July 11, 2023

Prentis Hemphill – The Story Being Told Through Our Collective Body

Thomas is joined by writer, embodiment facilitator, political organizer, therapist, and the founder and director of The Embodiment Institute, Prentis Hemphill. They discuss the evolution of embodiment and somatics, and how our bodies are the sites at which transformation occurs in trauma work. Prentis discusses their work in social and political movements to address individual and collective trauma and to tap into the resilience and creativity needed to envision solutions to the catastrophes and crises that we face. They explore the need to acknowledge our interconnectedness in healing spaces, and the potential of somatics and embodiment to help us understand ourselves, integrate the traumatic events we’ve experienced, and re-awaken parts of ourselves that may have gone dormant.

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“How do we expand our field and feeling so that we can be aware of the web of relationship that we’re already embedded in?”

- Prentis Hemphill

Guest Information

Prentis Hemphill

Prentis Hemphill is a writer, embodiment facilitator, political organizer, and therapist. They are the Founder and Director of The Embodiment Institute and The Black Embodiment Initiative, and the host of the acclaimed podcast, Finding Our Way.

For the last ten years, Prentis has practiced and taught somatics in social movement organizations and offered embodied practice during moments of social unrest and organizational upheaval. They have taught embodied leadership and generative somatics with Black Organizing for Leadership and Dignity, and served as the Healing Justice Director of Black Lives Matter Global Network from 2016 to 2019. Their work and writing have appeared in the New York Times, and the Huffington Post. They are a contributor to You Are Your Best Thing, edited by Tarana Burke and Brene Brown, Holding Change by Adrienne Maree Brown, and The Politics of Trauma by Staci Haines.

They live in North Carolina on a small farm with their partner, child, two dogs, and two chickens while working on an upcoming book on healing justice.

Learn more about Prentis and their work at prentishemphill.com

Notes & Resources

Key points from this episode include:

  • Choosing belonging through a universal source over comfort within a human-created story
  • The potential of ritual to sync our nervous systems for collective resilience building
  • How do we meet in a field of presence and let go of the hold that the past has on us
  • The challenges faced by those who don’t allow the stories we’re told about power to take root
  • How our ancestors are a resource to remain connected to the source of light inside of us
  • We can’t have individual solutions to collective and global crises, we need to think systemically

Episode Transcript

Thomas Hübl: Hello and welcome. My name is Thomas Hübl, and I’m the convenor of the Collective Trauma Summit 2022 again, and I’m very delighted to sit here with Prentis Hemphill. Prentis, a very warm welcome to our summit here.

Prentis Hemphill: Thank you so much, Thomas. It’s really great to be with you.

Thomas: Yeah, it’s great, actually. Immediately, when you came on, I felt a very lovely resonance. And I think that we have some shared passions, at least that’s my feeling. I always love to get a little bit to get into your stream, like your background. And what made you, what shaped you? There is calling, life circumstances, traumatization that shape our way to who we become and how we flourish. So maybe you want to tell us a little bit about what shaped you into what you’re doing today and maybe also after that, what’s your leading edge where you’re excited right now in the work?

Prentis: Thanks for the invitation to begin there. Sometimes they get skipped over. I think what’s important to understand about my shaping is that I’m from the southern United States and from a town in Texas. I didn’t grow up in a city. I grew up in a town in the prairieland expanse. People still rode horses sometimes down the street, that kind of place and deeply shaped me. I think the history of the South can feel very dense. It’s very visceral, I think.

That pressure and presence of history was, you know, it’s something you have to contend with in a way early on. There’s a point where it becomes do I internalize these messages that I’m receiving or do I try a more difficult path being awake to what has happened? So I feel really clear how that shaped me and where those choices were in my life. And I also feel really shaped by black Southern spiritual traditions that I think are a mix of Christianity and African spiritual traditions. But I grew up in churches where people shouted and released, and our bodies were very much in the practice of connecting to God. It was very musical, very rhythmic, very active. So I grew up there.

