birdsong: a blog

gravity and flight

Yesterday I presented a workshop entitled “Recovering Vocal Presence after Sexual Trauma” at the Colorado Counseling Association annual conference in Denver. I had a wonderful experience with some very engaged participants who were quiet animated about this work I do with Essential Voice Expression, and ready to learn more in my upcoming workshop, “7 Notes to Freedom”.

Many of yesterday’s participants were psychotherapists who work with trauma survivors. We talked about how important it is to orient oneself to a grounded center; to feel own’s one strength and resilience. There is much hurt in this world, and I don’t want to minimize, or shy away, from the gravity and devastating truths my clients share. As I ground and center, I open my field of awareness with compassion and curiosity. And most importantly, I listen.

From this place of grounded openness, I hear and witness many sorrows, voiced and unvoiced. You might think that being with the devastating truths many trauma survivors endure leaves me spent, and despondent about the state of this world. I find, however, that the opposite is true.

When I open to sorrow, I also open to joy. And whether or not this truth is experienced by my client, I know that the possibility is always there. It is simply one of those universal truths that I know deep in my soul: where there is dark, there must also be light. One doesn’t exist without the other.

As I ride the voiced and unvoiced emotional waves with my clients, often a very interesting thing happens. From somewhere, a song appears. A song, a note, a tune, familiar or new, will float into my awareness. This song might just wander around in me for a bit, accompanying me as I work, quietly within. Other times, the song may make its way through my own voice, and I share it with my clients. Sometimes it is a little lullaby, like “Hush Little Baby” – or another soothing “medicine song” to bring healing to the moment.

Other times, I must tell you, the song can be quite irreverent. It can be wild, or challenging. More than once I’ve had Shawn Colvin’s song “Get Out of This House”  pop into my ears. It can be silly too, like the “Mahna Mahna Song” – especially when energy is stuck and a little trickster relief is called for! (Enjoy those links!)

In therapy, timing is everything. And listening is critical to assessing the timing. But there are moments… there ARE moments… when a crazy tune, brought into the space of the therapeutic conversation, can break the ice and open possibilities in a way nothing else can.

Musicality, you see, has a quality that takes us beyond our everyday cognition. Musicality is loose, following the flow, riding the energy of the body, spirit, and voice. Musicality flows with sorrow, it flows with anger, it flows with joy; it even flows with the absurd.

Musicality’s favorite instrument is the human voice. The tune. The song. The ditty. The drone. The whisper. The dirge. The aria. The cackle. The voice is where body meets spirit, and both dance with our deepest emotions.

There is nothing quite like it.

 

I will be offering  7 Notes to Freedom: Recovering Vocal Presence for healing professionsals on Saturday, June 17.  Find out more about it here.

the risk to blossom

.. and the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.
 – Anais Nin

arizona flowers

This beautiful Anais Nin quote is so sensorily evocative. One can viscerally experience the sensations of the tightness of the bud and how painful it can be in life to scrunch in, to constrain oneself, to hold in one’s essence. That feeling of not being ready, hesitation, fear of what’s next, fear of the world.

But sooner or later, it dawns on us that our genetic make up is akin to that of a flower. As human beings we are designed to grow and expand: this is human nature. We are made to express our beauty. And at some point, there comes the realization that to not follow our innate design is a betrayal of the self.

Is there a decision made? To take the risk to blossom? Or is it simply what the world has in store for us? That at some point, the sun will shine, and our thirst will be quenched. And destiny will take over: we will open in a shock of color.

A wise person once reminded me that in life, there are two choices: either contracting or expanding. There is no standing still. There is no neutral. Resting? Fallow time? Yes. But even in the still moments, nourishment makes its way to our roots.

To embrace our innate design, this is what reclaiming one’s essence means. It is recognizing our natural unfolding, and allowing one’s own unique destiny to emerge.

In my work as a somatic psychotherapist and vocal healer, I have discovered that the voice itself is a great gift: it carries one’s essence, and shows the way out of constriction. It leads us into the possibility of full expression of self, of essence, of blossoming.

