Thoughts on a garden chore

 

This morning my task was to deadhead the trailing petunia in the hanging pot on the front porch.  Petunias have a way of stopping the flowers after they have done their job:  that is, to make seed pods.   The petunia figures well, my job here is done, no more need to put my energy into flowering.  Instead I’ll grow these seed pods to maturity and that way I’ll perpetuate my DNA within the world.  As a result, most gardeners know you have to pick off the dying flowers before they set seed in order to keep your petunias blooming.

The petunia on the porch is a hybrid;  it already has been genetically reprogrammed to keep blooming even after it has set seed.  Of course all petunias have been genetically reprogrammed in one way or another.  But as I set out to nip off the dying flowers I was struck by a number of thoughts.

In trying to be mindful about my work, I focused on the body sensations I experienced as I worked with the plant.  I felt my bare feet on the wood of the porch, noticed the feeling of the air passing over my bare arms, felt the odd furry stickiness of petunia on my hands, and was aware of my dislike of that sensation.   In fact, I have to remind myself that it is just the petunia and that I will wash my hands after the task is completed, in order for me not to be carried away into thinking about how much I dislike petunia aroma and petunia stickiness.  Instead, I tried to be with the petunia  (I know, sounds kind of frou-frou and fluffy).   So I snipped off flowers and noticed my thoughts as part of the experience.  Here are some that surprised me.

  • Deadheading?  Why is this called DEADheading?   Those flowers are a bit past their bloom but this is hardly a dead thing, this seed pod full of the possibility of new life.
  • How peculiar to make a plant that will bloom beyond the need to set seeds.   It reminded me of what my dear partner says about seedless watermelon….that seeds are the REASON for watermelon, and so a seedless watermelon is a paradox and peculiar.  I guess that means so called “ever-blooming” petunias are also paradoxical and peculiar.
  • I thought about my efforts to control the bloom of this flower;  my desire, by doing this chore, to keep this plant blooming and blooming.  By my watering and feeding, by my pruning and my attention, I turn the nature of this plant to my desires.   I felt pretty odd about that.  But then, that’s the nature of gardening and of agriculture, isn’t it?   We don’t really live with nature.   We really do exert dominion over it, even in the small sense of pruning the petunias.

 

How interesting, too, that we appreciate and enjoy the flowers of the plant but the seed pods are cut off and discarded.   That is a different matter with food plants, where we might save our seeds for next year’s crop, I suppose, but most of us do not do that.   I had a sense while pruning that I wanted to honor the seed pods and the plant for creating the seed pods, in some way flying in the face of the human control that keeps on pushing for flowers.  Yeah, you people might like flowers, I can imagine some petunia voice saying, but I’ll keep subverting my energy to make seeds, and you have to keep on working to try to bend me to your will.

You go, petunia!

Strawberry meditation

Some years ago, I was privileged to participate in a strawberry communion. It was in a church community, a small, very liberal one. The minister and his family had picked strawberries the day before, and on Sunday morning, everyone present was asked to take one and hold it. Everyone ate their strawberries together. This was a powerful experience for me, many years before I had any knowledge of mindful practices or had even heard the phrase, “being present.” Even without those contemporary tags, here was this strawberry communion.

So today, when I tackled the job of getting our annual strawberry supply, I thought to try to make the work my practice for the day. It wasn’t quite as simple as sitting on a cushion or doing bioenergetic exercises! However, I want to really be where I am, so I persisted in bringing my attention back, over and over, to what I was actually experiencing.

