Do You Love Yourself?

I went to a shaman many years ago for a Reiki treatment. He started the session by asking me, “Do you love yourself?” I was dumbfounded because I could not answer him. The question froze me in some way. He then changed the subject to “Who do you love?” and again, I froze, but this time my body helped me out. I felt a heavy weight in my arms as if I were holding a body of someone. I sensed into this weight, and again, I could not come up with who that might be.

We started the Reiki session without an answer. As the shaman was finishing the session by energetically clearing my body, I began to sob. It was clear who I loved. At that moment, my body revealed what I had never known. The person I loved was my grandfather, who died when I was 14 months old. I knew at that moment, with certainty, that the love I felt for him was profound.

When I asked my mother about why I might feel this way, she said that my grandfather knew he was dying when I was born. Whenever we visited him, he held me in his arms, and we were inseparable. After I heard this, I spent the next few months holding space for his loss and my appreciation that he held me in a way that made me feel deeply loved. This certainty that I was loved has sustained me throughout my life even though I did not know it was there.

Markers of Love

I recently met someone who works with a process called Neural Linguistic Programming (NLP). NLP uses a concept of the Five Languages of Love to help people become aware of love in their lives and to be able to better provide love to those around them.

When I looked up information about this process, it seems to have some scientific detractors; however, there are numerous books and workshops run by NLP practitioners who may also use hypnotism as part of their work. According to NLP, the following markers are evidence of love: Gift Giving; Quality Time; Physical Touch; Words of Affirmation; and Acts of Service.

Without getting into the pros and cons of this practice, I decided to use these measures to do an inventory of myself of these central questions “Do I love myself? What makes me feel loved? I established my grounded presence to write about my investigation into my body’s sense of love.

Do I love myself?

I give myself many gifts. As a child, I didn’t ask for things because I knew the answer would be “NO” even if those were things my brothers received. So now, I allow myself to want anything, and I provide myself with what I need and want. It gives me great pleasure, for example, when I go food shopping and buy myself a treat that I can eat on the way home. It was a big unsatisfied want as a child. I also buy myself the essential things that I need—like a hearing aid. I give myself gifts freely without making excuses that someone or something is more worthy. I often get a body sense that something is needed. Sometimes my hand reaches out for an unsuspecting item; other times, it’s a sense of urgency I feel somewhere in my body.

I spend quality time with myself. To me, this is time in presence. My WBF practice and Reiki practice are the main ways I do this. I also have many self-care rituals that support my body. Sometimes that self-love involves being with my incredible focusing partners who help me find me.

Physical touch is a magical way to help oneself feel loved. Ulla-Stina Johansson, a psychologist, and WBF blog author explained to me that the part of our brains that can react to touch is unable to discern the difference between someone else touching us and our own touch. I have daily rituals that include holding parts of my body that rose out of my WBF practice. Currently, my hands massage the area at the base of my neck on the front of my body. Then my hands move to the left and rest on my shoulder. I don’t know what the significance of this movement is, and I am happy that my hands have that wisdom.

Words of Affirmation might not be my strong point. It does not occur to me to stop to affirm anything in particular and, maybe I’m not so sure what affirmations might be needed. It is something I do not feel in my body. Neither, however, do I spend a lot of time criticizing myself.

I have chosen a life that includes acts of service. As a teacher and school leader, I saw my role as someone who created an atmosphere in which children and adults had space to do their best work. Some school leaders supported me in this way, and I felt a strong responsibility to do that for others. As a retired person, I still feel a need to be part of something that supports forward movement in myself and others. I have found that giving others the support that I needed at different times in my life helps me spend quality time with the part that was left needing.

What makes me feel loved?

Clearly, in my pre-verbal days, loving physical touch stayed with me so firmly that 40 years later, my body remembered being loved by someone for whom I had no conscious memory. I still enjoy physical contact with the people whom I choose; however, I do not limit myself to waiting until there is someone else who will touch me in a caring way. My hands are always willing to hold me when I am lovingly present to them.

I depend on others for words of affirmation. It wasn’t until I was an adult that this became a part of my life. As a young woman, a new female friend named Barbara would notice what I did well and encouraged me to see it too. It felt so amazing. I felt this in my body as if a kind mother was holding me on her lap.

Then I met my future husband, and for the first time, I felt what it was like to have male encouragement. That felt wonderful and a bit dangerous. It was scary because I perceived men as not being interested in supporting women in this way. Our 36 years together has helped me learn that his support will never be dangerous and will always be loving.

