The Long Tide

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Listening: Contemplations and Stories

For years, I turned the following particular event with my mother over and over in my mind, exploring the origins of our lack of trust in each other. Recently, I found myself talking to a young mother, and it occurred to me that there might be a way for the bond between children and parents to hold strong even when a child is troubled. Had my mother been able to see that my inability to read and write like others might be very difficult for me and empathize with me, had she been able to listen to me, and hear how I felt, I might have been able to see that she was trying to help me. 

Perhaps it is this experience of not being listened to that drew me to cranio-sacral work, where listening is the core activity. Maybe part of my soul wants to provide for others that which I did not receive.

Published in The Sun Magazine, November 2013, Section "Readers Write, Trying again"

“Let's try one more time," my mother said to me. I'd made only a couple of mistakes, she pointed out. Maybe I wouldn't make any this next time. Wouldn't that feel good?

Night after night she and I sat at the long table in our family room with my schoolwork. I couldn’t read or write nearly as well as my fourth-grade classmates. My teacher had told my parents they should just accept that I wasn’t very bright, but my mother didn't believe him. Now she prepared to read to me one more time the short dictation exercise I had brought home from school. 

I looked in dismay at the pieces of paper covered with my handwriting and my mother's corrections in red. "I’ve already written it five times," I said. I assured her I'd do fine at school the next day. Couldn't I just go to listen to the radio? I hated these dictations sessions and hated her for insisting on them.

"You can do better than this if you try hard enough," she said. "I know it." She began to read slowly again, and reluctantly I picked up the pencil and wrote. When we were done, I checked my work and slid the paper across the table to her. She looked at it, and her smile disappeared. I'd made more mistakes than the last time! She said I just hadn't put enough effort into it.

Bur I had put all my effort into it. I threw the pencil across the table and yelled at her and ran off.
It went like this for years. Unable to believe that I was stupid, my mother concluded I was lazy instead. She eventually lost trust in me. 

My dyslexia wasn't diagnosed until I was in sixth grade. A neurologically based difficulty with reading and spelling, the disorder was not well-know in 1962. My mother found a tutor who whelped me to read and write properly despite the aversion I had developed toward schoolwork, but the broken bond with my mother was a disability I would never overcome.”

What are your stories of listening - hearing and being heard? What brings you to cranio-sacral work?

~ Ursula, November 2013

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The little things

By heart, I’m a seeker by nature and an adventurer of inner and outer landscape by heart. All my life I have engaged in practices that supported my quest for deeper experiential knowledge of life, the meaning of it, and my particular role in its unfolding. Ever since my sixtieth birthday two years ago I had a hunch that a new understanding was waiting for me, somewhere.

And here I was on a vision quest in the red rock country of Southern Utah, with a group of likeminded seekers, eleven of us and a handful experienced guides. We spent a few days in the basecamp in preparation for a four-day fast during which each one of us would spend three days and three nights alone in the wilderness, following a tradition of many indigenous cultures and world religions. I hoped that this arduous ritual grant me a vision for a deeply connected life.

For my solitary time I chose a spot on a narrow shelf high above the sandstone canyon floor, with a cave large enough for my gear and for me to stretch out on the even, sandy grounds. This was my first night out.

I woke up with a startle, suddenly wide-awake, listening. Lying motionless on my back I tried to make out a very subtle sound. It was pitch black around me. Turning my head to the opening of the cave I could see a few stars between the clouds on a moonless sky. The sound must be come from sand drizzling onto my sleeping bag. What could possibly cause this, I wondered?

I rolled onto my belly, my hand easily finding the headlamp nearby. Turning it on I let the light travel over the ceiling three feet above me. And there it was: a single ant was crawling upside down over me, releasing grains of sand. I felt my heart take a leap in awe of such small feet breaking down rock and found myself smiling at the companion in the night. How amazing to be in a place so quiet that drizzling sand would wakes me up. Watching the ant diligently moving across the ceiling until disappearing into a crevice, I was suddenly aware of my physical largeness, my clumsiness in the ways I move across this earth. Will I ever be able to walk again with ease, carefree?

I let the lamp’s light wander around the cave some more. Just next to my face, I found another small, quiet creature, a caterpillar shuffle over the edge of a big boulder near the entrance. I wanted to touch its hairy body and extended a finger toward it, expecting the animal to quickly withdraw from me. To my utter surprise, the caterpillar arched its back into my finger. I held my breath not wanting to disturb this delicate connection. Finally she lowed her back and moved on, nonchalantly. Never would I have expected such a tender mutually desired meeting and felt deeply moved.

