One of the things I’ve struggled with around ideas of embodiment is the degree to which I am head-led. I’ve come to some conclusions about this recently and am sharing them because I expect I’m not the only person on the Druid path who struggles with these issues. Druidry does tend to attract people who like to think.
I don’t do well when I try to lead with my body. Frankly, my body has no idea what it’s doing, doesn’t reliably know where the ground is and disassociates hard when panicked. I’ve gone rounds with feeling that I’m not good at being an embodied Druid because I’m very much in my own head.
When it comes to the chemistry that impacts on my whole body, that also starts most usually in my head. The things I feel normally begin with the things I think. How I respond to something conceptually informs my emotions, and that in turn defines what my embodied experience is.
I also find that if I’m trying to silence my inner voices, the main effect of that is to totally focus me inside my own head. There’s usually a lot going on in my brain such that shutting it down takes a lot of my concentration and tends to focus me inside myself. If I let my brain do what it does, while being open to the world, I end up being more present and embodied than I do for trying to shut my brain down.
While the relationship between our inner lives and outer realities can vary a lot, it’s worth remembering that the mind is as much a squishy bit of biology as any other part of us. The idea that mind and body are separate comes from a time and culture that also imagined we were made ‘in God’s image’ and separate from the rest of nature. It’s mind/body dualism that’s the issue, I think, not being brain-based.
I’ve always been interested in the idea of honouring nature as it manifests in my own body. I’m also not very good at it, because my body is a bit of a mess. Doing things that focus on being embodied, or conscious of my body isn’t a great deal of fun when I’m in a lot of pain. Getting out there and putting my body in nature is also problematic when it’s cold, or I’m already sore.
Once upon a time there was a person who was ostensibly all about embodied spirituality and felt that the reason I (and no doubt other people) were hurting was that we weren’t embodied enough. If only we’d spend more time being embodied, the pain would naturally reduce! This of course is bullshit, but there’s a lot of it out there and it needs talking about.
If you have the kind of pain that is caused by stress, tension and failure to look after yourself, then paying more attention to your body will probably help fix a lot of those things. These are not the reasons I’m in pain. I’m hypermobile, it’s a tissue issue, it’s about fundamental structural things in my body. Paying attention to it just makes me more aware of it, which improves nothing. Organising my body to minimise damage and pain is not something I have to do consciously most of the time.
This kind of minimising is one of the more common forms of ableism to show up in allegedly spiritual spaces. It depends on the idea that you would be well if you tried a bit harder, and that’s simply not true for everyone. If you can cure your ills with a bit of mindfulness and paying more attention to your breathing, then you simply weren’t that ill to begin with and it is not a fair measure of what anyone else might be up against.
Not being cured by doing the spiritual things does not make you a failure as a spiritual person. You might find things to help you manage what’s going on – and you might not – but either way there should be no shame in it.
I’d like to be more embodied, but I can’t do that when my body is difficult to inhabit. These are good times to explore the practices that take me away from myself. There’s nothing unnatural about seeking respite from pain – it’s one of the things sleep is for.
Taking a Tai Chi class this year has changed how I think about my body, how I move, and how I interact with my environment. It’s made me aware of how my presence in my own body informs my relationship with what’s around my body – most especially, the ground.
One of the things the Tai Chi calls for is a deliberate process of moving weight between feet. Walking at the weekend I realised this had become part of how I think about moving. I noticed it when dealing with serious mud, and with muddy steps of awkward height. I’ve never been confident on slippery surfaces, and my depth perception isn’t great so judging an uneven surface is hard work.
Move the foot empty, is the constant refrain in my head. I know how to centre my weight over the other foot, how to use my knees so that the step out is balanced and I’m not committed. Then, moving the weight across while the feet are still. It creates far less scope for sliding, over-extending or falling. I discovered a body-confidence I’ve never had before.
When paths are really muddy, in the past I’ve had to slow down to deal with them. It’s been exciting not having to do that so much. My scope to enjoy the conditions and what’s around me has shifted as a consequence.
There are so many things we treat as though they should be innate, natural and not needing study. How to move the body is one of those – we learn to walk when too young to remember it, and most of us never think about that again. And yet, there are so many ways to move and manage a body. So many different things a body might do well, or badly, or not at all. So much good that can flow from being able to explore all of this.
So much of what we talk about in Druidry is spiritual and/or intellectual. It’s easy to forget that we encounter the rest of the world through our bodies, and that our embodied experiences are intrinsic to this spiritual path. What your body can or cannot do is going to impact on your Druidry. The simple process of learning how to shift my weight and how to think differently about my feet has entirely changed how I experience the world when it is damp and slippery underfoot.