Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Philadelphia, Part One

The Philadelphia Rebirthing Center greeted me Wednesday -- my first visit in over two years! Walking into the house, feeling its welcoming energy and seeing my good friends all combined to make me feel grateful, joyful and excited.
Knowing that I was about to begin teaching Patrick Collard's Apprenticeship was both humbling and enlivening. My support team included my co-teacher,Russell Lipensky, and Maureen Malone and Tony Lomastro, the Center managers and wonderful friends.

I enjoyed a full day of quiet time and relaxation on Thursday to gather my thoughts and feelings about teaching this Bodywork and Personal Growth course. Learning and practicing Patrick's techniques and principles have enriched and advanced my life more than I can ever say.

The participants in this course were awesome! They came from a wide variety of backgrounds and professions, ranging from bodyworkers and yoga teachers to artists and entrepreneurs, to teachers and business professionals. Each person brought a unique perspective and energy into the group, and all were united in their willingness to learn, share experiences and be fully present.
A significant part of the course is learning to develop intuition, that is, learning to use the right side of the brain to support the left side, instead of competing with it. We humans have such a wealth of abilities available to us when we learn to direct our minds in new ways. When the left and right sides of the brain learn to function together in harmony, we can move towards "whole brain" function, a state in which we acknowledge our unlimited potential and create what we desire in our lives effortlessly. Instead of being "goal-driven," we focus instead on successive "accomplishments," milestones on an infinite road of possibilities.

The second weekend of this six-day course begins Friday, October 2nd. More pics and info to come!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Creative Thought Case Study: Sandra

When we won't say "no," our bodies find a way to say "I can't." This is a situation I see frequently is big and small ways, including the stomach bug that gets someone out of a blind date they regretted agreeing to, or the broken arm that got someone out of an historically unpleasant family reunion. In Sandra's case, it was the vaginal bleeding that would start on the Fridays she was planning to spend the weekend with her boyfriend, ending on Sunday night when she was back in her own home.

Sandra's relationship with Max was on its last legs. During their first year together, Sandra and Max felt like they were the perfect couple -- both of them tall, slim, educated professionals with thriving careers. They were giddily happy, infatuated and in love, planning a sweet and pleasant future together. Gradually, Sandra started feeling self-conscious about the fact that Max was ten years younger than she was. She also did not like the way Max tried to monopolize her attention during the days that she had custody of her teenage son. Other, smaller resentments began to surface and soon Sandra knew that she and Max were fundamentally incompatible.

But Sandra was not willing to step up and explain her feelings to Max, terminating the relationship. She felt guilty and selfish for being unhappy in a relationship that appeared on the surface to be perfect, and was ashamed that she would have to explain to her mother that it was she, not Max, who had ended it. 

At first, Max was understanding about Sandra's "inability" to have sex during their weekends together, but it was not long before the loss of this last area of true intimacy between them caused Max to break up with Sandra. The bleeding stopped and never recurred.

During our session together, Sandra immediately made the connection between her unwillingness to tell Max the truth about her feelings and the bleeding. Also, it was not lost on Sandra that her covert agenda resulted in a body reaction that was hidden, and would affect a part of hers and Max's relationship that was invisible except to themselves. Sandra has continued to work on her relationship and communication skills, clearing old patterns and moving forward with what she wants for herself.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Birth Script: Forceps

Every baby is an expert on her own birth. Yes, there are babies who require assistance to be born, and medical intervention is necessary in a small percentage of births, but the vast majority of babies know exactly what they need to do to be born and are very good at doing it.

Enter the obstetrician armed with forceps, a pair of metal tongs that is fitted over a baby's head and used to pull/drag/tug the baby out of the birth canal. For a baby engaged in the hard work of being born, the use of forceps can be interpreted as interference and carry the message "you're not doing this fast enough."

One of the primary characteristics of those born with forceps is a conflict with authority. Birth is the baby's first experience of a relationship with an authority figure, namely the obstetrician. The use of forceps by the obstetrician forces a baby to be born on the obstetrician's timetable, not the baby's. The message to the baby from the obstetrician/authority figure is "I know better than you what's good for you." The use of forceps peaked during the baby boom generation; it is any wonder that the boomers, who started coming of age in the early 1960s, is a generation of individuals who taught us to rebel against authority?

