Author Archives: Heidi Fischbach

Volver a los 17. A translation.

One of my favorite songs of all time was written by the late Chilean poet Violeta Parra and made famous by the now-also-late belovèd Argentine folk singer Mercedes Sosa (affectionately known as “la negra”). This song makes me incredibly homesick. Homesick for Chile, for Latin America. Homesick for smells and sounds I can only, maybe, find in dreams. It even makes me homesick for places I’ve never actually been. (Honey, I think we call that “longing.”)

Over the years, I’ve played “Volver a los 17” a few times for people —usually lovers at that point in the relationship when they show you theirs and you show them yours (music, people, music!) — who don’t speak Spanish. Invariably I end up feeling tongue-tied and rather inept at the prospect of simultaneously translating its rapidly flowing metaphors, and certainly not without detracting from the melody and the kick-your-heels-up Chilean folk-dance (“la cueca”) rhythm, which the song springs into every time the chorus comes around.

So usually I just end up mumbling something about how it’s about going back to being 17, and then I sigh and drift off to a nebulous place of homesickness and longing for the length of the song.

But, back to now…

Finally and actually having given its translation a whirl, if you were my lover today and it was my turn to show I’d tell you that yes, it’s a song about going back for yourself at 17. But also it’s about the moment —so fragile and powerful at once— and about how an instant can change everything. Oh and too? I’d tell you that while the whole thing is about love, it’s not about the shiny and brand spanking new ‘oooh baby I’m so in love with you’ kind of love that usually gets our attention, but rather the giant and gnarly kind that includes the shiny bits, sure, but also the heartache-y dark stretches between the shine. Also? I’d tell you that there are many words whose beauty get lost in translation, if they can be translated at all.

I tried to translate the poem in a way that allows you to read in English to the meter of the Spanish verse. A few times I favored meter and meaning over literal accuracy. I press “publish” with a bow of apology to Violeta Parra for what is lost in translation.

One last thing… I chose this YouTube version of the song not for its recording quality but because of the gorgeous energy of these five belovèd Latin American singers: Mercedes Sosa, Chico Buarque, Caetano Veloso, Milton Nascimento and Gal Costaand. There are many heart-melty moments –many!– but my favorite might be when Caetano softly reaches for the higher notes and his voice cracks (at about minute 1:35 or so).

Volver a los 17 (Violeta Parra)

Returning to seventeen
after having lived a century
is like deciphering signs
without the competence of wisdom
to be suddenly once again
as fragile as a second
to feel things so intensely
like a child in front of God,
that’s what it is like for me
in this very fertile instant

Chorus:
Entangling entangling so it goes
like a thick ivy on the wall
sprouting and sprouting so it grows
like tender moss covering stone
like tender moss on a stone ay sí sí sí.

The steps I take go backwards
while yours continue advancing
the bow of alliances
has penetrated my nest
in all its colorful swagger
it’s taken a walk down my veins
and even the hardest of chains
that destiny uses to bind us
it’s like a fine diamond
that lights up my serene soul

What feeling can bring about
knowledge never has,
nor the clearest course of action
nor the grandest of thoughts.
Everything is changed by the moment
like an affable magician,
it sweetly steers us away
from bitterness and from violence
only love with its science
turns us into such innocence.

Love is a swirling whirlwind
of primal purity
even the wildest animal
will whisper and trill its sweetness,
it stops pilgrims in their travels,
it liberates those in prison,
love, with greatest of care,
turns the old (wo)man into a child
and only loving care will turn the bad
into pure and sincere.

The window was opened wide
as if by some enchantment,
then love entered with its blanket
to give cover like a warm morning
to the sound of its lovely reveille
it made jasmine burst into bud,
and taking flight like a seraphim
it placed earrings on the sky
and my years of 17
were transformed by the cherub.

[Translation (c) Heidi Fischbach, 2014]

Dear Heidi: connecting with body

Keeping the Peace asks:

“After a massage I feel very connected with my body. Is there anything I can do in between massages to maintain that connection?”

Dear Keeping the Peace,

I love that there are people like you in the world, people who want to feel connected to their bodies.

Connection is about relationship, and since it’s hard to relate to something or someone we don’t notice, that’s where I’ll invite you to start: by noticing.

Practice, whenever and however you can, turning toward, listening, and paying attention to your body.

