BODY AS TEMPLE:
Embodiment in Solar Storms
“We are in need of integrity of being that recognizes this disregarded inner world. I mean integrity in the true sense of the word, the sense that addresses a human wholeness and completeness, an entirety of living, with body, land, and the human self in relationship with all the rest, and with a love that remembers itself.
There are sacred dimensions to such love and they allow for viewing the world in all its beauty with gratitude, depth, and the thread of connection. For as we breathe, we are air. We are water. We are earth. We are what is missing from the equation of wholeness.
The body, made of earth’s mud and breathed into, is the temple, and we need to learn to worship it as such, to move slowly within it, respecting it, loving it, treating ourselves and all our loved ones with tenderness. And the love for the body and for the earth are the same love.” (p. 169)
Linda Hogan wrote the above words in an essay entitled “The Department of the Interior,” included in a collection of women writers on body and soul, Minding the Body. Her words describe Angel’s journey to embodiment in Solar Storms through the feelings in her body. Angel begins to experience her body from the inside, begins to dwell in her body. This is the fundamental shift that occurs in embodiment, the ability to feel and be in our own inner landscape, feeling from the inside. To be embodied is to be present within one’s own body and to feel our kinship with the earth, as well as our universe. In The Wisdom of the Body Moving, an introduction to Body-Mind Centering, the work of Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, author Linda Hartley describes embodiment:
In coming into our body we become connected to our greater home, the earth; we become a part of the earth, and she a part of us. We are received into her, and she into us; we grow through and from her support and nourishment, and we express her qualities through our very being. She is our ground. (xxi)
The embodied individual feels the skin she inhabits as a semi-permeable membrane, like the membrane of the individual cell, which filters and allows what is nourishing to enter, releasing what is toxic. Embodiment is true individuation, feeling both the unique individual self and embeddedness in the whole. The individual increasingly identifies what is me and not me, selecting at the membrane of skin, while at the same time feeling the rhythms of the whole. “Individuated consciousness is our destiny” (p. 258), asserts Sean Kane in Wisdom of the Mythtellers, and he reminds us that in returning to the wisdom of the Earth and the languages of the Earth’s many inhabitants, it is necessary to hear the polyphonic rhythms of the world we inhabit. Embodied individuation demands the ability to hear one’s own inner rhythms while dancing in a sea of rhythms.
In this paper I will attempt to show the development of Angel’s felt bodily experience, her growing embodiment, and the polyphonic interactive dance among body, place and nature that Hogan articulates in Solar Storms. Hogan’s Native American perspective demonstrates the relationship of embodiment and embeddedness that is so necessary for us to understand, as the environment we are embedded in comes increasingly under siege.
The Felt Experience of Body
Throughout Solar Storms, Angel describes her experience of growth and change through her felt bodily experience. Here, Linda Hogan describes Angel’s understanding of the link between body and transformation:
I don’t know how it is that people change, or what is required, or how it moves. I know only what it feels like to change; it’s in the body, in the stomach, in the heart. They ache and then they open. I felt it then; Dora-Rouge said it happens all our lives. She said that we are cocoons who consume our own bodies and at death we fly away transformed and beautiful. (p. 89)
Angel’s experience of opening preceded by aching is an accurate description of how feeling affects the tissue of the body. When we are able to stay with the feeling, allowing our awareness to focus on the area instead of going away from the sensation, a shift occurs in the bodily tissue, as the energy of the feeling opens the bodily structure in that area. In our culture we have generally learned to distract ourselves from inner feelings or intense sensations, yet as Dora-Rouge knows in her wisdom, we are capable of ongoing transformation throughout our lives if we learn to dwell within the body.
Early on in Solar Storms, Linda Hogan demonstrates that this understanding of the wisdom of body lives in the tradition of the Native American people. Through the voice of Agnes, Angel’s great-grandmother she sets the stage for the embodied perspective that Angel will inherit. Agnes speaks of Bush’s drawing on her internal knowing in her preparations for the ceremony that marked Angel’s being taken from her. Agnes intuits, “She’d gone to the old ways, the way we used to live. From the map inside ourselves” (p. 17). This map inside ourselves is accessed through inner sensations and feelings, listening for direction in our inner landscape, and learning to navigate wisely beyond our skin by attending to the inner map. This is akin to Kane’s description of the world existing inside of us beyond the ego’s words, “what Hindu scriptures calls ‘the unborn world” (p. 253). Kane links this world to the heart, promising, “the gods continue to speak to ears that are organs of the heart” (p.253).