The support of these two essential people set me on a path to get an education that was not available to me before. That led to teachers and mentors, both men and women, who gave me opportunities to be my best self. In my current life, I most enjoy being with those who value themselves and have room to value others.

Gifts are enjoyable to receive. The greatest pleasure I experience from receiving gifts is that they are gentle reminders of someone’s love. When I see a gift, an image of the person finding this gift for me emerges. The present becomes a recognition of their presence to who I am.

Quality time with others is especially important to me. I grew up in a large, extended family with 16 aunts and uncles and 19 cousins and one grandmother. The times I felt like I belonged anywhere was when this group gathered and shared food, music, dancing, and laughter. What was not present in my nuclear family was made up for in spades being a part of this larger group. 

My husband and I have an extended family of friends who come together to eat good food, celebrate whatever needs a celebration, talk about the world situation, share our dedication to improving the lot of everyone.

I also value being alone with my husband. Sitting by the East River or by the water fountain outside our apartment complex always gives us a chance to pause and experience an energetic connection to each other.

I also love being with a dear friend like Robin, even if it is to go on an errand together—having time to be in the present moment with someone for whom I have a secure connection is quite extraordinary.

Once again, acts of service are paradoxical. The more I do them, the more I feel joy. For example, helping Pat Omidian in her work with refugee support personnel in Uganda allowed me to get a better understanding of what it means to be a refugee. It was an honor to be part of this experience. I felt I might have a small role in relieving suffering in this part of the world. 

As Valentine’s Day approaches and we get to eat all sorts of delicious sweets, checking in on our ability to love ourselves and feel the love of others might be an excellent way to celebrate. I do not think the experience of love is limited to these five characteristics, but each one of these qualities can be a starting point to affirm how love is an essential part of one’s life.

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It Was a Very Good Year

As I thought about writing to the readers of the blog about this year’s accomplishments, Frank Sinatra’s song “It Was a Very Good Year” came to mind. While the lyrics are not about writing and managing a blog, it is about appreciation and gratitude.

In the video below, he talks about his appreciation for the work of the composers and lyricists. He also shares his deep commitment to and respect for what the author has written. These sentiments are what I feel about my role as the blog administrator.

So I start this celebration of what we have accomplished this year by thanking our contributors for their hard work and dedication to building our community. Their willingness to share their WBF experiences and their exceptional writing abilities make this work a great joy in my life. 

Who writes for the blog?

We have 21 contributors from 10 countries–Australia, Canada, Cyprus, Italy, Finland, Japan, Scotland, Sweden. The UK, and the USA. There are 14 women and seven men. Their professions include many Wholebody Focusing Trainers, writers, a Divine Love leader, a supporter of Indigenous rights, an Alexander teacher, a Buddhist teacher, a Physicist, and a computer expert. Some write often; others occasionally send in a post. A few contribute with photos and other skills, and others have not yet published a blog.

Who reads the blog?

We have 470 subscribers. Some subscribe to the blog directly, and others subscribe to social media. Social media is a crucial way to get out the message about Wholebody Focusing to the world. I encourage everyone who loves this blog to ensure its future by publishing the posts that you like on your social media.

We have readers in 60 countries on seven continents with the USA, Canada, Italy, the UK and China being the most active. Places like Singapore, South Africa, Chile, and Australia have a few dedicated readers. We also publish posts in languages other than English to encourage our international audience to feel that they are also part of our community. Wholebody Focusers live in many parts of the world thanks to the work of Kevin McEvenue, Karen Whalen, Addie van der Kooy, Bruna Blandino, Rosa Catoio, and many other trainers.

2018’s statistics for the blog were 7,468 views, 1,755 visitors, 265 likes, and 204 comments.

In 2019, the statistics are 10,743 views, 2,797 visitors, 322 likes, and 192 comments. We have a growing, diverse readership that reaches 15 more countries this year than last year.

How Has This Blog Helped Build a Wholebody Focusing Community?

In November 2017, Melinda Darer, co-director of Focusing Initiatives International, and I discussed that while the Wholebody Focusing community spanned the world, there was no way to feel connected to other Wholebody Focusers. We set out to change that.

Melinda and her organization decided to sponsor a Wholebody Focusing Retreat, which brought together 48 people in August 2018. There is now a second retreat in the planning stages. (See Being Like a River: Felt Community in Action ) Also, we established the Monthly Online Wholebody Focusing Gathering, a free online meeting open to everyone. 

