Welcome to the Conversations on Healing podcast, where host Shay Beider speaks with renowned healthcare leaders, practitioners, and thought leaders to explore the world of wellness, the incredible powers of self-care, and what it truly means to heal today. Join us on this journey to become more whole healed and connected.
Hello, lovely listeners. I’m Shay Beider and this is The Conversations On Healing Podcast. Healing Podcast. Today I have Staci Haines as a guest. Staci has over 30 years of experience in the field of somatics and often works at the intersection of personal and social transformation. She’s the co-founder and prior executive director of Generative Somatics, a multiracial social justice company that works with embodied transformation. Staci’s also the author of two books, the Politics of Trauma: Somatics, Healing and Social Justice, as well as Healing Sex: A Mind Body Approach to Healing Sexual Trauma, which delves into ways that traumas can manifest and show up in our lives. Staci is a senior teacher at the Strozzi Institute and Co-leads their teacher development. Today we talk about her work in Somatics and will define that for you if it’s a new term and how it can be used to create embodied transformation. She will lead us through a couple of embodied practices, including one called blending that you’ll actually get to try. Staci shares the power of working at the collective level and how the body holds space for things we protect very deeply. We’ll tap into the topic of sexual trauma and how working with the Soma specifically helps to identify reactions that can arise and show up in our bodies. Staci will share a profound experience of healing that she held with her mother while she was at home and really guiding her through a dying process and supporting her as a loved one. We touch on so many powerful areas throughout this conversation, so I’m really delighted and honored to share this episode with you. Well, Staci, I’m so delighted to welcome you to the Conversations on Healing podcast, so thank you for joining us today.
STACI HAINES Delighted. Thanks for having me.
So I know we’re going to be talking about somatics, and I know not everyone who’s tuned in may be familiar with that word. What is the soma? What is somatics? What does this language mean and indicate? So I thought it would be good to start with a little bit of a definition, if you wouldn’t mind.
Awesome. Yeah, happy to. It’s funny, I think a lot of people still think I’m saying semantics. Totally, totally fine. Soma, the word soma has a Greek root and it means the living organism and its wholeness. So it’s really the best word we have in English, although I think other language is probably a better words, but it’s the best word we have in English to mean we’re a whole living dynamic organism. That’s also a social organism. It’s in relationship with other organisms. So it’s like our thinking self, our sensing and feeling self, our emotional self, the actions we take and don’t take and how we’re in relationship both with each other and with our world. So that’s what Soma means. It’s really different than of an idea which we’ve inherited in Western philosophy of, I think therefore I am, that it looks at us as much more holistic. So that’s Soma, that’s somatics is working with that with. And then another word I like to define as we talk about embodied transformation and what we mean by that is we know we’ve transformed when our actions and our way of being, our way of relating is more and more aligned with our values and our vision even when we’re under pressure. And what’s so important about that last part is once we start understanding the psychobiology or the soma, we understand that under pressure and pressure can take lots of different forms we can talk about, but under pressure, we revert back to embodied habits or embodied survival strategies that often aren’t aligned with what we most care about.
Yeah, that’s so true, isn’t it? And I know so much of your work is grounded in transforming those patterns, how to work with Thema to create positive transformation, to align with those values so that we can live the life we want to live free from old patterning. And so I’m curious if you could share a little bit of what some of those approaches are for how you do that to help shift those old patterns.
Yeah, absolutely. Well, first I want to kind of set it in a context. Sometimes I talk about that what I practice is politicized somatics. And what I mean by that, and again we could use a better word, is that as people transforming or as people trying to heal from trauma or as groups looking to transform and be in purposeful practice together, we’re always inside of social conditions, economic conditions, and cultural patterning. So this also really breaks up this idea that I’m just like a solo individual who’s going to transform separate than that broader container. And also we’re shaped by that. So when I look at many of the things in the work that I do that we’re looking to transform, sometimes it is patterns from someone’s experience of class, race or community that has become embodied that’s not aligned with what they most care about, and that’s what we’re working on. Or sometimes it’s the traumatic impacts of oppression or very specific experiences of hurt or trauma. So it’s this dynamic between the internal deep internal and the external, which is the kind of dance or the space that I work inside of or that we work inside of. And then what the work might look like is what I love is this is a very resilience based methodology because really the first thing we ask is what do you care about? Who do you love? What do you love? What do you called to? What difference do you want to make? But we ask those questions first. So we’re really, sometimes that’s a first piece of work is sometimes people are like, I don’t know the answer to that, or I only know the answer that I inherited from my family or community or my social role. And so already it’s a kind of deepening and a, let’s call it a thawing out into the heart and guts to start listening for those deeper spaces of how to answer that question.
So once we do the work and start answering those questions, then we go, okay, what survival strategies or habits have I embodied? What skills in some ways do I not have to cultivate that vision or cultivate that life? And just an example, I really find that most of us really need to learn, relearn, or work on boundaries. Boundaries are all a good idea until you’re under pressure in some kind of way. There’s so much conditioning around who and what you’re allowed to say no to and who and what you’re not allowed to who and what you’re allowed to say yes to. So we get really curious about what are the historical habits that are lodged in muscle memory in those patterns in the brain and the nervous system. We work with those in a number of ways that we call somatic opening, which I can dive into more. But then very, very importantly, which I find so empowering, we do purposeful somatic practices to relearn competencies that life might not have left us with. So how to say a centered no, how to have a centered boundary. It’s not just a concept. We literally put our bodies into the practice with the practitioner, with other people taking it live in life. So we’re laying down almost like we would with martial arts or learning how to swim. We’re laying down a new possibility and a pattern or choice into the mind body through purposeful practice.
