I’m sifting through dried Hogweed twigs and rub off their seeds into a new grinding implement. They’ve been sitting on my kitchen counter for a couple of months now waiting to be turned into a condiment or a spice. The unique sound I make with my fingers absorbs my senses: I touch delicately and precisely the astringent quality of this inanimate plant. My hearing appreciates this very peculiar soft crackling and as my awareness widens a Robin’s cheerful song happily mixes in. I turn my head around and see him, his curious eyes oriented in my direction. He's sitting on one of the higher branches of the Birch outside my window. I look back at the grey/beige coarse textures that vaguely look like dried pumpkin seeds. I smell their pungency, with a hint of aniseed? In any case a scent I am new to but that my smell adopts quite easily. I am sucking one of the seeds as I manipulate others. It has a strong flavour, a little umami like seaweed.
My hands decide to make a salt seaweed mix with this ground Hogweed. It turns out well. I taste again. Mmmm interesting. I’m excited as I write the ingredients on the label.
Not a word is spoken yet so much is contentedly, primarily, sensorily felt.
Earlier today I listened to a radio podcast (1) about how animals like dogs, cats and horses are used as mediation in the therapy room when treating children on the spectrum and/or suffering from PTSD . Studies have shown that autistic children respond really well to the presence of specially-trained dogs for example.
I have never worked with an autistic child but I infer from listening to this podcast that their particularly excitable sensory sensitivity attunes to the calm presence of a dog and helps their nervous system to co-regulate.
There as well in this ultra sensuous, feeling process no word is spoken.
I wonder whether their autonomic nervous system (which includes the most ancient primary functions of sleep, digest, heart-beating…) naturally draws them closer to another being whose sensory realm is not muffled or confused by a multitude of technological stimuli (as most of us modern homo sapiens are) that impact their capacity to settle and remain in a state of balanced awareness and wholeness.
I also wonder whether this co-regulation is related to the creation of different forms of symbiotic relationships between each creature’s microorganisms.
A very similar phenomenon of 'appeasement' and switching on of our ventral vagus nerve—our capacity to be socially engaged while also being relaxed and present— takes place during forest bathing or within forest schools. Being among trees and other creatures of the plant, fungi and animal kingdoms both settles and brings us into more presence; closer to our inherent intertwined nature.
These unspoken reciprocal inner-outer sensory ‘communications’ also affect the whole of our fascia and viscera: there is more spaciousness and fluidity expressed in our connective tissue as a slower externality is reflected internally through our heartbeat, our blood pressure, our metabolism, and the whole of our musculature.
Stress hormones like cortisol decrease and happier ones take their place. Our immune function is boosted too within such an interlaced relaxed aliveness in the world, as we non verbally re-member we are part of a living network of embedded interdependences.
The radio hosts remind us of that famous stallion, Peyo, whose calm presence in the hospital ward soothes and relieves patients towards whom he decides, with an all-knowing sensing awareness, to direct his attention (2).
The presenters seem puzzled yet fascinated by such phenomena and look towards science to confirm and explain what they already instinctively knew.
We do not trust our sensing feeling selves much, us modern humans do we?
As Irish philosopher John Moriarty points out, we have been suffering from “an earth-sensory bypass”(3).
So much so that we often censor or minimise what we feel during our every day lives unless it is rationally justified by Lord Science.
This happens quite regularly during a biodynamic craniosacral session for example, either our awareness cannot attune to our internal dances or we play down what we feel. It takes consistent coaxing on the part of the practitioner to invite the client to trust their inner awareness and sensing for the doorways of perception to gradually open.
I as a practitioner, am bewildered each time a bit more by the diversity, quality and nature of what I perceive. The multi sensory revelation never ends and the constant emergence of new sensuous perceptive fields is one of the greatest gifts granted by this amazing modality. A practice which originates, let’s keep remembering and acknowledging, in the indigenous traditional medicine and mode of knowing of the Cherokee and Shawnee tribes in the late 19th century, in present-day Kansas. (4)
Each session, either as client or as practitioner, cradles a whole body-mind presence that resonates with and re-members who I was as an embryo: in complete and constant internal exchange and connection with my surroundings.
Craniosacral therapy brings us closer to a womb-like quality with oneself. We become our own womb living in the greater womb of Earth. This is why you will hear comments such as: “it feels like going home” from practitioners and clients alike.
Everything slows down during CST or whenever we are syncing with trees, birds, a flower, or an animal that makes us feel in tune, at home with oneself and the living.
I sometimes ‘follow’ my own internal rhythms with a meditative dance, my hands slowly, patiently gesturing roundness, writing arabesques through the air.
I’m enchanted as well as relieved by the simple beauty of this fluid slow motion. Relieved because there is a natural ‘enoughness’ and ease to its expression. There is contentment, satiety.
The constant pushing and the fast pace of our activated lives feed a cycle of insatiable and addictive drives, burn lots of energy and deplete our resources.
In slow mode we are enough and in tune with the dynamics of stillness and motion of the wild.
The very slow movements of Qi Gong masters come to mind. Witnessing their exquisite dance is like seeing poetry in movement.
The speed of our existence is one of our greatest impediment to this feeling at home within oneself, this state of balanced awareness and natural attunement to our surroundings.
