Your experience Kevin resonated profoundly in me. When you listened deeply, in searching for a sense of self, an uninvited Trappist monk connected with you – and you came alive. As if listening deeply for life could be as a calling to the universe and something from beyond answered you. Could this be possible?
In the beginning of the nineties I was on a similar journey, in my longing to become alive and be myself. My travel led me to an Orthodox Monastery, named New Valamo, in Finland. During the winter war 1939, some 190 monks fled from Valamo Monastery in Russia. They founded a refuge and a new home in a mansion in the east of Finland. To have somewhere to live they had to rebuild the old barn into monk’s cells. The monks lived and prayed in the barn for years. It was possible for me, as a visitor, to stay in one of the old monk´s cells in the barn. And of course, it was an offer I could not refuse.
The whole night I had deep dreams which felt as some sort of inner rebuilding of my whole life. For the next few days, I walked around the monastery without any thoughts, feelings or words. But with tears constantly pouring down, gently melting, cleansing and making me soft and receiving. I was filled with awe that made me feel fresh and alive.
How is a sense of deep hunger helped by Wholebody Focusing ? A few years ago, I was experiencing chronic anxiety due to a stressful situation at work. My body was deeply affected. My blood pressure, heart rate, and diabetes markers were all higher than usual. I relied on my focusing practice to help me. In a Wholebody focusing session, a wordless felt sense of anxiety transformed into a sensation of me experiencing my birth. As I exited the birth canal, I felt free from the stress that I had been experiencing. A new understanding emerged about how my body experienced anxiety.
My History with Hunger
I was my mother’s second child. Her first pregnancy with my older brother was traumatic, and she came close to dying. A few months before my brother was born, my mother’s friend, Mrs. C, a parishioner at our Catholic church, was pregnant with twins. C-Sections were out of favor during more than half of the twentieth century because the medical outcomes were unacceptable due to inadequate surgical procedures and lack of antibiotics.
As a result, there was a heightened possibility that a crisis might happen in the delivery room. The mother or the fetus might be in danger of dying. Because the Catholic Church saw the mother and fetus as two human entities, Catholic hospitals had a policy that prioritized saving the fetus’s life in circumstances in which the doctors could save either the mother or fetus. Mrs.C died in childbirth along with one of her twins. The other twin, a baby girl, was born with severe cerebral palsy. She could not walk, talk, or feed herself.
My mother, having witnessed how this policy impacted her friend’s life and family, felt great anxiety about her fate. Then she also had her crisis in the delivery room. My brother was a large baby in the breech position. The doctor told my mother that she might not survive the birth. Fortunately, both survived; however, my mother was deeply traumatized by the experience. My brother also suffered from this experience. His trauma showed up as severe learning disabilities and emotional difficulties.
Three years later, my mother became pregnant with me. She decided to lose weight during her pregnancy so that the birth would be less complicated. Throughout her pregnancy, the danger she experienced with her first birth and the memory of her friend’s death caused her great anxiety. As a result, my mother starved herself and me during her pregnancy as a strategy to circumvent a possibly fatal outcome.
At the end of a full-term pregnancy, I was born weighing only five pounds. It took me four years to achieve an average weight Moreover, I have had a lifelong struggle with anxiety and panic disorder.
Wholebody Focusing and Anxiety
I always had a felt sense that the level of anxiety I experienced was not all mine– that it was stronger than my constitution created on its own. From this early morning WBF session, I became aware that her anxiety bathed me in my mother’s high cortisol levels for nine months. I carried my mother’s experience of body tension in my body along with my tendency to be anxious. Since that session, my level of chronic anxiety has dramatically subsided. My anxiety connection with my mother had ended. My fear is at a much lower level.
Now, I can be with whatever anxiety emerges in grounded presence. Being grounded gives my body space to carry itself forward in its own way and at its own pace. Under these circumstances, the anxiety sometimes transforms into something else. Before, my stress level was often too overwhelming to be with it in grounded presence. Wholebody focusing helped me experience the release of my mother’s panic from my body and allowed me to understand how it had impacted her and me.
A new awareness about my birth experience happened years later when I attended a week-long workshop at a Catholic retreat center. I often felt hungry because the portions and total amount of food served were inadequate. This experience triggered a bodily sense of hunger, agitation, and anger.
