Your body is an ancestor. Your body is an altar to your ancestors. Every one of your cells holds an ancient and anarchic love story. Around 2.7 billion years ago free-living prokaryotes melted into one another to form the mitochondria and organelles of the cells that build our bodies today. All you need to do to honor your ancestors is to roll up like a pill bug, into the innate shape of safety: the fetal position. The curl of your body, then, is an altar not just to the womb that grew you, but to the retroviruses that, 200 million years ago taught mammals how to develop the protein syncytin that creates the synctrophoblast layer of the placenta. Breathe in, slowly, knowing that your breath loops you into the biome of your ecosystem. Every seven to ten years your cells will have turned over, rearticulated by your inhales and exhales, your appetites and proclivity for certain flavors. If you live in a valley, chances are the ancient glacial moraine, the fossils crushed underfoot, the spores from grandmotherly honey fungi, have all entered into and rebuilt the very molecular make up of your bones, your lungs, and even your eyes. Even your lungfuls of exhaust churn you into an ancestor altar for Mesozoic ferns pressurized into the fossil fuels. You are threaded through with fossils. Your microbiome is an ode to bacterial legacies you would not be able to trace with birth certificates and blood lineages. You are the ongoing-ness of the dead. The alembic where they are given breath again. Every decision, every idea, every poem you breathe and live is a resurrection of elements that date back to the birth of this universe itself.

Today I realize that due to the miracle of metabolic recycling, it is even possible that my body, somehow, holds the cells of my great-great grandmother. Or your great-great grandmother. Or that I am built from carbon that once intimately orchestrated the flight of a hummingbird or a pterodactyl. Your body is an ecosystem of ancestors. An outcome born not of a single human thread, but a web of relations that ripples outwards into the intimate ocean of deep time.

∆ Sophie Strand, Your Body is an Ancestor

"Your Body is an Ancestor" by Sophie St…

“The body is significant, because unlike our mind, the body is always in the present. It does not have our mind’s ability to be in the past or future, and when we are really fortunate, to be here in the present. It does not get distracted. Despite all of this, the body can still be confused. When I say confused, I mean that experiences of trauma can disrupt how our bodies can be in tune with the things happening around us. Trauma disrupts the body’s equilibrium. For example, have you ever been in a conversation with someone, and you realize that for a while you both have been talking about different things, and then one of you goes, “Wait, what are you talking about?!” Or have you ever heard thunder and wind blowing outside, and it never ends up raining? This is how the body may respond to trauma: by expressing sensations that are responding to or pointing toward something we don’t understand.

As someone descended from slaves, I acknowledge that my disembodiment is largely an expression of transhistorical trauma originating with my ancestors’ initial emotional injury of being kidnapped, enduring the brutality of the Middle Passage, and landing in this country to be enslaved and further brutalized by systematic racism for centuries. Slavery disrupted my ancestors’ right to their bodies, while physical and emotional violence took root in both the mind and the body as trauma that kept us from reclaiming an awareness of our bodies. So many Black folks today are walking around haunting themselves by occupying a psychic distance outside of their bodies because racial trauma has made their bodies unsafe for them to occupy.

The body tells the truth regardless of if we can speak its language or not. My body tells the truth of transhistorical trauma, most often experienced as a distrust of my body as well as a belief that I do not have a right to my body. Often my practice has focused on trying to meet my body where it is, instead of constantly trying to get it to meet me where I am. Meeting my body where it is has meant meeting it at a woundedness that I inherited and that has been exacerbated by a disembodiment that I am just learning how to address."

Excerpt From Love and Rage by Lama Rod Owens

Lama Rod Owens, Trauma and the Emotiona…

Have you ever tried to look at yourself in the mirror as not beautiful, ugly, adult, child, feminine, or masculine but simply as a human? I think I’ve done this successfully only once and I imagine it’s the closest thing to gender euphoria that I can feel as a cisgender person. It’s understandable to instantly begin to evaluate, to zone in on things you feel are inadequate or could be better, and it’s not even that I didn’t notice my face or body but for a moment I perceived them through a lens of being enough simply by existing, and having dignity in full capacity.

This was maybe three, four years ago and I know for sure I did this right after seeing a video about girls who skate. I keep trying to find it on i-D but my memory of the video is so blurry I don’t think I could recognize the video even if I saw it. From that glimpse into the skating community it seemed like nothing really mattered to them besides skating and building each other up, and that felt really radical.

It helps to mentally place yourself in a context that isn’t desire-driven, that isn't fixated on the appearance of the shell of our being. (I remember what I’ve learned about the indigenous peoples who lived on this land before us—they understood that we are one with the earth). A context where your body is an inherently joyous thing that is most valued when you are happy and at peace, where value is placed on your capacity for wonder and inquiry, for love and problem-solving. Where an insistence upon your dignity is unnecessary.

Instead of trying to search for your dignity and worth, recognize that that dignity already exists, and it is the internal lenses of unworthiness you must work to dismantle and let go of in order to reach it.

thoughts on the body