Somatic Resistance

If I am unaware of my own body’s control and the patterns that it uses to protect itself and to maintain power over others… how can I understand other aspects of the oppression of others? If I cannot understand in my own body how to let go of power-over (whether it be power over my self or power over others) how can I understand how to help in oppressive situations?

by Sarah-Lu

Recently, I hosted an all-staff meeting for the teachers that work at Tulip Tree Preschool. Originally it was planned to be an all-staff that was focused on Anti-Bias Education (ABE). And in my mind, it ended up being that in the end as well.

In actuality, the session was focused on a somatic practice called the Alexander Technique- something that I have been exposed to over the past year through practitioners such as Tahni Holt of FLOCK; Linda K JohnsonSuniti Dernovsek; and Rebecca Harrison. Most recently I have joined the trainees at the Contemporary Alexander School under the direction of Robyn Avalon.

As I was planning the staff meeting on ABE I was moved instead to share a somatic practice based in Alexander, with the teachers. Some of the teachers had experienced a moment with a parent that had left them very physically charged, and I wanted to offer some support for moments such as these. The Alexander Technique, from the small amount that I know, is a process of radical presence, and I thought it might help.

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radical presence

I was vulnerable presenting this experience to the teachers, mainly because from a surface view it seems largely unconnected to the work that they do as anti-bias educators. I also felt this vulnerability because this is a newer practice to me. Before I opened the schools, I was primarily a dance teacher and choreographer/performer. In the past year my work has veered back in that direction, but the two worlds have not yet found a way to formally meet. Additionally, somatic practice is so different from what people think of as “dance” or “movement”.

The day after the all staff meeting, I received a sweet text from one of the teachers, thanking me for what I have offered in terms of anti-bias coaching and exposure over the years. I was curious, and asked the teacher to clarify if she experienced the Alexander work as anti-bias focused. She said:

“It didn’t come across as anti-bias to me, but I think that’s because I didn’t have any framework about what we were doing. I needed to know what the Alexander Technique was. What it is for. Why is it an effective tool etc. I feel like the only information I got was it is about noticing. That being said, I feel like being aware of your somatic experience is a huge tool for doing anti bias work. Why does this feel triggering to me? Why is my body responding this way? But I feel like we needed more time and information to be able to use it in that way.” Such great insight and information for me as a co-leader. Thank you!

And she’s right. Being aware of one’s somatic experience is a HUGE tool for anti-bias teaching and learning. And there’s more…

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somatic experience

After my first Alexander training in October, and before this all-staff meeting, I had a conversation with Laura Czarniecki, who was the teacher who brought anti-bias to our schools in 2013. She and I have had many conversations, and a few arguments, about this work. She knows my journey in this realm: first feeling resistance to bringing ABE to the schools for fear that it would take away from what I had set out to build (the opposite happened); tentatively welcoming ABE; personally practicing ABE; engaging with my ego around ABE; the 2016 election when my white woman bandaid was ripped off; engaging with overtly political organizations and practices; feelings of intense overwhelm and ignorance; re-entering movement-based and somatic and choreographic work and simultaneously pulling back from political organizations and work.

I told her that I was thinking about doing the Alexander training for the teachers in response to their encounter with a parent, and in place of an anti-bias training. I expressed that I feel like the two are deeply intertwined and that I needed her help to articulate how and why. Laura echoed my feelings and experience over the past two to five years (from her bringing ABE to our schools to the past two years of political turmoil). We talked about how, as we trace our learning as white women, we both have discovered that at some point in our ancestral history we had been cut off from our earth-based cultures. Mine being Irish. So to clarify- at some point, someone (most likely a group of powerful white men and women) told my people that being in relationship to earth-based practices– witchcraft, herbalism, necromancy, ancestral connection, story-telling, art, dance, inner experience, gathering or rocks and gems, tarot, and on– was wrong.

Children are born knowing that these things are right on! And then this knowledge is pressed out of them bit by bit by the oftentimes mind- and intellectually-based education they are offered- ie, lacking in somatic and earth-based experiences. At some point, both Laura and I had realized that the bodies of our ancestors, and our bodies too, had been taken over by patriarchal culture (my words, not hers).

