Monthly Archives: November, 2014

The Library Book (Holding on and Letting go)

Before I had a child, and before recovery, I was someone who ALWAYS finished books. Even if I didn’t like them. If it was nonfiction, there was something to be learned by the end of the book, and I might miss it. It might be the secret instruction in the manual of life that would turn the key to (insert topic here: being a better therapist, being more recovered, learning how to deepen spiritual practice, understand theories of psychology or physics…) If it was fiction, again even if I didn’t like it, I might end up liking the character by the end of the book. There might me some redemption or twist that turned the story…

Sometimes, in my life, I struggled with finishing other things or being with endings, knowing when it was time to hold on and stay with and when it was time to let go and release: funerals, graduate school, the dissertation process, relationship endings.

Drop2(1)This past week, for I believe the first time ever, I returned a library book UNFINISHED. It was actually a good book, a parenting book that I would recommend to parents, to colleagues, to clients. And yet the book was something else I needed to get done that never got done. And I thought, hmmm, is this something I would regret not finishing if I were dying? And the answer was, No. Is it something that is giving me pleasure or assisting me in reducing my or other’s suffering? Is it helping me be a better parent, therapist, wife, person? No, not really. It has some good advice, but it’s not anything that I haven’t already been exposed to in other early childhood trainings. So on our weekly trip to the library, along with my son’s books he was returning, I put it in the slot. And the weight of relief was immediate.

There are other things in my life I would rather not finish or show up for that I need and actually want to now: endings, difficulties that lead to growth, showing up for greater connection and competence on the other side of fear. Those are opposite action practice. Those are important. The library book? Nope. That is not one of them. Halleluiah for letting go.

And you?

Where do you need to hold on and stay with; where would you like to give yourself permission to let go?

Re-entering the body with expressive art

I’m re-posting this in honor of the upcoming soulcollage workshops, and to honor April’s theme: CREATIVITY.

The body has been made so problematic… that it has often seemed easier to shrug it off and travel as a disembodied spirit.

Adrienne Rich, Of Woman Born

Who among us in this culture of busy-ness to get-things-done, has not consciously or unconsciously thought life would be so much easier  if we didn’t need to tend to this human body with all of its needs, desires, and dis/comforts?

A Mother’s Body, The Earth’s Body

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I am the small, furry animal in your heart. Please slow down and listen to me. Get down on my level. Listen to the drumbeat that I follow.

Yet the body, our human bodies, the earth body on which we live, are what give us life and sustain us. We all come from, grew in, a body, a mother’s body and we all return to a body, this planet’s body, when we die. Coming back to this body, these bodies, are essential to fully living the original duality of life: we are all born, we will all die. As any mom knows, tending to the body is probably 80% of the work of being with young children: diapers or the potty, snacks, organizing naps, meals, baths…This can be fun or not fun, depending. (When my child was learning to go potty he got some poop on his pants and when I wiped it off he said “Why did you do that Mama? I was saving it!”) Kids live in present time in their body. And the body remembers the past and creates the future. The body, every person’s body, your body, is actually made from the stars of the cosmos, starts that collapsed in the past:

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I am a pterodactyl in your crown chakra. I am ancient and can see the big picture.

Every single cell in our bodies contains elements created in the burning center of a collapsing star — from the iron in our blood to every bit of calcium in our bones and keratin in our hair. That’s because in the very early days of the universe that followed the Big Bang, only the simplest elements existed, like hydrogen.

In the words of the celebrated astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson  “We are not just figuratively but literally made of star dust.” 1

     And yet so many of us walk around thinking of our bodies as a slow burden to carry our minds around. As a Psychologist, I have compassionate awareness for people who have experienced trauma have a tendency to avoid felt-sense in their bodies. There is good reason for this: trauma is painful, we are not meant to experience that much pain, and to survive we often leave our bodies during the pain. Learning to re-enter the body and feel safe there is a journey that requires fiercely compassionate attention, often with a safe (therapist) guide assisting the process. Women and men recovering from eating disorders often have sensitive dispositions that, if not “leaving” or numbing feelings in the body through eating disorder behaviors, require building up the capacity to tolerate distress in the body. People who find themselves “living in their heads” can also find that re-entering the body actually brings a sense of peace that accomplishing “more” can never provide.

Finding Animals in Your Body

What? No, I’m not talking about parasites. I’m talking about a fun way to return to, explore and invite what your body has to say to you, without judgement. That is the beauty of expressive arts work- it uses the right brain to invite the body back in while bypassing the left brain’s “gatekeeping.” In other words, if you have an overdeveloped critic or you would prefer not to inhabit your body, expressive arts can be a vehicle for you to come back to your body in a fun, playful and safe way.

