This article, is an explanation of the principles of the discipline Seishindo, and can also be an aid in further understanding Self-relations Therapy, as developed my Stephen Gilligan. Along the way, what you read might give you some additional insight into how you think about and react to the world.
The Body-The Somatic Self
When working with a client who was an athlete that regularly suffered stress injuries during her training I asked her to “Let your body move some as it feels some of its injuries…….As you move, let your body recall exactly how it has been injured at various times……And then at some point, freeze your body…Sit still…And tell us what your body wants to say in regard to all of the injuries it has received.” After taking a few minutes to breathe and move her body my client stopped moving and spoke these words, “You don’t understand what I am capable of and what is beyond my means. I feel like you are punishing me.” The moment the client finished uttering these words, I asked her to begin moving again, and while moving I asked her to tell us what her body was wanting to say now. This led to a very fruitful conversation about the client’s sense of self worth and how she tended to feel that she wasn’t as talented as other athletes and thus had to work harder than them. She said she was now realizing that she had to love herself with just as much determination as she used in improving her athletic performance. She said, “You can’t enjoy the win, if you can’t love and appreciate the person that did the winning.”
The above treatment session revolved around: Having the body move as it would in the situation that was being explored, and then having the body freeze as it would when injured. We somatically recreated the initial debilitating situation and then while duplicating the “freeze frame” so common to injuries and problem states, the client verbalized what they felt when in this state. From there we melted the freeze frame by once again moving, and we tapped into the wisdom of the body when it felt free to move and express. The client’s body knew what it wanted and needed and the messages it offered up to the rational mind were of great emotional importance.
The body can be considered to be a form of ongoing communication, a shaping of and container/containment of all of the messages (chemical, electrical, nutritional, verbal, muscular) that we receive and transmit in the course of our lives. When considered as such, we understand that the way we use our body effects our emotional state, and is influenced by past experience, and what we believe. Some of our deepest beliefs are those that we are not consciously aware of having.
The language of the somatic self
A client comes to discuss his “utter failure” in his new job as a marketing manager. As he talks I note that his shoulders are rounded forward, his body is tilted somewhat backwards, he rocks just ever so much from side to side, his head is tilted towards the left, and he talks rather quickly while breathing in a shallow manner. I wait until he has told me his story and then I gently say to him “Please change your somatic language so that you can foster greater success in your business activities.” He is willing to comply so I suggest that he does the following –
I ask him to open up his chest and round his shoulders back slightly, tilt his trunk forward ever so much, rock gently from front to back, and tilt his head towards the right. Once he has initiated all of these changes I say to him, “Please tell me what you feel in regard to your work situation now that you are embodying a different somatic conversation.” Basically what I have done is asked him to shift each component of his somatic language that he was embodying while feeling stuck, so that his body could communicate differently which in turn will help to generate a new verbal conversation, and a different set of beliefs.
As he begins to speak I have to remind him to maintain the somatic shifts that I have suggested. His initial response to my reminder is “I have trouble talking while sitting like this.” This is just what I would expect him to say, because his somatic communication as suggested by me, is no longer a match for his verbal conversation. I encourage him to proceed nonetheless so that we can learn from this experience, and he starts to talk once again while maintaining the different somatic conversation that I have suggested. As he continues to recall his past “failures” while maintaining a different physiology, his somatic shifts lead him to spontaneously shift his explanation of his work experience. He starts to talk about how his new job has given him the opportunity to learn unpleasant yet powerfully important lessens in regard to marketing, and how he is beginning to realize how many of his past marketing assumptions needed to be changed to match the conditions of the marketplace. He spontaneously begins to “reframe” and change the meaning of his work experience, and after a short while he states how he realizes that “not being right” has been tough on him, but that he actually is becoming a much better marketer than he was in the past! He is beginning to understand on a deep experiential level, that when we change our physiology we change our somatic conversation, which in turn leads us to change our “relationship to” what transpires and the “meaning” that events have for us. Reframing the meaning of our experience in this manner, usually begins outside of our conscious awareness, and it is a natural and spontaneous response to changes in our physiology and somatic language.
