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We dissolve stuck and rewrite patterns. We apply radical playfulness to life (when we feel like it!), embarking on internal adventures (credo of Safety First). We have a fake band called Solved By Cake. We build invisible sanctuaries, invent words and worlds, breathe awe and wonder.

We are not impressed by monsters. Except when we are. We explore the connections between internal territories and surrounding environment to learn what marvelously supportive delicious space feels like, and how to take exquisite care of ourselves. We transform things.* We glow wild.**

* For example: Desire, fear, worry, pain-and-trauma, boundaries, that problematic word which rhymes with flaweductivity.

** Fair warning: Self-fluency has been known to lead to extremely subversive behavior, including treasuring yourself unconditionally, unapologetically taking up space, experiencing outrageously improbable levels of self-acceptance, and general rejoicing in aliveness.


Tension. Attention.

NOTE: If you’re one of the people who write in because you’re completely confused by the “what’s going on with Havi’s arms?!” question, so am I. Sorry.

The short answer is that it’s some sort of stuckified chronic pain that was originally doing a pretty decent imitation of carpal tunnel or repetitive-stress-ish stuff, but isn’t. All I can tell you is that it involves my body talking to me about internal stuff going on. A lot.

We’re making progress with it. I’m learning. It’s healing. My arms are going to be fine. Just give us time.

Chasing the pain.

The pain in my arms is moving. Migrating, really.

It started in my hands and wrists and then spent several weeks inching up my arms until it found its winter hibernation home — and then it settled in for a bit.

From about two inches (5 cm) above the wrist to two inches (5 cm) above the elbow. That’s where it wanted to do its agonizing thing. And that’s where I’ve been working on it.

But lately the pain has been on the move again. I can’t tell if it’s running away or just chasing some confused dream of Manifest Destiny. Either way, it now starts about mid-tricep and goes up to the shoulder joint.

And it’s talking. It has a lot to say.

An astonishing piece of information.

The scene: on the massage table. Chris (my wonderful massage therapist) is working on my arms, and I’m trying to relax.

Me: Hey, arms? Is there anything you need from me while we’re getting this massage? Something I can do to help you relax?
Arms: No relaxing! You can’t make us!
Me: Wow. Okay. You don’t have to relax if you don’t want to. It sounds like this is really worrying you. What’s going on? Can you tell me more about this?
Arms: Relaxation is bad. Period. No discussion.

And then I had to stop and think for a bit, because I didn’t want to accidentally step on my arms’ toes — which makes no sense, I know.

It’s just that I didn’t want the conversation to end by me saying something that would make my arms think that I’m not really listening and that I don’t really care. Because then they clam up and don’t talk at all.

And at the same time, I was completely confused. Really? Relaxation is bad?

All these years that I’ve been teaching yoga and meditation… and leading — wait for it — guided relaxation exercises… there has been a part of me that thinks that relaxation is bad?

I mean, I freaking love relaxation. I have more (and better) tricks than anyone I know for magically calming down and for getting into a quiet, safe space.

But if I’ve learned anything about anything, then it’s that if you want to find out what’s really going on, you have to be willing to drop all the things you think are true. Or, you know, at least some of them …

So I just have to ask …

Me: Okay. I’m willing to accept that relaxation could be a bad thing. I get that you have strong opinions on this, and I’m sure you have completely legitimate reasons for knowing what you know.
Arms: Well, yeah. Hmph.
Me (trying for the most neutral tone I can come up with): What happens when we relax? What is the bad part of relaxation?
Arms: Oh. Relaxation is bad for you. When you relax, you let your guard down and then you get hurt. People take advantage of you.
Me: What are you talking about?
Arms: (they provide me with about twenty examples of different situations, in the form of various memories)
Me: Oh.
Arms: All that bad stuff? We’re not letting that happen to you again. We are not going to let you get hurt again.


Me: Ohhhhhhhhhhh. Oh. You want to take care of me. You want to keep me from getting hurt.
Arms: Well, yeah.
Me: Every single time. All my pain and all my fear and all my stuck. It’s always about protection and safety. It’s always about these really good intentions that accidentally produce horribly painful results. This is amazing.
Arms: Just don’t relax, okay? Don’t let down your guard.
Me: Ohmygod. It’s the vigilance thing again.
Arms: Don’t relax. Please.
Me: Can’t we just practice being mindful and aware as the way to make sure that I’m safe? Does it always have to be this painful?
Arms: Don’t. Relax.

