“The earth has bubbles as the water has and these are of them!”
so says Banquo to Macbeth as three witches appear in the mist on their way home from the battlefield.
I have heard us described as biospheres in craniosacral therapy classrooms; bubbles of earth’s life, dynamic transmutations of “the Breath of Life” as it manifests, as it takes form. There is magic and trickster energy in this life-creating process no doubt. Is this why we sometimes do not trust it and wish to tame and control it? Is this why living has become treacherous to so many in these uncertain times?
How can we return to its rocking cradle? How can we flow with its changeable, ever more tumultuous, and unpredictable waters?
Biodynamic craniosacral practice centers on the fluids in our organism because water, the great shapeshifter, bathes, invigorates, transforms, and moves all that is.
We come from liquid and it continually shapes us. The ocean birthed the first organisms. In our mother’s womb, our first home, we float, breathe and grow until waters break to shift us to air, also pregnant with H2O in its gaseous phase.
I listen to its music when I make contact with a living organism. Its dances fold and unfold our fascia. It conveys resonance and sound and like whales in the ocean communicate through echolocation, their chant audible across immense distances, our connective tissues talk to one another through blood, muscles, lymph, organs, and bones...
I welcome all the gurgling, bubbling and rumbling sounds I hear, and they do not always come from the gut digesting or expressing hunger. Fluid speaks many languages throughout our bodies as it moistens tissues, furrows passageways releasing membranous adhesions, restrictions in our articulations and joints, creating space for organs to breathe more expansively, swaying all like Kelp to the rhythm of waves of currents coiling and uncoiling, spiralling, oscillating, eddying and stilling.
Fluid responds to light touch and a practitioner’s grounded stillness. Sonorous bubbling often ushers easing and reorganising. It heralds a bringing together of what was separate, an enlivening of what was ‘dormant’, a relieving of what was stuck, a loosening of what was rigid, an unlocking of possibility, of potency.
These constant fluid motions are enablers as well as enabled thanks to a dynamic balance between compression and tension of more rigid structures meeting more flexible ones. This mix of elasticity and resistance called tensegrity allows for both flexibility and resilience in our living tissues. It shows up in the stem of a plant, the branch of a tree, a spider's web, dandelion flowers, snow crystals, geodesic domes...
According to American biologist Donal J Ingber, tensegrity is “The Architecture of Life” (Scientific American, 1997). He writes, "That nature applies common assembly rules is implied by the recurrence--at scales from the molecular to the macroscopic--of certain patterns, such as spirals, pentagons and triangulated forms. These patterns appear in structures ranging from highly regular crystals to relatively irregular proteins and in organisms as diverse as viruses, plankton and humans. After all, both organic and inorganic matter are made of the same building blocks: atoms of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and phosphorus. The only difference is how the atoms are arranged in three-dimensional space."
It appears that wherever there is water there is tensegrity precisely because its rules underpin the bonding between hydrogen and oxygen molecules.
Ingber goes further and talks about a recurring universal pattern: "The geodesic structure found within the cytoskeleton is a classic example of a pattern that is found everywhere in nature, at many different size scales. (...) My view is that this recurrent pattern is visual evidence of the existence of common rules for self-assembly. In particular, all these entities stabilize themselves in three dimensions in a similar way: by arranging their parts to minimize energy and mass through continuous tension and local compression--that is, through tensegrity."
There is no mention in this seminal article of what actually assembles parts into a whole according to the rules of tensegrity. This mysterious creative force is what we call the "Intelligence of the Tide" or the "Breath of Life", terms that were borrowed from the ocean and the air by the founder of Cranial Osteopathy William Sutherland.
I feel its furling and unfurling, its breathing of whole bodies whenever I make contact with another organism or when I tune in to mine. I also feel it when I touch the bark of a tree, its skin, or when I lay my hands on earth. It spurs the recurring universal patterns of the architecture of life as it creates and continuously renews and restores living processes.
Our neural tube (our future spine) begins to form in the fourth week as expansive amniotic liquid wraps itself around the embryo and folds membranous tissue into a groove. This brine becomes our cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). Considered to be the most potent element of our bodies by Sutherland, this Intelligent fluid filters, nourishes, protects, and ignites. He called it “liquid light”.
I will never forget the first time I felt its sparkles become louder, more potent as I held my colleague’s fourth ventricle, one of the reservoirs of CSF in our brain.
This ignition reverberated throughout the whole midline and rippled out in the entire organism. It felt truly magical and profoundly awe-inspiring, instilling a reverence that never left me.
Sutherland wrote beautifully of these internal fluid movements, which he termed the Tide:
"Then you begin to understand something about the groundswell of the ocean and differentiation of the tide, of the waves and so forth. There is a sort of spiral movement. You have heard of the different movements of the brain. Let us explore another – a spiral movement of the Tide. Make a diagram with a pencil on a piece of paper. Make a dot at a given point. Starting with the dot, draw a line around in a curve and then around and around. Then, make a dotted line around the other way back to the original dot. Let these illustrate a spiral movement.
If you want to use this diagram to represent a material manifestation, designate a positive pole and a negative pole. Then we get something in between the positive and negative poles to see in that slow movement of the Tide, that coil, a moving out and a coming together. How many spiral movements can you visualize in the Tide? How many little coils?
