Tsarnaev, heartbreak, and the violence borne of suffering

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Image by Rebecca Hildreth on FlickrLast week, the federal courts sentenced young Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death for his crimes in the Boston Marathon bombing. I don’t talk politics much here, but I will say on the record: I was hoping against hope that it would be life without parole. I hoped – and even believed – that we were better than this now. That we would give this young man – hell, this boy – a chance to grow up, to reflect, to be alone with his thoughts and out of the public eye for years – and perhaps, to find redemption.

But we’re not so good at that, as a species. Even though Martin Richard’s family, who had the ultimate loss in this tragedy in the death of their young son, said that they did not want the death penalty. Apparently, our sense of revenge was more important than responding to that family’s plea to not take another child away from this world.

I read an article by Parker J. Palmer a few days before the verdict, in the amazing On Being blog. Entitled Heartbreak, Violence, and Hope for New Life, it is built around the repeated refrain, “Violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering.”

It tracks the idea that as individuals, and indeed, as a nation, we often don’t know what to do with our suffering, and so lashing out feels like the only option. It happens with the cycle of abuse, when a child who was beaten up grows up to beat up her own kids. It happens when we turn violence against ourselves or others in response to grief and pain. As Palmer writes, “We turn to noise and frenzy, nonstop work, or substance abuse as anesthetics that only deepen our suffering. Sometimes we visit violence upon others, as if causing them pain would mitigate our own. Racism, sexism, homophobia, and contempt for the poor are among the cruel outcomes of this demented strategy.”

We do it as a nation, as when after the few weeks of solidarity and heartbreak that followed 9/11, we went to endless war.

And we did it this week, when we decided that our response to the suffering we experienced after the Marathon bombing should be the death – irrevocable and state-executed – of a a young man who could yet, with time, be healed.

Suffering breaks our hearts — but there are two quite different ways for the heart to break. There’s the brittle heart that breaks apart into a thousand shards, a heart that takes us down as it explodes and is sometimes thrown like a grenade at the source of its pain. Then there’s the supple heart, the one that breaks open, not apart, growing into greater capacity for the many forms of love. Only the supple heart can hold suffering in a way that opens to new life.

I hope that if you are reading this, if you are suffering today, if your heart is breaking, that it is able to make room, to expand, to be supple and strong.

Weekly sharing series

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I’ve been working to use Facebook more reliably, and I’m looking to launch a series for each day of the week where I say a little something, post a little finding, share a song or a story or an exercise, each day of the week. But because it’s cuter if I do it this way, I’m thinking of doing a different theme for each day.

So far I have The Monday Move, in which I share music that moves me, makes me move, or grants me stillness.

Tuesdays are for Trauma – and/or Truth. Here I’ll share things about how trauma works, what it does, how RSM helps you recover, recent studies and science, and so on.

In honor of Joe Weldon, I’m thinking that the next day has to be the Wednesday Sway, dedicated to moves in RSM, the restoration of movement to the body, and all the somatic ways that we do this work.

Thursday and Friday are still a little up in the air, but I know that I want to do something about sexuality, and something about performance. Thespian Thursdays? Fabulous Fridays? I’m sure all the alliterations will come together in time.

Until then, please “like” and follow my page over on Facebook, and if you dig it, tell your friends!

What was taken from you? Where do we get it back?

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I went to the INARS conference this past week, and I’ve taken away so many learnings that I don’t know where to begin. But I was inspired today when I walked into a cafe for lunch and heard a song.

If you were conscious during the early ’90s, you undoubtedly know this song. It starts with the repeated words: “In the middle of the – I go walking in the – In the middle of the – I go walking in the – ”

Are we there? Yeah. The song is Billy Joel’s mega-hit from 1993, “River of Dreams.” Now, before I left for the conference, I hadn’t heard this song, or hadn’t paid attention to it, in years. But in a bar in Landsdowne Street with friends, having dinner before a They Might Be Giants concert with dear friends, I heard it, and my friend did too. We both started singing along together:

In the middle of the night (middle of the night)
I go walking in my sleep (walking in my sleep)
From the mountains of faith (mountains of faith)
To a river so deep (river so deep)…

We sang along and boogied from the bar to our tables and commented on how long it had been since we’d heard that song, and what a good song it was. I mumbled along to a lot of the faster lyrics, and we moved on to dinner.

Today, after therapy, after talking about everything I’d been through at the conference, I heard it again in the cafe: In the middle of the night…

And I stopped, because I was hearing words I’d never heard before.

