Photo Credit: Ellen Korman Mains – Broken Heart Monument at the site of a former children’s camp in Lodz, Poland
Addie van der Kooy’s Wholebody Focusing concept of “holding both with equal regard” can help us open our hearts and sense our personal role in promoting social justice and perceiving bias. It can also be a guiding principle in developing ways to support social justice in the broader society. As white supremacy roils the U.S. and I prepare to attend an important Holocaust commemoration in Poland, while Diana tends to her own ancestral legacy in Italy, here is another segment from our conversation that touches these issues. It also touches on the inherent vulnerability and truth of the human heart that flies beyond bias and sees basic goodness and equal regard as fundamental to reality, not just a technique we do.
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.
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.
Illustration of a Neanderthal Woman: John Sibbick (with permission from the artist)
Ellen Korman Mains came up with this title as she reflected on her week and how she’d been relating with a disturbing part of herself. Diana Scalera and Ellen engaged in a conversation about being with difficult experiences of ourselves with the help of our spiritual and focusing practices.
Diana Scalera went to Catholic school until the 8th grade when she gave up on Catholicism and organized religion in general as a spiritual practice because most of what she experienced from her Catholic education was demeaning treatment, punishment, and fear. It was not until she began focusing that her connection to spirit emerged. In one of her first sessions with Kevin McEvenue, a Neanderthal woman became present in her body to support her in a situation in which she felt weak and powerless. Diana was able to sense into how strong these bones were and how they were being offered as a gift to guide her. From that point on, Diana let go of a traditional idea of spirituality and became open to her own innate connection to spirit.
Ellen Korman Mains grew up in a Jewish home of Holocaust survivors where ties to previous generations seemed completely cut. At the age of 19, she met a Tibetan Buddhist teacher who emphasized trusting direct experience over dogma or wishful thinking, and this began her spiritual journey. Twenty years later, illness and energy work broadened her sense of connection to the invisible world and to the “larger system” that Gene Gendlin referred to. Later still, traveling to Poland to embrace her family’s past led to extraordinary openings described in her book, Buried Rivers: A Spiritual Journey into the Holocaust, as ancestors began showing up to support her. Since 2011, both Focusing and meditation have been important venues for trusting her direction and spiritual connection, and helping others to trust theirs.
In the video below, Diana and Ellen discuss how both spirituality and focusing live in their bodies and how they support their struggles with the “Little Monsters” with a sense of befriending what’s there by holding both with equal regard.
Thank you to John Sibbick for allowing us to use his wonderful drawing of a Neanderthal woman.
We hope you enjoy this conversation about how two individuals find their way.
Many of us who practice Wholebody Focusing have other practices that help us sustain ourselves, body and soul. Ellen Korman Mains, the author of Buried Rivers: A Spiritual Journey into the Holocaust, shares her 45+ year experience of practicing meditation, along with other modalities, and how she eventually recognized a need to become more present in her body in meditation practice. The video below is the first in a series of conversations between Diana Scalera and Ellen in which she explains how she first came to embrace body awareness. Future videos will include the role that body awareness plays in her continuing work to recognize and help heal the legacy of the Holocaust.
Please take you time to watch the video below which is the first installment of this series about meditation, grounded presence, and spirituality.
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:
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.
Sometimes we have patterns that are so ingrained we accept them as “our way” or, even if we are not totally in agreement with the model we continue using it without question because we have beliefs that support this pattern.
At the recent Felt Sense Conference in New York City, sponsored by The International Focusing Institute, I had an opportunity to be with an amazing “coach” who helped me experience an old pattern differently and try something new over and over again in a very safe way. This later translated into making a shift when faced with the original pattern.
The Dance of Physical Heartfelt Connection
On Friday, I attended Samarra Burnett’s class called Tango, The Dance of Interaction. She suggested that it be “done in socks, no shoes” and about 16 people showed up to the class. We were to learn to connect physically with each other using focusing and Argentine Social Tango Dancing as the vehicle.
