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Gratitude in Action: Car Chase

July 7, 2015

grateful car-smYou know how action movies usually include some kind of chase? Usually it’s one car chasing another through tight alleys or the turns of a parking garage. Depending on the period, the chase might launch itself on foot, on horseback, or through interstellar space by starship.

One of my yet-to-be-finished screenplays lays out a skateboard-and-bicycle chase.

Yesterday, my spiritual journey (and my career as Belly Queen) took on the flavor of an action film: Driving my red Honda Element, I chased a white Ford Explorer through the streets of Asheville.

I was on my way home when I noticed, and deciphered, the license plate on this vehicle in front of me. I so wanted to get a picture of it. One hand on the wheel, one hand rummaging in my purse for my smart phone, I more or less kept my eyes on the road. The Explorer kept pulling ahead and out of camera range. I passed the turnoff that would have taken me home and kept going, praying the traffic light at the top of the hill would be red.

The light was red, but the Explorer was turning right on the green arrow. I followed, hoping the next traffic light would be red. It was. I whipped out my camera and clicked just as the light turned green and the Explorer veered left onto the interstate. I followed, not sure that the snapshot I’d taken through my windshield had captured the plate.

Once on the interstate, the Explorer pulled out of sight. I took the next exit and went home.

grateful car-insetChecking the photo on my phone, there it was: IMGR8FLL

Thank you, synchronicity. Thank you, bestower of grace. Thank you, personalized alert system that messages me however it can.

Yes, gratitude. Yes, I’m grateful.

I’m currently in love with Barbara Fredrickson‘s book Positivity (Random House, 2009). Gratitude is one of ten positive emotions she champions. Along with joy, hope, interest, pride, serenity, amusement, awe, inspiration and love, the felt sense of gratitude leads to human flourishing — feeling “more alive, creative, and resilient” as she says.

The key to flourishing is embodying these positive emotions three times more frequently than negative emotions, which she identifies as various shades of anger, fear, contempt, and shame.

What do positive and negative emotions have to do with belly wisdom? How do positive emotions such as gratitude relate to deepening breath and awareness into our body’s center and energizing our hara?

My friend and Integral Bodywork originator Everett Ogawa says that, for him, lowering the breath into his body’s center leads him into a bigger circle of understanding. He recognizes how life is so much larger than any human can comprehend. In the presence of such enormity he’s thankful for whatever may be the span of his life, his tiny place in the great scheme of things. And he’s moved by compassion to devote his time to helping others. Deepening his breath, gratitude becomes a whole-being experience, a felt sense of the precious gift that is the body, that is life itself.

Witness Everett’s expression not only of gratitude but also of awe, inspiration, interest, serenity, and hope.

These and the other positive emotions that Fredrickson names are forces of attraction, connection, and bonding, linking us with others and with our essential selves.

In contrast, her roster of negative emotions are forces of separation, distancing us from others and from our essential selves. (James Joyce describes one of his characters: “Mr. Duffy lived a short distance from his body.”)

My hunch: If we need to get all bioscience about it (and I’m not sure we do), the negative, separating emotions follow from the cranial brain’s capacity for analytical thinking — a.k.a. sequential sorting and ranking and judging. The positive, unifying emotions follow from the gut brain’s capacity for simultaneous synthesizing and encompassing.

With all of psychology’s current fascination with neuroscience, the goings-on between the cranial brain and the rest of the body, I’m waiting for the day when these investigations expand to include the gut brain, the enteric nervous system.

[Be forewarned, this paragraph gets technical.] Cranial brain and gut brain communicate with each other through the tenth cranial nerve, the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve also connects cranial brain and heart. Current fascination with neuroscience includes detailing the vagus nerve’s role in, for example, heart health and social engagement. Fredrickson’s research suggests that positive emotions increase a person’s perception of social connection, which in turn increases vagal tone, an indicator of physical health.

Energetically, emotions such as joy, serenity, and love reflect a state of being in which a person’s life force (pranachiki) is flowing fully and freely. Emotions such as anger and fear reflect a situation in which life energy is stuck and unbalanced — too much in one place, not enough in another.