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I am your headache in your third eye. I wan to fly away. Release me.

Soulcollage(R) is an expressive arts process developed by Seena Frost, MFT, in which you make a deck of collage-d cards, each card representing an aspect of your multifaceted self. Just like a regular deck of cards, this deck of cards has different suites, one of them being the Companions suite, in which you make a card for an animal that you find within each of the chakras in your body. Finding an animal, in the soulcollage process, includes being guided in a meditation through the different energy centers of chakras in your body to see what animal being lives in each of them. The chakras are energy centers in the body and originally come from yogic traditions of Hinduism. There are seven energy centers that travel from the root chakra at the base of the spine up to the crown chakra above the head. When doing the process of finding an animal in each of the chakras in the body, it is not a literal, but an imaginal process. Because of this, it can be a fun and inviting way to curiously explore wisdom in the body. When I work with women recovering from disordered eating, who often hate their stomachs, they find wisdom and joy again when they find an animal in their solar plexus. “I hate my stomach,” after discovering a tiger, becomes “I own my power, hunt for what feeds me, and am  fiercely clear about my intentions.”Soulcollage(R) is an expressive arts process in which you make a deck of collage-d cards, each card representing an aspect of your multifaceted self. Just like a regular deck of cards, this deck of cards has different suites, one of them being the Companions suite, in which you make a card for an animal that you find within each of the chakras in your body. Finding an animal, in the soulcollage process, includes being guided in a meditation through the different energy centers of chakras in your body to see what animal being lives in each of them. The chakras are energy centers in the body and originally come from yogic traditions of Hinduism. There are seven energy centers that travel from the root chakra at the base of the spine up to the crown  chakra above the head.

I am a snake in your belly. If you listen to me, you will own your power. If you don't, you may destroy yourself.

I am a snake in your belly. If you listen to me, you will own your power. If you don’t, you may destroy yourself.

When doing the process of finding an animal in each of the chakras in the body, it is not a literal, but an imaginal process. Because of this, it can be a fun and inviting way to curiously explore wisdom in the body. When I work with women recovering from disordered eating, who often hate their stomachs, they find wisdom and joy again when they find an animal in their solar plexus. “I hate my stomach,” after discovering a tiger, becomes “I own my power, hunt for what feeds me, and am  fiercely clear about my intentions.”

But what if I don’t find an animal, find more than one or find one that I don’t like?

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I am your intuition. I get there quicker than intellect. Let me lead. I know the way.

There are no wrong ways to find or not find an animal. Because this is an imaginal process, it is in Rumi’s mystical field “beyond right doing and wrong doing.”  When I was guided through this meditation in the soulcollage facilitator training, we were directed to find an animal in our fifth chakra, the center of expression located in the throat. I found a horse in my throat. First there was a hummingbird, then it flew away, then a horse appeared. Now, I don’t have anything against horses per say, but I really didn’t WANT  to find a horse. I would have preferred the hummingbird. Hummingbirds are beautiful magical gems flying through the air and humming! Horses are clunky, big, and snort. But because this was an imaginal process that was fun, I was able to let go of baggage/judgement about a horse vs a hummingbird. I got curious and asked what the horse had to offer and why it appeared. Turns out that it had a wealth of wisdom to offer me about letting my intuition lead the way in my life. This horse told my anxiety-mind that was obsessing over a particular Psychological licensing obstacle at the time: “Let go and trust that I can get you there quicker.” It basically told my mind to get back onto and into the “horse” of my body and relax.

In my training as an Imaginal Psychologist, we learned that “psyche” comes from the Greek word meaning soul. And so psychology is actually about the soul, bringing the soul back. The soul lives in the body, as well as the mind. There is no mind-body split from this perspective. There is an invitation to return to the place where your mind, body and soul are aspects of a unified YOU. I love this quote from Clarissa Pinkola Estes in her wisdom of what returning to your body can bring:

I saw again what I had been taught to ignore, the power in the body. The cultural power of the body is its beauty, but power in the body is rare, for most have chased it away with their torture of or embarrassment by the flesh… the wildish woman can inquire into the luminosity of her own body and understand it not as a dumbbell that we are sentenced to carry for life, not as a beast of burden, pampered or otherwise… but a series of doors and dreams and poems through which we can learn and know all manner of things. In the wild psyche, body is understood as a being in its own right, one who loves us, depends on us, one to whom we are sometimes mother and who sometimes is mother to us.                                             

-Clarissa Pinkola Estes, PhD, Women Who Run with the Wolves

References:

1 “Every cell in your body is infused with the collapse of a star,”   May 21, 2014.

