Perma-WHAT? Connecting Body & Planet
Perma-WHAT? is a series of posts that highlight some of what I am doing and would like to do better in the field of permaculture. I am presently raising funds to enroll in a permaculture design program this September. If these posts speak to you, you can help me out by donating at my GoFundMe campaign page. Thanks for reading! [Update: fundraiser is over, thank you to all who supported!]
Conventionally speaking, neither permaculture nor bodywork are yet to my knowledge taught as fruits of the same tree. But bypassing this intrinsic interdisciplinary connection is increasingly difficult in the world we live in.
The World As Is
Global climate change is no longer a prediction or a hypothesis. It is a reality happening to planet, people, and other animals. We experience it in weather severity and unpredictability, scorching summers, warm winters, and emergent wet seasons. We see its effects in global migration patterns, melting icecaps, species loss, and new maps of crop growth possibilities. Our food and our bodies are unavoidably tied to these changes.
We now know that animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions, the leading cause of species loss, water pollution, habitat destruction, and ocean dead zones, and responsible for up to 91% of the Amazon rainforest's deforestation. As far off as these problems may be rendered in abstract reports or news articles, they are the cost of the modern diet, modern agriculture, and modern global industrial development. What we choose to eat (and are able to choose to eat) are directly tied to the global economic system driving climate change.
Likewise, emerging in the fields of psychology and social activism is this concept of ecological grief. The ideas here are variously that we need to actively mourn ecological collapse in order to effectively work towards preventing or simply surviving it, and that in recent years our fight against climate change has stalled because we have either become too desensitized to it or too overwhelmed by the multiplicity of modern horrors now facing us. Indeed, given the persistence of class-based inequalities and environmental racism apparent in the human communities most deeply affected by food deserts, agribusiness pollution and worker exploitation, deforestation, and climate change-related disasters, it is not difficult to understand why so many people are fighting against depression. Whether we experience these things directly or are simply witnesses in awareness of these issues, it is common to feel powerless in the face of all that perpetuates them.
As a bodyworker, my professional skill set is usually billed as "promoting wellness and relieving stress held in muscles through soft tissue manipulation." It's true, I do this. But neither my personal desires nor professional intentions stop there. In naturopathic and alternative therapy circles, we sometimes hear modern, allopathic medicine described as "treating the symptoms but not the cause." I think there can be this same attitude in massage therapy. We provide release of muscle tension, but we're not challenged to work directly with the sources of tension.
When I take in the state of the world, when I listen to what stresses my clients are dealing with, and when I feel out inside myself for my own sources of depression and stress, I recognize a common theme, and that's the nature of this world we have inherited from generations before us. We live in a world where we put shame on touching one another and dirtiness or class-shame on work that brings us in touch with the planet. This is a world where we are underpaid and underemployed in conditions that are often meaningless and exploitative, where we feel disoriented from ourselves and our values, and where treating even our own lives with value is such a radical idea that we had to conceptualize the term "self-care."
My drive is to go beyond working only with the muscular stress of individual humans. This is not to say that releasing muscle tension or otherwise providing any form of bodywork will one day be unnecessary. On the contrary, I think regular bodywork is healthy and should be made available to everyone. Even no-till, no-dig gardener-foragers need a good shoulder rub every once and a while. What I am saying is that another world is possible, is necessary, and is something my hands are working to create.
I want to work with the symptoms of our modern pain individually, as well as on the source of our pain all together.
Another World is Coming
"Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing." (Arundhati Roy)
Permaculture is described as a strategy of building more permanent or sustainable systems that connect humanity, wildlife, waterways, soil, and the planet as a whole. Isn't this just another way of describing bodywork? In massage school, we studied both anatomy and physiology, and holistic methods of accounting for an individual's wellness. The anatomy I want to work with includes Earth's soil structures, water arteries, and gut full of flora and fauna. The holistic body is Earth herself, as a whole and in the minutiae of people, pollinators, scavengers, and microbes along her many faces.
Our interstitial health as people and planet may be declining, diseased, and in pretty bad shape. But the possibility of resilience is something already being witnessed in individual people and individual landscapes.
I want to be part of this amazing work in this terrifying and challenging transition in Earth's history. I'm already present as a bodyworker (and happy to help you out in that regard). If you believe in the connections I'm making between Earth and body, help me put roots down in permaculture design by donating to my GoFundMe campaign so I can participate in a class this September. Thanks for contributing, and thank you for reading!
Pat Mosley (NC LMBT #16882) is a licensed massage and bodywork therapist in the Winston-Salem area. His work is rooted in compassionate touch, permaculture, and deep ecology with the resilience of all Earth's children in mind. Connect with him via email to email@example.com