Welcome, new readers, and thanks!

So, this little post kind of took off in the past couple of days, and in three days I’ve gotten more hits, I think, then I’d gotten previously total!  So thank you all for visiting, and I hope a lot of you will stick around!  I talk here about Rubenfeld Synergy Method – a talk plus touch healing modality, as well as its connection to theatre, music, sexuality, relationships, and, well, life.

I want to especially thank Kaz, though I don’t have any way to really link to her: she’s on Facebook, though!

If you want to look around here a bit and see if it’s a place you’d like to stay, here’s a good spot to start: My top 15 posts from my first year of blogging.

And finally, a brief article on a new study showing that people into BDSM may be more mentally healthy than the rest of the population.  (Also linked from Kaz; thanks!)

Childhood, consent, and learning to be human

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can make me think I deserved it.

Can’t we do better?

What imprints do we receive as children?  When you were five, or six, or seven, what messages really stuck and taught you how people ought to treat each other, how you deserved to be treated, and what options you had for interaction with others?

I know for my part, I was teased a lot as a kid.  I was overly tall, overly smart, and overly quiet.  I was an only child, I moved a lot, and I didn’t get a lot of lessons on how to interact with kids my own age.  When I reported my tortures, I was told to ignore them because “they were just jealous.”  Even at six, I could tell that this was 1. patently untrue, and 2. totally useless to me in salving my pain.

A couple of pieces have crossed my path this week, too, about the power of adults to help kids negotiate consent with one another.  While one piece focused on how rape culture starts young, with the pernicious “boys will be boys” narrative, the other focused on the solution: how do we teach children to ask each other for consent, and to honor that consent?

I think it’s important that teasing and bullying be stopped by adults, and punished.  But I also wonder how much more we could do with teaching kids about how to ask each other permission, even for things they might initially think are definitely going to be a no?  “The ‘overarching attitudinal characteristic‘ of abusive men,” says Kate Elliott in the piece I linked above, “is entitlement.”  How much better might the world be – both for young people and for the adults they will become – if we taught kids to respect each other’s bodies at an early age?

As an illustration of this, I present this adorable story from my friend Kaz, who teaches swimming to kids at MIT.  It makes me wistful: I wonder what my childhood could have been like with a teacher like her, who not only called out bad behavior but sought to teach kids how to deal with each other like the little human beings they are.

Story below, in its entirety.

***

Ah teachable moments. Today I actually got to educate my kids about what consent is, in a completely non-sexual context. This one little boy, who’s totally the sort who will try to get attention any which way but how, splashed one of his classmates, right in the face.

Me: Hey, buddy, I saw what you did there. That’s hardly friendly. ::to the little girl in question:: You okay?

Little girl: Yeah, but now my eyes sting. (this happened when she had her goggles off)

Me: ::to the little boy:: That really wasn’t nice. Would you please apologize to her?

Little boy:: ::sheepishly cause he totally got caught:: I’m sorry.

Me: Now, that might have been okay if you had just asked her first.

Little boy:: What? ::stunned look on face::

Me: Splashing can be fun. Some people don’t mind being splashed as long as it’s their choice. But you have to ask. It’s called getting consent. It means that the thing you want to do is accepted by the other person, and isn’t a bad surprise. The other person may say, no. If that happens you can’t hassle them about it. You accept their no, but you may still ask other questions. For instance, you may ask if it’s okay to ask again at some other time. Regardless, other person may also say yes. Either way, it’s a good idea to ask. Plus, it can make things more fun.

Little boy: ::mind blown:: Really?

Me: Yup. Here, I’ll show you how it’s done. ::to little girl:: Hey. I really want to splash water in your face. Right now. Can I?

Little girl: No, thank you.

Me: Okay, then I won’t. Maybe some other time?

Little Girl: *giggling* Wait, I want you to ask me again.

Me: Okay. Hey, I’d still really like to splash water in your face. Can I?

Little Girl: Yes. As long as I get to splash back.

Me: Sounds great. Let’s! ::we splash one another and laugh about it::

For frame of reference these kids are around age 7. After I explained, they suddenly got much better about asking one another for consent about all sorts of things. “Hey, I’d like to go first this time (for dives) can I?” So on and so forth. It was kinda of mega awesome. I feel all spiffy.

