The study of epigenetics reveals that stresses felt in current time alter our genetic makeup. Which makes utter survival sense. Except for some ways we stress out are not very healthy adaptive. No matter. Our response to stress is visible in our behavior AND will be passed along to future generations. Trauma is inherited generation after generation.
In one epigenetic study, mice were exposed to the smell of cherries with simultaneous application of electric shock. The conditioned mice quivered whenever they smelled cherries long after the electric shocks were discontinued. And here’s the amazing part: children and grandchildren, never actually exposed to the electric shock, inherited the fear of cherry smell.
The implications of this reverberate through me resting feral in the forest, reading two books back to back. Resma Menakem’s My Grandmother’s Hands
tackles the history and current status of racialized trauma. There is much written on this topic but this book is unique in the way it carefully builds the case for healing this cultural wound with embodied practices. Discussion, reading, training or anything else cognitive illuminates the issue. But behavioral change happens in the body first. My life is built around that notion so I’m grateful to find a resource that speaks my language.
At the same time I’m reading Nobody Will Tell You This But Me
by Bess Kalb, a story of four generations of Jewish American women. It begins with the harrowing story of her great grandmother’s escape from Eastern Europe genocide. Belarus, to be exact…from where my grandparents took flight. I persist in collecting my ancestral puzzle pieces in any way I can.
Back and forth between the two books, sinking deeper and deeper into the DNA truth of my own cherry smelling story. In fact, on several occasions Menakem writes that African Americans, Native Americans and Jewish Americans suffer from similar racialized trauma. To learn that race as a concept is recent New World “wisdom” with indigenous North Americans and African Americans just the first to be seen as other, therefore less than. Each new immigrant group—Italians, Irish, Eastern European Jews—were regarded as non-white as well—“stupid, barbaric, and dangerous.”
This is rich and timely territory. Many of us are seeking education about racism. Menakim’s book is so clear straight forward, the body practices sprinkled throughout bring the narrative home, to the body. Incredibly illuminating on so many levels.
The language of embodied trauma work is in our cultural lexicon now. If you’re unfamiliar with the words activate and settle, you’ve been out of the loop. Activation: a body’s physical response to stress as it readies to fight, flee or freeze. Settling: a body’s relaxation after stress has past. Each musical wave in dance floor practice moves from settled to activated back to settled once again. For a reason.
Activate and settle undercurrents in my mat classes. I love to teach the step before gross activation by focusing on tone, the subtle can-be-volitional recruitment that readies us for activation. Through discerning repetition we learn where the core muscular players live, how they feel and express, how to summon them to action. Kinesthetic sensibility comes with a huge bonus: the potential to investigate when we feel unnecessary contraction. To be curious about what’s happening in that moment. Is the activation habitual? Culturally conditioned? Genetic?
I teach relaxation/settling three distinct ways. Soften: prop use to release myofascial binding caused by injury, posture, genetics or chronic holding. Soothe: rocking, rubbing, pulsing, great skills to normalize tone. Finally good old stretching: re-establishing length in shortened muscle, the result of chronic activation.
There are many relatively easy areas to sense activation. You might recognize yourself in any of these four. Jaw: super-obvious for clenchers, grinders, TMJ pain-ers. Pelvic floor: clenching again, chronic constipation, urinary retention. I’ll stop the long list there. Number three? Breath: shallow, quick upper chest breathing. If you’re a regular reader you know activation area number four. Psoas: cramping, constriction, clutching deep in the belly.
The tender loins, the psoas, fear storage locker…intimately present on this feral in the forest journey. An early memory arose in the meadow this morning. Must have been five or six years old writhing in agony on the living room rug with severe stomach pain. This suffering went on for a while, bad enough to be hospitalized once. Never diagnosed. The cherry smell must have been rampant in that small Cincinnati apartment, my father’s generational rage blowing through our little family. A five year old has no words for that. Just this embodied belly clutch. Little wonder psoas has been a lifelong focus for me. With a name like Bella, how could it be otherwise?
Whatcha up to this Saturday July 18 10:00-noon? Join me for Essential Recharge with a focus on all the feel good rolling with psoas awareness woven all the way through. Whether core activation is a life-saver, genetically programmed, culturally conditioned or personally habitual, an uptight psoas wreaks body havoc. Read its signals, tend it for health—soften & soothe, tone & lengthen. This will be a round up of all we’ve explored the last three months but it will also serve as an introduction to home mat practice if you join for the first time. The available recording helps maintain your practice the rest of July. Come feel it.
Tailoring this offering in support of your home mat practice is my aim and it’s been gratifying to practice with you at home. If someone had told me a year ago I would enjoy and value teaching on line…no way! But here we are and I’m listening to your desire to continue learning in this way. If you’ve been on your mat independently these last two weeks, I’d love to hear from you. Remember, simply rolling out your mat and breathing for a few moments qualifies as practice. Please respond to this with your favorite mat story. I cherish your shares.
