Originally published by Ignota.
Healing Justice Ldn (HJL) builds community-led health and healing to create capacity for personal and structural transformation. We work on a community, structural and movement level to repair and build the conditions for health and healing justice that dignify and support all of us to be well and access our wholeness. Using a multi-layered, multi-systems approach and cultural strategy, we work to disarm the cycles of harm, ill-health and chronic unsustainability that oppression reproduces in our communities and social justice movements. We nurture cultures towards futures free from intimate, interpersonal and structural violence.
One of the many ways we rehearse the freedom we are calling for – ‘rehearse the social order coming into being’, as articulated by abolitionist Ruth Wilson Gilmore – is through the work of politicised somatics. We learn from and with Nkem Ndefo and Staci K Haines, both leaders in the field and our partners at Healing Justice Ldn who inform our work and this piece we share.
Soma means ‘a being in its wholeness’. Meaning that we are connected and interdependent with our bodies, earth, spirit, and each other. The being of who we are is our soma – mind, body, soul and planet together. Coloniality, Eurocentric and Cartesian logic (‘I think therefore I am’) have split us from wholeness. Instead, we feel into and re-member our bodies and ourselves as an anti-colonial and liberation practice. At HJL we understand the work of creating the conditions and contexts to access our wholeness as deeply political in a world that is organised and socially constructed to make us fragmented, increasingly polarised and other than who we are and can be.
For us, the work of politicised somatics is the process and movement of addressing, exploring, identifying, understanding and transforming ourselves and our sites of shaping – this refers to our intimate and family networks, communities, institutions, social norms/historical forces and the spirit/natural world. A core way in which we do this is through our bodies, viewing them as inherent, millenia-evolved sites of knowledge; we are alive because of interdependence. The body feels, experiences, remembers and develops survival strategies before we have verbal language. Our bodies communicate and archive: they are portals, to one another and to all life. Politicised somatics asks us to delve into our trauma responses – fight, flight, freeze, appease and dissociate, to come to know how these responses have kept us safe, and have enabled us to survive, as well as how they have been embedded and reproduced through social and political conditions. It asks us to consider how these responses may have become defaults or ‘conditioned tendencies’. It is at this point that we can explore whether these conditioned tendencies serve us and our greater vision for liberation. We can also explore how we can have new or more appropriate choices when they do not. This is crucial especially in the context of liberation and abolition, which seeks new ways of being with one another. In order to embark on conflict transformation or build accountability when navigating trauma and difficult issues together, how do we stay in relation and grow the capacity to sit through discomfort? .
Our conditioned tendencies show up under pressure, in intimate partner relationships, family, community, institutional, workplace and social settings. By learning to recognise them, we can attend to generating new responses and choices that are more aligned with our longings and values. Conditioned tendencies reveal themselves via our body signals: heartbeats, altered voices, dry mouths, scrunched stomachs, fists, clenched teeth, curling in, running, blankness, muting and many other evolutionary reactions to threat. By becoming conscious of them, we can grow understanding around our experiences, what we need to feel met, resourced and supported. We can learn how to increase our capacities to come back to a settled state and more social engagement that offers us more clarity, curiosity, connection and creativity. Or we deepen an understanding of what structural or material justice we need to fight and build for us all to access capacity – the ability to hold – in the first place.
To become skilful in connection and to feel more agency in difficult/stressful moments, we use somatic practices to navigate complexity, accountability, making requests from a centred place, grounding, and relocating resilience on our own terms. These can lead us to be curious, disarm, open up, and transform our conditioned tendencies. We can start to embody new shapes, healthier boundaries, and a more centred commitment to what we care about and more capacity to navigate the vast unknowns during these times and in visionary organising. It’s the practice and rehearsal that re-members us to ourselves and each other and our vision of liberation, joy and health. Systems that block, disconnect or disable become internalised. As we practise and rehearse we recognise we are what we practise: we are either practising towards liberation or we are practising away from it. Sustained social transformation is a practice on purpose, so we invite ourselves to ask: what does it mean to purposefully practise towards liberation?
To practise with us we invite you to watch this video on the power of somatics for collective transformation, featuring Staci Haines, Marai Larasi, Farzana Khan and China Mills as well as this resource by Nkem Ndefo on Anchoring Resilence.
A practice we repeat at HJL, is a centering. Taught to us by Staci Haines, co-founder of Generation Five and Generative Somatics, every time one of us does it, we bring our own touch and iteration to it, but the principles remain the same.
It is a practice of connecting to and embodying what we are committed to and long for, feeling our somas in the world interconnected with others. You can follow with Staci guiding us here (at 1 hr 38 mins) for a 6 minute practice. Or here are some written steps for the practice.
Practising supports greater embodiment, muscle memory and increased agency toward being the portals of transformation that we want to be, together. Not as a means to an end, but a means to an endlessness, toward abundance, interdependence and collective liberation. We invite you to join us in practising today.