 

Defining – and reaching – my specific audience.

“What’s your name when you’re at home?”  -Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Apologies for disappearing last week; I’m beginning work on a total revamp of the materials I use to reach the people I want to help.  In the course of this transition, I may be blogging here a bit less, but I’m hoping to keep it up at least once a week.

The thing that I’m recognizing is that while I am open to helping just about anyone who comes through my door, I really need to focus on reaching those people I enjoy working with the most, and whom I can most effectively help.  Over and over, I’m finding both that the people who reach out to me, and the people I enjoy working with, are people who have sexualities, gender presentations/identities, or relationship styles that are non-standard to the mainstream.

I am fortunate enough to live in a community of people who are open and accepting, and who both have and offer support to one another.  Included in this community are gays and lesbians and bisexual/pansexual folks, transgender and genderqueer people, polyamorous individuals, couples and families, and people into alternative expressions of sexuality like BDSM or “kink.”  It’s a loving network of human beings who have proved to be invaluable resources to one another, countless times in my experience, while they’re busy having regular lives – jobs, houses, kids, pets, family members who get sick and die, celebrations and tragedies.

Often, though, I realize how spoiled I am by this abundance.  People have contacted me who aren’t living openly, who don’t have this kind of community, who are scared of who they are, of their desires, and have not received the kind of loving support they need.

I want to help these people connect to their true selves, to their authentic and unique beauty, so they can experience the loving connection they desire and deserve.

So, having set this intention: the search for these clients begins.  But I want your help.

If you are reading this, and you identify yourself as falling into the population I describe above: how do you describe yourself?  Particularly to people outside of your immediate circles.  For instance: many people I know are comfortable using the word “queer” and throw it around amongst themselves.  However, I’m unsure to what degree those same people would use that terminology when attempting to describe themselves to someone who was outside of that group.

So: what do you call yourself to your community, and what do you call yourself when you’re identifying your sexuality outside of your community?

Finally: can you think of an umbrella term that covers everyone I’m talking about?  The LGBTQI label is nice, but seems not to include poly or kinky people per se.  Are there terms for this that you enjoy?  That you find insulting?  That you identify with, or strongly do not?

Your comments wanted.

Moving from habit to choice, part 2: true is not the same as right

A long while back, I made a post about akrasia: our tendency to do things we know are bad for us in spite of ourselves.  Recently, I’ve been trying to make a fairly major dietary change in myself, based on a bunch of research and things I’ve observed to be healthier for my overall state than the Standard American Diet.

Unfortunately, though, giving up a lot of the junk – and in particular, ditching grains and sugar – tends to have a mixed effect in the first few weeks I try it.  For the first week I tend to feel pretty great – energized, satiated, filled with foods that are nourishing to me.  Around the end of the first week, though, I tend to get tired, even a bit depressed: sleeping too long, not feeling motivated, and at times, having brain-fog.

For these reasons, I’ve never made it past the 2-week mark on any kind of lower-carb diet.  According to a lot of people who try them, though, the first two weeks are the hardest, as your body adjusts; after that, chronic pains and symptoms start to disappear, body composition changes, energy levels rise, and so on and so forth.

I’m looking forward to that bit, but it’s awfully hard to get past the initial messages of the body in the moment – especially for someone who has studied and believes in the power of the body’s truth!  How can I listen to my body saying, “Gee, I’d be a lot happier if you gave me a cookie right now,” and ignore it?  Or more generally: where is the line between listening to your body with the knowledge that it always tells the truth, and getting stuck in bad habits because you can’t get past the body’s usual patterns?

Depression and anxiety can both have these problems, where we get caught in loops of what we think we want versus what would be best for us.  “I just want to sleep,” our depressed brain might say to us, when getting up and moving around would do us the most good.  “Eat that cookie,” says some part of me, and another part – ostensibly my brain – says, “No, have this apple instead.”  What do we do when our bodies – which we’ve established can only tell the truth in the present moment – are telling us to do things that don’t benefit us?

