What’s it like to be you in the world?

“What’s it like to be you in the world?”
 
I ask this of people who come to Heidi’s Table for the first time. Probably, they and I have just met. They have made an appointment so I know their name and phone number and email address, and by now they’ve taken off their shoes and coat, but more than that? Not much.
 
“What’s it like to be you in the world?”
 
I didn’t used to ask this. I used to dive right into the nitty and the gritty of allergies and injuries, of accidents and surgeries, of illnesses and medications… It’s not that these things aren’t important (and I will still ask about them before I work with someone’s body) but now I have those questions wait. First things first.
 
“What’s it like to be you in the world?”
 
People seem surprised when they hear this. There is no automatic answer. I’ve not asked them where they are from. I’ve not asked them what they do. What I have done is made a space for them to stop and notice themselves.
 
What’s it like to be me in the world…
 
Oftentimes I watch them pause. And wonder. The question mark has turned into an elipsis… This delights me. They are checking in with the ultimate (if still just potential) expert and friend of themselves: them! (Or he! Or she! Or whatever pronoun they use to refer to their dear own self). The benefits of their session have certainly begun.
 
I allow for a beat or two after my question and then I might say a bit more: “help me understand what your body does a lot of, what happens when you’re ‘stressed out’… Sometimes people tell me what they do for work, for play, but please answer however you think will help me understand what it’s like to be you.” And then they do. And invariably I feel honored to have been allowed to hear what it’s like to be them.
 
Sometimes, later in the day, maybe as I’m falling asleep, something a first time-client has said will come back into my awareness. Maybe I’ll remember that thing they said first. Or the way they held their shoulder. Or the way they finally sighed on the table when their mind slowed down. Sometimes I have the sense that everything I hear and observe during my interaction with clients and their bodies lives in a kind of pocket somewhere in the vicinity of my heart. It’s warm and it’s soft and it hums, this pocket… something about intimacy, something about connection, something about the privilege of having gotten to be there, and all of it something to do with this being human, in a body, in this our crazy and amazing world.
 

What’s it like to be you in the world?

Muscle tension (it’s not all bad!)

“Your hand opens and closes, opens and closes. If it were always a fist or always stretched open, you would be paralyzed. Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding, the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated as birds’ wings.” ― Rumi

Muscle tension gets a bad rap. But it’s not a bad thing. Think about it: If it weren’t for tension, your muscles—which are attached to your bones—could not contract and you would not be able to move. Yikes!

When things are working well there is a constant balancing and rebalancing between tension and relaxing, between muscle fibers firing in contraction and then releasing to rest.

When muscles don’t get enough tension leading to movement, they begin to cry out for it, so to speak, using the language of pain and discomfort which in the common vernacular we have names for, like, “that knot in my neck,” or “that pain in my butt,” to name just two.

If your body, or an area of your body, has not been getting enough movement then that pain in, say, your butt may well be trying to say: “Get up, darling! Move me! No, I’m not tired… I’m tired of sitting!”

On the other hand, when muscles don’t get enough opportunity to release and rest, they also begin to cry out, very likely using that same language of pain and discomfort.

Like daytime and nighttime, like light and like shadow, like the bird wings and the hand opening and closing in Rumi’s poem, tensing and releasing are useful and beautiful, each. Calling one good and the other bad kind of misses the whole picture. Not to mention that favoring one over the other will, very practically speaking, lead to imbalance. And imbalance always has a way of affecting our integrity.

Sometimes imbalance in the contraction-release cycle can play out like this:

One muscle or muscle area gets overused and exhausted and maybe its function starts being impaired. Then another muscle will jump in, so to speak, to pick up the slack of the muscle that is crying “Uncle!”

That sort of pinch hitting that muscles do for each other is useful, for sure, but when done for too long or too intensely, then the muscle doing the filling in for the other’s exhaustion can’t tend to its main body function. And what could happen then?

Here’s an example…

Take the diaphragm. The diaphragm (in your “gut” area) is a dome-shaped sheet of muscle and tendon whose main function is respiration. Yup, the diaphragm is all about breathing. Yay! (Still not sure where your diaphragm is? Well, it’d be where you could get the wind knocked out of you if you ever—let it never be so!—got punched.)

When you aren’t using your diaphragm to its full capacity for breathing, your neck muscles will jump in to help out. (After all, the body doesn’t mess around in making sure you are breathing. Thanks, body!)

Now neck muscles are useful and incredibly good at their main function which is all about helping you look up and look down and look around — that is, flexion, extension and rotation of the head — not breathing. They will help, for sure, but they’d rather just pitch in here and there rather than permanently. And who can blame them?

When your breathing is shallow and skimpy for too long, your neck muscles will, understandably(!), be all, “hey, man! A break? Can we go home for a rest already? We’ve been working without a break all day! And what about that diaphragm over there, just sitting around—!”

Your diaphragm, meanwhile, is completely underemployed and we can easily imagine what that is doing for its sense of wellbeing and self-esteem!

The constant balance of things… Pretty amazing, isn’t it? Also amazing that we get to take so much of it for granted: the cycles of our bodies, the cycles of nature, the balance and rebalance, constantly, always toward integrity.

Taking a moment to notice it all might be nice. You might just find yourself breathing a bit deeper just for having noticed. Ahhhh… (Thanks, diaphragm!)

Birds Wings GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

That thing you’re calling a failure? Think again!

Sometimes it’s hard to forgive ourselves for what we call our failures.

Maybe it was a relationship that tanked.

Maybe it was an enterprise you invested a lot of energy, money and love into, and it did not bring what you were hoping for.

Maybe you took a wrong turn in life, and ended up totally lost.

Maybe you did a very misguided thing that cost you several relationships.

And even though you have begun to understand that past-you was doing the best you could with the self-knowledge and understanding of the world you had at that time, still. It has cost you a lot.

And even though you have tried to make amends and have begun bringing self-compassion and tenderness to the place of hurt, maybe there is still a place that feels raw. Call it grief, call it remorse, call it what you will: it still smarts when you touch it or remember.

What if you knew that a lovely thing that’s about to happen could not happen if it weren’t for that failure?

If any of this has spoken to you, this poem by Antonio Machado and this painting by Leah Piken Kolidas might be for you.

Art by Leah Piken Kolidas

Last Night As I Was Sleeping

(by Antonio Machado,
with translation by Robert Bly)

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.

Last night as I slept,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.

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