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. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Creative Thought Case Study: Daniel

Daniel was seven years old when his mother, Carolann, asked me for help. Mealtimes had become a frustrating battle for their family as Daniel took longer and longer to finish his food. Breakfast especially was a problem. Carolann's morning routine of getting Daniel and his older brother Thomas ready for school and heading out the door at 7:40 sharp was deteriorating as every day, Daniel sat in front of his soggy cereal and cooling toast, refusing to let Carolann take the food away, but also refusing to eat any faster. Carolann would ask, demand, beg, coax and cajole Daniel to finish up so she and her boys could make it to school and work on time. She actually resorted to getting Daniel and herself up 45 minutes earlier each morning in an attempt to maintain her schedule. Carolann was running out of ways to keep herself and her boys on time.

Cause and Effect:

I asked Carolann about Daniel's birth. Birth script is a crucial part of who we are and how we view the world. Birth is our first experience of change and of aliveness, and has a huge impact on how we handle both of those issues as we grow and develop. Although our birth experience is pre-verbal, each of us remembers vividly how we were viewed, treated and handled as we emerged from our mother's womb into independent life.

Daniel was an induced birth, meaning that Carolann's obstetrician had given her a drug to start her labor and hurry the birth process along. Daniel's first experience of change, therefore, was of being suddenly forced out of the womb, down the birth canal and into life on someone else's schedule. An authority figure, in this case the obstetrician, had imposed his own timing on a process that belonged to Daniel. At the same time, since the inducement resulted in Daniel's arrival into the world, he now believes that inducement and aliveness go hand in hand. 

But no one likes to be forced. Daniel's natural inclination to rebel against inducement of any kind is in direct conflict with his belief that nothing can be accomplished without it. He now faces the double bind of disliking and distrusting authority figures and schedules to the exact degree that he believes he needs them. At the age of seven, his beliefs are expressed by disrupting his mother's timing and doing a little scheduling of his own.

I advised Carolann to speak to Daniel briefly and directly, telling him that his timing is perfect and that no matter how long he needs to finish any task, she loves and respects him. This was all it took to give Daniel ownership of his mealtimes. Carolann reported back to me that Daniel not only finishes his food in a reasonable amount of time, but has become willing to ask for either more or less food, something he would never do before. Carolann continues to teach Daniel that his own sense of timing is important and they are learning together to respond to situations in present time, rather than react to past conditioning.

I will be presenting more information on birth scripts in the near future.

Friday, August 14, 2009

I Should, I Should ... Oww! My Shoulder!

If a painter paints and a  knitter knits, someone who "shoulds" all the time is ... hmmm?

Shoulders are right up there with necks when it comes to where we hold our tension. In fact, some people are one big block of pain from shoulder blades to skull. Most people hold their most negative thought in the muscles and tissue between their shoulder blades, so this part of the body is extremely vulnerable to stress, tension and pain. 

Let's talk about adrenalin for a moment. Whenever our bodies go into "stress mode," our adrenal glands release adrenalin into our bloodstream. Adrenalin is one of the most caustic chemicals produced in the body and it is meant to be used and then discarded through respiration. When we overproduce adrenalin (i.e., when we are under stress all the time) or when it hangs around too long in our blood, it has effects such as suppressing the immune system, interfering with digestion and decreasing blood supply to the skin and certain muscles.

When negative thoughts and/or emotional trauma are held in muscle tissue it contracts, and blood flow decreases. Poor blood flow causes adrenalin to build up in muscles and causes partial atrophy of the muscle tissue, which contracts further. A nasty repetitive cycle now takes place as the muscle becomes more rigid and painful. The icing on the cake is that when you go into "stress response" you probably hold your breath, further decreasing your body's ability to burn off the adrenalin.

In addition to your most negative thought, many people also hold their beliefs about obligation in their shoulders. Are you a "should-er?" Are a lot of your thoughts centered on "I have to?" This leads to your thoughts about choice -- how familiar is it to believe you have no choice? These few words and thoughts produce crippling results for so many people, especially women. Do you feel you are totally stuck in obligation and lack of choice? How about guilt? Sometimes when you decide you're not going to take it anymore and just say "No" it creates a feeling of guilt that is often felt right in the middle of the back. You may feel like your body is divided into two halves, upper and lower, with a painful hinge in the middle.

Shoulders also often hold thoughts about receiving -- is it safe, is it acceptable, is it selfish? Those who are poor receivers are usually called "control freaks" because they are trying to control their environment by keeping everything away. This typically is the result of lots of negative receiving as a child in the form of abuse (both verbal and physical) and chaos in their homes (big families, substance abuse, moving from place to place.) A child may make a decision to stop receiving, keeping everything away, in attempt to control their immediate environment. As adults, receiving means losing control and brings up fear, sadness and resentment.

