There is Relief in Release

gender
Photo by Hafidz Alifuddin on Pexels.com

 

Have you ever noticed how badly you feel when you’re all backed up?

Stay with me here.  This isn’t just “toilet talk”.  Think about how you feel when you can’t go.  You feel full, bloated, weighed down, cranky and miserable.    Luckily, there are remedies for a sluggish bowel, and with the right remedy comes the relief of having gotten rid of all that icky stuff.  You feel lighter, slimmer, and happier!

I believe we were designed to be a “through system”, meaning that things are to pass through us and not stay inside us.   (Otherwise, we would have come with better storage options that didn’t make us crazy.)  Our bodies take in food for its nutritional value, extract what’s needed and necessary, and then discard that which no longer serves a purpose.  It’s a beautiful system if you think about it.

Unfortunately, we are a collector society.  We fill our homes with stuff and when our homes can’t hold any more, we pay people to hold the rest of it.   And what about all that other stuff we hold onto?   Emotions, labels, clutter, trauma, drama, dogma.

It takes a lot of energy to hold onto things and hold them in.   (If you don’t believe me, just remind yourself what it feels like when you’re still waiting for last night’s fettuccine to come on through. )   So many women come to me storing stress and fatigue in their muscle tissues.    When asked what ails them before their massages, a story of what’s happening in their lives always follows the description of where and what hurts.

It’s impossible to live a drama-free, stress-free life.  Things happen to us, and they happen, I believe, to shape us and mold us.   The hiccup comes when, instead of experiencing something and allowing it to pass through us, we decide to store it.  We put on weight.  We get depressed.  We grow tumors or cancers.  We suffer from auto-immune diseases, muscle tension, and fibromyalgia.  Books and studies abound on how trauma is stored in our tissues.   I’ve met so many women living with daily, wide-spread pain who have experienced grief, trauma, or feel beaten down (by life or a person).  They are literally living a big hurt.  Now, I’m not making light of this at all.    Our tender hearts aren’t the only organs to take on the pain and punishment of our lives.

Like a ship taking on water or an aircraft that has exceeded it’s weight capacity for flight, our emotional density can keep us from sailing or soaring through life.   The weight we shoulder is not just physical weight (many times it is) but the weight of an oppressed spirit.   How is it that our bodies can correct the back up of things unwanted and unneeded but our minds cannot?  The good news is it can if we are willing.  We can start by acknowledging what we’re storing.  We can say, “I don’t need that.  I don’t want it.  And it costs too much to keep it.”  Dealing with things appropriately and then letting them move through us is the key.

It’s possible that digging deep and dealing with your pain, rather than covering it over and stuffing it down and storing it, will bring about huge changes in your life.  In fact, I know it will.  You’ll experience a lightness of being.  It’s also possible that your physical body will begin to heal as well.  Whether you’re letting go of muscle tension, a grudge, or your bowels or bladder, great relief always follows the release.

So what’s it going to be?  You can be a colander and allow pain to pass through you like water, or you can be a pot and eventually boil over.    No, you really aren’t a better, tougher person for holding onto your garbage, shouldering everything, and storing it in perpetuity.  Remember, it’s called waste for a reason…and it’s really a waste of life to hold onto it.

So, ask yourself:   “What’s my plan for the stuff that I’m storing?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sap is for Suckers…

Tree with sunlight

Photo credit:  Diane Markley

Today is my third wedding anniversary.  Of course, it never entered my mind until I received a text from my husband, who is working away, wishing me a happy anniversary.  “You’re such a dude,” he says when I miscalculated the years we’ve been together and married.  We laughed about this in that way you laugh via technology, but it’s completely true. I am the dude in this relationship.

As a young girl, I wrote romantic prose and read poetry and believed in “happily ever after.”   I believed in Prince Charming and white picket fences and soul mates.  I’m not sure where I picked up these ideals.  Perhaps Snow White and Cinderella had something to do with it.  I was, after all, the generation to cut my teeth on Walt Disney films.

Growing through my teens and twenties, I became less trusting.  I thought each betrayal or rejection had something to do with my being intrinsically unlovable.  I began to look at love through a filter, a very steely filter.  “Sap is for suckers,” I would say to myself.  The more sentimental a thing, the less I trusted it.  Soon, I found myself listing toward the analytical and logical when it came to potential suitors, each one being subjected to a checklist in my head rather than a feeling in my heart.  My brain was now the more trustworthy organ.  Like a muscle that atrophies from being unused, I eventually lost access to my heart.    I could no longer feel that gooey-ness we all come to believe is love.

