So what is "embodied consent," anyway?

For the past few weeks, I have been posting about different aspects of the workshop I will be giving this weekend at the Bound in Boston: Wicked Women conference, which is called “Embodied Consent: Finding Your Yes, No, and Maybe.” But what is it, exactly, that I mean by “embodied consent”?

It’s an interesting question, really. As with so much concerning Rubenfeld Synergy work, the answer is more complex than one might think. The search for meaning leads to various threads, which weave in various directions, which then branch and form new patterns, until you’ve got a really weird-looking meaning-sweater.

When I really boil it down, though, I believe the answer is this: Embodied consent is a dynamic, conscious, living form of consent, an ongoing conversation between the parties engaged in whatever requires it. It means paying attention – to your own body’s signals and to those of the person you are interacting with. And it means doing so continually – never letting things shift to autopilot.

Now, this might not sound like very much fun. Especially for those who are into kink and BDSM, and are deliberately playing with ideas of consent and giving over / taking on control, having to be constantly aware of consent in every moment could seem like a chore. But I like to think of it the way I think of partner dancing: much of the time, there is a leader, and there is a follower. In order for the dance to go well, both parties must always be aware of where the other is, maintaining a connection, and thinking several steps ahead. For those practiced in this art, it becomes automatic. For those less practiced, for partners who are not at the same skill level, or for partners new to one another, more consciousness and continual awareness is required.

I look forward to seeing you Sunday morning, if you’ll be there. Otherwise, let me know if you’d like me to teach this workshop at your organization!

So what is “embodied consent,” anyway?

For the past few weeks, I have been posting about different aspects of the workshop I will be giving this weekend at the Bound in Boston: Wicked Women conference, which is called “Embodied Consent: Finding Your Yes, No, and Maybe.” But what is it, exactly, that I mean by “embodied consent”?

It’s an interesting question, really. As with so much concerning Rubenfeld Synergy work, the answer is more complex than one might think. The search for meaning leads to various threads, which weave in various directions, which then branch and form new patterns, until you’ve got a really weird-looking meaning-sweater.

When I really boil it down, though, I believe the answer is this: Embodied consent is a dynamic, conscious, living form of consent, an ongoing conversation between the parties engaged in whatever requires it. It means paying attention – to your own body’s signals and to those of the person you are interacting with. And it means doing so continually – never letting things shift to autopilot.

Now, this might not sound like very much fun. Especially for those who are into kink and BDSM, and are deliberately playing with ideas of consent and giving over / taking on control, having to be constantly aware of consent in every moment could seem like a chore. But I like to think of it the way I think of partner dancing: much of the time, there is a leader, and there is a follower. In order for the dance to go well, both parties must always be aware of where the other is, maintaining a connection, and thinking several steps ahead. For those practiced in this art, it becomes automatic. For those less practiced, for partners who are not at the same skill level, or for partners new to one another, more consciousness and continual awareness is required.

I look forward to seeing you Sunday morning, if you’ll be there. Otherwise, let me know if you’d like me to teach this workshop at your organization!

Embodied Consent: Where is your "yes"?

Image by Ged Carroll via Flickr

Image by Ged Carroll via Flickr

(Part 3 of my series on Embodied Consent, leading up to my talk on the subject at the Bound in Boston: Wicked Women Conference next weekend.)

One of my favorite truisms about consent is that a true “yes” is not possible without the option for a true “no.” That being said, one of my primary objectives in this workshop is to help people find their “yes” – to open up possibilities, take chances, and make room for greater joy.

So, if we’ve confronted our cultural reluctance to say no, and been able to identify and locate what our “no” feels like so we can use it, then we are one step closer to being able to employ our “yes” without fear.

Because while the possibility that a “no” won’t be heard or respected is terrifying, the prospect of hearing or giving a “yes” can also be daunting. What does “yes” mean? What am I agreeing to? What does the person saying “yes” expect from me once they’ve agreed? What if one of us changes our mind?

Part of dealing with all of these possibilities is the same process as the “finding your no” exercise: embody it. Imagine something you said “yes” to wholeheartedly, and remember it in as vivid sensory detail as you can.

