Hi all. I’ve not been blogging this week – some things have been taking me away. But I’ll be back next week with more Principles of RSM and other thoughts!
I don’t have anything profound to impart today. Instead, I want to remind my readers:
2. Join my mailing list! It’s low-traffic, but keeps you up to speed with events, special offers, and my writings here.
3. Are you a healing professional who would like to exchange sessions and build your referral network? Do you have a meetup group, healing circle, or other organization that could use a presenter? Contact me – I’m looking to spread the word about this and get people familiar with this work!
I have Google set up to send me articles about body/mind topics, and sometimes links come along that I never would have found on my own. Like this little gem from the Times of Swaziland (Swaziland!).
It’s a fairly simple article on mindfulness, but I found its messages to be particularly poetic and true. Some highlights:
“Even though we may not understand life, we should savour it.”
“We are not really in search of meaning but, rather, moments of ‘aliveness.’”
“As we allow our innate imagination and creativity to lead the way, we start to process our lives and understand just how ‘fictional’ we really are. We become characters in our own story, we create and witness our own past; not with judgment but with compassion.”
“Mindfulness is living as if every moment really matters, through continuous, non-judgmental, awareness. A simple way to bring your attention to the present is to ask yourself from time to time, ‘am I awake right now?'”
That last one is a question I want to be asking myself continually these days: am I awake right now? Am I aware of what my body is experiencing, what my mind is thinking about, what my heart is yearning for or peaceful about or sorrowing over? Am I experiencing this moment?
This morning I’m sitting alone in an apartment, working mostly in natural light. A gorgeous breeze is working its way over wood surfaces, through the blades of a ceiling fan, and onto me. I’m going to need to go to the bathroom soon. My shoulders and neck are a little tense, probably because I’m working with my laptop actually on my lap. I was distracted by at least three other things while attempting to write this paragraph. Make that four.
This last part seems especially important: attention, the first step to mindfulness, seems at a premium these days. There are too many things to do, too little time to do them in, and too many other things clamoring for our focus. And divided focus is ultimately no focus at all.
Yet we get things done. We muddle through. We accomplish things, or at least, complete them. We do our jobs, love our families, manage our homes, if we have all of those things. But mindfulness, besides all of its other well-researched benefits, maybe can help us enjoy it all a bit more.
Am I awake right now?
Almost. Part of my head is planning the rest of my day and getting all stressed and confused about it. I still have to go to the bathroom. I’m trying to maintain a conversation over Google Chat about plans for the weekend. Definitely awake, definitely conscious, but divided.
We seem to live in a world of division. Divided attention, divided selves. Even in my work we talk about body, mind, emotions and spirit, as if they were really four different things – because we have a goal of integrating them, getting them all moving in the same direction. It’s the tradeoff for all the amazing benefits of human consciousness that we constantly live in this divide: we are always simultaneously living and observing ourselves living, being physically present in one place but mentally present somewhere else, feeling the complex, multilayered pull of all of our parts.
I do it again: am I awake right now?
What about now?
Nobody likes being confused. It’s disorienting, frustrating, and sometimes frightening. We also know that it’s hard to take in new information or function effectively when we’re confused: most people are familiar with the experience of trying to tell someone one thing while looking at different words on a screen, or trying to drive somewhere new when your GPS is telling you one thing and your passenger another. So this principle can be a bit difficult to swallow: how could confusion facilitate change?
As has doubtless become apparent, Rubenfeld Synergists are fond of taking apart words and looking at how people use them and how they create various meanings in the mind and body. The word “confusion” contains the word “fusion,” and the prefix “con” can mean, interestingly, either “with” or “against.” Confusion, then, is “both a pulling apart and a joining,” as Ilana puts it in her book, The Listening Hand (20). Confusion is what happens when our normal, habitual behavior patterns are interrupted, and we’re asked to enter new waters. This is always an uncomfortable experience, but absolutely necessary to break out of worn-out or dysfunctional behaviors, and to adopt new patterns and skills.
Think about when you’re learning to do something. One evening, I watched as one friend taught another friend how to spin poi – the fire-juggling technique where you swing small flaming wicks at the ends of chains around your body in interesting rhythmic patterns. My friend who was learning tends not to be especially dexterous, and over and over again I watched him swing the two practice poi around himself, get tangled, and hit himself in the groin. (Then I tried not to laugh.) Luckily the poi were not on fire at the time.