July 19 is Sunday Sweat Your Prayers: Zoom online in your home or simulcastlive in the garden, limited enrollment physically distanced dancers. We’re still keeping a close watch on local COVID trends and will cancel the live contingent if we must. The in person community that has been present and moving together—so respectful and care-full. I feel the palpable benefit of this offering outweighs the low risk. The way we link the virtual and the in-the-flesh community amazes me. What a world. Links below for each version.
I hope to spend some time with you this weekend on Saturday and/or Sunday, midway through my July break. We all have our own version of smelling cherries. Embodied practice is the only way I know to bring back the joy in that sweet smell.
P.S. August will be on the web soon. Tuesday Essentials: August 4, 11, 18 and Friday Deeper Being: August 7, 14, 21.
Feels like a chapter, this chunk of time spanning pandemic initiation until now. I didn’t know it was a whole book. The first few pages found many teachers cobbling together a way to teach on line. I hopped right in, this early scramble motivated by need: a clear calling to support community and to personally remain creatively alive through the uncertainty. The learning curve of being an online student/teacher was steep and relentless for us all, a mirror of everything else we were absorbing, digesting, getting the hang of. March drifted into April, May and June. Now that I know it’s a book, I feel how this first chapter is complete. So I’m taking a bit of a break this month, resting, dreaming, listening…feeling into the next chapter.
Wednesday Waves is on a break. Sunday Sweat Your Prayers continues two ways through July: Zoom online in your home AND simulcast live from the garden—limited enrollment, physically distanced dancers. We’re keeping a close watch on local COVID trends and will cancel the live component if we must. I’ll dance on Sundays but teach only July 19. After three tentative weeks, the incredibly respectful community present, Majica and I feel the palpable benefit of this in person offering outweighs the low risk. Links below for each version.
For months, during Tuesday Essentials and Friday Deeper Being, I witnessed us all on our home mats I’m holding that vision, inviting us to continue coming to our mats independently this month. To support us, to gather us, to call in those of you unable to join us on a weekday morning, I’m offering Essential Recharge Saturday July 18 10:00-noon—a round up of everything we’ve been exploring. It will be recorded for you to tap into the rest of the month.
The thread woven all the way through these upcoming two hours? Psoas awareness and the way it functions as body barometer. This amazing muscle always activates in response to stress. Our lives are chock full of that tension response right now. That activation can be a life-saver. But sometimes it is culturally conditioned or personally habitual. No matter, an uptight psoas is still the result and can wreak havoc. The antidote? We can learn to read it’s useful and not so useful signals as clues. And we can tend psoas—soften & soothe, tone & lengthen. Come feel it.
Right now, at the end of this chapter, I feel similar offerings emerging in August. Stay tuned. I’m leaving this morning for many days in the forest and hope to do as much camping as possible in July. Being close to the earth, away from technology and media, tracking the sun and moon and stars. I call it “going feral” and it never fails to nourish, inspire and replenish.
Sending love and support through the ethers this morning…Bella
History from the safety of arm’s length is lofty reflection. Last week I wrote “we are shaped by and dragging the bounty and burdens of 5000 years.” About the onset of patriarchy and how slavery emerged in its wake. In another post I wove slavery to genocide as cornerstone to the bloody history of this continent. Lofty reflection is a worthy intellectual endeavor—and it’s no surprise it dumped me into much more down-to-earth trenches. History’s connection to the current cultural conversation feels at once incredibly personal. These massive concepts, shocking behaviors and gut-wrenching events live right inside me with DNA roots ripe to acknowledge and explore.
Why? Well first this. Ever been in the midst of devouring a book to find reflected the very issues you’re grappling with, wondering how in the world this book made a synchronistical appearance? In The Guest Book
by Sarah Blake, a 500 page novel that explores three generations that delivered us to this continental moment, the Jewish character Len Levy speaks:
“And nothing taught me more than this: when I was ten years old, I knew there were boys my age being killed like cats. And it could have been me. Or my uncle, or my aunt, or my father. You grow up knowing that and you see it’s always a struggle between who you are and what you do.”
Earlier, his friend black friend Reg Pauling considers:
“”He’d gotten it back there. He’d gotten it down in film—whatever it was, that moment inside these worker’s heads when they saw him. He’d gotten the look. He’d caught the shift in the one man’s eyes when he’d seen Reg and seen Negro and put him away, closed the box and pushed it back in its line, the handler inside his head coming forward.”
Through this fictional friendship, Blake weaves genocide and slavery. Not the genocide of indigenous people who lived here, rather the Jewish people killed like cats this past century. And what is slavery but a living genocide, a wiping out of a culture by means other than death. Genocide. I turned toward it again. Two years ago I returned to my root-land, where my Jewish family had lived for 900 years. I wept by graves in cities my four grandparents had emigrated from. I bore witness to mass graves of genocide.
I grew up in the 1950s, a Jewish girl in a culture that did not reference Judaism. Except for reminding me that Jews killed Jesus. It was years before I learned that Jesus was a Jew. I felt my different-ness, my other-ness. I felt how inconceivable it was to my friends that we did not celebrate Christmas. I’d “gotten the look, the shift in the eyes.” It was only my white skin suit that separated me from Reg Pauling, the character above. And it was only the courage of my grandparents, scared youngsters who left their world and their parents behind, that delivered me here today.
