Trauma is any event that we cannot fully take in, that is too frightening, painful or confusing to fully experience. According to neurobiologists, trauma causes a schism between the cognitive and emotional functions of the brain. It prevents us from being able to feel and think at the same time. The inability to accept or to fully encompass a traumatic experience produces fragmentations in our subjective sense of wholeness. It limits our ability to function as integrated human beings. Particularly when the trauma has been caused by our early interactions with important people in our childhood, our capacity for connection with other people also becomes limited.
Inhabiting The Body
The subjective sense of wholeness is not just a mental phenomenon. It is based on actual contact with the whole internal space of one’s body. In Realization Process, the regaining of a felt sense of internal integration and wholeness is achieved with an exercise that guides the client to inhabit his or her body.
Inhabiting the body is not just a matter of being aware of or mentally scanning your body. It is not just being aware of your breath, or of the physical sensations of your feet on the ground, or your hands on this book. Inhabiting the body is actually living within your body, actually being there. When you embody yourself, you are your body. There is no noticeable difference between your body and your subjective sense of self. Your self sits in the chair, walks across the room. Instead of feeling that you exist in just your head, for example, or your gut, the integration of body and self is an experience of existing everywhere in your body at once.
To illustrate the difference between being aware of the body and inhabiting the body, you can try this out. If you look at your hands, you may see them as made of flesh, muscle, bone and blood. You may feel the warmth that they emit or even feel subtle movement within them, which has been called “energy” or “life force.” This is how you may experience being aware of your hands. But now enter into them, inhabit them. Feel that you are the internal space of your hands.
Inhabiting the body develops a sense of self-possession, and a sense of there being “someone at home.” It may initially feel challenging to be present in your body, when it may have been safer in your childhood home to attempt to be invisible. But once you are living within your body, it feels much safer than not being there. Inhabiting the body produces an internal sense of volume, of taking up space. This provides some weight or substance to the sense of self that is empowering, even in difficult situations with other people.
The internal sense of volume also acts as a kind of buffer against abrasive stimuli. People report that they feel less like life is impinging directly on them. They feel less “thin-skinned.” This can lessen the hypervigilance and hyper-reactivity that often results from traumatic events.
In the Realization Process exercise of inhabiting the body, the client is also guided to attune to the qualities of their being. All of the various parts of the body, and all of the functions of your being associated with the different parts of the body, have a quality, a “feel.” We all know what love feels like, or sexual arousal, but even our intelligence has a feel to it, even our sense of personal power has a quality. To experience these various internal qualities creates a shift from an abstract idea of yourself to a qualitative or actual experience of yourself. It produces a sense of authenticity, of being real.
This exercise is particularly helpful for people who hold negative ideas about themselves based on traumatic childhood wounding, or on recent attacks such as rape. For example, people who were sexually abused have told me that they are “garbage” or “damaged goods.” To experience the actual qualities of your own aliveness can help you let go of these negative beliefs.
One survivor of childhood sexual abuse told me, after some practice of inhabiting her body, that she felt “sweet” inside. This sense of innate sweetness helped her develop a belief in her own value, and to finally break her pattern of attraction to abusive partners. It also helped her to have compassion for herself, and to see her self-destructive behaviors as the result of the damage that was done to her.
The body is the instrument of experience, not just of action but also of perception, thought, emotion and physical sensation. Trauma, by constricting and fragmenting the body, limits all of these functions. In order to lessen the impact of a traumatic experience, we tighten the parts of the body that are involved in the event so that they do not convey the experience to our brain. We actually cannot limit experience except by tightening the body. For example, we cannot stop ourselves from feeling sorrow except by tightening our chest. We cannot stop ourselves from feeling sexual sensation except by tightening our sexual anatomy. Over time, this tightening becomes chronic rigidity in the body and chronic body-mind or body-self fragmentation.
The connection between the physical anatomy and the qualitative/functional aspect of being is quite simple. The more we inhabit our chest (the more inward contact we have with our chest), the more deeply we feel emotion. The more fully we inhabit our sexual organs, the more intense is our sexual feeling. To inhabit the whole body at once integrates the qualities and functions of our being. For example, if we inhabit our chest and head at the same time, we can feel and think at the same time. In this way, the exercise of inhabiting the body can help heal the fragmentation between our cognitive and emotional functions.
The Realization Process embodiment exercise is also practiced standing and walking. This cultivates a sense of groundedness, and of holding your ground. This is especially important for people who have been traumatically over-powered. The walking exercises also help develop the ability to remain within your body, and in possession of yourself, while moving through your daily life.
When you have developed a strong enough sense of internal contact and wholeness, you are ready to attune to a very subtle unified dimension of consciousness that I call fundamental consciousness. You can experience this subtle, unified consciousness pervading your body and your environment at the same time. This means that you can still inhabit your body while feeling deeply connected with the world around you.
This attunement exercise produces a sense of clear-through openness in the body, a sense of one single expanse of space pervading your body and your surroundings at the same time. It feels as if you are made of space and that everything around you is also made of space, and yet at the same time, you can experience your own presence and aliveness within your body. In this clear, open, pervasive space, all aspects of your experience occur with a sense of nowness and vividness. All of your thoughts, feelings, sensations, and perceptions flow easily through you, without disturbing your basic contact with yourself.