Monday, January 30, 2012

Cambodia, Day Six. Authoring Personal Safety.

Friday night I enjoyed the last True Body session at the Dream House with the girls from Transitions. It had been a week of transitions for them as they had said goodbye to the women and men from the Engagement trip and one of their fellow house mates who needed more intensive medical support to help stabilize her.

So after the girls showed me some of their slick dance moves, from the traditional Apsara dance to Khmer line dancing to the universal silly girl dance, we settled into our work for the night.

First up, the girls introduced their names and expressed something they hoped for or wished for. They wished to continue their education, to get a job, to be an artist, to see the Americans again, to have a home with a family, to be a good girl.

Then we woke up the energy in our body and then learned more exercises to help us ground, center and orient ourselves to shift how we might be feeling. The girls were amazing in their ability to describe subtle shifts of sensation in their bodies and their emotions. With words, sound effects and gestures, they beautifully illustrated what I so firmly know: when you move in a mindful way and stay connected to what the body is experiencing, you can shift your mental and emotional state. And when this intentional sensing practice becomes habituated, you can change essential patterns that are not serving you.

We moved the girls into a guided visualization. They chose a position for meditation that made THEM most comfortable. Some reclined, some sat against a wall, some held hands with a friend, some had eyes open, some had eyes closed. They recalled their tree from a prior meditation and then added into the image a room of their own.

They designed their room as their own safe space. They could determine the size and the color and the decor. They could decide if they would feel more safe if they were alone or with others.

And then they drew their spaces.

For the first time in a week, there was complete silence in our circle as the Transitions girls worked quietly and intensely on their safe spaces. After they drew, they shared their pictures and their stories. The rooms were adorned with MANY pink accessories. There were often tables or shelves for books. There were many windows to see their tree outside and to be able to feel the breeze and see the fruits of nature.

Many of the girls had their entire families with them. "Happiness" family is the term used to describe intact families. Some of the girls had only one sibling with them. "Just me and my brother." "Just me and my sister."

And some of the girls were explicitly alone. "Just me." They seemed to want to know that this was an okay choice. A nod and a smile for them to say, "Yes. You can make this choice."

In the end we held hands again, connecting to each other and reminding ourselves that once connected, always connected.

I am hopeful that it felt safe. And I am hopeful that it made yet another transition easier.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Cambodia, Day Five. Redefining Trauma.

When I knew I was coming back to work with the Transitions girls, I reached out to the NataRaj Yoga Studio to see if they would be interested in presenting my workshop on Redefining Trauma. NataRaj has a relationship with Transitions via their Krama Yoga NGO and they have helped many girls heal through yoga therapy and teacher training.

With only indirect knowledge of my work, they graciously agreed to host. When I met the founder of the studio, Isabelle Skaburskis, a few days ago it was clear our work had moved into similar territory; the belief that helping students discover the felt sense of their movement and patterns is the key to wellness.

So yesterday, I showed up at NataRaj ready to teach. I worked hard to re-organize the cognitive and experiential information about somatics, trauma and the body, essential neuroscience and the anatomy of wellness from 6 hours of content to 3. I did my best to ground, center and orient myself to greet whomever might appear to join me.

And good thing I did! We had 30 wonderful souls join us on a hot, hot afternoon in Phnom Penh. We got our bolsters and turned on the fans and settled in. As best I could tell, there were movement teachers, NGO workers, trauma survivors and others who were generally interested in the work for personal and/or professional reasons.

The feedback was terrific, both the official kind and the kind I have come to appreciate even more than the words that follow a shared experience. As I presented this often-dense content on a humid rooftop, I was able to see in the earnest and connected postures of men and women from around the world that this work matters. To be able to provide a gateway to the resources that are in our own bodies for healing is a beautiful thing. And I am so grateful to James and Athena Pond at Transitions and the lovely staff at NataRaj studio for allowing me to bring this work to Cambodia.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Cambodia, Day Four, Evening. Growing strong roots.

When we arrived at the Dream House, it was clear that it had been a long week for all of us. The team on the Engagement Trip had had a jam-packed week of time with the girls, time learning about the challenge of fighting sex trafficking in Cambodia, and time taking in the culture and arts of Phnom Penh.

