Listening to your heart may be more literal than you think

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A man in Brazil, having received a cardiac implant, found – not all that surprisingly – that his body image shifted: he had the odd feeling off having a heart in his belly rather than his chest. But rather more surprisingly, the introduction of the implant “seemed to have markedly altered certain social and emotional skills,” according to David Robson at BBC Future. The article that came out this week, “The mind-bending effects of feeling two hearts,” delves into recent research that shows that our hearts – and body-awareness in general – have a more profound effect on our emotional functioning than even the poets may have known.

A recent experiment asked participants to count their own heartbeats, without putting their hands over their hearts or having any other aid in perceiving them. About 1 in 4 people get something like 50% accuracy; some folks are not very good at perceiving what’s going on inside of them, as I have observed in my own practice. A few, though – also around 1-4 – can achieve an accuracy of 80%. This ability, incidentally, is called introception, a word I’ll definitely be adopting.

After this, the groups were asked to do a series of tests around emotional awareness. The results were astounding:

People with more bodily awareness tend have more intense reactions to emotive pictures and report being more greatly moved by them; they are also better at describing their feelings. Importantly, this sensitivity seems to extend to others’ feelings – they are better at recognising emotions in others’ faces – and they are also quicker to learn to avoid a threat, such as a small electric shock in the lab, perhaps because those more intense bodily feelings saturate their memories, making the aversion more visceral.

In another study aimed at looking at intuition, people who had a more accurate sense of their hearts followed their intuition more. They were asked to pick cards that would win them money if they matched the color of a card on the table. “The game was rigged so that you were slightly more likely to win from two of the decks, and lose if you picked from the other two. Dunn [the researcher] found that the people who could track their heartbeat with the most accuracy would tend to pick from certain decks, whereas those with poor interoception were more likely to choose at random.”

It is not so much that the hunches the more body-aware people followed were always right – quite the contrary. It is more than they tended to follow their hearts, as the saying goes, more often. People with increased body awareness are being found to have richer emotional awareness as well, resulting in a richer experience of life. And those with reduced bodily awareness – including those with certain neurological flaws in the connection between the body and the brain – can suffer everything from depression to depersonalization disorders.

Naturally all of this is exciting for someone who works primarily on helping people increase their body awareness. It is also no wonder that Rubenfeld Synergy can be so powerful: tuning in to the body’s sensations can unlock emotions that are lying dormant and allow them to flow when they have been trapped.

What happens when you listen to your heart?

5 Things Not to Do If You’re Over 40

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Image Copyright Brian Robertson

Last month, I hit the big 4-0. While I don’t go in much for chronological age meaning anything, there are tremendous cultural tropes around what it means to turn 20, to turn 30, to turn 40. 40 always seems more momentous, perhaps because, in this day and age when we are living longer and delaying things like marriage and child-rearing more and more, 40 is still an undeniable start of mid-life: fertility drops precipitously, you’re out of the coveted youth target demographic, and magazines start to tell you what you should and should not do at your advanced age.

I am undergoing a lot of changes around this milestone, personally and professionally, and it is definitely a journey. But my transition to 40 wouldn’t be complete without my giving you, my readers, some unsolicited advice in the form of a listicle.

5 Things Not to Do If You’re Over 40

1. Let other people tell you what you should and should not wear. Magazines and online lists love to tell “women over 35″ or whatever (as if we were a monolith) what we should wear. Respectfully, I say: f— that. If you want to wear leopard capris and gladiator sandals, go for it. If you want to show off your cleavage, or wear skinny jeans, or bedeck your arms in a bunch of bangles, strut your stuff! If you like high-necked tops, if you feel best in your sweatpants, if you’re a guy who wants to wear skirts or a woman who wants to wear a suit, if you want to go out in the street looking like Bozo the Clown, it is absolutely none of my business, nor that of any media outlet. Wear what makes you feel awesome, no matter your age!

