When you are faced with high intensity stress, where do you turn for help?
While processing problems with external support may provide a plethora of possibilities, an intelligent source within can also offer intuitive guidance. The innate wisdom of your soul often revealed through somatic experiences or what my colleague calls the “feelings of your feelings” can be your way out, or this case, in.
Years ago I was introduced to the work of Father Angelo Rizzo, a Catholic priest whose beliefs about healing seemed somatically and emotionally savvy. Father Rizzo explained that sometimes the body develops a symptom as a metaphor to indicate that healing is needed on another level. This mind-body-soul concept, accepted in other cultures, was becoming “new” in Western culture as “new age” thinking was expanding our understanding.
From “new age” until now, understanding how physiological experiences go hand-in-hand, and hand-in-soul with thoughts and emotions continues to help me grow. As a single mother there were times when my emotions were so painful I felt like throwing up. My body was literally telling me that in order to heal emotionally or mentally, or physically, I needed to let something go.
In the sacred space of my therapy office, I am privileged to witness the way this metaphoric body/mind and soul connection promotes healing and wellness. Recently, a child behavior specialist trained and established in cognitive behavioral therapy, came into a session struggling with a difficult decision. Although Clio had done inspired work with a young client, and wished she could do more, she knew it was clinically time to terminate. Clio was anguishing and she was also suffering from mild indigestion. Cognitively understanding her ambivalence provided information but not relief.
To resolve Clio’s dilemma, we entered a state of being described by Timothy Kingsbury, D.O., of Kittery, Maine, as “smooth,” a term coined by Nicholas Handoll, a well-known British osteopath and author of Anatomy of Potency. Dr. K. explains that smoothness is like the stillness in the eye of a hurricane. It is a place of natural harmony inside of the storm. Relative to medicine and health, it is within smoothness that the body has access to a natural force for healing on every level, and for connecting with our soul’s wisdom.
To find the eye of Clio’s personal storm, we agreed to use an Ericksonian approach, work that I have been studying with Jeffrey Zeig, PhD. Using trance, I was able to direct Clio’s attention to the intuitive information available within her body’s natural healing power. During induction, I suggested that at some point Clio could be made aware of resolution. I invited her to locate in her body the place that held her struggle. Her hand went to her stomach. When invited to allow her other hand to find another, possibly different feeling, it intuitively went to her throat.
After staying with her experience for a few moments, Clio reported that something shifted. She felt less anxiety, and described her experience as a still place inside where there was no struggle. Clio was aware of calmness in her belly, and the word “No” rising into her throat. Expressing her “No,” allowed her to know her truth. She could say, “Yes” to terminating and tolerate the attendant sense of loss. Although she wished she could do more, Clio accepted that she was not abandoning her client, or herself. Clio had done her best and her best was good enough. Self-compassion—a necessary place of being that therapists often neglect—naturally arises with soul wisdom.
I often offer my clients a short exercise I find helpful to experience the way soul wisdom can come through their body. I begin with an invitation to settle into a comfortable place, just right for them. Then we begin:
Notice if there is tension anywhere in your body. You might intuitively know what the tension is telling you, or you may have insight later. Now, taking a couple gentle breaths, focus more deeply inside, and notice where in your body there is a smoother, less tense or less stressed feeling.
You can follow any sensations of smoothness or just stay with awareness. If you wish, you can pose a question regarding something you would like to understand or resolve. Continue to notice the feelings of the feelings. You can trust that you will know what you need to know when the time is right, now or later. When you are ready, memorize the feelings of stillness or smoothness, and reorient.
As you practice allowing somatic experience to guide you, you may become fascinated by how gently and easily it can flow from, and into a natural source of soul wisdom.
Bette J. Freedson, LCSW is a clinical social worker, certified group psychotherapist, and the author of Soul Mothers’ Wisdom: Seven Insights for the Single Mother. Bette’s specialties include stress management, parenting issues, recovery from trauma and the development of intuitive insight. She maintains a private practice in southern Maine with her husband, Ray Amidon, LMFT.