As a kid I had a secret. I don't know when this started but what I would do, laying in bed at night in the dark, is ask inside myself this question that seemed to come out of my body. The question was "who am I?" I discovered that when I felt the question come, and when I would ask it, there would ensue a sort of conversation between the question itself and my mind. Mind would answer based on names and identity traits and information I knew. "I'm Ginger", "I live in San Angelo", "My family is...", "I look like...", "I have...", In response to each of my answers, that place that was asking the question would just keep asking. It was distinctly different in tone from any other question I had ever asked or been asked because there was no demand or judgement in it, there was just an unwavering confidence, kindness and invitation. There was a distinct body feel to the questioning. Intimacy. As I lay there, eyes closed in the dark, every answer about me being met with the same spacious question, I would come to some sort of tipping point from which my consciousness would go beyond everything I "knew". Like outer space but I was totally at home, expanded out of my sense of anything. I would wonder if I was dead but it didn't scare me. Utter peace. And then I'd sort of land back in gravity, confused but not, and fall asleep.
Life went on, we moved from San Angelo to Temple, my parents divorced, I started 3rd grade, made friends, I probably forgot about the "who am I?" question. In middle school years I was aware that the Baptist Church was talking about salvation and the omnipresence of God. I was good at following instructions and pleasing adults and I took to laying in my bed at night praying praying praying until I fell asleep. I was trying and reaching and asking their story of God for connection and I just got tired. Maybe I recognized something I had forgotten and was wondering where it was.
When I was probably 15, sitting in the passenger seat with my dad driving down Gen. Bruce Drive to the Walmart or somewhere for the 400th time, looking out the side window at mowed brown grass, a very distinct question spoke in my body - "God, is this all there is?!" But the question had a familiar, intimate tone, spoken so clearly inside me that I wasn't sure if it had broadcast into the car. I looked over at Dad but he just kept driving.
Our culture doesn't talk much about this stuff but we are starting to listen to ourselves and each other. I meet more people in recent years who are attuned to their own body's information, this intimacy with life that might show up a mysterious messages spoken from the bones, and this helps me live more honestly than I could in the past. We are wired for social connection and we follow what others do until we have enough sense of our reality to start following our own inner callings. Honest questions and reminders come from each of our bodies. I've learned that these kind of messages are referred to as "spiritual questions". They get our attention and they direct us back into wholeness when we have become separated, if we allow. When we listen and allow, in that internally vulnerable way, what we eventually run up against is our beliefs - those readymade answers that are given to us by society, our families and our own minds as they've come to be conditioned.
Healing takes courage. It's not necessarily comfortable to suspend or release beliefs so that we can find out what else, but that is exactly where the healing process will take us if we let it. It's up to each of us how and when we'll let it, so the process is unique and respectable for everyone. And we help each other find the courage when we share how unscary it actually is to move beyond beliefs. As a matter of experience, once a belief is disintegrated we can look back and realize just how fearful and limited our lives had been when the belief was running the show. And what I mean by beliefs running the show is beliefs in stories that aren't true. When we are believing stories that aren't true, we wind up hunkering down and defending the story in some way and that divides us from what IS true. It could seem like an impossible or terrible proposition to let go of defended beliefs (or to find out just what it is we're believing that isn't true after all), but think of it... Reality doesn't need us to believe in order to exist. Existence and reality are one, no defense or belief needed. I don't have a belief in sitting here, I'm just sitting here. I don't believe in breathing, I just breath. I don't believe in sleeping, I just sleep. Even though I didn't sleep much last night and I want to take a nap right now, I still don't have a belief in sleep. That would be silly. I don't believe in this laptop, I just type and watch the words show up. Yes, it's still happening and I still don't have a belief system about it. The laptop doesn't need my defense in order to exist here. I don't have any defensive beliefs that cause separation that translates to body tensions and illness about any of these things so I am free to explore life in relation to these settled matters. Functionality is pleasant.
I'm talking about belief as defense of a position, which we all have and hold onto because when we think about the position we can't imagine anything could exist beyond it. Or only bad stuff. There's fear of the unknown or the unrecognized that the position is wrapped around. But the actual experience beyond any of our positions is just utter freedom, so what are we waiting for?
If you hear a question that feels like home in the most intimate sense of what home could possibly be... and I think you know what I mean... try allowing.
*photo credit: Body Intelligence Training, Brian Tierney, Instructor
I've been thinking about authority. What is real authority, really? I think when it's authentic it just shows up, the way water runs downhill. Authority shifts positions within a group of people depending on the topic at hand because different people know more or less about different things because we've all had different experiences. Of course that fluidity takes humility, paying attention and a willingness to change roles within the group. If we're identified unquestioningly with certain roles then we get stuck with a preset authority figure who's supposed to know all the things. Longterm I think this kind of structure leads to distrust because it's unstable and becomes defensive - a whole lot of small, fortified kingdoms ruled by fools, so to speak.
