In An Unspoken Voice – Peter Levine, Excerpts

In an Unspoken Voice, Peter A. Levine, PhD. North Atlantic Books, Berkely, California, 2010.

Pg 101:  The more primitive the operative system, the more power it has to take over the overall function of the organism.  It does this by inhibiting the more recent and more refined neurological subsystems, effectively preventing them from functioning. In particular, the immobilization system all but completely suppressing the social engagement/attachment system.  When you are “scared to death,” you have few resources left to orchestrate the complex behaviors that mediate attachment and calming; social engagement is essentially hijacked.  The sympathetic nervous system also blocks the social engagement system, but not as completely as doe the immobilization system (the most primitive of the three defenses).

Pg 111: A person whose social engagement system is suppressed has trouble reading positive emotions from other people’s faces and postures and also has little capacity to feel his or her own nuanced positive affects.  Thus, one finds it difficult to know if that other person can be trusted (whether he or she is threatening or safe, friend or foe).  According to the polyvagal theory, being in shutdown (immobility/freezing/or collapse) or in sympathetic/hyperactivation (fight or flight) greatly diminishes a person’s capacity to receive and incorporate empathy and support.

Pg 112: Shut-down and dissociated people are not “in their bodies,” being, as we have seen, nearly unable to make real here-and-now contact no matter how hard they try.  It is only when they can first engage their arousal systems (enough to begin to pull them up, out of immobility and dissociation), and then discharge that activation, that it becomes physiologically possible to make contact and receive support.

The brain area associated with awareness of bodily states and emotions is called the right anterior insula and is located in the frontal part of the limbic (emotional) brain, squeezed in directly under the prefrontal cortex – the locus of our most refined consciousness.  The research showed that the insula is strongly inhibited during shutdown and dissociation, and it confirmed that these traumatized individuals are unable to feel their bodies, to differentiate their emotions, or even to know who they (or another person) really are.

Pg 113:  A related, and seminal, research study was carried out by Bessel van der Kolk.  He and his colleagues read a traumatic story to a group of clients and compared two brain regions in each (measured with fMRI).  The researchers found that the amygdala, the so-called fear or “smoke detector,” lit up with electrical activity; at the same time, a region in the left cerebral cortex, called Broca’s area, went dim.  The latter is the primary language center – the part of the brain that takes what we are feeling and expresses it with words.  That trauma is about wordless terror is also demonstrated in these brain scans.

Pg 114: Even though the capacity for engagement is inhibited by the sympathetic nervous system, it is not thoroughly squelched in the debilitating way it was by the more primitive immobility system.

Thus, a therapist can seize the day – by giving clients the gift of this bodily experience.

Pg 115: For ten minutes or so (a few times a week), take a gentle, pulsating shower in the following way: at a comfortable temperatue, expose your body to the pulsing water.  Direct your awareness into the region of your body where the rhythmical stimulation is focused.  Let your consciousness move to each part of your body.  For example, hold the backs of your hands to the shower head, then the palms and wrists, then your head, shoulders, underarms, both sides of your neck, etc.  Try to include each part of your body, and pay attention to the sensation in each area, even if it feels blank, numb, or uncomfortable.  While you are doing this, say, “This is my arm, head, neck,” etc. “I welcome you back.”  You can also do this exercise by gently tapping those same parts of your body with your fingertips.  When done regularly over time, this and the following exercises will help reestablish awareness of our body boundary through awakening skin sensations.

A sequel to this shower exercise involves bringing boundary awareness into the muscles.  You start by using a hand to grasp and gently squeeze the opposite forearm; then you squeeze the upper arm, the shoulders, neck, thighs, calves, feet, etc.  The important element is to be mindful of how your muscles feel from the inside as they are being squeezed.  You can begin to recognize the rigidity or flaccidity of the tissue as well as its general quality of aliveness.  Generally, tight, constricted muscles are associated with the alarm and hypervigilance of the sympathetic arousal system.  Flaccid muscles, on the other hand, belie how the body collapses when dominated by the immobilization system.  In the case of flaccid muscles, you need to linger and gently hold then, almost as though you were holding a baby.  With the practice of gentle, focused touch and resistance exercises, you can learn to bring life back into those muscles as the fragile fibers learn to fire coherently and thus vitalize the organism.

