Friday, August 31, 2007

Turning Inward

I have been noticing the subtle change of seasons--particularly the lower angle of the sunlight--and this has made me turn inward a bit more as I anticipate the arrival of fall. I do have to admit: the transition from summer to fall is one of the most difficult transitions for me each year. I try to tell myself that fall is "cozy," and it isn't until the heart of fall that I admit to myself that yes, curling up with a book in front of the fire is indeed cozy. Who cares if it's pouring rain outside. I usually mourn summer for about two months before I can enter autumn with positive intention.

Even though I covet spring and summer, what's interesting is that fall and winter really do reflect very prominent aspects of myself: introversion and reflection. So, this year, I am going to attempt to embrace (and dare I say celebrate?) the upcoming days of autumn with an open heart. And part of this process of acceptance means that I must embrace all aspects of myself -- including my dark, dank, and soggy autumnal sides. I almost think of my fall self as a "secret self," the part of me I tend to bury.

So in honor of embracing this seasonal transition and turning inward, I recommend trying Julia Cameron's "Secret Selves" exercise.
In Cameron's book The Vein of Gold: A Journey to Your Creative Heart, she writes, "Each of our Secret Selves has a particular timbre that enriches the song of our life." By reflecting on aspects of yourself that are a bit hidden, you may find that these selves may benefit from reaching the light of day. Perhaps your secret tough side could surface a bit more at work when you need to create clear boundaries. Or maybe you tend to bury your soft and cuddly side, and a friend in need could use a bit of this teddy bear energy.

So, strike up your internal symphony and name at least five of your Secret Selves. The second part of the exercise is to pretend to open the closet of each of your Secret Selves. What do you find?

Here are my five "Secret Selves" I came up with for the first part of this exercise:

1. Edgy Grrl
2. Competition Jackie
3. Tough Nelly
4. Perfection Priscilla
5. Silly Sister

Whitman writes that we "contain multitudes." This autumn, who will you find inside you waiting to be listened to, nurtured, called out, or given a chance to transform and change?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Tricks of the Trade

After my long walk around Greenlake this morning, my quads felt tight and my knees sore. I did a little self-massage on my quads and I found that these muscles did feel quite tight, contracted, and ropey. The massage helped for sure, but I decided to pull another bodywork trick from my toolbox: muscle energy techniques. The two techniques that I employ the most (for myself as well as for my clients) are reciprocal inhibition and contract-relax. These two techniques help soften and lengthen tight, contracted muscles. And you can experiment with these two methods in the comfort of your own home or even at work.

So, today I started with a contract-relax exercise, which is basically the process of contracting the muscle that is already tight, holding the tension for about five slow breaths, and then releasing the tension. Whenever I do this exercise, I imagine that I am giving my muscles a little lesson on relaxation. It's as if I am saying to my quads, "This is what tense is. Feel it?" as I tense my muscles even more. When I relax, it's as if I am saying to my muscles, "See, this is what relaxed feels like." I do this exercise at least three times and then do a quad stretch to add more length to the muscle.

Reciprocal inhibition is the process of relaxing muscles on one side of a joint by contracting the muscles on the other side of the joint. So, for example, if I want to relax my quads, I need to tighten my hamstrings. If I want to relax my hamstrings, I must tighten my quads. I use the same technique of holding the contraction on the opposing muscle group for a good five breaths before stretching.

Try experimenting with this yourself to see which method your body seems to respond to the best. You can do either of these techniques with any muscle group. Here are some examples of common reciprocal inhibition exercises to give you an idea: contract your abdominals to relax your back muscles; flex your head to one side with resistance to soften the opposite side of your neck; for tight calves, hook your toe under a chair or couch to tighten your shin muscles, consequently loosening your calves.

Always remember to follow these techniques with gentle stretching. And remember to breathe. Breath is very important in sending the message to your body to let its guard down and relax.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Learning from Animals

I find animals' deep sensitivity and relatively straight forward approach to life to be refreshingly uncomplicated.