I say early on I knew something about what a body could do, and I knew it from that spiritual tradition. I wasn’t afraid in that context of moving. Of letting go. Of reaching my hands up, of reverence. I feel deeply shaped by that tradition. And I, you know, I experienced trauma. Growing up, there was violence in our home that was deeply shaping for me. There was also a lot of laughter and love. And it was just that mixed that swirl of things. It was very clear to me early on that the experiences that my parents had, that we had in the world, especially around racism, or for me, around gender and race, that it showed up in our household, that was happening to us in other places and it showed up between us. I was really clear about that in a way that it didn’t kind of originate with my parent, though, You know, obviously, still we enact things. But I could tell that there were threads elsewhere in the world.
When I got older, I got really interested in politics and political organizing in particular. And it was a way for me to not only kind of accept that things were going to be this way always, that these entrenched historical power dynamics would remain so. And there was something we could do about it through collective action. And so political organizing was really an important way for me to reclaim my agency and become a kind of actor in the world.

But getting deeply into movement work, there’s a lot of different paths. That’s part of my personality is I’m like, I was doing political organizing and also studying therapy and somatics at the same time, but holding those worlds and being in those worlds, I could see how much they didn’t speak to one another, how so many of the organizers that I knew were not interested in thinking about healing or were not interested in understanding of the way trauma or individual trauma or experiences of historical generational trauma were impacting them or the people around them. It became very analytical in some ways, how people went about changing the world, so to speak. And at the same time I was in therapy context and there wasn’t that capacity to look at the systemic. It was very individual. So I’ve been working kind of in Black movement in particular, but movements, social movements, broadly thinking about how we can address individual and collective trauma, how we can live up to the values that we have, how they can actually become embodied and how we can tap into the kind of resilience and creativity that I think is necessary for envisioning a way through these kind of catastrophes and crises that we face. So that’s where the bulk of my work has been.

Thomas: Mm hmm, beautiful. Immediately many, many questions come up as I listen to you speak. One is that you said something very interesting: You said “either I internalize or I am awake.” It sounds like a simple sentence, but I would love for you to speak to that sentence a bit, because I think that’s a very interesting, a very powerful sentence that might be easily skipped over because it holds a lot of power. So maybe you can speak what that means or how does one stays awake, internalized or have a choice.

Prentis: Yeah, it feels like a really I can remember the time and I wonder if it’s true for other people that are kind of faced with that dilemma of there’s a story that’s really heavy in a place about who has power and who doesn’t, who’s worthy and who’s not, who’s human and who’s not. There’s a story that’s reinforced every time you turn the television on or every time you walk down the street, there’s a story that is trying to be told through your body, essentially. For me, I think it was probably when I was about 11, it felt like, Oh. I have to. There’s a way that I can almost seek a kind of comfort or it’s almost a kind of sanity. If I accept this lie into my body. If I let the lie take root in me, that I’m subhuman in some way or undeserving in some way, I can let that root in me. And the world will make sense, and I’ll know how to navigate it. I’ll know where I can go and where I can’t go if I let that root in me. Or there’s a more challenging path and a more maddening path in a way of, well, at least immediately, that’s what it felt like. not allowing the lie to take root and to remain myself, awake, alive, impactable, sensitive. And that’s the path I chose.

It felt for me and I’m using God in a really expansive way for me. But I had to make a decision. At that point, I said, “Well, God made me.” Or I was created so that the world of human beings and the stories we tell about power and these dynamics is an imposed narrative on me. But for me, it was realizing that there were these stories that we lived in, that we’re human-created with a human intention, that it was a story about power and resources, and I somehow could tap into something that felt like a deeper or higher knowing, which is that God, an expansive God, created me. Put me here. Here I am. And there was nothing in that relationship that said that I wasn’t enough. Or I didn’t belong here. In fact, everything said I belonged here because I existed here.

