I think I’ve shared here from time to time that I am reading My Grandmother’s Hands in my Abolitionist Book group. We are proceeding through this book very slowly because the premise of this book is working with unmetabolized trauma within each of us, perpetuating racism. Each chapter includes a set of exercises that are meant to constitute a practice.
Every time our group meets, we do at least one of the practices and when we do, I never cease to be stunned at some quiet realization. The exercises are all physical because we store trauma in the body. In order to process the trauma, we have to work with our bodies.
This week, we did a body scan. I know, I know, y’all there’s nothing new about that. Probably many of you have done this in a yoga or meditation class. I usually HATE them and now I know why - which I shall reveal to you later.
Our facilitator (we all rotate in this capacity) led us through a pretty standard scan - although with her beautiful and deliberate voice and slow pace. First, we got a little settled, feeling our feet on the ground, the chair beneath us. Then we were instructed to begin with our heads, and slowly scan our bodies from top to bottom. Here’s the different part - The instruction was “Pay attention to each part of our body as you slowly move your attention downward. Notice where there is pain or discomfort, where there is constriction, and where there is relaxation or expansiveness.
The purpose of this exercise is to learn to soothe ourselves and be able to settle our bodies. In time, you practice these exercises after recalling an uncomfortable or even traumatic experience. So, it’s like a trick, to learn to tap into that settled feeling even when you are triggered.
But, first, one has to get in touch with one’s own body, right? Otherwise, there’s no baseline. No foundation.
And that brings me to what I’ve always disliked about body scan exercises. I was minutes into this exercise before I could actually feel my body! I’m literally just a walking, talking head. Because there was the instruction to notice places of discomfort or expansiveness I noticed that I got all the way to my hips before I caught on that I wasn’t really feeling anything! Mostly, without thoughts, I’m just numb in the body.
From there I attempted to really sink in and notice gravity’s perpetual effect on me. I let myself feel the weight of itself.
Then I tried to feel into where in my body I felt comfort or a feeling expansiveness and it came to me that I associate those feelings with other kinds of circumstances - like the warm sun on my skin, the sweet stretch from yoga, or the feeling of power in my muscles when I hike or ski across a big snow-covered Vermont field. But never just anywhere, anyplace, any time. Again, I notice that I’m separated from my body unless I’ve got it deployed.
All of that is ok, because I’m practicing and noticing and raising my awareness, and that’s perfect because that is the point. But why does it matter? Because if I can’t ground, soothe and settle my body when I’m hanging out in my own living room on a zoom call with a bunch of white women, how will I be able to access it when I am triggered? If I can’t do this for myself then by inference, I’m asking for it to come from somewhere else.
Bringing this back to my antiracist education, this is how Black bodies have been pushed into acting in deliberately non-threatening ways (The author Resmaa Menakem calls this behavior deblackening). It’s behavior meant to soothe white body discomfort. Because racism starts with being triggered. I’m learning that it’s all about unmetabolized trauma, so the most responsible thing we can do is learn how to metabolize it. And so, I continue to learn to ground.
Resmaa says it best in this paragraph: “If this sounds touchy-feely, that‘s because it is touchy-feely. It’s grounded in the body- and the body is all about touch and sensation. But I’m talking about a resilient and founded touchy-feely, not a ‘Kumbaya” touchy-feely. No one heals from generations of trauma through warm fuzzies or smiley faces. In the coming pages, you won’t find rainbows, organized group hugs, or please to just love one another. There may be an opportunity to add love in a decade or two, For now, though, we need to simply get our bodies more in sync.”
Did you catch that last line? Time is literally passing by and every day without focusing on this issue is another day in a police state for people of color in this country.
I know I’ve only scratched the surface, but I keep sharing what I’ve learned in keeping with that old adage - we teach what we need to learn.
For just a quick sample of this teaching, check out this interview with Resmaa Menakem and Krista Tippett. And you can google study groups for this book and you’ll find them all over the country. Yeah! You don’t have to do this alone!
If you’d like to hang out with women who are on their own antiracist path, then consider joining us in Costa Rica this spring.