I Carry the Country Within Me

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After living on a Farm in Tennessee (my version of Isak Dinesen’s, “I lived on a farm in Africa”), and walking the dirt, chert, gravel, and asphalted roads day after day, year after year—falling in my share of puddles along the way—learned their crooks, dips, and turns, and became accustomed to walking in the dark. Of course, it was much easier when we got flashlights, but even they were no guarantee on very dark nights. I witnessed the stages of the oak trees and their leaves from sprout, to bud, to leafing out, and then their turning and their fall. These were the trees through which we carved out our roads that connected us to each other and to the outside world.

I learned the states and angles of light at different times of year. Depending on the season, I could hear the quality of sounds change as they bounced off one ridge onto the next when buffered by the presence or absence of leaves. I learned the seasons by the plants that emerged, bloomed, and fruited, and the bugs, bees, and birds that called them dinner. I heard that Spring and Fall were coming depending on the songs of the whippoorwill and woodpeckers, the deafening chorus of frogs and cicadas at twilight, and the inevitable sneezes of humans when ragweed flowered. I saw the woods filled with fireflies during the summer, saw them disappear with the cold and reappear the next year. Witnessing the constancy of nature was comforting, and I never forgot it.

In addition to living in communal multiple family dwellings, over the years I shared my home and gardens with various uninvited visitors who dared to drop in. These included: black snakes, rattle snakes, skunks, families of deer, squirrels, mice, racoons, and in Puerto Rico, a pig. The pig was deposited in our yard in remote Utuado by Tropical Storm Eloise in 1975. After days of rooting up our ripe bok choy patch, we captured him with Wonder Bread and a slip-knotted broom. Unfortunately, as a country pioneer, meaning I was raised in the city, I learned how to do everything as I went along. I shared my body with way too many chiggers (who ever heard of those growing up in West L.A.?), ticks, and patches of poison ivy than I’d like to remember.

Married to a mechanic, by accidental absorption, and six months on the road in a Caravan of school buses, I got to know something I never thought I would: recognize by ear the startup motor of a Toyota, VW, or Mercedes—or tell by its sound what kind of truck, bus, or car was headed my way down the road, or traveling on a nearby highway, especially during winter.

During three action-packed, wisdom-, strength-, and love-filled natural childbirths, guided by midwives and supported by my husband, at home in my bed I finessed the body-mind connection I’d first read about and then experienced in yogic, tantric, and East-West lectures, trips, and tomes. With trust and determined application, I learned to honor the ultimately intelligent oneness of my body and mind and the language they shared—that we, within and without our Selves, are truly One.

After living in the boisterously symphonic, yet quiet language of nature and the woods for so long, and visiting, feeling akin to, and at one with nature, in that Thoreau kind of way, for my entire life, I never felt like I left it, nor that it left me when I moved back to the city.

Ever since, I’ve said that “I carry the country within me,” which for me is always a comfort and a resource—a reminder of my Spirit, the ground, and grounding that sustains me. Yes, I’ve gotten lost and suffered along the way, but all in all, I remember and feel those roots, and that pull of nature within me. I appreciate it in the blooming of the trees in the parks as well as those planted in concrete-lined square holes that pepper the sidewalk. I feel it in the craftsmanship and attention to detail in the old buildings and the design, angles and slopes of the new ones—in how our bright island light hits, reflects, and makes rainbow prisms of the relationships between buildings, structures, and the sun. I feel it when someone offers me their seat on the subway, as I wonder if I look that old or if they’re just being kind and connecting? Yes, probably both.

In Manhattan, on foot or taking public transportation, most of us pack a bag of what we need for the day without the benefit of that instant-jump-in-your-car-transportation-that-you-also-use-as-a-truck-to-haul-your-stuff—to which I was accustomed while living in California. In NYC, my bag may contain layering pieces, hat, scarf, often an umbrella, digital camera, cell phone, wallet, shades, bottled water, sometimes a book, and a snack. Despite that, I always try to keep my load light, and my purse’s metal hardware to a minimum. (Yes, I had to learn that one, too.)

In California, my clients with chronic headaches, shoulder, neck, and arm pain would often walk in to my office for their appointments, weighted down with over-sized handbags, that they carried in from their car, and were used to lugging around regularly. I’d ask, now, what actually are you going to use for the day, and need to carry with you between the car and here? It seemed that even with a car, women would claim to “carry their life around in that bag.” At the same time, they hadn’t captured the connection between their chronic pain and how they were using their body on a day-to-day, moment-by-moment basis. I blame how our society and modern medicine ignore the wisdom of the body and fight with instead of blending with nature. Read article and book after book, and doctors try to assuage patients that tension headaches are not their fault, nor an indication of bodily tension, rather than educating their patients on how to use gravity and nature in a way that supports rather than hurts them. And although I’ve got nothing against an occasional pain pill when needed, what do pain meds, or mind or muscle relaxants teach you about how to generate your own relaxation from, yes, say it with me, “within?” 🙂

Guess what? It IS bodily tension, and so what? It’s better to know it than to ignore it, which just perpetuates the problem. What is that bag doing to your shoulders, anyway? If it’s too heavy, it might make one shoulder lower than the other with just its weight. I remember that from junior and high school days before backpacks. But even today, how many kids carry backpacks, while thrusting their head and rounding their shoulders forward under the weight of tens of pounds of books? But most commonly, in order to wear a weighted-down shoulder bag or computer case, we have to meet the gravitational pull of the bag with an equal amount of tension required to hold our shoulder up to support the bag. This has the affect of creating tension in the upper body (shoulders, neck, arms, head and face) that feed into creating tension headaches. During sessions, I help clients soften, release, and become aware of that tension through bodywork and somatic self-care education. This education builds their ability to make decisions that help to use gravity to their advantage and in a way that supports them, until it becomes part of their nature.

The awareness of what we carry with us, literally and figuratively, can shape how we heal and how we self-generate.

And you? What do you carry with and within you?

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