Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Many Expressions of the Heart

In 1983, I founded a group called the Boston Arts Roundtable. I was a singer/songwriter seeking community. And I realized that to have an artist's soul, meant that there was a core sensibility that was deeper than any one genre of expression. While people can get pigeon-holed as singers or pianists or watercolor artists or photographers or writers, I found that many artists were actually multi-genred. And that expressive arts and the healing arts are interconnected as well.

I am very much a multi-genred artist. When I was in my 20's, I participated in a right brain/left brain workshop led by Ned Hermann. About 100 of us were in the training. And at the end of the training, all 100 people were lined up across a very large room, with the most left brained people to the left, and the most right brained people to the right. A visual artist and I were the top 2, most right brained people. That was an eye opener.

When I left my job as an organizational consultant at Digital Equipment Corporation in 1985, I had a business card made up that said, "artist of life: all forms, all media." And, in many ways, that was my most authentic label. Yes, I was a singer/songwriter. Yes, I played the piano and guitar. Yes, I could arrange other people's songs, and write harmonies on the spot. But I also was a photographer, a poet, a book writer, a gourmet culinary artist of healthy foods, an occasional painter or drawer, a dancer, an interior designer, and very centrally, a healing artist.

My healing work, Emotional-Kinesthetic Psychotherapy, many consider my greatest life contribution. It led me to write two books, to teach in Europe before people understood my work in the United States, to travel across the country leading workshops and giving talks, to appear on National Public Radio and on National TV, to co-found the first professional association in the country in the field of body psychotherapy in 1988 and to help found my national professional association in 1996. But even more importantly, to set up a school with an apprenticeship-based training model, where over 11 years, scores of people learned how to practice the heart-centered, psychospiritual method of body psychotherapy that I had developed.

I am very grateful that EKP has helped thousands of people over 32 years, and that some of the people I trained have extended the reach of this work to countless others.

But many people cannot understand how I can be both a singer/songwriter and a mind-body psychotherapist. I try to explain that these are just different expressions of the heart. A true artist sources much of their creative expression from the heart. There is a surrender to a higher power, to the universal wisdom, to a sense of God if one believes in God. And profound creativity and healing come from a deep place inside that is egoless, yet very grounded in an authentic sense of self.

I have found that the kind of self-care I do to be a master therapist (which includes going to the gym every day, eating healthy foods, meditating daily, doing personal growth work and therapy/supervision as a lifelong pursuit, nurturing my soul with beauty, connection, and joy) are the very same things I need to do to keep my creative channel open as a writer of songs or prose.

As a shy introverted who NEVER wanted to be the center of attention, and certainly not at the center of a stage, it has taken years of work in therapy and performance coaching to become a skilled ambivert, and overcome my inherent shyness to be able to touch others heart to heart in the way only performing music can. Public speaking was easier for me to do than singing. And stepping out from the safety of the piano to the nakedness of center stage at a microphone required facing all kinds of shadows, internal and external.

Whatever work we can do to deeper our souls, to heal our hearts, to find our voices, only enhances our creative capacity. I have found my heart called to different forms of expression at different times in my life. But the two most fundamental creative expressions, the ones that always feel like "home" for my heart, are EKP (body psychotherapy) and music, especially as a singer/songwriter and song interpreter.

What a magical, creative world we could evolve if we gave ourselves permission to build lifework from the heart level up...So that the compartmentalized boxes we put people in need not trap us. Just as a healthy person can feel BOTH sadness and joy at the same time, healthy expression can be multi-media, and even simultaneously in unrelated media. The heart invites us to truly be an artist of life.

Friday, March 31, 2017

The Third Body: The "We" In Our Relationships

"A man and a woman sit near each other, and they do not long at this moment to be older, or younger, nor born in any other nation, or time, or place They are content to be where they are, talking or not-talking. Their breaths together somehow feed someone whom we do not know. The man sees the way his fingers move; he sees her hands close around a book she hands to him, They obey a third body that they share in common. They have made a promise to love that body. Age may come, parting may come, death will come. A man and a woman sit near each other; as they breathe they feed someone we do not know, someone we know of, whom we have never seen."

