. I am in love with love.
What are the faults which define you? How can you grow to love them more?
This past weekend, I had the opportunity to do something wonderful with the Back Bay Chorale – a great volunteer chorus I’ve talked about here in the past. Under the auspices of their new Bridges program, we have been visiting nursing homes and assisted living facilities in small groups, singing well-known songs to seniors in all stages of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Our foray this weekend was to Hopkinton, where 15 of us sang “The Star Spangled Banner,” “Ave Verum Corpus,” standards like “Moonglow” and “All the Things You Are,” and a sing-along medley of The Sound of Music. The audience consisted of a cohort of Alzheimer’s patients – this was the first facility we’ve gone to that was entirely a locked Alzheimer’s unit – and an energetic, positive staff.
One sharp old character – a former professor at BU whom the director addressed as “Doctor” – kept asking to see the words of the songs so he could better sing along. One woman in the front row kept saying “wonderful,” and sang along to the standards, knowing every word. Others were less responsive, but one woman simply opened her mouth and sang.
The response we received reminded me powerfully of a video I shared in another post, in which an almost entirely unresponsive man is brought to sudden lucidity by listening to a familiar song. Aw heck, it’s so good, here it is again:
I keep being floored by the effect that music can have on the brains and hearts of people who are watching their lives and memories fade. After we sang one of the jazz standards, one woman exclaimed, “That takes me back, oh, about 25 years!” The brightness that came into these people’s eyes, the clarity, was at moments stunning.
I’m looking forward to more of this, and more research on how music can help restore, even temporarily, a person’s sense of self, time, and place.
The full post is very worth reading, and inspiration. What single word might guide you, softly, in the coming year?
Originally posted on lead.learn.live.:
“…Instead, I found that in quiet, ordinary, every day life, I would hear the word whispered to me in simple moments: give that car the room to merge ahead; give that person your full attention – remain quiet and let them talk; spend a few moments in conversation with the building custodian when leaving work, give that compliment to the woman in line ahead of you with the gorgeous hair; tell the person who helped you that they made an impact; express gratitude to the ones who are there for you all the time; give a moment a chance to happen instead of taking over…”
~ Bonnie, “How Will I Be Changed” @ PageKeeper
Happy New Year!
For many, coming out of the dark time of the Winter Solstice and into the New Year is a time of renewal. After the excesses of the holidays, we look back at the year behind us and make promises to ourselves. This year, we say, we’ll be better. Stronger, fitter, thinner, richer. We’ll pay attention to our loved ones more, we’ll meditate every day. And often, it isn’t too long before those resolutions fall by the wayside, and we’re back to our old habits.
Synergists believe that our habits are a result of messages that are deeply embedded in our bodies. Just as we learn the most basic things – walking, running, driving – through repetition and muscle memory, so other things get embedded in our bodies. Our habits become, as it were, automated. These habits can be positive: people who make a habit of running in the mornings, for example, often report the automatic feeling of getting out of bed, getting their gear and shoes on, going out the door and letting their feet take them, regardless of the weather. But if you’re like many of us, you probably recognize negative habits more easily: your hand reaching into the potato chip bag while watching a comforting TV show, or raising your voice when someone you love does that annoying thing you hate. Recovering alcoholics sometimes talk about the way their bodies would stand up, walk to where they kept their liquor, open a bottle, pour a drink, and begin sipping it, all without thinking.
Our bodies are excellent at automating processes: it’s why most of us don’t have to think about how to walk every time we walk to the kitchen, nor how to drive to our workplaces when we’ve been driving there every day for more than a month. Unfortunatey, though, this automation means that we can end up living lives that are largely *unconscious*: we get up, eat, go to work, raise our families, all without thinking. We get stuck in habits that harm us: we drink too much, or eat junk, or ignore our loved ones, or cheat on our spouses.
Many clients I see come in with the question, “Why do I keep doing this thing, when I know that it’s bad for me and makes me feel awful?” By teaching them to listen to their bodies’ messages, I help them to move out of their unhealthy habits and into *choice*. When you begin to listen to your body, to really pay attention, you can find the triggers for those automated processes – and short-circuit them. Even more than that: you can learn to program new, better habits into your system, so that you can make those resolutions stick.
