I came up in Cleveland.
A rust-belt polluted midwestern city.
In the 70’s and 80’s when I lived there, you couldn’t feel too much.
You couldn’t be a snowflake.
Snowflakes got pounded into the asphalt of the playground, gooey in the hot summer.
Snowflakes had their bikes stolen.
Snowflakes were tormented and brutalized.
As a teen, the punk shows I attended were violent.
People always got injured.
Often the cops showed up with their own brand of violence.
Feelings were physical: the throbbing of eardrums the day after a show or the bruised arms and shins, from the mosh pit.
That was feeling. You survived, or you didn’t.
Many tender friends I loved did not make it.
But I did.
Later, in somatic therapy, I would learn the price I’d paid for my survival.
I couldn’t feel shit.
Sensations or emotions.
I was numb.
Fast forward, now I practice feeling my aliveness. I cry every day.
You can imagine the healing that has been necessary to admit that.
It’s taken years of work to be able to hear the truth and wisdom my body shares.
I value the healing work we all have to do, and all the healing you have done.
However, this week two important people said versions of the same thing: Your purpose is not healing.
You are here to live, and healing is what you do so that you can actually live.
Healing is not your life’s purpose.
As a somaticist, I have dedicated my career to the study of bodies and embodied learning.
I hold a deep respect for the wisdom of my body.
When it tightens upon meeting someone new, I consider that important information.
The animal self that is me is responding to something that the mind that is me cannot perceive.
How do I discern when to listen to the wisdom of my body and when to listen to my brain?
Because while I want to listen to my body, I do not want not be at the mercy of my traumatic responses.
The story I am about to share highlights the importance of both your mind and your animal body.
My partner Ari arranged a hot air balloon ride as a birthday surprise.
Ever since I can remember I have longed to go up in a hot air balloon.
Around the age of nine, I read “The Twenty-One Balloons,” a novel by William Pène du Bois published in 1947.
The story is about a retired schoolteacher whose ill-fated balloon trip leads him to discover Krakatoa, an island full of great wealth and fantastic inventions.
It sounded so beautiful and magickal to fly high above the world, blown by the wind, no control of your direction.
It is an act of faith that you will return to the Earth, and land intact, before running out of fuel.
When we lifted off the ground, gently floating upward, I was fine for the first ten feet.
The sensation was gentle, pleasant like been floated in a warm pool of water, someone safe holding up your body.
By twenty feet in the air, my body started to freak out.
It was at about 50 feet up when I had to stop looking at the ground, raising my chin and squinting so I could only see the mountain in the distance, a familiar and comforting view.
Riding in the balloon, I had to use the manual override to not do what my body insisted.
The conversation my body and brain went like this.
Body: “Oh shit! We are gonna DIE!!!! Get down, get down, get down, get down in the basket!!!”
Brain: “Love, we may die. But it won’t be because we are standing in the basket and not crouching.”
Body: “If you make me stand, I am going to lock every muscle!”
Brain: “Okay sweetheart, that’s fine.”
Body: “No, I’m serious! I am gripping on as hard as I can! The edge of the basket! Ari’s overalls! The rim of the fuel tank!”
Brain: “Sure, go ahead and grip on, but you aren’t gonna fall, you know.”
Body: “Agh! This is terryifying!!! Get low NOW!”
Brain: “I know you are scared my sweet and precious ride, but your fate was sealed the moment you stepped into the basket. You will survive or not, but in the meantime, let’s be present for this incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Halfway into the voyage, the panic lessens.
My compulsive gripping stops. I let go of Ari enough to drink some water.
The urge to kneel evaporates.
I’m in love with the floating clouds, as we drift silently over the mountain tops.
This sacred world is lovely.
The trauma gurus on Instagram have huge followings because people need to heal.
There is another more insidious factor, though, trauma is compelling.
It’s highly marketable. Profitable. This should make you mad. It makes me furious.
As much money as I could make off your trauma, I don’t want to anymore.
I want to relish being alive and be compensated for teaching folks to savor life while you have it.
It’s trauma that made me cleave to the edge of the basket.
Trauma that inappropriately grooms our instincts, so we think we should hide when we have the chance to fly.
But the gripping would not save me in a crash.
The cleaving to anything (the basket, an identity, a narrative) will not save you as you float in the wind, blown by a force you cannot see but can wholly feel.
Moral of the story: clench all you want; you are still in a (metaphorical) basket 5000 feet above the ground, having no idea where and when this journey will end. Or how.
You can practice trust and letting go even as you cling to the edge.
These do not have to be binary.
Sometimes you listen to your body.
Sometimes you have a conversation; body and brain.
So you can live and enjoy, not just survive.
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