And I wonder if you want to share a little bit more about some of the trainings that you’re offering, who you’re training, just sort of the practical pieces. Some folks listening might be thinking, wow, this sounds really cool. This is incredible. Some of this might be very new, some of it might be familiar, but they might be curious about how do I learn more and what are these offerings? So perhaps you want to share a little bit about that.
Sure, yeah, happy to. So I primarily work with people, teams and organizations that are working for the social good. So here in the states we call it social justice and climate justice. It’s called other things in other places, but really folks going, we want a good equitable life-affirming future for all of us. Those are the folks that I work with. I do online programs, which I can talk a little bit about. And then also in-person programs or again, work with a team inside an organization or a coalition. So we’re all learning practices together to serve their mission. In the online program, which I have coming up in October, it’s funny, before the pandemic, if you would’ve said, will you ever teach online? I would’ve been like, Nope, I’m never going to do it. And then the pandemic changed all of us, and I was like, okay, well let’s get creative and how much of embodied transformation transfers over these little waves that we’re communicating to each other through? And I was surprised at how much transfer is and actually how deeply we can feel each other through these Zoom platforms and how much we can still perceive each other deeply. I still think we can’t touch each other through zoom and touch, I think as a profound part of embodied transformation or embodied healing, which we can talk more about too. But in the online programs, a lot happens. Really getting again to dive into what do people care about for themselves and for the world? What are the things I’ve been impacted by at the level of family, at the level of community, at the level of institutions, at the level of society, and how have I internalized those or how have I organized myself around what we call the three core needs of safety, belonging, and dignity? We say we come in as humans with those needs of safety, belonging, and dignity. We’re wired for those and then we adapt to try to meet those. And sometimes those adaptations still work 20 years later and sometimes they don’t. So we get really curious about those adaptations, how we hold those in our bodies and emotions, in our thinking patterns, and then really work through somatic awareness through these practices that I talked about and through unwinding those patterns through the body and emotions to get to transform together. So those are some of the different places I do work.
So that transform together. I know a lot of your work is done in a group and you actually even talk about a collective Soma. I’d be interested to think through with you why that collective soma and group work is so beneficial for healing and transformation.
Yeah, awesome. I know we shared this, which is very exciting. If we look at evolutionary biology and we look at us as an amazing animal and part of that evolution, there are isolatory animals and there are social animals. We are a social animal. We hang out in pacs or herds or tribes, and we organize ourselves into city states and nations. We’re this collective animal. And one thing that’s not good for us as human beings is loneliness, like deep sustained loneliness or isolation. And in fact, in some of the terrible things that we do to each other, throwing another human being in isolation is one of the ways we punish or torture people. We are deeply social animals and this need of belonging of having worth in our own eyes and in other people’s having esteem making a difference. I’m so interested in death and dying, and I read a lot about, it’s like, what do people care about in the last phase? And it’s so much, who am I related to? Who do I love? Who loves me and what difference did I make? It’s not my list of material objects, you know what I mean? It’s not what people care about at the end. The collective. So I’m like, we’re built that way. We’re built to belong and be belonged. And that is also where a lot of pain and trauma happens when we’re either from a family or society. So when I look at groups, the power of what can happen inside of groups as we’re belonging ourselves on each other because we’re having deep and honest conversations, it’s so different to say, how are you doing today? Versus like, Shay, what’s your calling this lifetime? How’s that going? It’s just such a different conversation to actually reveal. We do a process called an emotional political autobiography where we really write first and then story tell what shaped me emotionally and what is it in the social conditions that have shaped me based on gender, race, class, sexual orientation, nation state histories. And then we really look at going, what’s the most important part of that story to tell right now that serves my transformation when I talk about, so there’s a kind of collective, a collective witnessing that one-on-one work is very powerful and I would never want to throw that out, but I think it doesn’t, the collective place of belonging, the collective place of getting to witness and hold each other that groups do.
And then lastly, there’s patterns that groups hold that aren’t just individual patterns. And to give an example, I work in social and climate justice. There’s a group of people who are doing an incredible job organizing to end caste, caste oppression in the United States and globally. And there are a lot of caste dynamics that are brought in through folks who have that lived experience and immigrate to United States. So that one of the things they’re doing is having caste be a protected class just like race, gender, and sexual orientation. That’s their strategy. And they’ve actually passed that in a number of states now and inside of a number of companies. But in working with these folks, there are a lot of folks who of LIC class who are leading this program, and that is the most oppressed cast right inside of caste systems. Now why they are amazing, incredible visionary organizers. There’s also very deep internalized protective strategies to shrink, disappear, overwork, and take on way more labor than is theirs to do. And as they organize, there are people literally attacking them, telling them, you’re not allowed to take up this space. Who do you think you are? So working collectively with those folks is like, okay, how do we rebuild a kind of safety from the inside out and with each other? How do we relearn to take up space? How do we learn to actually very pragmatically protect ourselves? There are current attacks that is a collective Soma project, not just an individual Soma project. Does that make sense?
It does, absolutely. And I know some of the type of work that you’re doing in those collective groups has to do with breath work, has to do with touch. You mentioned the importance and power of touch. It’s one of the great things we can do in person when we’re together. And then also conversation, communication, dialogue. So these are some of the ways that you’re helping in that collective for the embodied transformation to begin to emerge. And so I wonder if there’s other aspects of that part of your practice and unfolding that you want to share with our listeners?