I created this blog that is public and open to anyone interested in Wholebody Focusing. It is a place to share experiences and deepen our practice by reading about the experiences of others. Kevin shares with us what new body sense is coming for him. He also recruits contributors. It is also a resource to find out what is happening in the WBF world and how you can participate.

We also hear from individuals how WBF impacts their lives. New this year, there is the Wholebody Focusing Trainers Corner, which provides the deeper thinking that is happening from the experiences of practicing trainers from around the world. We also offer intunements that anyone can use to soothe and deepen their practice whenever they feel the need. 

In addition, by putting our work into the public eye, we spread love, love for ourselves, and love that holds all with equal regard. Everyone has this place come to where who they are is always held in the highest regard. That can only strengthen us in our practice and in our community.

How can this blog help you?

We have over 150 posts from our 21 contributors that are about the Wholebody journeys we have traveled. There is also beautifully written prose, poetry, music, and videos that touch our hearts. If you sign up as a “follower,” you get notices only when someone posts something new on the blog. This can serve as a reminder that blog is always here to help you find grounded presence and loving support for the wonder that you are. 

I hope you will enjoy listening to Frank Sinatra talk about his experience as a singer and, if you want, to sense into his appreciation of the status of men in the mid-1900’s. 

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How to Start Wholebody Focusing with a Partner

Photo Credit: Diana Scalera

When I attended the Scambi 2019 in Albano Terme, Italy this past summer, I presented my workshop Focusing Around the Dinner Table using mostly Wholebody Focusing as the vehicle to access this theme in our bodies. Since then, some focusers have been asking for help to learn Wholebody Focusing. I have begun working with some of the Italian focusers and have come up with a way for them to get started on their path to incorporating Wholebody Focusing into their Focusing practice. Below is a description of the steps of a session with Cristina Griggio via Skype. It can be a starting point for focusers who would like to add some Wholebody sensibility to their practice. 

  1. Both partners need to be willing let go of the need to have an agenda for their session and actively hold space to what your body prioritizes. Each partner can take a turn being the person who is focusing, and the other person is mostly silently holding energetic space for their partner while noticeing how what happens to your partner impacts your body.  
  2. Establish your energetic connection with your partner. If you are in person, make sure you have a sense of each other’s energy. If you are working via the internet, find your way to connect in this situation.  
  3. The Focuser asks her body a simple question “Where does my body need attention now?” Let your body choose what it needs. Let go of any narrative and your thoughts about what is necessary in this moment. Your body might have a different point of view.
  4. Wait and hold space for whatever comes. 
    1. Acknowledge the body’s sense of what is there without adding a narrative. Stay with the bodily sensation.
    2. Let what is there know that it can be just the way it is and has all the time it needs to be present to itself.
    3. Give your body permission to move, especially your hands, which may be able to support parts that are struggling.  
  5. Stay with whatever comes. Ask for help from other parts of your body, from the earth below you, the sky above, the air you breathe, or the chair in which you sit. 
  6. Let your body indicate when it has found a resting place (or ask your body to find a resting place).
  7. When the Focuser has come to a resting place, the partner can share how that experience with her partner impacted her body. The Focuser can also share more if they choose with their partner about their experience.  
  8. After the session, both Focuser and Listener should pay attention to whatever comes that relates to what happened in the session. According to Addie van der Kooy, each opportunity we take to spend time with our bodies in grounded presence causes changes (from minor to monumental). Our lived experiences after our sessions let us know what has changed.  

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Noticing When Something New is Here

Photo Credit: Selfie of Cristina, Diana and Deni

Wholebody Focusing can be very subtle. For me, especially during a session, sometimes only a movement comes, or pain in a part of my body without words or a “felt sense.” Sometimes I spend a long time with these movements or sensations. It begs the question, “how do we know that Wholebody focusing works at all?” It is in noticing that something new is showing up in one’s life or that something is showing up more than it did before.

We’ve been writing about “holding both with equal regard.” By holding space for all our parts, we recognize that our process is supporting healthy changes in how we live our lives. Because we have new options for dealing with our challenges doesn’t mean; however, that these parts of us that struggle no longer have life in them.

What Was There Before

I grew up with a narcissistic mother who would become angry if I asked for help. I learned never to ask for help and that the outcome of any situation depended on me not showing any need or reaction. Also, I attended a Catholic school that prioritized fear-mongering and punishment over the existence of a loving God. I developed a severe form of anxiety disorder that included both a chronic state of fear, along with spikes of disabling panic attacks.

