Peter Levine, PhD is the author of Waking the Tiger and Trauma Through a Child's Eyes and he developed Somatic Experiencing, a highly effective trauma resolving therapy. This quote inspired me today.
The word "trauma" refers to an interrupted capacity to process and respond to life as it happens. It's a condition of stuckness and involves an internalized belief that X is not possible to move on from. Our bodymind system gets held hostage by the past and it's actually IN the body tissues and communication pathways, like a traffic crash that never gets cleared from the road. Day after day, year after year we drive around the crash site, practicing a belief in the change to our direct route.
Traumatic experiences DO happen. This is what I hope will not be misunderstood. We do get overwhelmed. The heart of overwhelm is the disconnect between our functional consciousness and our "empathic witness". Remember or imagine a time when something got scary and you were able to rise to the occasion and do what needed to be done. That we are able to rise to hard occasions is reassurance that it's not so much what happened but how we responded, or how we were NOT able to respond that gets imprinted. And it's the inner empathy, the witness within each of us that can shows us our best way through hard times. It's how we learn, and learning is ultimately kind.
Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy helps consciousness return to the body tissues that are blocked. Because it is a body-oriented therapy, it does not rely on telling and analyzing the story of the trauma. Anything that has been held back from consciousness, blocking our capacity to respond in life, can be released from the body's tissues. When the body no longer holds trauma, we become free to move along. It's like, one day, instead of driving around the old crash site again, we choose to pause and clear the debris off the road. From that day on, that stretch of path is clear.
We really don't have to maintain and manage trauma for the rest of our lives, no matter what has happened to us. Even if an event caused a permanent change in some way, we still have our birthright to live in freedom and resilience. We are still worthy of our own love and compassion. The empathic witness of consciousness never leaves us, we just need help sometimes in reconnecting to ourselves. That's essentially how BCST works, as I understand it today.
These are my Facebook posts during my first ever experience as a poll worker. I highly recommend working the polls and I will definitely be doing it again!
I’m reading my poll worker manual, setting my focus on tomorrow and every day through Oct 30. Here’s a nice paragraph for that focus ~
“Amid long hours and strict deadlines, you must continue to provide gracious customer service. A cool head and sense of humor will ensue your success! You must be thorough, accurate, and pay attention to detail to avoid disenfranchising voters.”
I saw a t-shirt yesterday that said "VOTE LIKE YOUR ANCESTORS DIED FOR IT", worn by a black woman who walked with a cane who brought her grandchildren with her. They were radiating integrity and I had some chills. The long story was embodied in them. (sometimes generational story really shows up and makes me goosebumpy)
I loved seeing all the kids at the polling place! They were shiny and present and had things to say. Some of them voluntarily told me their names and some danced and played with each other while their adults voted, some stood with their adults as they made their selections.
I get to do it again today and another 16 days after that!
Yesterday at the polls I was stationed for a while at the scanner/deposit box. It was a celebratory place to be! People were SO relieved to have cast their votes and we had lots of cheering, congratulating, clapping going on over there.
I was making sure people put their ballot on the GREEN arrow because it works better than the gray one below it. I was giving people their coveted stickers and reminding them to toss the finger cot into the trashcan. Eventually a woman told me that people were keeping their finger rubbers to take pictures with them and posting on social media. From then on I reminded everyone they could either toss it there or keep it as a voting memento and maybe even take a selfie with their voter finger. A lot of people did keep them and we had some cute laughs together.
VOTE! Lines are not as long since Tuesday. You'll probably be in and out in no time and it will feel SO GOOD!
Yes, there were tears at the polling place today. Sweet emotion.
I've been having the honor to assist some first-time voters through the process. Each one has made an impact on my heart.
A smiling Latina woman (smiles radiate thru masks) who looked maybe in her late 50s leaned in and whispered to me, "I've never done this before" and I said "I will help you." ... After her ballot was printed and we started to walk down to the scanner, her whole posture seemed bigger and she wasn't whispering anymore. She told me that she had always thought it just wasn't something she did, but now knows that she can vote too.
As she was talking it seemed her words were correcting the internalized message carried all those years. She was sharing a part of her private history with me, about that belief that told her she wasn't a person that voted. She said something like "It was easy. Now that I've done it, I really don't know why I never did it before." And now she's a voter! There was such integrity and relief shining out of her. A transformation. Even as I'm writing, I feel it.