2. Hate your own body. Many of us spend our teen years, 20s, 30s, hell, our entire lives – hating their bodies. Turning 40 turned me on to a number of things, but one of them was letting go of the idea of perfection. This is my body. I live in it. The best I can do is take care of it, be kind to it, move it around a lot, and listen to its song. Cursing myself for having stretch marks (since I was 13!) or cellulite or too big a butt or too small breasts or whatever is a waste of time and emotional energy. With each passing year I keep getting stronger, more graceful, more aware of myself in space, and the more I love my body the more it gives back.

3. Lie about your age. Being forever 29 is not a virtue; it’s a way of buying into the dominant culture’s obsession with remaining young forever. It’s true that you are as young as you feel, and lying about your age doesn’t make you seem wiser for your years: it makes you seem shallow. Age, after all, is where we learn who we are, and what things about ourselves we can and cannot change. In this process we can refine our energies and choose what we spend our time on more wisely. I choose to spend more time being who I am, where and when I am.

4. Be a grown-up. 40 is an age where it’s easy to imagine that you should have learned everything by now, that you have no more growing to do, that you should Be An Adult, Dammit, And No More Screwing Around. While responsible adulthood is a good thing to aspire to, being 40 doesn’t mean you no longer get to play, learn, evolve, change your mind radically, or take up a new hobby or life-threatening sport. Behaving youthfully has been shown to actually keep you young, and a flexible, open mind and active body tend to be self-perpetuating.

5. Believe You Should Have Arrived By Now. Some people are late bloomers. My favorite example is Grandma Moses, who only started painting in earnest at age 78 and became an icon of American art. One of my major anxieties about hitting 40 is this notion that I Haven’t Done Anything Yet: I haven’t published a novel, or started a family, or Built a Career. (Notice all of these things in Initial Caps, and how seriously I take them. :) But I’ve done many things that other people haven’t: run a small business, directed several plays, acted in several others, sung at Symphony Hall. I’ve had an adventurous life so far, and it’s been a winding path with no clear destination. It’s my belief that all lives are basically like that: there is no arrival. Wherever you go, there you are. 40 is a milestone, but not a millstone. Don’t worry about whether you’ve arrived. You’re still on the journey.

What things do you want to keep in mind as you get older?

 

What if we could not waste one more moment hating our bodies?

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Image by Andrea Perrish-Geyer

Image by Andrea Perrish-Geyer

A moving column in CNN last month revealed the thing that the dying often regret the most: all the time they spent hating their own bodies.

Kerry Egan, a hospice chaplain, shared her experiences of talking with the dying. A 75-year-old woman dying of cancer just wants one more piece of caramel cake. But her diet, even in her last days, is being severely restricted.

‘Everyone told me — my family, my school, my church. When I got older, magazines and salesgirls and boyfriends (told me), even if they didn’t say so out loud. The world’s been telling me for 75 years that my body is bad. First for being female, then for being fat and then for being sick.’

She looked up and this time tears trembled along her bottom eyelids.

‘But the one thing I never did understand is, why does everyone else want me to hate my body? What does it matter to them?’

Even in this very article, the ironic click bait that comes in the midst of this statement is a linked line that says, “The link between fat and cancer.” It seems that nothing, not even an article explicitly about how we should appreciate our bodies more, can escape fat-shaming.

But Egan makes the read worth it.

What does it mean that so many voices out there insist that the body is something to despise because it is too fat, sinful, ugly, sexual, old or brown? That we teach each other, in thousands of blatant and quiet ways, to think we are shameful? That our bodies are something to be overcome, beaten into submission or to be despised?

How do these voices telling us that we are supposed to hate our bodies affect our notions of how we care for the sick, disabled, elderly, children, mothers, soldiers, workers, immigrants, men and women? What we believe about our bodies affects how we treat other bodies, and how we treat each other’s bodies is how we treat each other.

How we treat each other’s bodies is how we treat each other. How we treat our own bodies is how we treat ourselves. How can you treat your own body with more gentleness, more forgiveness, more enjoyment, more dancing?

