bones

Bones Water-n-Harmony

I’ve slowed down in my book reading a little bit and got lost in the Internets again, with specific focus on mobility, bones, fascia, movement, and other wonders of the body.

My search has taken me strange and beautiful places, such as Emilie Conrad’s Continuum. “The woman who dances like water” has since the 1960s pursued her inquiry (not a complete theory, as she emphasizes, not a masculine assertion of infallibility) into the essential unity of the universe, movement as its graceful expression, water as our eternal environment. Stressing the spiral, the spontaneous, and the involuntary, inspired by fetal development and the evolution of our species, and drawing on Haitian dances, Conrad has found a way to float without water, seemingly diluting gravitational pull, opening and nourishing every cell of her body in the process, as she puts it. Her videos show remarkable corporeal awareness, rarely seen in human beings, as in this video:

I have gained much body awareness in the past couple of years, but am still half asleep when it comes to reading internal sensations. I’ve begun wondering how my scoliosis fits in here. I wore a back brace through high school, a plaster cast for about three months, and finally was operated at 18 (two metal rods screwed into my thoracic vertebrae). Luckily enough, I never had any complications and even though I was told that sports were an absolute no-no (with the exception of swimming), I kept sneaking some into my life. It always felt like breaking a taboo, though, as if my life was on the line. I was scared of becoming badly hurt, or disabled, but I kept trying. Until today, each completed run, vinyasa sequence, or boxing class feels like a miraculous victory to me.

I listened to Liz Koch‘s audio book on scoliosis the other day. Liz Koch is the psoas woman, studying and spreading the good news about the human filet mignon, as she calls it, with fierce love and dedication. It would appear that nourishing the psoas, keeping it juicy and supple, is the key to everything: alignment, freedom from pain and fear, openness to love. She wrote about and collaborated with Emilie Conrad, and her psoas exercises echo Conrad’s liquid movements. What I found startling in Koch’s words on scoliosis was the idea that it had much to do with family dynamics, sexuality, creativity, and a score of other, deeply embedded issues. I balked at the claim that getting her spine surgically strengthened was tantamount to sending a message to a young girl (as scoliosis usually appears or worsens at puberty) that she, her developing body, is not ok and has to be called to order, or fixed. Koch unraveled her own curvature, but I have met hunchbacked people – and yes, the hunch was the result of untreated scoliosis. So I am very grateful for having been operated and being more or less straight now. Perhaps, had my parents been Californian hippies, and had we had any idea about alternative treatments back then, we would have found another way of dealing with it. The way things were, my mother did everything she could to save my back: I was followed by orthopedists, chiropractors, I swam and exercised every day, until I was about 13 and grew 12 cm in one year, which was when my scoliosis became dangerous. Perhaps mine was a pathological case. Not everybody requires surgery, but I reached the 50 degrees threshold.

Criticism aside, it is true that emotions and physical experiences do leave traces in the body. An invasive surgery, involving stretching, drilling, scraping, and grafting of the skeleton, must present an enormous trauma to the organism. According to Koch, fear and pain get lodged in the fused vertebrae, which in turn influences breathing patterns, both physically and psychologically. I also know the importance of early attachment patterns and the constant, unconscious replaying of family dynamics every adult is bound to perform, unless they acquire a bit of a higher awareness. So I followed Koch’s suggestion, went into the memories linked with my scoliosis, saw many things surface, and cried. I’d never cried over being sick before – that was what my mother, aunts, and grandmothers did. I laughed it off, and roughed it as well as I could. But the sorrow I felt today softened me. It was good.

It’s interesting that three weeks ago I was moved to write a story about my scoliosis in the creative writing workshop.

Travis Bedel

Travis Bedel

It seems like I am getting deeper and deeper into this flesh business, and oh, them bones! Ania, my Berlin-based dancer friend, spoke to me of Klein Technique today, and I wish I could try it in motion, but reading must suffice for now. Susan T. Klein writes,

Bone is the deepest, densest tissue of the body and thus it conducts the greatest currents of energy. Bone is at the core of who we are and through it we know the essence of our being. When all else is gone, as a tree stripped bare in the season of winter, we can read its code; we can see its essential nature and know what was, through reading the bone. Bone does not yield to gravity, but acts as a conductor, conducting energy, and connecting us to the system of nature, to the greater whole. It is through the bone that we stand as a ridgepole, “the tai chi”, between heaven and earth. When all else is gone, it is the bone that remains. It is bone, which holds our self-identity, our essential selves and our will power. Dropping away from the superficial and deceptive strength of the muscles we access strength from coordination; we access power connected to the knowledge of self-identity and the spirit of will available in the bone. Our power and identity come from working at our deepest physical level – the bone. (source)

This is so fascinating. Somehow, this knowledge results in enormous relief and humility. And it just seems so natural that I am doing it now, the whole going inside thing, reaching through to the bones. I was reminded of Clarissa Pinkola-Estés’ words, in “Women Who Run With the Wolves”:

Some say that the soul informs the body. But what if we were to imagine for a moment that the body informs the soul, helps it adapt to mundane life, parses, translates, gives the blank page, the ink, and the pen with which the soul can write upon our lives? Suppose, as in fairy tales of the shapechangers, the body is a God in its own right, a teacher, a mentor, a certified guide? Then what?  . . . It is in this light that the wildish woman can inquire into the numinosity of her own body and understand it not as a dumbbell that we are sentenced to carry for life, not as a beast of burden, pampered or otherwise, who carries us around, but as a series of doors and poems through which we can learn and know all manner of things. In the wild psyche, body is understood as a being in its own right, one who loves us, depends on us, one to whom we are sometimes mother, and who sometimes is mother to us. (205-206)

I need to sleep now (my morning ritual has suddenly become a Saturday night thing, how did THAT happen?), but I want to note down two more things.

