Life initiates us. Hopefully, it is into wisdom. In my writings, I share my research on sustaining grace and freedom in ways that honor the soulful body knowledge of all beings.
People are experiencing pain at crises levels. Words like lamentation, depression, and rage seem more present while our culture still severs strong emotions between head and torso.
Emotion is movement. To block the movement of inward sensations creates more damage. We may believe we can sidestep the assaults on our dreams, land, and the many species but our bodies are permeable. “When one body suffers everybody suffers.”
Grief swells insurmountably high. There’s a fear we could drown in it.
Injustice presses down on us. We move from anger to rage in a struggle to resist.
I’ve discovered that one can never empty out these great emotional forces. Why? Because they belong to clan, family, and the groups that live in us. To dance with rage and despair requires an embodied sense of “we.” My family body is my body. My country is my body. Rage and despair are group body symptoms that alert us to the fact that our group is headed toward disaster.
Have rage and despair initiated you? If so you’ll know they are too big for your body.
Have you made rage and despair holy, grounded them in the sacred? Maya Angelou said, “Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.”
Reflect on your own body wisdom as it relates to loss, death, struggle, and transformation in your family and political life. Are you in touch with your body data, your moment-to-moment sensations, emotions, energies, and thoughts? Do you honor your body knowledge– the patterns in your body data that reoccur over time? That is the ground of being for your hope, truth, and wisdom.
If it is impossible to find hope, which it is at times, a key is to place yourself among other bodies that know, “The arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”*
Initiated in Sacred Hope
Sacred, subtle physical connection is as natural as air. It is embedded in data in our body like musical notes. These notes form a symphonic pattern– our body knowledge.
I sense this ground of hope most easily when I dance and teach others the dancing way. Communal prayer, contemplation, creativity, and meditation help me tune in and enliven the natural connection to holy ground. Our quickest, most powerful access happens in physical forms when people eat together, sing, dance, tell stories and feel the rhythms of healing and health in the community. Such birthright practices elevate and help us note the full range of human experience.
Sacred hope isn’t abstract. It’s the bodily connection that one feels in the interplay with life. Let’s notice.
Can you notice body data right now- thoughts, feelings, and sensations?
Can you notice something beautiful nearby? Do you feel sensations or emotions?
Can you bring someone to mind enough to sense your subtle connection to them? Your body-to-body mirror neurons allow you to “perceive” your relations, seen and unseen.
Can you bring a family or a group of people to mind? Notice physical feelings, both subtle and complex. No need to articulate or explain. Awareness of the feel of a group body is sufficient and could be everything.
The “sense” of family, religious community, social, political and cultural groups is part of our body data. Each ‘group body’ distinctly coexists in us. We can notice and differentiate the interplaying sensations of unique body data states- the physical connection with
Our sacred ground
Sacred connection with one other
Sacred connection with a group
Sacred connection with land
We are in a living conversation between our own bodyspirit and other bodies. There may even be a preferential order to how we sense other bodies. Do you connect best
One to many
One to the whole group
One to the whole of creation?
As a performer, minister, and teacher I pay attention to the interplaying field of one-to-one relationships, the state of the group body, and my sense of identifying with the body politic, the Earth and the Universe. There are many mysterious states that we don’t reference but still notice.
It is part of my service to ignite and craft all of these relational fields into visible forms. I appreciate that entertain means “to hold between” and perform means “to complete the form.” To interplay with such sacred engagement is a privilege.
Men in my family had permission to rage, to “lose control and express themselves.” In search of my power, I downloaded my male ancestral traits without the proper initiations. Perhaps they had done the same thing. They did not know how to channel their rage.
Liberation looked like outbursts. It took ages to accept that when I express anger something hotter enters the room. My anger felt righteous because it was physically confused with rage. To confuse means to fuse together. The sensation felt good for a moment but didn’t bolster relief or grace beyond that.
Martial arts initiate people in the proper use of power, energy, and sacred meaning. What practices are needed to live with love and passion in conflicted, confusingly painful times? What are the necessary rage initiations?
Ruth King helped me enormously in her book, Healing Rage: Women Transforming Rage into Inner Peace. As a black woman, rage made her ill until she transformed it. Part of her strategy is to know the difference between anger and rage. Anger is situational. Rage is collective.
How do we dance with rage, how do we make it holy? Do we banish it? Not if rage is rooted in collective energy. It’s a river that must flow.
To connect with the truth of rage I apply the following body logic, starting with the knowledge that any kind of mastery requires awareness and practice grounded in sacred hope.