How our minds can make us young again

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Image by Candida Performa on Flickr

Image by Candida Performa on Flickr

This remarkable article, “What if Age is Just a Mindset?”, about the work of psychologist Ellen Langer, ran this week in the New York Times. Its basic idea – that our minds have more power over the youth and health of our bodies than we’ve dared to imagine – is one that is near and dear to me and my work in ways that any readers of this blog already know.

[Langer]’s one of the people at Harvard who really gets it…That health and illness are much more rooted in our minds and in our hearts and how we experience ourselves in the world than our models even begin to understand.

Langer – a plainly dynamic and driven woman from the Bronx who reminds me not a little of Ilana Rubenfeld in this profile – has done experiments throughout her career that show the ways that our mindset can profoundly affect our physical health. Over time, “she came to think that what people needed to heal themselves was a psychological ‘prime’ — something that triggered the body to take curative measures all by itself.”

Perhaps the most famous of these experiments occurred in 1981, when Langer took a group of people in their 70s, and put them in a temporary time-warp: for five days, they lived, behaved, and were immersed in an environment that mirrored 1959. They were asked not just to reminisce, but to speak and behave as if they were 22 years younger. At the end of the five days, by several biological metrics, “they were suppler, showed greater manual dexterity and sat taller — just as Langer had guessed. Perhaps most improbable, their sight improved. Independent judges said they looked younger. The experimental subjects, Langer told me, had ‘put their mind in an earlier time,’ and their bodies went along for the ride.”

They had been pulled out of mothballs and made to feel important again, and perhaps, Langer later mused, that rekindling of their egos was central to the reclamation of their bodies.

In the course of many years of work, Langer has continued to find that “mind-set manipulation can counteract presumed physiological limits,” with the ultimate goal being to “return the control of our health back to ourselves.”

Like Rubenfeld Synergists, Langer also places a strong importance on mindfulness, “on noticing moment-to-moment changes around you, from the differences in the face of your spouse across the breakfast table to the variability of your asthma symptoms. When we are ‘actively making new distinctions, rather than relying on habitual‘ categorizations, we’re alive; and when we’re alive, we can improve.”

The implications of her work are profound for those of us who work in the knowledge that when we help shift people’s relationship to their bodies, we can help them change how their bodies move in the world – and therefore, how rich and engaged their lives are.

Read the whole article and marvel at the implications here.

 

Hugs, but only if you want them.

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More and more articles lately on consent culture and how to raise a generation of people who are secure in their own bodily autonomy, and respect others’ as well. Here’s one I liked this week: Why I Will Never Tell My Daughter to Give You a Hug.

In short: forcing kids to hug and kiss or be hugged and kiss when they don’t want to is a seemingly innocent part of an overall culture where we’re made to believe that our bodies are not our own.

If there’s one thing I’d like every child on the planet to learn and internalize, it is this:

Your body is yours. It is your home, your best friend, and the physical instrument of your will and your heart. If someone violates it, that is wrong.

In my work with clients, I try to help them connect with that place in themselves where their bodies – which they may see as burdens, as betrayers, as sites of pain, as limiting lumps of clay – are in fact their healers, their guardians, their homes, and their places of possibility. Having and feeling control over when and how you are touched is a huge part of the process of bringing a body back together with the mind that inhabits it.

Contact me if this sounds like something you could use help with. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sexism hurts all of us.

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I stumbled across this entire series a few days ago. The first part is about how women often experience sexism. This second part, below, is about how boys and men are affected.

While I powerfully related to the part about women’s experiences, the part about men’s really touched me. From my time in high school, when I took it upon myself to defend my gay best friend from relentless bullying, through today, where I work with so many men who have spent their lives in a culture that has made them feel they must live up to unrealistic ideals of masculinity, and, like so many women, are trying to find their own value in the bodies and minds and hearts that they have.

The artist is Rasenth at Tumblr.

