Monday, October 26, 2009

Maps Of the Lives That We Have Led

I teach a movement class that emphasizes body awareness. One of the pleasures of the class is reading the students' thoughts as they are exposed to the ideas and exercises in the course. One of my students wrote something interesting in her journal and gave me permission to post it. She writes:

We are born with the bodies we have, and all our unique talents and discrepancies and things that come naturally to us, and it’s up to us to decide how to use them, and in what ways we want to stretch ourselves, and what positions we put ourselves in. I read some Native American proverb or something once that said something like, “our faces are the maps of the lives we’ve led,” referring to wrinkles or sunspots or what have you, and I think our bodies are the same way. I find that I can sometimes tell what sport a person plays by their body type and how they carry themselves, especially if they’re really good or have played for years, and I wonder if it’s because they’ve spent so long moving themselves in those particular patterns that their bodies start to reflect the sport; or if it is that they gravitate to the sport that their body is naturally suited for.  -Penelope

Our bodies are maps of the lives that we have led. Of course, we are born a certain way, with the face we have and with the body we have, but as we age our bodies and our faces reflect our life style and history. How we use our bodies, how we abuse our bodies, how we eat, how we move, how we express, how we is all reflected in our posture, our musculature, our movement, and our health. We are drawn to certain activities because of how we are built and wired, and at the same time, our bodies respond to the activities that we do. If you practice yoga for long enough, it will show in your posture. If you run distances, you will develop long, sleek muscles. If in your culture, you carry water on your head, you will walk with aplomb and grace. If you sit at a computer day after day for hours without stretching, eventually you will suffer from neck or back pain. Your posture, your strength, your flexibility, the tension you hold and your stamina is in great part a reflection of how you live in your body.

Be mindful of how you live in your body.

Move. Dance. Walk. Stretch. Relax. Eat well. Sleep well. Treat yourself to bodywork.

Live in your body well. Live well in your body.

Wishing you balance,


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pen to Paper, Fingers to Keyboard

I was just reading through my daily list of blogs and ran across a quote that sang to me; "Writing is the new praying."

Writing. Pen to paper. Fingers to keyboard.


I love to write. I write to make myself and others laugh. I write to organize my thinking. I write to give thanks. I write in order to help other people. I write to connect...

...with others.

...with myself.

...with that which lies deep within.

Whenever I go through a difficult time, one of the first things I do is start a journal. I write. I vent. I dump out all of the ugliness. It isn't writing that I keep or develop into anything. It is writing that purges. And although I often read it through a few times before ultimately discarding it, I have no audience in mind when I write it. I just let it pour out from within. By giving it form, by putting it on paper or pixel, I am able to get rid of it.

Not all at once of course. Cleansing is a process.

Take Morning Pages. Morning Pages is the name of a writing exercise taken from The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron, a very useful book for unblocking the barriers to your creative spirit. The practice of writing Morning Pages is to write three pages long hand every morning. You start writing and keep writing whatever comes up until the three pages are filled. Here is a wonderful description of Morning Pages from a website I ran across dedicated to journeying through the book.

I compare Morning Pages to my morning shower. While I'm not visually dirty in the morning, I feel refreshed and ready for my day after taking a shower. Your shower takes care of your body. Morning Pages is a shower for your heart, mind, and soul. There's no visible "dirt," but there might be something under the surface that needs attention. Or maybe a dream or two looking for a place to land. Or maybe a list of things you want to get done during the day. Or just random thoughts that plague you like a song you can't get out of your head.


They can plague you.

Thoughts can be trouble shooters and they can be trouble makers says Buddhist teacher, Anam Thubten Rinpoche. Thinking isn't bad, but it isn't always good either as so much of our suffering is a result of the thoughts that we are having.

When we meditate we clear our mind of thoughts. We suspend the thinking.

Through writing, we can begin to let them go.

Wishing you balance,


Monday, October 12, 2009

The Thunderbolt

What do you do when your world falls apart? I am not sure that I really have the answer to that question, but I do have some thoughts. One question I ask myself is how to remain intact throughout, but perhaps I miss the mark when I do this. Perhaps what I should be considering is why it feels so important to me to remain intact.

Something bad happens and we feel intense emotion- loss, shock, sadness. We suffer. Or we busy ourselves and push the suffering away. We ignore the pain. I have learned however, as perhaps you can attest to also, that if we ignore our feelings, if we tamp them down, they come up anyhow, maybe much later and maybe in ways that we don't expect or want. We explode or fall apart in reaction to something small. It is like when your back goes out as you reach for a toothbrush. Because the underlying cause has been there for a great while, it only takes but a hair to break the proverbial camel's back.

Why do we push on being strong, burying our feelings when faced with trauma? First of all, we have responsibilities; other people depend on us. Second, being strong is what we are supposed to do. Our culture admires it. Third, there is shame about feeling week, vulnerable and unhappy. So, if we do allow ourselves to experience our feelings, often we have judgments about those feelings. I need to be stronger. I need to get a hold of myself. I can't fall apart. It's not the end of the world. But sometimes it feels like it is indeed the end of the world. See those people falling in the picture? They are leaping from the burning tower. Their world has fallen apart.

And when things fall apart, we experience suffering. To judge the feelings you are having is to kick yourself for being down. We don't do that to dogs, so why do we do it to ourselves? It is human to feel. It is human to suffer. And being human is what we are. But to honor the feelings, to feel what there is to feel as opposed to putting them away somewhere takes courage. So, although it seems like we are doing the strong thing when we ignore our feelings, it is actually a courageous act to sit with our feelings and really feel them, going past the narrative, the thoughts that we are having about whatever is going on, and to discover what lies underneath. You might have a story about why you are mad at someone, but when you allow the story to fall away, you are left with the feelings underneath. It might be fear, shame or sorrow that you feel. Once you get in tune with it, be gentle with yourself. Give yourself permission to feel whatever it is that you feel. Know that it is ok and that you are ok for feeling that way. My experience is that feelings don't go away unless you honor them. Then healing can happen.

Staying with feelings that are so strong and raw that it causes you to re-experience the trauma is isn't productive, however. But after a time, when you have some distance from the event it can be very helpful to open up and see what is there, to let yourself become a bit undone, or vulnerable at least, as long as you can be gentle and accepting of what you find.

Another thing I have found to be tremendously helpful is to connect with the body. My experience of trauma has had me feeling at times, as if I were not solid. My body feels as if it were vapor, as if a hand could pass right through me. Exercise, walking, body work, yoga, the reassuring touch of a friend or family member, even my own hand on my leg, on my arm, on my heart, communicating that I am indeed here. There is something very comforting about feeling connected with the physical matter of the body. (Remember the last post? The Mary Oliver poem? The spirit "needs the metaphor of the body.")

Whether you are going through a difficult time or not, my wish is to offer words and ideas that might be of some help if you do indeed need them at some point in your journey.

Wishing you balance,


P.S. The image that accompanies this post is of the Thunderbolt card from Osho's Zen Tarot deck. Here is some of the text that accompanies this card-

"The card shows a tower being burned, destroyed, blown apart. A man and a woman are leaping from it not because they want to, but because they have no choice. In the background is a transparent, meditating figure representing the witnessing consciousness......but this inner earthquake is both necessary and tremendously important...if you allow it, you will emerge from the wreckage stronger and more available for new experiences." -Osho Zen Tarot, by Osho