Snorkeling Inside Our Bodies
Snorkeling in the ocean is a beautiful discovery experience. Is it possible to go “snorkeling” inside our bodies? The body is a complex holding tank of countless stories to be explored. How do we begin exploring? First of all, snorkeling in the ocean is far more familiar than snorkeling inside our bodies. Our discussion of chapter six in The Body Keeps The Score began with Rainer Maria Rilke’s opening quote, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. . . . Live the questions now. Perhaps you will gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer” (p. 89). When we first begin to feel things inside our bodies, we are clueless about what it means. How do we find answers to the questions inside our bodies?
Many of us do not live with a sense of wonder when it comes to exploring our bodies, unless you have done yoga, mindful awareness, counseling, or completed a Seattle School degree. Most have never “snorkeled” inside of their bodies. The honest reality is even though we are in our bodies, we have no clue what it means to pay attention and explore our bodies. It might be fair to say that body awareness for us is a foreign language. For example, someone may ask, “What’s happening inside of you?” If you do not understand this language, it is immediately foreign language. Few people in church, our homes, and society speak in these ways. Not only do we not know what it means, even when we do learn the language we have no idea how to then pay attention to our bodies. Similar to a foreign language, this takes time to learn.
Some never learn the body language especially if a person has been severely traumatized. This can happen with our caregivers, in war, abuse, bullying, and other realms of trauma. These realms can inform us with data as to where we can do body awareness and explore further inside our bodies. It is difficult work to be attuned to our own bodies places of signaling. It is unfamiliar to pay attention to our bodies. As we learn how to read or pay attention to pressure or anxiety in our body it is almost like learning how to walk as a baby. It takes time to “connect the dots” as to what is happening inside of us. In beginning to learn how to read the body it is important to not move to judgement, which can actually shut the door to potential healing. If we are kind to our bodies and what we are feeling we can be more reflective and introspective about our complex bodies. Having answers is not the goal, but we do have an opportunity to be invited into further healing through body awareness or “snorkeling.”
Trauma survivors may not have the capacity to recognize what is unresolved in their hearts because of their dissociation. You either go to a place of fear and panic or to a place of shutting down. It makes sense if you have experienced trauma that you would not realize there are unresolved things inside of your body. You do not know any differently. Van Der Kolk says, “The lack of self-awareness in victims of chronic childhood trauma is sometimes so profound that they cannot recognize themselves in the mirror” (p. 94). It makes a lot of sense that victims would have a hard time recognizing themselves. Thankfully though, certain parts of the brain and the body registers trauma for us.
For example, you can see people breathing hard, short of breath, or anxious. Many things are happening inside the body. Trauma within the body has a profound affect on people’s brains and bodies and ultimately their way of functioning. Sometimes a lack of body awareness can lead to heart issues, autoimmune disorders, and depression. Therefore it is critical to have body awareness, and it is true that the body can tell us a lot about what is going on in regards to trauma. The body and brain are giving us data about the trauma right before our eyes. It is true there is an interconnectivity here. Van Der Kolk says, “In an effort to shut off terrifying sensations, they also deadened their capacity to feel fully alive” (p. 94). How do we feel fully alive if we are not aware of our bodies and other’s bodies? The danger in not “snorkeling” within ourselves and others is people can be missed, disrespected, and retraumatized. If you numb or deaden your own heart and bodies pain, you will be numb and deadened moments and the impact you can have as you relate with others.
Sadly, this happens inside churches, communities, and The Seattle School. Do we actually engage in a conversation when odd things happen or are we unaware of the other people’s hearts and body’s cues? How do you read yourself in interpersonal dynamics? Why are you mean? Why are you quick to answer? Why do you lack empathy? Where is your heart? What happens for you when someone is crying in front of you? What does your body do? Can you hold them? Or do you disassociate and leave their pain? Why? Whether it’s a brief interaction or a longer conversation, you can be a healer or a harmer. Who will you be and how will you be interpersonally? Will you pay attention to your body and your words? How will you choose to “snorkel” inside your body and alongside other bodies right in front of you?