“It should not take everything you have to turn down someone’s offer for sex.”

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This article today struck me as important enough to post about here, touching as it does on consent culture, rape apologism, and most importantly, the clarity that we need to have with ourselves and others if we are ever to move beyond blaming victims and demonizing perpetrators to a model of restorative justice.

Highlights, and things I especially picked out because they speak to what happens to us when our bodies are under threat of violation:

If I had a guest coming in from out of town, and I had romantic or sexual designs on them, and I asked if they would be willing to share my bed and their response was “I’ll bring a sleeping bag; I’d like to sleep on the floor,” I would be appropriately chastened (and privately a bit mortified). The message would be abundantly clear. The No is obvious. The No is there.

I would have to be looking for a way to cheat my guest of their clearly stated wishes, were I to abruptly start undressing and caressing them the moment I got them alone. I would have to be looking for a way to wear down or tear down their No into a Fine, I Won’t Stop You.

I do not believe that most women — that most victims of sexual assault — freeze or shut down when faced with the prospect of coercive sex because they don’t really care what happens next, or because they’re excited to push through the moment for the sheer joy of accusing the aggressor of rape after the fact. I believe that these women, these people, have a finely tuned sense for their safety, that when a woman reports having “a feeling that it would turn into an ordeal if I rejected him,” she is not crazy and she knows what she is talking about.

Pretending that active consent is ambiguous and confusing and difficult to obtain is a pernicious lie that has no basis in reality. It is abundantly clear when someone is eager and ready to sleep with you.

Framing acts of molestation and assault as things that either do or do not count as if it were a bad call in a game of tag (“that doesn’t count! I wasn’t done counting to ten!”) is a troubling — and worse, ineffective — way of discussing rape. It shifts the conversation from “how can we prevent this from happening again?” and “what would justice look like in this situation?” to “how can I make sure that what I did doesn’t fall under the category of ‘it counts’?”

If you stop at shame — if the last thing you mention doing after molesting a younger child is how you spent the evening “crying in the water” — you have not atoned. You have not done right to make up for having done wrong.

Read the whole amazingly good article here.

Giving talks is fun, and meeting new people is awesome!

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I gave my talk, along with Sam of the fabulous Beyond Safewords. (Her post about the event is here.)

Samantha and I are hoping to give this talk again in the near future, at other kink events, and I am looking to develop other talks as well on the topics of self-care, consent, safe and boundaried touch, and other things that geek culture can sometimes have a problem with.

There is an ongoing problem, which is coming up in geek spaces from science fiction conventions to kink meetups to game design spaces to maker events. That problem tends to boil down to people who tend to be less body-aware and less aware of social cues trying to have interactions with one another that are more or less sexualized, and crossing boundaries left, right and center. The real problem, however, is with how those in authority in these spaces respond, or fail to respond, to the problem.

I was struck, at the small, one-day con where Sam and I gave this talk, at how timely and welcome the information seemed. We got tremendously positive feedback, were engaged in fantastically productive and provocative discussion, and learned perhaps even more than we imparted. Coming from our differing backgrounds in traditional therapy and body-centered work, we offered our tools of empathy, body awareness, breath, presence, and accurate attunement to the question of consent, even on the smallest interactions. The result, I think (and hope), is something that goes beyond enthusiastic consent, and into conscious negotiation, even communion, with a potential partner.

In the future, we hope to do a kind of 201 class as a followup, with more troubleshooting, more partner work, and more discussion.

Stay tuned for my development of said presentations, and if you saw me at Bound in Boston: Wicked Women last weekend, please say hello here, and let me know if you’d like to have me speak at your event!

Come see me give a talk on embodied consent

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yes-238371_1280On Saturday, September 27, my colleague Sam of Safety Beyond Safewords and I will be giving a talk at Wicked Women, the latest iteration of the Bound in Boston conference.

