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.

field at sunset

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.

charlie beach

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!

 

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.

In the Thick


photo 2

One perfect cardinal perched on the bird feeder this morning. He was luminous crimson against absurdly deep snow, a red assault to temperatures cold enough to freeze my boots to the mudroom floor. But there he was, breast glowing, a miracle of winter.

It’s easy to miss things like this, when the whole joke of winter has gone on too long.  The novelty is over, we’ve heard this one before. February, for me, can bring on a kind of impetuous, can’t-we-move-on-already feeling. But we can’t. Not yet. The season asks us to move more slowly than that, to notice the slightly longer light, the single cardinal.photo 4

And that cardinal can come in many forms. Last week, navigating the snow-covered and icy roads, I had to come to a hard, skidding stop when a car pulled out suddenly into the center of the road. Now, you can find yourself thinking a lot of really very impolite thoughts when someone cuts you off like this, thoughts you might even say out loud, in the privacy of your car. But the other driver, an older man, simply waved and slowly continued on his way. He paid no mind, and – just like that – all my sudden indignation rushed away.

In this climate, we may be itching with winter, cold, buried up to our shoulders in snow. But we are also  – each one of us – in it. Making our way the best we can. And each of us knows that somewhere, beneath this impossibly thick blanket, bulbs and seeds and future possibilities are waiting. And that perhaps something in us is waiting too.

A practitioner friend once told me, “if it’s not a resounding yes, it’s a no.” Over the years, I’ve come back to this when I’m trying to make a decision. What do I truly, resoundingly, want to say yes to? But it also helps to turn the question outward: Where do I notice a resounding yes? Certainly in that red bird, and even in the moment after the not-accident when I realized the silliness of my own hot air. This is the gift of winter: The spare sleeping earth quiets the noise and lets us tune into those resounding yeses. We begin to notice where we encounter that small spark, how we listen, and what we want to invite into our lives.

photo 3


Please note! This month I’ve added a new feature that allows you to purchase gift certificates online. You can select the type of massage you’d like, as well as whether you’d like to have the gift certificate emailed to the recipient or sent by regular mail. Massage makes a great gift for Valentine’s Day… or for anyone who’s been doing lots of shoveling! Learn more on the gift certificates page.

 

 

Kite Strings

photo 1There is a little thing that happens to many of us, especially right around now. Things seem to be humming along just fine – we’re working or cooking dinner or vacuuming the kitchen – feeling we have something of a handle on our lives. And then somehow, inexplicably, without our even noticing, the needle slides off the record.

It may have been the cough. Or the state of the world. Or forgetting to dress warmly that time. Or perhaps accidentally scheduling just a few weekends to resemble carnivals rather than rest time. But it is suddenly All Too Much. The Land of Fine feels lost in the rearview mirror, and we question whether it was really ever there to begin with.photo 3

Back when I was struggling with a long term illness that would flare up willy nilly, leaving me bewildered and bereft, my husband Jon would say, “You just lost your kite strings.”  I would want to find some sort of pattern to explain why I had so suddenly, so thoroughly been waylaid, but he offered this gentle, story-less explanation. “They just slipped from your fingers, those kite strings.”

“I’ll hold them for you,” he said, “I’ll keep them safe until you want them back.”

This was one of the kindest gestures I’ve ever encountered. Because, at that moment, there was really nothing I could hold to, and feeling that someone else could mind those threads while I curled up and rested was exactly what I needed.

I’ve said this to friends too over the years, when inexplicable rough patches send them hurtling. Once in a while, we need someone else to hold the kite.  But the truth is that those strings can also be held by pets, and walks alone, and time that gives us permission to give up a little, because there isn’t energy for more.

In our house, we use kite strings now as a kind of short hand for suddenly-don’t-have-it-quite-together. It also means: Please be a little softer with me. I may need a little space, a little time. I have some tending to do.

In this season, wishing you permission to set those strings down for a bit, and know that we will hold them for you for as long as you need.photo 2

 

Vacationland…for Non-Vacationers

photo 1In Maine, we wait about 10 months of the year for just this spot: The zenith of summer, the beach days and campfire nights, the sweetness of porch sitting without a jacket (or at least not for warmth – mosquitoes, though, that’s another story). The truth is, most people come here for just this sweet time. All those Vacationland license plates don’t lie. What this means for many of us is visitors. People we love. People we wait all year to see. People we take to the beach, and to the ice cream stand and down to the lobster shack. We talk late into the night, cook giant meals, we wash sheets and pick flowers. This is – as I’ve written about elsewhere – the season of yang. Active and abundant, and sometimes so much so that we can forget about that most fundamental of rhythms: our own.  photo 2 I was thinking about this the other day, relishing time spent with friends from far away, when I realized I needed to do an almost-nothing-something, just for myself. And it was surprisingly simple. I made chicken noodle soup. I picked and dried calendula (with a cup of bulletproof coffee on the side). I worked on a sewing project with my four-year-old. I went to bed early. With that – order restored, inner-animal fed. So long as we truly include ourselves, we can find beauty and nourishment in most anything. Even the dishes.

I’m looking forward to the next batch of visitors. photo (29)

3 Health Trends for the Trend-Averse

 

Favorite spa... the back garden.

Favorite spa… the back garden.