And so when I tapped into that, that was my kind of resource, my source for saying, you know, I can remain sensitive. I can remain present because I know I feel connected to that source as opposed to trying to source from this really flimsy story that seemed to permeate everything that had to be reinforced constantly through violence and through lies. I was like, I am going to source something else in order to stay here. So I had to grieve. You know, there’s a lot of grief in that, too, when you realize what is.

Thomas: I think that’s really amazing. I mean, for me, it touches me very much when you say what you said right now. First of all, “Not to let a lie take root in my body.” It’s a very powerful sentence. I mean, as an 11 year old, to have a choice, to say either I choose belonging to a distorted system that gives me some comfort, or I choose wakefulness and not let that root. But then I need to be awake, moment to moment to be in life and make it moment to moment to moment be in the choice. That’s very powerful. I love it. It’s amazing.

And then also, “I source myself from something that’s more universal that is not yet corrupted by that human made system over thousands of years.” I think that these are two very powerful things you said that really reached me. How did that sourcing from God or like a universal source is your outlet and that helps us to stay aligned in life when that belonging doesn’t give us that sourcing because we don’t want to belong to a distorted system. That’s pretty amazing.

Prentis: Thank you for that. I also will say that I felt really resourced by my ancestors and tradition. I often think about the very simple song that we always sang growing up which is: “This little light of mine. I’m going to let it shine.” And it sounds like a simple children’s song. But as I got older, I thought, wow, think about what my ancestors infused into that song a very simple, powerful message about staying connected to that source. And there are all kinds of songs like that, or ways of moving or dancing that I felt like reinforced a very simple stay connected to that source because this world is full of a lot of distortions. But I would always sing that song. I’m going to let it shine, you know, all through the night, I’m gonna let it shine. It’s just the song is about in all of these conditions, I’m going to remain connected to that light source inside of me. And so, yeah, I felt like I came from a lineage. You know, I could map how people stay connected to that light, even in these very challenging moments.

Thomas: Mm hmm. That’s amazing. That’s amazing. And so you said something else before. It is the second part of your first sharing that I want to come back to. You said there wasn’t some reenactment in your family system, but you could feel the roots or the streams coming from somewhere. Can you speak to this? This sounds very interesting to me.

Prentis: Yeah, I feel excited to talk to you about it because I know a lot of your work does the same mapping. You know, I was writing recently. I’m working on a book right now kind of about this, and I was saying that I could really track that if my dad got fired from his job, that the way it worked. (And I think the way power can sometimes work too,) is that he wasn’t able to express his frustration or feeling. I can’t kind of back it up a little bit. You know, my dad, black man, grew up in the South. Very smart, very charming man, very few opportunities, a lot of closed doors for him. And I think his idea of what would be possible to him as a man and what was reality were very, very different. And so in that gap was this buildup of frustration and anger, rage. And he couldn’t act that rage out on the people with more power than him. He could, but there would be great consequences. We know the consequences and violence and incarceration, all of these consequences.

So instead, the outlet that he had was on those that were close to him that were less likely to leave him and who had less power. And that was my mother and that was his kids. He moved along that line, and so I could understand when things would be enacted on us. I’m not saying this is not from our relationship. This didn’t emerge from our relationship. It comes from somewhere else. But because he was afraid of or wanted to avoid the consequences. And because they would have killed him, he couldn’t act it out in the places really where belonged. He had acted out on folks with less power. And so then we absorbed that.

And, you know, I’m a parent now. This year, I became a parent. And I think a lot about my child and my father was really focused on being seen, being valued as a man in this society. And sometimes, he’d look at me, and I would feel that that was the preoccupation. And he couldn’t see me fully because that was inside of him, running inside of him. And so I learned to kind of pull back. You know, I didn’t expect much from his gaze because there was something else happening. But when I had a child, she looked at me, and I was just purely present. My habit, The habit energy I have is to pull-away because that’s what I’m used to doing. But I realized in order to interrupt, actually, the generational pattern and to figure out how to be present to her looking, to her eyes. And then, actually, if I pulled away, I would let the story, let this pain continue. But if I figured out how to show up to her looking, something else was possible for our lineage.

