Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Living A Succulent Juicy Life

Now that it is June, the supermarkets are starting to offer peaches, nectarines, plums and cherries--some of the delicious fruits that come with warm weather and summer. All of those fruits can be described as juicy and succulent. When you take a bite into a fresh ripe peach, the flavor and juice cascade out of the fruit into your mouth, bringing a wonderful sensation of joy and satisfaction.

What would it mean if the way we lived our lives was as juicy and succulent as a ripe, flavor-filled peach? Might we engage our whole bodies, our whole hearts and all five of our senses? Might we move beyond the limitations of our heads and brains, letting a sense of abundant sensuality drive us?

A succulent juicy life would never be boring. It might have quiet moments. Our minds might be clear of thoughts or worries sometimes. Or even pondering thoughts and worries sometimes. But full engagement in the moment, with our breath, with whatever is authentic, real and true would be the hallmark, more than idle busyness, running on a seemingly directionless treadmill or feeling pressured to do more rather than be.

I've always loved the phrase, "I've lost my mind and come to my senses." Ordinary life is too mental, cerebral, technological, time-lined and limiting. If we swim in that mainstream, we can become dead inside--numb to our hearts and disconnected from the rich landscape of our sensual experience.

The senses we embrace most comfortably, are in the words of anthropologist Ashley Montagu, our "distance senses," sight and hearing. Our "proximity senses," the ones that allow for greater intimacy and feeling, taste, smell and touch are "largely tabooed." Montagu notes in the preface to his book Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin, that two dogs may use all five senses in their communication with a fellow dog. The same can hardly be said about two people.

It follows that if human beings are going to live a succulent juicy life, engaging all of our senses, and even our intuition, is necessary to feel a sense of joie d'vivre, of being fully alive. Finding emotionally safe spaces to take down our armor, to lower our defenses, first and foremost with ourselves and then with others is a critical first step. If we do not feel emotionally safe, we tense our breathing, and distance from the vulnerability of authentic feelings.

I find it very sad to discover how many people are truly numb to their hearts, their senses and their deeper experience when they first come to see me for EKP. After starting a session with a heart meditation, when I ask what is calling their heart's attention, many people answer, "I truly don't know."

Here are some steps we can take to open to the richness and fullness of what an embodied life can be:

1. Becoming safe within our own skin: Often we are uncomfortable with the feelings and sensations that emerge in our bodies and hearts as we go through the day. These feelings and sensations are like an internal GPS: they tell us where we are and where we need to go. Creating our own internal space, safety within our own skin, body and mind, to feel, hear and follow our hearts is a key step in opening to a succulent juicy life.

2. Learning to enjoy our senses: "Intensity" is often a scary experience. Sensual experience CAN be intense. If we feel strongly, we may find ourselves defending against the intensity of the strong feeling Learning to relax, breath and allow ourselves to just be is a practice that can help us enjoy intense sensual experience. Delicate sensual experience can also be joyful.

3. Becoming more embodied: I had a colleague years ago that said, "Whenever I feel the urge to exercise, I lie down until it has gone away!" Everyone in my office laughed. But I was actually sad for my colleague. If we don't move, feel our bodies active and engaged in life, feet firmly planted on the ground or even running or dancing, we miss a wonderful part of the human experience. Becoming more aware of our bodies, how they feel, and whether we are in them or out of them is part of becoming more embodied. The body really is the temple of the soul. And a lot of joy can be experienced in the temple!

4. Learning to enjoy our sensuality and sexuality: Sexuality and sensuality both allow life's energy force to fill and move through our bodies, hearts and souls. Both can bring pleasure and connection with self, the divine and others. Sadly, both "s words," can be the source of shame in our culture. Sensuality and sexuality can be extremely earthy and spiritual experiences. If we can embrace them with love for self and others, they are a magical force of aliveness.

5. Finding means of self-expression: The spirit really does seek expression to feel alive. We are fortunate to have so many different possible means of expression: singing, dancing, painting, drawing, photography, cooking, acting, touching, gardening…..That is only the beginning. Finding modes of expression that feel true and authentic enlivens our experience and helps bring balance to our lives.

6. Becoming touchable and comfortable touching: Our skin is the largest organ in the body. It also is sensitive and sensual. We can feel and know so much through touch. Sadly, our culture teaches us to be touch-phobic rather than touch literate. We learn that if we let someone close, they can hurt us, and sadly, often this is true. We are afraid to reach out and touch another person. Touch is too often taboo. Yet the word touch has emotional as well as physical connotations. When we are connected with ourselves we are "in touch" with our hearts. If someone touches our hearts, we may want to touch them with a hug. If someone offers us a literal helping hand, they also touch our hearts. Emotions and touch go hand in hand Having comfort and fluency in this language allows us more joie d'vivre.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Power of Voice

“Everybody’s got a song to sing Everybody’s got something that they want to say And ageless voices stay silent while People dream of words they want to speak For the first time in their lives.”

--from “Everybody’s Got a Song to Sing” by Linda Marks and Lisa Wexler ©1981

In 27 years as a body psychotherapist, I have come to witness how powerfully the human spirit seeks expression and how finding one’s voice is a critical pathway in connecting with and understanding who we truly are.

Sadly, we live in a culture that does not encourage us to find our voice, and through the power of our voice, make a unique contribution to the world. Instead, beginning as children, we are drilled with messages that stifle voice, and often disconnect us from us deeper selves: “children should be seen and not heard,” “be quiet,” “you don’t really mean that, “ or most crudely, “shut up!” These messages hurt our hearts and spirits. But more powerfully, they stifle and silence our souls.

