What’s going to happen to the tides? I feel a charge move through my body as I ask this question. Is it anxiety? I’m certainly no stranger to that desperate energy. I know its paralyzing grasp that temporarily immobilizes me, and clouds my vision. No, this I want to call excitement, an energy that holds the strange, yet wondrous complexity and paradox of life, that recognizes the inherent nature of destruction and loss, the natural course of transformation and renewal.
What’s going to happen to the tides? I asked this question twenty years ago in a dream, where I witnessed the disturbing sight of the moon cracking and burning up–disappearing from its dependable place in the night sky. Our moon, our one natural satellite, has a great gravitational pull on the earth. At predictable times each day the large swells of water summoned up by this force create the rhythmical cycle of high and low tides. The wonder of this undulating rhythm is mirrored in our bodies, our emotions. In Western mythology, the moon is symbolic of the female, the pattern of the tides intimately linked to a woman’s monthly cycle.
At the time of the dream I was early in the course of a long, profound process of self-exploration, a process that would take me to the meaning of soul, and the embodiment of potent emotional forces within me. I was learning about myself as a woman, gradually penetrating the layers of personal and cultural conditioning that had locked my body into patterns of oppression since my early years. You might say I was symbolically “cracking” the structure of my female psyche, preparing for a lifelong process of deconstruction, altering the familiar patterns and rhythms, disrupting the predictable ebb and flow of my life.
Little did I know at that time where that process would take me; nor did I have a sense of how the dream would follow me, perhaps internally navigating me beyond the monological scope of my personal history. For now twenty years later I feel the poignancy of that question coursing through my veins. I feel compelled to track the development and meaning of this palpable excitement, for it feels like the dream is asking a question that speaks to our current planetary crisis, a question relevent to our pivotal moment in history, a question that speaks to the concept of a personal/ planetary interface that is pushing at the expanding frontiers of our consciousness.
What’s going to happen to the tides? I have been fascinated by the geologic, astronomical, environmental, and climatic information in the past few years. Our planet is undeniably going through major shifts and disturbances as a result of both natural and human influences; reliable patterns of our existence are being threatened. At the same time, old thought structures are disintegrating, giving way for some revolutionary breakthroughs in the way we conceptualize our world, and our place in it.
Many years ago I read an interview in THE SUN with Theodore Roszak, an historian, philosopher, and writer, who believes that it is imperative for us to listen to the voice of the “ecological unconscious”–the expression of the earth’s pain through our personal malaise. Therapy largely ignores, conveys Roszak, “the greater ecological realities that surround the psyche–as if the soul might be saved while the biosphere crumbles”. He contends that “more and more of what people bring before doctors and therapists for treatment–agonies of body and spirit–are symptoms of the biospheric emergency registering at the most intimate level of life. The earth hurt, and we hurt with it.”
” We hurt with the earth.” Yes, there is a fundamental relationship here, a reality that has been weaving its way into my consciousness for many years. We hurt with the earth, for the elements of our bodies are the elements of the earth, the internal rhythms of our body intimately connected to the rhythms of the earth. I resonated with Roszak’s words. He was validating the course of my own thinking that had been synthesizing elements of psychology, somatic education, and a branch of feminist thought, ecofeminism. I respected the ecofeminists perspective that in our culture women, the body, and nature have all been devalued and approached with an air of conquest. It made sense to me that the cultural attitude that blindly and callously upholds the rape of the land and the plundering of our natural resources, is the same attutude that has perpetuated the oppression of women and has relegated the body to the level of object.
I know something about the objectification of the body. Every woman that has grown up in our culture knows about the preoccupation with body image, and the relentless struggle to shape ourselves into something or someone that we are not. I lived my life on the surface. I didn’t realize there was an “interior” world to be explored and cultivated, a world of sensation and nuance that could be so rich and satisfying, an internal world that holds the memories of my personal history, and our collective history. Indeed, it wasn’t until the l970’s, when I was exposed to the teaching of an Israili physicist, Moshe Feldenkrais, and the innovative work of Albert and Diane Pesso, founders of Psychomotor Therapy, that I began to awaken to this fertile inner terrain . I began to understand “internally” something about the nondichotomous nature of mind and body. I began to experience myself as multi-dimensional, with deep roots that connect me evolutionarily to other forms of life. I discovered lost and hidden parts of myself, that were longing to be seen and embraced by life.
