Music moves me….and probably you, too.

2013-06-02 14.03.11Music has power in our bodies, to the degree to which we permit it.

This is obvious but so much a part of everyday life that I suspect we ignore it.  We certainly don’t use it to our best advantage.  In fact, it may be used to influence our behaviour without our awareness.   Have you ever noticed the background music in restaurants or grocery stores?  You might wonder, actually, why on earth anyone bothers to have music in the grocery store.  But it is for a very clear reason:  people’s behavioural tempos are affected by the music in the background, even, or maybe especially, when you are not fully aware of what you are hearing.

I play music in my waiting room, and it is a particular, carefully chosen type of music.   I choose relaxing, non-challenging music for that space.  I don’t want music that is too hard to listen to, so I don’t include jazz or (much) classical music, because most people don’t feel comfortable with that music. And because the trajectory lines in that music are long…that is, in order to feel the whole pattern, you have to listen for several minutes, and that’s not always available in the waiting room.  Even with that, I don’t put Top 40 pop on my playlist because going to the therapist is NOT like going to the mall.  It is not a casual, no-big-deal sort of experience.   I look for fairly attractive, innocuous, relaxing music without obvious repetitive patterns.  In other words, New Age music which is often actually marketed for relaxation or to accompany massage, Reiki, or other calming modalities.

All of this actually is peripheral to my point, which I promise to get to…..we are affected, sometimes quite deeply, by the music and sounds around us, but we are often not mindful of these effects.  When you tune in to what you are hearing, you become part of the moment, part of what is going on.   You get to experience your own experience!   In a very clear way, you see yourself responding to the music, which otherwise you might consider background.  But background becomes foreground when we take a moment, breathe, listen, and feel.

This question of how music affects you can be an entire area for self-inquiry.   What kinds of music do you find energizing?   Enlivening? Relaxing and soothing?  What challenges you to pay attention?  What do you notice about yourself when you are challenged that way?    And of course, music will tap into memory systems.  So you might notice that songs from your youth generate some feelings that are like you might have felt years ago.   How can you put those bits together?

As you begin this practice, you may begin also to understand how you might have been triggered into a different mood state in the past.   Perhaps you came home from the store feeling really wonderful, bright, cheerful, alive….maybe you heard a song on the “background music” that reminded you of a wonderful memory.   Or perhaps you suddenly develop a dark, somber mood….what have you just been hearing?

JS Bach, thanks to: (http://www.8notes.com250px-JSBach.jpg)

If music can affect our mood without our awareness, can we harness that power to influence our moods purposefully?  I know that Bach has gotten me through some very difficult times.  When everything else in my life seems like it is falling apart, I can put on the some of the piano works and feel a shift.  Even though listening to Bach won’t fix my life, it can remind me that some things maintain their integrity and will stay stable even if I feel like I am coming unglued.   I also know that I have run some pretty long distances listening to even cheesy music like Tom Petty singing “I Won’t Back Down.”  Having a sound track for parts of your life can shift mood, support memory, and remind you that your life is bigger than the story you tell yourself. Check it out: notice music in your everyday world and see what it is doing to your inner space.  Then see how you can use that information consciously.

Knowing by slowing…

Body psychotherapy isn’t as odd-sounding as it once was.  People are beginning to understand that the mind and body are not really separate, that there are tissues in the gut, for example, that are much like brain tissue, that emotions are experienced at the body level, and that even those classic “psychological” problems of depression and anxiety are body experiences.   The mind of course is part of them;  the kinds of distorted thinking that we engage in when we are experiencing depression or anxiety can most certainly make things a lot worse.   But I am not sure that the chicken-egg question matters here….I personally don’t care if how you feel affects how you think, or if your thoughts are affecting your emotions.  The point is that things are pretty bad, one way or another, and how can you live more comfortably?