Having A Voice

The roots of voice originate in the spirit and soul. Having a voice allows us both to express or share our internal experience and to say things others need to hear us say. One challenge in our culture is that not all voices and not all messages are welcome. While, in theory, our culture embraces freedom of speech, in reality, between gender stereotypes, cultural biases and fear of emotion and vulnerability, many parts of us are silenced rather than welcomed.

It hurts our hearts when parts of our voice are silenced or disallowed, by us internally or by others around us. If we suppress our voices, we do so at great psychic cost. Voice movement therapist Deborah Crane is a voice movement therapist in Littleton, MA. She has the fascinating job of helping people discover their voices, and in many cases, connect with previously unwelcome or scary parts.

Deborah notes, “We silence some of our internal voices because our family, our neighborhood or the culture at large encourages us not to use those voices. Girls are not allowed anger. Boys are not allowed sadness. We end up not allowing parts of ourselves that are not accepted. So, we tend to focus on the parts of ourselves that are accepted.” To have a voice is to be vulnerable. When someone takes the risk of speaking their true thoughts, feelings or experience, we often say that they are “sticking their neck out.”

Rebecca Parris is a world renowned jazz singer and vocal coach for singers from Duxbury, MA. “We have been taught that we have to be strong and guarded and safe,” reflects Rebecca. “We’ve been taught to live from fear rather than openness. People don’t realize the weakness of fear, and they don’t realize their vulnerability is a power, not a weakness.”

Vulnerability allows us to express our deepest truth and our most human experience through opinions, thoughts, dreams and points of view. When we live in fear of sticking our necks out, we remain isolated, bound up, tense and unfulfilled.

The throat is mid-way between head and heart, and often serves as a bridge between the two. When we feel something that we think is risky, our throats may become tense and tight. When we feel strong feelings but are afraid to let them out, we may feel a lump in our throats. By gently placing a hand on the tension or on the lump in the throat, you receive the message that what you are thinking and feeling is welcome and okay. The tension melts. Tears may even flow. And the deeper feelings find their way out of the body, mind and heart and into the larger world.

Head Voice Vs Heart Voice

When I first started having my voice recorded, I noticed that I had two distinct voices: my head voice and my heart voice. When I spoke from my head, my voice had a tinny intellectual tone to it. I spoke more rapidly. When I spoke from my heart voice, however, there was a much more spacious, open and heartfelt quality. I would feel my body relaxing and melting. I learned there was a huge energetic difference between a voice that came from the head or the heart.

When we speak from the heart, we touch the hearts of others. Because the heart and the brain both generate electromagnetic energy, we can viscerally feel where energy is coming from, even if we are not consciously aware we are doing so.

Likewise, it matters how we listen to others. The way it feels to speak to someone listening from their heart is far more safe and inviting than someone listening from the head. Our heads judge, analyze and put meaning on words. That is fine in some contexts. However, for building intimacy and connection, to listen from the heart as someone speaks from their heart is much more effective, safe and fulfilling. Being aware that we have head and heart voices, and learning to use them consciously helps us more powerfully speak and be heard.

Why Voice Matters

“When we find our voice, what we gain is knowing who we are and noting the response of others,” says Rebecca. “We gain a true sense of being in the moment.” Without voice, we lose the depths and authenticities of relationships.

There are also physical, emotional and energetic costs when our voices are silenced or not allowed. “Unexpressed feelings, thoughts and sounds live in us as emotional energy blocks,” observes Deborah. “The voice is a vehicle not only for allowing our strength, but also allowing the stuck energy within us to move up and out of us. The cost of being silenced is that we never feel we can open up and allow deep emotion within, even for our own benefit with no one around. We become our own censors.”

In the lyrics my singing and songwriting collaborator Lisa Wexler and I wrote in our song, “Everybody’s Got a Song to Sing,” we express how it feels when we don’t have a way to express “the voice within us” that “wants to shout.” “It hurts so much because you want to say your words out loud. And no one knows the pain that you are going through.” When we don’t have a voice, we hurt. We feel alone.

When I was in grammar school, I remember an experiment where we took a prism and learned how to angle it so that it could direct the sunlight to burn a hole in a piece of paper. It seemed like magic that we could harness the energy of the sun that way. Living creatures are energy conduits, and our bodies generate electromagnetic energy that we can learn to consciously channel, like a prism channeling sunlight.

Our voices vibrate and those vibrations interact with the vibrations of other living things around us. The resonance of our voice touches other people and can literally change the energy in the room. If we want to plant the seeds of action, speaking our intentions is a powerful place to start. When we speak a vision, we open up possibility for all who hear it. “Once you find your voice, the possibilities are endless,” Rebecca notes. “In music, we have a microphone that reaches a lot of people over the course of a night. Our impact can be major. But you may impact one person who goes out and impacts a thousand. One would be surprised how many people their voice has touched in a lifetime.”

Six Tips for Finding Your Voice

1. Realize the voice is a “thing” — something to find and have. Kids need to hear the message that the voice is a critical human capacity. Learning to find it and use it is at least as important as learning to read or do math. In fact, writing is much easier when we find our voices.

2. Embrace all your emotions. It is just as important to learn to feel and accept your pain and anger as your joy and happiness. Being able to express what you feel in a way that is authentic and respectful of self and others feels empowering.

3. Be non-judgmental. Being curious and non-judgmental invites introspection, feeling, sensation and deeper thoughts. This allows us to find the seeds of what we know, feel and wish to convey.

4. Be patient. It takes time to find our voices and patience to be present with what is there, even if initially it feels empty or like nothing.

5. Focus on what you feel, not what you think. The quality of the voice changes whether it’s from the head or from the heart. Energy from the heart reaches the heart of the listener or the audience.

6. Listen to yourself, not the voices of other. Other people and the media tell us what to think, what to wear, what to do, and who we should be. None of these things may be right for you. Take the time to find out what is true for you by listening to your own voice.