Mary Oliver Poem
Some months ago, in our Interdisciplinary Team Meeting at Community Health and Counseling Services Hospice, where I work as Spiritual Advisor, I had occasion to read one of famed and beloved poet Mary Oliver's poems. I think experiencing this poem has the ability to bring us down to where each of us can find our inner roots to the dark Earth. . . to that place within where all that that is raw and real in us meets our deepest sense of safety. It is a rare poet who can do a thing like this. Here is her poem:
In Blackwater Woods by Mary Oliver
Look, the trees
their own bodies
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
the long tapers
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders
of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is
I have ever learned
in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
Any meditation mentioned on this site can be easily accessed on the MEDITATIONS page, and/or you can access individual meditations with Maya where they are posted here on the BLOG page. Below is the longer version of the meditation presented in the previous post. I advise trying that one first, but as always, trust your intuition and do what feels right for you!
The Container Meditation with Maya - longer version (8:14)
This Somatic Safety meditation is a longer version of the previous Container exercise. It includes more physical movements that promote a sense of connection to the body, deep CONTAINMENT, and self-regulation in times of stress, anxiety, and both acute and chronic trauma processing. Use this when you wish to reconnect to your inner-self, regather your sense of presence, or simply calm your being as you prepare for light rest or deep sleep. (Or share with a loved one, friend, patient or client who might benefit!)
Those of you who know my work are well familiar with my ongoing lifting-up of SOMATIC exercises and meditations. (Somatic - Relating to the body, specifically as distinct from the mind) The reason I am so fond of such practices is that they are a safe, easy-to-learn and share, and direct way to move us out of both acute and chronic trauma responses. They are useful when dealing with current, present moments of intense stress - and also in beginning to mitigate the effects of long-term traumatic injury.
In the late 1070's, Peter Levine, PhD, (You can learn about Dr. Levine HERE) developed and began sharing widely his research on use of somatic exercises for managing intense emotional experience. It had been known for some time that while traditional "talk therapy" was helpful in offering people cognitive awareness of their situation, it often had little or no effect on their emotional and physical sense of well-being. In trauma, our sense of safety is lost as our body/heart/mind/spirit is overwhelmed internally and we are unable to cope. We trauma survivors often separate from our bodies as a way of surviving the intensity of what we are unable to process. Using somatic, soothing exercises is a way for our traumatized selves to begin to reconnect to a sense of safety. THE "SURVIVAL" BRAIN SPEAKS THE LANGUAGE OF SENSATION. It is through sensation that we may re-claim ourselves and activate our natural self-regulating systems.
Bessel Van der Kolk, in his classic "The Body Keeps The Score; Brain, Mind and Body in The Healing of Trauma" Says:
"In our studies we keep seeing how difficult it is for traumatized people to feel completely relaxed and physically safe in their bodies. We measure our subjects’ by placing tiny monitors on their arms during shavasana, the pose at the end of most [yoga] classes during which practitioners lie face up, palms up, arms and legs relaxed. Instead of relaxation we picked up too much muscle activity to get a clear signal. Rather than going into a state of quiet repose, our students’ muscles often continue to prepare them to fight unseen enemies. A major challenge in recovering from trauma remains being able to achieve a state of total relaxation and safe surrender.”
“Traumatized people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies: The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and, in an attempt to control these processes, they often become expert at ignoring their gut feelings and in numbing awareness of what is played out inside. They learn to hide from them selves.” (p.97)”
Somatic exercises offer a way to reconnect with those lost pieces of ourselves.
While I know literally hundreds of somatic exercises - from simple to complex, from whole body to small movements - probably the simplest to share and one of the quickest to have effect in any traumatic or high stress situation is one we will name "The Container". it is also accessible to most bed-bound people, and thus can be a comfort to people as they traverse the often fearful moments associated with end-of-life transitions.
