the arena in which we execute our sense of being
Dis-Membering (Living Outside)
Those who were raised in a similar environment as I, may be able to relate to growing up believing that our flesh is a vessel closer to the need for function than it is a dimension where we can encounter divine experiences. What I mean by this is that the narrative that was widely broadcasted was that we should not attach ourselves to our bodies because not only will we leave them behind when we die, but our flesh is one of the major stimulants that incite sin and detachment from God.
Beyond the social (and in many ways religious) perceptions of the body, global science, which informs social perceptions, views the body as a separate entity to the human being. Fathers of European sociology such as Mead, Darwin and Freud make the distinction between self and the body. This distinction has encouraged communities all over the world to create distance between themselves and the bodies they take up space in. For many of us the body is both a biological make up of cells which ensure that we stay alive, and a product of societal norms and cultural values. The second considers the fact that how we look, behave and engage through feeling is determined by what our communities approve of.
How loudly we laugh, how fiercely we cry and how wildly we dance is pre-determined by systems and agencies that have no idea how it feels to reside in a body such as yours or mine.
The Most Ancient Site : The Body of a Black Woman
My journey as a woman resembles, and is in some ways distinct to that of a man. In my experience, the way we express how we make meaning of life through our body is heavily restricted. Our temperaments, reactions, instincts and desires are determined by what is considered acceptable in collective terms. More often than not these collective terms are inspired by colonial conceptions of power and control.
We learn from the work of Liora Bresler - who wrote extensively on the body and society - that the body is a site of national, global and democratic wars inscribed by the politics of identity. What I find odd is that our identity is determined not by how you or I identify, but by how the systems we were born into identify us.
My experience as a black woman is that my body is used as a battlefield for power. The arena where systems, people and institutions exercise their power over me and where I attempt, in retaliation, to express the power I have over myself. I am an object that is produced to be identified, controlled and reproduced.
The cycle continues.
Clarrissa Pinkola Estes expresses it more eloquently in her book, Women Who Run With The Wolves, when she writes,
“If she is taught to hate her own body, how can she love her mother’s body that has the same configuration as hers? Her grandmother’s body; the body of her daughters as well?”
The body houses several spiritual and psychological treasures that are passed down from mother to child. When we place limiting and exclusionary judgements on a woman’s body, we rob ourselves of the abundance that is transported through these ancestral lines.
From as early as our childhood we are taught to dismember and disembody. We reprimand our children when they jump too high, laugh too loudly and sway their hips too sensually. Forgetting that these simple motions/instincts are part of exploring our bodies and forming an intimate relationship with our carrier.
Everyday we subconsciously teach our children to forget what it feels like to live inside their bodies.
Re-Membering (Living Inside)
“Our bodies are the texts that carry the memories and therefore remembering is no less than reincarnation.”
from The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk
Rosetta Stone is an ancient African landmark that was discovered as far back as 196 BCE in Kemet (Ancient Egypt). This stone is a piece of ancient technology inscribed with codes that make reference to the ways of nature and the journey of human beings, as understood by our foremothers and fathers. On this stone it is written that the body is considered to be a living record of ‘life given, life taken, life hoped for and life healed.’
The body is a divine dimension of the human spirit that has its own, very unique ways of remembering. It has the profound and articulate ability to register immediate responses to stimulus from inside and outside. It is a multilingual system that communicates through channels such as temperature, sound, arousal, ease and disease.
Understanding the body as a source of immediate and real feedback allows us to engage with it as a learning environment. A space where we get to know ourselves on different levels, awakening the profound intelligence that lies within our sensory and nervous systems.
Author Risa Kaparo writes about how interacting with the body as an environment of learning helps us break our identification with it simply as an image or an object. We then begin to tap into the infinite consciousness that is embedded in this “finely tuned feedback system.” This is a critical part of the process as it helps us experience the difference between functioning as an object moving through space, and what Kaparo refers to as, “our presencing of spaciousness, fluidly unfolding as a movement within movement.”
Simply put, living inside our bodies provides us with the opportunity to understand the body as an ecosystem that teaches us about ourselves, our environment, and how the two interact with each other to inform the present moment. Awareness of the body creates awareness of our emotions, our needs and the experience of truly being alive.
Living in Self is Communion with Others
A writer and lyricist whose work has stretched my mind and my heart in so many ways, wrote in one of his songs;
“I need the outside to know the inside; which is where I reside. Through this understanding I know that all things are one. “
-Talib Kweli x Write at Home
For as long as I can remember, the work of self has often been placed against working with others. When people speak of ‘being selfish’ or ‘taking care of yourself first,’ it is often assumed that this will be at the cost of caring for others. However, our ancestral history teaches us that because we are all beings of nature created through a single force of energy that can neither be created nor destroyed, we are all one. This means that loving and caring for self is loving and caring for others. We experience parts of ourselves by observing parts of others.
To live in relationship with our bodies helps us relate to and resonate with the experiences of others. After all, living with other people requires our bodies to be involved. The waves of compassion and empathy we feel for others can be strengthened by how much we engage with our own bodily signals that cue compassion for ourselves. The inability to understand our own bodily signals leads to limitations in relating to the bodily experiences of others.
“I understand that my body is not separate from the land, that my feet are made to hold my ground, my body a vessel made to carry much.”
- Clarrissa Pinkola Estes
Interdependence is a central concept in most African and indegenous streams of science and philosophy. The idea that one part seizes to thrive without the other is a fundamental piece in understanding who we are and what we come from.
The body is a physical manifestation of the interdependencies of life. Where the present state of our subconscious is reflected by the response of our nervous system, and the shape of ease and/or disease that we find ourselves in. One of the greatest arenas to learn about ourselves is in our body. How it feels in the present moment and how it responds to its environment. We cannot separate the land on which we are born from our bodies; our most immediate homes.
An awareness of how we feel and move within our bodies is paramount in order to truly awaken deeper levels of connection with self and consciousness of others.
The next two written offerings I will share will dive into movement as part of the process of catharsis. How can we use movement and dance to engage with the body and connect with others in the process.
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