Sunday, January 22, 2017

Getting Ready to Rock and Roll (or Explaining What Happens for Me During Energy Therapy)

I had my first visit with the energy healer, Donnamarie Steffano, in September 2003. I went on the recommendation of two friends, with the goal of "collecting a new experience." Fifteen years ago, I was living in an urban commune of sorts, and exploring the hippie dippie side of my personality. I was a vegetarian, went to yoga dance sessions monthly, and worked for a nonprofit that helped rich people get in touch with their inner progressive. At the time, exploring energy therapies was not a stretch.

Energy therapy, as I've experienced it, takes place in a massage therapy room. After declaring my intention with the therapist (e.g., to get help processing lingering grief, to better understand an eating disorder, etc.), I take off all of my jewelry, and my shoes, and lie flat on my back on the massage bed - no pillows or bolsters. I close my eyes, and let the therapist do her work.

And her work simply sounds like someone moving around my body, exhaling or inhaling deeply. The audible breath sounds to me like that of a Sleestack from the television program Land of the The Lost. I peeked during my first sessions, and Donnamarie had her hands extended above my body, as if she was touching something.

The energy therapist asks for feedback during the session, so she can understand how my energy is responding. (OK, I know what you are thinking. This is the trick. She asks for feedback, and then adjusts her feedback to fit my narrative so I think something is happening, like a fortune teller. I get it. Just wait. There's more.)

She also gives feedback. During my first session, I remember  her telling me, "I have an overwhelming desire to recite the Lord's Prayer. What does this mean to you?"

I immediately remembered my grandmother's last day on this planet, When, after being in a coma for at least two days, her older sister (who was her best friend), came to visit and say good-bye. With the family minister, Aunt Esther was reciting the Lord's Prayer, when my Gramma opened her eyes and reached out her hand. I and the two sisters I was with at the time, alerted Aunt Esther to Gramma's movement, and she was able to hold her sister's hand as she finished the prayer.

I told this to Donnamarie and she replied, "Your grandmother was very short, yes? (She was about 4' 8" at the time of her death.) I can see her standing by your head. Know she is with you right now. She is telling me that she'll be with you when you need her."

With that, I was hooked.

I've seen Donnamarie maybe half a dozen times since then, most recently yesterday, when I went with the goal of finding my center. Here's what happened.

1. After we caught up with one another, I declare my intention of getting help being energetically unclogged.

2. I take my place on the bed and tried to relax.

3. Donnamarie says, "Oh wow. There is nothing moving in you."

4. So she starts doing the breathing thing. Within two minutes, I start to feel as if I am expanding so rapidly that I am going to pop, like Violet Beauregard in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It feels like an infection that is going to burst. I tell Donnamarie what's happening and that I am starting to freak out. She tells me to start doing yogic breathing - breathe in for four counts, hold the breath for four counts, breathe out through my mouth for four counts.

4a. At the same time, I am overwhelmed by the desire to stab myself. Repeatedly, in my abdomen. Maybe to relieve the pressure in my body? To this, I say nothing because I feel ashamed and afraid of this violence towards myself. But fearful of the impulse, another part of my psyche starts singing the refrain from  "All You Need is Love" by the Beatles. The war between the stabbing and the "love, love, love" goes on for a while. I'm also trying to tell myself to relax, to sink into the bed. But a part of my is fearful that if I sink, I'll be buried alive. I am imaging the bed as soft earth that swallows me whole. "The bed is not the earth. You will not be swallowed whole if you relax. Love, love, love..." I repeat. All without saying a word to Donnamarie. She has no idea what is happening with my self-talk.

5. Donnamarie says to me, "You are COVERED in something red and sticky. I don't know what it is. But I'm going to try and clear it." Spooky. I haven't told her I am psychically trying to stab myself. But she sees it anyway.

6. Then something shifts, and I feel myself being anchored at belly button to the bed. And my belly starts swirling. The motion is distinct, and I feel as if I'm slowly disappearing into the bed as I'm pulled deeper and deeper at the belly button down. The feeling is restricted to my belly button (or sacral chakra in energy talk).

7. Donnamarie says "The negative energy is starting to drain." I think to myself, "Oh, that's what this feeling is in my belly. It is like a bathtub emptying after a long soak." I start to relax.

8. As I'm draining, all I can see behind my closed eyes is a sheet of purple and indigo, the colors of the crown and third eye chakras.

