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Spectrosomatics: A Framework for Sensual Awareness



Dear Timeless Lover,


IT's been 4 months in the World of Long Gones. I have been slumped over my words for what seems like centuries. Jazz is playing in my chest most days. I often wake up with the sound of trumpets in my throat; it seems as though my rib cage isn't big enough for all the noise. There are blue clouds sitting on my shoulders and a little stranger singing a sad song in the distance. I can't see much from where I am; things are blurry. But the sense of clarity hasn't ceased. There is nothing wrong with my camera, but all the images are developing with a fuzz.



I've been struck

Not by lightning

But a bolt of something

It told me its name

And it felt familiar

As if it was there all along

Waiting to be witnessed


According to research in neuroscience, the ability and capacity to give name or description to an emotional experience is one of the best auto-regulation skills we could possibly learn and practice.


It's pretty well understood now that when people say "I'm in touch with myself" we can confidently believe they mean they are in tune with their emotional state. It seems like people feel more connected to themselves when they are connected to their emotional state. Or at least, understand their emotional state and why it's happening.


But some of us aren't even sure we know how to 'feel' or what to do with the 'feeling' when it shows up. Many of us were taught extremely well how to avoid or ignore our emotions. Heck, we might've even learned it was a heckova lot safer to not be "emotional". And even when we do have a high "emotional intelligence" (i use this word while also rolling my eyes), it doesn't mean we always know what to do with or about the feelings we know we are experiencing.


Figuring out how to feel and be in touch with ourselves is no easy feat... To add on the extra challenge of putting words to emotions is even more of a challenge for a lot of us. I think this is precisely why a lot of people come to see me for bodywork.


I am a big fan of being in touch with ourselves - and I am also really curious about expanding beyond "emotional intelligence". I think we kinda need to go further than what mainstream western psychiatry has told us.


I think there is a deeper well hidden behind a shadow - there is more to this story than just emotions. I don't think emotions would even have a story without a different story taking place simultaneously - but no one's talking about that other story!


Spectrosomatics is what I'm going to call the practice (or framework) of "sensual intelligence"; it's a part of the other side of that story.


How do we know that we know we are experiencing an emotion? That's the question this framework helps us answer.


Two of my favorite questions to ask during bodywork are: "what are you feeling right now?" and "any sensations you want to give name to?". These are my favorite questions. But I don't think people are privy to why I ask them because so rarely do people actually answer the question that I am actually asking. (I should just get better at asking questions - no blame on clients, we are all clueless out here).


"Good" isn't a sensation.

"Amazing" isn't a sensation.

"Wonderful"...you guessed it! Isn't a sensation.


(I will die on this hill even if I fall down it every once in a while)


When someone says "Good", "Amazing", or "Any Other Generalized Word of Pleasure" when I ask them about their sensation, I have an immediate follow up question: "If I could hold your feelings of Goodness/Wonderfulness/Amazingness, what would I notice in my hands?" And I hold my hands in a cup, move them as if I am exploring something with my fingers...


This question frequently stumps people. Absolutely stumps them. They have no fcking clue what the fck I am asking. It's not a natural skill all of us have - this almost animism relationship with our emotions - but I am darn tootin' certain that we can learn ways to give our emotions not only a name but also texture as they exist as sensation deep in the wells of our somatic experience.


Texture is where the juicy story lives :)


The practice/skill/phenomena I am technically asking people to engage when I ask those questions is interoception, which is the perceiving of internal sensation. It's the conscious awareness of what's happening inside, the things we cannot externally see - like heartbeat, gut feelings, dizziness, arousal, etc. It's the fancy way of saying 'noticing', 'watching', or 'observing' when used in therapeutic ways.


A nice little acronym that exists in the world is SEAT: sensation, emotion, action, thoughts. This is a framework for practicing "sitting with ourselves" and gives us the space to explore what's going on with us as it's happening in real time. It's extremely helpful when we can make out the difference between a sensation, an emotion, an urge, and a thought. It helps us slow down and take a smidge more control over our agency.


I'm currently writing another post about my working thoughts around what I'm calling The Window of Control - and this will be a more indepth look at what I mean when I talk about agency. But in order for that to make any sense or be applicable in any meaningful way, we need to get on the same page about a few things.


SENSATIONS vs. EMOTIONS vs. FEELINGS


These three things are related, but they are very different. They are interdependent while also existing on their own. They speak to, share information between, and impact eachother - but they are not one in the same. So let's hash that out real quick...


Sensation is raw data. An emotion is the interpretation of that raw data.


How data is interpreted is dependent on not only every previous experience that person has had, our emotions are heavily learned through societial expectations and norms.


Emotions are the brain's interpretations of the raw data of sensation.


Emotions are always judgments (interpretations)

Sensations are never judgments


Emotions are never raw data.

Sensations are always raw data.


Again...


Sensations are always raw data

Emotions are always interpretations of that raw data


Now...


Feeling is a little more complex. A feeling is kind of the whole story we put together (based on past experiences, expectations, and norms) to make a meaning out of the situation. It's the sensation and emotion packaged up into it's own little interpretation of what it all could possibly mean. It's big time storytelling. It's when our thoughts come into the party. Feelings will be the story that we tell when we explain why we did or didn't do something - it's the story of motivation and what gets us to the motion part of E-MOTION.


We can interject our awareness at any point of this process in real time between sensation, emotion, and feeling (thought) with practice. It's not just a reflection practice we do in hindsight, but a legitimate engagement with the present conditions of how the body is experiencing anything at any given time.


