Embodiment. . . and Psychosis

In November, I had the privilege of caring for my daughter while she went through a psychotic episode.

It’s taken me a long time to be able to imagine using such a word as “privilege” to describe my relationship to my daughter’s struggles, and to my own struggles and pain as her mother through this.

For the last six years, her mental health journey has been a source of sadness, confusion, guilt, powerlessness, overwhelm and deep, deep grief.

Then, about six weeks ago, her illness reached a new level, signified by a “new diagnosis.”  

This new diagnosis was unconscionable to me.  I decided to reject this diagnosis completely, both as a moral stand, and as a mechanism of pure survival for myself—and well, possibly for my daughter. Instead, I saw this as a powerful opportunity to step in to my belief system:


"Injuries, illnesses and struggles are always manifestations from the Essential Self, the part of us that is timeless and infinite.  They arise as signposts, seeking our attention to bring us back to our Essence and the path of our Destiny.”


In other words, I believed that this “illness” was actually an expression of her Health. I wrote in my journal:

“I believe, I know, under this, my daughter is HEALTHY."


I, together with the support of an incredible group of highly-skilled therapists*, decided to take care of my daughter at home, and to relate to the psychosis Biodynamically: that is, as an expression of health.  Roan’s health was trying to contend with something, and psychosis was the safest and most efficient way to do it.  For me, as the primary care giver, I was given the gift of a graduate degree in healing: holding space for discomfort, pain, confusion, and deep dIsregulation—for my own child, without trying to fix it, stop it, change it, but while continually relating to the the through-line of her health, and stepping in to support that health wherever and however it appeared. In order to hold space for this, I had to just try to track what is, moment-to-moment.  


To be sure, this was excruciating at times.  And exquisite. When you track moment-to-moment, you begin to see many many moments of pure, unadulterated health. I got to be present for all the clear-health moments: the return of her personality, islands of calm and peace, her gratitude, her relationally, her sanity.  I was witness to these “islands of clarity”, and because I —and our support circle—were witness to these subtleties, and could hold the discomfort and uncertainty of her state without rushing to medicate or label, those islands became bigger and more expansive, until they began to connect, forming a firmament to which my daughter returned, as her Self.


Having this experience has brought me to a whole new understanding of health and healing. To be with psychosis, is to be on a terrifying, and yet profound precipice of being human.  This journey of saying “enough!” to medications, diagnoses, and the medical-model of psychiatric care, has opened up the world of sane, heart-centered, humane approaches (there are many!) of caring for those in psychotic pain.  And the wisdom of these approaches relies on principals that are—not surprisingly--universal to healing and health.


There is one principal, that for me, that “rules them all”—and is the guiding principal of all the work that I do, wish to do and offer in this life.  

In the incredible book, Recovering Sanity, author Edward M. Povall quotes journalist E. Thelmar, who experienced her own deep psychosis, and who formed a powerful theory about what “she labeled as the ‘moment of recovery’”:

From her point of view, losing one’s mind is a terrible mind-body desynchronization.  The consciousness of self becomes separated from the physical body.  and the physical body is separated from the “etheric” body. . . She says that this can happen by degrees:  “The trouble in madness is that a separation has taken place between two ‘sheaths’ (the physical and the etheric) which should never be separated during the lifetime of the physical body; and which cannot be separated partially, without causing serious physical injury, or completely, without causing the death of the physical body.”  [my emphasis]

From all such accounts, a general rule of recovery could safely be stated:  Anything that promotes body and mind synchronization will further the appearance of islands of clarity and anything that induces or accentuates body and mind separation can become a fatal obstacle to recovery.” (236-7)


There is a word that expresses this concept of mind-body synchronization: embodiment.


When I teach qigong, yoga or Sacred Daoist Sexuality, I am teaching this synchronization.  When I work Biodynamically, I am tracking this synchronization.  I teach and track this by tuning in to the state of the nervous system, listening to the words a client speaks, observing the breath and flow of movement, and tracking the energetic tide-like movement that permeates all levels of the body (energetic, etheric, emotional, spiritual, etc).  A simple, yet incredibly powerful therapeutic tool is to ask the client to be aware of sensations in the body, particularly those that arise in relationship to feelings, stories, or phenomena that are hard to even articulate.  I am helping them to stitch themselves and their bodies back together into a cohesive, embodied, healthy whole.  


