"Sometimes the way to milk and honey is through the body."

From David Kanigan, great collector of the gorgeous, comes this photo and poem this morning.  I share without further comment.

honey-jar

Sometimes the way to milk and honey is through the body.
Sometimes the way in is a song.
But there are three ways in the world: dangerous, wounding and beauty.
To enter stone, be water.
To rise through hard earth,
be plant desiring sunlight,
believing in water.
To enter fire, be dry.
To enter life, be food.

~ Linda Hogan, The Way In, from Rounding the Human Corners


Linda Hogan, 66, is Chickasaw. She is an internationally recognized public speaker and writer of poetry, fiction, and essays. Her books Rounding the Human Corners and Mean Spirit were Pulitzer Prize nominees. In poetry, The Book of Medicines was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her other poetry has received the Colorado Book Award, Minnesota State Arts Board Grant, an American Book Award, and a prestigious Lannan Fellowship from the Lannan Foundation. In addition, she has received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship and has received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers Circle of the Americas. Her main interests as both writer and scholar are environmental issues, indigenous spiritual traditions and culture.

Image Source: Jon Brown. Poem Source: Christina Sanantonio. Bio Source: Linda Hogan’s website & wiki.

“Sometimes the way to milk and honey is through the body.”

From David Kanigan, great collector of the gorgeous, comes this photo and poem this morning.  I share without further comment.

honey-jar

Sometimes the way to milk and honey is through the body.
Sometimes the way in is a song.
But there are three ways in the world: dangerous, wounding and beauty.
To enter stone, be water.
To rise through hard earth,
be plant desiring sunlight,
believing in water.
To enter fire, be dry.
To enter life, be food.

~ Linda Hogan, The Way In, from Rounding the Human Corners


Linda Hogan, 66, is Chickasaw. She is an internationally recognized public speaker and writer of poetry, fiction, and essays. Her books Rounding the Human Corners and Mean Spirit were Pulitzer Prize nominees. In poetry, The Book of Medicines was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her other poetry has received the Colorado Book Award, Minnesota State Arts Board Grant, an American Book Award, and a prestigious Lannan Fellowship from the Lannan Foundation. In addition, she has received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship and has received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers Circle of the Americas. Her main interests as both writer and scholar are environmental issues, indigenous spiritual traditions and culture.

Image Source: Jon Brown. Poem Source: Christina Sanantonio. Bio Source: Linda Hogan’s website & wiki.

Working with Sexuality: The Line-Crosser

Not what’s going on here.

One of the main dangers, of course, of working with sexuality is that some people – in fact, many people – will try to take advantage of you.  There is a tricky line to be walked between being open about the topic – and at times the presence – of sexuality in a healing context; and engaging the client in a sexual experience.  That is: a client may call me or come to me to talk about issues of sexuality, sexual identity, fetishes, or whatever, and in the course of discussion, the client might become aroused.  As I’ve previously written, said arousal can be acknowledged, accepted, and some of the shame and embarrassment thereby lessened for the client.  In other instances, the arousal can even be followed, through exploration of imagery and body sensation, to information about what is troubling the client.  However, it also sometimes happens that a client is looking to engage a therapist or other practitioner in a fantasy scenario, and is inappropriately using the therapeutic context to do so.  Naturally, avoiding this becomes more difficult when you’ve chosen to work with sexuality directly.

I’ve been lucky enough to attract many respectful and kind clients with issues around sexuality who have finally found someone to talk to, and who are on a journey of figuring out who they are and what they want through their bodies.  Some, though, whether because of deep disturbance or just an inflated sense of entitlement or hostility, will attempt to engage my services but then demonstrate that they’re just out to “get off.”

This happens with especial frequency online in chat or on the phone, where, without the body language and other signals that are readily available in person, a prospective client can easily either mistake my sexual openness for a willingness to engage sexually, or take advantage of and abuse it for his own amusement or spite.  It is a sad commentary on how screwed up our culture is about sex that there are people who feel the need to do this, or who are damaged enough that the slightest opening has them jumping in without discussion or consent.

