With our planet in peril, we live with enormous uncertainty and pressure. Yet each of us has limits. We need to sleep, rest, and play in order to sustain our efforts to save the world.
Likewise, no single individual can solve our collective problems. We need many of us acting together to preserve life and love. Each one of us needs to be kind-to-themselves so we can all keep showing up for the long haul.
In this Getting Unstuck series, I hope to inspire you to learn exactly how your body gets stuck; and to discover which “getting unstuck” tools work best for your particular temperament.
I hope you will then use this self-knowledge to be kind to you and do what you can in collaboration with others.
I call the getting unstuck process Befriending-Your-Body. For this 3 part article, I have broken it up into six steps.
Befriend Your Body Steps
1. Befriend Your Triggers
2. Practice Safety
3. Befriend Your Somatic Temperament
4. Create Practice Routines
5. Embody Your Routines
I will now cover steps 3. and 4.
3. Befriend Your Somatic Temperament
(be more than a foul-weather friend)
Last time we discussed what to do about triggers and feeling unsafe.
But sometimes you will not be in crisis mode. Hooray for you! Now is a good time to get to know your somatic temperament.
The purpose of this is to be able to habitually love and care for yourself, and to lower your body’s baseline level of fear and reactivity (anxiety, hypervigilance, etc.) over time.
To more easily restore yourself after life throws you off balance. Learning to work skillfully with your somatic temperament can prevent you from “getting stuck.”
What do I mean by “somatic temperament?” It’s not necessarily about being introverted or extroverted, neurovariant or neurotypical, “highly sensitive” or not, etc., although such self-assessments can enrich us.
I view somatic temperament on two levels. One level is your body’s personality, with its affinities and sensitivities. Your soma’s receptivity to certain interventions and modes and its aversion to others.
The second level is discovered intuitively, by inquiring into your body’s deep wisdom and suchness. It is about making friends with your body, as it is.
Your body’s suchness is difficult to put into words, but it can be approached by affirming and acknowledging your body’s senses and sensations.
In what follows, I will be asking you questions to help you become acquainted with your somatic temperament.
Your sensations and your imagination are your best guides. Invoking an attitude of curiosity and respect for your body will yield helpful information.
I suggest you journal or sing or speak aloud the following questions and your answers. Or ask a friend to join you, and take turns asking each other the questions.
The first list is long, so pace yourself. Skip any question you want.
It can be good to hang out with the questions and the answers for awhile, and then set them aside. Let them percolate. You can pick them up again later, and see what “ahas” unfold.
(Suggestion: Pick a few questions to answer in detail.)
* What animals or plants or landscapes are you drawn to? Which ones show up in your dreams or daydreams?
* If you found a wild animal that was hurt, how would you want to approach it? What animal(s) showed up first with this question?
* Which of your ancestors or ancestral lands do you have an affinity for?
* What words or sounds are you drawn to?
* What textures do you like?
* What kind of motions or movements feel good to you (rocking, hopping, shaking, swaying, undulating? Fast or slow movements? Rollercoasters or kayaking? Do you like tai chi, or yoga, or dancing)?
* If you like dancing, what kind do you prefer (bellydance, hip hop, slam dancing, tango, ballroom)?
* What “tone” of voice does your body respond to [ie. gushy, low-key, humorous, patient, kind)?
* What lyrics or poems come into your mind?
* What colors make you feel good?
* What are your favorite shapes (circles, triangles, spirals)?
* What kinds of light please you: (candlelight, sunlight, morning light, starlight]?
* What elements (earth, wind, water, fire, air/space) are you drawn to?
* What substances (rock, metal, wood, clay) do you have an affinity for?
* What scents or fragrances do you like?
* What kinds of silence or stillness do you prefer?
* What social environments work for you? Private spaces, such as intimate gatherings, one-on-one conversations, house parties? Public spaces, such as concerts, parks, trains or cafés? Do you prefer to be alone or with strangers or friends nearby?
* What are your favorite forms of water? (Lakes, rivers, or oceans? Ice, steam, or liquid?)
