Somatic Experiencing as a Spiritual Gateway

Somatic Experiencing (SE) is a gateway to a deeper connection to self, others, and the world, and is a gateway to the deeper connection with our essential nature. We have forgotten our roots in the ground of unutterable mystering-being (tk <3). Not only have we forgotten, but we have forgotten that we have forgotten. It is no surprise that so many of us flock to yoga studios and books about mindfulness, pushed by the urgency of a deep, albeit often unconscious, longing for connection to something sacred. It is no surprise that so many of us have flocked to Eastern meditation and contemplative teachings, traditions, and teachers and have sought out “gurus” (Oh, how over- and mis-used this word has become) in reaction to a deep sense of spiritual depravity. We have forgotten our mysterious roots, and even worse, we have forgotten that we have forgotten. Thank you Peter Kinglsey for pointing this out.

As a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner (SEP), what has always been obvious to me is the spiritual possibility that SE offers – let alone its promise in the healing of trauma. Somatic Experiencing, in its emphasis on the body, brings one’s self to the here and now. It brings one’s attention to the here and now. What can become known, though I see so seldom named, is that sensation is distinct from thinking. We can uncouple thinking from sensation. Thinking – this faculty that is at once a rich gift and a terrible deluder of consciousness with its capacity to cast spells of separation, division, and forgetfulness. We find that sensation is distinct from thinking. We find that sensation offers freedom from thinking, for, sensation is located in the here and now of aliveness, and thinking is always taking us away from here and now – often out of the body. We are, by and large, a disembodied culture.

It seems important to acknowledge that it isn’t so easy for most of us to access and stay with sensation in our body without becoming uneasy in our chairs, on our cushions, in our SEP’s office, on the yoga mat. Past trauma impacts the nervous system in such a way that noticing and paying attention to sensation brings one close to the stored somatic memories, responses, and reactions of past moments when something happened that felt too overwhelming to bear. In these moments, the physiology became overwhelmed, and it is as if the body concludes “I CAN’T”. This response of  “I can’t” becomes a prevailing somatic and psychic theme that informs one’s responses to the here and now – including to other people, situations, events, and sensations in the body. This is why doing the work to regulate the nervous system is so undeniably important – which may involve healing past trauma.

Besides doing the hard work of renegotiating trauma, one of the ways to support regulation of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) is by doing things that downregulate it. Downregulation means a decrease in tone in the sympathetic nervous system. Huh? In other words, when we are downregulated, we feel less agitated “energy” inside; we feel more at ease, more at rest, more calm, more at peace with gravity. We might say we “downregulate” the car when we take the foot off the gas, and/or when we lightly press the brake. This is not anything new. Practices that support downregulation have been around for a long, long time.

Downregulation is in service not to just ANS regulation, but is also in service to the connection to divine unutterable mystery of our essential nature. These practices that we and our friends have flocked to – yoga, Qi Gong, meditation – these all have the (intended) impact of downregulation. But, for what reason have these ancient traditions been pointing toward practices that downregulate the nervous system? What is the point? Is it to regulate the nervous system, to feel less stress, less rigidity and contraction, only? No. It is for something far more beautiful than that – and nervous system regulation is pretty darn beautiful.

Here we go… What we call the “here and now”, which we can rest in through downregulating, is a spatial-temporal threshold; an altar to which to bring one’s devotion and reverence – to open to the unutterable mystery of our essential Being. Downregulation is in service of connection with this unutterable mystery. Qi Gong, yoga, meditation – all are downregulating practices – down regulation for what? TO CONNECT TO BEING. To remember. Sati, the Pali word that we translate into mindfulness means to remember. To re-member. To re-member what? To re-member one’s depths. To re-member what is of the deepest importance. To re-member the heart of longing for union with this unutterable divine mystery and to allow it to beam out of every pore. To re-member the always-already intimacy with and as this primordial pure awareness mystery Being. Unutterable – preverbal, nonverbal – beyond conceptualization, beyond even cognizing.

On the way to healing trauma, on the way to cultivating nervous system regulation, we bump into the unutterable mystery of our being. And, if we are lucky, and I mean truly lucky, we stop to notice – or, we have someone sitting with us who is sufficiently sober to slow us down enough to notice. Or, we have someone sitting with us already in and from and as this non-verbal mysterious space of uncontrived Being untouched and unlimited by concepts, beliefs, and cultural conditioning.

Deep and intimate contact with the direct experience of the body is a threshold and an altar. Re-member.

“May we, too, become like the mist that gives itself up into morning” – Condolences to the Sun by Just a Tourist