Voice, art, creative curiosity in the wilderness of life: these are paths that remind us of the true nature of being human. Our ancestors knew this. Anais Nin knew this. And we can too.
Words and photo by Celia Bockhoff, all rights reserved.

Come join me for “Seven Notes to Freedom” – a vocal path to your own unfolding!

Boundary Calls

Coopers Hawk on fenceA key aspect to vocal recovery is establishing a safe, secure place from which to express oneself. The second ‘note’ of 7 Notes to Freedom  – a step by step path to vocal reclamation – is called Boundary Calls.

Many among us have experienced the trauma or hurt of having our unique voices (core expressions of self in the world) marginalized, stifled, or cursed. Effective boundaries are an essential part of healing from this disavowal of the essential self. Reinforcing ones own physical integrity and space, is critical for deepening a sense trust in the self, and safety in relationship and the world.

In studies on trauma and its effects on the nervous system*, it has been shown that parts of the inner ear that “listen” and engage in more subtle sound awareness occurring in social vocalization are shut down in moments of perceived threat. These listening parts require a safe, protected environment, especially in trauma survivors, to “open up”. So we literally need a safe place, with good boundaries to hear both ourselves and others in an engaged way.

In ancient practices people would “call” to the four directions to create a sacred, or protective, space around them. This conscientious effort to establish protection was necessary for activities such as chanting or prayer. They knew that boundaries were critical to establish an open connection with self and others.

In Seven Notes to Freedom, we create protective space in many ways. I like the ancient idea of “calling” the boundaries, or “corners” to mark the ‘safety zone”. I also sometimes work with clients to create a “tone bubble” by using voice, hands, and movement to create a protective space of sound: a vocal sanctuary that is free from harm.

When you sing or call into the space around you, you are viscerally building an energetic field that literally protects you. This is the beginning of bringing the voice into the world, and overcoming immobilization, self-doubt, or silencing.

Secure and safe boundaries are at the core of vocal reclamation. With or without words, a protective haven, created with space, intention and voice, is a powerful container, engendering deep and lasting transformations.
Join me this fall for a three-part workshop to learn the SEVEN NOTES TO FREEDOM .

 

© Words and photograph by Celia Bockhoff, all rights reserved.

 

*Porges, Stephen. The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation. New York: Norton, 2011.

Juno

Last night the sky light up in its annual Independence Day explosion. Blasts of color and whistling shoots of glittering snakes danced as they filled the air. Here in the good old US of A, that’s how we celebrate our freedom.

Something else happened last night as well: The NASA spacecraft Juno entered the orbit of Jupiter. It took five whole years for the probe to get there. And no one knew if it would successfully manage the transition into Jupiter’s orbit, but it did.

In the coming months we will have information and never seen before photographs of this amazing giant planet. The information itself can apparently be transmitted at light speed – a hugely quicker rate than Juno’s physical traveling. Five years for the probe to actually get to Jupiter, one hour for the information from Jupiter to get here.

There is an investment, it seems, of time, persistence, and detailed attention needed for a craft to reach its destination, and fulfill its mission. There are many choice points along the way, all of which must be navigated precisely and with care. The craft itself must be tended to with exactitude.

A zillion things can go wrong along the path to ones destination. As human beings, we often look at uncomfortable decision points as tests. If we are relatively positive about this whole journey of life, we see our paths, the forks in the road, and the thousands of decisions made, as “fated”: as somehow contributing to the fulfillment of our personal missions, even if we don’t always know the “big picture”.

We trust, or hope at least, 05jupiter_artists-master675 that somehow we will make it.

Juno could actually crash and burn under any number of mishaps. But is hasn’t, at least not yet.

It’s a miracle isn’t it?

52 Card Pickup

IMG_2138I have been moving through a transition these past few weeks, and perhaps I am not alone. So much seems to be in flux these days in the world, and I hear uncertainty and fear voiced by many in daily conversations with friends and clients.

My own transition has been a very positive one: I have relocated my Somatic Psychotherapy and Essential Voice™ practice. I am now overjoyed to be settling into an ideal location: a beautiful studio, three minutes from downtown Boulder, nestled in the magical Rocky Mountains, I couldn’t ask for a more.

