Satya–Do I Really Need to Be More Honest?


My yoga teacher says that whatever issues you have will show up on the mat when you do postures.  It is partly for this reason that I frequently want to kill her.  (Of course, I want to kill EVERYONE because I am reactive, unenlightened, have an aversive personality–according to the Buddhists–and am basically a dramatic artist who enjoys swooning over every emotion I feel.)  (I long to swoon in yoga teacher training, but then I might fail and yoga teacher training is EXPENSIVE.)

Here’s what shows up on my mat:  AVERSION!  INNER CONFLICT!  And F*&(ING TMS SYNDROME!

Yoga is so peaceful, truly.

(When I do it at home it’s peaceful because I lie on a bolster in several different positions not moving and usually falling asleep.  I have become a yoga slacker.  This is the result of yoga teacher training, for some reason.)

Anyhow, if I’m talking about satya, or honesty, the second of the yoga yamas (the first is ahimsa, non-violence, and I’ve already written about that, ad infinitum) then I really have an excuse to say that TMS Syndrome is kicking my butt on the mat.  (TMS Syndrome’s other name is mindbody syndrome, a term coined by John Sarno.  Basically, TMS people like me have no severe anatomical abnormalities, but still experience chronic pain, usually in their backs.  I have it in my back, but sometimes also knees, and occasionally shoulders.  (You know, I don’t do things in half measures.  Probably I have pain in the guy down the street.) Anyhow, the pain, Sarno says, comes from an unconscious process that denies some amount of oxygen to areas of the body to cause physical pain as a distraction from emotional pain like, for example, homicidal rage.  (It’s because of Sarno I talk about how homicidal I am all the time.)  (Look at me!  I’m blaming someone I’ve never even met!)

Anyway, as I practice self-study (also a part of yoga, but really just an excuse to be fascinated with myself), I can’t help but notice how it goes on the mat in yoga teacher training.  Here’s how:

It’s Saturday.  Usually we do 3-4 hours of yoga in the Saturday practice.  So, 2 hours in I start to want it to be over.  By 2.5 hours in I REALLY want it to be over.  I mean, I start to feel like I’m being tortured.  I’m getting angry.  But I’ve always been athletic, and as you know if you’ve read my other blogs, I had a football player father who taught me to never be a quitter.  Plus, I want to prove I can do anything anyone else can do.  (Both of these things are insane, so it’s a good thing I’ve never claimed to be, you know, sane.)  At the same time, I want to practice ahimsa, not only because that’s what yoga is REALLY about, but because it’s the kind thing to do for myself, and though I am insane, I hate being unkind to myself.  So basically, during yoga teacher training, the inside of my head is like World War 3.  Right around the 2.5 hour mark, as we approach inversions (which I love because going upside down is really fun), and I realize I’m too blasted tired and whacked to do inversions, the inner conflict reaches its zenith and WHAM!  BACK PAIN!

It’s only because you’re not allowed to talk during yoga practice that I’m arguing with myself and noticing all this stuff.  And it has become glaringly obvious that when I want to be kind to myself and there’s pressure to do something else (perceived or real pressure, mind you), all this tension builds inside of me and then it goes into my back.

And get this:  when I figured all this out and really took breaks and gave up being Ms. Middle Aged Cool Yoga Girl, I didn’t have any back pain AT ALL.

I guess John Sarno is right.

So in my fascination with myself, I’m now on the hunt for my moments of intense inner conflict and tension, trying to notice them, trying to just stop, breathe, sense into my body.  Yoga teacher training is prime fodder for this practice.  As is any time I’m trying to act like a mature adult and not jump on my partner’s lap (a struggle I always lose, but here’s hoping).

Anyhow, crazy or not, my need for gentleness and kindness, from myself, first and above all, would be legend if anyone knew about it.

Oh, I guess you now do.

Send flowers.

Though money would be better.

Advertisements

Yoga, Yoga, Yoga and the Truth about Yoga


Well, first of all, yoga is a way of life.  It’s part of the Hindu religion, and the Sutras spell out a path to nirvana and peace (since the Sutras were written about 500 years after the Buddha lived, some scholars claim they would not have been possible without Buddhism and are heavily influenced by Buddhist philosophy as well as the atheistic Hindu system of dualism).

