Body World

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There it was, standing before me, still and lifeless yet pulsing and glowing with the life energy that it once embodied. Brain, spinal cord, brachial branches spreading out across the shoulder girdle, reaching down the arms into hands. The nerves of the torso reaching and spreading across the chest, the back and abdomen.

And then Sciatic Nerve, branching off the spinal cord where it would have passed the sacrum. It was thick and strong and vital-looking, a twin on each side branching into rivulets and streams down both legs and into the feet where it touched and met with the ground.

“Hello,” I said, and the tears pulsed down my cheeks.

“Hello,” Sciatic Nerve pulsed back. Old, intimate friends meeting face to face for the first time.

We’d encountered each other many times a day for the past 20 years. Me prodding and coaxing. Sciatic Nerve sometimes yielding, allowing itself to be soothed and relieved. Sometimes not. Always there for me, waiting in its bed of muscle, blood, and bone beneath the skin’s surface.

You see, I’m a massage therapist. Working with the unseeable pains of the body is what I do. Sometimes the pain is emotional. Sometimes it’s physical. Either way, Sciatic Nerve is the source of much of it.

We have a regular conversation, Sciatic Nerve and I. Silently, in my head, and led by my hands, forearms, and fingers. We talk, cajole, and coax. An ongoing conversation. A friendship. Life-long companions.

My daughters, Marleigh and Delaney, and I had flown to Amsterdam for this experience. To experience the Body World’s Happiness Project exhibit. A six story museum in the heart of Amsterdam, my favorite city, exhibiting, well, real dead bodies. I know, it sounds weird. Crazy. Maybe gross. But these bodies, pristinely preserved and dissected into various organ systems and posed in motion and action are a work of genius and an absolute beauty to behold. To see the body from the inside out was, for me, magic.

An absolute joy.

When I see a person, I see the form of the their muscle and tissues through their clothing and through their skin. It’s not something I talk about because, not surprisingly, it tends to make people self-conscious. I also wonder at the function of their heart, their lungs, (and my own as well) as I see their chests and stomachs rise and fall with their breaths.

I am amazed each day by the wonders of our bodies: the growth of hair and nails, the blossoming of a bruise through its rainbow of colors, the healing and re-sealing of damaged skin, the coordinated movement of torso and limbs to stand, walk, run, dance; our ability to reach and grasp, to touch and feel the roughness of sandpaper, the coolness of water, the gentle warmth of a lover; I wonder at the formation of words on our tongues, our incomprehensible ability to create, comprehend and interpret language, conversation, the written word, art…

I am awed by our form and by what lies beneath our surfaces- the raw, pulsing dynamism that coordinates our existence, our movements, our thoughts, our emotions, our survival, our growth. Scientists can break this down into atoms and formulas.

But to me it’s magic and art. Beauty and wonder. Balance and harmony. When the balance is off there’s dysfunction, pain, illness, disease.

These are things I think about each day. These are the things I imagine, beneath the surface as my hands coax muscles and emotions into a healthier, relaxed place. These are the things I finally saw before my eyes in the Happiness Exhibit.

We were here as a family, celebrating our last summer together before Marleigh’s senior year of high school. It was Marleigh and Delaney’s first trip to Europe in the friendliest of towns- Amsterdam, with its shining canals, its curving cobbled streets and gingerbread architecture. Each day we wandered these lovely streets in search of an exotic lunch, the perfect pastry, Anne Frank, street musicians, a good tattoo shop, a great photo. Perpetually smiling, laughing, and loving each others’ company.

Our family of three. The pride and love I feel when I look at these two amazing young women (my daughters!) overwhelms me. And here we all were together, sharing this experience. They were as excited as I was.

I’d have loved to send a snapshot of us into the distant past. To myself when I first embarked on the trek into single-parenting. I was so scared, terrified even, alone in foreign terrain. Solely responsible for these two brilliant little girls. Could I do them justice? Could I care for them well? The snapshot would have assured me, “Yes, you can do this. Your family will flourish.”

I’ve been pulled to Amsterdam all my life, but it was this exhibit that really yanked us across the ocean and back to this wonderful town for our summer holiday.

So here I was, standing in front of the first exhibit of the Happiness Project in Amsterdam, weeping and conversing with Sciatic Nerve. I felt like Harry Potter chatting with the snake at the zoo then looking around and realizing no one else could hear the snake’s words. It was like that.

“Hello,” I said, “It’s so good to finally see you!”

“Hello,” Sciatic replied.

“Hello, hello, hello,” it echoed and pulsed.

I was filled with its vibrancy, its vitality and its life. I was awed and in love. I stood there weeping with joy simply to be in its visual presence.

I caught up with Marleigh and Delaney a little later.

“Girls,” I said, still wiping at my tears “this is going to take me a really long time. You can head back to the apartment whenever you want. I’m gong to be here a long time I think.”