Luckily, with a little practice it becomes fairly easy to recognize these types.  Working intuitively within Rubenfeld Synergy for so long, I’ve grown to trust my body’s signals and can tell pretty quickly when, say, someone is masturbating on the phone, or when, in email, someone is not self-aware enough to be seeking treatment rather than thrills.

Unfortunately, working with sexuality tends to come with this side effect, and figuring out where my boundaries are and holding to them is even more critical than it might be if I chose not to work with this topic.  However, in a way working this openly has an advantage, in that those who might take advantage of any therapeutic situation tend to be revealed more quickly.  After all, issues of transference and counter-transference can often cause unresolved sexual tensions between therapists and clients of all kinds.  Being a healer who works with sexuality means that such issues can be raised and addressed more directly, and generally more quickly.

In a future post, I will talk about boundary-setting in this type of work.

Working with Sexuality: Arousal in session

There are a number of issues that come about when working with clients around sexuality, and there are a few that are especially relevant to Rubenfeld Synergy, as it involves touch.  The most obvious of these is a client becoming sexually aroused during a session.

During the second year of my training, I began to see practice clients.  We were doing very basic sessions: practicing the somatic moves, doing some basic verbal interventions (“what do you notice,” etc.).

One of my practice clients was a youngish man; I’ll call him Carl.  He was quiet and nervous, and didn’t seem to know what he was doing there, exactly.  I could tell immediately that I needed to take care with him.  There was something more going on with him than he was telling me, but at the time, I wasn’t experienced enough to press before proceeding.

Whenever I did moves involving the hip, he would tell me that it was making him excited.  There were a lot of apologies and embarrassment involved, and I did my best to dispel his shame while making it clear that what we were doing here wasn’t sexual.  But of course, it was sexual: for him.  At the time, my mentor advised me to just acknowledge the arousal, let him know it was okay as something that was in the room, and for now, to avoid hip moves.  I was fairly new and wasn’t ready to go down the road of what the arousal might mean.

After a couple of sessions, Carl decided to stop, as the arousal part was distracting and distressing to him, and was also getting in the way of progressing my own education.

Since then, I’ve had a few clients who respond this way, particularly men.  There is a lot going on here: sometimes men are just not used to receiving gentle, loving touch in anything other than a sexual way.  Men don’t get touched in adulthood as much as women tend to, and for an adult man, touch often equals sex.  Educating men about this fact has proved to be helpful; many a thoughtful nod and relieved sigh has followed my voicing of this.  With one client, it recently became clear that part of what he was dealing with was a submissive sexual nature, and because that’s what his current work is around, lying on a table and being touched by a woman who is standing above him evokes those feelings.  In that instance, acknowledgement is still the first answer: I have him talk about what’s happening, and I choose in the moment either to delve or to redirect, to ground him in the now or let him explore what’s going on in his head.  The important thing is that the arousal not be discarded, dismissed, or forbidden, as if it weren’t a natural part of human experience, or part of how people experience emotion in their bodies.

Because arousal is something that can accompany many different emotions.  Sometimes, it is simply about pleasure: gentle contact can trigger arousal that goes along with the pleasure of being touched.  When acknowledged in a matter-of-fact, accepting way, this arousal often dissipates and proves unimportant to the session.  In other cases, arousal can accompany fear: sex and death, as Freud knew, are closely linked.  Finding where that fear leads can be a valid path for getting to the root of an issue for a client.  And arousal can be linked to shame, as a client remembers being scolded for masturbating, or trying on his mother’s clothes, or having sex with her boyfriend as a teenager, or being gay.  The body remembers the arousal as well as the emotion that accompanied or followed it, and links them together.

In this same way, arousal can also be linked to trauma.  Years after I stopped seeing Carl, he wrote me to tell me that our sessions had led him to go into traditional therapy, and working there, he recovered memories of being sexually abused as a young teen.  The assaults had happened with him lying down, while an adult touched him.  At first I felt appalled and horrified that I hadn’t seen it, and worried I might have retraumatized him.  But he assured me that actually, the work we’d done was what allowed him to begin to remember, and thus, to heal.  Had I been fully trained and credentialed at the time, I might have been able to follow the thread of his arousal to those memories, and help him heal directly.  As it is, I’m happy I was just able to be with it, non-judgmentally, so he could begin to experience what his body was telling him.

