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Healing as an ancestral elemental ritual

The past lives within us. A universal and undeniable experience whether we abide by the unproven hypothesis that memory is stored in the brain or we side with body workers’ and clients’ felt sense that our fascia(connective tissue, blood, bones, and muscles) and our fluids bear stories from the past as processes with which we can engage through the therapeutic holding.

Rupert Sheldrake’s theory of morphic resonance would support the latter, more dynamic view of memory as the enmeshment of fields nestled within other fields of presence/resonance (1988, 2nd edition 2011).

(Lilly pond, Sophie Rieu)

In my experience as a biodynamic craniosacral therapist, these stories arise within what BCS practitioner and teacher Scott Zamurut calls the ‘Embodiment Tide’, the unfurling of our primary respiration as it breathes throughout our organism, like the ebbing and flowing of oceanic tides. Stories emerge from the ground of our beings and from the fields supporting them. They can be resourcing or overwhelming, processed or raw. Our grounded and spacious therapeutic holding allows for a gentle apprehension of whatever wishes to be spoken verbally and non-verbally.

In many ways, a craniosacral session is a ceremony that switches on and unlocks what our organisms are willing and ready to sense in the field.

A ceremony that ritualises the remembrance of our ancestral memory as it expresses in our physiology and our biosphere/biofield.

The word ancestral comes from the Latin ‘ante’ which means ‘before’ and ‘cedere’ meaning ‘go’. Ancestral is what has gone before. I use it in its widest etymological scope to encompass our own past nestled within the past of our maternal and paternal lineages, nestled within our communities’ fields (where we have lived), nestled within our cultural and societal fields, nestled within our ecological fields: in this last broad commingling, I include all other species in all kingdoms of life but also all geological deep time beings such as rocks, rivers, mountains, sea…The nestling layers continue ad infinitum into the cosmos.

These are constantly interacting and intermingling within and around us to influence at varying degrees how we behave and process who we are at any given time. We are only conscious of a fraction of these innumerable factors, all kin, all family.

(Viper’s Bugloss, Sophie Rieu)

During a craniosacral session, we become more present with what is stored in our tissues and fluids. This ritual of coming into presence with the past unrolls in three parts: a relational introduction through verbal contact, a featherlight hands-on journey to process, settle and reorganise, and an after-chat to transition between the session and the ‘outside world’. In practice, this linear division is not so neatly cut and includes many subparts whose nature varies depending on each person, but it sets a container within which we can immerse safely.

From the standpoint of morphic resonance and BCST when someone comes into my clinic room, I do not just greet this one person but many other presences and influences within their whole biosphere.

With over eight years of experience, I consider BCST as an ancestral teacher set ever more deeply within my biofield. A major transformative force in my life, it has profoundly changed how I perceive. What my perception selects for me to sense and interpret through my grid of awareness has tremendously broadened both qualitatively and quantitatively.

Where I used to feel overwhelmed and tended towards numbing through dissociation, I (which is really ‘we’ if we are to apply what was written before) can now enjoy a more generous and grounded holding presence in social and therapeutic settings. This means we/I allow more to emerge to be met compassionately and with total acceptance. What often feels surprising to people experiencing BCST for the first time has become the norm. I notice the astounding manifestation of the numinous in each session I give and receive with more detachment and surrender, with awe and reverence, like yet another reason to bow lower to the mysterious languages of this ancient wisdom imbuing us all.

The borders of each being have shifted to include what’s invisible to the naked eyes; an abundant non-verbal conversation reveals itself endlessly as I, the non-doing practitioner have also learned to become more invisible; Mike Boxhalll’s ‘Empty chair' comes to mind (2012).

I noticed on my recent return to Auvergne in the heart of France, where I lived until I was 24, that I connected in a much deeper and broader way with the woodlands, the plants, the river and pond, my mother’s vegetable garden, the birds and wildlife, and my family than ever before. When I say ‘broader’, I mean my biosphere, or field of awareness or biofield, felt like it extended much further than previously experienced. Memories of my maternal grandfather emerged from his own nestling in his ancestral land: how he stood with the land beneath and around him. How he clearly sprung from her and was woven effortlessly within the weft and warp of her canvas.

(Pré l’étang, Auvergne, Sophie Rieu)

He was indigenous to his land. He spoke the local Patois (dialect) before learning to speak French and always greeted the wild sentient presence of the trees, birds, river, fishes, and plants… in his long letters before launching into family news.

I had never perceived my grandfather and grandmother quite this way. Through them, the land would have deeply moulded my mother and me too. Not only did I inhabit my grandmother’s womb as one of my mother’s eggs, but I also was brought up by my grandparents from very early on as both my parents were completing their university studies. My bodymind and biofield remember wonderfully nurturing bonds from these foundational times.

