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Utterance - Samantha Bews

… on being embodied, working with the felt sense, or the ‘whole of the living self’. 

 

In 2018, I was invited to write a poem for an installation piece by Rachael Guy and Leonie Van Dyke called This House, My Body. It was the first poem I had written that directly referenced my body, and it came to me very easily. I was new to writing poems back then, and became curious about the ease with which the poem had arrived. Eventually I thought – this is so easy because this is how I write and think all the time – from my body. It was also around this time that I realized my body was full of stories, not only in relation to my history, culture and circumstances, but stories of its own making – the old cobbler who lives in a vertebrae, a swamp that inhabits my bowel, the blue sky that is the roof of my lower torso. 

What does that mean – my body is full of stories? 

For 21 years between 1994 and 2016 I lived with chronic illness, which meant for all of those years illness dominated the way I lived in, and related to, the world. It was a period of intense suffering, but also of deep interiority – my closest friend used to say that the degree to which I had been distanced from the exterior world was the depth to which I had plumbed the inner world. It was a time of deep listening: listening to different forms of intelligence contained within the body, the created world and the spiritual realms; and listening with my body, mind and spirit. Until recently, this way of listening has been completely derided by Western Enlightenment thinking. But now science is beginning to validate a multiplicity of intelligences, including that of the body – the intelligence of the felt sense. 

I eventually walked out of illness by doing a three-day course in neuroplasticity. From the outside it looked like a miracle, and in many ways it was as I was suddenly able to be out of bed all day, day after day, for the first time since I was 24 years old. But the truth is that it took years of patience, surrender and attention before the substratum of illness within my body was revealed. The stories in this substratum appear as fossils of old wounds, plants with unwieldy tendrils of belief, critters of fears with unfamiliar names. They would rise like an inferno of terror or be so distant as to be faintly heard like the heartbeat of mercy. It took a lot of time before I could stand in the fire of past trauma and not be burned; to put my feet on the black sooty soil of new ground. Listening. Letting the body tell its tale. Giving space to its uncertainties. Allowing the body its discombobulated mess within the limits of my skin. 

This practice of attentive listening allowed me to reconnect to my body after separating from it in a classic trauma response I experienced as a child. Reconnecting to my body, the house of my being, brought me back to myself, a being who exists within the network of being. If I am disconnected from my body I have lost my source of aliveness with/in the created world. To be fully alive I have to inhabit my physical place within the world manifest. I have to risk being. 

The stories then are the expression of connection – across, within, amongst bodies, psychologies, psyches and within the cultural, ecological and spiritual worlds we live in. They arise spontaneously, can appear at random or within easily recognized patterns. Within the body there are archetypes with different weights and rhythms, fairy tales that keep evolving, and scattered mythologies from the distant past. Stories from our cultures live in our spines and ones from our ancient culture sing in our blood. Visions of the future rise up from our sleeping bodies, visions from the past haunt the tight corners of pinched mouths. The vertebrae in our spines are a nursery rhyme as diabolical as oranges and lemons*. Those intelligence centres of the brain, heart and bowel are cities dense with stories: the stories in our hearts reach as high as the angelic host and as low as the foul beast in the forest. There are pedestrian stories of peaches and pears, and stories that blind us with light. All of these stories are at play in our bodies. They are the scintillating expression of being, and of a body-being being remade. 

 

Samantha Bews August 2023

 

*Oranges and Lemons the traditional English nursery rhyme. According to Wikipedia ‘… various theories have been advanced to account for the rhyme, including: that it deals with child sacrifice; that it describes public executions; that it describes Henry VIII's marital difficulties.’

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Atsuko Tanaka - artist
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