Offshoots of control and receiving issues include beliefs about getting what you want. The conflict between getting what you deserve versus receiving what you desire can cause intense physical effects. Do you measure what you do in order to afford what you deserve? Is your ability to to enjoy yourself in direct proportion to what you produce? Do you have to struggle and suffer to have fun? Do you feel guilty if something is too easy? If you receive more than you give are you uncomfortable? Do you trust simplicity?

If you're like most people, you have come to the end of this post hunching your shoulders and holding your breath. You didn't even notice it, did you? Relax your spine, let your shoulders drop and take a deep breath. Exhale.  Your homework assignment is to go through an entire day without telling yourself "I have to." This is mandatory. You have to!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Creative Thought Case Study: Cynthia

Cynthia is the kind of friend everyone would like to have. She is always there with a kind word and a helping hand, lends money, helps people find jobs, never forgets a birthday, keeps an eye on her elderly grandmother and takes in stray animals. She works fifty to sixty hours a week in the leasing business she and her husband own.

You've heard of "the straw that broke the camel's back?" One day in January shortly after 1999 turned to 2000, Cynthia reached for her computer's "On" switch and fractured her first and second lumbar vertebrae. She was hospitalized for ten days and sent home with strict instructions for bed rest in order for the bones to heal. Armed with her laptop computer and cell phone, Cynthia continued to work 50 or more hours a week and kept up with as many of her other obligations as possible short of leaving her house. Ninety days later, her doctor pronounced her healed and Cynthia was cleared to resume her normal life.

Things did not go as planned. Cynthia's pain did not get better; in fact, it began to get worse as she threw herself back into her life. Her parents asked for her help in their retail business and Cynthia began to spend evenings and weekends doing the books. Her grandmother's health took a turn for the worse and Cynthia made a 150-mile round trip every Saturday to cook and clean for her. Cynthia took over IRS negotiations for her self-employed brother-in-law who had not filed a tax return in six years. She also began staying overnight with a longtime friend who was in the end stage of breast cancer. This was all in addition to keeping her own business up and running.

As Cynthia's pain worsened, her doctor prescribed progressively stronger medications, finally putting Cynthia on Methadone shortly before her 40th birthday. Periodic MRI scans indicated that her spine was deteriorating. Osteoporosis was setting in and she had the beginnings of scoliosis in her lumbar spine. Foreseeing a grim future, Cynthia started looking for the connection between her thoughts and the condition of her body.

Cause and Effect:

Cynthia does not remember a time when she felt supported. Growing up an only child with parents whose business demanded most of their time, Cynthia was responsible for getting herself ready for school on her own from the day she started kindergarten. Beginning with her after-school work in her parents' business, up to and including the busy and prosperous truck leasing company she and her husband own, Cynthia's knowledge, skills, talents, contributions, hard work and extraordinary marketing ideas have remained unacknowledged. She had made herself indispensable and obligated herself to so many people and projects that any words or gestures of gratitude are lost on her.

It took a while for Cynthia to recognize her role in the endless whirlpool of obligation her life had become, and a while longer to take responsibility for it. Cynthia learned that the constant motion and action she created were keeping her safe from feeling her emotions and dealing with the pain they caused. As she gradually became a "human being" instead of a "human doing" she learned to focus on her feelings and process negative emotions and trauma. Cynthia acknowledged her sadness, anger and fear at having spent the first 45 years of her life "bending over backwards" and "breaking her back" by taking on not only her own, but others' burdens with no support whatsoever.

Today, Cynthia is still working on asking for what she wants, whether it is support, attention, acknowledgment or assistance, and has gotten pretty good at saying "no." Oh, and she no longer takes pain medication, her back pain having diminished to approximately 10% of what it was a year ago. Her most recent MRI shows an increase in bone density and a decrease in the degree of rotation of her spine. Cynthia is confident that as she continues on this path, both her osteoporosis and scoliosis will continue to improve.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Necks and Their Thoughts

The human body is incredibly plastic. Every one of its 70,000 trillion cells are in constant motion, responding to the demands placed on them. This includes the demands created by our thoughts. It's been well established by modern science that stress has negative effects on the body, but it's possible to go further and see that specific emotions and thoughts tend to attack certain parts of the body. Although there are no absolutes, there are generalities that can serve as jumping-off points for you to increase your understanding of the relationship that exists among your thoughts, emotions and physical body.

Let's take a look at necks. Necks are hotbeds of emotional holding and physical complaints. For many people, neck trouble starts at birth. Think about the position of a baby in the womb for nine months, give or take. The baby's spine forms a continuous curve in one direction. Her trip down the birth canal is the first time her spine changes from that curved position and starts to straighten. Most babies are born head first, and it's common for their head and neck to be manipulated by the obstetrician during delivery. Some babies even have forceps or suction applied to their heads to force them out of the birth canal. That's a lot of neck trauma!

