Put some sky around your heart:
body-centered communication with the living world
by John R. Stowe MS, LMT
“Open your feet like roots into Earth. Let go of the load you’ve been carrying.”
“Find the mountains in your bones. Breathe into them and ask
what they want to show you.”
“Breathe. Put some sky around your heart. Give it space to fly.”
In the quest to foster meaningful connections between individuals and the natural world, one very powerful tool is the inherent knowing of our own bodies. Body awareness is built around feelings, sensations, images, and energies carried within the muscles and soft tissues. Its content is often quite different from the more logical, word-based perceptions of the conscious mind. One of the things I’ve learned as a massage therapist is that this stored material has a significant effect not only on posture, mobility, and vitality, but also on our capacity to make significant changes in attitudes and behaviors. Body-centered healing techniques like massage, yoga, breathwork, and conscious movement are vital for encouraging overall alignment, clarity, and personal fulfillment.
With clients, I’ve seen that one of the most effective ways to communicate with body awareness is through the use of imagery. When guiding someone to focus on an area that feels “stuck” or tight, linear directions such as, “What do you think that’s connected to…” are usually less effective than a more body-centered approach. For this, we might begin gently -- “Breathe into your shoulder and notice what you feel there.” We could then explore generalized sensations -- “What color or texture do you see in there?” -- or seek more specific impressions --“If this area were a person, what might s/he look like? What would s/he be wearing?” Coupled with conscious breathing, this sort of inquiry allows individuals to move gently and deeply into their own experience of body awareness.
Image-based communication works two ways. In addition to eliciting information, it’s also a great way to give direction. Most people respond very well to suggestions framed within symbols or images. To release generalized tension, for example, the body takes its cue from a suggestion to “feel a waterfall of cool, white light that washes through you from crown to feet.” In other situations, we create more personalized images -- “Let the sun shine through your chest, so bright that it protects your heart and surrounds your children. Let the light do the work you’ve been trying to do.” Though the client and I sometimes work together for a while to find the most appropriate image, it’s usually fairly obvious when we get there. Not only is there a feeling of “rightness,” but the body often responds with spontaneous sighs, shaking, tears, or laughter.
Communication with images and symbols is equally effective for moving beyond individualized body-awareness toward a deep connection with the greater body of the living world. For me, an important part of this connection has come through the use of flower essences. Flower essences are vibrational remedies, first created by Dr. Edward Bach, that tap the subtle energies of the natural world. Somewhat similar to homeopathics, flower essences are popular for encouraging balance and alignment around specific emotional, psychological, and spiritual issues. They act as a gentle, effective complement to most other therapeutic modalities. Since 1984, I’ve prepared remedies from flowers local to the southeastern US and used them in conjunction with bodywork and counseling.
In addition to the physical techniques, a major aspect of preparing flower essences is deep, meditative attunement with the flower and the living matrix from which it arises. This communication is almost always nonverbal and expresses through feelings, sensations, and images. With the huge fragrant white flowers of Southern Magnolia, for example, I feel myself rise through the trunk of the tree to look down upon the world and my place in it. The sensation is pleasant, easy, and a bit heady. Although I record the impressions with words – “perspective, vision, dreaming, relaxing into one’s life path” -- the process feels more like translation, along the lines of using musical notation to approximate something that words don’t really capture. These first impressions form the core of preliminary guidelines that we subsequently refine by using the remedy with individuals.
Sharing flower remedies with clients is a lot like playing matchmaker. The relationship between an individual and a remedy is unique and personal. Although each flower essence tends to encourage alignment around a particular concern, the specific steps involved vary from one person to the next. For that reason, imagery is especially useful for explaining what to expect. Whenever possible, I try to share pictures. “Liriope flower essence often comes up when you feel like a puppet with someone else holding the strings, or like you’re dancing too close to your partner and stepping on each other’s feet.” The person adds meaning by interpreting the images in terms of his or her own life circumstances. This way of speaking seems to bypass mental expectations and engage a more holistic type of understanding. Often the body appears to “grok” the images directly, responding with unexpected feelings and sensations, and the person feels a strong desire to participate actively in his or her own process.
communication using images and symbols work so directly? Maybe it’s because images are an internal
representation of external form, conveying qualities like shape, size, and
texture. I can think of many examples in
which living systems use form to transmit and process information. Within our cells, proteins regulate cellular
operations as a function of their shape.
