My client, an entrepreneur with a business she adores, is a hard worker. Like many ambitious women, she thrives on serving her clients and doing excellent work.
When she came for sessions in Somatic Experiencing (SE), she had several goals in mind. But as often happens, sometimes something unexpected will emerge.
One of the basic tools we work with in SE is the simple pause. When a nervous system has been through some kind of overload due to trauma or stress, when there has been too much stimuli to process, the body’s signals can get a bit “jammed”. It’s as if the nervous system is still trying to sort out pieces of an event that it didn’t quite have time to process. This is one piece of what happens in the body due to trauma.
And when we pause and give ourselves time to take in our sensory experiences in the moment, it can help the body to settle and connect.
Another basic tool we work with is called “orienting”. One version of this involves a slow turn of the head and neck from side to side, allowing the eyes to take in the environment. (You might notice that cats and dogs typically do this when they walk into a room: they will scan their environment, which allows their nervous systems to settle).
When animals in the wild come out of a “freeze” state (high dorsal tone), the first thing they will do is slowly scan their environment to check for danger.
As humans who share many aspects of our nervous system’s wiring with our mammalian friends, this same action of turning the head slowly while allowing the eyes to “scan the horizon” will often have a subtle but powerful effect of bringing us back to the present moment.
When my client first practiced this action with me, she was surprised at the profound way that it settled her and brought her fully present. And, she found was that as as she continued to explore these practices on her own, the moments of settledness and presence began to be more frequent.
And she found herself beginning to regularly connect to a deeper sense of peace and fulfillment, rather than unconsciously racing through life to the next thing (which was the old pattern).
Sometimes, the body’s physiology can get fixated and stuck in that high sympathetic (fight/ flight) mode. This can happen due to things we have no control over (including early developmental or birth trauma).
When the body is in that underlying fight/ flight state, and that sympathetic response in overdrive is “running the show” beneath the surface, it’s actually not possible for us to be in our fullest ability to be peaceful, taking in the present moment.
(Our bodies are wired to keep us safe… and if there is a predator chasing us, we are biologically programmed through thousands of years of evolution to focus only on getting to safety, or to doing the next thing. It’s like we don’t actually have the capacity to come into our full sense of enjoyment; because pausing to enjoy the flowers if a predator is chasing after you would not be a good thing! And our bodies are wired, first, to keep us safe).
When we can begin to work with the body’s physiology, through both learning how the threat response works and then gently helping the body to learn new responses and come into the present moment more and more… we allow the body’s natural re-set mechanisms to come out of the fight/ flight state and into that healthy “ventral vagal” parasympathetic (which is that easy, relaxed, socially engaged state where we are deeply immersed in just enjoying life). And we are more able to be present, without some part of us on the lookout for danger.
The body’s organic cycles of activation and release come more and more into balance, allowing us to be alert and active when appropriate; and restful and safe when we don’t need to be on alert. And that lets us settle more and more deeply into enjoyment, and also open up to allow more goodness from the universe to safely come in.