I could tune in to the sensory aspects of the work, feeling my knees or seat on the ground, noticing the berries in my hand, the various degrees of effort to twist and tug the berry from the stem, the texture of the berry in my hand. I noticed how coyly some berries hide themselves away, tucked under a leaf or two, requiring my full attention to locate them. And then I had a thought about the nature of these berries, gorgeous deep red, contrasting with the green leaves, provocative and eye-catching. This is no accident. These berries are red because we can see them, can distinguish them from the leaves (well, most of us can. People with red-green colour-blindness would be exceptions), and can pick them, eat them, and conveniently NOT digest their seeds. We are a seed-dispersal system for strawberries. We are being manipulated by the luscious aroma, the rich colour, the melting softness, into eating these berries. It is a pretty near perfect system. And yet the strawberry gardener or farmer thinks that he or she is in control…that the plants are grown to make berries for me to pick, and to pay the farmer for those berries. True, of course, but not the whole picture. Then, because I was practicing, I noticed that I was thinking (“thinking”) and brought attention back to what was right in front of me. Ah, yes, berries. And children and parents, birds singing, a light breeze (my mind goes to gratitude for that softening of the heat)…and oops, back to paying attention!

I also held awareness, while picking, that I was holding onto summer for winter. At our house, we pick berries to freeze, to be turned into jam at a particular cold winter time. That taste of summer in winter means a lot, and knowing that I picked and processed the berries and my dear partner made the jam, and that this is a pattern of our lives together brought me a sense of continuity and wholeness, independent of any discomfort of berry picking. I could feel some sort of sensation in my midsection as I became aware of those thoughts. There was a fullness…or maybe I had been eating too many strawberries.
When I got home, I had berries to process for the freezer. Lots of berries! I scooped up handsful to rinse in the sink. Even an hour after coming home, the berries in the tray retained their warmth. I felt the warm berries on my hands, knowing that the sun had warmed them, as it had warmed me. I stopped for a moment to be aware of that warmth, to take it into my body through my hands. Now those berries, sun-warmed and sun-ripened, are stashed away against the days getting colder (as they will) and the nights growing long (as they will).
What I have, though, besides berries, is the body memory of picking in the warm sun, feeling the stems and fruit and the occasional squishy one, the smells of soil and overripe berries, and the inner peacefulness of being part of a greater whole. And while my mind is a busy place, monkeying around everywhere, the moments I come back to the present are the ones where I feel most fully alive.

Reflections on learning through therapy

A couple of weekends ago I was privileged to share group supervision with my colleagues from my bioenergetic training group, and International Trainer Louise Frechette.  I had some thoughts prior to this weekend, and a lot of thoughts since then.  I’ll share more of the reflections later but for right now, I want to share a list of things that I learned through my personal therapy and my training.   Those two things are profoundly intertwined.  Bioenergetic training is predicated on doing your own work, for as many years as it takes, and so a lot happens while training.
Anyway, more about that later.  Right now, here are…..Ten Things I Learned In Training to be a Bioenergetic Therapist:

  1.  It is okay to make a mistake.
  2. It is okay to say “I made a mistake.”   Self-deprecation (“Oh, that was dumb…”)  does nothing for me or for anyone else.
  3. If god is watching me making my mistakes, she is certainly cheering me on rather than criticizing me.
  4. I don’t have to know everything.
  5. I do know something.
  6. When I can’t remember that I do know something, I can look again at the body.   The body will remind me of what I know.
  7. Some defenses are useful but only if you know when you are using them, and why.
  8. There is no point in hiding anything because whatever you are hiding is sitting right out there in the open in your body and your behaviour.   Who I am, who anyone is, is not a secret.  Except sometimes from oneself.  And then, I just have to open up to the possibility that I am deluding myself.
  9. I don’t have to do it alone.  In fact, I don’t have to do ANYTHING alone.   I can ask for help, and I can wait until support is available.   Things that are hard, overwhelming, and are too much for me can be challenging, stimulating, and enriching if the time is right, the resources are available, and I have support.
  10. I am just as okay as each of the people who come into my office.  I am just as okay as each of the people who have come into my life.  I am just as okay as my bioenergetic colleagues and my sister trainees.   It is okay to be who I am, and I can extend that welcome to others.

 

Imagine living life as if you are okay.  As if life is okay.  How about that?

