Past Experiences Are More Than Just Memories
There is an idea just popularized–but has been around for thirty year–that congealed into a little phrase that I hear all the time. And it just sort of dawned on me–I did not use to hear that ten years ago when I was working in treatment and recovery.
You will hear therapists, clinicians, and facilitators at treatment programs or in transformational programs talk about “being in your body”.
Growing up, I do not remember hearing that phrase because I felt I was always in my body, you know–so nobody ever stopped me.
Make sure you are “in your body”. That phrase sort of crept in on the scene and–at least in LA where I live–we accept it as like saying something real. But what exactly does that phrase mean?
Trauma’s Effects on the Body
I related it to a very famous somatic psychologist therapist. His name is Peter Levine. He talks about trauma in the body.
The notion is we have realized that our brain or nervous system does not just consist of what is happening in our head. Our nervous system actually runs through our entire body. And then, actually, our whole body is one system.
So when we go through a trauma–whether it be emotional trauma or physical trauma–the imprint of that experience is not just like a little invisible memory that you hold in your mind. It is actually imprinted in the nervous system, which means it is imprinted in the body.
Some of the ways that people adapt to traumatic experiences is to dissociate. Dissociate means to compartmentalize, to move away from, to separate from a particular experience one is having.
Dissociation: A Common Example
So, for instance, every night my whole body shuts down and goes into just like a temporary hibernation. We call that sleeping. Now, if I was awake for that whole process, I think I would be terrified…
I cannot move, everything is happening automatically. Weird things are floating through my mind…but I actually dissociate and move away from that experience of sleep into the realm of dreams and deep sleep.
So that is an adaptation towards an incredibly uncomfortable state–to dissociate. But what can happen in trauma is…
I can dissociate, meaning step away from an experience in such a way that when I come back, there is an experience that I have not fully processed. That starts to symptomize. Then how I adapt is a little bit complex.
But I adapted this experience without knowing that I adapted the memory of that experience. It is actually in my brain, nervous system, and entire body.
And I can have so much trauma in my experience that I kind of dissociate from my body altogether, which means I do not have the head, heart, body connection that I want.
I am not fully conscious of what is happening in my system. I am sort of just checked out–maybe living in my thoughts and ideas–but I am not really here…fully present.
The Importance of Being Fully Conscious
To be alive means to be fully in your body and fully present because we are embodied beings.
So you do not feel fully alive unless you are fully in your body. That notion of “in the body” is a reminder for everybody that we have the capacity as human beings to flee to the thought that, “Hey, do I want to bring that back to what is really going on?”
Or to address a variety of “being in the body” questions like:
“Well, how do I know what is really going on?”
“How fast is my heart beating right now?”
“How am I feeling throughout my body?”
“Why am I breathing really shallow? What is going on with that?”.
And so it is bringing consciousness back to the ground of our being…the body.
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