I’ve felt it often this past month, a certain heaviness in my bones.
Part of that weight is the heat and humidity of summer amid the palm trees of Hawaii’s lowlands, my body not inclined to move much, other than to place myself in front of the cooling fan. There is also something deeper, however, rooted in the shadows of myself—a familiar tendency towards inertia when I am out of balance in some way, when something essential for my wellbeing is absent from my life.
In April, I injured my foot while walking in California, and it has stubbornly plagued me since then, limiting my walking and exercise. The pain in my right foot has also effectively derailed any dance or movement practice, which is one of the primary ways I keep myself ‘unstuck’ (I shared a bit about this in an earlier SAJ post, “Dancing the Soul”). As a result, I feel the familiar heaviness pulling me slowly down into a dull passage of days in metered domesticity. Root bound in a familiar pot.
Repeatedly, I have asked myself, what is the gift of this? What do I need to learn from it?
Injured or not, inertia mires nearly all of us in some fashion. As I have written in “Eros, Passion, and Soul,” the opening chapter of The Bones and Breath:
Despite the frenetic busyness of our lives, most of us are held in a state of containment and inertia. It is a sticky place of nonmovement and relative safety, where life is mostly predictable and homogenized. We are numbed to the deeper messages of the body, deaf to our soul’s whispered longing, and mutely dumb to the power of our authentic voice. Inertia holds us all on some level, whether it is simply an early morning grogginess and lethargy from which we must wake, or a sense of dull routine that blurs our days into fog. It is also the passively drugged stage of television watching and Internet addictions, or the haze of drugs and alcohol as an escape from the pressures or doldrums of life (or own own demons). Inertia is the stale relationship or career we’ve outgrown but are too afraid to leave.
Our containment is a place of stagnation in body and soul where we remain comfortably rooted in our familiar patterns. Psyche, body and soul are stuck in a sedentary, domestic rhythm of well-pattered grooves and restriction of vital energy. It’s a state in which most of us live and die.
At a basic level, containment and inertia constitute the lowest common denominator of energy in body and mind. It’s an unconscious realm of unquestioned beliefs, unexamined values, rigid attitudes, and accepting the status quo. Shifts of expansion and movement may be perceived as uncomfortable or even threatening. Indeed, there is a seductive, sedentary pull of inertia; our containment is effortless, easy, and nondemanding. Newton’s first law of motion—that a body at rest tends to remain at rest—is essentially the law of inertia.
Containment can feel natural, but such restriction isn’t our natural state at all. The soul is expansive and the body is designed to move. A tremendous amount of energy is required to remain frozen in inertia, yet we have little to show for this daily expenditure other than a rigid holding in the bodymind and a perceived safety in life.
In the containment of our modern, disconnected lives, the soul’s creative impulses remain largely ignored, existing merely as potential rather than power. To wake up and embrace a meaningful, authentic life, we must recognize and loosen inertia’s grip on us. We confront our ways of being lackadaisical procrastinators, avoiding or simply drifting along, or surfing one wave of drama to the next. Dare to step out of familiar, habitual roles and move, stretch, expand, improvise, and discover.
Yes, it takes requires effort to rouse from inertia. There’s always a reason not to break out of our containment, a million tempting reasons to stay right where we are. Complacency wears many clever disguises. If you are inactive for an extended period and start exercising again, you know that the activity may seem difficult—even uncomfortable—at first but then it gets easier. The stiffness, aches and pains diminish and we rediscover the ease, power and grace of our stride or activity. Movement guru Gabrielle Roth said, “the simplest way out of inertia is to start moving.”
The way we move, allow ourselves to be moved, or resist movement reveals much about us. Movement is the opposite of holding; it offers the antidote to inertial. When we begin to free the body, we simultaneously open the heart, emotions, and mind. And the soul. Only when you begin to fully inhabit your body will you unleash your core, authentic power. Even if he or she is not an athlete or dancer, an individual who fully embodies his soul radiates energy with a similar prowess, energy, and vitality.
In life, one of our primary soul lessons is to learn that the body is the teacher, healer, and guide. As you begin to reinhabit and awaken your bodysoul, you will discover not only courage but also an enticing new world of possibility. Muscles, bones and breath launch us from a lazy comfort zone into a state of grace, potency, energy, and alignment. The body is the temple of Eros and the treasury of our soul’s power.
I ask, have you stopped dancing in life? When did you lose the joy of moving? Singing? What are you afraid of? We are yearning for a larger life and yet shrinking back from it at the same time, fearful and unsure. When we resist the summons of Eros, the soul remains trapped in inertia and containment like a graceful wildcat behind bars.
Inhale a deep breath. Move your body. Discover your untamed animal energy. A wild soul slumbers restlessly within.
Don’t go back to sleep.”
Soul Artists know that a primary ‘soul skill’ is the ability or wherewithal—or simply the dogged determination—to rouse from inertia. Movement is the antidote to our rigid stasis; it loosens somatic armor and restrictive patterns, and energizes the body. Little frees the soul like dancing. Even if it is simply a walk through the neighborhood with senses open wide, appreciating nature and beauty wherever we find it, we will reap the benefits in body and mind—an openness and expansion in our core, a suppleness of spirit, a certain lightness of step, a revitalized perspective.
Gentle reader, may you consider the places where you feel stuck in your life, and reflect on your own patterns of inertia. We all have our chosen ways of remaining ‘safe’ (and stuck), root bound in our favorite pot. The shutters of our windows and doors are drawn closed in a familiar gesture and painted with our chosen, habitual word: avoidance; work; food; distraction; fantasy; depression.
Last night, just as I was drifting off to sleep, I heard a voice say, If you don’t leave the familiar ledge, you’ll never learn how to fly.
When we recognize the body as the soul’s vessel and the starting point for our awakening, we emerge from the murky pool of stagnation. Now is the time to shake off the status quo, bring movement into the bodymind, and get “unstuck.” Once you are moving, if you heed the body’s messages of sensation and energy, you’ll find the path forward to your soul’s gift and authentic power.
Rousing from inertia, the journey begins with a deep breath and a single step. I wonder, where will it take you?
[Contains an excerpt from The Bones and Breath: A Man’s Guide to Eros, The Sacred Masculine, and the Wild Soul, White Cloud Press, 2014. Used with permission; all rights reserved.]