Yoga, Yoga, Yoga and More Yoga or What Am I Doing?


I think it was in 1988 that I decided to listen to my gut.  Not for the first time, but I had a therapist, who was, get this, a yoga instructor, and all I did in therapy with her was learn how my intuition revealed itself and then how to listen to it instead of all the other thoughts/voices whatever.  (This was, by the way, the only therapy I’ve ever really liked.)  It seemed since I spent a year learning this thing, I might as well use it.  So I replaced my five and ten year plans with intuition.  (I was in my twenties at the time.  Are only 20 somethings dumb enough to have five and ten year plans?)

Anyhow, I’d lived in Spain and Japan by then, so being un-American enough to give up the relentless goals of those plans was almost perfectly fine with me.

Thing is, living by intuition means that I know I have no f&*#ing clue what I’m doing.  I just get an intuitive feeling about something, I do it, and then hopefully I figure out later why I did it.  (Or I invent something to make myself feel better.)

It’s a more interesting way to live, a more adventurous way, unless it’s totally insane, which is always possible.  I mean, think of the Buddhist construct theory.  Was it even an intuition?  Does intuition exist?  Is my insane mind even capable of discerning intuition from, say, compulsion or addiction? Probably not.

But, I figure, who else gets a solid year of training in intuition?  So, insane or not, whether intuition or me or anything exists or not, I spent all that money, back in 1988, so I’m going to listen to my intuition and see what happens.

So I intuitively decided to do the latest endeavor, yoga teacher training.  I’d been studying yoga with the teacher for maybe a month, so it wasn’t like I didn’t know what I was getting into (it does not take me a month to figure out another teacher’s style, talents and weak points…more like an hour, if that, because I am intuitive).  At the same time, I can’t really see myself teaching yoga.  I LOVE doing yoga, and I like making it part of acting classes because opening up the body for actors is invaluable, but just teaching asanas (postures) doesn’t feel like something I would ever want to do.

And the training is expensive, so doing it for the hell of it, or simply for self-improvement, considering my income, seems…well, insane.

Living the intuitive life.  Having no idea what I’m doing.  Humility, anyone?

So, my worst case scenario for this class is that I would re-activate an area of pain (I can’t say injury, in spite of being in 4 car accidents, because I’m still on the John Sarno back-pain-is-caused-by-unconscious-rage plan) and wouldn’t be able to do the very strenuous physical part of the training.  And it is STRENUOUS.  The teacher is brilliant, she has good time management, great classroom management, incredible skill in teaching alignment and the correct way to do postures.  But we also hold Plank for about 3 millenium, not to mention Up Dog.  It’s harder than any normal flow you could ever do.

Of course, my life has been on a worst case scenario track for some time now, so it should come as no surprise that I re-activated my lower right back issue on the first weekend.  Because of John Sarno, I have had to examine my unconscious rage.  The interesting thing is that of course there was some–this is ME, remember?  I am homicidal on my best days.  But the new thing from my more recent Sarno readings is that there’s an extra step.  You don’t have to just examine your unconscious rage you have to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.  Like, change your life.

I have been thinking about ahimsa.  It’s the ethical foundation of yogic philosophy, and it means non-harming.  In other words, don’t do the strenuous yoga class like a big go-getter raised by a competitive Irish father (who was offered a football scholarship to Notre Dame and played halfback until he blew out his knee).  Don’t keep putting tension into your body to “get it right.”  In other words, yoga is about ahimsa, starting with self.

Today I was thinking about a very simple thing–do people who are not f-ed up investigate yoga, Eastern philosophy, meditation, Joseph Campbell, couples therapy (ala Christopher Durang or not, with a Stork or not), etc.  It’s not like I’m uncomfortable saying that I’m screwed up.  I am gloriously screwed up, fascinatingly screwed up (at least to myself), charismatically screwed up.  And it’s not really a question of whether there exist people who are less screwed up than I am.  I have a friend who has many of my personal strengths–compassion, commitment to social justice, integrity, decency, kindness, honesty (those are for you, Karen…see, I can say my good points!), but who significantly lacks my capacity for drama and taking things personally.  She’s not an artist, so I can love her even while she holds up this mirror of good points minus worst flaws, because I get to add unbridled creativity to my side of the scale.

