Holding Space for the Suffering of the Holocaust

Presentation by Ellen Korman Mains

As part of the commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Kevin McEvenue’s Wholebody Focusing Blog helped sponsor an online gathering, attended by people from at least 6 countries. Author, Holocaust activist, and Focusing Teacher Ellen Korman Mains led a discussion on ways to hold space for and participate in the healing that needs to happen around the devastation of the Holocaust.

This post has an abridged version of Ellen’s presentation to the participants that supported small group Heart Conversation on this topic. Ellen starts her comments with a discussion of time itself. How are the past, present, and future connected? Can we relate to trauma in the past? Do these past actions relate to what is happening now? And, most importantly, how can holding space for the past carry us forward?

Ellen talks about the history of witnessing the Holocaust—how it was avoided by many at first. It is challenging to hold such horrors in our consciousness. She describes the process of becoming a witness and why witnessing matters. What is the impact on the person who is a witness? Can it change the energy of those spirits who lived through this tragedy?

Ellen draws on her work and the work of other healers for inspiration. She describes the process of being a witness at Auschwitz as “shattering” initially; however, if one is able and willing to stay present to the energy of the experience, a peacefulness emerges and extends into a sense of spaciousness and well-being.

This video is about 18 minutes long but well worth the effort to watch. For me, it is a convincing explanation of how we can heal ourselves, the past, and the future through this type of energy work. This kind of holding of space for suffering can also be helpful in many other circumstances in which unattended suffering still has us in its grip.

Sit back and take your time being with Ellen and her wisdom.

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On Becoming a Grandmother / Kun minusta tuli mummu

Some months ago, I became a grandma to a baby and a puppy. I listen to these significant events in my body. I start to feel the liveliness in the bottom of my feet. Then something “awkward” appears in my stomach. How could anything so tricky be related to such beautiful things?

This felt sense is located horizontally, longitudinally in my stomach. It is spherical, maybe about three centimeters in diameter. It has soft edges. Something concentrated wrapped in a sausage casing.

As the delivery of the baby lasted almost two days, there was a moment when I began to think about all the possible ways it had gone wrong. At some point, I was already sure that both my daughter and her baby had died, and no one in the middle of that horror could tell us anything.

Fear of loss.

Is it related to how I lost myself? As a child, I decided that I wouldn’t cause any problems for my parents. I kept the pain and sorrow inside me — even the joy.

The newly-born, both human and canine, have vitality. They are waking up to the outside world and learning as they encounter new experiences. A sharp look that suddenly bursts into a sweet smile, a mouth that meets new sounds. Paws are running into your arms.

I remember a photo we took the day I first met my granddaughter. There was a picture published on social media showing just a little hand of our baby girl in my big, much stronger one. We who loved her saw that she was more than a hand, but we didn’t show it to everyone.

Dear belly, what do you ask for or need?

Loving ears, eyes, and arms that hear see and carry me just as I do with my grandchild. People, animals, for which I am more than a hand shown in a social media photo. Some love my plump stomach, and my lips that grapple with the right words and sometimes find them. And I wonder if I could become even more visible, beloved, and faithful to myself?

These contradictions do not end here, as I now can feel two Prince sausages (in Finland, some short sausages are called Prince sausages) in my belly. Like two attached Prince sausages. A meaty concatenation of sausages. Lots to eat. One is on the left side of my hip. The other is on the heart side and expands under the rib, growing toward my left flank. These are long-legged Prince sausages. Or are they Princesses?

A part of me is against the word Princess. In my childhood, those who wanted to look beautiful were called princesses. Not in an admiring way but like a coquette. It described an awkward person trying to draw attention to herself.

I welcome the Princess in myself. The child who changed her clothes many times a day according to her desires. How wonderful it felt when I did the same during the focusing week-long in Chile one year ago. Or when I change my grandchild’s diapers and think about what clothes to put on her. How will I release my grip on her so that she could choose the clothes she desires as she grows up? And I’m not just talking about clothes now.  When growing up, what kind of look, touch, and words will she need to face, feel, and hear to find herself?

How about me?

Is it time to unload my sausage casing and open up my ingredients for a viewing? Look, I was born from this mass.  Edible but not always digestible. And maybe only for  those who like this kind of sausage.