Stumbling on an understanding.

Me: Alright. You totally have a point. In all the situations that you’re talking about, I was relaxed to some extent and I did get hurt.
Arms: Ha!
Me: Here’s the thing. In all of those situations, I wasn’t paying attention. I wasn’t being mindful. There were almost always warning bells and little flashing red lights. And I didn’t notice them. And do you know why?
Arms: Because we didn’t cause you enough pain?
Me: No. No, not that.
Arms: Why?
Me (crying): In all of those situations, I was in a lot of tension. A lot of emotional pain. And the tension distracted me. It made it harder for me to notice other things that were going on.
Arms: Shit. Seriously? But the tension was supposed to make you pay attention.
Me: I know it was. It just didn’t work that way.
Arms: But tension is good! Tension is how we make you listen!
Me: Oh. Now I get it. I’m not talking to my arms, am I? I’m talking to my tension.
Arms/Tension: Yes. This is your tension. Tense is good. Relaxed is bad. Yadda yadda yadda. I feel like an idiot.

And then coming to an understanding.

Tension: I have been holding on for so long. So. Long. Trying to get you to be on your guard so that you can avoid these situations … and you’re telling me that the tension is the thing that distracts you from noticing? It was me all along?
Me: I didn’t mean it like that. I’m sorry.
Tension: No. This is crazy. I sabotaged my own plan and didn’t even know it.
Me: I guess. I mean, I guess we both did.
Tension: What happens now?

It’s not that funny, but it kind of is.

Me: I don’t know. I mean, I guess I’m supposed to release you. Ha. Pun. I mean, play on words. Releasing muscle tension. But then releasing my tension from duty. Funny.
Tension: I have failed you.
Me: Oh. I don’t think so. A little irony never hurt anyone. I mean, you know. Life is full of stuff like this. I’m glad I’m learning this now and not thirty years from now.
Tension (suspicious): This doesn’t sound like you. Why are you in such a good mood?
Me: I suppose can’t be mad at you if you’re on my side, even if right now you’re causing me pain.
Tension: So I’m going to leave and you’re going to replace me with mindfulness and watchfulness and paying attention.
Me: That’s the plan. Probably a good one.
Tension: I don’t know how to leave.
Me: Well, I do have massage every single week so, you know, we can practice.
Tension: That sounds good. Wait, what am I saying?

And then we both cracked up. And my massage therapist gave me this look. He thinks I’m crazy. But in a good way.

25 Responses to Tension. Attention.

  1. Joely Black says:

    I could have had exactly the same conversation with my tension!

    Joely Blacks last blog post..The title that didn’t have a good analogy in it

  2. Emily
    Twitter: emilylime

    This post sort of makes me want to cry because it sounds so much like things I am thinking about these days. Nothing earth shattering to say, but I think I will have to hang on to this and look at it often.

  3. HavensAcupunct says:

    Thanks, I have recently had a similar conversation with my wrist, holding on to too much, although I know I should be safe, building that trust again with my self-thanks :)

  4. Josiane
    Twitter: kimianak

    Wow, what fabulous insights! It’s amazing to see how it all comes back to the safety thing again. Now, it feels like you’re very close to being able to get better again, and I’m really happy for you.
    On a personal level, I feel that it’s useful for me to see that it’s once again the safety thing. It tells me that it would be worth it for me to poke around inside and see if my stucknesses aren’t related to that. Thanks for leading me there, and also for modeling a great way to interact with our stuff – I had never learnt how to talk to my stucknesses in a way that wouldn’t create resistance, and I’m sure I’d have a much harder time of it if it wasn’t for your fabulous examples. My most sincere thanks to you, Havi. {hug}

  5. Anna-Liza
    Twitter: Divina712

    Okay, I can’t say it better than Josiane, so I’ll just say “me too” on that. I have been realizing more and more how much of my stuff and stuckness is rooted in the safety thing.

    And I had this sudden flash when I read about your pain migrating the way it has … that your pain is moving closer to your heart (and mind?), and that this is a good thing. I don’t want to try to analyze the flash, that’s all that it was.

    But I could see why it could work that way.