Psychotherapy, drugs, acupuncture, and homeopathy helped me manage my learned responses to stressful situations. Reiki and Wholebody Focusing have enabled me to live in a new way.

Learning to Open to New Ways of Being

Reiki teaches that we can ask for help from the Universal Life Force, which is available to all sentient beings. It is without judgment and the need to meet some threshold of certain kinds of behavior. One needs only to ask for help to receive it. I primarily use what is called “situational” Reiki in which one asks for support with a particular situation.

I started using this when I began cancer treatments because I needed to meet with doctors. My natural inclination was to believe that the meetings would be harmful or that there would be no help, support, or kindness available to me. To find a new way to be, I would establish my connection to the Universal Life Force. I asked that my highest and greatest good be served along with the highest and greatest good of those who were supporting me. I found time after time that the outcome was so much better than what I would have automatically created. The high levels of fear were still there, but now there was also the belief that Reiki was available to me to support my next step.

I’ve come to rely on situation Reiki throughout my day, not just when I felt my life was in danger. What I am noticing is that before I form all sorts of disaster scenarios, it occurs to me to connect to the Reiki energy to ask for help. I don’t need to be in mortal danger to use this process. I can use it to help me get through a typical day with everyday challenges. It is a far cry from my chronic state of panic that was punctuated by panic attacks. What comes for me now is how automatic and sure I feel about asking for help. No more angry mother to cause me to worry. There is no more punishing God who only helps if you are good enough.

Notice When You Feel the Shift

My trip to Italy helped me clarify my relationship with situational Reiki. I went there to improve my Italian and to attend and present at a focusing conference. I took two weeks of Italian lessons. I also hired a tutor to help me create the transcript that I would read during the workshop I would present. I also had someone who offered to translate whenever necessary.

It was about a half-hour before the participants were set to show up. A mosquito flew toward me, and in an automatic reaction to my fear of mosquitos, my hand hit the iPad screen and deleted the transcript of the workshop. I had an old version that I did quick edits to, but it was not the same. In the face of the outcome of the next few hours being entirely out of my control, I asked Reiki to support the participants’ highest and greatest good as well as my own. As I did this, I could feel powerful energy surrounding me.

Somehow I had the language I needed and was able to understand the participants well enough to meet their needs. The participants were appreciative and enthusiastic, and I felt supported by the Reiki energy, the group, and my colleagues who had gotten me there in the first place. I noticed how new this was for me to feel so much support.

A few days later, I was staying with a family who had two dogs. It was evening, and a strong thunderstorm was floating in. I noticed the dogs were quite upset. I called one to my side and asked Reiki energy to support him in being with the storm. He calmed down and stayed at my side even when I went out on the balcony to watch the storm. The second dog, who had gone into hiding came close to me, and I offered Reiki to this dog. She also calmed down and stayed near. My friend told me usually the dogs run wildly around the house during thunderstorms.

As I have more experiences with the idea that by opening to my own highest and greatest good, the support that I need is there without fail. Even when I ask for help, and the outcome is not what I expect, I can ponder what about this outcome is in my highest and greatest good?

What Is Needed to Experience the New Parts of Us that Emerge

It is in noticing not only that there is space to have new beliefs like there is help available to everyone just the way we are. It is also essential to recognize that those parts of us that don’t think this way may still need support and love. When I was in session with Kevin, and I spoke about my newfound faith in something outside of myself, I noticed how my abdomen was having a spasm. Both are there. I can believe that support and loving-kindness are always available to me, even though my gut goes into spasm when I openly acknowledge the existence of this support.

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Holding Space for a Heart’s Desire

Sampler by: Grandma Luigia, Italy 1897

I am in a steady relationship lately with my heart’s desire. A body sense of how speaking Italian was a heart’s desire came to me in a Wholebody focusing session with my partner. It let me know that learning Italian would be something that would change my life for the better. This awareness happened soon after I filmed Bruna Blandino and Rosa Catoio, two Italian Wholebody Focusers, (Being Ourselves) for the blog.

Living a Heart’s Desire

What I also began to understand that day was that learning Italian was not something that I had to “do.” It was something that lives in me. This experience started me on a journey to give this body sense all the time and space it needed. (My Heart’s Desire).

I began attending focusing workshops for Italian focusers through The International Focusing Institute and partnering with some of the participants. These experiences led me to decide to go to Italy to study in a language immersion program and attend a focusing conference there.