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earth based learning

This was and continues to be a paramount realization for me in my journey of learning about racism, and the very real and daily oppression that people of color, queer people, people with disabilities, women, and other minorities face on a daily basis. If I am unaware of my own body’s control and the patterns that it uses to protect itself and to maintain power over others… how can I understand other aspects of the oppression of others? If I cannot understand in my own body how to let go of power-over (whether it be power over my self or power over others) how can I understand how to help in oppressive situations?

A quote that I have been offered many times over the past year by Contemporary Alexander teachers:

“The only thing that you can offer another person, ever, is your own state of being.” -Ram Dass

And how are we to be able to offer this without practicing it? As our teacher stated above, it takes time to understand how these things connect. It takes lived, somatic experience. Against what white culture tells us about how we need to hurry up and get things done. And as the brilliant Adrienne Marie Brown shares in her book Emergent Strategy:

“Do you already know that your existence–who and how you are–is in and of itself a contribution to the people and place around you? Not after or because you do some particular thing, but simply the miracle of your life. And that the people around you, and the place(s), have contributions as well? Do you understand that your quality of life and your survival are tied to how authentic and generous the connections are between you and the people and place you live with and in?

Are you actively practicing generosity and vulnerability in order to make the connections between you and others clear, open, available, durable? Generosity here means giving of what you have without strings or expectations attached. Vulnerability means showing your needs.” 

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acts of love and resistance, being with, seeing each other

Our reclaiming of our bodies in times of stress or in all times, is an act of resistance. Thank you teachers for being so open to experiencing these moments in our staff meeting, even if you had no point of reference. I hope to continue this work with you and that it slowly informs you about yourselves, the work you do in the world, and the connections to the beautiful anti-bias experiences you offer to children and their families.

I would love to hear your comments and ideas.

That’s What Little Boys Are Made of…

Zooming in, Zooming out. From the personal to the public. From our cells to the universe. From the micro to the macro. Zooming in to capture the minute details of what we see, hear, touch, taste. Zooming out to create the whole picture again and to connect the practice to the theory, children to the world. 

What are little boys made of?
Snips and snails, and puppy dogs tails,
That’s what little boys are made of.
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice and all things nice,
That’s what little girls are made of.

 

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At our recent All Staff Meeting, one of our teachers shared an inspiring story. The child pictured above had been helping to build fairy houses out in the yard. The teacher, Alisha, expected the fairy houses to be used by tiny imaginary fairies. But when this child was done helping to build the house, they climbed right up and got in, and became the fairy. Or perhaps there was no process of becoming; perhaps they simply are the fairy.

Alisha then shared feelings of gratitude for being in the societal and professional role of preschool teacher. As people who work with young children, we are honored to be surrounded by those who are sensorially present, and who experience the world with immediacy. Unlike adulting, wherein people who were once children (and perhaps still are) feign to be separate from, other than, the world. Unlike adulting, wherein we get busy, distracted, and detached from wonder.

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In terms of the challenges of our year, we also touched on the challenging parts of viewing our work with children through an Anti-Bias lens. Laurie spoke about children who have behavior that feels challenging to the teacher. The anxiety of coming at a relationship with a child from this viewpoint: Something is wrong. I must fix it. Many times when we work with children who have behavior that we feel as challenging, it is easy to slip into this space of anxiety, which sometimes (without us being aware) creates psychological walls between us and the children.

Laurie spoke of how she found that she needed not to fix this child, but to expand her own capacity to see this child. Megan, referring to the same child, shared an experience of helping not only the child with challenges learn ways to adapt to the group; but also helping the group learn different ways to interact with and adapt to this child. Angel Kyodo Williams says that “Love is space. It is developing our own capacity for spaciousness within ourselves to allow others to be as they are.” What a mind-bending realization this is as a teacher and learner- to accept that our own limitations are part of the equation.  Thank you children for teaching us how to be present on this level.  This is the work.

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While we are on the subject of capabilities and expansion… It is also challenging to see and intuit the connections between anti-bias, the natural world, and art/expression. Especially with this young age group, it can be difficult, as Jackie said, to zoom in to the idea of anti-bias, after we have offered or accompanied certain experiences. For example, once we notice eye color, hair color, skin tone difference with kids, where do we go from there? How do we zoom in? How do we have the conversations with kids about linking our explorations with color and rainbows to conversations about skin tone?

