They will say, this is how my body tells the story of survival. This is how my body tells the story of joy. This is how my body tells the story of terror. This is how my body tells the story of trust."
I sit in a Toronto theatre on a Saturday morning listening to my fiance teach a group of theater practitioners develop their plays. I listen to dialogue, gestures, movement, pauses in speech, the history behind words and movement, and imagine the audience for each piece. I am a week in to being in Toronto where I've been out out of the house twice to visit the downtown area to explore, most of my time is spent in the house or at the lakeside taking walks and exploring the conservation area near where she lives as it emerges out of a long winter.
I marvel at how the story of Spring breaks through the Northern cold, trees become beaded with budding leaves, birds string songs across the sky, and fish bide their time in the darker parts of the winding river before the lake swallows up their fins. Everyone is emerging with their stories, the theatre practitioners and the animals near my fiance's house.
I am reminded of how the beating heart of the birds, fish and our own bodies are linked to cnidarians from about 700 million to 1 billion years ago. (5/26/15; Winter, L., 5/19/2014, iflscience.com, "Origins of Human Heart Beat Traced Back to One Billion Years") The basic rhythm of our heartbeats. If we calculate that a resting heart rate is about 80 bpm (beats per minute) we can compute that we have 4,800 heartbeats per hour; 115,200 heartbeats per 24 hours; 806,400 heartbeats per week; and 41,932,800 heartbeats per year. For a person living in the USA, the average life expectancy is 78.49 years. (5/26/15; livescience.com) So, 78.49 x 41,932,800 = 3,291,305,472 heartbeats in an average lifetime! Why all the numbers? We can't be exact about how many heartbeats each person will produce in their lifetime given average life expectancy of the location and social circumstances we're born into having an impact on our overall health as the work of Francine Laden, Mark and Catherine Winkler have shown us. (5/26/15; Feldscher, K., hsph.harvard.edu, Aug. 2011) We can say that there is a rhythm to life, from the beats of our hearts to the pulse of our days, and, now with the modern study and practice of somatics especially with regards to bodywork, there is a rhythm to healing.
I say the modern study because livescience.com also reports that humans have lived for an estimated 8,000 generations. Collectively, our heartbeats over those many years and generations compete with as many stars as we have in our own galaxy. And, there have been collective groups of people who have been observing life and death for thousands of years, enough to nurture their parts of the world in such a way that they understand how their pulses live with their surroundings. As I walk around downtown Toronto, I often ask myself how we have gotten offbeat. People who are presenting to my practice often tell me they want to quiet their minds, slow down their busy bodies, and just rest. They present with the understanding that something is wrong with them that they can't keep up or keep pace with the world as it is now. A recent article came across my Facebook feed reminding us that we as individuals aren't the problem, that the world structured to nurture capitalism is the offbeat timekeeper. (5/26/15; Krupka, Z., theconversation.com, "No, it's not you: why 'wellness' isn't the answer to overwork") This article highlighted how the burgeoning wellness in the workplace movement is reaping millions of dollars in working to ensure individuals can learn to hold unsustainable workloads or else risk being fired. Predatory capitalism depends on individuals being able to produce a tremendous amount of work inside of an unsustainable environment before workers succumb to that and are replaced by the next person only to be used up again in an unending cycle.
As it is within our individual selves, so it is with our world. Warsan Shire writes:
“later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
where does it hurt?
After reading this passage, I asked myself, what would it look like if the whole world could rest, could heal, and take a breath? It was another poet, Pablo Neruda, who penned an answer with his poem, Keeping Quiet.
Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.
For once on the face of the earth
let's not speak in any language,
let's stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.
It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines,
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.
Fishermen in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.
Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victory with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.
What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what is is about;
I want no truck with death.
If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.
Now I'll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.
From the spirit of a contemporary writer to a man who died six years before I was born in 1979, both generations hold a pulse on the death and destruction of our world, the unyielding nature of what we've been taught as ambition, and offer a moment for us to reflect inside their words, how to hold the hurt and let ourselves feel the rhythm of life again. Holding both the hurt and life is such a lovely contradiction and necessary skill for us to develop as a species. It reminds me of Octavia Butler writing about the great human contradiction of intelligence and hierarchy. (Butler, O., Lilith's Brood) In spite of our intelligent nature that would have us orient toward life affirming practices, it is the contradictory element of ourselves that bends us towards destruction, hierarchy. Hurt and life. Intelligence and hierarchy.
Last year I was privileged enough to listen to a Seneca elder, Terry Cross, tell us a creation story from his people about The Wise Mind and The Twisted Mind. He offered the example of how The Wise Mind creates the rose and The Twisted Mind adds thorns to stem of the same flower. Between the poets, Octavia's writing, and this elder, it's evident that both hurt and life are inside of us as much as intelligence and hierarchy. We have the opportunity to either choose to hold The Wise Mind's creative abilities or the The Twisted Mind's destructive abilities. I realized that The Twisted Mind can be of the most value to keep us on a vigilant path of choosing The Wise Mind.
From the theatre practitioners discovering the rhythm of their story lines, the shoreline pushing Spring through the branches of each tree, coaxing birds from their nests, and fish to return to the age old story of the lake, to the individuals arriving at the doors of my practice, Zora Neale Hurston offers us this reminder:
"There are years that ask questions and years that answer."
Everyday we all wake up to a question of how to live this day. I know that I will watch the theatre practitioners answer with their lines and movement when they present their pieces, the breath of each leaf will soften this landscape, birds will light in to the air, their songs shattering on the lake as deafening as the sunlight breaking on the waves, and fish will carry the young stories of the rivers in to the patient lake. The people I have the privilege of working with in my practice will remember their body's unspoken lines and unfinished movements caught in mid-flight, they will pull from the bottom of their lungs enough breath to also push Spring out of their limbs, their fingers and toes a forest of sensations, they will gather twigs and bark and string and cloth and glass and steel and all the ways this world has ground them down and remake the skyscrapers in to cozy nests to rest on, and they will touch the river, walk in to the current, feel the push of the once frozen memories in their muscles, and begin to let go.
They will learn the rhythm of healing. Of beginnings. Of ripening. Of remembering. Of grieving. Of celebrating. Of feeling. Of breathing. Of resilience. Of yearning. Of acknowledging. Of moving through a cycle of emotion without stopping it. Of choice. Of courage. Of right work. Of vigorous commitment to life. Of rest. And, they will show me what this looks like in their body. They will say, this is how my body tells the story of survival. This is how my body tells the story of joy. This is how my body tells the story of terror. This is how my body tells the story of trust.
I will answer with my presence, touch, and breath. I will listen. Together we will let our breaths unfold like fiddleheads welcoming Spring.
-- Nazbah Tom (2015)