A tale of recovery: my path from traumatized to healer

I had lunch a few weeks ago with John, someone I’ve known for about 12 years but haven’t seen much in recent years. He commented that I am a very different person now from when he met me, and that would not be apparent to people who hadn’t known me that long.

When we met in 2004 (I think), I seemed troubled to him, and I was. John said that now, I appear to be happy and “like a fountain” (which I love), and he was curious about that.

Other people have said I’ve changed more than anyone they know. Well, that’s probably because I was starting from a more troubled place than most.

So I’m reviewing my path in search of insights to share. This is for you, John, and I know that some of you are interested in recovery from trauma, and some of you are interested in personal growth, so this is for you too. Continue reading

What does being healthy mean to you?

Quote

Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. ~World Health Organization, 1948

Words are important. They influence our thinking greatly, and therefore our behavior. I recently ran across this decades-old definition of health. It made an impression.

How do you characterize health? As “something is wrong” or as “something is right”? As something you move toward or away from?

As an experiment in the power of words, let’s take apart the statement above.

First, say to yourself, “Health is the absence of disease or infirmity.” What does that mean to you? How does it resonate?

To me, it means that as long as I don’t have a disease (that is, anything “wrong” with me, like cancer, chicken pox, an infection) or an infirmity (like being feeble or frail), then I am healthy.

Notice that the statement focuses on physical health. So as long as I avoid getting sick or infirm, I am healthy.

(You may also realize how much of the “health care system” is set up using this model. You go to the doctor to find out what’s wrong with you.)

Now say to yourself, “Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being.” Think about what that means to you.

What would it be like to have complete physical well-being? I imagine waking up each day completely refreshed from a good night’s sleep, feeling able-bodied, with a robust immune system working for me, and having stamina to spare as I go about my daily life. I imagine feeling vibrant, full of vitality, glowing with health.

I imagine eating healthily, getting regular massages, and exercising to maintain and improve my physical well-being.

How about complete mental well-being? What would that be like? Well, I think I would feel good about myself and others most of the time. I would acknowledge disappointments and disturbances, feel the pain, and let go of it, learning whatever I can from the experience.

I would sort whether information coming my way was true or useful, so I wouldn’t be a sucker for the latest buzz in my ears.

I would use both hemispheres of my brain, employing reason and intuition as needed.

I would make it a habit to develop my mental capabilities. Lifelong learning keeps your mind healthy.

Now, what about complete social well-being? What does that look/sound/feel like to you?

In my opinion, it would mean being centered in my own being, having good boundaries with others, and not needing drama in my relationships.

It would mean being open to others while trusting my own inner radar about what is true and good.

It would mean forgiving others but not being a doormat, allowing myself and others to be vulnerable, being trustworthy with good judgment about others’ trustworthiness, being accountable and expecting others to be accountable as well.

It would mean learning and growing from all my relationships.

I like the well-being definition (of course I do, look at the name of my blog!). It has a direction of “moving toward” rather than “avoiding,” which the absence definition does.

The well-being definition brings up a companion question:

How can I be healthier, physically, mentally, and socially?

And it’s that question that is constantly with me. Yes, of course, sometimes I rest, and sometimes I fall asleep, yet the inquiring has become a habit.

The power of asking questions

I was working in the student clinic, doing another intern massage. The client assigned to me was someone I had worked on previously. She works at a desk job.

The first time, she had complained of neck pain, and she had said she didn’t want to be poked with fingers or knuckles. So I rubbed and kneaded her neck quite a bit and didn’t do any of the deep massage strokes that I felt could have been so helpful had she not had this aversion because many involve “poking”.

On the client evaluation, she said I didn’t spend enough time on her neck!

So when I got her again, I was determined to get a better result. I brought her back to the bay and asked her if her neck was still bothering her. She said yes.

I asked her to show me where her neck was hurting and gave a little demo by putting my hand on the back of my neck and asking, “Is it about here?”

She said, “No, more like here,” and she ran her hands across the tops of her shoulders.

Whoa.

Just to clarify, I said, “So you’re not feeling any pain or tightness here?” again with my hand on the back of my neck.

She said no.

And of course, I was professional, but meanwhile I was thinking,

Girlfriend, that’s totally your upper trapezius — the top of your shoulder — and not your neck.

Many people’s knowledge of their own anatomy has big blank areas.

I asked if there was anywhere else she desired special attention. She said her lower back was bothering her. She also said not to work on her abs or her hands.

So I went to work. I spent a lot of time on her back, with focus on her tight upper traps and her sacrum/lumbar area. When I thought I had probably done enough, I leaned down and asked her if that was enough or if she wanted me to work some more on her back.

She said to do what I needed to do. I guessed from that that she assumed that the students in the massage clinic have to follow a routine, and that if she wanted more back work, it was out of the question. Not so.

I told her I could work on her back some more if she liked. I told her I could spend most of our hour together on her back if she liked.

She said she’d love some more back work.

So I worked on her back for about 40-45 minutes of our hour together. I palpated and explored. I repeated strokes, did them slowly, and emulated deep massage with my palms to avoid the poking of knuckles and fingertips.

