The world is alive - and a deep somatic therapy process is one pathway to realize this in your direct experience.
Sadly, in the arrogance of the anthropocentric ideology stemming from both science and Western religion, we have been conditioned to conceptually dismiss the living world around us, just as we do for the world within us. This post is about how these two processes are two faces of the same problem: dissociation.
So let’s start with the inner world. As I detailed in a previous post on developmental trauma, our culture today teaches us to dissociate from much of our experience. School rewards us for being in our heads and punishes us for being in our bodies. We are taught that thinking is the only thing that matters and that we should be ashamed of pooping and peeing, and dismiss as merely “subjective” the desires to connect with nature, make love or dance. Sure, you can do those things, but only in your “leisure time” after you do the real work of an education or a job. Science reinforces this view by dismissing as unreal anything that we experience. "Subjectivity" is not valuable as data and must be replaced by the “objectivity” of scientific instruments which can only measure certain things - and if scientists can't measure it, well then it must not exist. Religion reinforces all of this through the concept of sin and the split between matter and spirit, where matter is something to be transcended into spirit, whether in this lifetime or at death in ascending to heaven.
I call this the genocide of subjectivity. Our inner worlds have been ravaged in a way that very much mirrors what we can see in the environmental destruction all around us. We can visit industrial waste sites, which may be closer to your backyard than you think (or even include your backyard), and see that some life remains but that much has been destroyed. So too our inner worlds, which have largely been denied by every important institution in the modern world today. I include in this genocide not just the dissociated emotions which are the primary motivations when people first seek psychotherapy, but I also include the loss of a felt-sense of connection to others, community and the land, being severed from our dreamworld, our sense of intuition, and the internal energy body (which contains emotions but also so much more). We are a multi-organed organism, but when it comes to what we define as Truth we have collectively chosen to deny all but one of those organs in our search for knowledge: the thinking mind.
Somatic psychotherapy (and all other embodied healing traditions) offer us an opportunity to re-enter our bodies. But in doing so our re-entry can feel much more like a spaceship re-entering the atmosphere than a feather lightly falling to the ground. The reason is because the mindbody remembers everything that has ever happened to us. As Bessel Van Der Kolk's book is titled, The Body Keeps the Score. If we’ve been telling ourselves a story our whole lives that we can slough off things that we don’t want to feel, such as the “I don’t give a fuck!” refrain that is so common among men taking a tough stance, the result is simply a huge backlog of experiences that we will have to move through in order to reinhabit our bodies more fully. This is like a log jam that used to happen on rivers when loggers would float them down to the mill. Sometimes they would get jammed up and then everything would just pile up behind it. And for humans, life keeps going, things keep pilling up. So we have to go back through and dislodge each log before flow can be re-established. This is the primary work of somatic psychotherapy.
Of course, the point isn’t to just go through all of this pain and then move on as before. If that were the case we'd have good reason to just avoid feeling pain! However, on the contrary moving through this pain causes two radical changes to occur. First, it frees all the parts that were formally bound up in dissociation from the original pain. It would be like if you had a massive wound on your leg and, rather than getting it treated, you simply left it to fester by putting in a cast, acting like it was no longer there, and permanently foregoing the use of that leg. You would find ways to adapt, get crutches, take elevators, call a minivan instead of a sedan for a cab. But it’s something you would have to actively think about and manage. You can’t just walk down the street. But finally you realize this. And you get your leg treated. It’s a revelation to walk again, you forgot how amazing it feels to just walk down the street, not having had that capacity for so long! This is true of everything we dissociate from internally as well. Perhaps most tragic of all is our dissociation from the human heart. Like regaining the use of a limb, the re-association process is like going from an early black and white film to a 21st century CGI experience of reality. Whatever parts you bring back online become more vivid, more alive, and more connected. This is the real, human sense of rebirth and is potentially available in any area of your experience.
The second radical change this process offers is on the level of consciousness. Before you were living mostly inside your head and your concepts were largely stand-ins for experience. Even in simple daily things like asking someone how they are doing, saying thank you, or telling a family member “I love you”, you used the words but the feeling wasn't all that alive. But you only realize this in retrospect, when you move more fully into the colorful 3D world of the body. And now your experience is so much more vast. Your identity shifts in a way that could be called “spiritual”, meaning that you no longer identify only with your thoughts as yourself. You come to experience, directly that your heart is filled with a love that is far greater than your personal human heart, and that you can connect with people in ways you didn’t fathom were possible. You have moved through a hot and bumpy atmospheric re-entry to reclaim the life of your body. It’s like a hand moving into a puppet, where all of a sudden there is a visceral fleshy act of embodying, where you know you are alive because you feel it. You are it.
And it is through this gateway that the rest of the world being alive becomes accessible in your direct experience. When you have lived the intelligence of the body’s healing process, when your nervous system spontaneously heals, when you see that this whole process has been guided by a wisdom that transcends your thinking mind, then you can viscerally understand how all life functions. You can feel it. You can walk by a tree and feel its aliveness. All of a sudden it makes sense that trees communicate through vast mycelial networks sometimes covering even hundreds of acres, with scores of trees all exchanging sugars and nutrients between one another across generations that span centuries in age difference. You come to see that the growth patterns of all plants aren’t just a matter of randomness, and that turning towards the sun is just as natural and necessary as your own turning towards your heart. And it automatically makes sense that bird song isn’t the mere determined process of mating by programmed biological machines, or that mating dances are far more than a display of superior rates of metabolism, or whatever. You feel that their motivations for their expressions of thriving are not fundamentally different yours. This kind of knowing needs no argument but only an invitation: hey, you, check out what is possible! See if it is true for you.
Entering the body more fully still and you may recognize that those “primitive” peoples has organs of intuition and listening that far exceed the complexity and breadth of any scientific machine or formula. You may come to feel a rhythm in the Earth anytime you are in nature that is much slower, calmer, and easeful than the fast paced, frenetic and chaotic energy that has gripped the modern human world of consumption and production. In contrast to this old story, your intuition may become more real and more accurate than any exhaustive pros and cons list you’ve hammered out in yet another stressful, confusing decision-making process. You'll start to see that many of the ways of being you were taught were inefficient, painful, and often downright inaccurate.
Perhaps most of all, you’ll come to see that the mainstream environmental movement has gotten its whole approach wrong - as if we are to argue our way into caring about the environment based on an endless barrage of abstract numbers! Do we need numbers to justify our deep feelings of love for others? Of course not! Shall we also come up with rational arguments for why we should not beat our children, eat non-toxic food, or build loving communities? Of course not! This is a different kind of knowing that needs no argument or scientific study to prove.
The world is alive but we cannot feel that knowledge directly in our bodies when we are dissociated. And we cannot re-associate to our experience when we still carry a backlog of trauma. There is a painful re-entry process, but this occurs in many small steps over a period of time. As this process continues, it slowly dawns on you that something deep is shifting that feels more true and right than anything else you’ve ever known. That is the fuel for the journey back into the atmosphere of your body, into the colorful, three-dimensional world of emotions, intuition, energetic awareness and connection. It is a journey into the experience of what Thich Nhat Hanh calls interbeing.It is from here that we can start to feel other people and the world again. It is through this process that we come to realize we were never separate from all this. You may even do something insane and start to wonder if electrons and quarks do not also contain some version of consciousness! No matter how far you take this journey, to the extent that you feel in your bones that the world is alive is the extent to which you will feel you’ve returned home.