Even with all this goodness, moving all my “stuff” and reorganizing all those bits and pieces of my every day life has proved to be quite stressful indeed. I’ve described it to others as “52 card pickup”: everything gets thrown into the air, and where it lands is anybody’s guess.

That “things are in mid air” feeling – that chaotic uncertainty – may be a feeling many are experiencing in this contentious and crazy political season. The media has gone haywire, and it is difficult to know where any true ethics, or core values in this country lie.

I am finding that it simply doesn’t work to look outside myself for core values. There is no “there” there. No doubt, there are a lot of wise words to read, and teachings to absorb. But nobody “out there” is echoing back to me my own intrinsic truth, my own deeper knowing. (Has that always been true? Probably so!)

This is not to say that I need to “remove myself” from the world to find my core sensibilities. On the contrary, I am feeling called to widen my gaze, and expand my listening.

In the midst of moving, I came across a simple quartz crystal. I held it in my hand, and examined it closely. A universe of magic is inside that gem. It holds a world of its own, that is stunning and miraculous in its beauty. Feeling this magic in my hand, I allowed my breath to relax. I released the noise, and returned to the deeper place within. A quiet overcame me, a knowing: everything is as it should be.

As all the pieces of my life find their way “home”, I remember this crystal. I remember the sky, and the rainbows. I remember the curious doe I saw the other morning, and the Western Tanager.

I pause, I look, and I listen.

What Rory Told Me.

Rory Block

Many many years ago I had a dream. The details of the dream have faded, but one scene remains clear. I encountered a wise woman, in the form of blues guitarist/singer Rory Block. (The unconscious mind is a creative genius!) I asked Rory what I should do with my life. “Why am I here?” She laughed, and said “Well, Celia – you know the answer to that! You are here to empower women!”
I awoke immediately from the dream.

 

I didn’t have to write it down to remember.

 

Since I was 16, I have been a feminist. I make no bones about that. In my mind, bringing full equality to women and girls is a no brainer. It has taken me a lifetime to understand the full cost of the disempowered feminine in our culture. I have felt the painful weight of patriarchal domination in both the decimation of our planet, and in the wounds of the women and men I serve.

 
The question for me hasn’t been that I find a way to “empower women”, it is how I find a way.

 
It has been said that the purpose of one’s life can be found at the intersection of one’s talents and one’s passions. I also know how important it is to pay attention to what is being asked of one in life. I have found myself serving the empowered feminine in multiple ways during my career, with both women and men.
My “mission” is a clear one. I hold a candle, a sword, and a song in service of honoring the fullness and beauty of feminine power in this world.

 

As Sojourner Truth said, “Ain’t I a Woman?”

 

Rory Block, “Ain’t I Woman?”

 

silenced maidens and vocal presence

Snow-White-1916-Marguerite-Clark-image-22

I have become more and more aware lately of the interface between presence and voice. How one goes with the other. How vocal expression has the potential to be the embodiment of a self that is fully present. How silence (when not present organically in a relaxed state of well being) can represent living evidence of an old curse concretized in the body.

Loss of the voice has mythic proportions. Like many girls, I grew up with the characters of Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, and the Little Mermaid embedded in my consciousness. I grew up with the awareness that maidens in their prime can be cursed if they get too beautiful, too full of life, too visible, or too vocal. They can lose their voices, their self-determination, and their right to grow and be. I grew up knowing that maidens can be stopped in time: frozen without warning at any moment with a deadly curse.

I have seen many  silenced or “frozen” women in my work as a psychotherapist and voice healer. Women are silenced in many ways in our culture – too many to count. But the deepest silencing I have witnessed has resulted from the devastating wounds of sexual trauma.

Sexual abuse – especially childhood abuse – locks in a “frozen” state for both women and men – both in terms of both the psyche and the voice. According to a study sited by Peter Levine, 88% of the victims of childhood sexual assault and 75% of the victims of adult sexual assault reported moderate to high levels of paralysis during the assault.*  Paralysis during sexual assault occurs not only in the body and the mind, paralysis occurs in the voice as well.

