When I use the term “somatic,” I am referring to bodily-based experience, raw sensations in the body in contrast to thoughts, beliefs, behaviors, or even emotions (which can often include a narrative component).
If we drop underneath the interpretations of immediate experience, we find a very alive world of sensations such as contraction, expansion, freezing, speed, pressure, excitement, numbing, intensity, flatness, nausea, constriction, spaciousness, dullness, warmth, and cold. We can experience these on their own as well as components of more complex conditions such as anxiety, depression, and trauma.
In a moment of emotional activation – say with panic, despair, shame, or rage – it can be helpful to temporarily set aside these words and make direct contact with what is unfolding in our immediate experience. In doing so, we may discover that we cannot find “anxiety” or “shame” (these are already interpretations of a particular configuration of experience), but instead we discover a very unique assembly of specific thoughts, feelings, and impulses.
For many of us, the habit is to turn from this material, to exit into interpretation and other forms of dissociation as we have come to associate certain self-states with being unsafe, overwhelmed, and on the brink of being thrown outside our window of tolerance. However, many have discovered that is the turning from themselves in times of need that is the actual root cause of so much additional suffering and struggle.
In moments of activation, we need ourselves more than ever, to encode new pathways of self-care, replacing the older circuitry of self-aggression and self-abandonment with the slower responses of empathy, attunement, curiosity, and compassion. No, it’s not easy. But we can go slowly, one moment at a time. Just one second is enough. More than enough. And from that “one second” a new world is born.
In addition to the thoughts, feelings, and habitual behaviors, there is often a lot happening in the body at the level of raw sensation. Most of us were not trained to attune to this level of experience and it can take some practice. There is valuable information in the body which presents itself during moments of emotional intensity and it is both wise and also kind to tend to it as part of our inquiry.
To be sure to include the body in our work and not stop at the thoughts/ beliefs or even pre-labeled, generalized emotions or conditions. To be curious during challenging times and drop down into the body to make contact with the life that is surging there. Not necessarily to privilege the somatic over the other layers, but to include it, to use everything we can in our experience to understand and care for this precious human form.
It is incredibly important, intelligent, and compassionate to attend to each of the dimensions of our sacred human experience. All are holy in their own way and as a system are a true miracle. Especially in times of suffering, confusion, and struggle, it is an act of kindness to consider each of the levels and what they may be trying to share with us. Perhaps this is the true meaning of integration, to bring the layers together in one act of mercy, wisdom, and love.
In our world and in these crazy times, perhaps it is especially important to remember the body, the vessel, for it is a sanctuary of immense intelligence and majesty.