Rewiring my Brain

I know it is my hip that was removed and a new hip installed, but I actually feel I am rewiring my brain.

Today I have entered my fourth week after my surgery. I am amazed at how much I love the slowness and simplicity of the life I have had in those weeks.

My priorities are so clear. Every day I tend to my body in the form of my exercises and I tend to my mind by meditating. I try to stay openhearted and clearsighted as much as possible and not fall back into old thought patterns.

I remember feeling something like this when I had my hysterectomy back in 1997.

I thought I would never forget how good it felt to go slowly and to have much less on my schedule than was my usual pattern.

To focus and simplify my life down to manageable goals every day became my mantra. 

I knew then and I know now that RUSHING is not an option. It results in breathlessness and anxiety, my two enemies.

As I start to re-enter the world, I feel very tender toward this new-found energy. I want to be met with this gentle, soft awareness. I feel a kind of precious knowing that this state of being is preferable to the old way of feeling always slightly out of balance with a little too many plates spinning in the air.

Then, I believed my self-worth was dependent on how much I did. I believed life is too boring if you slow down.

Now I feel that the amount I do and what I accomplish daily is only measured by the quality with how I do it. At the center of my actions is my love of each and every encounter, be it with nature or with another human. 

Deepak Chopra says perfect health is finding daily balance. That is an awesome goal, since balance has always been a great goal of mine, but one that proved elusive.

I also think balance is not static. It is finding the flow and fluidity of our body-mind. It is recognizing what takes us out of flow and fluidity. It also makes decision-making easier since that goal is a center point for me. 

As I re-enter the bigger world, I pray I can continue to remember some of the biggest lessons I have received from this experience.

Since I have heard from many of you that these blogs are helpful,  I’d like to ask you to say more about your idea of perfect health and how it relates to FINDING your balance. 

A New Normal

Today I was mesmerized by a white egret in a dance of one-legged preening and cleaning on my dock.

He regally alighted three feet from me and then set out to show me his ritual that probably is part of his daily life self-care.

I marveled and sat up tall, as I am now two weeks out of my hip reconstruction and have a new self-care ritual.

Not the one I had most of my life, a new one. 

It is a new normal.

It is a chance to integrate a new body part into my beloved best friend that I have taken good care of all my life.

So once again I say YES to life. I say YES to choosing to have a total hip replacement.

Some of you have written to me in response to my blogs, feeling worried, and concerned for me.

But actually I feel like celebrating!

I was scared, but I overcame the fear, by taking a risk to create a healthier future. I said NO to fear and yes to risk and challenge. 

So here I sit typing my observations of my new normal.

I am slower, more awake and aware, and feeling immune to the rush of the outer world. I am happy to be home to reconnect with friends and to have time with my precious daughter and my partner.

All in all, I am here to report my dance is continuing and I am better than ever.

It is a new dance with a new dance partner — my body — but she is still my best friend. We are simply learning a new rhythm and some new steps. 

Is my leg stiff? Yes.

Do I need to build strength? Yes.

Do I feel encouraged and enlivened by the fact that I listen well and rest when I need to?

Yes.

So, all in all, I am not in fear. 

I am mostly in GRATITUDE. I am in awe that after two weeks my body is accepting this new way of being and we are co-creating a new series of moves.

I am not worried that this might take a while since I have the rest of my life to get better and better.

Thanks to all who are writing. It brings joy to my heart to connect and feel our relationships. If you do not write that’s fine too, BUT if you want to be in dialogue, just say hi.

Blessings to you in all your steps. 

With appreciation,

Janice

A New Body Dialogue

I saw a doctor three years ago, and, after hearing my symptoms and taking an X-ray, she said, “One day you might need a hip replacement.”

With absolute certainty, I said that I would never need a hip replacement. I believed I could manage the pain and work to correct the problem.

I said NEVER. I will never have a hip replacement.

So how is it, then, that on January 10, 2020, I will have surgery? How did that happen? What made me decide the time had come to get the surgery and move on?

“Never” is a curious word. 

How can you be so certain of something and then life actually makes you change your mind?

I used to come to Florida to visit my mom. She suggested I consider moving here one day. I said, “REST assured, Mom . . .  I will never live in Florida.” Yet here I am. I came to visit in 2005, and now I live here permanently. HOW did that NEVER become NOW?

I never believed my hip would become so bad that walking in the park with my daughter would be so hard that when my friend suggested surgery something in me said, “Maybe I need to consider that choice.”

I never thought I would need a car service to take my grandkids to the nearest playground to their home in Safed. 

