In Somatic Self-Compassion Online we explore Staci K. Haines‘ quote, “In listening to the body we know what we must care about. Core values come from felt senses, not from thought schema.” I’m fascinated by Staci’s quote, and feel a deep, yet unclear connection to her words. Here’s some unpacking…
Qualities and emotions in the body
Many traditions link particular qualities and emotions to parts of our body. Indeed, when we start to develop a sense of our body (called, variously, interoception, felt sense, and intuition) we start to feel these qualities. In Grant Soosalu and Marvin Oka‘s book, mBraining: Using Your Multiple Brains to do Cool Stuff, the authors explore the minds in our head, heart and belly. It is this work that offers the springboard for my exploration of qualities and emotions in the body in Somatic Self-Compassion.
We find qualities such as:
- creativity, curiosity, awareness, perspective and flow in our heads;
- love, kindness, compassion, forgiveness and hope in our hearts; and
- courage, determination, motivation, strength and commitment in our belly.
I invite you to not just take my word for it – feel into these places in your body and see what you find there. You might try the Head Heart Belly meditation to help you do that.
Emotions and values
Our emotions point to our values:
- anxiety tells us that our reality is not matching our ideal existence (we are not living any number of our core values);
- anger tells us that our boundaries have been crossed and our sense of safety threatened (we are not aligned with our values of sovereignty, freedom, creativity, etc.);
- sadness points to something lost that previously fulfilled us (we lost alignment with a value of love, connection, community, etc.);
- resentment tells us about lingering unmet needs in order to thrive (values like being relevant, valued, acknowledged or validated have not been realized in a situation).
Following the thread of an emotion leads us back to something that we hold dear, to our sense of purpose and meaning in the world.
Emotions in the body
Within a self-compassion practice, we can follow this thread back to its source to connect our stress to our purpose. What’s going on here? Here’s one of my adventures in this terrain:
As I lay in bed one morning (a time when my cortisol levels are at their highest and I often have a bit of a jarring start to the day), I felt into what was going on in my body. I felt a slight pain in my sinuses – not sinus pain, but a familiar pain I have come to relate to the stress of having more work than I would like in my day. I reflected on how that pain might relate to the qualities and emotions that reside in each part of my body and it felt like my creativity was being stretched past the point of pleasure. I love being creative, but when there is a constant demand to create at a rapid pace, it becomes less enjoyable. I reflected further on my values to see if it was apparent which of my values related to feeling pushed too fast creatively – the values that came to me were learning, knowledge, exploring, freedom and also relevance (a sense of my own relevance). My body was telling me that I was overdoing it.
Then I felt into another familiar pain behind my sternum which I knew to be anxiety. This is my most familiar body message of alert. It seems to straddle two areas – that of my heart and that of my gut, but it mostly feels like a gut signal. Similarly to the head message, it was telling me about having a lot of work to do today and feeling a physical pressure that mimicked the work pressure I was feeling – like a crushing feeling (“crushing” sounds more dramatic than it actually feels, but it’s accurate). The emotions of fear, anxiety and dread are associated with that physical feeling. I felt into the feeling some more to identify core values related to those sensations and I found work ethic, stability and grounding. The heightened sensation of anxiety made me feel as if I was being lifted upward away from these values – as if I was feeling into the fear of the reality of not being aligned with these. The inner critic also made a cameo here – starting to wag her finger at me about making sure I work hard enough.
All of this is somewhat familiar to me – the anxiety in my gut more-so than the stress in my head. I have a strategy that I use when I’m having this experience in the morning, and that is to stay in bed and soothe my body so that I get a dose of oxytocin and opiates to tend to the cortisol. I encourage oxytocin:
- by offering myself soothing and validating words (“oh, sweetheart, I’m sorry you’re feeling this right now”),
- through body posture (I lay on my side in a half-fetal position, nestling the side of my face in my pillow in the way babies and children nestle into their mother’s breast),
- through connection (I grasp soft bedding in both hands and I also rub my feet together) and
- through rhythmic, tactile movement (rubbing my knee up and down a pillow).
This process of recruiting the “tend and befriend” system has the effect of calming down the cortisol response as well as the alerts in my gut and head. I later felt hunger in exactly the same place I felt anxiety, and I reflected on how anxiety is a hunger of the emotions – a longing for things that are not quite within reach, a voracious appetite of need that is not satiated.
I knew this Somatic Self-Compassion process was complete when I no longer felt the tension in my gut and head. I felt ready to get up and face the day, feeling supported and nurtured by my willingness to be kindly and patiently with my own body, and to soothe her physically.
In response to the messages from my body and their information about my values, I also set an intention to respond to my level of work, to plan to get more support and to work “smarter, not harder.”
If you’d like a guided meditation to help you explore this process, you can find it here.
Somatic Self-Compassion is an ongoing personal and community exploration. If you’re interested, you can come to a free information-sharing gathering. We’d love to see you at the next Somatic Self-Compassion Online (SSCON). And please feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions. I’d love to travel with you for a bit!
- Awareness of Sound (21 minutes) - July 19, 2021
- Podcast Episode 9: Compassion in a T-Shirt: In Session with Kristy Arbon - June 13, 2021
- Somatic Self-Compassion Tree of Practices and Neurochemicals - May 2, 2021
- Podcast Episode 9: Favorite Things on my Morning Walk - January 27, 2021
- Podcast Episode 8: Slow News Days and Companioning the Neutral - January 22, 2021