I developed a great hunger to know myself, to uncover and develop my full potential. I was intriqued with the power of somatic education, which called upon attention, rather than force, awareness, rather than control to effect change and improvement. Here was a great paradox, contradicting our cultural style, where reducing the effort, doing less, listening respectfully for sensory feedback brought, surprisingly, more results. I enjoyed coming up against the cultural paradigm, challenging the existing attitudes and thought structures that I was discovering through my body, no longer made sense. My body, like nature, was not an object to be mechanically manipulated or controlled. I was not made up of disparate parts. As I cultivated my internal sensory world, I could progressively feel my fluid wholeness in mind and in movement, my integration in the world around me. I could sense a deeper connection to the living earth under my feet.
Then, one day, as I lay on the floor following a guided Feldenkrais lesson, some basic, and I would say illusory boundary dissolved. I felt my entire body joined with the earth, as if each cell found a home in contact with the very elements of which it is composed. I felt a deep sense of peace and belonging, a comforting sense of “place”, of being held by some larger presence beyond my self.
I attribute an ever growing awareness of the relationship to the earth to the influence of Ruthy Alon, an Israili Feldenkrias teacher, whose poetic elegance both in mind and movement inspired my imagination. I believe that she first awakened in me an appreciation of sentience in the natural world. She implanted seeds of a relational potential that enabled my thinking to bear fruit gradually over many years, to embody what I now refer to as my expanding ecological consciousness. I can still clearly hear her voice directing the group to lie down on our backs for a guided lesson. “Imagine the earth underneath you is a benevelent lap, longing to hold you!” My body would settle into this living presence, as the forces of gravity and the air around me began, also, to take on a quality that invited new interactional meaning.
I am walking through the woods in back of the old New England Center. We have spent the morning focused on the upper body– discovering the malleability of rib cage, softening the chest and corresponding back area, freeing the breath. I come to a gentle grassy area and sit down on the ground, appreciating the beauty and the tender welcoming of the land to my sensitized body. And then my tears begin. I lay my belly down to be held by the earth, and I weep for all the places of natural beauty I have known through my childhood–all the places of play and refuge, the places that held and nourished my adventurous, yet fragile spirit. It is a sweet sorrow, like a reunion with a long lost friend. I feel my heart pulse throughout my entire body. At a deep undefinable level, I learn something about the connection between opening the body and emotions, about feelings that reach out beyond the human domain, about nature’s intimate presence in my world, as the constant, interactive backdrop of my life experience.
What is it that happens when we perceive ourselves as an integral part of a larger living organism? What happens when the familiar and trusted boundaries of our separate existence begin to dissolve into another reality, a reality of interconnection with all forms of life? And what happens when we feel the earth hurting through our bodies, when we open our eyes and hearts to the careless and destructive ways we humans have treated the earth?
There is some sense of freedom, or satisfaction that comes with learning the truth, no matter how gruesome or shocking that truth might be. The years that I spent exploring my personal history, uncovering the lies, the illusions, the false premises on which I built the foundation of my life, have been well spent. I have experienced deep healing. Now as I accept the reality that I am woven into the larger fabric of existence, I realize my very health and well-being rests undeniably upon the health of that larger living organism. I recognize that I am a part of a grand family, a family whose story also needs to be told to be healed.
Opening to multi-dimensional existence, experiencing myself within this expanded family context has been a revelation. I want to say that it saved my life, for I truly believe it has. It has given me a sense of meaning and a perspective on life that has helped me through intense personal crises, and is helping me to hold and understand more fully the meaning of our planetary crisis. It isn’t that I do not experience anxiety, or deep despair about what seems to be an overwhelming state of affairs in our world. I do. But something happens for me as I realize my embeddedness in the natural world, and connect with the magnificence of our evolutionary story.
