By Ally Stott
The Fulcrum, Issue 88 January 2023
I live on a small island in Oxford. The river called me here eight years ago at a time of great change and transformation in my life. Three years ago, I began year-round wild swimming in rivers, oceans and lakes. It is these healing, transformational experiences I will focus on here.
Merging, being received, held, awakened to joy, rebirth… Entering Earth’s water-body on bright, cool autumnal mornings, I am elated, dopamine suffusing my brain, I am one with all creation.
“Water is life’s matter and matrix, mother and medium.
There is no life without water.”
During the first twelve months of wild swimming, my body often felt more amphibian than human, first tadpole, then frog. Something in my cellular structure was shape-shifting and releasing in response to the awe, joy and gratitude of immersion in this watery womb-world of Earth, with her currents, tides, herons, pebbles, and flow. A holistic shift was happening. In this process of rebirth, I felt I was being re-mothered. Just as the liquidity of mother’s gaze reflects back to the little one her being-nature, bodies of water also reflect back, re-awakening our cellular knowing of oneness, innocence, joy.
Grief can significantly affect the bonding process between mother and baby, by disrupting the bonding hormones of oxytocin and dopamine. Gratitude and awe boost dopamine, creating feelings of well-being, connectedness and belonging.
Many moons ago, intuition and my bodily felt sense carried me to the watery work of Dr Frank Lake’s pre-and perinatal psychology whilst training in the wild lands of Dartmoor as a core process psychotherapist where Lake’s insights were woven together with Buddhist psychology and mindfulness awareness practices. Through embodied explorations, I began to feel and understand some of the impacts that our earliest experiences in the womb can have upon us. This was not a comfortable process! My cells winced and wept in response to hearing confirmation, for the first time, of the impact my pre-natal experiences had had upon my life, something I had only intuited until this time. Lake felt that our time in utero was more impactful than our birth and early years in this air-breathing world and I absorbed his findings on the way our earliest experiences shape (without fixing) our ways of perceiving and relating to the world we are unfurling and emerging into.
Amniotic fluid has similar properties to sea water with respective salinities of 2% and 3.5%. Our human bodies are between 65-70% water, 70% of our vaster body, this Earth is covered in water. Rivers and streams are the arteries of the Earth, carrying nourishment to sustain life in the oceans.
Two terms spun by Lake particularly snagged in my cellular memory as I experientially explored the primordial waters of my womb time: womb of spirit and marinated in mother’s miseries.
Womb of spirit
Lake’s womb of spirit is the time from conception until about nine months after birth when the baby passes into and senses its first relational field. This field includes mother or primary carer and the ecosystems her life happens within, cultural paradigms and belief systems. It is through the reflection and resonance from mother – whom the baby initially experiences as world – that the young one starts to form its sense of self and world and experiences its own ‘being nature’, a term used by Franklyn Sills in the context of the Self-Being-Source triad.
Marinated in mother’s miseries
The phrase marinated in mother’s miseries applies to the foetus’s experience of being flooded with the pain of what I call the ‘mother-family-earthworld’, which is funnelled into its tiny, permeable, developing body through the umbilical cord and deposited in the amniotic fluids.
Lake describes this scenario of interchange between mother and foetus via the umbilical cord as Strongly Negative with Transmarginal Stress, occuring when the margin of tolerable pain has been reached and exceeded, accompanied by a loss of ‘being’ at the centre.
My experience of being marinated in mother’s miseries happened through the sudden and traumatic death of my mother’s beloved father, during her first trimester. A trauma felt by the whole family constellation, an infusion of shock and grief seeped through the cord into my watery womb-world. We know that water holds memory.
Some years later, through craniosacral therapy I began a journey into the watery world of my cellular memories and time in utero. Working with a skilled and sensitive practitioner steeped in pre-natal understandings, my body began to sense a field of safety in which to tell and release this story. Knowing first-hand how healing it is to do this tender, early work, I went on to train as a biodynamic CST practitioner, offering a compassionate space to others who felt called to the borderlands of their own earliest beginnings.
As you read these words, notice how you are doing. What is moving, shifting, re-organising itself in your body? How are your pre and perinatal energies doing? Perhaps you need to pause, feel the movement of your breath and the soles of your adult feet touching the earth.
Just now as I sit at my desk feeling and writing about transmarginal stress, the area around my umbilicus is twisting, tensing, my shoulders are rising, my breath comes short and sharp. Being kindly aware of and giving space to this somatic activation offers a field of all is welcome to my body-being. Sensing this, my belly and heart call for contact, and I offer this. Muscle and tissue start to soften; I become more conscious of the room around me, the rough texture of a dimpled, brown stone on my desk, images of Kwan Yin and Baba Yaga.
Being able to meet my body-being in this compassionate way has been possible through my training, interwoven with a shamanic orientation to ‘world’ and, in recent years, opening to the joys, rhythms and healing waters of year-round wild swimming. The conditioning that formed in response to the shock, grief and sense of abandonment from my pre-and perinatal time has mainly dissolved from my internal ecosystem and cellular structure, thereby enabling greater fluidity and flow with life and capacity for nourishing relationships with humans and the wider-than human world.
When I step into river’s-body I am stepping into more of myself. As I look up into the vast sky from my water-body I am gazing into more of myself and endless possibilities…
This holistic shift in perception and knowledge, from a skin-encapsulated sense of self to an experience of I that includes all of life, awakens us to an animate, communicating universe that is constantly reflecting back to us. When our human mother or primary carer is resourced enough she too can mirror back to her child her (human) being nature. When Earth is recognized and related to as our vaster body, our ‘original mother’, we see the whole web of life – within which we are immersed – in a constant state of interrelationship and communication, working to find balance in the service of regenerative, thriving life, reflecting back our vaster nature.
In this light, dependency and bonding take on a new and expansive meaning, and with this a natural unfoldment of compassionate responsibility. Human mother is located in a larger more diverse field of being, resource and possibility, and her child becomes nurtured/ mothered by many ‘mothers’, each form offering its own unique gifts and teachings to the growing child. With this new or newly remembered understanding of who Earth is, the waters of life are respected, sung to, honoured, creating a womb-world where all life can flourish and thrive.
“We are born into beauty
as beauty for joyful life”
Pat McCabe (Woman Stands Shining)
Ally Stott is a craniosacral therapist, ecotherapist and runs a year-long course for women guided by the Celtic Wheel of the Year. She lives on an island in Oxford and her work is in service to regenerative thriving life. www.allystott.co.uk
Books Luttichau C., 2017, Calling us Home, Head of Zeus, London UK
Maret Steve, 1997, The Prenatal Person, Frank Lake’s Maternal-Foetal Distress Syndrome, University Press of America, New York USA
Olsen A., 2002, Body and Earth an experimental guide, University Press of New England USA
Roszak T., Kanner A., Gomes M., 1995, Ecopsychology, Restoring the Earth Healing the Mind, Sierra Club Books, San Francisco USA
Papers Lake Frank, 1987, Lingdale Papers; 2,6,7,9, Clinical Theology Association, Oxford
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of the CSTA.