    Anna-Lizas last blog post..Pollyanna Is a Responsible Consumer

  6. randomling
    Twitter: lucyviret

    Wow, that sounds painfully familiar in some ways.

    I wish I could talk to myself in the way that you do, but I somehow don’t get how it works. I guess it’s related to the meditation/yoga thing, which I don’t understand and may never. (I kind of want to, but it also shares the shit out of me. Ahem.)

    Havi, your honesty and your constant willingness to work on yourself like this even when it must be painful as all hell – it’s inspiring. Thanks for this.

    randomlings last blog post..Mental images.

  7. Jason says:

    Will this work if I talk to my wife’s arms?

    PS You Rock and I loved this article.

  8. carma says:

    I think your massage practice idea sounds like the perfect plan :-)

    carmas last blog post..Stepping Outside my Comfort Zone (and hopefully not into dog poop)

  9. JoVE
    Twitter: jovanevery

    Do you have this conversation out loud? Because Chris the amazing massage therapist might find it hard to concentrate.

    Glad you got some insight. Hope it works.

    JoVEs last blog post..Trying to get a bit geeky

  10. Havi Brooks
    Twitter: havi

    @JoVE No, we were having it in my head. Well, we were having it in my arms.

    Luckily, Chris knows I’m busy doing all kinds of wacky pretty much at any given moment.

    @carma I know! Massage! Best plan ever!

    @Jason Hope your wife’s arms feel better. Maybe you could just ask them what they need.

    @randomling Oh, it is completely terrifying. So no worries there. Also, I’ve been doing this stuff for several years now. It’s not like it came to me naturally. What you guys are seeing here is the result of years and years of getting it wrong and learning from my mistakes and trying again. :)

    @Anna-Liza and @Josiane I’m so glad. Thanks for the insights and hanging out with me while I do this thing!

    @Joely @Emily @Havens – It’s just so great that we’re all kind of in this together. I really appreciate the way you’re having your own conversations around this too. Makes it all seem that much less crazy. :)

  11. Minna says:

    Oh hugs and hugs and more hugs.

    This, this right here –

    Me: I suppose can’t be mad at you if you’re on my side, even if right now you’re causing me pain.

    I am so glad your pain is moving.

  12. Lucy Viret (aka randomling)
    Twitter: lucyviret

    Oh, it’s good to know I’m not the only person that finds “looking into your own head” a scary concept! :)

    Lucy Viret (aka randomling)s last blog post..Pain! Fear! Guilt! And all that fun stuff.

  13. James | Dancing Geek
    Twitter: dancing_geek

    Ok, I realise that this is massively personal, and emotional stuff that you’re sharing with us here. So I want you to know that I totally get how sensitive this material is for you. But I haven’t laughed so hard in a while.

    Heck, I’m tearing up as well, and being inspired, and learning how to talk to my stuck, and seeing how you get past the bit in the conversation where you’re not sure what to say, all of which is awesome, amazing, powerful stuff for which I’m truly grateful.

    But I really wanted you to know how much laughter this brought me as well. The laughing with kind, the one where I recognise myself in the wacky that you’re talking about, the kind where I love the irony, wit, sarcasm and dialogue that you have with yourself.

    Love, love, love it!

    Maybe it’s just the way I read it with the different voices in my head, but I’ve written some stuff out before now and heard the comedy in it, so I’m hoping you do too.

    The most powerful line for me though:

    Arms: (they provide me with about twenty examples of different situations, in the form of various memories)

    Yup, the blast of reality smacking us in the face with those times we didn’t look after ourself and that’s why we’re hurting now. Mega ouch. Lots of empathy.

    Wishing you and your tension lots of love.

    James | Dancing Geeks last blog post..Living in the past

  14. Willie Hewes
    Twitter: williehewes

    “And my massage therapist gave me this look. He thinks I’m crazy.” That’s cause you are. In an excellent way. I love you.

    This post made me really happy. Not happy because of your pain, of course, but because of this thing you do, and I totally get how it works. Unlike Randomling I feel like I could do this too. Maybe.

    Good luck with your tension, and your hurting arms.

    Willie Hewess last blog post..The Clarence Principle film

  15. Sean says:


    You are completely awesome. This article was so Tom Robbins-ish and surreal – and it made so much more sense this way, the way you wrote/conversed than anything I’d seen on this topic before.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. It helps in so many ways.