Anyhow, the point of this is that clearly there are less screwed up people.  But my friend is screwed up.  This makes me happy.  Because I can live in world of less screwed up people, but not in a world in which there are people who aren’t screwed up at all.  Which is good, because I haven’t met any of those people and I’m sure my capacity for drama would amplify around them.

Anyhow.  Ahimsa.  Non-harming.  Even though I’m still grieving, I have been working with my worst case scenario.  For one thing, we had endless anatomy this weekend in the training (I remain the typical gifted child, who only wants to learn what interests her, which has never included science), and we went around and looked at injuries and how to modify yoga to practice ahimsa.

Here’s my thing–I can’t do Virabadrasana I (warrior 1) without weeks of pain.  I’ve asked teachers I really respect to modify the pose to no avail.  It might seem like common sense to just not do Vira I, but I have never claimed to have common sense and I’m not starting now.  But, when 20 other yoga teachers in training answer the question, “What would you tell a student with this problem?” with a simple, “I’d tell her not to do the pose,” even I have to wake up to the great need for ahimsa in my life.

Good-bye lessons of the ex-halfback of Notre Dame.  It becomes clearer by the moment that my Irish father’s lessons were no better than my German mother’s.

Maybe I am taking the yoga teacher training to learn ahimsa.  Because the fact is, while I love yoga, I can’t do it as my solo exercise because when I do I’m always in pain.  I have to mix it up with weight-lifting, which is terribly non-yogic.

And I find, that while I still don’t know why I’m doing this thing, I’m getting super interested in the differences between people’s bodies.  For example, I realize that I know exactly which poses really help my body, in alignment, in stability, in strength, in opening.  And I also know that there are some poses that just suck for me.  I am getting interested in doing only the poses that I know make me feel great and seeing what happens.  Like, healing, I bet.  And what if I could do this for other people?  The great yogis did this–individual prescriptions, sometimes asanas, sometimes meditation, sometimes ayurveda.

I’m interested.  I’m curious.  In the middle of grief.  Something to be grateful for.  Something to recognize as grace.

Plus, I went to an easier class today, which was AWESOME and made me very happy because I can now do handstand against the wall.  Which is very cool.  I can almost do headstand.  These asanas don’t hurt me, and they’re fun, and I get to show off to my non-yogic friends which is very unenlightened of me.  The showing off.

The great thing about being screwed up?  Getting to enjoy things like showing off.  And as long as I’m going around telling everyone how screwed up I am, I can keep right on showing off.

I am too cool for words.  And smart, too.

If not very yogic.

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Couples Therapy=Back Pain


I know I wrote a blog about comparing unlike things, but really, couples therapy as a pain in the anything….?  Not unlike.

I have decided that for my own physical well-being, the Sheepdog really will bite the dust.  And get this, my partner agrees!  I’m really out of it!

YAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAYYAY!

The Sheepdog doesn’t know this yet, and since I’m off to NYC for a few days, she won’t hear it until October 17.  I am composing speeches in my head.  They go something like this:

Please don’t start talking about dust motes.  Or the details of psychological theory I learned about 10 years ago.  Or all your own habits.  Or what we’ll learn about you as we stay on forever or until you finish a sentence which may take longer.  Because that doesn’t work for me.  None of this works for me.  I have other things to do on Monday nights.  So, good-bye.

I think John Sarno might say that keeping my not-so-unconscious rage to myself might have been a better idea.

But, right now, at this moment, I have no back pain.  Which is a big plus.

Practice, Practice, In Search of a Practice….or, Changing Whose Life?


Yesterday I put myself on retreat for the day.  Why?  Well, I really wanted to go to the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center and meditate for 3 hours, but I knew I had to do the mindbody work, so I figured I’d do all my practices and some creative stuff in my own way.

So.

I meditated for 45 minutes.

Then I went on email (compulsively, of course, but only for 10 minutes.)