  • What does “yes” feel like in your body? Warm or cool? Expansive, or small and delicate, or like a cozy sweater that fits your body perfectly?
  • What does “yes” look like? What image comes to your mind? Are you glowing with light, or is the “yes” in a tiny box inside your chest? What color is it?
  • Does your “yes” have a sound? Loud or soft? For all to hear, or just for you? Is it a shout, a sob, a laugh, a song?
  • What does it smell or taste like? Sweet or savory? Metallic, or wooden, or like cotton or wool? Does it remind you of a crisp fall day in the woods or a summer evening by the ocean or…
  • Where is your “yes” located in your body? Everywhere at once, or mostly in one place? Are there other parts of you that are still unsure?

Exploring and locating your “yes” in this way doesn’t completely remove its potential complications, but it helps you meet it and talk with it, which makes its possibilities more flexible. It makes it possible to go from a vague “yes to everything” to a more nuanced dance, where you can check in with yourself moment to moment and see what the borders, contours, and limits of your “yes” are.

More than that: when you are clearer about what both no and yes are like in you, your partner can get a better sense, too – not just because your communication will be clearer, but because your whole self will be. I’ll explore more on this next week.

Embodied Consent: Where is your “yes”?

Image by Ged Carroll via Flickr

Image by Ged Carroll via Flickr

(Part 3 of my series on Embodied Consent, leading up to my talk on the subject at the Bound in Boston: Wicked Women Conference next weekend.)

One of my favorite truisms about consent is that a true “yes” is not possible without the option for a true “no.” That being said, one of my primary objectives in this workshop is to help people find their “yes” – to open up possibilities, take chances, and make room for greater joy.

So, if we’ve confronted our cultural reluctance to say no, and been able to identify and locate what our “no” feels like so we can use it, then we are one step closer to being able to employ our “yes” without fear.

Because while the possibility that a “no” won’t be heard or respected is terrifying, the prospect of hearing or giving a “yes” can also be daunting. What does “yes” mean? What am I agreeing to? What does the person saying “yes” expect from me once they’ve agreed? What if one of us changes our mind?

Part of dealing with all of these possibilities is the same process as the “finding your no” exercise: embody it. Imagine something you said “yes” to wholeheartedly, and remember it in as vivid sensory detail as you can.

  • What does “yes” feel like in your body? Warm or cool? Expansive, or small and delicate, or like a cozy sweater that fits your body perfectly?
  • What does “yes” look like? What image comes to your mind? Are you glowing with light, or is the “yes” in a tiny box inside your chest? What color is it?
  • Does your “yes” have a sound? Loud or soft? For all to hear, or just for you? Is it a shout, a sob, a laugh, a song?
  • What does it smell or taste like? Sweet or savory? Metallic, or wooden, or like cotton or wool? Does it remind you of a crisp fall day in the woods or a summer evening by the ocean or…
  • Where is your “yes” located in your body? Everywhere at once, or mostly in one place? Are there other parts of you that are still unsure?

Exploring and locating your “yes” in this way doesn’t completely remove its potential complications, but it helps you meet it and talk with it, which makes its possibilities more flexible. It makes it possible to go from a vague “yes to everything” to a more nuanced dance, where you can check in with yourself moment to moment and see what the borders, contours, and limits of your “yes” are.

More than that: when you are clearer about what both no and yes are like in you, your partner can get a better sense, too – not just because your communication will be clearer, but because your whole self will be. I’ll explore more on this next week.

Finding your yes, no, and maybe, part 1: No

In anticipation of the talk I’m giving the weekend of October 10 at Wicked Women, I want to write some posts that lay groundwork for the concepts I’ll be working with in that talk.

The first of these is the very simple idea that saying no is hard.

In last year’s talk, Sam and I started with a great exercise that involved people asking each other for a kiss, and being required to say no. We then checked in with how it felt for people, both to say no and to hear no. The responses were powerful, especially for a controlled situation, with low stakes, where everyone already knew they were going to have to say, and hear, no. The foreknowledge and low stakes didn’t stop people from finding the refusal difficult, the rejection, disappointing.

