A Craniosacral Journey to the 1850's
I recently met Michael Nagle at a wachuma healing ceremony and was immediately drawn to his gentle demeanor. Following the ceremony, we shared our common interest in healing work, and Michael shared that he was studying craniosacral healing through the Milne institute. I’d had one session of craniosacral bodywork years before, and found it pleasant but unremarkable, however, I felt eager to have a session with Michael.
I arrived at Michael’s home without any expectations aside from a friendly chat about our shared interests and some soothing “body work”. I wasn’t having any specific issues with my body or my health, but there were some things weighing on me in an emotional sense.
Following a brief intake interview, I laid down on the massage table and Michael placed his hands on each side of the base of my skull. It was a gentle sensation as he cupped his hands and sat quietly with me for some time. After 5 or 10 minutes, Michael asked me if I had any impressions or thoughts I wanted to share. I shared a few random reflections including my desire to locate the descendants of the 30 slaves my ancestors (James Cary and Elizabeth Harrison) owned in the 1800’s. I’ve always wondered how it pertained to me in terms of family karma (that I might owe on their behalf) or if there may be some way to at least apologize and acknowledge what had been done. I’ve worked in, and primarily served, the African American community over the last 20 years of my social services career, and I always wondered if this "calling" was in some way to give back what my family had taken.
(Image of my maternal Harrison family, post civil war, discovered on Ancestry.com following my session with Michael). Depicts a former slave who appears to have stayed on the farm following the war, presumably as a household servant).
Laying again in silence, my lip began to quiver and I began experiencing very rapid eye movement. A bright tunnel appear before me. I leaned into it and felt sucked through time and dropped into a scene that was my 4x grandfather Cary Harrison’s Tennessee plantation. I looked down on the ground and saw golden hay, and felt joy at being “home” again. I looked around and saw I was wearing a brown calico print dress and very worn black ankle boots. I peered inside the dwelling I stood next to, and saw black women busily at work, cooking and cleaning. The dwelling was really nothing but a large shack with a dirt floor, but brimmed with activity and life, everyone chatting and in good spirits. I looked down at my own hands, holding a tattered dish towel, and saw that they were black; indeed, I was black.
Astonished, a flood of images and impressions arrived. “I’d” been born into slavery and had lived on the farm my entire life; it was the only home I ever knew. There were many of us, all ages, and I was around age 17 and didn’t have any children of my own but loved all my many black kin, related or not. I worked mostly in my mistress’s house, tending the children and cooking. I was very simple, illiterate, and loved to embroider. I loved the farm, and the sense of being part of a huge family/community, and we were well treated by our master and mistress. I’d never been anywhere else; it was a simple existence, connected to the earth and the rhythms of nature and the seasons. Then the civil war came and everyone ran away, me included. I hid in basements and was separated from my kin and everyone I knew and was aware of the collective trauma being experienced by all of us, black and white, northern and southern.
When the war was over, I somehow made it back home. Where else would I have gone? I’d only learned to be obedient my whole life, and had no way to forge a life on my own even though I was free. I also had to see if my white babies were alright - I was afraid the house was destroyed or burned down, or my people all starved or killed by the “blues”. Only a few of us slaves stayed on. The farm was a shambles, but thankfully “my” babies were alright. Together, we rebuilt. I became a paid servant, and continued tending the children (many more came!) and cooking, and I worked harder than I ever had, because of my love for this family - the black ones and the white ones. I never married. At the end of my life, I lay in a wooden canopy twin sized bed. Now the white babies, all grown, and with children of their own, were tending to me, feeding me, caring for me as I lay dying. I thought, “on the whole it (my life) was more good than bad”. Highlights of my life were storytelling and singing (among my black kin), embroidering/quilting, preparing delicious meals from scratch, and the weddings - so many weddings (!), and going to church and loving God.
All this “downloaded” in about 20 minutes or less. Then the tunnel reappeared and I was sucked back in time, onto the massage table. Michael moved into a different position, holding his hands, one under my lower back/sacrum and one on my belly to ground me back into present time. He finished by laying a hand on the center of my chest, which felt very warm and healing.
As I lay on the table, we debriefed the session. I was astonished to find myself a slave in that life, even starting to talk with a dialect as I shared the images with Michael as they came. I know sadly too little about American history and the civil war beyond what I learned in high school over 30 years ago. Since the session, I have made it my mission to learn more both about American history as well as my family’s specific role in its history and everything I have learned affirms that the life I "relived" may very well have existed exactly as I envisioned. (I could write a book on all I’ve learned in just the week since our session).
There were several profound “takeaways” from my session with Michael and more keep coming.
1) Having experienced that life as a slave and not a slave owner, I was able to let go of some of the weight I have carried “on behalf of” my white family for their role in slavery. I also gained some context for my family’s role in slavery, and while unimaginable and wrong, I was glad that my white family was not abusive or cruel to their slaves. That said, I (as a slave) never received an education,was illiterate, subjugated to whites.
2) I realize how that pattern of subjugation continues to limit me in this life I also have a feeling of discomfort that comes with material wealth (abundance) and my own whiteness and the power and privilege that brings me (and other whites). And at the same time, it serves no one for me to play it small and hold myself back from sharing the gifts I have brought with me in this life. Many of which were the gifts “she” gave, such as nurturing and healing others through song, voice, laying on of hands, cooking (plant medicine) and folk healing.
3) I also understand now why I’ve always had such a strong aversion to most of my maternal relatives and such a kindred feeling for the African American community. My family are mostly conservative Christian, republicans who are also racist and homophobic. Even as a child, I bristled at their dinner conversations describing the “N’s” who worked in my grandfather’s factory. I can now forgive my ancestors for owning slaves due to the context of the times, and they made adjustments as the times changed, however, many my existing family still operates under a Jim Crow mindset, which I cannot abide. That said, I have since (the session) re-acquainted myself with a few of my progressive relatives, which has been a joy, and we are digging deeper into our family history.
4) This vision/memory also conveys the complexity of slavery and its continuing patterns in society today. For example, even as a free woman, “she” returned home to the only life she knew, rather than pursuing dreams or goals of her own (choosing indentured servitude over freedom in exchange for security, economic safety and community/family). Hundreds of years of conditioning (and fear, learned helplessness and obedience) imposed by slavery continues to negatively impact all aspects of society as does continued, deep-rooted racism, despite the abolition of slavery. (For more information I highly recommend reading Joy DeGruy's enlightening book, Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome).
5) I will continue to process and work with this enlightening session for a long time to come and on many levels.
Thank you, Michael...you are a gift in the world and I look forwarding to learning more about your practice and craniosacral healing.