When I work with infants, one of my tasks is to observe how embodied a baby is.  They have just arrived here from the Other World and they often still occupy a liminal space between, or move back and forth.  Sometimes they are quite reluctant to come in all the way (who can blame them?). And yet, it is their task, and our tasks, to become fully embodied.


Lack of full embodiment is almost always a response to a trauma.  It doesn’t feel safe to be fully present, and so—we aren’t. This is an actual physiological phenomenon: the autonomic nervous system is in a reaction state called the parasympathetic.   While in a moment of trauma, this can be the most intelligent and life-saving option for one’s being to choose. But as an ongoing state, or a state that we move in and out of unconsciously, it has very dangerous consequences.

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Let me say this, with absolute conviction:

To whatever degree we are disembodied, we are IN DANGER: 
Illness
anxiety
chaos
dysregulation
risk-taking
psychosis
death

 

In my work, I have many ways in which I articulate the notion of embodiment, many synonyms:

the essential self
destiny
the soul
alignment
midline
home
resource


All of this languaging expresses the same principal: 

Health is in the coherent wholeness of your body-self-soul for this physical lifetime.

Each step we take towards fuller embodiment brings more relief, aliveness, ecstasy and health to this lifetime. And yes, experiencing the pain of embodiment is necessary as well.  This is where having support of another embodied being is essential.  I've seen the beauty and power of this work in action: in my daughter, my clients, myself.  

I’m not sure if total embodiment is attainable, but I’d like to find out how far I can get, and I’m committed to helping others find out what’s possible too.

*This circle of practitioners and healers, as well as family members and friends, was gathered in keeping with the Open Dialog model of care from Finland. I cannot recommend this approach enough.  Please research and read all about it.

Other resources on alternative/health-based approaches to mental illness:
Documentary on Open Dialog in Finland
Working to Recovery, UK
Inner Compass Initiative
The Withdrawal Project
Mad in America Podcast
Ted Talk, Eleanor Longden, “The Voices in My Head”
”The Shamanic View of Mental Illness”
Intervoice
The Windhorse Project
Books:
Mad in America
Anatomy of an Epidemic
Recovering Sanity

Scizophrenia illustration from the Osho Zen Tarot.


And now a word from . . . the Placenta

Yep, the placenta has something to say, something we need to know.

I don’t know about you, but I always thought the placenta was from and of the mother, and that she nourished the baby through it.

 
 Placenta: "a flattened circular organ in the uterus of pregnant eutherian mammals, nourishing and maintaining the fetus through the umbilical cord.”

Placenta: "a flattened circular organ in the uterus of pregnant eutherian mammals, nourishing and maintaining the fetus through the umbilical cord.”

But as I’ve learned more about embryology, I now understand that the placenta is actually formed from the blastocyst, the large, fertilized egg cell that has divided into 70-100 cells.  A differentiation occurs within the blastocyst: a group of cells gathers at one end of the sphere of the cell, and another at the opposite curve. One group will become the placenta; the other the baby.

This means the placenta and the baby are actually of each other.  Or, as the placenta is sometimes called, the baby's twin.

What a concept!

The nascent placenta is then completed by the mother with material from the uterine wall. It serves as the connection between us and our mother, filtering, exchanging nutrients, oxygen, and waste.

In mainstream birth, the cord to the placenta is cut as soon as the baby is born; the placenta is then birthed and often incinerated as biohazard waste (although some hospitals will let you take it home). The natural birth culture has long understood the importance of delaying the cutting of the cord until it has stopped pulsing and the newborn is breathing on his or her own.  Not only does this ease the transition into being in the outer world, but the continued pulsation delivers valuable blood into the baby’s system, the denial of which can be equivalent to a 1200 ml hemorrhage in an adult. 