2  “The Seven Chakras for Beginners” Mind Body Green, October 28, 2009.

Resources:

Soulcollage.com

DrLindaShanti.com or email Linda@DrLindaShanti.com (for soulcollage workshops!)

Surrender

sur·ren·der verb \sə-ˈren-dər\

  • : to agree to stop fighting, hiding, resisting, etc., because you know that you will not win or succeed
  • : to give the control or use of (something) to someone else
  • : to allow something (such as a habit or desire) to influence or control you

         I used to hate the word surrender. It sounded like giving up, waving the white flag, losing myself and my voice. And yet when I look at these 3 definitions in the context of eating disorder/addiction recovery, I get curious. Hmmmm, well the first one certainly applies to the willingness required to begin recovery: you have to be willing to stop repeating the same battle, again and again and again. As they say in 12-step Program, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results.” The second definition is tougher, especially for people recovering from eating disorders…give up CONTROL to SOMEONE ELSE? But isn’t the problem feeling OUT of control, not feeling empowered, and/or early childhood wounds around someone else not helping regulate our food and feelings from a place of INTERNAL locus of control? This is where the third definition of surrender is, I think, actually an accurate description of an eating disorder or addiction: To allow a habit or desire to control you. Because when you get right town to it, when you are deep in it, IN the food (or whatever your “drug” or behavior of choose is) you know you are not in control and the “habit” has started to control YOU.

    Surrender and the Body

         One of my early eating disorder recovery mentors, someone who was much further along in their recovery when I was in my first year of exploring what-the-heck-surrender-had-to-do-with-recovery, said:

         “The size of your body is not your business.”

    “WHAT? I said. What do you mean?

         She repeated herself. “The size of your body is not your business.”

    I told her “if that’s recovery, I can’t do it.”

    She said “there isn’t anything you need to do here. Surrender is an internal process, not an external event.”

         On some deep level, I knew she was right. I knew it in the core of my being. My mind still fought it, but my heart; my gut knew it to be true. I’d love to say “And then everything changed and I became a licensed Psychologist helping everyone else recover the next day. The End.” But that’s not how growth and recovery work. I then continued to solidify my recovery for the next few years, went back to school to earn my master’s degree, began working professionally in recovery, then earned my doctorate degree, continued working professionally in recovery, etc etc… I tell my clients it is not a linear process, it is not a fast process, it is not an external process, and it is not an event. It is a slow transformation of willingness wrestling with willfulness and softening into surrender, again and again.

    How pregnancy is a good (literal) metaphor for surrender

         Pregnancy is a good metaphor for what it is like to find willingness and surrender in the body. When a woman is pregnant, there are all kinds of things she needs to be aware of and make choices about due to her growing a tiny being inside her body. Soft cheese, wine, even salami can cause miscarriage or a lifetime of harm if not avoided or eaten properly. Many medications are questionable in their safety, and, if a woman is diabetic, she has to be even more cautious about what, how and when she eats during pregnancy. These choices, along with the long list of bodily and emotional experiences that come with carrying a child for 9 months (breast tenderness, constipation, gas, nausea, bloating, fatigue, aches, mood swings, urinary incontinence) require a pregnant woman to surrender her own control and familiar experience of her body and feelings in the service of something else (her child). She actively chooses loving limits in her food choices (the right balance between bingeing and restricting) and she lets go of needing to control the size and shape of her body in the service of surrendering to something greater. This is similar in recovery from an eating disorder.

    I often have clients recovering from eating disorders ask me:

    “But what does that mean in terms of how many cookies I eat?”

         I tell them they need to find their own right answers that are the exact right balance of not restricting while not over indulging/bingeing. Unfortunately or fortunately, there is no list of “off-limits” foods like there is during pregnancy. However, finding the right loving limits in surrender in eating disorder recovery is similar to motherhood in that it is like working with a toddler. Power struggling will get you nowhere. You may win a few battles, but the war will continue to wage. Surrender is a flow and it is a willingness to continue to connect emotionally with yourself in the parts of you that weren’t met as a child. Eating cookies for lunch or never eating cookies aren’t what surrender is about. Asking questions such as “what do I really nRuby-Slipperseed right now?”  and “what is in the best service of my recovery?” are.

     It’s not always an easy journey. It can be like Dorothy traveling the road to Oz. There are many lions, tigers, and bears along the way. And Oz isn’t really the destination. And you are always already home. But you still need to go on the journey to discover that. Then you will actually believe and trust in your body whatever the size or shape that there’s no place like home.

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