It's inspiring to be at the polls with every person that comes. Some people bring heart gifts with them. I'm forever changed.
I want to preface this story from the polling place with this: I’ve been naming a few people’s race/ethnicity in the stories. That’s because we are voting over here and there are few things more meaningful than people showing up for representation, particularly those who are not historically well represented. To put it gently.
An older black woman came to the ballot scanner. She said that she really hopes it goes well and I said ‘there’s so much energy for it’. Then she closed her eyes and prayed right there, and I swear the air got still for a few moments. She was fully serious. It was like spirit came into gravity and it was felt. It was strong!
Yesterday just after I got to the polls one of my co-workers called me over to help someone get started. He was a fairly muscular black man wearing a mask w/ a colorful design on it.
He told me he's 47 and never voted before and expressed some embarrassment. ... After he made his selections and printed his ballot, I joined him for the ceremonial walk down the skating rink/basketball court to put it in the scanner. I started asking him how it went at the machine and then saw that he had tears in his eyes and he said "I feel very proud"... and then we were both crying and looking at each other and talking some more. He said "This morning I told my girlfriend that I felt nervous about today" (about voting for the first time)... and then... "I have a voice"... !!!
Such a beautiful human.
Yesterday we had a whole lot of first time voters. A lot of emotion and a lot of connection. There's a sea change, friends.
We're in the homestretch for early voting! Don't wait!
Yesterday I started just asking everyone how they feel as they cast their ballots and many people shared a LOT in very short time. A young white woman lifted her hands in a prayer and looked up, in tears. She and I had a little time just feeling it together, appreciating. It was fear and hope. I wonder what she's been going through.
A black woman sat at the resolution desk for a while and then walked to the exit. She said she's been in the military and because she missed responding to an address change a few years ago her voting registration was purged. That felt really sad and frustrating. Her boyfriend had already voted and was waiting for her at the door with me. We'd been talking and laughing, admiring his fantastic tortoise shell glasses.
All citizens ought to be automatically registered voters in this country. Why not? It specially angers me that someone can serve in the military and be purged. There is a limited ballot that is available to people who have moved away from where they're registered, allowing everyone to at least vote for the higher offices.
We had a young white couple who were not trusting the process. It took 4 of us poll workers to interact with them in various ways since they had a lot of questions that were not really questions but accusations. It was unsatisfying for everyone. I'm still siting with it, being on the receiving end of the angst that is also here. And it's easy to write off people when they're uncontained in angst. They brought that reminder like a neon sign, about the despair that can be masked through a lifetime of practice. I'm sure I've seen that many times at the ballot casting machine - the masking. I felt it in the woman who had been purged after being in the military. She didn't put it on her sleeve but it was there.
I want to give room in myself for it all and be part of the change toward dignity. We all need to belong.
We have one more week!
Ventana Ballet is doing small performances around town at the polls today! This is at Millennium now! (video attached)
We’re much busier than we’ve been for days and days.
It’s looking good for democracy!
We had our first person to come through not wearing a mask. A couple of others have asked upon arrival if we had masks they could have since they forgot theirs. We do! Glad to be able to help with that! But the person who didn’t ask seemed unconcerned. He had his mouth hanging open the entire time, mouth breathing into the air. He seemed pretentious, too, which is always unimpressive to me.
I know an entire household here in Austin that was just diagnosed with Covid. Some of them have been galavanting around and now they’re sick. Covid is not gone. It’s on the rise again.
And again, even if you have an impressive list of daily supplements, you do pranayama all day long, your immune system is awesome and you don’t get symptoms... you can still pass Covid-19 to others who might not be as fortunate as you.
Just wear a mask.
Especially when you go to the polls to vote, where a lot of people in all sorts of conditions are TRUSTING their fellow citizens with their health because they are concerned about mailing their ballots due to all the smearing and blocking of voting by mail... Please wear a mask. It’s what we’re doing right now to care for each other because masks reduce the spread of Covid, which can severely affect and kill people...
It has felt really good to be working the polls, helping people feel welcome, important and SAFE to vote. A lot of older voters have commented about the risk they had to take. It’s important that we all add to the sense of trust.
Please respect your fellow voters and wear a mask at the polls.
...That was the last post. It goes without saying, this has been a strange long year. Today is December 29th and late October feels like 2 years ago. We DO have a new President Elect as well as many new and returning public servants. I'm choosing to call them public servants, as a reminder... We STILL have tremendous division and challenge to face. We CAN face our reality and keep stepping in the direction of dignity and health for us all. We ARE NOT separate in reality.