And the girls were alternately revved up and exhausted. Imagine living in a house with 16 other adolescent and teen girls. Imagine that on your best day as a teen. Then imagine that on your worst day, times a thousand, due to the traumas that live in these girls recent memory and in their present bodies.

When we walked in, they were cheerful, sweet, dancing, wide-eyed girls. But the stress of the week and the fact that they were about to say goodbye to the Engagement team they had come to love, was palpable.

So we chose to settle in to a calm and gentle True Body vibe. That's one of the lovely things about the curriculum. It has the capacity to meet a group where they are. Last night, we needed to meet these girls at 80 mph and gently de-accelerate to a humming 15 mph.

We settled into our circle, joined by the lovely Miss Singapore. With the Engagement trip participants, there were 30+ of us. The fantastic Sorida Sbong translated for me.

We settled in to the room with our breath and revisited our feelings, doubly interesting with the sign language echo. We learned a few more. For example, the sign for "inspired" is to rub your hands together, as though you are warming your hands, as though you are excited to begin a new journey or project.

We moved into some easy, seating exercises to ground ourselves (we became enamored with our feet!) and to center ourselves. Then we created a space for meditation.

I reminded the girls that meditation can be done seated or against a wall or with eyes open or eyes closed. And the mind might wander and the body might move and the breath might alter. All these things are perfectly fair game for meditation. The trick is to be aware of these things.

I then led the girls through a guided visualization where they imagined themselves as a tree. With deep roots and tall branches. The rest, once they rooted themselves, was up to them. Was it sunny? Did they have leaves? Were they alone? With other trees? Were children around? Flowers? Fruit?

The girls and guests moved out of the meditation and into self expression by using the True Body Journals to draw the trees they had imagined. Even the trees that were barely discernible in pale yellow colored pencil were lovely.

But the best part yet was when the girls described their trees.

Most every girl related to the strength of the tree, whether she felt it in the present or was hopeful of it in the future. Many felt their roots were growing for the first time because ofTransitions. One girl drew two trees: a small one to show where she used to be and a big tree to show how she would grow. Another girl said the tree represented her personal struggles and she didn't wish to share them with us. Fair enough.

We concluded with rubbing our hands together for inspiration and to bring energy to our hands so we could connect our energies together, hands near hands, in our seated circle. This too was palpable, our connective and collective energy, and I assured the group that once connected, always connected, no matter where we are on the planet.

I hope this was some bit of solace to the girls and the Engagement team as they had to say their tearful goodbyes. Luckily, Lisa and I and a few others get one more night with the girls as we will see them again for a True Body workshop on Sunday.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Cambodia, Day Four, morning.

Just a fast little note to say I LOVE THIS LIFE!

This morning, I took a Pilates class, taught entirely in French (and interpreted in a sort of hybrid yoga/Pilates/cruise ship dance class style) on the roof of a Kundalini yoga studio in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Many years ago, I spent a month in Paris taking yoga at a studio and loved hearing the French/Sanskrit combo. Today, I got to listen to the lullaby of my movement body's native tongue in French.

Cooler still? The people in my class were aware of the workshop I am teaching tomorrow at the NataRaj yoga studio.

And now, time to study up some more for my work with the girls tonight and to get organized to be clear clear clear on my concepts tomorrow. I will have an interpreter so that is a sure fire way to demand succinct clarity of mind and body!

Cambodia, Day Three. Happy vs. Sad.

Last night we accompanied the women (and the one guy, conveniently named Guy- editor's note, one day later. Guy is actually Glen. So much for the convenience I created in my simple mind.) from the Engagement trip to the Dream House where the Transitions girls live. The plan was Pizza Party and Games! The women had all brought things from home to give the girls so each girl got a huge bag stuffed with gifts: art supplies, jewelry, wall stickers, and more. Plus, someone had lugged a TON of arts and crafts supplies to make t-shirts, plus coffee table books and magazines and more. If you have ever travelled internationally, you know what a heroic (and expensive) effort it is to carry loads of heavy baggage. These ladies brought it!