(As long as I'm on the subject of conflict with authority, I want to point out how another birth practice affected the baby boomers: that of holding the newly-born baby upside down by his ankles. Picture a baby in the womb, curled in the fetal position, his spine one continuous curve from skull to sacrum, a position it has been in for nine months. If an obstetrician holds the newly-emerged baby upside-down by his ankles, his spine is suddenly and excruciatingly straightened out against gravity, with the point of greatest strain in the lumbar/lower back region. Babies born between 1946 and 1964 now, as adults, lead the country in the highest percentage of low back problems, most of which can be traced back to our unpleasant experiences with our first authority figures.)

Typical physical attributes of the forceps birth are:
  • Low back problems
  • Chronic headaches, vision and eye problems
  • Jaw and dental problems, particularly TMJ syndrome (temporomandibular joint syndrome caused by placement of the forceps)
  • Neck issues, including sensitivity and chronic flexibility problems
  • Gripping the forehead/rubbing temples with one or both hands in times of stress (I have seen people who actually develop red forceps marks on their heads when stressed)
  • Baldness/receding hairline where the forceps gripped
In addition, forceps births tend to have timing issues which manifest as always being early or late, but strenuously avoiding an appointed time. This is because, having been robbed of their own timing at birth, they spend the rest of their lives never being anywhere in anyone else's time. And, as mentioned, a lifelong conflict with authority figures, a conflict that increases geometrically if the person is, herself, an authority figure. 

Were you a forceps birth, and do you see in yourself a lot of these characteristics? If so, remember that these behaviors are simple habit. Once you understand that, you may also understand that it's not "just the way you are," but a behavior you developed based on early experience.

A note about my late posting this week. In two weeks I will be in Philadelphia teaching the 2009 Collard Method Program with Russell Lipensky. Preparing for this is taking a lot of my time. I will be posting only once a week for the time being. I hope to bring you lots of information during the program, along with photos of what promises to be a wonderful, enriching experience.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Creative Thought Case Study: Roxanne

Roxanne is a very successful account executive for a huge company that organizes trade shows and conventions. She is constantly plugged in to her staff via cell phone, Blackberry and, she has been told by those who work for her, telepathy, managing the organization of political conventions and confectionary trade shows with equal aplomb.

Roxanne came to me for help with neck and back problems, and as we started talking she told me about an ongoing problem she had with her staff. The projects she manages can take anywhere from six months to a year to plan and execute; the average timeline is about nine months. Roxanne's problem was that, despite meticulous planning, frequent meetings and constant communication, her staff seemed to desert her at the last minute, leaving Roxanne to manage the eleventh-hour tasks by herself. She was pretty much at the end of her rope and had recently been called into a meeting with two company vice-presidents about her performance on several major events that had had significant deadline issues. Several of Roxanne's staff had gone over her head and complained about the way Roxanne would treat them as things started to fall apart. It wasn't that she was wrong, they said, it was all about the manner in which she did it.

Cause and Effect

As we talked, I asked Roxanne about her birth script. She laughed, then was able to tell me in some detail about her birth, because it has been a chapter in the family folklore all her life. Roxanne was born on a gurney outside the delivery room because her obstetrician was busy delivering another baby and did not make it to her birth. Roxanne, the fifth of seven children, pretty much delivered herself.

Roxanne told me her mother had been seen throughout her pregnancy by her regular obstetrician who had attended the birth of each of Roxanne's four siblings, and joked a little about being there for the fifth. Roxanne's mother was concerned about what she thought would be a very short labor, based on her previous experience, to the point where she went to the hospital twice thinking she was in labor when she was not. The doctor took this all in stride, chuckling a little as he reassured her there would be plenty of time, and that he would be there when she actually went into labor. Other priorities for the doctor intervened in the form of another delivery, and Roxanne, deadline upon her, was left to take care of the matter on her own.

Fast forward to the present, and Roxanne continues to repeat her birth script with virtually every project she works on. Those who pledge to support her and be there for her over an average of nine months (her staff, in the role of her obstetrician) desert her at the last minute, leaving her to handle the big event by herself. This was a huge revelation for Roxanne, who was immediately able to see that she was repeating her birth out of simple habit. Empowered to make a life-altering change by shifting her thinking, Roxanne now views her staff as civilians, not as players in her ongoing birth drama, and there has never been another glitch in a project due to timing.

Remember the staff members who complained to upper management about the way Roxanne treated them? The very words they used were, "Roxanne is great, but her delivery stinks!"

