Body And Breath, part 1

I’m in the process of deciding to learn breathwork as a path that unites my far-flung interests in healing and self-expression. In a way, it comes down to the body and breath. I’m a long-time yoga practitioner and now teacher, but also work with various realms of creativity and self-expression, particularly poetry and the visual arts. I practiced vipassana meditation for a long time, but have found it more difficult to sit and remain simply attentive mindfully in the last few years.

I have an increasingly strong interest in the felt sense, which is the term Eugene Gendlin created for his Focusing Therapy, and in Peter Levine’s somatic experiencing and other somatic trauma work, all  of which I think is a huge missing piece from conventional healing and medicine. The class I’m taking now with Giten Tonkov, who started Biodynamic Breathwork, combines so many of my interests. I really enjoyed the first class and had a remarkable experience connecting with my heritage in the meditation we did last week. I found the way the material in the class was presented to be very lucid and engaging. It seems right at the heart of what I most need now, and I want to understand how to respect my being as a whole, expanding the frame of what I consider to be my body and shifting it, literally, and even seeing the earth as a part of who I am. I want to feel that all is sacred ground, all dimensions everywhere and if Errors are Oracles, it’s because they call us to reframe our stuckness into letting go and open us up in humbleness to the grace we hold within us, and the grace all around us.

This work on expanding from living in a contracted state, recognizing how far I’ve sunk into a kind of black hole of limitation, and stayed stuck there, feels like essential work right now. I think this is true collectively as well now. Healing is a kind of reframing, and our bodies and the body of Earth are the hidden frame that is opening and transforming us now. I once read 1 that a spiritual or mystical perspective is the opposite of certain assumptions in scientific rationality, which regards the universe as being a single thing, while there are billions of discrete sentient beings existing separately within it. A mystical perspective sees a myriad of universes, but here is only one consciousness, but there are profoundly different forms it can take, forms that are universes in themselves– Is consciousness always fundamentally universal in form? It has been interesting to regard myself as just that person I am viewing, but in two different universes, and people and even other beings are simply myself, but living in another, sometimes very different, universe– The sort of empathy that has welled up in me for this way of “being” is so vital–that a part of me that has such responsiveness to different conditions is awesome. It’s very wonderful to contemplate that my narrow stem of being flowers out of such a deep root. When I fill my body with breath, a universe flowers, a universal connectivity wells up in and out of me.

I remember zen teacher John Tarrant’s book, The Light Inside The Dark, he says there:

Attention gives us more life.

Breathwork is the dynamic path deepening attention follows, we take in the wholeness all around us, circulate it, and give it back. “Feel how your breath enlarges all of space”–as Stephen Mitchell translates Rilke’s poem in Sonnets To Orpheus,

I have experienced a lot of benefit from breathwork of all kinds. I have asthma and chemical sensitivities–a hyper reactive immune system, which I think of as my overprotective and rather neurotic (traumatized) body guardian, a part of myself that is hypervigilant and listens to my amygdala’s constant emotional freakouts with blowing out all the stops to protect me from anything that might harm me.

Using my breath as the gateway to a more grounded awareness helps me more calmly attend to the ways I shut down my breathing and my body to be in safe mode: simple, limited, small. So small, no one or nothing can see me! How much I dissociate from what’s happening in my body and the important messages held there! I’ve set up a barricade/bandage against the overwhelm triggered by openness. Living in my head after a difficult childhood has meant that I have a lot to learn from the shift into grounding in my body and my breath. It keeps opening me up and also keeps me from flying off in a so-ready imaginative dissociation that is both a gift and an issue. Just as I am disconnected from my body, it means that I am just as much disconnected from nature and the organism of the earth whose body I are also part of. This is a deep painful collective pattern, too.
One tool that I use and want to explore more with breathwork is a kind of “automatic” drawing, which is a terrible word for it, another better one is haptic drawing or art, which is based on letting sensation and touch be the guiding elements of what emerges, using your felt sense and breath to explore line and color a palpable extension of our bodily awareness.

The path of kinship: Ki and Kin as pronouns for the living world

Robin Wall Kimmerer, a scientist and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, suggests that language can be a path of healing. In this article in Yes Magazine: Nature Needs a New Pronoun: To Stop the Age of Extinction, Let’s Start by Ditching “It” she suggest that when speaking of the Earth and the living beings on it, we use not “it,” but “ki.” The plural of ki is “kin.”