I am not holding up this personal history in a “what about me?” way. I am not complaining about how the current conversation ignores the inequality and injustice I have experienced. Rather I am grasping that the quality of empathy I can bring to bear on this current conversation is directly related to the empathy I have for my own suffering. As I move through the historical intertwine of class and racism, genocide and religious intolerance on this continent, a slow dawning happens deep inside me. A sense that another layer of personal work is to be done in order to be part of the solution. Which truly surprised me for one whole day. How many times have I made this internal comment? “But I’ve already done this work. I thought I was complete with this work.” Hah!
I sense we each have another layer of the onion to peel. Each with our own unique history, distinct details that differ but an onion nonetheless. The question of the moment is “are we willing?”
“It takes discipline to be a free spirit.” Gabrielle Roth
We’ve travelled to every point of the compass in class offerings this month. By the time we joined feminine north left body and masculine south right body, we were primed to feel the ancestors trailing out back body west. And future generations pouring out front body east. This embodied exploration has emerged from and provoked the personal. As it always does. I was dancing yesterday and for the first time grasped that my parents never knew their grandparents. That my grandparents raised their children with no parents to lean into. I let this new awareness wash through me. This next layer.
Heightened sensitivity to physical clues help us peel the onion. Sensation is a tipoff to focus our attention. I’m a nervous car passenger—one too many accidents. This week I deeply attuned to my body’s response in the close call moments that pepper every driving experience. There it is: shallow breath, psoas clutch, pelvic floor clench. This stress response is track-able as evoked images and memories arise un-censored, as I move full throttle on the dance floor or make quiet shapes on my mat or walk barefoot through grass or sand. There is so much to feel in my breath, my belly, my heart. As I let it in, I build empathy for my own suffering. This build allows me to more skillfully engage in and contribute to our current cultural conversation.
There is one more Essentials and one more Wednesday Waves before I take a break in July to walk barefoot through grass and sand. Sunday Sweats continue through July. Stay tuned about August.
Let’s keep peeling onions together. Love, Bella
Through the miracle of current technology, while stretched on a Sacramento hammock, I watched the sun go down at Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England this summer solstice. These stones, carefully aligned around 3000 BC, mark the turning of seasons and supported rituals tied to agrarian survival. See witchcraft 101 for more on that. Right now the sun is far north in its east/west trajectory, beaming abundant energy to nourish all living beings. Good to remember in the heat of these dog days.
Coincidentally (or not?) scholarly evidence notes that patriarchy has its roots around the same time of 3000 BC. The word patriarch derives from the Greek: joining patria (family) to arches (ruling). There are indications that the practice of inter-tribal trading of women for the purpose of marriage was the start of this cultural trend. The rest is history. I was reflecting on all this yesterday, my first Father’s Day since my papa passed. He was so indelibly shaped by a patriarchal culture stretching 5000 years behind him.
The word “father” and the charged notion of patriarchy evokes a response unique to each of us, created by history both personal and generational. The expression of masculine energy in our communal culture is under critical examination right now . The Biblical reference—the sins of fathers becoming the burden of his children—truth? And as long as we’re diving into ancient history, here’s another fact. The first written record of laws relating to slavery dates around 2000 B.C. It was probably not a big leap for the patriarchy to move from trading women to enslaving humans.
So here we are shaped by and dragging the bounty and burdens of 5000 years. What can we do about that? How might we contribute to a shift in the culture? Lately I’ve been doing a fair share of reading and listening about racial justice and equality. I hear that you have, too. I’ve been here before. This time around my perception of what might be needed, what I might contribute is being influenced by how I usually offer opportunity for change.
There is intellectual work to be done, that is for sure. But there is just so far reading and talking and listening will move us. There are 5000 years of conditioning locked into our bodies. Resmaa Menakem is one of the voices I’ve been hearing. This video introduction to racialized trauma offers a quick overview of the territory. Trauma held in bodies: white, black, police, communal.
When we consider the physiology of exactly how trauma is “held” in the body, psoas muscle (see picture below) gives us a window to our human interior. Psoas and me have been getting increasingly intimate over a number of years. If you are in my classes, you are probably rolling your eyes right now. Fear is a life saving human response to danger. Activation of psoas readies us for a quick response of fighting or fleeing or freezing in the face of threat. If I find myself alone on a dark street and I perceive a large dark figure coming toward me, I might clutch my purse a little closer. This is a visible fear response. What’s not visible is that I’m also clutching my psoas muscle. Both of them. When I eventually pass this dark figure in safety, I release my purse. But because I didn’t run or fight or freeze, my psoas is still clutched. Again.
Holding a safe container for us to identify the physical sensation of a clutched psoas is a skill I can offer in this moment. Does it contribute to a shift in the culture? Hah! Baby steps. But if we clearly know the sensation of a clutched psoas we have embodied access into our unique body signals. We can be aware and curious when this sensation arises. What is triggering it? Is the clutch an appropriate response to danger or is it a conditioned response to culture? The other skill I offer is how to remedy the chronic clutch. Whether the response is an appropriate preparation for danger or a culturally conditioned contraction, there is an antidote: quieting, softening and lengthening the tender loins. Ultimately we would like a pair of healthy supple toned psoas offering us feedback we are able to discern.