 

Kun minusta tuli mummu

Muutama kuukausi sitten minusta tuli sekä mummu että koiramummu. Kun kuulostelen näitä isoja tapahtumia kehossani, alan tuntea sekä elävyyden jalkapohjissani, että jotain ”hankalaa” vatsassani. Miten näin kauniisiin asioihin voisi sisältyä mitään hankalaa?

Se sijaitsee horisontaalisesti, pitkittäissuuntaisesti vatsassani. Se on pallomainen, halkaisijaltaan ehkä noin kolme senttimetriä. Sillä on pehmeähköt reunat. Kuin makkarankuoreen kääritty tiivistymä.

Kun vauvan synnyttäminen kesti ja kesti, aloin pohtia, mitä kaikkea kamalaa voisi tapahtua. Jossain vaiheessa olin jo varma, että sekä tyttäreni että hänen vauvansa olivat molemmat kuolleet, eikä kukaan siinä kauheudessa kyennyt ilmoittamaan siitä meille.

Menettämisen pelkoa.

Liittyykö se siihen, kuinka menetin itseni? Kuinka lapsena päätin, että en aiheuta vanhemmilleni mitään ongelmia. Pidin sisälläni kaiken kivun ja surun. Ilonkin.

Vauvoissa, niin ihmis- kuin koiravauvoissakin on elämänvoimaa. Heräämistä ulkopuoliseen maailmaan. Uuden oppimista. Tarkkaa katsetta, joka yhtäkkiä puhkeaa suloiseen hymyyn, suuhun, joka tapailee uusia äänteitä. Tassuja, jotka juoksevat syliin.

Muistan valokuvan, jonka otimme sinä päivänä, kun ensi kertaa kohtasin lapsenlapseni. Sen someen laitettavan kuvan, jossa näkyisi vain pienen tyttövauvan pieni käsi minun suuressa, paljon vahvemmassa kädessäni. Minä itse, me näimme, että se pieni oli muutakin kuin pelkkä käsi mutta emme näyttäneet sitä kaikille.

Rakas vatsani, mitä sinä pyydät tai tarvitset?

Rakastavia korvia, silmiä ja syliä, jotka kuulevat, näkevät ja kantavat minua samalla tavoin kuin minä lapsenlastani. Ihmisiä, eläimiä, joille olen enemmän kuin somessa näkyvä käsi. Jotka rakastavat pulleaa vatsaani, huulia, jotka hapuilevat oikeita sanoja ja välillä löytävät niitä. Ja mietin minä sitäkin, voisinko tulla vielä enemmän näkyväksi, rakkaaksi ja todeksi itsellenikin?

Ei tämä tähän loppunut, sillä tunnen, kuinka tiivistymiä on nyt kaksi. Kuin kaksi prinssinakkia toisissaan kiinni. Tuhti makkaraketju. Paljon syötävää. Toinen niistä on napani vasemmalla puolella. Sydämen puolella. Sivussa, ei keskellä. Se laajenee kylkikaaren alle, kasvaa kohti vasenta kylkeäni. Pitkäsäärinen prinssinakki. Tai prinsessa?

Jokin osa minusta vastustaa sanaa prinsessa, sillä prinsessaksi on minun maailmassani kutsuttu sitä, joka haluaa näyttää kauniilta. Hienohelmaista hempukkaa. Kevytkenkäistä, hieman hankalaa ja huomiota itselleen hakevaa.

Toivotan tervetulleeksi prinsessan itsessäni. Sen, joka vaihtoi vaatekertaa mielihalujensa mukaan. Miten ihanalta tuntuikaan, kun tein tammikuussa Chilen matkallani samoin. Tai kun saan lapsenlapselleni vaippaa vaihtaessani pohtia, millaiset vaatteet hänelle pukisin. Miten irrottaisin otteeni hänestä niin, että hän kasvaessaan saisi valita ne vaatteet, jotka ovat häntä itseään eniten? Enkä puhu nyt vain vaatteista. Puhun myös aatteista. Millaista katsetta ja kosketusta, millaisia sanoja hän tarvitsee löytääkseen sen?

Sitä samaa pohdin itsellenikin.