--Robert Bly

When two people form a relationship, they often do not realize that they are birthing a new being: the "we." The "we" is more than you and I. The "we" is a kind of oversoul, that is greater than you and I alone. Building a relationship requires not only getting to know the "you" and "I," but also nurturing the "we." Kindness towards the "you" and the "I" provides seeds for the "we." However, without consciously attending to the "we," the relationship cannot thrive and grow to its full potential, and in some cases, be sustained.

Deep intimacy can give us an experience of this "we." When you anticipate another's thoughts or words before they come out of their mouth, when you just know the phone is just going to ring or you think of a loved one and a text message instantly follows...These kinds of experience grow out of the "we" connection between two people connected at the heart.

Caring for the "we" requires consciousness, time, energy, thought, conversation and actions. Taking time out of our busy individual lives to nurture the "we" connection is critical to feed the we. When people invest too much of their focus on their individual pursuits, the "we" can starve. Likewise, when there is an obstacle or difficulty, when something is not working in the relationship, it takes a commitment to bring the attention of both people to not only self and other, but the "we." Perhaps things have gotten out of alignment or have remained unspoken or unasked. And conscious heartful attention and communication are required to unearth the deeper roots of what often presents at a more superficial level.

The "we" can nurture and feed the two individual "I's" when times get tough and when times are joyful. It takes two people to have a relationship. And if one of the two stops attending to the relationship, the we suffers as well as the other "I."

Sadly, while it takes two people to have a relationship, it only takes one to kill one. And when one person abruptly leaves, not only is the other person a casualty, but the "we" as well. Ending a relationship kills the "we." And this is a loss that might be even greater than the loss of the other "I." Because the "we" gives us a sense of connection not only to another person, but to something greater than ourselves. The "we" is indeed the oversoul, or the deeper spiritual body created when two people open their hearts to one another, and choose, hopefully with love and consciousness, to create something together.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Truth Matters: Especially Now

I honestly never imagined living in a time where terms like "alternative facts," and "fake news" would appear abundantly in the newspapers I read, on social media and on the airwaves. Although Randy Rainbow has a fantastic satire on "Alternative Facts," and Saturday Night Live has lots of material for the foreseeable future, attention to what is actually true can be obscured in the and static of "alternative facts," many of which are made up or just plain lies.

The New York Times, one of the publications that was not allowed to attend a recent news conference by our Twitter-loving president, published a wonderful statement about why truth matters, especially now.

The truth is hard.

The truth is hidden.

The truth must be pursued.

The truth is hard to hear.

The truth is rarely simple.

The truth isn't so obvious.

The truth is necessary.

The truth can't be glossed over.

The truth has no agenda.

The truth can't be manufactured.

The truth doesn't take sides.

The truth isn't red or blue.

The truth is hard to accept.

The truth pulls no punches.

The truth is powerful.

The truth is under attack.

The truth is worth defending.

The truth requires taking a stand.

The truth is more important now than ever.

This piece reminds me that truth is something we know in our hearts, in our guts, and in the grounded part of our minds. Truth provides grounding for sense of self, our important relationships and the fabric of our lives. Truth is the foundation on which we build a solid presence in the world, and on which we make grounded, sustainable decisions.

Inundate us with falsehoods and alternative facts, and it becomes hard, if not impossible, to find vision, direction, connection and grounding for relationships, our actions and our lives. We become overwhelmed, isolated, afraid, trapped, and overtime, exhausted. Truth perhaps belongs on Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

It is important to step back, step away and step out from the media tornado that is swirling around all of us, so that we do not get lost or swept away. We need space to listen to our hearts and guts, and think clear thoughts, so that we retain a grounded sense of reality, a grounded sense of self, and can make healthy choices for ourselves, our loved ones and our communities.