For sure. If we think of this soma as like, okay, here’s our thinking self there, emotional, relational self. Here’s our sensing, embodied self somatics is trying to address all of those. So it’s almost like how do we address ourselves and each other holistically? There’s a phrase of the body doesn’t lie. That gets kind of thrown around a lot in kind of more body-based approaches. And I so appreciate where that phrase is coming from, how important it is to listen to the information that comes through the sensations and through the body or what we might even call through the intuition. But what’s a trip is also the body does lie. And we need our minds, we need our emotions, we need our discerning to kind of go, what is happening? There’s a lot happening. How do I discern? And what I mean by the body lies is sometimes we can have a physiological sense, an emotional sense of fear with a person who’s actually safe because we’ve been traumatized by people in the past, and it can be hard for our bodies to discern that, or this is to me is one of the ways that sexism or racism can get passed along as we get trained to have these automatic reactions to peoples we are not that familiar with who live under the weight of a stereotype, and we literally have that some physiological felt response that isn’t actually the truth.
And then addiction is another way that the body goes, I need that substance even though that substance is doing harm is not healing. All of that is to say one of the most powerful ways to work with patterns in the body that no longer serve are through breath work and touch and then conversations. It’s not like a massage, but it’s the person getting to lie down, which also already takes us into somewhat of a regressive state breathwork patterns where we add more, we oxygenate the body, helps to change the pH in the body. It’s almost like it starts to soften the patterns from the inside out and then touch that looks like, again, not necessarily massage, but almost like pressure points and certain holding, either opening or supporting the contraction. In typical places where we hold in the soma, we can go the jaws or how the eyes can harden or how the chest can collapse or go hard, or how we can pull up and out of our hips and pelvis or how we can dig in our feet to stay, to resist these patterns. Literally get held in places in the Selma with breath and touch and then conversation and then often emotional process we can work with releasing those patterns through the body, through the emotions. And what’s interesting in somatic body work, which is what we call it often the thinking self is the last to know that we’ve changed. It’s like the mind will go, wait, I just did something totally different. What just happened? Because we’ve shifted it. We’ve shifted the pattern at the root level, if that resonates.
Yes, yes, yes. I think would be a nice moment to share a specific technique. So I know there’s a technique that you use called blending, and my thought process is maybe you could share what that technique is and then we could do a little practice so that as we’re listening, we can actually join in here and create a little transformation for ourselves right now.
Awesome. I love that. Great. Okay, so blending the lineage of somatics that I am in, one of its influences is I-keto, which is a non-combat really it’s a martial arts tradition, but it’s also an awakening tradition that comes out of Japan and o sensei or Morihei Ueshiba who’s the founder. It’s obviously called something different in Japanese, but in the US we call it blending, which is if energy or an attack is coming toward you, instead of combating it, instead of resisting it, because I know people can’t see my hands. You take the energy and go, how can I work with and move with that energy in the direction it’s already going? So that’s what blending is. What’s interesting is the contractions or numbing or collapsing held in our bodies respond to the same thing. So let me do one teaching piece that we can try on together and then we’ll do it in ourselves too. So if folks can take one of your fists and just contract it tight. So holding a fist almost like it’s trying to protect something that’s inside of it. It is trying to take care of safety, belonging or dignity in some way, and then with our other fists for the minute and for the moment, and feel yourself as we’re doing this. So feel your breath, feel your body, feel your emotional state as we’re doing this with your other hand, try to pry open that fist. Try to pry it open. Why are you doing this again? This isn’t the way I wanted to act. Stop doing that, that mood and then just for all of us, but also for you. What do you notice when you try to pry open?
Very hard to do? Not an easy task to accomplish.
Exactly. Exactly. Mine too. Mine got tighter. I dug my fingernails into my palm, my neck and shoulders got tighter and my breath got more shallow. Yeah, okay. Same fist, doing the same thing. It is protecting something inside. Again, maybe some version of safety, belonging or dignity. This time with your other hand first just get very present in your hand, like your hands present, almost like your hand could be listening through your hand. And then very gently just bring your hand and almost wrap that hand gently around the fist and support your fist in the direction it’s going. And maybe it wants really gentle support. Maybe it wants firm support, but let your fist that’s contracted really tell you what level of support at once, and then just feel your breath and body and notice what happens as we blend with that fist. What did you notice?
Yeah, immediately my fist, the hand that was in that position relaxed and then communicated to my other hand where it wanted to be held and there was just an instantaneous softening.
Isn’t that wild?
Yeah. And did you notice, did your breath anything happen with your breath?
Yeah, actually I felt not only my breath, but particularly my shoulders and torso really. It all just sort of relaxed a level I could feel just a softening, particularly in my upper body.
Isn’t that wild?
Yeah. It’s so cool. And then I could even feel, okay, next level, this would be if we were going to soften more, this would be the next sort of stage. I could feel also that it was incremental. It was in stages. It wasn’t like my hand was just going to open all at once. It was like, no, no, no, no. There’s a progression here and you have to do step one before step two would be available.
Exactly. Like a softening in layers, right? Exactly. So this isn’t just going from closed to flat open. It’s like a softening, an unwinding, a thawing. Those are some of the words that we use. So let’s try this maybe in a place where we each might notice that we find ourselves contracted or numb or even collapsed in a more regular way. Many of us, naturally because of our phones, computers can find a certain quality of tension in the neck and the shoulders. Sometimes we could check, okay, how about my chest? Does my chest pull in more or collapse in? Does it harden and push out again, if you want to go lower, someone might notice their bellies. Can their bellies relax? Often socially, culturally, we’re trained to suck in our stomachs, which actually isn’t good for us at all, not good for us. Relaxed bellies is good for us, or even somewhere in the legs or feet.
