I Just Want to Feel that I Belong


You are being offered the gift of your own embeddedness. You are being taught how to belong. Learn how to belong here, on this land. Stay in the relationship. You are part of this remembering, part of this land dreaming, right here, right now. You are given the gift of healing time. Savor, do not accelerate. Your job is to slow down. You will know the next motion out of this deeper stableness, this deeper attunement. You are just beginning to learn the language of receiving. Your roots are beginning to take hold.

The Sit Spot

A sit spot isn’t really a place so much as a practice of perception, a commitment to the durational intimacy of noticing what exists where you are. 1Sophie Strand has been a co-fruiting body in attuning to the sense of sit spot not as place but as a process of perception. In one of those moments when a thought resonates from multiple places in the ecosystem simultaneously, around the time of first writing this, I happened upon a Facebook post in which Sophie was widening the framing of sit spots to include things like attuning perception to the undulation of your breathing belly and the microbiome within.

Here, layers of relationship accumulate like fallen leaves, crisp underneath me in vibrant yellows and reds. I hold a scarlet maple leaf up to the late afternoon light. To my left, near the far shore, I can see the faint shape of a solitary turtle, one leg splashing the surface of the water to cool their underside as their shell bakes in the setting rays of sun.

This sit spot has been shaping me, teaching me about intimacy through the constancy of its shifting textures, as I get to know this place so deeply over months of returning to this same soft edge between water and land. One day mist-covered with the pale green of algae bloom; another, clear blue water ruffled by wind currents; later, the falling gray dusk of an autumn storm; later still covered in luminous ice so solid you can walk across it to touch the tree on the other shore. 

I arrive here in all of my textures too: grumpy, playful, curious, grieving. Having a place to repeatedly return to that resonates with my own changing has allowed for a particular kind of familiarity and trust to grow between me and this little patch of earth. 

Today, I arrive with a contracted feeling in my belly, my nervous system in a state of collapse. I wish humans could relate to each other as if we were ecosystems. I wish I wasn’t expected to maintain a comprehensible identity of self, to pin down reality into the shape of words. 

On the other shore, a scraggy tree stands sentinel, gazing across at me. I frown at it as I sit here. 

I am stuck again with my thesis writing. I have been working for three years on this project, the culmination of my degree in Embodiment Studies, trying to describe the process of learning to feel held by the wider body of the earth.

“What is the edge between nervous system and ecosystem?” This thesis question, the public-facing inquiry of my research, is itself rhetorical, pointing to the arbitrary boundaries between body and earth constructed by a settler-colonist people who no longer know the felt sense of our belonging. I am constantly awed by this sensory limiting that can shape an organism’s perception of reality, described by Stephen Harrod Buhner as “perceptual gating.” 

As children, our dependence on human relational fields for survival means that when the adults around us do not have the capacity to drop into the felt sense of the earth supporting them, our learning nervous systems will attempt to prevent our caregivers’ abandonment by cutting off our ability to sense the embodied belonging that is our birthright.

And yet, even if we can’t sense it, in each moment we are inextricably woven into these wider webs of relationship. 

I have been spending the last few weeks contemplating the writings of Nora Bateson, a systems-poet who created the word symmathesy to describe how living systems spill over across outlines of individuality:

It is important to the use of the concept of symmathesy to think about the boundaries and ‘parts’ of living things as interfaces. The outlines we draw around ‘parts’ (like a hand or a kidney) are useful to us as arbitrary separations that conveniently contain our study within limits we can manage; but these outlines more aptly serve to indicate areas of interaction, transmission, and reception of information. The skin of my body provides what looks like a boundary around me, but ‘I’ extend well beyond the container of my flesh, both biologically and socially.2Over the last year I have devoured everything I could of Nora speaking and writing about Symmathesy including her book Small Arcs of Larger Circles (from which this quote is taken, page 229); her documentary An Ecology of Mind; her essays “Aphanipoeisis,” “What is Submerging,” “Ready-ing,”and also just about every YouTube and Spotify interview that she has ever done. 

As I ruminate, a muskrat swims by, going to join his small family chattering under the protection of a reclining willow tree.