In honor of my own clutch, in an effort to quiet and soften, I will be taking some time off in July. See below for what’s happening for the balance of June. And mark your calendar for a mid-month reunion Saturday July 18 for Essential Recharge. Sunday 5R Sweats continue through July. Not sure about Wednesday Waves yet. This is traditionally the time of the year we take a break through Labor Day. But traditions have lost their hold. Can you feel that?
Remaining here in support of feeling that and everything else that is arising.
I know exactly when my childhood reverence for the natural world galvanized around nature-based practices. On a high plateau in Death Valley, alone for three days, fasting, feeling everything. The sun just a month past spring equinox, low in the south, I tracked it through each day as guidance to any available shade. Sixty mph gales swept through me west to east one night as I traced the constellations in their revolution around the North Star. Which happens every night. But up until this moment I had been clueless. Over the course of ten days, the natural forces that guide indigenous cultures worldwide began their journey into my bones, my blood, my breath.
Decade birth years call for special acknowledgement. As fifty loomed, spirit demanded milestone recognition. I recall weighing many options but when it came right down to it, my choice was motivated by fear. I wanted something edgy, terror-tinged to mark this turning. Chills moved through me with each re-read about a Death Valley vision quest. The fear itself pulled out my credit card and signed my life away on the morbid liability waiver. A rag tag group of seekers, many also verging on fifty, and two intrepid leaders met over dinner in Las Vegas for the first time. After we ate, in the darkness of a moonless night, they piled us into vehicles, whisked us away into the deep silence of the valley.
We left the main road then continued to travel a bumpy hour off road. I was up front with fearless leader when an owl swooped in front of the windshield. A moment later a coyote led our vehicle for a minute. Driver response? “Interesting medicine.” I was pondering what that could possibly mean when we got as far as a car could roam. We stretched out our sleeping bags and were told to get good sleep cuz it would be a long haul in the morning.
Which it was. Lugging our packs as well as ten days of food and water for twenty people. Two round trips, each two hours over rocky pathless terrain. My wish for fear was being granted along with a heavy dose of exhaustion. After we settled, we plunged into three days of eclectic training: wilderness survival, astronomy, Native American lore—medicine wheels, compass directions, elements, animal lore. Highlight: in the dead of a moonless night, no flashlights, a two mile trail-less hike up a loose shale packed mountain top. Being grounded got real: instinctual, close to the ground, testing weight with every foot fall real. I morphed into a bobcat, slow prowling. But we made it up and back with no losses.
The primary task was spot location, finding the territory to spend three solo days with three gallons of water and a sleeping bag. No food, no tent, no writing or reading. Shelly from Alaska was my boundary buddy. We found a place we could each remain unseen but be in hear-able distance of an emergency whistle. Day Four dawned and we took off. My site was atop a big plateau overlooking Death Valley. We’d been tracking the sun and moon for days so I knew the directions. I was utterly oriented to the earth but still cannot tell you where on a map I was. I hauled rocks to fashion my own medicine wheel, slept in its center each night. All my imagined fears proved baseless. Even the fasting was no big deal after day one. My morning amusement was carefully observing an ant colony that went underground exactly high noon. I missed them when they went to the underworld, thrilled when they emerged at daybreak.
Each morning I hiked to the Shelly boundary to place a rock signaling I was alive and well. It was gratifying to find her’s left the afternoon before. We never saw each other, but knowing she was near was great comfort. Never saw any four legg-eds but there were birds aplenty and I spent trancey hours watching them dart and flock overhead. They seemed to take interest in my plight, as if they safeguarding me. By Day 3, the hike to Shelly took my every ounce of energy. We were to spend the last 24 hours awake as much as possible in the center of our circle.
That day the winds came up. They were terrifying. I could hear them approach for a full two minutes, like a train in the distance. Each gust would descend on me, each subsequent blast more fierce than the last. Despite the evoked fear, they were incredible meditative support, sweeping out persistent mental cobwebs. Thoughts that kept turning to ancestors and siblings lost to time. An emptiness descended on me I had never felt before. The wind never ceased as darkness descended. I laid on my back and watched the sky. At one point I rose in the blackness to exit my circle to pee. In a flash a gust of wind lifted my empty sleeping bag and carried it to the plateau edge. Like it had wings. In a burst of pure energetic survival, I snatched it mid-air, heart thudding grateful to snuggle back in.
When morning dawned, I dismantled my medicine circle, left no trace. Took leave of the ants and birds and a patch of quest supporting earth. A quest for what? It would take a couple years before I realized what this dedicated time had initiated. The rag tag seekers shared three post-days of wonder and witnessing and integration. I was helping in the makeshift kitchen, lifting a cooler off the ground. Underneath were two nestled mating rattlesnakes. Several of us watched a bit then carefully replaced the cooler. “Interesting medicine.” That comment once again….this time I was not clueless.
