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.
Wise Body, owned & operated by Bruin Christopher Runyan, offers somatic counseling, coaching & classes to individuals, partners, families, and organizations. Bruin specializes in body-based, trauma-informed, anti-pathology, politicized healing. Wise Body is a remote healing practice that provides services through convenient video and phone sessions.