“Yes, the body remembers” – these are the words next to Ernesta’s name in the description of “Embodied Practice” co-founders. The words echo in our conversation as well. Ernesta Skeberė is an explorer of body riches and treasures, a human being of exceptional beauty and depth, who accompanies others on the incredible road to self-discovery. There is no question that one should be embarrassed to ask Ernesta. What the body is, what it means to feel the body, what happens when we lose touch with it – these are the questions in our conversation today.
Ernesta, we are having this conversation on a very cold winter day, when there is frost outside the window, trees are covered with a thick layer of snow. I have seen pictures and heard about your explorations of how you relate with cold in ice water. These conversations, in my opinion, are very strongly related to the body, to sensing it through the sensation of cold. Also, some time ago you have mentioned that one of the essential moments in the process of healing and growth is allowing oneself to feel what is happening in the body. So, today I invited you to talk about these topics and I wanted to start our conversation with the question, what is the body to you? How would you describe it?
What is the body... First of all, for me it is a head, hands, legs and a belly. That, what I can see, move, grasp and sense. Also, I notice that there is something deeper, under the skin. These parts I can only feel, I can neither grasp nor see them. Even deeper, there are bones. Ribs, for example. Behind them, there are organs, which are made from smaller elements. Some of these things I only know to exist, some of them I have met and explored during the studies of Integrative Bodywork and Movement Therapy. So, I see the body as a place without beginning or end. Very important moment and discovery, made during the studies, was the fact that the body produces sensations - for example, warmth or cold, intestine tremors or some other bodily music. So, the body is my abode, where I am and live, which carries me on this earth.
Also, the body is a treasure and an inexhaustible place for exploration. It is the place, which is full of all kinds of memories. When I smell or hear something, it brings back memories which have no direct relationship with what is happening here and now. I can remember it through my body and allow these emotions, feelings, stories that start to spin in my head to draw me in. Let's say I smell morning coffee. I am 42 years old. I understand that I am in Bendoriai, Vilnius district and the smell is of freshly brewed coffee. I know that my husband made it. And, at the same time, I realize that this smell carries me far back to my childhood, to the time when I used to brew morning coffee for my dad. I remember how it used to annoy me, I used to get angry while making it, because my mom used to grumble that my dad drank too much coffee. At this moment, while smelling it, I feel that I dive into this childhood story. I start to experience irritation. This happens automatically. I understand that I live in a flashback. What offered me this flashback is my body. The body provides me this excellent practice – to let myself remember and to very clearly discern, where I actually am.
So, the body is the place, which contains all memories, which I am not able to access now, but thanks to some kind of a trigger – a smell, a sound, they come up in me all the time. My body is, also, a vehicle which carries me on this earth. Another question that remains is - who is this “I”. Who is this “I” that the body carries. And the more I talk about the body the more I realize that it is much more than just human physiology.
When I hear you talking, I feel the richness of sharing. There are many things that I would want to know. And, also, there is this question in me, which I want to ask now, what does it mean for you to feel the body, what is it – feeling the body?
To feel the body is to be the closest to the moment of now. Absolutely. When I feel my body, I am here and now. When I give in to the suggestions from my body memory, when I identify myself with emotions, when I live in them or when I live in my thoughts, I start to lose connection to the body. Here lies the real danger. At one moment I very clearly sense how I stand on the ground, I hold an apple with my hand and I eat it after checking if there were any worms. And at the same moment I also notice that a memory arises in me, how I ate a worm a long time ago and how I felt sick. At the same time I observe my sensations, I sense how a piece of chewed apple slides down my esophagus. I check the apple once more and understand that there is no worm. At that moment this story about the worm and getting sick loses its power. I sense, I stand, I lean on, I eat, I check if there was really any worm and allow myself to be the way I am, clearly realizing that my body can remind me of things. So, to sense the body is absolutely the safest and soberest way for me to be and to live on earth. And I understand too, how important it is to be able to sense the body at a critical moment and not when I live through something exciting.
Yes, I hear you speaking about the moment of now, in which different memories arise, and how difficult it is not to lose yourself and while feeling it, to discern where I am in the here and now. And I know as well that it is not easy to let yourself feel. What do you think, Ernesta, why do we lose the ability to feel? Why does a human being today often does not feel?
The answer that comes to me right now – the body is a huge depository of memories. It contains lots of different experiences, including some that are not the most pleasant. It contains everything – all experiences and all memory. And, when I start to go to school, I start to learn more and more, I start to employ my brains more and more, when I participate in competitions and win them, when I go to music school, I participate in competitions there and win, when I join university, I manage to write the thesis, to collect points, to get a scholarship, and I hear: „how smart you are, what a bright future awaits you“. I experience it as recognition of me in this society. And I move on to live in my head.
