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If It Starts in the Body, It Has to Return to the Body
Feel into a time you were betrayed...
This is an adapted section of the Somatic Resonance course I built to share practices and frameworks for befriending the wisdom of the body. You can learn more at the link above, and pick up a copy here.
Feel into a time you were betrayed. A time that you trusted someone and they let you down in a big way. For weeks afterwards, you felt wounded, angry, sad, vengeful. You got stuck in mental loops, thinking about it over and over until you were sick with it. You tried to distract yourself, but nothing worked. Over and over, the situation ran through your head—what happened, how it could have gone down, how you should have seen it coming, how you couldn't have seen it coming… an unpleasant obsessiveness dug its roots into you, and you couldn't seem to pull them out.
Where did this experience start? Not in your head, that's for sure. No one has ever cognitively registered "I should be furious and depressed about this" and then asked their body to follow suit.
No, it started in the body: that sinking feeling in your gut; the weightlessness of dawning realization in your heart; your throat closing up. Before you had any thoughts or emotions about what had happened, your soma was creating the substrate for those thoughts and emotions to live on.
This becomes crystal clear in extreme situations, like betrayal, fear, or extreme joy, but it's also true in less dramatic day-to-day situations. The choice to have a veggie stir fry for lunch may seem like it came from your head, but prior to your thinking about it, your body sent you the hunger, the sense that pork ribs would be too heavy, the subtle memory-texture of your mother's stir fries.
In an ideal situation, there are two highways running between the soma and the head-self: one carries those initial soma-impressions into the head, so the Systematic Self can shape thoughts and feelings to hone the impression; the other carries the that honed impression from the head back into the soma, to complete its circuit and disappear back into the rich soil of the body. You could think of it as your life-energy's daily commute: it lives in the body, drives into the city (head) to work, and drives back home to rest. A total circuit—up from formlessness, given form, returned to formlessness.
Iterating this process is how we integrate experience. The experience starts in the body as a rough, confused mass. It comes up to the head, where we shape, sharpen, and clarify it—ornament it with reasons and causes and reactions—before sending it back to the body, where this new shape is tested out. It feels less confusing and shocking, but still not great. Then this new set of feelings goes back to the head to be further shaped, then back to the body, again, again. It’s a digestive process, like a cow chewing it’s cud.
That’s the ideal situation. The highways are clear and speedy, the cow chews it’s cud and digests in good time.
In our cultural-historical reality, it gets more complicated; the highway from the head back to the body is often shut down—and when it is open there's always a traffic jam.
Impressions from the soma drive up to the head, and they get stuck there. That betrayal, for example, doesn't metabolize naturally by changing from pain to anger to grief to the slow fade of healing. Instead it gets stuck in the head, curdling into bitter vengeful compulsive anger-fantasies, or an endless rehearsal of grievance and victimization.
It's not a big deal if this happens occasionally, but when it's the norm, the situation darkens. Nothing ever leaves the head, nothing returns to the formless ground of the body—it just keeps replaying and replaying in endless looping repetitions in the head.
This type of compulsive repetitive thinking is called "rumination" in psychological circles. This is also the name for the part of a cow's digestive process when they bring back up their food after eating it a first time, and continue to chew it (chewing cud) before swallowing it for a final time.
There's nothing wrong with a cow chewing its cud; it only becomes a problem if it starves to death because it won't stop chewing and chewing and chewing—and finally swallow already.
That's us. We have perfectly fine food in our mouths, if we would only swallow it. We have perfectly fine thoughts in our head, if we would only let them return to the soma.
That's a big part of the work we're doing here: we're trying to repair that second highway, so all these thoughts and ideas and emotions have a way back into the soma; so everything about us isn't trapped in the head, to the point where we have trouble identifying with anything other than our head.
It starts with the simple, unglamorous work of cleaning up the highway, fixing potholes, and getting some traffic to move. For us, that means the simple, unglamorous work of feeling the soma, letting it wake up to itself, and loosening the constrictions that block it off. It means reaching a point where we can notice that we're stuck in compulsive thinking, and we can simply drop awareness into the gut, and allow the silence there to absorb our restless energy.