How We Find Our Way

Many generations have survived pandemics, wars, and political strife. I’ve looked back at how generations of my family used our need for connection with each other to stay whole and survive.

The Attic

When I was a very young girl, I escaped to the attic to find out information about my relatives. There were steamer trunks my Italian grandparents had used to travel to the US in the early 1900s. At that point, they were full of old photos and artifacts from my parents, grandparents, aunts’ and uncles’ lives.

I would spend hours looking at pictures, trying on dresses, and holding each item in my hands. I could see photos of everyone so many years younger and wondered what secrets these images, old dresses, scraps of material, baby shoes, and other everyday items held. It was my favorite place to be, and it was part of my ongoing need to gather information about the past.

The War Albums

My Dad with his Dog

My favorite images were from my father’s photo albums from when he was in Europe during World War II for three years. He had three albums of photos. I could spend hours looking at these photos and making up stories about who Dad was, what happened to him, and how I could relate the essence of what I saw in the pictures with the man who was my father.

How My Father Survived World War II

My father’s approach was unique for his time. Instead of being caught up in the fervor of nationalism, it was clear to him how the Army used working-class men as cannon fodder in the war. “The Red Ball Express.” was a movie about one of the platoons in which he served. When we watched it on TV, I asked him which character he was in the film. He answered, “the guy who peeled the potatoes.”

As a young girl, I felt crushed that he wasn’t one of the “hero” characters. As an adult, I admire him for being honest even though he knew it wasn’t the answer I wanted. It taught me that jingoistic responses were of no value when you are talking about living through wartime.

Many years later, one of my brothers scanned the albums and gave me the files. On a whim, I set up the photo albums as a screen saver. I was sitting with a friend when the photos started rolling onto my computer screen. My friend and I paused and talked about the images. She loved seeing them and asked a lot of questions.

Later I looked at the photos one at a time. I already had a pattern from my childhood: Who are they? Where are they? What relationship did they have with my dad?

What Emerged from the Photos

Soldiers who transformed rail cars into hospitals  for victims of war

Initially, I saw each picture as a separate story. And then I paused. Something new came to me. These pictures tell the story of a family with a son in the theater of war during WWII. The images were from two locations–Europe and the US. Some were the pictures my father took of his experience in Europe (mostly England). My father worked as a carpenter transforming rail cars into hospitals throughout England. He was mainly on the periphery of the war in small villages that had train stations.

What happened during an air raid in war time
What happened during an air raid in war time

On the back of one photo, my father’s friend documents that his friend kissed the woman he loved at 11:30 pm on April 23, 1943, during an air raid in Swindon. When I read the back of the photo, what came to me was the joy at finding happiness despite the horror. Almost all of the  pictures were of my father being with people on bike rides, in the countryside, dressed in his uniform and street clothes, smoking cigars, working on the railroad, and fixing things. He documented what made him happy. That’s what he sent home to his family.

He had lots of pictures of his fellow carpenters. Each image of a person had a name and address written on the back in a handwriting that was not my dad’s. Most likely, the script belonged to the person in the picture. These were relationships which both partners wanted to keep for longer than the war. Others had commentary from my dad about why the day was essential to him.

There were no pictures of dead bodies, destroyed buildings, or any evidence of war. They could have been a series of images from someone who spent a few years abroad. But it was not. My dad only chose to document his experiences that were pleasant and life-affirming.

He once told me as I was going into surgery to treat cancer that he knew what fear was. My father said he was fearful that he would die each day for three years when he went to war. Dad assured me that there was a way to be with both the fear of the moment and the hope that everything will be okay.

The pictures tell that story. My dad chose to get to know the people he had never met, form strong connections, and enjoy every minute he could. He also documented them to help him keep going. After D-Day, he went to France and participated in one of the most dangerous assignments—he drove gasoline trucks that refueled tanks across France, Belgium, and Germany under fire and mostly without sleep. There are no pictures of those times. Maybe the memory of these pictures kept him going. Maybe there was no time to take new ones.

How the Family Survived World War II

The new generation: Ron, Betty and Marie

His family’s pictures told how, when my father was in the war, his brothers and sisters started their families. They had  had four children while he was in Europe. My father’s twin sister took on the role of the family communicator.