There is a scene from the 1987 romantic comedy, Moonstruck, that speaks to me. Loretta (Cher) wakes up beside Ronny (Nicolas Cage) and realizes she’s made a terrible mistake.  After all, she’s engaged to be married to his brother.  She says she still intends to marry Johnny and that they are both going to take this secret to their graves.  Ronny says he can’t do that and when she asks why not, Ronny declares, “Because I’m in love with you.”  Loretta pauses, slaps Ronny across the face, twice, and yells, “Snap out of it!

Cher became my hero in that scene.

Of course, by the end of the movie, Ronny was able to win her over.  “Love don’t make things nice,” he says to her.  “It ruins everything.  It breaks your heart.  It makes things a mess.  We aren’t here to make things perfect.  The snowflakes are perfect.  The stars are perfect.  Not us.  Not us!  We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die.”

And this, THIS, is what Walt Disney forgot to tell me.   That, at times, love is messy and hard and imperfect.  That the people we love don’t always get it right, nor do we.  That love isn’t just about butterflies and violins playing in the background.   It isn’t about a man choosing, and thereby completing, a woman.  It definitely isn’t about Happily Ever After…at least not the way Walt Disney portrayed it.

Rather, love is moments of happiness and opportunities for tenderness.  Love is lessons in compassion.   It’s sacrifices and give and take.  Sometimes, it’s steely silence followed by eventual softening.   It’s granting do-overs.   It’s forgiveness and, yes, even forgetting when necessary.  Love is, I am discovering at 50 years old and three years into this marriage, a verb.   It’s extending yourself, giving of yourself, paying attention, listening.  It’s communicating.  It’s partnering.  Love is all of these actions, and many more, knitted together in a shared life.  It isn’t one, misunderstood state of being that conjures up birds and butterflies and lilies in a field on a warm sunny day, although you can certainly experience those things with the one that you love.

Love as a verb is a muscle well-exercised.  And we all know that the more you use a muscle, the stronger it grows.  The more it is stretched, the more flexible it becomes.   So while the Hallmark channel movies still give my husband the warm fuzzies (something he wishes I would stop broadcasting), I no longer feel left out when I don’t melt under their magic.   I’ve rediscovered the concept of human love, real love, and I know that picture-perfect, sappy dramas are not it.   Despite believing that my heart had been inaccessible, I realize it was, in fact, learning, growing and maturing into this new understanding.

Sorry, Walt.  I still believe sap is for suckers.  Love is for the strong who are willing to put in the effort.  Love is a verb.

 

 

Flexing the right muscle…

woman girl fitness
Photo by Scott Webb on Pexels.com

In the world of massage therapy, one of the things we learn is that every muscle, or group of muscles, has an opposing or antagonist muscle, or group of muscles.  An antagonist muscle is one that contracts while another relaxes in order to perform a motion.  For example, when flexing your elbow, your biceps and triceps work together to make this movement possible.  But they aren’t doing the same job.  They’re actually doing opposite jobs.

We also learn that muscles have memory.  No, they don’t actually remember things.  Muscle memory is not stored in your actual muscles.  Rather, it is an unconscious process of your brain that remembers a muscle’s movement when made repeatedly and over time.  A long-term memory is created allowing the task to be performed without conscious effort.  For instance, because I have given thousands of massages over the last ten years, there are a lot of elements of my massage that are automatic.  In other words, I don’t have to give much thought to performing them.   My hands just know where to go and what motions to make to soothe your aching back.  You could say that muscle memory is habitual.

Depending on what motion you’re making, one muscle (or muscle group) may become overdeveloped with all that repetition.  The result is sometimes soreness or even a repetitive stress injury seen so often in massage therapists.   At times, we therapists don’t start paying attention until something begins to hurt.  Maybe our wrists become so painful that we begin employing our elbows or forearms in our massages.  Of course, because we’re not used to this new way of doing things, we don’t have the muscle memory yet.  So it takes some practice and attention to break out of our routine and develop a new one.  I, personally, have experienced this numerous times.   There are only so many tiny, pressurized circles my right thumb is willing to make before I can no longer stand making even one.

But, lately, I’ve been working on developing a different type of muscle memory because it occurred to me that a life-long habit of looking on the not-so-bright side of everything was being overdeveloped.   Flexing that muscle was automatic. I was becoming aware that most of my thoughts were negative.  Consequently, so was most of what I said.   This awareness of how I was thinking and speaking happened over and over again, as though a spotlight was being shown on this awful habit.  I envisioned God doing a soul correction on me.  “There, right there.  You’re doing it again,” I’d hear Him say in my head (sometimes with a British accent just for fun).

Just like a repetitive stress injury, it took the pain of recognizing this in myself to make me pay attention and start doing things differently.   Looking for blessings, opportunities and possibilities takes some practice if you’re not normally inclined to do so.   Obviously, I am not.   Given what I know about muscle memory,  I know learning a new, long-lasting way to be will take a while to develop.  Toward that end, I’ve had to put some new actions in place, a new exercise regimen, if you will.