A few paragraphs later, Agnes describes how feelings are communicated from one individual to another, through the porous membrane of the skin: “But the most important thing they carried away with them was Bush’s sorrow. It was small now, and child-sized, and it slid its hand inside theirs and walked away with them. We all had it, after that, it became our own” (p.18). Even Agnes’ bearskin coat is a way of communicating the knowing that lives inside skin. When she and Bush walk together back to the mainland wrapped inside the bear fur, Agnes reveals, “We were two people inside the fur of this bear. She said she could see the cubs that had lived inside and been born from this skin, and I said ‘Yes” (p.19).
When Angel first arrives at Adam’s Rib, as she departs from the ferry she immediately refers to the sensations she is feeling in her body and what she knows from being aware of those sensations: “When I touched ground, my legs still held the rocking motions of the water. It seemed to move beneath my feet. In every curve and fold of myself, I knew that even land was not stable” (p.23). In this passage, she was feeling her body’s inner movement, the 80% of water we carry within us that resonates with external movement. Feeling the vulnerability of her own matter and its ability to respond to motion, she knew that the matter of the land itself was equally vulnerable. Sean Kane describes the center of the sacred as the relationship between two, “the relationship between them – for the knowledge of pattern is the beginning of every practical wisdom” (p. 143). Kane also notes “The mythteller anticipated the particle physicist in viewing unity as plural” (p. 145). Angel felt the exaggerated rhythms of water moving in her own body as she began to walk on land and knew through her inner landscape that her body and the land were similar, in that land could be shaken in the same way.
When Angel meets her great-grandmother Agnes minutes later, she links her knowing to her bodily feelings. She reveals, “I knew who she was by the way my heart felt in my chest. It recognized its own blood” (p. 23). Angel feels her own legs refusing to move as Agnes walks towards her, and recognizes what her legs are telling her: “They were afraid. So was my heart, having entered this strange and foreign territory . . . “ (p.23).
In describing her return to Adam’s Rib as leaving one America and entering another world, Angel is feeling inside herself, feeling the relationship of inner and outer. She recognizes “a secret part of me knew this end was also a beginning, as if something had shifted right then and there, turned over in me. It was a felt thing, that I was traveling toward myself like rain falling into a lake, going home to a place I’d lived, still inside my mother . . .” (p. 26).
Angel describes two places that have informed her life, shaping and moving her: the rooms of fear and anger, which she describes as places she has inhabited, owned. And she is aware of a new room she is building, “entering silence more deeply than I had entered anything before” (p.27). She promises herself that she won’t run away, asserting, “I would try to salvage what I could find inside me” (p. 27). Angel speaks of the misshapen cot she will be sleeping on as “shaped by other bodies. Like my life, nothing at all formed by me, not skin, not shape” (p. 28). She recognizes that she is not living in her own unique rhythms.
In Solar Storms, the rhythms of exterior events and other individuals permeate inner space. When Angel describes her scars as a reminder of her mother, she is feeling her inner world penetrated by her mother: “The scars, I knew, were from my mother. They were all I had of her. For me she was like air. I breathed her” (p. 35). As she speaks of living closely with Agnes and Dora-Rouge, she speaks of the need “to keep the women out of my skin. But already they were my skin, so I willed myself to remain” (p. 43). When Agnes tells the story of the bear that had been killed, she describes it as still living in the forest, “and it lived inside their skin and bones. Everything they feared moved right inside them” (p.48).
While I was unable to find a critical perspective on Hogan’s writing that refers to this inner space, in an essay entitled “Hogan’s Historical Narratives” in From the Center of Tradition, Barbara Cook quotes from an interview by Brad Johnson with Hogan, in which she says that people who read her work “find characters they can relate to and care about and they see the story from inside their own body, inside their own selves” (p.50). It is clear to me that Hogan considers the interior of body to be as important as the land itself, and the essential link to the knowing of the land.
In a beautiful passage that follows Angel breaking the mirror after Frenchie mentions her scars, Angel reveals her shifting inner terrain and the knowledge that is growing in her:
I began to form a kind of knowing at Adam’s Rib. I began to feel
that if we had no separate words for inside and out and there were
no boundaries between them, no walls, no skin, you would see me.
What would meet your eyes would not be the mask of what had happened to me, not the evidence of violence, not even how I closed the doors to the rooms of anger and fear. Some days you would see fire; other days, water. Or earth. You would see how I am like the night sky with its stars that fall through time and space and arrive here as wolves and fish and people, all of us fed by them. You would see the dust of sun, the turning of creation taking place. But that night I broke my face there were still boundaries and I didn’t yet know I was beautiful as the wolf, or that I was a new order of atoms.
