What the Body Knows

by | Jul 12, 2019 | 2 comments

Taking to her bed was as easy as, or easier than, breathing. Her un/conscious decision was one her spirit made. When it was time, and when the fury of her past began to race ahead of her future,
she simply lay down.”
– Tracey Lindberg, Birdie

Tracey Lindberg’s Birdie was greeted with a mix of acclaim and consternation upon its publication in 2015. The story of a Cree woman’s recovery from the wounds of her past resonated with many – “The novel Canada has been waiting for,” Leanne Betasamosake Simpson announced – and confounded others. Representing the latter camp, a one-star review on GoodReads noted that “between events that I couldn’t slot in chronological order and events that seem to repeat throughout the novel, I stayed confused throughout my read.”

‘Confused’ is a term I would have agreed with after my first run through. Events swirl about with little regard for conventional sequencing. Both time and location alter with no obvious warning, as if the flow of story were more roiling river than words on a page – impossible to contain in any easy and familiar way. I ended that initial ride feeling soaked and wind-blown, not at all certain what had just occurred.

During my second read, something shifted. Maybe it was the passage above that brought the insight. Perhaps it was some other word or phrase or felt sense. At a certain point, however, I realized much of the story – while covering years of so-called ‘real time’ – was arising as Birdie lay on the bed of her tiny apartment in Gibsons, British Columbia. While immobile, her body brings forth all of her difficult life to date, inviting her to let this in and to re-member – as in re-embody – the truth of who she is.

That events in this novel appear with little regard for linear logic makes sense when this is understood. The body’s generosity is more associative than straight ahead. In ‘body time’, the when and how of experience’s return is guided more by overall appropriateness of or readiness for than any agreed upon sense this followed that. Birdie re-members her home life, her early days in Gibsons, her time in Edmonton, then her home life again because this is what the body knows is appropriate, what the body knows she is ready for. And the body can offer Bernice Meetoos these stepping stones to wholeness because, of course, the body holds all of them.

People often ask me, ‘What happens when we meditate?’ This is a wise and necessary and ultimately unanswerable question. At the end of the day, our practice will be only what we uniquely need it to to be – there is no exact template available. This said, however, the journey of Birdie offers a pretty good glimpse into what might happen when we meditate. To the extent our work as practitioners involves welcoming all the body offers – all that has been banished to the shadows of the soma, to the darkness of the unconscious – it actually offers a very good glimpse.

– Neil


  1. Love this, Neil. Thank you.

    • I’m glad this piece resonated. Yana. For me, the effect seems to be ongoing. I recently started a third read through ‘Birdie’ and the revelations / impacts continue. Once again, very much like meditation…


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