9. Then the colors shift to green, the color of the heart chakra, which controls my ability to love. I start to feel as if I'm covered in the softest, puffiest, and strongest moss in the world. I think to myself, "The moss doesn't care who our president is. The moss won't be disturbed by this. I am covered in moss. I will not be disturbed."

10. Next, my hands start to feel as if they are swelling, not in the Violet Beauregard way. Instead, it feels like every cell is filling with water. Or maybe air. Or maybe loving kindness. It is pleasant. The feeling cascades up my arms. Donnamarie moves to the base of the bed and I can feel the gentle swell of loving kindness rush up my legs and into my belly, and it starts to move into my spine.

11. And then, Donnamarie ends the session. Inviting me to slowly come back to this plane, sit up when I'm ready, and be prepared to drink a glass of water.

We end each session debriefing what happened. It is during this period that I tell my energy healer that I was overwhelmed by a desire to stab myself at the exact time she was seeing me covered in something red and sticky. She said my energy created a luminous cocoon, one that looked this a diamond crystal, to protect me during our session. "Ahhh," I replied, "This must have been happening when I was afraid I was going to be buried alive."

Experiences like these help me believe in an energy, or maybe a spirit, that shapes our world, shapes our fundamental humanness. There is no rational, scientific way to explain how Donnamarie saw me covered in "something red and sticky" at the same moment I was doing internal battle over a desire to stab myself. Or explain how Donnamarie connected with my memory of the Lord's Prayer during our first session. Even BMG, someone who once went to meetings of the Boston-area skeptics society, says, "Yeah, that's crazy. I've got no explanation."

Right now the energy in many pockets of the world is ugly. I'm going to push myself to not let it take hold of me again. When I saw the neighbor taking his walk this morning, smiling and wearing his "Make America Great Again" hat, I subtly gave him the finger. Feeling the ugly energy start to creep in, I shifted to yogic breathing. In and out. In and out. In and out. From there, I decided that if he and I were to make eye contact the next time we saw one another, I'd ask him what parts of America he thinks weren't great. Luckily, I didn't have to do that (baby steps, right).

I think I can do this. I have to do this. I'll be ready.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

If I Had a Million Dollars

What would you do if you had a million dollars? A million dollars you HAD to spend on yourself?

This is the question being asked of me this week in The 52 Lists Project.

BMG and I play a variation of this game a lot, the variation where we fantasize what we would do if we won a fantastical amount of money in the laundry. After many heated arguments, we have a rough plan that involves giving a certain percentage of the winnings to our siblings and their children. We would also designate a certain percentage to be put into a foundation that I would run as my full-time job. And then, whatever is left over, we fantasize about. Sometimes we take a ridiculously extravagant vacation. Other times we buy multiple houses around the world (Paris! London! Hawaii! New York City!). Fancy cars, technology,

I've been a "Your Money or Your Life" person for nearly 15 years, which means I try to be very thoughtful about using my money to help me live my values. So, in the absence of having to compromise with my husband about how to spend my windfall, I would want to spend the money on things or activities that will help me live out my life goals of having a strong center and lots of adventures. This is what I came up with:

Creating a beautiful, peaceful, contemplative home - $711,000
I often think I'd like to live closer to the water, or in a beautifully renovated farmhouse in France. So I started my $1M journey by poking around on Zillow and the internet. I quickly realized that making these dreams a reality would would eat the entire budget. Finding just the right place to live isn't worth $1M. So, instead I'd spent 75% of my budget on:

  • Renovating my house (again) from top to bottom, fixing the things we didn't do right with our 2013 renovation, adding space, repairing the things that have broken (e.g., the front porch) since we last renovated
  • Hiring a landscape architect to make the yard beautiful - front and back. I'm trying to do it in dribs and drabs, with a shoestring budget and no skill with tasks like masonry. 
  • Buying new furniture for the inside of the house to replace the Ikea pieces and the hand-me-downs that I wouldn't call "heirloom" quality

Travel - $192,016
Aside from wanting a beautiful and relaxing home, I'm not much of a 'stuff' person. This may be because I don't have kids, and therefore have no one to pass things down to. Suffice to say that, when I leave this mortal earth, I'd rather leave a legacy of adventure than a pile of things. So, I'd set aside $25% of the budget for the following bucket list travel experiences: .

