LET BE BE FINALE OF SEEM
Thank goodness for my wise body.
I still “check-out” from my body at times. It is an old habit, born from early trauma. When a kid suffers every day, with no chance of escape, dissociation is an intelligent response.
Dissociation means turning off your sensations, muting your animal aliveness.
Like many trauma survivors, I tend to vacate my body when I am triggered. Sometimes for a moment; sometimes for days on end.
Recently, I endured a nightmarish 4+ hour dentist visit that regressed me to a miserable state—that bleak place where I lived as a child. Without registering it, I left my body.
At the time I believed I was in touch with my body. I used appropriate somatic and self-care language to talk to myself:
“Okay, I am triggered, so I need to restore safety to my body. I have to do soothing things to reassure my animal body that it is safe.”
And I promised my traumatized (inner) kid: “I will never take you to that dentist again.”
This was wise self-talk. I needed to follow it through. I needed to:
treat myself with kindness;
permit myself to feel small and scared;
take hot baths, do restorative yoga, hide in bed, cuddle with a friend;
carefully screen the input and energy that I let it into my space.
I needed to do all of the above, patiently and consistently, day after day. Week after week, if necessary.
Instead, I did some of it–for a couple of days. Then I stopped.
I figured I was fine.
I was not fine; I was numb.
Completely checked out.
And stuck in mistrustful, pessimistic thought loops.
Gradually this experience became an identity: I am depressed. I am a victim. I am snarky. What’s the matter with me?
Meanwhile, my body tried to get my attention: my jaw clamped up. My guts were in knots. A migraine. Terrible back pain. My body’s way of insisting that it had information for me.
It took me weeks to notice that I was *still* reacting to the dental experience. Underneath my “numb,” I felt trapped and helpless, invaded and alone.
I fought this realization, because I did not want it to be so. I “should” have gotten over the dentist by now!
Eventually I let go of my “should” and surrendered to the “what is” of my body. What a relief!
I took those baths, did the yoga, allowed that fear. I dropped my recovery deadline. It felt right. I grieved. I hid. Slowly, I thawed out.
We humans get lost in our thoughts. It is crucial to catch up to the flesh and blood reality. To align our stories and identities with “what is”–what actually is–in the body.
Then healing can happen. Unwinding can happen.
Once I did this, my suffering gradually softened and lightened.
And then—have you ever done this?—I got stuck again, but in a different way.
Somehow I turned that hard-won realization of my body’s truth into a static “thing.” I created a new static identity. In my mind, I was still the person freaked out by the dentist.
Like an eraser endlessly rubbing out a pencil mark until there’s a hole in the paper, I kept re-making that identity of helplessness.
While my mind ran that program, my body waited for me to check in with “what is.”
Luckily, I am a somatic coach.
One afternoon, I modeled a centering practice for a client. I invited them to tune into their somatic “depth” by placing one hand in front and one in back of their solar plexus.
As I put my hand on my stomach, I felt a warm substance. I “saw” golden energy forming the image of a broad-pawed lioness. She was—I was—robust. Confident. Huh? Was this “me?”
Yep, this was me. Oh.
Let Your Body Surprise You
When we habitually “check-out” from the body, the return always brings surprises.
Usually we notice the unpleasant surprises first, like when my body told me that I had NOT yet recovered from the dentist.
When we finally check-in with the body, we might comment, “Wow, I did not realize my neck was so tight!”
“Huh. My body feels small and exposed. I did not know.”
These little “ahas” are not fun. They are sometimes so unpleasant that we are tempted to never check-in with our bodies again.
That would be tragic, because our bodies carry our power and creativity.
Re-inhabiting the body after trauma is like that pins and needles feeling when your foot has been asleep—quite uncomfortable, but well worth it to get your foot back.
Trauma takes away our sense of power to act and create.
The path to reclaiming that agency and creativity is through thawing out, waking up to the aliveness of our sensations.
Along the way we re-discover the reasons we fled our bodies in the first place. We face the fear or grief we could not bear to feel during the trauma.
All of this can be overwhelming. We may fear the pain will swallow us up, as it did when we were harmed and not helped.
But those truths are stale–they belong to the time of the trauma. “What is” is a fresh truth.
This is a new day, and your body has more resources than it did back then.
It is worth the discomfort to re-inhabit and reclaim your body.
There are resilient areas in our bodies—even in the most traumatized bodies–that are waiting for us to notice them:
Strong, sturdy legs;
Serene, relaxed bellies;
Curious, wiggly feet;
Kind, capable hands.
When we get close enough to explore our body sensations, we discover built-in stability in our bones. Gentleness in our gaze.
When we connect directly with our bodies, we encounter not only unpleasant surprises, but lovely surprises as well.
Have you ever purposefully touched your head? Have you ever squeezed your skull bones, gently and firmly?
The first time I did this. I was amazed at how fine-boned and small my skull actually was! My mind’s picture of my head was completely different.
As I held my round, compact skull, as I pressed my jaw and cheekbones, I felt appreciation and tenderness. What a delicate creature I was!
Suddenly the “annoying” lifelong hypersensitivity of my body and temperament–to foods and environments, to people and their energies–made so much sense!
I felt the vulnerable and solid “critter-ness” of my body. Fondness arose in me toward that critter.
And I realized how often I disconnect from the basic reality of my body.
Maybe my body is suffering, and I am trying to avoid feeling that.
Maybe my body is relaxed, and that does not fit my picture of myself.
My mind chatters away, telling its stale, day-old stories and missing the truth of the moment, the truth of this ever-changing body.
I hear similarly surprised observations from my clients when I invite them to really be with their sensations–not just to “think-feel” but to “feel-feel.”
They say things like, “Wow, my hip bones are really strong! I think of myself as a “pushover,” but my hip bones do not feel that way at all! They want to stand their ground!”
Wallace Stevens wrote, “Let be be finale of seem. The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream.” I do not claim to know what he meant, but to me it says,
“Let what is—what actually is—melt the illusions we project onto our bodies and our selves. Let’s trust our senses over our stories.
And not just trust, but enjoy our aliveness.
Otherwise, we miss so much!
While I told myself I was still depressed, backsliding, resentful, hopeless, etc., blah, blah, blah…
…my solar plexus was busy being sunny and substantial; my head was fine and sturdy, my bones were precise and graceful.
And when I sat in silence, I felt a canyon of peace open beneath me.
Wow! I had no idea.
I had too many ideas.
This body, this being called Vanissar carries on, a mystery.
An unknowable mystery.
All of us are mysteries, no matter how much we try to cram ourselves into narrow lives with our narrow stories.
I invite you to discover the living truth of your body, here and now. Look at your hands and really see them. Close your eyes and move your hips. Really feel the movement.
Touch your head. What is the texture? Instead of thinking about what the texture is, be in it. Now listen to your breath or your voice as you hum or whisper. Let the vibrations brush your ears, your throat.