 

Wants, needs, desires, wishes, attachments…

Yesterday I posted about finding out what we really want.  I suggested that we don’t want objects or experiences, but we want the feelings that we think we’ll get from those objects or experiences.   I also suggested something that might be harder to swallow…that we can work our way through those wants and desires by practicing feeling a sense of enough in our bodies.

It is worth spending a little time on this whole concept and experience of “enough.”   I am a classic “never enough-er,” according to Jack Lee Rosenburg, founder of Integrative Body Psychotherapy.   I am a person who just doesn’t know how much is enough.  Correction….I WAS a person like that.   That was the way that I functioned in the world.

When I was a young adult, I attributed this characteristic to being raised in a home where alcohol was an influential factor.   Adult children of alcoholics often struggle with enough.  I found that I could not entertain without making more than twice enough food.  If I carefully planned out the food, I’d rush out at the last minute to buy more, certain that running out of food would be a disaster.   When I was a student, I could never figure out when a paper or project was finished.  I would keep working and working on it, until I had actually undermined the work I’d done.  I learned to procrastinate because then the time constraints would tell me that “this is enough…”  because I had to turn it in.

credit: http://ttactechtuesday.pbworks.com/w/page/7857889/AT%20Solutions%20for%20Writing

In later life, I struggled with binge eating, and with binge exercising, running on an injury to the point of needing surgical repair.  I could not tell what was enough.  I never felt that I was enough in any situation, always over-preparing my classes when I was teaching at the university, always having to read more, and buy more books about any topic I need to study.  In fact, I had so many unread books at one time that I made a tidy sum selling them on Amazon.  (Not as much as I’d spent originally, of course.)

By almost any measure, it was clear that I could not tell what was enough.  I didn’t trust my own body experience to tell me what I needed, wanted, or when I was ready to stop.  I overworked, over-ate, over prepared, and over-thought just about everything in my life.

Through body-based therapy, meditation, journal work, and much attention to my own moment-by-moment experience,  I have found a better place for enough in my life.  I now make it a daily practice around eating, sitting in meditation, and in my work to ask myself if this is enough.   I have developed a couple of mantras that help, too.

Credit: http://robertballew.com/2010/11/making-peace-with-your-body/

Now that I can feel that sense of “enough” in my body, and I can trust it enough to take action around it, I don’t struggle nearly as much with the wants, desires, and wishes that used to plague me.   I know what is enough.   For most of my life, for most things in my life, I have enough.  I am enough.  There is enough.

In this moment, right here and now, the only moment that actually matters because it is the only moment that I am actually living, there is enough.

I am enough.

This is good enough.

And good enough is good enough.

What do you REALLY want?

I have been thinking a bit about wants and needs.   We often want something…something that seems indefinable, amorphous, something that feels out of reach.  Trying to nail down that wanting feeling can be hard.

However, some people have their  wants clearly identified.  If only, they think, if only I had a new car, then I’d feel really good.  Or…if only, if only I could go on vacation and just take some time off, THEN I would feel really good.  Or maybe, if only, if only my husband/wife/mother/father/teacher/boss would just change their behaviour, then I would feel okay.  Or maybe, if only I had someone to love me in my life, if I only had a partner who really, REALLY loved me, then I would feel okay.

So sometimes we want concrete objects:  the new car, the big flatscreen tv, the smartest phone.  Sometimes we want time and luxury:  vacation, travel, food or entertainment.  Sometimes what we want is something from another person:  their attention, affection, or some kind of treatment that we experience as positive.

But do you hear the commonality that underlies all of these wants?  Do you hear what we expect each of those things, experiences, or behaviour of a person?   We expect that WE will feel a particular way, a particularly GOOD way, if we could have the wanted item or experience.

What we really want isn’t a car or a tv.  It really isn’t a vacation or someone to love us.  What we really, REALLY want, is the feeling that we think we’d have under that desired circumstance.