Deepening awareness into the belly, energizing the body’s center with movement and breath, activates the hara as our central powerhouse. Our body’s center serves us as a dynamo, generously pulsing life energy through our whole body and being.

With our hara-powered life force flowing fully and freely, we’re susceptible to feeling all kinds of positive emotions. Chances are that we and our lives will flourish.

For that, for the dynamo of life energy centered in our bellies, I’m grateful.

Forgiveness

June 16, 2015

rise-to-standingI’m clearing out the clutter in my studio when a scrap of paper pops up with a poem I must have written years ago.

Reading the piece, which sports the title “Forgiveness,” I wonder: What does belly wisdom have to do with that?

The Woman’s Belly Book: Finding Your True Center for More Energy, Confidence, and Pleasure includes two poems, but this isn’t one of them.

Searching my computer for a file that might contain the poem, thinking I could copy and paste the words here for you rather than type them out again, I find files labelled Forgiveness.0, Forgiveness.1, and Forgiveness.2.

Turns out, back in 1995 — twenty years ago — I guided people through a Ritual of Forgiveness in a workshop that was (if I remember correctly) part of a Sufi conference on healing.

The ritual involves moving through the Honoring Your Belly sequence of power-centering gestures — twice, in fact, each time with a different narration.

Apparently I wrote the two narrations for this Ritual of Forgiveness sometime after writing the ones that inform the Rite for Reconsecrating Our Womanhood and the Rite for Invoking the Sacred Feminine. The Reconsecrations voice a sequence of affirmations tracing the heroine’s journey; the Invocations present a series of body prayers addressing the Feminine Divine. In each case, the words imbue the 23 gestures they accompany with personal meaning.

Likewise, in the first round of this Ritual of Forgiveness the 23 movement and breathing exercises enact “Decomposing the Old, Conceiving the New.” The same gestures, in the second round, animate “Gestating and Generating the New.”

Both rounds involve drawing out images emerging from the body’s center: first, what we’re willing to release; then, what we welcome to take its place.

Twenty years ago, I discovered that energizing the belly and activating its wisdom with movement and breath could contribute mightily to the process of forgiveness. I believe I’m ripe for exploring that connection again.

How are you with forgiveness — needing to forgive, resisting forgiveness, knowing how to forgive — in your life?

Here’s the poem that sparked a twenty-year retrospective that, for me, is oh-so-timely today. I hope it’s a pleasure for you.

Forgiveness

pulls you out of the muck with a pop
sets you on your feet here
where the ground is sturdy
and the footing’s firm
turns you around to face the
dawn-rising horizon
brushes you down, proclaims you
good as new
sends you on your way
with a scarlet smudge on your sacrum
and a turkey sandwich on rye
and a note safely pinned to your lapel:
moving forward

The Music in You, and Beethoven

May 14, 2015

I’ve aways loved the Kiki Dee Band’s song, written by Bias Boshel, “I’ve Got the Music in Me.

Huh? The music that is in you — where is it? How do you tap into it?

If you’re asking me, belly queen as I am, I’ll say we tap into our music — into every expression of our life force — by deepening into our body’s center, the sourcepoint of our creative energy. We cultivate our relationship with this soul-power as we honor, rather than shame, our bellies. We activate it with movement and breath.

In The Woman’s Belly Book, one of the many inquiries for deepening into our body’s center is Chapter Eleven’s “Draw Out Your Deepest Knowing.”

The guidelines for this activity include:

  • Sitting comfortably, enter into the Centering Breath. Notice any images and sensations that come into your awareness as you focus your attention within your body’s center.
  • Consider your arm to be an extension of your belly, a pipeline ready to carry information from your body’s center through to your hand and out onto paper. Maintaining your awareness in your belly, take the colored markers that appeal to you. Let your arm and hand move across the paper, spilling out colors, shapes, and lines.
  • Give yourself all the permission you need to make your marks freely, without judgment or restriction.

These same guidelines apply when I’m at the piano, improvising — letting music arrive without planning, without thinking. Just as with drawing, my arms serve as pipelines, allowing the flow of energy and information from body’s center to keyboard.

The music that emerges in this way is so heart- and soul-satisfying. As one of my mentors, Mark Kelso of Muddy Angel Music, likes to say: The fun isn’t so much in playing music; it’s in being played by the music.

