Being broken is the norm for human beings. We can imagine a time when human beings lived and loved sanely, unrestricted by neurosis, psychosis, individual and collective trauma; but we are not living in one. We are, now at least, a wounded species, and, in not fully acknowledging that, we displace our wounded-ness onto the world that supports and nourishes us: Nature. Even now that more and more people are realising that we are rapidly destroying our habitat, we continue to live and love as if we were not wounded and broken.
This does not deny that many people are trying to heal their own wounds, even perhaps realising that it is only because of these wounds that they perform the self-destructive rites of exploitative consumer culture so readily. While others are trying to reset the balance and shape of the social structures within which we all love and live the best we can, but without recognising that the institutions and norms within which we are self-destructing are not really the cause of our malaise: they are its symptoms.
The cause of our malaise is that, individually and collectively, we are wounded, broken, unwholesome, un-whole, unholy.
We can not erase the past. You can not erase your past. Everything you have ever done, everything that has ever been done to you is ineradicable. Yet their fruits are not. How you feel about your parents can change, even if what they did can not be changed. How you understand your past actions can change, even though those actions, and their historical consequences, can not be changed. Wounds can heal, psychosomatic armour can dissolve, behavioural habits and norms can change.
Do you know how deeply you are wounded? Do you know how many wounds you bear? Do you know how all your wounds were caused? Do you know how many of your wounds you regularly, or occasionally, reinforce with your current behaviour? Do you know the different ways that you do so?
Were you bottle fed, or weaned before you could walk? Did your father punish you with a belt, rod, slipper or hand? Were you bullied by your siblings, schoolmates, teachers? Were you intimidated into conformity by aesthetic norms that tell you how you should look, what you should wear, what you should be able to do, how much body fat you should carry, what shade your skin should be? Were you forced to spend most of your childhood indoors, sitting down listening to an adult you did not otherwise know? Were you made to believe that your value and your happiness depend on who approves of you and how much some of them pay you?
Do you know how many wounds you carry, how deep they are, how strong?
Are you at peace with yourself, others and the world? Are you at home in your body, at peace with your mind? Are you sensitive to the needs and feelings of others, and your own? Are you open about your preferences, dreams, desires, anxieties and boundaries? Do you present yourself honestly to others, to yourself? Are you generous, with your time, your attention, your material resources?
Do you know that not being so is rooted in your wounds? Do you know how nourishingly wholesome human nature actually is?
Do you know that you were not born selfish, greedy and aggressive; but that you have learned to be in order not to be sidelined in the struggle to survive and succeed? Do you know that this learning is a many layered wound, that constrains your intelligence and inhibits your happiness?
While these words may disturb you, they will not wound you. They do not constitute a threat to your well being. Rather they could be a prologue to you recovering it.
Would you like to be at peace with yourself, others and the world; at home in your body, at peace with your mind; sensitive to your needs and feelings, and those of others; open about your preferences, dreams, desires, anxieties and boundaries; present yourself honestly to others, to yourself; be generous, with your time, your attention, your material resources?
If so, you may not need to heal all of your wounds. You may need only to starve them, to unlearn the behaviours, perceptions and thoughts that reinforce them. You may only need to recover the wholesomeness of your human nature, so that your wounds atrophy amongst new habits of thought, perception and action.
You can not change the past, but you can change your behaviour, perceptions and thoughts. All the thoughts, perceptions and behaviours that shape your life, many of them expressing your wounds in doing so, have been learned. Your capacity to learn remains intact, even if dormant. You can use it to dissolve your wounds, collectively, into the nourishing wholesomeness of your human nature.
You can not do this by thinking about it. You can not do this by reading about it. You can not do this by talking about it. You can only do this by experiencing deeply, and often, the nourishing and healing wholesomeness of your own presence. By becoming regularly intimate with your own presence, you release the healing nourishment of your own nature. This intimacy, and its release, begins with and in the body.
The body is where all your wounds are stored. Your neuromuscular tissues are distorted and restricted by traumatic past experience into debilitating perceptual and behavioural pathways. These pathways can be replaced. You can replace them in movement, when that movement is guided by the intelligence of your body, not by the information in your mind. You can replace them in stillness, when that stillness is fertilised by intimacy with the sensations being generated by your body, and not regulated by the intentions of your mind. You can replace them in the amplifying, mirroring presence of others, by sharing your needs, fears, boundaries and desires with those doing the same.