But after talking to my friends who had the surgery, I realized that the quality of my life and how much I can move with ease was very important to me.

In fact, since I have made the decision, many layers of healing have already begun.

Because I promised myself I would never do this surgery and have now changed my mind, I have had to examine what had previously kept me from considering it.

Was it simply fear that, as bad as the pain was, the risk of putting my body in someone else’s care and hands was too risky?

Was it simply that I hate hospitals and have done my best to stay away from them?

Was it that the fear of being dependent on others during recovery and having to take the time to repair my body from something so invasive was inconceivable?

I think all these factors have presented themselves to me.

Just today I saw a man with a walker. I see that and my mind says, “What if something goes wrong and my surgeon has a bad day”?

These worries are keeping me up at night.

I wake up in a sweat,

After all, I am a dancer. My body is my best friend.

She’s been my closest ally all my life.

My body is the source of pleasure. How is it that recently she is also the source of throbbing pain?

It’s not just the insult of aging.

It’s the attachment I have to be the best, healthiest, most body-smart 69 year old around. So much pride and hubris wrapped up in being the teacher who can heal herself; having to always know more than others.

After all, I started dancing when I was three years old. I have been working with my body and training her for as long as I can remember.

So it is with that attitude that I have embarked on this healing journey.

I am looking at what I have carried in this hip. What is the story that goes with having a hip and back that makes walking so hard? What is it to go deep into the healing of my whole pelvis and perhaps revisit my hysterectomy? I am quite certain that I actually never did the emotional work necessary for clearing the energy that was stuck as a result of that surgery.

So here I am, two weeks out, and I find myself in daily dialogue with this hip.

I am facing ancestral healing that is required on both sides of the female line in my pelvis, and now I am facing the discipline I need (and that I avoid) to be quiet and contemplative so I can be a partner in my healing with my surgeon.

I write this blog as a way to introduce this new BODY DIALOGUE that I have avoided and hoped would never be my story.

And here it is.

If you can relate to my story, I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks for listening,

Janice

Moving from Grief to Gratitude

Dear friends,

I was so thrilled to receive your responses to my last blog post, Improvisation: Building Resilience. Thank you to all those who wrote to tell me that they received value from my insights and reflections. It means so much to know that these blogs are helpful to some of you out there.

This post has a different emphasis. This post has a practical approach. I want to offer you a recording of a movement practice I taught this fall in the improvisation workshop that I co-taught with Judy Greenwald and Madelyn Sovern. I am offering it to you so you can have an experience of a Body Dialogue practice, whether you are in Central Florida and can join us at the Atlantic Center in New Smyrna Beach for the Grief to Gratitude workshop on December 7th, or if you are in your living room.

My observation is that no matter who we are or what we do, we need time to slow down these days and pay attention to our inner dialogue with our body and our thought patterns. We are moving so fast with so much distraction at every moment that I find it a useful practice to get down onto the floor and drop our attention out of our head and into our bones.

Simply giving over to gravity and finding time to open to a deeper breath can alter how we feel, think and act.

This session will provide you with an opportunity to drop deeply into the weight of your bones, to slow down and connect more deeply with your breathing patterns and restrictions, and begin to listen to your inner body dialogue.

My hope is that while you explore this technique you will feel restored and  rejuvenated — more connected to yourself and your body. If you take the time, it will actually allow you to listen to those symptoms that might be showing up as aches and pains. Most likely, this practice will connect you to some held emotions that have been pushed down.  You might meet some fear, sadness, or grief.

In the safety of your home you can let my voice guide you toward a deeper communion with your inner world.

I like to finish my practice session with a practice of gratitude.

Gratitude for giving myself the gift of time. 

Gratitude for all that is good in my life.

Gratitude for those I love.

Gratitude for waking up and being able to simply BE, and feel my whole-hearted connection to my life force 

Gratitude to my breath and bones as they help me to release any fear, grief, or any feelings that might be restricting my freedom and flow in life

Body Dialogue requires slowing down. It does not require a lot of time, but it does require the decision to stop and say yes to your self care.

In this process, your body may reveal to you secrets that will make your life richer, fuller and more vital.

Try this practice. I invite you to do this in any way that feels right for you. If you cannot do it all, try a part of it. Invite a friend to do it with you. We all need to drop deeper into our presence so we can bring what is best in us forward.

With grace and love,

Janice

 

Improvisation: Building Resilience

IMG_6752Improvisation is something we do from the minute we are born.

We do not need to think. We experiment, play, move, breathe, make sounds. It is a process of becoming human.

Without it we would not know how to walk, talk, or eat. Our ability to function as part of the human species depends on it.

