“A person suffers if he or she is constantly being forced into the statistical mentality and away from the road of feeling.“ ~ Robert Bly
We are a disembodied species, deprived of the weighted feeling of being in touch with our senses, attuned to the murmurings of our heart, the pleasures, ecstatic and intimate, that go with rootedness. We have lost touch with the once innate feeling of connectivity to strangers, the delight in a butterfly, the awe when struck by the glowing moon’s presence. We have squandered the feeling worlds of imagination and creativity born in pause and even boredom.
And we’ve lost touch with the inborn capacity to feel profound sadness and anger, fear and pain, to be unbridled in our emotional expression, and without shame. To express like we have for thousands of years in certain tribal societies where grief is a regular practice, one done often with the aid of ceremony, dance, drumming, singing; a community-held expression of pain that comes with the human experience that cannot be avoided. For, there is loss, there is turmoil, there is change, and with each there is grief, perhaps anger, a primal need to scream, stomp, wail across the mountains, ocean, into the heavens. To be heard, seen and thus confirmed in our vulnerable, vital nature as full-bodied expressions of life.
This cannot be avoided, at least the feelings cannot be. But how well we tend to them is a whole different story.
Human to Earth body
“Grief and love are sisters, woven together from the beginning. Their kinship reminds us that there is no love that does not contain loss and no loss that is not a reminder of the love we carry for what we once held close.” ~ Francis Weller, The Wild Edge of Sorrow
In 2016, when Fort McMurray, Canada, suffered a rout of uncontrollable wildfires, who came to the rescue were 300 brave and charismatic firefighters from South Africa. And what did they do when they arrived at the Canadian airport? They danced and sang with beaming hearts and abandon. Though serious was their mission, they still found room for joy, for full-bodied expression.
Joy in many earthen cultures is not far removed from grief. In fact, joy is reliant on their ability to move through sadness. Just like how a rainbow forms from sunlight and rain, how colourfully we radiate the full spectrum of inner light is dependent on how well we give ourselves to our tears. And when tears are an expression of joy, like in the joy of childbirth, there is no separating one from the other. Grief and joy are beautifully interwoven as an embodied expression of life lived in all its glory.
Grief does not need to be hidden for there to be joy, and joy not hidden in our tears.
Author Martin Prectel writes in his book The Smell of Rain on Dust that “Grief expressed out loud, whether in or out of character, unchoreographed and honest, for someone we have lost, or a country or home we have lost, is in itself the greatest praise we could ever give them. Grief is praise, because it is the natural way love honors what it misses.” It’s why, as Prectel teaches, in his Tzutujil Mayan culture grief and praise are different words for the same thing.
Living in direct relationship with the land helps us live in touch with this very primal, embodied knowing; this cellular remembrance that comes from our ancestors having lived many more lives in direct contact with Mother Earth than in urban high rises.
Indigenous peoples have long made it a daily “practice” to be in right relationship with the land. Their bare feet grounded in rocks and ravines, hands damp and dirty from the moist soil, flowers tickling shins, trees brushing up against shoulders, while birds serenade their working and living. Hunters seek food, often at night, and with the aid of the sight enhancing liquid Sananga, made from the plant Mata Heins. They traverse and track through the bush with acute sensitivity to the nuances of colour, light, movement and sound, knowing instinctively where and when to look and point; a refined and seasoned sensitivity that can only come from living inseparable from the land. Medicine men and women discover what plants are for not through laboratory experiments with little to no relationship with the land, but through biognosis—tuning into the sentience of Mother Nature’s biodiversity, listening for the intelligence of Chakruna and Ayahuasca to speak to them; to inform them how to make their traditional medicine amongst the tens, if not hundreds of thousand of plants.
For these land-based people the body of the earth is in direct kinship with their flesh, blood and bones. Life, day-to-day, is a living expression of the pleads, calls and bounty Mother Earth bestows. As such, life is lived in the body, in regular touch, physically, energetically, as embodied expressions of the body of the planet.
This is a far cry from the urbanized, stacking culture of the Euro-western world, where pathways are paved, steadying ankles bound by $150 footwear, feet rarely catching sunlight. Where homes, schools and workplaces are distinct boxes, often high in the muddied air, from which we go to another box called a gym to take care of our bodies. Or we go on our bikes, rollerblades or in our hiking shoes, feet barely touching sand, soil, grass and wild water. Nature consists of infrequent weekend excursions and trail running with our headphones on. The mind and body may strengthen through respective academic and fat-burning workouts, but the felt-sense interwovenness indigenous peoples experience in relationship to the land is surely lacking.