Olisiko aika purkaa makkarani kuoret ja avata raaka-aineeni nähtäväksi? Että näin, tästä massasta synnyin minä. Syötävän hyvää, ei aina helposti sulavaa. Niiden ruokalautaselle pureskeltavaksi, jotka tällaisesta makkarasta pitävät.

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We Are No Content

This post is the fourth and final video in the series of videos from Fall 2018 in which Addie van der Kooy and Kevin McEvenue discuss the impact of Gene Gendlin’s work on Wholebody Focusing. In this video, they deconstruct Gendlin’s idea that we are not our content nor our suffering.

Kevin reminds us that in order to find this space of “no content,” we need to be connected to something outside ourselves, whether it is our feet or anything or someone outside of ourselves. He also shares how finding this place of “emptiness” or no content has its own life.

Addie adds some essential questions.
How would your body like to be supported?
How does it feel to be alive?
What or who holds your awareness?

We invite you to enjoy a lively coda to this Heartfelt Conversation on the practice of WBF between long-time friends and collaborators.

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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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Invitation to Commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Photo Credit: Ellen Korman Mains

A Contemplative Focusing-oriented Zoom Gathering
January 25, 2020, 12 Noon – 1:30 pm EST
with Ellen Korman Mains
author of the award-winning memoir

Buried Rivers: A Spiritual Journey into the Holocaust

To the chagrin of her parents—Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust—Ellen became a Buddhist at 19, nearly tearing her family apart. Decades later, on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, an experience on a German train sent her on a series of life-changing journeys to Poland to explore the meaning of basic goodness after the Holocaust, and her own family history. January 27, 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and 15 years since that 2005 train ride.

As nationalism and other threats increase around the planet, how do we acknowledge and hold space for an event as monumental as the Holocaust? Is healing possible? As a daughter of Holocaust survivors, Ellen will offer some personal and historical context for this gathering, including her journey since January of 2005. This gathering will include a guided meditation to help us connect with grounded presence, to create an environment of safety, and to invite ancestral support. Breakout groups will allow us to freshly share our experience.

“We, the living, are the body of our ancestors, and in our bodies we carry all the tears they could not cry during their lifetimes. And when we allow their tears to be cried through us, something is being made whole between the generations . . .”

-The Tears of the Ancestors: Victims and Perpetrators in the Tribal Soul, by Daan van Kampenhout

“If we go underneath the overwhelming emotions and touch into physical sensations, something quite profound occurs in our organism—there is a sense of flow, of “coming home.”

-In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma & Restores Goodness by Peter Levine

Please join us!

Email EllenKormanMains@gmail.com to RSVP and receive the Zoom link.

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Standing at the River

Text by Ana Simeon

Photo by Don Hoffmann

The Peace River valley, a place I love, is being stripped and excavated to build a hydroelectric dam. This is happening in the far north-east of British Columbia, a ferry ride and two days’ drive from my home on Vancouver Island. Ever since construction permits were confirmed by the new B.C. government in 2017 I’ve noticed how I shy away from even thinking about the Peace. I have to steel myself to read the news. Two of my friends up there have so far narrowly avoided being evicted to make way for a highway realignment, and another friend, an Indigenous woman, still has a potential lawsuit hanging over her because of her participation in a blockade near the would-be dam site. Whenever I speak to them it’s like a deep dive to a painful place, an underwater rock. My daily life bubbles and froths like rapids around this submerged rock; sunlight sparkles off the surface of the water and this is enough for each day. But every now and then I am compelled to dive down to the rock. I must remember and fully feel the love and grief.

Grieving the Peace

Last July the West Moberly First Nation invited all who feel connected to this place to attend a Feast for Grieving the Peace. They made it clear that the grieving wasn’t about the dam itself: that was still being resolutely fought against in court. Rather, the grief was about what was currently happening to the river in preparation for the flooding of the valley. The deliberate cutting of huge cottonwoods bearing great eagle nests all along the banks. The stripping and dumping of uniquely fertile topsoil that could have fed the whole region. The exclusion of First Nations people from places that had provided food, medicine and spiritual comfort since time out of mind. The razing of river islands where beavers built their lodges, and deer and elk sheltered to give birth. The expropriation and eviction of farm families.