So no, honestly, I don’t want my boss to stop bugging me.  I want to FEEL the way I think I’d feel without that behaviour.  I want to FEEL unbugged.

So all I really need to do is change how I feel;  take charge of my own feelings, stop giving my power to feel to other people or to my negative thoughts, and just FEEL unbugged.

Sounds easy….and it can be.  If we can accept that we construct our feeling of want by our thoughts, fantasies, and wishes, then perhaps we can construct a feeling of having enough in that same way.   Or try this:  notice when you DO feel “enough…”  What is it like in your body and mind when you feel “enough?”   When have you had “enough” to eat?  “Enough” work for the day?  “Enough conversation,”  “enough sleep,”  “enough music?”   How do you experience enough?   Then allow that feeling to spread throughout your life…so that what you are right now, what you have right now, what you experience in THIS moment….THIS is enough.  Enough for now.

When the craving or wanting or desiring or attachment to objects arises, see if you can locate a sense of “enough” in your body and rest in that.

Needs?  Well, that can be a topic for another day!

Attachment & Connection part two

Have you ever connected with someone quite easily?  You could even connect with a stranger.  As an example,  you might observe a cute child at the grocery store, smile at him, and then meet the parents’ eyes with a smile.  Often you can feel a bit of connection there;  you have some sense of what the parent is feeling, the parent has some sense of what you are feeling, and there is connection.

That connection, which is a bit like empathy, probably comes from the action of your mirror neurons.  You and the parent are probably actually experiencing something similar, as you both reference the cuteness of that baby.  This can happen without words, and in fact, is not a verbal process.

So we can connect, albeit briefly and not deeply, with strangers, in a moment of interaction.  But that is not attachment.

An attachment relationship has particular qualities.  Specifically, when we are attached to someone, we seek connection with them (proximity seeking).   We notice and often miss them when we are separated from them (separation distress).  And we can use the other person for support when we are stressed or distressed (safe base or safe haven).   If you have all of these things going on in your relationship, then you are attached.

Attachment is abiding.  Attachment goes deep;  usually it goes so deep that you cannot feel the whole of it, no matter how you sit with the experience.  Attachments, though,  are not always optimal.  Secure attachments help us to function with peers, in school or the workplace, and to step out and take risks that help us to grow.   However, some attachments  take different qualities.  For example, you can be attached to someone who mistreats you.  We all know of the phenomenon of children crying for the parents who abused them.   This is a dramatic example, but a less dramatic form, it is very common.   Attachments are not always warm and fuzzy;  they can be ambivalent. They can be downright challenging on every level.  They can be anxious in form.  They can be so disorganized that you don’t know how you feel about a person, or you don’t know how to act with that person, but you know that you are attached.  You know that from deep inside of you, and also because you have emotional connections to him or her.

When children have an anxious attachment to a parent, they will often protest loud and long upon separation. They will often appear ambivalent when the parent returns, clinging and sometimes hitting or pinching the parent.

When children have an avoidant attachment, they appear not to notice when the parent leaves, and markedly turn away from the parent upon his or her return, focusing on toys.  However, this child may make good contact with a stranger while avoiding the parent.  So it is clear that the child is attached.  It is also clear that the child isn’t deriving a lot of comfort from that attachment.

Children with disorganized attachments may freeze or still upon the parent’s approach, or may be alternately clingy or angry.

When you think about the people in your life, you can think in terms of your attachments.   If you are still caught up in thinking, for example, about your ex, having internal conversations where you explain and s/he finally GETS it, you are not unattached.  You are still attached but your attachment isn’t working.  If you have a family member whom you actively avoid, that is a kind of attachment, too.  People to whom we have no attachment….well, nothing is attached to them.  We don’t have thoughts, feelings, memories, reactions, desires, disappointments…..none of that it attached to those people.

credit Ellen Whitehurst http://media.tumblr.com/tumblr_l7toguBLX61qzipj6.jpg

Attachments – our powerful, enduring, transforming, deep and abiding relationships –  are what make our individual worlds go around, at least for most people.   There is not much that is more important than our attachments, even if we don’t see or talk to those people regularly.  Our attachment history predicts a lot about our adult relationship history.  You might ask if we can rewrite history?  That’s a topic for another post!