It was a long road back. The shower and bed and restaurant in Vegas felt unreal. Two things happened when I arrived home that clearly supported the persistent unfolding of this vision quest energy. First was a letter waiting on my clinic desk from Health South. They wanted to purchase my clinic. I had never even considered Dreizler Physical Therapy sell-able. In the open vulnerability of re-entry, the prospect of letting go totally captured my attention. And that response was totally surprising. That particular sale didn’t come to pass. But it illuminated the obvious: it was time to make a change. Five years later the sale finally happened.
The second happening was a prophetic gift from sweet hubby: Yoga Woman, an original Grace Slick pastel of Madonna dancing up a storm. The energy of this electric blue portrait emanated over the fireplace exuding serious magic. Within two years I was utterly on the dancing and yoga path. Ultimately, to follow my heart, to be in alignment with my soul, to listen to the call of spirit, I had to sell that clinic in honor of what was calling. Without that vision quest my life would never have taken the turn that it did. Ever grateful for the fifty year old who wanted to be scared out of complacency and into her truth.
A truth that had been initiated in childhood during long days on the shores of the Pacific. On a six week family car camping trip across the U.S. and back. And days on end in the Sierras, backpacking before anything like REI existed. I am amazed at the courage of my parents and grateful for their induction into a way of being. I am most at home, at peace, in my right place when I am immersed in the natural world. I guess there is no name or even clear definition of what this way of being is. Pagan? Spiritual naturalist?
I quietly call it witchcraft, nature-based practices that nourish me. Like being barefoot on the earth, laying on grass and granite, bathing in bodies of water, orienting to compass directions, honoring the elements, tracking the route of the sun, cycles of the moon, celebrating equinox and solstice. What truly qualifies it as witchcraft is the intrinsic way I feel this in my bones, my blood, my breath. And my clear sense that tapping this energy thrives me in a world gone mad. Even before this enforced isolation we were trending toward separation. From the earth. From each other. From ourselves.
So that’s why I’m offering Witchcraft 101 in my remaining classes for this month of June. It is techno anti-dote. It is a path away from separation and toward connection, toward unity. It is medicine for our times. And it is also why I’m taking some time off in July to be in the lap of Earth Mama for days on end. Not sure how teaching will shape up in July. Stay tuned. But more importantly, take what your body already inherently knows, take what you are gathering from these Witchcraft 101 classes, take yourself away from this screen and go outside and feel. Smell, see, touch, listen. Breathe.
Let’s be together this week and practice so we might go outside and do just that. Love, Bella
Through the lens of injustice, my life has been a long and steady haul. My grandparents fled eastern Europe to escape genocide, the specific eradication of their culture. They arrived on Ellis Island with a burning desire to blend in, grateful to quietly dissolve into the melting pot of early 20th century America. Like all immigrant groups they found assimilation a mixed bag. Much loss for every gain. But their white skin granted them privilege other groups did not receive.
They were probably clueless that the land they settled had been stolen from an indigenous culture subjected to the same genocide they barely escaped. And that this same land granting them a sustainable livelihood as chicken farmers was cleared a few decades earlier with the blood and sweat of enslaved people. These tragic undercurrents birthed me, a child of stunning and dubious privilege. Two parent household with steady income, homes in decent neighborhoods with great libraries, parks, walk-able schools. Education that tracked toward college, access to healthy food, expansive travel, leisure and recreation opportunities, you name it.
Realization about this privilege dawned slowly. I was only five when Rosa Parks boarded that bus in Montgomery. But in 1960, right after I turned ten, I read about her and the Civil Rights Act in my Weekly Reader. I was raised in a politically uber-liberal household, lively dinner discussions focused on current events. I was a regular reader of Time magazine and the LA Times. Yet more privilege. The civil rights riots—marchers, police, dogs, desegregation attempts, Ku Klux clan—played out in grainy black and white on a TV console that back dropped our comfortable suburban existence. I was 15 when Malcolm X was assassinated, same year the Watts riots brought the issue right to our door step. In the long hot summer of 1967 the whole country was on fire. In the couple months right before I graduated high school, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated in quick succession. By summer’s end the Democratic convention had exploded in mayhem.
This childhood immersion delivered me to UCLA ripe for my latent activism to ignite. I joined the ranks of the protestors, a seething mix of young people enraged about the Viet Nam war and the ongoing denial of basic human rights for African Americans and women. I marched, I went on strike, I sat in. I listened to speakers that ranged from the incredible intelligence of Angela Davis to utter raving lunatics. This youthful engagement came to a head campaigning door-to-door for McGovern in 1972. The election of Richard Nixon knocked the wind out of so many youthful sails. The promise and hope and passion of the 60s evaporated in 1972.
Disillusioned, I stashed my protest signs and got a job. Got married. Had children. Led the good life my incredible privilege had ushered me into. The reality of bad news never stopped, only the specifics changed: shit show politics world wide, racial injustice, ecological collapse, wealth inequality, police brutality, ERA stalled, global terrorism, white supremacy, unending wars, decaying leadership. Since those early activist days, the ceaseless erosion of unanswered rage has chiseled away at me. How many decades of disappointment about injustice on so many levels can a human being bear? I’m finding out.
