Finding Peace in Our Bodies

children running

Intro­duc­tion — Ellie:  My kinder­garten­er came home in the fall, after going to school for about a month, and referred to one of his class­mates as “the bul­ly.” I paused. That’s a strong term to use to describe a five-year-old. I asked my child some curi­ous ques­tions, and he told me that this class­mate had sev­er­al out­bursts a day, which often includ­ed being over­ly rough with class­mates, and that he spent a good deal of time under a table in the class­room refus­ing to come out. My child avoid­ed him. When I vol­un­teered in the class­room, this child had an adult with him all day, and he still strug­gled to stay peace­ful with his body. The kids cow­ered around him. The teacher and I talked about how hard the sit­u­a­tion was. It was clear­ly not the child’s fault, he learned and took on the behav­ior for a rea­son, and his pres­ence in the class­room took a lot of ener­gy to keep the cul­ture peace­ful and the kids safe.

Kids are inher­ent­ly embod­ied. Then, some­where along the way, hard things hap­pen to their bod­ies, and they build up an armor of pro­tec­tion to keep them­selves safe. Their bod­ies change, which can be con­fus­ing. They see a cer­tain type of body cen­tered as the ide­al, and maybe they see that theirs must live up to the near­ly impos­si­ble stan­dard. They might not feel like enough. And there’s this: Our soci­ety will con­tin­u­al­ly invite them to live in their minds.

When we build peace with kids, it helps to be explic­it about our bod­ies as tools for peace. We can mod­el, teach, and prac­tice embod­i­ment tools with kids that sup­port a peace­ful and reg­u­lat­ed ner­vous sys­tem, so they are capa­ble of being brave and kind. Pic­ture books are one tool to invite our chil­dren to stay embod­ied and make peace in their bod­ies so they can bring a peace­ful body to their communities.

Help­ing Chil­dren Find Peace in their Bod­ies—
Pic­ture Books Can Inspire

I Talk Like a River

Caren:  In Ellie’s lat­est insight­ful book, The Embod­ied Path: Telling the Sto­ry of Your Body for Heal­ing and Whole­ness, she writes, “Weav­ing the sto­ry of my body into my being helps me inte­grate more ful­ly into my body, inhab­it, my body, and live an embod­ied life.” Can we help chil­dren accept and trust their bod­ies to guide them to inner peace? Two pic­ture books can open the way for dis­cus­sion: I Talk Like a Riv­er and John’s Turn.

I Talk Like a Riv­er by Jor­dan Scott, illus­trat­ed by Syd­ney Smith offers a sen­si­tive, poet­ic sto­ry about a young boy who finds a path­way to accept­ing his stut­ter. Writ­ten in first per­son, we first meet the boy in the morn­ing as he lis­tens to sounds all around him. He’s frus­trat­ed. He knows repeat­ing the sounds out loud will feel like they are stuck in his mouth. At school, the boy hides in the back of the class­room. When he tries to talk, his class­mates turn and stare. “All they see is how strange my face looks and that I can’t hide how scared I am.”

It’s just a bad speech day,” the boy’s father tells his son when he picks the boy up from school. Togeth­er, they head to the riv­er for qui­et con­ver­sa­tion. The boy is still roiled with anger and embar­rass­ment from the day. His father points to the riv­er. The riv­er is bub­bling, churn­ing, crash­ing. Beyond the rapids, the water is smooth and glistening.

 “See how that water moves?” the father says. “That’s how you speak.”

The boy under­stands. “Even the riv­er stut­ters. Like I do.”

The boy is not his stut­ter, but now he has a way of explain­ing to oth­ers what it feels like to be him when he talks. It’s like a river.

What­ev­er the chal­lenge, we can help chil­dren find their way to self-accep­tance and whole­ness by offer­ing them pos­i­tive images to inte­grate into their bod­ies. From there, chil­dren can grow and mature into self-aware, kind adults. Just as impor­tant, these pos­i­tive images help oth­ers deep­en their under­stand­ing and com­pas­sion and open the door to empa­thet­ic friendship.

John's Turn

John’s Turn by Mac Bar­nett, illus­trat­ed by Kate Berube is anoth­er pic­ture book exam­ple of chil­dren find­ing peace in their bod­ies. Every Fri­day at John’s school, there’s a whole-school assem­bly. At the end of announce­ments and guest speak­ers, one child is invit­ed to “do some­thing.” The teach­ers call it “Shar­ing Gifts.” The day we meet John, it’s his turn. Clear­ly, John is ner­vous. Behind the stage cur­tain, he changes his clothes and steps into a white leo­tard, black pants and black slip­pers. When the cur­tain parts, John stands uncer­tain in front of his class­mates. Only when the music plays and John begins his bal­let, we see him find­ing his way into his body. Slow­ly then exu­ber­ant­ly, joy­ful­ly — for four word­less page spreads — John is lost in his dance. At the end of his bal­let, John takes a much-deserved bow to the whoops and hollers of his awe-struck class­mates. Shar­ing what you love can take courage. That kind of courage invites oth­ers to reveal a beau­ti­ful side of them­selves they also are afraid to show. It’s a kind of courage that can, giv­en the chance, change every­thing for everyone.

The Embodied PathThe Adult on the Rug — Ellie:  How do we accom­pa­ny kids in build­ing peace in their bod­ies? We can start by walk­ing our own path to deep­er embod­i­ment. Kids can sense if we have done the work to inhab­it our bod­ies. When we do, they expe­ri­ence our bod­ies as safe and peace­ful. It is part of the work of our lives to inhab­it our bod­ies in a world where there are end­less invi­ta­tions to escape our bod­ies and live in our minds.

My most recent book, The Embod­ied Path, explores inten­tion­al breath­ing, mind­ful mov­ing, and shar­ing our body’s sto­ries as path­ways to deep­er embod­i­ment. It is a prac­tice of return­ing home to our bod­ies. It is a prac­tice of claim­ing the whole­ness we had as chil­dren, where our bod­ies and minds were inte­grat­ed and inform­ing each other.

Our bod­ies have a sto­ry to tell. When we turn toward our bod­ies with curios­i­ty and rev­er­ence, we hon­or those sto­ries, embrace our inner dig­ni­ty, and make space for more agency. Shar­ing our bod­ies’ sto­ries helps us feel seen so that, lit­tle by lit­tle, soci­ety’s lim­it­ing mas­ter nar­ra­tives can shift so that more bod­ies feel safe and beau­ti­ful and have a sense of belong­ing. The Embod­ied Path tells more than twen­ty body sto­ries, woven togeth­er with my own body sto­ries and insights, to do the essen­tial work of resis­tance and repair at the indi­vid­ual and com­mu­nal level.

We all need heal­ing at some point in our lives. We need more peace inside our bod­ies. We can’t think our way to heal­ing. Heal­ing hap­pens at the body lev­el. Embod­i­ment tools empow­er us, young and not-so-young, to come back home to our bod­ies for the sake of heal­ing and whole­ness, for the sake of our­selves and our communities.

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