I am experiencing what it is like to come in contact more deeply with my maternal language. A few days ago, as I was reading some straightforward, known Italian phrases, I found my mouth would not cooperate. I had an excessive amount of trouble pronouncing the words. I paused and asked my body to show me what was needed. My hands went to either side of my face and held those muscles gently. Then I began to reread the phrases slowly. There was still difficulty pronouncing the words but less so this time.  What was showing up was the flip side of a heart’s desire.

What Happens When a Language is Lost?

For 26 years, I taught or administered language programs to train Spanish-speaking students in NYC to fully develop their relationship with their mother tongue. NYC schools had a policy of supporting the home languages only until the student became fluent enough in English. The lack of continued instruction in the mother language left many students with interrupted literacy in both English and Spanish and low confidence in their Spanish-speaking ability. In high school, students were mandated to learn another language. I was part of a team of teachers and administrators who designed and piloted high school programs to bring these students to full academic literacy in their home language.

In this process, I learned how much trauma having one’s maternal language suppressed caused and how it often relegated these students to the category of “at-risk student.” When students studied their home language for at least three years at the high school level, however, they often became the top students in their schools.

Holding Both with Equal Regard

The felt sense in the muscles of my mouth reminded me of the trauma my students experienced. I embodied the experience of the loss of my mother tongue by becoming a language educator and advocating for immigrant students’ linguistic rights. For me, Italian was spoken in my home as a child by the adults around me. My parents, however, feared that if I learned Italian, I would suffer the same prejudice and academic challenges that they had faced in school as children. Because of my family’s experience, I worked at my profession with great passion. I became a national leader of this movement to support language rights for immigrants in schools. (You can view some of my work at Scalera on Vimeo.)

Now that I am retired, my body is telling me it is time to do this for me. I already speak Spanish. Italian seeps out of my mouth when I am in an Italian speaking atmosphere—like the filming session with Bruna and Rosa or on the streets of Rome. It has not been a conscious experience. I did not have a measurable fluency in Italian, just a few magical moments when I found myself speaking Italian. It was not something I could consciously conjure up at will.

When I experienced difficulty pronouncing simple Italian words, I realized it was a felt sense. I also became aware that following a heart’s desire is not just a joyous forward movement. It may include holding space for what prevented me from naturally speaking my family’s language. Something might show up as a heart’s desire because it has not  fully manifested in one’s life.

There is a lot of not knowing around how speaking Italian will benefit me, however, in subsequent focusing sessions, some valuable bodily experiences emerged. A burning sensation in my left hand helped me feel how the loneliness of exclusion from family discussions affected me. The adults around me had a secret language which they prohibited me from learning. It enhanced the feeling that I was not entirely a member of my family. As I wrote this sentence, a full-body sense came over me—a combination of nausea, fear, and breathlessness. I stood and allowed these sensations time to process. They eventually diminished. I expect more felt senses will emerge as I continue to hold space for learning more Italian and now, for not learning Italian.

When I embarked on this journey of my heart’s desire, I didn’t expect to meet its doppelgänger. It is, however, not surprising that both are there—the heart’s desire to speak Italian and the prohibition to speak it. My body has been screaming with all sorts of symptoms lately—nausea, breathlessness, aching joints, burning hands, and the inability to control the actions of my mouth.

How to Move Forward

The more time I give my body to experience itself in grounded presence, the more this bodily sense will emerge. I stand and let my body move in its own way.  I call in spiritual help from my ancestors. I ask this part that is suffering from speaking Italian to become aware of itself. My hands respond to my request for my body to comfort the suffering part. My right hand gently holds my left hand while I lie down. It is very soothing for my whole body. This position softens the bodily discord I experience.

I have become aware of this background “felt sense.” My ability to learn a language by listening to my caretakers, a natural part of one’s earliest human experience, was stopped cold. Both parts of me, to speak or not to speak Italian need my attention, compassion, and regard.

In two weeks, I will be in Italy for 18 days in a situation that will require me to speak Italian most of the time.  I am and will be holding space with equal regard for both my suffering self and my heart’s desire. This is what I was promised—that my life would change for the better as I live this experience.
https://code.responsivevoice.org/responsivevoice.js?key=QZ6OEIVG

N.B. The phrases mother language, mother tongue, and home language are used interchangeably.  They refer to the language spoken by the parents or guardians of a young child.

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The “Holding Both with Equal Regard” Challenge

Photo Credit: Pixabay

How do we live day to day with so much evidence that our society does not support basic human needs? It is like being children and having families that do not meet our needs. I propose that our readers practice “holding both with equal regard” when we are encouraged or disturbed by what is happening politically. Take time to be with the body sense of your experience and share the results in the comments section of this blog.