Below is a picture of my grandmother and my oldest cousin. The note from my father’s sister tells him his niece was a timid person. I love this short note and photo because it included my father in the family’s life. He got to see a picture of his mother and his niece, find out something about this young girl’s personality, and also how the family was improving their multi-generational home.

Grandma and cousin Marie during World War II

Many years later, when one of this aunt’s daughters became a nurse in Vietnam during the war, she did the same thing. She documented the family’s life so that her daughter could stay connected. This time they used audiotapes to communicate. My aunt would play the tapes from her daughter for us when we visited. Our nurse mostly talked about what she did when she wasn’t a caring for the wounded.

My favorite picture is the leading photo that I have spent many hours examining over the years. It is a picture of my grandmother’s birthday party (the lady in the back row with the flower on her lapel) in the garden of her brother’s house. Someone took the photo specifically to send to my dad to let him know that they held space for him. There are people you can immediately see in the picture–his parents and aunts and uncles. One can see parts of other people. This photo is full of wanting someone far away to feel loved and remembered.

How We Can Survive

These albums documented how one family used the available means of communication (photography and letter writing) at the time to support each other through a challenging time. They limited their communication to things that brought normality to their lives and shared their stories to reassure each other.  Twenty years later, my aunt and her daughter used audiotapes. Now online videoconferencing is giving us a medium to hold onto ourselves and those we love as we enter the second year of this pandemic. I thank my father and Aunt Virginia for teaching us how.

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Ambient Grief – Progress

It’s been a few days since I wrote The Ambient Grief of the Moment. I’ve been able to make some progress in finding ways to be with the energy of this ambient grief.  

Ambient energies are more likely to impact us if we have body memories of those energies. My own experience with unexpressed childhood grief opens me up to sensing the suffering around me. WBF helps me know what to do about it.

New Growth

After connecting to this grief, the I first time I noticed that I struggled to understand or explain something, I recognized that grief was present. I took a few breaths and chanted a Buddhist prayer to connect me to a power outside of myself and then took a few more breaths. I also held space for “this is grief, my own, or what is floating around in the world. What I did not do, however, is even more critical.  

Whenever, confusion arose, I had been getting anxious about my health and creating catastrophe scenarios about what is wrong with me. Now that I am aware that grief is engaged here, I can let go of the need to determine what is causing these problems and what I have to do. That is the game-changer. There is no longer a need to see these symptoms as a health problem and go into overdrive to solve them.

I know this is the correct path because the symptoms have lessened since I began holding space in this way for confusion or the inability to function.

I also connected to a flower essence remedy called Grief Relief, made by the Flower Essence Society. There are three ways to administer this remedy. One can spray the mixture into the mouth (has alcohol), on to your skin, or into the aura. This treatment also helps with the intensity of the sense of grief. It gave me hope that progress was happening in how my body is adjusting to the moment. If you use a flower remedy, I recommend that, whether you take this remedy by mouth or on your skin, include the area around your body for the grief that is not yours.  

The Momentum

I hope that others find new ways to be with these energies that are part of our existence at this moment and may get stronger as we move forward in the next few months. Please share what you find with the Wholebody Focusing Community.  Sharing may increase the possibility of advancing the processing of grief by helping others through this difficult time.

Drawing by Diana Scalera

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The Ambient Grief of the Moment

A Colorado woman wrote an article in the New York Times about how her heated car seat provided her great solace physically, sexually, and emotionally. The text was mostly about who invented the heated car seat and why it was so pleasurable. Amidst the light-hearted story, there was an accurate description of what many of us have been feeling: the ambient grief of the moment.

I recognize grief. I felt it deeply 22 years ago when I had endometrial cancer and lost my last chance to have a child. That grief helped me remember my grandfather’s death. He died when I was 14 months old. I had no conscious memories of being with him, but in a Reiki session, my body revealed my baby self’s grief of the loss of the one person who loved me deeply and who I had loved deeply. I cried for many months during this period.

I also had other symptoms. I lost things, essential things like my wallet, many times. I would find myself in the middle of NYC without my purse and any ID or metro card. The only way to get home was to walk a couple of miles. I remember thinking that the cancer treatment had taken away my uterus and was also a sort of lobotomy. It was when I found focusing through an organization called Cancer Care. Focusing helped me find myself again.