Friday, August 28, 2009

Birth Script

As promised, I am going to start talking about birth script. Birth script is the collection of circumstances surrounding your conception, development in the womb, labor, birth and the moments or hours following your birth. This is a subject that is not easily contained in a single post, so I will be writing many times about birth script in the months to come.

Why is birth script important? Birth is our first experience of change, and also our first experience of aliveness. As we mature and develop from birth to infancy, childhood and beyond, we will tend to react to change and aliveness based on our first experiences. This may be an unfamiliar and unlikely claim for many of you; but let's say the first dog you ever saw bit you. Wouldn't that have an effect on how you reacted to dogs in the future? Same with birth script.

Most birth scripts fall into a number of broad categories and for most of us, our birth scripts span more than one category. Factors that affect birth script can be things that were present/actually happened at your birth, such as whether or not your mother received anesthesia or other drugs, the use of forceps or suction, delivery by C-section, or whether you were a premature birth. Conception issues also play a role, including whether you were wanted and/or planned, wanted as one gender over the other, or even conceived as a replacement for a baby who died before or after birth. How about your labor? Was it long or short, started by a drug, or maybe you never had a labor, as in a child born by planned C-section. What about after you were born? Were you separated from your mother, maybe placed in an incubator or taken away to the hospital nursery? 

You can see that birth script encompasses a very broad range of events and circumstances. To get you started, I'm going to provide an example, and then give you an assignment to help you understand your own birth script. First, the example -- my own birth script.

I am a first child, first pregnancy, wanted and planned. I was wanted as a boy by my father, but my mother was happy with either a boy or girl. I was born after 24 hours of labor by natural childbirth, no drugs, no forceps. I came out face-up, an unusual and startling event for the doctor and nurses. I was placed in an incubator for my first 24 hours, standard procedure for all babies at the hospital where I was born. 

This birth script affected me in many ways. Being wanted as a boy by my father caused me to have uneasy relationships with men, always thinking I was not what they wanted. Twenty-four hours of labor is considered a long labor, so I am used to having to struggle to get what I want and do not trust things that come to me fast and easy. The separation from my mother and "incarceration" in an incubator just when I needed my mom the most contributed to me feeling like there was something wrong with me. But the central fact of my birth, the thing that has affected me the most in my life, is the face-up presentation as I came out.

Most babies emerge from the birth canal face-down with the top of their head coming out first. I, however, came out face-first. Obstetricians do not expect this. A baby coming out face-first can be a tricky delivery because the baby's head is bent at an odd angle, putting pressure on the neck. The obstetrician and other members of the delivery team were shocked at my face-first presentation and the doctor tried to take pressure off my neck by pushing on the back of my head. Ouch!

Face-up births usually feel like they have something to prove; indeed, they are literally "in your face." Ironically, most face-up babies grow up avoiding confrontation of any kind and preferring to work behind the scenes. They will agree with you just to get away from you. They often have hyper-sensitive skin due to lymphatic system issues caused by the pressure to their sinuses as they exited the birth canal. Check, check aaaand ... check!

Now for your assignment. Write down everything you know or have ever been told about your birth. Here's a list of possible issues, but it is by no means complete. 

Conception: Were you wanted, planned, a secret, a surprise, conceived after an abortion/miscarriage, a "honeymoon" or "menopause" baby, were your parents trying to conceive or just having sex, were they sober, conscious, high, were you conceived in a car, elevator or some unusual location. Where are you in the birth order?

Pregnancy: Did you mother have an easy or difficult pregnancy with you, was she stressed or happy, did your parents want a boy/girl, did she know who your father was, did she smoke, drink, use drugs, was she worried about have a miscarriage, did she consider aborting you, did she try to abort you, did she receive medical care, did she like the obstetrician, was there medical intervention during the pregnancy.

Labor: Long, short, induced by drugs, started and stopped, no labor (planned C-section.)

Delivery: Home, hospital, taxi, unusual location, emergency C-section, breech, transverse, placenta previa, drugs/anesthesia, forceps, suction, held back/had to wait for doctor, face-up, umbilical cord around neck, premature.

After birth: Did you stay with your mother, were you taken away, were you handled with respect and care by the delivery team or were you weighed, measured, blood taken, held upside-down by your ankles, did you need emergency medical intervention.