In addition, the placenta is a powerful medicinal resource perfectly suited for what a just-birthed mother needs: hormones, iron and minerals that can boost the immune system, increase milk production, and rebuild stamina.  There are many practices for consuming the placenta, from adding pieces to a smoothie, cooking it (stirfry!), or drying it and making it into capsules that can be used throughout the childbearing year.  And of course mammal mothers always eat the afterbirth of their babies

There is a ritual of burying the placenta in a special place to honor its role and to create a spiritual home or root for the new baby. Families often plant a special tree over the site of the placenta.

And then there is Lotus Birth, that not only does not cut the cord early, but actually keeps the placenta attached to the baby via the intact umbilical cord until the cord naturally dries out and separates from the baby.

And the lore around the placenta continues. The word placenta translates as a type of “cake” in Latin; annual birthday cakes possibly originated in reference to the placenta.

In energetic medicine, when working with babies, the presence of and connection to the placenta is incredibly important.  Distress in some babies may be caused by the separation from the placenta, and/or a placenta that was discarded.  The baby experiences a loss of its womb companion and protector, and this can be deeply disturbing.

Babies experience “umbilical shock” at the premature cutting of the chord.  Imagine being suddenly severed from a pulsing organ that goes directly into your fire chakra!  After we lose our umbilical chord, the umbilical vessels in our bodies become ligaments that extend into the inguinal area in our pelvis and up to our diaphragm. The vestiges of umbilical shock can move all the way down our legs, and all the way up to our hearts.  It can affect digestion and cause chronic pain and contraction in the psoas and quadratus lumborum.

 Umbilical shock can be attended to and resolved at any age.

Umbilical shock can be attended to and resolved at any age.

The good news is, our physical bodies retain layers of energetic memories of all our experiences. These can emerge in mysterious and powerful ways during energetic touch therapies such as BCST, which makes these experiences available for healing or resolution.

I recently had a powerful experience of my placenta as I was receiving a Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy session.

(And now we’re coming to the point of this whole blog post: a message from the Placenta)

In my session, I began to be aware of an incredible, warm, spacious, comforting physical feeling around my belly button, and the image of the cord and my placenta came into my mind.  I could feel the presence of the placenta hovering just over my belly.  With this sensation, I simultaneously realized how powerful, intimate and mutual the relationship between the baby and the placenta is.

These are the revelations that came to me as I felt the memory of my attached placenta:

The placenta is a Guardian Angel, sent to attend, accompany and protect the baby in the womb.

The placenta is sentient and Intelligent.  

It transmits tremendous energy, nourishment, medicine, love and companionship.

It is a companion; baby is never alone.

It is the great filter, protector and channel, mitigating experience and material, as everything must pass through it before entering the baby.

The placenta sacrifices itself for the baby to be born; it dies so that they baby may go on to live in the world.

The presence and power of the placenta and the connection to it continues long after we are separated from it.  Ancient wisdom traditions understand that the umbilicus area of the belly is one of the most potent energetic gates in the body: the dantien/“the field of elixir", the fire chakra, the center of the spiral current of energy*.

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*The fiery current, which Dr. Stone [Polarity Therapy] called the spiral current, relates to the rajasic quality of directed energy. It spirals from the umbilicus to energize the whole of the body with warmth, vitality and movement." --Bruce Burger

(I even think that children form attachments to security blankets, stuffed animals, etc, as a substitute for the placenta.)

With this understanding of the placenta, and its intimate relationship with baby, the placenta deserves to be treated with utmost reverence.  And as in Lotus Birth, the baby and the placenta kept together honors this relationship and the necessary transition between companionship in the womb, to the independence of the baby outside the womb.  Those of us who did not receive this consideration of our once-wholeness with the placenta can heal the loss and shock through energetic work such as Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy. 