I get a job, I climb the career ladder – an assistant, a project manager, a director, a head of the department. I am smart, things go well for me. So, why should I go back to the body? The body in this world is too simple. There is no recognition. Why should I feel it if things go well anyway? I choose recognition and run till I can be recognized by my environment and society.
Then my body experiences a trauma. I cannot come back to my career. The question arises – who am I if I am not a person of high status? I cannot identify myself, I don't understand what is happening.
While trying to answer questions that arise, I travel through meditative experiences, but I am still in my head, I am still flying somewhere. And I remember a thought that traveled towards us through ages, that God is in the sky, that everything that is something is high up there, and it is not in me. And it will happen to me at some point. This bliss, a heaven, a liberation.
Afterwards there come therapies and feels since I have a wish to come back to life in some way. Then I experience suicidal impulses and realise that I want to end this life because it hurts too much. It is then that I look back to the body and embody myself. A period begins where I allow myself to feel those emotions and experience those moments that have felt very scary before.
So in my experience, acknowledgement and the concept of success are the words that sound as an answer to your question. Sensual, sensing and sensitive people are not being acknowledged. A sensitive and sensing person “is not a profession”. These are the sketches of my previous experience, the cornerstone moments of it. When a top manager comes, looks and does not extend his hand to me – „it’s a woman, at our place women do not work in top positions, they are only secretaries“. At that instance I feel pain inside but I don’t give in because business world is separated from feelings. I will do everything in order not to feel, because if I felt I would not be acknowledged by the world of successful people. I would drop out of the game. And a time comes in my life when I receive an offer to feel all that was stacked up since childhood, in order to open up again and live. And probably there is no other way.
I hear your thought that coming back to the body and allowing oneself to feel is coming through a very difficult road. When it is horribly difficult, when it hurts so bad, we are forced to do this. What do you think could help, what would need to happen in order to somewhat diminish the pain that forces us to look back on the body and feelings?
First words that come to my mind are the institution of family - a father, a mother and a child. When children appeared in my life, courses on how to raise children also started appearing. One of the main things that I was learning is to allow the child to feel. Since at school, at the university, in the work environment I have experienced that feeling is not alright, this thought was new to me.
If the child is wailing it means he needs to wail. It is normal. Since I have two sons, another thought that I needed to accept was - boys also cry. And it is difficult to allow the child to cry, let them be angry, allow them to experience everything that comes because it also touches on the body memory and experiences alive in me. And they arise alongside the emotions and feelings expressed by the child. So in order to let the child feel, I first of all need to allow myself to feel. Only one question - what does it mean to allow to feel? But at that moment I heard that the permission was given. The question arose in what form and what means do we need.
Thus it is probably important to change the paradigm, understand that it is normal to feel, it is legal to feel. Wherever I am - in the city, in a cafe, in school or in the theater, I am the same person who feels. It is important to spread this message and look for ways to experience it.
And if someone would have asked me, would I agree to the journey that I am voluntarily on now, I would have answered - never in my life. But life appointed it to me without asking. After different occurrences and finally - after the Cesarian - I had to face the pain-body that revealed itself. From there I started my acquaintanceship with the body, sensing it in what is embodiment and what it means to live an embodied life.
The words „living an embodied life“ are sounding in me now. At the same time, at this moment I also meet suffering that made me look back at the body, feelings. I wonder, is there a simpler, less painful way that would still lead into an even deeper dive into the body and sensing the body?
Is there a way to start living an embodied life other than meeting your pain-body face to face in the end? In my experience - no. And since I am only one person in this planet of billions of people, I turn towards nature. Nature confirms that there are cycles - there is day and night, light and darkness. There is Winter when everything gets frozen into ice, gets covered in snow. There is Spring when everything starts to slowly germinate, blossom. Summer when everything is thriving. Finally the autumn comes and everything starts to wither. And then winter again...
The surface is changing, there is change - darkness does not come without light and without darkness I would not know light. Without pain I would not know what it is that is not pain, without sadness I would not know what joy is. This is how it is in nature, and I live in nature. And one more thing that I discovered anew - in nature there are things that are constant despite the change in the seasons and surfaces, for example, a mountain. Grass grows on it and later - snow falls on it. But the mountain itself is there for ages and ages. There is also a sea that is constantly rinsing the shore. Sometimes leaves fall on it or snow. In the same way embodiment is constant. And there is a surface, where everything changes. Based on the cycles of nature I dare to say that without staying in the darkness in the night, without seeing the stars and waiting for the morning, I would not know what morning, sun and light is. Without pain, I would not have a different experience. I am part of nature, a creation of nature. And I feel I have been created based on the same paradigms.
Thank you for the time we have spent together, for this talk, for your sharing. It feels good to listen to you.