About being white and healing racism ~ the grieving process. Grieving our lost humanity.
The 5 stages of grief (no particular order, non-linear process) are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
I must have been in denial for quite a while, just to get on with a life I thought I was supposed to live, which, come to find out, wasn't really mine anyway. I think I'm past denial now. It seems to have run its course, along with that prescribed version of my life, So now what?
Depression. Self-defeating focus, embarrassed, burdened by things I couldn't do anything about. The depression part has holes in it now days. I get depressed for minutes, not days or years anymore. I've learned that the only way honestly out of depression is to befriend myself while in it. Maybe that's all depression is for, to get our attention back to ourselves. To relearn kindness.
Lately, there's a back and forth between anger, bargaining and acceptance.
At first as I started writing I didn't know what the bargaining could be about. How do I bargain with racism? I just realized bargaining has to do with trying to be nice, a good person... No wonder I didn't want to see that because trying to be nice and good is not actually nice and good, it’s an image that inevitably needs to be defended. Plus that's pretty much the crux of implicit racism. Being unknowingly insincere with a story to back up the insincerity. A BLM yard sign in a freshly gentrified neighborhood. (I'm not criticizing the signs, I'm just saying...)
The anger part is what got me to want to write this. Practicing anger is easy as eating delicious pie for me. I'm not against pure raw anger by any means. I'm learning to respect my emotions. I'm talking about when it's groomed and habitual toward no useful outcome. The epiphany has to do with seeing how MY anger about racism, as a white person, is indulgent and it's like an addictive replacement for what's being asked. I think that folds into the do-nothing system of implicit racism.
What's being asked is the healing of our humanity, through me, all the way through. It's very different from the paralysis of burdened weight related to depression. It's feeling and seeing genuinely and sincerely, in this real-world pain and letting myself become a vessel.
Our real world pain heals thru each human gut, heart, mind. All the way through. We become capable to walk and talk freely, the freedom of wisdom, not ignorant “freedom”. Also not hung up in criticism or unhelpful arguing. I’m not against criticism and arguing. It’s part of our process. I just feel something beyond that too. Embodiment of what’s being asked.
People who are hurting directly from racism don't have time for heady exercises or emotional grandstanding. The shit just needs to stop. Racist ideology is a lie and always has been. Everyone hurts from racism, we just don't all feel it in that direct way. White people don’t “have to” feel it because we're skin-tone privileged by a made up ideology to benefit us. Excruciatingly circular ignorance.
I know that racism, prejudice, bigotry of any sort is a soul wound of the world that starts in the broken heart of the one holding the views, then it slashes out, wounding and killing others' lives, bodies, dreams and generations. And I know that ignorance - limited experience defended by belief - is what we all go through. It's called being human. And that's not an excuse or permission to continue with ignorance, it's a call for acceptance that finally ignites real healing, deep and lasting.
The way we see our fellow humans is the way we see ourselves and our earth home. We need serious healing, now. To heal is to make whole.
We grow wiser and help each other. It has nothing to do with "being nice" but it has everything to do with being, humbled and sincere and embodying healing.
It's no wonder the strong resistance is happening. This maddening resurgence of white supremacy, false Christianity, false president. The disease of our culture is the commoditization of life, the branding, marketing, packaging, consuming, discarding. The lack of orienting to reality. The spiritual deficit that's being recognized. Paradoxically, there is no actual spiritual deficit. It’s impossible. Spirit is unchanging and always right here now. We just have a weird American-style mirage going on. So the shift could actually be simple. We could just fall forward into the path of our true truth.
There is plenty of room for everyone just as we are. It’s the nature of our world to diversify. That’s the health. Racism is literally a sin against nature, truth, God, reality, pick your word. The word sin means “to miss the mark”. And what is the mark? Let’s open up and feel it.
I wrote about the dementia diagnosis my mom received a few months ago and it has already changed. Reading what I wrote back then, I can feel where I was when I wrote it. I was standing just to the side trying to be connected and wanting to say something useful. I think this sort of diagnosis is for all of us, not only my mom. The past ways of thinking and trying do fade out and we're left with now. That's all we really ever wanted. I mean, our souls and our bodies have always been fully present. What are we remembering?