Singing whales, talking trees, dancing bees, birds who make art, fish who navigate, plants who learn and remember. We are surrounded by intelligences other than our own, by feathered people and people with leaves. But we’ve forgotten. There are many forces arrayed to help us forget—even the language we speak.

Kimmerer is the author of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants–a book I’ve been reading bits of for several years; but now this has inspired me to continue steadily reading it. Reading this article she wrote was such a relief. I often feel so discouraged by our culture’s blindness and objectification of the natural world, which we are killing as readily as we kill other people, people who we think stand in the way of making everything and everyone into a thing we can own, use, and spend as we like.

Changing this overpowering relationship seems like what is left for us to do in this time, learning respect, service to the natural world and other beings, and humility as humans. Since it seems we are so much about ends and don’t acknowledge enough concern for means except as to how ruthless we can make them, perhaps it’s time to learn something of the path of kinship. Think of all the ignored resonance of the word “means,” and how it could be a careful path of action, as in a daoist sense, the low path of utmost respect, awareness and humility. Here, as we see ourselves as kin, we think first of all our commonness, that which we share and are not truly different or better. In our language or culture, have we not valued gratitude enough . . ? Now in this time, do we begin to see a different possibility?

But I find myself angry still and I recognize the feeling I have is not the path of humility, but rather I’m stuck in rage at so much blindness. Why am I so angry? I see how much I desire to achieve victory over all the ways in which others are out of balance and destructive. So I ask that of myself. Can I enter back into the sacred, that is, the path of deep relationship and respect, sacred ground all around me, within me and without me–and not be about conquering everything in my path through aggression or rage? Can I begin to really grasp that revenge for the blindness of the world will not heal me or bring what I need? Can I accept what feels like defeat or weakness, and continue on my path without suffering over it?

What does it mean to learn to “take it,” not overcome it and possess it, but to take a very different path that starts with the assumption that well-being can always be found to be there . . ? I’m certainly not there yet, but can begin to see it. Sometimes. Everything shines in that light and as I saw in my prior post, here is the humility of finding strength to have renewing intention and action that stops without also intending a particular result.

But it seems so much trauma insists on reparation for any loss, a core of pain we want acknowledgement for, through overcoming a world in which we feel we’ve become less, so we want to take more as our due . . . make that which might hurt us into a victory, the power to stand on top of everything. But victim and victor are two sides of the same corrosive coin, that we can go on spending endlessly and meaninglessly . . . thinking it’s what gives us greater life. But the path of shared connection gives us more life, is a real healing, a dedication to connection beyond victory.

Robin Wall Kimmerer:

” . . . in English, we speak of our beloved Grandmother Earth in exactly that way: as “it.” The language allows no form of respect for the more-than-human beings with whom we share the Earth. In English, a being is either a human or an “it.”

Using “it” absolves us of moral responsibility and opens the door to exploitation.

But in Anishinaabe and many other indigenous languages . . . We use the same words to address all living beings as we do our family. Because they are our family.

What would it feel like to be part of a family that includes birches and beavers and butterflies? We’d be less lonely. We’d feel like we belonged. We’d be smarter.

On a crisp October morning we can look up at the geese and say, “Look, kin are flying south for the winter. Come back soon.”

We Are Not Apart

I’m reading this post on on the value of natural regeneration.
Simplistic thinking of natural regeneration’s value mainly for carbon sequestration feels limiting, but it’s what’s we listen to.

“When Susan Cook-Patton was doing a post-doc in forest restoration at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Maryland seven years ago, she says she helped plant 20,000 trees along Chesapeake Bay. It was a salutary lesson. “The ones that grew best were mostly ones we didn’t plant,” she remembers. “They just grew naturally on the ground we had set aside for planting. Lots popped up all around. It was a good reminder that nature knows what it is doing.”
Sometimes, we just need to give nature room to grow back naturally. Her conclusion follows a new global study that finds the potential for natural forest regrowth to absorb atmospheric carbon and fight climate change has been seriously underestimated.”

I say:
Let it grow! All over–
It’s what’s left to do (thinking of Ursuala Le Guin’s essay “She Unnames Them” ).
And remembering we are entitled to our actions, but not the fruit of them.

It’s so hard to hold that clarity.
The world will manage itself, we just have to follow.
We are not apart.
The beginning of our path.

Like Antonio Machado’s poem, which I can never find quite the right translation for, but is sweet to read.

