This post has been hard to write.
In social media, I have become immersed in media, signs, symbols, images and conversation about the urgency of change. The urgency to stop violence, as well as the urgency to stop hateful reactive language on all sides. My attention is grabbed by the Israeli-Palestine situation continuously.
But all I feel is that I want more time. Time to feel, to grieve. In fact, what I feel is numb. And today, though I was meant to be at a dance workshop, I woke up, my scoliosis spine condition seized up and I was in a lot of physical pain, more than usual*.
I started writing about this feeling of numbness. I know it is important to speak about it because I am sure many others are in this place too right now. Numbness to me is connected to freezing, an action which is one of our trauma responses (others are said to be flight, fight, fawn, feign**).
Freezing is so often overlooked because it doesn’t appear to be a response. But it is a trauma response that does need to be acknowledged – and not judged as wrong, or put down as something that doesn’t exist. People are often judged and criticised for ‘not feeling’.
But can we unpack more what is inside that judgement first?
Freezing was one of my body’s intelligent responses to surviving challenges in the past, I stopped certain feelings to endure or survive that ordeal. This response may be necessary again in the future, when I get overwhelmed and cannot get out of a harmful situation. But can I bring back choice as to whether I need that specific response; can I tune into every moment to see whether it is useful or not?
We are all in this together – there’s no other way about it. Whether we like it or not, we have to bring space to how other people CANNOT hear our words in certain ways (more about this below); otherwise we cannot move forwards together.
I have seen posts that say ‘You are not a human if you are not crying when you see a child dying’ or ‘There is something wrong with you if you are not crying’. When I see posts like this, I intellectually understand the emotion behind it – but in my body I numb out.
And I realise I am already numb from all the information I have received about the Israel-Palestine situation. There is a bit of shame buried in this – but else I am frozen.
From my experience as a somatic bodywork therapist, I know that when a client is numb, I should seek to bring a sense of time and space: to let that person feel their numbness, to know that it is not a lack of action, but that it is an action. It is an intelligent action of our body, trying to protect us, knowing it had protected us in the past.
As I write this, just the acknowledgment of this – allows me to feel the fear again, and gives me space to know the numbness is a choice.
For myself, I acknowledge the intelligence of the strategy of numbness. It is so skilled at muting the sensations in me, which helps or helped me in the past, when I was unable to change my situation. I know that there have been many times in my life, where my positionality and lack of access to resources meant that I was unable to change a situation of power dynamics. I feel that there have been many times in my parents’, grandparents’ and great grandparents’ lives where this also happened: colonial violence, imperial violence, and war.
Letting in my specific ancestral narrative helps me to be compassionate and bring the capacity to feel the fear in relation to my inherited body space and stories – to be able to grieve it as the waves come and go. I give myself time and space to do that. It helps me to hear others again. I wonder, can it be done collectively too?
I wonder if some people feel that they don’t have the space to process and grieve what it is stirring up in them too? – how can everyone give and get permission for this?
There is always time and space to do this- there must be – at least, if there isn’t- we will likely continue further cycles of perpetual violence and reaction..
I know intellectually that things are URGENT. But I do feel that is important to say that we need different kinds of times and spaces***. Those that are not URGENT. And, it is important to include kinds that actually allow each other to feel in our bodies whatever we are feeling. Feelings that go beyond the fast reactionary judgements of who is right and who is wrong. The intention is not to decide that, but to experience the change of our feelings and to move towards/away/with each other in some kind of relationship.
When I am allowed to feel what I am feeling (to actually feel the detail of how it lives inside my body, not solely understand it as a concept), then I can start to trust my sensations and navigate more fully into my interactions with others. I can access more of my emotions and body sensations and feel safe to dig into what the information is telling me. It can also allow a process of grieving and resolving intergenerational energies that are held within me; if I’m open to it. This, for me is a starting point towards empathy across differences. It holds the possibility of collective repair, from the roots upwards.
In amongst the important work of how to get those in power to stop harm- can we also acknowledge this :
It is important how we tend to the listening of each other; it is important to acknowledge what we are actually experiencing in our bodies when we communicate.
What are the senses of time and space that can hold this? Is it even possible on social media, or the current modes of forums?
Are you attentive to how you are listening, how you are allowing yourself and others the space to feel what you or they are feeling?
*I tended to my body pain with practices which I have so much gratitude for:
‘Energy Arts’ Daoist teachers and their Asian Internal Arts Masters for the resources of nei-gong and dissolving practices. https://www.energyarts.com/internal-arts-masters
**This comes from an important book that I think is the first for me to centre and not pathologise mental health of Asian diaspora:
“Permission to come home: Reclaiming Mental Health as Asian Americans” By Jenny T. Wang, PhD
***Different kinds of time are brilliantly written about in depth here:
“Saving Time: Discovering a Life Beyond the Clock” By Jenny Odell