One: I saw Jane Goodall speak at Concordia University on Friday and it was an absolutely beautiful experience. Her new book, out on April 1st,  is about plants and is called “Sowing the Seeds of Hope.” Along with Vandana Shiva, she advocates for Mother Earth with such steady passion and conviction that I know it must flow from some deeper source. Goodall turns 80 tomorrow. Reportedly, after one of her recent lectures, someone asked her, “You achieved so much in your life, what’s the next thing?” She smiled and said, “Well, death, I suppose.”

Two: I am listening to the audio of Julie Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity” and it is precious, offering lots of kindness and compassion. Cameron writes of “artists in recovery,” as if life without creation were one drunken spell, while creativity meant sobriety that could only be granted by the Great Creator (aka God). It sounds  religious, but not institutional, and I am with her on it. Happy that I chanced upon this book. Goodnight now.

 

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Clap your hands, Blue Jay

Eskimo medicine man, Alaska, exorcising evil spirits from a sick boy (The Library of Congress)

Eskimo medicine man, Alaska, exorcising evil spirits from a sick boy

 

Native American myths and legends often deal with death, and I often wonder how today’s children would like them. When I was little, my mother thought that H. C. Andersen’s or Grimm brothers’ fairy tales were too cruel, so she’d change the endings as she read them to me. She feared I was too sensitive. I don’t think so; I would have just probably pestered her with questions she wasn’t sure how to deal with. I remember finding a collection of Inuit stories in my parents’ large library and being absolutely terrified and yet drawn to their stark universe, in which life and death coexisted, not peacefully, but not at polar opposites either. Last night I read the story (not Inuit; this one’s from the Pacific Northwest) of Blue Jay and his sister Ioi, who married a ghost. Blue Jay went to visit her in the land of the dead, where he had a grand time switching skeletons’ bones, ripping them off, and being generally wicked. The story ends thus:

Eventually, the ghost people complained about Blue Jay’s tricks, and Ioi’s husband told her to send him home. At first he didn’t want to go, but he finally left. On his way, he came to a prairie that was ablaze, and Blue Jay burned to death. Then he went back to the land of the ghosts. His sister met him at the river and went over to him in her husband’s canoe. . . . When they came to the village, the people were playing games and singing. Blue Jay shouted at them, trying to get them to fall into piles of bones, but the people just laughed at him. He kept pestering them to no avail until finally his sister told him that he was dead, too. And then he became quiet. (72)

I like how there is justice and there is logic to the story, but also this soft transition from the living to the dead, the consciousness of illusion, and the life that goes on, regardless of death.


Interestingly enough, the day after writing skeptically about “the power of storytelling” and feeling terribly bold about it, I read a 2010 BOMB Magazine interview with Adam Phillips, a British psychoanalyst and essayist I’d just discovered. Here is a passage that made me prick up my ears :

SP: One of the things that most resonates for me in “On Balance” is your writing on the dissonant, disjunctive, essentially random nature of existence. My last question concerns this state of incoherence. A word that is bandied around a lot at the moment is storytelling. It’s applied to branding, marketing, everything. In its wide, popular usage, the word is becoming increasingly incoherent. I literally don’t know what it means anymore. Could you talk a little bit about that?

AP: You can see the issue in a current debate in psychoanalysis. One version of psychoanalysis will say that the definition of mental health would be the capacity to tell a coherent narrative. From another psychoanalytic point of view, that would be precisely the problem. I think both things are true. People who have suffered ruptured, violated lives need and want some narrative coherence, but narrative coherence quickly can be a problem when it becomes a refuge from thinking. I agree that the idealization of narrative coherence is a bizarre cultural development. The problem is finding forms of incoherence that are listenable to. . . .  Somebody’s got to find a way of making a form of incoherence extremely revealing and alluring. It’s a really interesting cultural task—not that we should become better storytellers, because that’s the most boring thing on earth, but let’s become better antistorytellers. There is more to life than the stories we can tell about it. . . .

People need to be educated into believing that evocation is more important than information. If we could bear listening to people, without trying to understand what they’re saying, we would get more from them. Effectively, psychoanalysis listens for the incoherencies that are saying more, or something other, than the coherences. It’s got something to do with the musicality of people’s voices and intonations; it’s a form of listening that’s less hypnotized and distracted by their coherences.

There is something about this idea that makes my heart beat faster. Maybe it’s because I have tricked myself into believing my own story, and playing the character I imagined I was with laughable zeal and conviction. It’s true that words have a life of their own. The ease with which they come to me is deceitful, because it also signals that I am always up for one hell of a ride. Fiction writers often describe how, in the middle of the book, characters seem to take a life of their own and, at some point, almost hijack the story and dictate it back to the writer. I think this might be true in life as well. I wish I could meet Blue Jay and see if, when he claps his hands, I’d really turn into a pile of bones? Or not yet? 

Lastly, Phillips’ statement that “there is more to life than the stories we tell” and his call for incoherence of narratives reminded me of this brilliant documentary by Sarah Polley. You can watch it here. It is so worth it.