Our brain’s plasticity depends on it.

The recognition of our mother’s face, the sound of our parents’ voices, depends on it.

In fact, our entire childhood depends on improvisation.

So what happened to that skill we had practiced so well as children?.

 

This question has been with me these past forty years since, as a young dancer, my greatest joy came from improvisation.

For many of us, schooling and socialization interrupted our ability to play and be spontaneous. Schooling is often about learning how to pay attention to others, how to conform, and how to get the right answers. It’s not about our inner world and imagination.

Some of us were lucky and kept our inner child alive by doing art, dance, music, but all  of those forms can also shut down the playful spirit in us when we start looking for approval, applause and acclaim.

In fact I fear that we lose practice listening to our inner lives and to our symbols and metaphors because we are not encouraged to explore our imagination in school.

I was exceptionally lucky because I sought teachers who cherish imagination and the inner world. Richard Lewis and his Touchstone Center for Children in New York City offered one such opportunity.  In 1969, I met this man who became my mentor. With him, I worked with young children, and they validated my joy in play and going into the unknown.

These are skills I honed. I believe transitions in life require us to learn to make time for reclaiming play, joy, and delight.

To learn to be resilient as we age, we’re required to be more trusting of our inner processes and our inner truths.

We’re required to learn how to find our center—how to breathe and move from that place.

So how do we go about this reclaiming work? Just as we did in childhood.

We need to practice skills that we once had mastery over but might have given up to the collective culture idea of socialization.

Some of the greatest artists, visionaries, and inventors have to rely on these skills.

We need to practice giving up approval. Not needing acclaim or applause.

We need to remember that joy of stepping into a moment as if it has no consequence.  We can hear new desires and experiment with letting our spirits soar and hearts expand,

We need to delight in what we find is possible to create from moment to moment. We need to release control of the outcome.

For me, improvisation starts with how I prepare my day, with how I move into time and space.

It involves choosing with whom I spend time and how I prioritize my activities,

When I get so stuck in routine or perfectionism, I feel my presence is dimmed and my joy restricted.

I need to make time for play and allow time to unfold.

Reflecting on Chronic Caregiving

IMG_1480 2I have been really tired these past few months and have had a hard time sleeping. When I went to see a healer, he told me I am seriously depleted. He said my heart meridian is working 100 times more than the capacity my body can support, and 200 times what it’s meant to. What a metaphor to hear, that my heart is overworking!

It seems I care for myself quite well, so how is this possible?

What I have been realizing is that I may be a chronic caregiver. I love being there for my friends, family and colleagues. When there is no opportunity for caregiving, I create one.

I have been looking at the pattern of chronic caregiving to examine how this kind of addiction gets set up.

I am noticing the following thought patterns:

1. I am deeply disturbed by the state of the world and I want to contribute to healing those who are suffering.
2. As teacher of Body Dialogue and a healing professional doesn’t it makes sense that now is the time to get to work?
3. I know that healing is a partnership, but what if everyone is too busy to take the time to breathe and create a better self-care practice? Does it become my job to do it for them?
4. Surely, if I give more love won’t I get more love in return? Isn’t it true that if I am a good person I will attract good people to me?

What is the motivation behind chronic caregiving? What are the ways this pattern gets set up? For me, this started in my early family life. Being the youngest child in a family of trauma survivors meant that in order to be taken care of and seen, I needed to be taking care of others. This behavior was set up so young that I wasn’t aware of the destructive aspect of it until I started having serious health problems. Time and again, healers would point out to me that continuing this behavior could result in an autoimmune disease.

On the one hand, we all need to be cared for. On the other hand, the care we each need is soul love. And this kind of love is rooted in our early experience with our mothers. The quality of energy we seek is a nourishment from the deep feminine. If we were deprived of nourishment in our earliest days, we will continually compensate by looking outside ourselves to get filled up and replenished.

In the collective, there is a great emphasis on self reliance and achievement that will never replenish us. We will continue to feel depleted. And I believe it is for this reason that we don’t know how to care for our bodies or to care for our mother earth. Only when we respect and honor the archetypal and personal mother, can we heal from this patriarchal wound.

How can we shower every nook and cranny of our soul with love and compassion? I believe this work can begin by recognizing our individual grief and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable enough to feel what is really happening inside. Only then can we become our own caregiver.