So it is obvious, I guess, that developing awareness of what you are thinking can make a difference.  You can even change your habits of mind.  You can also change your habits of body, and your habitual ways of responding to situations, and those kinds of changes can be most helpful in trying to cope with symptoms of depression or anxiety.

Self awareness is the key to any kind of change.  You can’t change if you don’t know what you are currently doing.    And the key to self awareness is, for many of us, slowing down.  Slowing our everyday experiences so that there is time for self-reflection, slowing our thinking, so that we can become aware of thoughts as they arise and fade away, slowing our behaviour so that we can become responsive rather than in the perpetual knee-jerk of reaction.

What happens when you slow down?   Just take a moment to notice what happens….without judgment, without struggle, with compassion.   For many of us, slowing down generates negative thoughts (“this is unproductive,”  “I”ll never accomplish anything,”  “Does she think I’m not a busy person?  I don’t have time for this nonsense.”).   For some people, the open space of unstructured time feels uncomfortable, as if you should DO something.   For some, a bit of quiet allows us to feel our exhaustion, the fatigue that comes with forever and forever keeping up a front, being frantically productive and chronically stressed.

But without judgment and with compassion, what is it like for you to take time and space to just be?  What do you notice about yourself?   Who are you, really, when you separate yourself from the story inside your head?

Wherever you are is the place to work.  Notice sensation in the body.  Notice what you notice in your environment;  what are you sensitive to in this moment?  In the next moment?   Notice thoughts as they arise and fade out.   Notice which ones tug hardest on your attention.  Notice more sensations in the body;  try moving, and notice what that is like.   Can you feel the desire to move, the intention to move, before you manifest that intention into action?  Where in your body are you aware of that intention?   How do you KNOW, in your body, that you want to move?

Composting egg shells



My life seems to be made up of little realizations.  That is, I keep finding myself suddenly seeing relationships and reasons for things that I either 1) never questioned or 2) had already relegated to the “clearly understood” pile.   So now I am left wondering if I am the only person who sees things in terms of my beliefs about that rather than what they ARE.   In this case, the belief is that eggshells are what holds eggs together.  T’aint so!  T’aint so, I tell ya.


So the story is this:  on the weekend, I had occasion to move my black plastic compost bin.  This was to make way for another backyard project, but I have to say that I wasn’t too excited about my task.   The bin has been the daily recipient of food waste from our kitchen.   That is, spoiled vegetables and limp fruit, the peels and ends of food that was on the menu, the left-over bits and pieces of kitchen, um, stuff.  Garbage, in some people’s language.   I snicker daily about putting food out on the raccoon buffet, because I know that my bin is visited nightly by assorted scavengers, and I am resigned and now somewhat amused by that fact.   I also knew that under this week’s and last week’s layers of kitchen waste, there was likely some pretty rich compost in this bin.  But to get to the compost and move the bin, I had to shovel through the recent additions.  In short, the rotting garbage.


Like most tasks I expect to be onerous, I tried to take a mindful approach;   noticing what was present, noticing my thoughts and how my thoughts tended to influence my ability to appreciate or tolerate the task, and trying to just be with the compost, the day, and the feeling of shoveling stuff into the wheel barrow and moving it.   So it turned out to be an okay job:  in fact, I had a sense that maybe I should be more aware of the waste that I generate anyway.    And the finished compost was a thing of beauty, at least to the gardener in me.   Gorgeous, dark, friable, filled with life, actually, much of which I couldn’t see, but some of which was visible and moving in my gloves…I ended up putting a lot of the lovely black stuff in the garden.

However, I noticed that even the finished compost was full of eggshells.    Okay, I’ll admit that I eat a lot of eggs.    Not just a lot, a lot by probably anyone’s standards…more than a dozen in a week, and that’s just me, not the rest of the family.   But I figured all those shells were breaking down in the compost bin, enriching the soil with calcium and whatever cool stuff they are made of.  Not so!   Those eggshells were just as intact in the bottom of the compost bin as the ones in the top.   So…eggshells don’t break down easily in compost.