There is difference all around us. There is connection between everything. The choice is to open up the possibilities within ourselves, and to see these connections, and to rejoice in them with the children. A flower is a flower is a flower… Or is it? Boys and puppy dog tails? Girls and sugar and spice?  The binary of boys versus girls? All of these stereotypes are being teased apart in our world right now. And by engaging with art, we notice the world. By looking at the world, we form a relationship to it. Look closely with children and we are doing the work. Looking closely is the work. Again and again and again.

I became really curious about the idea of stereotype while in Reggio Emilia. Nature literally holds a world of diversity and variety inside of it. People who study science are still discovering new species and there continues to be a rabbit hole of what is possible when we look inside of living things. Nature is a teacher just like children.

Why is it that we become so tight and controlled in our culture? What are ways that we can unravel this dictate and move forward towards more present life? What are the ways that you remember what matters? How do you stay present and sensate?  What are the ways that we can collectively resist the pressure to remain closed, unseeing, senseless?

Make art. Make music. Play. Breath in the scent of your children. Ride a bike. Forgive someone. Forgive yourself. Make more space. Allow more time. Choose to not care about time once per week. See another person’s eye colors- their real eye colors! Mix some paint to match it. Walk more slowly. Use your bones instead of your muscles. Let yourself make decisions in the moment. Paint. Draw. Sing. Pet a dog. Strike up a conversation with an elderly person. Listen to a child. Like really listen. Sit still for 20 minutes without doing anything. Get inside a fairy house. Be the fairy.

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We are nature. In all it’s complexity. So we don’t have to look far to understand how to connect the experience of being alive, with anti-bias work. By settling ourselves in for the long haul, we resist the temptation to give in to the dominant view that things need to happen instantaneously. By allowing ourselves time, we resist the idea that there is not enough. By accepting ourselves as we are, we create space for others to be who they are as well.

 

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Connection to nature is power. Real power. Shared power. Collective power. When we can follow children, and support their knowledge and learning, then we might see the world with them, through their connected eyes.  When we look closely, we see life, we see connection, we see beauty and it’s importance in the world, and we want to protect it.

This is what we are teaching.

Zooming in, Zooming out. From the personal to the public. From our cells to the universe. From the micro to the macro. Zooming in to capture the minute details of what we see, hear, touch, taste. Zooming out to create the whole picture again and to connect the practice to the theory, children to the world.

This is the work.

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Teacher Profile #2: Michelle Lewis Barnes

I think early childhood is a field from which we can make the largest impact on the social and emotional wellness of our population. Whether it be directly through our work with young children on a daily basis, or with their parents — we have this intensely valuable inroad we cannot ignore.

Hometown – I grew up in Hubbard, a small town about 30 minutes south of Portland.

Current Location – I own and operate three small early childhood settings here in Portland, OR. Busy Bee Preschool, Sunflowers Preschool, and The Nest Playschool.

Job Title – I’ve never quite settled on the perfect title for what I do. Owner? Director? I make most of my work about supporting my teachers, and (not so) occasionally getting out of their way when their ideas are far more valid than any of mine.

Degrees/Education – I meandered my way through my education over many years. I started out at the University of Oregon after high school, starting out in the journalism program. I transferred to Portland State University, changing majors a few time. Life intervened, and after getting married and having children, I took a “break”. 20 years later, I decided that I had to get back to it, and finished up my B.S. in Social Sciences, mainly so I could pursue my not-so-newfound passion for early childhood education, and I just finished up my M.Ed. from Champlain College last year.

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How long have you been working with children? Do you have your own children?

I’ve been working with children since my first daughter was born — it was 17 years ago this month that I skidded out of the emotional meltdown that was my maternity leave to give notice to my employer, knowing only one thing: I had decided that hell or high water, I was going to figure out how to stay home with her. I quickly found myself researching how to open a family child care home. Many years later, I am now the mother to five children: my 11 year old daughter, 14 year old son, 17 year old daughter, and two stepsons: 17 and 18 years old.

Continue reading “Teacher Profile #2: Michelle Lewis Barnes”