These two exercises are best done regularly, several times per week.  As the body consciousness grows, so, too, will a more palpable sense of boundary awareness, as well as greater aliveness.

Pg 117: The following is another technique to help clients remain conscious of their bodily sensations while at the same time learning how to manage assertion and aggression.  First, have your client stand up and face you.  It is important to check whether she is comfortable with the distance between the two of you.  Next, ask the client to notice what she is aware of as her feet contact the ground.  Then encourage her to broaden her perception, moving up through her ankles, calves and thighs.  To encourage a sense of groundedness, continue this exercise by proposing a slow and gentle weight shift from one foot to the other.  Also, you could suggest that your client think of her feet as suction cups (like the feet of a frog) flexibly rooted in the earth.  Next, have the client bring her attention to her hips, spine, neck, and then head.  Now have her notice how her shoulders hang from her neck like a tent.  Awareness of breathing is evoked as the client is asked to sense her shoulders as they gently rise and fall with each breath.  Now bring her attention to her chest and belly; and, using breath, help the client locate the center of gravity in her abdomen.  Again have her slowly shift her weight from side to side between her two feet, and then have her add a slight sway from front to back.  This type of movement requires a fairly sophisticated proprioceptive ability (joint position) and sense of muscle tension (kinesthesia).  As your client practices this, have her imagine a plum line from her center down to the floor between her feet.  Finally, have her notice how this line moves with her gentle swaying.

Pg 123:  Tight muscles in the neck and shoulders may, for example, signal to the brain that you are likely to be hit.  Tense legs, along with furtive eyes, may tell you that you need to run and escape, and taut arms may signal that you’re ready to strike out.  We suffer even greater distress when our guts are persistently overstimulated by the vagus nerve.  If we are nauseated, twisted in our guts, feel our muscles collapsing, and lack in energy, we feel helpless and hopeless – even though there is no actual decimating threat.  In other words, the churning itself signals grave threat and dread to the brain, even when nothing is currently wrong.

Pg 125:  Certain Tibetan chants have been used successfully for thousands of years.  In my practice, I use a sound borrowed (with certain modifications) from some of these chants.  The sound opens, expands and vibrates the viscera in a way that provides new signals to a shut-down or overstimulated nervous system.  The practice is quite simple: make an extended “voooo…” (soft o, like ou in you) sound, focusing on the vibrations stimulate in the belly as you complete a full expiration of breath.

In introducing the “voo” sound to my clients, I often ask them to imagine a foghorn in a foggy bay sounding through the murk to alert ship captains that they are nearing land, and to guide them safely home.  This image works on different levels.  First of all, the image of the fog represents the fog of numbness and dissociation.  The foghorn represents the beacon that guides the lost boat (soul) back to safe harbor, to home in breath and belly.  This image also inspires the client to take on the hero role of protecting sailors and passengers from imminent danger, as well as giving him or her permission to be silly and thereby play.  Most important are the image’s physiological effects.  The sound vibrations of “voo” enliven sensations from the viscera, while the full expiration of the breath produces the optimal balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide.

Begin the exercise by finding a comfortable place to sit.  Then slowly inhale, pause momentarily, and then, on the out breath, gently utter “voo,” sustaining the sound throughout the entire exhalation.  Vibrate the sound as though it were coming from your belly.  At the end of the breath, pause briefly and allow the next breath to slowly fill your belly and chest.  When the in breath feels complete, pause, and again make the “voo” sound on the exhalation until it feels complete.  It is important to let sound and breath expire fully, and then pause and wait for the next breath to enter (be taken) on its own, when it is ready.  Repeat this exercise several times and then rest.  Next, focus your attention on your body, primarily on your abdomen, the internal cavity that holds your organs.

This “sounding,” with its emphasis on both waiting and allowing, has multiple functions.  First of all, directing the sound into the belly evokes a particular type of sensation while keeping the observing ego “online.”  People often report various qualities of vibration and tingling, as well as changes in temperature – generally from cold (or hot) to cool and warm.  These sensations are generally pleasant (with a little practice, at least).  Most important, they contradict the twisted, agonizing, nauseating, deadening, numbing sensations associated with the immobility state.

