Discovering the Message: How Nature Can Heal the Trauma Stored in Our Bodies
Yrsa Daley-Ward on Claiming the Beauty of Starting Again
You get up. You move your body.
You move your body and open the door.
You open the door, and outside, everything is alive in performance. A low, sustained hum surrounds you, as though the earth were holding you in a song. Is the earth holding you in a song?
There is something new about the trees today. But there is always something new and old about the trees. Each one is different to its neighbor, and the range of greens filters messages down to the street life below.
You are the street life, and you can be part of this circle of growing, seasoning things, if you choose. The movement is happening around you whether you understand it or not. (Mostly, we do not understand.)
High above you, those trees stand and bend toward and away from each other, attentive, certain. If you listen and hold still enough to be part of the conversation, you will be all the more informed. There is much treasure to be gained from surrendering to the hum of your surroundings. It can bring you back to yourself, and beyond, into the other lives that are possible, and beckoning.
Do you remember when you were little and they told you to put a seashell to your ear? They told you that you could hear the ocean, and then when you got older, you decided, No. That’s the sea in me. Those are the rough waves in me.
How did I not know my own blood?
Your environment has this way of showing you yourself by showing you itself: reflecting back your own points of darkness and light. Every self has its own unique drum pattern. Do you remember the things that you want? What do you think your soul is asking you for? You have to be still to hear the message. You have to be still to be inspired to do something about it. You have to be still to know how to move. Sometimes the doing is in doing nothing. Does this make sense to you? I would be happy to start again. We can always begin again, and that is the beauty.
Outside, the world around you booms, alive with activity. Even if the activity is perfect calm. Some days you think that you missed the messages from the earth, because you did not go out, because you did not open a door or a window, or yourself. Or maybe you did, but you rushed and were concerned with immediate, painful things. Know that you did not miss the messages. Nature saves them for you. It saves them in your body.
Our bodies know the truth about us. The fluid, cells, and gristle that make us up tally our excitements, pain, love, and trauma. Think of numbness, of ringing in the ears, of hot flashes on the sudden remembrance of a thing or pain when you don’t, but you do, but you don’t.
This truth-keeping is often the reason why spiky darts of fear will turn our legs unsteady or make us feel faint, or why sometimes a deep feeling of unease will find us when we didn’t see it coming, or why something like fatigue will suddenly sweep the body when we think of the things we have to do and none of them are anything that we want to do. It can be the reason that the blood cells cease to function. How do we not know our own blood?
You remember the lyrics to the songs of your childhood.
You remember the first and second names of the popular kids at school. You remember your last few addresses or you remember how the kiss felt, or the small humiliations that still make you squirm to this day.
You still feel hot over some past injustice.
Yet we continue to underestimate how much information is stored in the body. How much is locked away, forever working for or against our momentum.
I did not think to ask why I was afraid of large dogs. I accepted it as a natural fear I had from birth. Early last year, my older brother let me know that I was charged by two large dogs when I was tiny and that I howled and shook for hours, entirely traumatized. He went on to tell me that later the very same day, my mum totaled the car in a serious car crash, and it was a wonder that we survived, unhurt. I consciously remember none of this, although my body does. Of course it does. For years I have been re-creating my own fear about a whole host of things. Dogs. Swimming. Rejection. Poverty. Without ever knowing it, I kept them alive.
We continue to underestimate how much information is stored in the body.
Today I rarely come clean about my latent fear of dogs. Well, what is the point? The idea of the fear is fading, and I observe it and smile every time a dog comes running toward me. My breathing might change as I touch the animal, some involuntary twitch, a tiny remnant of something almost forgotten in the mind, an echo of which reverberates in my body. But the truth is shifting. Each time that I pet a dog and breathe through the motion, I am rewriting myself in a small way. Sometimes, if I remember to, I feel at peace.
You can start again. Outside or indoors, find somewhere where you can be still and undistracted. Even if you cannot hear your heart, you can feel your breath, and that is all you need.
You listen. To nothing at first.
You listen to nothing until it slowly becomes something. It might be a sensation or a wish, or a feeling, or a vision. It may not happen the first day, but it will happen. If you open up the pathways, inspiration has no choice but to seep into you from the heavens and the depths. You allow yourself to become a vessel by staying as connected to your source as possible. By opening up the channel, by listening, with intent.Even if you cannot hear your heart, you can feel your breath, and that is all you need.
Perhaps you really want to work on yourself, but you have all of these questions locked in your body. You want to have more courage to change, but your fear of the unknown cramps you. You want to stand up for yourself or someone else, but you have all these examples, all of this human-made evidence, of why you are not worthy. You worry what people will say when you show them the truth about you. Your body wants to do new and unfamiliar things. You want to come pouring out of yourself.
It can happen, and it will. It takes less effort than you are using. Breathe now. Be right here, now. Turn your face to the sky, which has always shown up for you. For a few seconds, turn off your mind.
When you see the natural, bright colors of a bird, when you see the shock of a branch bursting into flower, when you see the sun reflected on the face of a glittering, high building, you must recognize each miracle as part of your existence, memory, story—as something you belong to. There are some days, many of them, when we are apt to forget this. We are human, and often we think of ourselves as lone, separate entities, forgetting that we are connected to this odd and expanding universe, forgetting that we are part of something vast and unexplained. Something strange. Something larger than life.
The next time you can, go outside and find an ensemble of trees. Stand underneath the knowledge, the expanse, the just-so-ness of nature.
Breathe in time with the nature you are looking at, concentrating on only the sound of your surroundings. Every time another thought comes into your head, respond with breath, turning your attention back to your source, back to nothing else but the sounds of the outdoors.
Breathe deeply, with as clear a mind as you can muster, with no other intention than simply being, belonging completely to this moment. This moment is here only once.
You are as brilliant as the best thing in nature and could only be here because you belong here, wild and unpredictable as everything else.
From THE HOW by Yrsa Daley-Ward, published by Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2021 by Yrsa Daley-Ward.