Alternatively you can use your knowledge of behavioural psychology, emotional trauma, psycho-somatic armouring and therapeutics to pick through your behaviour, your posture, your emotions, your thoughts, to identify all of your wounds. Then, one by one, you can apply whatever therapeutic modalities you trust to heal them. This will take time. This may take more than a lifetime. A lifetime of digging into pain. You may not have enough time to do that, even if you do have the diagnostic and therapeutic skills available. You may not have the heart for it either.
To take such an approach is to be hoodwinked by the ungrounded intelligence of your mind, and its, even if only subconscious, conviction that it must and can solve all of your problems through the accurate application of skills based on accurate knowledge. This is to compound your problems further, by deepening the disembodiment that your wounds have left you with.
There is another option, and it is not a spiritual bypass. It also will take time, but it will take neither (diagnostic) knowledge nor (therapeutic) skill. You can let go of giving your well being to the strategies and information of your mind. You can give it instead to the wholeness of your nature: mind, body and spirit. To do this you need only become intimate with your own nature. Within this intimacy you will encounter, and be nourished and healed by, the Peace Without a cause, the Joy Without a Reason and the Love Without an object that express your spiritual nature.
Of course becoming intimate with your own presence will reveal the presence of your wounds. There will be resistance, discomfort, even, sometimes, pain. In not having to heal them, in not having to understand them, you can allow them to simply dissolve into the transforming acceptance of genuine intimacy. You do not have to struggle with them. You do not have label and name them, You do not have to fix anything. You have neither the understanding nor ability to do so. Nor does anybody else.
Nevertheless your wounds can resolve into the presence of Peace Without a cause, Joy Without a Reason and Love Without an object. They can, and they will, if you replace your intention to heal with a willingness to feel. As your willingness to feel deepens the healing power of your spiritual nature will express itself more freely and fully. Healing will take place as nourishment, rather than as therapy. Old habits will atrophy and habits of wholeness will replace them.
You can not do this alone. You are a social being as much as you are a biological or spiritual being. You need other people. You need other people to help you to heal. Not psychologists, or doctors, or gurus, or therapists. You need the open, willing presence of other wounded human beings. Other people also wanting to recover their wholeness are necessary to your recovery of yours. If you look at the person next to you, behind you, in front of you, you will see one.
With grateful acknowledgement to Joseph Chiltern Pearce for the title.
There is much more to disembodiment than being out of touch with your body. More deeply and tellingly it means living principally from and in cognitive intelligence, the story telling genius of mind. The ability to think is given dominion over the ability to feel. Shared ideas are given more authority than personal experience.
Disembodiment insulates people from their inner compass, out of touch with the Natural Intelligence and Intuitive Wisdom of their body. This creates an ongoing anxiety so deep and so common that it functions below the threshold of conscious awareness and social convention. Unable to locate a sense of safety within, people are looking for safety to the accepted and acceptable. They are at the mercy of the natural instability of mind: their own and the collective. They displace their helplessness into the herd. Not only by participating in relentless consumerism, but by colluding with authoritarianism.
Disembodiment is expressed through and supported by false and constraining ideas about satisfaction, happiness and success that are inextricably linked to the consumption of distracting experiences, compensatory gadgets and mood altering chemicals. While disembodiment satisfies itself with the virtual, it is driven by the conceptual. This leaves people satisfied enough by the idea of something to not look for the experience to which the idea points. Thinking and talking about compassion, solidarity, enlightenment, wholeness become substitutes for experiencing them.
Embodiment reverses the dynamic between mind and body, between information and experience. So, it can not be led by the mind. It is not possible to think or talk one’s way to embodiment. Yet thinking will participate, talking can even help. Embodiment, thinking and talking, have to be led by the body, by somatic intelligence. Somatic Intelligence expresses itself to conscious awareness through and as sensations. It is a very simple language that it ‘speaks’, a binary language, of pain and pleasure. Each of which is expressed through a spectrum, from the obvious and intense to the elusive and subtle. By feeling the sensations of the body, whether pleasant or unpleasant, welcome or unwelcome, mind becomes embodied, for the duration that sensations are being felt. How fully embodied it becomes depends upon how deeply the sensations are being felt.
