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Spirit and an embryo

It is two days before the Celtic feast of Samhain when I sit down to write this post, and I have fallen into a well. A metaphorical well. Askew and pulled asunder. Wondering, maybe, probably like millions of others what on Earth is happening? The coherence of my vision tampered by myriad patterns I have no control over. This well could be a bottomless rabbit hole but it could also be a passage to solid ground. If I let myself surrender to its flow, without resistance, I may just stumble upon the ‘eye’, the stillpoint at the centre of it all.

This year’s Halloween parades need not disguise reality into a horror show. Ghosts and ghouls already haunt and torment us, and like Autumn leaves whirling in the wind, I am longing to land, and safely settle.

As the results of the American elections loom ever closer, as the grip of the restrictions due to Covid19 tightens, as corporate tentacles continue their relentless growth-driven gobbling up of earth’s resources on the back of a massive animal and vegetal extinction, as dictators the world over roar their might and social inequities explode… I wonder can I, can we navigate the crest of this wave of absolute uncertainty?

Where, in what landscapes, in what story are we going to land?

As ever the biodynamic craniosacral paradigm helps me with its focus on resourcing, on orienting to potency, resolutely trusting the inherent Health to negotiate an equilibrium and reach a stillpoint of transmutation.

Two of my companions on this quest are the monumental Brussels-born novelist Marguerite Yourcenar and the genius Dutch embryologist Jaap Van der Wal.

I am reading about Zénon the alchemist in Marguerite’s l’Oeuvre au Noir (The Abyss in the English version) and re-watching Jaap’s fascinating demystification of the embryo’s alchemy at an online course I recently attended.

Set in the Flanders region during the bloody and turbulent times of the 16th century shortly after the rise of Luther, Calvin and others' rebellions against the wealth, doctrine and powers of the Catholic church empire fragmented this fragile monolith of Christendom, spewing civil wars, and displacing persecuted populations while the plague’s virulence further assailed the poorest in society, Yourcenar’s detailed and informed 'initiation' walks the reader through what feels like the gloomiest and apparently endless labyrinth.

It is not easy to see the transmutation process at play in the fires and ruins of this agonising world when you are right in the middle of its alchemical cauldron. Even a free-spirited seeker, an erudite magus-cum-physician like Zénon somehow loses his ground.

Yet we now remember this time chiefly as the Renaissance, which literally means rebirth. An era erupting with great astronomic and medical discoveries, among them Copernicus’ helio centric theory, and with artistic and engineering endeavours by the likes of Leonardo da Vinci and many others throughout Europe. This dark and fragmented world spun something new, which will later lead to the century of the so-called Lumières, literally meaning the Lights in French, otherwise known as the Enlightenment period for its enthroning of the supremacy of science over the superstitions of lore and religion.

Using such a spiritual term to name what is really a de facto sealing of our materialistic might and control over the natural world, resounds like a verbal conquest and is quite a twisted and pernicious historical reading.

Far from me the idea of rejecting outright the scientific approach but hailing the reasoning human mind as the highest form of intelligence has done such tremendous harm that it is threatening to completely cut our delicate almost inexistent connective stalk to Earth, our second placenta.

We are at a crucial stage, a "threshold of embodiment" as would say Dr Jaap Van der Wal when he talks about the different deaths, and rebirths of the embryo.

One of these key moments is during the third week when this organism with layers of ecto and endoderm ( literally inside and outside skins) but "without a middle", 'detaches' from the uterine wall but for a connective stalk (that will later become the umbilical cord connecting to the placenta) and grows a heart. Unless this happens, the embryo will remain what is called a "wind egg" or blighted ovum.

I had the privilege to listen and watch this genius of a researcher, full of a reassuring authentic and passionate humanity, the likes of which makes my heart leap and dance , during a five-day postgrad earlier this month.

Dr Jaap Van der Wal, if you have not heard of him before is definitely not your average medical scholar, anatomist and embryologist. A self-confessed phenomenologist heavily influenced by Rudolph Steiner’s teachings and anthroposophical legacy, he does not so much study the processes of an embryo’s life as participate in their performance in time.

One of the ways he sees his work is as a quest to find Spirit in the embryo. But once you settle to listen and watch, you realise that this is just one of many dimensions in his exposé.

Here is what I would call an enthusiastic man in the etymological sense of the word: a man “possessed by the divine” who speaks his enchantment to whomsoever will listen with verve and passion. We were just short of a hundred registered worldwide and quite a few were there for a second or third time.

Why? I hear you ask. Because he breaks many a conventional scientific mould, debunks quite a few myths, introduces fresh ideas and challenges many established ones with sense and vehement eloquence, in service to a truth that is profoundly consequential for the fragmented, de-spirited world we live in.

In more ways than one, he is a modern incarnation of Yourcenar’s Zénon, and very much the hero of his own life, creating and adapting language to fit a vision born of decades of experience and observations.

