Power In Your Hands


Stars over time, by Zach Dischner via Flickr

I’ve talked in this space about moving from habit to choice, and how Rubenfeld Synergy and other mindfulness work helps to stop ourselves before we engage in an old habit, and have the option to do something else.

But if we are, as the man said, what we repeatedly do, then habits are what most profoundly shape us. At this time of year when there is a lot of pressure to “start fresh” with New Year’s resolutions, fraught with unrealistic fitness goals and promises we rarely manage to maintain past February, it’s important to look at how move from from habit, to choice, to better habits, in a way that is not doomed to failure.

Try this experiment this year: instead of making New Year’s resolutions like “get in shape,” “finish my novel,” and “call my mother more often,” consider making a single, specific habit-changing move each month. Establishing a new habit – or breaking an old one – takes time; the 21-day number turns out to be a myth, but doing something for many days in a row does help cement it. Starting on my birthday this year, I managed to establish a daily meditation practice after years of struggling. I even took off for the week of Christmas, and have gotten back on it again without any trouble.

How did I do it? Not by promising myself a 20 minute session every day. I got a meditation timer app for my phone, chose a pleasant sounding chime, set up a place to do it where I’d be comfortable, and pledged five minutes a day, preferably in the morning right when I wake up.

It worked, because the goal was specific, achievable, and not too time-consuming. Doing just five minutes meant that it wasn’t much time out of my day, so I didn’t have to really “set aside time” for it. (Now that I’m up to 7 minutes, I feel like a champ!) Doing it in the morning means I roll out of bed, brush my teeth, and light my candle, and though I’m barely awake I’m awake enough to sit still for five minutes, and then I feel the accomplishment of having done it. Doing it every day…makes it into a new habit, one that’s peaceful, good for me, and expandable. (I’m planning to go up to 10 minutes soon.)

You’re going to be much more successful, for example, if you decide to, say, not eat after 8pm for a month, or change out your lunchtime bag of chips for an apple, than if you decide to “change your diet.” Small, specific changes, sustained over a period, tend to accumulate.

So enjoy your New Year’s celebrations! Do whatever you do, make toasts, and make resolutions if that’s your thing. (I’ll be doing it. It’s a habit. 😉 But this year, see if lasting change is possible. Start small. Listen to your body. And hey, let me know how it goes.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Me, as a forbidding faerie queen

Me, as a forbidding faerie queen

Halloween was always a thrilling time for me, both as a child and as an adult. It’s not that I was that into being scared; scary things were actually way too intense for me when I was little. And candy was nice, but given the weird scares of the 1980s, I wasn’t allowed to eat most of the candy I collected anyway. No: what really drew me was the opportunity to dress up and be someone different.

Costuming has always been powerful for me, especially as an actor. A different set of clothes, hair, makeup, shoes – it can all serve to change how you stand, walk, move, even think. The interaction between the body and the things we wrap it in is a source of constant fascination, changing our relationship to gender, age, place, season, cultural identity, time, and self.

If you think that’s a bit strong, think of how different you feel when you are sitting on the couch at home in your PJs, versus how you feel when you put on a suit, or dress up for church, or go out dancing on a Saturday night, or go to visit an elderly parent, or prepare to work on your car, or go hiking. If you’ve ever worn period clothing, you know how much a corset, or a loose tunic or robe, or a frock coat, or a flapper dress, can change how you stand, move, bend and carry yourself. Cross-dressing or deliberately queering gender through clothing has an effect on the wearer, as well as an effect on the viewer, depending on the culture in which it is done, the level of tolerance of the people involved, and the context. Today, a guy in my office won the costume contest dressed as Princess Leia – not, I think, because he looked silly, but because he looked so good without hiding any of his masculinity, and pulled it off proudly. Were he to show up dressed similarly on any other day, the context would have shifted, and the office would have a different response.

While it may be true that our “true selves” are inside us, what we express outwardly both reflects that internal state, and can shift it in minor and major ways. Halloween and other events like it – Carnival in various parts of the world, Purim in Judaism, and so on – offer people a chance to be something they are not, without any real consequences. As a result, it can offer a rare opportunity for people to explore something that they would like to be, or would like to play with being.

Even if you don’t go out to parties, or trick or treating, take some time this holiday to mess around with your outward appearance. What happens to your state of mind and the feeling in your body when you wear something you wouldn’t ordinarily wear? What becomes possible that wasn’t before?

I went to the INARS conference this past week, and I’ve taken away so many learnings that I don’t know where to begin. But I was inspired today when I walked into a cafe for lunch and heard a song.

