By Sage Hayes
Sage Hayes presented a workshop on Embodied Activism hosted by Plan to Thrive in 2017. It was a powerful session that connected us with our own bodily wisdom and deep resources. Sage provided these notes, a work in progress.
Practicing presence is key.
Cultivate ability to make contact with your inner experience. Interoception is defined as the sense of the internal state of the body. Building our capacity for relating to and experiencing sensations, emotions and the stories increases our ability to be present not only with ourselves, but in the world around us. This type of presence builds capacity to interrupt overwhelm, high stress states and/or disconnecting from your body. It also helps us show up to who and what we care about with choice, integrity and with a sense of agency.
Health is always present.
Our vitality, essence and wholeness can get buried under life’s stresses, habits, overwhelm and adaptation. There is potency, resilience and health always available often covered by unconscious beliefs and somatic strategies of survival. Learning how to pay attention and contact this is invaluable. Focus on what’s going well or better just as much as you focus on what’s wrong. Wellness builds on wellness. Meditation, visualizations, caring reflections from others and ongoing embodied practices can assist strengthening our relationship to deep inner health.
Proactive self-care hygiene is easier than reactive.
Overwhelming events happen. And depending on our degree of privilege, daily stressors can be constant. Unless we are in crisis and/or an immediate life threatening situation it’s incredibly beneficial to spend time cultivating resources which support your health, embodiment, connectedness and feelings goodness. Practices which generate a ‘felt sense’ experience of calming, good feeling and contribute to a sense of relative safety and personal agency.
Having a regular self-care routine supports processing extra energy generated from stress and it also supports ongoing rest and generative social connection/support. This can be very helpful in handling life’s bigger stressors and threats. Without a regular flow in this regard, bigger body stressors can be much more challenging to metabolize and get through, especially if the stress energies have been building up.
Normalizing ‘personal stress’ load within global-political-social context.
The world is stressful and overwhelming, often relative to our degree of privilege. It’s normal and easy for stress to get out of control or feel unstoppable. In many communities and worldviews, stress and our coping mechanism for stress are also ‘glorified’. In some social change work, people are quiet about stressors or impacts because they don’t want to be viewed about not doing their best, not committed enough or weak.
Our stress response is designed to function in a temporary way but the continuous onslaught of external threat can push our biology into overdrive with no sense of safety or rest. We are hard wired to handle threats and stress, but given economic, social and environmental realities, it is often way too much. Losing our shit is normal. Overriding what we know is ‘healthy’ is normal. Using substances to minimize the outrage, overwhelm or depression is often the best we can do. Stress in the body is real and our management strategies are intelligently adaptive, even if they have a cost too. The question we ask in the spirit of ‘embodied activism’ is ‘how can we relate to these realities in ways which build resilience and minimize the cost to our health?’
When we get stuck.
It doesn’t have to be forever. Our physiology sometimes gets stuck – in high stress or a collapse. Once we become aware we are stuck it’s often not so pleasant, but it’s ok. The key is to notice it (and to not berate yourself). When we’re stuck in overdrive (hypervigilance, workaholism, intense use of substances to disconnect us from our overwhelm, etc) or stuck in collapse/exhaustion we begin to have a deeper detrimental impact on our overall health. Over time, being in continuous high stress states and/or low life force states (collapse) can impede overall functioning of almost every system in our body, our social connectedness, our sense of well being and general ok-ness.
Sometimes this state of ‘stuckness’ has been going on for a long time and we have become habituated to it. We can feel resistance to making changes and it can feel like ‘all or nothing’. The key here is to begin to make changes which don’t freak you out (too much)! Start small and stick with it, gather some momentum. Often our identity has become wrapped up in these habits of struggle, survival and override so we need to go slow and steady to unlink who you are from your habits. If the changes you’re making feel ‘unfamiliar’ that’s often a good sign. Give your mind and body time to adapt to each change. Breaking habits can be scary and disorienting, so easy does it and get support.
Have a backup plan for if/when you get stuck and need some support.
Getting stuck in highly stressful states isn’t always easy to get out of. Proactively making a plan which is personal for what works for you is key. Take a few minutes to write down 3 strategies/actions which might help when you get stuck in: 1. a highly stressed state of being, 2. a collapsed state of being. Share these with a friend, therapist, co-worker as they can help support you get back into your flow quicker.
Self and community compassion.
Staying in our bodies is a process, sometimes it is easy, sometimes it is not. Structural economic and social factors are constantly at work which are constantly threatening our well being personally and our communities. Difficult life experiences and trauma can shut us off from life force and choice.
Learning how to hold the complexity of how we ‘do our lives and health’ in a loving way is an amazing gift to give to yourself. Self and community compassion enables understanding toward ourselves and others when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism. Each of us is doing the best we can. Creating collective practices which cultivate compassion amidst highly charged conversations, activism and organizing can help prevent re-traumatizing ourselves and others.
About the author
Sage Hayes is a US activist, practitioner and teacher of embodied liberation. Sage offers a unique integrated approach to therapeutic change and transformation. Offering Somatic Experiencing (SE), craniosacral therapy and massage, Sage facilitates thoughtful reflection and embodied change particular to each client’s intentions.