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.
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.
Where do you need to hold on and stay with; where would you like to give yourself permission to let go?
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
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. 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:
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.” Expressive art can be a vehicle for you to come back to your body in a fun, playful and safe way.
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. Finding an animal, in the soulcollage process, includes being guided in a meditation through the different energy centers in your body to see what animal being lives in each of them.
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?
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
1 “Every cell in your body is infused with the collapse of a star,” The Huffington Post, Cate Matthews, May 21, 2014.
2 “The Seven Chakras for Beginners” Mind Body Green, October 28, 2009.
DrLindaShanti.com or email Linda@DrLindaShanti.com (for soulcollage workshops!)