Reprinted from last year, and presented to you a few days after the Solstice, while your humble writer is on vacation. Enjoy it, and the days to come.
Today is the Winter Solstice – the shortest day, and the longest night, of the year. Pagans tend to celebrate this night as Yule, the time when the old sun dies and is reborn anew. We stay up all night, tending candles and fires, carrying the light through the long dark. We tell stories, play music, eat and drink, nap in shifts. Tonight, my household will feast on roast pork, decorate a tree, possibly watch silly movies and/or play silly games, and generally make merry through as much of the night as we can manage with our aging bodies.
Outside, rain and wind is pounding us, and it’s exactly the kind of day where it feels like we’ll never see the sun again, even during the daylight hours. But marking this day and this night with merriment is what gets us through to the other side.
Two years ago, a couple I’d met only recently invited me to a Solstice gathering at their place, which they hold every year. Each time, there is a theme on which the gathered are asked to speak in some way, and invariably it is intensely moving. That year, the theme was faith, and I wrote an essay that encapsulated what I felt about that very loaded word.
I’m pleased to share that essay here, in the spirit of the season, and in the hope that it may bring some illumination.
Happy Solstice, everyone, and Happy Hanukkah, and Merry Christmas, and Joyous Kwanzaa, and Blessed Yule, and joy rain down upon you whatever you do or do not celebrate. Let’s push through to the light.
When I heard about tonight’s theme, I must admit I had a little trouble. Faith is a difficult concept for me, one of those virtues which, like “purity,” has had all the piss taken out of it by Christianity. Faith is George W. Bush following his gut into Iraq. Faith is Creationists who value their fairy tales over scientific evidence. Faith is what got the witches burned, kept the Crusades going for hundreds of years, fueled the Spanish Inquisition, took out the Twin Towers, impregnated and infected teenagers whose only sex education was abstinence-only, and defined people like me – female, bisexual, queer, pagan – as sub-human.
If you can do the hard work, though, of separating faith from its incredibly strong right-wing religious connotations, it’s actually an incredible tool of being human. Because faith, real faith, isn’t about blind belief in dogma. It’s about mystery. It’s about going forward with grace, when faced with the unknowable and terrifying. Faith is the holy communion of imagination and hope.
I’m a pagan woo-woo witch-identified skeptic. The founder of my own tradition used to say, “First perceive, then believe.” Of course, his doors of perception were open a little wider than a lot of people’s, and his perception allowed him to believe in fairies, spirits, gods and goddesses, energetic currents, blessings and curses. I’m only beginning to touch some of those things, and even when I perceive them, I’m still not sure I believe.
But I have faith.
Faith is what is left over when inquiry is exhausted, that thing that keeps us going when we Just Don’t Know. Faith is what allows us to turn the proverbial lemons into the equally proverbial lemonade; to keep trying when the damn thing has broken down fifteen times in a row but maybe if we switch these wires or kick it a few more times it’ll start; to wait and wait and wait because maybe this time, the Great Pumpkin will come. (The secret? If you wait long enough without eating or sleeping, he does.)
Faith allows some of you to light things on fire and swing them around your bodies for fun and entertainment, and others of us to look at a bare stage and make it into a world. In fact, faith is what makes most art – and all theatre – operate. For as the prophet Geoffrey Rush once said, “it’s a mystery.”
Faith is what allows a marathoner to get up Heartbreak Hill, a widow to get through her grief, a soldier to make it through the night. It’s what made our ancestors learn to wait for the bread to rise, the crops to grow, the game to return, the rains to stop. It’s the thing that lets us live in the terrifyingly simultaneous way that our human brains make us: one foot in the present, and one in the future.
Faith is what makes you able to love even when your heart has been torn out, stepped on, run over, and left on the side of the road to die. Faith makes you get up, dust your heart off, maybe wall it up a little better than before, but leave a window open a crack, just in case.
Just in case. Because we still imagine. And we still hope. And we still wait for the light.
Clinical Psychologist Specializing in the Treatment of Trauma and its Aftermath
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