The Intelligence of our Bodies
It wasn’t until early morning on the last day of the conference, during a focusing session, that I sensed what was triggering me. This session started with a felt sense of guilt for my surliness toward the staff in response to the lack of food. An image came to me of working as a young girl in the convent, stirring a pot of soup. I was feeling hunger in the pit of my stomach. I did chores after school in the convent. None of the Sisters ever offered a snack. Finally, one day, I was so hungry that I found the courage to ask for a snack. The sister told me she was not allowed to give students a snack.
It occurred to me in that focusing session that my anger at the staff was due to hunger, a deep historical hunger linked to Catholicism. First, my mother starved us when I was in the womb because of her fear for her life while giving birth in a Catholic hospital. Then there was a longing for food while I worked for almost a year in the convent. Then, 50 years later, I returned to a Catholic environment for the first time in many decades and experienced hunger again. This experience allowed me to be with this deep hunger hidden in my body.
Social conditions, pre-birth experiences, laws or rules that influence medical or educational practices, and other people’s personal decisions can cause trauma. Yet, unfortunately, we sometimes live our whole lives never learning these stories.
Freeing Ourselves from “Not Knowing”
Wholebody focusing gives practitioners a path to be with those hidden parts. One gives their body permission to be with what is there and to move in any way it needs. One’s awareness of something outside yourself and neutrality toward what comes are the only requirements. Often, internal or external movements emerge, and they carry forward without words or images.
The practitioner stays with the movement until a shift happens. In the process, a felt sense, a phrase, or a picture might emerge that gives more information. Other times an agitated movement, for example, might shift to a comforting one without any additional information. When I experienced my birth, I observed the felt sense of my rapid heartbeat during a panic attack. Suddenly, I felt myself moving through the birth canal. I remember what it felt like on my arms and the release of anxiety when I exited the birth canal.
Wholebody focusing trains the practitioner to rely on body wisdom for its information. Body wisdom does not need the right word or image to carry forward. Deeply hidden truths may not have words. Their foundation may not be related to your particular life story. Those places where the unknown parts live also have the ability, with our attention, to tap into the abundant benevolent energy that surrounds us as a support to carry forward our healing. Whenever we rely on only words and images from our narratives, There is a possibility that we may miss the vast resources and stories the universe offers to help our recovery. Wholebody focusing gives us this kind of range of opportunity.
One night, I read something* about a prisoner during the holocaust who was in line with a group of men waiting to be taken to their death. In the midst of this horror, one of the men jumped out of line, offering to read the palms of other prisoners, exuberantly telling them of their future wives, their future children, of what seemed to be their extinguished possibilities. More and more of the prisoners asked to have their palms read. The mood changed, for both prisoners and guards—and against all odds, the unexpected happened: the guards loaded the prisoners back on the truck and drove away with them, taking them back to their barracks.
I wondered about what enabled that solitary palm-reader to act. The next morning as I awoke, a sentence came to me, and then more:
Please Let me also look at their palms and see their infinite possibilities!
And seeing them,
they glimpse themselves
As they really are!
Let us not be hypnotized
by modern day brutes
Let us look past all their dark thoughts
Let us turn again and again
beyond those dark clouds
to what is beyond their sight
Let us see our true pure being
and all our possibilities for Joy
Pull back our curtain of fear and disconnection
Open our ears to the truth of our being
Open our eyes to That Light
Not what they see
they do not define me!
A Zoom Gathering for Women Focusers
November 15, 2020, 10:00 – 12:00 MT
You are warmly invited to a Focusing gathering just for women. This will be a single event for now − an experiment really – to see what happens when we take time to focus together as women and allow space for whatever wants to emerge during this time of things falling apart and new paradigms wanting to emerge.
10:00 – 10:45 Intro, Attunement & Check-in
10:45 – 11:30 Focusing Partnerships
11:30 – 12:00 Sharing as a Group
Recently I reflected on the fact that many of the traumas I’ve experienced have had to do with being a woman. I also noticed a cloud of silence around them. When I focused on these events, I realized there was generally a larger situation or narrative around the event and someone or something I felt I should protect − whether a child, a parent or a partner – over valuing my own needs or expecting them to be looked after. Speaking about my own harm always seemed less important than taking care of others.
So the theme that came to me as a possible starting point was “Things We Don’t Talk About.” A phrase that may might feel more fitting to you is “Fulfilling the Needs of Others.” These are just ideas to spark something we share as women or something you would like to explore in a focusing way with other women.