Research performed around the turn of the millenium in Britain showed pretty clearly that saying no, even to ordinary things, is a disfavored behavior in our culture. A paper on conversational analysis, cited here by the fantastic Yes Means Yes blog, showed that even people turning down a non-sexual dinner invitation from a friend tended to soften their refusals, to pause, hesitate, hedge, placate, and explain rather than actually admitting that they didn’t want to.

It is built into our culture to avoid saying no; this makes imprecations to “just say no” nearly absurd. Think about how hard it can be to even hang up on a telemarketer or close the door on a fundraiser, let alone tell someone you like that you can’t meet them for lunch. Escalate that to telling someone you might want to sleep with at some point – or that you’ve had sex with a hundred times before! – that no, actually, you don’t want to have sex with them right now, and you begin to see the elaborate language we have built around refusal. We don’t want to seem prudish, we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, we don’t want to put ourselves in danger, or appear arrogant by refusing before something is even offered.

Perhaps even more important, though, is the fact that for most of us, these softened hedged rejections are entirely clear. We know what these refusals sound like, and look like, and so pushing past them tends to be a matter of will rather than a missed communication. What this indicates, sadly, is what we already know if we think about it: very few rapes occur because of misunderstandings or lack of clear rejections. They occur because a small subset of men repeatedly look for cracks in those soft nos, and apply leverage until they can “wear down or tear down their No into a Fine, I Won’t Stop You.

But those people are not whom I’m addressing, here. I’m looking at people in communities where, while there are certainly a fair share of predators, most people are trying very hard to do things right.  People want to be “game” and try new things. People want to push past their own boundaries, and sometimes don’t even know what those boundaries are yet. People with well-established boundaries find their boundaries shifting depending on who they’re with, where they are, how many years have passed. And people are playing deliberately with power dynamics, where the person running the scene is highly responsible for their partner’s safety. It’s very easy to say, “Establish a safeword, negotiate in advance, know your limits,” and so on. It’s harder to know what to do when a scene becomes more intense than you signed up for, or when someone is suffering in silence out of pride, or when what you thought you negotiated turns out to be something else entirely, or when you are trying to deliberately push limits and go farther than you have before.

Add to this the social awkwardness that tends to permeate the geeky community (which overlaps mightily with kink and other alternative sexualities), and signals may not be as absolutely clear as was previously thought. “No” becomes not just difficult to say, but difficult to locate and identify in yourself.

Part of this talk will be about returning to the messages of the body, to get more clarity on what “No” feels like, and how to communicate it – and hear it – better.

Working with love

Image by Candida Performa on Flickr

Image by Candida Performa on Flickr

Given that I work with individuals most of the time and my work tends to involve a massage table and touch, it’s probably hard to imagine how I work with couples or groups. But given that I also sometimes work with sexuality, I do sometimes have the occasion to work with couples who need help sorting out their relationships.

If there’s one thing I’ve observed about relationships, it’s the same thing I’ve learned about individuals: awareness heals. When a person becomes aware of one’s own habits – not just intellectually, in that “Yeah, I know I do that…” kind of way, but in a visceral, slowed-down, embodied way that allows them to notice it as it is happening, that is what can effect real change. When a person can feel a familiar emotion arising, and begins to ready the familiar reaction: the snipe in anger at your partner’s comment, the defensive posture, the eyeroll of contempt – and stop, feel the emotion move through, breathe, and make a different choice…that’s when true communication can occur.

Another thing I’ve learned from the training and used since: change happens in the relationship. What does this mean? Simply that what was wounded between two people, can only be healed in a relational context. Neither wounding nor healing happens in a vacuum. Sometimes, the wound has to be healed with a surrogate, like a therapist or other healer, or a friend, or another partner. If a relationship is abusive, for example, the abused partner will need to seek healing elsewhere than in that relationship. But it is still most likely that healing will occur with the help of another person, just as repeated wounding will often happen when an abused person enters another relationship. Those wounds happened in relationship, and express themselves again in relationship.