It seems clear that truth is a basic human need. And it is critical for safety, understanding differences and finding common threads in our human experience. We do need truth now more than ever.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Healthy Imagery For Love: Love As A Collaborative Work of Art

Mindy Len Catron is a writer and an English teacher, who, in her own words, "gets paid to think about words for a living." Her TED talk, "A Better Way to Talk About Love," eloquently and directly addresses the way we talk about love and what's wrong with it.

The primary image we use for the beginning of a relationship is "falling in love." When I wrote Healing the War Between the Genders: The Power of the Soul-Centered Relationship, like Mindy, I recognized that "falling" imagery is neither healthy nor desirable really. Mindy notes that this imagery is not "jumping," and that it is "accidental, uncontrollable, and happens to us without our consent." We are "struck" or "crushed." We "swoon." Love makes us "crazy" and "sick."

Mindy points out that "our metaphors equate the experience of loving someone to extreme violence or illness." NOT a good model. And awfully painful and unhealthy if this is something we seek to have long-term. Love positions us "as the victims of unforeseen and totally unavoidable circumstances." This disempowers us, ungrounded us, and throws a big wrench into the fabric of both our lives and our sense of self, rather than supporting us to be more grounded, empowered, communicative and creative.

Mindy was curious how our language evolved to this imagery of romantic love as craziness and mental illness. She found that "the history of Western culture is full of language that equates love to mental illness." She notes that in "As You Like It," William Shakespeare wrote "Love is merely a madness," and Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, "There is always some maddens in love." Contemporary music is full of song titles and references to "crazy love."

Interestingly enough, the neurochemistry of early romantic love and mental illness is very similar. Mindy cites a study from 1999 that used blood tests "to confirm that the serotonin levels of the newly in love closely resembled the serotonin levels of people who have been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder." She also noted that "low levels of serotonin are also associated with seasonal affective disorder and depression." The early phases of romantic love can include swings in mood and behavior. This is associated with what I call "the new relationship energy phase" of relationship in Healing The War Between the Genders.

Eventually, however, this new relationship phase ends as intimacy progresses, and people move into what I call "the shadowlands," where our unresolved issues or triggers, and our deeper needs emerge to be worked or acted out in the cauldron of intimacy. The new relationship energy phase can last for just a short time, like days or months, or a few years. However, eventually, people go deeper into the emotional-spiritual cauldron of relationship, and many of the "highs" suddenly become "lows" and what seemed to be "perfect" becomes complicated, flawed or simply human.

Sadly, the media gives us lots of imagery of the pathological version of romantic love, and does not include the follow on stages, nor road map that allows us to navigate a healthy journey of long term romantic love. So, many people repeat the "falling in and out of love," model wondering what is wrong with themselves or their loved ones.

Mindy offers a wonderful, far more realistic and healthy imagery for love: "love as a collaborative work of art." I have always been a strong believer in conscious, collaborative relationship, where communication, self-knowledge, honesty, self-love that allows space to really see and love another are central to the dance and the journey.

Mindy notes, "So, if love is a collaborative work of art, then love is an aesthetic experience. Love is unpredictable, love is creative, love requires communication and discipline. It is frustrating and emotionally demanding. And love involves both joy and pain. Ultimately, each experience of love is different."

It is far healthier and more empowering to understand love as something that is co-created between two conscious people who like and respect one another. And this also suggests that the two people have the power to create the form, the structure and the very journey together on their own authentic terms.

Mindy reflects with this imagery of love, "you get to stop thinking about yourself and what you're gaining or losing in a relationship, and you get to start thinking about what you have to offer." As an artist, love and life can be more inspired and inspiring. And blocks and obstacles can be understood as a natural part of creative process. Learning the introspective and self-care tools to work through obstacles and blocks better prepares us to be creative collaborators. I hope this imagery gets more visibility and air time, so that we can transform the common imagery to this healthier notion of love.