Cognition, Soma, Mind, and Emotions, are One Complete and Indivisible Unit
“Bill” comes to me concerning problems he is having in his marriage, and as a secondary issue he reports that he is suffering from dangerously high blood pressure. I notice as he sits facing me and begins to talk about his work, that he begins to rock ever so slightly forward and backward, that he is slouching just a bit, with his head ever so much tilted to his right. I also notice that he tends to hold his breath when he pauses, and his face gets red at these times in particular. After a few minutes I distract Bill by asking him about his recent fishing trip to Russia. He really enjoys telling me a few fishing tales, and I notice that as he tells me these stories his posture straightens up ever so much, he is now moving his trunk in a barely perceptible, gentle, right to left rocking motion, as he now tilts his head slightly to his left, and breathes deeply each time he pauses to regale me with another story. Having noticed all of this I ask Bill if we can get back to his original issue while I stand behind him and place my hands gently on his head and neck. Bill is familiar with my work and he is thus comfortable with this form of interaction. (Otherwise, gaining much more rapport and further explanation would be necessary before I would offer to engage in helping him with “hands on” work.)
Thus far, Bill has no idea about what I have noticed concerning his rocking movements and posture, because in this instance I do not want him to try and consciously change what he is doing. Bill is a perfectionist and I don’t want his need for “perfection” to get in the way of his somatic intelligence. I am hoping to help him bypass his usual habit patterns as a first step toward learning something new.
As Bill begins to again tell me of his business difficulties, he again unconsciously moves his trunk forward and backward, and he starts to slouch again. I gently guide him with my hands, without words or any other form of logical explanation as to what I am doing or what I want him to do. I subtly suggest with my hands that he very gently change his posture, and without any verbal form of acknowledgement, he does so. I let his change in posture stabilize and then I begin to suggest with my hands that he move his trunk ever so much from right to left (the way that he tends to move when he is enjoying himself) instead of from front to back (the way he tends to move when he feels stuck.). Most of all of this time Bill continues to talk. Next, my hands suggest that he tilt his head ever so much to his right like he does when he talks about fishing. Now he finds himself discussing his problem while sitting and moving in a way that is quite different from his usual way of eliciting his problem. In working together with Bill, his cognitive self begins with a focus on his problem state, while I help his somatic self to begin to elicit a state of well being. In this way, his somatic intelligence becomes a context for dissolving fixed problems and allowing new solutions to arise. His body leads his brain, which changes his mind, and thus his emotional reaction. Indeed, after a short while Bill states that somehow the problems in “our” marriage don’t seem to be quite as insolvable as before. (He unconsciously switches from “my” problems to the “our” problems of he and his wife) He says, “Funny as it might seem, I am already beginning to imagine some potential solutions.” As he starts to generate some initial solutions his head becomes more balanced over his torso and he is definitely breathing more fully than before. At some point I take my hands off of him and come around to sit in front of him while he continues to think and talk in a solution oriented manner. Now I begin to use various Self-relations processes to assist him in melding his “new” somatic experience with the cognitive understanding that will help him to actually go out and utilize what he has learned. He comes back for a follow-up session in a week’s time, and reports that he and his wife have definitely been doing somewhat better, and he feels like there is definitely hope for a better future. I work with him some more in the same manner as I did last time, but this time filling him in some on what is taking place. Towards the end of the session I teach him two relaxation exercises and send him home to practice. Ten days later I get an email from him which says “Went to the doctor and my blood pressure was down for the first time in six months! Wouldn’t you know it, getting along better with my wife and lowering my blood pressure were bound to go hand in hand.”
In Seishindo we believe that changing the condition, usage, and awareness, of the body helps shift emotions, cognition, and behavior, and brings the entire self into a state of greater balance and well-being. We don’t so much try to get our clients to maintain a somatic-emotional balanced state, as we teach them how to get back to this state when they find that they have strayed and are suffering dis-ease.
In Seishindo we usually don’t create a sharp differentiation between problems of the body/health issues, and problems of the psyche/psychological issues. Indeed we find that often when clients come with psychological issues, the first positive changes they notice is in the condition of their overall health and body usage. The same is true “in reverse.” Clients come suffering from the pain of a car accident or a lingering sports injury, and they might likely report feeling happier and more at ease in life in general, a week or two prior to noticing any physical improvement. Cognitive intelligence, somatic intelligence, mind, and emotions are all woven together into one indivisible and highly creative whole. For educational purposes we can talk about body and brain, intellect and emotions, or conscious and unconscious mind, as if they were separate, but in the living of our life it is just this sense of separateness, that is a sure sign of a living system out of balance.
Learning and adapting with a dual perspective
Self-relations suggests that people tend to identify with one of two basic perspectives when perceiving and understanding life- their somatic self/mind or their cognitive self/mind.
The cognitive self is associated with the brain in our skull, thoughts, strategies, mental abstractions, and descriptions of one’s life. The cognitive self understands life mainly by passing it through the filters of verbal language and socially constrained thinking. The main avenue of communication for the cognitive self is one’s native language, used in both intrapersonal (internal dialogue) and interpersonal conversations.
The somatic self, on the other hand, is associated with embodied knowing, poetry, emotion, intuition, movement, a non-verbal felt sense of nature and one’s experience, and the archetypal presence of the collective experiences of all human beings. The language of the somatic self is based on a “felt sense” of the present moment, emotional states, bodily reactions, and the relational connections to all we come in contact with. The somatic self communicates its experience nonverbally yet systematically.
