Welcome to my blog!

We find ourselves in challenging times. To meet them more easily, I believe involves challenging ourselves to move beyond old, established habits and patterns.

Perhaps I am a bit late fully entering into the 21st century by starting my blog now, in 2010! In that my work and message has so much to do with slowing down and settling into a deeper knowing beyond and prior to our cultural modes, it may be appropriate to step extra slowly into the world of blogging and other cyber realities.

I suspect that, if you are drawn to my blog and the words here, you may also value this slower, deeper state we are all capable of. I invite you to read on and regularly, and hope the words below can support you in enhancing your ability to be, even in the midst of all the doing required in our modern world.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Transition

Please note that this blog is now being posted on my new website at: http://www.birthingyourlife.org/cherionnas-blog/

All things change! I have appreciated being able to communicate with you via this blog. Now, I invite you to join me in a slightly different context, where I continue to intend to support you in your own challenges and transitions in life...

Thank you for reading my blog. I look forward to hearing from you in the future and hope my posts can continue to be beneficial for you.

with gratitude and newness,
Cherionna Menzam-Sills, PhD


Friday, 11 November 2016

Living in Interesting Times



I have heard there was an ancient Chinese curse that went, “May you live in interesting times.” 

In researching the origins of this saying, I came across not only some doubt as to how ancient or authentically Chinese it is, but also, remarkably at this time, a reference to Hilary Clinton having used it in her autobiography! (http://quoteinvestigator.com/2015/12/18/live/ accessed November 10th, 2016)

"There's an old Chinese curse, 'May you live in interesting times,' that became a running joke in our family. Bill and I would ask each other, 'Well, are you having an interesting time yet?'"

What seems indisputable is that we do, indeed, live in interesting times, not necessarily in ways you may have hoped or expected them to be interesting!

As I write this, people across the world are reeling in shock at the outcome of the American elections two days ago. It seems that no one, not even Trump supporters, expected this outcome. Whatever your political leanings may be, it is possible that you are part of this international shock wave!

We have entered a new phase of the unknown. How does that affect you? A common reaction to the unknown is fear, but other feelings may accompany it.

For me, there have been powerful waves of sadness, as well as shock. I feel I have witnessed a loud exclamation of the fear impulse through this election process. Living in the UK, I am only too aware of this coming on the heels of another shocking event, when the recent referendum here initiated Brexit. How much change can we tolerate?

In the midst of the news shocks, I observe an unexpected flowering of the plant in my kitchen. I return to my ongoing enquiry: How can I meet what arises with an open, compassionate heart? I share this question with you now.

As the unknown raises its face before ours, we are forced to see what may have previously been in shadow. We must find our balance again as the waves of political or other storms increase their force. How firmly can we rest, even in these moments, in a resilient foundation of love and compassion?

For me, my Continuum Movement practice and meditation practice help me maintain or access equilibrium. I return to the stillness at the heart of the storm.

As I observe the voices of bigotry, ignorance, fear, violence and hatred rising, I am reminded of advice received many years ago. You may have heard it, too. It goes something like this: If you are faced with bullies, powerful or potentially abusive or dangerous people, try seeing them as toddlers in diapers.

We were all little once. Our little ones continue to live within us. They may or may not have received the support, protection, love, reflection, acknowledgment and appreciation they needed back then. Where they were not adequately received and held, their needs persevere, continuing to seek what they need in every interaction. This is true for the big, powerful politicians, as well as everyday people just doing our best to live our lives. How can we acknowledge and meet these little ones now?

I find my little one resonating with the fear in the larger world field in these times. Remembering that I have already survived my childhood, I acknowledge her fear, hold her tenderly in my heart, and feel the love hormone, oxytocin, growing within me. From this place, I can breathe more easily into my heart, and send the loving, healing intentions out to those on the planet less able in this moment to access this natural, essential state of love and being.

I can only hope this practice benefits the world, facilitating peace, health and happiness for all beings.


How do you cope with these interesting times?


* Please note that this blog will be moving to my new website at www.birthingyourlife.org. Please visit my new site and let me know how you find it!

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Heart Softening in an Upset World



Sadness welling in my heart
Being with compassion, present to lives so squeezed by old and new pain, breath is barely possible.
Each day, more sad news streams through the world.
Can I soften my heart even in the midst of these streams? Can I rest in trust, in love, in knowing, this, too, shall pass, and humanness continues as it always has? And if it doesn’t, what can I make valuable with this one and precious moment of aliveness?
This is life, this moment. This is all I know.


This emerged in my daily writing the other day. In the midst of so much upheaval and change around the world, so much meaningless violence, so much hatred, racism, bullying, and resistance to immigration, how can we be?