Then I laid down.

Then I got up and did 45 minutes of reading, writing and crying about mindbody issues.

Then I ate lunch.

Then I wrote some more on the play version of Saint John the Divine in Iowa.

Then I took a nap.

Then I got up and answered a phone call from a friend.

Then I did an hour of yoga.

OMG!  I AM A LOT OF WORK!

The problem, of course, is that the back pain has reappeared.  Here is the process–I went to the lovely Dr. Martinez, did my usual yoga/relaxation thing, started the mindbody work and PRESTO-CHANGO: 97% of the pain was gone.  It stayed gone at that level for at least ten days, though the emotional reality got a bit out of control (meaning painful and not enjoyable in the least).  Then, I got a really bad cold that laid me flat.  I suspected that the cold was a direct rebellion of my mind to the assault on its mindbody distractions.  The cold ended (I kept up the mindbody work all through it because no f-ing way I was giving in if my mind was trying to assert its right to keep back pain alive).  Of course, I was really kind of miserable, feeling I was in a pitched battle with my own mind and not liking myself so much.  (Sarno would say the battle had just become conscious.)  Then the pain started inching its way back in.  I had huge resistance to doing the writing/reading.  When I did the pain went away.  Then, I had 24 hours of it after I saw a picture of someone who, well, did me wrong in the past.  Then that went away.  And two days ago the pain came back.  Fully.  So I redoubled the mindbody efforts, but there’s still pain.

I AM TOO MUCH WORK!

This morning I did the mindbody reading and I started wondering if I’d misunderstood some vital components of the program.  Somehow, I’d decided I had to grieve all my losses in order to keep my mind from doing its distraction trick.  And that is, well, impossible.

Also, I had stopped doing some back care yoga that I really love–not for what it does for my back alone, but because at the end of the routine I feel relaxation and peace.

Also, meditation and yoga, which are main components of my ongoing practice, facilitate being in touch with what is and being in touch with my body in a spiritual way.  They’re about reality and peace and acceptance.  Mindbody work is about facing the truth as well, but difficult truths about emotions and how we’re programmed to avoid them.  It’s just…not very peaceful.

Today I re-read the mindbody books, and I found these assertions:

  1. Mindbody disorders are an epidemic, caused by the current evolution of the brain.  Everybody has at least a little of this going on.
  2. Inner conflict between the adult self who wants to be responsible, successful and powerful and the child self who still wants to be nurtured and taken care of is universal and part of the human condition.
  3. The feelings of insecurity that give rise to perfectionism and people-pleasing are also universal.

Basically, we’re all f-ing nuts.

I also found these questions:

  1. What is in me that lets my problems create such pain?  (Answer:  I’m f-ing crazy.)
  2. What is in me that needs distraction?  (Answer: I have f-ing feelings.)
  3. What permits pain to develop and persist?  (Answer:  I’m f-ing f-ed up.)

Honestly, I did come up with much more elaborate answers.  Some of them were about being feeling-avoidant, some were about these unbelievable (read: crazy) unconscious beliefs I have and some were about inner conflict–like ambition vs. fear of exposure and perfectionism vs. the desire to piss off the status quo.

I decided two things: (can’t you tell I’m having a field day with numbered lists today?)

  1. I don’t have to heal every loss in order to heal mindbody syndrome.
  2. I might have to change my life to deal with some of these ridiculous inner conflicts.

Obviously, stepping down as Artistic Director of a company I started is, well, a change.  And so is meditating for 10 days straight and then continuing to practice every day.  And so is going to couples therapy, however reluctantly, and telling the truth in between making jokes.

I grew up in a family that looked perfect.  I grew up in the bourgeoisie, in suburbia, in the land of keeping up with the Joneses.  Because I’m queer, an artist, and not stupid, I questioned the values I saw, the emphasis on the material, the inappropriate flirtations among my father’s church singing group, the ass-pinching, the drinking, the competition.  I thought, as teenagers do, “Is this all there is?”  And I have kept asking that question.  I have wanted to learn the true nature of happiness.  Dukkha is.  Suffering is, the Buddha tells us.  We don’t meditate to avoid feelings, Jack Kornfield, Sharon Salzberg tell us.  We find the truth of what is, we feel the feelings, we investigate them, we eventually liberate our minds, we find the feelings are not necessarily the truth.

