What happened to us? This is a question I have been pondering for decades and because of it have studied and eclectic mix of literature, research and theory. At the same time, I also have been studying how I know what I know and doing that with a mix of embodied awareness and curiosity and examination of the subtle. I have learned many things along the way which have led to writing two books while exploring multiple spiritual paths and spending a lot of time in nature.
Several weeks ago, my blog was The Shape of Trees. As is typical of the way my mind works, threads wind together and after my communication with the tree, my mind wandered into the territory of us humans and our disconnections. My interaction with a tree and her comment about our Heart-Rot led me back to the question of what happened to us, although to be more specific the question was, Why do we have heart rot?
My thoughts went immediately to our lack of self-trust, we don’t know what we are or where we came from. The tree so potently modeled knowing herself without arrogance or pretense…why is that so hard for us? The immediate answer which came to mind had to do with fitting in to norms. It may appear that our ability to be our authentic self has loosened up over the last century, but that loosening only goes so far. While we can walk around with purple hair, tattoos and piercings and display our sexual desires more safely than in the past, we still are very restricted from truly displaying our ecstasy. Please don’t take my word ecstasy to mean sexual ecstasy. What I mean is more akin to Audre Lorde’s definition of the erotic – our life force as it expresses itself spontaneously through the body. We only allow that in young children, and even so we shut them down fairly quickly.
I was acutely aware of this as my joy around connecting with the tree created an impulse to arch my back and let out something between a howl, a moan and a song. If I had let that impulse go, who knows what kind of movement it would have led my body into. But I didn’t follow that impulse. I didn’t feel safe to do so. It’s sad, but the thought that someone would be watching put a damper on the impulse. While impulse control can be helpful in curbing behaviors that are harmful, what is the purpose of curbing the impulse to express ecstasy? I know what it was, I feared being perceived as crazy. Too much of that kind of thing and we risk being ostracized or worse locked up. Belonging is so important to us humans, even if we hate to admit it. It’s a part of who we are. And we are much more programmed and restricted than we believe. We just avoid examining it and there are lots of distractions to help us avoid it.
I have a vision of myself as a wild woman – dreadlocks a wild halo around my head, feet planted wide and body in squat position, pelvis close to the earth, swaying and vocalizing and communing with the plants. This is a deep part of me that I rarely let loose in public. My daughter once told me she also envisioned me this way. There is something there. But I don’t feel free to be that. How would I survive in this modern world? I can’t be that way at work. I wouldn’t be able to get a job, let alone keep one, except perhaps in very rare circumstances. People would likely avoid me, assume I was homeless or crazy. My family would suffer embarrassment no matter how much they love me. Someone somewhere might decide I was a threat and call the authorities and, well you know, it might just be better to lock me away somewhere that I can’t scare people into noticing their own discomfort.
Here in the land of the free, lots of people go around spouting about our freedom, usually to shut down any suggestions of socialism. But it begs the question, what are we free to do – pick a career from a paucity of choices? Buy a home? Oh yeah, I forgot, we are free to pick a doctor. Yeah, that’s right. At least that is what I have been told by those who stand in terror against socialism. Once we pick that doctor, we can make an appointment and them and they will be free to prescribe pharmaceuticals to us, but usually not anything that will alter our consciousness in a way that connects us more deeply with nature. Those substances have been strictly forbidden (although in some places things seem to be loosening up a bit). Of course, if I refuse the prescription, in my experience, that said doctor will write threatening things down on my chart, implying it will be my fault if I have a heart attack (the prescription was statins), implying they could choose not to treat me in that case. One doctor even told me she hated patients like me – patients who wanted to make their own choices about which drugs we would agree to take. Oh yeah, I feel so emancipated being able to choose my own doctor.
I know I have more privileges than many with my health insurance, my skin color and my social status. And at least at this point in my life, I don’t have a soul deadening job. I enjoy the work I get to do, but I am still not free to do as I please. My choices are limited by a thing called money and I’ve noticed, most people with a lot of money are not really freed by it. Mostly we are all enslaved by it. Money is not freedom. Freedom is also not finally landing on a career you love at 50 something. My career choice is still limited by the conditions we live in. My career is also about supporting people to navigate those conditions to win some measure of sustainable living and self-worth in this trauma recycling culture we live in.
You might argue that people were never free. No, we were never free of having to support ourselves, and there have always been social mores. However, people who live in tribal communities tucked away from modern industrial life are more vibrant, more fully alive because they aren’t at odds with their bodies and impulses the way we are. We are pretty much shut down in that arena. We override impulse to fit in and be “normal.” Western history is full of animosity to the body. According to one trauma expert I know, Irene Lyon, this leaves us with an unbalanced nervous system and susceptible to all sorts of chronic illnesses. The ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience) study corroborates that view.