“We know Mom!” they said. “We love it too. Take your time. We’ll wait for you.”

My two beauties.

They understood. They got it. I hoped for a minute that I was this patient and understanding with them when they were little. Worried that I hadn’t been. Then brushed that away and hugged them. Held them for a minute.

We took our time wandering through the six stories of the exhibit wondering at the beauty and glory and gore of our bodies, in sickness and in health. We each went at our own pace and met-up from time to time to smile, to marvel at something, to share a thought, to nod. We lingered at the gift shop, bought another book on anatomy, and took some pictures.

But before leaving the exhibit, we stole back up the stairs to revisit Sciatic Nerve and say goodbye. And then, of course, we each took our own two home with us.

I’d been back home for a couple of months and shared the story of meeting Sciatic Nerve with many friends. One friend pointed out that in a city of so many Old Masters I was gaga over an anatomy exhibit. And it’s true. Meeting Sciatic Nerve was, for me, greater even than experiencing Van Gogh’s Sunflowers.

Then one Friday night, sitting on my couch watching a documentary on the guru Yoganandya I realized a little more deeply what my experience had been about. Yoganandya said something about our brain and spinal cord being where and how God or the Divine enter our body. And I thought, “Yes. This I know.”

Looking at Sciatic Nerve and the nervous system in Amsterdam, looking at all the exhibits of the body in fact, was for me like looking at the face of God.

How strange it feels to write that. But how simple and true and real. To me the Divine lives in our flesh and bones and echoes in and out of us through our energy. I feel it strongly. Revel in it. Wonder at it. And on that joyful afternoon in Amsterdam, I saw it for the first time. Face to Face.

From the Home Front: Grumpy Pants

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When Delaney (my 14 year old) came downstairs this morning, she was grumbling and fuming.  Soccer pre-season began this week.  So after a summer of sleeping-in, she’s getting up before 7am.  Let’s just say she’s been a little tired in the mornings.  I don’t know about your family, but when the members of my little clan are tired we tend to be a tad grumpy.  Even cranky.  Bristly, perhaps.  Irritable.  Plain Old Angry.  I’ve learned to give my girls a little space when they’re feeling this way.  That’s a little piece of wisdom that didn’t come readily or easily to me.  Because I like to talk things out.  Get to the bottom of things.  Solve problems.  Trouble shoot.  That’s usually a pretty good thing.  But on these grumpy mornings my little interventions seem only to fuel the fires.  And sometimes we’d end up in an argument.  It took a while, but eventually I figured that out.  So while she ranted and fumed, I just made breakfast.  And kept my mouth shut.  Looking up from time to time and nodding to let her know I was listening.  But generally staying out of the way.

While she was sitting across from me sipping her smoothie she grinned and said, “Guess I’m wearing my grumpy pants  today and I’ve got ’em cinched up really tight.”

The storm had passed and the sun was peeking out.  I just love that kid.  Even when she’s wearing her grumpy pants.

 

The Unbearable Severing

2003

2003

 

I was meditating this morning and a favorite scene from a movie slipped into my mind.  The movie is “How to Make an American Quit,” from 1995.  In this particular scene, Ellen Burstyn’s character is relating a tale of love, betrayal, family, and friendship to her twenty-something granddaughter, played by Winona Ryder.  She begins by saying, “When the person you love begins to die, there’s this unbearable……….severing.”  I heard her words in my head.  And the tears began to run down my cheeks, drip off my chin, trickle under my shirt.  You see, it seems I’m experiencing an unbearable severing of my own.  Not the death of a loved one.  But the growing-up and moving-on of my beloveds.

It’s always just been the three of us.   And we’ve always loved it that way.  I’ve experienced and acknowledged the passing of phases, always with a degree of longing, sometimes sadness, but also always welcoming what was developing.  Happy about what was next.  My eighteen-month old draped over my pregnant belly.  The two-year-old rocking the baby’s cradle.  Two small bodies curled in my lap, their curly heads tucked beneath my chin.  The days of painting, drawing, making candles and play dough.  Elbows deep in flour, baking chocolate chip cookies.  Long walks on fall days, chasing milk weed seeds and gathering wooly bears.  Dancing with their long evening shadows and jumping in leaves.  Crawling into my bed for apples and cheese, warm milk with honey, and bed time stories on cold winter nights.  Singing in the car.  Dancing in the dining room.  Painting bedrooms.  Dinner discussions lasting long after the food was eaten.  Soccer games. Friendship struggles. Hair styles and skinny jeans.  Jersey swaps.  Social Studies grades.  Homecoming.  Boyfriends.  Prom.   Friends.