Now naturally, this was a (literally!) painful and confusing experience for my friend. At points, it became frustrating – another emotional state that tends to occur on the threshold of learning. But he kept going throughout the night, even though he never once got the move right.
The next day we went out to Central Park and hung out, and brought the practice poi with us. He picked them up, swung them through the air, and got the move at last. Sleep, and the brain working on the problem, was what finally allowed competence to emerge. But the confusion of newness came first, and made room for the acquisition of the new skill.
The same thing can happen to people on the table in a session. Sometimes a part of the body that has been held a particular way for a long time becomes loosened by a move, and while greater relaxation is usually seen as a good thing, it can be disorienting, even frightening. A person who has been holding her shoulder tight into her body for protection for years may even feel rising panic as those muscles begin to feel freer for the first time. But it is that very confusion – and sometimes the concomitant fear – that allows for other possibilities to enter. What might happen, confusion seems to ask us, if you chose something else? That shoulder may have protected her for a long time, when she needed protection. But what might she achieve once she realizes she doesn’t need to hold herself in anymore?
Humans are profoundly creatures of habit – an incredibly useful evolutionary adaptation that has allows us, as a species, to adapt and thrive in a wildly diverse array of circumstances. But the place where growth – physical improvement, mental alacrity, emotional strength, spiritual development – truly occurs is at the precipice of the unknown, the edge between what we’re familiar with and what else is possible. To get over that edge, we need to allow ourselves to be confused: to break apart the things that get us by from day to day, and imagine new pairings – new fusions of possibility.
All of the best things that have happened to me have been as result of riding this edge. It was that little place in me that said: Maybe I can love more than one person. Maybe I can become a healer. Maybe I can direct a Shakespeare play. And more, lately: Maybe I can climb a rock face. Maybe I can start a business. Maybe I can consider graduate work in directing. Is it all scary? Sure. Is it all worth it? Absolutely.
Next time you feel confused, stop and notice it. Thank it for whatever it’s bringing, even though you probably won’t know what it is yet.
And tell me about it in comments!
An study at UCLA is experimenting with how laughter might help kids with cancer and other painful diseases to manage pain better, recover from it faster, and generally have stronger immune systems.
The study is ongoing at UCLA’s Jonsson Cancer Center, through a nonprofit project called Rx Laughter. Its pilot study on kids presented results in 2007, and it’s now extending to veterans and military families.
Having recently written a post on the RSM principle that humor can lighten and heal, it’s neat to look at the research that’s going on out there that backs up what Ilana’s been saying for years. My hope is that bit by bit, folks in the scientific community will begin to study the principles of the body-mind connection systematically, and open up greater acceptance of the kind of work that we do.
Remember: I’m offering a first session for $20. Contact me for details!
This past Wednesday night, as I arrived at my rehearsal for the musical I’m in, I was struck with a headache bad enough to make me also feel nauseous. Accompanying this delightful development were some hot flashes, dizziness, and weakness. I struggled through the rehearsal, then went home and collapsed. I slept through most of the next day, and have been resting most of today as well.
Being sick sucks, of course, but as I’m getting better I’m getting some insights from it. In particular, I’m noticing, not for the first time, how much better I am at listening to my body when I’m sick. Sickness brings us down to essentials, to where not heeding the body’s messages results in dire unpleasantness, or is simply impossible. Yesterday morning, my stomach told me not to eat. My aching head bade me lay down and sleep, as no other position was comfortable. When I woke in the late afternoon, I was more coherent, but only able to do certain things. I didn’t ask too much of myself, and I didn’t feel guilty.
It occurs to me that most of the time, most of us don’t have this kind of simple symbiosis with our own bodies. We don’t heed the messages they give us; we push ourselves harder than we should; we drive ourselves to exhaustion; we spend huge amounts of time doing things we don’t actually want to be doing. Most of us sleep less than we should, eat more than we have to, exercise less than our bodies would like, and subject ourselves to constant stress. Sickness is sometimes like a wake-up call: when we’ve worn ourselves down enough, an opportunistic germ steps in and takes hold. Under its influence, we’re finally forced to listen to what our bodies have been trying to tell us: slow down. Stop working so hard. Get some rest. Breathe.
It’s a hard lesson, and one I prefer not to learn by getting sick. It’s a much nicer world when I’m taking good care of myself, getting enough rest, eating well, moving around a lot, and dealing with my emotions as they come up rather than letting them fester. But as it is, I’m still here on the couch, just coherent enough to get these thoughts down.