“But Heidi,” you might be saying, “it’s easy to notice my body when I’m getting a massage, but things are stressful and life is busy off the massage table… Also, I am very easily distracted… And my body often is a source of stress…”

I hear you, Keeping the Peace, and it is exactly there, where you are, that I invite you to start:

Let stress, let discomfort, let disharmony and all the ways those express as tightness and pain in your body be what taps you on the shoulder to notice.

Practically speaking, how to connect with your body

In real life, in the real world, it might play out like this:

The next time you feel that knot creep into your shoulder, that pain settle into your butt, or that ache into your foot, use it as the reminder to turn toward your body and wonder:

How am I?

Let those words hang there for a few beats. Give them a breath, or two, or four.

How am I?

Notice. Don’t hurry to answer. Let the words linger around you like a cartoon bubble.

How am I?

Let your words (or whatever words or way you choose to come in contact with your body) be a soft invitation. You aren’t demanding an answer, you are inviting contact, and waiting and noticing what comes.

How am I?

Notice. There are so many ways to answer that question. The first answer that comes may be wordy, like a kid telling a convoluted story.

How am I?

Notice. Allow your body to answer. Maybe at first it seems like nothing comes or maybe what comes is something very very shy. Notice. And from a place of calm curiosity, watch.

How am I?

Sense down your middle. Invite your throat area, your chest area, your belly area to answer.

How am I?

Keep wondering, keep sensing, keep listening.

Remember your heartfelt intention to connect. You want to know this thing, this collection of cells, this mystery of being — however *you* think of it — that you call “your body.”

Be the space in(to) which your body can answer

Allow your body to tell you whatever, however it is. And keep listening.

The more you listen, the more you will hear. The more you hear, the more you will connect. I promise.

Channel your massage therapist’s table or your massage therapist’s office, if that helps. Channel your very own dear self while receiving a massage. Recall how your breathing, when you are receiving a massage, settles into calm. Be the calm into which anything your body wants to tell you can speak or in some other way be known. Be that calm.

Notice and listen. I think you will be amazed. I always am.

Several years ago I went through a bout of insomnia. Ugh. I kept waking up way before the rest of the world and, try as I might, just couldn’t fall back asleep. Finally it came to me to practice doing onto myself what I do for my clients: to listen, to be with, exactly as it is, whatever might be going on. Those sleepless wee hours of the morning became the tap on my shoulder to stop and listen to my body. I wrote this list-poem during one of those nights:

It’s hard to listen, it’s easier to smooth things out.
It’s hard to listen, to let discomfort be.
It’s hard to listen, to pull up a chair and keep company.
It’s hard to listen, it’s easier to have an agenda.
It’s hard to listen, it’s easier to steer things back to before.
It’s hard to listen, to feel it just like it is.
It’s hard to listen, it’s easier to pretty it up. Or make it worse than it is.
It’s hard to listen, it’s easier to tell you what to do.
It’s hard to listen, it’s easier to assume I know what you mean.
It’s hard to listen, it’s easy to jump to conclusions.
It’s hard to listen, it’s hard to realize I don’t know shit.
It’s hard to listen, to feel fragility.
It’s hard to listen, it’s easier to grip.
It’s hard to listen, it’s easier to interrupt.
It’s hard to listen, to realize the rain could wash it all away.
It’s hard to listen, and not tell things where to go.
It’s hard to listen, it’s easier to argue.
It’s hard to listen, it’s easier to explain.
It’s hard to listen, it’s easier to pretend.
It’s hard to listen, it’s easier to justify.
It’s hard to listen, it’s easier to advocate for the devil.
It’s hard to listen, it’s easier to defend.
It’s hard to listen, to know that things aren’t mine.
It’s hard to listen, to see people as capable.
It’s hard to listen, it’s easier to interfere.
It’s hard to listen, it’s easier to be hard.
It’s hard to listen I’m afraid.

Keep the Peace, thank you for being the very first person to “Ask Heidi.” I love your question and I love that you asked.

Heidi

The Anxiety-Taming Blanket (Part 2)

"The Anxiety-Taming Blanket" series continues... [Last week's introductory post is over here.]

Even though what we most want to be able to do when we feel anxious is to rest and relax, the underlying belief running like a broken record usually sounds like “Something is wrong,” to which our first reaction is to tighten up and get tense.

(For most people, what I just described happens unconsciously. It’s our wiring, so to speak… Until we notice.)

