I close my eyes and look within. Here, in my body, there is tension and jitteriness. There is a lump in my throat and a vibration in my jaw, a swirling and swelling in my belly, a tingle in my throat that feels like a mix of thirst, dryness, and mid-swallow tension. There is stillness, there is movement. There is breath. There is a heartbeat ebbing and flowing with each well of sensation. I hear in my inner ear “there is a process.”
I am forever in process.
I just completed the first speaking panel commitment for a new book coming out entitled Somatics 2.0: Diverse Bodies, Diverse Perspectives. This past fall, I wrote a chapter for this anthology which I named “The Gap: Becoming Healing” and have just attempted to synthesize and speak on this process. As I sit back, I am recognizing what a healing process it is to write about and continue to explore my understanding of healing and my vision of its work in the world torn and shaped by systems of oppression. I feel in my body the movement, the energy, the heat-swelling-thirsty tension that exists when openly discussing issues of inequities and oppressions based on race, gender, sexual orientation, class, ability, size, neurodiveristy, and age. And my understanding of the role of healing comes from translating the experience of my body into the world of words… a lesson in the body’s language.
My current work with HoneyRoot, a women’s embodiment nonprofit in Nevada City, CA, is focused on this specific kind of healing process by holding circles in which women from different social intersections come together to practice how to be with the woundings of another; woundings caused by the cultural norms and institutional structures that privilege one body over another. It goes something like this. In dialogue, we take on the work and practice of regulating our nervous systems in relationship to one another, thus building the capacity needed to remain in our bodies, online, resourced, grounded, present, and mindful enough to receive the unjust, at times traumatizing, lived truths of another based on their experiences of oppression. We practice having the capacity to hear how we are consciously and unconsciously perpetuating or dismantling these systems within and without that have contributed to the world of this “other.” That feels like a lot to even try to say…yet that is what I’m getting out of this circle. It’s embodied learning and unlearning all at once.
In doing so, the intentional impact is to build our abilities and capacities to respond to a request being made: Carry your weight of these painful wounds. Wounds that are borne of our relationship and the structures that inform our ability to stay in contact. Make it your response-ability to be able to listen, digest, incorporate, and act from the knowledge your whole person knows to be true about the world. We have to bear the weight of our history together, and who knows, something new might happen.
It means dismantling the story of how we have experienced life with the gifts bestowed upon us that are embedded in the lived experience and story of the “other.” We become responsible for knowing this life experience exists in the world and also have the response-ability to bravely turn toward transformation and healing. We practice being with both to begin midwifing our culture toward resiliency and balance.
In this transformation, like any transformation, there is a death. An ending to how things have been in order to welcome that which is to become. Much live a vision quest and other rites of passage, we enter into the threshold of witnessing “other” and must then return to the world and incorporate what we have learned in order for change to occur. This is true in nature, it is true of our bodies, and it is true of our relationships. But the death we speak of is the death of a culture and a way of life. It is the death of a culture founded on white supremacy, patriarchy, extraction, repression and wounding which provides enormous amounts of unearned privilege to people from the dominator culture and unjustly burdens people of color, women, non-binary and transgender people, queer folx, indigenous people, the poor, the uneducated, the old, the young, immigrants, and the differently abled in mind and body with the wounds required for the culture to take form.
Tracking my nervous system now, I sense within myself an anxiousness about what has just come to pass with this chapter and this work with HoneyRoot. My chest is constricting, my arms and shoulders tingle, and I have a moment of nausea. Eyes closed, I sit still enough to feel the way my heart is moving my entire torso as my head slightly pulses with its rhythm. I feel a welling of what feels like energy, like passion, like fear. The words come. “Embodiment is fundamentally an act of justice.”
