by Cara Michelle Silverberg
Cells are so smart. They remember. They carry the imprint of lived experience – mine, yours, ours.
So many people think that bodies are mechanical and unfeeling. It’s only nerve endings that feel pain or pleasure, they say. But you and I know that is not true. We know our bodies exist in a wholeness of self-experience that expresses and celebrates and armors and defends in a profoundly intelligent way. We know that wounding and resilience are deeply embodied experiences. We also know that we pass embodied knowledge on to future generations. “Cutting edge scientists” of your day called the biological dimension of intergenerational trauma transmission ‘epigenetics.’ I call it being human. I carry your stories in my bones, blood, and tissues – stories of wounding, as well as stories of great courage and strength.
I carry your stories in my bones, blood, and tissues – stories of wounding, as well as stories of great courage and strength.
You knew that the way your body was clutching to wounds – those inflicted during your own life and those passed on to you from your family and ancestors – were holding you back from showing up in the world the way you wanted to, from doing your part to tip the scales of justice in the Great Turning. You knew there was a relationship between your personal healing and collective transformation. You understood that the trauma responses patterned into your nervous system kept you in survival mode. You understood that the trauma responses patterned into collective systems (like organizations and communities you were part of) also kept those bodies in survival mode. You sought to shift those patterns into something more generative and celebratory.
You knew that bodies were hurting, and you worked so hard (maybe sometimes too hard) to heal that pain. The trauma of displacement, the trauma of sexual violence, the trauma of witnessing mass death, extinction, and suffering…you held that and so much more in your body. I remember how your back spasmed and depression swept over you when the intensity of intergenerational Jewish trauma was too intense for your body to contain. I remember how the rash on your right arch became inflamed when the toxicity of familial shame and silencing could not release itself through your skin. I remember how you got a bronchial infection when immigration policy threatened to tear a dear friendship apart.
In those times, the earth told you, “Lay down upon me. Give your pain back to me to turn into new life.”
The oceans told you, “Feel the waves wash over your heart. Soak your feet in saltwater with tea tree and calendula. Swim.”
The wind told you, “Allow new life to be breathed into you. Trust in the newness arriving.”
The fire told you, “That statuette wants to go through the fire three times. It will transform something in you. Tend your fires with humility.”
You followed those instructions. You held faith. You persisted with patience. You danced. You sang. You offered a flute song to the night birds. You rested when you needed to. Your journey required great endurance. You mourned for the dead and praised the living. You apprenticed to both pleasure and pain and emerged with ever fresh ways of perceiving the worlds around and within you. You went forth and shared what you could with others. The world’s soul healed a little bit through your work. I am grateful for your dedication. I hope you feel proud.
Thanks to your dedication to somatic transformation and intergenerational healing, I no longer have to carry those same wounds. The rage, grief, and pain of our grandmothers and great-grandmothers and so on do not plague me the way they plagued you. I danced freely right out of the womb. I was born into a world still feeling the pulsations of earthquake and drought that even seven generations cannot undo (earth time is much longer than human time). But even so, I was born into a community of people who remember the literal earth they came from and the teachings of their ancestors – teachings that continue to foster this Great Turning. Ancestral healing in your time was fringe, occult, “New Age.” Genealogy research was something retired old people did. Many people of your time, especially white people, were so disconnected from their cultures and places of origin that they scoffed at such explorations and heartfelt commitments to ancestral healing. Because you and people like you did that work despite the scoffers, many of us now are free from the clutch of hungry ghosts. We still mourn the dead and remember their stories and spirits, but we do so with an embodied spaciousness and liberated reverence that the collective body of your generation simply could not.
We still mourn the dead and remember their stories and spirits, but we do so with an embodied spaciousness and liberated reverence that the collective body of your generation simply could not.
There is more joy in the world now. More caring. More compassion. We embody these qualities, instead of the fear and greed that drove so much of the conquest and industry eras.
We can feel water moving in our bodies – not only the energetic quality of water, but literally the undulating and flowing molecules that make up over 70% of our bodies. We can feel the marrow in our bones, dense and thick, moving inside the hollow of our limbs. We can discern one lung from another and support our own breath through consciously toning our organs. Knowing our bodies is not a superpower. It is a birthright.
While many people’s eyes glaze with confusion at the “abstract” concept of embodiment, you and I smile with the secret that our bodies are the most tangible things we know. Humans – particularly those who lost their cultural knowledge through trauma, displacement and assimilation – are finally remembering how to listen to the wisdom of their bodies. They are remembering that our bodies are earth body, and that our stories are connected. This remembering has been integral in the Great Turning. May this wisdom never be lost again.