Being present with arousal in therapeutic settings can be tricky for any number of reasons, which I’ll go into in other posts.  But when appropriate boundaries can be maintained, allowing that response – which, after all, is just another signal from our bodies, like pain or tension or warmth – can bring great rewards.

[Rerun] When will it be safe to be a girl?

This week I stumbled across two posts about gender that really resonated with me.  Gender is a tangled and complex subject, and there are people who can speak far more eloquently about trans issues, the intersection of gender and sexuality, and breaking the gender mold than I can.  But I wanted to highlight these two articles, as they spoke to body identity, trauma, support, and strength.

The first made the rounds among my female friends who are into Crossfit and kettlebell training: This One’s For The Butch Girls.  In it, a fitness instructor visits a Pilates class to learn about it, and is treated in the following way:

After pointing me to my machine, the instructor turned back to the other students and said, ‘That one’s for the butch girls.’

Excuse me? Now, I get that not every woman wants to look muscular…This doesn’t mean I’m a lesbian. This doesn’t, in fact, mean anything about who I am as a human being or my identity in the world. 

So, it comes back once again to this idea of strength versus femininity. Of strength being in opposition to what it means to be a woman – that is, in opposition to some sort of archaic sense of what it is to ‘be a woman.’ Does being strong mean you are man-like? Does being man-like make you a lesbian? What if I’m a lesbian, but I’m not strong? Seriously. I’m being ridiculous because this whole train of thought is ridiculous. None of these concepts has any impact upon or anything to do with each other.

The article goes on to encourage women to find places – or make them, if necessary – where how they work out, or how muscular they are or aren’t, won’t be automatically judged in a particular way.  “Where you can lift weights and grunt. Where you can wear pink and rip your shins open. Where you can paint your nails, do your hair, and have calves that make men green with envy. Even a place where you can be as ‘butch’ as you want to be.”

The idea of there being limitless possibilities for gender expression is one that I hold sacred, and one that I’ve spoken about here before.  So this article spoke to me, as a woman who has weight trained for some time but was never much of an athlete, and one who has started rock climbing and loves it.  (Now there’s a place where female muscle is respected.)

But I wasn’t prepared for the punch in the gut the next article gave me.  The Girl Who Said She Was a Boy is by a blogger who has raised five children with disabilities.  I’m grateful she liked one of my posts this week and therefore alerted me to her sensitive and funny writing on this topic.  Her foster daughter, at age 7, started insisting that she was a boy.  She wanted to dress, cut her hair, and be identified as a boy, and her mother – particularly once she adopted her – supported her in this.  At the doctor’s office at age 10, “she blurted out to him that she was a boy and that she did not have the right part. She begged him to “sew a penis” on her.  He was very comforting and reassuring, and said she was fine the way she was for now and when she was older she could make that decision.”

I was already impressed at this point at the supportiveness of the mother, and the sensitivity of the doctor.  But I wasn’t ready for what happened next, as I was prepared for this to be the story of a transgender child.

At 11, her mother cautiously began to introduce her to what it would mean for her when puberty came.  To her surprise, Marie, was excited about the prospect, and very inquisitive.   And then, the truth emerged.

“She shyly admitted to me that she was happy to be a girl.  She told me she only SAID she was a boy because men ‘hurt girls’ and she didn’t want to be hurt any more. She said ‘the men’ never hurt her brother, so she decided if she was a boy she was safe.”

In a world still reeling from Friday’s events, I find myself wondering when it will finally be safe to be a girl.  Or to be a woman, in all the ways that one can be one.  A woman becomes strong, and she is seen as less-than, as not womanly.  A little girl wants to be a boy, because being a girl means pain.  The catch-22 of femininity still has us profoundly in its grasp.  Don’t be too strong or you’ll be threatening.  Don’t be too weak or you’ll be threatened.

What might happen if more of the world saw the human body as the sacred property of the human being, not to be tampered with, undermined, ridiculed or destroyed?