I pulled her scapula in and up to shorten her tight upper trap and asked her if that gave her some relief. She said it did.

I wrung, lifted and rolled, and kneaded. I rocked her torso. I came at areas from many directions. I even gave her tapotement (like drumming) after asking if she’d like it, which I think is the first time I’ve done it as an intern.

When I finished her back, I redraped it with sheet and blanket and just pressed her glutes and backs of legs and feet. I rocked her body from the heels and had her turn over, asking how she was doing. “Fine,” she said, with a look of bliss on her face.

I like that look.

I pressed the fronts of her legs and tops of feet and rolled her legs, just to loosen up the hips and make the legs feel included as parts of the whole body.

I skipped her abs as requested and just worked on her pecs, giving pressure to her arms so they felt included, avoiding her hands as requested.

Then I did some more upper back work from underneath, rubbed and kneaded her neck, and stretched her neck.

I ended with massaging her scalp and a fulcrum/stretch of the back of her head.

(So okay, I know some of this is massage geek talk, but I’m sure you get the big picture. If not, come get a student massage and see for yourself. $35, no tipping.)

That massage was so off the books from the routines I’ve learned and yet so rewarding because I used my resources to clarify what she really wanted, and then I got to be creative, continuing to ask for feedback and giving her more of what she wanted.

She was very, very happy with it. She gave me a fabulous evaluation, especially for taking the time to really find out what she needed.

The upshot is that questions are very, very powerful tools. If you know what you want but aren’t getting the results you want, ask questions. It’s all in the communication, baby.

There is great personal power to be had literally just for the asking, especially if you ask the right questions, to get the results you want, to get another person to open up to you, to get insight into someone else’s map of reality, to create something that’s satisfying.

It’s so simple, yet almost like a secret. Have you asked anyone a real good question today?

What if awareness is a quality you are inside of?

Indeed, the ineffability of the air seems akin to the ineffability of awareness itself, and we should not be surprised that many indigenous peoples construe awareness, or “mind,” not as a power that resides inside their heads, but rather as a quality that they themselves are inside of, along with the other animals and the plants, the mountains and the clouds. – David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous

Thank you, Gioconda, for sharing that quote at the beginning of your yoga class a few weeks ago, and thanks for sending me the actual text and source. The profundity of this quote has been playing with me.

I invite you in this transitional week leading to the new year to play with this concept, to try it on. Ask yourself these questions.

Better yet, pull some questions out of thin air!

What if mind, or awareness, is something we walk around in and live our entire lives inside of, like the air?

What if our entire bodies — torsos, limbs, skin, bone, muscle, organ, connective tissue — are as immersed in this mind as our heads are? Can you experience yourself that way? Can you know with your toes? Discern with your liver? Learn with your heart? Understand with your hand?

What if mind is an element like air? Among the elements, air does represents mind — what if it is mind? We breathe it in for nourishment and exhale into it for release? Does that give new significance to your breathing? And because everyone is doing this all the time, what if the quality of Mind changes by what you and others put into it and take out of it?

Is this the illusion or is it real? Is this consensual reality?

What if expanding your mind, or if you prefer, expanding your awareness, is nothing more than more sensitively experiencing yourself and your surroundings?

And, what if there is no limit to how sensitively you can do this?

What if the boundary between self and environment is just a convenient construct for communication purposes but actually doesn’t exist?

For more on David Abram, here’s a chapter from The Spell of the Sensuous. Excerpt:

For none of the several island sorcerers whom I came to know in Indonesia, nor any of the djankris with whom I lived in Nepal, considered their work as ritual healers to be their major role or function within their communities. Most of them, to be sure, were the primary healers or “doctors” for the villages in their vicinity, and they were often spoken of as such by the inhabitants of those villages. But the villagers also sometimes spoke of them, in low voices and in very private conversations, as witches (lejaks in Bali)–dark magicians who at night might well be practicing their healing spells backward in order to afflict people with the very diseases that they would later cure by day. I myself never consciously saw any of the magicians or shamans with whom I became acquainted engage in magic for harmful purposes, nor any convincing evidence that they had ever done so. Yet I was struck by the fact that none of them ever did or said anything to counter such disturbing rumors and speculations, which circulated quietly through the regions where they lived. Slowly I came to recognize that it was through the agency of such rumors, and the ambiguous fears that such rumors engendered, that the sorcerers were able to maintain a basic level of privacy. By allowing the inevitable suspicions and fears to circulate unhindered in the region, the sorcerers ensured that only those who were in real and profound need of their [healing] skills would dare to approach them for help. This privacy, in turn, left the magicians free to their primary craft and function.

A clue to this function may be found in the circumstance that such magicians rarely dwell at the heart of their village; rather, their dwellings are commonly at the spatial periphery of the community amid the surrounding rice fields, at the edge of the forest, or among a cluster of boulders. For the magician’s intelligence is not circumscribed within the society–its place is at the edge, mediating between the human community and the larger community of beings upon which the village depends for its nourishment and sustenance. 

For more on Gioconda Yoga, click here. She’s got some cool workshops coming up!