I feel the tension around my heart as the daily news stimulates fear. With some effort, I remember. My practice is to soften my heart in relation to whatever may arise, intending heart-centered presence, just being.

Then I remember more. I recall what happens in a Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy session. First, as practitioner, I support the settling of our relational field through orienting to the health, the sense of resource and support, and how that feels in the body. In the midst of all the challenges, disappointments, illness, death and loss, etc., etc., can I find a way to rest? What supports me in being with what is? I ask my clients this question. And so I ask myself.

I have a strong practice that supports me in being able to be
present. I have learned that I can be with just about anything. Even as I receive the news that yet one more person in my life is dying of cancer, I can breathe, remember my body, sense the support of mother earth under my feet, recall the love I feel, share and receive with those close to me in my life, remember how I have survived, and even thrived, in reviewing past challenging events in my life.

With all of this, it becomes easier to soften my heart, but this requires feeling it. I must listen, and be willing to listen, to what my body is telling me. The squeeze in my heart has a message for me. I cannot deny the pain, the sadness it carries. It cries. I cry. I allow the tears to flow, even while feeling the containment of the earth. I allow my body to move in flowing ways, offering it the breaths and sounds I find so helpful from my Continuum practice.

Any of these ways of resourcing not only support me in being able to be with challenging moments, but can also enhance my clients’ ability to be present with what arises, including with our relationship within the field of the treatment session.

A Craniosacral Therapy session can be intensely intimate. The client may feel like a tiny infant or child lying supine on the treatment table, with the therapist hovering over. It is essential to acknowledge and respect the vulnerability of this position. It is too easy for a therapist to assume the client knows this is a safe relationship. Isn’t it obvious? I’m here to help! And it may be obvious on a conscious level. For the little one within, however, there may be fear. There may be unconscious, shadowy memories arising in the body. There may be old emotions being touched by the current moment, like the depths of sadness I feel upon hearing about another person I know dying.

This is not just about this moment. It touches on other losses I have experienced, not only recently, but even as far back as when my twin died in the womb. Even beyond that, I am aware of the sadness and fears my mother carried along with me in her womb. Generations of loss, fear, violence, etc. due to cultural conditions trickle through as cellular communications. My little body grew within my mother’s womb fed by a toxic mix of ancestral terror. How do I find trust in this moment with that cellular trail still informing my consciousness?

The question really comes down to how willing am I, or any of us, to be with what is present? I don’t need to understand it all, although insight naturally arises as we are present with what is. What I do need is to be able to yield into the fields within fields of support that are available to all of us, balancing the influence of fields of trauma and challenge.


I could go on at length in this vein. For now, I want to invite you to join in this investigative journey. What is present for you as you read these words? How is your breath? Does it need your attention? How is your heart in this moment? Can you feel it? Is it tight and achy? Is it soft and full? And if it is aching, what would it take for it to be able to soften? What needs attention, holding, support, in order for you to be able to settle more fully into the gifts this moment has to offer?


Tuesday, 16 August 2016

An Experiential Enquiry into the Energetic Nature of our Bodies

I am intensely focused just now on completing editing my book, The Breath of Life: An Introduction to Craniosacral Biodynamics. As part of this writing process, I have realized that I am writing as a female in a field lacking female authors. I have challenged myself to consciously write from a feminine perspective, which I have come to see as including intuition, creativity, and direct body-based experience. The book includes experiential explorations, largely inspired by my other passion -  Continuum Movement. Please enjoy this excerpt, and I'd love to know how it affects you!

It is not unusual to experience the body as a solid, physical structure. This is, after all, what we were all taught in school, if not before. We cannot walk through walls, and it can hurt to try. At the same time, we live in a world where the mind of science is shifting. While we have all learned about the rules of gravity and how to operate in a Newtonian state, we have also been exposed to revolutionary declarations from the world of quantum physics assessing all things as being aspects of one continuous whole. As David Bohm wrote, “relativity and quantum theory agree, in that they both imply the need to look on the world as an undivided whole, in which all parts of the universe, including the observer and his instruments, merge and unite in one totality. In this totality, the atomistic form of insight is a simplification and an abstraction, valid only in some limited context.” (Bohm, 1980, p.13).

We seem to be beings of light and space, rather than the solid forms we tend to see and feel. For example, cell biologist Bruce Lipton points out that we can only see each other because light photons bounce off of the energy of the otherwise invisible human body (Lipton, 2015). Apparently, our bodies compose themselves from used stardust, that has arrived on earth after stars have died or galaxies exploded (Schrijver and Schrijver, 2015).

