by Ben Ross
Names for the Unnamed
There’s a pressure not to name it abuse
or to claim the vulnerability and sensitivity of the heart
reflective, wind-responsive as a river
or to see the full ecosystem of a child’s inner life
more vast and intricate than a coral reef.
How it’s all still here
in the body
years or decades later
in the closing off from closeness
or fear of having a voice
or belief in being inherently flawed
as if eyes can’t be allowed to see
or be seen.
There’s a pressure to scapegoat the heart
to go along with someone
who didn’t know their true names
who said the feelings were to blame
rather than the abuse
which was given no name.
Or schools who treat kids as labels
distorting understanding of feelings and behaviors
as if they were evidence
of some inherent flaw.
To name it would be to stop keeping it in
to stop keeping it hidden
to stop keeping it together
to stop surviving
to cease to belong.
In order to keep it all in:
feelings from generations of loss
generations of unnamed shame
the handing down of unconscious spirals of survival
and beautiful dreams
and family traditions
Holding in the pressure.
Holding it in the tightness of the chest
the mettle of the gut
in the strangled word
the loss of truth
the pressure not to name.
Because to name would be one step closer to feeling
and to the end of scapegoating
the sensitive heart.
And to see and to feel
(which is seeing with the heart)
our daily violence –
economic devastation, sexism, racism, classism, homophobia, anti-semitism, islamophobia, psychiatric labels and medications used to numb or attack feelings, brain, heart and connection
abusive policing, mass incarceration, war, the destruction of species and habitats, the poisoning of air and earth and water, the effects of these poisons on childrens’ health
the abandonment of elders, ableism, the stigmatization of people with invisible disabilities, coercive schooling, abusive and manipulative economic structures in workplaces
childhood physical, verbal, and sexual abuse
and the last word in invalidation –
So that we will tolerate all of it
the pressure is there
claiming and gripping bodies
as if air itself could be obliterated
with enough force and terror
as if the name itself would have
no chance of being spoken.
As if “boys will be boys” includes the experience of one boy abusing another
by suffocating him.
As if whipping someone with a belt
and threatening to whip him
when he doesn’t eat dinner
is a form of discipline
and not abuse.
As if exploding into rage and hitting a child
is something that doesn’t need to be talked about
or something that could ever be the child’s fault
instead of abuse.
As if telling a child that they wouldn’t be attacked
if they didn’t have feelings about it
could be a reasonable or compassionate thing
for one human being to say to another.
Although they didn’t realize because it had no name
because they didn’t know their own true names
because they were abused
because sometimes it’s hard to hear
from a distance that isn’t seen.
As if the daily bullying of a child
inside his home
on the basis of expressing a thought
or having a feeling
or looking vulnerable
or getting attention
was something that would toughen him up
because bullying was actually “growing up”
because children don’t really have feelings
because the sensitivity of the heart doesn’t really exist
because all of it is “crazy”
instead of actually being abusive.
As if it’s okay to continue insisting that someone you love is “crazy”
when they mention that they have an illness
that isn’t obviously affecting their appearance
as if appearance could actually be everything
because feelings and symptoms don’t always have a shape
and abuse doesn’t always have a name.
Names for the Nameless
While the body speaks its name as a cry
and breath moving being, bellowed by life
muscles shaking in oceanic openness
tenderness of feeling or seeing or hearing or touching or smelling or tasting
anything at all
this ocean always speaking
in the sign language of deep current arms
and hands of sensation-waves
that life wants you back
with belonging as open as
availability of eyes and heart’s contact
that it wants to take everyone you love back
to edges of ocean and sky
trembling-tremendous in the presence
of this vast witness
remembering the other you, and everyone who doesn’t remember
whose true names seem to have been obscured
and are seen as they are now, already freed
in the body:
Voice (Protective, Assertive, Authentic, Honest, Boundary-making, Naming and Reclaiming Names)
Care, Kindness, Connection, Beauty, Belonging, Sensitivity, Feeling
Joy, Solidarity, Openness, Spaciousness, Energy, Life, Beingness, Presence, Movement, Play, Peace, Tears, Breath, Light
Branches Swaying in the Breeze
Clouds, Sound, Color, Shape, Texture, Touch, The Body, Curiosity, Understanding, Holdingness, Healing
Wholeness, Tenderness, Sweetness, Acceptance, Mercy, Gentleness, Relaxation, Rest, Ease
Ben Ross is a person who lives in Western Massachusetts, where he practices getting out of his own way so he can clearly hear people as the love they already are, share with them in the deep goodness of life in all its vulnerability and struggle, and be as outrageously sensitive and creative as life wants him to be. He graduated from Naropa University with a Master of Arts in Contemplative Psychotherapy and works as a therapist in community mental health.