I am typing these words sitting on a tree stump in a little clearing in one of my favourite spots in the forest near where I live. The sun has come out and I am enjoying its warm radiance while I’m writing. The last rays of the day.
Birds are chirping in the trees around me. My body remembers a time when sitting on that same stump not so long ago, my head turned to the sound of rustling in the leaves in the nearby understorey and saw the most gorgeously lush behind of a fox trotting away towards a thicket. What a blessing! My gleeful eyes could barely believe it. I sat there for a while breathing in the magic of such an encounter, wondering how long this wonderfully cunning creature had been quietly observing me. I was writing too that day.
This non verbal memory will stay within my tissues and become part of a resourcing treasure trove of sensuous feelings I can recall.
A tree stump is not the most comfortable seat though probably because my writing position strained my fascia. My arched back is beginning to ache while my cold buttocks want to adjust and be moved.
I stretch, twist and breathe more deeply.
In a little while I will meet a client for a biodynamic craniosacral session. I listen in, drawing my attention internally and feel an inner glow, a contentment born of gratitude for the day that’s been and will continue to be.
I love slow and have edged my way towards a life where my primary source of income is centred on a practice of stillness and interoceptive presence through BCST.
This is relatively new. I closed my eco designerwear business in February 2018, only four years ago.
The older I got the more I re-entered the safety of my body through various practices and inner explorations, and the more I could act on an intuitive awareness that spurred me away from the pressures, stress and demands of my daily grind.
I am on an ongoing journey balancing doing and being, more deeply listening to my internal language as I go.
Later this evening I will drive into town to meet a few friends and play some tunes I put together in honour of Imbolc, the Celtic feast of renewal, of celebrating the return of fulness, the vibrant aliveness of Springtime, my favourite season.
In the opening circle I intend to pay homage to Zen Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh, who ‘returned to Earth’ as he says, on 22nd January 2022. His was a life dedicated to the still presence of what he called ‘interbeing’, the deep interconnection and interdependence of all on Earth.
He writes, “Touching the historical dimension—a leaf, a flower, a pebble, a beam of light, a mountain, a river, a bird, or our own body—we can touch the ultimate. When we deeply touch the one, we touch the all. This is interbeing.”(5)
Thich Nhat Hanh often writes about ‘taking refuge’ in Earth, this ever lasting creator of life and renewal.
It is through our awakening of the senses that we can truly embody this ‘interbeingness’ and 'take refuge' in the earth of our bodies within the greater biosphere of Earth.
Slowing down, resting in presence to listen, touch, taste, see, smell and feel with our whole body sensuousness embedded within all other fields of sensuous expressions.
For our and Earth’s sake, to manifest Thich Nhat Hanh’s vision of : “The next Buddha will be a Sangha.”
Here is one of his beautiful Letters to Mother Earth:
"Dear Mother Earth,
I bow my head before you as I look deeply and recognize that you are present in me and that I’m a part of you. I was born from you and you are always present, offering me everything I need for my nourishment and growth. My mother, my father, and all my ancestors are also your children. We breathe your fresh air. We drink your clear water. We eat your nourishing food. Your herbs heal us when we’re sick.
You are the mother of all beings. I call you by the human name Mother and yet I know your mothering nature is more vast and ancient than humankind. We are just one young species of your many children. All the millions of other species who live—or have lived—on Earth are also your children. You aren’t a person, but I know you are not less than a person either. You are a living breathing being in the form of a planet.
Each species has its own language, yet as our Mother you can understand us all. That is why you can hear me today as I open my heart to you and offer you my prayer.
Dear Mother, wherever there is soil, water, rock or air, you are there, nourishing me and giving me life. You are present in every cell of my body. My physical body is your physical body, and just as the sun and stars are present in you, they are also present in me. You are not outside of me and I am not outside of you. You are more than just my environment. You are nothing less than myself.
I promise to keep the awareness alive that you are always in me, and I am always in you. I promise to be aware that your health and well-being is my own health and well-being. I know I need to keep this awareness alive in me for us both to be peaceful, happy, healthy, and strong.
Sometimes I forget. Lost in the confusions and worries of daily life, I forget that my body is your body, and sometimes even forget that I have a body at all. Unaware of the presence of my body and the beautiful planet around me and within me, I’m unable to cherish and celebrate the precious gift of life you have given me. Dear Mother, my deep wish is to wake up to the miracle of life. I promise to train myself to be present for myself, my life, and for you in every moment. I know that my true presence is the best gift I can offer to you, the one I love."
Notes and references:
1- From La Terre au carré, a France Inter radio podcast: https://www.franceinter.fr/emissions/la-terre-au-carre/la-terre-au-carre-du-jeudi-20-janvier-2022
2- Here is a youtube video of Peyo the therapist: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qXn94K-3l5o
3- From Dreamtime by John Moriarty.
4- See Susan Raffo's beautiful writing on this topic: https://www.susanraffo.com/blog/aligning-the-relational-field-a-love-story-about-retelling-the-creation-of-craniosacral-therapy-and-a-lot-of-other-touch-based-bodywork-as-well
5- From Emergence magazine: https://emergencemagazine.org/essay/ten-love-letters-to-the-earth/