The best-case scenario is when the wounds incurred during a relationship can be healed within that same relationship, bringing wholeness and depth to that relationship’s story. When I work with couples, this is what I endeavor to do. As with all of my work, I help them tune in to their bodies: their posture, their breath, their physical sensations. I help them locate their feelings in their bodies, and often, this brings emotions to the surface, allowing them some release. I notice their gestural language, how they sit in the room, how they look or don’t look at each other. If and when it seems appropriate, I help them use touch to make contact with each other, to talk openly, to invite vulnerability. Most of all, I want to help them become aware of the patterns that have gotten to this place, find them in their bodies, and find a way to move out of them into something unfamiliar, unhabituated. To get in touch with each other in a new way, the way that is about what is true now, and what is possible, rather than about how they hurt each other in the past.

If traditional couples therapy hasn’t been working for you, please feel free to contact me, and dare to find a new relationship with someone you’ve known for years.

Weekly sharing series

i_like_you-t2

I’ve been working to use Facebook more reliably, and I’m looking to launch a series for each day of the week where I say a little something, post a little finding, share a song or a story or an exercise, each day of the week. But because it’s cuter if I do it this way, I’m thinking of doing a different theme for each day.

So far I have The Monday Move, in which I share music that moves me, makes me move, or grants me stillness.

Tuesdays are for Trauma – and/or Truth. Here I’ll share things about how trauma works, what it does, how RSM helps you recover, recent studies and science, and so on.

In honor of Joe Weldon, I’m thinking that the next day has to be the Wednesday Sway, dedicated to moves in RSM, the restoration of movement to the body, and all the somatic ways that we do this work.

Thursday and Friday are still a little up in the air, but I know that I want to do something about sexuality, and something about performance. Thespian Thursdays? Fabulous Fridays? I’m sure all the alliterations will come together in time.

Until then, please “like” and follow my page over on Facebook, and if you dig it, tell your friends!

Some basic stuff you should know.

In the past little while, I’ve been tweaking and rearranging some of the content on this site, and ultimately, i hope to host my entire site here at WordPress, with the blog integrated in. For now, here are some of the new things you might take a look at!

Top Bar

I’ve revised my “Make an Appointment,” “Services,” and “About Kamela” pages somewhat. Go check them out if you want to know more about what I do, who I am, and how to get in touch with me. In time, I’ll be adding sub-pages to the Services section, to give a rounder idea of the types of help I provide.

Side Bar

I’ve added a Recommended Reading list near the top of the sidebar. Right now, this includes the 18 Principles of Rubenfeld Synergy series, the description of a typical first RSM session, and the GROUND series (Gentleness, Respect, Openness, Understanding, Noticing, and Discovery). More foundational posts will end up as pages soon, so that the foundational material is easily accessible by anyone who wants to check it out before coming to see me.

Anything else?

What would you like to see more front-and-center on this site?

The Classic Sequence: First touch at the feet

feet
I seem to have left behind this series, describing the progression of the so-called Classic Sequence of moves in Rubenfeld Synergy, quite some time ago, and I’m not entirely sure why.  Therefore, I am taking this moment to continue it.  Please click the above link for a list of moves that I’ve written about thus far: the first touch at the head, and the head roll.

The next place (or, at times, the first place) the Synergist makes contact with the client in this sequence is at their feet.  The client is lying face-up on the table, and there is a wealth of information to be gained just by the position of the client’s feet while lying in that position.  Many people’s feet tend to fall away from each other to the side, due to the natural rotation of the hip.  However, sometimes one foot will be farther over than the other, or one will be pointing straight up while the other falls out to the left.  Sometimes, both feet will be sticking straight up, and some people keep their legs very close together.  Occasionally a person’s feet will be very pointed, with the toes pointing toward the opposite wall rather than toward the ceiling.  In these opening moves of a session, a Synergist will often walk around the table, observing body position and making a mental note of it.

Again, these things don’t necessarily “mean something;”  the point of RSM is not to diagnose illness or present a rigid framework for bodily signifiers.  Rather, this scan prior to contact is a way of seeing what sense comes up for us.  People’s feet can be very expressive: is this person nervous and tentative?  Open and free?  Do their legs and feet give the impression of strength, or fragility?  Are the feet relaxed or tense?  Is the client holding them in place or letting them fall where they will?

