I sometimes wonder how much dissociation created me. By automatically freezing ‘unwanted’ material and letting this constant reorganisation between absence and presence decide how I show up in life, how I meet it and relate with others and the world around me.
I often wonder whether we are defined by these default states of protective numbness and how much they deny us too. For they work on assumptions that the past is the present, stored as so many silences in our tissue, ready to grip us whenever triggered appropriately.
How much do you operate on automatic going about your every day routine? How often do you feel, actually feel the ground beneath your feet? How often do you look at your hands and feel gratitude for these wonders of creation? How often do you follow your breath within your inner darkness and feel your inner realm, deeply listen to all that dances you in every second, hold all of who you are, the rich soil of the unconscious, the traumas, as well as the lighter stuff from a place of resourced compassion?
Our excessively demanding and stressful lifestyles have us usually operate from our thinking heads and stay at the surface of our bodies, in reactive mode whether we mobilise or immobilise.
A craniosacral client triumphantly told me he felt his feet on the ground for about 30 seconds a few days ago. He had mentioned in previous sessions that he was mostly “living in a space suit, insulated from the world”(1), this bubble of protection preventing him from truly connecting with his surrounds, from being consciously present to his environment.
He is not alone.
In fact, all of my clients are delineated by dissociation and each biodynamic craniosacral session is a staging post on the journey home, a time and space to stop and learn to re-inhabit their bodies: a gradual surrender to the revelation of who they truly are underneath the layers of protection, absence, dissonance and compression.
Each session is a safer landing in the body.
But a landing that enables a true sense of being at home in the body cannot take place unless we actually re-build, re-engage with that home from the ground up, with strong foundations which in time will be our new baseline, no longer mostly controlled by the positive feedback loop of a default dissociative state, blurring our realities.
This is a truly creative endeavour. A new embodying that for some can also be a spiritual awakening.
As we discover the possibilities until now concealed under layers of pain, anxiety, distress, fear, depression, and overwhelm… there is such excitement, a retrieval of trapped energy, a surge of what we call potency: the drive within the tissues and fluids.
With it comes the relief of being able to engage with difficult stories while also being more aware of greater resources, and trusting the body’s deep knowing.
It is this strong foundation that allows trauma, shadow material, to gradually come to light and thaw while being held by our conscious and compassionate awareness. It is an alchemical process that transmutes what we considered as enemies into allies.
I took refuge in dissociative day dreaming on a regular basis as a child. The place where I grew up was not conducive to safe verbal and creative expression so I learned to exile myself to my bedroom to read, teach to fictitious pupils, and dance; or to the nearby forest to speak more freely to trees and animals and write… When I could not escape I dissociated, I froze and I know I brought these with me into exile too.
Eventually I exiled myself to Ireland. I discovered Gabrielle Roth’s 5Rhythms in Dublin when I was 26 and experienced such relief, such excitement at finding a practice that actually encouraged non-judgemental creative expression through dance!
This began my landing in the body. I missed very few if any of the weekend workshops offered. I was ravenous.
I vividly remember a momentous exercise from way back then. We were asked to move up and down the room while looking at our hands. But not just looking, our teacher said, ‘become fascinated’.
I broke down in tears as I saw my hands like never before, and was dumbfounded at my awkwardness. This simple gesture brought up so many stories of loss, shame, grief, fear… it was quite overwhelming.
Even now as I recall this exercise tears well up in my eyes.
I could not speak my experience because of the resulting shutdown, but in time as I repeated the exercise I could enter into a dynamic relationship with what emerged and I fell in awe and love with my precious hands.
Expressing through movement has always felt much safer to me than through spoken words.
It is not just the parts of the body but the words that are frozen until they thaw from within, fill with meaning that we can truly hear and safely vocalise within a group.
It took years for Stephen Porges’ polyvagal theory (2) to truly land in my body, so much so that I can now explain it with ease to my clients. So much so that I can feel its implications in my daily life.
I am 52 and am still landing.
In fact past the initial overwhelm, this last year and a half of extraordinary circumstances have helped me to land in the simple but nourishing ordinariness of every day and spend time being more than doing.
This allowed me to build much stronger foundations and uncover parts of myself that were still hiding, afraid of being seen and met. Strangely enough, this ‘cocooning’ time actually helped me to come out more and more of my own ‘spacesuit’ and feel so much more connected to the ground beneath my feet, to the land I inhabit both within and around me. I have never touched and felt so intimate with trees, plants, animals and with the one friend I kept on seeing during that time.
With it came a truer sense of belonging in my body and in the place that has been my home for 27 years.
It created sanctuary: a sacred space to land.
It is in this creative reciprocal relationship that I continue to welcome myself as I midwife the welcoming of others through my craniosacral work.
It is my sense that this period of deep uncertainty and complete unknown further ignited the receptive, intuitive, flowing and grounding energies of Eros and dimmed the controlling tyranny and the reasoning supremacy of Logos.
I appear to depict them as enemies but really, as dreamworker and author Toko-pa Turner says: Eros and Logos are “unrequited lovers” who “have been separated for so long, they barely remember they belong to one another.” (3)
I understand their complementarity like yin and yang, or the archetypal feminine and masculine.
In the last four to five centuries Logos has won the ongoing tug of war. Meanwhile Eros has been vilified and forced into a taboo, forsaken to our collective shadow. But as the devastating environmental and social consequences of this imbalance have come to light, Eros is slowly re-emerging as a major healing force igniting our inner fire and spurring a return to the earth of our bodies and the body of Earth.
David Abram speaks beautifully of Eros as this “gravitational draw that holds us to the ground”, “the lovelorn yearning of our body for the larger Body of Earth, and of the earth for us.”(4)
Landing as desire, as a meeting of our longing to create.