Some beautiful sites for Lotus Birth:

Since publishing this post, I heard from Jamie Miranda about her daughter’s Lotus Birth and read her powerful account of this beautiful process on her blog. What an incredible frontier of possibility, grace and healing this deeper understanding of the placenta has to offer us.

https://jamiemiranda.wordpress.com/2018/09/15/lotus-birth-a-path-to-healing/

https://homebirth.org.nz/magazine/article/lotus-birth/

http://www.lotusbirth.net/

A New Year's Prayer: Sexual Healing between Men and Women

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I try to avoid the news as much as possible (see my Oct. 11 blog post), but the #Metoo campaign has broken through.  Over Christmas week, I read Selma Hayek's horrifying story of abuse in the New York Times ("Harvey Weinstein is My Monster Too").  As many others have already said, this is a necessary, belated and heartbreaking moment in our culture: speaking out about sexual and power abuse as perpetrated by . . . men.

Integral to my calling as a teacher and practitioner of Sacred Daoist Sexuality, is the desire to bring healing to our sexuality; particularly the sexuality between women and men.  When I feel the winds of the firestorm of revelations and deep confessions of sexual victimhood at the hands of men, I think: our men are so sexually wounded.  How did such a distortion of respect and shared power come to be?  And this is not just a symptom of Western culture. The mutilation of women's genitals in African cultures, the binding of feet in Chinese culture, etc etc.  A long, horrific line of abuse perpetrated mainly by men.

But we abuse boys and men as well, sexually and emotionally.  The common first experience of a newborn boy in this culture?  To have the sensitive skin that protects his even more sensitive penis, cut off--either ritually or medically.  Our culture accepts this as a norm.  And yet if these infants were ritually touched sexually, this would be considered a crime.

There are just so many layers to how we have hurt each other sexually.

There is something that concerns me deeply about all this and that is: a kind of sexism I hear my female friends express against men.  For example, a female friend whose male friend is going through a terrible divorce:  "I don't like to say anything bad about a woman but. . . " she starts to tell me.  Wait a minute.  Why not?  Women can be dreadful as well!  And the other implication of that statement: "It's ok to say bad things about men." 

My daughter, recounted a young man at college who expressed surprise about a woman traveling the world by herself.   "He's so misogynistic!"  she says.  "Are you sure?"  I ask.  "Maybe he's intimidated by traveling the world alone--and is impressed that she can."

There is a bumper sticker about capital punishment: "Why do we teach people that killing people is wrong by killing people?"

I ask: "Why do we teach people that discriminating against gender is wrong by discriminating against gender"? 

Rather than go down any further down this rabbit hole, I want to return to that sexual healing.  We have got to reach out with even more love, space and possibility across gender assumptions.  I would even say this is the most insidious of bigotry--we all accept the gender generalizations that we make all the time.  And so, it divides us continually.

On February 4th, I am offering my first men's Sacred Daoist Sexuality workshop, "How to Make Love to a Woman".  It has been a dream and an idea that has been percolating for over two years.  I will share what I know of the complex differences and similarities of our sexual anatomy and sexual responses, as well as the sacred self-cultivation practices that fly in the face of our Western experience of sex.  Such a coming together is naturally vulnerable--for the participants, as well as myself--as it should be. But this will be my prayer for what is possible in intimacy and connection between the sexes: that we need each other to experience a level of physical, emotional and spiritual ecstasy that, no matter our devotion to our self pleasure and practice, can only be achieved in union with another.

Yes, this is a big agenda.  But it will be a simple three-hour class. 

Learning some anatomy, practicing qigong to come into rooted presence, introducing the microcosmic orbit practice to cultivate and circulate energy, all within a container of sacrality:  the understanding that practicing the sexual arts is a spiritual calling and commitment to the beauty of being human.  And the truth we often deny:  we need each other (Hmm--this is cropping up as a theme of mine.  See Dec 10 blog post).  There'll be conversation, questions, and sharing too. 

If you are a man reading this, I hope you'll consider attending.  If you know a man, I hope you will share this with him.  This will be a small class of no more than six men and I am requiring preregistration. Learn more here.

Blessings to all on the New Year--to new understandings of our sexuality, to our compassion towards and need of each other!