There is a postcard sitting on the windowsill above my desk. It bears Isak Dinesen’s words: “The cure for anything is saltwater — sweat, tears, or the sea.”
It’s beautiful and poetic. It makes me think about water, specifically large bodies of water — one of the places I feel most myself. The quote itself is used in a gorgeous piece of art that Shreya Shah drew. It reminds me of my west coast extended community. All those things are nice perks. But at its most basic, I keep it on the windowsill as a deeply practical, constant reminder.
Note that it doesn’t say “the cure for anything is doing and solving...” However, so often in this complex world where things are devastating and unbelievably unjust, doing and solving is something that we are deeply practiced at when faced with Big Sensations or Big Emotions. We reach for doing and solving even when faced with situations that really have no solution.
Think back to the last time something riled you up, made you so angry that your muscles clenched and wouldn’t let go. Think back to the last time you faced immense grief and sadness. Or the moment at the park where, in the gleaming glorious sunshine, you were totally encapsulated by pure joy.
What did you do next?
What did you do with that anger? Did you create opportunities for it to move, to just be? Did you scream in your car, or out in the forest? Did you throw plates, or punch a punching bag or a pillow? Did you find a friend who could sit with you, who didn’t once interrupt or placate while you rhymed off every single thing you were irate with? Did you wail on a piece of concrete with a sledgehammer, or stomp as hard as you could on the sidewalk?
And that grief. Did you let yourself sob, and focus on seeing if you could sob in your feet as much as you could in your throat? Or did you crawl into the smallest space you could find, or burrito wrap yourself into a blanket? Did you hold your breath until you felt like you were going to burst, compress your hips or the sides of your head with both hands?
What about the joy? Did you pause and appreciate the it, notice the way it felt on a cellular level, let it be without having to plan or scheme to make sure it lasted as long as possible? Did you challenge yourself to choose something different than scarcity or panic, and instead breathe into abundance and possibility?
If you said no, you are decidedly not alone.
When my Dad died late last year I searched frantically, sometimes rabidly, for something to do, something to say, someone to fight. All so that I didn’t have to feel my feelings. In fact, I can now tell when a major bout of grief is rearing its head by the growing sense of discomfort and dis-ease I experience and the feeling that I must do something. Immediately. There Is Something to Be Done.
But the truth is, nothing I do will bring him back. Nothing I do will give me a different childhood. Nothing I do will make all the Feelings go away.
So many of us have been taught explicitly and implicitly that sensations and emotions are to be solved, as if they are mathematical equations. Feeling angry? Find someone to blame. Feeling sad? Lock down your jaw and throat. Feeling jealous? Make your partner promise something that will give you a momentary sense of security. Even in joy, we are so panicked about its fleeting nature that many of us don’t make space to actually revel in its presence.
Part of freeing ourselves is to realize that the emotions/sensations, and our reactions to them, can be separate experiences. Feeling sad? How can you find a way to feel the sensations of sad a little more? Feeling angry? What can you use in your physical environment to let that anger be bigger without hurting yourself or anyone else? Feeling jealous? Where in your body does that jealousy live? Can you sit with that place where it’s living and the movement it’s making for 30 seconds? What about for 5 minutes?
When we create space and time to feel our emotions, we don’t have to shut them down and vacate our bodies. But we also don’t have to put them in charge and react to their every whim. Fundamentally there is more choice. More space. More room. More freedom.
originally published on the Wise Body Facebook page
dear my LGBTQ loves,
in the face of all the suffering, the trauma, the overwhelming grief and rage, the numbness and disbelief, i go to work and i touch people.
in the face of all the political opportunistic cooptation of our grief, the overwhelming silence of the majority of our straight friends and family, the unchecked white supremacy, ableism, islamophobia and anti-immigrant undertones of vigils and actions that are somehow supposed to make us feel better, i go to work and i sit with people and their stories. i go to work and i sit with people and their trauma.
sometimes i sit besides them while they weep.
