“Everything alive pulsates and vibrates. The pulse may be too slow for us to notice in a tree and the vibration too fast in a leaf. Unaware of the pulse and vibration of nature, we are unlikely to notice pulse and vibration in ourselves. Even without a stethoscope we can feel the indefatigable pulse of our hearts and marvel at how they slow and falter or seemingly speed up, so relentless and so variable. Like a bird in a cage, the heart speaks of life beyond its confines. A second pulse pumps cerebral spinal fluids, a deep, secret stream of life, through the spine and brain. And more fully expressive as a rhythm is breathing, which feeds the cells with new life” (Conger, 1994, pg.81)
Spring. It’s been a delicious one here in this corner of south-west England I call home. We’ve had a lot of blue-sky days, stunning blossoms and fabulously noisy bird songs. As a lover of winter, I have sometimes found spring a little intimidating. I’ve been given funny looks and seen heads shaking when I’ve confessed that to the odd friend, met by: “How can you not love spring?”
No, it’s not that I haven’t loved spring, I have just loved winter’s stark bareness more.
But not this year – maybe I’m coming out of my shell. My body is unfurling as the days lengthen, and we live more in the light. I’ve loved the upsurging energy of the past fortnight. The sap rising and the energy of leaves and blossom springing into life feels tangible. I’ve noticed the upsurging in and through my being of a body as well as seeing it all around me. I’ve found myself reflecting anew on the nature of the upsurging movement of energy in the human body. I’ve been reminded of diagrams I poured over during the evenings of my body psychotherapy training, having spent the day doing the experiential bit. How energy moves, different energy models, character armouring – I drank it all in happily!
I have been thinking particularly about Reich’s character structure afresh and what happens when our very young and growing energy starts to come into relationship with the stuff of life. How we move from a watery, pulsating universe, breathing with our mother, to a more obviously airy world, starting to use our lungs in taking those first breaths, and beginning the journey of our own lives and the paradox of incarnation—are we separate or not? How we meet all of life: bewildering circumstances, loving eyes, the relational confusion of mixed messages, too much food, not enough food and other forms of nourishment, how happy our consciousness is to be incarnate. Are we welcome and invited to explore and experiment? Or is it a case of watch and learn the rules, confirming and complying? How do we react – or not – to the bombardment of implicit and explicit messages?
As I think of character with this upsurging, spring-like new energy in mind, it becomes clearer how and why we can feel so easily crushed and defeated as a consequence of meeting obstacles. Upsurging energy tends to be confident, purposeful and full of itself, imagine trying to stop a peony blossom popping open! As can the energy it meets, embedded in cultural norms and expectations. That can be an uncomfortable meeting as the tangible, clear, potent, upsurging meets powerful yet often hidden, confusing, and contradictory messages about how to behave, to love, to fit in, to succeed.
No wonder, then, that our character styles can seem like they’re fossilized given the size of this clash—“that’s me— that’s just the way I am”—and it can be hard to notice, harder still to attend to the flow of every changing life in and through us, opting to believe in certainty, separateness, and control rather than being happily present in the company of life’s inherent uncertainty, the connectedness of all of life and knowing when and how it might be useful to take control as but one of the tools in our metaphorical life toolbox.
This new season reminds me of how we’re being constantly shaped and in formation—we’re not fossils!—and how each of nature’s seasons can remind us of that and show us what season of life we are in, even though our early growth obviously leaves a strong imprint.
I have been noticing my delight lately in witnessing the sudden changes clients have made, after much hard graft. As one client announced: “I’ve just decided I’m not doing that anymore!” A sense of change as she pays attention to her qualities as much as to her familiar trip wires. I love the season’s reminder that we’re always in formation, as are, in the words above of Conger, the pulsating and vibrating of the tree and leaf. For me, that’s an appeal of reflecting on character structure in my work—I find it fascinating to reflect on its illumination of patterns, strategies and ways we ‘hold’ our bodies—and, in parallel, ‘hold’ intrapsychic views, rather than simply sticking to each particular character structure and relating to it as we might an astrological sign in a tabloid newspaper!