About halfway between Hudson’s Hope and Fort St. John, the Peace makes a wide bend around Bear Flats. Before expropriation, Bear Flats was owned by my friends Ken and Arlene who leased the upper field to a market gardener, and grew hay and oats in the lower field. In years past, my husband Tom and I used to camp there. There is an old beaver lodge at the confluence where a small creek joins the river. It’s a special place for bears too, because the wide, shallow flats make it an easy swim across (for a bear). We loved sitting there of an evening to watch the sky and listen to the river. Often a beaver would come out to potter around the creek confluence. Just being there, one feels closely held at the great river’s heart; and at the same time stretched to the utmost distance, part of the whole sweep of the valley from west to east, as far as the eye can see.

Giving Back to the River

After the Feast, a number of us gathered at Bear Flats to participate in a ceremony called the Global Earth Exchange which is about giving gifts of beauty to a wounded place. When Tom and I arrived, Bess, the market gardener, was already there with her husband and their 3-year-old daughter. The little girl was being very solemn about picking just the right flowers to give to the river. I noticed the mother’s gaze as she followed the child’s movements. It was as if her face, her eyes, the lines of her hips and bosom all folded into a big body-smile for the little girl. Somebody brought a basketful of wooden toy boats left over from a boat race (a community fundraiser) for us to decorate and offer to the river. People fanned out to collect rocks and driftwood, and pick wildflowers and beautiful wild grasses with waving tassels.

We stood in a circle at the riverbank. I felt shy. I didn’t know any of the others, except Tom, and it didn’t feel like a cohesive group. I was supposed to say a few words to get us started but I doubted my ability to inspire and guide people to a place of depth and meaning, the way the Indigenous elder had done the year before. As if “I” or anyone could “make it happen”! But as more people joined the circle with beautiful and unusual bouquets and artwork, I let go. I had expected to feel grief and sadness but I didn’t. I felt joyful and happy to be in the presence of the river again. The sheer mass and power of the flowing water echoed through my whole body. I felt awe. No human force could stop this river’s forward movement – in 200 years’ time all three dams would be gone and the Peace would still flow on. A constriction in my chest eased and I felt comforted. When I looked around the circle, I saw joy and gratitude mirrored on many faces around me.

A couple of people wadded a few steps into the water, tentatively, as the bottom was slick clay and it would be easy to slip. The little girl released her boat, but it kept swirling around in the shallows instead of floating off with the current. An older guy challenged the little girl’s dad to jump in the water. Whooping and hollering, they both did, and swam out to release all the boats into the main current. We looked on as the flower-decked flotilla floated quietly downriver.

That Special Light

A thick bank of clouds had been building upstream from us. Sifted sunlight streamed down onto the water in a “cathedral window” effect. Lightning flashed and thunder rumbled, again and again. We were getting ready to disband when 20 more people showed up. We formed a bigger circle and were just doing the introductions when the skies opened: such a downpour! We ran to the cars, laughing.

Later that evening, sitting outside our cabin on a promontory on Ken and Arlene’s property, Tom and I gazed at the river aglow in the last rays of sunlight, the whole vast landscape subtly illuminated in that special light of a northern evening. Peace enveloped me, and I sat for a long time with gratitude to and for the river’s great presence and power.

29th of December, 2019

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The Dance of Life Expands (3)

….. I return to my body and my breath moving in and out, expanding and receding like the waves on the shore of the ocean.

Addie offers me a new invitation: “Be open to the possibility that the breath is breathed in through the skin wherever you can feel that…”

And I discover that wherever I go to in my body as the air meets my skin, there is the breath, there is life. I notice it particularly in my arms and legs, and I feel that I am breathing in the environment around me, taking in everything, including space and the silence.

And as I do this, a new awareness comes for me. How have I always done this–this breathing in the environment around me? Memories come of both my breathing in of places, like concrete shopping arcades, which feel so much lacking in aliveness, whereas in my garden, aliveness is all around me, and I soak it up.

I sit with all of this breathing in through my skin, and I notice a “blocked place” in me that had been with me earlier, and I realise that this is something that I took in from the environment through my embodied breathing. It has to do with my contact with a particular person.

As I sit with all of this, sensing into it, a previously felt sense comes which I dubbed “icy wellies” as it feels like my lower legs and feet are literally clad in “wellington boots made of ice” comes…but this time it feels subtly but importantly different.

And then came an extraordinary discovery for me.