If you were conscious during the early ’90s, you undoubtedly know this song. It starts with the repeated words: “In the middle of the – I go walking in the – In the middle of the – I go walking in the – ”

Are we there? Yeah. The song is Billy Joel’s mega-hit from 1993, “River of Dreams.” Now, before I left for the conference, I hadn’t heard this song, or hadn’t paid attention to it, in years. But in a bar in Landsdowne Street with friends, having dinner before a They Might Be Giants concert with dear friends, I heard it, and my friend did too. We both started singing along together:

In the middle of the night (middle of the night)
I go walking in my sleep (walking in my sleep)
From the mountains of faith (mountains of faith)
To a river so deep (river so deep)…

We sang along and boogied from the bar to our tables and commented on how long it had been since we’d heard that song, and what a good song it was. I mumbled along to a lot of the faster lyrics, and we moved on to dinner.

Today, after therapy, after talking about everything I’d been through at the conference, I heard it again in the cafe: In the middle of the night…

And I stopped, because I was hearing words I’d never heard before.

And I’ve been searching for something
Taken out of my soul
Something I would never lose
Something somebody stole

This weekend, we focused on soul: what feeds us, where we feel at home, how we connect to passion, to center, to power, to connection itself. As part of that, we talked about the thwarts to passion: what does your passion call you to do, and what gets our way?

An important learning from this was that most of the time, the thing thwarting us is not of us. We may have internalized it, sure, but it was something done to us. “Something taken out of my soul. Something I would never lose. Something somebody stole.” Or, something somebody put there, something that doesn’t belong, that we should never have been forced to carry.

One fellow Synergist felt the sense of the thwart so deeply that she was convinced it was all her, and said it felt like a bunch of heavy locks. Gently but with laser clarity as always, one of the program heads, Noel Wight, told her: Very few people put locks inside themselves, just naturally, on purpose. It’s possible that this Synergist was the one who put them there. But what drove that action? What was the message she received that told her: lock yourself away. You are too much to take. Your passion burns too hot. Be quiet. Keep it to yourself.

What was stolen from her? What was put in its place?

And how do we get those things back? How do we return to ourselves, to a place where our passion, our will, can flow freely?

The answer differs for each person, but it starts with the body. What movement is restricted now, as a result of that thwarting, that theft, that abuse, that grasping, that constant imposition? Whatever it was, what movement can we use to restore ourselves to ourselves?

Here’s an example: for me, it was space. I got the message repeatedly that I took up too much space: I was too big, my laugh was too loud, I ate too much, and I needed to follow the rules, keep my legs together, and be a lady. So is is any surprise that now my hips are tight, I squeeze my shoulders into their sockets, my ribs get compressed, and I can’t take a full breath?

The restoration of my width, my length, my breath, my available space – this is the work that I need to do to restore my connection to passion, my soul, my source, and my sense of direction: where I am going in my life, and who gets to decide?

When we turn to the body and seek the source of our tensions, our aches, our habitual movements that hold us back, we begin to see other possibilities for movement, other ways that we can be, move, and live.

Contact me if you want some help doing this for your own life.

Yesterday, I spent a few hours out on the patio around the old, drained pool that accompanies my house.  Slowly, and in as cost-effective a way as possible (read: free), we’re filling the pool to make it into a garden bed.  Until then, though, we’re managing a bunch of containers, and yesterday was the first real chance I got to get out there and deal with them.  I pulled countless cosmos, morning glory, and maple seedlings, as well as other unnamed weeds.  I stirred up and amended the soil with compost from the past year.  I swept the concrete patio and threw everything into the empty pool.  And I planted lettuce, peas, cucumbers, carrots, and beans.

It only took a moment of pulling weeds and putting my hands in the rich soil to be reminded of how much I love doing this, how fulfilling I find growing things, eating things I’ve grown, and just playing in the dirt.  It grounds me, works my body, focuses my mind and nourishes my spirit – similar to rock climbing, really.  I’ve written elsewhere about akrasia, or the tendency to do things that don’t serve you, and avoid things that do, even though you know what’s going to make you feel good.  I’m not sure why it took so long for me to get out into the garden, in spite of all the good weather we’ve had: somehow, other things always seemed more important.

In any case, I got out there, I did some work, I got some sun, and I felt really good.  What have you done in the past few days that makes your body and spirit thank you for it?


Days like this.

I wake up later than I meant to, having drunk more wine than I meant to last night.  I’m about to start an antibiotic that requires I don’t drink at all: some silly part of me wants to “enjoy myself” before the fast; some dark part of me wants to make myself not want to drink for a while by making the following morning unpleasant.  I don’t wake up sick or hung over, but definitely feel a lag.  I’m already behind in my day.