Spring has been welcome in my own life. There is so much going on in the world right now. And yet, and yet, here we are living. I am the change in ways I can be; I know that I’m limited, and I know there is much that is way beyond my control. I find a grace in accepting those limits these days and we can never know our own influence and the importance of random acts of kindness in everyday life.
Last week I was noticing how quickly the new leaves were unfurling. I was marveling at them. Many of the trees had a sort of green halo as the edges of the leaves started to emerge, not yet showing their form. I found myself wondering what the world would be like if we paid as much attention to the power and detonating potency of spring blossoms as we do the evening news, the updates that flick onto our phone screens and the tweets of a certain world leader rather than the actual tweets of the blackbird by the kitchen door getting ready to bed down for the night. I don’t mean this in terms of romanticizing nature, I mean it in terms of how we privilege the human world over the other-than and more-than-human world. I’m reminded of the client I mentioned just now, making shifts in her thought-patterning after years of work, shifting channels. How would it be if we shifted channels, unplugged from the newsfeeds and recalled and re-met all the species around us, if only for 20 minutes a day?
As I left work this week, I stepped into a beautiful early evening; the sun was still a ways off from setting, and the trees ahead of me were full of birds singing their hearts out and pink and white cherry blossoms wafted in the breeze ahead. It was one of those sublime and simple moments, and I found myself closing my eyes and taking some deeper breaths. Two days later I arrived at work to the sound of chain saws and a team of hard-hatted men in bright green T-shirts. Half of the trees had been chopped down and a long branch of cherry blossoms was being chipped by a hungry looking, noisy red machine. My heart broke. These trees have been friends and part of my life for the past 14 years. The contrast from two days before was stark. Noticing my dismay, one of my work mates was sweet and said, “I knew you’d be upset, I was hoping they would be finished by now, so you wouldn’t have to see it.” He assured me the trees were being cut down because they were dangerous (they were the least dangerous looking, solidly-rooted trees I’ve seen, but hey, I know us humans make their excuses to deal with the destruction sometimes. I do it myself in some of my dairy-eating and leather shoe-wearing compromises). The chain-sawing and chipping went on all day, and will for some time.
I’m on holiday next week, so I won’t have to witness the rest. Who is more dangerous? The trees standing tall or the hard-hatted guys darting around with chainsaws swinging off their climbing belts?
But the trees haven’t left my mind. In fact, I ended up praying from them and praying for lots of other things besides. Interesting, really, because I haven’t prayed since I was a child. I stopped when I realised I wasn’t praying to God and didn’t believe in him. Now I pray to life and for life in all of us. It somehow complements Zazen rather well. Mainly I’ve been thanking the trees for being there, for all that they’ve been for so many beings and lifeforms and for their beauty and majesty. I wish you the happiest of springs if you’re in the northern hemisphere, and the happiest of autumns if you’re in the southern. Mainly I long for all of us to remember that everything alive pulsates and vibrates.
Conger. J. (1994). The body in recovery: Somatic psychotherapy and the self. Frog Books, Berkeley, California.
Stark Winter cropped from an original called Vanilla Dream, taken by Jennifer Squire and retrieved from http://www.havemuse.com/?m=200903
White Cherry Blossom from Pinterest
Hosta leaf unfurling retrieved from http://forums.gardenweb.com/discussions/3018325/unfurling-favourite-hosta-photos
Fossilized image retrieved from http://www.funnyjunk.com/funny_pictures/1922022/Fossilized/
Kamalamani is an Embodied-Relational therapist, Wild therapist, supervisor, facilitator, and writer, living and working in Bristol, England. She’s been a practicing Buddhist since her early 20s and loves seeing how age-old teachings and practices are relevant to contemporary life. She works at the interface of body psychotherapy, ecopsychology and ecodharma, drawing upon her experiences of being a development worker in sub-Saharan Africa, a lecturer in International Development at the University of Bristol, her current meditation practice and being a child lost and found in nature. She has published two books: Meditating with Character (post-Reichian character structure applied to meditation) and Other than Mother: Choosing Childlessness with Life in Mind.www.kamalamani.co.uk