Comfortable with Chaos and 5 Other Lessons from the Garden

 

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A few years ago, a neighbor, surveying my “flower” garden of rambling lupine, Solomon’s seal, of swollen dandelion heads and raspy ferns, said evenly, “Hmm. It’s nice that you’re so comfortable with chaos.”

She was on to something. Not so much that I’m comfortable with chaos as in love with wildness. The garden brings me to the truth of growth and becoming in its haphazard, uneven beauty. If I want to enjoy it, there’s just no room for perfectionism.

And it happens that the garden is at its bloomingest right now: fireworks of allium, noble Siberian irises, unabashed peony. Each says something different. In amongst all that growth, the garden yields its richest and most instructive metaphors. Here are five lessons from my perfectly weedy, chaotic garden: 

1. Beauty matters. When I started gardening, I dismissed flowers as frivolous. “Only vegetables!” I declared. Later, I allowed that perennial flowers might have a place. Now I load up on annuals. Bring on the beauty! The time for flowering is now: in the soil, in that miraculous peony, and yes, in you. Let it bloom.

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2. Feed your soil. Imagine what might happen if you focused on the nourishment of your being – the mineral stuff that feeds you – rather than the products of your labor. Sleep, joy, food, solitude, connection. What might fruit when roots are tended to?

3. Dysfunction is information and invitation. Like the crick in your neck or the argument with your lover, weeds gesture to something amiss beneath the surface. All that purslane whispers: too much phosphorous. Inside the mess is information about what we need and an invitation to amend.

4. Building health works better than eradication. Weeds don’t go away. You can try to pull up all the quack grass, sure, or go after the volunteer tomatillos on your knees. But we cannot rid ourselves of dysfunction by excavation. Instead, we build into health over time: mulching, feeding, moving, listening, layering. Those weeds are never really gone, but they can be made quiet while the tomatoes sweeten and thrive.

5. Everything flowers. Not every year, not always obviously (and, yes botanists, we could split hairs on ferns and mosses…). But every plant possesses this gift. Who are we in our fullest expression? There’s more to say about this, but there’s no need, since Galway Kinnell says it most beautifully:

Saint Francis and the Sow

The bud
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as Saint Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.

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Trashcans and hurricanes / explaining craniosacral therapy to an 8-year-old

IMG_5378If you are in my line of work, there is a thing that happens at parties and barbecues: Someone asks what you do and as soon as you say the words biodynamic craniosacral therapist, you’ve… lost them. Aren’t you, dear reader, losing a bit of interest even seeing that phrase? Biodynamic craniosacral. It’s such a mouthful that it buries itself.

And then, on the way to school, passing wild turkeys and frozen fields, my daughter asks a question from the backseat that gets to the heart of this problem.

“But what do you really do? When you work it looks like… nothing.”

I started studying craniosacral work in 2012, and just finished a two and a half year deep dive certification in this particular approach. Every day I see how powerful the work is, but I have not cracked this particular code: How to simply explain what it is.

Because an 8 year old? She doesn’t want to hear about the relational field and down regulation, she could care less about cerebrospinal fluid and the sphenobasilar junction. And if you can’t help a kid understand what you do in practical language, can you really explain what you do?

I take a breath. “Well…” How do I convey the idea of energy? 

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“Let’s say there’s a hurricane, and it blows over the trashcan. It just topples over and starts sliding across the street. What would happen if you walked out in the middle of the hurricane and stood it back up?”

“It would knock over again.”

“Right. And again, and again. As long as the hurricane’s blowing, the trashcan’s going over.” I check the rearview mirror to make sure she’s still with me. “But, what if you could talk directly to the hurricane? What if you could understand energy – forces that are everywhere and invisible, but not always as loud as a hurricane – and help the hurricane start to calm. Then what would happen to the trashcan?”

“It would just stay put.” We’re getting somewhere. Energy precedes matter is a fundamental principal of biodynamic. If we talk to the underlying patterns, we influence everything else, trashcans included.