I have been pondering this now for several days.   I want the good minerals from the eggshells in my compost.  What to do?   Crush the shells, to make things maybe work a little faster?   That won’t hurt, but I don’t know if it will help.   So I have started saving them to crush them before heading to the bin.   I have discovered that crushing eggshells isn’t as easy as it sounds.  The shell itself is just a casing for the real container for the egg itself.  The membrane of the egg is tough, flexible, and resilient.  It is living tissue, while the egg is alive, though the shell is not.   Egg shells, when the membrane is removed, are quite fragile and do crush easily.   The real protection for this egg cell, this part of a bird that can become another bird (given proper circumstances), comes from that membrane.

I have spent part of my day trying, unsuccessfully, to remove the membrane from the inside of my breakfast eggshells.    I am gobsmacked, once again, by my blindness.  I have always assumed that eggs were protected by their shells, and the hard, solid quality of that shell was what kept them safe, or relatively safe, except from predators like me.   But it seems that the hard, rigid, unyielding shell is a cover for the real protection, that membrane that flexes, bends, is resistant to tearing or breaking, and which is practically invisible.   I have been hoodwinked by eggs all this time.

Stories need a point; this one has both a metaphor and a moral.  The metaphor for me is the eggshell, representing our defenses in the world.   We can rigidify ourselves (many of us do this regularly), become firm and unyielding in our beliefs, our behaviours, our “shoulds.”     The more rigidly and tightly we hold ourselves, the more vulnerable we become to cracking and breaking.  What really and truly keeps us intact is something invisible, something that flows just beneath our tough outer shell, the sense of ourselves as organism, resilient and flexible.

thanks to a lovely blog about writers, writing, and social media
thanks to a lovely blog about writers, writing, and social media

So that’s the metaphor.  I like it.  It will make me think about breakfast in a different way.  The moral?   Well, that’s probably up to you.  Maybe it has something to do with finding out cool stuff even when you are shoveling garbage.  Or about garbage being in the eye of the beholder.  Or about how garbage can be transformed into insight if you look deeply.  Or something profound like that.

I’m going to continue to think about my layers;  my apparently tough but breakable outer shell, and my flexible resilient inner membrane.   I feel safer about letting go of the shell when I think of my other protection.

Bioenergetics weekend in Massachusetts, November 2013

The time has come, the walrus said….or no, the flyer actually said, the time is NOW to get the Early Bird Discount on the fall weekend program that NANZIBA is sponsoring.


Keynote speakers are Diana Guest and Gloria Robbins.  Both of these women have vast experience as bioenergetic therapists and I am looking forward to soaking in their wisdom.

The registration information can be found here:

It looks like a good opportunity for bioenergetic clients, for therapists who want to explore a body-based modality, and of course for bioenergetic therapists to explore the experience of bringing hope into the body.

Don’t forget to sign up NOW to get the best rates.

The ethics of “crisis-management” therapy

What kind of support do you need on your path?
What kind of support do you need on your path?

I was thinking about practicing psychotherapy.   Okay, I think about that a lot, and discuss it with my colleagues, and read about it and of course I also spend a bit of time actually practicing.  I recently heard Randy Patterson talking about processes in therapy, and one of his thought-provoking questions was about therapy drop-out.  What proportion of clients leave therapy before attaining their goals?

Apparently most practitioners will estimate about 20-25% but they will be wrong.  The actual, documented typical drop out rate is more like 75-80%.  So that includes the people who come once and don’t like you or the process, and also the people who work hard in therapy, start to feel better, but leave before actually accomplishing their goals.

I was just like the rest of the herd: roughly estimated that about 20 percent of people who come to therapy drop out.  Upon reflection, I can see that the drop-out rate is a lot higher.   Many people in therapy accomplish a lot even though they may not meet their goals, such as to no longer be depressed, or to get through a difficult situation.    So even without meeting a goal, it isn’t therapy wasted.   In fact, even for people who only come once or twice,  the time, money, and energy are likely not  wasted.  When the client leaves, it may be that  the process wasn’t meeting some need at that particular time, or that competing needs pushed therapy out.  And in reality, the client’s goals might never actually be discussed, or defined.   So the entire process, therapy, outcomes, termination, all of that might be very murky for both client and therapist.