Pg 133:  Babies learn about their body/mind self through action and interaction with their parents and with the environment that surrounds them.  Infants live within a sea of sensations.  Fortunately most parents catch on fairly quickly to their newborn’s code.  They know when she is signaling the various and unmistakable sensations of hunger, pain, anger and tiredness because babies instinctively communicate those internal states, inducing their caregivers to provide relief.  It is a matter of survival.  Later, however, this evolutionary brilliance serves more than a life-or-death function.  Sensations actually form the bedrock for a child’s gradual maturation toward authentic autonomy and independence.

As you grow, you are defined by how your body interacts with your environment.  What you do physically – whether experiencing pleasure or pain, success or failure – is registered by your body and recorded in your mind.  Your knowing about the world, as you interact with it, comes from the totality of your sensations, both external and internal.

Pg 135: Turning other theories on their heads, we are now aware that, rather than being the hierarchical, top-dog commander in chief, our thoughts are a complex elaboration of what we do and how we feel.

Thought can indeed be said to function as an “explanation” to ourselves: a reminder of what we are doing and feeling.  Thinking and symbolizing help us to make categories of events, people or locations, such as “safe” and “dangerous.”  The evolution of thoughts, symbols and verbal communication, derived from sensations, gave our earliest ancestors a crucial edge, allowing them to share successes and failures and to pass them on to others.  As hunters and gatherers, survival meant being fully in our bodies just like the babies.  Excessive mental rumination would have surely meant sudden death or slow starvation.  However, over the millennia, the innate intelligence of the body was abandoned for the exclusivity of rationality, symbolization and language.  Our bodies came to exist solely (as a character in a Jules Feiffer cartoon quipped) “to transport our heads from place to place…Otherwise we would have no need for them.”  On the contrary, consciousness actually unfolds through the development of body awareness, of learning to understand the nuances and the meaning of our internal physical sensations, and of our emotional feelings as well.

Pg 136: When some of one’s body signals become harbingers of fear, helplessness, impotent rage and defeat, he or she is typically avoided like the plague at a dear cost mentally, emotionally and physically.  While attempting to shut down distressing sensations, one pays the price of losing the capacity to appreciate the subtle physical shifts that denote comfort, satisfaction or warning of clear and present danger.  Sadly, as a result, the capacity for feeling pleasure, garnering relevant meaning and accessing self-protective reflexes also shuts down.  You can’t have it both ways; when feelings of dread are held at bay, so are feelings of joy.

When such disruptions fail to be fully integrated, the components of that experience become fragmented into isolated sensations, images and emotions.  This kind of splitting apart occurs when the enormity, intensity, suddenness or duration of what happened cannot be defended against, coped with or digested.  Personal vulnerability, such as age, genetics and gender also account for this psychic implosion.  The result of this inability for the body/mind to integrate is trauma, or at the very minimum, disorientation, a loss of agency and/or a lack of direction.

Pg 137:  As a substitute for genuine feelings, trauma sufferers may seek experiences that keep them out of touch – such as sexual titillation or succumbing to compulsions, addictions and miscellaneous distractions that prevent one from facing a now dark and threatening inner life.  In this situation, one cannot discover the transitory nature of despair, terror, rage and helplessness and that the body is designed to cycle in and out of these extremes.

By remembering actions that have proven to be effective, and discarding those that are not, children learn how to anticipate what the most appropriate response is and how to time its execution for maximum effect.  In this way, they experience agency, satisfaction and pleasure.  When a child is overwhelmed by trauma or thwarted by neglect, this developmental sequence is aborted or, if already developed, breaks down; and negative emotions come to dominate his or her existence.