The language of the somatic self is wired into our system at birth and forms the foundation of our memories, verbal communication, learned responses, and our ability to live and sustain ourselves. This somatic language is at least as sophisticated, systematic, and complete as our native tongue. This language of the somatic self that we begin to understand while still being in our mother’s womb, is what allows us to make meaning out of our experience prior to learning our native tongue, and it remains our primary meaning making language throughout the course of our lives.
The language of the somatic self does not use or require verbal language although it interacts with it continually, like a music group improvising with a singer, or a horse and rider traversing a path in the forest. The language of the somatic self is the pre-verbal communication that helps us to connect to the outside world, and allows us to make meaning out of our experience prior to learning our native tongue. It is part of our mammalian consciousness, is intuitive and relational in nature, seems to direct us to join with other life, and it remains our primary meaning making language throughout the entire course of our lives. This language forms the foundation of our memories, verbal communication, learned responses, and our ability to live and sustain ourselves, and connect to others. Much in the same way that words are systematically joined together in infinitely varied combinations, to form the content of our verbal language as used by our cognitive self, the various components of our sensory experience are systematically joined together in infinitely varied combinations by your somatic self, to form the language of your somatic self. This language “spoken” by the body makes it possible to understand and direct all of the massive information exchange that it takes part in, in collaboration with the brain in our skull. This is a language of immediate experience as compared to verbal language being a communication of abstractions.
Translation and Transformation
In another instance I was working with a teenage boy who compulsively overate pizza I asked him to “Move your right hand back and forth from the table to your mouth, as if you are eating your eighth slice of pizza and move your mouth as if you are chewing….But do so a good deal faster than usual……..As you continue to move….Tell us what your body would say if it could translate your movements into words.” In a couple of minutes time my client translated his body’s movements into the following words, “I am really getting worn out by all of this activity. I need to take a rest” I said to my client, “Please continue to move for a little while longer, and then when you are ready…suddenly freeze your movements with your right hand somewhere held in space… And have your body translate its feelings into words.” He froze in midair and his “body” replied “Enough is enough. Stop eating! I feel like you are attacking me with all of this food.” As soon as these words were spoken I urged him to begin moving again, but to do whatever movements felt best to his body. After about one minute’s time I asked him to translate the movements he was having now into words. This led to a meaningful conversation in regard to the client feeling that no matter what he did in life his parents were standing there saying “Enough is not good enough. You need to do more and better!” As he took some deep breaths and continued to move he said that he was now understanding that it was important for him to live up to the needs of his body and his emotional self, even if what he needed did not match the needs of his parents.
The movements, posture, breathing patterns, tilt of one’s head and neck, and the body’s flexibility or lack of it, forms the basis of somatic language. The body knows the meaning of this language, and when it is asked to translate this language into your native tongue, the results are most often poetic or metaphorical in nature, and somewhat astounding to the cognitive mind.
Make an extremely loud noise and a person or animal tends to immediately stop moving, and the blood leaves the extremities and travels to the vital organs. Each and every time, every living mammal tends to have the same basic response. Massage your baby’s legs some as you change their diaper, and unless they are hungry, they are sure to gurgle rather than cry. Place yourself in a cold climate and your pores will tend to close up in order to retain heat. Go to the tropics and your pores will open to help facilitate an efficient heat exchange. Swallow a poison, and your somatic intelligence will induce you to vomit. Swallow a tonic and your body will quickly absorb it. Tense your stomach muscles, round your shoulders forward, and breathe in a quick shallow manner, and your system will soon report a sense of overwhelm and fear.
Our body translates and transforms all of the communication and information it receives in the course of our lives, both from our own internal world, and the external world as well. This ability of the body to constantly carry out complex translation and transformation processes requires a highly sophisticated “somatic intelligence.” This intelligence of the body can be considered to be our “mammalian consciousness” and tuning into this consciousness brings forth our relational, intuitive, poetic, and feeling qualities. Continue–>