Traditionally in our culture, authority has been assumed to belong to men. Man as head of household, man as boss of company, man as hero and God. Another traditional view is that adults always have authority over children and are supposed to tell children all about life. All of this is changing as we learn more and it's a sloppy, unsophisticated dance we're doing to clarify who in the group really does knows more, from actual lived experience, about the topic at hand.
For me, the dance step that is most sloppy right now is - When to interrupt? And how? Noticing when either I or another person has fallen asleep behind the authority wheel and is driving into a bog. I can't rightfully complain if I'm sitting in the car letting it happen and I definitely can't complain if we end up in a bog that I drove us to. Ok, if I'm getting clear that complaining is not helping then what else should be done? How can I interrupt this momentum so that we can go somewhere better than a bog? Oh, another thing that doesn't work all that well anymore is just leaving. I get into the habit of looking for my exit when I feel trapped in a bad authority situation, but over time I notice that if I leave this one I'll just show up in another one. What do I really want? I want to dance with authority! I want to dance with the people I'm with in this moment and the next. There are many ways to dance but my favorite way involves some agreed upon structure and then a lot of freedom and improvisation within it. The model of authority is changing, and it creates a more trusting world as we each step into and out of authority with more and more ease.
I was confiding in my journal this morning about a situation (or a few) that happened on Christmas and came to looking at a value that lives in me about authority, leadership, sharing of power among people. I did pretty well with standing in my own shoes, and there were plenty of times when I caved in too. It’s been turning over in my head for the past few days and I’m imagining those icky moments, having done them differently. What would that have looked and felt like? It always comes back to the most obvious purpose for people gathering - connection, belonging, friendship. I can imagine going ahead and assuming my own authority in a way that breaks the spell and invites a new level of connection and honest relationship to grow among us. I can also recognize those moments when I actually did that through my own dense conditioning and it wasn’t absolutely perfectly amazing but it was good. You see, my historical habit around authority has been to follow whoever's habit it is to lead. I've tested it for years and that model does not typically create a thriving situation! So, time for something happier.
Ten years ago a friend quoted these lyrics to me as poetry and anthem and they pop into my head from time to time:
But don't give yourself away
Last night a woman at Lockhart prison mentioned that during her sentence she took a class called "women's health". I asked her what that class was like and she essentially told me they learned about disease - how to avoid getting STDs, how to check for breast cancer, and other problems... She mentioned nothing about health... I felt the sinking feeling again that comes in regards to how our culture regards our bodies and the messages that are ingrained in our beliefs about fear and distrust of our nature. I'm sad that people in prison are bombarded with a religious view that is just another prison of the mind and I'm sad that women who have already endured a lifetime of hurt are being taught more bad news about their bodies. One common example is that many people (woman or man, in prison or not) were molested as children, which hurts a young psyche, severs our sense of self and invades our rightful dominion of our bodies. Add to that an ongoing "education" about bodies as basically uninhabitable places that have to be vigilantly measured and monitored for intruders, that are basically sinful and need to be saved by an imaginary man god so we can be whisked off to heaven after the misery of this life has passed. Such a conundrum.
This is all sad because it's a terribly flawed belief system that interferes with our inherent capacity to thrive freely in our bodies, in our lives and in our world.
We cannot teach what we don't explore and plenty of people are out there teaching about "health" but what they're really doing is teaching about fearing our bodies and managing the consequences of that fear, because in a very direct way the attitude creates and maintains tension that makes the disease scenario come true. Plenty of people are also out there preaching about salvation but what they're really doing is passing on this story that says humans are bad and have to be saved. No. Humans are manifest forms of life. We are conscious, incredibly elegant bodies that are designed by the movement of life, quite literally. Embryology is a brilliant science that carries a growing understanding of how lifeforce animates the cells, tissues and structure to develop *in response to movement*. We are movement! Biodynamics is a brilliant science that carries a growing understanding of how life flows in form, how life creates the shape of all this we see. We are fully capable of inhabiting our bodies with clear and real discovery so that we can experience more and more and more of this freedom that is already our nature. The play of the relationship between consciousness and form is where it's at - dynamic and robust in every one of us. In our uniqueness and our universality.
We are not sinful and we are not disease. We CAN condition our minds to fear ourselves and the world so that we live in a continual state of tension and stagnation, preventing the flow from doing it's awesome renewal thing *if we choose*! Or we can choose to stop believing these dismal stories and go with the flow that is us. Traumatic experiences that have conditioned our minds and bodies to contract in the face of life CAN heal. This is our nature. Any class called "women's health" or "men's health" or just "health" needs to be oriented to the flow of life, not the blocking of it. Otherwise call it "illness and vigilance class". Or how about "sad class"? Haha!