So what I want to invite all of us to do is just find a place in our somas where we might have more of a habit or an embodied pattern. I can actually choose my chest and then bring let’s our attention to that holding of that pattern. And you might notice temperatures. What temperatures are there? You might notice? Is it more relaxed, more taut, more numb? There might even be a quality. It feels more wooden or more metallic or more like a big open space, but that space is empty. Just notice unless you might notice are there any movements or stillness or maybe movement can’t pass through there? Just notice those sensations and qualities.
And then very, if you can reach this part of your body, go ahead and make contact. Again with that relaxed present hand, that relaxed listening hand, make contact. And then in your body, let yourself increase that contraction or collapse, whatever it is for you, about 5% or with your hand, you can add support that can contraction in the direction it’s going. But again, just a little bit, we want to go gentle and increasing the contraction and just adding whatever support feels right in the direction it’s going, and just feel sense what happens. Just going to go a little bit longer here. Keep sensing, feeling, supporting the contraction gently, letting it do what it wants to do. Just let it do it, but gently and then very gently, go ahead and let all that go. And just notice what happens in that transition of letting it go. Bring your hand away, let the contraction go and stay present with yourself for another moment. What’s happening in sensations, emotions, images might even come. All right. That’s a very gentle self blending with the contractions. Instead of fighting ourselves, we fight and war ourselves so much, even with a good intention of trying to change, trying to heal. What did you notice?
I think the first thing I noticed is the various sort of layers of my being that were processing what was happening. So there was kind of a mental layer of recognizing this was about protection in my body, and it’s like the mental was very much about this is serving a purpose and it’s about protection. And then when I moved into the physical, I could feel that. I could feel like for me, when you said what material, it was like wood, it was very clear. It was like wood. I even knew what color the wood was, what kind of wood, how my system was sort of identifying that that was serving a purpose. And then as I moved underneath it, there was the emotion that was sort of living underneath it all, which was much more rooted in vulnerability. And for me, in this particular example, it was about femininity and the vulnerability of being in a female body that in our culture and society has an inherent placement. And so I could feel the vulnerability of that and how my system was trying to protect. And so I could see these different layers, the mental, the physical, the emotional, then how it all was coming together.
Yeah. Yeah. That’s beautiful. I really appreciate how much you can notice. I noticed in mine too, I was right around kind of the center of my chest and my heart, and I just increase the contraction, almost like protecting my heart, also my metaphoric heart, protecting my chest or heart, and then also supporting that contraction with my touch. And then I was noticing that shortened my breath a little bit, but it really had me similar theme as you feel much more in some ways safe. And then I noticed my shoulders also wanted to contract. I’m like, oh, contract up. And I’m like, oh. Then it was like, that’s how it works. Then my body is like, yeah, this is the familiar protective contraction, almost tucking my heart back away from the surface. So it’s less reachable, but that’s also the place then where there’s enough blend that my body started to soften. It took a much deeper breath. It’s almost like my collarbone relaxed into place and then there was more depth in my chest front and back. But then I had a wave of sadness, just a wave of almost like grief for all the pain or grief for all the need to protect. Okay, that is there to, it didn’t come fully into tears, but I really felt that wave of grief, that’s a part of this protective strategy too. And then now I feel a little rippling down my back, a little rippling and trembling in the front of my heart, which from our view is part of the body letting go of holdings that have maybe been there for quite a while.
Yeah. The other piece that I really noticed that was fascinating, honestly, but scary at the same time was when I was holding and actually supporting essentially the contraction. My system for a moment was confused because it was like, wait, you’re going to support the contraction? And so there was a moment of Wait, what is happening? I didn’t know that was a thing.
Totally. Isn’t it wild? Yeah. Yeah. I think many of us who care about healing, who care about transformation in some ways, we’re always looking at how do we open that? It’s often that. Do you know what I mean?
Remember, there’s a client I was working with, they were on the table, had experienced a lot of loss. So we know we are in that realm of working with grief and loss. And as soon as we got to some semblance of that grief starting to bubble to the surface, either in the form of tears or that certain kind of breathing or sounds that can come along with grief, it was amazing. The front and back of her chest, lock down, lock done. And it wasn’t serving her parenting, it wasn’t serving her leadership, it was not serving her partnership. It was not going to serve her health. And it was so interesting. I slid, and any of you who are body workers, I slid one hand on the backside of her chest, other hand on the front, and this is blending. I just added pressure almost like I could touch my hands together. And in some ways did the protection that the body was trying to do for her, I took it on. It’s like size of relief, grief coming. All of a sudden she’d feel her belly in her hips. Then because that protection was so needed, the whole system was like, no, this feeling is going to kill us, which is often how we feel with really big emotions. So I just took on the protection instead and then she could start to let go. Isn’t it trippy?
Wow. Yeah. It’s incredible. I mean, the wisdom that is inherent in each one of us in our bodies and the information, I mean, it’s an incredible amount of information access. And I often think in doing an exercise like this, gosh, what if this was in our school systems? What if every kid was learning this as they were learning all the other things they’re learning in school? This language of how you pay such deep and thoughtful care and attention of this system, this soma and wow, how our lives would unfold very differently if that was really prioritized.
