Thursday, June 23, 2011

Out of Service

I have a problem with the word service. After looking into the word's origin, I now understand my aversion. The word "service" derives from the Latin word servus meaning slave. That's exactly how I feel toward the needs of others. I am a slave to them. Wired to answer every call for help and feeling responsible for the outcome of events I can't control.

Where does this tendency come from? I could blame it on my family, who are themselves a tribe of rescuers and fixers. I could blame it on being an artist—that I'm just so tapped into feelings that it's difficult to turn off the radar. I could blame it on being a teacher—encouraged by the profession to try to change the lives of others. But the seed was sown much earlier.

Photo by Shawn Keagy
As a child, I felt that I had to be good, to do good—as if I had to atone for something. But what could I have done that was so terrible? I didn't understand this unconscious drive until I was thirty years old, when I discovered I had been a twin. It was like a veil had been lifted, and I could finally begin to heal the wound I couldn't name. My twin died in the womb, and I was helpless to stop it. I have spent my life trying to undo that feeling of powerlessness. Because I couldn't rescue my twin, I took on the world as my responsibility.

One of my fellow healers calls this tendency “doing someone else's homework.” As a former teacher, the analogy is particularly meaningful. I remember how angry I would get when parents would do their kids' homework. But maybe parents do their children's homework for the same reason I feel the need to rescue: it's painful to stand by and watch someone struggle. But when I try to solve someone else's problems, I rob them of their journey. And I rob myself of the opportunity to work on my own lessons.

So for the time being, I am out of service. I'll be taking some time off from my knee-jerk help reflex to reroute my energy to the work I want to do. I won't be surprised if my work ends up helping others, but this time I'll be offering my gifts freely. I will no longer be a slave.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Hanging Up the Phone

This week I got a call from a friend I haven't heard from in a long time. There wasn't anything extraordinary about the actual call. What was new was how I felt after it was over. I didn't replay the call. I didn't lament what was said or not said. I didn't question that I spoke what was true for me. I didn't feel confused about where my borders were when I was done. What changed? When I hung up the phone, I also remembered to disconnect the line of energy between us.

Artwork by Kathleen Keagy
Saying goodbye has never been easy for me, even when it would be better for me to say goodbye. I carry people and conversations around with me long after our communication is over. The exchanges take on a life, an energy, of their own leaving me tethered to a moment that has passed, and the people in it. I walk around feeling responsible for the outcome of relationships. This is normal, right? We're supposed to be tapped into the people we care about.

I don't see connection as the problem. It's the connection being in the “always on” position that is the rub. It's exhausting—like I've left my lights on and allowed my battery to be drained until it doesn't have anything left to keep me running. And these "always on" connections create clutter that makes it difficult for someone new to enter my life, even if it's someone I want to get to know.

When I hung up the phone with my friend the other day, I didn't just hang up the call. I switched off the energy current that was connecting us. Since then I've started putting energy switches in other areas of my life including my work, so that I can turn down the energy I'm sending when it's not really needed. It has taken a bit of faith for me to trust that the connection will be there without me investing in it all the time, but when I've tested it over the last few days I've been able to reconnect pretty easily. What I've noticed is that when I don't have all those low-level currents continuously running, I have more current—more energy—for me. I am more vital, healthy, creative, grounded in my body and available to receive whatever is right here in the moment. And that feels really good.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The More You Are

The other night I watched a friend perform in a new dance work, but it would be more apropos to say that I watched him dive into every cell of his being as he moved across the floor. My friend Greg is the most embodied person I know. He lives in his body without the shame that so permeates our culture. And he is one of the bravest artists I know.

After the performance, I got back to my car and couldn't turn on the ignition. So much was spiraling through me. I just kept thinking, "I want to be brave like Greg." I picked up my notebook and the words poured out in a poem.

Photo by Kathleen Keagy
I sent the poem to Greg that night, and he wrote back saying that it made him cry. And it occurred to me that maybe I am brave. When I write poetry, I am not afraid of anything. I dive in. Instead of trying to untie the knot of what I'm feeling, I keep going in until I come out the other side. And maybe the reason that I so admire the way my friend Greg dances is because it affirms the artist I am...the artists we all are.