The voice is the vibrational, resonant expression of the self.  It is the inner experience of self traveling into the external world. The voice, in its most embodied from, carries a sense of authenticity, agency, and creative freedom. It carries the unique expression of our individual selves. It sounds an imprint of our souls.

Silencing is the immobilization of the voice. With women in particular, the long-standing patriarchal culture of oppression and marginalization of the feminine makes the curse of silence even harsher.

“Sexual assault”, the essayist Rebecca Solnit writes, “is like torture, is an attack on the victim’s right to bodily integrity, to self-determination, and expression. It’s annihilatory, silencing.

“Silence”, she continues, “like Dante’s hell, has it’s concentric circles. First come the internal inhibitions, self-doubts, repressions, confusions, and shame that make it difficult to impossible to speak, along with the fear of being punished or ostracized for doing so. Surrounding this circle are the forces who attempt to silence someone who speaks up anyway, whether by humiliating or bullying or outright violence, including violence unto death. Finally, in the outermost ring, when a story has been told and the speaker has not been silenced directly, tale and teller are discredited”. *

Recovery from sexual trauma necessitates the recovery of the voice. Finding vocal presence is essential to thaw the ‘frozen’ maiden. It is the recovery of integrity, health, self-determination, and self expression. It is the reclamation of the soul, the self. Reclaiming the voice – literally and figuratively – is reclaiming the right to exist, and to claim one’s rightful place in the world. Without it, survivors enter a downward spiral of re-traumatization; lost in the vortex of the curse of silence.

I have discovered and honed an intuitive vocal practice to transform trauma and enter creative flow.  I have worked with recovery from trauma for over 25 years now, as a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner and Psychotherapist. I have also worked with voice, song, and intuitive vocal flow for over 20 years. I have witnessed firsthand the transformational power of the human voice. This is why I developed Essential Voice Expression. My recent work has culled the steps to this reclamation to seven key principles. I am now offering therapy and workshops embracing these 7 Notes to Freedom . As we carefully tend to the steps necessary for reclamation of the true, resonant voice, a new flow, and deep habitation of the essential, true self becomes possible.

If you are recovering from trauma, or on the path of reclaiming your authentic voice, I invite you to join me in claiming your own 7 Notes to Freedom, working with me individually in psychotherapy and voice healing, or participating in my personal and professional workshops.

Discover the freedom of your own true vocal presence.

 

References:

* Levine, Peter.  In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness. Berkeley: North Atlantic, 2010.

* Solnit, Rebecca, “Cassandra Among the Creeps”. Harpers Magazine, Vol. 329, No. 1973, October 2014. www.harpers.org.

Plan A and Plan B

cuban refugee boat

cuban refugee boat

I made a promise to my client yesterday. I rarely do that, because it is very tricky to promise someone, especially a client, an absolute in a world that in a world that is stubbornly and perennially relative.

I promised her that I would not abandon myself.

And then I amended it. “I promise you that I will not abandon myself. And if I do, I promise to return”.

The reason I could offer this promise to my client is that these are vows I have made to myself. The only vows, in fact, I have ever made. These vows are personal, of course, and also beyond the personal. They are personal as well as relational as well as universal. They are professional. They are public, and they are private. They are the guiding principles of my life. They are Plan A and Plan B.

Plan A: Don’t abandon myself.

Plan B: When I abandon myself, return.

Of course when we think of “Plan B”, we think of how we are going to save our ass if all our best intentions fall to pieces. What will we do if we invest fully in Plan A, and Plan A bombs out? Gotta have a Plan B.

You might notice that my Plan B is “when I abandon myself”. Not if.  Because in this world, it’s a given that we will leave ourselves time and time again. No matter how integrated we are or how centered we are; no matter how solid a meditation practice we have, or how grounded we are; the world is full of land mines, and will pull us away.

Even if you are a hermit at the top of a mountain, the world will pull you away from yourself. Because there is weather.

So it goes like this:

Plan A: I am centered and present. I am here in my own being, fully alive and awake, resonating with my core. I feel my connection with my deepest being, and also feel how my essence connects beautifully and integrally with the world around me. (The long version of not abandoning oneself).