Of course, here in the West, yoga’s rep for sweaty hot rooms and twisty bendy postures has caused us to forget that it’s part of Hinduism at all.

And face it, I love the twisty bendy everything.  I have recently fallen in love with the investigation of the philosophy (just as I fell in love with Buddhism last year), but the twisty bend everything still claims me, tests me, makes me face so many things.  And not the ones you would expect–not aging, stiffness, the limits of my body.  But who I truly am.

I go to the mat.  And wherever I go, there I am.

I’ve written that my worst case scenario was to have an eruption of back pain while doing yoga teacher training, and that, of course, the worst case scenario happened.  And here’s the thing–I get kind of sick of turning worst case scenarios into AFGO’s (another f&*#ing growth opportunity), but what else is a girl to do?  I’m not allowed to lie down, wail and writhe in yoga teacher training.  So, AFGO.

I might add that the AFGO keeps honking its horn because I’ve had flare ups in three separate weekends.  I went back to the lovely Dr. Martinez to re-charge my John Sarno-I-am-insanely-homicidal-and-don’t-want-to-know-it approach to back pain.  I went to Thai massage and shiatsu, even though what I’m really supposed to do is examine my unconscious rage (and other feelings).

And I’ve returned to the mat.  If I wasn’t in teacher training, I might not have.  Weight lifting significantly changes the pain equation (when paired with examination of homicidal tendencies) in a way yoga does not.

Anyway, so I’m on the mat this Saturday, sweating my brains out after 2+ hours of incredibly strenuous yoga.  And satya (truth, a yoga yama): I’m getting angry.  I’m starting to have intense inner conflict, because even though I can continue to do the asanas (postures), I know from the other weekends that when I do, I reach over-exertion, my mind fogs out, I get triggered and unhappy and overwhelmed and I really just want to cry.  I mean, past two hours it’s just not fun at all.

At the same time, I have my lovely conditioning from my Irish father, a stellar athlete who was offered football scholarships to a million colleges and played halfback for Notre Dame.  We played sports all the time growing up, and he admired only fight, only never giving up, only trying no matter how much it hurt.  So I’m on the friggin’ yoga mat, knowing that yoga is a way of life and starts with ahimsa (non-violence, with self as well as everyone else), with this never-say-die tape running in my head, and the really great teacher, who I genuinely like, giving us instructions and assists, and it’s like a pressure cooker, because I’m totally overwhelmed and I really, really, really want to just stop.

On top of that, Saturday was an introduction to inversions, so I was excited to do headstand, handstand and stand on the forearms because they are really fun.

I didn’t stop.  And by the time we got to the inversions, I was in a black mood, and unable to concentrate, knowing if I did go upside down I’d likely have back pain because the point in every training where the back pain descends is just then–the overwhelmed, over-exerted point.  The point of intense inner conflict.

Though I didn’t do much with the inversions–I went up in handstand once, knew it was enough, and stopped.  But then I got triggered and tried again…and the back pain descended with FEROCITY.

I lay in savasana (corpse pose) crying a little, because I was so frustrated and disappointed.  I mean, I am often a 5 year old and not getting to go upside down was a big let down.  I decided, while lying there, that when everyone else went to lunch, I’d just hang upside down on the rope wall in 3 or 4 different ways to make myself feel better.  Which I did.  And it kind of worked.  The black mood lightened a lot.

Then, AH-HAH!  The light bulb, the explosion, the-I-did-notice-but-was-too-embarrassed-to-admit-it moment.  The back pain descends when I’m overwhelmed.  When I have internal conflict.

Earlier Saturday morning, I’d been struggling with wanting to go to Pride.  I’d been talking about it with my partner all week–our 25th anniversary on Pride weekend, Obama coming out for gay marriage (I’m back in love with him, which he no doubt intended)–I mean, it was too much to miss.  But a make-up for a day of yoga training is like $200-$300.  And I’m not teaching.  So, INTERNAL CONFLICT.  I woke up with back pain, and then did my Sarno writing (and some meditation) and decided to do one Pride event–not the parade, which I’d have preferred–on Saturday.  And the pain went….whoosh!  Gone.