Samarra explained that the main focus was to learn to connect to the movements of your partner using some effortless Tango movements. We were not preparing to perform the type of Tango that most people think of when they hear the word Tango.
To start, we took off our shoes and stood in a circle. Samarra asked us to pick a partner. I immediately felt triggered. One reason I gave up social dancing was that pressure of facing the dilemma of wanting/being wanted by another. Most people picked the person next to them, so that made it more comfortable. From that point on, Samarra organized the class in such a way that our future partner was predetermined. No more anxiety about whether or not I was wanting/being wanted by another. My body relaxed.
Samarra explained that our main task was to use a traditional tango embrace to sense into the movement of our partner for the distinct purpose of supporting each other as a focuser and listener would do when they are in partnership. The moves she showed us were smooth and gentle. The interaction was loving with a sincere intention to support each other.
How Repetition Helped
We practiced each movement with one partner and then moved on to another partner and learned a minor variation of that same movement. After each new experience, we had time to process what came for us. We did this over and over again for about three hours until we had danced with almost everyone in the room. We gained confidence not only in our ability to move in a certain way but also that we could gently lead or follow anyone that we connected with in order to tango. The last exercise was to dance with our eyes closed, not checking on who our partner was. My last partner just wanted to hold the embrace without moving. It was so different from holding space for someone to support our mutual movement. Now I had experience with holding a silent, non-moving interaction for the benefit of both of us.
When I left the room, I was joyful. I had a chance to dance socially without the burden that usually comes for me with partner dancing. I loved how each embrace with different people was unique but also provided this body sense of gentle support and a willingness to be open to each other. I credit this feeling to Samarra’s use of focusing principles and the group’s willingness to trust her leadership.
How an Old Pattern Opened to a New Experience
It wasn’t until Sunday, however, that I realized the value of the work we did. I attended the closing workshop at Lynn Preston’s loft. The main focus of this event was to be present to what had come and was still coming for us from our experience with the Felt Sense Conference.
I started the morning as I usually do, finding a seat and staying put—not wanting to interact with others at the gathering. I did this because it is what I often do when there is a possibility of interacting with a large group of people. We were asked to share briefly about what was present for us. I shared a bit about the Tango class. After I shared, a new understanding emerged.
I became aware of my need to sit still in this large group as a coping pattern. I became curious about this and just allowed my body to stay still as long as it wanted. At some point, there was an invitation to stand. I did stand, and then there was a moment when people were connecting to each other. I found myself standing alone, on the edge of these interactions.
A thought came to me. I could enter the fray rather than standing on the edge—something I usually do not do. I thought of how wonderful the physical connections that were made in the Tango class were and decided to walk up to someone I knew would welcome me. She did, and that opened up my ability to be among the group and interact with the people I had connected to during the conference and even some new people. We exchanged emails, took pictures, and, made plans to stay connected.
I credit the Tango class with helping that happen. Rather than sticking to my typical pattern, Samarra had offered lots of safe, gentle coaching to help us find a new way to be with people we were somewhat acquainted with and some who we didn’t already know. Three hours of practicing how to connect to another person opened me up to find other ways to communicate that felt natural and free of anxiety. Doing this first on a physical level without words or narrative gave me the courage to do this on a personal level without my usual social anxiety.
How Non-Verbal Heartfelt Conversation with Movement Can Translate into New Teaching Opportunities
This experience helped me understand that being part of a non-verbal heartfelt conversation based on mutual body movements allowed me to be able to be curious about other interactions in spite of my long-standing pattern of shying away from social interaction. I needed new experiences to replace the dominance of what was there before. These new experiences, rooted in my body, allowed me to successfully experiment with new social interactions. How can we use repetitive movement that encourages focusers to connect to others support our trauma and create space to move forward?
“The whole structure of me has expanded and been transformed by the very trauma that was given to me and that trauma becomes a source of inspiration without which I would have never become me.”