The caterpillar disappeared and I looked around some more. I noticed the large sandstone boulders that blocked most of the entryway. Glancing up at the ceiling, I understood that these boulders had dropped down from there. The cracks in the sandstone above gave me an idea of the forms, shapes and sizes of the boulders that’d drop next. Falling they would easily kill me, no doubt. Not a bad place to die, I thought, for this Swiss woman so at home in this cozy cave in the astonishingly beautiful desert of the American Southwest. Not a bad time to die after the intimate meeting with an ant and a caterpillar.

Then I remembered that big boulders split off from the mountains by the forces of water and ice. This was is a dry spring night well above freezing. Feeling safe I turned off the light, tucked myself tightly into my sleeping bag, ready for a few more hours of sleep.

Waking up I let myself linger in the twilight zone between dream and wakefulness contemplating on the visitations of the night. The encounters reminded me of the work I do: Cranio-sacral therapy, the subtlest of hands-on healing work. When I lay my hands on my client’s head and wait long enough, the walls and barriers that have been created in the body as a result of trauma soften enough that I might be able to listen with my hands and fingers to the different physical structures in the head. I hear the stories of those structures and lean about the relationship thy keep with each other. Marion Woodman, the famous Canadian psychologist put it this way: “Once the body is listen to, it becomes eloquent. It is like turning a fiddle into a Stradivarius.” Under my touch, when their body learned to trust I can feel my client arches toward my contact, and how this gentlest of hands breaks down defensive walls and allow the body to experience a long forgotten physical freedom of pain and tension.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

"Alternative" Medicine?

In current parlay, any healing practice that doesn't emerge from western-medicine, is referred to as, “alternative.” What if we framed our thinking and reference to all healing approaches so they were all considered “alternative?” How might this change a patient’s sense of choice when coping with a difficult health issue?

In early summer of last year a client of mine suffered an excruciating attack of trigeminal neuralgia. She was found on her kitchen floor in tears and brought to the emergency room. She was given anti-seizure medication to get the pain under control, which she reluctantly took. She had already been unable to work for some time and, as a self-employed person, needed to get back to it.

In August an MRI ruled out the possibility of a brain tumor. As a permanent solution for the trigeminal neuralgia her neurologist suggested brain surgery during which a hole would be drilled into her skull through which the trigeminal nerve would be severed. The costs - about $200,000. To my client, this didn't sound like a good idea or financially viable, as she would have to come up with $40,000.

From the beginning of her disease my client sought acupuncture treatments, and in September she added weekly cranio-sacral therapy treatments. By the end of September, she weaned herself off the seizure medication, and by the end of November (and ever since) she has been pain-free. Costs in total (the majority spent on diagnosis by western-medical practitioners) - around $5,000.

This was a fortunate case. But I believe that non-invasive methods of treatment that have no side- or residual effects should be the standard and conservative way to go first. The more aggressive, invasive forms of treatments offered by western medicine always remain an option, and in my opinion should be the alternative. This would reduce the costs of heath care exponentially.

What kind of treatment would you have chosen? I admire my client for her choice, and hope I’d make the same in a similar situation, though it is so counter-cultural.

Saturday, February 2, 2013


January is one of my favorite months. It feels like one of the longest, and I’m glad for that. Devoid of expectation I can relax. The holiday season is over, with its wonderful festivities. There isn’t the desire or demand to connect with family and friends, as much as I love doing that. Spring hasn’t arrived. I’m not called outside to check on camellias and crocuses for their blooms, as much as I get excited doing that. And I’m not aching for the first hike in the foothills as much as that is my very thing to do. January is true winter, time for hibernation. Like my namesakes the bears, I fast for a number of days, living off the fat I accumulated over the holidays.  No food shopping, no cooking, no dishes, no eating: I have much time on my hands. I sleep a lot, nine hours a night if possible. I meditate and hang with Sam. I get to knit and sew. I read books. This year it was Trebbe Johnson’s “The World is a Waiting Lover”. 
What a title! I’m very inspired by it. Going out into the world, and with every step expect to meet the irresistible lover, the one who holds and penetrates me, like no other! One image that she painted in the book that stays with me: The longing of the lizard for the hot rock, and then finding that rock. What might resemble that rock for me, for you? (Maybe you want to read it even though it is already February.)

I wonder what you did in January, and how you liked it.

But now, it is February, Imbolc (pronounced Immolc). As of nightfall on January 31, we are now officially in the Celtic Springtime. Many blessings of abundant green shoot already. I planted the first spring flowers today, and ordered some munch. I’ll have my first yard work party on Monday, and by the end of the month I’ll be off to Anza Borrego State Park in Southern California for a soul-searching time with likeminded people. I can’t wait! The year has begun!

I would love to hear from you.