Introduction: The Importance of Story

"The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other's memory. This is how people care for themselves."
Barry Lopez, Crow and Weasel

When I began thinking of how I wanted to open this journal, I came across some notes from an experience I had with my daughter's 5th grade class. Her teacher had decided to build a walking labyrinth in the garden of our Waldorf charter school. We went on a field trip to Grace Cathedral in San Francisco to walk its labyrinth, which was a replica of the famous labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral in France. I had an image of it as a kind of metaphor of our ongoing journey to our own center and back again out into the world. The instructions I had read did not usually include walking the labyrinth with 23 fifth graders though Read more...

“I look so much taller…”

October 26th, 2012

This work has been life-changing for me – when I first started getting Rolfed 10 years ago on my daughter’s suggestion, I had constant pain and a lot of concerns over the progression of my scoliosis, which is somewhat severe. My chronic pain went away within the first few sessions and the flareups I would have from time to time have gotten much less frequent and less painful and do not last very long. Most of the time now I am in no pain at all. I went to see a spinal specialist recently and he painted a dire picture of what my future could be but I just didn’t buy into it because I have seen that with Rolfing and the exercises I learned in physical therapy I have more control than I have ever had over my physical well-being. Given the extent of my scoliosis, I still have to deal with weird things that seem to malfunction for no obvious reason but we seem to be able to resolve them more and more easily. Another bonus is that I look better – my wife always knows when I have been to see James because I look so much taller…

Remembering with Love Rather than Pain…

November 1st, 2010

I have seen many striking examples of what can happen when clients noticed that as we changed their physical stance, they had also unknowingly changed their emotional stance. Sometimes after a dramatic session, they will come back for the next one and tell me that a funny thing has happened in their life… They will describe finally being able to stand up to their spouse or boss, being able to control their anger in situations where they had not been able to before, feeling more able to cope with the their grief over a loved ones cancer or finally finding the courage to leave a bad relationship. Sometimes the change is so dramatic that it literally changes a person’s stance in life…

It can be breathtaking how wounds that once cut so deep, that circumscribed someone’s life for so long that they seemed beyond any hope of healing can suddenly, in a day or an hour shift and be recognized as a source of strength. There is a woman I have been working on for 15 years; she was born in Germany and moved to the U.S. after World War II. We have become quite close over the years, my daughter spent several weekends at her house when she was young, she keeps our dog when we go away. When I first worked on her she was so grateful as I was able to help her with terrible leg cramps that would make her bolt out of bed at night, with her breathing which would sometimes seize up on her like an asthma attack, and with her migraines… She once let me work on an exquisitely painful scar left over from a surgery on a cancerous tumor in her right breast which, with a little patience and an amount of pressure that was more suggestion than touch magically seemed to melt in minutes (I actually had no idea what I had done to make that happen, but the pain simply vanished…). She thanked me profusely many times for the help I had been able to give her – but there was one thing I could barely touch.

She mentioned her parents in Germany once during one of our first sessions together and I innocently asked her about her experience of living through the war. She began to speak but was not able to finish the first sentence when a look of sheer panic washed over her and she whispered something about how it was still hard for her to talk about the war. I decided to change the subject. The subject came up more or less by accident years later and again she was gasping for breath.

Then one day last year she asked me how my youngest daughter was doing and before I knew it I was telling her about some difficult struggle with her that felt quite distressing as both of us had blown it all out of proportion, but she just sat there smiling, with the wisdom of someone who has already been through that and told me what a wonderful daughter I had and how much she enjoyed her. She said that Sofia really reminded her of herself at that age and began to tell me stories of her childhood and how her mother was very strict but she had been very close to the neighbors downstairs. He was a pharmacist and had saved her leg when it was badly infected and she could not get antibiotics because of the war but gave her arnica until it got better. She talked for a while but never mentioned her father and I was a little afraid to ask about him – I thought that perhaps something terrible had happened to him. But I finally asked gently about him and she got very quiet and then said quietly, “My father was a saint…”

She went on to describe him and told me of how he comforted her when the bombs were falling all around and how one day the bombers hit her building and destroyed the top floor where their apartment was. They spent the next week moving what was left of their furniture 5 miles to a different apartment with only a little cart and how their feet were bleeding by the end. She described how one day she went to visit her sister who lived in the country and would supply them with fresh vegetables, which they could not get in the city because of rationing. Halfway there, the allies bombed the train and destroyed the locomotive so she had to walk the last 15 miles.

She told me that after the war times were hard and she married an Englishman and went with him to the U.S. She felt guilty about leaving her family for years but did it because she felt someone had to make some money to keep her family from starving. She did not return for 6 years because she felt it was selfish to waste the money on airfare for herself when her family needed it to eat. She described how her husband went back to England for what started as a 2 month work assignment and turned into 2 years and about all the excuses he gave her before finally admitting that he had remarried and had a child and would not be coming back.

