How do we lose connection to our bodies?
How do we reconnect?
I was in my thirties before I realized my childhood of physical violence and sexual abuse had created numbness for everything below my neck coupled with shame for my pelvic zone.
As an artist my early work was about the earth, the curving landscapes, the layers underground, layers of atmosphere, etc. but their format was always rectangular. And then at 32, I gave birth without drugs to a 9lb 3oz baby boy. This was the hardest thing I had ever done, and as profound an experience, on the other end of the spectrum, as when my brother was killed on a motorcycle. It changed me, opened me up and I started seeing circles in my art, mandalas. The birth also gave me the ground and self-valuing to begin work on healing my past.
Recovery work was a constellation of practices: talking with therapists, guided imagery, body work, release therapies, chanting, movement, meditation, visualization, a fire walk, homeopathy, a women’s group, therapy groups, Quaker Meeting, proprioceptive writing and more. The one practice that brought me back into my body the most was body casting. It started with a mask, then another and another and then a breastplate. Making a casting of my own body that I then had to touch, carry, sand and fill, seal, paint and decorate helped me embrace my own body. Finally I created this full torso casting, Unconditional Joy.
Unconditional Joy (outside and inside)
As a teacher, a distinct part of my healing has always been to be able to pass on what I had experienced. I started leading workshops in mask making and breastplates. When I had a lumpectomy and my mother had a mastectomy, it came to me in the silence of a Quaker Meeting that I needed to offer this work to women with breast cancer. To assist them in making peace with their new bodies, women could create breastplates, decorate them, write about the piece and share them with others. It was a powerful healing experience.
Six hundred years ago I would have been burned at the stake because I see visions and hear messages. One morning I awoke and in the half sleep state I saw a woman’s torso, with arms raised over her head and she was made out of ferns. I knew this was a gift and decided to recreate the vision. I took a slide of ferns, projected that image onto a black surface, stood in front of it with the slide focused on my body and then had help taking a photograph of that projection in the dark. It worked. This led to my first book A Body Story, with 19 such images of nature projected onto me.
After seeing my exhibit of these images in life size, I realized that when we have an abuse history that separates us from our bodies, we lose the idea that we are sacred. But if we can see the sacredness of Nature, and then fuse with Nature, we have to see the sacredness in ourselves. I wondered if it would be healing for other women. I decided to offer it to incarcerated women and at-risk teens in a therapeutic boarding school. The results of that work became my second book Finding Ground: Girls and Women in Recovery.
Experiencing these forms of embodiment through art making created a connection with my own body, starting with giving birth, which has continued to serve my life. I understand that my body is an antenna, receiving information that can work in partnership with my brain, but in no way is subservient to it. To me, embodiment is fully inhabiting the body as the divine instrument of insight, communication, guidance and intelligence that it is.
The Heart Math Institute has determined that the electromagnetic field around the heart is 60 times more powerful than the electromagnetic field around the brain. The magnetic field produced by the heart is more than 5,000 times greater in strength than the field generated by the brain and can be detected a number of feet away from the body.
The brain is made of neural cells. 60-65% of the cells of the heart are actual neural cells. This information furthered my reverence for the body and it’s intelligence. It also helped me understand why someone could die from a broken heart.
When I embrace the idea that my body is sacred, it only follows that birth is a holy miracle, for me the most magical event of inhabiting this vessel. I have never gotten over the miracle of my son, now a 6’4” grown man in his 30’s. Sixteen months ago, the miracle happened again when my grandson was born. Everyone warned me about the power of “Grand” parent. It still didn’t prepare me for the overwhelming, grace filled love that washed over my heart and was then pumped out through every vein in my body. For grand parenting, there is the added joy and beauty of witnessing the power of the birth on your own child becoming a father and your daughter by marriage becoming a mother.
Arla Patch, BFA, Ed., MFA, is an artist, writer and “creativity midwife.” Using art as a tool for healing and personal transformation, she has facilitated many groups and individuals over her 40 plus year career. These have included cancer survivors, at-risk teens and those recovering from sexual abuse, domestic violence, and substance abuse. For more information click HERE.