Yesterday I spent an extraordinary day with the Seven Stones Leadership team and twenty new friends out to make a difference in the world. Co-Founders Jen Cohen and Gina LaRoche of Seven Stones head a company “committed to bringing the promise and practices of exquisite sufficiency to individuals and organizations. We offer you a new world view: one wide enough and deep enough to heal a planet; one generative enough to build a new model for doing business and defining success; one far reaching enough to generate new metrics and a new economics; and one solid enough to allow people to experience deeply the truth of who they are.” Jen, along with colleague Shea Adelson, took us through exercises where we practiced three areas of somatic learning: Awareness, Unwinding, and Practice.
Habitual movements of and in the body can hinder achieving our goals and dreams. Several years ago, I completed talk therapy in favor of somatic and energy work to unlock these “stuck” and largely unconscious conversations I hold in my body. Jen walked us through some unusual questions like “who/what/where do you love” and “where are you missing the boat” to have us wake up the mind. (Awareness) And then took us through several exercises of walking fast and slow, two-step turning to alter direction and feel in our bodies how the course of our lives has us move toward and away, expand and contract, be in life or hide from life depending on reactions largely registered in and acted out in our bodies. (Unwinding)
As we practiced being balanced in ourselves, then moving in the “world”–apart and in unison with our fellows–we could feel what pulled us off center, how to recall ourselves to center, what contracted and expanded us. Jen gave us some shapes and movements to try on to support us in staying centered and open no matter what the circumstances, while simultaneously holding appropriate boundaries. (Practice)
One of the most powerful exercises came near the end in a 3-person group exercise designed by Jen and Shea. Each person had the opportunity to imagine a situation from their lives that unbalanced them, and tended to cause contraction/reaction rather than response That person would ask a second person to take the shape and motion of the situation, and the third person would act as witness and support to the person whose story was being acted out. We wanted to recreate as closely as possible the trigger that would bring up our automatic physical responses. To use me as an example, there are times when my ex-husband occurs as aggressive and bullying in our interactions. He is 6′ 4″ and in addition to his obvious physical intimidation, he can verbally attack with commentary unrelated to the issues we are trying to talk about. Though outwardly calm, I first will feel butterflies in my stomach then this mild anxiety soon becomes uncomfortable knots. I asked one person to walk rapidly toward me pointing a finger and berating and blaming me. Immediately, my auto-anxiety response came up. She then stepped back and the three of us discussed how I could be in my body when this happened. At first I went to my head, creating internal scripts like “this isn’t about me” that could drown out/over-ride whatever he was saying, but my partners asked me to look to my body first. So, I had the bullying behavior repeated. As my “ex” came toward me I instantly moved my hand to my belly and started to rub it as my hand rose to his heart to keep him at an appropriate distance with love. My anxiety lessened and disappeared. I was centered in the face of the storm. When the three of us debriefed, I realized that my body intelligence knew what to do! I have always been so busy trying to internally talk myself out of my reactions I circumvented my body’s simple solution.
When all three of us had completed the exercise and distinguished what somatic practice we could take on in the face of our situations, we realized that all three of us had practices we could use. The take-away practice for me is to rub my belly and cover my heart, or extend my hand toward the other’s heart, when feeling anxious or afraid.
In one day I felt present, energized, relaxed, seen and held in love by others, centered, related and fulfilled. A mini-holiday in 7 1/2 hours! We meditated together and shared what we were grateful for. The Warren Center out in Ashland provided natural beauty and we were well taken care of by attentiive staff who prepared an exquisite meal for us. Somatic work has proven to be a powerful tool for me to allow my brain and body to partner in creating myself as an inspiring leader in the world and generating a life I love. Carpe Diem!
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.