Thomas: Hmm. That’s also pretty amazing. First of all, I love the wakefulness that you describe that was already in you from the beginning. Like how you observe things that are really strong. And I think you were in the sleep to them, but you recognized and that’s really strong. And also that you see the repetition compulsion of the same transgenerational issue and you have the awareness of step by step reversing it or integrating it or however we call it. That’s powerful. And congratulations.

Prentis: Thank you.

Thomas: Being a parent, it’s lovely.

Prentis: Thank you.

Thomas: Yeah. So maybe this leads us already because I deeply see every day in my work and see the importance of two things. And I’m curious how you look at it. One is that trauma work needs to go through the body. That’s not something we do through reflecting/mental. I mean, that’s a part of it. But eventually everything needs to restore itself, reintegrate itself through the body.
So that’s my first question. I know you are very deep into somatic therapy and embodiment, so maybe you can speak a bit to how that works in the body or how you experience that. The second part is that I think we are within that’s why we call this the Collective Trauma Summit, because there are systemic patterns that are pandemic that most of us bought into some of it, at least because it’s all thousands of years of trauma that all the generations have been born into in various ways. In one way is the sense of separation and that we see an individual separate from the collective. I mean, everybody who stops breathing for more than 3 minutes, we’ll see how interdependence works.

But still, the kind of and many schools of thought are actually within that kind of limitation of thinking life in a separate way. I guess an individual can be seen separately or even therapy works on a separate individual versus an interdependence that’s always there. A fluidity between the I and the we or the I and all or however we want to see it. And I’m curious about both of it, like embodiment and individual collective interdependence and how that’s important in your work.

Prentis: I love that. That’s another thing I was really excited to talk to you about. In particular, what I want to say about somatics and embodiment. Gosh, there’s so much. It’s… we learn through our bodies. We remember in our bodies. And I think the idea that we could engage in healing work without our bodies. Very still bodies that, you know, don’t feel or move or I think it’s very much a part of the same tangle we’re in. It’s the logic that the mind can do something and then just tell the body about it later, that it can just figure it out without relationship to feeling or all the unruly emotions of the body, I think it’s part of the conundrum as part of what lays the foundation for a lot of forms of dominance and objectification, I think. Mind over the body I can just think about it, tell the body to do it, and that should work. This is nothing but flesh that I control through the control center of my brain. It really sets the foundation, I think, for turning the world into objects, turning nature into objects, turning our bodies into objects, turning certain people into objects.

And I think fundamentally, it is just like you said, when we’re really trying to transform something and especially working with our nervous systems to recalibrate what’s happening in there, it means that our bodies not only have to be involved, it’s the side at which the transformation occurs and your brain is also in your body, turns out so that it’s actually reactivating the conversation between all of the elements of your nervous system and your body to bring those into conversation and collaboration, like you were saying, I think is really it’s the promise of embodiment and somatics.

So when I work with clients, it’s about feeling. Allowing sensations to come back online to kind of interrupt the sense that we are robots or should be a machine. But are actually feeling beings. And that’s there’s actually wisdom in there, that there’s stories inside of our body and some of them want completion, some of them want expression. And there’s also capacities in our body that we may have to reawaken. There are ways that traumatic experiences can contract certain parts of our body. So we may have to reawaken those places in our body and see then what we can feel when other parts of our bodies come online. There’s so much in there, but I think that’s really the potential of somatics and embodiment, is to understand ourselves, to integrate what we’ve experienced, and also to reawaken parts of ourselves that may have gone dormant or be in a kind of contraction that’s sucking a lot of our energy and may be able to open that up.