I lay back on the earth, the sped-up thoughts spinning inside of me slowing to drift with the metamorphosing clouds. After a while, it becomes unclear whether what I am noticing is outside or inside.3Another favorite systems-poet of mine is Andreas Weber, who speaks about fractal interiority as a characteristic of living organisms: “If an organism’s feeling is revealed by its outside, then the whole of nature must be understood as one huge interior…The world inscape is that dimension of the world which is not only spatial, but filled with felt meaning. This space is the realm of poetry—but also of poiesis, of creation.” (from page 106 of Biology of Wonder)

My breathing shifts with the light refracting through the dancing branches, quivering golden leaves underside blessed in the last setting rays of sun. 

The twisted feeling in my belly begins to unspool, caressed by the same breeze that ripples the dark water. I find myself murmuring something I think might be a prayer:

Enough transcendence, enough peak intensity experiences. Enough of the polarity between embodiment and consciousness, matter and mind, separation and entanglement. 

Enough of the trying to explain what really matters, the mapping, the patterning, the articulation of a cohesive shaping for reality. Enough of the impulse to understand. 

Enough of the compression, the mushed-in-too-tight constriction of reality, the taboos against relaxing into the presence of the unutterable. 

Enough of trying to catch words with cupped hands, flowing over my palms like water falling down from mountain springs. Enough trying to be a prepared shape, longing for a linear path, a single outcome, a conclusion where it all makes sense.

I just want to feel underneath the words. To touch the tangible field resonating lineages with my bare hands. To caress the span of time that’s shaped this moment.

I just want to feel that I belong.4This section was originally written in response to Ada Limón’s “Poetry at the End of the World.”

Amidst the falling dusk, I feel my back body resting into gravity, being held by the big big body of the earth.

“Our nervous systems can limit our ability to feel love as the primordial foundation of reality. How can we begin to sense the feeling of that support again?” This is my actual thesis question, the one that I am afraid to put in the body of my academic writing because there is no way to “prove” it.

I’ve been trying to gesture towards a felt sense of something which the domination structures don’t think of as real: the feeling of our embodied existence being utterly supported and welcomed here. The felt sense of belonging that shudders open a habitually constricted diaphragm, the solidity of presence opening into other thought-forms and patterns of perception beyond the survival shaping of dominantly-sanctioned reality. 

What if this feeling was the foundation?

I tune my inner perception to the particular sense of this land-being I am with. Mni Sota Makoce, ancestral homelands of the Dakota people. Land where the clouded water reflects the sky.

“Do you think the earth loves you back?” Robin Wall Kimmerer asks her graduate students in Braiding Sweetgrass. My teacher Larissa Kaul shares a similar somatic invitation in the practice they host: “Can you feel your body supported by gravity? Can you feel the land you’re with also sensing you?”

I greet this land-being with my gratitude—thank you for holding me, thank you for nourishing me, thank you for giving me life—and I feel the immensity of the land’s attention turn towards me also. My breath loosens and relaxes as I gaze across the water.

What we call a “nervous system state shift”5The term “state shift” is one used by Stephen Porges and others in the Polyvagal Theory community. Interestingly, I learned from somatic practitioner Amber Elizabeth Gray that the term was originally used by her to describe trance states and the perceptual shifting that can alter the nervous system during ritual. is an ecosystemic phenomenon, a transcontextual relational process of what systems poet Nora Bateson calls “mutual learning.” The shift is simultaneously inside of each unique organism and within all of the relationships that ripple out from them, a webbing of perceptual processes that meet and entangle, through their coalescence inviting a different form of expression to emerge.

Tuning into my sensory system, I can feel the tiny undulations of fluid, the subtle rocking beginning in my pelvis, the memory of tides.

I remember a dream that I had years ago, in which I met an old woman who took out a fishing rod and threw it out onto the land. 

“You have the same look as me,” she said. “What are you doing?” 

I tell her: “I’m learning to come back into my own aliveness in my body. Because through allowing myself to be filled with aliveness, I can find the deeper structure which will allow me to shift the structures of the culture, which deny body through their mass nature and speed. When I come back to the ground of my own body, then I can speak to the body of the culture, body to body. And I can affect the structure. And as I’ve been peeling away layers and trying to come back to my core, my old survival strategies have been doing everything they can to stop it. So I’ve had autoimmune things come up, I’ve had breakdowns…”

The old woman reels in her fishing rod and hands me the lizard that she has caught. 