Clearly, there is some mystery involved in our bodies in that they appear physical but consist of energy and light. Rather than attempting to explain further this phenomenon, which we directly perceive in Biodynamics, I would like to guide you in a brief exploration of this matter (pardon the pun) through your own body experience. If you are curious, please settle yourself in a comfortable position and lets begin the journey! You may want to record these instructions in your own voice to enable you to explore with your eyes closed, if you find that helpful, but this is not necessary.

 Take some time to get comfortable in your seat. Notice what sensations inform you in this process. Now, let yourself include one hand in your awareness. Take a moment to squeeze and open this hand three or four times, really letting yourself feel the muscles working and the tissues contracting and expanding. What are those sensations like? Does it feel hard or soft? Warm or cool? Tight or loose? Tense or relaxed?



Now, slow down the movement. Let yourself orient more to the sensations involved in moving than in the end goal of making a fist or opening your hand. As you slow the movement down, how do your sensations change? Do you sense them only in your hand, or do you sense anything being affected elsewhere in your body? You may begin to have more of a sense of flow, of ease, of fluid wholeness, where more of your body is involved. There may be a sense of energy elsewhere in your body, or perhaps a wave moving from your hand up your arm and through your chest. Your head and neck may begin to want to move, or even your feet. Let yourself be curious, slowing the movement down more and more.



After a few minutes of exploring this more fluid state, let the movement slow down even more, so it becomes more about stillness than movement. Let your focus be more on the space between your fingers and around your hand than on the micro-movements of the hand, itself. What are the sensations like now? It is not unusual in this slow state, with a wider field of orientation, to begin to feel like your hand is not so physical. It may begin to feel more like energy, suspended within a larger field of energy. Notice how it is for you. When you feel done with the process, or no longer interested, come back to the sensation of your physical hand and body, and look around to orient yourself.




Chances are, if you explore this repeatedly, you will find yourself experiencing increasingly slower movement, with an enhanced energetic awareness. If you stay with this, you may even begin to find some familiar aches and pains dissolving, as a kind of inherent treatment plan spontaneously emerges and healing ensues. We have entered now the mysterious realm of Biodynamics! Welcome!

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Healing Power of Presence



Every time I sit with a client , supervisee or student, for therapy or mentoring, individual or group, in person or via Skype, I am touched by the power of simple presence. I do have years of training in various areas, but the most important tool I use in my work is being present.

The relationship between therapist and client has been shown years ago to be the most essential element in determining therapeutic effectiveness. As the practice of mindfulness has spread, I see the potential of our presence enhanced.

For me, the there have been several essential portals into presence emerging from my training and personal therapy over the years. Talk therapy enabled me to begin developing insight into my own reactions to what I encountered in my relationships. With insight, I began to be able to step back and make new choices, or at least be more aware of what I was doing.

Studying Somatic Psychology and Dance/Movement Psychotherapy enabled me to start living in a more embodied way. Along the way, through my own somatic therapy experiences, I encountered limiting, traumatic aspects of my personal history that had been held in my tissues to protect me. Working through these wasn’t necessarily easy or pleasant, but I began to find myself emerging from a life-long state of dissociative mentality. This process had started, interestingly enough, through having suffered a brain injury while engaged in my then favorite hobby of folk dancing. One would think this to be a safe activity, but when my partner and I were tripped by a stray foot and my head bounced on the concrete floor, my life changed.

I had always been highly intellectually and verbally accomplished. I used to love word games like Scrabble and Boggle. After the concussion, the words simply didn’t flow as they used to. Sometimes, they seemed to be hiding behind a foggy screen, inaccessible and useless to me. What’s more, my memory for details seemed to have smashed on its collision with the floor that day. I could no longer buffer my ego with my intellectual prowess. From my writing you might conclude that these skills have returned to me, which fortunately is mostly accurate. My way of being in the world, however, permanently shifted when I could not function as I was accustomed to.

During my time in graduate school for Somatic Psychology, I attended a class with a remarkable woman called Dee Coulter. I remember gratefully hearing her explain that most of us at Naropa University, the Buddhist inspired school I was attending, were trying to achieve a way of being which is natural to people with brain injuries. She spoke of our gut sense and how, without being able to depend on our brains for information, people with brain injuries follow their guts.

Indeed, I found my intuition developing dramatically after the brain injury. I also began to return to the creative, artistic talents I had largely ignored since starting university at eighteen. Finding my work as an Occupational Therapist taxing for my newly struggling brain, I took two years off to take a Commercial Ceramics course, eventually becoming a studio potter.

