How Listening with my Body (and Writing about it) Keeps me Resilient, by Tracie Nichols

As a child, I was convinced the big old white pine tree next to our home and the puffy clouds in the sky were telling each other the most amazing stories. I thought that if I could just figure out the right way to listen, I’d be able to hear them.

Almost every day I climbed that pine tree. I was so determined and so achingly curious. I can remember feeling as if I was trying to open my senses like a sunflower—all bright petals following sunlight—so I could catch cloud stories and tree tales. Arms wrapped around the sticky trunk, right ear pressed to smooth bark, left ear tilted to the sky, nose filled with resin and wet air, I became a tiny girl antennae on a wind-swayed tree.

This was my first experience of listening with my body.

Did I finally hear the tree and cloud stories? I did! Even better, I co-created countless tree and cloud and girl stories, helping me realize that I was somehow part of the green world surrounding me. This was in the years before other people’s disbelief eroded my trust in the stories my body heard through my senses.

The author as a teenager – photo courtesy of Tracie Nichols

Now, years later, after navigating the saw-toothed gift of recovering from sexual trauma, I’m again listening with my body. I regularly sense the conversations happening in the ecosystem where I live: trees and clouds, late summer grasses and streams, murders of crows and chimes of wrens, the boom of bullfrogs and creak of katydids deep in the night. And, if I’m willing to let my body transmute sound, rhythm, and gesture into words on a page, the act of writing what I notice restores me, refilling resilience depleted by the intensity of the times through which we are living.

Sometimes I simply notice deeply. Sometimes, if life is happening with unusual vigor or I’m feeling my resilience slipping, I may choose to notice with a specific kind of nourishment in mind.

For example, when the pandemic was grinding into its ninth month, I started a practice of noticing and writing about what I called “defiant joy.” I needed to remember that joy was still sparking in the world despite the pall of constant fear and worry.

Sycamores in Winter – photo by Tracie Nichols

Defiant Joy #1
today
there is joy
in noticing
that the curled yellow
sycamore leaves still
rustle with the same dry

welcoming-winter song
they’ve murmured every
autumn for the
past twenty-five
seasons.
that
while all
things change
(some in a breath)
some follow the
slow arc of time
set by mountains
and spinning
planets.
life’s balance
flows tidally.
our lives
are invitations
to noticing
truth.
pain.
beauty.
wonder.

The key to making listening with your body a nourishing practice is understanding how deeply you notice now, and how effectively it supports you in staying resilient. Then you can consider if you would like to change established patterns or cultivate expanded noticing to deepen your well of resilience and engagement.

Autumn Creek – photo by Tracie Nichols

In my upcoming six-week course through the Transformative Language Arts Network, Listening with Our Bodies: Writing Toward Resilience, we will be exploring our own noticing patterns—the ways we notice and what we notice—through multi-sensory exercises and writing invitations. This class will benefit word artists of all kinds: facilitators, coaches, counselors, activists, educators, and explorers. It will serve anyone looking to connect more deeply with the source of their creativity and/or the source of their resilience. It will nourish people working to make change in their communities, who have been stretched thin by life, or who are at a crossroads in their personal growth explorations. I’d love to write with you!

Tracie Nichols, M.A. writes poetry and facilitates writing groups from her small desk under the wide reach of two very old and very loved Sycamore trees in southeastern Pennsylvania. She’s a Transformative Language Artist in process, and is fascinated by the potential of language to heal and transform people and communities. Putting her master’s degree in Transformative Learning and Change to good use over the past two decades, Tracie has designed and facilitated many virtual and in-person lifelong learning experiences on a truly wide range of topics for small groups. She’s just beginning her foray into submitting poetry for publication and has already accumulated a healthy pile of rejections to her few joyfully celebrated acceptances. Learn more at tracienichols.com.

Finding What’s Underneath “I’m Fine,” a guest post by Sinclaire Dickinson

I recently led a TLA-inspired workshop at a yoga studio where I guided participants in a movement practice and prompted them to write about how they felt afterward. I’ve been a student of somatic movement and embodiment for a few years and have had powerful shifts in my way of being after certain practices. While you can feel the shifts, they can be hard to articulate. 

In hosting this workshop, I sought to help people capture what arose in their bodies during one of these practices. I planned movement focused inward (interoception) followed by movement focused outward (exteroception) and was curious to see if descriptive words would flow out of people when asked to journal after moving using stems like “My body feels…, my breath is…”.

I discovered that the words may bubble up, or they may stall entirely; it depends how concerned the mover is with getting them just right, as labeling our internal experience with truly representative words can be tricky. Having words flow out can be lovely, but sometimes it’s a slow process to get to a more honest representation of your state—positive or negative.

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During our discussion period in the workshop, a couple of the participants expressed having some difficulty and even hesitance in labeling what they were feeling. The labels felt definite and they questioned if they were completely accurate. I appreciate that; words can fall short of our human spectrum of emotions. Still, putting internal experience on paper, crossing things out, workshopping, and finding better words, did bring some insights.

When one student, Erin, first scanned herself, she self-reported to be “fine.” I’m fine, I’m here, I’m not really anything. When she was invited to elaborate with more words, she discovered that what she was experiencing was actually a bit more positive.

My body has a gentle warmth, my mind has no apparent presence of stress, I’m kind of relaxed. She wondered if this might be an appropriate use for the word “happy.”

Erin decided yes, she was happy. Not only was she willing to assign happiness to that moment, she realized there were probably many more times within her life where she checks in as “fine” when she might instead use “happy.”

“How are you?”
“I’m fine.”

With such a spectrum of emotions and words at our disposal, think of how often we assign ourselves “fine” and close off to more nuanced possibilities. What if instead, we open ourselves up a bit more with our words? Even if we don’t find ourselves to be “happy,” we could likely learn more about our own experience than what “fine” will teach us.

I plan to challenge myself and my participants to play with their own labels, not fearing their permanence or precision, but trying them on and seeing what it feels like to embody them. In the same way that donning a smile improves your mood, can donning “energized” reinvigorate you in a mid-day slump?

I approached this workshop curious about how movement would guide diction, but now I’m equally interested in diction’s power to guide movement and experience. It’s a feedback loop that goes both ways.

Thank you to Erin for voicing what I’m calling what’s underneath fine. May we all lift up that dull gray rock and peek under a bit more often.

*Erin’s name has been changed.

Sinclaire Dickinson is a yoga instructor, humane education student, and exploratory communicator from a marketing background. In her writing and studies, she focuses on how we might address problems in the environment, human rights, and animal welfare by becoming more conscious of our daily experiences and cultural norms. Connect with her at https://www.linkedin.com/in/sinclaire-dickinson-3a134557/.

Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado on Unsplash