When a client’s cervical spine is out of alignment, I feel it as a bunchiness under my fingers, like a river with a stick in it, impeding the smooth flow of water. The wrongness travels through my hands and up my arms. I can feel the cloudy thinking, the impeded sense of aliveness in the body of my client. The stem that supports the brain is unsteady, and the brain knows, and the brain performs less well. In these times, I wish I were a chiropractor and could quickly twist, getting the bones to realign. Instead, I work around the stubborn knob, gently moving, rocking, massaging, doing my best to let the body go back to where it knows it belongs.
Sometimes in my hurry to rip the paper off a straw, I end up creating tiny tears in the straw that, when I try to drink my iced tea, I get the unsatisfying pull of air and liquid, a lot of work for a little iced tea, and so I have to throw out that straw and try again, more patiently this time.
I don’t know when this started, but when I see a dog on a choke collar now I have to cross the street. I have used choke collars on my own dogs, and I thought little of it. I felt it was my right as a dog owner to cut off my dog’s ability to breathe momentarily if she wasn’t doing what I wanted her to do. I thought nothing of yanking fiercely on her collar when she went to smell dog pee on flowers and I wanted to keep walking. I didn’t think about her cervical spine. I didn’t think what would happen to my own cervical spine if someone put a choke collar on me and took me for a walk.
People with GERD or severe anxiety or ALS can experience laryngospasms, which is a brief spasm of the vocal cords that makes breathing difficult. A friend of mine had one recently that lasted 90 seconds. That’s 90 seconds where you can’t breathe and there’s no light at the end of the tunnel because you’re not sure there is an end to the tunnel.
Sometimes I wonder if dogs feel like maybe there is no light at the end of the tunnel when their owner is in a particularly aggressive mood.
The other day someone wrote to me that he was struggling because he had shared his feelings with a group and he’d felt dismissed because no one said anything that made him feel supported or heard. No one said anything that made him feel valuable. He said the group’s reaction made him just want to stay quiet and not let people know how he really felt. He’d talked about having feelings that maybe none of them had had before because he’d been in a situation none of them had ever been in before, and so there was the problem of knowing what he was even talking about, and the group, it seems, stayed in a state of bewildered confusion instead of asking questions that might have helped lead both them and him to some light.
When people tell you that everything will be alright or that you are silly for having certain feelings or that it could be worse, your reaction can be to turtle, to go back into your shell, and then the world loses the opportunity to learn and love. I think this man would have been more encouraged if the others had said to him, “Can you tell me more?” or “And how did that make you feel?” or “What is the thing you need most in the world right now?” or just about anything that encouraged him to share even more, something that made him feel safe, understood, or, if not understood, at least loved.
Questions are so wonderful. When you ask a person about herself, she flowers. The last semester I taught college, I had the students pair up at the beginning of each class and ask each other questions because I was seeing that this simple skill which often starts with “What is your name?” and “How are you?” was becoming increasingly underplayed as the cell phone created walls between students who never conversed with each other but who had sat in adjacent desks all semester. The first day I did this exercise, I asked the students what they thought about it. I expected resistance since it can be awkward and embarrassing to talk to strangers, but the very first student to raise his hand said, “I liked it. I never expected to make a friend in school.”
We have so many questions we can ask, and it’s a luxury we have the breath to ask them. What do you want from your life? What is your favorite memory? When can I see you again?