In my mindbody search for unconscious emotions and internal conflict, I find that, of course, I have absorbed the ambitions I grew up with.  I am frustrated by not having as much success as I want, I am frustrated by the fear that keeps me from trying to publish my memoir, which I actually think is very good.  I keep thinking I’ll be happier when this happens, or this, or this.  More money, more success, more money, more success.

I also know that this is complete bullshit, but it doesn’t let go easily, does it?  Everywhere I look I find America.

Everywhere I look I find myself.

Acceptance, acceptance of what is.  Happiness is not back pain.  Nor is it the battle to dominate the back pain, to dredge up every unresolved loss in the hope of curing it all, in one fell swoop, so I can be perfectly healed.  Perfectionism, again.

Everywhere I look I find myself.

So, in search of a practice, I go to the mat, to the cushion, to the chair on the back porch, to the notebook, to the computer, to the theatre, to the making of film.

Funny, I love each one of those things.  If they’re not work, if they’re not shoulds, they become joy.

It’s not the what.  It’s the how.  If I can let myself love all of it, if I can trust that the pain will go away again, that I will find the right path into freedom…or not, and have to accept that, there is peace.

I’m already on the path.  I already know the answer.

There is this one moment.  In which to be alive.

Let everything fall away.

And the singing of what is…makes its song.

Divided, Divided, Divided…the More Honest Version


Onto book 2 by John Sarno, The Divided Mind.

So, the most challenging part of Sarno’s work is his referencing of Freud.  Sarno objects to Freud being out of vogue, and champions Freud’s understanding of the unconscious.  He brings back the term hysterical and contrasts it with the term psychosomatic or mindbody.

I am a feminist.  Since I’ve been highly involved in multiculturalism and diversity, working to advocate for people of color and gays and lesbians for the past decade, my focus on feminist issues has fallen into the background.  Sure, SLAMBoston always has a play about women, usually older women (though I often end up arguing with the director, who often wants to cast young).  The fact is, the work of Freud is a feminist issue.  Why?  Not because he was wrong about the unconscious.  Not because women didn’t present with hysterical and psychosomatic issues.  Freud’s work was anti-feminist because he discovered fairly early on that the origin of the women’s pain was sexual abuse, that this abuse was very common; and, when he presented this idea, his prestige in Vienna and Europe looked to evaporate very quickly.  So, he recanted, announced that the women were imagining that they had been sexually abused, and then came up with the Electra and Oedipus complexes.

At the same time, Janet, in France, made the same findings.  He worked with women, believed the stories of abuse and guess what?  No one has ever heard of him.  Now we know that 1 in 3 women and and 1 in 6 men is sexually abused before the age of 18.  Freud was just wrong.

I studied psychology in college for a couple years before turning definitively to the arts, and I was as fascinated with Freud’s ideas as I was with Wilhelm Reich’s or Carl Rogers’.  But, I’ve pretty much hated Freud since learning about his betrayal of his almost exclusively female patients.  He set feminism and psychology back decades.

So, I have resistance to Sarno’s work when he gets into praising Freud.  It’s a challenge to accept that yes, Freud was a genius and some of his work was sound, even though he was a coward and cared deeply about recognition in favor of the truth.

I am ruthless about the truth, especially with myself.  (Hence the rewrite of this blog in which I admit I didn’t enjoy at all my mother’s unconscious rage.)

So, I find myself, over and over again, thinking about my German mother.  We used to joke that she couldn’t breathe without Dristan and couldn’t shit without Ex-Lax.  She had headaches.  She’d retreat to the bedroom, turn down the lights, and ask to have the washcloth on her head refreshed (run under a tap of cold water.)  I could feel the pain coming off her in waves when I entered the room, and her voice grew young, childlike.  “Please,” she’d say.  “Get me a chocolate soda.”  Or, “You don’t mind making dinner tonight, do you?”

