I am sitting in a Cafe Gratitude in Berkeley after attending the USABP (United States Body Psychotherapy) conference, and am relishing the energy evoked by somatic psychology and conscious Northern California explorers of Self. I have felt some emotion over the last few days associated with interconnection, life purpose, and engagement with others. Just now, I pulled out my computer to write down some thoughts, and (eventually) crank out a paper for a dry grad-school psych class. What I ended up learning about this evening however, had nothing to do with ordinary “family therapy”. The interactions with the people I engaged with were powerful and therapeutic, as if I had found a new family.
As my food arrived, I met two interesting, kind, high-vibe raw food educators sitting on the couch across from me. We spoke for a while about what we all ‘do’. Soon after our discussion commenced, a man sitting on the couch with me went into a manic schizoid episode, attempting to reap havoc on any nearby person who cared to engage him. We all sat there, us Café Gratitude crunchers, holding a space of love, while telling him we enjoyed his harmonica playing and presence.
He didn’t seem to hear any of it.
He was in his story, in his pain, and in his hypermanic state of arousal that he has held onto for many, many years in order to survive in this world. It is tragic and darkly beautiful what we humans are capable of experiencing – what we witness. Many of the people we encounter (and we are those people), have dealt with so much pain, or are living in so much turmoil, that their only resource is to lash out. It is hard to comprehend and it feels excruciating at times. It is as if the only way to adjust to what is happening is to shut off, tune out, and avoid. The shut-off however, disables us from seeing the beauty. Our need for comprehension through the somatic experience of empathy seems to be one of the great lessons and great mysteries of this world.
There is enrichment available at every moment. So much so, that we are able to find resources to deal with the pain in our lives, our families and ourselves. The question of the day here at this Berkeley restaurant of Gratitude was, “What do you love about your life?”. I love that I have the freedom to move, explore possibilities, do what I need to do to care for myself, speak openly with others, share space/food, experience nature, explore intellect, absorb wisdom, and feel love. The list goes on and on….
There are so many things that I am grateful for and what I love most is that I am able to have these kind of life-based educational experiences on a regular basis. All that is required of me is that I keep my eyes and heart open. Even when the moments are painful and the tormented East Bay street-dweller catharts his toxic exposure to all that surround him; even then, do I feel such a great wave of gratitude.
And maybe more so because I realize how fucking lucky I am, in that I don’t have to experience life in the way he does. However, isn’t that pretentious of me to assume that the way he experiences life has any less fortitude than the way I experience mine? That the way he screams and yells at random life-goers to release some part of his conflicted soma, is any different than the way I deal with my surroundings in an ecstatic dance class? The only difference is the leg warmers and the $10 entrance fee when it all comes down to it…
I speak of this metaphorically of course, given I don’t tend to scare people away at restaurants, nor challenge them (overtly) to love me. However the essence of his mission, his need to express, his ways of emoting, they are all still inherently human. Unfortunately, the harmonica-man is dysregulated because his little child-self was most likely never heard, however his humanity still speaks as loudly as my own.
I am thankful for that experience as I sat there calmly by a fire, talking to middle aged raw foodists who spoke to me about their sojourns, and asked me, “What’s your sign?”. I know I am on the right path studying how the psyche relates to the body when nearby strangers comment that I am “brave” and must have “training with this sort of thing”, based on their experience of my interaction with the disgruntled, schizophrenic man.
I am thankful that even in moments of extreme holistic bliss, I am reminded of the world that surrounds us. There is never a dull moment because the shadow is within all of us. And as Michael Meade said just last night at his lecture in Mill Valley, we MUST shine our inner truth and light onto others, with the intention that they will absorb some of the essence and eventually – although not always evidently – be able to realize theirs.
Then the next phase of the evening came….
After the schizophrenic man exited the building, I continued conversing with the raw food people who sat across the communal table I was eating at. At first I found them kind and similar to many new age people I have come across on my path of self-evaluation. Yet as our conversation continued, I realized their story was much more profound than I realized. As “Jim” spoke, he told me wild tales of pain, Self discovery, healing, and illumination. His friend “Trina” was probably about fifteen years younger than him. She was equally engaging, however seemed to be more of the space-holder, rather than the story-teller herself. It was as if she had come into his life to support his healing process and story-telling.
This man has seen wars, driven trucks, weighed over 300 lbs, fought for life, and battled disease and PTSD. Now he feels and sees energy, talks about Spirit, and tours around the country educating people about raw food and healing.
I rarely get immersed in the stories of strangers for hours on end, however this was a special story. These people were special people and reflect the ubiquitous light that is reflected throughout humanity. We were meant to share the space together and gather the insights we needed. Just minutes before the harmonica-playing schizophrenic acted out, Trina and I were discussing “grounding exercises” and what to do in the event that our energy is threatened or feels out of whack. The mere mention of grounding exercises in that moment supported me to have a resource, as papers flew all around me and the man screamed his troubles into the empty, loving space. Out of the madness, Jim, Trina and I were able to find a peace with each other, feel into gratitude, and remember that we can look to others for support.
Photo Courtesy Amy Steinfeld