Trauma and the Body

I am up early on a Sunday morning, enjoying the cool breeze that grazes my skin as I water the balcony plants. The air is scented with smoke, likely from a British Columbia forest fire. I go inside to mince fresh coconut and corriander, preparing a Kenyan chutney for dinner. While chopping the green chilis, I think about the book I read the day before, musing aloud: ‘I must have an extra large reptilian brain.’ According to neuroscientist Paul D. MacLean, the human brain is composed of three evolutionary layers: the earliest reptilian core is devoted to sensation as well as survival; the limbic or paleomammalian brain that developed next is concerned with ‘higher’ functions, allowing for emotion, memory, and learning; and the most advanced layer, the neocortex, is what distinguishes human beings and other select primates from ‘lower’ entities, enabling self-awareness and cognition. Although I like the psychedelic diagram of what is called the ‘Triune Brain’ pasted below—it is suitably 1960s, the era when MacLean first proposed his theories—I imagine that my sensory-overload mind looks more like the large-yolked scotch egg on the right, complete with its deep fried sausage casing. After all, I am a Scotch McEgghead.

 ‘What on earth is FFG babbling about?’ you might be wondering. Allow me to explain, starting with an energetic meeting that I had a few weeks ago with the Coordinator of Humanities 101. Humanities 101 is an outreach program that offers free non-credit university-level courses to people who are passionate about learning but currently lack access to education for economic and social reasons. I have agreed to direct discussions about embodiment with women living at a local mission. One of my classes will take place in the communal kitchen, where we will debate the historical relationship between women and food while preparing an Andra Bhurji Potato and Egg dish. I am excited by the new challenges that this type of teaching will bring, and will no doubt learn much from the women at the mission. For one thing I can discover whether or not they would have any use for the volunteer personal trainer I am hoping to become [see the post ‘What’s Next for FFG’?]. I had some difficulty explaining to the Coordinator my plan to offer one-on-one physical fitness training to abused women in second-stage housing, clarifying that I did not want to focus on weight loss, appearance improvement, or some shallow understanding of ‘self-esteem.’ I doubted that doing planks and mountain climbers would help such women with their personal problems; nor did I wish to address those problems directly, lacking the requisite expertise. I simply thought that it could somehow be empowering for them to experience novel physical sensations, and attend to the body, though not in a Village on a Diet kind of way. I would never, for instance, attempt to shame their neighbourhood pizzaria owner, make ‘tut tut’ noises while throwing crap food out of their fridges, or force them to pull a monster truck up a steep hill for no apparent reason. To my relief, the Coordinator understood my intentions, declaring that access to personal training could encourage these women to feel safe within their domestic spaces, and help them reclaim their bodies. ‘What you are proposing,’ she said, ‘is in keeping with a relatively new theory known as Traumatology.’