Somatic Meditation in a Therapeutic Setting
We can learn to integrate our whole body, mind and spirit when we approach meditation as an essentially somatic discipline. This ultimately means that we utilize the body as the fundamental arena of meditation practice rather than the mind. “Most simply put, rather than trying to develop meditation through our left brain, thinking mind in a ‘top-down’ manner, as is the case with most contemporary approaches, Somatic Meditation involves a bottom-up process; in this bottom-up approach, we are able to connect with the inherent, self-existing wakefulness that is already present within the body itself.”—Reginald Ray
Therapeutically, we embrace the felt-sense within our bodies and increase our meta-cognition by accessing spontaneous feelings, sensations, visceral intuitions, and “felt-senses” of the body itself. When we attune to the basic awareness of the body, we are able to get underneath the triggers that are keeping us stuck. We can become aware on a physiological and neurobiological level, even perhaps before our capacity to think acts on various parts of the frontal lobes.
When we can train and find pause within our bodies we are returning to our bodies natural state of stillness. When we tap into this stillness and get out of thinking mode, and into sensing mode, we can get behind our thoughts. This is part of a shift that happens in meditation. We are not just changing behavior patterns that are maladaptive into adaptive ones, but we are changing the thought patterns that precipitate behavior from maladaptive to more rational, adaptive ones. We are excavating maladaptive patterns and dislodging them from the root which lies somatically within our bodies.
We are also learning to change the location of the thoughts, and this does something very radical. Ask yourself, “Where do you think? Where are your thoughts formed? Where is your mind?” Many people, quite interestingly, sense this “self” in a location about one inch in from the spot between the eyes. This is where people believe their “thinker” lives. Okay, now, ask, “Is that thinker you?”
Shifting the location of where we presumably think of as “me” or “my consciousness” to the wisdom of what lies within the body itself develops a kind of profound metacognitive awareness. Are you not also you from your pinkie toes? Or pinkie fingers? What I am evoking here is a very early CBT technique that was actually designed to induce what we might call derealization. It is a way to diminish or rob an understanding of a solid ego-construct of its power. If we think of me as some other part or coming from some other part of the body, it becomes radically derealized. We can then begin to see thoughts as simply epiphenomena that arise and pass against a much larger whole-body consciousness. Training in this type of integrated awareness is going to disrupt our normal sense of identifying with thought, and this can be very effective. It can dislodge very habitual, stuck thinking patterns that are on a negative feedback loop, that have been patterned in and set in your somatic blue-print. When we work at this “below the surface” level our human experience, even the most simple and ordinary aspects, can become sources of insight, freedom and joy. We can remove ourselves from our habituated addictions, stuck behavioral patterns, overwhelm, and feelings of unworthiness, shame and fear-based thinking patterns. We are learning to think from our whole-body and somatic senses.
In a therapeutic environment meditation approached somatically involves two aspects. The first is learning to pay attention to our body, bringing our conscious intention deliberately to and focused on our physical form and sensations. This can be challenging, as we are largely disembodied as a culture and we tend to “ghost-walk” around living from our neck up in a very cerebral space. The second aspect of Somatic Meditation requires exploring whatever we discover with openness, kindness and acceptance. We are not being puritanical in any sense, we are just gaining clarity, increasing a quality of intimacy within our own selves without judgment or restriction. We are getting to know our full selves. Intimacy really in this case is In-to-me-see. This also can prove to be very challenging because as humans, we tend to protect our conscious life with our “ego” by habitually “directing our attention away from our body and its raw, infinitely expanding, unprocessed experience to our thinking mind with its labeling, judging, contextualizing, and narrativizing of more or less everything our body knows, thus severely limiting and hiding from our conscious awareness what is actually, somatically there.” (Ray) As humans we are remarkably consistent in our capacity to try to limit and control our experiences through our ego. But in this training, we are able to witness the human ego itself, this is known as meta-cognition.
it has been noted in science that we, again, as humans, only allow thirteen parts of information to be received and processed by our conscious, out of every million parts of information that our whole body and mind have experienced. That means we only allow ourselves to be conscious of .000013 percent of the data, of experience, known to our body. Imagine what our life would be like if we could, or if we allowed ourselves, to access more than those thirteen parts?
Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, an American neuroanatomist at Harvard, author, and inspirational speaker, gives us a glimpse of what our lives would look like if we could stop for a moment, and access the integrated wholeness that we are capable of.
This is a journey of discovering total integration within body, mind, and spirit (if that is your thing), if not, just working with a body-mind is enough to create ever-lasting change promoting your ability to thrive and flourish. We are surrendering into and identifying with the Totality of Being and able to live out our lives from the limitless world of the Soma. You are able to be attuned to your reality in a fully embodied, “dialed-in” way. The positive benefits of practicing and training in Somatic Meditation, gives us a way to greet our lives always from within our resiliency zone. We are essentially strength-training. We are discovering safety and security within our bodies, and leaving our fretful, capricious and fickle cognitions at the door. We are holding on to ourselves. When we build a foundation of safety within our own bodies, we can then launch from that solid platform into the world the way we were meant to. Fully capable, fully aware, operating out of a clear, stable mind and a confident, open, resilient and wise body.
in this process, we are not disassociating, we are not ever separating from our actuality. We are never leaving the room. This therapeutic mediation practice is not about removing ourselves from our problematic and painful and anxiety-ridden realities of daily life. We are not transcending to anywhere other than right where we are. We are learning to greet our reality without cognitive deception, hidden somatic parts, defilements and implicit obscurations. We are instead accessing our life struggles with a more complete toolbox. We are taking our armor off and lifting our veils. We are integrating and accommodating everything we go through, our whole somatic experience in union with our mental life. We are increasing our understanding and intimacy in our body and our mind. We are training in accommodating all of our sensations, bodily perceptions, feelings, cognitions, emotions, memories, including all of our ordinary mental life, the ups and downs, the zigs and zags, the confusion, the anxiety, the pleasure and pain, everything. We are able to see the grittiness of the world and open up to the blessing of life by experiencing it directly without separation and without judgment. We can learn to transform the stuck habitual patterns of our own negativity into an experience that is wholesome, creative, and fresh. We can walk with the pain and experience the joy. We are not getting rid of anything in this process, it is all useful, but we are learning to accommodate it from a place of strength, resilience, understanding, and kind awareness. This supports walking into a life with purpose, meaning, connectivity, love, happiness and freedom.
“The only place we can truly, authentically, and fully wake up is in the midst of life—right in the middle of our quotidian life, exactly as it is.”(Ray)