And I’ve been searching for something
Taken out of my soul
Something I would never lose
Something somebody stole

This weekend, we focused on soul: what feeds us, where we feel at home, how we connect to passion, to center, to power, to connection itself. As part of that, we talked about the thwarts to passion: what does your passion call you to do, and what gets our way?

An important learning from this was that most of the time, the thing thwarting us is not of us. We may have internalized it, sure, but it was something done to us. “Something taken out of my soul. Something I would never lose. Something somebody stole.” Or, something somebody put there, something that doesn’t belong, that we should never have been forced to carry.

One fellow Synergist felt the sense of the thwart so deeply that she was convinced it was all her, and said it felt like a bunch of heavy locks. Gently but with laser clarity as always, one of the program heads, Noel Wight, told her: Very few people put locks inside themselves, just naturally, on purpose. It’s possible that this Synergist was the one who put them there. But what drove that action? What was the message she received that told her: lock yourself away. You are too much to take. Your passion burns too hot. Be quiet. Keep it to yourself.

What was stolen from her? What was put in its place?

And how do we get those things back? How do we return to ourselves, to a place where our passion, our will, can flow freely?

The answer differs for each person, but it starts with the body. What movement is restricted now, as a result of that thwarting, that theft, that abuse, that grasping, that constant imposition? Whatever it was, what movement can we use to restore ourselves to ourselves?

Here’s an example: for me, it was space. I got the message repeatedly that I took up too much space: I was too big, my laugh was too loud, I ate too much, and I needed to follow the rules, keep my legs together, and be a lady. So is is any surprise that now my hips are tight, I squeeze my shoulders into their sockets, my ribs get compressed, and I can’t take a full breath?

The restoration of my width, my length, my breath, my available space – this is the work that I need to do to restore my connection to passion, my soul, my source, and my sense of direction: where I am going in my life, and who gets to decide?

When we turn to the body and seek the source of our tensions, our aches, our habitual movements that hold us back, we begin to see other possibilities for movement, other ways that we can be, move, and live.

Contact me if you want some help doing this for your own life.

Great fun getting actors into their bodies at Theatre @ First

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knight_of_burning_pestle_logoThe other night I had the opportunity to work with a large cast of actors in a crazy, little-known Elizabethan play called The Knight of the Burning Pestle. The play is a satire on Elizabethan theatre, written in the same time period. A couple of rowdy “audience members” interrupt the action constantly, insert their own apprentice as an actor into the proceedings, and in general spin the whole thing into chaos. It’s great fun.

Because the actors are all playing, well, actors, who are in turn playing broad stock characters, it’s a great opportunity to find larger-than-life physicality and use it to develop the character. I find that when you connect an actor to their breath, and then through their breath, to their bodies, the movement becomes very intuitive and clear – and the body connects to the voice, as well, creating the projection and voice you want.

We loosened up, moved all our joints around, found our feet under us. We walked around the room and moved our awareness to different parts of ourselves, seeing what it felt like to be pulled around by the head, chest, belly, hips, knees, toes. We explored gait: how far apart are the character’s feet? Do they walk heavily or lightly, on their toes or their heels, with big steps or little ones?

Then we put on some music and they walked around in the body-characters they’d found, stopping when the music stopped in a still posture that they could use when they were onstage and not moving. It was hilarious, and also helped them figure out how to be onstage: so much of acting is knowing what to do when you’re not doing anything.

I love working with actors and seeing them discover things, open up to possibilities, and stretch themselves. Getting them to connect with their bodies is such a rapid and excellent way to make it happen, too, and I love watching them light up as they get it.

If you want to work with me as an actor, check out my Body-Centered Performance Coaching page, and get in touch.

And go see Knight of the Burning Pestle at Theatre @ First in Somerville, April 23 – May 2!

Lovely day at the Theosophical Society’s Day of Healing and Insight

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succulentI wanted to take a moment this week to that Janet Kessenich and Carolyn Romano at the Boston Theosophical Society again for asking me in to do their Day of Healing and Insight last Saturday! I got to put my hands on some people, help them listen to themselves, bring some relaxation and calm, and help most of them tune in to what’s really important for them right now.

It’s always interesting to do short sessions like that (these were 25 minutes start to finish). I feel like I had a better time containing them this time than I did a couple years ago when I did the summer event. Part of that was due to the help of my mentor Joan Brooks, who gave me great ideas for making RSM effective in such a brief window: focus it on one question the client is coming in with. Keep bringing it back to the body. Have them notice how they feel when they get on the table and how they feel before they get up. Ask them how the feelings they are having will help them in their lives.

It was useful and powerful, and I’m pleased that I had the opportunity. I hope that more folks will go and check out their events.

Come have a sample session this Saturday in Arlington!

