now is not the time to chase calm
As of this writing, the Russian attacks on Ukraine began just a little over two weeks ago. It feels surreal that it has been such a small amount of time. I had to count the days on my calendar to convince myself that it’s true. In some ways, two weeks feels like nothing. In other ways, this has already shifted itself into the twisted normalcy of our lives.
Neurologically, this makes sense. There is a growing body of research showing that the surreal times we live in are shifting us in ways that could be described as shifting our relationship to time. Time is relative; Einstein’s complex mathematical theory has become part of our common zeitgeist because we know it’s true.
Time stretches and condenses in strange ways — ask anyone in the new stages of falling in love, ask anyone in the depths of their grief…and now, really, ask anyone. Our sense of time feels different now. Time is different.
For many years, I’ve been saying embodiment widens time. It’s been made into memes and used as the bylines for podcasts, because it has such an inviting ring to it. People come to sessions with me saying please, yes, widen time for me, I feel like the walls are pressing in.
Embodiment widens time because being present in the body has a way of slowing down our perception of time. It makes more space between one stimuli and another, it gives us space to respond, rather than react.
What embodiment doesn’t necessarily do, however, is make you completely calm, all of the time.
The embodiment industry doesn’t want you to know that. Apps like Calm and Headspace want you to use your breath and different mindfulness techniques to push yourself into a state of “calm” which is really a state of compliance. The embodiment industry is a multi-billion dollar global industry that includes classes on meditation, breathwork, and yoga and movement practices, and much of the focus of the industry pushes calm as the golden ticket, and always as the goal.
That doesn’t mean it isn’t a gift and a grace to be able to find your breath and feel the ground. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t count your breath to stop the world from spinning if that helps you.
I want you to hear this from at least one person within the embodiment industry: you don’t have to be calm right now, and you definitely don’t need to be calm all the time.
Rage and grief and fear are normal. Numbness is normal. Disassociating gets a bad rap from #psychology influencers on Tiktok and Instagram but of course your brain occasionally needs a break from everything, and there is a difference between zoning out and dissociative disorders that the content hungry machines of social media do not often make clear.
The point of an embodiment practice is not to be present all of the time, and the point is not to be calm all the time.
The point, at least as far as I can tell, is to find ways to be human, to root into our humanity, in a world where the speed and intensity of quite literally everything is pushing us away from ourselves and from each other.
I don’t practice somatics to stay calm. I don’t practice somatics to try and stay in the thin area of accepted emotions.
I practice somatics because it gives me space to feel what I need to feel, and it gives me enough ground that I can be present with others while they feel what they need to feel.
This, to me, is central to our humanity: to be able to be deeply present with ourselves and each other. Not necessarily all of the time. Almost everything can be healing, and that includes zoning out and mindlessly scrolling through meme accounts. But some of the time, alone and with others, we need to be deeply present to what we feel, as we are feeling it.
I facilitate an ongoing, weekly somatic practice group called Anchor Continuum. Each Thursday we meet for one hour, and we practice various ways of being present in the body and with each other. We root our practice into liberatory politics, using somatics to dismantle internalized racism, sexism, and the punitive, domination based methods of relationship building that are by nature rooted in white supremacy. We confront our desires to avoid the pain of the world by falling into anger or apathy. We have done this every Thursday throughout the pandemic. But the Thursdays since the attacks on Ukraine started have felt a little different. There’s something bigger in the space. Something that doesn’t necessarily need words, or perhaps, something too big to be held by words. In the time of our session that we typically use for sharing our experiences of the somatic practice, a natural and essential silence has settled over the group. This last week, for perhaps 10 minutes we were simply silent together. Nowhere to go, nothing to do, no words to try and describe what we were feeling in ways other people might understand. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t calm. But it was deeply necessary.
Anchor Continuum meets every Thursday, from 7–8pm EST. If you would like to come to one of the group sessions as a guest, send me an email and I would be happy to have you come.
Many people who are part of the group can’t make it live, and so I make sure the practices are available as a recording. Here is the practice we shared in together last week. Maybe it will be helpful.
Thank you for reading. Please take good care of yourself.