In our culture we're so used to the sad story that we don't even notice how sad it is. Sure, all kinds of wild, crazy, graceful, funny, boring, painful, beautiful, scary, darling and ridiculous things happen throughout a lifetime, and we are fully equipped to go through the contractions and expansions, to learn and heal and grow as we go. Nature is resilient and life is incredible. I want us all to embody it for real. My 2018 resolution is to teach health and to not back down about it.
In 1992 I was doing my open water diving certification. It was February, the water a chilly 49 F with a couple of feet visibility and my borrowed wetsuit was too big so water flowed continually down my back. We descended one at a time with our instructor to the required depth, holding onto a line so we wouldn’t get lost in the murk, and we performed our skills which included removing our masks and regulators. I removed my mask and immediately inhaled all the water I could take into my lungs. That was not one of the skills to perform! In a reactive panic I flailed and started to launch upward to the surface, which would have done me some harm due to the sudden pressure change. It was then that my instructor revealed herself as an underwater Zen master. What I remember most is her gloved hands and bright clear eyes reaching me through her face mask. She held onto me and silently taught me how to regain myself in the moment, to feel my body and trust my breathing and equipment. She taught me that I could return from panic. I had to.
In early 2014 I was standing on the sidewalk several minutes after T-boning my truck into the side of a car that pulled out in front of me, trying not to unload my near bursting bladder. After reporting the crash, checking if the young woman who drove the car across my lane was ok and she then talking on her phone I began to feel the jarring impact anchoring into my jaw, neck and spine. It felt like the harshness of the concrete sidewalk and the destroyed metal of my truck’s front end was becoming part of my body. As I imagined the mess of having to ride in an ambulance and all the stuff that would come after - massive expense for the kind of help that isn’t really needed for injuries like this - I remembered that I’m a yoga teacher, a bodyworker, a meditation practitioner, and that I’d lived through many situations by trusting my body and reclaiming the flow of healing from my worried thoughts. I began doing what I knew to do and what I teach to others. I consciously turned back toward myself exactly where I was. Yes, my bladder was beyond full, yes the sun was baking my skin and I hadn’t showered yet that late morning so I was funky ripe, and yes I didn’t “know” what the outcome of anything would be and it seemed like a really long time by then and no cop or tow truck had come. I began to breath confidently into my body and connect with my feet on the ground, my legs and hips, my whole body equally. I gradually, gently and faithfully moved my jaw, head, neck, shoulders, etc. through subtle range of motion, not pushing against but getting inside the tension, being with myself as the underwater Zen master had been with me. By the time I did leave the sidewalk I went home with no serious pain, just a little normal soreness. My nerves were calm, the impact and worry that followed had run clean through. I had helped and felt my body reclaim the flow of health right there on site of the injury, and I went home and happily peed.
In 2017 I was jogging in my neighborhood and didn’t see the 2 inch hard seed ball that had dropped from a tree. I know that when you throw one of those balls hard against the street they burst into thousands of seeds and threads but I discovered that when you step on one and you weigh around 115 lbs that they stay solidly formed. My ankle folded dramatically to the side and I reflexively folded over and held it repeating “oh no, oh no” for probably a minute. One car drove by eventually. I stood there shaky and unable to put any weight on that foot or bend the ankle to even sit down so I was stuck standing on the road as if in quicksand, wondering what would happen now. My plans were rolling through my mind as I wondered if I’d be unable to do them, let alone get myself home, and then I remembered. I very subtly began to move what little I could in the foot and ankle, first just testing to see if I could move it, and then to help reopen the traumatized tissues back into flow. My whole body and awareness was right there with the ankle, my breathing was satisfying and confident, I felt like a good friend to myself, encouraging, not pushing, honest communication between my brain and body to stay with what was actually true. After a few minutes I walked S L O W L Y and mindfully home. By the time I got there my ankle actually felt amazing. Not like it was all healed up but like it was rich in the healing flow. I could feel the warm potency of my body’s fluids and healing constituencies flooding the tissues and it felt powerful. Once I was able to prop myself on the couch with an ice bag, I was chill. I have no doubt the total healing time was much shorter than if I had withdrawn from my ankle and followed my worries down the sad road of immobility.
I think "Zen master" is a great description for that state of focused kindness that will not leave us until we are capable of breathing again on your own. I love how normal it is for us humans to come to the aide of a person who is caught and struggling and on the verge of despair, and how normal it is that we can do this for ourselves every day. I am an advocate for us all to find our way back to our bodies, to reclaim our natural embodied healthcare and faith in ourselves and each other.