Image 1This Saturday, the Theosophical Society is holding their annual Day of Healing and Insight. This means that there are a bunch of practitioners of various modalities hanging out in one place, and you can pay $25 to have a 25-minute session with any of them!

Well, this time I’m included in this, and I’ll be there on Saturday from 1:30 – 4pm. Come by and get a brief, hands-on introduction to my work!

Here’s the full scoop. Sign up with them, but do let me know if you’re planning to come! Email me at kamela@powerinyourhands.net.



When   Saturday, March 21, (9am – 5pm)
Where  21 Maple St., Arlington, MA

Description OUR PRACTITIONERS AND READERS:
Morning sessions on the half hour from 10 to 12:30:

Jennifer Badot: Tarot Readings
Stefan Meyer: The Ancient Science of the Cards
Kate Rafferty: Transformational Kinesiology
Darlene Slagle: Akashic Record Readings
Rene Schweisow: Intuitive Readings Using Tarot, Runes, and Chakra Stones
Carolyn Romano: Native American Sacred Path Intuitive Card Readings

Afternoon sessions on the half hour from 1:30 to 4:
Judy Tsafrir: Tarot Readings
Kamela Dolinova: Rubenfeld Synergy Method
Rene Schweisow: Intuitive Readings Using Taror, Runes, and Chakra Stones
Andrew Fieleke: Focusing Techniques “Clearing a Space”
Janet Kessenich: Sound Healing & Chakra Balancing

SCHEDULING YOUR SESSIONS: BY EMAIL:
Please email us at tsevents21@gmail.com with your requests for sessions.
Your inquiry will be returned as quickly as possible –
though we ask you to understand that we are all volunteers whose schedules
may not allow us to respond immediately.

BY PHONE: If you prefer to speak by phone, email us with your phone number
and we’ll work out a mutually convenient time to connect.

PAYMENT: Pre-payment is required to hold your reserved sessions.
Payment forms include check and Paypal.

Trying to manage pain? F*** it!

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Research shows that swearing helps us to manage pain better. We’ve all had the experience of dropping something on our foot and yelling out a few choice Anglo-Saxon words. Scientists used to believe that doing so focused us more on the negative, and therefore decreased tolerance of pain. New research, however, shows that on the contrary, people who swore while experiencing pain were able to tolerate it for longer, and reported feeling less pain than those who repeated a neutral word.

swearing-294391_1280I’m reminded of a practice client I had a long time back, who was having an intense emotional experience in her life. Standing at her head, I asked her what she was aware of, and her answer was “F*** it!” Encouraged by this plainly authentic response, I mirrored it to her, encouraging her to allow that feeling to flow. Turned out that phrase was everywhere inside her, needing to get out, be felt, and be voiced.

This research brings a new dimension to that session: the idea that giving someone permission to spout profanity when in extremis can help not only release the painful emotions, but make doing so less painful. Anger, too – often associated with such outbursts – can be a powerful way to feel some control over something that hurts.

If the body speaks in metaphors, then swears are one way for the body to release steam. Nice to see work being done on how our use of language relates to our physical and emotional experience.

Dartmouth suggests more research on body-mind therapies!

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A number of sources over the past few days are reporting a recommendation from Dartmouth investigators Peter Payne, SEP, and Mardi Crane-Godreau, PhD, in the journal Frontiers in Psychology that body/mind therapies such as Somatic Experiencing be subjected to more rigorous scientific research to examine their efficacy in the treatment of trauma.

I am a big fan of this idea, given that often, the work that I do and its adjuncts are often left in the dark when it comes to scientific inquiry. Skeptics like to place some healing modalities in the “quackery” category, which tends to create a circularly reasoned loop: these things are not backed by good science, therefore they must be unworthy of study, and therefore no science gets done.

The team at Dartmouth is interested in looking into the connection between the well-known effects of stress on morbidity in association with conditions such as cancer, and the relief of stress and associated trauma that is often seen in mental health modalities that incorporate the body. As this science advances, I hope to see more and more of these types of studies coming out of respected institutions, and giving us a more data-driven sense of how this stuff works.

Rewiring your brain out of pain

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When I was about 17 years old, I remember getting sunburned on my face. I particularly hurt on the skin around and under my eyes, but being out with family at the pool in the complex where my grandmother lived, I needed to hang out for a bit longer. I was reading a book – Toni Morrison’s Beloved, as I recall – and was having a hell of a time concentrating on it. But lying face down on a beach chair, I began a chant inside my head. It doesn’t hurt, I kept thinking. It doesn’t hurt, it doesn’t hurt, it doesn’t hurt.

