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Questioning Normal

Since so many of our "normals" have been shifted, bent, or removed all together, this is a good time to notice how we react, and what happens in our bodies, when we are called to step outside of what we think of as normal.


Something becomes normal after we have done it or seen it a few times.

It's one of the benefits of adaptation, which allows us to live in a wild world.


But what happens when a "normal" thing doesn't actually serve us anymore?

Can we notice it?

Can we make a change to release it or adapt to what's needed now?


Let's look at this from the perspective of the physical body.


" 'Rightness' in the context [of the body] only means 'familiarity,' grooves that are well-worn. It is often strongly associated with movements and habits that are merely 'satisfactory' in some limited way, or 'normal' in the sense of 'like before.'" ( all quotes from A Handbook for Bodywork, by Deane Juhan)


We all move differently, but our internal sense of how we move is our normal, and we feel it is right to move this way. Of course it is, this is how I do this (chopping carrots) and this is how I do that (walking up a hill.)


As we age, though, our tendency is to become more conservative in our movements, as another wonderful adaptation which helps us live long lives. Our brains say "careful, don't hurt yourself" all day, and we subconsciously narrow our movement range. We may also narrow our range in response to injuries and the associated pain. Or due to illness that requires us to rest for extended periods.


It takes an act of intention to continue our broadest ranges of motion as we age. Some of us are internally motivated, and continuing this expansion throughout our lives is natural and easy. For others of us, our tendency to slow and narrow creeps in when we aren't looking, until we notice that we used to be able to do various activities, or move our bodies in certain ways, and now we can't. Or we can't as easily.


"Astonishingly enough, once a sense of normalcy has been established in connection with a way of doing something, perceived inefficiency or even pain are usually not enough to alter our beahviour. We will tend to continue to do a thing the way we learned it, the way in which we first established our 'feel' for it, in spite of the fact that subsequent problems develop as a result."


I find myself in this place now. I have been ill for a few months now, dealing with some gut issues that have required me to slow down again and again, and to narrow my range of movements, to be careful of what I eat and how I sleep and when I go for walks. I have had to surrender to this slowing and narrowing so that my systems could recover, and this is still a work in progress. The recovery is slow.


And I find myself this week noticing that, like the crocus and snow drop, parts of me are ready to return to more - more movement, more expression, more ability to stretch and reach. And, it has to be within this new range, where I find myself inhabiting life now. I can't just jump back into how I was. I tried that and it made things worse. It was so uncomfortable, and felt disrespectful to the systems of my body that were still struggling to recover.


Okay. So. Slow and subtle to begin.


I have to receive the energy of the slow, the heavy, the weighted realities of where my body is right now, while also listening for the push up of the green shoots that are ready to rise again.


I find myself walking this space of between - weighted and heavy, slow and narrow, while also feeling the rising sap of spring and the desire to return to the sweetness I remember of easy movement and joyous expression through my dancing body.


Part of the weightedness can be understood in this context:


"This conservative tendency inherent in the feeling of normalcy has a great force of inertia. By maintaining learned patterns, it contributes much to my sense of continuity, the stability of my body image, and the firmness of my sense of self. On the other hand, it can prevent constructive changes and refinements."


If I hold out against the inertia, seeing it as the enemy which must be fought against, I create new habits of internal struggle. If I receive the energy of inertia and allow it to move through me, as I have had to do while ill, it does its work and allows me to heal.


I have allowed inertia to roll through me like a wave - a long slow wave.

And now the wave is almost gone. And I can sit up again, and can feel the breathing is easier, and I can see the sky and the sun and the green growing things and the birds, and I feel called to move out to them. To move out to meet them.


This opportunity to move from a new place is where I find myself questioning my "normal."


I have an image and a sensory impression, a bodymind map which creates my "normal", and which is the first way my body will want to move, the way my mind will want to return to its former self. The one who could do _____ amount in a day, the one who could dance like _____, the one who moves like this _______ in the world.


And here I have an opportunity to listen for the new. For new ways. To be curious and playful as I look for the sap rising and follow it into new neuronal pathways and expressions.


This experience is what I am offering to the client's body when giving a massage. A new stimulus that offers the body a new sensory experience. "...by remaining passive and allowing the therapist to create movements and sensations for her, the individual can begin to 'get the feel' for patterns of movement that might take laborious weeks and month for her to master on her own, and can experience a new sensory norm that would have been impossible for her to establish as quickly for herself."


Our bodies are delighted by new, when we allow ourselves past the barriers of 'normal.'


I am looking now to see - how do I offer myself this new sensory stimulus from the inside out, as I begin to return to a morning movement practice and short walks in the woods?


I notice my tendency to think in terms of progress, building each day's return to stamina like a program given by a personal trainer. This is the old way, the limited way that is my normal. What else could be possible?


My ego mind says "Nothing, and don't risk it. Hurry up and get us back to our former fitness level! That felt good and right." I hear that voice arguing for the return to normal.


And I am interested in the new, in what I don't know yet, and have never experienced.


"Muscular relaxation...is a prerequisite to any type of successful muscle retraining."


And I have spent lots of time slowing down to the point of relaxation, in mind and body. Here is when I have the opportunity to follow new, to experience building, rather than re-building.


I see this as the difference between having a rose that is trained to regrow up a trellis which it grows up every summer, or having an expansive greenhouse in which a rose is allowed to grow where it will as it is offered support and warmth and light and moisture.


I want to choose to structure myself as the expansive glass house, rather than immediately return to the structure of the trellis because it is the normal.


I'll follow the path into this glass house this week. What allows this body to feel expansive, to feel and seek out warmth and moisture and light?


What "normal" can you question, for body, mind or heart? What way of moving, which has served you well in the past but no longer allows your growth and expansiveness, are you ready to relax so that you may experience new?






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