This piece of Erin’s expresses it so well…

Grief

As delicate as
The wings of a butterfly
A spider’s web
The surface of a calm pond…
The center of Grief
How do you reach down
And touch something
So fragile
So fleeting
So far away
Deep inside of me
How do I get there
And if I could reach
How do I put my finger on it
Without destroying the rest
Of my world
Would it all come crumbling down
On top of me
Or would I be
Lifted up
To a Higher place
Above such
Painful emotions
As Grief
What if, at the very Core,
Center of our Grief
There is
Absolute peace
What if, by touching our Grief,
We can change it
Into something beautiful
Something we can sit with
And admire
And give Gratitude for
What if we each tried
To reach that deep inside

The Wolf

 Dear circle,

In my work, people often come to me with a crippling physical problem and a serious diagnosis from the doctor. Although I completely believe the physical problem is real and debilitating, I’ve found there is also almost always an emotional component lying beneath the physical distress. If you are reading this, and your body is showing up with symptoms that are asking for help, ask your deeper wisdom,

“Is the pain serving me in some way?”

In Erin’s case, the Wolf she describes in the piece below is a persona that’s hard for her to embody in her daily life. She is not comfortable being that fierce. However, the fierceness that comes with her chronic pain creates safety for her, and allows her to set boundaries in a way that would otherwise be difficult for her.  She needs the Wolf to keep her safe. To give up her pain would give up her protector, her safety.

The Wolf

The WolfWithout my Pain, the power of a fierce wolf would be gone from my side. She has been my most faithful companion. She keeps me ever alert to potential pitfalls. She protects me from risks that could intensify the pain. She keeps others a safe distance from me. Only those willing to befriend her can come close. Yet this has also made me lonely.

She taught me how to howl in anguish, when it’s just us and the moon. She shepherds me in the wilderness of grief.  If I try to stray, she is quick to nip me back into my boundaries. She keeps me fearful of stepping outside of that familiar territory. And yet I yearn to, gazing longingly at that unknown, expansive world outside this hemmed in space.

So perhaps who I would be without the Pain, is an explorer, a traveler, a risk-taker, led by Passion rather than bound by Pain. I have discovered, in brief moments of freedom from Pain, that Passion and Pleasure are companions that empower me, rather than enslave me. Through Pleasure I can open channels of energy, I can connect without being encumbered, and I can be seen. People would see me first, not the wolf.

-Erin Panzella, Body Dialogue student

A Mosaic For Modern Times

Dear friends,

I am thrilled to be sharing Erin’s writings with you all. So many of you have expressed appreciation of her deep wisdom and her ability to express her process with the work with such clarity and depth. We continue here with a piece she wrote after one of her sessions. Before the session, she shared a poem with me about her life feeling like a mosaic with broken shards of glass. Here she reframes that image and it reflects her ability to integrate her illness story in a new way. I offer this to you all as a reflection of Erin’s deep commitment to her own healing.

Please continue to share your thoughts with us,
Janice

 

Through Body Dialogue, I was finally able to gain insight on how to bring grace to my own pain and to recreate a new mosaic. When I began working with Janice, I saw my identity as being made up of three interlocking circles— My Illness Story, My Culture Story, and My Career Story.  I pictured them as three intricately painted serving plates, because my identity had always been about serving. I realized the key to making a new mosaic of my identity was to smash these plates, by challenging the narratives I’ve been told and rewriting my own stories. Then I will arrange the pieces into a bowl. A sacred container. Able to receive and not just give.

Janice’s instructions in my private sessions help me begin to cast the mold for my bowl. “Lie on your back and feel the weight of your skull, your sternum, and your sacrum. Drop your skull, your sternum, and your sacrum into the floor.” When I allow my breath to move through me like this, I notice how much softer the shape of my spine becomes. There are curves, like a bowl, instead of the flat rigidity of a plate. My spine feels held, like I am cradled just perfectly. This feeling invites the breath into my lungs, and now I know it is safe. Safe to be in my body. Safe for my mind, heart and guts to come home, to be truly present and integrated into a whole body. The weight of my skull invites my mind to be present in my body. The weight of my sternum lets my heart know it’s safe to open and expand. The weight of my sacrum rocking on the floor massages my guts into calm. I am no longer broken shards of a disjointed body. I am a whole vessel now, able to receive.

-Erin Panzella, Body Dialogue student

The Healing Power of Metaphor

IMG_4368This piece is a continuation of Erin’s writing about our work together. In one of her early sessions, she received an image  that she describes below as a pinball machine. I remembered Marion Woodman, my teacher in BodySoul Rhythms, telling us that when a person receives an image born out of their felt experience, that image can shift the trauma living in the body. Her body was talking to her through this waking dream image.