When sensations are being felt deeply mind becomes very quiet, grounded in and by the body. The activity of the mind becomes a direct response to the sensations being generated by the body. The more fully these sensations are felt, the quieter becomes the mind as its interpretations become more simple and concrete. Its need to elaborate and speculate dissolves into its ability to recognise the simplicities of what is actually happening in and as the body. It lets go of its anxious story-telling and engages with the concrete simplicity of immediate somatic experience.
Contemporary human culture is driven by the genius of the mind. This is not only expressed in the potent discoveries of science and the remarkable technologies it spawns. It is also expressed more deeply, in the assumptions and values that, consciously and subconsciously, drive us all forward in an orgy of unfettered and exploitative consumption. This ultimately self destructive momentum is not only powered by the mind, it is justified and even sanctified by it. Not only in free-market ideology, but also in the assumption that whatever problems the mind creates, it can solve. Within the individual this assumption is usually completely subconscious, and therefor all the more resilient. Yet its deep, internal effect is to disassociate mind from body and leave it marooned in its own ungrounded computational and speculative brilliance.
Yet there is more to intelligence than computation, just as there is more to being human that the mind. The ability to think is an extension and expression of the deeper abilities to act and feel. The mind, the ability to think, is an extension of the body. It depends upon the remarkable cellular sophistication of the nervous system, not least the cerebral cortex. This sophistication has evolved by way of the trial and error undertaken for billions of years by intelligence both more reliable and more hidden that that of the mind: Natural Intelligence embodied in the cells of all living organisms.
The human body, like that of all living creatures, is not a machine that has been sparked to life by an external force. It is alive because it is intelligence compressed, compressed into every cell in and as DNA. While there are those who deny the reality of evolution, nobody can honestly deny the reality of DNA, nor its role in propagating life, and transmitting information reliably from body to body, from cell to cell. The cellular intelligence that has been driving life for billions of years has been generating more and more complex bodies, more and more sophisticated nervous systems. Not so long ago it generated the human being, and our remarkable ability to think rationally, mathematically, computationally.
Yet this ability has turned against itself, against its host, in threatening to destroy our habitat irreparably. This escalating destruction of environmental interdependencies has been created by the human mind and its ability to speculate and create without limit. It will continue in the same vein until it encounters limits that it can accept. Such limits exist, but can only be found by way of the body. Only by becoming willing to feel clearly the sensations generated by the body can the mind find something that will allow it to let go if its need to know and control into the stability and support of its source.
The source of computational, cognitive intelligence is in the body, upon which it entirely depends. By becoming intimate with the body the mind becomes grounded in the deeper currents of Natural Intelligence. As it becomes grounded its activity becomes more simple, practical and effective, and its creativity is no longer compromised by self-destructiveness. The deep challenge for the mind, is the challenge that human beings most deeply need to rise to. It is the challenge of returning to its source, becoming ‘docked’ in the body: the challenge of embodiment.
Embodiment is not something that can happen in the mind. It happens to the mind. Of course the mind must recognise its need for grounding, for stabilising. It must be willing to consider that it may not be adequate to all the problems that we face, and that it has not entered the natural world by magic. On the basis of that willingness it must then learn to access the other frequencies of Natural Intelligence available to support, ground and nourish it. These frequencies can only be found in the body. They are accessed only by a willingness to feel.
Even though the willingness to feel is always compromised by suffering and pain, it is not and can not ever be eradicated while life continues. The ability to feel is the foundation and the guarantee of life. It can recover its power and reveal its significance by way of feeling the sensations generated by the body. Feeling sensations is what grounds, quietens and ultimately embodies the mind: not ideas and thoughts. The more deeply and clearly sensations are felt the more quiet and less relevant the mind becomes. It loses the false and damaging authority it has been given by our disembodied culture. As it does so it finds itself supported, and actually totally dependent on, deeper frequencies of Natural Intelligence.
