How do we embody death during life?

That is at the bottom the only courage that is demanded of us: to have courage for the most strange, the most singular, and the most inexplicable that we may encounter. That mankind has in this sense been cowardly, has done life endless harm: the whole so-called ‘spirit-world’, death, all those things that are so closely akin to us, have by daily parrying been so crowded out of life that the senses with which we could have grasped them are atrophied.  ~Rilke

my whirrld is whirling into a thesis/master’s project…

that’s what all/everything is becoming a reflection of,

a reference point for…

What a wonder, to turn on some cowboy junkies and poke through old files and journals for the markers and moments that reflect the themes I am making love to – towards a master’s project focus. I found particular articles and journal entries I wanted, and of course I found surprises that perfectly matched my purpose too.

I thought for years that I would focus in any ‘next big thing’ on nama rupa and/or embodiment – how being and consciously communicating about being happens. Now I see the reverse side of this creative, generative, kind of aliveness-centered thinking – or the idea that life seeks life, or any means to sustain itself. (Ex., Aron Ralston’s story in the film 127 Hours!) Yes, this is a real relative truth. In early days of a transpersonal shift in existence of what appears to remain ‘elliott,’ I knew that if I were attacked by a bear in the Appalachians, I would fight like hell to survive that –  though likely lose the battle…

Anyhow, my focus is becoming the flip side of this innate seeming irascible unstoppable organic wisdom towards life preservation – that being the innate irascible unstoppable organic wisdom of death and dying. This is in us and too often pushed away. I will argue that to bring this natural intelligence out into the daylight of our consciousness can allow for even fuller living/being.

As it is evident in on-the-spot practices, social and intimate interactions, and larger themes – the death to self of who one thought one was. A common example is of being birthed as a parent when one first receives responsibility for a precious young human life. These same sorts of deaths-of-the-old self and births-of-the-new happen cyclically throughout each day, each year, and each life, and are the ultimate resource for energy/liveliness, for the capacity to make it through undiluted, with joy rather than exhaustion. Discovering the life-span of each endeavor, each breath, each job, each relationship, each identity, each jo, ha, kyu of what?! Or who?! 😉 That is the query…

In general, my teaching and my love for it is exactly the concretizing of the world with young children, and the parsing out of self-body parts with adults, that we then deconstruct and reform together – how habits or form literally yield freedom and creativity and change.

Through lenses of astrology, reincarnation, etc., it is the freedom to not be free – the eloquent forgetting of our pasts – that births us as well as the opportunity to integrate more and more deeply our essential selves. (This deliciously dangerously dances with the topics of death and aloneness, which I hope to flesh out (haha) with my master’s project.)

I was asked why suicide and self-harming were of importance to me…

It’s like the need for windows, shades, sunglasses to have as direct experience as we can with sunlight.

Yah, as my topic keeps revealing itself to me, some aspects of it/self! (a.k.a. me;) are quite personal and in some scapes quite dark. We all share these energies/experiences to varying degrees, and I think I am going to embrace what I have tried to glean away.

Nama rupa comes back in, as the very experience of thingifying suchness so that it can be known… Embodiment is the very thing that allows us to know what freedom can be beyond this bodied ‘state’. This is the obvious stuff. Suicide and self-harming are dimensions of body modification – a gentler way to say the same thing. We positively all every-single-one-of-us participate in body modification to varying degrees of intention, consciousness and creativity!

Do you wear shoes?! Have you any piercings? Scarification? Tatts? Do you cleanse and/or skimp on meals before certain rites-of-passage? Do you enjoy extreme sports or activities, neverminding the residue it creates in your nervous, cardiovascular, endocrine and immune systems? Do you supplement with any exogenous ingestibles? Drink alcohol? Do you wear constrictive under-clothes? Sit too long in a super bizarre posture at your computer much? Go ahead – blink! more… Soften that gaze. Relax. 🙂

I am finding myself called more and more towards the queer experience as a quintessentially body modifying, identity modifying, expression and behavior modifying process that yields unique experiences and access to opening boundaries – to expanding space around bodied/human/life experience.

I propose that queer experiences loosen particular solidities that non-queer folks can get away with perceiving as materially solid, supportive, grounding. Very basic bodily and conceptual realities are radically dashed from within the identities, behaviors and thus, expressions of queer people. Growing up within norms of binary genders and expectations of being and loving, queer people learn from a deep inner space, more and more often quite young, that what is taught as solid – conceptually or phenomenologically – is simply not so.

I do not mean to say that only queerness offers this experience, duh! But queer experience has particularities about it… that may illumine ways for us all to embrace space. (Rolling around laughing now. ;)) Yet, that is my point. 🙂 Queer people, for better or worse, by some force of nature?!, have to see things/see self/see the world in alternative ways

For me, space outside of ‘my’ skin, that I occupy!, has allowed me to contemplate leaving said skin altogether, and modify my identified experience in some radical ways.

