Listen to what I was saying back in February:
“You know me. You’ve known me for a lot of years. If anyone in this world is grounded, it’s me. And that’s not gonna to change. I’m telling you this in advance, Boris / David / Maria / Vanessa / Double-D / Rob / Isaac / Wels… (and you, too, Greg). I need to say it now because… If I go down some weird path and find out there actually is more to it all, I need you to stick with me, okay? I’ll need you to believe me. I mean, this is Gary speaking. Whatever it is I might discover up ahead, you know I’m gonna keep it real either way.”
To be precise, I did not literally have this identical conversation with every person in my orbit (but you know who you are). I also want to really emphasize the timing. This is what I was saying way back in February, before the Covid shut-downs, before therapy was even a thought in my head (much less somatic therapy), before I’d decided to sell my house in Austin, leave my job, and begin a new life in Spain, before the blog, and way too long before I ever knew childhood trauma even had a healing side.
For whatever reason, however, I had a strong sense then that something was on its way. Perhaps I would discover some curious insight from tripping on mushrooms or LSD. You know, mystical-realm type stuff. As it turns out, however, neither of these substances have had more than a tiny influence on me at all. I never actually did a whole lot of either, just some timid doses here and there. So far, my experiences on that front have given me nothing much to report. Hey! I am keeping it real!
And with that as your set-up, let’s start our fully-grounded mind-bending adventure towards understanding what it means to be blocked.
In this post and the one that will quickly follow, my goal is to make some keep-it-real-world sense out of “SE” -somatic experiencing- that freaky-ass voodoo stuff I’ve finally been able to access in my therapy sessions. Turns out there is a logical explanation for what goes on during a somatic experience. And it’s not voodoo after all. [Still pretty freaky though.]
I will be using a couple of fresh new terms that I’ll need you to grok (FULLY understand) for my thesis on SE to make sense. The terms are body-self and mind-self. What I am doing is deliberately simplifying the body-brain-mind package into having only two parts. Trust me, it will work for this purpose. The body-self is the primitive, nervous system based part of you that would still be there even if your frontal cortex, home to your mind-self, was removed. Throughout my explanation, body-self and mind-self will align with: nervous system and frontal cortex; ancient and modern; squirrel and human. You’ll get why adding “self” to body and mind is so important as my explanation unfolds.
There’s A Nerve Cell In My Soup
Imagine yourself attending a casual dinner party for eight where seven of the guests have been close friends since birth. It’s awkward immediately because you arrive late, but it gets even worse. Much of what goes on at the table- the inside jokes, the subtle digs, the knowing looks -will be lost on you.
Keep that feeling in mind, but switch out the characters. Let your nervous system be one of the friends that’s been there since the beginning, and your frontal cortex be the new guy, able to see and hear the conversations, but with scant ability to pick-up the unspoken queues and greater context of the stories being told.
I think this analogy is useful because… when we go diving into the body-self’s primordial soup, the stuff from which our nervous system cells got their start, all of the elemental forces of the universe were already sitting at the table. Inside the tiny little microscopic bodies of whichever multi-celled creatures eventually evolved into us, nervous system cells are there to aid in survival. These cells of ancient origin cut their proverbial teeth on all variety of invisible signals coming through the ambient that modern iterations of our brain are not specialized to detect or interpret in the least.
We observe examples of animal “intuition,” such as when they run for higher ground before a tsunami approaches. For the animals themselves, they are simply catching a vibe that says danger and heading somewhere they feel safe.
What does any of this have to do with SE? Hold. HOLD..! I’m getting there.
At the truly primal level of existence there is no seeing, hearing, or smelling, but there is feeling. And that feeling needs only two modes to operate in. As I’ve already hinted, I will label them Danger and Safe. I could have chosen 1 and 0, On and Off, Alert and Calm, Rupture and Repair, or any other two terms with similar import. But Danger and Safe are good choices within the larger context of my particular type of trauma. Also, in case it’s not obvious, 0, Off, Calm, Safe… this is the default mode we need to be in to thrive. Danger Mode is where we go when we need to survive.
To bring it all together… our nervous system (the body-self) knows danger and safety at the most basic level our universe has to offer, but that knowing can be overpowered and controlled (think suppressed) by the highly adaptive and ever-dominant frontal cortex (the mind-self). When I was a child “trapped” in that house on Creekwood, hiding under the bed, waiting to get a spanking from my father for reasons I could not make sense of, my nervous system was switched into Danger Mode while the rest of me was trying to figure out how to cope.
But here’s the clincher. That house on Creekwood was a breeding ground for suicide. I lived in Danger Mode. Even when my dad wasn’t around, I didn’t feel safe. What if I did something, broke something, for example? My dad might find out and then what?
It’s so funny to me seeing how a squirrel will bounce away at the most innocent change to their environment, i.e. me walking down the sidewalk. Their acorn-sized brains (so ironic) are dominated by the ancient nervous system where Danger and Safe modes are most of what they have to work with. But that’s okay. The beauty of the squirrel is not just its fluffy tale and oh-so-cute face. The brain of a squirrel has the effortless ability to scamper back and forth between “Danger, Will Robinson!” and, “Yeah, I’m cool…and cute.”
If only I could have switched back to Safe Mode. Instead, my adaptive frontal cortex had to find a way to tamp-down my nerves by controlling and suppressing the emotions I deserved to be feeling- particularly anger and sadness. In my childhood of 5,000 ruptures and zero repairs, turns out my body-self never stopped keeping score.
This left me blocked, unable to truly connect with people, to patiently listen, broadly see, and intuitively feel the universe around me and know my place within it. Fortunately for me, the story does not end there…
I feel like this is already a lot to digest, so I will stop here to give us all a chance to breathe. Look for the fascinating second half in just a couple of days, when I’ll go from Blocked to Open. It’s a supersonic ride!