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  • Writer's pictureKit Wisdom

Feeling into the unseen: unearthing a felt sense of safety through mindful somatic exploration

Updated: Feb 6, 2023



The subjective experience of health practitioners has been largely invisible.


Our learning implicitly affirms our existence as an expert, where knowledge comes in the form of objectification and disconnection from both the patient and their body, and ourselves and our body.

This experience of mutual disembodiment is powerful and can bring with it a sense of certainty, authority, and triumph; themes that are highly valued in our patriarchal healthcare world that can embody a sense of identity and belonging.


And so, it can become natural to swim with the familiar tide; to float along, unaware of the direction we may be heading.


Until perhaps, we might notice something about our own experience that feels puzzling and painful.

An unexpected strain of our hearts; an intense poker-hot stab in our bellies; a heavy creeping sadness on our faces; a burning blanket of shame in our cheeks.

And yet, what do we do with these noticings?


We have been trained to fear them; ignore and avoid them, intellectualize them; criticize them, and instead, seek guidance from a different authority.


In essence, we have been taught to seek outward and abandon the experience of sensing inwards.


Because a sense of wrongness can emerge when we feel into the unseen. And perhaps with it, comes feelings of deficiency, alienation, and isolation.


And yet to sit and give these experiences attention, can be felt as resistance with a shade of betrayal.

The noticing itself can be discombobulating; a departure from the norm; an unnecessary side-track; unproductive; or a waste of time.


It makes me wonder - in what world would that make sense?


Perhaps it is not our experiences that are wrong, but the environments in which we are held that are inherently unsafe to explore them.



 


Paying attention to the abyss within my belly, I feel a sheen of heat snake up my neck, slip over my head, and settle in my cheeks.


Squirming with radiance, I realize.


I am in the hot seat. We are facing each other and I am the client.


I feel the chair's edges and become aware of my legs. They are crossed at the ankles and gripped at the knees.


A hoard of giggles ripples through my chest.

The breath-holding and whole-body tension bring back memories of practicing 'how to measure strength' as a young physiotherapist.

I close my eyes and a tessellation of images, words, sensations, and emotions hurtle through my mind and body. They feel fragmented, like an old-school slide projector presentation, despite creating some sort of elegant whole.

More giggles.


My smile subsides as I notice his steady gaze paying close attention. Inner prickly edges are partnered with a halo of warmth. I sense a slowing inside and a widening of my eyes.


"Feels new, huh?"


 

My experience of undergraduate physiotherapy was mostly one of dissociation and disembodiment.


My arms were often crossed, and my shoulders hunched over. Confusion, fear, and guilt permeated my existence.


The rigidity of certainty and harshness of objectification seemed to flatten my insides and leave me inherently jumbled.


Sensing an unspoken denial within the learning culture, I learned to repress what I felt and thought, and become hypervigilant for signs of threat.


We needed to know a certain way and we needed to learn to know a certain way. Anything other than The Way was implicitly feared. To me, certainty was deemed key.


The presence of what was absent enveloped me like a dense fog, confirming an atmosphere of dismissal and fragmentation.

To speak up and out was avoided, stuck between the apprehension of rejection and the angst of surveillance.


And so, disconnection became the way to cope – between mind and body, between self and other, and between knowing - felt sense and analytical.


And within it, a deep experience of deficiency emerged.

 

His gaze is curious and his breath is even. He gives me permission to look for what I have always known to be there.


The heaviness.


It is humid and dense. It weighs wearily on my shoulders, pushing them forward and down. I sense a vast blue, the colour of ink. It leaks through my torso.


The more we notice, the heavier the heaviness. The bluer the blue. My heartbeat is brisk. My mouth is dry. I feel slow and fast all at once.


I shift my attention toward him.


He says words that I cannot decipher, yet speak to me through his rhythm and tone. The gentle cadence accompanies a soft openness to his chest. A sense of spaciousness comes forward.

I squirm in my seat, confused about holding this newness with the oldness.


A sharpness between my ribs emerges. It is dark and shaped like an arrow. I can sense its harshness and follow its length. The pointy end is splintered and stuck in place.