So differently. Yeah, so differently. Yeah. I think about that often too. And I think about so much of blending about somatic awareness instead of being trained. I mean, I think about we’re little kids. We’re sitting at a desk 6, 7, 8 hours a day. We’re totally not built for that. That is not what we’re built for. So the level of adaptation, making ourselves be still and mostly only training the mind, it interrupts our collective wisdom. We have so much more wisdom than that. I love training the mind, I love strategy, I love learning mentally, but we have so much more holistic wisdom. It’s like how do we keep fostering a very wide emotional range that what we can be present with is everything from awe to rage and grief, and then we know how to be with that through our somas and process it so it doesn’t get stuck, stored, acted out on other people or acted in on ourselves. And then also some of the, just this piece, what I love about blending, it’s one of my favorite things is that we learn how to not be in so much battle with ourselves or trying to control and over manage ourselves. And then of course, we do the same thing with other people. How can I get you to stop feeling that or stop talking about that? I can’t stand it. So then we start to control other people over advice other people instead of like, wow, tell me more about that. That’s a verbal blend. So we can do it physically, we can do it emotionally, we can do it verbally of how do I be with the energy in the direction it’s going to let it go through its natural arc and take care of all the things we’re trying to take care of, take care of everybody’s wellbeing inside of that.
Well, I know that this element we’ve discussed around social justice is so important to you, and I am aware that you’ve done some work to address labor rights for domestic workers in the US and bringing everything we’re talking about here, these embodied approaches as a through line into that work. And so I thought it would be really informative for our listeners to learn and understand what that even looks like.
Thank you. So in the US there’s an organization called the National Domestic Workers Alliance. And for those of you who don’t know, as people earned labor rights like the hour day or the 40 hour week or overtime pay or sick leave or health insurance, those are all labor rights. A lot of that happened in the 1940s in the United States and twenties and forties, but people were organizing for that for a long time to get the southern states in the US to sign on to labor laws to get them to agree. They negotiated that they left out farm field workers and they left out domestic workers, which in the United States is really the legacy of slavery. So thus, Dolores Suerte, Caesar Chavez, Farm Workers Movement, and thus domestic workers movement because still in 2023 in the United States farm field workers and domestic workers do not have institutionalized labor rights. I’m like, what are we doing? I just, come on people. Come on. So domestic workers, amazing. So nannies, caregivers, home healthcare workers, house cleaners. So the program that we got to co-create with them was a leadership development program that went over 20 days. So we gathered in four day intensives over two years. So we had 20 days together and then we paired it down to 16 days, but amazing. So we got to develop personal and collective visions for the future, what we call declarations. And a little bit later on I’ll share the centering practice, and we use our declarations and our visions inside of a centering practice. We got to really explore what we call condition tendencies or those embodied habits that we’ve taken on for safety, belonging and dignity. And we have to go, these are almost all women, the vast majority of which are women of color, the vast majority of which are immigrants who are taking care of other kids, people’s kids while they’re sending money home for their kids to be raised. The vast majority are poor working class. So our first program, there were about 70 people who went through the program was 20 days, and it was incredible. It was incredible. We also were in three languages simultaneously. So we’re doing English Spanish in Tagal, and then sometimes we’d also add Portuguese just to make it language accessible. And I think two stories I want to tell is when we are looking at the collective condition tendency of the group, what are again those default strategies under pressure? This wasn’t true for everyone, but many people under enough pressure, many of these domestic worker leaders under enough pressure would move into an appeasement response, giving space, getting smaller. You can understand all of the things that had that be a good adaptation given women, immigrants, poor, all of that. But of course, as domestic worker leaders who are going to go to Washington and advocate for domestic workers’ Bill of Rights, we’re going to advocate for budget lines that those rights get implemented.
There’s so many changes that would need to happen. Appeasement under pressure was not going to be good for their vision. So we did a lot of healing work around how can you be centered and stay in your dignity and your vision even under pressure when there’s conflict instead of going into an automatic appease or automatic fight, how can they stay present, connected and in relationship and clear about what they’re trying to forward? So there’s all these boundary practices, consent practices, making a centered request standing up and being able to speak one’s vision and story in a way that was life-affirming and not retraumatizing. So many things that we practiced. And then this was one of my favorite things in this process is we did somatic body work, simultaneous somatic body work for 70 people. People went to their rooms, they pulled the bed comforters down into the conference room, they pulled their pillows down.
We didn’t have enough tables or enough mats or enough anything. Then people partnered with folks where they shared language so they could talk to each other. And then what I love is you can do guided somatic body work together just by being able to be present with your partner and lay your hands on your partner. So we would guide it and say, let’s all do this breath pattern and the person who’s holding space or in the practitioner role who’s seated, just be present with your partner. Just hold ground for them. All right. Now, ask permission from your partner, but can you put your hand on their heart and their hand down on their belly? Where do they want to be touched? Put your hands there. A lot of people wanted their feet to be touched, but we go through breathwork patterns, conversation and touch. I mean the amount of healing that happened in that room, like both the collective space of doing it together. And then so many of those women said, I’ve never been touched like that. I’ve never had my space held like that. I’m always the one holding other people’s space. Anyway, there’s some stories
Profound. And additionally, I know that another area that you have done work with is for people who have survived sexual trauma, and there’s obviously a lot of intricacies to that work, and I know inevitably we have people listening to the podcast who’ve personally experienced that. So I feel like it would also be valuable for you to share about just some of a few of the things that you’ve learned in doing that work as well.
Yeah, thank you for asking. Well, first I just want to let folks know who are listening. I’m also a survivor. I’m a survivor of child sexual abuse, and I think most people know the rates are so high. One in three girls, one in five boys have some sexual violation before they become adults, which to me just talks about there’s a deep sickness, it’s pandemic proportions, and it’s like that’s what takes me right back to social change. But I’m going to stay on this piece. I so want people who’ve experienced sexual violence or sexual violation, I so want the felt freedom from that burden because it’s so intimate, it’s so intimate, and it’s so deep. And when we look at safety, belonging, and dignity, sexual abuse impacts all of those. All of those. So some of the things I’ve learned in that work and also through my own healing journey is kind of like this, I guess multiple pronged approach of learning and taking on purposeful practices make such a difference.