After the gifts were given, the pizza party began. Also on the table with the boxes and boxes of pretty darn good pizza was a tray of bugs to eat. Yes. You read that right. Bugs. I tried the bug that was not a cockroach. Many of the other ladies ate the cockroaches, after they had been peeled, of course. When in Rome ...

Post-pizza we played games. Standing up and/or sitting down to someone's command which was equally hard when the instruction was in Khmer or English.

After that, t-shirt designing commenced. There were three Angry Birds t-shirt designs and my favorite was by Pirum, cutest boy ever in the history of boys. He is the 9 year old who is fostered by the Transitions founders and staff. Pirum carefully wrote out three letters in fat t-shirt ink on his t-shirt. G. A. P. What else would you put on a t-shirt? Angry Birds of course.

The girls were in fine spirits last night and the house was full of love and laughter. The one exception was one of the newest girls who is really, really struggling. She is dealing with addiction issues and severe trauma from a sickeningly young age. She looks to be no older than 9 or 10 but could be in her teens. It is really hard to tell.

Two nights ago, she was in great spirits. It would have been hard to know that it was this girl who they feared might steal a pen to self harm.

Last night, she started out sad. She showed me the sign language gesture for sad, just in case I couldn't tell from her tears and broken posture. After some food and sugar and time, she lightened and brightened. She sat between Lisa and me and opened her gift bag. She returned to her silly bright self and it was a relief.

It is always easier to watch a smiling girl than a sad one. And it is easy to believe that the exterior expression matches the internal landscape.

But when your adolescent body is still craving crystal meth, when you have been sexually abused every single day since the age of 5, how happy can you really be? How many times was she forced to smile to weather the storm of her pedophile abusers?

It is so hard to put these facts together when you are sharing a space with these children, when you watch them earnestly squiggle a flower or a smiley face on a crisp white t-shirt.

You just have to believe in the Transitions motto: Freedom Begins with a Dream. And you have to keep showing up and reminding these girls they matter.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Cambodia, Day Two.

Lovely Lisa Stegman clobbered her baby toe on her first day here so we spent the afternoon yesterday at the SOS Emergency Clinic in Phnom Penh getting her checked out. Besides the "broken!" diagnosis, the experience was terrific. So if you are ever in Phnom Penh and feeling unwell, remember SOS.

So we took the doctor's advice (no walking) to mean "more massage." I am not sure if her toe got better but our jet lagged bodies were mucho appreciative.

At 6 pm, we met up with the women from Portland, Denver, and Cincinnati who have come to Cambodia to spend more time getting to know the work of Transitions via an Engagement trip. And all of us took the mini bus to spend some True Body time with the girls.

For me, it was a stunning experience to walk in the door and see the shining and welcoming faces of about 8 girls I worked with last year. To hear my name shouted out, "Stacy!" and to feel the joyous reconnection with the girls and the staff was a show stopper.

Over the next two hours, I got to watch how far many of these girls have come. Girls who were nearly mute and highly defended a year ago are the clear leaders of the house now. In contrast, there are 8 new girls in the home, many of them deeply troubled and in pain from both trauma and/or addiction.

It is not surprising that they suffer so but it is a comfort to know what growth awaits them. I think in large part that is my job: to hold the space for them with the firm conviction that they are just around the corner from rediscovering (or discovering) their inner girl - the intrepid and bold and brave and hilarious and smart creatures they are. My job is to see it in them, the girl they cannot yet know.

So we set off on our agenda of exploration and fun. The room was packed with women from the U.S. and Cambodian girls. We were so lucky to have Kristin Schultz with us from Portland. She is a sign language interpreter and it was a WONDERFUL discovery for the True Body Project to work with her.

The girls worked to introduce themselves by identifying something they are and something they feel. So for example, "I am a girl and I am happy" was a very popular choice. Kristin showed us the sign for these and we each worked to do them. Creating physical gestures around feelings was a very powerful notion for me. As Kristin also pointed out, it gave us a universal language that didn't require a translator. We were unified in showing each other sadness and happiness and gratitude.

As the evening progressed, as the movement created an opening for bravery, the girls wanted to know more.

How do I show pain?
How do I show loneliness?
How do I show homesick?
How do I show hurting?

Good questions, eh?