But all that talk is  just prelude to my title thought.   People do leave therapy in various ways;   leave angry, leave silently, leave with congratulations and great hurrahs for accomplishments    They also return, and they return in various ways.   If they leave in a way that feels okay to them, it makes it easier to return.   And the other circumstance that makes a return to therapy easier is extreme distress.

It is not uncommon for clients to come to therapy in distress, get some relief, and, just as the therapist thinks it is time to really begin the actual THERAPY, the client leaves.  Well, she got what she came for, which was relief.   The problem is that if the underlying behaviour or thought pattern hasn’t changed, or maybe even hasn’t come into her awareness, she’ll likely be in a very similar distress again.   So she returns to therapy and has a few sessions;  feels quite a lot better, either due to the intervention, or to a change in external circumstances, or to that old placebo, time.   So she leaves again…..only to return another time.  Lasting change hasn’t happened;   there has been, perhaps, a series of band-aids, or (better image) a step-wise movement that may be more lateral than progressive.

Is it okay to keep using band-aids when therapy might actually generate some real change ?   Who makes that call?   What does the ethical therapist do with this?

Day breaks, the crisis abates...
Day breaks, the crisis abates…

I don’t have an answer.  Part of me thinks that it is disingenuous to just keep on with supportive counseling when I believe that a deeper, more focused type of work will be helpful in the long term.  But another part of me acknowledges that  for many people, symptom relief is a good thing and is sufficient.  So whose goals are important here?  It doesn’t make sense that my goals for your therapy should supersede YOUR goals for your therapy.  But you also have less experience with therapy than I do, and you might not know what is possible.

Reflection tells me that I probably have to be honest with clients and tell them how I see it….that there is hope beyond just immediate relief from distress…but that the immediate gratification may not be there.   Longer term therapies, like bioenergetic analysis which helps to restructure personality, or trauma treatments which heals through restructuring of distorted memories, can have outcomes that make a huge difference to the person.  The path to those outcomes isn’t a smooth one, though, and often the courage it requires to take that path is hard to come by.  So I can understand why someone might decide to use counseling as a symptom relief measure.

So ….. whose agenda, whose goals?  Is feeling better a good enough goal for therapy?   or do we have a better chance of getting change when we set goals that are more clearly defined??

These are some of the things I ponder.  If I don’t find an answer, I usually look for chocolate.   Which, in its way, performs the same soothing and comforting role as supportive counseling.  Chocolate for everyone!   Then back to pondering the deep thoughts.

Weather report


I am soaking in early summer;  wallowing in it, actually.   Yesterday evening, we had the most amazing thunderstorm!   Sheets of rain pelting sideways against the house meant that we could open a window at the back and look out, feeling like being on the prow of a great ship, plunging through wild, windy seas.  I felt full of gratitude for another summer, for summer storms in general, and I could feel in my chest the expansion of being really alive.   There was something, perhaps, about the energy of the storm and my relative safety within that power, that helped me to find that place of openness.  And with the opening came gratitude.

Early summer it is easy for me to find gratitude.   The long, long days support me.  The warmer temperatures soften my resistance to what is.   When I LIKE what is, I can find gratitude.  It is harder for me to locate that body state when winter reigns, or, more accurately, when we are in those interminable “between” seasons that we have here….late fall and late winter, or early winter and early spring….all of those seem to flow together with endless days of darkness, gloom, cold and ice, rain, freezing rain….I can feel my body tightening and closing up even as I write that.