Small shifts in outward configuration mean big changes in how a protein
acts – or we could say, in how it shares information. At an organismal level, form and function go
hand in hand. I remember taking
invertebrate zoology in grad school. By
the end of the term -- after we’d memorized a mind-boggling array of organs and
appendages -- it was very clear that every animal carries the environmental
strategies it needs for survival encoded within its own anatomy. Behaviorists describe the rigidly structured
“rituals” through which many animals negotiate the intricacies of mating and
conflict resolution. On a larger scale,
look at how form and structure affect the environmental impact of different
human activities. Compare the square
fields and monocultural “efficiency” of agribusiness with the nature-mimicking
polyculture of more traditional societies -- or the sprawl of cities like
Can we draw a line between our own bodies and the rest of the living world? In both, external form – or its internal representation through imagery – appears to be an essential element of information storage and processing. (Even typing, I see it: “in-form–ation”). If this be the case, we’d expect body-centered experience to be a very potent path to receiving insights from Nature. It certainly seems to hold true. Over and over in workshops, I’ve seen participants access profound awareness by using their bodies to capture the form and energies of the living world.
--- “As I sat there drawing the sunflower, I felt it coming into me, making my spine want to be tall and straight. I felt joyful to be alive, just as I am, and wanted to share that with the whole world!”
--- “When I asked the apple tree to show me a dance, my body started moving from the center of my heart. I felt the Earth flowing up into me, then overflowing into the world. The sense of receiving was so deep that after a while I had no choice but to give back or burst. That made me really happy. Telling it now, I feel like crying. I wish I could be that open all the time…”
Body-centered processes help individuals move beyond their habitual perspectives and open to new input. Do the insights come from within the person, maybe through a shift from left- to right-brain awareness? Do they come from an actual Nature consciousness, or perhaps an interaction between both? A good case can be made for all three possibilities, yet in practical terms it doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that the perceptions are valid and deeply meaningful for the individuals involved and often inspire them to make significant changes in both behavior and world-view.
If we look around, we see many other examples of body-centered communion with the living world. Since ancient times, peoples around the globe have employed chanting, drumming, ritual dance, and other body-based techniques to move beyond the realm of the rational. Many long-standing traditions use fasting, sensory deprivation, “teacher plants,” and solitude in Nature to facilitate transcendent awareness and personal vision. In two fascinating books, Martín Prechtel describes the elaborate ceremonies by which the traditional Maya “feed” the world of spirit and nature. To communicate with these unseen realms, the emphasis is on form, as individuals and community translate their intentions into outward creations of “beauty and eloquence.” In a similar way, Joanna Macy and John Seed encourage participants in the Council of All Beings to step into direct, body-centered awareness in order to evoke a core-level shift in their image of self in relation to the living world.
What if we took the principle a step further? In our attempts to surmount environmental challenges, what if we encouraged a more holistic, body-centered approach? Would governmental panels convened to address, say, global warming be more effective if they included not only scientists and politicians, but also poets, artists, and architects? What if UN commissions on hunger or AIDS invited participation from dancers and musicians, or if the head of the EPA were required to know the traditional ritual invocations for the spirits of mountain, river, and air? If we listened to our own bodies, trusted their wisdom, and began to see with broader vision, what kind of world might we be able to create?
Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown. Coming Back to Life: Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World. (New Society Publishers, 1998).
Martín Prechtel. Secrets of the Talking Jaguar: Memoirs from the Living Heart of a Mayan Village. (Jeremy Tarcher, 1998).
________. Long Life, Honey in the Heart: A Story of Initiation and Eloquence from the Shores of a Mayan Lake. (Jeremy Tarcher, 1999).
John R. Stowe. Earth Spirit Warrior: a nature based guide to authentic living. (Findhorn Press, 2002).
Flower Essence Services at http://www.floweressence.com.
Vibration Magazine (online magazine devoted to flower essences) – at http://www.essences.com
John R. Stowe M.S., LMT is author of Earth Spirit Warrior: a nature based guide to authentic living. (Findhorn Press, 2002). Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or www.goodweeds.com.