Since the obstetrician is a baby's first experience of an authority figure, and that authority figure may have caused the baby pain in her neck, a lot of us grow up equating neck pain with authority figures. Does your neck tighten up, do you get tension headaches or tight shoulders when dealing with authority figures (parents, teachers, bosses, cops, etc.)? How about your jaw or eyes? What is your body doing right now as you read this?

Communication between the brain and muscles happens in 1/2500th of a second. Between birth and about age seven virtually all of our brain to muscle pathways are set for life. But in addition to sending commands to move muscles, the brain also learns to send emotional content to muscles, as well as to organs and glands throughout the body. As our coordination and movement patterns are developed, so are the ways in which we hold unresolved emotions in our bodies. Just as the brain's command to walk follows well-worn pathways of nerves to muscles, so the brain's processing of certain thoughts and emotions follow the same paths over and over.

What else can be going on in the neck besides a conflict with authority? How about stubbornness? You've heard the expression "stiff-necked" to describe someone who won't budge, right? Other typical issues that show up in the neck are disappointment, anger, obligation and fear. But let's go a little further and notice which side of the neck is affected. Problems on the right side are often concerned with males (either with a male or as a male), or can be about the past; those on the left may be female (either with a female or as a female), or about the future.

But don't stop there. Like the old song, the "neckbone's connected to the headbone." Tension headaches, jaw and vision problems, and ear/hearing issues can originate in the neck. So can shoulder problems. Take a look in the mirror -- is one shoulder higher than the other? Is one side or the other pulled in closer to your body? Right or left side? If you have right side problems, it might be caused by overgiving and too much obligation in your life. If the left side bothers you, think about whether or not you are a good receiver, and if you feel you have enough support in your life.

The body never lies. You can rationalize all you want, but the body will always tell the truth. After all, your thoughts are the cause, your body is the effect. So, what's going on in your neck?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Creative Thought Case Study: Marguerite

Marguerite is a delicately pretty blonde with a heart of gold and a wicked sense of humor. As a child in Belgium and the Netherlands she grew up speaking three languages and, as the product of a convent education in Paris, she hides a razor-sharp mind under her modest manner.

At 32 she is the mother of five and dutiful wife to a man she doesn't really like. Her marriage was arranged when she was a child and when she left home for London to be married her father's parting gift was a brutal rape.

Marguerite has little sweetness in her life. She will not complain openly about her parents but speaks matter-of-factly about their long absences running the family's gemstone business, one of the reasons she spent a good part of her childhood with the nuns in Paris. She once tried to confide in her husband about the sexual assault committed by her father and her husband's response was anger that his new wife was "damaged goods." Marguerite knows that somehow she is capable of creating a better life for herself but does not know where to start.

Leaving her husband is high on Marguerite's priority list. She has already enlisted the financial support of her parents to make this change. While there is no social stigma for Marguerite in wanting to separate from her husband, she feels a deep moral failure. On each of the first two dates she and her children were ready to leave their home, Marguerite ended the day in the hospital with pancreatitis. On her third attempt to "absolutely walk out," she fell on some stairs and broke her ankle.

Cause and Effect

Marguerite thinks she is not good enough and deserves to suffer. Her evidence is that her parents showed no obvious interest in her, to the point where they sent her to live in another country for most of her young life. The arranged marriage is evidence that she has no value or function outside of a traditional subservient role and cannot even be trusted to make her own choice. The rape by her father sets the tone for her marriage to an angry man whose ambitions and interests lie outside their home and who barely speaks to her.

The pancreas makes chemicals that affect sugar in the body's cells and bloodstream. Problems with the pancreas are usually the result of little or no sweetness in life. Marguerite's pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas, point to her belief that her life lacks tenderness, compassion, regard and respect. Impersonal male authority figures in the form of doctors are in control of her future, replaying her father's and husband's roles.

Marguerite's final attempt to leave her husband is cut short by an accident that makes walking impossible. Our bodies obey our thoughts. When Marguerite's conscious mind said "walk out," her stronger thoughts of failure and prohibition conspired to create a situation in which the literal result was "I can't walk."

Today, Marguerite lives separately from her husband with four of her five children (her oldest child lives at college in another part of the state.) She has learned to disconnect from her past in a constructive way. Marguerite is on her way to letting her natural gifts and abilities shine through, and allowing her deep spirituality to blossom into a living energy that guides her daily actions. She has earned an advanced teaching degree and works at a local private school teaching young teens. Her lively intellect, calm manner, and that keen and ready sense of humor make her the most popular and effective teacher in school.

Marguerite still spends part of every day practicing her present time skills, and working her way through a reading list to help her develop a deeper understanding of how her mind, body and emotions work together. She is happier than she has ever been in her life and acknowledges her specialness and perfection every chance she gets.

Recommended reading: Healing and Holiness, Sondra Ray, Celestial Arts, 2002