Exploring animism, embodiment, deep ecology, vulnerability, and imagination . . .
How do we create change when we are met with resistance? When we experience those moments that “the wall” comes up?
You know the feeling. Your breath is tight, the muscles of your jaw contorting, a warm flush rising to your face, a tingle in your body like maybe you’re going to faint, a hollowness in your chest. And inside you, a motor that starts going so fast the world around you is a blur and all you want to do is yell or hide or punch something or run away. Survival mode. What they call fight or flight.
Marshall Rosenberg, the psychologist who created Non-Violent Communication, would use giraffe ears and hand puppets to teach rooms of business people how to listen to their feelings and needs. Apparently, it is almost impossible to feel shame and self-consciousness while you are watching a puppet show.
And if you can’t find any escape, if you can’t defeat the perceived threat, then what happens? Paralysis—the immobility response. The shear amount of the problems in the world today has become immobilizing. You don’t know what to do. You freeze. You go numb. You collapse into despair and all the color goes out of the world… you try to pretend this is normal but something inside you is screaming it’s wrong.
“I’m here to talk about grief.” This is the first line of Vulneraries, the theatre performance that culminated my seven-month exploration into vulnerability. The first two nights of performances, audiences seemed palpably uncomfortable, as if they were holding themselves back. On the third night, I wore a clown nose. “I’m here to talk about grief,” I said. The audience relaxed. They warmed. They allowed themselves themselves to be carried on a journey. That clown nose became an indicator of safety, a chink in the wall of culturally-conditioned shame.
How do you come out of immobility? It’s not a pleasant awakening. Because there’s a saying: “as you go in, so you come out.” And so the only way out of immobility is through the full panic, the full devastation, the full rage that you experienced going in. And our culture can’t cope with that. It can’t support that terrifying release of energy, the world machine would fall to its knees. So the culture keeps us in immobility through shame—that wall that comes up when anything threatens to confront us with emotions beyond our control.
The socially accepted way to “make” something change is to fight it. We live in a culture of battering rams, brute force, control, punishment, extermination. If something opposes us, we wage war on it. We fight cancer, we fight alzheimers, we fight bacteria, we fight illiteracy and inequality and global warming.
What if we were to listen without passing judgment, without going into that reactive state of self-protection? How do you quiet the internal voices that rise up to defend you, the judgements and comparisons that blister across your lips?
How can we stand in front of the wall and find the hidden door, not barrel towards it and try to break it down? And maybe the metaphor can be extended further, because all the toppling of a wall really takes is a strategically removed brick.
What are the things you feel shame around, the emotions that are too consuming to confront directly? Those feelings like mighty rocks tumbling from mountains, volcanoes ready to explode the moment you look at them.
How can you speak about something if you cannot look at it? Obviously, you must conjure it through poetry. You must speak in a language of ellipsis, of metaphor. Holding the feeling to your chest, you rock it gently—because the baby isn’t going to fall asleep by your explaining that it is time for bed.
Long ago, the people had rituals for holding these things that were too terrible to talk speak of directly. Because the truth is, anytime you try to reduce a feeling to a clinical description, to rationalize the irrational and instinctual aspects of our humanity, you wound the core of what is alive in us. You negate the potency of the feeling and become numb to it in a way, returning to immobility.
What we need now are rituals of porousness, permissions to traverse the liminal spaces inside us. How do we find the guides who will bring us through the mountain unscathed? Often, these guides are the people who our culture says don’t matter. They are the children playing without fear of failure, the eccentrics who have not learned how to censor themselves.
Because after all, play is exactly that indirect slipping and sliding of the signifier, the dance of symbols and emotions, the chance to put on a mask and take it off again. But grown-ups get stuck in the masks, you know. We put a mask on one day and forget to take it off, and when we next remember we are wearing it, our faces have grown too big and the mask has become a part of our skin. Than rituals are necessary to remove it.
Stuart Brown discovered that violent offenders were rarely allowed to play when they were children. They had missed the experiential learning of empathy and imagination intrinsic in any act of playfulness. The more you play, the more peaceful you are, the more compassionate, the more able to “self-regulate” your emotions.
Perhaps we’ve been looking for resilience in all the wrong places. When the world is dark, the beautiful becomes as important as food. Nourishment is something we’ve become confused about in this culture. We don’t know what it means to feel full.
“Poetry is not a luxury,” Audre Lorde says. Poetry and acts of play are the way we carry ourselves safely through the world, undoing the paralysis, thawing ourselves so our limbs can begin to dance and our throats can gulp down enough air to breathe in deeply and finally release into song.
My curiousities entwine around the concept of “mythopoiesis" — literally "myth-making" — the creation of mythologies that nourish our interbeing with the earth.
My writing explores the betweenesses of different fields—deep ecology, indigenous wisdom, trauma resilience, living process, cultural transformation, sacred activism, grief rituals, play . . .
I am learning how to become a connoisseur of the felt sense, a savorer of the moments that create meaning and nourishment in the world.
I am apprenticing to traditions that practice compassionate witnessing, creating containers in which it is safe to release into the depths of emotion, to traverse the grief and holdings that must necessarily be released before healing can begin to take place.