Movements.

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“Activism is not a journey to the corner store; it is a plunge into the unknown. The future is always dark.”
— Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark.

This election, this time. So many of us are surfing between despair and determination, navigating how to help, grieve, get out of the way, get in the way.

The ground shifts and the old tools seem small. Where writing has helped me make sense of things in the past, “making sense” now feels like the wrong frame. Instead, I’m thinking about movements. The kind we make with our bodies, and the ways we move as a collective, mobilizing towards change.

At my wedding, nearly ten years back, I watched my cousin – 20 years old, visiting from Sweden, lanky, towering and fine-boned – step onto a dance floor for the first time. She looked around at all the others, twisting and turning to the music, and… started jumping. Feet together, arms at her side, sailing above the crowd, great unstoppable pogo stick bounds. She danced like this for hours. It was like nothing I’d ever seen, both discovery and arrival. Her face beamed.

My cousin did not wait for instructions, wade into Facebook arguments, wring her hands on the side. I’m in danger of stretching this parable too far, but she was teaching something big: When the music compels you, just go.

If we are committed to movement, we need to move. And rarely are new movements graceful. They are bumbling and unfamiliar and create something we haven’t seen before. We don’t need to wait until we figure it out before we act.

img_1833If we’re stepping into the terrain of social movements, our missteps can be particularly uncomfortable. We’ll screw up in small and large ways and if we’re lucky these mistakes will be brought to our attention. And hopefully, we’ll listen. We’ll listen like children do, not holding the cloak of our egos against us for protection, but letting it in. Trying again. We have to get out on the floor.

What that floor looks like depends on who we are. I’m deeply inspired by what I see around me: healer friends offering sessions by donation, business owners offering profits to the ACLU, people organizing in kitchens and city halls, teachers standing up for the safety of their students.

I don’t know that it’s going to be okay.  But a few questions are helping guide me anyhow:

  • Where do I spend (and not spend) my money to align with what I value?
  • How and where will I gather with other bodies to organize, plot, subvert, protect, create?
  • How can I leverage my privilege in places where it matters?
  • How do I self-correct, learn, go deeper, and account for my mistakes?
  • How will I listen?
  • How will I keep myself resourced and grounded so I can keep doing this work?

There is so much good material out there on what we can do. For a start, I’ll be donating a portion of my December earnings toward the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project and our local Planned Parenthood chapter. I’ll be walking, gathering, and listening, and then I’ll try something different.

Listening Beneath the To Do Lists

thistleI hadn’t noticed it at first. The lists seemed so innocent. “Once fall gets here,” they all began, and after that came a litany: I’ll exercise more, reach out to that friend I’ve been meaning to, do that thing and make that thing and clean that thing… Fall things, productive things. I was just waiting for the right timing.

Innocent, right? Until I was on my way somewhere recently and noticed how tightly I was holding myself, how packed in I felt. All those lists, I realized, had created this quiet patina of self-scolding; there was so much to DO, after all, to get things in order. But rarely do kind statements begin with, “If only you’d…” No, their subtext is clear and sharp: Pull yourself together, girl. Fix the problem (which is you).

The truth is that for many of us, those to do lists ramp up right when the din of our actual discomfort gets too loud to bear. Instead of slowing down to notice what’s really happening – loneliness, exhaustion, overwhelm – we put window dressing on the tender spots, gloss them over with busy-ness. It’s comically bad timing: Just when we’re feeling less than together, we wag our fingers at ourselves to get it together.

But what if our discomfort isn’t wrong? What if we don’t fuel the myth that we need fixing? And what if getting low and close and comfortable with those vulnerable places is one of the greatest kindnesses we could extend to ourselves?img_1386This inner “I just need to…” is quietly habitual, a pattern we developed long ago, without thinking. It insists we only…need to… hold it…together and [fill in the blank] will be alright.

Friends, let’s just put down the lie that we’re holding anything together.

This doesn’t mean that we’re irresponsible with our loved ones, that we stop showing up for work or give up on showering. Just that we allow ourselves to be softly honest about what dwells inside.

The funny thing is, we know how to do this… when it comes to other people. If you’ve sat with a friend when she’s in distress, or a child who is twisting himself in strange contortions because something is amiss, you know: First, you listen. You just show up. When we offer permission instead of “solutions,” there’s more space for things to grow – not by coercing and cajoling, but tending and trusting. 

Brené Brown writes beautifully on this topic (and if you have 2:54, please watch this sweetest bit of animation from her, also linked at the end of this post), which she frames as the difference between feeling with someone (empathy) and trying to “help” them (sympathy). If we really want to make something better, says Brown, what we say matters so much less than the quality of our connection.