Lately, with the rise of COVID to such dramatic proportions, I find myself in the same position emotionally. I’m always losing things. I think I’m doing something that I usually do, and it turns out I missed a couple of steps. The outcome is I have to spend hours fixing it. I’m also losing my ability to explain things.

There is weekly news of friends and acquaintances who have died along with the thousands world-wide. It was impossible to find a world-wide number of deaths, but the US is reporting that one person dies every minute from COVID.

There are also deaths from other things like heart disease, cancer, lung, and digestive disorders. Most of the people I knew who have died lately are not dying from COVID, but some other conditions. It is as if living with a chronic illness in the time of COVID is just too much to bear.

I am a part of a Buddhist organization. There is a recommendation that we chant for the consolation of those suffering from the impact of COVID. I didn’t take this seriously at first, but now I sense how it can help me with the grief I feel.

On the surface, I “handle” living with COVID by plotting how my husband and I can survive this crisis. What I haven’t been paying attention to is sensing into how the situation is impacting my body. Reading that phrase in an article about heated car seats gave me a connection to my symptoms and the cause. It is the collective sense of grief that is overwhelming our senses.

I don’t have a solution, but I hope our readers can share how they are experiencing this grief and if you have found a way to hold space for it while allowing your body to discover what it needs to heal.

Heated Car Seats Are an Antidote to Our Grief  by Hermione Hoby

Photo by: Diana Scalera

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Connecting to the Sparks of Life

Take a few minutes and sense into where you encounter forward-moving life energy. For me, sound has been my guide. As a new wave of the international pandemic lays bare how present death is among us, we need to find ways to connect actively to what sparks life in us. Recently, I’ve found that sound helps me find a way to connect to myself and others. This supports the life in me.

The Impact of the Pandemic on our Bodies

The current situation has subtly impacted my nervous system. I don’t feel any different from moment to moment, but I am experiencing panic attacks again, which had disappeared from my life after years of focusing. Just buying groceries, sitting on a bench with a friend, or throwing out the trash includes masking up and putting on gloves—all reminders of the chaos surrounding us.

For example, the other day, I felt my body switch into panic mode in the middle of my virtual Italian class. There was a felt sense, a click in the middle of my chest. After that, I started having thoughts about possible problems with our gas stove.

I acknowledged the felt sense and new thoughts. I also recognized that these were irrational thoughts because I knew no one had used the stove the entire day, and there was no smell to sustain such this concern. I acknowledged that something in me was frightened, yet I did not know what or why.

I recognized “not knowing” the source of the panic and held space for this distress. That allowed me to notice the sound of my classmates’ voices again. We are all very dedicated to learning Italian, and to be a part of this group is very important to me. When the class ended, I held space for this anxiety in a fuller way.  What came for me was that the panic is my body’s way of letting me know that it is on overload. It needs more support. How do we support both– the need to move forward and the horror of the pandemic?

Even though the numbers in New York City are relatively low compared to the rest of the United States, they are still rising. New Yorkers have lived through the worst experience of the first wave and we know where it can go and how fast it can get there.

Recognizing the Sparks of Life

A few days later, I started to prepare to do some errands. I put on a mask, my defogged glasses with a guard strap on the back that keeps them from falling off. Then came my coat and purse and finally my face shield and gloves.

As I began walking to my favorite organic grocery store about a mile away, I noticed that my body was on high alert. First, there was a physical sensation– walking was too difficult. I felt overwhelmed by the mask and the shield. Was I breathing okay? Then came the thoughts about not being able to do the errands I set out to do. “How could I keep going forward while I am feeling like this?”

I kept on walking and hoping the sensation would subside. As I neared Thompkins Square Park, the first thing that woke me out of my thoughts was the sound of a car alarm. NYC banned them a long time ago, so it was a bit surprising to hear. Something, however, was comforting about the jarring sound. Maybe it matched my felt sense energetically. Paying attention to that sound shifted something in me. It broke the spell of my thoughts.

