Participating in a course on Safety, Belonging and Dignity with Staci Haines has left an indelible mark on my way of relating to myself, and added an important component to my work with my clients. The course is based on Generative Somatics, a field pioneered by her. A tenet of this approach is that we all have the knowledge in our body to use in order to be safe. However, as individuals we are not always tuned in to our body’s wisdom, and the body may not be attuned to our current needs, since its automatic responses are based on our early experiences. Staci calls this Conditioned Tendencies. She says: “Our CTs are wise and have taken care of us historically. They also become habitual, and can limit our responses and choices, emotional range, quality of relationships, and the actions we can take aligned with what we care about.” These tendencies developed from our individual experiences and our way of expressing our relationship to others – either turning away from or towards people. With time they become recurrent patterns of reactions, beliefs and ways of relating to reality. Our choice of response is curtailed by our automatic reaction; therefore, we do not respond based on our values, and what we truly care about.
People need to feel safe; we can see several common reactions resulting from conditioned tendencies. There are those who draw close for safety, and are overly nice and appeasing. Others avoid conflict, fade away and stay in the background to feel safe. Still others subscribe to the saying of “best defense is a good offence” – those are people who fight for safety. They are defensive and challenging. But if you learn to pay attention to your conditioned tendencies, you can actually change the way you perceive the past, the world and others. Find new ways to respond to pressure, stress, conflict and love. Develop stronger relationships with people by deepening the capacity to listen to yourself and others. What I found most important in the course was recognizing my capacity to align my actions to what I most care about.
A large part of this practice and what I found so compelling about it is the commitment. This is a declaration of what you care about, who you care about, who you want to become and what you want to make or help make happen. This is basically a clarification to yourself of what you are aiming for. Not only what is important in your life, but actually making a commitment with timetables when and how to achieve your long- and short-term goals. Your somatic practices have a purpose [what are somatic practices?]. They are exercises that help you embody your commitment – literally. They are like the daily practice a pianist or violinist uses to reach his or her goal. With sufficient repetition, the practice becomes part of you. “Declarations become a turning point as to where we’re trying to go. They act as a guide for decisions and practices and support us when the path gets rocky. They help to organize our actions to align with our values, and in service to our visions.” (Staci Haines)
I found that using the phrase I am a commitment to… actually helps me feel that it is anchored in me. I wrote 2 commitments: one encompassing my goals and meaning in the world, and the other more focused on my personal life and how to align it with the bigger picture. The first is “I am a commitment to use art therapy and somatic transformation to heal trauma in the world.” Please do not laugh, or think I am pompous. The fact that I share this so openly strengthens my commitment, and gives me strength to understand where I aim to go and what I need to do about it. I realized that I need another declaration in order to protect myself and my relationship, so I made another declaration. “I am a commitment to balance my work with my care for my husband and myself.” Self-care and care for the well being of my best friend and love of my life has to be balanced with the larger goal of my life-purpose.
Resilience is an important part of our life and somatic transformation. We understand resilience somatically as the ability to re-harmonize and shift from hyper-alert and reactive states which look for danger to calm and reconnected ways of being. Resilience brings more positive imagination for the future, and helps re-establish safety, connection, and dignity. It is part of what helps us navigate and live through hard times in our life and can nourish happiness, connection, and wellbeing. Resilience keeps inviting us toward strength, wholeness, and healing.
We were asked to remember a situation in our life in which we used resilience rather than survival strategies. I remembered an incident that happened long ago. The Canadian Rockies were always for me a wonderous and spiritual place. On a Friday morning in early August, many years ago, my husband, 3 children, and I started out to hike to Burgess Pass and from there to proceed to Emerald Lake for ice cream before returning to our campground at Kicking Horse Pass. The climb was a bit arduous, but our children of 5, 8 and 13 were able to keep up well. As we reached the pass, we rested, ate our can of beans and some fruit, and prepared to follow the trail down to the lake. There was only one problem. There was still snow on the ground, obliterating the trail markers. We were well prepared. A topographic map showed us exactly the trail location, which appeared to be right below us.
What fun, we thought! We all slid down on our bums for close to 1000 meters, and now we were truly mystified. A drop to a ravine on one side, and a riverbank on the other. We decided to follow the river and came finally to a point of a real drop from which we could not continue. When the children asked if we were lost, my husband said: “No, we know exactly where we are, but we cannot go on from here.” We decided to get closer to a place that had space beside the river, and hurried to gather driftwood in order to light a fire. In our aluminum canteens we took water from the river and boiled it on the fire. I melted chocolate into the cups, and we had hot chocolate for supper. We all took our shoes and socks off to dry them by the fire, and settled down for the night. As we were settling down, my husband exclaimed: “Look, there’s a search light over there!” It turned out to be a huge full moon coming up over the horizon.
As the younger children slept, the three “adults” devised a system of taking turns staying awake to make sure no animals would approach. As I woke up to take my turn to guard, I looked around and was struck by the beauty and moved by the sight of my sleeping dear ones, the gentle sound of the river, and the feeling of connection to the universe. I felt resilient and at peace. I felt we would make it out safely. My calm and creative actions in the morning, and the response my husband and children showed by looking at the situation as an adventure helped accomplish the hard climb we embarked on, with no trail.
We actually ended up at the same spot we started from the day before, but this time there was a helicopter there to take us out in two rounds to the Emerald Lake parking lot. As we landed, and the helicopter took off to bring the rest of us, a man came running and asked : “Where did you book that helicopter, and how much does it cost?” My answer was: “It costs nothing, but first you have to get lost.”
Resilience practices leave us ready to take action toward a better future for ourselves and others. We have a wider range of sensations and emotions. In the mountains, I felt more and was more alive. It was not just survival, it was a true experience of resilience.