How does all this relate to presence? Well, have you noticed that intellectually analyzing others often doesn’t do much to enhance your relationship? Mentally figuring things out can make us less present, and this is felt by whomever we are with. Our relational connections depend more upon our heart and senses than our intellectual brain.

As Stephen Porges, originator of the polyvagal nerve theory, elucidates, we sense each other through what he calls the social engagement nervous system. Things like eye contact, the tone of a person’s voice, and facial expression communicate directly to important brain centers to inform us about the people with meet. Are they safe to be with? Is there a sense of resonance between us, or dissonance? Through mirror neurons, we can have a felt sense in our own bodies of the other person’s emotional or behavioral experience. Thinking about what is happening may be less helpful than sensing it. This is non-mental form of receiving the other, and is considered a likely basis for empathy.

My brain injury seemed to support me in letting go of my intellectual mind enough that I could start to listen and respond on other levels. I don’t recommend this particular method of letting go, but for me the results have been highly supportive of being present. Fortunately, there are gentler ways of liberating ourselves from oppressive  thought patterns. Mindfulness practices are particularly helpful in this journey.


Mindful Presence
For me, I embarked on an intensive practice of Vipassana along with somatic therapy, which helped
me to come into body-centered awareness. Vipassana is a meditation involving attending to breath and body sensations with an intention to develop awareness and equanimity. I didn’t know the word equanimity when I started Vipassana, but I have since come to revere this quality of being with whatever arises. I see equanimity as a way of considering everything as equal, rather than judging one experience as better or more desirable that another.

While we do need to live with preferences, it can be helpful to be aware of where these come from and make choices based on that awareness. Without awareness, we tend to act unconsciously and habitually, often re-enacting our trauma history or acting in ways to avoid it. You may say, of course I don’t want to re-enact my trauma! Why shouldn’t I avoid it? I agree that re-enacting trauma isn’t useful, but avoidance often means we shut down the flow of life energy. In terms of presence with another, it translates as withdrawing or reacting if the other person expresses something that reminds us, even if not consciously, of the trauma. We are then that much less present, as well as often feeling miserable within ourselves.

Practicing awareness and equanimity enables us to be more aware of what is arising for us and to not have to react in our habitual ways. Recent research suggests that we are actually rewiring our brains through this kind of mindfulness activity. We stop reinforcing old, destructive pathways and establish new, supportive ones. Being less reactive, we can be more present with whatever comes our way.

Coming Into Being
The final, essential aspect of this journey for me has been Prenatal and Birth Therapy. I was introduced to Pre- and Perinatal Psychology through my studies in Somatic Psychology. I learned that we are unlikely to come into body awareness without encountering our earliest experiences recorded within the body. For many of us, these primal, pre-verbal events were overwhelming and traumatic, at least in part because of modern, western birthing practices.

Little ones in the womb and later are astutely sentient beings. They sense and marinate in their parents’ emotional lives during these highly formative early years. Historically, babies have been considered as cute objects (e.g., medical jargon refers to “the product of birth”), to be kept clean and fed. In the process of taking care of physical needs, however, the emotional, psychological needs of the pre-born and newborn infant have been largely overlooked.

That little ones have an immature nervous system doesn’t mean they are unaware or not learning. It indicates a need for slow pacing allowing them to process and integrate their experience. Although they do not speak, babies clearly understand tone of voice and often the content of what is being spoken. Addressing them with gentle sensitivity helps them feel safe so they can settle and arrive more fully.

For those of us who were not welcomed with that kind of sensitivity, new learning can happen through prenatal and birth therapy, emphasizing presence, recognition (vs. denial) of what happened, reassurance, and unconditional acceptance. Within a safe, reflective relational field, such as was needed back then, we can learn about being received in the way we physiologically expected as little ones.




Our neurobiology shifts with this therapeutic experience, helping us emerge from a defensive mode of being, feeling like running away or finding ourselves dissociating before we know what has happened. Personally, I had learned to live in my head. My intellectual prowess had protected me from feeling the painful feelings from my early years. As I descended into my body, the feelings arose.

Fortunately, trauma therapy has evolved in recent years, in large part thanks to Peter Levine’s work with Somatic Experiencing. We now understand the importance of slowing down our pace in being with trauma, touching in with it from a resourced state of presence, rather than diving in a getting lost. Again, this slower, gentler approach changes our neurobiology, so that we don’t have to cycle through our trauma patterns again and again.

