“The Art of Healing from Sexual Trauma” by Naomi Ardea

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Subtitle: Tending Body and Soul through Creativity, Nature, and Intuition

Recommended to me by: Robyn Posin

As I started reading, I was relieved to discover that Naomi Ardea has thoughtfully structured her book so that it is inviting rather than overwhelming. Stories about her healing process are interspersed with her abstract paintings, peaceful nature photographs, and practical healing tools. The book feels spacious, gentle, respectful.

She calls out minimizing language around abuse, strongly naming its destructive effects. She affirms our right to feel all our emotions. She details how we get caught up in self-blame, and offers tools to lift it away. We get glimpses of the hard parts of her process, including healing her sexuality, and the tools she uses to manage difficult times, including time with forests and flowing water. Her healing is body-centered, naming sensations and being with them.

I felt comforted by the parts of her process that are similar to mine – the murky confusion that only slowly yields to clear narratives, the difficulties in finding compassionate practitioners, the sense of having to regrow boundaries from the ground up. I felt curious about the differences – her use of essential oils, and EMDR, and expressive finger painting.

I highly recommend this book for survivors and anyone who works with survivors. It bears witness to the possibility of healing while naming the daily difficult work it requires, and shares practical tools to smooth the reader’s path.

Book excerpt showing the spacious layout and full color photos and paintings.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Spell of the Sensuous” by David Abram

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Subtitle: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World

Recommended to me by: David Mitchell

David Abram is both a sleight-of-hand magician, concerned with perception and connection, and a philosopher, concerned with insubstantial ideas. Traveling as a sleight-of-hand magician, he got to know indigenous magicians in Indonesia, Nepal, and the Americas. With them, he learned to pay attention to the immediate world of the senses.

This book is a mix of sumptuous sensuous tangible descriptions, and poorly supported abstract ideas. I loved the former, and grumpily argued with the latter as I read. He claims that the alphabet divided us from our immediate participation in the natural world. In the coda, he says that even he doesn’t really believe that; it was just a starting point for discussion.

Yes, we humans are part of the world, not divided from it. Attending to our senses, to the wide, breathing present, nourishes us. Everything is equally alive, equally valid and valuable. Indigenous ways integrate with the world in a sustainable way. Each community’s stories convey urgently useful information about how to thrive in their specific place and time.

This book bridges the abstract world of philosophy with the sensuous world that indigenous peoples have inhabited all along. It casually elides all mention of privilege based on gender, race, wealth, and power. Published in 1996, it changed the conversation about ecology and sustainability.

Recommended as food for thought about how you want to connect with the world around you.

Book excerpt.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Unintentional Music” by Lane Arye

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Subtitle: Releasing Your Deepest Creativity

Recommended to me by: a friend

This is a wonderful introduction to Process Work via making music.

There is the primary signal – the music we want to make – and the secondary signals – all the mistakes, hesitations, and imperfections that pop up despite our best efforts. Lane Arye recommends emphasizing a secondary signal and seeing what happens. Probably, another secondary signal will emerge.

Following the chain of secondary signals can lead directly to core issues and allow them to change. It can lead organically to more effective technique. It can connect us to what our spirit wants to express.

Highly recommended if you make music or art or want to learn about Process Work in a playful way.

The introduction and first chapter are available on Lane Arye’s website.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Non-Designer’s InDesign Book” by Robin Williams

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Subtitle: Essential design techniques for print projects

Recommended to me by: Finding it at the library

I’m formatting my book with Adobe InDesign. While it does work to do a web search to find out how to do things like add more pages to the book, or move a title farther down the page, I decided I wanted more of an overview of the whole program and its features.

A friend suggested checking a book out of the library. This was perfect, because I could check out several books and see which one I liked, and since I have an older version of the program, older books were just right.

This book won because it is inviting, clear, direct, and brief. The design examples are varied and interesting (not all for sports and bars). Some of the examples are even from “Mothering Magazine”! While Robin doesn’t address book projects, the aesthetics and attention to detail in her examples fit in with how I work. Not only am I happy to support a woman author of a technical book, I feel more at home reading her book.

