Coloured portrait

Coloured portrait

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

On Vitality - Tools, Obstacles and Signposts

According to the Vitality or Chi / Ki paradigm of thought, Life is a force comparable to a river who is best flowing freely and without obstacles. An imbalance in the Life Force affects its course, slowing it down or speeding it up, creating areas of deficit and areas of excess. 

Healing modalities that focus on balancing the flow of vitality and raising the vital force share the common philosophy that healing is possible from within the organism, provided the presence and free movement of Chi. 

To clarify my own position: I am no scholar or researcher and have no scientific claims to this or any other model. I do not seek to prove a framework true or false, and my concern is never whether a framework or model or method is ‘real’ or not, but whether it is consistently useful to me and those that I interact with, or not. In this light, I have no objective proof or measurements for the existence of Chi, meridians and chakras, and will not go into debates to prove or disprove them.

In my own experience, I have had periods of high vitality and low vitality, and I have observed a consistency of feelings, behaviours and in general inner and outer experiences that seem to correlate with the flow and levels of the life force. I have noticed obstacles in the way of vitality, and effective tools for enabling its flow. I have noticed methods, practices and behaviours which lead to higher vitality and others which lower it and I have developed the practice of looking for ‘sign posts’ to help me navigate on my journey of recovery from trauma and stress to greater well-being, creativity, productivity and happiness. This practice of looking for sign posts has been helping me pick and choose what enlivens me and reduce or discard what diminishes me. 

Not all obstacles and tools are made equal, and some weigh more than others in their impact on health; for example, working at a job you hate is more harmful to you than eating sugar, and leaving a toxic work environment to join a pleasant and nourishing workplace for a meaningful, engaging work, can do more good to you than eating an all-organic diet.

Obstacles to Vitality:

  • Need deprivation - from basic survival needs to higher needs
  • Environmental toxicity - air and surface contaminants
  • Lack and restriction of movement
  • Environmental noise - sound pollution
  • Environmental ugliness - ‘a sore for the eyes’
  • Detrimental use of language
  • Emotional unfinished businesses
  • Poor nutrition
  • Social isolation, especially if you are an extrovert
  • Lack of privacy and solitude if you are an introvert
  • Lack of creative activity if you are creative
  • Ugliness - sensory offensive images, sounds and smells - especially if you are sensitive
  • Lack of caring touch, or inadequate touch
  • Improper breathing - shallow, restricted, rapid
  • Unconscious, harmful day dreaming - imagining worst-case scenarios, mental conflict etc
  • Over-seriousness
  • Lack of purpose and living for oneself alone -especially bad for the heart 

Vitality Enhancers:

  • Meeting needs from basic to advanced, to include healthy pleasure as a guide for fulfillment
  • Consistent and richly varied movement
  • Appropriate nutrition
  • Helpful use of language, including useful poetic language (metaphors, comparisons etc)
  • Consistent exposure to beauty - image, sound, smell, taste, touch, language
  • Playfulness and the use of humour 
  • Practicing conscious awareness to self, others and environment
  • Sexual, sensual and emotional intimacy - with cuddles, caresses, snuggling and lovemaking
  • Healthy breathing habits - slow, deep, full
  • Fulfilling social connections, especially for extroverts
  • Personal retreats - time and space alone, especially for introverts
  • Engaging in creative endeavours
  • Volunteering and contributing meaningfully to community - especially good for the heart

Signposts of Enhanced Vitality:

  • Elevated mood
  • Elevated stamina
  • Increased libido - sexual desire, as well as desire in general
  • Increased motivation and productivity - getting things done
  • Good hair days - shiny, elastic
  • Healthy skin colour, visible on the face
  • Positive self image
  • A sense of ease and flow in daily activities and projects
  • Increased efficiency
  • Increased resilience 
  • A sense of well-being that is independent of conditions
  • Ability to look at and plan for the future
  • Ability to be present with others
  • Decreased frequency and intensity of illness
  • Faster and easier recovery from illness
  • Increased courage

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

On loss, destruction and hope - Tisha Be'Av

Making sense of Tisha Be'Av, the saddest day in the Jewish year, commemorating and mourning various disasters and losses.

A reading of contemporary written laments last night left me pondering on the greater topic of suffering. Losses and mourning are universal, and so are regrets - all an inevitable experience of humans, possibly more conscious beings. Laments include the listing of the losses, but also a listing of 'sins', and the tone is of despair and hopelessness.

What good can come out of diving deep into the darkness of hellish despair and hopelessness? Perhaps a chance at opening the heart compassionately to all suffering as it arises in ourselves and others?

What good can come out of articulating all the ways our individual and collective behaviour is evil? Perhaps owning our shadow so we can have a choice for conscious behaviour that's rooted in compassion?