So as a body psychotherapist, I have to ask myself WHAT is responsible for my change of body state that seems connected to the seasons?  Can I just label it some biological reaction of my organism?   If I were a cognitive therapist, I would say it was what I am THINKING about the weather.   If I were to actually practice the mindfulness I have learned, I would notice that it is my liking or not liking that affects how I respond to the weather.

For today, I am going  to let go of analyzing and theorizing and just enjoy.   Humid, stormy, sunny, cloudy, breezy or still, the weather of this season feels like a friend, and I am resting hand in hand with that friend.

When do I get to be me? And who is that, anyway?

Having a little time off has given me some time to think and reflect.  Almost always when I take time for that, I end up reflecting on this work that we do together in the therapy room.  It is often profound work, and I am privileged to participate and challenged by what comes up.  So I have been thinking, and reading, about depression and anxiety.

Oak branches in March

Depression and anxiety are in different categories in the DSM IV, that important diagnostic tome that helps us to decide how to categorize “mental illness.”   But if we move away from pathologizing and into humanizing, many of the issues that come through the door of the therapy room have feelings at their core.   Either not feeling enough or feeling too much.  Depression and anxiety can have aspects of both.

Usually in depression, people can’t feel;  they have suppressed or repressed feelings for so long that numbness is a way of being.  But that might only be part of the situation.   Maybe sometimes, people have told themselves a story about what it is okay to feel, and when it is okay to feel that way.

When we feel differently than our story allows, we might experience anxiety.  There is a sense that something is wrong, really wrong.  If, for example, I am angry but my story tells me that I don’t get angry, then obviously something is seriously wrong and I get anxious.   We can get to a place where every time we feel ANYTHING, what we allow into awareness is only anxiety.   So we believe that the world is scary, or that we are scary, or that feeling anything isn’t possible because all we feel is anxious.  When there is part of the self that is not allowed to feel, either by depression (I don’t feel anything) or by anxiety (no matter what I feel it is always interpreted by my body as anxiety), then that part becomes stunted, or at least diminished….the voice of that part isn’t heard.

Could that be you?   Perhaps a whole part of you hasn’t really had time and space to become whatever it is going to become.   Maybe if you only had some time, some space, maybe then you would find this part  that has not yet fully developed.


What has been waiting for the” right”time…when the chores are finished, or when the kids are grown,or when you’ve lost weight or whatever your particular obstacle is.  What is waiting there inside you? What is the part of you that is whole, perfect,complete just as it is?

When you open up space without judgment, allow just openness and reflection, what comes up?   Could that be a sign pointing to the “real you?”


Compassionate curiosity

I had to retrain my inner critic.   I had a critic who was so skillful, so sly, that she could find something wrong with just about everything I thought or did.   And she could present the criticism in such a way that it was clear that it was both 1) true and 2) necessary for me to know how bad I was.

Woohoo!    If I had a person in my life who treated me that way, I doubt that I would have stayed around for coffee.   But I lived with this person in my head for a long, long time.


One of the side effects of having a strong inner critic is that often the real-life person (me, in my case) is extremely critical of everyone and everything else.   Well, it only makes sense….if that’s what you experience all the time, every day, then perhaps you figure that’s what your response to the rest of the world should be….ought to be…..MUST be.

Oh my gosh, there they are, all three of them in a single sentence….SHOULD, OUGHT, and MUST.   Hmm, my old favorite thought distortion….that there are shoulds, oughts, and musts in the world.   I remember the first time I ever knew that there were other ways to think about things.   An art therapist who was on some committee with me, many years ago, made some laughing comment about “shoulding all over oneself” but that was long before I was introduced to cognitive psychology and I had never heard of such a thing.  But before long, I was able to see that I not only “should” all over myself, but I was continuously “shoulding” all over other people as well.

thanks to a lovely blog about writers, writing, and social media
thanks to a lovely blog about writers, writing, and social media

In some stories, that would have been enough but no, I’m a pretty slow learner, and it took a lot more years, completion of my psychology training (which helped me to be ever more critical), and intensive body psychotherapy before I could start to really recognize the many manifestations of my inner critic.  First I had to detach myself from the messages I had been hearing from myself. And that’s where, finally, the title of this post comes in.