Emotions MOVE us (motion is practically the whole word). They might move us into a trauma response or they might not. They might move us outside of our window of tolerance or they might not. They might move us into isolation or they might move us into connection. How we are moved by our sensations and emotions is entirely subject to the context, our history, and the relationships that are present or not present at the time.


Much of our sensations, interpretations, and movements with ourselves is entirely outside of our window of control (wait for the next post where I'll go into detail on this). We cannot will, pray, beg, or mercy ourselves out of having a nervous system. We cannot wish a bad experience away. And I'm not sorry about it.


There is nothing we can do to stop our nervous system from being a nervous system. We are not hyjacking our nervous system; we aren't overriding anything or attempting to necessarily change how we react or respond to any particular stimuli. What we are doing is building trust and agency, no matter what or how our nervous system might be responding to what it perceives as threats. We let it be threatened.


We do have the ability to connect with the nervous system and all its processes well enough to have a constructing hand in its plasticity, including it's recovery from whatever the heck it needs recovering from [insert yours here]. This is where I guess one could argue that this is in fact a hyjacking tactic - but not in the way of taking over control, more like letting the body just do what it knows best to do.


This is precisely what I believe somatic work is all about. Intentionally engaging with the plasticity of the nervous system. (Polyvagal theory, anyone?)


A lot of research and science have come through since the 1990's about the nervous system as it relates to our emotions and mental health. And although so much of what we know about the emotional nervous system (like Polyvagal Theory) seems super new - it's really not that new at all. Much of the science that comes out of new research is simply verifying what a lot of people have been saying for a long, long time. Especially the things people who've studied things like phenomenology, anti-psychiatry, and the likes of anything metaphysical have been saying. It's just that now we have some cool measurements of how it all works on a biological level and have a way to measure philosophical ideas that were first presented to us over fifty years ago.


If we can notice, we can name

If we can name, we can move

If we can move, we can relate

If we can relate, we can connect

If we can connect, we can recover

If we can recover, we can heal


If we can heal, that means we can be wounded. Again, sorry not sorry.

It's just a fact of life and radical acceptance around this is in our best interest.


There's not a lot we can do about sensation besides be aware of it - the goal is never to not have a sensation, or even not have an emotion, or a type of thought for that matter.


This isn't about 'not' having sensation, or not having a feeling/emotion. When we get trapped into "I do not want to feel/think this way", we are experiencing a benevolent "KNOT". We learn how to lovingly untie those knots and see them as allies in our re-search and re-membering of our wholeness. Nothing knots up for no good reason - and I believe spectrosomatics could help us figure out how to loosen those up.


It's about being curious and befriending our sensations as benevolent information so we can show up with a smidge more compassion for ourselves and actually let our bodies process situations/hardships/anxiety/insert your own here in a way that feels secure, safe, and sovereign.


Spectrosomatics is an idea that came to me in between laundry loads and dirty dishes while I was wondering about how spectrtums work and how we can use them to better relate with our sensibility. It's about getting back to the fundamentals of our experience - about being a human. But mostly, I needed a word to really pound in the idea that I'm interested in: how do we know we are having an emotion..? and this is what came to me.


I want it to offer:

  • A framework for building a 'place' for our sensations, emotions, and thoughts to actually move - literally across a fluid spectra.

  • Space to embody sensation through witness as its observed on that spectrum

  • A practice of witnessing the self (meaningful interoception)

  • A new language to communicate with our senses (and our sensibility)


Think of all the spectrums that could relate with our senses. You might even think of some I don't mention here...


Sight: Bright -- Dark / Transparent --- Opaque / Black --- White -- Colors

Scent: Pungent -- Bland / Decay -- Fresh

Taste: Piquant -- Insipid / Sweet -- Sour -- Bitter

Sound: Loud -- Dulcet -- Quiet -- Silent / Speed, temp, rhythm: Fast -- Slow

Touch: Tangible -- Ambiguous -- Impalpable / Temperature: Hot -- Warm -- Cold


Possible things to measure: intensity, mass, volume, texture, rhythm, distance, pressure, consistency, etc. [seriously insert your own here and share with me what you've found works for you]


Let spectrosomatics be whatever we need it to be at any given time.

Let it be a way to view things as they are and how they seem to be.

Let it be the rose colored glasses our nervous system needs to wear sometimes.

Let it change the way we witness ourselves, witness each other.

Let it offer us more compassion as we experience everything all at once.


Let it be a re-minder that we are sentient beings constantly called upon to re-search ourselves. Let it be a cozy cabin in the woods where we re-member how to be human.


This is a working idea that I've been writing about and practicing with for a few months. I haven't figured it all out - but what I do know is that having some structure around learning new skills like interoception seems to be very beneficial for those who have been introduced to it.


The look of awe when someone realizes there is something happening that they haven't been paying attention to - - as if they themsleves are a wonder of the world - - will always be a favorite thing about somatic intimacy. Witnessing people discover themselves and swim in the deep layers of their fleshy-ness is quite the honor, I must say!


SO, my dear Timeless Lover. This is a developing story. It's a work in progress. Maybe next week I'll decide this is the worst idea I've ever had and you'll never hear from me again - but for now, it feels right to share this with you. I have another letter in the works about that Window of Control I mentioned earlier - I'm really excited about it, just needs some fine tuning.


I hope Springtime has been kind to you and that May brings the amount of rain you wished for. The World of Long Gones has been a bit cruel to me this season, if I'm being honest. I'm learning a lot about myself this year already. Things are becomming clearer yet there always seems to be another cloud casting shadows on new gardens I have yet to discover.


As awlays,

May the best be yours,


-elle



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