The old-wired response

FIGHT. In fight-mode we scan for what is wrong and then fight whatever we think is to blame. In a more subtle form, the fight-response involves looking for fixes: we take out our metaphorical tool box and start hammering away at what we don’t like. While there’s nothing wrong with fixing and finding solutions, in fight-mode there is an underlying frantic-ness and urgency that propels our actions. Nothing calm and centered about it. And often, rather than bringing relief or rest, the frantic-ness of trying to fix what we think is wrong actually brings more anxiety.

FLIGHT is about running away from what scares us. (It doesn’t matter that we don’t exactly know what the danger even is.) Even though we don’t have to run away from sabre-toothed tigers or wooly mammoths for survival like our ancestors did, the wiring to run away remains. Being in flight-mode in response to anxiety can look like reaching for things to distract ourselves from how we are feeling or from the things we think are related to our anxiety. While our distractions can give some appreciated relief, the relief is often short-lived, and what follows can be a sense of even more restlessness.

FREEZE involves the things we do to numb and anesthetize ourselves from the discomfort of anxiety. It’s the old “If I can’t see you, you can’t see me” thing that little kids do: we hope that if we don’t look, then it won’t be there. Except that it is. And, unfortunately, what we find after coming out of whatever we did to numb is the same, maybe even stronger-than-before, anxiety.

Often we don’t notice we are feeling anxious until we’ve started or are well down the path of tension in a fight, flight or freeze reaction.

Re-wiring the old

Remember your metaphorical magical anxiety-taming blanket from the other day? The one that is the perfect size and the perfect shape for whatever is going on for you, including every single aspect of this anxiety?

Your anxiety-taming blanket is woven out of soft threads of self-compassion. These soft threads are also incredibly strong, but strong in a bendy and supremely adaptable way.

Sitting on the blanket of self-compassion has an uncanny way of softening the tightness that comes from the old-wired fight-flight-freeze.

Self-compassion

Self-compassion involves noticing, listening and seeing. With soft eyes.

Self-compassion involves turning toward and being with whatever is happening.

(If the idea of turning toward and being with whatever is happening makes you more anxious, then THAT is where to start: by turning toward and being with the part of you that is scared about what is there. We are where we are and we always start there.)

If right about now you are getting a knot in your stomach at the memory of  your old high school guidance counselor telling you to work on your self-esteem, fear not. Self-compassion is not about self-esteem.

Self-compassion is also not about approving or disapproving of what you find when you turn toward yourself.

Self-compassion is not about agreeing or disagreeing with what is happening. And it certainly is not about trying to make yourself accept what is there. (Although, with self-compassion you may very well find yourself feeling more accepting).

Self-compassion is not about figuring anything out (even though you may find that things do shift and get figured out).

Self-compassion is looking upon yourself and whatever is happening, with kind regard.

It takes practice. Most of us, especially those of us who have struggled mightily with anxiety, aren’t adept at self-compassion when we begin to try. That’s OK. Self-compassion is a quality we can cultivate. Even the very smallest movement toward self-compassion counts greatly.

Cultivating Self-Compassion

Here are some helpful ways to practice self-compassion, especially if you are puzzled about how to go about it:

  1. Bring to mind someone or something that embodies or represents the quality of compassion for you. It could be a teacher, a religious figure, a therapist, a pet… it could even be a stuffed animal. Maybe it’s several people and your dog.

    How would ___ be with you right now?

    See it in your mind’s eye, and feel what happens in your body.

  2. Another way to cultivate self-compassion is to envision someone or something you greatly care about with an uncomplicated, no-questions-asked kind of care. If that person were feeling the anxiety you are feeling, imagine how you would go about showing them compassion:

    How do you look at them? What do you say? What do you not say?

    See it, hear it in your mind’s eye. Feel what it does in your body.

 

Remember that your blanket has room for everything —including the part of you afraid of all the things on the blanket— and it is woven out of self-compassion. Maybe someone who embodies compassion for you has joined you on the blanket. Maybe the blanket is wrapped around you and that special somebody or something you adore and easily feel compassion.

The mind’s eye can show a powerful movie. Close your eyes and let it roll. And if you want, of course, tell about it in the comment field below.

More soon,

Heidi

P.S. A little bow of thanks to those I channel for myself these days when I’m having a hard time feeling compassion for myself: Tara Brach, Byron Katie, my barefoot lady (a.k.a, therapist), and Humlum, to name a few. I love having them on my blanket with me.

The Science!

There is a substantive and growing body of research on the effectiveness of self-compassion and mindfulness for anxiety and depression. A quick Google search for “self-compassion and anxiety” will yield vast result. The research done by Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer, among others, is solid and very promising.

 

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