Slowly, Angel was discovering the world inside, birthing her individual self: “But I was like Agnes had said, Water going back into itself. I was water falling into that lake, and these women were that lake . . . “ (p. 55). Increasingly this elemental imagery begins to merge with descriptions of inner space. On meeting Bush, her grandfather’s former wife, Angel notices, “She was, in the first moment of seeing her, equal parts light and water. . . I was witness to a kind of grace I was hard put to describe: I’ve seen it in the stillness of a dear and I’ve felt it in the changing power of seasons” (p.67). This connection with the elements and natural world implies self-knowledge, as Angel concludes of Bush, “there was something about her that knew itself. . . . The world of water, in truth, had claimed her the way it did with people, the way it would one day claim me . . . ” (p. 67). Both the elemental power of water and the land were working on Angel, opening her to her own inner power. In explaining when she steps onto the land on Bush’s island, she almost loses her balance: “It was the land, too, like the water, already trying to take possession of me, to bring me closer” (p.68). Here she describes recovering her inner memories: “I was returning to the watery places in order to unravel my mind and set straight what I had lost . . . “ (p. 72).
Living on the Bush’s island during a rainstorm, Angel begins to feel the present moment, discovering the wonder and aliveness of simply experiencing.
With the windows wide open, I lived inside water. There was no separation between us. I knew in a moment what water was. It was what had been snow. It had passed through old forests, now gone. It was the sweetness of milk and corn and it had journeyed through
human lives. (p.78)
In the fullness of the moment, she feels her interconnection with the continuum of life, a dynamic web of rhythmic relationships uniting us all. She continues, “I’d searched all my life for this older world that was lost to me, this world only my body remembered. In that moment I understood I was part of the same equation as birds and rain” (p.79). With the words, this world only my body remembered, Angel reveals how embeddedness is only possible through the body, through experiencing life within our own matter, for this is where the knowing connection takes place. Cook, while acknowledging that “Angel’s healing is brought about through the strength of the community and the spiritual link to ancestor’s, stories, animals, and healing plants” (p.49), does not notice the emphasis on the interior body in Solar Storms that Hogan finds so primary. Embodiment is a prerequisite for embeddedness, for an “undivided world lies curled inside us” (p.167). In an essay entitled “The Interior” in an anthology of women writers entitled Minding the Body, Linda Hogan writes:
More than symbol, more than the bread and wine of Christ, the body is a knowing connection, it is the telling thing, the medium of experience, expression, being and knowing. Just as the earth is one of the bodies of the universe, we are the bodies of the earth, accidental atoms given this form. An ancient and undivided world lies curled inside us with an ancestral memory that remembers our lives in the wilderness. What the body knows and where it takes us is navigated from an inner map not always carried in daily consciousness. (p. 167)
To know the world as, in Dora-Rouge’s words, “a dense soup of love, creation all around us, full and intelligent” (p. 81), Angel knows she must enter the world within her more deeply: “Finally, I gave up on all surfaces, even the taut skin of water . . . .As for people, I began to read their eyes to see what kind of souls they had. To look deeper” (p.85). Angel knows that she must create a new identity from within, one that is her own creation. Watching Bush reassemble the bones of a wolverine, she muses that if she watched Bush for a long enough time, “I would see an animal begin at bony center and grow. . . It would be an act of new creation” (p. 94). She traces creation back to God’s yearning, and observes in herself, “It was this same desire in me this same longing for creation . . . I had been empty space, and now I was finding a language, a story, to shape myself by” (p.94).
Angel’s understanding of creating from feeling, from the inside of body continues to develop, as she observes “Love is a beginning, a secret warmth that grows, something that comes alive; inside skin a soul turns over and opens its eyes” (p. 143). This is in great contrast to her description of before she arrived at Adam’s Rib: “I never gave much thought to what things were like inside me or how I felt” (p.148). Angel’s inner knowing is developing as the women embark on the canoe trip, as she begins to speak of dreaming as a way of creating, accessed from our insides: “But there was a place inside the human that spoke with land, that entered dreaming” (p. 170). She beautifully describes how she begins to access inner knowledge:
A tendril reached through darkness, a first sharp leaf came up from the rich ground of my sleeping, opened upward from the place in my body that knew absolute truth. It wasn’t a seed that had been planted there, not a cultivated growing, but a wild one, one that had been there all along, waiting. I saw vines creeping forward. Inside the thin lid of an eye, petals opened . . . (p. 170).