As I revisit all this now and watch the video that I am sharing with you, a fresh awareness comes that this dance of breath, felt within me and without, sandwiching this felt sense of surviving in me that is akin to a tango.

I am a great fan of what we in the UK call “Strictly come dancing,” in the USA it is “Dancing with the Stars,” and the tango has variants and is very much about a relating and responding between the two dancers. This relational experience is just what I discovered in me: I may not be a great physical dancer, but I have found that I can dance the Surviving Tango!

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My Heart is Here

My heart is here: arm finding itself reconnecting to the body

In conversation with Diana, unedited excerpts
—–

10 October 2019
Hi Diana

Just wanted to share what’s quite alive. I did a WBF session with A. after a late summer pause a few days ago. I thought it would be outside but my body just didn’t want to go when the time came and I respected that.

As we started up it was like a furnace firing up, spluttering before it got going. I got an extraordinary pain in my left arm in the bone/nerves as well as numbness and restricted movement. I was also resistant as this type of pain was a shock. I stuck in there and over the session the arm realized that it could connect to the body.

Memories came from my teenage years when I broke my collar bone on that left side. It was like the arm was reliving this on its own. And memories of my feelings in connection/part of/welcome in the human family (in family, amongst others, at school) as I struggled with this feeling ( I didn’t get it at home and somehow took it on that it wasn’t really available for me to belong or be welcome as me in LIFE).

What held me as well as my body was my longing for the energies of social interaction, the hustle and bustle of love & joy in daily life. This aliveness I’d felt when younger looking at other families, as if I was standing at their house windows looking in, alone, unloved on the street.

There seemed to be a knowing or resonance with the arm remembering its shock and these deeper and in fact simpler or more core emotional places of my teenage years. As the process continued I began to see from images of me at school that I did also belong to a living out of life, that I was part of a living web, maybe home didn’t work so well for me and created stoppages and imbalances but I was unarguably also held in a good web where I moved around.

The images also seemed to hint at how later when I left home why I might have come crashing down. It felt like the first time of touching into the sense of that collapse even while the main subject was the joy of everyday acceptance by my school & teachers & feeling a relief or love for my overall life while at school, even if there was this shock of an accident and the emotional shock or unresolved/blocked feelings at home.

I’m gobsmacked how the arm and body held and brought this. And I can’t help note that I just started to take some muscle relaxants after the doctor discovered an old injury in my neck. It feels connected, as if the arm jumped out into the space these may have created.

I wanted to share this with you, and I’m also conscious that it gives me a chance to put something in writing. I am trying to do this for the blog and finding that I don’t know how to connect afterward with my WBF experiences or indeed even share. Writing to you now I found I can connect the experience and the words, as if trusting or believing you can hear me, I can then speak.

Would love to arrange a time to connect again. I am taking the relaxants for a few more days 😊

10 October 2019
Hi barebody&soul,

I love that you are writing about what happened to you and how it connected you to some earlier trauma.  Writing is one of the ways that we can connect with our bodies. When I write a blog, it is from grounded presence and I let me fingers type out what my body wants to say without any editing.  This is the affirmation of the experience like what you just wrote.  Later I can go back and organize my experience in a way that would help others to understand the moment—like adding backstory for example.  If you would like help with that process let me know.

10 December 2019
Hi Diana

I would love to contribute to the blog and I remembered what I’d shared with you about the arm reconnecting with the body (10 Oct email above). I just arrived back from a trip to England and saw your email and found this correspondence now. When I read it I was taken aback – these are the same underlying relational senses I have in connection with “Me in England” I just described to my wife rippling through my being in connection with my trip and the deeper reorganization taking place inside!!

I’m happy to share it close to its current form but maybe it needs something more? As I can be perfectionist I realised I will take forever left to my own devices/probably not do it, for no good reason, so I welcome any suggestions. I could even write about this sharing with you and my trip to England now as part of the experiential web bringing me to share it to others via the blog. I like this idea of stories from the body shared in conversation and resonating later in stories and trips. It comes close to home. That home that is here and we wander from in search of. This moves me deeply. It is our shared story.

A title that just came was something like: Me, England. My heart is here: arm finding itself reconnecting to the body. These words seem to capture the ALL of that, which now feels like a this.

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