i hold their head or their shoulders or their feet while they heave and shake, sometimes with sound, sometimes soundless, mouths gaping and reaching for words and guttural sobs that will not come, ears and hair soaked. i let them know that there is space for whatever comes and that whatever comes is the exact right thing for that moment.
my job is to sometimes remind folks over and over that there isn't one way to grief, there isn't one way to rage, there isn't one thing to do or not do and that this world indeed can be cruel and senseless. my job is to help folks come into their bodies, to feel their sensations, to open up a little more space for their emotions and sensations to move in so they don't feel continually like they are being swallowed or consumed. to open up a little space in their bodies so that the huge bits of devastation and fear can live next to the small bits of hope and joy, so that there is space for all of it.
my job is sometimes to remind folks that numbing out in a world of systems and institutions that often want to kill us, hurt us, shame us, numb us, pit us against each other, take away our choices, imprison us, institutionalize us, isolate us makes a ton of a lot of sense, AND that when we are to awaken into our emotions and sensations, we have lot more tools to take down that world and build something else.
my job is to check myself wanting to solve and to fix, and to pull myself back and find my own ground and breath and make a little more space to breathe and be with folks. i am endlessly amazed at what is possible when we take a moment to step back from solving and fixing and just find ways to sit with each other.
my job is to help folks sit in the uncomfortable without having to shut anything down. my job is to work hard myself to sit in the uncomfortable without having to shut anything down.
it's deeply humbling work. work that constantly kicks my own butt to live my words; to live my politics; to live inside of my own skin; to acknowledge my mistakes, apologize for them, and to do better next time; to sit inside the sensations and emotions; to build more resilience practices into every moment of my day.
work that sometimes i do fantastically and sometimes i do less fantastically.
this week i have had to fight hard to get to work. this week i just wanted to build a wall of thick plexiglass between me and feeling. this week just getting out of bed felt like a lifetime achievement. this week i endlessly scrolled my newsfeed, ignored friends' text messages and locked the dogs out of my room. this week i worked super hard at not feeling. i made myself go through the motions of feeding myself, getting in my car and driving to my office. i made myself empty the trash and refill the tissue boxes. i made myself change the sheets on my table and bring another chair in for the new couple i was seeing at 3pm. i sat in my chair and felt myself thaw as i got to sit with my clients. i thawed as i touched my clients feet. i thawed and i felt tiny sensations within my gut. i thawed as i sat with someone as they wept. i thawed after i finished a session with a client who is just starting to be able to feel her pelvis after years of numbness and disassociation. i thawed and felt the pinpricks of tears.
i am still thawing but more and more of me is returning. and i am remembering why i keep on returning to my body. i am remembering why i keep on returning to this work.
this work helps me have something besides rage for the straight and cis people who have said nothing about the murders of my gorgeous, glittery, fierce queer brethren. this work helps me feels the rage and also feel the compassion and the love and the hurt that that silence has caused and continues to cause.
this work helps me rage and vent and yell and sob and scream about the opportunism and the oppression thinly disguised as healing that has run rampant in the last week. and when i open to all that rage and fear, i can also open to other things. when i make space to feel the heat in my face and the shaking of my legs and the loud thudding of my heart in my throat, there is also space to notice the quieter, smaller sensations. there is space to feel the rage and respond from somewhere else. there is space to hold complexity and contradiction. there is space to feel and with that feeling, let things move and change. there is space to soften. when i make space to feel my sensations and emotions, there are More Choices. fundamentally there is space for More.
i want to honor and mourn and celebrate the lives of our dead from that place of More. i believe that in the More, we all get to Thrive and not just Survive. i deeply believe that this place of More makes our movements better, our organizing better, makes our relationships better, makes us better at living this complex, heart-breaking thing called life.
i draw so much inspiration and hope from all the brilliance that you all do everyday. i know that i only see the littlest tip of the iceberg of our collective genius, and i am still blown over and moved to tears by all the ways that you have survived and continue to survive. by all the ways that you reach towards and embody justice. by all the ways that you are working to heal. by all the ways that you are working for and believing that we deserve More.
thank you. i see you. i'm with you. i love you.
and i believe that we will win.