Now, in terms of the embodiment and related to the collective, through my work, a lot of what I say is that relationship is really what we’re talking about. So even as you’re talking about integrating parts of our body, that’s actually, your arm is in relationship to your chest. Your torso is in relationship to your lower body. We are actually not just biceps and pecs. And, you know, there’s a relationship in how you move. And sometimes, we bypass certain aspects because we don’t want to feel it. But relationships are at the core.

Trauma interrupts relationships in our own body and also with other beings, other human beings, other beings in our ecosystem. Trauma interrupts that relationship. And so, with our organization, Embodiment Institute, we are talking about how we expand our field and feeling so that we can be aware of the web of relationships that we’re already embedded in and be able to feel into that. That is so much of what is I’m going to say broken, but I wish I had a better word. And as someone who has trained as a therapist, we often think about individual distress as a kind of indicator of well-being. And I think that there’s something about our ability to be in relationship with our ecosystem, with other creatures, with other human beings that actually tells us a lot about well-being. It’s not just my individual distress. It’s capacity for relationships too.

Thomas: Mm hmm. Beautiful. I love what you said about the mind over the body. I also see this as one of the pandemic symptoms, is the dissociated mind from nature. And then we make all kinds of decisions, but the world is actually a 2D poster, as if it can be experienced through the body, which is three dimensional, has edges, and is tangible. It’s I see you as a two dimensional poster and that’s very dangerous. I think that’s where all the pain happens because their relationship is lost. It’s beautiful. They want us to highlight that. I think that that’s a very important point. So that leads to ecological crisis also and to many other social and cultural issues. When we look at the current therapy models, I heard you talk about disrupting some of the conventional ways of therapy. Maybe you want to say a little bit about that first and then I’ll come back to the collective for a moment.

Prentis: Yeah, I mean, I say that to be, I like to be a little agitational sometimes. And I think it’s really all the things that we are starting to talk about, about the individual and collective. I think the language I use is disrupting the wellness industry, because there’s this massive industry, the fastest growing multibillion dollar industry. There’s books, movies and retreats and all of these things. I think all of that is important. However, it’s growing exponentially as an industry because our distress and the kind of catastrophes and crises we face are growing.

The logic, I think, of the wellness and kind of therapeutic industries in this moment has a really deep individualism inside of it. And I think that it’s important to disrupt that because that’s that’s how we get here. There’s actually not just an individual solution that will relieve your distress. I think that obscures our interconnectivity to even imagine that is so. So when I say that, it’s mostly that I want it to be less possible for us to think that we can have individual solutions to real collective and global crises. I want us to start thinking systemically, and I think that’s what wellness and therapy hasn’t been able to do really well, I think in a systems way. But I think that’s where right action is at this moment, obviously in the individual, but also in being able to think systemically.

So I think I want to disrupt that. I think I also want to disrupt the fear of talking about how power has shaped our embodiment. And shapes how we create things, like how belonging operates in the spaces that we create. I want that to be disrupted a bit because where we are currently – where some of us might feel settled, might not be. It’s almost like, how do I say this? If you come up in a world where your nervous system is settled by only being with people like you – it indicates that there’s something about belonging I think that has to be healed, has to be addressed. And I think that’s where we are. We have to trouble that water a bit and talk about how power actually shaped where your body is comfortable and where your body gets agitated. Look into that and allow what we find there to really transform us. So that’s what I’m excited about. It’s a loving disruption for the sake of the collective.

Thomas: Yeah, I love that. I love that because I think you speak to that in a way I call it sometimes in a distortion of trauma. And trauma creates what I often call looking at our society, we see emergent relational updating and growing processes. But then I think sometimes we look at society and it looks the same and it’s repetitive, it’s this related, it’s non-emergent, it doesn’t have any updates, it’s just repeating itself. It’s actually stuck in the past.

Prentis: That’s right. That’s right.