True, it’s often easier to see how to do this for someone else.  But maybe we could practice pausing at those “if only you’ds,” listening for what lies beneath them, and offering empathy to ourselves. That’s a punch list I could actually get behind.Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 4.48.35 PM

 

The solace of no solace

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This one is hard.

I heard the poet David Whyte say recently that a good elegy is a conversation between grief and celebration.

And, so. Here we are. It’s 12 days since we lost our soul companion and guardian, our 10-year-old giant of a dog, Charlie.

I’ve written about him here before, a big Collie Shepherd mix with a coat like marshes in winter: faded brown, tinges of red and beige. He had ludicrously white legs, as though he had put on bleached knee highs. He wasn’t cuddly. He did not lick. If you tried to snuggle him while he lay, he would get up, irritated, shaking himself off.  His preference was to lean his whole body in to you, or to wait, just off to the side, working the perimeter. He was steady and constant and heartbreakingly gentle.

But really, how do you write about your own breath? How do you write about the tragedy of loud silence? We talk instead about what he would have wanted: To go to the pond.

To see Charlie walk in his woods was to see a being utterly alive in himself. He would tilt his head at the word “pond,” pick up pace, bounce like a deer.

He could fly in praise of love and the arrival of someone he was happy to see, a whirling blur, impossibly fast, leaping and sailing in circles around the cars. His whole body cried: Yes! Yes! Here we are! Let us move! And off he took, sometimes crashingly.

IMG_0266.JPGGrief does funny things. It seems to slice through what is unimportant, gracelessly. It clarifies. It becomes obvious who can sit with you in the sadness, and who squirms in the face of it, or tries to fix it. It reminds you of times when you may have squirmed or tried to fix someone else’s grief, and softens you. It has a raw and merciless physicality – like a rope burn or an ache or a stone. And when that physicality dims – normalcy washing up on the shore of your days – that has its own grief, because it carries you further away from the time your loved one was here. A living body.

When we got Charlie from a shelter up the coast, he had been abandoned twice already. He was wild, skittish. 6 months old, with big feet and a body that would soon double in size, he would whine and jump and throw himself. His movement was careening, without regard for objects or people (or their bad knees) that might be in the way.

But we stuck together, and in that permission, he came home to himself. Grew into the gentle watching giant he was. Animals can do the same for us; their touch and constancy melting us into who we were to begin with. Until we are irrevocably marked by love.

In the end, as the cancer grew, his body diminished. But not his light. Charlie is buried out beneath the apple tree on the edge of the field, and the world seems to echo with him, in grief and celebration.

And oh, how we miss him.

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Pine State Solitaire

“I find that in contemplating the natural world my pleasure is greater if there are not too many others contemplating it with me, at the same time.” — Edward Abbey

IMG_0017When I was 19 years old I got a job as a kind of junior ranger at a tiny museum on the south rim of the Grand Canyon.  I unenrolled from university, crammed in hours waitressing, bought myself a little blue car, and drove west.

Until then, I had barely been west of Massachusetts. As a child, my family lived in a fourth floor walk up a few blocks from Boston Harbor surrounded by the smells and noise and lights that make a city, a city. Even when we moved to the suburbs, or visited relatives out in the country, there were always sisters, uncles, cousins, random visitors. My sense of space was peopled.

So it was strange, heading west as the country flattened out and then buckled up and broke open in unfamiliar colors and shapes, to discover uninhabited space.

My new home was a trailer park at the side of the canyon where coyotes gathered in large numbers. At night, I would call home from a pay phone out behind the dumpster, cupping my hand over the receiver to block the wind. How could I describe a landscape like this one? Infinite stars against a fathomlessly large sky. The smell of juniper, acid and blue, tinging the air. The voices on the other end sounded familiar, but mine seemed to disappear in my chest.

Out here, silence could be a choice. Spaciousness was a physical reality. Far from the crowded cities, I couldn’t help but encounter the one person I had brought along, someone whose company was quiet, and required little of me. It was new and surprising and strange.

I understood loneliness, but I had no vocabulary for solitude. And while I careened wildly between missing people desperately and enjoying having no one around, I also bumped into the solace I derived from being alone.

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A million internet tests will tell you if you are extroverted or introverted, but for me the designation is fluid and comes back to this: What nourishes you most of all, at this very moment?

Most of us cannot just throw our material goods in a car and head west (or east, or out). But sometimes, when we choose to turn off the noise and ride out whatever’s underneath, we discover that what we are actually missing is our selves, unhindered.

