Cat From The Mat

Our Global Immune System

In light of the corona virus and its unknown impact, there is a lot of fear in the air.  Besides washing your hands and keeping your sneezes/coughs self-contained, your best line of defense is to keep your immunity strong.   However, repressed feelings have a direct correlation to a suppressed immune system.  

Dr. Gabor Maté’s book “When the Body Says No” explores the link between stress and chronic illness.  His argument is that certain adaptive coping mechanisms learned as children set up traits in us that over time can become pathological. For example, people pleasers, who take care of others at the expense of themselves, can develop autoimmune disorders.  Those who don’t have healthy outlets to express accrued anger, sadness, or pain will store them in their bodies until they finally get attention via physical illness, like cancer.  On a cellular level there is confusion between what is helpful and hostile, familiar and foreign, self and other.  Could this also be happening on a macro level?   

Maté explains, “In auto-immune disease, the body’s defenses turn against the self.  In the life of society- the body politic- such behavior would be denounced as treason.  Within the individual organism, physical mutiny results from an immunological confusion that perfectly mirrors the unconscious psychological confusion of self and non-self.  In this disarray of boundaries, the immune cells attack the body as if the latter were a foreign substance, just as the physic self is attacked by inward-directed reproaches and anger.”  

This physical “treason” is something we begin to accept as normal, until that is, dis-ease catches up with us.  The immune system is a sensory organ, so it’s first task is to recognize self from non-self.  It must also have a strong memory of learned dangers as we grow.  Finally, the immune system is a floating brain that is always scoping out and eliminating threats to cellular health. 

Hyper vigilance though can get out of balance. Projecting blame on to others is an easy way out, not to mention perpetuates victimhood.  When not being accountable for your own reactions, you give away your power to another.  You also wear down your nervous system, which is on constant high alert.  In addition to lacking a sense of self and agency, this behavior stresses one’s health.  Therefore, self-centeredness can also be indicative of lacking boundaries between self and other.

In the wake of my own breast cancer diagnosis and my mother’s recent death from cancer, I find this argument compelling.  When our psychological capacity to identify self from other is absent, then our tissues, cells and body organs mirror this blurring of boundaries.  This can disable defensiveness, leading to chronic illness.  Understanding this cannot change the past, but it can help me see how not to replicate a physical, mental, and emotion environment hospitable for further malignancies. Stress is a part of life, so how I respond to it can determine the effectiveness of my immune system.

As a human species, we seem to be at odds with one another, rather than looking within.   If you don’t know who you truly are, then you might have confusion about emotional boundaries of where you end and another person begins.  You might also have a disabled inner detector of who and what you receive through your most inner and outer membranes.   At the same time, fear of others is a chronic stress that wears down your sharp defenses when needed for acute threats. However, the insecurity of not feeling “acceptable” or  “good enough,” is damaging, since its presence is silent.  Recognizing your true value measured by your mere existence builds up inner strength.

As we adapt to life post-COVID-19, I urge you to be accountable for your actions (as they impact others), to respond rather than react, and act out of abundance rather than from scarcity.  We are all in this together and need to maintain connection as this threat wears down our global immunity.  Stay open and aware with healthy boundaries, both inside and out.  This is the best defense that benefits us all!

Stay healthy and adaptable,

Cat

 

Cat From The Mat blog

March 2020

Wear Your Scars

 scar |skär|   noun

• a mark left on the skin or within body tissue where a wound, burn, or sore has not healed completely and fibrous connective tissue has developed
• a lasting effect of grief, fear, or other emotion left on a person's character by a traumatic experience

Scars are souvenirs of having lived life.  I have scars from camp days, from jamming my shin into the wooden cabin steps or tripping over tree roots barefoot.  Or there was the bike accident I had when I was thrown over the handlebars landing on my helmet-less head, resulting in a severe concussion.  My mental memories were somehow washed away upon impact.  The marks on my body and face however are remnants to prove what happened.  My mental memories were somehow washed away upon impact.  And now in breast cancer recovery, I have visible scars from my surgeries, as well as invisible ones from the concurrent trauma of my diagnosis amidst my mother’s untimely death.

When we have physical traumas, our body becomes a map of the war wounds of life.  But what about our mental and emotional scars? How is it we can be aware of those wounds when they are not so measurable?

The human physical makeup has complex interwoven systems.  Our fascia is like a body-sac, made up of an organized connective tissue that helps create relationship within the whole body.  Scars mark locations of disorganized connective tissue, where there is damage to repair.   This break in the pattern along the tapestry of tissue is not unlike a glitch in the matrix.  

As the fascia reknits the fabric of your skin to heal any incisions or punctures, the bonded area becomes stronger than the two parts to which is it connecting.  When we break a bone, the healed area is also stronger than the two ends of each broken parts.  Could this mean that reorganization is needed for healing to happen?