Election night 2016, my friends and I went to a performance of Coriolanus, a Shakespeare play about governmental corruption and abuse of power. At the end of the play, everyone in the audience turned on their cell phones at the same time and collectively groaned. The news said, much to everyone’s surprise in NYC, that Donald Trump had won the election for president.

From that night on, most Americans have had their concept of being an American undercut in some way. We all do not share the same ideas. For examples, some of us have been horrified by the growth of white nationalism, while others are firmly against the radical changes that some groups propose.

One thing that has happened, as a result, is that more people are taking an interest in politics and discussing it, arguing it, and feeling it in our bodies.

How Can Wholebody Focusing Help?

I propose we do a mini-research on how “holding both with equal regard” can help us to move forward in this challenging environment. This activity is not limited to people who live in the USA.  There are many reasons people in other countries are experiencing the same instability.  I recommend the following:

  1. Notice when you see, read, or hear something that is accompanied by a body reaction.
  2. Connect to your grounded presence.
  3. Pause to be with that reaction by holding both with equal regard. If it is something we like, give your body time to process it. If it is disturbing, also welcome it and allow your body to process this new information.
  4. Let your body show you when it is complete. You might notice that the strength of the reaction has lessened or you have moved on to another idea.
  5. Over time, notice if there is anything different in how you are experiencing the ups and downs of the current political situation.
  6. Send comments to the blog about what you are noticing.

We look forward to hearing from you.

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The Release of Suffering: Three Stories and the Observer Effect

Photo Credit:  Marty Correia Kate Sitting with Rothko

In the study of physics, the Observer Effect is the theory that the mere observation of a phenomenon inevitably changes that phenomenon.

I am not a scientist and I will take the words above for face value while letting you know that scientists and mathematicians have observed, documented, and proven this concept to be true. The Observer Effect and a belief that our bodies know what they need in order to heal without input from our egos, ids, and superegos can help us find our way to our authentic selves over and over again.

The stories below are connected to the Observer Effect in some way. They are also connected to being able to trust that there is some knowledge beyond our thoughts that can guide us if we let it.

Searching for Peace Amidst the Tragedy of the Holocaust

I recently read a book by Ellen Korman Mains, Buried Rivers: A Spiritual Journey into the Holocaust. It is an excellent book in which Ellen recounts her journeys to Europe to connect with the residue of energies left over from the Holocaust, which she sensed while traveling on a train in Germany. She felt these as a combination of grief, revulsion, and much more. Ellen eventually made finding a way of relating to these energies her life’s work and has written this book to describe her journey.

What Ellen found when she came in contact with these unresolved energies or spirits, was that she eventually was able to hold space for them by dropping the habitual tendencies to judge them (thereby fearing or rejecting them) or to identify with them (thus feeling shame). As she learned to hold space for them in this neutral way, a natural state of compassion emerged.

As Ellen held space for them, they also held space for her own healing. The process that both she and the suffering spirits shared provided mutual benefit. Because of her capacity to observe and sense into energies that others might not be able to recognize, she was able to hold a space of compassionate presence for them. With her support, these spirits were able to experience their own capacity to heal. At the same time, her connection to the Holocaust, as the daughter of an Auschwitz survivor, also improved.

In doing this work, Ellen was supported in her lifelong quest to live deeply in the present. Her Buddhist practice and Focusing practice helped her find basic goodness even in the aftermath of the Holocaust by accepting exactly what was already there, and bringing to it an attitude of steady, quiet attention and open curiosity. In the end, she found she could heal herself while helping others through the practice of holding space for what was there, allowing the energies she encountered to be witnessed, and giving them the time and space they needed to heal.

Ellen continues this work by sharing her book with audiences around the world.

Kate and Mark Rothko Observing His Space Together

A friend, Kate, told me about an experience at the Whitney Museum in New York City. She was interested in having a more meditative experience in the museum rather than walking by one painting after another. She asked the staff to provide her with a small stool that some museums offer patrons so that one can take time to sit and be with a painting or art object.

As Kate walked around the museum, she found a painting that called to her. It was Mark Rothko’s Four Darks in Red. (https://whitney.org/collection/works/897 ) Kate put her stool down and sat in front of the painting. As she observed the painting, something occurred to her. The space between her and the painting was Rothko’s space—the area he used to produce this work of art. This is how she describes her experience.