And when this feels like a true choice, we stumble on the grace of solitude. Without obligation, there’s a kind of freedom to roam the canyons and dry creek beds of our own inner world.

Making time for this unknown expanse ripens us for getting the joke. For discovering what makes us laugh deeply, open-mouthed and flare-nostriled. Or what moves us, invisibly, within.

To this day, I can’t really say what compelled me, against all better judgement, towards the unknown and unfamiliar.  Still, like all good mistakes, the decision brought me closer to who I actually was. Each day, after I’d walked tourists by mounds of rocks we described as ruins (particularly when there was snow, there was really nothing to see), I’d end with a quote from the writer Edward Abbey, himself a defender of solitaire desert living.  It was my secret and subversive salute to solitude.

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Please note: There are still spots left in the upcoming Embodied Writing workshop and series. Please contact me as soon as possible if you’d like to join!

 

Repurposing

IMG_6096.JPGThe line at the dump last week went all the way out to the road. Everyone, it seems, had the same idea with the turning of the calendar: Jettison all that old stuff. Clean out the debris. It’s 2016, after all.

And it’s true, many of us live with entirely too much clutter and stuff. I don’t mean just those extra salt and pepper shakers, but the unseen internal clutter that takes up its own space. Our old habits and beliefs have a way of crowding out new experiences. Perhaps we’ve always been the caretaker in our families, or the one who never seems to have it together, or the one who always does. We can get stuck believing that’s just How It Is.

We may try to shove those stories in the back of the closet, but they can be sticky. Not something we can leave at the curb.

Which brings me to this sweater. Or, more accurately, this pile of material that once  was a sweater. It lived in the drawer under the bed for years, daring me to toss it.

IMG_6100Perhaps you have some of these in your closet: hoodies, t-shirts, barely-held-together pants that violate every rule of clutter and cleaning. You don’t wear them, they aren’t beautiful. They take up space as odd, cotton-poly relics of a time or place you can’t quite shake.

This sweater was one of those unshakeable items; grey, holes in the elbows, it was wool but had gone through the wash and so didn’t quite fit right.

But 8 years ago, when I lived between the bathroom and the couch, slogging through a continuous flare of ulcerative colitis, I wore it all the time. And I wore it when I went into the hospital, and stayed for nearly a week. In the waiting area, seeing me hunched over and grimacing, a kind orderly asked if I needed a wheelchair. I was 30.

Things at the time were so threadbare that the sweater became a perfect uniform for the way I felt inside. Dusty, unfixable, fraying. As the years passed, and my health returned, I confess I felt oddly loyal to that sweater. We had been through so much together.

Our old patterns are like this. Yes, we’re totally sick of them, ready to not need or hurt or bend in the way we have. But, then… they were so useful once. They did serve a purpose.

Still, what if we could repurpose those old habits and put them in the service of new choices?  We may have learned that to get by we needed to take care of everyone else. And now, maybe we take our strong empathy and listen to ourselves also. It’s a different kind of space-clearing, one that doesn’t reject any part of us.

Over the holidays, thinking that I wanted to make something for friends and family, I stumbled on the idea of potholders. So practical! So easy! Who doesn’t need them?

Now, potholders have one job: To protect our hands from burning. Without some thick stuffing, they’re just closed up pockets.

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Which is when I remembered that sweater. There was something sublime in cutting it to pieces, in giving it a new job. In saying goodbye to all that.

Florida Scott-Maxwell writes, “You need only claim the events of your life to make yourself yours. When you truly possess all you have been and done…you are fierce with reality.” I love this notion that part of becoming fierce in our lives is to claim the entirety of ourselves.  Even the broken bits.

I have more dump runs in my future. The house is in real need of de-cluttering. But on the inside, I’m curious what those old habits have to offer when they’re not running the show.

 

The Path Less Traveled

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A few months ago, I wrote here about issues I was having in my hands that necessitated a pause in my massage practice. I certainly wouldn’t have chosen this, but the hiatus gifted me the space to ask important questions: What kind of healing work really resonates? What supports meaningful change and health? How is the work sustainable?

I didn’t go looking for these questions, but my hands (ba dum bum) were forced. Turns out, the body doesn’t traffic in subtle metaphors.

The view from my sweet new office.

The view from my sweet new office.

But the body also has its own wisdom. Those questions led me to a more expansive and nourishing approach to practice, and what’s emerging feels rich and deeply exciting. While my core focus is the same, I’m calling on a wider set of tools:

  • Neuromuscular therapy to help with areas of muscular discomfort
  • Zero Balancing to open foundational joints with gentle traction
  • Craniosacral work to amplify overall health and ground the nervous system

Because I’m listening for what kind of approach will be most supportive, no session looks quite the same. What is consistent, however, is what clients take with them: more ease, movement, and new choices. It’s a bit like massage, only fully clothed and with longer-lasting effects.