Pg 138: As the body freezes, the “shocked” mind and brain become stifled, disorganized and fragmented; they cannot take in the totality of experience and learn from it.  These children, who have become “stuck” at some point along a once meaningful and purposeful course of action, engage in habitually ineffective and often compulsive patterns of behavior.  These often play out in symptoms like those of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder.  The child’s uncoordinated fragmented efforts are not registered as normal, explicit, narrative memories but rather are encoded in the body as implicit, procedural memories including discomfort, constriction, distress, awkwardness, rigidity, flaccidity and lack of energy.  Such memories are encoded not primarily in the neocortex but, instead, in the limbic system and brain stem.  For this reason behaviors and memories cannot be changed by simply changing one’s thoughts.  One must also work with sensation and feeling – really with the totality of experience.

…humans are programmed to experience sensations similar to those of people with whom we are in close proximity.  Imagine the scenario of being in a room filled with anxious conspiracy theorists as compared to one with blissful, meditating monks.

Resonance forms the basis for the empathic attunement needed to form intimate relationships.

Pg 139: I developed a model that allowed me to “track” the processes whereby my clients processed experiences (SIBAM). Sensation, Image, Behavior, Affect, Meaning.

Pg 175: Such a seemingly insignificant shift has profound implications – playful curiosity being one of the prima facie “antidotes” for trauma.  Curious exploration, pleasure and trauma cannot coexist in the nervous system; neurologically, they contradict one another.

This capacity to experience the positive bodily feelings (of interest and curiosity), while remaining in contact with her feelings of terror and helplessness, allows Sharon to do something she would not have been able to do a few minutes before.  She can now begin to stand back and “simply” observe these difficult, uncomfortable, physical sensations and images without becoming overwhelmed by them.

Pg 176: This dual consciousness induces a shift that allows sensations to be felt as they are: intrinsically energetic, vital and in present time, rather than as fragments, triggers and harbingers of fear and helplessness from the past.  This felt distinction makes it possible for Sharon to review and assimilate many details of the horrific event without reliving it.

Pg 179: This was the beginning of Sharon’s separating the powerful biological urge to escape from her mental and emotional expectation that she would again be trapped and overwhelmed.

Pg 282:  Traumatized individuals are disembodied and “disemboweled.”  They are either overwhelmed by their bodily sensations or massively shut down against them.  In either case, they are unable to differentiate between various sensations, as well as unable to determine appropriate actions.  Sensations are constricted and disorganized.  When overwhelmed, they cannot discern nuances and generally overreact.  When shut down, they are numb and become mired in inertia.  With this habitual deadening, they chronically underreact even when actually threatened and are thus likely to be harmed multiple times.

Pg 283:   The constriction of sensation obliterates shades and textures in our feelings.  It is the unspoken hell of traumatization. In order to intimately relate to others and to feel that we are vital, alive beings, these subtleties are essential.  And sadly, it is not just acutely traumatized individuals who are disembodied; most Westerners share a less dramatic, but still impairing disconnection from their inner sensate compasses,

The essence of embodiment is not in repudiation, but in living the instincts fully, while at the same time harnessing their primordial raw energies to promote increasingly subtle qualities of experience.  In the book of Job it is said, “For in my flesh I shall see God.”

The degree to which we cannot deeply feel our body’s interior is the degree to which we crave excessive external stimulation.

As a culture, we have so negated the capacity to feel the subtlety of the life of the body that we have become habituated to a seemingly endless barrage of violence, horror and explosive, body-vibrating noise.

Pg 284:  For disembodied men, images of the female body become titillating, rather than experienced as joyful.  They evoke a craven drive, rather than inviting playful flirtation, enjoyment, surrender and deep appreciation.  In this way, disembodied men (who tend, by their nature, to be visual) contribute to women’s anorexia because of their disembodied pseudo-need for the “idealized” female body.

Pg 285:  Pornography and eating disorders are two sides of the same coin – disembodiment and objectification.  The less the body is experienced as a living entity, the more it becomes an object.  The less it is owned, the further it is divorced from anything having to do with one’s core sense of self.

As a society, we have largely abandoned our living, sensing, knowing bodies in the search for rationality and stories about ourselves.

Pg 286:  Without access to the sentient body, nature becomes something out there to be controlled and dominated.  Disembodied, we are not part of nature, graciously finding our humble place within its embrace.

Could it be we are finally trying to “re-member” and listen to the unspoken voice of our bodies?