In the last twenty years I’ve tried to make peace with how my action aligns with my values. Over and again I remember that my current work is to hold space for people to get quiet and feel all that is authentically arising. Trusting that if we feel the truth of what’s emerging we’ll make moves toward right action. I’m seventy years old with a long past. These days when I get quiet enough to tap that long-simmering rage it fuels a clarity that tolerates what is unknown. Joan Halifax invites us to
“…open ourselves to what we do not know, what we cannot know…open ourselves to being surprised. Wise hope emerges from deep inside us only through the spaciousness of radical uncertainty.”
I’m listening to my children, grandchildren, young friends. I’m witnessing the passion and potential of young people in the streets. I, too, once felt the righteous power of gazing into a long future. So against all odds, I have hope. I see possibility, opportunity, truth. I have a faith and trust nurtured by the beauty and promise of our youth. They are our future.
Radical uncertainty opens me to hope, but also leaves the door open to despair. I have despair aplenty. Despite the incredible privilege that renders all bad news listed above a personal inconvenience rather than a life-threatening emergency. No matter. I still suffer. You suffer. Humans suffer. So I get quiet and feel that long-simmering despair and often what arises is the truth of our innate goodness, our kindness, our resilience. I stay with the uncomfortable feeling until it delivers (almost always) an abiding compassion for all beings suffering on this small planet.
I taught five classes last week and I did the same thing in each one. I held space for us to get quiet. Breathe. Feel. Stay. Take a breath with me here. Let in whatever you’ve been desperately breathing away. Feel. Stay. Can we let in the image of George Floyd desperate for one more breath? Breathe and feel and stay? I believe we can. I believe we have to. Because that’s the first step to whatever’s next.
Maybe you feel current events hitting you like a ton of bricks, the rage of injustice deeply stirred. Yet again. Maybe the news propels you into a morass of numbness. Sinking into safe folds of oblivion. Yet again. Maybe your belly contracts in anxiety, new fear heaped upon the old fear. Yet again. Some of us waft into confusion as chaos comes calling. Others put the brakes on wherever control is feasible. Yet again. Yet again. Yet again.
How much can we take? We are finding out. How are you doing? A tidbit of an answer to that question arose in practice Sunday as I investigated an imaginary line. All the way at one end? Relative ease dancing the insular space of fierce mama bear, protect-ress of everything me and mine. No matter what. At the other end of my imaginary line? My bigger self reigned, moved magnanimously with inclusivity, embracing it all. Compassion arising for all sentient beings, desire for every one of us to be safe, for all beings to live free of fear and thrive.
Then that elusive place in the center, equanimity required to hold little me and big me all at once. A place that smacks of mature wisdom. If we allow our awareness to expand, become less caught up in what magnetizes our attention…well, maybe we are all juggling this polarity right now. With varying degrees of success.
How can we possibly hold all that is coming at us with so much force and speed and urgency without retreating into insulation? Even in my relatively easy circumstances, I suffer days of battered exhaustion, barely making it through. Last week…the gift of a random respite, a privileged opportunity to completely rest three days—no news, no screens, tender companionship, good food. And, most importantly, total balm of Mother Nature: endless expanse of sky and trees and sea.
“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, ‘This is what it is to be happy.’” – Sylvia Plath
On return, I breathed into the latest horrid news cycle, let it completely sink in: déjà vu frustration of injustice, self-preservative need for calculated caution, clear tracking eye on my tendency toward numbness, judgment, confusion, control. Way too awake to be seduced by any one of these old habits. Compassion arising again and again with each barrage of information. Buoyed by my bond to the natural world, for a brief moment, I hold this middle ground, my insular needs optimally balanced by my desire to include it all. To witness, to be in right action, to offer perspective and holding, patience and trust, space for unfolding.
And Saturday morning I returned to the bounty of outdoors again, holding six of us in a yoga practice beneath a grove of redwoods. We began by burrowing fingers deep in green grass, searching for four leaf clovers. There it was again—this palpable nervous system downshift via connection with the natural world. I am so called to open us all to this resource right now. We have been cooped up, loves.
So, because we can, because the times urgently call for it, we switched things up for Wednesday Waves. This Wednesday June 3 we begin a 5 week series to renew our ability to resource the natural world. You could put headphones on and practice outdoors. But inside or out, this dance is an embodied instinct boost no matter where you are. We start an hour earlier at 5:15; sign up for the series or drop into any one.
Bones and earth; beat and fire and passion; water and blood, tears and sweat; breath, air, wind. Orienting to direction—bodies front, side, backs. Father Sky, Mother Earth, Sacred Center. Feel into your practice space. Do you know in what direction East lies? Find out now and join us Wednesday on this most natural of journeys, our animal bodies in motion….together.
And I’ll be leading practice from my backyard for this Tuesday’s Essentials…maybe you want to see if you can find an outdoor space, too. This is the new web link where you can register for all of June or enroll to drop in any one Tuesday….fostering animal bodies supple and toned.