My teacher Noël Wight loves feet, because to her they provide so much data.  I’ve watched her spend nearly an entire session at someone’s feet, while that person, wrung with emotion and remembered trauma, found her emotional footing.  This is a huge part of how we work with feet: our feet are where we make contact with the earth, and say volumes about how we stand in the world.  Our language reflects this: we speak of getting swept off our feet, getting back on our feet, standing on our own two feet, and having cold feet.  We stand up for ourselves and stand down from a conflict.  We take a stand and won’t stand for it any longer; we can’t stand it when someone pushes us too far.  We decide when we’re going to walk out, and when to run away.  We dance around issues and jump for joy.  Our heads may be in the clouds, but it’s important to know we have our feet on the ground.

And so the first contact here is as important as the first contact at the head, and I often will start there with a client, if the first touch at the head feels too invasive.  We use a light touch on the tops of the feet, often called a “butterfly touch.”  This is a second hello: connecting the highest point of the human body to the lowest point, and getting a sense of how connected the client is to their own full length.

There tends to be much to be noticed in the feet during this contact.  On the physical level, it is a chance to get a somatic sense of the client’s feet: are they dense? heavy? fragile? strong?  Small or large?  Relaxed or tight?  Energetically, I also tend to get a lot of sensation here: I feel a sense of the client subtly pulling their legs up toward themselves, or I feel a wave of relaxation, or alertness.  Sometimes it will feel like a pulse starts in the legs, or a tingling, or some other things that I can only describe as the client “turning on,” their awareness heightening.  Sometimes the client feels that my hands are very warm, sometimes, cool.  Sometimes the touch brings up memories, like one client who warmly remembered her father rubbing her feet when she was little.  Some clients notice sensation differences, like the feeling of one leg being longer, or heavier, or “stuck,” or wanting to dance.

The feet, in short, tend to be the place where the conversation with the body really picks up.

Next time: the “windshield wiper” move.

 

Working with sexuality

It doesn’t take a bodyworker to tell you that sexuality is a touchy topic in modern life.  Sex is one of the driving forces of our human existence, and its prominence in what drives us is evident equally in the suggestive images and messages that bombard us daily, and in the repressive messages we still receive from family, church, and politics.  Sigmund Freud – perhaps a bit too obsessed with sex – based his entire theory of psychology on what he called the “sexual model.”  But whether he was obsessed or not, it is undeniable that sex and sexuality are major issues for many people seeking therapy of one kind or another.  Sex is powerful, and society’s mad efforts to control it, promote it, discourage it, regulate it, sell it, and use it to sell us other stuff we don’t need can seriously screw up our relationship to it.

The therapy world has a problematic history with clients and sexuality, starting with Freud and continuing to this day.  Therapists have taken advantage of patients who, in their vulnerability and trust, have expressed sexual or romantic interest in them.  Bodyworkers – particularly massage therapists – often have to navigate sexual responses in clients, inappropriate requests, and even assault; some also assault their clients.  Our professions are rife with potential issues because so much is in the room: emotional difficulty, sexual difficulty, deep connective trust, and in some cases, touch.

In Rubenfeld Synergy, the focus on the body and the touch – though explicitly clothed and non-sexualized – can easily evoke sexual response, remind a client of a sexual experience, put the client in touch with his or her emotions and fantasies, or trigger a traumatic response associated with a sexual assault.   I explicitly deal with clients who have issues around sexuality, and I’ve encountered a number of different questions around how to deal with sexuality in sessions.  I want to explore them individually, in an effort to bring light to something that is too infrequently discussed.

In future posts, I will discuss clients who come in for other issues but then reveal sexual difficulties; clients who become aroused during sessions; clients who attempt to take advantage of the therapeutic relationship to indulge their fantasies, and clients who need grounding around touch and sexual trauma.  There are strategies for walking the fine line that can thread itself through these sessions, and I hope to explore them in detail in the coming weeks.  Stay tuned…