Be well, everyone, and see you Monday.
When I first saw a Rubenfeld Synergy session, it was Joe Weldon, Master Synergist and possibly my greatest teacher, conducting it. One of the first things I noticed – and it annoyed me at first – was how he kept repeating back things that the client said. Joe might ask the client what she noticed as she was lying on the table at the beginning of the session. “I’m a little sore today,” she might say, “but it feels good, because I know I exercised yesterday.” “So you’re a little sore today,” he might repeat, “and it feels good because you know you exercised yesterday.” “Yeah,” she’d say with a sigh. “Yeah, yeah,” he’d say, a favorite verbal tic of his that I’ve picked up myself in sessions. “Yeah. So what else do you notice?”
At the beginning, I thought, what the hell is he doing? If I were on the table or in a therapy session and the guy just kept parroting back what I was saying? That’d drive me nuts! But over time, I began to notice all of the subtle power of reflection.
To be clear, Rubenfeld Synergists and other healing professionals who use this technique (Rogerian psychotherapists, Gestalt folks, and others) call it mirroring or reflection rather than parroting or repetition. The reason for this is that we are not simply repeating what the client says. We are using as close to the exact words of the client as we can, though generally switching ‘I’s for ‘you’s in appropriate places. A simple repetition, like a recording, loses something of its fidelity, and doesn’t offer us anything but our own voices back to us. We may not like how we sound, we may cringe, or we may strive to improve the next time. It is useful, but not transformative in the moment. With a reflection, though, as in a mirror or a lake, we are showing the client an almost-true image, one shifted by changing water and light, and active in the moment – one the client can experience dynamically, see more clearly, and change at will.
What, then, does it do for a client when we reflect their verbal expressions? Anyone who has gone to a job interview knows that physical mirroring is a basic technique of connection, and that taking on a similar posture to your interlocutor can help them relate to you better. Verbal reflection serves a similar function, but there are others.
1. Making the client feel heard. As the principle says, much of this is about validating the client’s experience. When the Synergist repeats, with care, what the client has said, the client knows that what she has said has been heard and taken in.
2. Mining and clarifying the important data. The Synergist doesn’t repeat everything; often he will pick the thing that sounds most important. Sometimes the Synergist will be wrong about this; we’re not superheroes or mind readers, though our intuition does tend to be turned to a higher setting. Sometimes a client will go on and on about his troubles with work, at home, with life in general, and an entire history of physical ailments, until the Synergist may even need to gently stop the client talking. Perhaps out of that the Synergist will repeat, “Yeah. It’s been a really hard year.” And the client may take a breath for himself, and begin to know that someone cares and that maybe getting out every detail isn’t as important.
3. Checking for accuracy. Sometimes, reflection is about helping a client hear herself. Many of us go around talking all the time, unaware of what we’re really saying. “I have a bad back, I always have,” a client might say, and I’d say, “You have a bad back, you always have,” and maybe put a little question mark on the end. “What’s bad about it?” I might ask next. When I hear this I wonder who told this woman she was bad when she was young, or at least, how she is limiting herself by thinking of her back this way. If I can make the client hear the judgment she’s putting on herself, the continued message to the back that it is “bad,” well, then we’ve gotten somewhere. Another thing that happens sometimes is a client will hear something reflected and say, “I didn’t say that!…Did I?” Helping clients hear what they’re actually saying can help them clarify for themselves what they want to be saying, and can help them shake free of patterns of thought that may be harming them.
4. Offering possibilities. One change you may have noticed in the first example reflection in this post was the shift from “but” to “and.” This was an early habit we were taught to get into, and it can be simple and powerful. It is a human habit to put things in contrast to one another: I feel sore but good, I’m sad but I know it’s for the best, as though we’re meant to feel one thing and not the other, as though the heart can’t contain that kind of paradox. In RSM there is room for everything: we bring as much as we can to awareness, because unacknowledged feelings stultify us and stunt our growth. “You feel sad, and you know it’s for the best,” I would say to that second statement, emphasizing the “and” just a little. And maybe the client could begin to hear that while moving on is important (It’s for the best), grieving is equally important (I feel sad). Acknowledging both sides of the “but” by switching it to an “and” opens possibilities for fully experiencing your truth.