No matter where you are today, notice the trajectory of the sun in its journey east to west. Our planet keeps spinning toward Summer Solstice, heedless of humanity in wild evolution, barely touched by our little lives in flux. I feel this star coming front and center in my life, long days shining with light, warmth and nourishment. Let’s call in the seasonal change together.
Physically distanced, spiritually & socially connected…..
Just a few moments ago, instead of sitting down to write, I aimlessly wandered the internal cocoon of my home, putting things away. This belongs here. Throw this away. Change this to here. As if. My subconscious having a field day, putting the thousand things to right in my little controllable world. Spinning dreams out of my frustration and my longing and my agitation. Triggering my emotions in novel and unfamiliar ways. And I keep listening to you. I am not alone in this.
We are fumbling our way out of extreme isolation and flirting with what might be next. Studies of humans emerging from isolation indicate “an inflection point where the frustration and hardship of being cooped up inside gets suddenly harder to bear.” And everyone is unique in the particulars. What is feeling safe for you in order to bit by bit emerge?
This was brought home to me when I accepted an invitation to gather for a small dinner party. With people I love and trust. I was explicit about my need to gather outdoors but apparently not clear about my continued need to maintain physical distance. I was so uncomfortable with the reality of the evening and even more dismayed by my inability to stand by my own requirements.
Let me say it again. We are all going to move through this differently. There was nothing wrong with my friend’s boundaries. There was nothing wrong with the lines I had drawn. Being with the discomfort of our differences—holding each other with kindness and respect and understanding—this is the ride we are on now. I have children and grandchildren I am deeply missing. My relationship with them and my need to be physically close with them is my highest priority. Therefore, I have to respect the boundaries they have set in their lives so that I might be with them as soon as possible. Wow. It seems as if nothing or perhaps everything in my life so far has prepared me for this.
And in the wee early hours of this morning, a dawn that ushers in the hottest of days, I coaxed myself up, meditated and then took my weepy walk to East Portal Park. And as soon as I hit send on this writing, I’ll roll out my mat to move and breathe and feel some more. I can’t even imagine how haywire the shenanigans of my sub-conscious would be without this essential self-care. This dedicated time is as important as the food I consume, the rest I hold sacred, the personal connections I foster in whatever way possible.
One activity that keeps me sane is holding space for others to discover ways to yoke body and mind. Yoke? The root word of yoga. So many interpretations of what exactly is being yoked and how this term emerged. The story I love is this one. Picture an untamed and unruly ox, kinda like your wild mind. Add a perfectly functional wooden cart, a metaphor for your blessed body. How to bring these two together so they might move through the world with ease and efficiency and joy? We yoke body and mind via breath. So simple. So incredibly challenging. But it’s what I’m offering as essential self-care. Dance with me. Be on the mat with me. Let’s yoke together.
I love the Essential territory we’ve dropped into Tuesday/Friday. Yes, of course, we’re rolling out that fascial tension. Creating deep pleasure as we restore suppleness and fluidity to the wooden cart. And we’re connecting deep core tone with the truth of what arms and legs need to do in the real world. See this video, a glimpse into building functional power in those incredible weight-bearing legs. And since it’s all done in the context and cradle of breath, restless mind gets corralled in for a bit. Been loving this foray, your enthusiastic feedback keeps me traveling this territory.
So grab your mat and roller and double tennis balls and join me tomorrow morning at ten. Here’s the link, for the last time on this web page. See this web page for what’s happening in June right here: https://bodyjoy.net/yoga-on-line-offerings/ . Let’s tame the wild beast and support each other on this rowdy ride. Let’s yoke together.
“Loss is simply what happens to you in life.
Meaning is what you make happen.”
David Kessler quote, the man who collaborated with five stages of grief Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. This grief warrior continues to mine her classic stages and recently added stage six, with the permission of Kubler-Ross’ family. Moving in my studio yesterday, spinning round and round, I felt myself turning in a spiral of grief. Again. A movement experience I’ve had any number of times in the past and failed to remember. Just like the spiral of grief itself, I seem to return to this notion again and again. Perhaps the gift of a memory less linear than it used to be.
Each in our own way, consciously or not, spinning in this spiral of let go. Never really finding completion, but rather settling and commencing again and again. Because loss is part of the life deal and even a singular loss can move through multiple spirals. And what we are experiencing now is loss on so many levels. What I noticed yesterday is each subsequent spiral is softer, quieter, more nuanced. And as each sputters toward nebulous closure, the harvestable fruit of meaning arises. And that is the gift of Kessler’s sixth stage. This place that reminds us that pain is inevitable but suffering is optional. Meaning is the place where healing resides.
Enter anywhere, but often we initiate our spiral through grief by swimming in waters of denial. Clinging to a raft of preferred reality. Numbness, confusion, fear, shock. Hang in denial long enough and eventually anger knocks. I favor resentment myself but maybe you prefer frustration or anxiety or irritation or blame or rage. Take your pick. Next stop? Bargaining. Which is a bit mysterious to me. Maybe you have to believe something or someone has influence on outcome. Being traditionally religious could help. My relationship with spirit doesn’t include the capacity to influence fate. My prayers lean toward help deal with what is, not so much creating what isn’t. But if bargaining is in your repertoire, it does serve. It settles us into the unavoidable, sipping on hope before everything shifts forever.