The question I asked is like, wow, what did experiencing their child or adult sexual violence, what did it teach us? And then what did it prevent us from learning? And I think about that again. It’s like, well, I didn’t learn how to consent. How can you learn embodied consent if you’re being sexually abused you? It takes it away. It takes consent away. I didn’t learn boundaries because part of the adaptation is just like, okay, what are the ways I can work around in between and up and over something, right? Because my boundaries weren’t honored or respected. And often I think many of us who are survivors is it’s not safe to share what you most care about because you want to hide that away so that it doesn’t get hurt taken or impacted. So when I really look at healing from sexual trauma, we want to go, okay, so first can we practice being back in our bodies again? A lot of people leave their bodies dissociate because it’s not tolerable to stay for what’s happening. So it’s like a gentle practice of coming back into sensation, temperature, pressure, movement, following our breath back into our bodies, and then we hit someplace that might be too scary. Go. Cool. I’m just going to back off of that a little bit. We want to honor that and then get a little help to go into the places that feel overwhelming or scary. What practices? I really think of giving and receiving love as a practice. It’s like how can I extend my warmth care and listening to another person, but then also somatically, how can I actually receive someone else’s warmth care and listening in a way where I can palpably register it’s safe, taking on practices, what do I literally want to get better at? And then discovering somatic practices through which to do that.
Then I have to tell you in my own process, and I know people have access to different things, but there are so many traditions of touch that help again transform the survival patterning that we build in the bodies or acupressure or acupuncture or, anyway, there’s so many different traditions based on people’s cultural location, but touch speeds up. I mean, to me, one year of somatic body work can do 10 years of talking about trauma. You can do 10 years of healing. It is accessing the survival strategies where they live, which is in the unconscious mind or the body. Many of us will say, I can understand and talk about what happens, but I still have the same reactions. Once we work through the body, we’re working with the reactions where the reactions are actually sourced. And then the last thing I want to say, and I probably learned this as I age too, is how important it is to put our attention and our practices on joy and pleasure.
I think especially when there’s been deep hurt deep, we can track for what’s not safe and what’s wrong. Our psychobiology are evolved to do that anyway, but to really go well every day. What’s the small joy today? There are these really beautiful morning glories growing outside my kitchen window and weaving their way across my window, and their colors change every day. And I’m like, how amazing is that little flower, like a small joy, noticing the small joy and then feeling it in the sensation or when we have pleasure, it’s like linger in the pleasure. Another 90 seconds the other day, I was in my car, had this sweater on that was so soft, the sunlight was coming through, and I just noticed the beauty of that feeling, and I’m like, let me practice lingering, lingering and pleasure letting it in somatically. That goes a long way for our healing and wellbeing. We spend a little bit more time there.
Yeah, wonderful example. As we deepen into the conversation on healing here, I know you’ve had some profound experiences in your own life around healing. You were just sharing a bit about healing through that sexual trauma and how that’s informed and shaped you and things that you’ve learned by choosing to heal. And I also know that in 2020, your mom passed in hospice at home and I think at your home, which is pretty profound, and I feel like it’s another opportunity for you to share with our listeners what grew in you from that experience and however you want to tell it.
Thank you. Yeah, thanks for being a space that can talk about this too. Not everybody wants to talk about the dying process and loss. I also want to just say I can really feel in myself now, having been on this path for 30 years, that healing and embodied transformation or sometimes what I think of as just spiritual growth, embodies spiritual growth is lifelong. I’m like, oh, no. There’s still things that I’ll bump into. I’m like, oh boy, that shame needs some more attention. Just trauma healing. And sometimes what I think of as path, the path of ongoing growth and transformation is lifelong long. My mom spent the last four and a half months of her life in my house where I’m talking to you from right now and still the room that she hospice and died in. We still call mom’s room now, and it was very shocking. She was fine. And then she started dropping things and she’s a tidy person, and my younger sister who lived closer to her went into her house and she’s like, something’s wrong with mom. The house is a mess. This doesn’t make any sense. It took us a minute to talk her into going in, but she basically went from fine to diagnosed with three brain tumors that were malignant an glioblastoma for anyone who’s dealt with that, which we have no treatment for those into brain surgery, which could access one of the tumors, which bought her more time. And then when we found out, they also really wanted to know what type of cancer it was. But when we found out it was glioblastoma, it was like, and it’s just so intense. It’s so intense. It’s like, oh my God, I thought I had my mom for 20 more years and now I have her for six months and I had her for nine. But to me, I just realized how much I made up a, we project our ideas about the future and because my grandpa, her dad was like 96 and she was built just like him. I’m like, we’re good to go. I just totally thought I had 20 more years. But she died at 76, and it took her physical capacity very quickly because one of the tumors was on basically her motor function on one side of her brain. So she basically was becoming paralyzed on the right side of her body, sorry, on the left side of her body. It was on her right motor function. So there are so many pieces of going from a vibrant mobile person to a walker to a wheelchair, to not being able to get out of bed, but her cognitive function stayed present. So my mom was in a conscious dying process until she kind of dropped into that last stage of being more internal really for the last maybe 11 days. And anyone who’s been through it, I mean, oh my God, dealing with the medical system and then social security, it is ridiculous what we have to navigate really to let someone die at home and then to try to get enough support and enough help.