My sisters could vouch that I am many things, but trendy isn’t really one of them. In the third grade, I found what I thought was the perfect shirt – blue, with a wide red stripe in the middle – and wore it for the entire year.  In high school, during the grunge-rich 90s, I honestly listened to Bulgarian folk music and questionable 70s bands that included Steve Winwood (yes… I did). I would generally rather talk physics than fashion, will happily read tomes on soil science, and can laugh at the same dumb joke, regardless of how many times you tell it. I am, as many can attest, a nerd.

So when it comes to trends, I’m more of a bringing-up-the-rear sort than an early adopter. Still, lately I’ve come across a few newish notions that – despite by natural skepticism – actually seem compelling. Friends, I give you Three Health Trends for the Trend-Averse:

  • Low-FODMAPS Diet – An acronym for (get ready!) Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides and Polyols, FODMAPS describe a group of short chain carbohydrates that even healthy people have difficulty digesting. For those with Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Disease, symptoms of these unabsorbed sugars can run from uncomfortable to debilitating. The good news: Many of my clients say they feel dramatically better when they reduce FODMAP intake. The bad news: It requires commitment! And limiting fructose is…limiting. A recommended food list is here  (and this is what to avoid).
  • Yamuna Body Rolling – Developed by Yamuna Zake, the technique uses rubber balls to stretch the fascia, helping free joints and loosen muscle tightness. It’s a lovely self-care tool for bringing mobility into the tissue, and there are some great classes in and around Portland to get you started.
  • Bulletproof Coffee – I’m not sure if I’d consider this a health trend, but… when clients ask about coffee, I confess this is my preferred style. The concoction involves blending butter, coconut oil and coffee (and maple syrup, if you like), and while there is some debate about the actual health benefits… it’s low-FODMAP and tasty!

Feel free to try any of these this summer – or not! Above all, I’d encourage you to listen to your body, the one true expert on what is best for you.

Accessorizing 2014: Lupines.

2014 Accessorizing Trends: Lupines.

 

 

Heart Openers: 3 Techniques

photo (18)

Coming out of winter, many of us have been sitting for months with our chest sunk behind our shoulders.  We’re cold! We’ve been watching House of Cards. We just feel a little tired, okay?

Totally okay.

But pause for a moment as you’re reading this and notice where your chin is in relation to your throat. Notice how your shoulders are sitting in relation to your sternum.  On the table, we can work into the congestion that sometimes gathers beneath the clavicles and help you open the spaces between your ribs. It’s remarkable how this helps clients bring their heart forward and shoulders down; they literally breathe easier.

Thankfully this is work you can do on on your own, too. Here are three techniques for opening up your heart and chest:

1. Things you like to smell. Really! Flowers, sauteed garlic, pine boughs, babies: Scent gets into the limbic system – that deepest realm of brain – and is one of the most direct sensory pathways to our nervous system. So, inhale…over a delicious pot of soup.

2. Find your people. You know those friends around whom you relax into just who you are? The ones who listen well and know how funny and smart and beautiful you are? Call them. Go for a walk. Commit to talking about how you actually are, in real time (not, cough cough, over social media).

3. Supported heart-opening poses. Yoga is a *great* tool for opening the chest and heart (and hips and shoulders and…). I’m a big fan of restorative-style yoga, particularly this pose, supta-bada konasana:

supta-bada-konasana

And this sequence of poses (confess I loved the line drawings – no fancy-ness required!).

newsletter_poses3

Images thanks to thingswelove2.blogspot.com.

 

 

Make time for tea

photo (19)

I confess to something of a gardening magazine habit. Some people like People (I’m not saying I’m not one of them…), but in March, give me glossy pages of Moroccan succulents and English roses. Riots of garden color feel like a salve and a promise of the possible.

I don’t usually thumb through these magazines expecting to find revelation or reflection. Pretty pictures are just fine. But then, reading an interview with a South African gardener, I stumbled on this, the “three most worthwhile tips for every gardener:”

Make time for tea – to sit, to look and appreciate. Weed selectively and encourage self-seeders. Mulch and look after your best friend – your soil.  
— Gardener Julia Wylie

And really, is there more to it? There is, of course, but this is why Root Therapy is called what it is: The metaphors for growth translate so beautifully to the body. We all need time to savor and enjoy, to weed out what hinders us and let what nourishes multiply. And our soil – our foundation and roots – truly is a best friend, one that deserves tending.

I think I should probably subscribe to this magazine too, no?

IMG_2821

From the Oaxacan Botanical Gardens (a.k.a. far, far, away)

 

On sleeping funny and slowing down


IMG_2303
Through the miracle of modern technology, I’m writing this post as my bus travels northward from Boston to Portland. A Sandra Bullock movie plays on the video screens, people sleep, or text, or stare out the dark windows.  We pass over bridges, through tolls, speeding along through the night.

And it is this kind of speed – so quick, so distracted, so careless – that’s on my mind.  It isn’t that we don’t need to get from point A to B, but our terrifically capable wheels pass over so much in the meanwhile.

At the same time, many of my clients are coming in lately with pains from having slept funny.  Necks ache. Backs feel tweaked in odd spots. They have reached a kind of stillness – they slept deeply enough not to move out of those uncomfortable positions, after all! – but not one that leaves them feeling rested.

As my bus approaches home, I wonder about that fine balance: the sweet spot between stillness and movement. A pace that allows us to be nourished by what we’re traveling through.  My wish? May we sleep peacefully, and wake ready to move with our whole selves.