So much FUN!

 

Wow, what a great group we had last night at the Bioenergetic Bodywork Group Session.   We had some people who had been at the group before, quite a few new people, and some folks with other connections to bio and to bodywork.

I really felt like dancing when we were finished…. The movements were great, we moved a lot of energy (you can tell by the heat and the sound!) and I was very relaxed and also energized by the experience.

Doing this kind of work within a group provides unique opportunities.  For example, the movement and sounds may bring up feelings, thoughts, or images.   You are invited to just stay with your own inner experience.  Doing that in the presence of other people may be new for you.  If, for example, you have a pattern of worrying about what other people think, or feeling responsible for other people, you might struggle to be yourself in a typical group.  In a bioenergetic group, however, you can just be with yourself, notice any orientation you may have toward other people, but continue to practice being YOU even when there are other people there.

I remember in my early group exercise experiences, I was perpetually looking at the other participants and trying to measure my performance against theirs.   Part of me NEVER wanted to be the first to drop out of the bow.  I wanted to be the very LAST person to stop sounding, the very strongest, the most stoic.   It took awhile to see how that pattern – working as hard as I could, hoping that I would be noticed and seen as a Good Girl  – is one that I was also playing out in my life outside.   When that became clear, then I was free to start to make changes.

The group exercise moves through a predictable sequence.  We connect to the ground, we charge up the body to increase the energy flow, we do some exercises to discharge the energy, and then we move back to a quieter experience after we have opened up some blocks and eased some tensions.   But the bioenergetic part of it is about taking the time in the process to reflect, and about staying open to the thoughts, images, feelings, and sensations that arise.   This is a way of making the unconscious conscious, and that’s what we are after.

 

 

Whose problem?

My friend calls me to tell me about her boyfriend’s latest critical comment.   She is angry, and she is calling for support and also to get some validation.  So I get mad, too, and tell her she should be angry, that he has no business talking to her that way, and that I want to tell him a thing or two.

So I get on FaceBook and send him a message that says he better shape up, because my friend deserves better treatment than that, and that all of our friends are going to be mad at him if he doesn’t start treating her better.  And I stay mad, and tell as many people as I can about what a jerk he is, and how their relationship is probably falling apart, and then she calls me up and says that everything is fine and why don’t I just leave him alone?  And I don’t know what happened but I am certain that she is making a mistake in staying with that jerk and so I tell her that.  Then she gets mad at me, so I post on FB that she is making some dumb moves and that he is a jerk, and then I block them both.  And I am mad.

Okay, if you know me, or if you have been reading my blog for awhile, you probably can guess that the above is a totally fabricated scenario…for me.  However, lots of people live like this on a daily basis.  Lots of people  find interpersonal drama to be the stuff of life, and get so caught up in it that they start to lose track of themselves.  When you can’t really feel yourself, one attempted solution is to get angry about something.  Anger is a feeling of movement, of motivation, and if you can figure out some way to call that anger “justified” or “righteous” then you can even turn it into a crusade.

So what’s wrong with that?

What’s wrong is that when we lose ourselves, we end up not living our own lives.  We are not in our lives, but in some surreal, in-between place, where our emotional involvement in other people’s stuff is our focus.

What to do differently?

The place to make a change is at the very beginning.  When my friend calls me, I can ask myself a couple of questions.  First, what does she want from me?  Perhaps she is looking for social support;  most people are, under these circumstances.  Social support means someone to LISTEN.  It doesn’t mean that I have to agree, or have to validate, it just means that I listen to her story but particularly to her feelings, and I validate the feelings.

