October 5, 2020

Monica Anna Day

Monica Anna Day, Ways of Knowing #2

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Ways of Knowing

In her book Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer recounts her story of gathering degrees all the way to a doctorate in Botany, only to realize how far away that journey led her from embracing the inherited wisdom she already had as an indigenous woman. Until she attended a small gathering of Native elders who were talking about traditional knowledge of plants.

“A Navajo woman without a day of university botany training in her life spoke for hours and I hung on her every word. One by one, name by name, she told of the plants in her valet. Where each one lived, when it bloomed, who it lived near, all its relationships, who ate it, who lined their nests with its fibers, what kind of medicine it offered. She also shared the stories held by those plants, their origin myths, how they got their names, and what they have to tell us. She spoke of beauty…To a new Ph.D. this was humbling. It was the beginning of my reclaiming that other way of knowing that I had helplessly let science supplant. I felt like a malnourished refugee invited to a feast, the dishes scented with the herbs of home.” Pg. 44

While my circumstances are different, my sentiment feels similar to Kimmerer as I make my way through this project. I know in my bones, just like you do, that bodies instinctively and biologically form all manner of attachments – to people, to places, to things – and these attachments inform every aspect of our lives. I also know, just like you do if you consider it for a moment, that these attachments are not theoretical or conceptual, but rather they are formed through our senses and stored in our cells.

As an artist, and as a coach and facilitator, I rely on this instinctual knowledge. I read cues from bodies, and I lead people back to body wisdom when they have become separated from it. But in this sea of academia where I am currently swimming, this instinctual knowledge is not recognized. Even if it is considered, you are still told it must be validated in these specific scientific ways (i.e. methods) in order to be “credible.”

I want to take this on. Not because I need to be deemed “credible” – that is a younger woman’s game – but because when body wisdom is missing, so are the desperately needed solutions to some of the world’s biggest challenges. Like displacement.

This week, I’ve begun to outline the “method” I will use to gather “data” about how displacement impacts bodies. There are hoops to jump through. An Institutional Review Board to give a stamp of approval, an adviser to sign off, participants to sign on. All with a backdrop of a global pandemic that requires a disembodied approach to gathering embodied wisdom. But none of this is my challenge.

My challenge is to continue to remember what I know, even as I visit this other world of knowing. To walk in both of these parallel worlds, even as I build a bridge between them.