I began to hear someone playing the trumpet. The dogs in the large dog run were barking along with the music.  As I paused to listen actively, I heard so much more. Then an idea came that I should record what I heard because it was so full of life. In the middle of the pandemic, my neighbors found ways to connect and interact in safe and life-sustaining ways. The trumpeter was playing a cheerful tune; the dogs wanted you to know they were there. There were three competing bands, sometimes playing over each other, and occasionally stopping to listen to the other bands. The sounds were loud and were full of life. Each experience could grab you and take you along their journey.

The car alarm helped me ground. The walk through the park, and more specifically, the sounds of life, pulled me into presence. As I exited the park, I noticed how my thoughts had changed. I was able to get through my errands for the day, and I returned home to share the experience with my husband.

I invite you to take a few minutes to listen to the sounds of life that my neighbors shared with me last Saturday that helped me connect to the forward-moving life in me. If you click on Thompkins Square Park you can see some photos of this very special place.

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WBF and Yoga Nidra

Are we only Wholebody Focusers when we are in partnership with other Wholebody Focusers, or is it a way of life? For me, it is a way of life, a theoretical structure that holds my experiences. The most important concepts are:

Body Wisdom knows what our bodies need.

We hold space for everything we find within us with equal positive regard.

Our bodies only need our awareness to begin and support the healing process.

What happens when we are living our lives? How do these concepts come into play? Do we ignore them? Do we fully enter other worlds and adapt to other ideas? Or do we integrate what we know supports life within us? These are questions I ask myself when I want to participate in other energetic practices.

Yoga Nidra

I became very fond of Yoga Nidra when I worked in NYC public schools. My days were always long and full of demands and challenges. To relax, I would use an audio guide to help me get into the Yoga Nidra state when I returned home from work. I would take 20 minutes to allow my body to recover while my dear husband cooked our dinner. I am not an expert in Yoga nor a scholar of its history. I am approaching this discussion as a student in a yoga class.

Yoga Nidra is the part of a Yoga class when you lay on you back with your arms spread out and palms facing up and legs hip-width apart. The goal is to enter a state somewhere between awareness and sleep. This state is profoundly relaxing and acts like a tonic that recharges your body.

As one listens to the teacher’s guiding words, you notice different body parts. Some teachers might say something like “ask your toes to relax” and proceed through the body from bottom to top asking all areas to relax. I began to wonder if even this small demand on the body was out of step with my Wholebody Focusing practice?

Can I find this place of deep relaxation and apply what I know about WBF? In other words, how can any energetic practice become a Wholebody experience?

I changed this practice to make it more in line with my Wholebody practice by setting a different intention for the Nidra state. Instead of asking my body to do something, I want to give my body a chance to do what it needs to do. By observing a particular body part, it activates in some way. I feel energy churning. I stay with this felt sense until it seems to have found its rhythm. Then, another part becomes activated. I do not move on to another part of my body in a predetermined order but by what appears next. I stay with that new part until it recognizes my awareness.

I find my body seems joyful in that it has a chance to be observed in its natural state. It has become so used to being observed that I often do not have to speak or think the process but just let it know that I am taking time to notice it part by part. I set the intention at the beginning that I am giving my body time to be with itself and it just happens.

I tried to create an audio file to help you experience this, but anything I would say might limit your experience of WBF Nidra.

For me, as my different parts churn away (my energetic experience), I feel a great relief from the need to “be in charge.” My body knows I support its need to create this energetic movement and is happy to have a chance to have the time, space, and support to do what comes naturally.

I have learned something significant over time.  When I first started this practice and felt the energy, I would imagine that I had some illness that needed attention. Once I had a diagnosis, I would begin to create an action plan to treat it. My plans were so detailed on a particular occasion, I was able to observe the nonsense of it and just laughed out loud.

At first I would remind myself that I needed to let go of any ill health diagnosis that might come to mind. Without a diagnosis, there was no need for an action plan. My mantra became, “No diagnosis, No Action Plan.”

In fact, our bodies are constantly seeking stasis, an equilibrium of two opposing forces.  By holding these energy patterns with equal, positive regard, our bodies have a chance to use their innate wisdom to help themselves be the best they can be. I go deeper into my Nidra state and allow my body to have its own time to heal and come back refreshed and anxiety free.

Please try this and see what it feels like. Let us know what your experience is in the comments.
Namaste!