Thomas: And we look at this and we call all of it society. And I would say, no, let’s look. This is not the same. We have way too little collective awareness of those repetitive processes. Then we argue with the hostage in time instead of taking care of its root in order to release that energy. And that creates societal structures that are actually frozen and they don’t evolve. That creates a lot of tension that the part that is moving today and that tension is really painful or is suffering. And I would love for you to speak a bit more to that, maybe how you experience that. So that’s how I would describe it. But I’m sure you have your own experience of that. Also how how do you see that we as collective wakefulness, like when we support each other in networks, how can we make a step there to help liberate that kind of collective permafrost that holds a lot of energy, like you said before, in the body, if if there is a contraction that holds a lot of energy, it affects the individual. So we like to look at the same principle, maybe in a bit of a different adaptation in the collective. There’s a lot of energy stuck in these collective unconscious structures. How can we translate maybe a bit of what we learned individually into like a more collective somatic release work, if maybe that makes sense, maybe you can speak into that, if that makes some sense.

Prentis: Yeah, makes a lot of sense, but it feels like something I want to talk about for a day, some day. Hahaha.

Thomas: So we need to continue later.

Prentis: Yeah. I really love that image of the kind of institutions and structures that get frozen in time. That’s really helpful for me. I often think about what it takes to keep something frozen, because that’s yeah, I feel like that’s what I work with a lot and that’s what I feel a lot is what it takes actually to keep it frozen. So I think the things that I want to say and there’s so much there, but what I want to say is that we come to embody the systems that we are embedded in. We learn how to recreate them, we learn how to build them, we learn how to act them out in our interpersonal relationships. We know how to impose those structures and logics on our own bodies. I think about it as like that logic that has risen to the level of systemic and structural is also just worming its way through everything and through us. And so a lot of what I’m trying to explore right now is well, one, how do we meet in a kind of field of presence, if that’s possible. It’s almost like the past has this hold on us that makes it almost impossible to meet at the same place in a way, because we’re acting it out. We’re trying to embody it. We’re trying to make sense in this world, kind of like what we’re talking about at the top.

And I’m really curious about how, like you and I, how groups of people can meet in a place more or less in a field. And I think that holds a lot of possibilities. I think one of the things I feel really strongly in the U.S., which is where I’ve always lived, is this story that we’ve held about who we are and who all the different characters are and in this play. It’s expired. It’s obviously over. Yet people don’t have a good story about who they are and a fear of changing and transforming.

I’m sure you’ve experienced this, when you’re working with someone who’s almost they’ve gotten to the edge where they’re like, okay, this thing, I’m holding on to this element of my trauma that I’m holding on to. I can see all around it now. I can feel all around it. But if I let it go, who am I? If I let it go, who do I become? I’m afraid of the unknown. And therefore I’m unwilling to change. I think we’re very much at that point in a lot of places we’ve held on so tightly to these stories and these structures and these dynamics and these identities – it’s not even that they make sense or don’t make sense. It’s that I actually am afraid of who I might need to become and what I might need to feel the kind of grief and relatedness and responsibility and accountability that I might need to feel. I’m not sure if I can bear it. And so I’d rather stay entrenched in this kind of denial and the persistence of this story about who I am or who I might be.

But I think it’s almost like getting good at change or getting willing to change or facing into the unknown these existential questions and having the rituals. I mean, I think that’s the foundation when we talk about collective transformation as having the kind of rituals that can bring our bodies into the same place and allow us to feel all of what is, and we just don’t have enough of those spaces. We don’t have enough of those practices anymore, but also together across culture and history that allow us to meet each other in that place. So that’s what I’m doing, a lot of study right now around ritual and trying to create because culture is a living thing. You know, we always have to be creating inside of it. And so I’m in this question of what are the rituals that can move us through grief, through accountability? What’s the rhythm of it? Who holds it and how? Because I don’t think there’s another way and I don’t think it’s an intellectual thing. I mean, I can kind of point to it. I think we have to do a thing together.