Take some time to make a complete list. Over the next few Fridays I will present some common birth scripts and how they may manifest in someone's life.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Anxiety, the Low Flyer

I have been using Tuesdays on this blog to write about case studies that exemplify some of the concepts and principles that I teach. I did not update yesterday, even though the example I had in mind is one of my favorites. Instead, I was contemplating the emotion of anxiety.

The dictionary defines anxiety as a state of disquiet, fear or nervous tension. It can also be used to describe a state of eagerness (as in anxious to succeed.) Personally, my experience of anxiety is emotional and physical discomfort and unease, a kind of fogginess of mind that tells me I must move, and at the same time preventing me from doing so. I was talking with my friend Russell Lipensky the other day and he shared with me an experience that focused his attention on his anxiety. That started me thinking about my own anxiety.

In 2000 I started having panic attacks. Up to that point, I had thought of panic attacks as the province of malingerers and drama queens. I used to think, "Panic attack? Puh-leez! Get over it!" My first panic attack woke me up out of a sound sleep. I thought I was dying. I thought I had toxic shock syndrome. By the yellow light of my 2 a.m. apartment bathroom I was fumbling under the sink for the insert from the Tampax box to read the signs and symptoms of TSS. I took myself to the emergency room, where a doctor held my hands out, looked at the palms, and in a definite voice said, "Nope, you don't have TSS." That was all I needed to hear. I went home and slept the rest of the night with the light on. I no longer have panic attacks, thanks to Mariola Strahlberg, a brilliant acupuncturist. But I still have anxiety.

I tend to hide my anxiety, as I think of it as a weakness, but my conversation with Russell made me realize that I need to take a hard look at the emotion, its origins and its expressions in my life. Anxiety is one of the most corrosive and crippling emotions in our human experience. I think of it as a vampire, because it sucks away all of my focus and attention. Over the years I have become very practiced at processing my emotions in present time, to the point where anger, fear, sadness, guilt or resentment are usually dealt with in a matter of minutes. But anxiety ... no. It is a very low flyer and escapes my emotional radar until I realize I have just spent ten minutes wringing the metaphorical hands of my thoughts, perseverating on an inconsequential detail.

My intuition tells me my anxiety was born shortly after I was, during the 24 hours I spent in an incubator right after my birth. Exploring this over the next few days will be an opportunity to clear another piece of my birth script. I will also be doing my best King Kong imitation as I snatch these troublesome little low-flying menaces out of my mental sky to clear the air.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Tastes Like Chicken: The Appeal of the Familiar

In my post on Most Negative Thought I talked a little about how we as humans try to avoid change. Our conditioned mind, which functions at a very basic level, is only comfortable with things it has already done. This part of our mind is focused on survival; therefore anything it has not done and survived might mean death. As I said, a very basic level.

There is actually a specific part of our brain that is programmed to search out the familiar and bring it to the forefront of our consciousness. This Reticular Activating system (RAS) is found in the brain stem, where most of our body's survival functions are centered. The RAS filters information entering the brain from our vision, hearing, smell and other sources and sends it to more sophisticated areas of the brain so it can be noticed and processed. Here is an example of how the RAS works: suppose you decide to buy a Lexus automobile, and it will be the first Lexus you have ever owned or driven. As you are driving down the road you notice every other Lexus on the road, when you never did before. This is the RAS at work, bringing the familiar to the forefront.

The RAS is also at work every time you hear, see, feel, taste or try something new. Your brain will search for what the new thing reminds you of, as in, "it tastes like chicken." But to really understand this you must take it a step further. Let's say you meet someone new and feel an immediate dislike for that person. Upon reflection you realize the new person reminds you of someone from your past whom you dislike. It may be the other way around, as well, in the case of liking someone simply because that person reminds you of someone you like. 

Notice also, when experiencing something new, how you try to make it familiar by relating it to something you already know. Perhaps you are learning a new motor skill, or abstract concept. You will automatically try to equate it with something already in your sphere of experience. As a teacher of concepts that are new to many people, I can't tell  you the number of times students say, "so this is like ... " and then describe some other school of thought or something they have read.

When we were living in caves and running from the saber-toothed tiger, these aspects of our brain helped us stay alive. In today's world they actually prevent us from fully experiencing life in present time because they function by focusing on the past, rather than the present.

In the face of all the unhappiness, malaise and victimhood in the world today, those who seek an upgrade in their lives can receive an instant boost by reaching out for the gift that is always right in front of us -- present time. It is the most precious thing in our human experience because it is the only thing that is real.