Angel recognizes that truth lives within the body, and that we grow into our embeddedness through that inner knowing. She says, “In this way, the plants and I joined each other” (p. 171). Later she describes the inner connection of the movement of the four women, “The four of us became like one animal. We heard inside each other in a tribal way” (p. 177). On the trip north she comes to know “What mattered, simply and powerfully, was knowing the current of water and living in the body where land spoke what a women must do to survive” (p.204). On her trip alone to gather herbs for Agnes, Angel is aware she is awakening to a new sense of self, when she exalts, “I felt newly created in a fresh, clear world, as if seeing for the first time” (p. 207).
Embodied and Embedded
When the women reach Holy Strings Town, Angel describes the embedded knowing of the Native Americans who the priests and preachers had given up on: “Their souls and minds stayed inside the older world, floating in natal waters, and they still heard the heartbeat of the Mother Earth and received their ancient sustenance” (p.218). When Angel speaks of this land where Dora-Rouge had grown up, she describes the mutuality of being embodied and embedded: “A part of me remembered this world, as did all of Dora-Rouge; it seemed to embody us. We were shaped out of this land by the hands of gods. Or maybe it was that we embodied the land” (p.228).
When Angel speaks of living very closely with many others in Tulik’s small house, she says she learned “that privacy, like beauty, was skin-deep . . . We had ourselves more strongly than I’d ever had in a private room. There were never any invasions into thought or dream. The others knew the secret of dwelling inside their bodies, remaining there” (p.235).
From Tulik, she learns that strength comes from feeling the land. She recognizes the power of feeling leads to embeddedness, realizing that “On this land, a person had to live by feeling. . . . There was a deep intelligence in this, and I, too was feeling the rhythm of it inside myself. My heart and the beat of the land, the land I should have come from, were becoming the same thing” (p.236). When Hannah dies, Angel knows “I had survived in the best of ways for I was filled with grief and compassion” (p.251). The depth of her feelings is opening Angel’s heart. Even in the midst of the protests against the government, she describes, “ . . . my heart opened as if I’d taken scilla, the plant which opens bodies in so many ways. I spent nights sitting on the ground before the fire, my heart and eyes feeling something like love in spite of the presence of police.” And when she sees Tommy again, she is feeling her body and heart, noticing, “I went to him, nearly floating as if I had no feet, and we held each other. I felt my heart grow large.” (p.336)
The embodied individual is continually changing, recreating herself in every moment, shape-shifting in the same way the banks of a river imperceptibly change from day to day. At the very end of Solar Storms, Angel says that even after her death, she hears Dora-Rouge say, “that a human is alive water, that creation is not yet over” (p.350). This passage from Dora-Rouge (or perhaps Angel) on hearing the polyphonic rhythms inside reveals this continual process of becoming:
If you listen at the walls of one human being, even if that one is yourself, you will hear the drumming. Older creatures are remembered in the blood. Inside ourselves we are not yet upright walkers. We are tree. We are frog in amber. Maybe earth itself is just now starting to form.
Angel’s last words are “Something wonderful lives inside me” (p. 351). Her journey has taken her from her rooms of fear and anger to the fullness of her own heart, and the hope of new creation, continued becoming. Hogan echoes this in the final paragraph, “Something beautiful lives inside us” (p.351).
In Solar Storms, Linda Hogan clearly demonstrates the journey of embodiment through the character of Angel. She learns to face the emptiness inside, revisit the rooms of fear and anger, allow her feelings, and to listen for new truth and wisdom within her interior space. Her heart begins to open, she begins to live in the present moment, and she experiences her oneness with the land through her insides. She comes to know her embeddedness, that she embodies the land and the land embodies her. She feels the sacred dimensions of her body and learns that something wonderful lives inside. In Linda Hogan’s words, “the body, made of earth’s mud and breathed into, is the temple.”
Cook, Barbara “Hogan’s Historical Narratives: Bringing to Visibility the
Interrelationship of Humanity and the Natural World.” From the Center of
Tradition, Barbara Cook, Ed., Boulder: University of Colorado Press, 2003.
Hartley, Linda The Wisdom of the Body Moving, Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 1995.
Hogan, Linda “The Department of the Interior.” Minding the Body, Patricia Foster, Ed.,
New York: Doubleday, 1994.
Kane, Sean Wisdom of the Mythtellers, Ontario: Broadview Press, 1998.