Highly recommended if you need to wrestle with InDesign CS5. I got her Photoshop book too, and I’m looking forward to reading that next, to work on the book cover and interior illustrations.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Walking with Ramona” by Laura O. Foster

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Subtitle: Exploring Beverly Cleary’s Portland

A 3 mile walking tour of Beverly Cleary’s neighborhood, starting at the statues of Ramona Quimby and Henry Huggins and Ribsy at Grant Park. The directions are easy to follow and the information is carefully researched and entertainingly presented. The neighborhood itself is full of gorgeous old houses and a quirky commercial center.

The only downside is photo captions set on the photos themselves, rather than on the white part of the page where they would be easier to read.

Recommended if you want to learn more about the Hollywood district in Portland now or back in the 30’s.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Uprooted” by Naomi Novik

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Recommended to me by: Eric Roberts

A fantasy novel based on Eastern European folk tales, but going in a direction all its own. The main character is a young woman, and there are other women with agency in the book. Unfortunately it is still a feudal social structure with a king and a male line of succession. Most of the people in power are men. There is a kickass black woman wizard, however!

There are two kinds of magic, and one of them is a follow-your-nose, do-what-feels-right, stay-in-connection kind of magic that feels as realistic to me as any magic can. I’ve never thought much of cookbook magic.

People care about each other and for each other. There is some attention to the need for rest and healing after wounds, although they do tend to be elided quickly as the action continues.

I found it entirely unbelievable that a 17 year old village girl would be completely sexually ignorant. Farm animals! Older friends! One room cottages! Listening to her own body!

The ongoing helpless suffering at the beginning of the book kicked me out, and I spent the rest of the book muttering about what the author was doing. But I did read the whole thing. There is a *lot* of violence. The narrator comments on it, is sickened by it, but the violence still continues.

I’ve been thinking a lot about evil, and where the responsibility for it lies, and where it originates. Whether there is an independent evil entity sowing evil in people. When and how we have to take responsibility for our own evil actions, and expect others to take responsibility for theirs. The book wrestles with those questions. The conclusion did not feel satisfactory to me.

I was having trouble finding words for this review, and it helped me to read this one. It’s comforting when others respond to the same issues I sensed, and can put words around them.

Recommended if story structure and plot, with some modern improvements on the social justice front, are more important to you than a lot of violence and suffering.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Polyvagal Theory” by Stephen W. Porges

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Subtitle: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-Regulation

Recommended to me by: Joshua Sylvae

This book is a chronological collection of Stephen Porges’ scientific research papers about vagal nerves and their functions, written in technical, medical language. Later papers summarize earlier research and even define some terms, so the book gets easier to read as it goes along.

The vagal nerve, also known as the tenth cranial nerve, originates in the brainstem and branches to the lungs, heart, digestive system, and face, independent of the spinal cord. It makes up most of the parasympathetic nervous system. It has both efferent (motor, from the brain to the periphery) neurons and afferent (sensory, from the periphery to the brain) neurons, creating a system that tends to stay in a given operating range (homeostasis) via negative feedback.

It is bilateral, one on each side of the body, and the two sides have slightly different functions, since we are not internally symmetrical, with the heart tilted to the left and the stomach on the left, etc.

As well as being bilateral, there are also two separate systems, thus “poly vagal theory”, many vagal nerves: an ancient system that all vertebrates have, and an additional newer system that mammals have. When the newer system is active, it suppresses the older system.

The ancient system is dorsal (originating toward the back of the brainstem) and unmyelinated (not sheathed).

Reptiles have this ancient vagal system, and a sympathetic system. They have a low resting metabolic rate. Under stress, their sympathetic system speeds up heart rate and breathing. If that doesn’t fix the problem, the dorsal vagal system puts them into freeze, dropping heart rate (bradycardia) and breathing rate (apnea). This works well to convince predators they are dead, or extend the time they can stay underwater.

The newer vagal system is ventral (originating toward the front of the brainstem) and myelinated (sheathed). It controls facial expressions, vocalizations (speech, singing, and other sounds), and coordinates breathing with vocalizing and swallowing. It tightens the muscles of the middle ear to filter out low frequency sounds that might drown out speech frequencies.

