A couple of weeks ago when I walking in the woods and shuffling through the leaves with our two dogs, Chloe and Lola, I had wonderful fall memories come to mind; when as a child my brother and I would make a huge pile of leaves at my Grandparents and dive in and also when we would just burn leaves and smell that incredible leaf incense.
As these memories flashed in my mind, a sense of relaxation, warmth and calm emerged. My body took its cues from this memory. My state of mind and body changed based on a simple memory as I shuffled through the leaves. I was “in the body” of my 8 year old jumping in the leaves. In neuroscience writings, they call these “explicit memories” or episodic memories where the hippocampus structure in the limbic brain actually does a rough “video” of the actual event we are participating in and puts it in the library of long term storage which can be “tickled” by our current life experiences.
There are also the “implicit memories” which are connected to the amygdala structure in the limbic brain that triggers the body’s feeling tone that may or may not be accompanied by the narrative of the past event. In this example of my autumn memories the feeling tone was one of calm, warmth and relaxation and was connected to explicit/episodic memories of past “episodes” of joyful jumping in leaves and wonderful smells of leaves burning. We all have pleasurable explicit and implicit memories and we have painful ones. When we live our lives, without knowing when and how, our history resurfaces. It’s as simple as a walk in the woods or someone speaking in a harsh tone of voice that can and often touches these mind-body memories.
In some ways our “sense of self” in each moment is informed by both the explicit and implicit memories that bubble up in our consciousness. So, our limbic brain is an important mind-body processor. Again, within our limbic brain’s hippocampus, is the library containing the stories of our personal histories. Within our limbic brain’s amygdala we store these body sensation-based memories. The “state” we’re in is often being prompted by our amygdala’s firing off these old body-based memories-states of fear and dread or states of excitement and joy. Even as we “try to live in the moment” our “now” is so often being created or strongly contributed to by our past. The problem is we don’t know that our present moment is often being determined by our past memories that live in the brain and body. The implicit memory carries with it a host of body sensations and feelings; whether those are sensations of openness and vitality or tension and collapse.
I believe its so important to know this ongoing feeling, non-verbal narrative that shows us the fabric of our lives-to appreciate how life touches these feeling tones and how these feelings become wonderfully supportive or overwhelmingly painful.
I am particularly interested as a body-centered therapist in these implicit memories that just feel like our “now moments”, unrelated to the past yet when explored deeply we sense their continuity through our lifespan. In SomaSoul: Somatic Expressive Therapy we are looking to help ourselves and each other in befriending these sensations, these feeling tones especially when they are painful and challenging. We want to be able to offer to these states of being, the healing and transformation that we crave from within our own bodies and souls. We want to bring understanding to these body states that have never known or experienced understanding and the only way we can do this is by getting closer to the discomfort with an open heart and a curious mind-(to paraphrase Thich Nhat Hanh), “Hello, my dear fear. It really is OK you are here. I will be here with you, bringing you into my open heart.” Then and only then will our fear, which is often this body memory that may not have an accessibly narrative available to it, be able to provide narrative-to tell us why its here and what its afraid of.
Only in this new state of being welcomed and loved will our body’s explicit memory share the pains that are needing to be heard. In this way we “regain” ourselves, we reconnect with our whole self especially those neglected and estranged parts. One practice that I give my students in my SomaSoul trainings is to track sensations throughout the day–put them in three categrories; pleasant, painful and neutral. Just name the quality of your feeling tones throughout your day–”Oh, this is pleasant right now as I look at the beautiful tree” or “this is a painful feeling as I have a heated discussion with my spouse”. Sometimes we can be even more specific like within the painful or pleasurable categories as we identify a feeling of trappped, frightened or anxious, spacey and confused etc or maybe we are discovering feelings of openness and joy, lightness and freedom etc. As we do this we are expanding the foundation of our own emotional intelligence in the moment through self-awareness
In order to do this tracking we have to be able to really sense into our experience, so I’ve included in this enews a body scan practice that will help establish this foundation for you; the foundation of a mind that can sense the body. Download the body scan on the following link:
Download the body scan here
In doing the above exercise of tracking our body experience we actively bring to the light of our awareness the feelings and sensations that often live in the background of our experience in every moment. This background actually creates the texture, the quality of each moment; our quality of life is built on these feeling tones that bubble up from our amygdala and body memory states.
How do we know when our past is infringing on our present and creating our future and how can we heal those painful body sensation memories? This is the million-dollar question. First things first–before we can heal our pain we have to identify our pain. One way I advise my students and clients is to feel the “through line” of certain feeling tones–how long they have been our dance partner throughout our lives, whether its a feeling tone of collapse and giving up, speeding up and fighting our way through life or tightening up and bracing “for the worst” as we navigate through our lives.
Our body is letting us know the implicit memories that keep informing each present moment throughout the chapters in the story of our lives.
As we connect to these patterns of “processing our lives” that may have restrictive elements to them–I mean, who wants to keep experiencing a body-energy feeling of collapse when confronted with a challenge or a speedy mind as we encounter an obstacle? As much as these patterns often don’t serve us and actually get in the way of our happiness, they have etched their way into our brain fibers, nervous system, muscular and organ systems as well.
Yes, this is the bad news! The good news is one moment of awareness of these feeling tones, our life through lines or life themes is a moment of pause–a release of the binding nature of these patterns. Recognizing our internal patterns when accompanied with self-compassion is our gateway towards healing and change.
In my next e-news I will talk more about healing these body memories.