(By the way, this is my 500th blog post. When I started this blog two years ago, I had no idea I’d post 500 times or post about this topic. Yay life for creating itself anew every day!)

A contract on house, relationship woes, and 1950s housewife takes LSD

I’m up very early today, which is going to be a long one full of NLP training for master practitioners. It’s metaphor weekend!

Yesterday I gratefully signed a contract on my house! It feels really, really good, seven and a half weeks after listing it. It looks like the couple who saw it Thursday night for the first time and came back Friday to see it in the daytime are offering a backup contract, if the first one falls through.

Also yesterday, several people I care about were experiencing relationship difficulties. Feelings of disappointment, betrayal, anger, hurt, sadness, disrespect; expressing feelings, finding support, creating distance, moving on in some way. (Don’t try to make sense of this — I’m talking about several conflicts and people here. I’m sure you have experienced something similar — a loved one’s pain.)

I’m especially grateful to my Facebook friend Fran who asked this key question:

What is the lesson? Therein lies the silver lining!

Great question! Thank you, Fran!

I thought about it for a while. I got how my energy had gone out into each person’s hurting heart, feeling their pain. I got clear that these difficulties belonged to them (even if some were of their own making — like, “Man, what did you expect would happen? Snap to! You’re hurting someone!”), and that I could just simply extend my heart to them.

The pain is in discovering that the world is not as we believe it to be, that people are not who we believe they are. It is as it is, they behave as they behave.

if you can’t trust ’em, move on with those you can trust. if you betrayed someone’s trust, know it will probably never be the same. forgiveness, compassion, good boundaries solve a lot of problems. i hold them in the light.

And finally, today I am grateful for the wonderful finds on the internet. Here’s an old film from the 1950s where a normal housewife is given LSD and interviewed by a scientist on camera. Back when Technicolor was new. ; ) Enjoy!

Day 10: Tim Ferriss and The 4-Hour Body. I love teaching yoga. YES!

The three things I’m grateful for today (day 10 of 21) are: Tim Ferriss, teaching yoga, and the word YES.

If you don’t know Tim Ferriss, you should. He wrote a groundbreaking book called The 4-Hour Work Week, which was a huge bestseller. He shared how people can get out of the rat race of working long hours for someone else and find a new lifestyle where the work is mostly remote and delegated.

Tim chose to travel, learn tango, compete in martial arts contests, and write a bestseller after setting up a health supplement company that practically ran on autopilot, which allowed him the time and income to do those things.

I haven’t followed his formula, but it inspired me to come up with a business idea that I could do anywhere I have access to a phone for a few hours a day, with fairly low start-up costs. I may do it yet, so it’s a secret!

What I love about Tim is his plain ol’ brashness. He’s incredibly curious and likes to find out for himself. He’s a pioneer, an explorer, an adventurer, a seeker, a finder, and a sharer. He’s got the energy of a barrel of laughing monkeys. What’s not to like?

He blogs about his experiments in lifestyle design, too.

Tim is back with a new book, The 4-Hour Body. I’ve just started reading it, and I can tell you now, I will learn a lot from it. With access to doctors, scientists, elite athletes, and state-of-the-art measuring equipment for his own personal experimentation, Tim has hacked the secrets to losing weight, gaining muscle, sleeping well, increasing testosterone and sperm count, running faster, reversing “permanent” injuries, and having 15-minute orgasms. So the cover says, anyway!

He shows you how to make tiny changes, starting from where you are now, that are the most effective changes. His key question is:

For all things physical, what are the tiniest changes that produce the biggest results?

(No wonder this appeals to me: It’s a Maximizer strategy. See my earlier post about finding your strengths.)

I love key questions and will blog about them in the future.

I peeked ahead to see how to lose 20 lbs in 30 days. His formula is:

  • Avoid “white” carbohydrates (or anything that can be white).
  • Eat the same few meals over and over again.
  • Don’t drink calories.
  • Don’t eat fruit.
  • Take one day off per week and go nuts.

And then he gives the fine points.

(Can’t wait until he hacks enlightenment in his next book, The 4-Hour Brain. You listening, Tim?)

Another thing I’m grateful for is that I finally took yoga teacher training and am teaching yoga. It is so gratifying to help motivated people find their way into yoga. Whether they are beginners who want one-on-one personal attention and instruction as they learn, or just want to unwind from stress and experience some deep relaxation, I’m enjoying teaching.

At present, I have one class on Sunday evenings, a restorative class in Oak Hill, and I have a private student who comes to my home after work one evening each week. (Bonus: My cat Mango curled up on top of her during savasana this week! He knows where the good juicy energy is.)

I’d like to teach more. My rates are very reasonable. Private classes are $25 an hour now, and group classes are $10 for 60 minutes, $15 for 90 minutes. If you want a trial session, call me.

You can read more on my Yoga offerings page on this blog.

I am grateful for the word YES. I’ve been getting some very nice YESes in my life lately. Two offers on my house this week, one of which I am getting ready to say YES to — and some folks who were looking at it last night loved it too. Affirmation!

Oh, and according to Patrice,

No is just another way of saying Yes.

So basically, it’s all Yes!