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There is a quote by Viktor Frankl which is so hopeful.

“Between stimulus and response there lies a space. In that space lies our freedom to choose a response.”



But the more I collaborate with individuals who are seeking change, the more interested I become in what fuels the responses we are already in the habit of choosing.


Take this example: I never really learned how to swim. It's not like I need a floatation device to get from here to there. It's that if the water situation lasts longer than about 3 minutes, things get weird. I begin to produce enough splashing and chaos to get a sincere, “You okay?” from the nearest person.


So I decided to pay attention to what it was that made swimming such a physically taxing activity for me. The first thing I noticed when I met the water was that my breath was shallow and fast. The second thing I noticed was that my legs were not acting as paddles–they were sort of running in place. And the third was that my arms were doing most of the work.


When I saw the whole pattern, I started to giggle. These movements are all linked to one very clear, and reasonable, intention: to keep me from going under. The thing I had inadvertently taught myself to do, as a child, was not so much linked to swimming as it was to not drowning. And the irony was that it looked a lot like the thing I was trying not to do!


If we take a moment to consider how our nervous systems use our physical movements to interpret our level of safety, it’s easy to see how big a role our intentions play in creating not only our individual responses to stimuli - but our realities too.


My intention to avoid something (like drowning), produced a very particular pattern of movement that kept my brain on a tightrope of survival. But the movements involved in my intention to learn something new kept my brain wide, curious and engaged in what it does best. And even though I could absolutely use some expert instruction on my path to aquatic bliss, I didn’t need swimming lessons to find the softness and ease required to move safely on the surface of the water. What I needed was a shift in orientation.


One unexpected benefit of learning through movement is how seamlessly our brains translate the understanding to other areas of our lives.


My not-drowning insight reminds me that my intention to not offend could shift towards seeking common ground; and that if I flip my intention of not making a mistake to one of learning through experience, I have better access to all of the wisdom I've acquired to navigate a life filled with unknowns.


Here's to the joy in finding new physical, neurological, and personal connections as the seasons change once more ☘️


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Did you ever hear the story about the little girl who was watching her mom cook a ham for their holiday dinner?



As the mother cuts the ends off the ham before putting it into the pan, the little girl asks her mother why she does that. When the mother says that it’s just the way Grandma taught her, the child calls her grandmother and asks, “Why are you supposed to cut off the ends of the ham before cooking it?”. When the grandmother tells her that’s just the way her mother taught her, they all agree to call Great Grandma to find out the reason for this ritual. The great grandmother chuckles and says she never had a pan big enough for the whole ham to fit.


My blog post for December was published in the current issue of SenseAbility Magazine where the theme was Learning How To Learn.


I hope my own cutting off the ends of the ham story adds an element of common humanity and critical thinking to whatever traditions you embrace as we each close the door on one year and cross the threshold into another.


Yours in Learning ~


M’Lissa



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Think about a relationship you have in your life that you value, but that also brings an element of suffering along with it.


I want to tell you a story. Actually it’s two stories, but they share the same plot.


I had a very specific and persistent pain in my lower back for almost two years. It was on the right side, close to the spine, and too deep to touch easily. Although it was with me all the time, I was most aware of it in the middle of the night when I turned from one side to the other. In other words, what made it worse was when there was a heavy weight (my leg) being pulled across my body.


Since I was already a massage therapist, yoga teacher and student of the Feldenkrais® Method of somatic education, I tried all kinds of elaborate positional release techniques on myself and sought answers from several trusted colleagues. Each strategy and perspective helped a little and offered a fresh lens through which to view the pain, but nothing really made it go away for good.


I finally invested in a series of Functional Integration® lessons with one of the teachers from my training. When I showed her the action that made me most aware of the pain (rolling passively from one side to the other), she gently took over the weight of my leg and rolled my pelvis a little from one side to the other several times. When she gave the weight of my leg back to me, I was able to carry it across my body back and forth without pain. It was SO EASY.


She had me practice it a few times myself before asking me to pay attention to how I was doing it. Intellectually, I knew the answer: I was using the surface below me to help me roll by pressing my ribs and lower side of my pelvis into the table– which made my leg light.


I stared at the ceiling and wondered out loud, “Why was I doing an action I know to be inefficient and which would eventually cause shearing in my vertebrae?”


She offered a few possibilities before adding, “And sometimes we just rehearse pain”.



We sat there together in silence while I breathed in this very human truth. For as far back as I can remember, pain has been front and center in my experience of life and in the lives of most of the people I know.


Here’s where the second story comes in: On the same day that I had that lesson with my teacher, I had already scheduled an overdue meeting with a person who oftentimes unknowingly hurts my feelings.


As I drove to that meeting, pain free for the first time in two years, I began to wonder what else I habitually rehearsed. For instance, what was I rehearsing on my way to this meeting? Resistance, dread, judgment, and self protection readily came to mind.


What would happen if I rehearsed qualities that I associate with healthy relationships? Like personal agency. Honesty. Compassion. Presence. And what about joy?


When I arrived at my meeting, I felt genuinely light and curious. I took more pauses before speaking. I asked more questions. I even practiced saying, “No, thank you”. There were some awkward moments for sure, but our meeting was productive and mutually respectful. Most memorable for me was the kindness and brilliance of this person that I have long admired.


Today I write this letter without a trace of back pain, and with a newfound interest in that which I have a choice about and that which I do not.


I want to be clear here that my intention is not to imply that pain, emotional or physical, should be overridden by positive thinking. Research shows that pain is a warning. It is a signal from the brain and body to wake up, to pay attention, and to make a change. It is nothing to be ignored or replaced with anything contrary to its message.


But pain is not a destination. It is not something that we need to practice or orient towards, like pressing repeatedly on a sore spot in our mouths. It is an opportunity to learn–or, in my case, an opportunity to practice something I had already learned but forgot I knew.


Remember that relationship I invited you to think about at the beginning of this letter? What do you most appreciate about that person? What qualities do you wish that relationship had more of? And what will you rehearse the next time you are about to engage with them?


I am a beginner on this journey of actively choosing the things I aim to cultivate in my life. But like all of my favorite lessons, I hope to stay in the questions and to be in good company along the way.


Until next time~



M’Lissa


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