We live in a culture that has used our bodies throughout history to dictate how we are permitted to reside within our bodies in this civilization. This history is filled with violence at all the social intersections of identity and body. Embedded in reorganizing our individual bodies into an authentic experience of wholeness and interconnectedness is to integrate the fragmented parts of our stories which includes the fragmented truths about our shared history and its personal impacts. Just as we work through our personal and interpersonal traumas, so too must we approach working across intersections to recover lost and harmed parts of ourselves. As we go through the body, the infinite stories that have resulted in our living in a human form become a part of our known experience. We come to know the story of our skin, our eyes, our language, our muscles, the shape of our hips and the strength in our grip – a body that has traveled through the beginning of time, through generations upon generations of living human bodies, to take form. As we do so, we come to learn about the stories and world surrounding the triumphs and defeats that our people and their bodies had to experience for our presence. We start to see ourselves more interconnected to the wider web of ‘history’ that has created us. We can become curious about the survival strategies of our ancestors that we have inherited, we can explore how they show up in our lives and what they are connected to…in this way, healing, and thus embodiment, is inherently a decolonizing process. It moves us away from preconceived notions of how things are supposed to work in this world and enter into the stream of how they actually do when life is lived closer to life’s own terms.
And as we learn from our nervous systems, from our racing hearts and tingling fingers, this hard labor of transforming culture requires slowness, mindfulness, awareness and love to tend all wounds. That we are to go at the speed of nature. At the speed of the Earth, which is only as fast as our nervous systems can stay, or return to, regulated. That we can go only as fast as the slowest system in a group. Only as wide as the narrowest window of tolerance. As I have given myself over to the process of coming into my body, I require time with Mother Earth to remember the passage from one state to another is but the work of nature and that static-ness seems to be the creation of the human. To be reminded that there is always transition, always process as the Oak goes from seed to sprout to tree to soil. There is no still end point, but a constant process of transformation with passage moments marking the movement of the cycle. We come to understand this process in our bodies, as we go from activated to regulated, from online to off in the weeds. And this process is much slower than we would like to think it is. But we don’t need to think any process into being, we can be with our bodily experience of it and know.
And all of this is work. Learning to ride the waves of your nervous system, getting to know your lineage and family history, and engaging in difficult conversations to hear the stories of others are all processes that require hard work individually, let alone collectively, to be done in service to the wellness we seek. It is to engage the world as a healing process. To engage life as a healing process both for the inner and outer worlds. To choose to practice, every day, in as many encounters you are able, to keep building the capacity you are able, so you can keep showing up to life well and to the ever changing best of your ability. And the more we do this, the greater resourced and alive we are able to feel. We are gifted the sight of interconnectedness, of reciprocity and of relationship. We are gifted empowerment to be the gardeners of our own Eden. We are welcomed home into the flow of nature, into the flow of life living on life’s terms. We aren’t getting out of the way, we are becoming the way. The way of transformation is inside us. Not as thoughts or revolutionary imaginings, but in the responses of our nervous systems, in the alchemy of brainbodyspirit, in sensations that invite emotion, language, image, texture and insights into the truth of what is actually occurring in the here and now. It is not singular. It is not exact. It is not painless. It is not easy. But, perhaps it is something of the simple. The way a redwood returning to soil is simple. The way life on life’s terms is simple.
I feel clarity about this now that I have fumbled with my own story in writing and presentation. As I have stepped away and taken a breath, the teaching continues into the here and now, and I know a new fumbling with these thoughts is on the horizon. The wisdom of the group, presenters and participants alike, awakened in me an articulation of the point; a clarity, a release, an exhale…a smile. An articulation that is a translation from my bodily experience inviting me into the process of reflection and assimilation. There are no ends. These thoughts will continue to take shape and reform as with everything else. It is alive within me, shaping my body, anchoring my experience, and giving me more of the story I, as the person that is this body, have been trying to tell.
Somatics 2.0: Diverse Bodies, Diverse Perspectives, edited by Don Hanlon Johnson and published with North Atlantic Books, will be on the shelves in the fall of 2018! All of the voices are poignant, brilliant, and important to the urgent work of changing culture. Check back often for updates!