What if the most inspiring thing I can do every day is to embody who I am? What if I weigh every choice on the scale of “Is this me or not?” What if I conduct my life believing that the more I become myself, the more others are allowed to be themselves?

Greg says the reason he creates the art he does is so that others know they are not alone. So here is the poem I wrote for Greg. Yes, I want to be brave like that.


The More You Are
(for Greg)

I am the better for watching you dance
from the sweat of your heart
I learn
how to be
unafraid to be
what you know
to be known

I am the better for knowing you now
having lost
the energy to pretend
I am fragments
but you see the whole

I am the better for knowing your shadow
until my legs
found fire
until my voice
found silence
and heard herself

the more you are
the better I am

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Half A Smile

I looked in the mirror a few days ago and was startled. I was smiling with both sides of my face. Now this may not seem much of anything except the day before I had only been smiling with the left side of my face. What happened?

There was an event that generated the physical change, but the realization that only half of me had been able to smile for I'm not quite sure how long caught me off-guard. Only my left side, my female side, had the freedom to smile. The muscle and sinew of the right side of my face was locked, gritting its way through life and turning the simple act of smiling into a chore. The same right side that was subject to sinus pressure, toothaches, earaches and eye strain over the last few years. My right side, which holds my liver and gall bladder, the seats of anger and frustration. And lately, I have been particularly angry. So what brought about the change?

Photo by Shawn Keagy
When I purchased my latest yoga class card at the wellness center I adore, I was given a complimentary cranial-sacral therapy session. A gift of healing had arrived. I have looked into cranial-sacral therapy in the past as a complement to the non-force chiropractic work I get every few months. Cranial-sacral therapy addresses the cerebral and spinal fluid in which the brain and spinal cord float, and the fascia, the connective tissue that surrounds muscles and holds other parts of the body together. Using touch, a cranial-sacral practitioner helps your body to remove blockages to allow for better communication and as a result, healing. I found the session to be a cross between the light touch and structural alignment of non-force chiropractic work (no snapping or cracking), and the deep relaxation induced by massage.

Before the session, I picked up the Angel cards that were sitting on the waiting room table. From the deck I selected a card that said, “Time to let your past go.” Uh-huh. That would work very well as a theme for the session. There was a lot of grief about the past in the anger that had been rising to the surface recently, and it wanted to be seen, acknowledged and let go. I repeated the words “let go” as a mantra while Lucien, the practitioner who facilitated my healing, worked on my body. I wanted to encourage all the cobwebs of tension that were no longer useful—not in the present tense of my life—to exit. What I didn't expect was to get my smile back. But I did.

My face looks different. I think I look younger, like the girl I remember before I started carrying the world on my right side like a warrior. And when I try to remember that girl, I have to reach back, way back to a picture of a toddler in a high chair with a grin as wide as the ear of corn she is eating. Before I began connecting with others by offering my help rather than just by being me. Was it possible to retrieve the freedom to be myself by retrieving my smile?

Since my cranial-sacral session, I have noticed a difference in my ability to weather the bumps in the road as they come along. Over the weekend, I found myself dancing in the surf with my daughter on a day too cold for most grown-ups to enter the water, and I really enjoyed it. It was not my usual mode of experiencing the joy via my daughter's smiles and giggles (which are pretty wonderful, by the way) but jumping and dancing in the surf for the simple pleasure it gave me. And these healing modalities just release physical tension, right?

Looking at my new, old smile, what startles me is how the physical limitations of my face were limiting my expression and not just my ability to smile. Research supports that the simple act of smiling can change your mood. What if over time the pressure in my life made it physically difficult for me to smile? And if it was difficult to shape my face into a smile, was that limitation in range of motion limiting my ability to experience humor and joy—limiting my ability to laugh at myself and to let things roll off my shoulders?

When I smile now, I see two definitive dimples. I feel my right ear rise up just a bit to match my left. And I breathe in, deeply. Lucien says that there is room for more release. A bigger smile? I'll take it.