There’s a delicate balance between improvisation and composition. Certainly, each can inspire the other.

By my lights, as improvisation offers sensory experience of the life force concentrated in the body center, it expresses the energy of the Sacred Feminine.

Composition can likewise convey the sense of the Sacred Feminine. In this clip from Ethan Hawke’s magnificent film, “Seymour: An Introduction,” hear what virtuoso pianist Seymour Bernstein says about Beethoven’s expression of — and ambivalent relationship with — the feminine:


How do you tap into and express the music, the art, that’s in you?

Mary At The Crossroads

April 19, 2015

womb_wisdomBefore I tell you about a great short film, “Belly Button,” let me remind you that my free Womb Wisdom conversation, Connecting with the Sacred Feminine, goes online on Wednesday, April 22.

If you haven’t already done so, register for Womb Wisdom at nourishthefeminine.com by Tuesday, April 21 so you receive the email with the link to the conversation.

Remember, once you register for this free event, you’re on your way to receiving two gifts I’m offering, each complementing The Woman’s Belly Book: a $5 discount on the Honoring Your Belly instructional DVD and a 20% discount on the full-color illustrated paperback, Rite for Invoking the Sacred Feminine.

Now, to the movies:

Early on in my career as Belly Queen — championing women’s bellies as sacred, not shameful — a woman showed me a poem she had written. The piece included the words: “first scar, mother scar.”

mary-crossroads0David Hewitt’s gem of a 10-minute film, “Belly Button,” offers its own take on that theme. The cast includes Sharon Small and Don Gilet, two of my favorite British actors.

Hewitt describes the story this way: “Six strangers are drawn together at one moment in time, but with different dreams.”

mary-crossroads3Myself, I see the sacred feminine at the crossroads. What’s the story you see?

Click on the images above or here to see the film on YouTube.

Womb Wisdom

March 25, 2015

womb_wisdomHow do you access your body’s core creativity?

How do you tap into your center’s ancient wisdom?

How do you nourish the roots of the feminine?

Twelve women share exquisite responses to these questions in a free telesummit hosted by Barbara Hanneloré, author of The Moon and You: A Woman’s Guide to an Easier Monthly Cycle.

You can read about each presenter and their expertise at nourishthefeminine.com

I’m honored to be taking part in this event. My conversation with Barbara, available on April 22, focuses on connecting with the Sacred Feminine.

What’s more: When you register for the telesummit at nourishthefeminine.com, you’re on your way to receiving gifts from each of the twelve presenters.

I’m offering two gifts: both a $5 discount on the Honoring Your Belly instructional DVD and a 20% discount on the full-color illustrated paperback, Rite for Invoking the Sacred Feminine.

Enjoy!

Loving Relationships: What About Men?

February 14, 2015

union-0All year long, and now on Valentine’s Day, those of us advocating women’s empowerment might ask: What about men?

What’s their role in every-human liberation? In creating and sustaining loving relationships?

People often ask me “What about men?” as I’m praising women’s bellies as sacred, not shameful. Praising our body’s center as home to the soul-power kin to the Source Energy creating, sustaining, and renewing the world.

What about men? Don’t they have soul-power too?

What about men? That’s also the title of a chapter my editor chose not to include in The Woman’s Belly Book, a book on women’s multi-dimensional empowerment. You can read the full text of that chapter here.

The chapter’s major point: As a man enters into his own wholeness, integrating feminine and masculine polarities,

he begins to perceive a woman as a person, informed by her own purpose. His need to control her diminishes. He becomes more capable of entering into a relationship of mutual respect.

As men increasingly live and breathe from center, they prepare themselves to enter into the egalitarian relationships many women desire, and which we deserve. Truly loving relationships can develop as the partners each live from their inner source of being and support each other in returning to their core wisdom, again and again. In this way the relationship takes its strength from the shared center that emerges in the partners’ midst.

As men and women support each other in coming home to ourselves, we can engender a more peaceful, just, and sustainable way of being human together on this planet.

Loving relationships? There’s a story, its origin said to be circa 1450, that — by my lights — holds the key to loving relationships between women and men.

