Outer form means more than we know,
since it’s joined to inner substance.
A seed cannot grow without its kernel,
but it also fails if it doesn’t have a husk.
So the body has importance too.
Without it, purpose fails.
~ Rumi ~
Consider that at the center of our experiences lies a simple yet complexly woven tapestry of skin, tissue, muscle, fluids, tendons and ligaments that pulsates in a gentle dance with gravity and the atmosphere. Consider that this center – call it the soma or the living body – requires our presence and awareness for each experience, and that this soma is also the means by which we achieve presence and awareness. Consider, for a moment, that instead of the old adage “I think therefore I am” the opposite may be true. “I am, therefore I think. ” Consider, for a moment, it is your body that is taking in these words. Recognize that the impression of these symbols (words) are brought into your experience (of reading this post) by way of your actual eyes, which are busy focusing and adjusting as they scan across the page. If you’re like me, maybe you also “hear” the words in your mind. Consider that before making it to your brain to collect meaning, you are already making meaning of them. And as you read, imagine they first slide from the front of your eyes to the back of your skull. Imagine they gently fall down your spine to wrap around your ribs until they pass around the bone of your sternum. Imagine that they land below your breast plate and here they pause, melting softly through bone and tendon to gently wrap warmth around your beating heart. Imagine that your heart hears these words too and then relays the information to the rest of your body in a single heartbeat. The whole of you let’s you know the message has been received by loosening the skin around your eyes and maybe making space in your mid back for breath. Imagine that after all of that, your mind confirms what your body already knows by translating this intricate dance into thought. Allow it to now rest in your mind…
Consider that this is how you know these things to be true…not just now, but always. Every experience, every interaction, every moment. There is a dance so refined and complex unfolding simply by you being here with these symbols. Now take a moment to expand this moment to contain all the moments that have led you to this post, and all the moments you anticipate unfolding after its completion. Consider other things you have read and seen, not just today, but over the course of your lifetime. Hold in your awareness, just for a moment, the utter impossible vastness of the information that have created you in this moment. I know…it’s a lot to consider and hold onto. But maybe – just for a moment – you take a deep breath.
And feel these words.
And how they shift you.
And see if it can be true that you are indeed feeling them inside you. That any and all words shift your shape as you take them into your body and strive to make meaning of them. That it is through this intricate dance of skin and mind that you are in relationship to all that is – regardless of its immediacy in your awareness. I’m having a hard time communicating this idea..so nod if you’re with me.
And if you nod, that is exactly what I’m trying to say…
I’ll be the first to admit to the world that I am having a hard time being in relationship to it. I will be the first to admit that when I take in the information made available about the current state of our culture, our country, our planet, our bodies and our spirits, I get more frightened and closed off than open and inspired. I’ll be the first to admit that I am scared, frozen in bone and muscle by the brutal reality of our crumbling world. I will be the first to admit that this frozen fear is making me so incredibly angry, I sometimes tremble with closed fists and a tight jaw just from reading a single headline. I will be the first to admit that I sometimes wish to be an agent for destruction; to tear limb from limb the forces that come into my body and violate my sense of safety over and over again. And I will be the first to admit I don’t know how to do that without becoming the rage. The chronic bombardment of sexual violence as reported by various media outlets including accusations toward a presidential candidate and collegiate cover-ups of outrageous rape charges leave me feeling crippled by pain and fear. I feel it in my skin, in my tissues, below the surface where it has landed and taken hold of my body. The insanity of a country that funds militarized violence against indigenous people who stand in prayer to defend their sacred lands and the waters of our common Earth’s waters leaves me quaking in my shuttering shoulders, caught in the trap of my helplessness that robs me of breath and vitality every time I attempt to make contact with the world. The climate – the physical climate of our Earth – is shifting to such a degree that I wake in dumbfounded shock that our weather is as it is and no one seems to wonder what’s going on – let alone question the other option for president that seems to support a system of government that will expedite planetary destruction…. I’m truly at a loss.