- Anger is situational. If I express it, it usually recedes.
- Rage flows from patterns of built up anger and feeds a torrent of energy resulting from repeating impacts of war, rape, enslavement, inequity, genocide, injustice.
- Anger and Rage intersect. The key is to differentiate them.
- I must not only express anger, but I must also touch these patterns of injustice in order to transform rage.
How do we dance with rage, how do we make it holy? Do we banish it? Not if rage is rooted in collective energy. It’s a river that must flow.
Both victims and perpetrators oddly detach from rage. Victims live and work with rageaholics. Perpetrators have a strange amnesia about the harm they cause. To blank out about the harm seems to be a built-in, primal, survival mechanism in our circuitry. It overrides everything including memory. Why? Perhaps recause rage or despair is inexpedient for survival. It could “out” us and kill us when we’d better hide to survive.
Rage stays submerged until a body feels adequate collective support. When there are positive rage movements like Me Too and Black Lives Matter more people come out as enraged. I believe it is because we have physical safety and support to do. Some will still pay a high price in the process.
We also have rage movements that terrorize us. Terrorism replicates human monstrosities rather than heal them.
To lose touch with rage doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Muriel Rukeyser wrote, “The Universe is made of stories, not atoms.” Our bodies are webbed in physical historic patterns of harm and health. The ancients said that actions last seven generations. Science confirms that trauma happens through epigenetics, mirror neurons, attachment, repeatedly unhealed ruptures, generational traumas. Fortunately, we are also webbed in a massively holy, creative life force. But, can we feel it? Can we believe it?
Frustratingly, those in dominant positions, the “winners,” stay blind and distant from enraged victims. But there is a huge cost. The “winners” inherit a disordering collective anxiety that can’t be pinned down.
We might wish that people wake up. But, group security is baked into our bodies. To change oppression we need both love and rage, the ultimate deal breakers for navigating the physical walls of cultural taboos.
Have you noticed the oppositional force fields that produce irrational fear when you break code with a dominant pattern? I do. I encountered it as a woman minister, as a dancer in churches, academia, and board rooms, and in leading “Changing the Race Dance” workshops to address our understandings and misunderstandings of socialized systemic racism. I saw people leave community, end friendships and felt people hit me with their words and actions.
How do I listen to my body? To the rage that is part of my bodily relationship to injustice and harm?. How can I honor connection to rage without succumbing to it? This is the wisdom that I practice.
Rage does not have permission to run straight through my body. That doesn’t work for me. Instead, I see rage as a river that runs alongside my body, a collective river that I can touch or stand in as long as I’m in fidelity to sacred hope. When I do this, it’s where courage comes from. I transform rage when I dignify it
Witnessing Hurricane Katrina, the racism I saw inflamed me. By then I could see acts of racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, and white passivity for what they are. Systemic injustice wasn’t out there somewhere. It was in my progressive white church. Reasonable people offered little spontaneous response to injustice. My rage flared and would not subside.
I went to Ruth King and asked her what to do. “How will you dignify your rage?” she asked. She knows that rage is a valuable source of energy. To dignify rage, I had to make it holy. I’d spent decades researching the colonizing impact of northern European landholders who’d banished dance, drum, and stories that are the embedded wisdom of indigenous and feminine practice. My vows as an ordained minister were interwoven with languages and practices of conquests that serve to consolidate ownership and power among white people. The church views dance and drum as opposed to culture. There is no intent to retrain bodies to their living, resurrecting wisdom. I had to reconsider my vows to the institutional church. At that time the white church was not exploring rage about racism or anti-Semitism. There was no white supremacist language or critique, though some of my spiritual teachers were clear that we had a problem.
To dignify my rage I renounced the vow to uphold models that perpetuate harm through the colonizing practices used by elites––thrones, pulpits, kings, and lords that work to maintain authority over subjects.
This was a huge initiation. Fortunately, I had InterPlay, art, and beautiful bodies ever faithful to the dance of life. I also knew that one is not free unless she can stand in the orchard of her upbringing. As I sought release from vows I knew that in order to be faithful to the wisdom of my body I must still show up at the family gatherings.