Contemplative space awareness practices have changed my expressions, identities, behaviors and experiences of life in wise versus neurotic ways. Thus, some researching and master’s project-ing around space awareness and queerness and body modification and death seem to be bumbling forward.

(Now to knit this all into pedagogy… What queer teachers bring to the learning table…??) Suggestions?? Help!!

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11 Responses to “How do we embody death during life?”

  1. Grover Says:

    Hmmm elliot. Thanks for sharing this. So. I’m reading,and thinking and gonna provide a response with a lot of hats on! As a queer person, a person who has undergone physical and social gender ‘transition’, who engages in self modification (shoes!), and also with something that kept slipping in for ME in the spaces between reading, or that resonated with me in the place where I found myself really reckoning with the wisdom of death and dying– in disease and disability. But also, as an academic who totally knows that eventually you gotta tighten it down and write some shit.

    So, from what I gather, it seems like the last sentence of your post “what queer teachers bring to the table” is the foundation–yes? And the larger reckoning is what wisdom queer teachers bring to the table about youth self-harm and suicide THAT (it seems inevitable to me) might bring entirely different approaches that contrast significantly with the current normative responses to self-harm and suicide (fixing some broken cause, as opposed to a harm-reduction model of channeling the permanence of suicide into something else that meets the need but with room on the ‘other side’ of the moment of feeling to experience the result of the desired release) Maybe that’s not the politic or perspective you’re working with, but that’s where I go.

    So it seems that a combination of a non-stigmatized approach to suicide and self harm, leading up to a thesis question of what do queer educators bring and how can suicide and self-harm be articulated differently from this knowledge, with better overall outcomes for young people. That’s a weird mix of casual and academic language, but it seems like you’re there, Elliot. Rock it out.

    What do we bring? “Child, you’re right, their story of permanence is a lie, and you have so many options of ways to live your dissembled truth.”

    Is this the right track? Where you’re going? You got it, Elliot.

    • embodhiment Says:

      Grover, you are eternally amazing.

      I love this: Child, you’re right, their story of permanence is a lie, and you have so many options of ways to live your dissembled truth.

      I am still befuddled in my whirl of words, and I have learned that this post sure was an unskillful practice with ‘em, thus a learning experience. I am more trying to develop experiences of space/in-betweens/gaps – the capacity for us all to fully breathe into the confusing scary unbound place-spaces where we literally grow/evolve/emerge from, quite changed.

      Self-harming and suicide ideation are more the intrapersonal territories from which “I” emerge, and thus want to include that in this creative process. Truly working on outer methods of teaching about such and others’ relationships with such is a whole other future project perhaps!

      This blog post is a direct reflection of me in that in-between place with this particular master’s project process… 😉 And with the brilliant bravery of the likes of you, to even read this and try and ‘see what I mean,’ I can better see what I mean.

      My ‘abstract’ is due this week (though it can and will morph over the coming wintertime-space). I will post that soon I hope.

      This is something that comes clear, I am engaging this process like an inverted yoga asana pose – I am chewing on data and experiments with concepts, and I am starting to feel that my ‘guiding question’ or crisp clean ‘topic’ may be the last facet of clear reflection – oh in March or May 2012!?!?

      Imagine; queer me going about this all backwards…
      love, elliott

  2. Toby Says:

    Great ideas Grover! I like your specificity.

    Elliot – Love the Rilke quote at the beginning. Check out his oddly, non-queer bio on Wikipedia and his relationship with Lou Albert-Lasard, a jew who later travelled to Tibet. Feel like there might be something there. His relationship with Rodin and then fascism might be interesting as well. The Joanna Macy interview on Being with Krista Tippett might also be stimulating.

    All of that might lead you far afield and I know you are looking for an anchoring thesis and I think suicide and self-harm could be it. Maybe not, though. I would also be interested in how the queer educator can empower children of all ages to make more conscious choices around their body modification. Where is it taking them? What does is feel like? Who is it for? Perhaps whole units on “Ear piercing”, “Shoes”, “Diets”, or “Sports uniforms/training” depending on the age group. This could be so fun and integrated into curriculum in many interesting ways. Literature. Biology. History. Creative Writing. PE. Body modification units could then be further integrated into a curriculum that addresses an embodied life.

    Keep us updated.

    • embodhiment Says:

      Bowing-in Toby,

      Wah. Thank you for all the paths to peer down! It is fascinating how people have sifted meanings through the words and offered reflections… Your response, following Grover’s, sure could be the foundling for an awesome huge future project.