* What weather suits you most? Which seasons? Times of day?
* What kinds of touch do you prefer, and when?
* What is your relationship to time? Space?
* Do you prefer structure or open-endedness?
* Do you prefer surprises or predictability?
Other questions to ask yourself:
What makes me drowsy? What comforts me? What makes me smile or laugh? What relaxes me? Inspires me? What makes me thankful?
What restores or reboots me? What/where makes me feel like I belong? What connects me to something beyond myself?
Spend some time asking and answering these questions–not just with your mind but with your body–notice your sensations…
…temperature, texture, movement, stillness, emptiness, fullness, numbness, visuals, smells, sounds, tastes, pressure, contact, internal feelings, imagery, mood.
When you can, find your answers by trying things out. Put yourself in the appropriate situations and notice how your body feels.
Be open to learning something new about you.
Hopefully out of this inquiry you will notice patterns and preferences that resonate with your body.
Start gathering those beings, places, objects and activities together:
* Make a list on some special paper. Write it in a font you love, or with colored ink.
* Make a collage that gathers your preferences in images and words.
* Make a song about your favorite things.
* Collect objects that embody what your body is drawn to, and add them to an altar or cozy place in your home:
These could include beverages, photos, real or imaginary places, words, symbols, pieces of fabric, fragrances, or representations of elements or movements.
Think of what you have gathered as your raw materials for creation: Your palette. Your spice cupboard. Your seed packets, pots and soil. Your pen and paper, your cast of characters, your collection of found objects.
Now you are ready to experiment and create!
Create some simple practices.
Find out your body’s “Yeses” “Nos” & “Maybes.”
For example, choose a beverage by applying what you have discovered from the first list:
If you like warmth and substance, if your body likes variety, diversity, then think of a beverage that has all of those qualities, like flavored coffee or spicy tea.
If you like coolness + subtlety + surprises, then try out a beverage that embodies all of that, such as fresh squeezed lemonade with lavender.
Go ahead and make or find that beverage and drink it. Savor the taste, temperature, texture. Be aware of the effect it has on your mood.
Drinking the right beverage with attention and sensory awareness can be a rejuvenating ritual, a spiritual practice.
- For soft textures, wrap a fuzzy blanket around you, or wear silk.
- If your favorite movement is undulation, gather evocative sounds or pictures and videos that show ocean waves, serpents, tree roots, or plants growing via time lapse.
- Find a live web cam and check in with your favorite animal or bird.
- For elements such as water or fire, take a bath, footbath or shower. Swim in a pond. Light candles, sit by a fireplace or watch a video of lava.
- For fragrance, burn incense, resin or rose petals or chamomile, or diffuse essential oils into the air. Crumble fragrant dried herbs or spices (pine needles, sage, rosemary) around the room.
- Make a tea of cinnamon, rose petals, or lemongrass.
Notice which practices are strong “yeses” for you.
Pick 3-5 Things to Practice
Once you have tested them out, choose 3-5 of your “yeses” as the practices to perfect. Your personal somatic temperament tools.
Try them by themselves. Try combining a few of them at once, or one after another.
Practices can be brief and simple. If you like the texture of velvet, wear some, and touch it from time to time, paying attention to the sensations.
Put a picture of a favorite animal by your bed; gaze at it and feel your emotions and sensations.
You can also combine favorite elements to create your practice.
If you like water, fire, warmth, a feeling of being completely held, and certain scents, you could take a bath by candlelight.
Add some rose petals or lavender to the water. Get in the tub and feel yourself held by the water. Breathe in all the sights, sounds and smells.
It is good to have at least 3-5 easy-to-do practices in your toolkit to mix and match, and to use in various settings.
With practice, you can become skilled at befriending your unique somatic temperament.
Repeating these practices frequently will enrich your life and help you cultivate an internalized sense of safety and well being.
And an added bonus is that when you are in crisis, some of these practices will come to mind, or your body will spontaneously remember and repeat them.
End of Part II
Getting Unstuck Part III:
Embody Your Routine and Improvise!