Traveler, there is no path.
The path is made by walking.
Traveler, the path is your tracks
And nothing more.
Traveler, there is no path
The path is made by walking.
By walking you make a path
And turning, you look back
At a way you will never tread again
Traveler, there is no road
Only wakes in the sea.”
― Antonio Machado, from Border of a Dream: Selected Poems

“Caminante, son tus huellas
el camino y nada más;
Caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.
Al andar se hace el camino,
y al volver la vista atrás
se ve la senda que nunca
se ha de volver a pisar.
Caminante, no hay camino
sino estelas en la mar.”

Easy Is Right

I haven’t been feeling well the last few days, but this morning I was reading the blog Mast Cells and Collagen Behaving Badly and her post today encouraged me to look at finding some inner strength and healing energy. It helped me this morning keep from going into one of those familiar dark spaces of discouragement and fearfulness when I’m low energy.

It reminds me of a couple of other things that have encouraged me, too. This quote is from, I think, Thomas Merton’s book on Chuang Tzu:

“Easy is right. Begin right and you are easy. Continue easy and you are right. The right way to go easy is to forget the right way. And forget that the going is easy.”

Yes, wouldn’t it be grand to give up my feelings that things are hard? It’s the first step on the path of giving up the idea that things are easy.
If I could do that, just really give it up–what might be possible? Well, I just don’t know . . .

Another quote that I think about sometimes is from Pema Chodron in her book When Things Fall Apart, who said:
“Life is a good teacher and a good friend.”
I think if I could really believe that in those dark moments . . . well, that’s when I’m really up against my limits.

The other day, I didn’t realize I was starting to get sick, it started as a feeling of deep tiredness, but then turned into another IBS episode where all I can do is stop and listen to my body and its sometimes inexplicable messages of pain and discomfort. I still don’t understand these messages very well, but I’m practicing learning more. I did try to keep pushing my energy into doing tasks that needed to get done–but hey, the body rules! It looks like I have to learn how to accord it my utmost respect, or it plays hard ball with me. And even thinking of it as something separate, is limiting itself. But I don’t know how not to, not really.

One thing I’ve been doing lately is practicing some qi gong, just some very simple things, illustrated by this short 4 minute video of Daisy Lee on the ocean shore, a place where earth and sky, water and land meet, doing a very simple flow, Showering Qi. I’ve been practicing that, in the evening at a nearby field, watching the Moon rise each evening toward fullness, but then I stopped as I wasn’t feeling well. Perhaps the Moon’s cycle also speaks to this, a balancing of light and dark at fullness and then surrender into the waning of what had become full. The Moon’s face illustrates the constant flow of Yin and Yang energies so powerfully. I could feel the practice changing me. So then I had to stop to incorporate the power of that change? Perhaps. Who am I now? I don’t know and is that scary? When the light of what has been darkens, it’s hard not to be fearful. But grounding myself in the flow between earth and sky helps me to let go, to just be present in the movement and being here, a level of paying attention I desperately want–and avoid.
Daisy Lee: Reconnect to Mother Earth and the Limitless Sky with This Vertical Alignment Practice

Another wonderful healing comes from a poem I read recently by David Wagoner, entitled “Lost.” I have been reading this poem every day and it expresses so powerfully what I have been feeling, I’m deeply grateful for all these allies that have come to me as I venture into what feels dark, but perhaps is simply the unknown, the seed of what’s next, and I look for what light I find that shines to guide me on the way:


Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

~David Wagoner

The Work Of Healing That Calls Us All

This morning I was reading a wonderful and witty Longreads article:
“Tea, Biscuits and Empire: The Long Con of Britishness.”
The writer, Laurie Penny, a Briton reluctantly locked down in California, begins by looking at the mythic dimensions of being British and the way these myths have captivated Americans — and Britons — in stories and film, from King Arthur to Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes to Dr. Who, Monty Python to Downton Abbey; stories that picture an idealized version of Britain versus the reality. She contrasts the mythic Britain where class and racism are ignored or insignificant and everyone pulls together with a rather painful look at the actual reality, as in her revisionary telling of the story of heroic Londoners surviving the Blitz in the underground, people who were first denied entrance with barricades and flooded into the underground desperate for shelter after the government had casually left the building of shelters to local government or private companies. Not so very unlike these days, when those who have no means to do otherwise are forced to keep working without any real protection while exposed to COVID-19.

The U.S. also has its own mythic dimension that is collapsing right now, a parallel fantasy of heroic democracy and freedom for everyone that is being skewered on the reality of racism, genocide, immigration, and classism, a long lynching reign of terror for the nonwhite and/or noncompliant that props up the “land of the free” fairytale construct now sinking under the weight of too much horrifying reality roiling to the surface.