My girls and I are really close.  I think that comes from my not having had a partner in raising them.  In many ways they’ve nurtured me over the years at least as much as I have them.  We’ve been a tight trio.  A force to be reckoned with.  A solid front.  A family.  But this phase is different.  The most challenging for me yet.  Because this is the phase where they become more independent.  Where they draw away.  Where they develop their own lives.  Their own lives away from me.  Independent from me.  And that’s exactly what they should be doing.  It’s healthy.  It’s right.  Not to mention it’s completely necessary, or so I’m told anyway.  But, now more than ever, I want to stop the planet from turning.  I want to stope the clocks.  In fact, I want to turn the clocks back.  I want that 18-month old climbing into my lap with a book.  I want that girl falling asleep on my pillow.  I want that running leap into my arms.  I want the small hands peeling apples next to me.  And the voices asking me questions, and telling me their stories, and needing help with her zipper.  I want the sleep-overs and pancake breakfasts the next morning.  I even want the screaming two-year-old  kicking in a football hold walking through the mall to the car.

I was going to give this post the title “Sweet, Healthy Pain.”  But right now, there’s nothing sweet for me about it.  It just hurts. It feels like a severing.  An unbearable one.  And I know this will pass too.  I know I’ll adjust and simply be happy for all they’re doing.  Because they’re doing everything SO darn well.  They’re such great young women.  But really, that’s what makes this harder.  I miss them.  No, it’s not over yet.  They still have a couple years left of school.  But it’s like that slow tearing-off of the bandage.  They’re not my babies any more.  Not my little girls, either.  And I know this next phase and all that follow will bring multitudes of joys.  I know that with all my being.  But for now I’m just going to feel sad, for a little while at least, and long for what once was.  Maybe even feel a little melodramatic about it.  That’s what they’d tell me, anyway.  That I’m being melodramatic.  Pretty soon I’ll be glad for all this.  My life will take a turn as well.  It’s time for me to do more of my own things.  I don’t know exactly what those “things” are.  But I will.  But for now, I’m just going to feel a little sad, and long for what once was and no longer is.

2013

2013

The White Dove

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When Marleigh and Delaney were small and they asked about death, I would tell them that a person dies when their heart stops beating.  “What then?” they would ask.  “Well,” was my explanation, “then their spirit flies away.  And their body begins turning back into the earth.  But their love always lives on inside of us.”  This satisfied them.   And me also.

John sent me this photo he took earlier today.  He told me that at Ethan’s burial they released a white dove.  Later, when the family and friends had gathered back at home, a white dove flew in and lighted on their roof.

I was awestruck by his words.  I could hear in the few sentences he wrote that the white dove was a powerful messenger for them today, though he didn’t say exactly how.  Did it speak to them of the flying away of the spirit?  Did its return speak of the love that resides in their hearts and that will remain there forever?  Was that dove a messenger to them of love and peace?   To them, was it a symbol of hope and comfort and healing?

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Altered, cont’d

via Pinterest further.yuku.com

via Pinterest
further.yuku.com

 

I’ve been noticing how I have been altered since John’s phone call the other morning.  My feelings of anxiety and apprehension around him have turned to compassion, concern, and support.  We live far removed from each other.  800 miles and many years separate us.  I’ve only met his family once, perhaps twice, and then only briefly.  Our lives have carried on without each other.  And yet, of course, with the news of the death of my former husband’s stepson, the estrangement falls away.  Rightly so.  I want to help.  I can’t begin to imagine what he and his family are experiencing with this tragedy.  They’re living the unthinkable;  the unimaginable.  Every parent’s worst nightmare.  This is their reality now.  And I want to send them support, love, comfort.  Small tokens.  Small, yet I believe that compounded with the hundreds of ways they’re being loved and supported by their family and friends at home it all adds up to something that will help to carry them through this time.  At least that is my wish for them.

Calling hours are this evening from 5-8pm.  We won’t be traveling to West Virginia for the services.  But tonight at 5pm Marleigh, Delaney, and I will be lighting two candles:  one for Ethan, who lost his life on the evening of September 30th, and another for those who love and were loved by him.  We will burn the candles for the duration of tonight’s service.  I invite you to join us in lighting a candle tonight.  In support of John and Susan and their family if you like, or in support of anyone else who is suffering and in great pain.  Please share your stories if you like.  I’m always grateful to hear them, because we’re all in this together, aren’t we.  And when it comes down to it, it’s the love and support we share that  help each other through it all.

Altered

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Tuesday morning I received a call from my former husband.  I noticed how my stomach began slithering in knots and my heart began to race.  Even after 10 years my body still had that immediate visceral response  just seeing John’s name on my ringing phone.  I was sitting in my auto mechanic’s office, waiting for my car to be inspected.  Not the place to talk.  I put my hand over that slithery place in my abdomen, took a deep breath, and smiled.  It’s okay, I thought to myself.  I imagined he wanted to talk about Marleigh and Delaney, as they hadn’t spoken in several months, and I didn’t anticipate it being a particularly pleasant conversation.  I’ll get back to him when I get out of here, I thought.

