In today’s message I’m going to share with you a somatics lesson.
When I say “somatics”, I mean direct sensory perception explored through focused awareness on what we normally conceive of as the body.
I like somatics a lot. For one thing, it gives us a practical means by which to explore direct experience. It gives us a focused method for discovering how to let go.
And for another thing, somatic explorations can help release patterns of tension that are physically uncomfortable. So if nothing else, they allow us to feel better.
I often remind us that we don’t need to develop some new skill of freedom or peace. Rather, we only need to see how we are (unconsciously) creating obstacles. We are doing our misery. We don’t need to do okayness. We just need to see how we do misery. That is sufficient.
Skillful somatic exploration offers insight into how to do misery. It reveals to us how we habitually cringe, armor, flinch, deflect, avoid, etc. And through this seeing, we naturally begin to discover what is here all along.
I sincerely hope that you will explore this lesson together with me. It doesn’t work just to think about it. You have to actually dive in and try it sincerely.
Now, let me warn you that you may think this couldn’t possibly be of any value. It is so simple that most people won’t truly give it a chance.
And it’s not an instant miracle cure. It’s not going to instantly make you feel the way you want to feel. What it does is slowly reveal to you how you make yourself miserable.
So this requires persistent application. You have to be willing to slow down and actually do this to get any benefits. The benefits will then begin to reveal themselves. Slowly but surely.
In today’s lesson we’ll explore turning the head.
You may do this sitting or standing. If you can sit and you can stand, try doing it both ways at different times.
If you are standing, let your arms hang at your sides. If you are sitting, let your arms rest either with your hands in your lap or on armrests if that is the only option for you (i.e. if you are in a wheelchair or confined space that makes resting your arms with hands in your lap uncomfortable for any reason.)
You may do this with eyes open or eyes closed. If you are comfortable doing it with eyes closed, do it with eyes closed to start. You’ll likely have an easier time focusing on the direct perception of movement that way. But if doing it with eyes closed is uncomfortable for you, you may do it with eyes open.
1. Slowly turn your head to the right. Turn your head as slowly and smoothly as you can. And intend to feel the sensations as clearly as possible. Only turn your head as far as you can do comfortably. The goal is not to turn your head as far as possible. The goal is to be aware, to move with smoothness and confidence. Even if your maximum turn is just half an inch, that is fine. Don’t strain.
When you’ve turned the head as far as you can comfortably to the right, pause for a moment. Notice if you can become aware of any unnecessary effort you may be making. Perhaps clenching the jaw, tensing the neck, squeezing the eyes, pressing the tongue in the mouth, etc. Just notice. Scan gently for any unnecessary effort. And see if you can simply allow yourself to become as gentle and restful in this position as possible. Don’t TRY to do anything. Don’t attempt to become relaxed. Just notice, soften, allow. And don’t worry about getting it right.
Slowly turn the head back to center. Turn the head as smoothly and slowly as you can comfortably. And as you do, gently be aware of habits you have of making unnecessary effort. Don’t try to fix anything. Don’t overthink it. Don’t plan for or try to figure out the “right” way. Just move slowly and as smoothly as possible, softening and gently.
When you have reached center or neutral, pause and rest similarly to how you do when the head was turned to the right. Gently scan for unnecessary effort. Soften and release without trying. Just let gentle awareness be your guide. Don’t think about it. Just feel and notice.
Repeat this sequence of turning to the right several more times. Move slowly and smoothly. Can you be aware of the experience continuously?
2. Again, slowly turn the head to the right. This time, as you turn the head to the right, simultaneously move the right shoulder forward. Aim to bring the right shoulder to the maximum comfortable forward range in sync with the head reaching the right-most turn. This may be awkward and uncoordinated at first. It will become easier with repeated exploration.
As before, when you reach the maximum comfortable movement, pause and gently scan for any unnecessary effort. Notice if you are squeezing the eyes or forehead, gripping in the throat, etc. And without trying to get rid of anything, just gently soften and allow for release of whatever you don’t need to hold.
Slowly return the head and shoulder to neutral. Don’t pull either the head or shoulder back to what you think of as the correct position. Slowly release them to neutral.
When the head and shoulder are returned to neutral, pause and observe for any unnecessary effort. Soften.
Repeat this sequence several more times.
3. Repeat the preceding sequence several more times. This time, have awareness of the left shoulder as you do the movement. Notice any habits of moving or tensing the left shoulder as you move the right shoulder.
4. Slowly turn the head to the right. Simultaneously, move the right shoulder backward. Aim to move the head and shoulder smoothly and in a coordinated way so that each reaches the maximum comfortable range simultaneously. This will be uncoordinated at first. It will become smoother with repetition.
As before, pause at the maximum comfortable range and observe any unnecessary effort. Soften.
Slowly release to return to neutral. Pause and observe for unnecessary effort.
Repeat this sequence several more times.
4. Repeat the preceding sequence with awareness of the left shoulder. Notice any habits of moving or tensing the left shoulder as the right shoulder moves.
5. Repeat #1-#4 turning the head to the left and moving the left shoulder.
6. Slowly turn the head to the right. Slowly turn the head to center. Slowly turn the head to the left. Slowly turn the head to center. Allow the shoulders to remain restful throughout.
That’s it for this lesson. On the face, it is quite simple. However, if you do this sincerely, you’ll certainly find many challenges.
Many of the challenges will be what you may conceive of as physical. That is, movements will be jerky and uncoordinated. But if you are observant, you’ll notice that the so-called physical challenges can reveal emotional and psychological challenges. You may notice what you might call impatience, frustration, disappointment, anger, irritation, etc.
Remember that the goal is not to reach some perfected state. The goal is to simply attend to the direct experience. Just notice. Observe. See.
You’ll see habits of reactivity. You’ll see how you try to fix, protect, hide. And that SEEING is what is most important. So for what it’s worth, I suggest giving thanks for that seeing when it happens – even if your initial conditioned reaction would be to curse, cry, or run.
This is a very gentle and simple exploration, so you can feel free to explore it once a day. Don’t overdo it thinking that will somehow be better. Keep it simple and light and gentle.