In the end, the True Body curriculum creates the space for these moments. The activities are tools to create enough space and time for the real work to unfold. The real work has far less to do with what I have to offer and everything to do with what the girls need to know and process to heal.

Some of the girls have come such a long way and some of them have a terrifyingly long way to go. But luckily, James and Athena Pond and their magnificent staff, board and friends are committed in a way that is hard to fathom. They are committed deeply, every moment, for the long haul.

It is an inspiration like no other.

And I am so grateful for the opportunity to watch and learn from people who dig in and stay. Steadfast and faithful.

That is the real magic. That is the real reason these girls heal.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Cambodia, Day One.

The Year of the Dragon, the Chinese year 4710, kicked off on January 23, 2012. Coincidentally my birthday is the same day and I arrived in Asia that day, with seconds to spare. Legend has it that long ago Buddha asked all the animals to meet him on Chinese New Year. Twelve of them came and Buddha named a year after each. Dragons are innovative and passionate. Oxen, like me, are stable and persevering (I was clearly not acting very oxen like in the 80s, just sayin.')

I am traveling with the lovely Lisa Stegman (photo above) who introduced me to James and Athena Pond and Transitions several years ago, with the idea that we should work together. A few months after that, two beautiful young Cambodian survivors accompanied James and Athena to the U.S. to tell their stories. I met them then and did a mini-workshop to see if they liked the True Body Project work. They did. (Bonus info! The two beauties on the motorbike above are these girls! We ran into them in the street yesterday. Kismet. Karma. Joy!)

A year ago, I came to Cambodia to do a series of workshops with the girls and now I have returned with a workbook/journal, written with them in mind and in partnership with Transitions, to further our mutual goals of providing integrative and somatic therapies to at-risk girls here and around the globe.

Lisa is getting her Ph.D in Transpersonal Psychology at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology and has created a practicum to study the effectiveness of the workbook. We have been friends since the passionate and unsteady 80s. It is mind-blowing to think we are now here working together, trying to make a difference.

So this morning I put together the curriculum for tonight. We will do some work to find the resources our bodies hold for wellness and to expand our definitions of how we conceive ourselves.

We will ask the girls this question: how would you fill in the blank?

My name is _____. I am _____ and I feel _____.

How would you answer the question? Does your first answer REALLY define you? Can you broaden the list?

I will report tomorrow on how it goes tonight.

Thanks for reading, friends. I can't tell you how much I appreciate your support of this work. It helps me to be passionate and innovative and stable and persevering.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Of Two Minds.

I find myself once again in LA en route to Asia.

At exactly this time last year, my friend Kristin was in the City of Hope hospital having just received a bone marrow transplant with the hopes of saving her life. I stayed a couple of nights in the hospital with her, ponderous about the meaning of it all.

I am now sitting in her kitchen having spent some time with her widowed husband Jeff and her motherless son Simon. Kristin lost the fight in August. I wrote about it a bunch in earlier posts.

So this morning I wandered around her beautiful home, the one she so carefully crafted to be a place of comfort and joy. I took a picture of what remains of Kristin, her literal remains and her virtual ones together in one frame. I was there for her wedding. I was there for her death. And I am here now for her legacy.

Simon showed me last night how if he puts his hand on top of the vessel that holds her ashes that he can feel warmth all the way up his arm. He said it feels really good. I tried it and felt more of a shimmery energy.

I am of two minds this morning about the human spirit. Are we what we were? Or are we what we are? Is Kristin our memory of her or the dust in the jar on the shelf? I look for clues in her beloved art. Maybe she is the sea. Or those birds. Or those bugs. Or that ship. Or her son.

But luckily, somehow, I am aware of her steady hand as I prepare again to travel. And I am aware of the specific gifts she left, one of which I share with you here, below. She was a producer on this magnificent documentary in the last years of her life. She didn't get to see the end result, but I know she would have been proud of it. If you can, make a donation to the film via Kickstarter so more people can see this important work.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Mission: Play & Explore

On January 8th, I led a True Body/New Year workshop with Rachel Roberts at the Yoga Bar in Cincinnati. As part of the session, we thought about the action systems of the body and considered which areas we got stuck in and which areas could use some work. The eight systems (from integrative wellness modalities) are Defense, Attachment, Caregiving, Exploratory, Play, Sociability, Sexuality and Energy Regulation.