I remember my astonishment when I realized, a few minutes later, that in fact it didn’t. I returned to my reading and, as I recall, the pain did not return.

People have been using the expression “mind over matter” for ages, but research is coming around more and more to the idea that this process is quite literal. A recent article in the Daily Mail sensationalizes it somewhat (it is, after all, in the Daily Mail), but the implications are clear: with practice, we can rewire our brains to ignore pain, so that it does not become or stay chronic.

One of the basic principles of neuroplasticity, as the ability of the brain to change and adapt is called, is that neurons that fire together, wire together. It is by this mechanism – the brain making associations, sometimes between seemingly unrelated things – that habits form, thought patterns become ingrained, some sexual proclivities develop, and trauma keeps hold of us over time.

With pain, the grooves in the brain can become very deep. “The role of acute pain is to alert us to injury or disease by sending a signal to the brain,” says Dr. Norman Doidge in the article. “But sometimes an injury affects the body and the nerve cells (neurons) in the brain. As acute pain continues, these neurons become hypersensitive, firing more easily with less stimulation.” Opioid drugs like morphine and oxycodone can increase this effect over time, driving the neurological grooves deeper until even a small stimulus can trigger pain, even in areas of the body that weren’t directly affected by the injury.

Another doctor who studied this phenomenon after his own severe injury, pain specialist Michael Moskowitz, “realised that many of the areas in the brain that fire in chronic pain also process thoughts, sensations, images, memories, movements, emotions, and beliefs – when they are not processing pain, that is.

This explains why, when we’re in pain, we can’t concentrate, tolerate certain sounds or light, or control our emotions well, because areas that regulate these activities have been hijacked to process the pain signal.

Working from the knowledge that two parts of the brain process both pain signals and visual signals, he developed a way of using visualization to overcome the pain when it arose. Focusing on an image of his own brain in pain, he then imagined the areas of pain getting smaller and smaller. By repeatedly telling the brain to process this visual image rather than focusing on the pain itself, he achieved a reduction of pain in 3 weeks, a major reduction in 6, and a near-pain-free existence after a year.

These findings, which he has begun putting into practice for patients for several years with surprising success, dovetail with the work that Synergists and other bodymind therapists have been doing for some time. Because awareness is the first key to change, getting clients to focus on different parts of their bodies, on their pain, on their emotion, or on whatever is happening inside them and describe it in detail can help the client regain some control over bodily responses to stimuli. By observing our state in detail, we can then take action to change that state.

I’m again remembering a certain demo session that Ilana Rubenfeld ran in our training, with a classmate who had been in a serious car accident more than 20 years ago, and sometimes still had pain from it. In that session, she helped him rewrite the memory: starting the process of rewiring the part of his brain that had built a groove around that event, a groove that kept saying remember, and helping him to remember it differently, to tell the brain that in fact it had been a near miss, to let those pain signals stop firing at last. It doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t hurt.

I’m looking forward to learning more.

Season of Light

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Image by Nic McPhee on Flickr: https://flic.kr/p/ziUEh

Light in the darkness

If you believe the astronomical calendar, we were through the darkest time of the year as of yesterday morning, December 22, when the day after the longest night dawned. From here on out, the days get longer and longer, the dark coming a little later every day. But especially for those of us who live in more northerly climes, we know that in our subjective reality, it’s going to get darker from here: the winter is long and hard, and February seems to the time that sufferers of SAD and other types of depression have the worst time.

The holidays are a patch of light in this darkness: for millennia, humans who lived in places where winter covers the earth for a long, dark, cold and scarce period have gathered at this time to bring their resources of fire, food, and fellowship together and huddle close against the encroaching dark. Saturnalia, Yule, Hannukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and others are celebrations that center on the Winter Solstice, or that are observed around the same time and have, at their centers, the symbology of light in the darkness.

With the Solstice passed, Hannukah underway, Christmas on the near horizon, New Year’s Day next week (more light and fireworks!), and Kwanzaa thereafter with its seven candles for the seven principles, the holiday season brings us firmly together in the toughest time of the year to face our fears, strengthen family relationships, and share our light with one another.

This year, I am in sunny southern CA, which is an odd place to celebrate, as Irving Berlin long ago noted. But as I watch the Santa Anas blow outside the window here, and prepare to celebrate with my partner and his family, I feel that same need calling from the depths of my own body memory, from my ancestors (nearly all from Northern Europe), and from the movement of the earth: to draw together, to find the light, to joyfully fatten ourselves against the cold and to laugh and sing against the dark.

Whatever draws you together this season, I hope it brings you joy, warmth, love and light.

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