Return to site

On the Table

I got Reiki'd this weekend, by a friend in the class I was TA'ing. You never know what's going to happen in a Reiki session, but even so, this one was fierce. And it taught me a lot about self-defence mechanisms, adaptive capacity, and learning processes.

I lay there listening to my friend's energy and that of the other people in the room. So far so fun and groovy. But then she got close to something painful and my skin shrank away, then my body physically drew away, and I tightened and clenched everything, knotting myself up hard and tiny. My breath got short and shallow and then I—yes, I, who have put so much concerted effort into mastering pranayama—held my breath. And I couldn't stop myself from doing any of this! I, who knew I should be breathing more, and I, who knew she was just there to help, I could not stop my body from literally running away from her.

In my mind, I said to her, “it turns out this is my process. I didn't know that. I want you to be here, we agreed at the beginning that I would accept your healing energy, I know you're here for the highest possible good. And, actually, you're in exactly the right spot! Stay with me, don't take this personally, and please have patience with me. I'm going to push you away and run away and not want to have anything to do with you, but I want you to stay right where you are. Bear with the process, please.”

And at exactly the same time, I was also saying, “agh, you're hurting me, I hate you, leave me alone. You're killing me, this is unbearable, I can't stand this, go away. Why can't you leave me in peace with my Thing the way it was? Stop! Get away from me! This is inhumane! Oh yeah, you're not leaving? Well I'm going to pushyou away! Push push push! I'm going to hide behind a giant wall!”

And that's how it went, for a whole hour. She got energetically close to stored restriction or trauma, and I clenched up, stopped breathing, shut her out, cried, shook, trembled, knotted up all my muscles, and got as stiff and rigid as a full-body muscle spasm. Man, did I shut her out. And the more I shut her out, the more she hurt me! She kept energetically touching painful energetic restrictions that, apparently, could not bear to be touched...even though they simultaneously absolutely wanted her right there doing exactly what she was doing.

I've never been That Person before. I've always been overgenerous about letting people in. But this time (or perhaps, “dealing with this particular trauma”), despite knowing I was safe with my friend, knowing she wasn't going to hurt me, and knowing I was in full control, the pain was so great that all my beautiful somatic training just disappeared. My good manners and my “plays well with others” gold star vanished and in their place was a wounded animal fighting for exactly one thing: survival.

It was as if she took all the pain, concentrated it, and squooshed it into a tiny, highly condensed, immediate form. It was unbearable Pain Tomato Paste. In the middle of all that crying and clenching and being miserable, I may have gasped and whimpered and made a few quiet versions of the Sounds of Ultimate Suffering.

But more than hurt, I was embarrassed. I had never understood reflexive shut-down mechanisms in others...and now here it was happening in me, coming straight out of me as the natural and unavoidable response to extreme stimuli.

We are not “supposed” to shut down. We don't even want to; we “want” to remain open and let people just come in and help us heal and move on with our lives. But it's not that easy. The more something hurts, the less we are able to behave like civilized ladies and gentlemen around it. Even toward people we want to let in.  No matter how much we may want to.

But this shouldn't come as a surprise! Learning how to dance is the process of learning how to release stored patterns of restriction. When we are absolute baby-beginners, we are mostly restriction. By the time we are Geraldin Rojas, Age 70 (if the drugs don't kill her first), we are mostly release. Although we can intellectually recognize that release is a desirable state, we can't intellectually will away restrictions, no matter how much we may want to. The only way to release them is to do the real work...whatever that is...and take the real time...whatever that is. And the process can be excruciatingly slow, or it can catch us in an off-guard instant, or it can never quite happen no matter what we do, or it can happen when we least expect it. Being horrifically smart doesn't save us one single minute of time, and can in fact make the process take a lot longer. And knowing what we want the process to look like is usually just one more way of having a good idea what it almost certainly won't look like.

It's the way things are.

And then, after months of walking back and forth working on something “completely unrelated,” one day some peripheral person will lead you in a boleo and you, who haven't been working on boleos at all, will do it perfectly, without even thinking about it. What was the big deal about boleos, you wonder? They're just a little nothing that accidentally happens on your way somewhere else.

It's the way things are.