After these three stages, we finally plunk down in sadness, the zone we associate with this multi-dimensional grief process. Depression, overwhelm, helplessness. Resignation paired with paralysis. There is no correct timeline here. Each of us, unique in history and genetics and life experience. We hang out in each zone as long as it takes. And if we have the honor of living and breathing, we land in acceptance. Where we begin to gingerly explore options, float plans, move on.
When I move, I feel. So useful for a person like me for whom articulating present tense emotion can be so elusive. I spun through my studio yesterday, so aware of the softness of this familiar spiral, felt myself land in the field of stage six. Again. Uber-aware of zero closure but grateful for the opportunity. Meaning honors what has passed but doesn’t stop there.
Meaning harvests process and proffers fruit. Which for me yesterday was so very quiet and simply revelatory: contentment. Exquisite satisfaction with this life in this moment in this circumstance. Unequivocal. Side by side but unaffected by challenge, difficulty, coping, worry. A visceral fulfillment that feels vivid new, with weight and breadth and magnitude. Touchable.
So many harvestable possibilities in this ongoing recurrent spiral. What I notice, perhaps more than ever, is I pretty consistently arrive at dance floor or mat vaguely out of heart touch. Maybe that’s what propels me there. On the other side of practice there is relative clarity. Access to what I am feeling. And sometimes incredibly juicy fruit.
Offering as well as being in the dance in these new circumstances is revealing. We’ve settled into a schedule. I offer Wednesday and Sunday this week; Majica offers next week. These are guided classes, not music only. For a couple reasons. Alone, without the support of the group field, cultivating presence is more challenging. So we offer 5Rhythms support through the wave of music. Plus, as teachers, clearly articulating the practice is our only go-to without physical demonstration or tuning into clues from the field. It is a brilliant opportunity for all of us to drop into the practice in a new way. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have some annoying, limiting and technically over the top challenges!
The on line yoga? Actually mostly a technical breeze, total fit, surprisingly expansive. Enroll for Essentials Tuesday 10:00 (tomorrow!) right here. Been working that website some. Read about the evolution of this responsive “yoga wherever you are” right here. Take a peek at how I am shaping the twice a week offering come June right here .
And wherever whenever however you land in practice, be prepared to harvest some incredibly juicy fruit.
Like Spring, secretly at work within the heart of Winter,
below the surface of our lives huge changes are in fermentation…
we find ourselves vulnerable
to a flourish of possibility
and we are suddenly negotiating
the challenges of a threshold…
In these few lines from a poem by John ODonohue, the word threshold leapt off the page right into my lap. A friend defines threshold as an edge we tolerate before something changes. We are all on this edge. There are moments I yearn to retreat from it and a minute later I am aching to step over and out. Maybe you are feeling this, too. The call for tolerance feels too much to bear.
But O’Donohue urges us to stand on this edge, build a tolerance infused with patience and attention. And also listen to our heart-speak since a threshold
…intensifies toward the end
into a real frontier that cannot be crossed
without the heart being passionately engaged
and woken up….
At this time in my life, what am I leaving?
Where am I about to enter?
Cooped Up, but Upbeat is a John Leland essay about old elderly New Yorkers in their 80s and 90s. I soaked in their communal wisdom from my newly sketched place of, what we might name, “young elderly” and was very moved. “Many in this age group are thriving during this catastrophe—skilled at being alone, not fearful about their career prospects. emotionally more experienced at managing the great disruption of everyday life…they offer a counter-narrative of resourcefulness and perseverance.”
Says Gary Kennedy, geriatric psychiatrist “Their pessimism and anxiety tend to abate with age. They’re no longer striving for material achievements, so what matters to them now is what is emotionally satisfying. They’re more likely to say I’ve been through this before.”
There has been a ton of research about how life satisfaction shifts as we age. In general, older adults have a positivity bias. In the long long long run, the slings and arrows of any life do a fine job prepping us for threshold moments like this. Although many of us (like me!) are slow learners who need to be pummeled repeatedly before patience, attention and heart come as natural responses.
The O’Donohue poem closes with this:
It is wise in your own life…to take your time
…to listen inward with complete attention
until you hear the inner voice calling you forward:
“The time has come to cross.”
So we stand on this bewitching threshold together. Sometimes it’s an other worldly mystic training retreat. Other times I’ve been abandoned in some dank dungeon. On this edge I drop into moments of intense creative outburst and there are nightmares illuminating a sub-conscious deep at work. Mostly I hang at this brink in clear equanimity, punctuated by lovely highs and despairing lows.
My four Zoom teaching appointments anchor me to my week. Treating an occasional patient in the Zoom room has been a fascinating delight. I hope our paths cross in cyber-space soon.
In the meantime: patience, attention, heart….love, Bella