  16. Riin
    Twitter: happyfuzzyyarn

    Havi, you’ve really inspired me. I’ve started talking to my migraines, trying to understand why they’re doing their thing. They’re starting to talk back a little bit, but we don’t know quite what to say to each other yet. I’ve always thought of them as monsters, so I haven’t wanted to communicate with them so much in the past. Maybe that hurt their feelings. I guess if someone thought of me as a monster it would hurt my feelings.

    Good luck with your arms.

    Riins last blog post..The more things change…

  17. Thank goddess for talking bodies, mine can get down-right sassy…

    You did what Time magazine just wrote about – “Psychotherapy Goes from Couch to Yoga Mat”

    Check out this cool mind-body book: “The Forgotten Body: A Way of Knowing and Understanding Self” – by Elissa Cobb, co-director of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy.

    Soleil Hepners last blog post..Have we gone Techno-Crazy?

  18. Steph says:

    Hey Havi,

    I love what you’re doing here: with your understanding of holistic health and alternative methods of healing, I think you’re totally on the right path. I hope that didn’t just make me sound condescending or something.

    At the naturopathic clinic I work at, aside from naturopathic medicine, we also practise EFT, Reiki, and something called Bowenwork, which is specifically — but not exclusively, because it helps in many ways — meant to deal with pain. Have you heard of it? The practitioners often use the three treatments (EFT, Bowen, and Reiki) in conjunction with each other to great effect. The cool thing about Bowen is you can feel it work right away, right on the table, with the first few moves. It also keeps working five days after the treatment, and negates the need for massage, chiro, physio, etc. In fact, those things interrupt the Bowen and prevent it from doing its thing. It’s a very legit practice and not hokey!

    Sorry this sounds like such an ad, but it’s not; it’s only meant to help. Besides, I haven’t anything to gain from it. :)

    Email me if you want to know more, okay? There’s probably a Bowen therapist nearby for you if you wanted to check it out.

    Stephs last blog post..Green Thumb

  19. Ahh… positive intention. We forget when we’re in pain that the pain has positive intention. It means well. It just goes about things in a way that,err…hurt. Just as well that pain listens to reasonable argument…and usually responds, too. I know my son ‘talked’ to his glandular fever (very bad dose), cleared up a few things and was well within 24 hours. Not possible? Trust me, I’m a quilter. His doctor didn’t believe it either.

    marion barnetts last blog post..Pasting Up A Storm…

  20. leah says:

    Ah, this made me all teary. I think because I recognize my own story in your conversation with tension. Thank you for sharing, Havi. (((much love)))

    leahs last blog post..Drinking up Color Online and Offline

  21. Kaite says:

    {smile} speaking of plays on words….”Attention” = “A Tension” – there was the secret password clue, all along. It was a simple misunderstanding, perhaps – if you’ve ever told yourself to “Pay Attention or you won’t be safe!!” …and your dreaming mind heard “Pay A Tension or you won’t be safe”….

    I loved this article, BTW..thanks for your insight and your humor and your vulnerability…as always, your articles are seedlings that continue to sprout in my mind/heart for days and weeks after I read them. Love and light. -Kaite

  22. Rachel says:

    Hey, Havi,

    I just wanted to say I love you. I mean, like, you know… I so love you. When I read these conversations you have with yourself and different parts of yourself, I’m always smiling and almost crying, because I can relate to it all. I even went through a painful-arms-couldn’t-type-for-months thing, and a lot of it had to do with protection, etc., etc. I also struggle with hypervigilance, in different forms, and… well, I just wanted to say I CAN SO RELATE, and I love your sharing.

    Thank you for helping me feel less alone, and helping me smile about it!

    ~ Rachel

  23. […] to slow its usual whirling. So I decided to try something that I learned from Havi, when she had a conversation with her arms. The Pisces Moon and I have a weird relationship already, so I thought it might be useful if we had […]

  24. […] to slow its usual whirling. So I decided to try something that I learned from Havi, when she had a conversation with her arms. The Pisces Moon and I have a weird relationship already, so I thought it might be useful if we had […]

  25. […] really nice not to be responsible for timesheets and schedules and all of that stuff anymore), or Havi's idea of talking to the pain made a difference.  Or any combination thereof.  […]

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