As that support expresses itself the mind is able to let go of its need to control everything, and therefore its need to know everything. It feels safe within the ineradicable currents of Natural Intelligence. It finds within, and by way of, the body its Place of Greater Safety, from which it can express its creative genius without self-destructiveness.
To reach your Place of Greater Safety your mind must learn to let go into the presence of Somatic Intelligence expressed in and as the flow of physical sensations. The deep resilience that comes from finding your Place of Greater Safety, can not be called up by thought. The compassion, generosity and solidarity that only feeling totally safe allows can not be created by your mind. They can only be found within your body.
To find and embody the compassion, generosity and solidarity that life, and human society, needs to survive in any recognisable form, you must let go of the false authority of mind. To find the reliable authority of Natural Intelligence you need to ground not just your mind, but your life, in your body. You need to become intimate with sensation. While this depends on your willingness to feel, it can be undone by your ability to think, and even your ability speak. To the extent that you are entranced by the power and poetry, the insight and elegance of thoughts, words, ideals and ideologies you will think and act as if you do not need anything else. You will continue to think and act dis-satisfyingly and destructively.
To ground your mind in your body you need to become intimate with sensation. To ground your life and relationships in Natural Intelligence you need to develop a new vocabulary for both thinking and talking. This vocabulary must be somatic, concrete, direct and simple. It must reflect and express your immediate experience, most of which takes place in, and all of which depends upon, your body. This vocabulary can not be invented by your mind. It can only be learned by your mind, from your body. This learning takes place through the habit of feeling sensations.
As feeling sensations becomes the default mode of your experience and life, your mind becomes embodied. As your mind becomes embodied its vocabulary becomes more somatic, concrete and simple. As your thinking and speaking become more somatic your mind becomes more embodied. As you become more embodied you become more concrete, direct and honest in your communication, in your relationships. You are nourished and uplifted by a self reinforcing cycle of embodiment, within which both mind and body are flowing in harmony.
You can support this cycle directly from your mind, by learning to speak from your body. The art of Somatic Communication not only allows you to be more honest, open and intimate in your relationships, it also grounds the intelligence of your mind through the intelligence of your body.
When you feel out of sorts you do not tell yourself that your “nervous system is de-regulated”. You do not tell yourself that you are “out of alignment with the universe”. You tell yourself that you “feel like shit”. Or you “feel exhausted, tense and irritable”. When somebody dies you don’t tell your friends that they “passed on” or “passed away”. You tell them that they “died”.
For this to happen you need to let go of communicating from and through information and knowledge. Tell me what you are actually feeling, not what you know about neurology and psychology, and i will understand and know you better.
As i know very well what it feels like to be human i will feel safer with you speaking from your body, than if your words speak mostly of what you know, believe and think, which i may neither understand nor relate to. Developing the art of Somatic Communication, of speaking from your body, can go a long way to embodying your mind. It can go a long way to your feeling safer and more satisfied in your life and your relationships. It can help you to find your Place of Greater Safety, from which you can live with generosity, compassion and solidarity.
While there are many who would disagree, it is clear to me from my experience and work that first and foremost each human being is a spiritual being. Of course our spirituality is clothed in our biology, and that is why so many believe that a human being is exclusively a biological being. For me this is not only not the case, but a false dilemma. As, for me, our biology is an expression of our spirituality.
This, for me, is the case for all animals, insects and living organisms. I give no special spiritual status to human beings,
while of course recognising the fertile sophistication of our biology. Not least in the unique richness of our neurology
and the perceptual and cognitive possibilities that it offers us.
As biological beings we have many needs. Not only physical, but psychological, emotional, social needs. We can satisfy none of these needs alone, even if we can satisfy many of them without direct human interaction.
Some of these needs are survival needs: oxygen, H2O, amino acids, lipids, minerals and vitamins, warmth etc. Some of these are satisfaction or fulfilment needs: company, understanding, love, intimacy, touch etc. Even if all our survival needs are met
we cannot be genuinely happy or satisfied if our other, social, needs are not.