She also told me of a kind woman in Texas who promoted her to be the manager of a fine restaurant and how she met her second husband and how her life got better after that and finally she stopped and said, “Oh my God, did I speak through the whole hour!?” There was a pause and I asked her if she realized what she had just done – that she had told her story for over an hour without seizing up…? She said she had just realized that, and that it was the first time she had been able to do this since she came to this country. I asked her if she had any idea what had made the difference for her. She said, “I think it is because I told my story from the point of view of what I love rather than what I was afraid of…”

…..

“Every great loss demands that we choose life again. We need to grieve in order to do this. The pain we have not grieved over will stand between us and life. When we don’t grieve, a part of us gets caught in the past, like Lot’s wife who, because she looked back, was turned into a pillar of salt. Grieving is not about forgetting. Grieving allows us to heal, to remember with love rather than pain. It is a sorting process. One by one you let go of the things that are gone and mourn for them. One by one you take hold of the things that have become part of who you are and build again.”

Rachel Remen, “Kitchen Table Wisdom”

What Brings you Here?

October 15th, 2010

If, when you sat down in my office,

I asked you to tell me your story,

you know, what brings you here…

What would you tell me?

Would you tell me the same story
you have been telling yourself
for as long as you can remember?

Would you give me a list
of your successes, your failures,
the places you have been
the people you have met?

Would you tell me
what you have been through
how good or bad
your parents were?

If I was really good
I would slip in the insightful question

at just the right moment

the one that takes you off script

and then watch what happens

a quickening of the pulse

in the vein in your neck

your gaze turning inward

clinging to an old wound

or to a hoped for future

But I’m not that good

and often my hands

are better listeners

than my ears

see more clearly

than my eyes

are definitely more patient

than my mind

What if I asked instead,
“Where are you going
that made you decide
to stop here…?”

I knew I was in there…!

April 4th, 2007

Sometimes when a new client walks into my office I can feel their stress right away. Paula had come in because her mother kept pushing her to try Rolfing and felt that that it could help her cope with all the strain in her life at that time (an ongoing struggle over the terms of her divorce and child custody). She had resisted for a long time because she did not see how it would make any difference. Her resistance was palpable – her body was very tense and hurt almost anywhere I touched her. I am very careful in these situations not to tell people that this should not hurt (even though I was being very gentle).
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Aging Gracefully

March 9th, 2007

When clients ask me whether their problems are just part of getting older I reply that my guess is that the problems we associate with getting older are perhaps 40% due to physiological changes and that 60% are due to the accumulation of years of compensations, binding and habitual use patterns. In my opinion, this is a very optimistic view because even though there is only so much we can do about the former, there is a lot we can do about the latter and Rolfing is particularly effective for this.
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If Bones Could Breathe

March 2nd, 2007

Several years ago as I was working a phrase went through my mind, “if bones could breathe…” I liked the sound of it and over the next few weeks, I kept coming back to it and eventually decided I had to do something with it and over a period of months and various iterations I finally came to this:

if bones could breathe

if hands could touch us in those places
where we have lost touch
make us mindful where we have lost our minds

if touch could be the spark that would light up the network
the puff of wind that would revive the smoldering embers
into tiny dancing flames to light the way

if words could connect what fingers have touched
what hands have melted and nerves have sparked
then bones could breathe
and hands could think
hearts could dance

and bodies could sing

The Importance of Story

February 28th, 2007

When I began thinking of how I wanted to open this journal, I came across some notes from an experience I had with my daughter’s 5th grade class. Her teacher had decided to build a walking labyrinth in the garden of our Waldorf charter school. We went on a field trip to Grace Cathedral in San Francisco to walk its labyrinth, which was a replica of the famous labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral in France. I had an image of it as a kind of metaphor of our ongoing journey to our own center and back again out into the world. The instructions I had read did not usually include walking the labyrinth with 23 fifth graders though…
Read the rest of this entry »

Re-Orienting to Change

February 27th, 2007

Once when working on a particularly tough and braced spot in a client’s ribs, it occurred to me that often I am working with muscles and fascia that are compensating in a way that was once a dynamic and intelligent response to a difficult and perhaps irresolvable situation. It may not from the outside seem like a mature and well-adapted response, but in their situation (or their view of it), it may have been the “least worst” of the choices available. The problem is that if repeated often enough, it becomes habitual and chronic, and may become their only way of responding. So, even though other options are available, they cannot even see them. Rational arguments for change may be of little use. Read the rest of this entry »

The Embodied Spirit

February 21st, 2007

Kaaren is a voice teacher I met several years ago who came in for a complementary Rolfing session and immediately proclaimed, “James, I have to do this, but… I have no money for it (she was in the final stages of studying for the priesthood). I wonder if anyone in your family would be interested in voice lessons…?” It was a match made in Heaven since my daughter had been badgering me for months about doing voice lessons. Our sessions were a combination of Rolfing and wide ranging discussions on many aspects of embodiment and spirituality and the need to be grounded on earth as we reach to the heavens. For her ordination ceremony she asked my daughter Juliana to sing and asked me to speak about embodiment. I of course agreed and then forgot until the last moment when I realized with panic that I had only a few hours. Usually I am a slow writer, but it seemed like some angel came and sat on my shoulder and in one hour this is what I came up with: Read the rest of this entry »