Anyway, I diverge. Even though I dampen those impulses, I have learned to trust myself, my body and my inner ways of knowing that will never be validated from the point of view of the western belief system. Trusting that wild woman in me has been a long slow journey. I pieced her back together over long decades and I am far from being a master. My trust is much deeper than it was 10, even 2 years ago. You could call it instinct, but it is also deeper than the way in which instinct is understood (and under-rated). And whatever you want to call it, here in the modern industrial civilization we avoid it and that is not serving us in multiple ways. Somehow much of instinct has been altered by trauma and channeled into service to capitalism and destruction of the world we live in.
As I walked back down the hill after my conversation with the tree pondering these things, an image of women being burned at the stake surfaced in my inner vision. Yes, I thought. The burning times played a huge role in traumatizing the self-trust right out of us – and women were the target of that. We are still dealing with the repercussions of that ignominious period in history. I know other women in my circle who are also piecing themselves back together again. But that wild woman is like a fragile skeleton, threatened with being pulverized by the backlash against both the feminine and nature in these tumultuous times. Sadly, men have been torn from their wildness too, their energy channeled into a toxic version of fear and bravado as they are programmed to expunge any softness and sensitivity, else be accused of being a sissy and unmanly. We destroy men early, before they are able to develop relationships that include anything other than competition. We force them to conform to impossible standards of maleness.
In addition, we are often at war with our emotional selves and we have little clue about the purpose of emotions, let alone how to handle them, so we override and shut down. Grief, fear and shame are channeled into anger and those underlying emotions remain unprocessed, festering under the surface, ready to erupt at the slightest provocation or they are turned inward resulting in depression. The statistics on suicide and violence tell a tragic story of the current state of humanity.
Fear is the driver here. How did it get such control of us? Patriarchy – or more accurately, what I call the Great Trauma Recycling System goes far back in our history (I. I think a good place to start is the rise of the city/state. We know that social stratification occurred there. The city state was a way of pooling survival efforts together to have more control over resources. Some took control of those resources and there was a development of a priestly castes or elite with higher privileges than most everyone else. With the need to feed larger populations came less ability to adapt and move around, so any fluctuations in the environment led to bigger losses of life. Civilizations rise and then they fall, often creating the conditions for that fall themselves by over-taxing the environment they depend upon. It seems to me we lost trust in God and Nature along the way and programmed ourselves into belief in scarcity rather than abundance. Then we channeled that into monetary systems which serve the elite.
I think once upon a time we didn’t worry about abundance so much. We existed in abundance with cycles of pause and quiet restraint woven in (nature is abundant). Those periods were part of the cycle, like sleep and wake, winter and summer, dark and light, and we knew how to flow with that. With the force of civilization, we lost that trust and started accumulating on a much larger scale. We stopped trusting nature and started trying to manage her. We began to see ourselves as separate from nature. Along the way we also stopped trusting our bodies. Bodies became the root of sin. I wonder sometimes, was there an original trauma so overwhelming it knocked us out of trust? Did we start accumulating and from there develop the city/state? Nature has larger cycles of very dramatic catastrophes. Did one of those knock us into a trauma state so intense we never really recovered? There are some authors who think so (see The Fall by Steve Taylor). Others surmise that it was Aliens. Certainly, the Gods of civilization were often not friendly or benevolent. The God of the Old Testament certainly is not very tolerant or loving.
Trauma induced separation from nature has not served us well. One impact of trauma is dissociation. Dissociation leads us to feel separate from our bodies. Joseph Chilton Pearce thinks a large part of our lack of trust in our bodies comes from our socialization. His thesis is that as we become more adept at language, we develop an inner dialogue which separates us from our bodily experience. In addition, socialization teaches us to override our impulse and we begin to fear our instinct. In the process we mold ourselves into “proper” human beings. All human societies do this, but not all at the same level. Western society, in particular, has repressed impulse to an extreme and it is clearly unhealthy for us. The cost is our trust in ourselves and our inner ways of knowing. The trajectory of western spirituality has been all about that. The body is evil, we are inherently sinful, and we perceive God as more threatening than benevolent. We are at risk to spend eternity in hell unless we remain repressed.
When we are dissociated from out bodies, we can never truly be like my tree friend. She who knows her magnificence, root, trunk, branches and buds. She who is a vital member of the community of plants and creatures. She is a tree of life. She may be susceptible to Oak Rot, but her heart is clear.
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