It’s been a long while since my last newsletter. What can I say when the state of the world and our country have shifted into unprecedented and unpredictable places. The direction we thought we were headed toward progressive healthcare and human rights have taken a sharp turn amidst much clamor and chaos. Perhaps the way I can help is to continue to investigate the questions: How do we stay focused, driven, passionate, positive? How do we stay calm while feeling so angry and afraid?
As a Jewish girl growing up in the 1980s in the American south, I all too often imagined what it would be like to have my civil liberties taken away, to be imprisoned, starved, killed. It was clear to me that in the recent past, forces in power had wanted my kind exterminated. It baffled me that people were just going about like normal with that knowledge, while also knowing that an incomprehensible Native American genocide had happened on this very land, and also that the atrocity of slavery had happened, still terribly recent in history, and the scales of equity were still tipped out of reach from people of color. As a teenager I was a raw nerve. I wondered about these things obsessively, and why people would hate each other when people on opposing sides of wars are all pretty much the same: people; people with children to protect, and elders to love, and babies to tend, and dreams to wish for. These aren’t uncommon thoughts and feelings and they are most likely familiar to many of you. Empathy is easy, coming from the imagination, if you are curious about the lives of others: Native Americans, African-Americans, Muslims, people of color, refugees, immigrants, people who grew up in dangerous families, people of poverty, LGBTQ people, disabled people, the list goes on and on.
How do we live a meaningful life when the world feels dangerous? When society feels hateful. When progress is impeded and backpedaling towards what feels like alarm. These feelings of being afraid, targeted, unwelcomed, they formalize in our minds and are held in our bodies. The stress we experience through hateful encounters and vicariously living them in news stories and through human connectedness, and the overthinking that often accompanies them—these stresses lodge in our bodies, we carry around our worries and fears.
In Chinese Medicine, we look at patterns, and we look at repetition. The act of thoughts repeating themselves, obsessively, as in I’m not safe I’m not safe I’m not safe, are like a gerbil running in a wheel. Energy spinning, burning. In Chinese Medicine we can isolate that spinning wheel to specific parts of the body and we can shift the composition of the energy so that it changes, so that it flows. This is what we do with needles, with our hands, with our herbal remedies. I want to explain to you that it is also something you can do with your mind.
There is a form of radical self-care that exists specifically and creatively within you. It is unique as your fingerprint. It is an alchemy of your mind and your body and your imagination. It starts with conjuring a feeling of safety. And with appreciating the safety you have. (And depreciating the safety you qualify as not having.) Many people do not have the safety and comfort you have at hand. When you appreciate what you do have, you honor your own experience and the experience of others. All we have in life, really, is each and every moment at a time, isn’t it? That is our experience. It builds into a collective. And what we have now, is now.
So here you are now. You are safe in your own body. Your body is your home. At any moment you can look at what’s wrong or scary or you can look at what’s right and safe and well. You can get carried away with the what-ifs. Or you can be present with all you are satiated with, and all that is safe and well and working positively in the immediate moment.
Take a moment to be in your body, to breathe fully into your body, to be wholly present, to say this is my skin, my hands, my legs, my chest, my neck, my head, my back. This is me, carried in this body, and I am no one but my own strong and true self. Imagine a radical new view of your body, as a haven, whatever image you like: a lighthouse, a cave, a planet, a holy place, your grandmother’s kitchen. Pick something that symbolizes safety for you. Imagine your skin shifting into that imagery, of cave walls, or earth, or a field of wildflowers, or the wallpaper of your favorite respite—some image that surfaces in your imagination that you can utilize. Let your body transform into that place in your mind’s eye, and see a small version of yourself living there, in your body somewhere safe: around a campfire, or resting in the grass, or sitting at an altar, or laying in a cozy bed. This small self, a little version of you, is perfectly safe. The small self is free. Imagine being the small self within you, embodied, senses alive, feeling the sun or the breeze on their skin, remembering the scent of orange blossoms and vanilla, the feeling of their feet in the sand—whatever sensory images you’ve choosen. Be the small self present in their reverie. They are soaking in the safety. Feel it in your body now. Imagine that feeling of perfect safety and bring it you’re your body. Imagine it as a restorative salve within you. There is no limit to your imagination to conjure the feeling of safety.
You know how worry, what I call catastrophizing, can immediately send you into a panic, and how your body can sweat and race and flush and rush, simply based on your imagination of a threat? This is the opposite of that. This is radical self-care employed by your own creative self and brought into your body. This is the antidote.
We are each a collection of experiences, memories, images, and perceptions. We are a composite of hopes and dreams and concerns, each living a whole life unseen inside our minds. We need to use our cognitive skills to keep ourselves whole. We can be more helpful to others, near and far, when we are composed and collected and focused. That starts with the imagination. And bringing it into the body. We each have one body we take care of. Let’s stay whole by appreciating that body and softening into the safety it is given. Right now you are more safe than all those ways you’ve imagined being not safe. Right now you are: awake, listening, learning, caring, attentive. Your body is the place you come home to. Your body is your planet. Your landscape. Your own haven. Make it, in your imagination, so convincing that you really feel it. This is how you practice believing in yourself. This is a way to stay grounded in a place of chaos. Practice it, and let me know how you do. There’s a lot more I can teach you about it. And there’s a lot more I still want to learn. We can explore together.
Wishing you all the best in health and happiness,
P.S. One more thing to think about…in Chinese Medicine, one solution to untangle the stuckness of overthinking is to take action as an activist. The other solution is to transform that stuck energy into creative expression. If you feel your wheels spinning, bring those ideas to the centerpoint of your feeling of stuckness and see if you are inspired to take one of those avenues toward change.