These are just some of the words and experiences I take in to my body and attempt to make meaning of every day. These are just some of the ways I know they have made it into my experience of life – into my living body. They are not just thoughts, but physical shapes I find myself taking over and over. Clenched fists. Locked jaws. A distant gaze and cold curled toes.
My muscles are both rock hard and crumbling.
These things – these events (which are not the only ones that impact us) – come to me via symbol, story, faces and voices of people I do not know beyond how they live in my own body. They come into me as anything else and in their violent entrance shift my shape, close my pores, congest my chest, shrink my pupils, lock my jaw, create tears in my eyes, and shut down my parasympathetic nervous system so often and with such power, I sometimes worry that I will never restore. That I – like so many trauma survivors – will always be frozen in terror not of one person or thing, but of the world I have inherited. I can no longer deny that this dying culture, this aching planet, or this utter unchecked violence is not only destroying the world I had hoped to live a long healthy and happy life in, it is destroying me. My ability to show up every day is compromised by the constant onslaught of violence that comes into all of us. We are not and cannot ever be separate from it, and even if we do not read the whole article, the symbols and images that make up the headlines are enough. They come into our eyes, slide down our spines and take hold of our systems – no matter how often we attempt to turn away.
This is our world.
As I struggle to stay alert and conscious to the unfolding of our times, I ask myself to come back to my own body over and over again. I remind myself that the only way out of this fucked up mess is through – through the pain, through the terror, through the broken hearts and shattered glass – we can learn, grow, transform, and inspire. But how do we go through it? How do we take the world as it is and not crumble under the intense weight of it? For me, the first step is knowing that the world is experienced through my body. That when I feel pain or closure, it is because I witness pain and closure. That my bodily experience is a reflection of the world around me and by being in contact with myself, I can genuinely remain in contact with the world.
I also must remind myself that anger and rage are essential to life and provide much needed energy in times of trapped pain. That going through will require the destruction not only of systems of oppression, but of the dreams I was taught to hold. That I also must destroy my hope to ever live in a comfortable middle-class delusion. That I must destroy my denial of the atrocities of our culture. That I must destroy my own blindness and courageously allow myself to start all over again within the reality of our world. I must accept my anger and rage and trust they will be the energy that provides me with enough power to do so. Because, as Joanna Macy has said, our anger at the world is a reflection of the love we have for it. We cannot be angry at the status-quo if it were not destroying something we love. And I love life so much, I am willing to be destructive to protect it. To destroy these things is to make space for something new, something bigger and better than the “American Dream”.
I must also take whatever self-love and self-care measures I can to stay awakened to the pain. I must be willing to know when its too much, when to titrate the experience and find resources within my own body (noting my breath, feeling my feet on the ground, self touch), within my community (talking to friends and loved ones, prayer, group experiences) and within my own culture (music, dance, art) that allow me to reconnect with what is good. To refill the reservoir that feels most threatened by the violent intrusions of this world. To give myself permission to say “I will not look today so I may act tomorrow.” To know I am only one person and that to be that person effectively, I have to remember what I stand for as often as I am reminded of what I stand against.
I also know I don’t know what else to do. And in this moment, I’m working on being ok with that, so I can reach out for help. So I can bond with other survivors of this dying culture and together, skin to skin, arm and arm, we can be the force of change with our bodies as our guides.
If you experience this world, really experience it, you also feel it. It’s in your cells as it is in mine. Trust it to guide your actions because it will always guide you toward truth. I know it’s easier to numb out, it “feels better” to act as though we do not feel it at all. But while we’re busy lying to ourselves, our bodies twist, turn, tangle and crumble under the weight of it all and we begin to lose the only thing we have – reality and one another. I speak from my own embodied experience as I can only know what my body and heart are willing to feel. I implore you to do the same. I plead with you to get into your skin and learn how to stay there. I beg you to. I need you to. Because I see no other end.
The only way out is through.
And I am here with you.
The ONLY way out is through.
And we can make it.
The only way OUT is through.
And you are strong enough to feel it.
The only way out is THROUGH.
And I am here. With you.
~ tse ~