Light and shadow;  can we observe without judging, without labeling?
Light and shadow; can we observe without judging, without labeling?

When I can look at myself without immediate judging (“that’s okay, that’s not okay, I like this, I hate that, I’m doing well, I’m not doing so great”) then I have a chance to see what is really happening in my inner space.   When I can catch a passing thought and see it as a thought, then I can notice….Oh, that was a critical thought.   Hmmm, isn’t that interesting?   When I can have a friendly interest in my own processes, without having to change them, harden against criticism or melt into praise, then I am offering myself compassionate curiosity.

So what happened when I began to observe my own inner critic?  At first I was horrified to hear how much harsh self talk was going on.   Then I realized that some part of me was being highly critical of the critic!   (Yes, check out THAT logic…).  When I realized that the critic was originally a defense, yes, originally something that developed to help me to negotiate a difficult childhood,  then I could bring a bit of compassion to that part of myself.

In my bioenergetic therapy training program, we talked about ways to work with the critic:  our own critics, and the critics that accompanied our clients into the therapy office.  One plan was to figure out ways to off the critic….toss him off a cliff, for example, or trick her into leaving.   I decided to take a softer approach.  I decided to try to befriend my critic, and re-train her.  I wanted to be in charge, so I thought I would approach this situation as if she was an employee who had taken on too much responsibility over the years.

I began a dialog of sorts in my journal, and basically re-wrote the job description.  I thanked my critic for the years of protection, and spent quite a lot of time reflecting on the ways that my strong internal demand for certain behaviour saved me from an angry parent, from dismissal from my graduate program, from neglecting my children despite my fatigue.   Then I just informed her that things were now different.  I was an adult with good habits and didn’t need anyone constantly harping about me.  What I did need, though, was support.

Support is one of those ambiguous terms.  People may mean very different things by that term.  So I did with my critic what I suggest clients do with family members:  I carefully described what I wanted for support.   I wanted, for example, my inner voice to learn to say things like  “Good job on that!” and “You are working hard enough” and “It is okay to take a break.”  Actually, I modeled those kinds of comments on the statements that my therapist offered to me over the years.


Did it work?  Well, it was a program of change, and, like most changes, time, practice, and consistency have been involved, but yes, it did work.   I have to be vigilant, as I expect most people who have lived with an ornery inner critic for about 45 years would have to be.   But I can recognize my negative self talk, I can notice it without labeling and just say, oh, yes, there it is again.   I wonder if there is something going on that has that critic reverting to old behaviour?  And with that gentle sort of curiosity, I can look deeper without fear of what I might find.

Sunday morning


Ice Texture 1033

A glance out the window, and suddenly what appeared to be a day of diffuse sunshine includes a shower of sparks floating earthward.  Flakes?  Or drops? Source unknown, their abrupt appearance and shimmering brilliance call to me.

The sight grabs my attention, stops my breath,and draws me out of my reverie.  What IS this?  What is this amazing world we live in?

A moment later, the flurries have passed, and I drop back into my dark pool.  But something has changed for me here, and the darkness carries a hint of possibility.

What can you notice today that reminds you to be present?

Happy Friday…how to have a happy day everyday

candles burning

Early morning, hot tea in hand

Candles on the table burning bright

Steam rises, candle flame flickers

Sighing, I feel the comfort of Friday

Happy every day….that’s what we want.  We want it all the time, every single day.  But happy doesn’t come in big swathes like that, not usually.   Happy usually shows up in moments…just a tiny moment in time, and if you are not paying attention, you can miss it.

See what moments of happy might be available to you today.   Slow down, take a breath, look around you and see what is really there.  Then look within you, and notice what is really there, right now, right THIS minute.   Who knows what you’ll find?  Maybe you’ll even find ….happy.


%d bloggers like this: