[Rerun] On the Solstice, contemplating the concept of faith

Reprinted from last year, and presented to you a few days after the Solstice, while your humble writer is on vacation.  Enjoy it, and the days to come.


Today is the Winter Solstice – the shortest day, and the longest night, of the year.  Pagans tend to celebrate this night as Yule, the time when the old sun dies and is reborn anew.  We stay up all night, tending candles and fires, carrying the light through the long dark.  We tell stories, play music, eat and drink, nap in shifts.  Tonight, my household will feast on roast pork, decorate a tree, possibly watch silly movies and/or play silly games, and generally make merry through as much of the night as we can manage with our aging bodies.

Outside, rain and wind is pounding us, and it’s exactly the kind of day where it feels like we’ll never see the sun again, even during the daylight hours.  But marking this day and this night with merriment is what gets us through to the other side.

Two years ago, a couple I’d met only recently invited me to a Solstice gathering at their place, which they hold every year.  Each time, there is a theme on which the gathered are asked to speak in some way, and invariably it is intensely moving.  That year, the theme was faith, and I wrote an essay that encapsulated what I felt about that very loaded word.

I’m pleased to share that essay here, in the spirit of the season, and in the hope that it may bring some illumination.

Happy Solstice, everyone, and Happy Hanukkah, and Merry Christmas, and Joyous Kwanzaa, and Blessed Yule, and joy rain down upon you whatever you do or do not celebrate.  Let’s push through to the light.


When I heard about tonight’s theme, I must admit I had a little trouble. Faith is a difficult concept for me, one of those virtues which, like “purity,” has had all the piss taken out of it by Christianity. Faith is George W. Bush following his gut into Iraq. Faith is Creationists who value their fairy tales over scientific evidence. Faith is what got the witches burned, kept the Crusades going for hundreds of years, fueled the Spanish Inquisition, took out the Twin Towers, impregnated and infected teenagers whose only sex education was abstinence-only, and defined people like me – female, bisexual, queer, pagan – as sub-human.

If you can do the hard work, though, of separating faith from its incredibly strong right-wing religious connotations, it’s actually an incredible tool of being human. Because faith, real faith, isn’t about blind belief in dogma. It’s about mystery. It’s about going forward with grace, when faced with the unknowable and terrifying. Faith is the holy communion of imagination and hope.

I’m a pagan woo-woo witch-identified skeptic. The founder of my own tradition used to say, “First perceive, then believe.” Of course, his doors of perception were open a little wider than a lot of people’s, and his perception allowed him to believe in fairies, spirits, gods and goddesses, energetic currents, blessings and curses. I’m only beginning to touch some of those things, and even when I perceive them, I’m still not sure I believe.

But I have faith.

Faith is what is left over when inquiry is exhausted, that thing that keeps us going when we Just Don’t Know. Faith is what allows us to turn the proverbial lemons into the equally proverbial lemonade; to keep trying when the damn thing has broken down fifteen times in a row but maybe if we switch these wires or kick it a few more times it’ll start; to wait and wait and wait because maybe this time, the Great Pumpkin will come. (The secret? If you wait long enough without eating or sleeping, he does.)

Faith allows some of you to light things on fire and swing them around your bodies for fun and entertainment, and others of us to look at a bare stage and make it into a world. In fact, faith is what makes most art – and all theatre – operate. For as the prophet Geoffrey Rush once said, “it’s a mystery.”

Faith is what allows a marathoner to get up Heartbreak Hill, a widow to get through her grief, a soldier to make it through the night. It’s what made our ancestors learn to wait for the bread to rise, the crops to grow, the game to return, the rains to stop. It’s the thing that lets us live in the terrifyingly simultaneous way that our human brains make us: one foot in the present, and one in the future.

Faith is what makes you able to love even when your heart has been torn out, stepped on, run over, and left on the side of the road to die. Faith makes you get up, dust your heart off, maybe wall it up a little better than before, but leave a window open a crack, just in case.

Just in case. Because we still imagine. And we still hope. And we still wait for the light.

My wishes to you for the holidays

christmasIt’s a week until Christmas, for those who celebrate; two weeks until the New Year, and just a few days until the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year. It’s a time when family and friends gather against the cold and the dark, which is the birth of every holiday that has sprung up around this time of year in the Northern Hemisphere. During this time, we need to hold tight to one another, as humans have done for warmth and companionship for untold millennia. In this festive yet often harried season, it’s easy to forget what we’re really celebrating.

Get some rest.

The holidays may not seem like a relaxing time for many: all the shopping, gift wrapping, cooking, decorating, and traveling we’re expected to do can become so stressful that we forget the “holiday” part.

Take some time to yourself. Find an empty room, a cup of hot chocolate, or whatever brings you comfort and joy. Close your eyes. Remember to breathe. Take a bubble bath. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep. Take a walk by yourself, or with one other person you trust. Give yourself the gift of centeredness.

Reconnect with loved ones.

I just wrote an article over at the sex and relationships site YourTango about 5 ways to get your juices flowing over the holidays. Go check it out, and learn how to keep charged in this stressful season.

Prepare for a bright new year.

This time is wonderful for clearing out the cobwebs, saying goodbye to old things that no longer serve you, and welcoming in the blessings of a new dawn. Though the time in the calendar may be arbitrary, the ritual around celebrating the new year has enough energy around it all over the world that it carries a kind of magic.

Do a ritual of release for the old year: burn representations of the things you want to let go of, clean out your closets and give old things to charity, raise a glass to things to come.

In the new year, look for more frequent updates from me, and a newly integrated blog and website. I look forward to keeping in better touch!

The Classic Sequence: First touch at the 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.


Why does music make us cry?

Everyone knows how a song can open us to emotion.  Most of us probably have songs that make us cry, songs that make us nostalgic for our youth, songs that make it impossible not to dance.  And as we go into the holiday season, there are doubtless songs that make us homicidal, particularly the ones that get repeated endlessly on piped-in mall music.

Some of this can be attributed to memory and meaning: the song was playing during our first kiss, or the words remind us of a lost love.  But some of it is purely the music itself.  Have you ever had the experience of a particular violin or cello strain cracking you open?  Of certain music making you cry, because, for whatever reason, it aches?

Science is still studying why it’s the case that music can have such a powerful emotional effect.  A recent study showed that listening to music can affect how we perceive neutral human faces: happy music makes us see them as happier, for example.  But why it has this effect is not fully known.

One theory the writer of the Scientific American article linked above has is that music is connected with human movement.  Music, after all, is a series of sounds made possible by human movement: breath, pressure, bowing, pressing keys, strumming strings, striking drums, and so on.  And music inspires us to dance, or to close our eyes and go inside ourselves to listen.  

Ilana Rubenfeld trained as a symphonic conductor at Julliard, and was herself a violinist. Her approach to her work was highly musical, and she knew how powerfully music was connected to emotion.  She saw our bodies as our most valuable instruments, and our lives as ongoing symphonies.  That may sound Pollyannic, but it may actually be literally true, and may be the key to discovering why music is so – literally – moving.

In my sessions, I strive to connect the person I’m working with to their own internal instrument.  To listen to their own breath, to be moved by their own movements (interesting that sections of symphonies and concertos are also called “movements”), to discover what their song sounds like right now.  Some people are more musical than others, but most people can be connected to their rhythms, to the pulse of what makes them human and alive.

To connect with your own rhythm and find your song again, get in touch with me.