If I’m honest, I have to say that I felt rage in the moment, at 10, at 12, at 16, at 22.  Finally, at 28, I said, “Here’s a cup of Lipton soup.  I hope you feel better.  I’m going out.”  (I came home to her vacuuming the house in a fury.  Which was probably the unconscious rage coming out.)

I also felt sick.  And scared.  When another person’s doing that kind of weird unconscious dance, you know it, especially if that person is your mother.

Sarno says that we judge psychosomatic illness as hypochondria, that we believe the motivation for the illness is the secondary gain of being taken care of, or not having to work or be responsible.  He refutes this strongly.  He says psychosomatic or mindbody illness has a primary gain, which is denial of unconscious feelings of pain and rage.

I think of my mother, married to a man she didn’t love, who, in fact, frightened her.  I think of my mother, with six children, money problems, nothing in her life secure.  I think of her rigid ideas of what life should be, her perfectionism, the pristine cleanliness of our house, how carefully she dressed us for church, for gatherings, how much she cared about how things looked.  I think of my grandmother, who I loved, drinking gin and laughing with complete abandon, then getting in her convertible and revving down the street.  I think of the look on my mother’s face as she watched my grandmother drive away.  “Call me when you get home,” she’d say.

My mother was angry.  I imagine looking from the inside of her mind outward, all the high standards, the need to be perfect, the need to feel safe, in control, and everything chaos around her–as it had been in her family growing up–I imagine her seeing no end to any of it, and the despair and rage of that, I imagine she knows she is more intelligent than her husband, but has no power to change any of his decisions, no power to have a life in the world that is as big as his.  And all she can do with the rage is demand things she can never get, because even children are uncontrollable.  So much of the pain of her life has to go underground–if she admits the pain of her situation, it will be too much.

And so my mother lies down, she turns the lights low, she sinks into headache, stomach ache, sinus problems, constipation.  She has fatigue, she can’t take it any more.  She must rest.

Of course, her children, including me, all inherited this way of coping.  We absorbed it through our skin.  “I don’t feel good,” we’d say, echoing both our mother’s words and tone.

No, Mom, you don’t.  Your life wouldn’t make anyone feel good.  You are not happy.

And, frankly, I’m pissed you didn’t do something to make it better, sooner.  That I had to talk you into leaving, changing, that I had to help you get your first two jobs.  I mean, really.  In the 70’s, women were grabbing life with both hands, going to college, coming out, deciding enough already.  Not everyone lay in bed asking for a damn soda.

I’m not supposed to say or feel this because I am spiritual, and a feminist, and I’m supposed to be over it.  But here’s the thing–when I pretend that I’m so spiritual and feminist and over it, I have to go lie down and ask for my partner to bring me things because my F&*^ing back starts to hurt.

New Age spirituality, along with the major religions, tells us to forgive, to let go, to have gratitude for our blessings.  My mother eventually left my father, she eventually fell in love, she found financial security and her children grew up, leaving her much less burdened.  But the illnesses continued–her brain had tracked to this one way, and if she had found John Sarno, I doubt very much she would have believed his findings.  In 1994, my mother was hospitalized for a heart attack that turned out to be indigestion.  By then she’d remarried.  By then she had all the security she could want.

The reality of our lives is held in our bodies and our emotions.  Without volition, we try not to feel or know the truth.  But perhaps if the back pain or sinus or whatever gets bad enough, we’ll be forced to pay attention.

So, here I am.  I have a bigger life than my mother had.  It has spanned four or five continents, the founding and running of businesses (however haphazardly I did this), activism, publication, performing, creating, creating, and more creating.  I have found a greater measure of financial security in the last ten years (I know what it is to REALLY be a starving artist).   And I have some of her frustration–no matter how much I have, I want more, I want bigger, I want impact.  I am, like her, a perfectionist.  I also need to change this legacy of focusing on physical pain so the unfaceable or unacceptable emotions don’t surface.  I can’t keep telling myself I’m more grateful or accepting or spiritual than I am.  Or, like her, I will end up in some hospital with an ailment no one can define or fix.

