The Wonder Of The Wandering Nerve – Breathe and Belong

February 15, 2023

by Hagar Harpak

They need rain, so they make rain

How is your body? Your gut? Your heart? How is your brain? How is your breath? 

Bring your attention to your belly for a moment, right behind your navel. Breathe in slowly, and follow your breath from your nostrils, through your throat, into your lungs. The lungs fill up with air. The diaphragm contracts and flattens. The abdominal cavity bulges. Follow the expansion of your belly into fullness. Pause for a moment. And then slowly allow the air to flow out. Diaphragm returns upwards to its dome shape, belly gently pulls back, lungs emptying out. 

Repeat. And then repeat again. 

Feel your belly expanding and contracting. Your breath moving in and out. Slowly. Feel your chest rising and falling. 

A few more slow, deep breaths into your belly and out again. 

How is your nervous system?

It isn’t always clear where we’re going. We don’t always know which direction to take. And even when we do, it doesn’t always lead us where we thought it would. It’s not always obvious what the next step is, what we’re supposed to do, where we even are. Sometimes it feels as though we were going somewhere, and all of a sudden, life drops us off in the middle of nowhere and we have no idea where to even start to find our way. 

Many people have been feeling lost. Many are trying to carve new paths. The last few years have taken the ground from under the feet of many of us. Trauma has been triggered collectively. Globally. Socially. Personally. We’re all threads in this web of life, intertwined, sticky, woven into one another, participating in a complex network of existence. We’re the spider weaving it. And sometimes we’re the fly that gets caught in it. We’re every character in the story, as my philosophy/mythology teacher, Douglas Brooks, often says. 

When we feel lost in life, or when we feel like a fly caught in a sticky web, when the net we worked so hard on weaving blows away with a strong gust of wind, or when we come in touch with how little control we have and with the level of uncertainty we’re facing, it’s easy for our nervous system to become dysregulated.  

So many of us in today’s world, under the brutal hand of capitalism, on the verge of environmental catastrophe, dealing with human rights issues rooted in white supremacy and misogyny, and stemming out from the rotting core of patriarchy, with the instability of democracy in many countries, and a generation of adults who can’t afford to own a home in today’s economy, are experiencing way more stress than what’s healthy for our beautiful bodies. 

Anxiety and depression are a norm in today’s world. 

Our individual nervous system is intricately woven together with other nervous systems. In his book; “My Grandmother’s Hands,” Resmaa Menakem calls the Vagus Nerve the Soul Nerve, and writes: “ The soul nerve is not just where we experience our emotions. It’s also where we feel a sense of belonging. This is why we can think of it as both a bodily organ and a communal one…” 

The Vagal Nerves are a key part of the parasympathetic nervous system, and carry messages between the brain, heart, and digestive system. It is the largest in the autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for the body’s basic function regulation. Heart rate. Digestion. Mood. Immune system responses. Involuntary muscle contraction and relaxation. Speech. Respiration. 

Resmaa Menakem continues to invite us to explore the concept of belonging, and writes: “We will not end white-body supremacy – or any form of human evil – by trying to tear it to pieces. Instead, we can offer people better ways to belong, and better things to belong to. Instead of belonging to a race, we can belong to a culture. Each of us can also build our own capacity for genuine belonging.”

Vagus in Latin means “wandering.” The vagal nerves take a long and winding road through the body. It journeys from the brainstem and reaches the throat, lungs, heart, stomach, liver, spleen, pancreas, kidney, small and large intestines. 

Maybe we resemble the wonder of the wandering nerve; twisting and winding, creating culture through the system we are part of. Sometimes we wonder what’s next, or whether or not we made the “right” choice in life’s previous intersection. Gandalf reminds us that “not all who wander are lost,” and that’s a great teaching for a messy, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous human life, especially in times that turn us round and round inside a labyrinth of dissolution. 

The gut gets the largest part of the Vagal nerves. That’s the reason we “feel it in our gut.”  This is the nerve of intuition. When it is regulated and functioning well, we cultivate a sense of trust in ourselves, and with that, we have a greater chance of moving through challenging times without being consumed by stress. 

As we wander and explore life and our own sense of self, the everyday and the depth of the unconscious, as we make our way through the maze of fire that is this phase in human history, we can learn to dissolve in constructive ways. 

These are transformative times. We are swirling in the flames of alchemy. We are digesting and we are being digested. We need to find ways to generate a sense of calm, so that we can digest properly. Rest and digest are the main functions of the parasympathetic nervous system. 

Of course, capitalism has trained us to undervalue rest.

Our digestive system is wise. It is instinctual. And it needs us to rest in order to break things down, assimilate, dissolve, and release. We need some rest so that we can dismantle the over-culture’s devaluing of rest. 

Breathe in slowly, dear one, and let the breath caress you from the inside. Move the belly with your breath. The Vagal nerves in the gut will respond. Less stress. More groundedness. Now you can process things. Rest. And digest. 

What do you choose to bring into your system? What nourishes you? What supports your participation in creating a culture that takes care of you and more than you, that takes into consideration soma, soul, and soil – your body and other bodies, your spirit and the spirit of the collective, the ground beneath you, and the earth that we all belong to? 

Breathe out and allow your gifts, your gratitude, your strangeness, your skills, your vulnerability, your voice to touch the environment, to nourish the trees, to be in community, to belong to the earth. 

Feel your belly, right behind your navel. Your navel is connected to the biology of Mother. Whatever our relationship is with our own mother, whether or not our biological mother raised us, and no matter how deeply nurtured we’ve been by our mother, or how traumatized, how disconnected, or how protected, this area in our body connects us to the original nourishment we’ve received. It plugs us into the Great Mother. 

Right now, many of us are trying to figure out how to continue our journey on this planet, how to reconfigure ourselves on personal and collective levels, how to bring our aliveness into healthy, reciprocal relationship with the living, breathing power of the planet, how to connect and collaborate, how to belong, how to be. 

And so we breathe. We breathe and bring awareness to the belly. We breathe and bring up questions, doubts, and ambiguity. We breathe and bring ourselves into belonging. We breathe and bring discernment into choice. What do you want to belong to? What do you want to participate in? 

What do we want? What do YOU want? What do you need? What is needed of you? 

In her book; “The Flowering Wand – Rewilding The Masculine –  Lunar kings, Trans-species Magicians, And Rhizomatic Harpists,” Sophie Strand writes about how mushroom spores can create rain. Spores shoot up out of a mushroom. Some land in the dirt and journey down into the underworld to grow roots. Others make it fifty miles up into the air and follow the currents of the wind. Water condenses around the sugars on the surface of the spores. These spores are coated in water and they bump into each other again and again until they accumulate into rain clouds. 

WHAAAAAAAAAAT?!?!?!?! Isn’t that incredible!?!

Fungi needs humidity. It needs rain. And so it finds a way to create rain. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. But it can’t say it didn’t try. 

One spore cannot create rain on its own. It’s the sense of belonging, it’s the bumping into each other, it’s a process of joining together. It’s the weaving of soil and humidity and wind, of underworld network, stem, and spores, that creates this orchestra of soulful physical existence playing itself into being and belonging. 

Breathe into the soulful support of the somatic sense of belonging. In front and behind your navel. Inside and outside your lungs. 

Who will you make rain with?

Comment below and let us know – what culture do you want to belong to? What culture do you want to create? Who will you become a raincloud with?!

Thank you so much for reading! What an honor to bump into you in this space! 

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