Ripped from the enlivening womb of interior experience, we then see the body as a thing, as an objective biochemical assemblage.

The way we know we’re alive is rooted in our capacity to feel, to our depths, the physical reality of aliveness embedded within our bodily sensations – through direct experience.  This, in short, is embodiment.

Pg 287:  Paradoxically, the only way that we can know ourselves is in learning to be mindfully aware of the moment-to-moment goings-on of our body and mind as they exist through various situations occurring in time.  We have no experience of anything that is permanent and independent of this.

Pg 288: Awareness of our internal milieu lets us know when we are hungry or horny, thirsty or tired, happy or sad, distressed or at peace; and this awareness facilitates what we do to address these internal states.  With awareness of discomforts or imbalances, and with determination and will, we can set out to meet these needs.

Unfortunately, most all of us have misplaced the capacity for awareness for a multitude of reasons.  Tuning out begins at the earliest stages of life.  As infants, all of our basic needs must be met by the ministrations of a caregiver – when we get fed, held, rocked and soothed; when our uncomfortable diapers are changed and when we are too hot or cold.  All of these primitive needs must be met by “the other.”  When they are not, we protest, escalating to a cacophony of screaming, wailing and the flailing of our limbs.  Moreover, when our needs are repeatedly not met in a timely and consistent fashion, the sensations of distress become so intense and unbearable that shutting down is the final option for the infant.  This is the only semblance of agency left to the bay.  As we grow and mature, we learn to actively suppress our instinctual impulses, needs and emotions in fear of retribution from our parents.  Implicitly, we can sense their subtle disapproval and discomfort, turning away from this invalidation and further shutting down nascent awareness.

Pg 295:  For free, unforced, spontaneous functioning of your legs – and other parts of your body – you must have a direct felt experience of their tensions and position in relation to the rest of the body.

Because developing the capacity for awareness is tricky at first, it would be good for you to appreciate how universally difficult body sensing is and be both determined and patient.  These exercises are worth spending hours on.

Pg 296:  Give yourself time as you accept the perplexity of this challenge.

Pg 298:  Generally, when people are able to get in touch with their bodies, they are drawn first to a painful area.  This is OK; in fact, pain (not due to a medical reason) is generally blocked sensation, indicating an area of conflict.  You will gradually learn to tease out these places of discord and progressively resolve them.  But first and foremost you must learn to maintain focus and differentiate various spontaneous bodily (muscular and visceral) sensations.

Pg 299:  Proprioception is afforded through special sensory receptors in the joints that signal the position of all the parts of the body with respect to gravity.  Kinesthesia is the sense of the degree of tension in your muscles.  And the visceral sense arises through receptors in the gut that are integrated by the enteric nervous system.

Without these internal senses and without an expanded, “non-trance” perception of the external world, we simply are unable to know ourselves and realize that it is you who is focusing on these events whether they are interesting, pleasant, beautiful, ugly, dangerous, dull and so on.  Without the unimpeded perceiving of these sensations, it simply is not possible to know who you are and what you want and need in life.

Most medical texts state that a refined visceral sense is not possible, that “gut feelings” are just a metaphor and that we are only able to feel pain “referred” from the viscera to more superficial body regions.  This is dead wrong; in fact, without the visceral sense we literally are without the vital feelings that let us know we are alive; it’s our guts that allow us to perceive our deepest needs and longings.

Pg 300: These stale constellations of habitual discomfort form the underlying maladaptive organization of all conflicts and unresolved traumatic residue.

…the potential benefits range from greater relaxation and alertness and deeper sleep to more vitality and aliveness. It is also possible to eliminate, sometimes instantaneously, psychosomatic, emotional and psychological symptoms that may have plagued you for decades.

Pg 307:  Similarly, your sexual partner selections, which may have been previously driven by compulsions and risky flirtations, will be guided by affinities for soft nurturing feelings, erotic tenderness, goodness and safety.