This is the basis of my passion for all the forms of work I engage in, including Continuum Movement. This mindful movement practice is characterized by slowness, designed to interrupt old patterns and enable new, creative responsiveness. Similarly, Craniosacral Biodynamics involves slowing down, settling deeper than our everyday activity, resting into the support of universal forces supporting us within a ground of dynamic and alive stillness. These practices inform all the work I do, where I settle myself and support my clients or students in resting into the present moment.

Slowing down is an important key to presence. When I move or act with speed, I am more likely to act by habit, unconsciously. Slowing down brings choice, generated by awareness. This is the essence of therapeutic presence and its healing potential.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Shedding Skins: Letting Go and Opening to the New

This morning I had my cast removed. This was an exciting moment! After five and a half weeks,
what I most longed for was to submerge my arm in warm water. I was surprised by the intensity of emotion accompanying this transition from cast to cast-less, from bounded to free, from immobilized to mobilizing. As I observed the cast being cut open and taken away, I felt a familiar sense of immense vulnerability.

Seeing my bare arm, protected only by dry, flaky skin and weak, unused muscles, I felt the visceral sense of fear that has nothing to do with my cognitive understanding that I am safe. The little one in me emerged. As we drove home from the hospital, we passed a sign, which I read as something like “Terrors ahead!” I don’t remember what it actually said, but I was impressed by how the little one feelings in me interpreted what I saw.

As soon as we arrived home, I poured a hot bath with healing arnica oil and embarked on the dive I had been dreaming of since having broken my wrist. Ahhh!

My first impulse was to stroke and massage the skin I had been unable to reach for so long. It felt like touching a newborn baby for the first time. Like a newborn, the skin was sensitive, not accustomed to this kind of contact. It needed slow, gentle touch to give it time to integrate and accommodate to the new interaction. Again, the feeling of vulnerability arose.

Being with that sensation in a mindful way, I became aware of layers of my early history arising and releasing. The terror related to the violence of that early time, when being vulnerable was dangerous. Listening to and reassuring my arm and my inner little one, I could almost  feel my nervous system changing, knowing that the brain was rewiring itself with each stroke. Where the amygdala had been screaming “Danger! Danger!” my consistent, accepting awareness enabled the middle prefrontal region to slow down and evaluate the process, integrating other aspects of my history and experience (see Being a Brain-Wise Therapist by Bonnie Badenoch). Instead of fear, I began to feel gratitude for the opportunity I now perceived to heal more layers of my history as they were stimulated into action by my current feeling of getting to know my naked arm.


Shedding
As I touched my arm where the cast had been, the old skin gathered over five and a half weeks flaked off. I suddenly realized I was shedding a skin! The cast, itself, was like an old skin, now removed. Beneath it were revealed layers no longer needed. Like a snake shedding its skin, I, too, was letting go of my past, preparing for the unknown ahead.

This concept of shedding skin is frequently discussed in relation to Continuum Movement. Emilie Conrad, founder of Continuum, noted that true fluidity involves letting go, dying to the past, like shedding a skin. Where we are holding on, we are more rigid, less flexible and less resilient in meeting what arises next.

Of course, Continuum is not the only way to shed old skins, to die and be reborn. Therapies of many types offer this possibility, perhaps without using the same metaphor. As we bring old issues and memories to consciousness in a mindful way, our brains reorganize, engendering new neural pathways, liberating us from unconscious patterns and habits, and enabling us to more readily engage in what presents in present time.

Being submerged in warm water supported this shedding. I let the tears and fears flow out as I enjoyed the feeling of support and holding from the watery womb-like bath.

I had been given exercises to practice to increase the strength and range of motion of my wrist and
hand, but I was fascinated by how these exercises occurred spontaneously as soon as I began some Continuum sounds. While I had been instructed to practice repetitions, I noticed the Continuum working as it does, in spirals, rather than repetitions. Emilie Conrad taught that repetition creates density in the tissues, producing a less flexible and resilient kind of strength. My wrist, as well as my inner little one, seem to appreciate the more fluid, spiraling path I choose.

With each spiral through my arm, I could feel the tissues expanding, reaching out to their full capacity. My mind and heart, too, expanded in the process, holding the pain, the vulnerability and fear, the little one, the curiosity that had been squelched by fear when I was little, and the commitment now to embody fully my original potential.


As I write these words, using both hands to type (!!!), my heart offers the intention and the hope that they will support you, too, in embracing whatever challenges may present for you as portals to access that potential. May we live our fullest potential, knowing the fluid potency every embryo carries, living more completely who we truly are.

(Photo Credit for neuron photo: By Wei-Chung Allen Lee, Hayden Huang, Guoping Feng, Joshua R. Sanes, Emery N. Brown, Peter T. So, Elly Nedivi [CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons)