Making a home for grief in the body: a participant's reflection

A participant reflection from the course Bodyfulness. Zoë Fay-Stindt writes: "Grief and joy, I am trying to learn over and over, are not opposite sides of a spectrum. They are part of the same deep well of feeling that, when reached into, remind us how to be human. They cycle into and through each other—they hold each other down and lift each other up. They make room for each other."

Over the last few months, I have been wondering about the ways grief moves, lives, and holes up in our bodies. When there is so much of it moving through this world, how do we make a proper home for grief in our bodies? How do we tend to our griefs, and how do we care for them collectively, widening our griefs in community so they can take up more righteous space?

Under the rule of settler-colonial capitalism, so many of us are living dramatically divorced lives. Lives divorced from feeling, from care, and from relationship, because this system needs to keep people separated from each other, from the land, and from our own sense of feeling, justice, and bodily wellness if it is to continue. In order for this system to work, it also needs to keep our grief muted.

Coming into the Bodyfulness course, I already knew this. What I didn’t know was how alienated I was from my grief—and how much I wanted it back.

When I started a few weeks ago, I was a stranger to my body. Recently spit out from the dissociative academic grind, I had spent the last several months on the road, traveling, visiting family members, packing up my life. My nervous system was walking a tightrope, and almost every day was testing my shaky nerves with new information to process. In a space of transition in almost all areas of my life, I had already been dissociating regularly, and in early October, like so many of us, I was pulled into collective mourning and anger as we watched the latest horrors unfold from Israel’s siege on Palestinian life and land.

In moments of atrocity and ongoing histories of oppression (and in other daily, less acute moments), how do we greet our grief? For most of my life, I admit to having circumnavigated it more often than not. Like an awkward dance on the sidewalk with a stranger, grief kept blocking my escape route. Look at me, it said. Hold me—I am you. Over the last few months, dodging my grief has become impossible. And, slowly but surely, I’ve learned just how grateful I am for that awakening.

Our embodiment, grief, and collective justice are all deeply intertwined. In the very first class of Bodyfulness, Eby Chimba suggests that the injustice in the world is often a direct response to living outside the body. That disembodiment is a strong and dangerous current, and embodiment itself is a step towards liberation.

But, as Teresa Marie Mailhot writes in Heart Berries, “Sometimes grief is a nothing feeling.” That nothing feeling—I know it so well. How trauma clots in the body, or how we fog up in a vague, disconnected response to a new atrocity. Or sometimes, how trauma hardens, draws a wall between us and our bodies, our beloveds. And more than ever, I think, it’s our responsibility to feel.

The body—this trove of information, of generational trauma and pleasure both—has so much to teach us. Connection to ourselves and to each other starts when we live into and through our bodies. This was the most resounding lesson every teacher in the Bodyfulness class urged: somatic practice makes us more powerful partners in collective liberation. Justice starts with embodiment.

Sonya Renee Taylor writes something similar in The Body is Not an Apology: “It is through our own transformed relationship with our bodies that we become champions for other bodies on our planet.” Our relationship with our own bodies and how we treat others are deeply interconnected. Forging a new relationship with grief—one that doesn’t turn away, but tends to it—is part of that.

Over and over in this world’s continuous onslaught of crisis, we have been invited to befriend our griefs. Our personal and our collective griefs, where they touch and where they expand, where your grief has something to teach my grief, and where my grief can hold yours within it for a moment, or separate in its difference, cared for all the same. This is one of the ways in which we are human: by holding our griefs together. I don’t know about you, but I have found few places as religious, as spiritual, as a protest, a march, or a moment of direct action. Outside of Philadelphia’s 30th Street train station marching and tuba-playing and chanting with hundreds of others in support of a Jewish Voice for Peace call for ceasefire, my body froze from cold, tingled, wept, and lit up. Green, red, and black balloons floated above us, and an electric current of mourning ran throughout. Our grief was alive.

Places like these—moments of collective mourning and insistence on justice—are reverent. Where our living brushes up against each other’s, and where our community richens. Sister Efu Nyaki says it’s through the eyes that we fall in love. In these gatherings, in our momentary contact—in grief, which is another word for love—I fall in love with you. All of you. I fall in love with this world even as it burns. These are the ways we grow: in grief, in love, and in power, as we build towards a world we believe in.

Our bodies can hold all of this. And damn, they’re wise beyond our years. Because they hold generations and generations of wisdom. To access some of that wisdom, we just have to learn to listen in a new way. After all, “nonverbal language,” Christine Caldwell argues, “is just as important, just as valuable, just as worthy in the world as your verbal language system. This body language is your first language.”

In moments of collective work towards liberation, access to that body language feels so much more possible for me. But once my front door is closed and my inbox fills back up and the dishes are still insistent in the sink, that portal often closes. Making a practice of greeting the body, I’m learning, is one way of keeping the door open.

Sometimes embodiment feels eons away—like that “nothing” feeling Marie Mailhot named, impossible to reach. But early on in Bodyfulness, Eby had a simple directive for us: put the headphones in. First—before grief, before wisdom, before reconnection (or rather, really, alongside): move. Feel. Dance.

So, in the middle of my liminal spaces, in the middle of my grief, in my scattered and my wild and my nervous system exhaustion, I took her advice and turned to an old friend: “Le Temps Est Bon.” A song that is all summer, all body, all sweat. As Eby ordered, I took up space in the Sonesta ES Suites hotel room I was staying in. I slither-snaked. I bunny hopped. I looked my weepy self in the mirror, and met my grief and my joy both. Oh. There you are. In the mirror, this creature’s grief enlargened her joy, and her joy, her well-practiced goofiness, enlargened her grief. Made her grief more possible, more alive, because of this same insistent reach towards feeling.

Grief and joy, I am trying to learn over and over, are not opposite sides of a spectrum. They are part of the same deep well of feeling that, when reached into, remind us how to be human. They cycle into and through each other—they hold each other down and lift each other up. They make room for each other.

And lord, is there room to be made. Years and years and years—generations, eons—of grief to hold. Of pleasure, too. Of knowing. Of belonging. Of being a body of bodies. As Staci Haines says, “I invite you to think of yourself and each other as three billion years of evolutionary wisdom.”

Or, put another way, “This body—it’s a big body,” says Sister Efu. “Why we call it a big body? Because it’s not just mine. It’s a body that carries so many—many millions of years of other people.”

Come on in, I tell the generations. Come on in, I tell the hurt. In this big body of mine, I have room for all of you.


Zoë Fay-Stindt

Zoë Fay-Stindt is a queer, bicontinental poet with roots in both the French and American south.

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