Our talk will combine Sam’s expertise as a clinical social worker with mine as a synergist and body nerd to help kinksters listen to the messages of their own and their partners’ bodies more effectively, in order to get a more nuanced and accurate picture of ongoing, enthusiastic consent in scene contexts. Of course, getting a better sense of what true, enthusiastic consent looks and feels like is an important skill for many contexts outside of kink as well!

Here’s a full class description. I hope you can join us!

Moving Beyond the Stoplight: Creative Negotiation and Embodied Consent

Lead by: Kamela, Sam
Format: Lecture
Minimum experience level: Everyone

Most of us know, at least intellectually, the importance of communicating limits and establishing ongoing consent. But even for seasoned players, limits can be hard to define, and consent can be tricky to navigate. Limits may vary from partner to partner. A submissive may not want to “wimp out” in a public play space or let her master down. A rope bottom may worry that by pointing out the pinching in his armpit, he’ll stop an otherwise hot scene. Edge players, experimenting with pushing limits, may have a hard time knowing when things are really “okay,” and when they are causing themselves or a partner harm. Negotiations and safewords, in short, are frequently not enough.

This class looks at ways to address those times when limits come in shades of gray. We will talk about how both bottoms and tops can facilitate communication that is not only clear, but also keeps the energy flowing between play partners. We will also practice listening to the messages our own and our partners’ bodies are conveying, to get a better understanding of what is pushing a limit safely, and what is crossing a boundary. Practical exercises in navigating personal space, touch, self-monitoring, eye contact, and creative communication will help you connect to your body’s innate wisdom, so your scenes – and in-scene relationships – can be healthier, happier, and hotter.

Bring: A daring and open heart.

Unhappy Hour

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Rob Brezsny of Free Will Astrology is the only astrologer whose email newsletter I subscribe to. I don’t bother with astrology most of the time, but Brezsny’s attitude and message and cheeky grace (“Free Will Astrology,” I mean, what’s not to love?) get to me, and he frequently writes things that inspire me with their hippy-dippy yet fiercely wise fun-loving awesomeness.

Here’s one, that I offer as my recommendation to everyone today who is suffering from grief, anger, loss, injustice, and pain. I don’t know yet if it works, though I’m thinking of trying it.

 You’re invited to celebrate Unhappy Hour. It’s a ceremony that gives you a poetic license to rant and whine and howl and sob about everything that hurts you and makes you feel bad.

During this perverse grace period, there’s no need for you to be inhibited as you unleash your tortured squalls. You don’t have to tone down the extremity of your desolate clamors. Unhappy Hour is a ritually consecrated excursion devoted to the full disclosure of your primal clash and jangle.

Here’s the catch: It’s brief. It’s concise. It’s crisp. You dive into your darkness for no more than 60 minutes, then climb back out, free and clear. It’s called Unhappy Hour, not Unhappy Day or Unhappy Week or Unhappy Year.

Do you have the cheeky temerity to drench yourself in your paroxysmal alienation from life? Unhappy Hour invites you to plunge in and surrender. It dares you to scurry and squirm all the way down to the bottom of your pain, break through the bottom of your pain, and fall down flailing in the soggy, searing abyss, yelping and cringing and wallowing.

That’s where you let your pain tell you every story it has to tell you. You let your pain teach you every lesson it has to teach you. But then it’s over. The ritual ordeal is complete. And your pain has to take a vacation until the next Unhappy Hour, which isn’t until next week sometime, or maybe next month.

You see the way the game works? Between this Unhappy Hour and the next one, your pain has to shut up. It’s not allowed to creep and seep all over everything, staining the flow of your daily life. It doesn’t have free reign to infect you whenever it’s itching for more power.

Your pain gets its succinct blast of glory, its resplendent climax, but leaves you alone the rest of the time.

 If performed regularly, Unhappy Hour serves as an exorcism that empties you of psychic toxins, while at the same time — miracle of miracles — it helps you squeeze every last drop of blessed catharsis out of those psychic toxins.

Get more at Rob’s site.

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