Anything can be used to avoid the truth of what we feel.  And the truth is difficult, there is no doubt.  Buddhism teaches that attachment and aversion are the root of suffering, but I can’t lie and say I’m unattached when the truth is I’m attached as hell.

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Peace, peace, the real thing, without lies about a gratitude that is only icing on the rage cake.  Peace and metta for those of us who struggle to know the truth.  May we find peace with what is.  Even if, today, we have absolutely no idea how that will come to pass.

PS–I am still meditating every day.  I’m about to do that now.  After I work on the rage list.  I’ll need to meditate after that.

The Sheepdog Takes Round 3! BING! BING! BING!


So, I may have to stay in couples therapy.

After last week’s visit with the Poodle, the Sheepdog admittedly looked pretty good.  Then, we come into her office and she holds up a timer (all proud of herself) and says, “I’m setting this for 50 minutes so it gives us a 5 minute warning.”

Running on time.  BING!

Then she says, “I’ve found out about your insurance and you’ve overpaid me by quite a bit.  I can either write you a check or you can just have it on credit for the copayments of the next four and half sessions.”

BING!

Then she says, “Lyralen, I’m noticing your chair is almost out the door.  Would you like me to sit further away?”

BING!  BING!  BING!

Then she laughed at three of my jokes.  No bing, but still.

Then I made a joke about my partner’s abandonment issues.  The Sheepdog noticed my partner laughing with this glee she gets sometimes and asked about why my jokes make my partner happy.  My partner’s kind of a sap, so she started crying.

And then, get this, the Sheepdog even laughed when I said, “My partner says you remind her of Mr. Rogers.”

She said, “Wait until you see my sweaters in the winter.”

(I could decide that’s a little creepy, because who knows if I’ll be able to stay past October, but I’m letting it go because making a joke at her own expense is definitely another almost bing.  Hell, it’s a BING.)

Of course, I had to apologize to my partner afterward for blowing her cover and embarrassing her.  BUT, I explained that what I really wanted to say was all about how we’d nicknamed the Sheepdog the Sheepdog and did she really change shapes in between appointments.  It was one of those times when you say something kind of inappropriate to keep yourself from saying something REALLY inappropriate.

Plus, we actually talked about a relationship dynamic that’s kind of knotty, and got some insight and felt closer.  It’s probably a bandaid, I tell myself, but I can’t deny the BING!s.

So, I am doomed to couples therapy for at least a few more sessions.  If not longer.  But if I think about that…well, I don’t want to think about that.

Metta for me, in denial about couples therapy for as long as I can make the denial last.

PS–Today was appointment day.  In the overwhelming amount of maintenance I seem to require is a thing called low lights–in other words, hairdressing appointments.  The stylist asks what I’m up to and for some reason I was inspired to talk about mindbody syndrome and then two of the women are writing down the name of the book and the doctor I see.  Sometimes when I get inspired to say things it’s weird like that.  Synchronous.  Like I know.

PPS–I was not inspired to make the Mr. Rogers comment.  That was impulsive, clearly.  But funny.  Even my partner eventually laughed.

My Rage List from the Mindbody Work


…has 77 items on it.  I just typed them up from the handwritten notebook where I’ve been downloading them.

I should say, 77 and counting.

This is not a joke.  I expect to get to 777 before I’m done, though that may take a while.

Having to be perfect is #9.  Then there were a lot about therapists.

A therapist responded to my blog about therapy today.  That made the list, too.

And the fact that the Red Sox are the roller coaster baseball team so the emotions are too intense.  And I happen to be in love with David Ortiz.

It turns out I am enraged that I am leaving the theatre company and also enraged I ever started it in the first place.

This is all about making what’s unconscious, conscious.  Or, stop making sense.  The Talking Heads really were, always, so smart.

So.  I have decided to go item by item and get really specific about what exactly pisses me off and what exactly I would do if I had no moral center and wouldn’t go to jail.