  • I'd take myself on a luxury safari to Africa, combined with a trek to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. This is a bucket list item for me. 
  • I've long said my 50th birthday trip will be a whitewater rafting down the Grand Canyon with one of my sisters and one of my sisters-in-law. I'd foot the bill for this for everyone.
  • Also on my bucket list is seeing every single national park in the U.S. I'd hit the road (and, in some cases, the air) to make this happen over the course of one year.
  • I've also said I want to be the kind of aunt who takes her nieces and nephews on a special trip of their choice to celebrate their graduation - from either high school or college - depending on their personal trajectory. So, I'd set aside money to make this happen over the next two to 12 years. 
The only expense not included in either home or travel would be the purchase of a brand new, fully loaded, Subaru Outback, estimated to cost (in 2017 dollars) $45,000. I love my Subara Impreza wagon, but I'd want something with better towing capacity and more amenities. 

That brings me to $950,000. $50K short of the $1M goal. 

If I thought a little bit longer, I'm sure I could spend the remaining $50K. Maybe I'd buy season tickets to the Red Sox for as long as I could, or a shopping spree to replace my entire wardrobe, or maybe set aside money for a fancy gym membership or regular visits to the spa. All of these things would be nice. But, they are not core to to my lifelong happiness. 

So, rather than trying to figure out how to spend the leftovers, I'd plan to put the $50K I can't spend (plus all of the money I'm not spending right away) either into charities that make my heart go pitter pat, and/or in safe investments to earn income that I can use to supplement my paycheck. 

If you had $1M, what would you spend it on? 

Friday, January 20, 2017

Why I'm Not Going to the Million Women March (Or, an Exercise in Finding Balance)

As of 12:00 PM today, the United State of America has a new President. This new President is a man who I experience as a hateful, impulsive, misogynistic, narcissistic, megalomanaical chucklehead. In short, not someone whose actions or values I can respect in the role of President of the United States.

On November 8, an estimated 50% of the voting population in America felt the same way I did. Unfortunately, it was not the right configuration of 50% to win the electoral college and continue leading the White House with progressive values.

So, nearly two and half months after the election of 2016, I find myself contemplating how to live life with an ass-hat reality star as the leader of my country.

Tomorrow, thousands of women and men, mothers and daughters, sisters and brothers, sweethearts, and friends will contemplate this reality while marching together in solidarity, affirming their commitment to protecting the rights of women, people of color, people who identify as LGBTQ, immigrants, and the poor. Thousands more women and men will don pussy hats, pink knit caps with little kitty ears, in an effort to reclaim that word from our new President, who has been accused multiple times of sexual assaults, and has bragged about his ability to force women to interact with him sexually. And yet thousands more will be sharing progressive social content through Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and the like.

Me? I'm not marching. I'm not wearing a pussy hat. I'm not going on Facebook. Instead, I will be visiting a friend from long ago to have my energy and chakras realigned. After then, I will take a long walk through a city I once called home, en route to my favorite tea shop to pick up my favorite tea.

While I have extraordinary ambivalence about the decision to not participate, I also have extraordinary clarity about why I'm not going.

I've lost my center in my grief and anger over what the election of He Who Must Not Be Named to the Presidency.
I see this in the emergence of disordered eating habits long ago buried, the resurgence of sleeplessness, which results in extreme exhaustion and crabbiness. I'm aware that attending a march, even the local one expected to be attended by 40,000+ people, is likely to exacerbate my anxiety about the state of the country, rather than helping me to feel empowered. Tomorrow, I need to find ways to nurture myself so once again I can find my center.

As an introvert, I am not typically energized or comforted by large crowds.
This is ironic given that I have masters level training in Community Organizing, but I typically do not find mass gatherings to be a good use of time. The "group think" mentality - even if it is group think aligned with my values - freaks me out, and I often feel claustrophobic. I know I'd spend a majority of my time looking for an escape route, trying to hear what is happening, or plotting the most efficient route to the subway station so I could get home.

When I'm ready to "do something", I know where to find information and communities made up of people organizing for change.
I don't need to attend a march to connect with people making a difference, or to be held accountable. I'm angry enough to keep myself accountable for making waves. And, I'm an active participant in the #injusticeboycott, have firm connections to the Unitarian Universalists, am a major donor and active follower of the Southern Poverty Law Center, and follow Pantsuit Nation/Action Together Massachusetts on Facebook. I know where to go to get information I trust, and to identify actions I can take with others that will make a difference.