Having been raised as separate from Mother Nature and without initiation into Her vast intelligent wilderness via elder-led rites of passage, it’s no wonder we take from Her at the rate we do. Displaced, seeing nature as a static backdrop, without kinship as an extension of our body, nature for most becomes, at best, a place to visit and, at worst, something to plunder at anthropocenic levels.
The ravaged and disregarded body of Mother Earth, whether that be plants, air, dirt, animals or fellow humans, is our very clear indicator that we have lost touch with our own human body. We’ve forgotten how to live awakened, in felt-attunement and communion with what lies beneath our neck, and beyond.
A fundamental disconnect
“Imagine if you can a diamond made of sensitized plates like those used in the finest camera, and then conceive of the infinite variety of pictures that are printed every day – every hour! – on the plastic and impressionable mind of the child! You think that he does not see that quick, angry gesture, or hear that sharp ugly word, or feel the impatience in that push you gave him, or understand that nasty allusion, or pick up that slovenly habit; but you are wrong. All the pictures are there. Every time the lens clicks there is a permanent record.” ~ Luther Burbank
I’ve written plenty on this, but hopefully offer more now through a different lens. I persist on this matter because the troubled times we live in cannot be separated from the rampant disembodiment that makes up the vast majority of the Euro-western world.
Let me begin by reiterating what you most likely know by now: feelings and emotions are disconnected from and risen above during childhood adversity to survive the overwhelm—overwhelm made worse when there is no primary caregiver to soothe the child, notwithstanding a child’s loud and suffocated pleas; or there is not enough attunement given to the child to assist her to be with her feelings and thus in her body. (For a list of 26 childhood advertises, click here.)
Those pleas are variations of what we adults call “acting out” or “just wanting attention”. In the same way we see nature as separate from ourselves, adults, namely parents and teachers, so often see children as fully distinct from their body. This gives permission for adults to say, “She’s just acting out again” and “He just wants attention”, while refraining from reflection and responsibility, from sensitizing to the small body the child is having a hard time being in. This lack of attuned “with-ness” compels adults to point at and even plunder the body, mind, soul of the child through verbal and physical abuse, neglect, all forms of punishment and insensitivity to the child’s needs, without an awareness that the child is an expression of the adult’s stress, unprocessed pain, the energetic climate of the inner and outer house.
The child is demonstrating, often dramatically, what the adults have disconnected from in their own body.
Turning back towards Mother Nature, underwritten by the codes of anthropocentrism, we see the cedar, cow, and wild water deemed separate from humans and treated as such. With inner sensitivity lacking due to trauma and disembodiment or numbness, humans heartlessly take liberties to plunder in the form of fracking, industrial agriculture and seed patents, taking ownership of nature just as adults often act like they own a child. Our insistence on controlling children is our longstanding “plunder”, making them into our own image and likeness; making them into who we think they ought to be—well-behaved, compliant, studious, good, seen but not heard. Habitually tellling children what to think and do, coercive education, and systemic abuse are but three examples of how we colonize their hearts and minds with little care or understanding of the consequences, just as we colonize our non-human friends.
It’s adultcentrism, a far cry from the “childcentrism” of tribal cultures where children are placed at the centre of the circle or village with adults extending outwards. The results are clear: floods of depression, wildfires of anxiety—toxicity of the individual and collective ecosystem.
Fueled by this fundamental disconnect and without the caregiver’s capacity or desire to empathetically consider that the child’s behaviour is not separate from them, young ones have no choice but to disconnect by leaving their body to some extent. The despair, the fear is that strong. No one is there to meet their vulnerable needs. No one is there to stem the rising storms of grief and put out the searing heat of anger. These emotions are just too big for the little one with her yet-to-be-developed “Watch Tower” brain, the orbitofrontal cortex responsible for self-regulation.
Disassociation becomes necessary.
Built into our psychophysiology, disassociation allows us to leave our body so the unbearable is somewhat bearable. At its extreme it is the sexual abuse victim who quite literally leaves her body and looks down upon the bed her drunken father molests her on. Below that threshold we have the West’s majority who cannot dance without booze because the body is that scary to inhabit, and the many who aren’t aware of how they feel, let alone have the capacity to articulate their feelings and needs.