Thomas: Now, that’s powerful. I’ll come back to that in a moment. I think that’s really interesting, whether the rituals that we energize today that help us in this level of evolution forward. The other thing I want to highlight is something I think that is very essential for trauma work. And that’s why I want to underline what you said, that is how often our mind is holding a story because we defend ourselves against the intensity of our experience in our bodies and emotions. And as long as we stay entangled in that story, we know that helps us. So maybe at the beginning it’s easier. There’s an intelligence in that helping us to dive deeper. But every change process that brings up fear means there’s a lot of fear stored that we slowly need to sink in to, integrate in order to be again updated with evolution today.

Prentis: That’s right.

Thomas: Otherwise, that part of me lives in the past, as you said before. So we walk around, but parts of us are not even here in the room. They’re hanging out somewhere in space time and we can’t have a conversation. I think it would be really good to animate that in a movie or somehow in that movie, because that’s a very, very powerful illustration. And so, like, maybe you can expand a bit. How could a ritual look like? So now that we highlighted that part of the past and the split between body and mind, how would that look like in the collective? How could we translate this into collective rituals that help us to do that?

Prentis: I wish I had the full answer that I’m longing for. I think what I can tell so far, which I think is probably not very much at all, is that there’s a power in ritual. There’s a power in incoming into the collective. We tell the story about who we are individually, who we are together. We sync up our nervous systems, is actually a way that our nervous systems can start to find each other. We can expand our range to be with aliveness. When we’re with each other, it’s like, okay, I can hold more because I’m with more. Nervous systems are part of a larger nervous system that can hold more.

So I think that there’s a lot of wisdom in what people have done, how people circle up, how people sing songs, how people dance, how people tell stories. And I think especially for where, again, I’m located in the southern United States, we haven’t actually had. I live on land that was part of a plantation system. 37,000 acres of land here. That was part of a plantation system. And thousands of Africans were enslaved here. And what is now kind of my rural neighborhood, there’s never been that I know of a ritual on this land to grieve. To grieve what has happened, to grieve what people went through, to grieve what was lost, and people enacted that on other people’s bodies. There actually hasn’t been the kind of again, I come from the Southern Church, there hasn’t been a wailing. We haven’t wailed. You know, in fact, it was more or less illegal for us to do that. And that’s intentional. It’s illegal for us to wail, or to throw our bodies on the ground, to become unruly in our grief, even though, you know, families are separated or people were violently killed. And we need that kind of wailing and witnessing, I think. And I think in the witnessing to become a body that has enough expansiveness enough width actually to be with that level of. And to witness that I think is a transformative process. So I think we need both wailing and witnessing here. We need a song that reconnects us. These are the things I’m trying to think through. How do we make this happen? How do we recruit people into doing this kind of experiment? But we haven’t done nearly enough grieving and collective resilience building. I think for any of this to make sense.

Thomas: Mhm. I love it. I would be part of it.

Prentis: Okay, great. You’re invited, Thomas.

Thomas: I love it. I totally think that’s very important and I think that’s exactly the kind of work we need on collective feels to release the permafrost that I was talking about before. I think that’s exactly one example. I mean, there are many examples, but that’s one that is very important. It’s interesting because of one thing that I would love to see what you’re saying to this, because in rituals, as I look at it, is if I look at you right now, you exist (of course you exist in your body,) but you also exist in my central nervous system.

Prentis: Yeah.

Thomas: So I have you in me.

Prentis: Yeah.

Thomas: You are very close to me and vice versa. So when we talk about relating, we are actually describing the intra existence that we exist in each other, but we are already deeply in each other anyway. The only way not to have it that way is to contract, to absence, to dissociate, to do something to numb ourselves or, go into high stress that we kind of distort in my perception of you. But in a way, you are closer than close. And we can just try to prevent that. And trauma is one process of basically, you know, when that gets overwhelmed and we need to shut parts down. But so when we look at this in groups, when we have large groups, everybody is basically represented in everybody, if it’s facilitated in the right way, we create a lot of intra-intimacy. And that’s actually like a way of witnessing is becoming aware of that intra existence of everybody and everybody, basically.