The sky is the grey of unbleached wool.  The melancholy that has gripped me for the past few days is hanging on.  A new client cancels her appointment.  A mentally-ill relative leaves me a long, miserable, angry voicemail with classic Christmas music blaring in the background.

I keep counting the hours back from when I have an appointment and recognize that I probably won’t get done all the things I mean to today.

I’ve written much, elsewhere from here, about my struggles to organize and discipline myself since the last time I had a job where I was beholden to a boss.  (2004?  2005?)  It’s always been difficult, and continues to be so, though it feels like it gets better.  Still, some unhealthy habits remain, some comfort behaviors that no longer serve me get in the way of better success.

I struggle, I get depressed, I have days where I feel like I get nothing at all done.  And then some days, magic happens.

I just hope that a post like this might be a little weirdly encouraging for people who think that someone who writes so much about positivity must have an awesome life.  And I do, I do have an awesome life.  But even given that…it’s not always easy.

Which is probably a good thing.

(Somewhat inspired by this post of David Kanigan’s, whose bravery in self-reflection awes me.)

Nobody likes being confused.  It’s disorienting, frustrating, and sometimes frightening.  We also know that it’s hard to take in new information or function effectively when we’re confused: most people are familiar with the experience of trying to tell someone one thing while looking at different words on a screen, or trying to drive somewhere new when your GPS is telling you one thing and your passenger another.  So this principle can be a bit difficult to swallow: how could confusion facilitate change?

As has doubtless become apparent, Rubenfeld Synergists are fond of taking apart words and looking at how people use them and how they create various meanings in the mind and body.  The word “confusion” contains the word “fusion,” and the prefix “con” can mean, interestingly, either “with” or “against.”  Confusion, then, is “both a pulling apart and a joining,” as Ilana puts it in her book, The Listening Hand (20).  Confusion is what happens when our normal, habitual behavior patterns are interrupted, and we’re asked to enter new waters.  This is always an uncomfortable experience, but absolutely necessary to break out of worn-out or dysfunctional behaviors, and to adopt new patterns and skills.

Think about when you’re learning to do something.  One evening, I watched as one friend taught another friend how to spin poi – the fire-juggling technique where you swing small flaming wicks at the ends of chains around your body in interesting rhythmic patterns.  My friend who was learning tends not to be especially dexterous, and over and over again I watched him swing the two practice poi around himself, get tangled, and hit himself in the groin.  (Then I tried not to laugh.)  Luckily the poi were not on fire at the time.

Now naturally, this was a (literally!) painful and confusing experience for my friend.  At points, it became frustrating – another emotional state that tends to occur on the threshold of learning.  But he kept going throughout the night, even though he never once got the move right.

The next day we went out to Central Park and hung out, and brought the practice poi with us.  He picked them up, swung them through the air, and got the move at last.  Sleep, and the brain working on the problem, was what finally allowed competence to emerge.  But the confusion of newness came first, and made room for the acquisition of the new skill.

The same thing can happen to people on the table in a session.  Sometimes a part of the body that has been held a particular way for a long time becomes loosened by a move, and while greater relaxation is usually seen as a good thing, it can be disorienting, even frightening.  A person who has been holding her shoulder tight into her body for protection for years may even feel rising panic as those muscles begin to feel freer for the first time.  But it is that very confusion – and sometimes the concomitant fear – that allows for other possibilities to enter.  What might happen, confusion seems to ask us, if you chose something else?  That shoulder may have protected her for a long time, when she needed protection.  But what might she achieve once she realizes she doesn’t need to hold herself in anymore?

Humans are profoundly creatures of habit – an incredibly useful evolutionary adaptation that has allows us, as a species, to adapt and thrive in a wildly diverse array of circumstances.  But the place where growth – physical improvement, mental alacrity, emotional strength, spiritual development – truly occurs is at the precipice of the unknown, the edge between what we’re familiar with and what else is possible.  To get over that edge, we need to allow ourselves to be confused: to break apart the things that get us by from day to day, and imagine new pairings – new fusions of possibility.

All of the best things that have happened to me have been as result of riding this edge.  It was that little place in me that said: Maybe I can love more than one person.  Maybe I can become a healer.  Maybe I can direct a Shakespeare play.  And more, lately: Maybe I can climb a rock face.  Maybe I can start a business.  Maybe I can consider graduate work in directing.  Is it all scary?  Sure.  Is it all worth it?  Absolutely.

Next time you feel confused, stop and notice it.  Thank it for whatever it’s bringing, even though you probably won’t know what it is yet.

And tell me about it in comments!

Next: Altered states of consciousness can enhance healing.