Jewish people mourn the falling of the Second Temple - a symbol of divine protection, identity and home. A wandering Jew myself, double immigrant and uprooted from my family and old friends, I can relate to this loss of home, of a sense of security, and the loss of a healthy sense of self. I know hell, I lived it,  despaired and lost hope, and with it, at times, I lost the will to live. Without hope - a glimpse into what's possible - there is no purpose; without purpose, there is no drive to fight and live.

Destruction is the end - but the end of what? The end of a parent-child relationship with the divine, when we are left to die or to grow up and become more? The end of a home that was safe and secure but became confining and alienating, leaving us not only wandering, but adapting, learning, growing, integrating and contributing?

A few years ago I brushed with death. What scared me more than dying, as I was lying on a cold metal hospital table, was the thought that I had nothing I wanted to live for, not looking forward to returning to a home where discord reigned and where I felt displaced.

A moment after, something inside me got me to expand my sense of identity and go beyond the separate self, and the thought that I am somehow both infinite and finite, and that in overcoming my own suffering I could also contribute to alleviating the suffering in the world that I am part of, and at one with, in my own unique way. This thought fuelled the drive and strength I needed to fight for life, and it still fuels the drive and strength for my recovery.

What good can come for us, the Jewish Tribe, with mourning of the fall of the Temple, and with owning our dark Shadows? What kind of growth can we achieve to give us hope in hopelessness and make life worth it?

With loss of hope comes loss of expectations. If all is lost, there's nothing else to lose.

When there is nothing more, or nothing else to loose, what's there to gain?

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The common thread of effective pain relief methods

There is a common thread between various philosophies and methods that I have come across, which is to see body pain as an experience that hasn't been completed.

Shinzen Young talks about pain as an incomplete experience, and so does Avi Grinberg and Peter Levin. Ken Wilber talks about the Shadow elements as disowned parts of the psyche which get a life of their own, and show up as behaviour outside of the self's volition (in Romanian there's a saying "Dracu m-a pus" - the devil made me do it); they also show up as pain and symptoms in the body. Gendlin's Focusing protocol starts by greeting and acknowledging the pain or discomfort, as if talking to an entity.

When I walk a client through the process of touching upon an experience and bringing it to its full completion, she / he attains almost immediate ( within minutes) body-felt relief, going from pain, tension and tightness to whole-body buzzing vibration, spaciousness, luminosity and peace. I have tried many methods in almost twenty years of healing work, and have not encountered an effective and sustainable way to achieve relief that does not work with the fullness of embodied experience.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Trauma Recovery Practices

Part of my stress, distress and trauma recovery process, besides therapy, consists in the cultivation of resourceful, positive states.

States are temporary ways of being, and the longer you spend in a certain mental - body state, the fastest it becomes a trait. Cultivating the qualities of joy, peace, love, openness, power and flow require clarity of intention, awareness, purposeful action, and frankly, it's a full time job and not an easy one as life happens, and gets more stress my way, or I get triggered and off-center.

Some of the things I do (or don't do):

- Avoid all the mental pollution that I can, especially here on Facebook - disturbing images, fear mongering writings, hate posts etc. I have unfollowed and unfriended people because of these kinds of posts. I do follow news, and in general, if there's nothing I can do about the bad news, I don't need to know them.

- I chose to see only movies that uplift, inspire and teach me something useful, and avoid depressing or infuriating ones. This is quite hard, because I am sooooo tempted to watch the latest season of Orange is the New Black, and I hold off, because watching it makes me angry and tense; and even though the script is funny, the jokes are "victim humour" (a concept I learned from Paul Linden)

- I spend as much time as possible outdoors, in nature, in vast and open spaces, near trees and flowing bodies of water, walking, chasing the sun, stopping to pet passing by dogs.

- Whenever I am in a pleasure-inducing environment, such as beautiful nature or listening to beautiful music, I breathe it all in, visualize beauty entering my body through the pores of my skin, and magnify on purpose the pleasurable sensations - tingling, buzz, warmth, glow, spaciousness. I really make a big deal out of beauty and pleasure.

- I maximize beauty in my living environment for the same reasons, and try to start the day with beautiful music and fragrance before noises and smells from the street or the neighbours arise.

- I start the day with a morning routine that sets the tone for the day and make sure to complete it before interacting with people. Some women don't show their face to the world before putting on makeup; I don't show my face to the world before placing myself in a centred, calm state.

- I avoid sneaky people. Post traumatic stress makes me hyper-vigilant, I can sense very keenly when someone is lying or hiding things, or taking something of mine without telling me, and I get super-triggered. Traumatized people have a highly sensitive bullshit detector.

I can only relax around people who are open and upfront with me and so I cultivate relationships with them.

- I limit my exposure to suffering. Friends and clients Ok: friends bring me both their suffering and their joys; and clients bring me the kind of suffering that I can help them alleviate. Then there's the inevitable suffering of family members, so I avoid adding to that, especially when I can't help.