 

 

 Disabling the Pinballs

I envision the multiple episodes of trauma and chronic pain I have experienced as rogue pinballs that have been set loose within my body.  Every muscle, joint and nerve they hit recoils in shock, and forgets how to function properly. Cells bundle together to “guard” the afflicted areas, but in doing so, they prevent healing.  Other muscles try to take over functions they were not designed for. And the mere act of holding myself upright becomes exhausting. So much energy wasted on trying to block the pinballs and drag my body along through the damage…

But now I know there is a better way.  Unplug the pinball machine. This first requires unplugging the mind from all external distractions and solely focusing on the lights, bells, and whistles on the inside, set off by the rogue pinballs.  Then gently tell the muscles, “It doesn’t have to be this way. You can all return to the jobs you were meant for. You have the wisdom. You have the power to heal and strengthen. You can stop setting off alarms.  Just disable the pinballs.”

And for this part, we need the breath.  The breath can unplug the pinball machine.  It can silence the ruckus inside. Send the breath. Send strength. Feel all of the interfering shields come down. Feel the tightness fall away.  Allow the inhale to reel in the cord to the pinball machine, and the exhale to unplug the power. And now the power is not held by dysfunctional habits born of chaos.  Now the power is in your breath.

-Erin Panzella

What can you do to awaken your inner dream language?

Here is a practice to do at home:

Lie down on the floor.

Take a baseline of what your breathing is telling you in this moment.

Notice the places in your body where you are holding tension and feeling pain or discomfort.

Ask yourself the question “Can I let go, and sink into the floor, inviting my bones to be heavy, my joints to release, and ask my mind to let go of judgment?”

Start to slowly release the breath through humming.

It requires very little effort.

Imagine that this hum is traveling through your body like a gentle soft touch, filled with compassion and loving kindness.

Slowly open your mouth and with gentle vowel sounds, let the air pass through your lips without effort and continue to exhale.

Give yourself some time, perhaps a few minutes, to explore micro-movements

You do not have to fight to find it.

Just accept where you are and go from there.

Before you get up to continue your day, notice if any images come to mind, any sensations, any colors.

Has your energy shifted? Do you feel a little softer and more present in the world?

 

Opening to a New Life

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For many of us, this super moon marked a time of huge energy shifts, and releasing old stories that no longer serve us. Releasing those stories and opening up to a new life is a death/rebirth process. It requires imagination to envision what is possible. It also requires a willingness to have a new experience. Through the work of Body Dialogue,
Erin Panzella was able to imagine and create a new story.
My relationship with Erin, my student in Body Dialogue, exemplifies the power of finding one’s metaphor to embark on such a healing journey. When Erin came to me, I intuitively knew that unless we found the root of her story in her body, she would continue to carry the pain that had been her identity since her childhood.

Below is an introduction to Erin, who will be sharing her story throughout several blog
posts to come.

 

My name is Erin Panzella. I have been a student of Janice’s for the past four years. My
journey with chronic pain began as a child with undiagnosed gastrointestinal disorders,
and has continued on in my adult life due to a traumatic back injury that resulted in
spinal fusion surgery. When I finally felt recovered from the surgery, I suffered a car
accident which sent me into a tailspin of pain.

When I first met Janice, it seemed I had already exhausted all other modalities of getting
out of pain. I felt completely hopeless, yet also cracked wide open. This state of
vulnerability meant I was receptive to a new process. Janice understood that my trauma
was more than just the symptoms I displayed. Her goal was to go underneath the pain
and listen to the messages it was speaking. This helped me to shift my focus from trying
to “fix” myself to trying to understand how the pain and fear were consuming my
identity. This process required trust and vulnerability that were first cultivated through
my participation in a couple of retreats lead by Janice. During my first Body Dialogue
session, the following images came to me. The River became a metaphor for my healing…

The River

Artwork by Janice Stieber-Rous

Artwork by Janice Stieber-Rous

I’ve been crushed under the weight of generations
Worth of Shame, Doubt, and the Burden of
Being a woman,
A lesser creature,
Only worthy of whatever
Men are willing to give.
I’ve been striving so hard
To carry this load
That my bones have contorted
And my muscles have knotted themselves
And I’m so acutely aware
Of the Pain,
That I can’t even begin to imagine
Who I am without it
Until someone said,
“Here, let me…”
Hands loosening my knots
Breath resetting my bones.
I was finally able to recall
A time that was absolutely mine…
Splashing in The Little Colorado River,
With my friend who has always been
There was no past
No future
No disappointment
No expectations-
Just bliss, clean and free
And so the hands help me
Ease into the river
Where I expel
The Pain and Shame from my body,
The water carrying it all
Out and away
I release, exhale
And hold the image of a setting desert sun
As the reference point for my new center