Do you feel you’re living a fully expressed life? A life where you feel a deeply nourishing sense of love and belonging. A life where you feel free to let your most authentic, awkward & silly self be seen and held.
Certainly, I have moments of this (as, I hope, do you), moments when my shields come down, when I take up space and let my imperfect self be seen. To be seen and held in our full humanity is deeply nourishing to the soul. Unfortunately, to show up in this way, and to accept others in this way, also goes against our cultural conditioning. Each of us learns, from the time we’re young, which parts of us are appropriate and which parts of us are to be suppressed because they’re not okay, or not safe. These messages are shaped by our culture, by our gender identity, by the colour of our skin, by the size and ability of our bodies, by our sexual identity. We take in these messages about ourselves, about others, and they shape us; they shape how we perceive the world and how we show up in the world.
Embodiment is a practice of unearthing the messages we’ve taken on, of holding ourselves with love & compassion while we learn to challenge them, while we learn to show up differently for ourselves, for our loved ones and for the world!
So how do the body and cultural conditioning connect? It largely comes down to the nervous system. One of the primary jobs of your nervous system is to keep you safe. From your experience, it learns what is safe and unsafe, and it stores this information in your DNA! Thus, the messages you’ve received through cultural & familial conditioning, those messages about which parts of you are okay and which ones are not, that is quite literally stored in your body!
The storing of this information in our bodies, in our nervous systems is the reason we can know something cognitively and yet still act in ways that are incongruent with what we know. For instance, for years I knew cognitively that I couldn’t expect my partner to meet my needs unless I expressed those needs to him. Yet, I regularly found myself feeling resentful because my needs had not been met. Why? Because I hadn’t expressed them, because the message I had taken on was that to ask for what I needed was unsafe, was not okay. In order to have my needs met I needed to address this belief in my body. To move from resentment to love and belonging required me to be courageous and vulnerable and it required me to be kind and compassionate, to work with my nervous system rather than fighting against it.
These patterns, habits, and behaviours that keep us from love, belonging and authenticity are not an enemy to be fought and conquered; they are coping mechanisms, stored in our nervous systems as a brilliant and well-designed response from a time when we really needed them. They’re also not set in stone, neuroplasticity (the adaptable nature of our nervous system) means that we can retrain our nervous system, we can reset the parameters of safety for ourselves. How do we do this? We do it through embodied practice, through mindfulness, and through doing all of this within our window of tolerance (more on this later).