In the lowest moments, I was asked what I wanted to do with myself, because I truly was lost and depressed and supposed to be making my way in the world having recently completed a master's degree, recently bought a house... recently watched my dad die... Stopped. My partner asked me, from his wits end, what I wanted to do, or what I was striving for, something like that. I said, unexpected, "I'm a good friend". What?
It was all that felt absolutely true about me, as a highest potential or most honest answer to the questions. To be(come) a good friend... to myself. That's what the call was about. Still is. Watching your dad die when you're 30 reminds you to live. Stop turning against yourself. This life is for living it. Be YOU. That's the call.
Part of it since then has been studying anxiety. Why? When I take away the clinical definition and go with the actual feeling, it's just an indicator that I'm not being my friend right then. Subtle, obscure, practiced ways I turn against myself in moments that can snowball. But anxiety IS a friend. It tells me to notice what I'm doing. All anxiety is saying is "Pay attention, best friend! Notice. It can be easier."
I can inquire within a lot better now than back then at the beginning of the stop, blurting out that I'm a good friend, unable to back myself up to my partner who was beside himself, having not lost his own dad yet, having not lost his stories about life yet. He was a gift, frustrated as hell in the kitchen 17 years ago. Depression, a gift stopping me from pretending away my life very well anymore. Depression takes the energy and sucks it down somewhere mysterious, like a savings account you can't access until you're trustworthy. Anxiety, that crazy fluttering metallic tasting gift - it's an honest friend that says "Oh, you don't need to do that to yourself anymore. Notice what you're doing. This is what it tastes like to turn against yourself."
Always learning how to listen. I am a good friend. That's my best answer.
He was tapping
under that white knit blanket in that
dying bed in the
Hot white August
afternoon, Round Rock, Texas.
My sister, our cousin and I somehow piled
up on that slim bed with my dad, still
the three of us
My dad, tired tumored
mind working on
One of us noticed it,
And there it was. How he had tapped
a thousand times before
to someone like
I want to say
it was Johnny Cash singing
Sunday Morning Coming Down,
one of Harold’s all time favorites.
It could have
just as well
been Willie Nelson’s
City of New Orleans.
Dad “couldn’t stand” Willie’s voice
he was singing
couldn’t help it,
Tap tap tap tap tap tap
That was the last time.
I help the legacy of my parents by discovering my own way. That frees them, too.
When a person dies, beliefs and constrictions release. Anything that separates falls away. If an ancestor or a parent who has died sees us now, that personified love includes wanting us to be free from their tight ways of thinking. They want us to live unconstricted by the constraints they experienced and taught to us. The stuff we got trapped by. There's inherent forgiveness about that, an ability to move on. It's a strong sense I've gotten since my dad died. I've spoken with other people who have lost a parent and had similar insights.
That was something I wrote in 2015. It fits just right into the work I'm doing now with Biodynamic Craniosacral, since this work helps the body tissues release conditioned patterns. We can actually release the stuff from the body rather than just managing ourselves for the rest of our lives, which actually speaks to the impermanence of conditioning. It may seem like we get permanently stained from life's hard knocks but the underlying health and vitality that knows about freedom is always here, ready to re-emerge and rejoin the openness we truly are.
Before Leonard Skinner there was Rumi, saying "But how should the cage-bird know about the air?"
We never arrive at the final resting place while we're breathing and our hearts are beating. That truth is settled for me. ...Life is all about contradiction so I'll accept it and continue.
Given that we never arrive at the final resting place while we're living in bodies, what matters? I think orientation matters most. Where am I orienting from and in myself (ego or soul? maybe?) and what am I orienting to?
Yoga postures are helpful for practicing orientation. Each pose has particular anatomical focus so when we engage the pose and orient toward its focus, we can discover things about ourselves. Take pigeon pose and its primary focus - the deep hip muscle called piriformis. Since we live in chairs these days and since we tend to manipulate and manage ours emotions, we are people of the tightened piriformis. Over the 18 years or so since I began practicing yoga, I've been learning about myself. When I get into pigeon pose, I can either orient to my piriformis and allow layers of discomfort to be felt and sometimes released (usually intense and sometimes illuminating) or I can just hang out in the territory of normalcy.
A useful thing about yoga poses is that we can physically engage our orientation. To find the piriformis, I engage both legs to be turning my pelvis forward: front foot active as if I was standing on it, shin perpendicular to my back leg, hip rooted back and down, back leg is internally rotated, usually with my foot flexed to help that leg stay engaged. It's a workout to stay focused that way and no matter what I do with my upper body, my front leg piriformis is given most of my attention.