But some of the things, what I feel, I so honored that I was with her even though I was exhausted for two years afterwards. But I felt so honored. I mean, I just got to be with her and she got to be in a place where she wanted to be, and we got to gather. I just invited, I’m like, anyone who can be present with death and dying, anyone who can dignify my mother in her dying process, come on over. She liked being with people. We have people hang out. We have people come and sing to us, and she would talk very openly. She’s like, I don’t want to die. I’m going to miss so many things. So there was also some level of grieving every day, and I feel like working with somatics and working with trauma in some ways, I had already developed the capacity. I had what I needed to be with death and dying, even though it was my mom, I wasn’t afraid. I’m like, okay, we’re going to be terrified today. Let’s be terrified. Were deeply sad. I wasn’t afraid of the range of what someone is asked to face when they’re dying. And just to share. My mom felt very comforted. She wasn’t a Tibetan Buddhist, but she felt very comforted for me to read the Tibetan book of Living and dying to her. And there was a practice in there called the Phowa Practice, which is a practice in that tradition of preparing to die. And we found it, and she really liked the practice. And so basically that is always how we started our day. And we’d invite anyone who wanted to join us, they’d just get on speakerphone with us and we would do the Phowa practice, and we probably did it for the last 50 days of her life every morning. And it’s funny, it’s a very somatic practice. You imagine your version of the infinite or God and that lighter presence pouring into your whole body and soma, and then it healing everything, and then you starting to soften and become light, and then you lifting and returning to be one with source. That’s the meditation. Wow. Quite the meditation. Amazing. I would just read it out of the book every morning, but I mean, help me. And then we did it for we’d all decided we were going to do it for another number of weeks after she died, to just keep, if it helped to keep helping her along. And maybe the last thing I’ll share in here is the blending that we talked about. There were some brief moments where my mom would, what western medicine would call hallucinate, and sometimes there were purple and pink cats under her bed, or sometimes her son-in-Law. My sister’s partner was in the closet hiding in the closet. And what was interesting is I had the hospice organization stop by maybe once a week, and mostly they gave us medication. Hospice is amazing. Palliative care is amazing. I didn’t access one that us, I’ll just put it that way. But I totally support it in general. I just didn’t have a good one. My joke was they were our drug dispensary. Why do I have a lot of drugs? By the end of this? I was like, good thing I don’t use, but they prescribed antipsychotics, and I was like, she’s not psychotic. And my mom didn’t want to take a lot, so when she was hallucinating, I would just blend. I’m like, cool, what size are the kittens under the bed? How many are there? Do you want any to come onto the bed? You could just, they could come up here and we could pet them. She was like, no, not really. I like dogs better than cats. We just had this conversation and then it would pass. And I’m not saying that’s true for everyone at all, but I was like, what feels more congruent and what feels more true to where she’s at? And what she wants is, I don’t want to give the psychotics right now. I just want to go. Can we blend? And what happens when we blend? And for her, in her dying plot process, it worked. So in honor of Mary Kay Haynes, that was her name. And I still send her a lot of love. And I felt very, very grateful for what I received through that process of be present with her as she tried to die in as conscious and a present way. Present a way as she could.
Yeah, it’s interesting because in the US I’m sure in many cultures we have these ideas of protecting ourselves from pain, and particularly around death and dying. There’s a lot of take the morphine, and I’m not anti morphine. Morphine has its place. I’m not. But I also remember hearing at one point, the Dalai Lama speak to that, and he’s like, absolutely not, because I want to hold as much conscious awareness as I possibly can. Because in that tradition and in that culture, the idea is you actually want tremendous clarity in those last moments. And so it’s very interesting to be able to both understand and respect very different worldviews, individual choices, collective belief systems, and then how that gets processed and even how systems then, as you’re indicating in this example, how this particular hospice was more of the drug dispensary, and so how the systems of medicine around us have these influences embedded in them that then have an impact. Then as a family member, you have to make a decision and try to navigate with the person themselves. If you’re able, they’re in a place where they can still have those kinds of dialogues. What do you actually want? What is meaningful to you?
Yeah, I mean, beautifully said. And in the August she got diagnosed in May, and in the August she’d had brain surgery already, and we knew she had months left. And I said, speaking of somatics, because she knows my work, I’m like, mom, I think we need a declaration. I think we need a vision around your death. What do you want? What do you want? Who do you want to be with? And it was amazing. She’s like, she thought about first thing she said, which is really my mother. She’s like, well, I don’t want to die a bitch.
Great answer. I love that. So authentic.
And I was like, okay, mom, that’s what you don’t want as declarations are what do you want? So what do you want? And then she said, I want to die with loving kindness. And I said, is that what you want? And she’s like, it is. I’m like, great. I will move mountains. I’ll do everything I can to mobilize the support and community that can help you do that, and I’ll remind you. And then I developed a declaration because I was like, oh my Lord. It was clear I was going to be the mainstay in this, and I got a ton of help. But my declaration, and this is kind of how we phrase it in our work, is I am a commitment to my mother dying with love and dignity because she did not get a lot of it in her life. She had a lot of hardships. And I’m like, you know what? At least in her dying process, I actually have much more control. I want her to die with love and dignity. And I just, even in my most overwhelming moments, I came back to, no, no, this is my commitment and declaration. Okay, that’s what I want. And that aligned with what she wanted. And we just come back and go, okay, given that, who do you want to see given that? What do you want to do given that? How many meds do you want? She’s like, I don’t want meds. I don’t. We gave her some to help her sleep. She gets super anxious at night, and that’s part of how the tumor worked. And otherwise, if she was in a lot of pain, but otherwise she don’t want to.