In Self-relations terms, we are advised to tune into “the tender soft spot in the belly” in order to integrate the somatic and cognitive selves. The somatic self’s ability to sense what is taking place, along with the cognitive self’s ability to negotiate among various distinctions, words, strategies, and abstractions allows for the evolution of a mature “relational self.” The ideal is to embed the experiences of the somatic and cognitive selves, one within the other, and in the process to create a new and different experience that includes and at the same time transcends both.
Some premises of Seishindo
Recognizing the importance of a relational self, Seishindo is based on the following premises.
1) A supportive environment in which one is accepted, protected and respected will greatly increase one’s ability to learn, adapt, and change.
2) Each person has an innate ability to recognize and create their own personal state of somatic-emotional well-being.
3) To a large extent our feeling of somatic-emotional well-being is determined by our overall sense of balance/imbalance throughout the entire system known as “me” and extending out to include all that we come in contact with.
4) A state of dynamic relaxation in which we combine relaxation with movement and a lively sense of awareness is a crucial element in supporting learning. When we are dynamically relaxed we feel alert and fully alive, and ready for something “good” to happen. We do just enough and nothing more or less, to perform in a graceful, efficient manner without inducing excess effort or tension.
5) Every living system is a communication network that has the instinctive ability to successfully self-organize, that is, to organize one’s “self” and the local environment in order to survive and thrive . Effective self-organization promotes a sense of somatic-emotional well-being and leads to successful relational engagement in the world.. When our physiology is balanced and relaxed and our overall mental and emotional state is healthy, we establish an optimum network for information flow. One of the best ways to stimulate self-organization is to bring a system into a temporary state of imbalance, and then support and allow the system to instinctively rebalance itself. “Imbalance and supportive rebalancing” could for instance involve going to a specialized retreat center for a week in order to work on giving up smoking. The cessation of smoking will likely initially lead to a sense of imbalance. The supportive atmosphere and counseling available at the center could then help to lead towards a healthy rebalancing of ones behavior and feelings.
6) The ability to adapt and change is part and parcel of the act of self-organization. An individual who is dynamically relaxed and continually reorganizing has the greatest likelihood of adapting and changing. The ability to adapt is the reward for learning.
7) A diverse system has many different elements. Diversity is ever present in the non-equilibrium biosphere that we live in; without it, a system cannot sustain itself. A lack of diversity leads to a limited pool of information, alternatives, and solutions that will usually tend to be somehow incomplete, incorrect, and repetitive. A system adept at managing diversity is open to learning from new information and distilling solutions from multiple realities.
8) Human beings are made up of diverse yet interrelated and interdependent parts. Our ability to embrace, comprehend, utilize, and unify the different elements of a given situation leads to high quality solutions and adaptation. The concepts of “right” or “wrong” are less important than the correlation and complementarity of divergent sources of information. For instance, living in a bi-cultural family unit will necessitate that we embrace, comprehend, utilize, and unify various beliefs relating to religion, ethical behavior, and cultural norms. In the process of creating a supportive and loving family unit we wind up developing a “new” culture that is a rich synthesis of the cultural background of both parents. Robust systems thrive on complexity, and use it as an impetus for fostering generative compromises that enhance the overall integrity of the system. In unbalanced systems complexity tends to create a state of confusion and chaos.
9) Well intentioned attempts to create change in our lives often only tend to further amplify what is perceived to be problematic. High quality learning and adaptation usually requires an paradigm shift in the way we think and react to the world. For instance, the behavior of an adolescent boy who is deemed to be irresponsible will often further deteriorate when the child is faced with ever more stringent demands from his parents. As a parent, understanding how we can better support the child to develop as a responsible adult, will open up many new possibilities for changed behavior that do not seem possible in an authoritarian relationship.
10) Most of our behaviors and thought processes are habitual in nature. Whatever is habitual tends to feel natural, and what is natural often feels unnatural. Lasting change and learning often requires that we change deep seated habits.
An alternative model of psychotherapy
Somatic psychotherapy attempts to influence clients at their somatic level of experience. They are asked to lead with their body and follow with their rational mind.
Since Somatic Based Therapy assumes that much of what we understand cognitively derives from our verbal interpretation of our somatic language, we tend to look first at the body in order to understand the psyche. We begin with both the client and the practitioner getting a felt sense of the communication of the body. Then we look to enlist the help of the client’s unconsciously generated somatic intelligence, to bring about meaningful change. This change is wrought by the clients innate and preverbal sense of what needs to be different somatically in order to bring about a greater sense of psychological health and well-being. Once the somatic experience has begun to change then I create a deeper conversation using the various processes of Self-relations Therapy to integrate our dual intelligence into an experience of the relational self.
I hope that what I have explained in these few pages leads you to experiment more with somatic based forms of therapy and have a greater appreciation for your somatic intelligence. Please keep the following in mind. First, I have offered a simple explanation of phenomenon that took me years to understand and are actually quite subtle in nature. Learning how to help people change their unconsciously generated movements and posture usually takes quite a bit of training. If you don’t do it just right, people feel like you are simply pushing them around. Second, each person manifests their movements in their own particular and unique manner. Some people tend to move in various oval shapes, and others weave a bit of a figure eight. Some people are very stiff in their neck but move their trunk a good deal. Other people are fairly rigid in their trunk and move their head and neck quite freely. Still others move in a richly varied combination of ways that defy description. Third, changing your posture and the way you move and breathe has a marked effect on your emotional state, and your psyche, but just as importantly, all of these changes will help to facilitate one’s relationships with others, and an overall sense of belonging in the world. The guiding principle in this work is that we already possess or have access to all that we need in order to live a “successful” heartfelt life. When we respectfully approach our clients and experience their true magnificence we can enter into a relational loop that will help the both of us to realize that we have the potential to live life more fully than we usually realize.