As a human being, I can complicate something as simple as a stomach ache. In a very human moment, a bit of indigestion means I have an ulcer and the thought of an ulcer reminds me that last week was stressful, which reminds me that I haven't been doing yoga in the mornings and this makes me worry that my lack of commitment to a healthy activity such as yoga means that I am undisciplined and I might as well just stop trying to do anything worthwhile because I'll just quit it anyway. How did I go from a stomach ache to feeling a lack of worth? We humans are complicated creatures!

Animals, on the other hand, so often reveal a different approach to life. Last week I learned a great deal about sensitivity and directness from my cat Mountie.

One day, I noticed that Mountie was looking a little tired and aggravated. After walking restlessly and meowing grumpily for a while, he jumped on the couch, sat my lap and looked up at me. If Mountie could speak human language, I imagine he would have said something like, "I don't feel so good. Can you do something?" I scanned Mountie with my hands and noticed that his abdomen was warm and "buzzing." All Reiki practitioners have different sensory experiences when it comes to knowing when and where to give Reiki, but this "buzzing" was my signal that Mountie could benefit from Reiki energy in his second and third chakras.

I placed both of my hands on Mountie's back and belly and let the Reiki energy flow. At first he fidgeted a bit, for I think he was wondering why I wasn't petting him like I usually do. But very quickly he rested his head on my lap, gave a big sigh, and closed his eyes. He settled into a comfortable sleep as I held him. After about 15 minutes, I felt the buzzing dissipate and he slept for another hour. When he awoke, he got up swiftly and happily, and asked for his dinner.

Both of my cats are aware on some level that when I touch them in a certain way, they feel calm, relaxed, and soothed. My other cat Selkie used to curl up on my massage table and meow until I touched him with Reiki energy. I worked with Alex the dog -- a beautiful Alaskan Malamute -- who didn't like to be cuddled or pet for very long, but allowed me to give her Reiki for over thirty minutes at a time. I believe that animals understand a simple intention for healing and they can feel healing energy without any interference -- the kind of mental gymnastics that we humans sometimes bring to the healing process.

I think animals know what they need. They try to tell us, and if we are listening we hear them and know what to do, too. I wonder if we can dig down inside ourselves and find the animal within us. I wonder if we can find that simple, sensitive creature who can simply ask for and receive comfort without strings or worries, who can trust that if we ask for healing, it will come to us.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Sussing Out “Suchness”

Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh writes that in the Buddhist tradition, “’suchness’ is used to mean ‘the essence or particular characteristics of a thing or a person, its true nature.’” So, I might say that one’s essence is distinct from one’s personality, which is more like a coat we wear in order to deal with the world. I might also say that we have a personality; it is something that grows out of our essence, our true self.

Today I am meditating on this concept of suchness, trying to feel or recall when I’ve felt my own essence without the distraction of labels. It’s easy to describe aspects of my personality, but when it comes to my suchness I get stuck. Words don’t seem to come easily. Instead, I see colors, feel my stomach settling comfortably, my eyes feel clear and soft, a
nd a few images wander into my head. So, I try a different tactic; I draw a picture. After all, images can “say” much more than words can sometimes. Here is my drawing from

If you'd like to see the creation of this piece, click here.

Seeing someone else’s suchness is also quite powerful. I think that conflict between people often occurs because we don’t like aspects of another’s personality, not necessarily their essence. Someone’s gift for argument and rhetorical analysis may bump up against another’s peacemaking abilities and conflict avoidance. When we see someone’s essence, we understand what makes the other person tick. We understand how that person’s history and experiences affect how they interact in the world.

Try this:
When in an argument with another person, take a moment to squint at the other. Physically squint. Use this simple technique to remind yourself of the other’s suchness; see the other as a blur of colors, shapes, and energy. Remember that the other is not his or her personality but owns it, claims it, and wears it; the true person lies underneath like human bedrock waiting to be uncovered.

p.s. If you'd like to share your "essence drawing," please do! Feel free to post a link to your Artpad drawing in the comments box!