I was unsure of what to expect from my first [Root Therapy] session with Jones. Ultimately, I left the session feeling deeply empowered as an active participant in my experience on the table. Jones’ presence is supportive and wise; in her hands I could feel my body opening to it’s fullest potential of wellness. I experienced great relief of two specific injuries, and continue to enjoy a lingering sense of integrated, aligned embodiment.” K.W., Portland

IMG_5724Who is this work for? Most everyone! But it may speak especially to those who:

  • experience muscular pain and seek relief
  • are flummoxed by Big Questions and want support to feel at ease
  • crave nourishment and clearer purpose
  • need resources to help manage anxiety and stress
  • want a greater sense of their own bodies

My sessions still address tissue (sometimes the shoulders do need massage!), but we lean into a larger vocabulary – wider and more subtle – for meeting the body and offering support. Because we treat both energy and physical structure, a different depth of healing becomes available.

“I came into my session with Jones in a real state of sorrow, feeling very unsettled and vulnerable. She held space for all of my feelings and my story with such non-judgement and compassion that it felt like anything was permissible in the session. We talked, and then on the table, with her gentle energy guiding me, my body let go into acceptance of the void and the rawness. I left the session feeling considerably grounded and fully witnessed. Jones is a gifted healer who creates deeply safe space just by her presence.” — C.M., Portland

I hope that I’ll be able to offer full massage again soon, and I’m excited to share these modalities as a powerful alternative.

And speaking of exciting changes! A few more updates to share:

  • I’m offering $50 discounted introductory sessions (normally $70), so you can come in and see if the work resonates for you. Please feel free to contact me to schedule.
  • I have a new cozy office that is bright and peaceful and right downtown with easy parking. I’ve also expanded my hours to accommodate more schedules.
  • I’m returning to some of my teaching roots by offering workshops in embodied writing. The first workshop is full, but I’ll be scheduling more in January!

Yours in health, joy, and the path less travelled,

Jones

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Like a Shovel Hitting Stone

photo 1 (7)There are times when, by habit or determination, nose to the grindstone, shoulder to the wheel (pick your back-breaking metaphor!), we are plugging along in our lives, and then, with a sudden thwack, we hit upon a truth we wish we’d never seen. Or maybe (if we are being honest) we’d been trying to avoid all along.

The first time this happened to me I remember the exact feeling: Like I had put my shovel down in the dirt and hit a giant stone. Gardeners out there know this particular kind of bodily reverberation – you’re moving with the momentum of the swing and then, with a clang and a jarring stop, you can’t go further. The stone is there, perhaps movable, perhaps not, staring you back with its own simple truth: This won’t work for you.

What had actually happened was this: I had taken a job in a southern state and – it wasn’t working. My schedule had me on the clock sometimes 80 hours a week, my boss undermined our team’s efforts, I felt cut off from my creative self. And my body had begun to mutiny, leaving me weaker and more desperate by the day.

But it didn’t occur to me that it could be otherwise. The job was coveted and at a prestigious institution, and furthermore, I had committed. When I beat out all those other applicants I had said yes, I certainly did anticipate being there at least 3-5 years.

Until one day, when I realized I could leave. And the truth hit my body with that jarring clang. Oh no! I thought. I cannot do this. It can’t be true! I promised! I’m not a quitter!

But of course, what I had been quitting was myself. The sine qua non of my life. And there was that big rock in the garden, just not budging. A clear, solid stop.

photo 2 (7)Those rocks can be different sizes, of course. Sometimes, they can be unearthed to make space for us to go deeper. Sometimes, they are just the right size to make the struggle meaningful. But they don’t steer us wrong. And when we honor those stopping places, we include more of ourselves in our lives.

Not that this feels like a party.

This summer I’ve come across another frustrating stone. Many of my clients know that issues in my hands have led me to take a pause in my practice. I tried working through these for some time until I realized the folly in the incongruence – I can’t ask clients to take care of themselves if I’m clearly not! And I can’t insist that the body’s pace demands respect if I don’t stop to actually listen to what my body is saying.

I miss my wonderful clients, but know that this rest imbues my practice with new energy and direction, and allows me to go deeper, to consider what tools to bring forward and what kinds of work strengthen me (and, of course, you!).

