Un-Apocalypsing the Body
folks love a good apocalypse
This article is an adapted version of the “Somatic Eschatology” page from my Somatic Resonance course. It was originally written in conversation with people working on climate anxiety, but it seems like a good time to offer it more widely. There’s the climate, AI, the economy, the war, the general miasma of uncertainty—all of these make it a good time to root more deeply into the stability and grounding of the body.
There's something about apocalypse that draws us in. The idea that we can predict the end of the world, that we can understand the patterns bringing about our demise, can be comforting. It gives us a sense of control over the chaos.
This article isn’t about downplaying the troubling patterns we see in the world. It's about recognizing the aspects of this "felt-sense apocalypse" that are within us, in our bodies, in our direct experience. When we do this, we can address the parts of the apocalypse that are within us, rather than projecting them out onto the world.
The end of the world can mean a lot of things.
A caterpillar’s world ends in the cocoon.
A kid’s world ends when they graduate high school.
A world ends when a child is born.
Over and over again, we live at the borders where one world ends and another begins. These transitions are often painful, even when they’re exciting. Ask a new parent the last time they slept five hours in a row.
When we feel this happening, when we notice our comfort zone dissolving, when we notice its edges scraping jagged against our skin—there’s an impulse to avoid it. There are two powerfully time-tested ways to avoid what we’re feeling:
Shove it down into the body
Project it out onto the world
For better or worse, most of us are capable of choosing both options simultaneously. We hold the feeling in our muscle tension, posture, and energy, AND we project that tension onto the world around us.
Whenever you feel like the world is ending, like everything’s collapsing, like the future is one long slide into worseness—drop back into your body, into your heart, into your here-and-now lived experience.
Inquire into yourself, where is this apocalyptic sense coming from?
It’s an interaction between you and the world, so what is your half of that interaction? Is your chest tight? Do your hips feel locked? Are you noticing more memories of your old church coming up lately, as you’re falling asleep? Maybe there’s a buzzing tension in your torso, and it seems connected to your repeated bouts of irritation lately? Noticing and exploring direct experiences like this is a great starting point—as is paying attention to what kind of experiences tend to trigger this anxiety.
Some common triggers for apocalyptic anxiety are things like:
the future you felt sure of slipping away
ex- illness, injury, relationships failing, career change, money troubles, unexpected major life changes, etc.
being surrounded by people who rely on you to be as anxious as them, to confirm their emotional reality
ex- this is surprisingly generalizable, from feeling literally physically threatened, to threatened with financial loss, to feeling pains in the body and sensing the threat of disease, to threat of social exclusion, to anything else. When threat comes into the soma, the sense of a world ending is rarely far behind.
noticing shortcomings or inconsistencies in a worldview you’ve held for a long time
It's important to recognize these triggers and explore them without judgment or suppression. But we also need to be aware that it's possible to deal with our side of apocalyptic anxiety without losing track of legitimate threats in the outer world.
Somatic exploration is a core skill; we can release ourselves from the apocalypse we hold inside our bodies, which can even make us more effective at working with the troubling elements in the outer world.
When you notice this sense of the world ending, of the future slipping away into darkness, you can use the somatic exploration tools in this course to inquire into it. One of the best starting points is Working with the Systematic and Spontaneous Styles, particularly the tactic of moving non-linearly from clusters of systematic attention toward clusters of spontaneous awareness.
Compulsive worry over the future is very much a trait of the Systematic Mode. To make more space and see your situation more clearly, find a way to move into the Spontaneous mode. You can use the triggers we mentioned above as a signal to move your attention to something Spontaneous. As this habit becomes more ingrained, more available, you’ll find more and more possibility around what previously seemed hopeless and threatening. Then you can begin weaving a more helpful and resonant response to the world you find yourself in.
As a starter, before exploring deeper, whenever you notice this sense of apocalypse, whenever you’re able to sense a nexus of doom in the body,
stay with it, feel it, open space for it to say what it wants to say,
then come back to a sense of the whole body, including and opening from that specific nexus,
allow the doom, the energy, the emotions and sensations from that nexus to dissolve into this sense of openness, to share the burden and loosen its hold.
When you’re ready, come back to yourself and take a few minutes to stare at the ceiling, letting things cohere and fall into shape. Is there anything you can do, in your own life, that feels fruitful? Is there anything you can drop from your life, that feels needless? Let these questions settle.
Exploratory humility, open awareness of the body, dropping into the present moment and viewing it as a dream with ineffable meaning—all good options. For more info on the framework I’m using with “Systematic & Spontaneous Modes,” you can take my Somatic Resonance course, and/or check out my talk at the Stoa.
ride out the end of the world with me, sign up for a very generous subscription
This is great and exactly what I needed! Thank you for the nudge toward looking inward and feeling the apocalypse in our body. Also, I'm not sure if it's intentional but it seems the "Working with the Systematic and Spontaneous Styles" notion page isn't public. I would love to learn more about your frame and your methods, so I will check your talk at the Stoa and your Somatic Resonance course :)
this is excellent