Making the Invisible, Visible
I went to a BodyMind practitioner the other day. She was as you would expect: gentle and patient; centred and well grounded; non-judgmental and quick to notice any incongruent behavior on my part. It was a satisfying session. When I left I scratched her nose and offered her a carrot. My practitioner, you see, was a horse.
I wasn’t expecting a session when I went out that day. My intent was to interview Carla Webb, a natural horsemanship coach/trainer and wellness coach, who combines her two talents into the relatively new field of Equine Guided Development™ (EGD™).
I arrived at Carla’s farm early that morning with some trepidation. My last experience with horses had found me trotting up a trail in complete mortification: my tube top had vibrated down my nine year old chest and I was at wits end trying to stay on the horse let alone pull the top back up. Moreover, trotting up and down like a Singer sewing machine with a belly full of popcorn is just not pleasant. Add trail-raising dust that clogs your nose, coats your mouth and dries your eyes and monster kamikaze flies to the mix – flies, by the way, you cant swat because you are hanging on for dear life – you get the picture: I hated horseback riding and, by extension, horses. Yes, I had some trepidation.
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The Community Within
My relationship with who I am, is as dynamic and challenging as my relationship with friends and lovers, perhaps more so. I say this because within me lies a community of parts – different aspects of who I am – all with different needs, perspectives and truths. Single parts may overwhelm me and, at other times, compete with one another to be heard but collectively they make up who I am with Self, my internal witness, in leadership.
These parts express themselves in a myriad of ways. For example, parts reflect emotions. Think of all the parts that come into play when your teen-age daughter comes home late one night. Among them may be a furious part that grounds her for two weeks but also a joyous part that is relieved that she is safe and sound. Parts reflect different maturity levels. We all know the part of us that wants to play hooky from work on a sunny day before the responsible part kicks in and reminds us of the bills to be paid. Parts also reflect experiences – like the part that remains in fear of something that happened many years ago regardless of how circumstances have changed and time has passed. Parts are what make us interesting individuals. Our colourful and diverse parts not only make us human but, one could say, populate our internal community.
Parts, however, like members in one’s external community, can be lost. They may become alienated through repression, denial and fear and their relationship to Self – our internal authority – breaks down. We notice this in society when there is increased crime or, on an individual level, depressed mental and physical states. In a functional society, we take notice. We open dialogue with those who have been disenfranchised, listen to their needs; take appropriate action. In time we integrate those who were lost and build a stronger community. When our internal parts become alienated we can follow a similar path and build a stronger sense of Self. How we do this is just as we would in society, we open the doors of communication.
Opening communication with our internal parts is a relatively simple concept. It involves being still with oneself, listening, validating the feelings and, if appropriate, taking action. It is, in many ways, the procedure a loving parent would follow with a small child. For therein lies the truth of the matter: our parts, or at least the disenfranchised ones, tend to be very young.
Internal parts begin developing in our formative years. If we recall the example I used earlier, we had a part that wanted to play hooky and another that felt the load of responsibility. These parts may be reflecting experiences from childhood: the part that yearned to play outside while taking care of younger siblings versus the part that wanted to help/please their overworked parent. If the rewards, back then, for being a caretaker were greater than those garnered by playing outside, i.e. parental praise vs. having fun, the playful part would likely have been put aside. Parts, however, can only be put aside for so long and, similar to children, don’t appreciate it. They want, and rightly so, need attention and, as any parent will attest, an ignored child only finds more ingenious ways to be heard. So with parts. I imagine these parts have been the cause of many a mid-life crisis with the blowing off of the household finances in a splashy red sports car. In more extreme cases, unheard parts can resort to disease to make themselves heard. If we relate this to community issues, unheard society members have been known to resort to crime.
So how do you communicate with these parts? Well, the easiest way is to become aware of how you are feeling at any particular moment. Start off with external physical sensations. Notice the chair you are sitting on and how that feels against your body. Ask that part of your body how if feels to be sitting there. Is it comfortable? Tired? Does it want to move? Notice other external parts while gradually moving inwards to see how it feels inside. Is your throat, belly or chest feeling anything? If they are, what do you notice about that feeling? Does it feel like a rock in the pit of your belly or a fluttering in your chest? Flesh it out. How does your chest feel about fluttering? What’s it like for your stomach to have a rock inside it? Before long, by following your senses and the thread that each question creates, you may have a unique story that reflects, in metaphoric or literal terms, the issue you are currently dealing with.
Let’s go back to our person who had the conflicting parts of playing hooky and being responsible. We may find that she feels the desire to play as a tightness in her throat while the latter part expresses itself as lower back pain. Allowing both the throat and back to tell their story opens communication with these parts. This not only helps the parts come into relationship with Self but may get back to the original issue of not having the space and time to rightfully play. It is like having a community forum where all viewpoints are given space to be heard, bringing clarity, safety and the potential for compromise and new connections. We may decide to go to work today but play all day Saturday instead of cleaning house. With continued listening of these alienated parts they become integrated into the whole and Self takes back leadership. Instead of having a part of you that only yearns to play you have an integrated Self that learns to negotiate the balance of play and work.
Being in community, whether with Self or others, is about relationship: the quality of those relationships directly affecting the strength and integrity of the whole. When we are open and honest with ourselves we bring a presence to our feelings and, by extension, we become a presence in our community.