Over the past five years, I have had a lot of loss, from divorce to cancer to death.  My heart has felt wounded.  It has been an opportunity to reorganize my inner workings, from my embodied habits to my belief systems.  It’s easy to consider each painful wound as something to protect.  But what if I could look at each emotional scar as an indication of healing, so that my heart gets stronger each time?  I am learning to reframe my lacerations as mementos of learning and growth.

Hindsight is 20/20.  I consider this New Year as a time of clarity, direction, and moving into the year as an upgraded version of myself.  I cannot change the events of the past, but I can treat them as mile markers of progress along my narrative of existence.  Adaptability, resilience, and perspective are crucial things that my practice of yoga and NVC (Non-Violent Communication) help me cultivate. I continue to be the author of my chosen journey.

Can you wear your scars with pride, knowing you have had a history in your body, mind, and heart? Life invites us to transmute challenges into lessons, vulnerability into strength, crap into fertilizing manure.  This takes courage in the face of pain or grief.  

Having been in survival mode, I am ready to live life fully and thrive.  I am jumping into 2020 with more vim and vigor, putting my scared self even more out there with my healing heart.  The worst thing that can happen is that I open myself up and risk getting hurt again.  This offers the opportunity to restore myself with even more powerful scars, embarking upon a new decade of empowered embodiment! 

Happy New Year! 

Cat From The Mat

January 2020

A Womb with a View

When I was a young girl, my neighbor had a wild garden full of milkweed, which meant she attracted many caterpillars.   She would invite me to capture a few of them and bring them home with lots of milky herbaceous food, so that I could hold the space to see their transformation from one form to another.  Experiencing this metamorphosis, I waited patiently everyday for the moment that the Monarch would emerge from its chrysalis.  I was inspired when witnessing the adult butterfly finally spread its newfound wings of freedom.  It was also a reminder of how much time, patience, and discomfort it takes to shift into a new form of self. 

For an insect or amphibian, metamorphosis is a biological process of converting from an immature into a mature state, via cell growth and differentiation, involving distinct stages.  I experienced first hand watching butterflies going through four stages of change: from egg, to larva, to pupa, and finally to adult.  Humans too undergo such a transformation; however, the transitions that happen are not always so visible.  I wonder in which phase I am, as I grow more mature. 

Due to the many recent compounded losses, I have been learning to accept some painful realities.   I am adapting daily to many new normals.  Mourning my own breast cancer diagnosis and surgeries, I am still in the grieving process of losing an aspect of my femininity.  My mother’s death in the middle of it all was an unexpected blow to the maternal guidance that I once took for granted.  A late bloomer now in my fifties, I must become my own parent.  It’s time to grow up. And yet, one doesn’t not become an adult overnight.  Sometimes, never. 

In response to traumatic sadness, I am focusing my attention inwardly while I experience the process of metamorphosis.  It’s not so much an intention of shutting out the world; rather, it’s a need to find solace in my own nurturing cocoon.  In my convalescence, I am enjoying nutritious food, rest for my healing body and heart, creative endeavors, and support from loving friends and family, when in need of back up.

Technically a human being, I have been primarily a human-doer for most of my life.  I am good at trouble-shooting, anticipating options should the one at hand not be working.  I have accumulated many tools and have refined their use.  I am finding, however, that they are no longer enough to facilitate the change I desire.  Grieving isn’t a process of doing.  It’s one of acceptance, of being with what is.  And this is rather uncomfortable for me.

A chrysalis is an inactive stage.  The self-created womb is a rather compact container of nourishment while developing into a new manifestation of self.  There’s nothing to do in my safe haven of quietude but to be in the discomfort.  I embrace the many aspects of myself.  I cry.  I laugh.  I sing.  I am silent and still. 

Just like watching a caterpillar convert into a mature butterfly, I am waiting for my transmutation to come to its fruition, with compassionate patience.  I am no longer the person that I was.  And I am not yet the person I wish to be.  And so I wait in this chrysalis state, observing immeasurable progress that is revealed in ebbs and flows.  My yoga, meditation, and empathy practices provide an anchor during this painful transition.  I am learning that my vulnerability is not only a strength but is the only way to transition into my truer self.

Hoping to fulfill your greatest potential, in what stage of growth are you?  Are you at the beginning larvae stages of your quest?  Are you a caterpillar chomping on greener pastures?  Or perhaps you are now the pupa spewing the thread to form your own swaddled insulation in which to develop your wings.  Eventually the time will come for your creative juices to bust out of the cozy yet constraining confines of your chrysalis.  Are you truly ready to take flight? 

I look forward to when I can look back with 20/20 vision to see all of the steps that it took to spread my wings and gracefully soar.  Transformation is not easy and is rarely comfortable.  It is though inevitable if you wish to continue to not only survive, but to thrive in life.

Happy Metamorphosing!

 

Cat From the Mat

October 2019