First, I immediately cast down negative thoughts when I have them.  As soon as I recognize what I’m thinking, I say “No, no!  Not going there!”  You’d be amazed at how much power that alone holds.  It’s like putting on the parking brake before your car rolls down the hill.  (It’s also super helpful to say it out loud.  Gives it that extra “oomph!”)  You’d also be amazed at how many times you find yourself saying this during the day if you’re paying attention.  I found casting down thoughts in the beginning stages to be a full-time occupation.

From there, I replace the thought with something new and uplifting.  I go to the opposite of what I was thinking.  Can’t find a positive?  No problem.  I just start listing my blessings and praising God for what I have, even if it’s completely unrelated.  I start thanking Him for my home, my health, my car…you name it.  If this takes me off-topic from the garbage going through my mind or about to come out of my mouth, mission accomplished!

A simple prayer has done wonders for me.  I pray Psalm 51:10 many times a day. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”   The key here is to actually mean it and be willing to be changed inside.   When I pray this prayer, I think of God erasing the big chalkboard that is my heart and drawing a new picture on it with sidewalk chalk.  One that is more pleasing to Him.

And, finally, when things get really tough, and I’m struggling with something that really has a hold on me, I simply say, “Lord, this battle is yours, not mine.”  I pass the baton to God and envision Him fighting the battle for me, and I walk away from it.  I employ my favorite interruption, cleaning.  (Yours might be exercise, running, cooking.  Whatever it is, do something physical.)  While the house is getting a good vacuuming, God is waging a light saber battle in the background, minus the spitting sound effects my brother used to make.    At least that’s how I picture it happening.

Naturally, this process isn’t always clean and neat…or easy.  Sometimes it takes drastic measures, like keeping different company if you realize you and a friend bond over talking smack about people.  Or my personal favorite, saying nothing because I can’t find anything nice to say.  (I’ve noticed I’ve been spending a lot of time in silence lately.)  I assure you there’s no perfection in this.  Sometimes, I still complain and whine.  And that’s okay.  Every muscle likes to get used now and again.  My ultimate goal, however, is to retrain myself to look on the bright side.  I have to admit, it’s working.  It does get easier and easier as I exercise my option and ability to see life as the gift that it is.   And like anything done in repetition over the long haul, I’m hoping optimism and positive thoughts become my buff muscle.

 

 

 

 

 

It only took 35 years…

I’m surprised to be sitting here at the keyboard, putting my thoughts to the screen with the intention of pressing “Publish” when I’m finished.   It’s not that I doubt my ability to write.  Rather, it’s the vulnerability of doing so, of making what goes on in my head (and heart) public, that scares me.   You see, thirty-five years ago, and just a sophomore in high school, I had written a note to a boy I thought was my friend.  Hours after passing it to him in the hallway, another of my friends came to me with it crumpled in her hand.  In hushed tones, she explained how she had rescued it from one of the bulletin boards when she recognized the writing.  I don’t know how long it had been up there or how many students had laughed at what I had written, but I remember feeling so exposed and embarrassed…and betrayed.  I had vowed to never put my thoughts and feelings to the page again, lest I relive the sting of being made a public spectacle.

A few years later as a young 20-something working at a museum, I would befriend a coworker who would encourage me to write again.  It took some coaxing, but he raved at the “voice” of my pieces and my “largeness of mind”.   It’s possibly true that I loved the attention and enthusiasm he had for my writing, and for me by extension, and my ego knew the only way to keep it coming was to continue to put brilliant thoughts to the page.    But my writing took only the form of personal letters and emails and entries into journals that piled up in the corner of my closet despite his encouragement that I should write an actual book.

Well, the book is still taking form and shape in my mind and looks more like a hot mess of unrelated thoughts in tons of hand scribbled notebooks.  Maybe some day, I say to myself.  In the meantime, I have been writing posts on a range of topics that interest me and sharing them through my business Face Book page and a friend’s business website as a guest writer.  I love being able to write a short piece about a specific topic, share my idea, and let it go.   So while blogging would seem to be a great avenue to express myself in this way, it still carries the weight of apprehension with it.  This is, after all, much larger than the high school hallway bulletin board.

So, sink or swim, here it goes.   I’m hoping to make Brene’ Brown, PhD, LMSW, and the spirit of Theodore Roosevelt proud as I “dare greatly” and enter the public writing arena.   And although my former museum coworker dislikes introspection, something I now tackle regularly through my writing, I’m sure he would be pleased that I was taking this first step.   Here’s to you, my dear old friend.  Thanks for your years of cheer leading and believing in my writing…and for planting the first seed that this could be possible.