Presence as the antidote: a participant's reflection

A participant reflection from the midway point of the course Joy and the Body. Hannah Hooper writes: "Give yourself this moment to take the opportunity to listen and simply be. What arises within you? What needs to be honoured? Making space for slowness, presence and compassion is all part of the journey to support us in re-rooting into the ecosystem of our body, our communities, and our sense of self."

The course, Joy and the Body by Aisha Paris Smith came into my life at a fortuitous moment; an invitation to welcome more joy, presence, and awareness into my life after a summer that felt fast-paced, at times chaotic, and ungrounded. A perfect antidote to my whirring mind, and deep need for a moment of pause and presence in my day.

We live in a time that’s rife with disconnection, where we can easily numb our feelings by going straight to our phones, cutting the cord of connection to life that surrounds us and is within us. Yet, through a somatic practice, we can form roots back to the self and back to presence. And this is where the course takes shape — through an exploration of somatics and embodiment. We are currently halfway through the course, and it has already brought so much introspection into my relationship with my body, the narrative I have towards my desires, and the way my body interacts with the wider world.

The traditional paradigm of understanding (in this course, how we understand and relate to our body and ourselves) has been rooted in science, the mind, and the intellect.

In this sense, we are experiencing ourselves and our world often through the mind.

As Descartes argued, “I think, therefore I am.” However, when we approach this way of understanding from the somatic perspective, our experiences also become rooted in the intelligence of our bodies; the way our bodily sensations can weave a web of understanding about ourselves and how we inhabit the world. Both mind and body can exist as one in harmony. Somatic psychology is the study of body intelligence, as Aisha shares, “Somatics uncovers the intelligence of the body, [and] the intelligence of the body as a whole, and also the intelligence of the different systems, and explores how we can tap into that intelligence so that we can know ourselves better so that we can regulate ourselves.”

In Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good, adrienne maree brown states “Pleasure is not one of the spoils of capitalism. It is what our bodies, our human systems, are structured for; it is the aliveness and awakening, the gratitude and humility, the joy and celebration of being miraculous.” This quote has been percolating on my mind since beginning the course. Choosing pleasure — choosing life — is a right that we deserve, yet many have been told otherwise. Joy and the Body invites us to question the stories and narratives that have told us that embodying pleasure, whether in the body or how we move through the world, is shameful. We are here to strip ourselves of these stories and take the radical act to say: I want to have a better experience! I want something better for myself!

Our journey begins with embodiment, and this is the web that weaves the course together. Embodiment asks us: How much are we able to live in and experience ourselves through our bodies? How can we move from a place of doing to a place of feeling and being? As part of this, an essential practice of embodiment (or getting to a place of feeling embodied) is how we learn to understand and regulate our nervous system, so we can ultimately be in a relationship with our body. We have to learn to identify which state we are in, so we can then regulate ourselves appropriately. For example, if I’m in a stressed fight or flight state, I cannot easily drop into the body and the more subtle feelings, sensations, and intuitions that may arise. Therefore, we begin by learning how to regulate the body, so we can bring about more joy by way of the body.

These practices can look like simply bringing attention to what is arising within us, such as asking “What am I feeling right now?”.

We are not trying to change the state we are in, but we are choosing to be curious and attentive. Within somatics, every person has a shape that is malleable and open to change.

In this sense, our body has been formed through the experiences we've had. When we process experiences and engage with them, how they shape us can take new forms. And often with the body, feeling is enough.

I also want to acknowledge that we don’t all experience the body in the same way. For example, individuals who experience chronic pain are going to explore embodiment and somatics differently than someone like myself, who doesn’t experience chronic pain and discomfort. The idea that all somatic practises will benefit all, does not serve anyone. The beauty in bodily awareness is becoming present in what feels joyful to you. For example, a participant shared how bringing sensation to her body didn't bring joy, but felt grating. In this case, there is the assumption that doing certain practices should bring joy. But as we've learnt in these past few weeks, our body and where we source our joy is uniquely our own. As Aisha mentioned “What brings joy for each of us is different because we have very different bodies. We have to discover it.” And perhaps our joy is found in the way the world around us becomes an extension of the body — like the natural world. Perhaps joy can be found there.

One of the opening practices we explored was a body scan. This involved noticing which parts of our body were tense and which were more relaxed. The focus was not on needing to relax the tense parts, but just to notice and become aware of the different sensations across the body, and the emotions that surface. With all the different feelings and sensations that are surfacing, we were invited to bring attention to what feels good, no matter how big or small. This practice is an invitation to bring awareness to what is, but also to what is arising within us.

The meanings we subscribe to our bodies are often imprinted by the systems in which we operate. This most commonly leads to the abandonment of the body; or to the shaming and negative associations we have for the way our body looks, acts and interacts with the world around it — or the stigmas that are attached to the body. The late Audre Lorde said, “If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” Aisha invited us into a safe space to ask us: Where do these associations and meanings stem from? Where did that voice begin? Was it through a particular experience or interaction? We were not born with these stigmas attached to our bodies, rather they have been placed on us. The practice is in letting go of these associations which were never ours to bear.

Ultimately, we are not here to fix the body, rather we are moving towards acknowledging our body where it’s at and choosing to lean into the multiplicity of what it means to be a human being in relationship with the world.

I've dropped in and related with my body in new ways; exploring what it means to find joy in the body, listening to my desires, and honouring the sensations and emotions which are active and communicating to me from moment to moment. I encourage folks to take the time to do the body scan practice, in a safe place that feels comfortable for you (if this is something that doesn’t feel safe to do alone, I encourage you to look more into Aisha’s private practice or seek professional support to get you to a place of being ready to explore this work).

Give yourself this moment to take the opportunity to listen and simply be. What arises within you? What needs to be honoured? Making space for slowness, presence and compassion is all part of the journey to support us in re-rooting into the ecosystem of our body, our communities, and our sense of self.


Hannah Hooper

Hannah Hooper is a writer, activist, and creative based in the UK.

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