Of course it came back at the overwhelm point in the training.  But I’m starting to get that these intense moments of internal conflict can be addressed or avoided and then NO BACK PAIN.  It’s more than my lovely homicidality (give me a break, anyone who meditates gets to find out they resent everything).  It’s when I go to war with myself and my conditioning and the pressure builds and I don’t know how to resolve it that I get back pain.

Yesterday, (Sunday) more intense yoga.  I sat out for part of it.  I didn’t get overwhelmed.  Though I’d walked in to class with a ton of pain, I was down to minor twinges after an hour.  AND, I went up in both handstand and headstand (I’ve always been able to do shoulder stand with no problem).

The truth about yoga is wherever I go, there I am.  And meditation teaches me to focus on myself.  It doesn’t matter whether anyone else is overwhelmed.  What matters is that I am, and managing my internal world in a kind and skillful way brings me peace.  I get to decide how much physical yoga is too much–that is something I have the power to do.

On the mat, it’s not about back pain.  Back pain is the teacher.  It’s about admitting I get overwhelmed, that lots of instruction can be hard for me to process, that whether the over-exertion is physical or mental (holding concentration for so long), doesn’t matter.  I get to say die.  I get to just stop.  And be with what is.  Until being with what is becomes peace.

Once a woman I had trained on a job I used to have told me the first time she saw me, she immediately felt intense resentment.  She said I seemed so confident, and she thought, “Nothing bad has ever happened to that woman in her life.”

Then she became my poetry editor.  So she read about my family.  She actually apologized for completely misjudging me.

Satya is finding a way to honor the poetry.  The truth and the beauty, the dirge and the psalm.  And really, who wouldn’t want to do that?

You Mean I Have to Be Honest about MY FEELINGS?


So last night my partner and I get home and she hops right into the shower and then starts oiling her body, giving herself self-massage.

That’s right, she’s in the middle of a ayurvedic cleanse.  She gets up at 6:30am and cooks bean/rice mush.  She eats only bean/rice mush.  She drinks de-tox teas.  She oils her body and takes tablespoons of oil plain.  Her skin looks great and she seems so centered I could scream.  I call the cleanse the WOO.  It’s not really all that out there compared to the shaman, the psychic, the holotropic breathwork and the hypnosis, but if I can get a joke out of anything…well, you have to know I will.

Anyhow, so she comes home and oils herself up and then puts a shirt over her head so she looks like a nun.  A nun with Eastern European heritage.  Who davens.  Then she goes to sleep.

She wakes me up ungodly early, making the mush, which is just not a quiet activity.  I lie in bed, rehearsing my speech to our couples therapist, Sheepdog.  It’s really a rant, starting with, Please sit quietly and listen.  Do not interrupt, reframe, or tell me to stop so my partner can talk because I HAVE THINGS TO SAY.  Included in the rant are all the big reasons I’m angry with my partner.  So halfway into the rant, I not only hate the couples therapist, I also hate my partner.  I am a seething kettle of rage soup.

So my partner comes to say, “Have a nice day,” before she goes to work.

“Yeah.”

Pause.

“You, too,” I say.  Which I obviously don’t mean, since I am homicidal.

Then she makes a half a heart with her hand, which is our thing for “I love you.”

“I’m feeling angry at you right now,” I say.

She’s like, “Why?  Oh, I have to go to work so we can’t talk about it.”

I say, “The short version is that I’m angry at you for x and x.”  (The two big impasse issues in our relationship from my side of the fence.)

She says, “Well, you have every right to be angry about that.”

Which pretty much destroys any possibility of me really picking a fight.

So I say, “I’m also rehearsing my farewell speech to the Sheepdog.”

She says, “Can I hear the beginning?”

I’m like, “If you want me to sit here for more than 30 seconds, don’t interrupt, etc.”

She says, “I’m with you on that.”