5. Deepening experience. Finally, reflecting something back to the client can slow a moment down and allow the truth of the statement to settle and deepen. When tears come in a session, often it is after the client says something very close to his core, and the Synergist repeats it back. “I just don’t want to do it anymore!” the client says, at the end of her rope. “You just don’t want to do it anymore,” the Synergist says, letting each word land, supporting the client at her shoulder. And perhaps that shoulder tightens for a moment and then softens. “Yeah. You just don’t want to do it anymore.” “No. I don’t.” The voice is soft now, the tears start to come. This is just an example, but it’s the kind of thing I’ve seen over and over: staying with the key point of a client’s expression, reflecting it back to them, letting them hear it and feel it resonate in them and feel supported in it, can let bound-up emotions start to move, and bring the client a step closer to freedom.
I’ve spoken here before about theatre, as well as music and writing, my other two artistic passions. I find they are important for my readers to know who I am as a practitioner, and that these things also powerfully inform my work as a Rubenfeld Synergist. Ilana, after all, started her career as a symphonic conductor. Theatre is an expressive medium communicated through the body. And the English language, with its puns, double and triple meanings, and poetic resonances, is a tool we use extensively in this work to get at the truths that the body wants to tell us.
And so from time to time, when a piece of art moves me greatly, I feel justified in linking up my passion for healing and my passion for art here in this space. After all, there’s a reason why certain forms are called “healing arts.” Some of what we do tends to be more of an art than a science, a kind of intuitive listening, receiving, and releasing that, while it requires a lot of technique, requires raw talent more.
With all of that in mind, then. This week I attended the Minnesota Fringe Festival, which is a magnificent collection of theatre, dance, music and circus artistry featuring 165 shows in fifteen venues over the course of ten days. Near the top of the heap of the shows, the one everyone was talking about, was a play called Ash Land – a Depression-era dust bowl retelling of Cinderella by a company called Transatlantic Love Affair.
What was so special about this show? Well, for one thing, it contained no sets, no props, and no costume changes. The eight actors wear the same evocative Depression-era farmers’ clothes throughout the show, and using their bodies and breath, become trees filled with wind, fields of ripe and then dried-out wheat, water pumps flowing and trickling, mirrors, trunks, windows, doors and creaking gates, and of course the vibrant characters of the story. A single slide guitarist provided scoring, including, eventually, the profoundly welcome sound of rain.
Part of what struck me so powerfully was the use of breath in this production. The farmers huffed and heaved in a natural rhythm as they worked; their breath made wind and the clatter of dry leaves; small chks and sighs evoked the scattering of seed or picking a grain of wheat to test its ripeness. And every time the ensemble turned from one thing into another thing, they breathed out together in an audible, quick sigh, as if to clear the way for the new shapes their bodies would describe.
As I watched (what I could see when my eyes weren’t full of tears), I was thrown again and again by how much a group of people could move me just by committing to a motion or a shape, by letting breath carry them from one place to the next, and by the end I felt liberated, like this group had literally breathed new life into me, like I’d been given spiritual CPR. It occurred to me then: what isn’t possible with only our bodies, our breath, our sounds and our feelings? As theatre moves more and more toward a commercial model, trying to get butts in seats using gimmicks and special effects and making it ever more like the movies, the thing that sold out that space for the first time in Fringe history was a show with no effects at all, not even a single prop. Just a group of talented people willing to tell a story with their whole selves.
What does this have to do with Rubenfeld Synergy Method? A lot, I think. It has to do with what moves us, and how movement itself – the willingness to move with conviction – can free us. And with breath – the way it can cleanse, sweep away, smooth over, re-oxygenate, and revivify. And with sound, and music – how listening can link us to memory, to emotion, to the pulse of reality, and to presence. All of these things lead us back to ourselves, to a place where we can begin to believe, again, that change and healing are possible.
When has art healed you?
It’s August 1, classically a first-harvest festival in European and Euro-influenced cultures. It’s also the middle of the summer, and that means a lot of people are traveling, on vacation, or at least enjoying a slower schedule.
I’m still here, and still working hard to get the word out about the work that I do and its value to my clients. I’m also offering a first session for $20, in an effort to build my business. If there’s anyone you think should know about this – please, spread the word!
But I’m taking yet another trip in the next week and change, and may not be able to update regularly.
I’ll have Internet access, so please – feel free to contact me to set up sessions, comment on my blog posts, and otherwise keep in touch. I just can’t guarantee my regular MWF posting schedule until after I’m back, August 12.
Until then – enjoy the ongoing beauty of this season, and celebrate whatever you’re harvesting this year!