My body retreats; my shoulders, arms, and head contract. I brace for pain and sense darkness in my belly. I fortify my walls by holding my breath.


A memory of 6-year-old me appears: there I am, quaking with confusion and fury. Threat is everywhere.

"This is scary."


His voice holds my discombobulating insides. I watch as a childlike nod emerges from my adult body.


I sense patience as he gives me space to consider what is new.


His presence is like a favourite worn jumper; warm and reassuring, with an endearing hole in the elbow.


I notice my critic emerge, and then something shifts inside.


It's slow and steady and has rounded edges. It glides through my chest, kind in colour and surprising in shape. Light and blurry softness settle in my belly.

A warm ball of incandescence; once buried, now burns plainly in sight.

 

I began developing a deeper awareness of the intelligence of my whole body, when I started working with a somatic psychotherapist, integrating the body into the therapeutic process.

This meant expanding my attention and way of knowing beyond the traditionally trained analytical cognitive processes. From a physiotherapy lens, I was challenging well-established, dominant, hierarchical norms.

And yet, it was also when my knowing in another way spoke up and out.


I had noticed a bland ubiquity to my existence that, whilst holding my growing despair, did little to wonder about its inherent fullness.


I could taste beige yet smelt something rich.

There was more to my intelligence than my analyzing brain, and more walked and talked differently.

At that moment, I noticed curiosity ask fear to soften and step to the side.

My tightening shoulders asked:

How does one journey when the familiar feels rigid?

My churning belly inquired:

How does one know if the unknown is worth it?


My opening heart wondered:

How does one traverse paradigms, when so much is attached to where we've come from?


And so, I drew up alongside a wise traveling companion. One that could guide me in ways I was not yet aware of.


And we began sitting with the present experience as sacred ground.

He did not rush, push, or urge.

He did not draw a path for me to follow.

He did not decide on my behalf.

He did not know for me.


We paid attention in a mindful way.

We paid attention in a curious way.

We paid attention to pain, grief, and rage.

We paid attention to beauty, hope, and love.


We made the unseen, seen.


Together, we explored my inner landscape, connecting through the present moment. We studied channels of experience beyond the brain, communing with my body, and welcoming it as wise and whole.

Images, memories, and emotions. Thoughts, sensations, and impulses. We unearthed many an intelligence by exploring places that were long deemed clandestine, in ways that honored my intricacies and multitudes.


Nothing was dismissed nor minimized. Everything was met with mindful curiosity and warmth.

I began to dignify the uncertain and embody the unknown; to trust inherently in what came forward.


It was his compassionate presence that cultivated loving insulation within our shared container.


What emerged was an embodied resonance and harmonious interplay between our complex, organically adapting, living systems.

I was able to build skills to stay with my experience, through his clear and attentive focus.


Being witnessed in the 'staying with', as unknown layers of myself came forward, enabled a solidity to the shared shaky ground.


Through our embodied togetherness, I could stay curious and open so we could study the way I had organized my experiences.


By deeply learning how my beliefs, emotions, and consciousness were being shaped and intimately embodied, a different way of knowing was developing.


And with it, a richness, a maturation of sorts.


A sacred ripening; a process of becoming.

 

Sitting together, I sense liquid trickle through my body.


An image of water dancing around glowing rocks comes into focus. The water seems to sparkle and laugh on its own accord, weaving its way down through my insides.


Rounding corners and greeting sharp edges, it thickens and slows, flowing to places I thought were watertight.


It's tender and warm as it oozes through cracks, careful and gentle as it meets the unseen.

Golden and glinting and sweet like honey, it's syrupy goodness bathes old wounds.


Unearthing to shed, embalming to soothe.


As we rest in the renewal, I sense from my depths to let the wisdom pool.


And so, we do.


Together, we breathe in, and out, and drink in the richness of sunny honey.


 

Kit is a physiotherapist with a masters in wellbeing science currently training in hakomi mindful somatic psychotherapy. She has a keen interest in interpersonal neuroscience and its role in pain and healthcare, in particular, the relationship between the practitioner and the client and the emergent intersubjective space.


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