Pg 310:  Reich also believed that repression, of both the negative emotions as well as the pleasurable ones, was a physical reality, manifest in chronically tight and spastic muscles.  These bodily restrictions caused constrained breathing and awkward, uncoordinated or robotic movements.  He named this muscular rigidity character armor and perceived it as a mechanism having two unitary functions.  While enabling the emotional component of the memory to be repressed, it also stifled the capacity to feel pleasurable sensations.

Reich’s therapy addressed the “body/character-armoring,” which had the function of freezing the emotions while maintaining the neurotic symptoms in the present.  His therapy worked aggressively on two fronts.  First, he brought the patient’s characterological defenses to their awareness by confronting their behaviors such as obsequious politeness or passive-aggressive hostility.  In addition, he “attacked” the muscular armoring, directly, through vigorous manipulation and massage of the tight muscles.  Reich also believed that the repression (the damming up) of adult sexuality was in itself one of the main causes of the neurosis.

In the sulfurous cloud of the McCarthy era, his books were burned by the FBI.  Because of his radical ideas about sexuality, Reich was imprisoned for the trumped-up charge of violating interstate commerce laws.  He died, in 1957, in the Pennsylvania federal penitentiary, an embittered visionary.  With his death and Freud’s abandonment of both “real” trauma and emotional catharsis, the therapeutic interest in emotionality waned.  Meanwhile, the movement toward behaviorism and rationality came into its ascendance.

Pg 328:  Most organisms possess dispositions, if not specific approach/avoidance responses, to large moving contours.

If the initial shadow had been from a raging grizzly bear (rather than from a rising eagle), a very different reaction would have been evoked:  the preparation to flee.  This is not, as James discovered, because we think “bear,” evaluate it as dangerous and then run.  It is because the contours and features of the large, looming, approaching animal cast a particular light pattern upon the retina of the eye.  This stimulates a configuration of neural firing that is registered in the phylogenetically primitive brain regions.  This “pattern recognition” triggers, in turn, the preparation for defensive responding before it is registered in consciousness.  These unconscious responses derive from genetic predispositions (as well as from the outcomes of previous personal experiences with similar large animals).  Primitive, nonconscious circuits are activated, triggering preset constellations or tendencies to defensive posturing.  Muscles, viscera and autonomic nervous system activity cooperate in preparing for escape.

Pg 329:  Motivated by this feeling and not by fear, we continue to scan for more information…

The urge to run (experienced as escape rather than fear or anxiety).

Pg 331:  Finally, the feeling of danger is the awareness of defensive attitude.  It prepares us to defend ourselves through escape or camouflage.  Similarly, when our aggression is not thwarted, but is clearly directed, we don’t feel anger but instead experience the offensive attitude of protection, combativeness and assertiveness.  Anger is thwarted aggression, while (uninhibited) aggression embodies self-protection.  Healthy aggression is about getting what you need and protecting what you have.

Pg 338:  …the reciprocal relationship between the expression of emotion and the sensate feeling of emotion.  When we are “mindlessly: expressing emotion, that is precisely what we are, in fact, doing.  Emotional reactivity almost always precludes conscious awareness.  On the other hand, restraint and containment of the expressive impulse allows us to become aware of our underlying postural attitude.  Therefore, it is the restraint that brings a feeling into conscious awareness.  Change only occurs where there is mindfulness, and mindfulness only occurs where there is bodily feeling (i.e., the awareness of the postural attitude).

A person who is deeply feeling is not a person who is habitually venting anger, fear or sorrow.  Wise and fortunate individuals feel their emotions in the quiet of their interiors, learn from their feelings and are guided by them.  They act intuitively and intelligently on those feelings.  In addition, they share their feelings when appropriate and are responsive to the feelings and needs of others.  And, of course, because they are human, they blow up from time to time; but also they look for the root of these eruptions, not primarily as being caused by another, but as an imbalance or disquiet within themselves.

Pg 339:  Emotions are our constant companions, enhancing our lives and detracting from them.  How we navigate the maze of emotions is a central factor in the conduct of our lives, for better or for worse.  The question is: under what conditions are emotions adaptive – and conversely, when are they maladaptive:  In general, the more that an emotion takes on the quality of shock or eruption, or the more that it is suppressed or repressed, the more prominent is the maladaptation.  Indeed, often an emotion begins in a useful form and then, because we suppress it, turns against us in the form of physical symptoms or in a delayed and exaggerated explosion.  Anger and resentment, when denied, can build to an explosive level.  There is a popular expression that is apt here: “That which we resist, persists.”  As damaging as emotions can be, repressing them only compounds the problem.  However, let it be duly noted that the difference between repression/suppression and restraint/containment is significant though elusive.