I wanted to quote part of what Penny says in her essay:

“. . . I’m in quarantine in California, watching my home country implode into proto-oligarchic incoherence in the middle of a global pandemic and worrying about my friends and loved ones in London. Meanwhile, my American friends are detoxing from the rolling panic-attack of the news by rewatching Downton Abbey, The Crown, and Belgravia. 

But there is a narrative chasm between the twee and borderless dreamscape of fantasy Britain and actual, material Britain, where rents are rising and racists are running brave. The chasm is wide, and a lot of people are falling into it. The omnishambles of British politics is what happens when you get scared and mean and retreat into the fairytales you tell about yourself. When you can no longer live within your own contradictions. When you want to hold on to the belief that Britain is the land of Jane Austen and John Lennon and Sir Winston Churchill, the war hero who has been repeatedly voted the greatest Englishman of all time. When you want to forget that Britain is also the land of Cecil Rhodes and Oswald Mosley and Sir Winston Churchill, the brutal colonial administrator who sanctioned the building of the first concentration camps and condemned millions of Indians to death by starvation. These are not contradictions, even though the drive to separate them is cracking the country apart. If you love your country and don’t own its difficulties and its violence, you don’t actually love your country . . . 

What happened to the Londoners who ignored the barricades and sheltered in the underground? They are subsumed into the myth, with no mention that officially, they weren’t supposed to go there.

“Eventually it was adopted into the propaganda effort and became part of the official mythos of the Blitz, but the official story leaves out the struggle. It leaves out the part about desperate people, abandoned by their government, in fear of their lives, doing what they had to — and what should have been done from the start — to take care of each other.

What Penny writes about has me reflecting on the nature of how it’s so easy to look only at the world in a way we are comfortable with. Everything gets pulled into reinforcing the dominant story, ignoring that there are other threads, other voices, struggling to survive against suppression.

Particularly for white Euro-Americans like me, facing the dark and tragic underside of the cultural fantasies that we soothe ourselves with and even defend violently as reality seems essential healing work right now.
To confront the fantasy world of the “land of the free” that is propped up by racism means letting go of what never really has been, whether it’s here in the U.S. or in that mythic Britain we love to imagine as our ancestral exemplar. Yet as Penny describes, there are so many acts of simple care and compassion, acts transcending isolation and cruel judgments, that aren’t imagined. Can we begin to build a grounded new framework for human lives that starts by recognizing how damaged and traumatized we are and how we bandage ourselves in fantasies that substitute for engaging our genuine creative power to heal and grow? Can we begin to love the world, ourselves, and each other without illusion and stop the increasingly destructive and lethal path we have followed to this bitter end?

In memoriam: Flynn, July 2007-December 2015

I found this brief piece I had written about our cat, Flynn, from April 2014.  I still miss him and reading it brings back the amazing connection I had with him. He was an extraordinary person, even though a nonhuman one.