Then I said, “I have all these doubts.  I have all these fears.  I am grieving again and you are in there oiling your body and that just pisses me off.  Why can’t you be the one with the grief and I be the one oiling my body?  Especially since I have a right to be mad at you?”

And she says, “I’m doing the meditating and the cleanse and the breathwork to build a foundation for the harder things I have to face.  So maybe soon you will be the one oiling your body.”

I say, “That’s good, because I want you to go get some pain.”

She cracks up.  “Thanks,” she says.

Of course, having now told the truth about being pissed at her for being all WOO, not to mention the big unfinished relationship business, I am not only NOT homicidal any more, I feel close to her.

“You’re still the one I want to tell about feeling homicidal,” I say.

“I appreciate that.  And now I really do have to go to work.”  She makes the heart again and leaves for work, and this time, when I say, “Have a nice day,” I mean it.

But Christ, it’s hard to wake up in a rage and then have to f-ing talk about it.  I mean, how exhausting!  I want to just go back to sleep now.

Of course, the fact that’s she’s all WOO, and able to hear about my homicidal feelings with equanimity makes it easier to tell her.  Even though the equanimity pisses me off.  I know it makes for a better relationship.  But do I have to be crazy all by myself?

I seriously hope her time is coming.  And I get to be all equanimity meditator spiritual person and she gets to suffer not-so-Buddhistly.

Metta for my partner.  She obviously is going to need it.

PS-I also woke up with back pain.  That disappeared in the middle of the above conversation, continuing to motivate me to CHANGE MY LIFE.

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.

The Sad News Is…Grief.


Okay, so, the back pain started to return.

Now, I’ve been having major resistance to reading Sarno’s book, then writing about rage, and writing about rage and writing about rage.  I mean, it’s not exactly a happiness-inducing activity.  Sarno also suggests that when the pain twinges, you can yell at it and tell it you’re not fooled; you know it’s really emotion being covered up.  But that just made me feel like I was verbally abusing myself.

Frankly, I’ve been a bit grateful to my mind for protecting me from all this information.  I mean, it keeps coming.  Yesterday I realized that while there are solid intellectual reasons for not believing in God, my intense rage at the Catholic Church for its anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-body, original-sin-born-bad, shaming, guilt-inducing dogma probably had a role.

This is not rocket science.  But, since a nun saved my life, it does create internal conflict, and according to Sarno, that creates back pain.

But, but, but.  I don’t want the back pain to return!  And I do know that I always, always, always need to find my own way, even when a theory is fundamentally sound.

So, last night and this morning, I picked up When Children Grieve.  And immediately started to cry.  Both times.

I’ve written a lot about being reactive, but the most embarrassing fact is that therapy or no therapy (and there has been therapy, however unhelpful or mostly unhelpful), I have trouble moving on emotionally from the losses in my life.  Or maybe I just can’t keep up with them.  I’ve said that I’ve entered the unknown, and it was grief that always propelled me into that darkness.  But there are these sorrows, these losses, that, ten and twenty years later, still lance me when I talk about them, still make me cry.

I quoted When Children Grieve before, about the myths of healing from loss.  But this morning I read the chapters on grieving alone, being told not to feel bad, and having to be strong for others.  I read this:  “In all our years of working with grieving people, one of the most common and difficult-to-overcome problems is the child who was cast in or adopted the role of taking care of everyone else.”

I am the oldest of six children.  Case in point.

Oldest children are pains in the ass.  We think we’re right, we try to do everything ourselves, we are perfectionists, we take responsibility for things that we shouldn’t, we enable, we undermine, we try to control.  We want to be one-up, because our real needs have always been the least important, including to ourselves, and feeling more important in our opinions or in having control, will, we think, help compensate for the loneliness.  We have no idea how to grieve–not that many people do–how to stop, how to listen to our vulnerable, troubled hearts.

I wonder if we go to therapy to learn how to grieve.  I’m reading this book, about how children are told “don’t feel bad” or “it will get better” or even “if you have to cry, go to your room.”  I’m reading about hiding when we are sad, because being sad has been seen as embarrassing.  I’m reading that we isolate when we’re upset because we’re terrified of being judged or criticized for our feelings, for how things get to us.

