All Our Relations: A Five Elements Practice

Click here for Shape Shifting Video

“We are a part of everything that is beneath us, above us and around us. Our past is our present, our present is our future, and our future is seven generations past and present.”                                                              Haudenosaunee teaching


“Imagination … is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”                                                                                                                                           Albert Einstein

IMG_0371 copyIn Nonviolent Communication there is an emphasis on developing a vocabulary to express needs.  Needs in this persuasion are universal.  They are words that express the Life that moves through us all.  You know you are speaking about a need if it is something that we all need.  Sometimes we’ll call it joy or play, sometimes we’ll call it understanding, autonomy, mutuality, empathy, peace, connection, and so on.

Our words alone are a clumsy way of expressing something so divine and requires some imaginative cognitive acrobatics to make it work sometimes.  In this practice, as we connect to what supports us from behind, we can utilize all of our senses to practice being the qualities of a need we would love to have a little more of in our lives.

Our body shapes our experiences and is the shape of our experience.  We can bring to awareness what our body is saying and let it connect us to the resources that are available to us.

Gratitude for those we appreciate, past or present, as a practice helps us to become more familiar with the virtues that that we most admire.  When we appreciate and are grateful for certain qualities of others we engage our feelings, imagination and emotional intelligence. The more we do this, the more we can become familiar with and incorporate those qualities within ourselves. Over the years, working in many cultures around the world, I have asked people to bring their attention to what is at their back. For some, it is unfamiliar, often startling and very difficult to do. Why? Because they have practiced something else for so long. It is not unusual for someone to tear up or cry as they reunite with a part of themselves that they have generally practiced ignoring.  This sadness that comes up has a sweetness to it, like seeing an old friend that you have missed for so long. The sweet sorrow is grief.  Grief is gratitudefor something you love that you have missed.  It is still  gratitude.  It is this gratitude and appreciation that deepens our connection to what supports us from behind.

2014-05-13 16.02.53This is a centering practice. Any of those we bring through us can become a different facet of center that we can learn to access more quickly.

With time and practice, you will be able to call  up the qualities and virtues you would love more of, at any given moment.  The more you practice doing that, the more readily you will be able to.

The story that “you’ve got to do it all on your own” permeates our culture and in turn has shaped our lives. We live in a society where the individual is often glorified at the expense of the collective.  Consequently many of us exhaust ourselves by thinking we are alone and not getting the help we need because it does not occur to us to ask for it.  We lose sight of people and resources that are readily available.  Our backs ache as we hold this weight alone forgetting that we are a part of a collective, with more resources then we can imagine.

Our imagination helps provide meaning to experience and understanding to knowledge; it is a fundamental faculty through which we encounter everything. The ability to imagine one’s self in another’s place is a cherished ideal around the world.  Imagination is also a question to the body that connects us to our innate resources.

Everywhere in our language you can see the imagery and qualities that our backs represents in phrases such as: He’s got no backbone,  Talking behind your back, I’ve got your back, “Back down”, Don’t get your back up, He’s got no one to back him”.

This practice brings new life to what was commonplace in the older wisdom traditions around the world, to remember our ancestors and bringing their support and wisdom through us. Mitakuye Oyasin is a phrase from the Lakota that reflects the their world view of interconnectedness. The phrase translates as “all my relatives,” “we are all related,” or “all my relations.” It is a prayer of oneness and harmony with all forms of life: ancestors, other people, animals, birds, insects, trees and plants, and even rocks, rivers, mountains and valleys.

When I sit in a sweat lodge with my Native American friends, we call in all our relations.

During a Passover Seder from my Jewish heritage’s tribal roots, I eat the foods of my ancestors to viscerally remember their passage from slavery to freedom, their struggles and virtues.  Indigenous cultures listen to the wisdom of their ancestors at their backs. Presently in western culture, our focus—realistically and metaphorically– is generally on what we are doing, where we are going and what needs to get done. In other words, what is in front of us. Rarely do we consciously bring our attention to what is at our back, to our histories and to what can supports us from behind.

Here is a simple practice for resourcing  the wisdom and support of those who came before us and who are at our backs.   At its core, this is a practice of gratitude and re-membering.

The Practice

Exercise 1: Our Helper

IMG_0085 copya.  Choose one person in your life that has come before you, that embodied a quality or virtue that you would love to have a little more of in your own life.  This could be one person that has supported you in some way; a relative, an ancestor, a teacher, a great teacher in the world (past or present) or simply someone who has positively effected you in a way that you love.  Just pick one.

b.   Remember one of the qualities they have (had) that moved you.  Remember how it feels to be in the presence of their beautiful virtue.   (Ex: The expressiveness of Martin Luther King, the humility of Nelson Mandela, the devotion of Mother Teresa, the tenderness of your next door neighbor, the dignity of your father……)

Exercise -2  A Writing Practice

Write a colorful creative description about the person you chose. Vividly describe this person so you can literally feel what you truly loved about them.  Explore what they exemplified and how their presence touched you. Write as much or little as you want. Most important, let your writing move you, so that at any point you can remember what you wrote in order to draw up that feeling, that whole-body sensation of the qualitie(s) you love about the person. Embue your writing with the gratitude and regard you feel.