Kevin McEvenue Founder, Wholebody Focusing
Addie van der Kooy, Kevin McEvenue and I spent an afternoon in February discussing the many manifestations of the “Me Here” muscle as part of our Wholebody Focusing practice. We are sharing more of that conversation through these videos. They document what has been coming for us from our collaboration with our grounded selves and with each other. We listened to each other and found new places—tiny spaces that we did not know were there that emerged on this chilly day in February. We are very excited about sharing them with others who are interested in the continued development of Wholebody Focusing.
A Heartfelt Conversation of Practitioners
The two clips at the end of this post are the result of our desire to be with what we are learning as we move forward with our own healing and the healing of the clients and students with whom we work.
In the first video, we shared our observations which included an example of the quietly holding of space for our trauma while holding space for our sense of “Me Here.” This way to hold space is different from traditional focusing in which one might hold space for the trauma and for a part that is critical of the trauma or not wanting to recognize its existence. As we held space for what came, we were moved deeper into our understanding of the value of this work and its nuances. We brought the information that we shared into our bodies and responded with what came for each of us. At the same time, we connected what we already know about the Wholebody Focusing process to the new ideas that are emerging. We explained what is happening on a physical, emotional and spiritual level. This process is something that helped us find our “New Reality Now.” We used the process of Heartfelt Conversation to get us there.
In the second video, we began to discuss the implications of what we are uncovering, how it might change the way we are connecting to ourselves and, how we are teaching Wholebody Focusing.
How to Watch the Videos
We offer some suggestions on how to approach the content presented here.
You can watch Example and Explanation and the Implications video only.
Or, you can take novelist Julio Cortazar’s advice about reading when he was discussing his book Hopscotch. He encouraged readers to read his chapters in any order they choose and to come up with their own understanding of what is written. You can also watch the last four “Me Here” videos in any order and notice if something new emerges.
As always, we invite our readers to share their reactions, comments and concerns as part of this dialogue.
Is Wholebody Focusing an alive practice? How does it move into the future? Are there new ideas to explore? How will Wholebody Focusers find out about emerging ideas? These are some of the questions Kevin, and I asked ourselves when we created this blog.
As part of this exploration, we are continuing our collaboration with Addie van der Kooy and his ground-breaking work around the nature of grounded presence and its function in creating a broad definition of what healing ourselves feels like in our bodies. These new concepts of building “WBF Muscles” will help focusers better understand how to hold our trauma so that it has a higher, more nuanced ability to heal itself.
One afternoon in February, Addie van der Kooy, Kevin McEvenue and I filmed a conversation that goes deeper into our relationship between our state of grounded presence and the trauma that may live in us. We will be presenting parts of this conversation as it happened and eventually the full video of the discussion which lasted about 50 minutes. This new understanding emerges out of the work Addie has been doing with his clients as he teaches WBF in this new way.
Heartfelt Conversation – What is New to Explore?
The first video is the intunement that Kevin provided to help us hold space for what was wanting to be heard. There is no new information here; however, it is a beautiful example of how encouraging a state of grounded presence can enliven any interaction.
The second video is an overview of what Addie calls the “Me Here” muscle that supports us in holding space for trauma in grounded presence with no judgment or expectation of change and why this process is the foundation of what might come in the future. As Addie gets more experience working with this concept, more comes for him about how it supports his clients.
We hope you enjoyed this first installment of this exciting conversation which is part of the mission of the blog—to provide Wholebody Focusers with an opportunity to learn more and to add your voice to keeping WBF alive.
Please consider adding your comments and questions to the “Reply” area, and we will answer them as they come in. If you have something new you have learned please write a response and contact Diana Scalera to get it published at: email@example.com.
Please consider joining Addie van der Kooy and Cecilia Clegg in “Practicing Presence” workshop on May 11, 2019 from 9:00 – 11:00 AM EDT sponsored by The International Focusing Institute.