Saturday, March 31, 2012

One tiny gesture can change your day

There are times when we lose track - we get lost in the everyday grind and just forget what got us there in the first place. It's easy to do in a busy day. I'll often tell my clients to take a moment to engage their bodies - to do something physical to give themselves a tangible reminder of something they're trying to keep in their mind. Here's something I wrote that illustrates what I'm talking about, albeit in a little more poetic way. I think you'll see what I'm getting at, though.

There are uncounted times when powers of abstract reasoning fail and the fog of doubt clings to the shoreline without hope of lifting - in those disquieting moments there is pure solace to be found in the power of the body, motor movements both gross and fine, regression to the physical mean of sinew and synapse. All inward-gazing philosophy rests upon the grounding power of the body, the sweet slide of muscle fiber, the beating of the human heart, the symbolic weight of the human grasp.

Each day in my internship, I would stride across a bridge that spanned a small creek. The creek was gorgeous and verdant, a riparian paradise no matter the season. I’d stop on the bridge, the beams worn smooth by hand and foot, by generations of students who parked their cars in the real world and then trudged across into the academic fantasy land of Reed College. I’d stand in the middle each morning, halted halfway, and I’d make the transition to work with a small physical gesture that reminded me to be open to what happened there. I’d open my arms and welcome the grass-scented air, my mind conjuring the smell of ivy clinging to hand-hewn limestone, no ivory in those towers. I’d pull my day into my consciousness with that small physical gesture, and I’d continue my walk to the counseling center.

Each day I’d toil in the service of the university, in the hope of bringing comfort to the students who were struggling to succeed in such a lofty environment. Successive clients would bring successive tensions, and I’d carry them in my body and in my mind. Lunch breaks were often sodden with the damp weight of disappointment or depression or drug abuse, my mind racing to make sense, to discover what to do next, how to help. I was new at full time therapy, and I was overwhelmed, and in my job you didn’t show it because everyone else was overwhelmed too, students and staff and faculty all in it together, holding up the crushing load of a top-level university. Everyone bore their share, everyone supported a wall or a staircase or a shelf in the library, and no one wanted it to come crashing down.

These were my days at the Reed College Counseling Center - halt halfway on the bridge in the morning, willingly accept the piling of trouble on emergent trouble, stay engaged and open and try to learn while all around me others did the same. The secret, the thing that kept me from dragging everything back to the car and packing it up to bring home to a young family, was what happened on that bridge at the end of the day.

At the end of each workday, after the notes were filed and the lights were turned off and the chairs were moved back into place, empty of sobbing students and struggling new therapist, I retraced the steps that had brought me there. On that same bridge, above the mossy green banks of that slow moving creek, I’d halt again. This time, though, I’d bring myself into my body, deep into where my heart beat and my lungs filled and emptied, and I’d pull my day out through my veins and I’d will my day into the warm and empty palms of my hands. I’d stand with my hands cupped, and I would fill them with my day, with all of it. When I’d emptied myself of my day, when my heart beat with fresh blood and my lungs filled with air free from the worries of students, I’d step to the worn handrails of the bridge and I’d turn my upturned hands over. I’d drop my day into the slow moving creek, watch it as it dissipated, some caught in little eddies by the moss, some flowing straight and true, all the way to the ocean.

Some days all it takes is the knowledge, deep in your bones, that a few simple movements can change everything.

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