Proximity. The space between me and the painting was his. As I sit, six or so feet from the fields of red, saturated reds to browns, I feel as if I share his gaze over time and distance. I feel his presence and wonder to him:

Is any of this paint your blood? You knew how to open a vein, it would take you, eventually. Did you do that for us? Is your blood crossing time to draw me to you today?

The painting’s fleshy pink and beige undertones are framed in red and layered over with fields of darker tones. From bottom to top the paint layers increase in saturation and deepen into hue. A cramped muddy band caps the composition; under it, the darkest and largest field rests heavily. This field seems emotionally deep, spiritually intense, and physically weighty to me; if it were a three-dimensional object, it would be as dense as lead or as deep as six feet under.

 Is this an exploration of life to death? Your mother, Kate, had died ten years before this painting. Your daughter Kate is eight years old. Are you tracking stages of birth to burial? Could it be that the under painting tones are depicting the tenderness of a new born pink baby with layering into the dark tones of damp soil and decomposition? You are twelve years away from taking your life. Are the layers of paint rendering the depth and weight of your angst?

In this dis-temporal experience, did I catch a glimpse of you? Am I close enough to ask what were your joys? What felt like toil? Can I know you?

Was it exhilarating to release a finished work, or was it depleting, or something else? Did you know who you were going to be to us? Did you know you’d reach me today, 60-some years later? Do you see me here? My heart is full of love–of and for you—your work, they are one. I want to travel to your time and remove your pain and suffering. But, would that have killed your compulsion, calling, drive to create? Was painting your exercise or exorcism? As I sit at the foot of your offering I ask—are you free now? Or do you still suffer?

On the way back,in the school bus hired for the ride with the group of seniors I accompanied, I noticed something:

more Rothko

Photo Credit: Kate Conroy

A brown vinyl cushion installed over the bus door frame is patched with a strip of brown tape; its corners are lifted and the band has slipped, partially framing itself in a gummy adhesive. Striking me as visually connected, this image brought me back to the thin brown band at the top of the frame of Four Darks in Red.

Bouncing along in a humid, janky school bus, I feel your presence and wonder, could I find you anywhere, if I simply notice?

A Childhood Moment Observed is a Trauma Changed

I’ve written before about my childhood trauma that is mostly from an early part of my life and difficult to reach because of the non-verbal nature of the trauma—much of it happened before I could speak. I work mostly with movement without talking, asking questions, or creating labels for what I find. In a session with one of my Italian-speaking focusing partners, I sensed into my body and allowed whatever movement my body needed to come for me.

I found my hands moving around the edge of a large block in front of me. As my arms kept on finding, extending, defining the boundaries of this energy field and I waited for more to come. At some point, I found my arms moving in a circular motion at my sides. I noticed that, while moving in a circle, my left arm felt impeded at a certain point in its path.

My arms then stayed in the general area of the impediment as if it were finding a way to move through it. What came to me was an image of being a young child who wanted comfort from my mother. This younger self reached her arms up to my mother, and my mother shamed her for wanting to be held—a combination of not deserving that comfort and annoyance that this younger self thought she did deserve it. I connected to that feeling of wanting comfort, of hoping support would come from my mother and sensing shame that it did not. I wasn’t experiencing it in this moment; however, I was observing the felt sense of my younger self.

I continued moving in the same manner for a while, and something jolted my body—a fear that my mother would hit me if I didn’t leave her space. Now there was also fear of violence and the sadness that knew the needed comfort would surely never happen. This time it was a combination of the felt sense of my younger self and the felt sense of “Me Here Now” who knew how this all turned out. It was essential for me to observe all the aspects of the experience fully. (I like to think of my younger self in a different dimension rather than a part of me or something in me.)

My grounded self held space for my younger self and let it know that it was safe from harm. I observed its wanting, the shame, fear, and sadness and held these felt senses with compassion and love. I asked that universal love and energy be available to us now.

I always had a body sense of the rejection of my mother. This small gesture could have created a lifelong sense of confidence in my body. Instead, however, it created just the opposite. It may have been the moment this pattern originated. Its memory is also the moment that helped me connect to this lifelong experience of a lack of support/not deserving support and allowed me to be able to observe it and give it space and time to become aware of itself. This part showed up through movement and only required my observation of it to find its forward motion. I now spend time with this younger self, and it is pleasurable. It feels like I am making up for the lost time with someone I love but didn’t know was there.