One of the questions that we ask each guest who comes on to the podcast is always has a very different answer because it’s through your own life, your own story, through the story you just shared with us and through many others that people you’ve worked with. But it’s this question of how would you define or describe what healing is? And so I want to ask that to you, how you would define or describe what healing is.
I have two thoughts and I’m really letting myself almost listen to that question as if it’s the first time. So the first thing that came is healing, is learning how to deeply befriend ourselves and our moment in history. That’s the first thing I would say. And I think that’s a big process to do that, to befriend ourselves, somatically not just mentally, but to go, no, I can move into deep friendship with who I am. This unique, odd, beautiful, strange creature that I am. And then my moment in history that I inherited did. So I would say that. And then the other thing I would say is there is a way that we are structured as a mind body in relationship with other humans, human beings, organisms. And the more we learn about how we’re structured, the more we learn about how we can ease ourself toward healing. And I often think of if what trauma does is break apart and betray safety, belonging and dignity, the process of healing is how we bring safety, belonging, and dignity back into coherence inside of our mind body. So our belief systems, our ways of being, our practices, that safety, belonging and dignity, and how we work with that can be coherent again, instead of broken apart or at lots.
Wonderful, wonderful answer. That’s why I love asking this question. I learn something every single time. Every single time.
I bet. It’s a great question. I’m like, I’m going to start asking people that.
Well, and honestly, that makes me think about, you had said earlier in our conversation about how you are still learning and growing, and it’s actually, to me, this is essential to being a person who is working in the healing arts. If we’re to use that kind of language, that to really be safe, to really be someone that I would want to give my trust to. I want that to be someone who is truly on the path themselves and can be honest about it and isn’t coming from a place we often see with cult leaders and not so safe people of like, I got it all. I’m good. I’m perfect. There’s nothing else here. Don’t worry about me. I’ll just teach you all how to do it now because I got it. And to me, that’s the biggest red flag wording sign of someone who really doesn’t know a lot about healing. Because the truth is, it is a lifelong journey. And in my own system, I’m like, yeah, probably up until my very last breath, I’ll be sorting something, whether it’s through my soul or my body or who knows at that point where I’ll be. But it’s a movement. It’s a movement that is a journey that’s evolving that has kind of a progressive underpinning. And to pretend that you sort of plateau and then you got it all is really not, in my view, very compatible at all with healing. So I think it’s kind of nice to actually educate around that because it can be a warning sign when you go to somebody of like, Ooh, actually maybe this person isn’t such a good fit for me. And I’ve used that at times to kind of help with a discernment process. And there’s so much information that we can look at in terms of discerning where do we feel safe? Where do we feel like we belong? Some of these core things, where do I feel, do I feel in this healing exchange and interaction that I’m able to keep my sense of dignity? Because if not, if it’s very top down authoritative knowledge, you’ve lost your sense of dignity, you’re disempowered. Not a lot of healing’s going to happen there. A lot of attempts at curing or fixing might happen, but not genuine healing doesn’t have that embedded in the very structure of the model itself, in my experience. And so these are really, I think, important just educational ideas to be aware of because we all, like you said, with this incredible experience you shared with your mom, we are all going to navigate healing journeys in one form or another, whether it is in caring for a loved one or through caring, befriending ourselves, as you said, through our own journey of healing or illness or loss or grief. So this is a landscape that we all traverse in some way at some time.
Definitely. I love what you’re talking about, and all of us have made our mistakes, you hopefully learn from them and then move forward, integrate that wisdom, and then make a new mistake. Just keep evolving and repeat. Exactly. But the thing you talked about, which I find so beautiful, is in finding a practitioner, a teacher or a healer, it’s why fundamentally I think about somatics as path, as a transformative path of practice to continue to become more whole, more heal, more contributive into society or with others more free. One of the phrases that resonates with me a lot these days is really, what is it to be more awake, skillful, and liberated? Right now? I’m 56, it’s a different set of questions when I was at 40, right? Every phase is good. We’re developing and then as people who are holding space for others, helping others heal to be both, bring our full knowledge, skills and wisdom and then stay humble and curious, just like the both. And I feel like I have a million things to learn still, and I can really bring 30 years of practice with me.
And let those both be there.
Yeah. Well, great wisdom in that. Well, I could continue talking to you for quite some time, but I’m respectful of the time that we have for today. So I just want to offer if there’s anything else that you feel like you want to share into this conversation to give you a chance to do that.
Well, first of all, just thank you so much. Thank you for what you do, and thank you for the love time, effort, and creativity to build something. It’s a big deal. So thank you. Thank you for doing that, and thank you for really being so committed to sharing that with others in wide ways, like the podcast and very deep ways at your center. And I think the only other thing I want to say is, I don’t know if it’s cultural or if it’s human, but this kind of default, we can have to find the right way or the methodology. And I so want to encourage, I really want to encourage to go depthful into a methodology and path that calls to you in general, and then stay flexible hearing about your work. I’m like, that’s so interesting. Tell me more. There’s so many paths to the truth.
So many paths to the truth and stay on a path, get in. Practice, in some ways stop the appetizer approach to learning your healing, and then just let grow within next to each other and keep cross pollinating. That feels important.
Too important too. Yep. Well, we will keep cross pollinating.
Yay. I look forward to that.
So lovely to talk to you today. Staci, thank you so much for this really joyful and deep conversation. Joyful and deep. Thank you.
Honored. Thank you.
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