The lizard tries to suck on my finger. 

The woman says, “he’s trying to find the rhythm.” 

The lizard leaves my finger and starts jumping from person to person.

As I wake up from the dream, I realize: “It’s harmonics, my work is harmonics.”

Taking out my drum as I sit by the water6My drum comes from a Diné maker in New Mexico and I found it in a shop in Wabasha, Minnesota. I acknowledge the cultural context of being a white person playing an indigenous drum in a country where less than 50 years ago there was a legislative act forbidding native people from embodying their own ceremonial practices, including drumming in ceremony. I also acknowledge that part of the witch trials and the suppression of indigenous lifeways from Europe was the destroying of my people’s own ceremonial practices. My personal practice of drumming is informed by Carolyn Hillyer who is reviving proto-Celtic cultural practices on Dartmoor in England, near where some of my people come from., I try to find the rhythm, listening both to the outer ecosystem and also to the movement of my inner sensations. Listening for the pulse, the heartbeat, the undulation of this moment. 

In Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm, Buhner speaks about the way that living systems “immediately begin to oscillate at the moment of self-organization.” This oscillation, a tidal rhythm found in every fractal scale from oceans to cells, becomes a pulsation that expresses the moment-to-moment aliveness of that organism. 

On a nervous system level, I often speak of “the nuanced wave” as a state of energetic attunement through which our organisms can sense into the holding of a wider earth rhythm, which then ripples back to the specificity of our own systems and what is wanting to be expressed through us. This wider-body-rhythm becomes a container, a portal place into a deeper flow, what jazz musicians call being “in the pocket.” It is the space of “discerning center,” where improvisational agency is possible as we’re perceiving how our system is responding to the touch of the other systems around us. 

Liz Koch of Core Awareness describes this oscillatory field as the primal undulation that grows us within the womb and all through our lives, resonating through our bodies from curling inward gestures of contraction to expanding outwards gestures of expansion:

Rhythms are biological expressions that recalibrate our system towards resolution and increased coherency. By slowing down, softening, and simply pausing, natural rhythms begin to make their reappearance. In the slow pause, a trough within a wave is an opportunity to increase our consciousness.7 Liz Koch, Stalking Wild Psoas (page 115)

The air is thick with resonance as I pause. Deep inside of me, underneath all the layers of human shaping, I feel myself seen by this ancient landscape as also elemental, an interwoven organism guided by polyrhythmic impulses of sound. 

From the support of gravity, from the dreaming of the land, here I tune my listening towards the field of vibrating harmony, the interweaving threads of relationship moving between my body and the earth. 

Then, from that place of presence, I listen for the song.

“All parts of the Earth have a song,” says Buhner: 

…every living phenomenon, every ecozone, ecorange, and body of water… The Earth generates a continual oscillating field as it lives moment-to-moment-to-moment. It is in fact an enormous biological oscillator. And that field generates a continual song… 8This passage is from page 536 of Buhner’s book Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm.  Buhner’s writings  were some of the first ecological texts I read, after I happened on the recordings for his short course “The Living Touch of Wild Earth” on the Dartington Trust YouTube channel.  

Once my ancestors too would sing the world. From the Sami joiking tradition of northern Europe, singing the essences of beings, to the Celtic practice of keening, honoring the dead with spontaneous wails. 9Here’s an article about Sami joiking as one of the oldest vocal traditions in Europe (www.beneathnorthernlights.com/joik-the-oldest-vocal-tradition-in-europe), and an article about keening as a cultural practice for supporting the movement of grief (www.shamanicpractice.org/article/our-unspent-grief-the-lost-art-of-keening/).

Ecological culture ruptures when these cultural rituals for embodied expression are not able to be passed on to the next generation, leaving existential emotions with no way to be metabolized by wider elemental forces. 