Orientation is more than physical activation, though. It's really an internal focus, which can seem bewildering. Luckily it is something we can practice and learn to recognize how to engage. Being friendly is a necessary quality to the internal orientation. Not pushing, punishing or fixing, just befriending and turning in the direction of the hidden stuff. In the direction of freedom.
In the pigeon, as I orient to my piriformis I can discover a letting go of my well-practiced demands on myself, aka tension. It doesn't matter if the pigeon looks great. How am I aware inside my hip? How am I orienting as I do anything at all? Yoga and life are not for showy presentation. I don't care if there are yoga competitions and lip injections... whatever.... True presentation happens, uncontrolled and unpredicted, from how we are orienting within ourselves. That's how love is. Love gets out of the chair and unlocks what's stuck. Love says "You can be free from that tight grip! You can be free. It might seem scary and it might hurt for a moment, but it's ok. I'll go through it with you, sweet hips!"
The only reason for
communicating is for
passing on what is
Thinking about the themes in my life, the one that rises to the top is about authenticity - being who I really am so I can relax and connect with other people as they really are. I'm not saying I've got this down, I'm saying I've got a deep yearning to be authentic, because I don't think it's been my go-to experience. In pursuit of myself (isn't that weird? me pursuing me?) I've been influenced a lot by various religious and spiritual guidances, academic doctrines and social expectations, but I've come to see that anything that rings true is not really an instruction for self-improvement but an indicator of authenticity. I notice that when I'm not trying to be agreeable I fall into agreement with myself, which is easy for other people to be around. When I'm not trying to be helpful I become honest, which is actually helpful! When I'm not trying to memorize concepts a bigger picture becomes clear. And when I'm not resisting myself I become tolerant, understanding and capable.
For a few years, I was a facilitator of a class in a women's prison. It was a volunteer gig with an organization called Truth Be Told. The class was called Talk To Me in which we all did background investigation into our current prisons. For the incarcerated women, they could look at what lead them to prison. For all of us, prisoners and facilitators alike, we identified our internal prisons. Then we wrote about how we got there and we took turns over several weeks reading our stories to each other and also did Authentic Movement to express the story though our bodies. It was an act of freeing ourselves from the silence and internal manipulations that were coming out in our lives in hurtful ways. It was an invitation to be authentic.
I took on that volunteer gig because I needed a platform of honesty for myself. I felt that I was missing the interactive, relational capability that I longed for and it was difficult for me to come clean to myself and others in my life. Facilitating that class, along with several other good decisions and commitments I've made over many years, helped me learn something powerful about authenticity. When I accept my own experiences I become free and I become a safe person for others to be free around. Now that's true facilitation! Not perfect, not an exact science, not someone else's idea of how my life should unfold - simply discovering that my own way is just right.
Through the lens of authenticity, the whole concept of "help" is turned on it's head. It's about embodying myself and discovering that I have faith in others to embody themselves. I don't need to hide behind stories, beliefs, theories and techniques, although those things do inform my understanding and they come in handy at times. But in those moments when I'm free in myself there's a natural outflow of helpfulness that does not require recognition or belief in a theory, technique, etc. And it really is a moment to moment thing. I don't believe any of us ARE authentic or not authentic, it's a matter of how we're relating in each moment.
I'm generally comfortable with my disposition these days. It's different than it was. I think that "just be yourself" doesn't come easy for a lot of us in our culture, so it's relaxing to embrace this imprecise experiment of being me. There is no ultimate program to follow or package to buy and sell; no theory to learn and defend, no religion to swallow as truth, no degree or costume or flag to stand behind - not in my understanding of authentic life. Sure, those things exist, but I'm not defined by them and neither are you. Sometimes it seems lonely to let go of all those identifiers, because that's supposedly where all the groups of "like-minded friends" hang out. Will I be alone without identifying with those clubs and products and beliefs? In the best way, yes. Alone and not lonely. Because authenticity includes autonomy - intimately alive in my own body, in the moments of my life, moving freely and touching reality, leaving the door open to those beautiful moments of true connection that remind me why I let go of the confining safety boxes I squirm around in. And it means that I can appreciate this in others, so relationships can stop being about expectations and pre-set agreements and they can become creativity and mutual freedom.