Our somatic intelligence refers to how aware we are of the sensations of the body, and how able we are to interpret and respond to these sensations (De Silva, 2017). Research shows that strengthening this form of intelligence improves our decision-making capacity and prevents us from taking unnecessary risks (Yip, Stein, Côté, & Carney, 2020) and makes us less likely to experience somatic pain (Jellesma et al, 2011).
What bodily sensations are typical for you? Think of common aches and pains perhaps. This may take some time to recall, as we can become so accustomed to certain sensations/pain that we barely register them consciously.
When the spirit and body are securely attached, we become conscious of the messages from our bodies. We become motivated to compassionately listen to these messages, rather than dismissing this information as distractions from a more worthy cause. From this compassionate and responsive place, we have an opportunity to manage perceived threats before they become stressors.
For the body to securely attach to the spirit, the body must believe it is unconditionally positively regarded. We do this in the same way we do this in outer relationships; by being authentic. We say yes when we mean yes, and say no when we mean no. When we take risks in this way in outer relationships – to show up as we are – and are held by the other as inherently worthy even if there is a disagreement, we gain a sense of trust and security in the relationship.
To promote greater self-compassion with somatic (bodily) sensations, it can help to take on a third person. For instance, when talking to a dear friend, we are clearly separate from them. The friend is another person, distinct from us. This approach to our bodily sensations can enable us to step back or non-attach (will review this concept in more detail shortly). We don’t over identify with them, which prevents the experience of these sensations from feeling threatening.
Now, imagine your body and the sensations within are this dear friend. While they are welcome guests, they are “others,” not essential to the spirit of who you are. These guests are not confused with who we are, nor a reflection of our inherent worth. They are allies bringing us important information, reporting on the subtle energies, premonitions, and incongruences that swirl within and around us.
When we listen to the body, tending to the sensations and emotions that cue us, we promote trust between the spirit and the body, healing the wound at its roots. The mind-spirit-body reunite as we practice this objective and compassionate way of being with our bodies.
Pause to Strengthen: Talk to Your Body
Pause in this moment and notice what, if any messages your body is sending you, experienced as sensations and emotions. Notice what is happening. Cultivate curiosity by asking it questions. You might ask your body what it needs or wants, or what it is afraid of? Ask your body to describe the characteristics of the feeling. Does it have a name like fear, sadness, or grief? If helpful, use the emotional descriptors in Appendix A.
Notice how it felt when you put a name to what you are feeling. Is it a good fit, or does it need some adjustments?
Getting curious like this helps you step back, keeping you from over-identifying with emotional or physical pain. From this more objective orientation, you can hold space for the feeling, just like you would hold space for a friend who is sharing something important with you.
Living in a Noisy World
Emotions are like telephone calls. They bring us information about the state of our BEing. In a congruent world, an emotional messenger would call and we would answer. Meaning, we could consider the emotion presenting itself, experience or feel it, tend to it, express, and discharge it. This is how we address and clear the inner noise, enabling us to tune back into the signal of who we are. Tending to emotions amid noisy and perhaps trauma laden work and home environments is challenging, even impossible at times. To tend to emotions in the inner world, it requires space, and when the outer world is overwhelmingly noisy, there is no space. So then, what was a benevolent messenger is now a chronic irritation. We will either get angry at it for interrupting us (fight), distract ourselves to avoid tending to it (flee), or if overwhelmed by the noise produced from avoiding it, we may even unplug it from the wall so we can’t hear it at all (freeze).
If we habitually block the message, we will experience stress until we acknowledge it. Perhaps more importantly, if we don’t receive the signal within the message, we miss an opportunity to tend to the wound that is coming up for healing.
Pause to Reflect: Will you pick up the phone?
If we pick up the phone, we will receive a message, the signal that is pertinent to us at that moment. If we let it ring, it will activate the stress response.
What happens in your body when your emotional phone rings? If helpful, refer to Appendix A to explore the full spectrum of your emotions.
When we don’t address internal distress, we not only experience ongoing suffering, but as a result of this ongoing suffering, we are at a higher risk of succumbing to a host of chronic dis-eases (O’Malley et al, 2015). The solution is not to shame ourselves for fearing our emotional phone. Quite the opposite, the solution is self-compassion, which provides the grace and the space to tend to the wound that lies beneath the fear.
Pause to Reflect: How do you respond to emotional guests?
Consider your tendencies and circle the icon below that best describes how you tend to receive uncomfortable emotions.
Non attachment: The Power of Stepping Back
We experience non-attachment when we recognize emotions as ‘other’ – as separate from us – and refrain from overly identifying with them. This can provide some inner space, allowing us to tap into our inner and outer resources, enabling us to creatively navigate life’s challenges.
When an emotion feels threatening, it activates the stress response discussed in Chapter 2. You may recall, during a stress response, our ability to make objective and compassionate decisions is limited. When we are able to non-attach to emotions, we are less likely to feel threatened which then prevents us from getting activated or stressed in the first place. This increases our confidence in our ability to handle challenges in our life, which further reduces the likelihood of feeling threatened by a challenging emotion.
Without being clouded by the noise of the nervous system, we are more likely to want to lean in to learn more about the situation and our response. From this curious and creative place, we seize the opportunity to evaluate the potential threat so we can resolve it, or re-orient to it if resolution is not possible. In this way curiosity promotes non-attachment, enabling us to see the stimuli as an interesting ‘other’, rather than as a threatening part of self. This compassionate othering enables us to welcome emotions and sensations that arise in the body, even when they are uncomfortable. We can grow to view
the emotion as a cue to pay attention and a reminder to tune in, instead of tuning out to avoid discomfort.