How can you expect an adult coming from adverse childhood experiences to be in their body? To know how they feel when feelings were dangerous as a child (and still today)? Dangerous because their big feelings overwhelmed their young, developing nervous system and would have gotten them in trouble if expressed, thereby severing any semblance of safe attachment with the primary caregiver. There was no choice—feelings had to be disconnected from, the body left behind.
It goes without saying, that considering the history of traumatic and unimaginable abuse inflicted on men, women and children, the human species would not have made it this far without the survival instinct of disassociation. And with attunement, care and healing lacking, as has been the case with most victims of traumatized culture, there are dire consequences.
Disassociation and disembodiment become pervasive, often with deep feelings of unbearable aloneness.
In my healing practice, this unbearable aloneness is common amongst my clients who endured difficult early years: Feeling separate from the very people they depended on so heavily; having to pull away from those they were biologically drawn to; having to abandon their heart, their feelings, their spontaneous soul essence. Truly, for a young child wired to attach, wired to live as hunter-gatherer societies have long lived, wired to live fully integrated with their bubbling spirit, this separation, this aloneness is both unnatural and unbearable.
The sadness, fear, anger, unbearability of aloneness that comes from losing trust in our parents, trust in our feeling body, trust in life must be risen above. There is no other “choice”. Strong, independent, productive, ambitious, out into the world we go moving from this to that, thought to thought, sweeping the floor to tidying the closet, class to program, job to job, partner to partner, drink to smoke, Netflix to Facebook, like a monkey swinging from one branch to another, scared to slow, stop and drop into the space between, into the body where the truth of what we’re running from is felt.
Slow, stop and drop is scary for the body that cannot, dares not, feel. We just don’t realize how much we were hurt, how scared and sad we were, how much that divorce, that argument, that spanking, that neglect, that emotional absence, the difficult conversation affected us psychologically, biologically, spiritually. Succumbed by the distractions of busyness, the majority knows not of their own emotional terrain, their trauma. They are unwittingly disembodied, a far cry from the child they once were who spontaneously moved and sang and drew and cried and imagined wildly, without calculations and shame.
Bottom line, people grow up without being fully indigenous to their body, their felt sense. They live displaced internally, and, by extension, externally. It’s what makes it hard, if not impossible, to know instinctively the extensions of our body—the children in front of us, the cedar, the cow, the wild water. It’s why so many in the dominant culture live with inadequate community and support, in neighbourhoods where people barely know each other and children rarely visit the forest; in societies where medicine derived from synthetic and often harmful substances is preferred over the wisdom traditions of healing through plants. We live without kinship to our flesh, blood and bones, and thus without kinship to other humans and non-humans.
This is the unbearable aloneness I speak of, a byproduct of living without an inner home. It’s the consequence of trauma, the expression of it—mind separate from body, you separate from me, us separate from that. It’s what makes romantic relationships and the white picket fence so alluring—the need to find that one special person who will complete me, to find home. We are trying to fill the hole from abandoning ourselves.
Disembodied, experiencing ourselves as separate and entitled, humans can easily become dangerous. To a wounded heart and a rationale ungrounded in feeling, it makes sense to colonize and missionize the world, to abuse children in the name of education, to torture animals under the guise of food, to extract from the earth at the rate we do now. It makes sense to plunder and justify it as “progress” and quite “normal“.
Indeed, a far cry from the abiding, grounded, reciprocal relationships with humans and non-humans fundamental to tribal cultures, the dominant culture has long paid a heavy price for not living in their body, and thus not feeling and respecting the body of others, and Gaia. Sadly, as we clearly see, the price is paid by all sentient beings.
The good news is that we can heal the trauma and the unbearable aloneness; we can return to and feel at home our bodies, and thus feel at home in this world. With courage and dedication to healing, my clients start to feel emotions tucked away, surprised often by how much there is, how long shame and anger, fear and disgust, joy and grief have been hidden. Crying becomes easier, spontaneous and natural. Even enjoyable! My clients also learn to track their body’s sensations. They can feel the nuance of tingling in their belly and pulsing in their upper thighs, and the direction these sensations are heading. They can sense heat, warmth and cold, as well as colour and images arising as they connect to certain places inside.
