Whatever is inside of you wants to come out. Can you feel it? I promise you it’s there. Stop whatever you’re doing for a moment, and shift your attention to your body. Feel the weight of your bones, the movement of your breath, the gurgling of your digestion, your heart beating in your chest. What is in there? What wants to be expressed? A burning? A yearning? A pulsing? A swirl? A painting? A sound? A movement? A story?
Inner sensations point to viable creative energy that is desperately longing to be aired and put to use for greater purposes, but it might be masking itself as anxiety, discomfort, pain, shame, or blame. We may have somehow come to believe that our inner experience is unwelcome or unworthy of being shared. But there are consequences when we stop sharing our inner life. Tamping this energy down may perpetuate feelings of loneliness, isolation, stuck-ness, depression, frustration, helplessness, or hopelessness. The more we are in the practice of keeping our inner experience pent up, the more overwhelming the thought of letting it out to breathe can become.
What if it’s not good enough, or beautiful enough, or smart enough, or enough enough? The process of externalizing our inner experience requires surrender, a letting go of how we’ve learned to control our self-expression over the years. We cannot micro-manage exactly what comes out, and we cannot determine how it is received or perceived. However, we can create the conditions for our self-expression to come out freely in manageable life-affirming ways.
Building confidence and trust in sharing our inner experience with others takes daily practice. It requires us to objectively give space to what wants to come out. Sometimes what needs to come out won’t be “pretty”. We might even find it kind of ugly, or frightening, or disgusting. It might be dark and sludgy, or thick and foul. We’ve got to welcome these expressions just as much as the other stuff that looks like light, peace, love, and joy. If we don’t make space for all of it to come out, we are not free; our wholeness is diminished. And when we diminish the fullness of our own expression, we diminish everyone else’s.
Somatic work helps us access and interpret our embodied experience. We begin to identify how all of our thoughts, beliefs, emotions, memories, and stories we tell ourselves manifest in our bodies. Once we begin to be with the energy that corresponds to these various cognitive processes, we learn to release it slowly and steadily so that we are not overwhelmed by its immense power.
Try this on your own, or if you have a trusted friend who may want to explore this exercise with you, give each other time to share your expressions with each other. Being witnessed in our self-expression by someone we trust can be very healing. To explore this exercise with a trained Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, visit this website to find one near you.
Discomfort, if experienced, is normal. However, if at any point, you begin to feel overwhelmed, stop what you’re doing, sense the ground underneath you, and see the space around you. Let your self settle and breathe.
Find a comfortable chair, or lie down with your back resting on the floor, knees bent, and head supported by a folded towel or a couple of soft cover books.
Let your attention shift to your whole mind-body-self. Become aware of the spacious container of your body all the way from the crown of your head to your hands and feet. Also notice the ground underneath you, and the air around you.
Then begin to notice at least one sensation in your body (tingling, constriction, coolness, thickness, vibration, etc.). Give yourself at least 10 seconds just to observe this sensation, and be curious about how it shifts. Notice if there are any emotions, memories, thoughts, stories, or beliefs that bubble up and seem related to this sensation.
Now notice at least one emotion, memory, belief, thought, or story that’s rising to the forefront of your experience. Again give yourself at least 10 seconds just to observe it non-judgmentally without trying to change it. Notice if there are any sensations that seem associated with this emotion, memory, belief, thought, or story.
And now you’re going to let this internal experience move out through you. Listen deeply for how the sensation and/or cognitive experience would like to be expressed.
Example 1: Using your voice, can you make a sound to represent how feel right now? Is it a high or low pitch? Loud or soft? Fast or slow? Try a few different sounds until you’ve found the one that seems to be the most accurate reflection of your experience.
Example 2: You notice anxiety in your chest and it’s as if it’s vibrating very fast. Can you move another part of your body, like your hands or feet, to match the speed of this anxiety? Let it work its way outward from your center through your extremities.
Example 3: When you think of the fallout you had with your best friend it shows up as tightness in your shoulders. Can you write a story or poem, or draw a picture that represents this experience? As you put the pen to the paper, let the tightness dissipate from your shoulders through your fingers and hand.