Go with me along a shore where there is a lot of seaweed growing. Watch this seaweed moving rhythmically in a coiling form, one going clockwise, another counterclockwise, spiralling with the groundswell. Look at the hurricane. See the potency in the eye of the hurricane, not the destruction around the outside. See the potency of the eye, the stillness of the Tide, the spiral movement.” (Teachings in the Science of Osteopathy by William Garner Sutherland, D. O. p16-17)
I invite you to find yourself in contemplation of Kelp, Dulse, Mermaid’s Tresses and Bladderwrack dancing to the tunes of brine, for you will likely hear your inner spiralling, ebbing and flowing rhythms slow down as your nervous system relaxes, and fluids begin to speak with Seaweed. You may hear long forgotten stories come to the surface, emerge from murkier stiller waters to be moved and transformed before returning to a clearer more alive stillpoint.
Where there is movement, there is stillness. Craniosacral practitioners meet both when we hold the whole from a grounded and spacious place. Spacious because it allows for the presence of much more than the body I lay my hands on: the trees near and far, the ocean, the birds, the flowers, the wind’s songs and scents… are in on this sacred experience, this revealing ceremony where stories congealed in tissues and fluids emerge to be healed.
There is shared wisdom and deep Intelligence in the liquids bathing the living in our home Biosphere.
There lies the ground between us. The earth on whom we can lay and lightly rest our hands and ears to listen to the commonage of water’s memory, the threads that interweave between us all, Salmon, Deer, Hazel, Oak, Plantain, Bilberry, Rose, Robin, Owl, Rock, Mountain, Moss, Lichen, Dulse, Chanterelle, Akkermansia, Homo Sapiens… This common cradling of the wild is where we belong. It expresses as a language CST practitioners call biodynamics and is underwritten by biotensegrity.
“Savoir d’où l’on vient c’est savoir avec qui nous pouvons continuer à parler”, says French philosopher Olivier Remaud. (To know where we come from is to know with whom we can continue to speak)
In Thinking like an Iceberg, Remaud writes of ice like a living entity. Within this solid phase of water, ice encloses the secrets of our past. “Ice crystals shelter pollens transported by clouds, the volcanic dust of eruptions, and even traces of wars waged between humans”. Analyses of ice reveal stories about the origins of life, the composition of the atmosphere millions of years ago, the evolution of weather patterns.
A body of ice like the originally massive iceberg named B15 (11,000 square km) broke up into smaller icebergs and was only 70 km2 last year. It has now passed away. A living library disappears with multilayered unfathomable consequences each time a glacier or an iceberg ‘dies’.
Their fate and unravelling tightly tied to ours, but particularly to those for whom ice is home.
In the Inuktitut language, auyuittuq, the word for glacier, means “the thing that never melts”. “Glaciers… are the memory of Earth’s elementary phases. They are the hyphen between the past and the present, like a promise of continuity,” says Remaud.
This word, this definition no longer applies and the inhabitants of such ever changing territories endure a form of exile without travelling. They experience what Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht coined ‘solastalgia’ (Earth Emotions, 2019), a mix of nostalgia and the Latin terms ‘solari’ for consolation and ‘desolare’ for abandoned, ravaged. This great word tries to capture the profound loss of a familiar habitat that is also who we are. The disappearance and unstoppable transformation of our home ground is reflected within our own bodies as a visceral desolation. Where is the ground of our being? What can we rely on? What can we trust?
Our bodies registering, recording such unknowns, such uncertainty, also run adrift, numb out, freeze what feels too overwhelming, out of our control.
Ice for the Inuits 'nurses' the unborn's life; it melts just before birth as the waters break. So what is to be birthed as all ice relentlessly becomes liquid? How can we midwife this parturition from one world to another? How can we best hold space for these massive changes? Or how can we let ourselves be held through this ecological collapse?
But how can we "navigate the mystery" as Martin Shaw says (Emergence Magazine, 16th May 2022) rather than live in uncertainty? In other words how can we potentise our language in a way that ignites possibility rather than shuts it down?
I went seaweed harvesting today and stood in the cool ocean waters. As the slowly shifting sands rocked by swaying brine massaged my feet and ankles I felt my body surrender to the dance and this Intelligent ‘biofield’ (field of life) re-energise me from the bottom up. I and my companions standing beside me experienced that same excitement, an ignition of our fluids as they spoke with Ocean.
Can we plant ourselves more in the shifting seas, and instead of drifting and numbing allow earth's mysteries instil and enliven us? Can we learn from biotensegrity, that mix of tensile flexibility, that creative molecular Intelligence?
Can we listen to this shared common ground and ask what is earth’s longing? What if we placed earth at the centre and took a step back, to stand by alongside all the living she supports and regenerates? Could we allow that wider angle shift our stance and entrust us into "right relationship" with her?
I too feel solastalgia whenever the songs of birds lessen from year to year, whenever majestic old trees are cut down and the land beneath and around me becomes more impoverished by the decease of wild life, whenever I breathe ever more polluted air… We cannot control much of this but we can introduce and share practices of renewal and rituals of grounded presence with the wild that plant ourselves more firmly in earth.
When I hold a body’s ever changing dynamics, when I forage and share food with others, dance, create, swim in the sea or in rivers, and stop, slow down to listen to my wild brothers and sisters I feel renewed and at my most alive because I am in tune with the wild within me.
Every earth’s bubble in the biodynamic field of my practice is a welcome expression of unravelling mystery. This Intelligence is a playful Fool, a trickster that brings ease where there is dis-ease; that helps us to flow when we are rigid.
Let us return to Water’s magical holding.