Weather: Shit happens.

Plan B: Get the f*** back home. (The short version of returning).

So even though Plan B is a secondary vow, it is really the most important one. Given that the world has plenty of “weather”, and that climate change is a reality (both in a real and metaphorical sense), you can count on the fact that you will experience plenty of challenges, plenty of craziness, and plenty of unexpected ‘visitors’ in your life. So I have learned, over and over again, the importance of Plan B.

There is a wonderful chant I like to sing, (written, I believe, by Reb Shlomo Carlebach) and sometimes teach, to clients:

Return again, return again,

Return to the home of your soul.

Return again, return again,

Return to the home of your soul.

Return to who you are,

Return to what you are,

Return to where you are

Born and reborn again.

Singing this song is one of my  “Plan B” practices. A way to come back home. A way to find my center again. I have many others.

The skills of “returning” to oneself are, I believe, among the most important practices one can ever learn. Each of use must find the paths that lead us to our essential beings, and we must walk these paths over and over again. Because if no one is “home”, then life is a rudderless journey.

Returning to oneself must happen again and again. We leave ourselves one thousand times a day. And we must come back one thousand and one times.

Thank goodness for Plan B.

I Create My Life Happily

IMG_3745I am not one for affirmations, per se. I feel that statements made by the self, to the self, need to have a resonance of truth. If an affirmation has any aura of dissonance to it, the body, and therefore the self, will reject it on some level.

So when the phrase above came to me; “I create my life happily”, I wondered what it meant, and whether my body experiences this as true. Today is a bright sunny summer day here in Colorado, and it feels easy to be happy today. Today is also Monday, and that feels like Possibility to me. So when I say this phrase to myself, and check in with my body to see how it feels, my response is “why not” ?

Why not create? I find that I am most myself when I am creating. Whether it is a song, a poem, a collage, or a new approach as a therapist; my whole being delights in the act of bringing something new into the world. In moments of creativity, my conscious judgmental mind more easily slips away, and I move joyfully into the present moment.

Of course, my inner “Taskmaster” sometimes rejects the notion of the “frivolous” act of creativity: it dislikes being spontaneous and free. So to quell its objections, I sometimes need to “organize” my creativity by setting up parameters, and making it part of my “schedule”. I was recently reminded in a workshop with Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes that a  “daily practice” is essential to live a soul life; a creative life. I’ve known this for a long time, but of course I still need to remember it. The Taskmaster wants to know time, place, and purpose.

“I create my life happily”. The “happy” part comes naturally when one creates, doesn’t it? It’s when I feel most alive and free. The most happy. But what about the “my life” part?

How does one conceive of “my life”? The width and breadth of it are hard to take in. My life feels like a big ocean; me on a little boat sailing across it. Perhaps I can only know this ocean in the location I inhabit now. Perhaps I can only truly sense this boat, right now, in this place, in a beautiful blue expanse. The whole scope of the ocean is a concept of my life, and I can gaze upon it only from one lens, at any given moment.

So here I am. In this place. On this day. With the view.

From here, I say “Yes”.  I create my life happily.

 

 

the singing bowl

I have one beautiful big crystal singing bowl in my Boulder office. I often ring it… or let it tone… as a way to center with clients in session. Sometimes we tone along with it, in harmony.

I love this bowl, and am coveting many more. They are costly, but oh so restorative and sweet.

It is interesting that each time I “sing” the crystal bowl, it sounds different. Each time, my hand is different, and the feeling is different. I experiment with the pace of the circling…  the lightness of the pressure… the rhythm… the consistency… the length of each “singing” period for the bowl. These are qualities of our voices as well. And yet somehow, the bowl teaches me something new.

With the crystal singing bowl, I am in relationship with a “voice” that is outside of me, but somehow part of me, at the same time. I am learning that I cannot simply “bend” it to my will: that I must listen deeply to it, and respond to it without judgment or expectation.

The bowl teaches me about sound and spirit. I am its humble student.

720-346-1388 • celiabockhoff@gmail.com

614 Sunshine Canyon Drive, Boulder, Colorado 80302