If you’d like to participate on Nov. 15 (or have questions) just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will confirm as soon as the gathering is a “go.”
To read or leave a comment please click on the word Comments next to or under the photo on the left-hand-side of this page.
I look out of the huge windows that open to the sea in the retreat center at Punta de Tralca, Chile. It is the morning. The sea is quiet. The sky is looming pale and it is hard to see where the sea ends, where the sky begins. Yesterday red warning flags waved on the beach. Wild, foam-headed waves wandered loudly to the beach. The water was cloudy brown from the sand.
On the fourth morning of the Focusing Weeklong, during the bio-energetic movement group class, I move according to the sounds of nature in me. I become nature itself. It is not easy, because I am used to the fact that all the sound, which arises from me, should be wise, reasonable or right. I am now the wind, I am swinging in the breeze. I am a seagull skipping on the beach.
Then we settle in a circle. Everyone who wants can step into the middle, move and make the sounds their body wants to express. I step into the middle without making any sound. I look everyone in their eyes swinging my body from side to side. At some point, I feel timid. Is it acceptable to be silent, if we were asked to make sounds?
Is it acceptable to be silent if using our voice is what was asked? This question lives in me until the end. Only at the very end, a new thought sneaks into my mind: silence is a voice.
During the Weeklong I sometimes get tired of speaking English. I don’t understand Spanish at all, or just a word now and then. In the cafeteria, I start to think about speaking Finnish without waiting for anyone to understand me. In this way, nobody would be confused nor would they find it distracting or worry about the meaning, because that wouldn’t be my point. It would just be…my voice. With this thought in my mind, I try to listen to Spanish with the idea of listening to the “voice of another,” another person with a voice and language different from mine.
“There is a deeper process inside of you that wants to be seen…and heard…and appreciated by you.”
It’s a Big Deal
Intro by E. Morana
It’s a Big Deal is a segment on the power of being noticed that brings us to the completion of the series, Participatory Spirituality.
In his own words: “It’s a big deal…to notice…to be noticed…to be informed…and to receive and to go with…”
The video below is a shortened version of a webinar which Kevin offered on Zoom to a group of WholeBody focusers in July 2021. In it, Kevin begins by speaking to us of his own experience of what it’s like—for him—to be in a community. When asked to lead a webinar on the value of community, he knew he didn’t want to do it. His past experience had left him with generally negative expectations regarding community. He noticed that. Then he decided to do the webinar and to see what was there.
He opens with the statement: “Here I am…so what’s going on in me? Notice me being present to myself.”
After articulating his own discovery, he invites his audience—and now, that’s each of us here on the blog—to turn inwardly and to wait for our own Body Sense to form about being here—in this situation. His words: “There’s a deeper process inside of you that wants to be seen…and heard…and appreciated by you.”
The Big Deal
Kevin has set out to show us something almost miraculous: that when we begin to pay attention to whatever-that-is-in-us, it begins to awaken to itself and it begins to transform. On its own! And it needs us to pay attention to it. It couldn’t have awakened—and couldn’t have begun this new period of growth—without our attention.
That’s what we’ve really come here to learn. Not thoughts-about community, but our direct-experience-here-and-now of me-in-this-community. Instead, we’ve come to practice listening to how it is for me, here, now. Things begin to unfold that could not have happened without it. Surprising things. Good things.
Photo Credit: Jack Arts campaign for the V&A, Tim Walker: Wonderful Things
“How does your body want to be supported?” Addie asked me at the start of this training session. As I felt into my body what came was “the space around me: my space”. I looked around the room. I became aware that my space, as in the room in which I was sitting, activated two very different feelings in me.
The first one was of a snuggly-cashmere comfort. A settling into the safe ground of being in my room, like being wrapped in a soft blanket. My breath just flowing gently. A deep sense of spaciousness filled my body and an invitational quality of “just allowing” came.
Then a jangled jarring feeling took hold. Another part of me butted in – it just saw a room full of heaps. A room needing tidying NOW. Seeing the heaps brought a twisting in my gut that was stopping my breath. With this came highly judgemental thoughts: “it should be xxx”, “What will people think?” Queasy seasickness of unease colonized my gut.
Holding Both Brings an Unexpected Body Memory
Holding both experiences was only possible through a yo-yoing between the two parts. A new awareness came: the heaps reminded me of my mother. Her house was full of heaps.
