Power over is an adaptation that can be seen in what I refer to as the “colonized white body.” A specific and intentional social conditioning that shapes the body of whiteness. Over the past several weeks, I have watched the news and read social media quips written by white bodies that I recognize as dis-associated, dis-missive, and dis-embodied. Rather than offering meaningful gestures reflecting our contribution to racism as a systemic disease, acknowledging the benefits of being white in an inherently biased society, and grieving the blatant historical lies thrust upon us from the dominant white culture, white bodies tend to reveal a white-washed void of numbness that contributes little authentic response.
Photo credit: Clem Onojeghuo-unsplash
No matter how passionate or intellectually astute the stories by black bodies are – weaving coherent narratives that cry out to all humanity to step up and participate in deconstructing institutionalized racism and actively reconfiguring ways to create lives that are sustainable for all, and particularly calling to end the violence against BOC – I recognize the white body’s response as an impermeable internal hardness. Like rain hitting the pavement, denials, rationalizations, over-intellectualized observations, and distracting comments expose the difficulty white bodies have quite literally in absorbing and feeling the depth of pain displayed openly at this moment by much of the human race. The call for justice and the deep prayers from human beings to one another fall on hardpan that cannot spontaneously respond with restorative gestures.
I know this is not every one’s response. You might wish for me to point out those capable of gesturing support….and yes for some white identified bodies there is a call and response for justice. Yet after years of somatic explorations breathed life back into my dense tissue, I am aware I still carry the insistence of power over…whether that is my identification with hearing my own voice, the achievement of knowing the right answer before anyone else, or my striving to contribute something of seen value as strategies for assailing my own despair in the face of such pain. What I believe we fail to notice as white bodies is the reality of who actually needs to heal. What white bodies have for so long ignored, by simply not noticing how deeply dissonant our bodies are, is how frozen and unresponsive our core being is.
What the photographs of George Floyd’s and Ahmed Aubrey’s white killers reveal to me is something truly horrifying. As a somatic educator focused on primal gestures, I perceive the killing of black bodies as a result of not solely ignorance, hate, or fear but a game of power over. There in plain sight are men posing as hunters over their trophy catch, posturing a gesture of claiming. The taboo of speaking of human beings as animals stops us from naming what power over represents. Our primal nature, that which we share with the mammalian world, is constantly suppressed and extinguished. Everyone educated in the public-school system and socialized in the United States is impacted and shaped by the ethos of anti-animal nature. We embody a dis-eased, colonized mind. We have learned it is wrong to call out to our animal body as it is degrading, dehumanizing, and uncouth to do so. The reality, however, is that we are animals. As mammals, we embody the feelings and intelligence of sentient beings. Nature is the very element of life that stirs within every fiber of our existence. As living beings, we are dynamic, expressive processes of life manifesting. Yet the industrialized western indoctrination overpowers our animal nature, claiming, objectifying, isolating, and vilifying it. We speak of body as object disassociated from our own felt-sense animal body. I believe it is within the very core of our own soma where we will locate these distortions of self and potentially heal the colonized body.
Currently, it is still the colonized compartmentalized body that is perceived as the pinnacle of achievement in society today. Reflected in the military stance, the ballerina pose, the western yogi’s performative acts, and the mimicry of an idealized fitness posture. Colonized–columnized spines do not easily give up the fight. Facing the foe and separating one’s soul from the common good of humanity is the sacrifice and glory of killing; the ballerina’s feet may be distorted and bleeding but being able to fly above the earth is the reward; achieving claims of awakening that grow out of arrogance is misperceived as enlightenment, and striving for the idealized white body where the spine is girdled in dense unresponsive tissue provides a defended sense of protection we as a society call “core strength.” All of these examples share in common the intentional or unintentional recruitment of the tissue called Psoas to accomplish the dissonance of power over.
What posturing and performance share in common is a deep disconnect between the inspired heart and our gut instincts, between rising up and sensing ground where all life dissolves into the rich humus of earth. Make no mistake white bodies are capable of sensing deeply and can become conscious of the insidious ways that colonization is held within our flesh and blood. We may squirm and distract ourselves, but we have what it takes to dissolve these century-old impulses to cage, control and power over body. With awareness, we can begin to recognize our conditioning and through attention we can allow our primal impulses to grow a capacity to dissolve the distortions and claim life-supportive gestures and expressions.
A story older than mechanistic materialism offers hope. The embryological unfolding of millions of year-old processes tells us a story about an integrated body. Every human has a unique center of being. As spine-based organisms, we have the capacity for full-body expression, deep longing, and life-affirming gestures. Recognizing these impulses as natural, Psoas stops being recruited as a muscle to be wrestled with for self-control. Psoas when sensed as fluid tissue is acknowledged as an intelligent, profound messenger from our core animal nature – what Daoist healers have named “the muscle of the soul.” As a living reflection of the animal body, Psoas is wise and knows core coherency informing us when we are safe or unsafe as well as integral or incoherent. Psoas is all about the animal body communicating our resiliency for survival and our longing to thrive.
In my 45 years of somatic explorations, I have learned the ways people dominate their Psoas. They recruit by overusing, misusing, and abusing the very core of their own being. I therefore believe exploring our own distortions can help us grow into our fullness and our complexity. Sensing this conditioning is one of the first steps in becoming an expressive, dynamic, and deeply connected human being. If we choose instead to continue to power over, we risk continuing to foster an arrogant fragility that may eventually result in debilitating pain or numbness. As Psoas literally dries and shrinks, the controlled core is a diminished being that over time withers our possibilities, leaving a white body that lacks life’s soulful impulses – a caricature of our potential.
The question I am holding in my heart is how best to bring awareness to this core struggle within the white body…this grey zone where striving for the socially recognizable power over stance does not ultimately offer a feeling of being fully alive in a world of diversity. I question how best to nourish impulses that resuscitate our inner natural wilderness? How quickly can we awaken respect for the wisdom of our animal body? When will we live in harmony with ourselves, others, and all of nature rather than strive for a God-like separation? Will we resolve the power over of whiteness?