I’m looking forward to returning, and in the meanwhile have been leaning into this bit of wisdom from Anne Lamott:

“Peace is joy at rest. Joy is peace on its feet.” 
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Mud Season of the Soul

“I will wax romantic about spring and its splendors in a moment, but first there is a hard truth to be told: before spring becomes beautiful, it is plug ugly, nothing but mud and muck. I have walked in the early spring through fields that will suck your boots off, a world so wet and woeful it makes you yearn for the return of ice. But in that muddy mess, the conditions for rebirth are being created.” — Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak

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Spring, that season of greeting card sweetness and abundance, starts out with some real ick. I wish I were speaking in metaphors here. When the snowbanks melt, there is sand, sticks, dirty old plastic bags. And those are the sightly bits. All of our garbage is suddenly visible.

It is the season we in New England call: Mud.

And so, when the detritus appears, we rake, clear, cut. We regard what’s been underneath the whole time. And because we know that the chaos of growth is coming, this is the season to survey the bones. To look out and ask, What do I have here? What are the shapes of the structures underneath, revealed now in their nakedness?

For me, this is a ripe time for looking at old habits and patterns.

– Where and how do I move through my days?
– What space have I created for being creative?
– What are the dry wells that need to be capped, those toxic thoughts (and connections) that send me spinning?
– How do I serve the people and places I love, up to and including myself?

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Early spring feels like the season for these stark questions. It offers a kind of invitation to burn the bracken in the early bonfire, to set out the seed trays, empty the shelves. The act of tending to what is here – even when it’s muck-covered and colorless – sends out a kind of secret faith that growth is coming. Despite the evidence, despite the pace.

I try (as much as possible, which sometimes is not at all) to honor this dank and ugly place that always precedes the season of becoming.  Because in mud season, everything we see is unformed, embryonic in its potentiality. Just, you know, not much to look at.

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Dropping the can’ts, a love letter to a dog.

If you have ever skinned your knee or torn your ACL or woken up with a crick in your neck – that is, if you are human – you know pain. But something funny happens on the way to our brains. Instead of punctuation, pain can begin to feel like a sentence: something we will always have, a nagging reminder of ways we can’t.

I see this in my clients (as well as myself and everyone I know) – how body discomfort narrows the horizon of possibility, and spins us into an irrefutable list of broken: We’re injured, out of shape, pushing 40 (30, 70), we don’t move this or that particular way, our bank account is low. For very good reasons, we feel circumscribed by what we see as the limitations of our bodies.

And then, I take my dog for a walk in the woods, and the whole lie is revealed.

More accurately, I take him on a little cross country ski expedition on the trails behind the dump in our small town and watch him transform into a fluid, joyful form.

Charlie is not a small dog. Or a young dog. He is a long-nosed, constantly shedding, 90 pound, Shepherd Collie mix. Nearly a decade into his life, his muzzle is graying, and when he lumbers across the yard, you can almost hear his joints creaking. Like most of us, he has spent the last few months curled up in a ball by the wood stove, waiting for spring.noname

But once in the woods, there is no lumbering. Charlie careens like a puppy.  He is a streaking blur of movement and limbs. We encounter two other skiers, each with their own off leash dogs. One exclaims, “He’s so big but…so playful!”

We marvel at him together.

He has a beautiful disregard for his size, his age, for mortality or limitation. He is himself – skimming along – a wordless, embodied creature.

… but not a linear one. At night, Charlie circles a million times before he comes to a flop in a big, graceless exhale. He isn’t consistent either – barking wildly at the plastic bag that has blown across the lawn, but oblivious to the scratch scratch scratching of the mouse that wakes me in the night the one time I would like him to bark, to make some kind of exhortation and startle this vermin away and he… sleeps on.

When my daughter was 3 we ended up in the emergency room to treat her small, dislocated elbow. It was an excruciating experience, not being able to take away the pain she felt. But the doctor performed a quick osteopathic maneuver and – within minutes – she was laughing and playing with toys in the waiting room. Over it. The doctor said to me, “Children and animals aren’t stupid like grown ups. They hurt when they hurt and then they don’t when they don’t. None of this trying to be better business, none of this worrying or pretending.”

I remember this as I watch Charlie fly through the woods. There is something in that unpredictable, take-it-as-it comes careen that is a revelation. Given the chance to be outside, to be moving, to be with his people – the dog almost visibly hums with the joy of it all. True, the other 98% of the time he’s laid out on his side by the fire, showing age in the way he moves. But he seems to say something else: Yes, I am achey and older, but also resilient. Perhaps this is the trick to health: to drop so fully into the present that the can’t stories fall away.

Now if I could just get him to scare off that mouse.