It has something to do with an experience of awe, a word that succeeds in embracing the polar emotions of fear and joy. And when these two emotions that hold the vastness of what it means to be alive well up in me, when I really allow myself to acknowledge the mysterious splendor of this astonishing world, I feel a satisfying fullness, and a courage to face both the beauty and the terror of our existence.
In the past few years it was Brian Swimme, mathematical cosmologist, that awakened me to a renewed sense of awe and wonder for our great cosmic unfolding. Fascinated by humanity’s role in the evolution of the cosmos, Brian’s scientific and poetic presentation of our story in his CANTICLE TO THE COSMOS is captivating. Indeed, I think of my reaction to his description of the early chlorophyll molecule. It was the chlorophyll molecule that first learned how to “capture” sunlight, and this, he relates with great wonderment, was a “supreme event” in our evolutionary story. All the manifestations of life, from the flowers, to the animals, to the great works of art are a result of our relationship with the sun–our precise ability to capture sunlight.
What totally delighted me was how the chlorophyll molecule was “fashioned” through evolution into the retinal molecule of our eyes. I capture light in my eyes by the same mechanism that the plants capture light. And most importantly, I am only able to “see” because the early chlorophyll molecule learned to do it. This reality embeds me in the evolutionary story. It gently puts me in my place, relieved of the burden of heirarchal thinking that lifts me up and away from the sensuous living world around me, that isolates me as a species in a lonely tower of supremacy.
In THE EARTH’S IMAGINATION Swimme describes how we have evolved into a “macrophase power” on the planet. All other species, he explains, center their attention on themselves, the protection and propagation of their own kind. The human, however, as a macrophase power must develop a concern, or what he refers to as “comprehensive compassion” for all forms of life. Our present dilemna is that we are a macrophase power with a microphase consciousness; we think locally, egotistically, without appreciation of the sentience of all living things, and our intimate, evolutionary relationship to all forms of life.
So how do we develop this macrophase consciousness? How do we
turn the tide of our destructive habits, our self-centered disregard for the health and well-being of other life forms that are nothing less than our key to survival? How do we expand intimacy and compassion beyond the confines of the human domain? Brian Swimme suggests that it was the human power of imagination that created the dilemna, and it is that very power of the imagination that will provide the solution.
Now this is where I feel excitement! The idea that our imaginations could be called upon to positively effect our future on the planet. I feel some creative power being called up in me, some power that is not only a personal force, but one that connects to some larger calling or purpose of our species!
I reflect back on my dream, which I can also perceive as our dream, a voice of the collective speaking through me. Our power to dream, to recall our dreams, to create dreams, to have visions, to open ourselves to some larger consciousness, to feel through our bodies a stirring, a pulsation, a sensation opening to images of past.. or future: this is our imagination, full of life and juice waiting for us to feast! We are creatures of habit, yes, but we are creatures that can change our habits, can interrupt a pattern, can reverse direction in midstream, can even change the course of a stream. Can we, perhaps, even turn the tides?
I’m observing how the world is shifting around me, how people are feeling the intensity of these changing times in their bodies, their emotions, their thinking. It is indeed a potent and critical time to be alive and aware of the personal\planetary scope of our existence. The national news is now filled with the aftermath of September 11th. We are a country at war with a world watch report in the background describing the alarming state of our environment: Global warming, water contamination, destruction of the rain forests, extinction of valuable plant and animal species are all threatening to impact not only our lifestyle, but the very foundation of our abilily to survive at all!
What’s going to happen to the tides? Can we mobilize our collective imaginative powers to create a new dream? Do we dare to dream large, with wild and dazzling images that can challenge the power of the threatening undertow? I feel the life force pulsing in my body, I feel the heartbeat of the earth throbbing in my chest, insisting on life. The moon is full tonight. I feel its inspirational force as we have throughout time when gazing into the majesty of the night sky. May we all return to fireside; and under the glow of this luminous orb, re-envision a new world, a world where the heart and soul of the earth is vibrant again, a world that is up to us to recreate with our dreams.
Published in the Ecozoic Reader 2002