A personal example

Sometimes when I get too busy or agitated I get upset and struggle with being as kind as I would like to be. I often bring to mind a dear old friend who has since passed, John Hazlett, to somatically remember the quality is kindness

As a young man, I left college to apprentice as a goldsmith in a very fine 4-generation jewelry making business in Detroit. I supplemented my apprentice wages with evening jobs, lived in a poorer section of Detroit. Outside of working day and evening, I had very little social life.   I was 22 and John was 63 when I met him..  He had a way about him that was gentle and humorous. He seemed to live to make me smile and I felt loved and welcomed in his world.  John and I worked together, literally back-to-back, for hours on end for 3 years.  He was a kind soul, during a period when I was struggling and felt very alone. There were two elderly goldsmiths at the shop. The other goldsmith, Ted, truly was one of the best goldsmiths in the country, but to learn from him was difficult, as he guarded his trade secrets.  John on the other hand, called me over when ever he was working on something interesting.  To this day I can feel the grandfatherly love as I rested my chin on his shoulder watching his masterful hands create beauty. He generously taught me about anything I wanted to learn. No secrets.  I cannot recall an angry word ever coming out of his mouth. And whenever I was frustrated or feeling hurt, he would listen. When I was upset, he could always make me laugh. I miss him dearly and am ever grateful for his presence in my life.


Exercise-3 Qualities of Center

Stand in your vertical line with your head, above heart, above belly.

  1. With open eyes, soften your gaze.
  2. Let the back of your tongue soften and relax.
  3. Allow the weight you might feel that you are carrying on your shoulders to just fall off. (If you are worried about it, know you can put it back later.)
  4. Unclench your sphincter muscles and feel the bottom of your feet open to the earth you are standing on.
  5. Take a deep, unifying and relaxing breath, with an audible Ahhhhhh sound on the outbreath.
  6. As much attention as you have in front of you, place that much attention behind you. You can also imagine yourself in the center of a large bubble.  Sometimes it is difficult or unfamiliar to bring your attention behind you.  If so, you can ask a friend to put their hands on your back and let your attention surround them.
  7. With your hands by your sides, and about 12 inches from your torso, turn your palms to the space behind you. Like radar dishes that pick up the signals of what is behind you, imagine feeling into the space behind you.  You can also try to imagine a large soft cushion that is supporting your whole backside.  Imagine that it is holding you.
  8. In that “field” behind you, place the person you have written about and recall the quality that you admire. You can imagine their hand gently supporting you from behind. With a sense of gratitude feel the support at your back. Keep an impression of how this experience feels so that with practice, you can draw it up quicker and quicker as time goes by. Another image to play with is of being a sail and letting the wind fill you. Take a moment to be grateful for this support.

Part 4: Re-sourcing Yourself

2014-05-13 15.58.25At first it can help to explore this as a partner practice. Once understood this can become a practice to be used anytime and anywhere with anyone. It is also a practice for working with your own internal conflicts

1)    Imagine a triggering moment that you have had with someone in your life. Coach the other to say a triggering statement to re-create the scenario.

2)    For starters, let the triggering moment be no more than a 2 on a scale of 1 to 10.  Don’t make it too overloading, otherwise it becomes a little difficult to assimilate.

3)    As the person in front of you speaks allow yourself to get triggered and verbally respond without censoring yourself. Take notice of what you say and how you say it.

4)    Begin again, but before you respond, feel into the resource you have written about, who is now at your back.  Allow yourself to feel that whole somatic impression of the quality you would love a bit more of in your life.

5)    Imagine the person at your back and remember the quality of theirs that you hold so dear and then slowly let that quality come through you

6)    As the currents of the quality moves through you, continue to keep it flowing by remembering to keep the connection at your back. Let the urge to speak originate from your back and be the source of your words. Become it. *  Now within that same mildly triggering moment, say what comes naturally to you and notice how you feel and what is different.

*Remember:You are mostly space. You are porous. Those resources behind you can come through you.  Maybe you don’t know what to say, you don’t have the heart to – there is someone behind you that does! Maybe it is your Aunt Judith; maybe it is Gandhi.  Maybe you don’t have the intelligence to deal with a certain person. What you need is at your back.  There are many resources at your back that can come through you.  You are not alone if you choose to connect to your support.

IMG_9452These days I have a somatic impression of what that kindness feels like, thanks to my relationship with John.  John died many years ago now. I recall his image, his words, his mannerisms, his way of making me laugh and his virtues.  When I have a need for kindness or belonging, as a practice, I can recall a whole body somatic impression of the qualities that he embodied.  As I do this, a smile comes to my face, my breathing becomes more rhythmic, and my chest and shoulders relax. Moving from this “shape” and intention of kindness draws more of it into my life.  Like attracts like. This is a part of becoming what you need.

Instead of trying to think of what kindness feels like, I can pull from what is at my back, to call up exactly what I need.

Always accessible, always there.








This entry was posted in Practices. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.
  • Donate

    East African Aikido Seminar

  • “Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.”

    -- Albert Einstein

Copyright 2017 Liminal Somatics All Rights Reserved. You're welcome to use and reprint any of the articles for team and individual learning. We ask only that you keep the article intact and credit the author. Thank you!