I’ve already done this with one item, and I have to say, my mind has good reason to be afraid that I could turn into a serial killer.  Of course, most people would probably already be serial killers if they knew what the item was, but I’m not telling.

Hiding who I am is also on the rage list, but this a public forum, and I’m already right on the edge of what I can get away with.  So I guess I’ll have to stay mad about that one for a while.

Rage, rage, rage.  I dare you to open your door into this vast uncharted country and see what you find there.  It may not be pretty, but it will change your life.

I guarantee it.

The Mind–How Powerful Are We Really? Or, Can Intimacy Be Understood?


There are these small unexplained events.  Driving with my friend Pete in New York’s Upper West Side, looking for a parking space, about to give up, suddenly turning to him and saying, “I think if I make a left, then a right, then another right, someone will be pulling out.”  He told me I was crazy, then I did what I said, and voila!  Someone pulled out of a parking space.

I’m not a person who likes to talk about precognition or psychic phenomena.  I mean, it’s a f-ing parking space.  But still, it makes me wonder about what we might be able to do.  If we plugged into our minds.  If we used them better.

And here I am, still writing about rage every day, still re-reading as Sarno’s Mindbody Prescription says to do, because much as I joke and complain about having a German mother, I am disciplined.  I can decide to do things and get myself to do them, most of the time.  And his hypothesis is that the unconscious mind does this mild oxygen deprivation to certain muscles, nerves, and/or tendons, and that is the cause of almost all back pain.  Self-protective in nature, this unconscious process focuses on keeping emotions like rage, pain, grief, shame (but mostly rage) from surfacing consciously.  He believes we can tell our unconscious minds to stop it, so that oxygen deprivation will cease, and so will the pain.

In other words, we can use our conscious minds to interrupt unconscious and self-protective processes.  I’m over a week out on Sarno’s program, and so far, so good.  After years of worsening back pain, I’m virtually pain-free, and when pain starts to twinge, I can write about what is bothering me and the pain disappears.

Mind you, I’ve been in four car accidents.  But Sarno says the mind is clever.  He writes about simultaneity, and how psychogenic pain seems to occur at old injury sites.  He says it occurs at odd times–like doing lots of exercise and yoga (which I do) without pain and then randomly throwing out your back turning over in bed.  Which has happened to me more than once.  More than twice.

And lest you think I am just abnormally insane, he basically states that psychogenic pain is universal and can be linked to everything from sore throats to back pain to cancer.  Everyone has some at some point.  Certain personality types–perfectionists, like me, or people pleasers like most of my friends–are more prone to it becoming chronic.

In other words, if you don’t find a voice for your pain and rage, if you can’t face it because it might dent your view of yourself, your brain takes on the job of distracting you.

I have become so interested in this.  I call my German mother a hypochondriac, because she always came down with a headache or sinus problem withing five hours of me arriving home to visit.  She’d go to bed, expecting me to make dinner and take care of the house and kids.  This made me not so keen on the idea of self-induced sickness, because in my world view, it was used to manipulate.

Though this had truth, it wasn’t the most compassionate view.  My mother was also a perfectionist, she had also been the oldest daughter, both of her parents drank A LOT, as did her husband, and she felt responsible to contain the uncontainable–in other words, people.  Now I think it probably wasn’t conscious.  I believe my mother was dying to have someone love and take care of her, and she felt rage at never having been nurtured or nurtured enough, and the only way to escape the responsibilities of taking care of six kids was to get sick.  I didn’t like being the one who the extra responsibilities landed on, and I eventually put a stop to it, but it now seems like such a universal thing–who doesn’t, as an adult, want to be nurtured?  In this culture, with our nuclear families and marriages that don’t work, it’s still seen as shameful to admit such things…that we have unmet needs, that we’re pissed off about them, and that our unconscious minds are very busy trying to keep us both civilized and protected from knowing what we really feel.

I’ve been mentally teasing at something else I’ve noticed in couples I know in which one partner is sick with Lupus or Lyme disease–how often the healthy partner eventually also becomes ill.  I mean, what is that?  I’ve often noticed it with judgment (rooted, no doubt, in my own experience of a mother who liked to lie down a little too much), but really, what happens?