- As you do these exercises, if any sensations or feelings become too intense or feel unsafe, move away from those sensations and towards something that gives you a feeling of centeredness and resilience. This could be a memory (real or imagined) of someplace that brings you peace and calm, an imagining of something that brings you joy, or a person/being with whom you feel safe or protected.
- A few other tricks for finding a sense of grounding are: gently stomp feet back and forth to feel the earth under you, touch left hand to right knee and right hand to left knee in a back and forth pattern (10-20 touches on each side), hum or sing a song for 30 seconds, or count 5 things each that you can see/hear/smell/touch around you.
An Open Sentences Practice:
Begin by centering yourself in your own body. Feel some part of your body connected to the earth, directly or through the floor. Without forcing anything, take a few conscious breaths, allowing your exhale to be longer than your inhale. What sensations (e.g. warmth, coolness, tension, ease, pressure, numbness, tingling, twitching, pulsating, no sensations at all) do you notice in your body? What feelings arise with these sensations? Can you be present with these sensations and feelings, without judging them?
With a practice partner, take turns with the following open sentences. Set a timer or act as timers for each other.
- When I imagine (something that you feel gratitude for), I sense/observe in my body…
- When I imagine (something painful), I sense/observe in my body…
- When I imagine being alive in a life-sustaining society, I sense/observe in my body…
- What needs to open or shift in my being in order to embody this life-sustaining society is…
A Movement Practice:
Find something alive, for example a tree, a stone, a star in the night sky, etc. Take several conscious breaths, allowing your exhale to be longer than your inhale. Notice this living thing. How does it move, breathe, exist? What sensations (e.g. warmth, coolness, tension, ease, pressure, numbness, tingling, twitching, pulsating) does it stir in your body? What feelings arise with these sensations? Can you be present with these sensations and feelings?
As you feel ready, find the shape of this object with your own body. Allow any and all feelings and sensations to inform your shape. Close your eyes if helpful, or keep sight of this being and the space around you. Give yourself as completely as you can to this shape. Then find another object and repeat the shaping process a second time (and as many times as you’d like after that).
When you find completion in shape making, notice what you are feeling and sensing in your body. How did it feel to make those shapes? Were they familiar to you? Unfamiliar? Desirable? Uncomfortable? Are you aware now of any sensations or default shapes in your own body that you were not aware of before? What does this tell you about your embodied patterns?
Feel if there is anything from this experiment that you want to take with you and remember for later. If so, symbolically hold what you want to remember in your hands, give it an intention, and then touch somewhere on your body where you want to store that feeling, that knowing, that remembering.
A few resources for exploring the nexus of embodiment, justice, and healing:
- Curious about how racial identity and white supremacy shape our patterns of thought, behavior, and physical comportment? My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem offers both theory and practice in a practical and accessible format.
- Ever found that sitting meditation is triggering, or that paying close attention to your body makes you anxious or afraid? Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness by David Treleaven can really help to unpack why and empower you to explore mindfulness and embodiment without getting triggered.
- Curious to learn about how the body-brain holds trauma and how it can be repatterned and released? Check out The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel Van der Kolk.
- Want to learn to feel water in your cells and discern one lung from another? Check out Embodyoga with Patty Townsend: https://embodyogablog.com or her classes at https://www.yogacenteramherst.com. (She is one of the author’s teachers.)
- Want to explore the concepts of ‘collective bodies’ and the ‘trauma of whiteness?” Check out Tada Hozumi on Cultural Somatics: featured on Eric Garza’s podcast Healing Culture, #47: Healing Bodies and Healing Cultures: https://www.iheart.com/podcast/269-healing-culture-pod-30055116/episode/47-healing-bodies-and-healing-cultures-30750891/
Cara Michelle Silverberg (35) is a somatic educator, camp director, writer, mover, and herbalist living in Nipmuc and Abenaki homelands (also called Western Massachusetts). She is enthusiastic about fostering community experiences that help people to explore and express themselves, their relationships with place, and their relationships with each other. Dedicated to trauma-informed experiential learning and wholistic leadership, Cara aims to co-create a more just, caring, courageous, and playful world. She designs and facilitates curricula for environmental/agricultural educational initiatives, land healing projects, and leadership development programs. Cara works in both Jewish and secular communities, with both youth and adults. Her favorite times of year are autumn, maple sugaring season, and the Jewish period of time called the Omer in early Spring. She was a member of the first Earth Leadership Cohort in 2014. You can check out some of her writing at www.onthefringesofplace.com.