This is part of the trick of getting to know ourselves in all of our parts, as a prayer I’m fond of goes.  While getting to know our bodies and listen to their messages is essential to optimum health, it’s important not to mistake “always telling the truth” for “being an unerring guide for action.”  It takes our thinking, reasoning minds and our wise, compassionate spirits to translate the bare truths of our bodies into appropriate actions.

I believe that the more we listen to our bodies’ truths, the more often our thoughts, emotions and bodies come into alignment, or congruence, with one another.  At times like this, though, there are old patterns to get past: things my body has been doing for so long that they seem like the only right way.  If we carefully listen, and carefully honor ourselves, making life changes does get easier.  But it’s never a piece of cake.  Or an apple, for that matter.

 

 

 

A safe space to speak your truth: how do we cultivate safety?

Many of my readers will likely have heard the term “safe space.”  This phrase is sometimes used as a term of art in therapeutic circles, referring to a place where people can speak freely and honestly without fear of judgment or ridicule, but it is also often used in communities organized around oppression – i.e., feminists, people of color, LGBTQI, and so on – for a place that contains only people of the oppressed group, whose members can speak without concern over the thoughts and opinions of the oppressor.

To me, and in my work, a safe space can also be highly personal: a place, whether real or virtual, where I can speak my mind and heart without worrying that I will do collateral damage by doing so, or have to censor my feelings for fear of hurting someone else’s.  For many people, such spaces are few and far between, and some people don’t have any safe space at all.

A counselor’s office may be the only space someone has that is “safe.”  Someone who is living under hostile parents, or with an abusive partner, or in a housing situation with unstable friends or strangers, may feel they have nowhere that is safe.  Someone who lives alone and is isolated from friends and community may similarly feel that there’s nobody who will understand or even listen to their problems.  And that’s where therapy, counseling, Rubenfeld Synergy or any number of other emotional health practitioners come in.

The trouble, of course, is that a therapist of any kind is always a stranger, at least at first.  There is some safety in a stranger, though.  I am remembering when I first started journaling online: it was before Facebook, and before such things began to be called “blogs.”  I was in my mid-twenties, and pouring out my soul to a group of total strangers on the Internet.  It was freeing and thrilling, to share my story with people who couldn’t see me, under an assumed name; to write in a way I had only previously written to myself, in my paper journals.  The people I connected with, based on shared interests, liked my writing, laughed in the right places, made supportive comments.  It helped enormously, at a time in my life when I needed help to grow and change.

Over time, though, that space changed purpose, radically.  I began to meet people in real life who lived near me, and form friendships.  Soon I began to add people I met in real life to my online friends list, and before I knew it, instead of an audience of strangers, I had an audience of people I knew, whose lives intersected with mine.  Ironically, it wasn’t long before that was no longer a safe space for sharing my deepest feelings and life experiences: there were too many people, and the story was no longer only mine.

With a counselor, confessor, therapist, or whathaveyou, the stranger relationship can be a double-edged sword: the person doesn’t know you, and is specifically trained not to judge you.  But unlike online, you can see them and they can see you.  The confession is one-sided, and they know your real name.  You’re sitting with them face-to-face, without the protection of a keyboard and screen.

So how, as healers, do we create safe space for our clients?

In RSM, as with all things, we begin with the body.  For some clients, getting on the table right away is too much: they may need to sit and talk for a while, get their thoughts out to a compassionate listener, and not worry about the intimacy of being touched just yet.  Often I will talk with a new client, and begin to introduce the concept of tuning in to their bodies.  I may have them touch their own bellies or hearts or knees.  I may have them put their feet on the floor and feel how the ground supports them.  I may have them notice what they’re feeling, physically, as they talk about a particular topic, then attempt to locate that feeling in their bodies.

Grounding emotion in physical solidity can be incredibly helpful for increasing safety, and making a client feel that what they are experiencing is real and normal.  It also begins to cultivate a relationship of trust between the client and his or her own body: a relationship that often has been broken in people who seek help.  The more a client knows he can trust his body to tell the truth, the more resources he will have to support him in difficult times, and to make the changes he wants in his life.

As the person who is facilitating the client’s increased sense of safety, I feel that listening without judgment, bringing open compassion, and not pushing the client too far, too soon are probably the most important skills for cultivating a relationship of safety.

What do you feel is most important?  Your comments, as always, are welcome.