These are all clear indicators of healing and embodiment—of the body gradually feeling less foreign, less dangerous. With enough work, it soon becomes a friend and ally. It speaks louder to them as they re-inhabit their arms, legs, neck, chest, belly. They feel their soul reverberating in their cells and heart’s knowing. They more fully trust their gut, feel the intelligence beyond thought that wishes to guide them to more beautiful experiences. There is more fluidity, delight, more capacity to imagine and create, dance and sing, more ability to enjoy their body and, by extension, the body of others, and life.
There is more aliveness!
Imagine what’s possible in our relationships to human and non-humans if we landed more in our body? If we loved the forgotten inside?
Growing down into love
“To love deeply in one direction makes us more loving in all others.” ~ Anne-Sophie Swetchine
It continues, this game of hiding, until our time comes. Until we remember to love ourselves so we can love others and Mother Earth. The poet Rilke tell us, “For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.” In my personal experience, loving myself has been the hardest of tasks. Nothing has asked more of me, nothing has demanded I give up as much.
Love is that testing, that provoking, that revealing, and that kind.
Crisis, betrayal, relationship struggles, health challenges, financial strains, some sort of suffering invites or shouts at us to pause, reflect and feel what we’ve long suppressed—to learn to love our denied, forgotten body. Though it may seem an unfortunate or unfair occurrence, there is usually a gem waiting—love, beyond all we deem so utterly important, waiting to be felt and re-membered.
A detour like the coronavirus quarantine, though nefariously driven, is one such difficult measure, taking us away from the tried, tired and not-so-true familiar consensus reality paths we hold so dear, that we rely on to hide, the ones that in our hearts we know we don’t love that much. A needed disruption indeed, firmly laid down, leading us away from familiar roles, the non-essential that comes into question. A redirect down the forgotten highway from brain to body, thought to feeling, head to heart. A redirect back to ourselves, our forlorn bodies, the quiet one inside, the hurt child who calls for our attention. For love.
“Love… is relentless and unresolvable”, writes Matt Licata. “It will do anything to reveal wholeness. It will never be pinned down or conform to the way we thought it would be. It is just too creative and wild for all that.”
Life is relentless in its quest to bring us back to love, and love is relentless in its quest to bring us back to life. Neither will allow us to play the game of disconnect and disembodiment for long, hiding from wholeness. As Nigel Clarke writes in Ex-orbitant Globality, “In the real world, there will always be some intrusion that ripples the surface of reasoned judgment… symmetry is broken and uniqueness asserts itself… And it is that outside, leaking or bursting back in, that will sooner or later upset the dreams of a more even-handed and regulated existence.”
Down is the destination we must travel, away from the “even-handed and regulated existence” our traumatized society extols. (For a traumatized child must stay “even-handed” to survive a turbulent childhood.) Growing down, closer to our old, reliable friends of dirt, worms and dandelions, not up, as we rush children to do, growing up quickly with our obsessive to-do agendas of achievement. Not up as we so blindly and compulsively build endless towers of thought from endless towers of thought. Down, where truth lives, away from the falsities, obscurities, deceits of disembodied rationale that plays games with us and others, leading us into all sorts of games that, in the end, lead us nowhere except with more pain and Mother Earth crying out.
Pain and suffering are the siren calls to end and grow down into love. Slowed enough by our relentless back pain, frozen in our tracks by depression or a global pandemic, brought back to what matters, that tired, lonesome place that, no matter our efforts, no matter the number of cruises we take, gadgets we buy, trophies we win, cannot be filled.
Love fills it. That’s what we’re all searching for. Love. Most “progress” is a destructive theatre played by love lost and resultant pain denied. It is the devastating compensation of billions who live with a profound separation from love of self and family, love of Mother Earth and Father Sky. The terrain of the heart has been stomped over that much, and so too has the heart of our fields and trees, birds and soil. Love lost inside creates no love loss for its ruinous actions on Mother Earth.
“The love that you withhold is the pain that you carry.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Love is the agenda here. The patient warmth of love thawing our frozen body, returning us to it. A love that frees the rivers of grief through our rigid bodies, a love of the wildfires of rage that help us reclaim our red hot primal energy, a love for the forgotten, the disregarded that cries out inside and out. A love for the pain that extends far and wide for it has traveled far and wide through our marrow into the bones of stone, underground into our micorrhizal mycelia neural network, high into the air, into our lungs, further beyond into ancestral waters, and beyond even that.
Love is the agenda here, a love that waits for each of us. A love whose time has come.
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