Article Wellness

Somatics, Healing, and Social Justice

Rationalism separates the self from the body, and the thinking or rational mind from the aliveness and experiences of the emotional and physical self. This philosophy moves us toward an objectifying view of the body and the physical world as parts—devoid of or separate from a person’s holistic and lived experience. This objectification, and mind-body split, have far-reaching consequences.  

The rationalistic separation puts us at deep odds with ourselves. As we learn to dismiss our lived experience, to be rational instead of “too emotional,” we necessarily learn to numb, to dissociate, and to override the feelings of ourselves and others. This distancing truncates our ability to know what we deeply care about, how to relate within complexity, and how to feel and validate experiences—whether our own or those of another. Rationalism as a primary way of being tends to side with control when it comes to working skillfully with our biological/spiritual/social/psychological selves. The mind-body split reifies a particular power-over system as well.  

We can consider who and what is associated with being rational—science, maleness, whiteness, education, and wealth—the “right people” to decide, advance, and rule. Consider also who and what is associated with body and feeling—sin, irrationality, emotions, “hysteria,” women, transgender, people of color, the exotic (read racist), indigenous, earth, desire—the “wrong” people to decide and lead. You can hear the multiple forms of oppression informing these and, in turn, how they are supported by rationalism.  

This is not a vote dismissing rational thinking altogether or to rid us of science and scientific inquiry. Rather, it is to awaken to what is shaping us. What have been the costs of rationalism and who has repeatedly been thrown under the bus by its precepts? What of this do we want to question and change? What of rationalism as a cultural norm is deadening, disconnecting, or harmful?  

The power-over economy will have us be consumers before people. Most anything we can think of to edit and manage the body is being sold to us—from a multibillion-dollar diet industry to chemicals to cover any smell. The traditional Church presents the body and human desires and sexuality as a sin. It is easier to control a person if you have made their inherent impulses toward life and contact shameful or punishable.  

All over the place, from the popular culture to the propaganda system, there is constant pressure to make people feel that they are helpless, that the only role they can have is to ratify decisions and to consume– Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent

A note about neuroscience and rationalism—there have been thousands of amazing findings within neuroscience over the last 20 years. In its current popularity, many people assume that because we can explain what happens in the brain, we understand behavior or how to change behavior. Many also interpret the brain as the most important organ—if we understand the brain, we understand humans. There are many organs without which we cannot live, like the heart, the lungs, and the large intestines. Interpretations of modern neuroscience can get caught in the same rationalistic tradition of objectifying the body as now merely carrying around the more important brain. It can also promote the idea that mental understanding alone lets us know how to change.  

We like to think of the brain as this incredible computing device, that’s designed for creativity and actualizing our purpose. The brain’s primary function is to keep you breathing, keep you alive, and keep you safe. It evolved in order to predict danger, to predict threat…. We need to hijack that machinery, and apply it in a deliberate and specific way. The good news is that your brain is a highly plastic device…. We have planning and imagination. Practices to engage the neuroplasticity will truly rewire your brain and its ability to function, so that you are set in alignment with purpose.  Andrew Huberman, neuroscientist and tenured professor in the Department of Neurobiology at the Stanford University School of Medicine, Presence: Living and Working on Purpose (Webinar, Strozzi Institute, 2018)

A somatic understanding of the body/self is radically different. It holds the body, self, thinking, emotions, action, and relating as an interconnected whole.

We, this human organism, have evolved for over three billion years. That’s a long, long time, from a human point of view. We have many capacities that we inherit through this evolutionary history, through having a human body, and many we can learn and cultivate. Listed below is an amazing range of our human capacities. Asking us to deny or compartmentalize aspects of being full humans can leave us longing for our humanity.  The human organism, body/self has: 

● Emotions: Inherent and foundational experiences that hold deep meaning for us. We can develop our emotional skills over a lifetime. 

● Sensing and interpreting: We do this through our sense organs and through feeling. We sense ourselves, others, our environments, and the mystery (Spirit).  

● Thinking, analysis, and the cultivation of critical thinking through learning and study.  

● Touch and capacity to develop skilled touch: Touch is an inherent aspect of healing and bonding.  

● Relating: We are social animals. We can develop our skills of relating over a lifetime. Much of how we relate is based on our own experiences of safety, belonging, and dignity—both personal and social—and the social, economic, and cultural systems we live within. 

● Resilience: We have inherent resilience, and we can cultivate it. 

● Presence: We have inherent presence, and we can cultivate it.  

● Action: We can take action in many ways—from having conversations, to coordinating with others, to physical actions.  

● Communication and language: Being exposed to and learning language is essential to our brain development. We can learn new languages throughout our lifetimes.  

● Spirit: We can see this as consciousness or an animating force. This is interpreted in many ways across culture and time.  

Somatics is not just an effective and potent set of tools by which to heal and transform deeply. It is also an invitation to mend a profound personal and social mind-body split, which has consequences that are more harmful than life affirming. I posit that returning or reintegrating into the life of our bodies allows us to return to a greater connection with each other, life, and land. It is a practice to help us de-objectify life. It lets us sense and feel life more readily.   


All Photo-Art, Efes Kitap 






From The Politics of Trauma: Somatics, Healing, and Social Justice by Staci K. Haines, published by North Atlantic Books, copyright © 2019 by Staci K. Haines. Reprinted by permission of publisher.





About Staci K. Haines

Staci K. Haines is the co-founder of Generative Somatics, a multiracial social justice organization bringing somatics to social and environmental justice leaders, organizations, and alliances. She is the author of The Politics of Trauma: Somatics, Healing, and Social Justice.

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