Each return to these ancestral lands is a healing journey that I weave back into the tapestry of my adopted ancestral land, Ireland, and vice versa. Indeed some of the reasons why I have extended my sentient tendrils spring from my deeper rooting in Ireland, the land of the Goddess Eriu, as I have gradually immersed myself more and more within her ancient lore, traditions, language, flora, and fauna, ritualising my presence in many different ways such as foraging, tracking, vision fasting in the wild, learning Gaeilge... and receiving/giving craniosacral sessions with my metaphoric and real windows more open to the sensory worlds outside my four walls.

(Magherabeag, Co Wicklow, Sophie Rieu)

All this is bouncing back and forth as clients have increasingly met ancestral stories in their organs and fascia: “I feel my father’s lineage in my liver,” “This terror does not belong to me. It goes back to my mother and grandmother”, “I call on my ancestors for guidance and resourcing”, “My mother is in my hips”… the list goes on.

This brings me to a beautiful truth spoken by author Bell Hooks: “Rarely, if ever, are any of us healed in isolation. Healing is an act of communion.”

The word ‘communion’ is particularly apt here and such a wonderfully dynamic evocation of the healing process. As we bring many layers and enmeshed influences and presences into the therapeutic setting we learn to make peace with their restrictive conditioning while they are given space to mix and transform. In turn, we radiate this healing back into our communities.

Healing integration is this broader inclusion of all the parts that make up our living community, another beautiful word for biosphere. Healing is a ritual of peace-making with "all our relations" as the Native American indigenous prayer goes, all the seen and unseen, known and unknown, all kin, all family.

These acts of communion usher in a return to fuller participation in life, and a deeper rooting in the land we spring from. To move beyond the linear conventional borders of skin, time and space is to consider our ancestrality as an all-embracing partaking, a polyamourous intermingling between all that has gone before us and participated in who we are, but also that will continuously interweave into our ever-unfolding be-coming ( Akomolafe, 2017).

Form follows movement as the embryo teaches us (Van der Wal, 2007) and we are constantly processing, and performing this motion into form. We are portals of becoming thanks to the thresholds and echoes of the past.

Isn’t it liberating to think of ourselves as the voice of so many other non-human verbal and non-verbal expressions?! Beyond scientific borders, beyond the realm of the reductionist rationale, we are an amalgam of many unproven miracles of interconnection. In fact, all the images that attempt to represent to our cerebrum the systemic nature of our sentient belonging borrow from the non-human: a web, a nest, a mycelium…

We are hosts to millions of ancient microbes with whom we constantly interact and react in symbiotic exchanges (Margulis, 1997).

We result from the dynamic geological transmutations of ancestral elements that keep creating and shaping us. I recently heard of an artistic performance inviting participants to experience "the 1739 Stono slave rebellion through the voices of its beyond-human participants" including the water element (T Carlis Roberts). A participant spoke of how she "felt the connection with all the water, the water in the river at the place the rebels stopped to drum and dance (and wait? and celebrate?). All the same water. I connected with the generosity of this water that falls without restraint to the earth all the time".

(Sea vegetables, Sophie Rieu)

I often suggest to my clients to feel into their fluidity, surrender to the natural flow within them, and invoke joy-inspiring images of water from past memories. Whenever we shift into this elementality that permeates all existence something opens, unlocks, unfurls within us and in our lives because we are tapping into the wider tapestry of the continuity of the living, we are letting go to a de facto immersion. As we ritualise it through the container of a craniosacral session, the possibility of overwhelm in the face of such immensity subsides into dynamic stillness, what presided before the dawn of life. Wonder and awe revel in this infinitely potent whirlpool, and nothing else matters. Words are unnecessary, futile, cumbersome.

As part of my first year’s study in herbalism, we learned to feel with plants, to widen our perception so that we could consciously tune in and resonate with Elderflower, Nettle, Plantain, or Meadowsweet, and let them reach us and teach us in return. This non-verbal language between humans and the more than humans goes on regardless unbeknownst to our busy selves. Our physiology and emotionality are porous vessels of infinite affinities with innumerable other existences. But we can attune to restore our senses to this conscious Intelligence.

The days running up to the Summer Solstice and following it are imbued with very particular energetic fields as Earth fulfills herself at the zenith of her inhalation. My organism’s bubbles of potency are fired up. Our ‘sap of life’ resounds with élan, an irrepressible aliveness like a flower bursting to bloom forth.

This time of year is Earth's utmost expansion before she slowly exhales towards Winter Solstice. All of us co-inhabiting, commingling with her are held and participate in this inhalation, this communal filling up.

And more and more of us ritualise our greeting of these special times of her solar cycle.

Summer Solstice blessings to you dear kin!

(Pissenlits, Sophie Rieu)


Hi Sophie,

I love how you write about your sense of the sacred in our BCST work and the wonder of being in direct contact with both the seen and the unseen. How very eloquently you express your experience of connection with the worlds of the Earth and honour your ancestral and human kin! Such a joy to read- thank you 🙏 ❤️

Sophie Rieu
Sophie Rieu

Such a joy to read your comment and appreciation dear Tanya. Thank you <3

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