I went for a long walk yesterday late afternoon with my cat, Flynn–Bill started out with us. We usually go for a walk with him after dark, it’s easier because he’s so shy and encountering people and especially dogs! is a challenge. He’s not very afraid of dogs, and knows how leashes work, but the dogs often don’t handle it well. But Bill and I set off down the road and Flynn stood in the driveway looking after us (he has freedom to come and go through his cat door)–then suddenly made a decision and came galloping after us, with a tentative look, his tail down until we bent down talking to him to encourage him, then he knew it was okay and his tail came up like a flag–so happy.
We often try to escape from him, believe it or not, sneaking around the house and losing him when we want to walk somewhere distant and he knows he’s not supposed to go with us.  He loves, loves, loves to go for a walk with us, just like a dog does–it’s the highlight of his day and we’ve had many interesting adventures on these walks. When Bill turned back, Flynn and I continued for more than an hour, exploring the wooded school grounds nearby as it grew dark. People think cats are solitary, not oriented to groups, but Flynn understands perfectly how to interact as part of an interspecies pack and also knows when I lose him in the dark and will do something obvious at the right moment to let me know where he is.
He led the way and mostly I followed him. We communicated where we wanted to go and paid mutual attention to what the other one wanted to do. It was quite wonderful to be in this space where some of the differences between cat and human dissolved in the shared experience. The bond between us felt so much deeper in this respectful space. I think we both get sometimes get frustrated because of our different perceptions and different ways of communicating. I think Flynn understands a very great deal about the limitations of human awareness. From a cat’s perspective, I think humans often seem outrageously obtuse. For example, at one point in our walk, as it grew dark I was trying to cross a lighted walkway in front of a building. Flynn did his usual cat thing, disappearing silently and I couldn’t tell where he was. I turned back and went to the corner of the building looking backwards for him, only to discover that he was already ahead of me, circling patiently back to follow me. So, I let him poke around in some places and check them out and then we turned back again and set out to cross the lighted walkway. This time Flynn made sure to stick with me as I crossed it quickly, he galloped across it just in front and to the side of me, making this thumping thunder, thunder, thunder sound with his feet. He has this way of making a surprisingly loud noise as he runs–he can make the ground thunder or he can be completely, to my ears, silent. He plays a game with Bill and I when we walk together, we call it “Zooming,” he drops way behind and then rushes up behind us, suddenly making the thunder, thunder, thunder as he gets close and darts between our two sets of feet. It’s an interesting challenge he’s set for himself, as we are often close together, sometimes holding hands. He’s been kicked inadvertently a few times. When he was younger, he would make this tiny chortle just as he went between us; a cat expression of humor and victory, I think–like gotcha.  He doesn’t make that sound any more, but will sit down in front of us, victorious, and wait for us to come up and bend down and talk to him and stroke him and acknowledge we’ve been “zoomed.” So I believe he was completely aware that evening that I had trouble knowing where he was that first time we tried to cross and he was making quite sure that I could both see and hear him as we crossed that walkway together in the second attempt.  I believe that Flynn’s intelligence and the depth of his soul is in no way inferior to that of a human, and I’ve never been disappointed by holding to that assumption. Just the opposite, he continually surprises me by the power of what he understands and how capable he is of communicating with me if I am mindful and pay attention to what he does. I am always shedding my short-sighted human beliefs regarding what he knows and can do when he relates to me.


Mortimer Snerd Rides Again

The latest foot-in-mouth tweets making you crazy? Desperately need some kind of alter-ego you can dominate?
Available right now for $350 on Amazon. Guaranteed more sane than a lot of other relief . . .
Yep, Mortimer Snerd, a hair of the dummy that bit you. Consider his stuffed head and hard hollow body, not to mention his constant unhinged jaw . . .
Everyone needs to own this bigger-than-life puppet.
Could this figurehead solve a few of your mental health issues as we descend into the political and cultural underworld? Learn to heal yourself through your own personal possession!
Get yourself a ventriloquist’s dummy and start talking, or tweeting, back at him! Carry him to rallies and political speeches! Speak up, talk back! Throw your voice out there! Be the loudest voice for a change!


Spindle Whorl

Spindle Whorl

My painting is from several years ago. I renamed it Spindle Whorl. “A spindle whorl is a disc or spherical object fitted onto the spindle to increase and maintain the speed of the spin.” So many cultures have created beautiful spindle whorls to help spin thread for cloth. But they are also a symbol of unity and the axis at the center of the cosmos, the still point at the turning center, from which everything is spun. Interesting coming up today–because of the name I gave my old business: Spindle of Fire, by which I meant the central axis of the solar system or perhaps the galaxy or universe. And the mitotic spindles in cell biology are the fibers that help pull one cell into divided daughter cells.

Today I’ve been reading about rest and silence. It’s the dark of the moon. The moon, invisible and waning into the conjunction with the sun, all her shared brightness enfolded back into and combust in the sun’s rays, a time of both stillness and fertility–the power of latency and fallowness to regenerate growth, the moment before reaching again into outward or upward motion. It might be the moment of mitosis, as everything begins to collect and condense, in preparation for the emergence of a radical change, weakening, dissolving the structure of what has been, an empowerment and transmission into each half of the conjoining body, a twisting and a turning as energy is exchanged, centripetal force gathering, then reversing, magnetic spindles of energy midwifing the remembering new bodies apart, lost boundaries reforming, unity unfolding into embryonic separation and a trajectory of increasing distinction until the cycle returns.

Interesting because I was born at the last degree of the sign of the Moon, the last stage before it turns into the sign of the Sun.  And that moment is now. Once again.


Spiral Star

I can’t resist the magic of discovering what happens by creatively combining accident and intention. A few years ago I was fascinated by this technique of using resists with sprayed paint. The small painting above uses white oil pastel and watercolor and ink. The pastel lines are not very visible as you make them, so putting them down on the paper means laying down a swathe of line somewhat blindly, by feel more than sight. I then sprayed the color over it and the white lines appeared.