I would remain indebted to my lineage, to the reconciling power of Eucharistic practice, to holy waters that remind me that my life is given over to the wild, wise sea of a Love beyond all love. I am grateful for many initiations into generous service and to the liberating teachings that implore me to uphold strangers, brothers, and sisters of every nation. My lineage songs, stories, and prayers are in me, especially those flowing from the wisdom of Miriam, Jesus, Magadelen, Mary, and the Jewish theologian, Paul. I take comfort that Jesus, Francis, Claire, and others disavowed institutional forms in order to align with earth and mystic love. Many outside the church today may be doing the same. Faith is not an institution, it’s a living stream, sometimes a deep well from which to drink.
A healthy rage practice asks, “How will we dignify rage and with whom?”
When rage rises up it is mathematically too big for a single body to withstand. So, my new vows promise to dance with those who are enraged. I vow to take care of myself by deeply connecting to body, soul, earth, and God. I vow to focus on creativity. I vow that if I make a mess with passion, I will continue to strive to be a monk who puts down her sword, to feel love, anger, and rage without sticking it to anyone. I vow to relate to the current of rage as part of healthy power.
Grief like anger is a situational emotion. I grieve my mother’s death. I grieve the loss of youth. It’s when grief coagulates around collective patterns of sorrow and hopelessness that the sensation becomes oceanic. Despair is the name of that ocean.
Despair! What will my granddaughter face? Will it be like my daughter says? “She will have so much love around her, I’ll have to warn her, it’s not like this in the rest of the world.” Part of the InterPlay community, she knew a home filled with affirmation, emotional intelligence, and sacred curiosity. She was encouraged to listen to her body. She is open. She also knew about suffering. As a toddler, she heard a chant, “Without a vision, the people perish, without a vision the people die.” She exclaimed to me, “The people die, the people die? Mommy, why do the people die?”
My daughter wasn’t sheltered from her body data–her joy, love or suffering. Consequently, she senses things beyond family. Systems, genetics, all kinds of lineages come into play. Her body references a memory of Africa, the Holocaust, the torture of animals, troubles in her birth lineage. She draws on formidable gifts that she seems wary to use. Most institutions negate her body wisdom. She’s confounded that they aren’t concerned with love.
As a witness to waves of collective hate, how is she to suffer it? How will my granddaughter? Is her generation be more in touch with collectivity and suffering than past generations? I believe so. Unimpeded telecommunications shift our body data.
In third grade, in the back seat of my van, my kid talked about electing presidents. She was among the first children to explore the social good and promiscuity of the World Wide Web. Our children are ingesting the worst of humanity. What community equally calls them into sacred belonging? When educational and work practices require them to shut down it costs them empathy, joy, and aliveness. They are diagnosed with new levels of depression.
We need artful, healthy relationships with rage and despair if we are to make suffering meaningful, bearable, and creative. Body wise strategies, practices, and actions can help us.
The body logic of despair is similar to rage. Grief stems from a situation while despair grows from patterns of collective sorrow. To navigate and make despair holy the key is to ask and answer, “To whom do I belong?”
“To whom do I belong?” begins and ends in soul connection. Inseparable from the infinite ground-sky of ultimate source, God, Love, Whatever it is that arises most gracefully when we sing, dance, eat, and share stories together we need rafts of friends, folk, and holy ones to buoy and carry us to shore however many times as it takes.
I struggle with despair as I write and am getting beautiful support. Lifeboats. E. M. Forster counsels me. So does Thomas Merton.
“No despair of ours can alter the reality of things; or stain the joy of the cosmic dance which is always there. Indeed, we are in the midst of it, and it is in the midst of us, for it beats in our very blood, whether we want it to or not…the fact remains that we are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in the general dance.”
Perhaps all rivers and oceans are holy. As the Hopi elders prophesy,
“You have been telling people that this is the Eleventh Hour, now you must go back and tell the people that this is the Hour. And there are things to be considered…
Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?
Where is your water?
Know your garden.
It is time to speak your truth.
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for your leader.
…“This could be a good time! There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart and will suffer greatly. Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water.
And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate. At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey come to a halt.
The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves! Banish the word ’struggle’ from your attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”
To practice the art of holy rage and despair and not succumb to overwhelm, I engage the health of creation and Divine Help. I give thanks that hope, rage, and despair empower courage to Love. I move with others. I hand the biggest storms over to God and the collective body any way I can. I vote. I consult and discuss. I always dance. It’s the only way I know to not get eaten alive. I make art not just to surface despair and rage but to claim them, name them, and create the world we want. I make new vows. I listen to old people. I make my way toward them, humbly. And always, I dance and pray with others.
Images in this essay came from a Touch Drawing workshop with Deborah Koff-Chapman at the International Expressive Arts Therapy Association Conference.