“And what if we zoomed right in – on this steering wheel, or my bag here or your leg. What would we see?”

“Dust.” This is… so true. It’s February after all. I keep going.

“Yes. And if we zoomed in *even* further than that? Just kept zooming in and in?”

“Atoms.”

“Yes!” I’m trying not to get overly excited“Ok, and if we zoom in on the atoms, what do we see?”

“Electrons?”

“Right! We’ve got these electrons spinning round and round protons and neutrons. We’ve actually got – when we get right down to this atomic zoom level – we’ve actually got much more space than stuff. If we focus on the space, we influence the stuff.” We are more space than matter. In cranio, we’re less interested in the conditional adaptations than the health that underlies it all. We focus on what is well, on what organizes health. I think she’s getting this.

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“So, you speak the language of energy? Like, you know the words and sentences to talk to energy?” Kids are quick.

“Yes. But language is a lot about listening. You know how there are certain people you want to talk to and certain people you…don’t?” I parody an awkward adult to show what I mean, “‘Do you like school, little girl?‘ In cranio, we want to listen in a way that makes you comfortable enough to come out of your shell, so that we can have a real conversation, and maybe shift things together.” Establishing resonance. 

So there, in 5 minutes, is a beginner’s guide to Biodynamic Craniosacral therapy: trashcans, hurricanes, dust, listening. Easier to follow, right?

Maybe I’ll try that at the next barbecue.


Two upcoming Root Therapy events:

  • There are still a few available sessions for the lower cost clinic on March 30th (45-minute sessions for $40). Please be in touch if you’d like to schedule one.
  • We’re still buzzing from the wonderful Embodied Writing: Seasons series that wrapped up earlier this month. The next Embodied Writing: Seasons series will run in April – be sure to sign up for the newsletter if you’d like to know when registration opens!

The Sages in the Attic

IMG_4135The sound of giggling is loud, up in the attic. Today my daughter and her best friend have decided they are a band – Family Freeze Dance, they call themselves – and they are using an old cassette player to record their frenetic, squealing, strumming, yelling, talking “music.” A peek behind the door reveals a vision of summertime seven-year-olds: covered in bug bites and dirt, missing teeth, routinely distracted by fart jokes.

But there is another kind of magic happening up there too, one that we sometimes forget on our way to adulthood: Delight in communion. Resonant joy. No one is managing the other’s experience, worrying over how they are, or trying to help.

I’m thinking about this as I remember a conversation with a client on what it means to be responsible.  Many of us, many of us women in particular, have grown up with the sense that we need to track and manage the well being of everyone in our orbit. To take on what they’re feeling. To make it okay. Those expectations come early, with an insidious subtlety.

But follow that a little further, and we can end up coming to all kinds of bizzare-o conclusions: That things will fall apart without our help, that we need to catch anyone around us who falls. That if we aren’t care-taking, we’ll be left.

Our good intentions unwittingly say something else. Because if everyone needs helping, no one’s quite right as they are.IMG_3247Of course, we do need each other. Lots and lots. But if you’ll allow me a little semantic latitude, taking care of each other is different from care-taking each other. We want the people we care for to feel better, but we cannot do the feeling for them. We aren’t responsible for that (or entitled to it).

Back in the days when I was too sick to do much, I saw a lot of practitioners I wanted to lift me out of the pool of my own suffering. But the ones who did the most never bought into the story that I needed fixing; they let me hold my own power close, they trusted something deep and potent within me.

Here is what those kids upstairs with their very, very loud “music” show us: We are here to remind each other of who we already are. To return to the creative, unhindered, healthy selves that have always been here. We may facilitate that process for each other, but in important ways, we don’t do anything except show up. Which is everything.

Quick note: There’s still time to join the Embodied Writing workshop on Saturday, September 30th. We’d love to see you there!

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!