Whichever form of outward expression you give to your internal experience, go very slowly. Slowing down your expression helps us recognize the agency we have over it. It also helps us stay safe throughout this process and not get overwhelmed. The bigger you think your internal experience may be, the slower you should go. Stop frequently throughout your expressive process and just return to noticing the ground underneath you and the space around you.
Try practicing this first thing in the morning, or just before you go to bed. Give yourself 10-15 minutes to go through one or two cycles of noticing and expressing what comes up.
These are just a few examples. Self-expression takes as many forms as there are people on the planet. It asks for daily nurturing, and daily release, and loves to be seen, heard, and felt. Slow down and get quiet to hear yours. Find time and space to witness others’ expressions too. Become equally practiced in both sharing and listening. And as long as your expression is not at the expense of someone else’s, get out of your own way to let it move through you freely and fully. It’s your gift to give.
What is your capacity for pleasure, delight, and joy in every day life?
As a matter of survival, we are biologically wired to look for threats in any situation. We often therefore become accustomed to noticing our pain and discomfort, rather than luxuriating in the more pleasant experiences of life. The more time we spend focusing on our pain, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, the more it intensifies and grows. Even when we’re committed to resting, releasing, and receiving in our yoga, meditation, or other self-care practices, there are often parts of us constantly fighting to keep our systems on alert. Our relationship to pleasure is intimately wrapped up with our capacity to experience safety. This can breed an exhausting subconscious conflict of interest, which interferes with our ability to freely inhabit a place of joy.
When we clearly declare our intention and desire for joy, we begin to understand how we interfere with our access to it. In a somatic framework, a practitioner may help us become aware of parts of ourselves that are literally muscularly “pulling us down”, e.g. rounded shoulders and heavy arms, a tight soft palette in the backs of our mouths, or a compressed abdomen. Some methods advocate manipulating our bodies into different shapes to counteract these pulls, like pressing our shoulders back to open up our chest, or “straightening up” to suck in and flatten our bellies. Alternatively, if we keep our intention in mind while we practice releasing what muscularly interferes with our experience of joy, our bodies tend to grow into these more pleasurable postures on their own with less effort. We can further support this process by consciously becoming aware of when we deem a person, animal, place, or thing trustworthy, so we can release into our experience of it just a little bit more.
This is a process of allowing our whole selves to organize and recalibrate around an intention. We orient towards joy. Our intention is a drop of ink in the container of water that is our mind-body-self. As it makes contact it disperses and permeates every cell. Then we practice continuing to guide our attention so that it feeds this process. Inevitably we will get distracted, our mind will draw us back toward our pain and discomfort, and we practice acknowledging these elements of experience in a friendly, compassionate, but boundaried way. Though it is necessary to work with what is heavier and darker for total healing, we learn to redirect our attention back to our joy for the purposes of interrupting habitual over-focusing on our pain. We are not ignoring or repressing the uncomfortable aspects of our own experience, but we are practicing our ability to shift our focus when we choose. We can teach ourselves how not to get stuck in the strong pull of pain. By growing our capacity to experience the positive, we actually increase our capacity to process the more challenging experiences of life as well.
It’s not naiveté to train our selves to orient toward the positive, it’s self-preservation. Hope for the future is a necessary part of what keeps us alive and moving forward. We must embody possibility, hope, and change. As one of my dear friends says, “How good can you stand it?”
Practice this for 5 minutes in the morning. You can add it to your constructive rest, meditation, or yoga practice. You can even try it while you’re savoring a cup of morning tea:
First say out loud or think to yourself:
I commit to fostering my own well-being.
Pleasure, delight, and joy exude from every cell in my body outward into the world.
I rest peacefully in pleasure.
Where in your body do you feel pleasure or joy?
When you think of a person, animal, place, or thing in your life that brings you pleasure or joy, where do you sense that in your body? And what are the qualities of this sensation?
For some, locating a pleasurable or joyful place in your body may feel very difficult at the beginning, in which case you start by asking instead:
Where in your body do you feel neutral?
Where is the discomfort or pain in your body slightly less intense than the crux of it?