You can read the instructions below and give this practice a try, or, if you prefer the calming effect of closing your eyes and being guided, you can go to the MEDITATIONS page and listen as I talk you through it. (Look for title "The Container")
1. Settle into or onto whatever surface supports you. (Floor, bed, chair, sofa, subway seat. . .)
2. Focus for a moment on the sensation of the places your body touches what supports you (floor, chair etc). Notice where your bones are heavy as they rest down onto or into the surface. Notice the gentle weight of your flesh as it settles toward the source of gravity.
3. Gently lower or close your eyes or close them if you are comfortable doing so.
4. Now, place your right hand under your left armpit, on the side of your body where your heart beats. Feel, with your hand, any pulse that might be palpable there.
5. Next, place your left hand on your right shoulder. Again, feel the warmth and shape of your shoulder under your palm and fingers.
6. Feel now with the left side of your chest, the warmth (or coolness) of your hand snugly and gently resting there. Feel also the warmth and pressure of the hand on your right shoulder.
The right hand, connected to the left/linear thought and action-based side of the brain, comfortably CONTAINED under your armpit, signaling to that "thinking brain" that it may rest for a moment and be still in the SENSATION of containment.
The left hand, connected to the calming, expansive right side of the brain, offering the universal symbol of "All will be well" - a touch on the shoulder.
Really focus on the PHYSICAL SENSATIONS of CONTAINMENT.
7. Notice if, perhaps, you feel a yawn, a sigh, a shake or stomach gurgling, or slowing of the breath; these are all signs that your system is regulating. . .
In trauma or stress, we often become disembodied. Containing and feeling the body helps the brain re-find our bodies. This will always feel like relief.
Again, THE "SURVIVAL" BRAIN SPEAKS THE LANGUAGE OF SENSATION. Focusing on sensation in the body allows enough safety (sometimes it is only a tiny drop of safety at first) that we can cope with the emotions or situations we are faced with.
8. Stay in this position of containment, rest and safety as long as you need to, and return to it whenever you feel yourself disconnecting from your body, or feeling spacey, emotionally or mentally overloaded or simply need to recollect yourself.
You can listen to this meditation or an extended version with more physical actions on the MEDITATIONS page.
Inner Safety and Deepest Self-Connection to you and yours,
Some time ago, I was invited by the wonderful Rev. Margaret Beckman, current minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Castine, ME, to offer a sermon at her church. Built in 1791, the UU church of Castine is a gorgeous piece of Castine's architectural history, and the congregation Rev. Margaret leads there is a delightful community of folks committed to doing the work of making the world a better place.
In my sermon, I explore the need for self-care, and some of the newer information on the importance of caring for the heart, via the experience of gratitude, as a gateway to overall well-being. Gratitude, it turns out, is now recognized by science as a pivotal - and useful - quick fix for moments of harmful stress and anxiety. If you are curious to read my sermon, you may find it here:
THE POWER OF THE SCIENCE OF GRATITUDE
August 14th, 2022
Invitation to Play
There is a poem called WARNING, by jenny Joseph.
(You can read it HERE)
In her fairly well-known piece, Joseph speaks of how, when she is "old", she will wear purple and a red hat that clashes... and do all manner of other things outside of normally accepted behavior. Finally, she decides that perhaps it would be best if she practiced some of these things BEFORE she is old. . . giving us each a reminder - and perhaps permission, if we are in need of such a thing - to find our own way of 'wearing purple'.
I piggy-back Joseph's reminder now, and invite YOU to be present to your own heart's less-usual desires and see if there is a way - maybe just ONE for today - that you might allow your most free and authentic self some space to live, and act as if the world does not care, or, better yet, as if YOU do not care what the world thinks.
There is power and magic in allowing ourselves freedom to be as we truly are. (And better yet, it can be contagious!)
Take the risk - even a small one - and see how your heart feels when you
ALLOW IT TO BE and LIVE, uncensored.
Blessings upon your Journey.
Rev. Maya Massar