Pg 345:  (cathartic expressions of emotion in therapy sessions) …feelings accessed through body awareness, rather than emotional release, bring us the kind of lasting change that we so desire.

Pg 353:  In review: The autonomic nervous system (ANS) gets its name from being a relatively autonomous branch of the nervous system.  Its basic, yet highly integrated function has to do with the regulation of energy states and the maintenance of homeostasis.  The ANS is composed of two distinctly different branches.  Its sympathetic branch supports overall energy mobilization.  If you are physically cold, perceive threat, or are sexually aroused, the sympathetic nervous system increases the metabolic rate and prepares you for action.  The parasympathetic branch, on the other hand, promotes rest, relaxation, gestation, nurturance and restitution of tissue and cellular function.

When the level of activation of the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system is very low, we are apt to be feeling somewhat lethargic.  At moderate levels of sympathetic activity, we are generally doing or preparing to do something active.  This level of arousal is usually experienced as being alert, as well as pleasurably excited.  In this realm there is typically a smooth back-and-forth shifting between moderate levels of sympathetic and parasympathetic activity serving a balanced physiological state called homeostasis.  I call this flexible, seesawing, shifting range of arousal dynamic equilibrium and relaxed alertness along with energy, passion and focus.

Pg 354:  Animals with developed orbitofrontal systems have evolved the capacity to switch between different emotional states.  This ability (known as affect regulation) allows animals to vary their emotions to appropriately match environmental demands.  In humans, this highly evolved adaptive function, according to Schore and others, is the basis for the core sense of self.  These same circuits in the orbitofrontal cortex receive inputs from the muscles, joints and viscera.  The sensation that form the inner landscape of the body are mapped in the orbitofrontal portions of the brain.  Hence, as we are able to change our body sensations, we change the highest function of our brains.  Emotional regulation, our rudder through life, comes about through embodiment.

Pg 355:  Traumatized people are fragmented and disembodied.  The constriction of feeling obliterates shade and texture, turning everything into good or bad, black or white, for us or against us.  It is the unspoken hell of traumatization.  In order to know who and where we are in space and to feel that we are vital, alive beings, subtleties are essential.  Furthermore, it is not just acutely traumatized individuals who are disembodied; most Westerners share a less dramatic but still impairing disconnection from their inner sensate compasses.  Given the magnitude of the primordial and raw power of our instincts, the historical role of the church and other cultural institutions in subjugating the body is hardly surprising.

The essence of embodiment is not in repudiation, but in living the instincts fully as they dance in the “body electric,” while at the same time harnessing their primordial raw energies to promote increasingly subtle qualities of experience.

Trauma sufferers live in a world of chronic dissociation.  This perpetual state of disembodiment keeps them disoriented and unable to engage in the here and now.  As mentioned earlier, trauma survivors, however, are not alone in being disembodied; a lower level of separation between body/mind is widespread in modern culture, affecting all of us to a greater or lesser degree.

Pg 356: A gift of trauma recovery is the rediscovery of the living, sensing, knowing body.  The poet and writer D. H. Lawrence inspires us all with this reflection on the living, knowing body…

Trauma sufferers, in their healing journeys, learn to dissolve their rigid defenses.  In this surrender they move from frozen fixity to gently thawing and, finally, free flow.  In healing the divided self from its habitual mode of dissociation, they move from fragmentation to wholeness.  In becoming embodied they return from their long exile.  They come home to their bodies and know embodied life, as though for the first time.  While trauma is hell on earth, its resolution may be a gift from the gods.

This awakening of our life force, transmuted from survival to ecstatic aliveness, is truly the intrinsic gift laid at our feet and waiting to be opened through this journey of sweet surrender to the sensate world within, whether we are survivors of trauma or simply casualties of Western culture.