“Self-reflection is a desire felt by the body, as well as the soul. As dancers, healers, and saints all know, when you turn your attention inward even the simplest physical process – breath, the small movements of the eyes, the turning of a foot in midair – what might have seemed dull matter suddenly awakens.”
– Susan Griffin
How Somatic Meditation Can Work for You
In June of 2019, while attending a workshop in Nelson, BC, I was introduced to the practice of somatic mediation by Dr. Sharon Stanley. Having educated thousands of psychotherapists in Canada, the USA and Israel in the principles and practices of somatic psychotherapy, Sharon’s reach is far and wide. She founded Somatic Transformation building on her doctoral research on empathy with traumatized youth, creating a trauma model and educational curriculum to treat the physiological, psychological and spiritual dynamics of relational trauma. Sharon is shining light in these dark times.
Her guided somatic mediations illuminated the way and my creative juices began to flow. After only three meditations I could gently access my lived experience going as far back as infancy and ancestral inheritance. Laying on my back with my eyes closed, my arms began to spontaneously lift as would a baby’s, skyward, reaching towards my grieving mother who was longing for the occupied homeland she’d recently left behind. An image of my grandfather emerged, a destitute peasant, with his bloodied apron, tears running down his face. I felt compassion for all of us.
My body felt warm. My imagination was ignited. My physiology was calm. And why was this journey of implicit memory void of guilt? We are taught in meditation to stay focused, to disallow intrusive thoughts. I was letting images in, following them like an unfolding story. They were teaching me, showing me what was in me, longing to be processed. I could drift in and out of unfolding images, as well as a nourishing semi-sleep state and then come back to the journey Sharon was guiding with her soft and skilled voice.
Through her promptings we aligned and synchronized regions of anatomy, tuned into subtle energies and oriented to the earth, to the universe in a kind, responsive and interconnected way. This was intriguing. Although the meditations did arouse ghosts long forgotten: my toes, those of an ex-ballet dancer, silently screaming out in pain. I pictured Munch’s Silent Scream.
In the next meditation, I had a sense of floating on a lake in a canoe. My energy was fluid and tranquil. As Sharon guided us through various organs, encouraged us to feel the weight of our bones, I witnessed my three dimensionality and my body’s potential as a safe container rather than one I was always trying to escape from. She invited us to use micro-movements in our toes, at our shoulder blades, tiny imperceptible movements in whichever direction we wanted to move. This caused seemingly unrelated parts of my body to yield. I had experienced this interconnected release in my body a hundred times before, through Craniosacral Therapy, Syntonics and the Alexander Technique but it was never an encounter that I had sustained in meditation.
This was all such a contrast to my (not so fun) longtime meditation practice. For twenty-five years I meditated. But it never landed. Not like this. As a colleague noted, “You are very dedicated to something that’s not working for you!”
Realizing this out was worth the price of admission alone. How many other things had I dedicated myself to that weren’t working for me?
Why had it never occurred to me that meditation could be pleasurable, restorative and kind to my physiology, my heart and my soul? Yet, in this place, in this gently supported position, a blanket on my belly, my body comfortable – being directed to feel the gravitational embrace of the earth, my body was getting the restoration it had been longing for.
You see, I never thought it was “permissible” to create visual images during meditation and harness my own creative symbols to regulate my nervous system. Yet, in doing so I was helping repair relational and developmental injury. In this place, I could begin to self-repair the stress on my autonomic nervous system that I had been subjected to in the womb – not for a lack of love or caring from my mother – but because her own system was electrified from years of living under poverty, political oppression and fear.
If you have ever experienced not feeling supported (who hasn’t), then feeling the resourcing of this energy and imagery will be utterly new to you, as it was to me.
So here is my invitation…
If meditation hasn’t worked for you before, try it from another perspective. Not from a place of suppressing your thoughts and physical needs, but from tending to them…
I have created three somatic meditations for you to try. I have no idea if they will spark the same transformation for you but I invite you to try them. And get creative with your own.
More will be added in the coming months, but for now, I am excited to receive your reflection:
What arose for you?
What was vivid?
What works for you?
It can be useful to journal a five minute reflection after your meditation experience or scribble am image with pastels, like a two year old.
You can download the meditations by sending an e-transfer to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will allocate your donation of $10, $20, $50, $100 or more to help support a client in need of medicine work who is unable to do so for financial reasons.
Thank you for caring for yourself and for others. As Sharon says in one of her somatic meditations, “We tend to ourselves to tend to others.”