Photo Credit: Swamp Rose Mallow Hibiscus on the East River, Manhattan. Diana Scalera 2009

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Black Lives Matter Mural and Holding Both

I have begun to exit from my total COVID-19 lock down. My husband is a person at high risk for severe complications from COVID-19. We decided to stick to strict social distancing and other recommendations to keep both of us safe. Since New York City has reduced the number of infections significantly to below 1%, I’ve been venturing outside more.

During the height of the virus in New York, there were so many people protesting the death of George Floyd. We watched it from inside. A few days ago, I walked with a friend to Union Square in Manhattan, a central starting point of most demonstrations. There I found a colossal mural supporting Black Lives Matter. I was so moved by it I began filming with my cellphone to get a sense of it. I eventually went back with my video camera to record the experience. Here is what I found.

The artists divided the mural into two parts. On Union Square East, there are Black people’s names on grey painted plywood who have been killed by the police in the US and other countries. Feet and legs are moving forward from different cultures and places. It was, at once, a memorial to their lives and a celebration of their spirits. The grey tones also help one’s grief.

Around the corner On East 15th Street was something completely different. There were quotes by leaders of African American rights’ struggle on how to change these unjust situations from various decades. Once again, the plywood was grey, but the messages were is a bold and strong font. Not a scream, but a steady, honorable voice of encouragement to those who will struggle against this gaping in wound our society that has not yet been replaced with equal positive regard for all.

Here is what you will see if you come to New York City and walk around Union Square.

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Wordless Heartfelt Conversation/Senza parole

How would it look to have a conversation without words? Is it possible? What might two people share this way? How can Wholebody Focusing be the medium through which this happens?

Cristina Griggio and I were curious about what connecting via videoconferencing in grounded presence without words would bring. We agreed to sense into our bodies separately and then asked our bodies to move how they needed to move. While we sensed into our bodies and gave them time and space to move, we also sensed into each other to connect to the other’s movement. We became at once the actor and observer.

The video below is but a small slice at the end of that conversation. We were interested in the experience of the communication itself rather than any meaning it might have held. Sometimes we were thoroughly connected to self, and other times were aware of the other and sensing into what is coming for her.

It was fun, surprising, and felt like playing. It also helped us know each other more profoundly. Cristina’s natural ability to express herself through movement at one point filled me with awe.

We offer this video as a suggestion to others–that you too can have a non-verbal conversation between two bodies communicating using the concepts of holding space for what is present, asking your body to move in its own way while holding all that comes with equal regard. We also offer this video as a companion to you so that you have company if you would like to allow your body to communicate with you and move in any way it wants.

Let us know what happens.

Heartfelt Conversation Senza Parole (Google Translate)

Come sarebbe una conversazione senza parole? È possibile? Cosa potrebbero condividere due persone in questo modo? In che modo Wholebody Focusing può essere il mezzo attraverso il quale ciò accade?

Cristina Griggio e io eravamo curiosi di sapere cosa avrebbe portato il collegamento via videoconferenza in presenza radicata senza parole. Abbiamo concordato di percepire i nostri corpi separatamente e quindi abbiamo chiesto ai nostri corpi di spostare il modo in cui avevano bisogno di muoversi. Mentre abbiamo percepito i nostri corpi e abbiamo dato loro il tempo e lo spazio per muoversi, abbiamo anche percepito l’uno nell’altro per connetterci al movimento dell’altro. Siamo diventati subito l’attore e l’osservatore.

Il video qui sotto è solo una piccola parte alla fine di quella conversazione. Eravamo interessati all’esperienza della comunicazione stessa piuttosto che a qualsiasi significato potesse avere. A volte eravamo completamente collegati a se stessi, altre volte eravamo consapevoli dell’altro e percepivamo ciò che le stava accadendo.

È stato divertente, sorprendente e mi è sembrato di giocare. Ci ha anche aiutato a conoscerci più profondamente. La naturale capacità di Cristina di esprimersi attraverso il movimento ad un certo punto mi ha riempito di soggezione.

Offriamo questo video come suggerimento per gli altri – che anche tu puoi avere una conversazione non verbale tra due corpi che comunicano usando i concetti di spazio per ciò che è presente, chiedendo al tuo corpo di muoversi a modo suo mentre trattieni tutto ciò che viene con uguale riguardo. Ti offriamo anche questo video come compagno per farti compagnia se desideri consentire al tuo corpo di comunicare con te e di muoverti nel modo che desidera.