If we choose to land in our bodies, dissociation can be seen as an artistic container in that it sets the conditions for each of us to embark on a creative journey and thus awaken our inner artists; to enter into conscious relationship with the bodies’ many concealed stories and ignite them back to life, integrating them as they emerge, exploring new dynamic pathways of being and relating.
Healing as an art form.
I wrote a blog post two years ago about a deeply traumatised Cambodian artist who paints with ice that brings him back to life and spirit (5).
Expressive artwork can be one of many ways back to the body. But I would like to widen the angle and see creation as a life process, like the embryo within us constantly re-creating, re-embodying and coming into form.
With midlines that could be paintbrushes, pencils around which the forms organise and intermingle.
Creativity, the realm of Eros, is not something that is actively encouraged in our education systems and so it is hardly present in our adult lives. In a world dominated by Logos, ruled by the intellect and the thinking mind, by the head rather than the whole body, our orientation to place is far away from the ground, and the rich soil of our being. We indeed function in a bubble— the “spacesuit’ around our heads severing the carnal and sensory ties with all that is non human around us.
The original abilities and natural creative gifts of a child along with their propensity to be curious and enmesh themselves sensuously in the world around them fade as they learn to read and write, 'boxed' in a classroom, separating from nature’s reality (6) as Logos takes over and ‘colonises’ the creative and receptive influence of Eros.
The resurgence of Eros, of the archetypal feminine, comes at a time when the need for balance between Eros and Logos is an emergency. I have enjoyed this infusing and merging of both influences in the works of Stephen Harrod Buhner, Robin Wall Kimmerer, and Merlin Sheldrake (7) to name but a few. They all beautifully navigate the worlds of Eros and Logos with ease and skill.
This fusion is an ignition and a remembering of our origins.
We use the word ‘ignition’ in biodynamic craniosacral therapy quite regularly because it is an essential beat in our internal respiration, the breath of life ignites as it breathes us.
The emergence of embodiment (or “innerness” as Jaap Van der Wal calls it (8)) in the embryo — which is accompanied by an ignition— through our primitive streak and later our notochord (the precursor of the spine), comes about a week after we ‘implant’ in the uterine wall and shortly after an ignition of the heart and of our umbilicus, where a connective stalk made up of capillaries creates a tie with what will become the placenta: our alchemical interface with the greater environment of motherland. I call it alchemical because it metabolises ( from the word change in Greek) the external reality to enable and process our transmutations into form.
We begin to orient to the space and environment around us as metabolic fields organise and differentiate around our midline and as we ground into embodiment connected to the placenta within the amniotic sac, this amazing ‘bubble’ of protection in the rich darkness of our mother’s womb. Our bodies will never forget that we floated in the womb for nine months --in fact dissociation could be a remembering of that protective bubble, that floating, that levity.
Imagine how shocking it must be to suddenly lose these waters and to have to squeeze ourselves into the birth canal spiralling in the dark towards a complete unknown, moved by a force of emergence, of urgency towards a landing of incommensurate proportions, in a radically different and colossal environment surrounded by an air pregnant with many sensory longings, forced, suddenly, to relate to this Great Other; a magical universe to some, a terrifying one to others.
Craniosacral therapy is wonderful at helping babies land and remedy the terrible sense of loss and shock that can remain stored in the body especially if there was no direct bonding between mother and baby right after birth. I have felt a melting in the babies I have worked with as I gently held their brainstem and their spine, like a shower of sparkles dissolving and integrating the whole. It is often followed by a big cry, a letting go of whatever emotion needs expressing as trauma clears and reorganisation occurs.
Creation is a profoundly moving coming to life and the world around us, an emergence from darkness into light.
In 2010 artist Dominic Thorpe performed in complete darkness at the 126 gallery in Galway, Ireland. The audience was given small torches and was free to bring the performance to light as people engaged with their bodies through the motor and sensory realms. (9)
Darkness is that great unknown. We come from it and this is where we likely return. It acts as a creative sensory and sensuous container. Depending on our experience in the womb, the dark may not be conducive to safe creativity but if our autonomic nervous system and our ventral vagus nerve are switched on, i.e. once we feel relaxed enough to environmentally engage, we learn to perceive with more acuity from our whole body in the dark.
Just like dissociation, darkness is a portal towards another perception, a landing. We see differently in the dark and as we navigate within ourselves or under earth we find a “deep knowing that lives in our bones, our bellies, and in the earth itself” (3)
I had a dream that earth’s traumas were her geology and that I could tend to her stories through these deep time drawings. The dream told me that earth dissociates too, she turns into glass that will thaw as lava.
I took a workshop with Toko-pa Turner through CIIS (10) and loved how she went about dreamwork: as a courtship, a sensitive dialogue teasing out the significance of each character, each symbol and testing the nuanced layers of a dream, landing it into waking life, a deeply grounding practice.
To me, the lava in this dream is an ignition, a fire, an alchemical transmutation. As lava scorches and purifies she lays new foundations of a dark and most fertile soil to welcome new growth and further landing.
Notes and references:
1- Deep gratitude to this client for allowing me to quote him
2- The Polyvagal Theory, Stephen Porges, 2011, see also stephenporges.com
3- Belonging, Toko-pa Turner, 2017, see also toko-pa.com
4- Becoming Animal, David Abram, 2010, see also wildethics.org
6-The Spell of the Sensuous, 1996, David Abram
7- The Secret Teachings of Plants, Stephen Harrod Buhner, 2004; Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer, 2013; Entangled Life, Merlin Sheldrake, 2019.
8- From embryologist Jaap Van der Wal, see embryo.nl
9- https://imma.ie/magazine/what-is-performance-art/ by Amanda Coogan
10- California Institute of Integral Studies, see https://www.ciis.edu/