- I get as many hugs as I can. Easy with my dancing and healing tribes, but needing way more than that, so when we meet, remember to give me a good hug.

Also, I'm open for cuddles. Because recovery :-)

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Emotions and Shadow

1- Emotions are a language worth paying attention to. For instance:

Fear says: "Your physical safety is at risk. Get going and save your butt!"

Sadness says: "This thing is not working. Fix it or ditch it!"

Anger says: "Your boundaries have been breached, and this is not fair. Do some justice!"

2- Many factors can get you emotional, it's never one thing. It's much more effective to look at those factors that you can do something about than explaining off your emotional states to external forces that you can't control. Focusing only on such external forces - "I'm sad because of the planetary alignment and cosmic energies" makes you feel helpless. Listening to your emotions with kindness and curiosity will bring you useful insights and often body-felt shifts and releases, which empowers you. 

As a general rule, it's more empowering to focus on factors that you can influence and actually do something about!

3- Emotions are information worth paying attention to. They happen in the body - YOUR BODY, not the body of a book's author. Use embodied methods like Focusing and Vipassana to feel your emotions and learn from them.

4- Shadow is what happens when you ignore, suppress or repress emotions, and they turn dark on you, meaning you still have them, but you don't know that you do, and they get a life of their own and make you say and do things that aren't helpful. The unconscious attributing of your own emotion or trait upon another human, animal or event is called "projection" - when someone projects a disowned aspect of their own self upon another. Projections cause pain and conflict in relationships. 

5- A great deal of relational pain is resolved when projections are owned and Shadow elements are integrated. I have helped many clients overcome anger towards family members and friends by leading them through specific steps of Shadow work.

6- Emotions need to be listened to, owned and expressed kindly - all emotions, without exception! 

7- There is a difference between acting an emotion out and expressing it. For example, acting out anger could do harm, as it is violent - physically or verbally (punching another, yelling at another). But anger can be expressed through movement, breathing, journaling, dancing, singing etc - in a conscious, embodied, and kind way. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Awareness Heals

Awareness heals. Awareness is the ultimate surgeon, mender, therapist.

Growing strong is a challenge that requires focused determination and action.

So does growing soft.

Massaging the body's knots with foam rollers and balls is not enough when the tension is mental.

After years of chronic built up body tension, relaxing is a challenging task in itself. The whole body feels like one big tension knot, contracted and tight - not tightness of muscular strength, but tightness of tension.

I lie down or sit in a chair, and bring my awareness to the body as a whole, with curiosity and care. Awareness is integrated: body-felt sensations, together with mental pictures, together with verbal thoughts. At first, the body is one tight blob, grey, dark, with shallow, quick breathing and conflicting thoughts.

I take one breath in, and on the exhale I loosen up whichever muscles are first to cooperate: the belly, the pelvic floor, the jaw. Another breath in, and on the next exhale the cooperative muscles soften a bit more, creating spaciousness and luminosity. Breath and thinking slows down. The dark, grey blob lightens up in some areas. I notice my thoughts, but pay attention less to their content, and more to their quality. Mental arguing dissipates and thoughts become more peaceful.

The head, neck and shoulders are the least cooperative in releasing tension. The front of the body lightens up first, at first in waves of warmth, and then the occasional muscle jolt of spontaneous release, followed by a sigh of relief. The mental images are more luminous, as if the dimmer's turned on brighter light. The belly and chest, more spacious, and the inhaling has become softer on the top, deeper, and more fulfilling.

The head begins to soften, at first the right hand side. The left side of the face and head, by comparison, feels dark, small, contracted, heavy, stuffy, the left eye squinting. The trick with Awareness is that it must be caring and non-judgemental, so instead of the old, habitual self-deprecating internal dialogue "Why the fuck can't I let go of tension?", I regard all of my feelings as being equally lovable parts of me, of the Self, some of them parts that I am aware of (the soft, bright, spacious ones), and some of them parts that I am not (yet) aware of (the tension, pain, gray heaviness).

Loving, caring Awareness washes over the entire self, dissolving whatever it's time to dissolve, accepting that which lingers, and then the stretch reflex kicks in, a sure sign of relaxation, and I stretch, and smile, and sigh with an audible 'Aah', and bubbles of energy percolate down the limbs, and I am a tad softer now, a bit lighter, brighter and more spacious.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017


Grief comes and goes in waves.

When a wave of grief washes over me, like it has been for the past few days, I'm grieving all my losses that I hadn't fully grieved in the past. The 'knot in the throat', heaviness in my body, the downward movement (like I want to lie down on the ground), and the tears arise together with mental images - memories of past unfinished grief that I now can, and do finally address, now that I'm well equipped with what it takes to face, feel, and process.