I am certain I will draw from his abundantly rich teachings in many blog posts to come but for now I’d like to concentrate on that great alchemical and mathematical symbol, what we used to call the infinity sign when I was at school: the lemniscate.

Jaap speaks the phenomenological language of 'gestures': "the quality manifested behind the act", behind the motion. I listen to Dr Van de Wal talk about the lemniscate with the innocent awe of a new born, and I feel its fascinating gesture: the curving in and the curling out meeting in the middle, inverting (inventing) at its centre, an infinite dance of interdependent opposites.

As a craniosacral therapist the lemniscate is very much a friend, just like the spiral, vortex or the oscillating waves. I feel and witness their fractal expression in the fluids and tissues in every session. Like so many Celtic or Bronze age interlocking carvings, shapes and symbols mirroring the non human world as seen below in this remarkable photo of the underneath of the chalice of Ardagh (National Museum, Dublin) taken from Symboles, by Gérard de Champeaux and Dom Sébastien Sterck o.s.b)

As demonstrated by Jaap Van de Wal, the lemniscate is indeed the perfect illustration for the polarity principle that is at play in all natural phenomena. We live in a world of opposites which underlie and attract each other. One needs many, here needs there, spirit needs matter, dark needs light, birth needs death etc… but for these polarities to be integrated into one, there has to be a mediating, an in-between, a centre or midline. The simple figure of the lemniscate conveys exactly that as one loop is inextricably linked to its polar opposite via an intersection, “like a stillpoint”, says Van de Wal, in the middle.

“Sperm and egg are a fantastically powerful polarity. Conception is a stillpoint", declares Van de Wall, pointing to the meeting point or axis as the male and female nuclei fuse and the single cell organism begins to multiply in a seamless, continuous flow (seen below, stills of short film shown during the postgrad).

Before these nuclei meet and fuse there is a dance, a 'dialogue' that will slightly alter each pole so that they become compatible and come together.

This goes with all polarities. They are a fluid principle underlying and embedding natural processes thanks to this in-between, this creative liminal space, this stillpoint.

In craniosacral therapy a stillpoint is an expression of what we call coherence in the body, when a balance has been reached and Health, this organising motion can be felt manifesting as potency in a body that has reached wholeness, that has become one.

The extreme polarisations we are witnessing in many a country today, perpetuate separation and apparently pre-empt the possibility of balance, of finding an interface to bring about wholeness.

I wonder could this disintegrating and fragmenting process be the very thing that will create new “middles”? Could this dying eventually invert into a rebirth, a renaissance?

We are at a crucial threshold. Our survival as a species very much depends on this bridging, on re-igniting our intimacy with Earth, the great matrix.

In our body matrix the great ‘middle’ is fascia, our “innerness” as Jaap Van de Wal calls it with a beautiful sense of awe at its sheer magic and mystery. I try to picture our more than 90,000 km of rivers and rivulets of blood filling, separating, connecting and creating shapes throughout our beings.

We are 70% fascia, pulled together and pushed apart by biotensegrity principles. Allowing for wholeness, coherence, coexistence and attraction of opposites. Our connective stalk to the placenta is fascia.

Our bodies are such marvellous models of harmonious cooperation thanks to the constant performance of the "embryo in us", what in craniosacral therapy we call the embryological forces constantly orienting to Health, this organising and balancing motion. Pure Love alchemy.

The kind that Zénon explores and investigates, cultivating a witness consciousness of his inner workings and observing his contemporaries from an as detached as possible vantage point.

I am not so detached. I ache because of the deep disconnect with the world I live in.

Marguerite's elegantly intricate prose and Jaap's language acrobatics act like a placenta in my quest to navigate these chaotic times. They are the mediators helping me to 'metabolise' and filter the world, sense it through their lenses.

Jaap pleads for us to look into "our inner stars" for inspiration instead of projecting ourselves inhabiting Mars! Ultimately I know that this aching is a deep longing for intimacy with Earth, with human and non human sentience. The aching of the "wind egg" possibly? Threatened with the prospect of forever wandering into space, without any real substance, without any earthing.

So what with this confusing, destructive chaos that characterises periods of ebullience and massive change and pulls us away from our centres?

Maybe as Jaap Van de Wal says, "we humans are able to reconnect what has been separated." Maybe this was separated in order for us to become more aware: "For awareness consciousness [to develop] it is necessary to be separated." I also hear an invitation to detach and return to the core, the stillpoint to find a midline, a fulcrum.

Find my heart and my spine, reconnect from there.

"And what could reconnect?" asks Jaap. "Love. The only gesture that could reconnect us in harmony with the world we live in and where we come from is love. You are my placenta. The world is my placenta. And there are layers to dis-cover in order to come home again in the dimension of Spirit.”

During the third week of our lives we create a connective stalk and a heart is about to begin to beat. Curling and uncurling like a lemniscate.

Ad infinitum.


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