Pretty much everyone in the room that day determined that we could use more time for Exploration and Play.

Enter the Nick Cave Soundsuits, just in the nick of time.

Yesterday, I visited Heather Britt at the Cincinnati Ballet and got to put on a world famous Nick Cave Soundsuit and goof around in it so Heather could see how they move as she begins to create choreography for public performances at the Cincinnati Art Museum. Nick Cave is a former Alvin Ailey dancer, a visual artist and educator extraordinaire and he has been making these suits for 20 years, out of all sorts of materials including twigs and human hair and other odd adornments.

At first they feel cumbersome and smelly, these heavy two-piece suits of raffia and knitted or crocheted underthings. With mask and clown wig, the ensemble is complete.

And then you do as you must in a suit like this: you begin to move. You want to hear the swishy swishy sound it makes as you undulate the raffia. You shimmy and you shake and you roll and you jump. You make a car wash with a friend. You move like a bird. You pile up your feathers.

The weight of the suit makes the movement more intriguing because you can feel your limbs in space. It all takes just enough of an effort to slow it down to be compelling and purposeful and silly and fun. Somewhere between tribal and absurd, the experience is playful and exploratory and AWESOME!

"Hey, wouldn't it be cool if we piled up in a Soundsuit heap?"
"Watch this!"
"Do the car wash thing with me."
"Wait, try this!"

An hour or so of Soundsuiting experiments later, we gave them back to Emily Holtrop to take back to the Cincinnati Art Museum for safe keeping.

So this coming Friday, at the Museum opening of Nick Cave: Meet Me at the Center of the Earth, you will have the chance to meet the artist and see the suits in action. Don't miss it. Report back to me.

I will be in LA en route to Cambodia and Bali for more play and exploration. I too will report.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Year I Danced, Part II.

Well, it has been decided.

I fussed in my brain for a full month about whether or not to end the Year I Danced Blog and move onto something else (The Year I Became a Playah! The Year I Shut Up! The Year I Sat Around! The Year I Put My Money Where My Mouth Is!) or to quit blogging in general or to keep it up the same blog for another year.

And the decision came as it usually does, with neither a whimper or a bang, but as a somatic insight. My body said, "Just do it." My body actually said, "Oh for Pete's sake. Just do it. Quit quibbling. Quit trying to be so clever."

My body is super smart. I was in a situation not long ago that was in no way harmful, but it was super evident that if I were smart, I should have left. But I just sat there. Taking it in. Being polite. Wondering if something might change. Pretty soon, my hip flexors started to chat with me. They begin to ache, like they were on fire. I was like "What the hell?"

And then I remembered. When the body senses it is time to leave, it prepares first for flight. It is a primal response. And all systems in my body were go. They were saying, "Go! Let's go! We're ready! Why aren't we leaving??"

So I did. It reminded me that this was as much the Year I Listened to My Body as it was the Year I Danced.

I did equal parts True Movement and dance this year. While I experienced as much loss as I did abundance, I was able to fully process the experiences and find the MOST joy and the MOST pain. My flexible spine allowed for these things to move through me as intended, in a wave. And my strength and balance allowed me to move on when needed. Feelings are of the body and if the body is in balance, the emotions will be fully experienced and yet not over defining or over determining.

I celebrated my 50th year and my 15 anniversary of sobriety. I earned and practiced the right to feel. To sense solutions. To move toward the widest possible bandwidth of the human experience.

So thanks for coming along for the ride in 2011 and I look forward to telling you all about this year, the for sure great 2012. I return to Cambodia in January and then to Bali plus some LA in there too. After that? VIVIAN GIRLS in New York in May and other wonderful things. I may even perform this year (that nearly made me faint just to write it so I am sure it is something I must do.)

Plus I will keep up the dance. With Heather and Susan and Julie and Ka-Ron and my LA teachers and all my dance class friends and to those who I haven't met yet this year.

Thanks to everyone. And Happy New Year.

This is it, baby. Let's do this thing.