Somatic Meditation

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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,

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.

So how does somatic meditation work?

Working with the body as the foundation of meditation makes everything much more real and palpable. As soon as I started working with Meditating with the Body I suddenly felt that a whole landscape of experience was open to me. Instead of fighting myself in my head, I was able to expand myself through the body. The sense of space was immediate.

And this is the basic idea behind practising with the soma. We cannot work with the thinking mind from the platform of the thinking mind. We have to go down into the space of the body to get some perspective on the craziness of our thinking. When we rest in our awareness of the body, then the mad-making machinations of the psychological sphere are less and less believable.

Following all the various practices over time, our ‘sense of being’ shifts from being identified with our thoughts to being identified with our bodies.

But my body hurts…

One of the foundational ideas of somatic meditation is that we are not sticking our head in the mental sand any longer.

Very often when starting this work, students find they’re feeling a lot more than previously. They feel the aches and pains of their body more and they start feeling strong emotions. They can have memories from childhood bubble up. They feel more alive, but they also feel more, period.

This is not a misstep. Somatic meditation puts us in touch with the real quality of being a human. Being alive means we feel things. Lots of things. But the difference is that when we feel things in the body, even negative things, they are safe and contained and actually full of information. When we think about our aches and pains then it’s an endlessly proliferating hall of mirrors and comments and judgments. Thinking about our pain makes it 10x more painful. Resting in the real experience of the body often brings a sense of wonder and release.

What are the benefits?

If you stick with the somatic path, then the whole experience of meditation opens up. Instead of being a painful struggle with our chattering mind and distracted attention, it can be a treasure hunt into wider and deeper dimensions of your Being.

If you can get over the shock of actually feeling things from within, rather than thinking about them, then your world opens up and your have a lot more sanity than before. Being trapped in the mind is the hallmark of insanity. But you can feel more sane when you constantly pollinate the thinking mind with information from the body.

Where does this practice come from?

Ultimately, somatic practices stretch back to the flowering of yogic practices in India 2-3,000 BC. Reggie draws a great deal on the practices of Tibetan Buddhist Yoga which draw from that wellspring. These ‘tantric’ traditions see the body as the gateway to enlightenment and working with the energies of the body helps meditators drop their obsession with their egos.

Of course, most meditation practices have some body scan or body-awareness element. But there is a unique strand in Buddhist practice which places the soma in the centre of our experience.

How can I learn?

My work with Mindsprings over the last 10 years has led me to an appreciation of somatic practice that is tempered by my work as a therapist, my studies in interpersonal neuroscience, and through many retreats as a personal practitioner and as a facilitator.

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