Facci sapere cosa succede.

 

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Tiny Problem, No Big Deal

What happens when we let our egos decide how significant a problem is? Here is the story of my toe.

I was born with an oddly shaped toe—the middle toe on both feet is the longest toe. The right foot has been more problematic. That foot is also a bit longer, and there is even less space in a shoe for it. If you look at the photo of the “perfect” foot, you will see perfectly conforming toes with the big toe being the largest and the subsequent toes gradually getting smaller. What happens when one of your toes do not fit such perfection?

When Someone Finds a Flaw in You

My teenage boyfriend was the first to point out the middle toe. He said I had square feet in a mocking tone. Bye-bye, first boyfriend. But now that I knew about this “problem,” I wondered how many other people might mock me for having an oddly shaped toe. “Square feet,” however, became a background feeling to describe my relationship with my toes.

As I aged, however, I understood that I could not wear “stylish” shoes because shoe sellers predicate their designs on everyone having a “perfectly shaped” toes and two same size feet. We all know from watching many police shows that shoes give away who you are. If you can’t wear stylish shoes, then forget stylish clothes. This tiny problem also impacted how I dressed, mostly in slacks with shoes that had square “toe boxes.”

I began spending exorbitant amounts of money, not on designer shoes, but orthopedic shoes that never really were comfortable. My middle toe would never have enough space to be itself, and the nail would send painful shock waves up my leg. I decide to get professional help from a podiatrist who happily cut away the nail. Two years of nerve pain later, the nail just grew back. So what’s a gal to do with a non-compliant toe?

I wear Crocs as much as possible because Crocs designed their shoes to give one’s foot support and space. Three months of lock down made me forget my toe. I only wore Crocs. But now, because I can leave the house occasionally, I began wearing shoes again, and the pain came back.

How Merchandise Controls Our Perceptions

I decided to hold space for my toe with love and compassion. The first thing I noticed was how central this toe is to my well-being. There is nothing in being longer than average that makes it a defective toe—it performs all the tasks one expects a toe to do. Because it is different from what our society acknowledges as a middle toe, few produce shoes to accommodate it. The basis of shoe design is the supply and demand economic model. This model impacted how attractive I felt, the people I dated, and the shoes and the clothes that I wore. Somehow even though the boyfriend is long gone, his harsh words hang in the air as an acknowledgment of the limitations of not having a “classic” foot form.

Getting to Know my Toe

When I hold space for the toe, what comes is how it has been my reliable bellwether. If Diana Foot.jpgthe boyfriend didn’t like my toe, he needed to go. He was a nascent domestic abuser. When I felt pressure to dress in the hyper-sexualized clothing that society promotes, I thought, “what’s the use, I can’t wear the shoes to make the style work.” If I do not regularly care for my toe when I have to wear outdoor shoes, the unbearable pain makes me stop everything else and care for it. I’ve learned to be proactive in caring for my toe so that I can move, walk, dance, and play without pain. Maybe when I stop my ritual care for my toe, it is the same time that I am not taking care of other parts of me. So my question is, what does my toe need now?

The first word that comes is “constant.” When I have outdoor shoes on, there is never enough space for this toe. My toe develops more hard callus right at the point where the regrown nail is as a way to protect itself. The coming together of the callus with the nail’s edge is what alerts me something is wrong. My toe wants me to know that it constantly suffers from this constriction and works hard to protect my toe by reinforcing the callus already there. Then, I work carefully to remove the callus because that is what relieves my perceived pain.

I have more compassion for my toe and its lifelong journey to live under conditions that do not support it. I also hold an appreciation for the role it has played in my life to give me a reason to leave unhealthy people and activities behind. I hold space for the “not knowing” how to support my toe so that it is not under constant pressure to protect itself only to have me undo that protection. How many other ways do I undo my body’s natural activity to heal because it doesn’t fit my perception of what is right? By holding space for my toe, I trust my body to inform me of what it needs.

Perfect Toes: Photo by Lisandra Medonça
Diana’s Toes: Diana Scalera

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