      My post really confused the inner ponderings and outer meanderings of my process thus far; with not much bridging… which of course is a vital (haha) part of it all.

      Your clear ideas help me ‘see’ how to better (try) and communicate textually overall – which is a huge leap for me!

      I will shamefully keep youz updated 😉
      bowing,
      elliott

  3. queermir Says:

    wow, elliot, your topic is really interesting. i am not sure i’ll be able to help you narrow it down like Grover did, but i’ll share what’s been swimming around in my head since reading it.

    what is the connection between the various forms of body modification you mention and the Buddhist teaching on the three cravings (sensual pleasures, existence, and non-existence)? it seems you’re focusing on the desire for non-existence (one translation i read called it the desire to “not be seen”), which is certainly at play in suicide and self-mutilation. and yet it seems they have elements of the desire for existence as well; scars or tattoos both remind us of the ability to modify our bodies (thus, impermanence) and they create something new and permanent on our skin. pain can bring us into the present moment like nothing else, and yet the scars connect us always to something in the past. even suicide can be motivated by a desire to communicate something to those left behind as well as to escape the world.

    another place i go with this is to the connection you hinted at between body modification and rites of passage. scarring and tattooing are crucial parts of many indigenous peoples’ rites of passage, which were often literally life-threatening ordeals. facing death was seen as crucial to a certain ego-death and scars were a way of marking the death of the old self and the birth of a new one. perhaps you could explore how the experience of queerness relates to this larger societal need for rites of passage and how our experiences of coming out perhaps contain elements of these rites of passage? interviews about folks’ motivations for self-mutilation and/or other forms of body modification might help shed some light on the relationship between the desires for belonging and otherness that seem (to me) to be at play here.

    ok, i think that’s all i’ve got for now. i’m excited to see how this develops.

    • embodhiment Says:

      Yes Yes Yes Miriam 🙂

      This is all a part of-it-all. And alongside the 3 poisons, there are so many tasty short-lists of Buddhist teachings (like the 4 denials!) that can easily be associated with body modification practices.

      I am curious about how such practices can subvert an intent and either deepen one’s embodiment, if one was seeking ‘release’; or send one far out-of-body, if one was seeking sensation/connection/heightened sense of ‘being self’.

      I have stacks of fascinating texts by now on queer and ‘spiritual’ histories of body modification practices. One of the diamonds in the rough is Armando Favazza’s Bodies Under Siege, 3rd edition! Yum!

      love, elliott

  4. embodhiment Says:

    This has been so encouraging and wildly curious.

    Many people replied via email… many! It has taken me a week to get back to all.

    The way that I have been revealed/exposed through my words, and the way that individuals have also been, is humbling and ever so clarifying 😉

    Words relatively and ultimately fail me now in attempting to thank everyone for helping me!!!

    Every person offered some jewel of a phrase or concept to doula this labor and delivery along – co-researchers indeed.

    ever evol,
    elliott

  5. Melanie Says:

    Alright, so I will first state that I did not read all the comments that precede this, so if I am second-saying, please excuse me.

    What popped into my awareness while reading your post was a continued sense of ‘pain as a method of control’. My first sense during the first paragraphs regarding the fight to life was that I’m not sure that it’s necessarily a fear of dying or a new/underlying desire to live that drives us to fight for life in near fatal situations, but, perhaps, rather a fear of uncontrollable pain (or at least perceived uncontrollable pain). Self-injury is controlled pain. I am not queer, per se, but I would *imagine* that it is painful to discover that one does not fall under/believe in/match up with/whatever the taught and generally accepted “bodily and conceptual realities”, and even more so to take action in opposition of those “realities”. But, again, it seems that perceived levels of uncontrolled pain vs. controlled pain might be an interesting (and important) factor to explore as motivation for any thought/action/bodily response/etc.

    Does any of this babble of mine make sense? (It makes some sense in my head … so if it doesn’t in the typing, then give me a call and we can talk it out.) 🙂

    I hope this perspective was, at least, a little helpful.

    • embodhiment Says:

      oh more yummy 🙂

      yes, i am presently reading fascinating tales of flagellates and saints with stigmata, and how and why they did and do control such experiences. indeed, controlled pain is a very different topic from the fear of death. I might call it dying; and the fear or not-fear of dying.

      my post alludes to so many possibilities, and pain per se and control are awesome topics!

      i am more narrowing into space (haha), in-betweens and letting go sorts of experiences. as other inherent aspects of self-mutilation are rehearsals or mini-deaths, and journeys closer to and/or farther from the body – or better – the mind-body-speech(action/performance) synchrony or asynchrony. dying and birthing ever and ever, over and over…

      …that there are stops, endings, deaths in this never-ending spiraling continuation of energy and consciousness… fascinates me.

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