The Observer Effect on our Well-being

What happened for all three of us was that we connected to our bodies’ sense of something we were experiencing. We observed what emerged and accepted it as it was, and we waited for more to come. We also allowed our bodies to guide us to the next moment rather than become entangled in the drama of the energies that we encountered.

When you read more about the Observer Effect, there are discussions, research, and mathematical equations that explain how much observation is needed to create a certain amount of change. Not surprisingly, the more observation there is, the more change occurs.

I strongly urge everyone to visit Addie van der Kooy’s work on this blog and to listen to Kevin McEvenue’s Intunements to learn more about how a daily Wholebody Focusing practice may help one increase one’s observational time of self, which may result in a higher capacity to heal. When we find and observe the doppelgänger of our trauma, we may find our healing.

For Ellen, the Observer Effect shifted her experience of the Holocaust when the spirits she encountered on her journeys to Poland and Germany met her energetic self’s holding of her family’s Holocaust tragedy. For Kate, her observation of the space in which Rothko worked led to an amazing connection to Mark Rothko that gave her an opportunity to deeply sense what his art means to her.  For me, observing my younger self and experiencing the birth of my trauma allowed me to hold my younger self in the way it always wanted to be held.

* http://faculty.uncfsu.edu/edent/Observation.pdf

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Taking Focusing With You on a Bus

Photo Credit: Dakar, Senegal bus station Michael Lux

I am supporting Pat Omidian as we work with  refugee workers and administrators in Uganda to use focusing methods in a psychosocial support (PSS) course to improve community wellness with the groups with whom they work.  We are teaching this course online. 

Reflecting your Partner’s Felt Sense

One session was about reflecting on what we are experiencing in a particular moment in a focusing way. It was also about learning to be a good listener and how to reflect what your partner is saying in a focusing manner.

Denis Lyagoba, one of the participants, and I were in a breakout room together to practice reflecting on each other’s experiences.

Denis started by choosing a recent experience of being on a bus with colleagues to get to a location together. At some point, a problem occurred that prevented the bus from going forward. Denis reported that he felt frustrated that the group might not be able to get to the place they needed to go. I reflected what he said, “A part of you was frustrated that you might not get to where you needed to go.”

Denis repeated this and let it sink into his body. More came. He told me that he was frustrated with the others on the bus who were yelling instructions at the driver. I repeated back to Denis, “A part of you was frustrated that the others were yelling instructions at the driver. He reported how he decided to be quiet, go inside and let the scenario play out without his participation. Then more came. He knew that the driver was very competent. He was frequently the driver for the group and had shown great steadiness in his work. Denis held onto his belief that the driver alone had the greatest possibility of solving the problem. I repeated back to Denis, “A part of you knew that the driver would be able to solve the problem using his knowledge and skills.” Denis reported that they were able to get to their specified location. He talked about how his way of coping with the stress of the stoppage of the bus and the chaos of his collegues was to go inside and hold space for his knowledge that the driver was skillful.

How What Comes for One Partner May Impact the Other

I asked Denis if I could share my own stressful bus experience. He agreed. I live in New York City, and occasionally, we get monster snow storms. I was an NYC school administrator and, one day during a major blizzard, the City administration decided that all staff and students should make their way to school even though the blizzard was already in full force.

I let Denis know that I was angry that the City made this decision. It was dangerous for children and adults to try to get to their schools in these conditions. When I first started to teach many years ago, one of my students was killed by a truck during another blizzard in which the schools were left open. This memory was the basis of the anger that lived in my body. Denis reflected that a part of me was angry that the schools were left open during a storm.

Then I explained to Denis that I was scared for my well-being and the well-being of the children and staff members who were impacted by this decision. I needed to take a very long bus ride and was scared to get on the bus. Denis reflected that “part of me was scared to get on the bus.”

I explained that because of my fear, I sat as close to the driver as I could to watch his every move. The driver’s body language informed me that he took his responsibility for the safety of the passengers very seriously, and he was doing everything he could to keep us safe. That knowledge opened up my heart, and what came for me was a sense of admiration for his dedication to his job. That helped me relax and let go of my fear. Denis reflected that my trust in the driver helped the parts that were angry and afraid, just as it did in his experience.

How Does Focusing Help Us Everyday

Focusing is mysterious like this. Denis and I got placed into the same breakout room randomly. We had a parallel experience that reinforced our ability to sense into each other’s dilemma and also connected us to how focusing supports us in everyday life. As we listened to each other’s experience and reflected what we heard, we were able to stay aware of each other and to support ourselves by holding space for all the different emotions we had in response to our situation.

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