Residual survival energies begin to accumulate in individual bodies who no longer know how to sing the webbing of relationships, over time shaping a culture based on a pervasive sense of nervous system threat dissociated from an awareness of ecological belonging.

The current emphasis on “trauma healing” within colonial culture comes from this perceptual experience that there is a barrier between us and the felt sense of support. 

The support is sensed as unreachable, while all the time it’s actually the closest-in, still in our own bodies, in our bones and our primordial relationship to gravity, in the fluid that shapes us, and in the mycelial connective tissue that holds the emotion when it’s too much for us to sense into alone. 

The way back into relationship is to attune to this webbing, to find the resonance between our bodies and the wider body of the earth. 

Tuning into this field intelligence, I listen for the threads of liquid sound.

There is a place where my ancestors are still singing.

I listen for where my center resonates in this web of song. 

A wild singing comes through me, surprising me with the depth of its ferocity.

I sing with the ancestors of each of my lineages all the way back to the point where my lineages meet. All the way back beyond the human to animal ancestors and plant ancestors and fungi ancestors. These eldest ancestors who are still inside our bellies.

As I sing, a harmonic utterance of vowels more primary than language, entire landscapes travel through me; I feel emptied out by the flow of sound. 

I sing a prayer that we can be in that dance of relationship in a good way. 

That we can play with being both ourselves–this unique organism, this membrane of skin, coalesced around a primal center—and also the part of us that can perceive relationship with all we are connected to. 

That each of our centers is a meeting between ocean and land, that the same expansion and contraction of our nervous systems follows the ocean tides.

That just like trees in a forest we are both this organism, this body, and also we are the body of the forest. We are both solitary and we are web. 

And I ask this wider webbing, which includes everything, which includes even the beings who think they’re exiled, which includes even the separation and the act of exile itself, I ask that this wider body  just meet us right here in this moment, this field that we’re creating between us as we listen.

As the last rays of the sun touch my face, I sing to a part of my body that still echoes with the memory of chlorophyll, reaching upwards in a gesture of photosynthesis.

With a final drum beat, I stop, listening to the reverberations on the air.


This essay is adapted from  a thesis project for my MA in Embodiment Studies from Goddard College:

Make Your Body the Prayer is a somatic, systemic, and eco-poetic journey tissuing the edge between nervous system and ecosystem. This thesis invites colonially-shaped humans to deepen into a sense of embodied relationality through shifting the epistemology of self to include ecological and ancestral sources of support. Linking nervous system approaches such as interpersonal neurobiology and polyvagal theory with practices around systems intelligence and creative expression, I draw on my direct experiences of relationship with earth, ancestors, and animal body to describe a trans-generational maturational process of remembering. A liminal interweaving of essays, poetry, and the oracular guidance of nature beings, Make Your Body the Prayer is itself an embodiment of the creative attunement through which the “human” bends and shimmers into other shapes of ecological perception, allowing inheritances of ancestral trauma to dissolve into a vital interplay of relational process on behalf of the wider field of life.

The image and poem that begin this offering come from one of 24 oracle cards from the Long Body Prayers Animist Oracle Deck. Created out of channeled encounters with earth, radiant ancestors, and my animal body, these oracle cards form the vertebrae of Make Your Body the Prayer, each card inspiring an eco-poetic essay like The Sit Spot. 

If you would like to read more of my thesis (which is on its way to becoming a book-length project), you can subscribe to my substack where I am currently sharing weekly installments of my writing: earthpoetedgeweaver.substack.com

About the Author

Shante’ Sojourn Zenith is an Earth Poet Edge Weaver attuning to primordial nourishment through the nervous system, creative expression, and relationship to wider ecosystemic bodies of support. Her practice weaves together learnings from somatics, animism, constellations, poetics, field perception, clowning, grief ritual, and systems intelligence. Her people are Celtic, Norse, Ashkenazi, and Slavic. She lives in Mni Sota Makoce on the ancestral homelands of the Dakota people, where she learns from the Mississippi River, Turtles, Maitake Mushroom, and many other nature beings. Her experiences as a sensitive body living with chronic illness and neurodiversity invite her to deepen into relationship with rest and kindness. You can learn more about Shante’s practice at www.earthpoetedgeweaver.com.

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