I need to rest and relax now, so I'm ready to step up when my time is right. 
Right after the inauguration was over, my cousin-in-law posted on Facebook - 1,459. That's how many more days there are until the next President of the United States is sworn in. Four years. Four long years. Those of us standing on the side of love have a long haul ahead of us. I have an impressive history of fighting until I've spent every last drop of energy I have, which leaves me permanently depleted. This is partly driven by an overdeveloped sense of responsibility, and a lack of understanding of the ebb and flow of individual contributions to collective good. By not going to a march tomorrow, I'm acknowledging that I am not alone in this battle, and that I can't participate in this fight without taking at least one break. And I need my first break now.

As I watch and read coverage of all you beautiful people marching together, this is what I know:
We're standing together in our hearts.
We have each other's back in this marathon towards justice.
When you you need your break, I'll be ready to step in.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Everything is Beautiful

What does beautiful mean to you?

Something is beautiful in my eyes if its essence creates in me a sense of speechless bliss.

The most beautiful things I've ever seen include:

1. The Northern Lights
After a long hike in the back country of Chilnualna Falls in Yosemite National Park, I was tired and dehydrated, and had just spilled camp stove fuel all over myself. I mentioned to my hiking companion that the sky was glowing, and was immediately pooh poohed for being delirious. And then he saw the dancing lights, and we sat down together next to our tent and watched.

2. The first glimpse of Yosemite Valley from the road to Glacier Point
The first time I saw this was the first time I believed in God.

3. The Eiffel Tower
I don't have a particularly industrial aesthetic, but the grace of this building thrills me any time of year, any time of day. I only need to stand under it to be moved to tears. (The Golden Gate bridge in SF does the same thing to me. I cannot explain it.)

4. The Thinker by Auguste Rodin
This one surprised me. It has copied so many times in so many trite ways, like Monet's Waterlilies series, or the Mona Lisa, I thought I'd be "so over it." But this sculpture moves me every time I see it. 

5. The Peaceful Death of Another Human Being
I've had the opportunity to bear witness to the peaceful death of another human being three times in my life. Each has been different, and each has been moving in its expression of love and spirit

6. The Ending to The Color Purple
This was the first R-rated movie I saw in the theater. I was a scandalous 15 when I saw it. Every time I see this I cry as hard as I did the first time. Which was so hard that my older sister thought there was something wrong with me. (You can ask her. The volume of my tears was disturbing.)

7. My Wedding
Not the whole wedding, but really one specific point in the wedding. As BMG and I were recessing down the aisle, making a beeline for the bar and the receiving line, he whispered, "Look up. Look around. We are surrounded by people who love and support us. I want you to remember this." So I looked up, and it was beautiful

I'm sure that, with a little more thinking, I could generate a much longer list of things I think are beautiful - things like tenderness expressed between my nieces and nephews, the sound of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's voice, summer flowers in Bavaria, the poetry of Langston Hughes. But, when I need a little beauty, these are the places my brain goes first.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A Sharp Kick in the Gut

It has been a week - eight days - since I learned my friend Tricia was raped and murdered on Christmas Day.

In this time, I estimate that I've spent 10% of every waking hour reading memorials on Facebook, investigation updates on The Washington Post, and trolling the comment boards on myriad other news sources that carried the story of her death. I've become increasingly upset with every new detail exposed by the police and with every heart-felt memorial posted on myriad "In Memory Of" pages online,

On day four of this obsessive grief odyssey, I cried, cried harder than I have in a long time. On days five through seven, I gained three pounds, largely as result of my settling into the enveloping stupor of Candy Crush Saga.

And today, on day eight, I met with a therapist.

And about five minutes into our session, she gave me a swift kick in the gut. I was blathering on about how vulnerable I was feeling about my personal safety and she said, "I wonder if your reaction to your friend's death might be about more than your friend's death."

"Whatever could you mean?" I innocently replied.

"Well, there are many Americans feeling vulnerable right now. How are you feeling about the direction in which our country is moving?"

Dammit. Dammit Dammit.

During my brief period of grieving, it has seemed as if my sadness has been out of proportion to my relationship with Tricia. I've felt like I don't have the right to be as immobilized by this terrifying act of violence as I have been.

But, if I think about Tricia's murder as the most terrible straw that broke the camel's back, then this reaction makes a little more sense.

What also makes sense is leveraging this process of grieving her death to find my inner strength.