I came across this story as I was preparing The Woman’s Belly Book and its companion, the Rite For Reconsecrating Our Womanhood. As part of my research, I delved into Maureen Murdock’s book, The Heroine’s Journey.

Murdock tells the story of Lady Ragnell and Sir Gawain. The story is part and parcel of Arthurian legend; it relates to other tales of transformation as well.

You can read the original in Middle English here and adaptations into modern English here and here. In brief, the story demonstrates just what restores women’s beauty and balance: Men perceiving women as persons, informed by our own purpose. Men recognizing, respecting, and supporting our autonomy, our sovereignty.

Respecting our sovereignty? A man by the name of Padma Aon Prakasha copied the text of my “What About Men?” chapter into his own book — without ever asking my permission. In his “note to the reader” he asserts his entitlement to appropriate others’ words. That’s either amusing or appalling, or maybe both.

turtlebat toastBut here’s something much more interesting, and a thrill: My friend Denise Ostler (a.k.a. Merri Beacon) has of her own accord, without any previous inkling of Lady Ragnell’s story, written her own and up-to-date version as part of her Fairytale Medicine series.

Her Goals & Dreams tale begins:

Once upon a time, in a tiny kingdom, there dwelt a sweet princess who cared for injured animals. She created a special place in the royal stables where she could tend to her patients. She loved her work, but alas, it was time for her to marry.

The king narrowed her suitors down to three eligible princes. Each prince was invited to dine at the castle and give a speech about why he would be the best match for the princess. On the first night, a very handsome and confident prince stood to address the royal assembly….

The story continues here. Enjoy!


Labyrinths, Balance, and the Whole in One

February 3, 2015

carrom balance boardHere’s a bit of “belly magic” for you.

The story begins years ago, when I sprained my left ankle, really badly.

The chiropractor suggested I go to the physical therapy supply store and buy a wobble board. The idea was to step side-to-side on this miniature see-saw, a wooden plank perched upon a cylinder, strengthening the tendons in the ankle I had damaged.

balanceboard-1Reluctant to pay the high-end price for this gizmo, I stepped into the nearest toy store and found a toy balance board brightly colored in blue and red, complete with a built-in maze game, actually a simple labyrinth.

The Woman’s Belly Book describes how labyrinths relate to the body’s center, the belly’s center:

The labyrinth defines a path into and out from center. As a sacred symbol, it maps a journey from the everyday world to the secret core of existence. It charts a path to the World Navel, the point through which the life force emerges to revitalize the world.

From ancient times, cultures throughout the world from the Arctic to Africa have made labyrinths in a variety of designs. The labyrinth appears on cave walls, stone slabs, grave markers, pottery, coins, and the bellies of clay figurines…. Although many associations accompany the design, in some traditions the labyrinth clearly signifies a woman’s belly. The path through the pattern traces the soul’s return to the womb and its emergence in rebirth.

I recently took my balance board out of its box to exercise my ankles and keep them flexible. Stepping side to side, I tried getting the game’s yellow ball from the labyrinth’s outer channel into the center. No matter how I tried, I couldn’t do it. Swishing as it spun, the ball swung around too fast for me to maneuver it through the narrow gateway into the next inner circle.

So I gave up and just played around with initiating the side-to-side motion with different parts of my body: feet, knees, hips, shoulders. Left, right; left, right.

Left, right; left, right: Initiating the movement with my hips made the motion smooth, almost effortless.

Eventually, I no longer heard the sound of the yellow ball circling around. I looked down and saw the sphere had come to rest in the labyrinth’s center. With absolutely no effort on my part.

A hole in one, so to speak. What are the chances?

Left hip, right hip: Marking the endpoints — the extremes, the opposites — locates the center.

For reasons I’ll tell you another time, I’ve been studying French. But for now, I’ll tell you this: The first meaning of balancer in French is “to swing.”

To swing between left and right. Between this and that. To be the and linking the extremes, to embrace the opposites as complements. To be the whole in one.

As Rainer Maria Rilke has written, translated by Robert Bly in The Winged Energy of Delight:

Take your well disciplined strengths
and stretch them between two
opposing poles. Because inside human beings
is where God learns.

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