Mammals have a high resting metabolic rate, and a high requirement for a consistent oxygen supply. The newer vagal system is a “brake” on the sympathetic nervous system, gently reducing heart rate and breathing rate and allowing a focus on social signals. Under stress, the brake is removed, giving control to the sympathetic nervous system and instantaneously raising heart and breathing rate. If that does not take care of the problem, control goes to the ancient vagal system, sharply dropping heart rate (bradycardia) and breathing rate (apnea), which can be fatal for mammals.

The vagal brake can be engaged and disengaged at the speed of thought, unlike the sympathetic nervous system which works via adrenal hormones and other circulating chemicals that take a while to clear out of the body.

When the vagal system is busy telling the diaphragm to breathe in, the heart gets less of a “brake” signal and speeds up slightly. The brake is restored on the out-breath, slowing the heart slightly. This is RSA – Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia. It can be used as a non-invasive indicator of vagal tone. The greater the difference in heart rate while breathing in versus breathing out, the more vagal tone there is.

The ancient vagal system has been partially recruited for pro-social immobility – accepting an embrace, for example.

The ancient vagal system also explains the immobility many people experience during rape. Understanding the neurological basis helps to reduce shame about not fighting back.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Yoga of Eating” by Charles Eisenstein

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Subtitle: Transcending Diets and Dogma to Nourish the Natural Self

Recommended to me by: a client

A compassionate, wise look at our food choices. What are we saying yes to? How can we bring more kind attention to the nurturance and nutrition our bodies need? How do our food needs relate to the rest of our lives? An invitation to allow rather than coerce.

Highly recommended.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Understanding and Treating Chronic Shame” by Patricia A. DeYoung

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Subtitle: A Relational/Neurobiological Approach

Recommended to me by: Ani Rose Whaleswan

Patricia DeYoung says that although shame feels like a one-person problem, believing “There is something terribly wrong with me,” she defines it as a relational problem: Shame is an experience of our felt sense of self disintegrating in relation to a dysregulating other. Expecting attunement or regulation, we experience fragmentation instead, and immediately push that intolerable experience out of consciousness.

Shame is healed by right-brain connection, not left-brain reasoning and affirmations.

The book is filled with both lively client stories and technical psychological theory. It’s validating to know that researchers are beginning to understand relational trauma at a neurological level. It’s even better to know that relational therapists are holding this information about shame compassionately in mind while creating a healing space for their clients.

When our clients are able to feel their shame, letting the light and air get at it, we must stay honestly present with them. We have to encourage them to feel this most difficult emotion when what we want to say is: No, you are not ugly or worthless. No, I have never experienced you as selfish or stupid. Of course we would like to convince them that they are worthy, lovable persons. Instead, we must help them push through the language of ugly, stupid and worthless to the even more painful feelings of deep shame, feelings of not mattering at all to anyone, feelings of needing someone and finding no one, and feelings of disintegration and annihilation.

(Italics in original)

There is procedural advice for therapists: how to create a non-shaming environment, how to co-create narratives that include right-brain processing, how to discuss shame directly. Oddly, for a book about right-brain healing, touch is not mentioned anywhere.

Unlike many books that skip over the disorganized attachment style, this book addresses it and its “fearful chaos” directly.

The book also discusses mutual enactment, when client and therapist trigger each other’s deep shame, and yet keep working together with underlying good intentions. The mutually stuck pattern shifts not with dramatic insights, but incrementally, yielding little by little to moments of seeing each other more as whole people rather than just threats.

Highly recommended for therapists and others willing to wade through sections of psychological theory.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Other Wind” by Ursula K Le Guin

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I read this back when it originally came out in 2001. I remembered the overall story arc and the spectacular image of Tehanu at the end, but none of the details at all. It was great to have a visit with Ged and Tenar and Tehanu, but the characters felt oddly distant, not emotionally engaging. It felt like they were moving through their assigned parts in the repair of their world’s storyline, but they didn’t really have a choice. I did like the careful attention to the disposition of a cat.

Oddly, for a book by Le Guin in the 21st century, the main actors are men. Yes, women are involved and consulted and even central to the storyline, but I was left with the sense that they were pushing their way in from the sidelines, and the men were awkwardly surprised to see them.

Recommended if you want a visit with Earthsea.

Available at Powell’s Books.