Sarno would say that the well partner feels so much rage at having all the extra responsibility that the mind has to distract from the power of that emotion.  He would also say that it’s likely the ill partner has some form of mindbody syndrome.  Think of it.  In a marriage, one person ill with rage, and the other ill with raging at the illness.

I think of David Schnarch with his definition of normal marital sadism and Wow!  the layers of this, and the dark underside of our needs, our jealousy, our need to be primary…it’s a bit much to face.  But interesting.

My friend who believes in unconditional peace also believes strongly that in a marriage, you must depend primarily on your own spirituality, and not at all on your partner.  I don’t find much to disagree with there, but I still want my partner to hold me when I’m sad, to witness my struggles, to enjoy my happy moments and I know she wants that as well.  Maybe it’s just dangerous when the needs become dependency, when either partner can’t handle a, “no, not now” or “no, not this one.”  We can’t feel entitled to each other’s care.  But we need to care…

Sarno’s work releases all this unconscious emotion into consciousness.  And good-bye chronic back pain, and thank whatever/whoever it’s working.  But what am I supposed to do with all the information and extra emotion?  Sarno says we don’t have to change who we are, but I’m sorry, it’s like I have to just move over to make room for how pissed I am that I have these ridiculous standards for myself, and how pissed I am at people in my past who have hurt me, and how pissed I am that the world is unjust.  I can’t just go around blowing up; I mean, supposedly I’m becoming LESS reactive, not more.

It’s a big pain in the ass, having to work this out, but I suspect I’m on to something.  I mean, I’m training my unconscious.  I’m learning to send more oxygen to certain muscles with my conscious mind.  That’s cool.  And I’m also learning something about relationships that right now is inchoate…something about intimacy, dependency, the leftover remnants of childhood (Sarno would reference Freud’s Id).  My partner and I have started meditating together, and doing this witnessing practice.  (No, not a suggestion from couples therapy, though I wish we had a therapist that was that smart.)  We want to occupy a spiritual life together, to be more honest, to see into the things we are embarrassed to own about our emotional needs and own them anyhow.  And yet, I know I still want the freedom to act like a child or an absolute freak, to do handstands and make jokes…I want to trust her to hold me in the sacred compassion of spirituality, and also trust her enough to let myself be messy with her.  Can we really be this honest?  Can we talk about unconscious rage and normal marital sadism?  Can we play in these uninhibited ways?  All I know is that when we are honest about the hard stuff, the closeness is incredible, frightening, wonderful…and gives rise to a lot of inappropriate humor on my part.

Listen, I may be a freak, but the truth is, I’m not that much of a freak.  We are all so scared to come close to each other, much as we want it.  We are terrified to be honest, we hate being judged, we discover levels of shame when we reveal ourselves in our truest beauty and our truest darkness.  I don’t want to run from this.  It is a fire to stand in, but there has to be a way to bring the keen light of our minds–conscious and unconscious–into this business of intimacy, and have it help.  I mean, if we can increase blood and oxygen flow consciously, if monks can melt snow with their body temperature when they meditate outside in winter, there must be a way to open into this…training ground, this healing confrontation with the other who is also, on some level, myself.

My partner and I meditate together to bring calm into our marriage.  We witness to bring honesty.  We go to f-ing couples therapy to see what we can’t see without help.  To be confronted, called out, understood, helped.  Or because we hope for those things.

I am thinking that when I finish applying these mental techniques to my back, I may apply them to some other things.  Emotional blocks, for example.  Emotional stuck places.  I’ll keep you posted.  I’m sure the vulnerability and floods of emotion will pretty much suck, but knowing me, I’ll be so fundamentally interested I won’t want to stop.

Metta for all of us.  Especially the insanely curious inner investigators, like me.

PS-Lest you think I have spent my week in bed (I am still sick) thinking only these deep thoughts, I should say that yesterday I watched all of Season 8 of Project Runway and am deeply saddened that it’s over.  Mondo should have won.  I’m in love with him, too.  You know, he’s added to the list.