But the moment I heard his voice in his message, I knew this wasn’t a frustrated or angry call.  I could hear immediately that there would be no riot acts being read. His voice was soft, his words were paced slowly.  He was calling to tell me his stepson had died in an auto accident the night before, and he really needed to talk to his daughters.  Could I help him.

I was sitting in my auto mechanic’s office, amidst a regular day.  Their world had been turned upside down.  Altered indelibly.  Unimaginably.

Phone calls and text messages have filled the quiet spaces of these past two days.  They will continue to do so.  There seems so little I can do, other than send love and support from afar.  Assure John that our daughters are healthy, and happy, and, most importantly, safe.  John’s partner fills my thoughts.  The mother of the young man who died.  I wish her comfort.  Great comfort.  May she be held and cradled.  May she receive and feel great love.  May she feel comfort.

 

Marleigh and Me: A Couple of Tools for Self Help

Barefoot on the Beach.  February (that's right) 2012, Maine

Barefoot on the Beach. February (that’s right) 2012, Maine

So I’ve been clearing the energy at home, and practicing energetic bodywork with Marleigh at least once a day for the better part of a week.  But an important part of healing is having some techniques that you can practice yourself, without the aid or necessity of someone else’s presence.  I taught her a couple simple new tools to help rein herself in when her mind starts darting about in class or anywhere else.

1.  The most simple thing to do is focus on your feet.  It may sound odd to read that, but after a few energetic bodywork sessions, it made sense to Marleigh.  Bring your attention to your feet, put the palms of your hands right on the soles of your feet if you can.  But that’s certainly not always appropriate or possible in school.  So:

2.  Breathe.  Breathe deeply.  Focus on pulling the breath deeply into your stomach.  Then push it all out as far as you can.  Do that for a few cycles.  Now pull the breath down in to your feet.  All the way down to your toes.  And then exhale as though you’re pushing the air out the soles of your feet into the ground.  Repeat.  Again.  Again.  This is a great technique for general calming, but it’s also good to rein in a chattering, scattered mind.

Over the weekend, I was driving Marleigh to a friend’s house. They were going to study for midterm exams which are later this month.  It had been a busy morning and in the car I realized we hadn’t done any energy work.  I was disappointed because I knew it would have been helpful prep for studying.  We talked about that and I said maybe she could practice one of the new self-help techniques.  “I know, Mom,” she said.  “Breathe through my feet.  I did it the other day in Social Studies and it really helped.”   Enough said.

 

Mandy Meyer-Hill

NYS Licensed Massage Therapist

Stairway Healing Arts Center

1 Washington Street
Cambridge, NY  12816
518-265-7889
StairwayHealingArts@gmail.com

 

Disconnecting So That We Can Connect

Some of our devices.

Some of our devices.

We have a rule in our home about cell phones and iPods at the dinner table, or at any meal time.  We leave them behind.  No texting, FaceBooking, Tweeting etc at the table.  Period.  I actually love that these devices help us connect so easily with our friends and clients, but there are certain precious times of day that we need to set them aside and focus on each other.  Our dinner table tends to be pretty raucous, especially considering there are only three of us.  We always sit at a set table and eat together, and my daughters keep me well entertained.  It’s a small ritual, and it’s important to me.  Sometimes we’ll grab the iPhone to Google the answer to a question, but then it’s set aside again.

We also turn off the wi-fi at 9pm. The phones get turned-off then too.  It’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole of the internet or get caught-up in a lengthy texting conversation at night.  And this interferes with sleep and rest.  And that effects health.  So again, we disconnect.  This doesn’t always make me popular in our home, but we all recognize that it’s good for us.

So in the name of connecting with each other, of family,  and also of health we disconnect every day.  How does your family cope with the onslaught of electronic devices and the internet?  Please share.

Mandy Meyer-Hill

NYS Licensed Massage Therapist

Stairway Healing Arts Center

1 Washington Street
Cambridge, NY  12816
518-265-7889
StairwayHealingArts@gmail.com

Thank You, thank you, thank you

Cape Perpetua, OR. Thankful for this great trip and my amazing friend, Patty, in Oregon! Love you, Patts!

Just counting my blessings.  Something I TRY to do every day, not just this honored holiday of giving thanks.  So Thank You.  Thank you to all my wonderful clients, and may I have a positive impact on your health and on your life.  Thank you to anyone and everyone reading this and may I inspire you on some level to take good care of yourself.  Thank you to my beloved daughters, and may I bring you as much joy as you bring me!  Thank you to my extended family and may you feel as loved and supported by me as I’ve been by you.  Thank you to my circle of friends and may we continue to be the family we’ve grown into.  Thank you thank you thank you.  Life is great!

Wishing you peace, joy, comfort, and good health today and always.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and take really good care of yourself.