In the Somatic Self-Compassion program we learn how to tune into the wisdom of our body. Our cultural conditioning has generally encouraged us to cease listening to the wisdom of our body, and as a result we are cut off from a vast source of wisdom that is literally with us all the time. Why don’t we tune into the wisdom of our body? Here’s my exploration:
Why we don’t tune in to the wisdom of our body
Modern medicine and science took away our need to listen to signals from our own body in many cases. When we start to feel uncomfortable and scared about our body, we can go to the doctor, or our therapist or we can take a pill to help alleviate our pain. These are all good resources to have, but in the process of turning toward professionals and science, many of us have lost the ability to look to our own body wisdom first. The influence of science and the medical model have lead us to a loss of faith in the wisdom of the body in favor of looking to external sources of authority (scientists, teachers, doctors, therapists).
The body is often seen as dangerous and not to be trusted (especially the mysterious and magical body of women) while hard sciences are seen as being more credible. We feel more comfortable when things are reducible: “this happens because of that,” and we also feel more comfortable when we believe things are predictable: “when I do this, I can be sure of that outcome.” We like to be sure of things; relying on body wisdom that might seem mysterious and unpredictable can feel scary. Science and medicine might see to offer us the kinds of certainty our safety-seeking brain wants.
The decline of a sense of spirituality
Spirituality is no longer a cultural norm. As we moved away from the spirit toward science, we left our body and moved into our heads. In times past, treating pain in the body was both a physical and a spiritual practice – there was a sense that healing came both from medicine and from spirit. Many of us have kept the medicine part of the equation, but have discarded the impact our soul and spirit have on our healing. Even while modern medicine has found support for the placebo effect where we experience healing through beliefs, it’s generally not considered a legitimate form of healing. Hard sciences are considered king.
Fear of the memories in our body
Regardless of trauma history, many people are not in touch with their body. According to Staci K Haines, Co-Director of Methodology at the Strozzi Institute for Embodied Leadership, about 80% of the people who she sees in her work need to be reintroduced to the sensations in their body: this statistic likely translates to the broader population. There aren’t many of us who are intimate with out body, often for good reason. Getting back in touch with our body can be a daunting task, not only because we have forgotten how to do it, but also because we might be afraid of what we’ll find when we get there. But learning to get in touch with out body can simultaneously connect us with the wisdom of our body and also, when done with self-compassion, help to tend to the memories and difficult emotional material stored in our bodies. As long as we go slowly and seek strategies to do this safely, we can learn to get back in touch with our body.
Why we might like to start tuning in to the wisdom in our body
Present moment awareness is the doorway to future possibilities and creativity
Once we can cultivate a sense of being able to be kindly with our internal experience through practices of awareness, affection, courage and connection, we’re able to turn toward the information in our body. We can use that information to our advantage to respond in the world, rather than having vague sensations that we don’t tend to that leave us feeling uneasy without quite knowing why. Focusing teacher, Anne Weiser Cornell tells us that, “The feeling in the present moment is the doorway to countless future possibilities.”
Mind in our head, heart and gut
Theories of mind-body connections, including Stephen Porges’ Polyvagal Perspective, have shone a light on the “brains” in our heart and gut. Information is traveling from our brain to the rest of our body and from the rest of our body to our brain. There is more information moving from our visceral system/gut to our brain/mind than from our brain/mind to our visceral system/gut. Heart neural networks are known as the cardiac nervous system and gut neural networks are known as the enteric nervous system. There is memory and intuitive intelligence in these areas of our body. Growing evidence points to heart and gut involvement in many body functions and behaviors, and given these connections, as we settle in our body we will also correspondingly settle in our mind: the body can calm the mind.
We don’t need to solve everything by thinking alone and we can’t always think our way through a situation. For some decisions we can rely on our gut or our heart to guide us. This may take more time, but ultimately it’s more authentic, and we basically don’t have to try so hard. We can release the struggle to come to an intellectual conclusion because the way through will be come evident by trusting our emergent wisdom. We may need to be patient, but every situation will come to resolution through the wisdom of our head, heart or gut – sometimes working together (eg our heart or gut can inform our head leading to a creative solution).
If you’d like to try a meditation that invites you to tap into the wisdom in your head, heart and gut, try the Breathing Courage Compassion Wisdom meditation. And if you’d like to learn even more, sign up for the next Somatic Self-Compassion Online training beginning in August. See you there!
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