The more fluid the interior spaces can be, the more data connection is running, the more relationality is being expressed. That’s how we describe it. The words that we use. But I would love to hear your take on that, because for some people, when they hear, Oh, I exist in you, that’s at the beginning a bit for and not for you, but something that I would like to hear your experience just to to enrich that and then see how that relates to ritual.

Prentis: Hmmm. I mean, I love that. I love to feel into what you’re sharing. And I can feel honestly, listening to the parts of me, they’re like, okay, but like, is that okay? And what part of me: How are you holding me there? YI don’t know if it’s control, but I’m like, but how? How am I in there? Like, what do you feel? And I think it’s really honest. I mean, I think that is absolutely right about the relationship piece. It’s like you’re already in there. Especially if I allow myself to be present or in presence. It’s like, Oh, absolutely. You’re in here, you’re impacting. You’re changing me by being in this relationship.

And it just is so clarifying for me around how yes to trauma, through socialization all these ways that we try to mitigate and control relationships. You can be in this much or you can be in only if you’re positioned in this way. And what is it to allow presence to tell us how this person lives in us instead of the story of who I must be in relationship to you, trying to control, contort and control that? That feels really exciting to me. And also, I think about the thing around ritual is how do we keep inviting people? When I hold group spaces, you know, we begin in a place and then I’m like, okay, how do I keep carrying you? And the energy of us carrying us deeper, deeper, deeper into that place where we can arrive there and really witness one another and really witness the relationship. And I think the ritual is where it’s not that you arrive there, that’s the portal and then you arrive somewhere else. But how do we go from where we are now? That’s the thing I’m really curious about: how do we keep going down into these levels and layers so that we can arrive there and do that without getting too hurt along the way?

I think people are really cognizant of being hurt more. Maybe it’s especially here or especially this time, but I find that to be the challenge of getting people into rituals. I’m afraid to trust them, afraid to connect. I’m afraid of what others might do if I let these contractions go, you know?

Thomas: And maybe that’s exactly what we need to address in order to go deeper. Those defense mechanisms are invited to be there and then be part of the ritual and take them deep inside.

Prentis: That’s how you spiral.

Thomas: Exactly.

Prentis: Yeah.

Thomas: And I love it also because of what you said, like wait a minute. How do I exist in you? I believe to be more like through experience and maybe also through scientific research, we look at the intra existence of everybody and everybody. I think that that’s a highway to right relation because then it’s absolutely clear that not honoring and respecting human rights is a highway to one’s own and well-being. Because if I contract myself, I can do something to somebody that is not right. And because otherwise, if I want to be open in life, I cannot lie and stay open. I cannot do something painful and stay open. It doesn’t work. And so in a way, intra existence is the highway to any kind of community building that supports equality and flourishing for everybody and really a right relation that’s connected to that universal source you spoke about. That’s lovely.

Prentis: I love that. I love that.

Thomas: Yeah. So I see our time. I don’t want to take too much of your time. Is there anything that you would love to say that we didn’t talk about? I mean, I could go on for hours because there’s so much to talk about. But for this conversation, and maybe then if we can find another opportunity. But is there anything for this conversation we didn’t touch on that’s important to you?

Prentis: Oh, yeah. My hope is this will be the first conversation of many. I’ve been deeply inspired by your work. I’m so grateful for it and really glad to be invited here to be a part of this conference so I can feel complete knowing that this is an ongoing conversation and I’m grateful.

Thomas: I loved it. I loved it. I would love to continue in multiple ways. I already have some ideas, so I would love that too. I am honored that you are here and I feel a lot of resonance, I love the wakefulness and the precision. I love precision, you know, because I often say “Precision is love and being precise is loving.” So I love how precisely you relate to things, like aspects of life and processes. That’s really beautiful and the wakefulness that shines through that. So thank you for expressing this here.

Prentis: Thank you. That really touches me.