Many people have been experiencing this especially clearly in the last two years, because we are social beings no less than we are spiritual beings in biological expression. So, we have not only biological and social needs, but spiritual need also
Once upon a time, and even still for a very few, human society was very unlike the way it is for us. It was tribal, and deeply embedded in nature. Now the urban nature of contemporary society imposes on most of us a solitude that deeply compromises our social needs, even as we are surrounded by hundreds and thousands of other human beings.
As biological beings we are hard-wired to contain a limited amount of information. Apparently the human brain can only contain detailed information about 150 or so other human beings. That is enough to live in the kind and size of tribes our pre-urban ancestors lived in. This means that if we live in a city or town we are surrounded by strangers about whom we know nothing other than their occasional appearance.
This is is not only a problem for individuals, it is also a problem for the collective. This problem becomes one of regulation, of how people who can not know each other live harmoniously together in large numbers. To this end we not only have laws and regulations, but also moral codes and ethical norms; codes and norms which function more below our awareness than in the plain sight of our understanding. The things that they are designed to make us do and feel are taken to be expressions of our nature whereas in fact they are the result of our social conditioning.
Deep at the heart of our social conditioning is sex. Just as it is deep at the heart of our biology. As social conditioning it becomes also a matter of gender, of differentiated roles that we are given in society. This differentiation of roles may be based on biology but it has been usurped by love of power. In so being it has been institutionalised in the gender inequalities that stratify our world. In this stratification the structural sexism of society is mirrored and supported by the behavioural sexism of individuals. This includes not only how we act, but also how we think and perceive, consciously and unconsciously
Most men and women are of different genders, and more deeply all are different sexes. Both of those differences shape the ways that each of us experience the world. Yet there is much about that experience that we share, even if in ways subtly different because of those differentiations. We are all socially controlled, we are all sexually repressed.
A dark street will rarely feel the same to a man as it will to a woman. A new born baby will usually produce in a woman a depth of tenderness it rarely will in a man. This is as much cultural conditioning as it is also biological differentiation.
Gender and sexual differentiations have long been used to establish power hierarchies in society, at the heart of which is control. The control required to ensure vast numbers of strangers can live together peacefully.
The fundamental institution of control is ownership.
There has never been a time when men have been the property of women. There has never been a time when men have had to promise to obey their wife. Long ago, and rare, are the times that men and women experienced their sexuality equally or equivalently
If a man, even a married man, has many lovers, he is, by his peers at least, admired and envied. If a woman, even an unmarried woman, has many lovers, she is, by almost everyone, despised and condemned: sometimes even to death by stoning.
So, even though the social control required of urban society demands the control, regulation and repression of human sexuality in general, the demands of hierarchical implementation of that control repress, regulate and control female sexuality much more viciously. So it is that while both men and women are regulated and normalised into sexual insensibility, men are allowed to more fully experience and express sexual desire. While women, for whom by virtue of child-bearing, sex is far deeper and more significant, are left to pretend that sex is not as important as it is.
So we have the myth that women need an emotional connection before they can be sexual, and men don’t. Whereas the real truth is that both just need alcohol, or anything else that will deaden or dampen their sensitivities. Because to be genuinely, honestly, sexual, requires an openness and intimacy which are as intimidating as they are rewarding in equal measure.
At the same time as urban living compromises our social needs
it compromises our spiritual need.
This need is very simple, but very very powerful. Yet within the constraints of urban living it is more deeply repressed than our sexuality
It is the need to give without demand.
Giving within exchange is a social need that does not provide us with that which giving without demand does; which is the deep, nourishing satisfaction of spiritual fulfilment. This has little or nothing to do with religious ritual or belief.
Giving without demand is love: not romantic, parental or filial love, but pure, unconditional, spiritual love.
The repression of our spiritual need to give compromises our willingness and ability to truly love socially. Love is reduced to the contractual fulfilment of our social needs and biological desires.
Within the gendered differentiations of human sexuality everybody is suffering sexually, almost everybody is living without love. For this to change you need not only to 'own' your sexual nature fully. You need also to 'own' your spiritual nature. You can do both, simultaneously, simply by becoming intimate with your own presence. Intimate enough for the depths and subtleties of your nature as a human being to reveal and begin to express themselves into your life.
Then there will no longer be conflict between your spirituality and sexuality. Nor will there need to be conflict between you and any different gender, nor you and the opposite sex.