I was with a place of historic and “as-yet unresolved/unhealed” pain to do with my relationship with my (now dead) mother. Tightening came in my body as if it was trying to “hold me together”. This was accompanied by the queasy ungroundedness as my body was hijacked by these old experiences; being on the receiving end of my mother’s toxic contempt.
My breathing stopped; the impact of contempt was as a body blow. A being doubled-over by a thump in the solar plexus coming out of the blue. The air literally being knocked out of me. The life source in me being stopped. “I am stopped” was the core experience here. My left hand moved spontaneously to the solar plexus area and just tenderly held it. A tactile “I am here with you”.
The sense of nausea intensified and with it a memory of something I had read by Sarah Peyton*. She invites those of us who struggle with nausea to celebrate it. To recognise it as a return of my body’s ability to feel safe enough to acknowledge a sense of violation! Nausea is a signature aspect of the body feeling of disgust. (Along with a wanting to pull away from and escape what is toxic to us.)
Can I Really “Celebrate” Disgust?
Naming the nausea as disgust brought an awareness of a tightness. A pulling back within all of me, a contraction against the environment. Then came a restlessness that had become increasingly familiar to me over recent months. A sense of urgency in my body that something needs “doing”.
I allowed myself to open to the “something needs doing” energy; and my arm spontaneously moved forward in a deliberate sweep down. A demarcation of space in front of me. With it came words: “a boundary needs to be set”.
An “aha” came. Of course, my body felt this way: this is a historic felt memory from my past. I now have the safety and resources to feel this memory. The function of healthy disgust is to offer us protection from what is toxic to us. Poisonous not only in a food-gustatory sense but also in a relational ingesting way. Implicit in the experiencing of disgust is the needing to do something – to withdraw and to remove oneself from the toxicity!
I continued to sit with the nausea, the tightness, and the restlessness, supported by Addie. I noticed, at an emotional level, there is a seemingly never-ending internal negative judging commentary going on. An awareness arises that “I breed within me a vicious perfectionism”. I then recognised that, at a body level, I experienced this experience as one of feeling very physically unwell.
As I described this to Addie my right hand moved in a sort of horizontal circling motion. He invited me to connect to my hand and it’s moving. Addie reflected my body experience, reminding me of my other hand that was still holding the solar plexus. He then asked whether there is a part of my body not caught up in all of this. And maybe it might be able to offer support to me here in holding all this?
Transformation through Wholebody Connection
This changed me: like sudden seeing a light ahead, having been lost in a dark cave, I became aware of the possibility of support around me and in me. I saw again the heaps in my room. But they looked completely different. They were my heaps. The separate heap items reminded me of the love, kindness, and fun I now have in my life.
Something in me opened my arms to “embrace” all of my room. Addie summarised: “This all gives you a sense of you, and space that is larger than disgust and contempt” Embodying this larger spaciousness, I discovered, dilutes the disgust body experience. A “morphing” came – an expanding into a much larger holding space within me. This was warm, relaxed, it’s had a wide-angle lens quality to it. I felt at ease and joyous even. A sense of allowing came, an opening to new possibilities.
Addie invited me to sense into this newly discovered body experiencing of allowing, of open spaciousness. What came was the opposite of vicious perfectionism. Looking around my room again my eyes alighted on a postcard. I had it bought at the V&A museum’s “Wonderful Things exhibition. It was a photographic display by Tim Walker.
The postcard is of young men in amazing dresses dancing in a field of delphiniums. It is whacky, vibrant, and full of fun aliveness. My whole body filled with lightness. A sensation of the little bubbles in a glass of prosecco went sparkling through me.
Joy permeated all of me bringing a sense of infinite spaciousness within and without. My face could not stop smiling as I opened to all this. A word came: “delight”! Delight – the opposite of disgust I realised. I just revelled in being infused with delight, joy, and love.
Addie asked how the disgust was sitting in me now. Has it shrunk? Immediately I knew from my embodied feeling that the disgust-feeling had not shrunk per se. Rather it was I that had grown. There was more of me to hold the disgust. To dilute it.
I had expanded, become larger. Then I noticed that the restlessness had gone. It had found what it needed for me: love, joy, and delight. Vibrant dancing with delphiniums aliveness!
*Sarah Peyton is an author, neuroscience educator and certified trainer of Nonviolent Communication