We probably all know that, but as someone who has lived with Crohn’s Disease for over fifty years, it’s more than a just metaphor to me. Given my own shitty experiences, I’ve wondered a lot about why we use this expression and what we mean when we do? Probably we feel that some event has unexpectedly undone us. It has undermined our ability to contain ourselves–and our “selves.” It has caused us to “lose our shit.” Suddenly, we confront unwanted aspects of our existence that we might have preferred not to know. Yet here it is. Shit!!! What to do?
One possibility that often gets overlooked when shit happens is that the shit that’s happening might also offer us opportunities to learn to live otherwise. After all, with proper treatment, shit can also be great fertilizer. If we can work with it and through it, sometimes it can help us to grow and develop vital aspects of who we are that have remained undernourished until now. At least, that’s what I have learned from my experience of living with Crohn’s and as a teacher what I can share with you.
Healing Counsel grows directly from a dedication to healing that has sustained me while living with and through the challenges of chronic illness for more than 50 years. In each session, I seek to share my experience of and passion for healing with you.
To give you some indication of where I’m coming from, here is my story in brief:
I was diagnosed with acute Crohn’s disease at the age of thirteen.
After a decade of relentless medicalization, steroid consumption, and incontinence, I almost died from a bleed out and a peritoneal infection resulting from an undiagnosed small bowel perforation.
After the emergency surgery that saved my life, I had a surprising healing experience: As I lay on my hospital bed getting pumped full of antibiotics and painkillers, I began to go into trances (made easier by all the drugs no doubt). Since my mother, the communist, and my father the physical chemist, were devout Jewish atheists, nothing in my life prepared me for this. I’m not sure which was more unsettling: the out-of-body near-death experience or the intensity of the trances.
In an exit interview conducted when I left the hospital a few months later, my surgeon told me: “You were the sickest person I’ve operated on in 5 years who is still alive. I have no idea how you got better so quickly.” Neither did I. However, I’ve spent the last 30 years finding out. I’ve been very lucky to find amazing teachers to help me in this process. In all this time, I have not had another acute episode of Crohn’s (sound of wood knocking) … though of course shit still happens from time to time.
After my hospitalization, it slowly dawned on me that if I did not want to repeat what I had just gone through—which I really didn’t—I would need to find other ways to live. And, amazingly, once I had this insight, teachers began presenting themselves to me, just at the moments when I most needed them, and just when I was most open to learning from them.
The first of these was Rachel Remen, a clinical professor of family medicine at UCSF medical school, co-founder of Commonweal Cancer Help Program, best-selling author of Kitchen Table Wisdom and My Grandfather’s Blessings, and creator of “The Healer’s Art,” a course now taught in more than 80 medical schools around the world. Rachel opened many doors for me. With her guidance, I explored the Feldenkrais technique (a somatic method for cultivating our entangled neurological and muscular-skeletal capacities) with Chloe Scott and others, while simultaneously studying with Philip Brooks, a Psychosynthesis practitioner.
Psychosynthesis is a transpersonal psychology developed by Italian psychiatrist and Psychoanalyst Roberto Assagioli. It holds that not only are we are more than we know, but we are more than we can even know. It also affirms that in a care-full therapeutic container, these unknown potentials can incubate and grow into new aspects of our selves. I worked with Philip for 5 years, completed the 2-year training at the Psychosynthesis Institute of San Francisco, and worked at the Pacific Center, a community mental health center for LGBTQ+ people in Berkeley, CA.
This intellectual and practical experience prepared me to embrace the profound life work of Emilie Conrad and Susan Harper who seeded and tended the movement-meditation practice of Continuum. Through Continuum I discovered that the living-organisms-that-we-are flourish and heal best when embraced within a loving field of care and concern.
Continuum teaches that we enhance this field when we move passionately and compassionately with each another. It strives both to overcome the cultural limits that unnecessarily restrict our vital potential and to heal the wounds we suffer while living in such a crazy world. I have practiced Continuum for 35 years.
In addition to studying with these root teachers, I received a Ph.D. in Modern Thought from Stanford University in 1988 and have been teaching at Rutgers University ever since. I am currently a full professor in the Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies where I work with both undergraduate and graduate students.
As a teacher-scholar, I concentrate on showing that (and how) the ways we make sense of the world inform the ways that we make the world. My classes elucidate the shifting histories of what “being human” has meant in order to encourage students to think about what it means “to be” human in our unsettling epoch. In 2012 I received the Graduate School’s Teaching Excellence Award for the impact of my teaching on future teacher-scholars in the Academy.
Healing Counsel combines all of what I have learned both from my many teachers and my many students. Because what I have learned from teaching is that there is no real teaching without learning and that once you learn it’s a pleasure to share that experience as a teacher. Thus, in my practice, we aim to both learn from and to teach each other more about healing than we currently know.