Second, who has the problem?   In this case, she has the problem.  It isn’t mine, and if you look at the answer to question number one, she isn’t even looking to off-load her problem.  She is likely just looking for someone to say, “Wow, that sounds really hard to deal with.   I can hear that you are angry about that.”

If I grab that problem and get mad on her behalf (mad on her behalf?  Is there such a thing?  Sounds like yet another blog post…), I make her problem MY problem.  In fact, by the end of the story, she had solved her problem and I was left with a whole bunch of collateral problems.

If the problem is NOT mine, I can limit my involvement.

How would I know if the problem did belong to me?   Well, suppose she called to say that she was angry with me for MY critical comments.  Yes, then that is a problem for me.   Suppose she called to say that her boyfriend was making critical comments about ME…..wow, what do you do with that?  Who has that problem?  Is that a problem?   In my world, that is not a problem, but I do wonder why my friend would want to share that information.   Is she trying to create a problem?    In either case, we may have some things to talk about.

So….ask yourself if the problem is even yours.   Byron Katie suggests that there are three kinds of business in the world.  There is MY business, stuff that actually has to do with me directly.  There is YOUR business, which is pretty much everything that isn’t my business, so pretty much everything in the world.   And then there are the things that are not mine, are not yours, and really aren’t anyone’s business….like tsunamis and blizzards and earthquakes.  Those are God’s business.  Unless something is MY business, I have no business trying to manage it or even having big emotional stuff around it.  In fact, I can keep my thoughts, feelings and ideas right out of it.  It is Not My Business.

This week, check in and see if you can be clear about whether a problem belongs to you before you try to solve it, or before you even react to it.  What do you find out?

Finding your ground

What do you do when the ground you stand on has been swept away from you?  There is a diagnosis….a relationship is breaking apart….a child on the way…..your job has disappeared?

According to Pema Chodron, the moment when the ground has disappeared under our feet is opportunity.  This is when we can notice ourselves scrambling, struggling for a foothold, for anything that feels a little secure when we feel like everything we have counted on is crumbling.  We can make a decision to just sit with the experience, to just notice what is happening and how we are responding.

If we can actually FEEL the ground, literally ground ourselves in our body sensations, we can often take the moment to stop clutching, stop scrambling, and just breathe.  It makes sense to me that we want to feel the ground.  We are not  tree dwellers, nor descended from tree dwellers.  We are not birds, equipped with wings.  We are creatures of the earth, whose feet depend on the earth for support.  When we cannot feel our feet, we cannot feel our support and connection.  The loss of support and connection can be profoundly disorienting.

What to do?   Check in with your feet.  Are they touching the ground right now?  Stand up, and check again.  If your feet are tense, then you will not notice as much contact with the ground.   If you habitually wear shoes that distort your feet, it may be harder to feel that connection, so slip off your shoes.   Now let the weight slide over onto one foot.   Use the other toe to balance, but just let all of your weight down onto one foot.  Soften your knee, even bend it a little, and see if you can drop your shoulders, soften your belly, and let the weight down on that one foot.   Move your toes a little, so that you can be sure they are taking some of that weight.  Stay there, pushing that foot into the floor and letting your weight down, until you start to feel a bit tired.  Now hold it, tired, feel how tired your leg is getting, and then, only then, gently allow the weight onto BOTH feet.

STOP!  Don’t do anything yet…just notice…notice both feet.  How do you experience them?  Do they feel different from one another?  Once you have explored this, then allow the weight to slide to the other foot and repeat the experience.  Work until you are feeling tired, and then wait, going into that tiredness a bit before resting on your two feet.  Then notice the absolute LUXURY of having two feet, and having two feet on the ground.   And notice anything else that is different in your body, or different in your mind.  Do you feel more connected to the ground?  Do you feel more relaxed in your shoulders, or softer in your belly, or more peaceful in your mind?

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