It sort of brings everything together.  We go to therapy because it’s supposed to be a place where people are allowed to be upset.  We want to be rid of our painful feelings so we can be happy again, but we also want someone, anyone, to take us in when we’re not strong, or happy, or responsible.  We want a place in which to be fully human.  Only of course, paying an individual for permission to be human isn’t the same as allowing yourself to be human, all the time, and having people love you for it.

In the Meisner acting technique I teach, actors are taught to respond spontaneously to each other.  They give up the control of their emotions and let the other actor affect them as deeply as possible.  They drop the socially acceptable; they drop the mask of “I’m okay.”  And the connective energy grows so intense–the kind of intensity you can’t look away from on stage or screen.  But for the actor–and I know since I trained in this technique before I started to teach it–it is an education in opening to everything you didn’t know you felt, or exposing what you knew you might feel but would never show.  And most people LOVE it.  The only way to make a mistake is to hide who you are or to pretend you feel something you don’t.  So suddenly, in an acting class, it’s okay to be who you are and to create from that.  I fell in love with Fred Kareman the first time I understood that this was what he was teaching me.

How we need a place of freedom.  Meisner actors say terrible things to each other, things that in life would be a reason to end a relationship, but since the words don’t matter, since only the co-creative sharing of energy, of relating physically, emotionally, spiritually is the focus, since everyone agrees ahead of time not to take things personally, it becomes…the most connected experience some of us ever have.  We stop pretending that we don’t get angry, that we don’t hurt, that we aren’t attracted to each other (even though we’re married to other people)…and we can be this honest because we agree not to act out our feelings, only to use them in the creation of art, and as a secondary consequence of commitment to story.

I have never been taught how to grieve.  I stumbled into it and found my way out, but since I can’t quite articulate what happened both the times I went to that place, I struggle to say why I let go.  Was it because I was loved?  Was it because I faced everything about the relationship?  Was it because I found people who could listen?  Was it because I didn’t stop the emotions as they came?  Because I stopped pretending?

My partner read one of last week’s blogs and said to me, “It’s so sad.  That you must have wanted therapy to work so badly, and it just didn’t.”

So, yes, when I was in my early twenties, confused about why I felt the way I felt about…my family, certainly, but also pretty much everything except travel and writing, I had a deep hope that there was an easy way to get clear.  And I still grieve for who I was, and how hard the road became as the therapists…well, you know.  Fell asleep, fired me for being too healthy, or told me I was so attractive.

I still grieve for moves my family made when I was in grade school, one school to the other, leaving behind the school where I’d been able to overcome being bullied to one where I might face those same issues again.

I grieve for Rick, who wanted one more summer, who wanted to be loved by a man who would see his gentleness and longing, his appreciation of beauty, and who died, as so many men in the 80’s and 90’s did, worn down to bones covered by skin and not much else.

I grieve for the funerals I was not allowed to attend, for the explanations I wasn’t given when my grandfather had a heart attack at our house, for the cousin I loved who disappeared.  And all the others.  I grieve.  I am not, at this moment, trying to be strong for anyone.

And so there is hope.

Because I know, absolutely, that each person I meet has his or her own list. That underneath whatever is being shown, is hurt, pain, hope, courage, truth.

I hope because as I write this the twinges of back pain start to disappear.

It’s not just rage that morphs into physical pain.  It is the emotional reality of my life.  And while just naming it, writing about it, helps but leaves me too raw, there are steps to grieving.  Learnable, requiring nothing but courage and honesty to attempt, these steps create the possibility of not just a pain free back, but of emotional resolution where it is most needed.

I must review what is unfinished.  I must look.  That is my first step.

I believe in healing.  I believe I must find my own way.  I believe I must not do it alone.

I believe this goes for all of us.

So.  Metta for all sentient beings, that we may be free from suffering, that we may find peace with what is, including all the losses we have known.

PS–Of course I’ll include quotes on the other steps to grief resolution once I review them all and decide I agree!  Once I try them and see if they all work as well as I think.  I’m just at the beginning!

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.