Trying for Co-Regulation and Finding Love
Touchwork integrates and completes memories stored in the body
The mind and body are designed to function in an integrated way, but if we try to comprehend a bodily experience using the mind, it’s like pushing a square peg into a round hole. We can’t easily describe a feeling in our body. We try, because we don’t have anything other than language to describe experience, but our mind and body communicate in completely different ways. You could say they speak different languages.
It’s actually more correct to think of the mind as speaking a foreign language (one you don’t understand), and the body as communicating through the language of music.
Most people assume we are able to understand the mind’s language because we use words when we think about things. But the language used by the mind to ‘think’ about things is different to the language used to store information about ‘what happened’.
When we have an embodied experience, it is beyond reach of the mind, and therefore it’s difficult to employ language to describe it. The mind’s description of experience doesn’t quite line up with the body’s experience.
I could feel my nervous system ‘trying’ to make something happen
In a recent touchwork session where I was the ‘client’, I observed my nervous system 'trying' to make something happen. I wasn’t absolutely sure it was ‘trying’, but I could sense there was some kind of ‘efforting’ happening in my body, and ‘trying’ was the most appropriate word to describe what I was feeling.
In hindsight, I now know that my system was ‘trying’ for co-regulation.
I stayed curious to my experience of ‘trying’, and I paid attention to my sense of there being a movement pattern inside my body that was playing over and over again. It didn’t feel stuck, because there was movement, but as I stayed longer with that movement pattern, it felt like it was set on repeat. I had a visual impression of a miniature wave machine. I could see the image of a wave breaking against a wall of glass, and its momentum carrying the wave back where it broke against another glass wall directly opposite. There seemed no-where for the water to go. It didn’t seem likely to stop, and I wasn’t sure what would happen if it kept going.
Paying attention to somatic movement patterns
In SE, sometimes we watch patterns for a while. Sometimes patterns find a new pathway and they change. Change is particularly interesting to us. However, this was the second similar movement pattern (the feeling of ‘trying’ to make something happen, not the wave itself), and I decided to mention it.
I said I couldn’t be sure, but I was aware of a feeling of ‘trying’, and also sensing a continuous movement pattern. Afterwards, it came to my mind to describe that continuous pattern as a “broken record”, but at the time, the image I got was of a wave breaking against a glass wall, going back and forth, back and forth. ‘Water’ can often be associated with the fluids in our body, though I wasn’t thinking about that at the time. I was focused on ‘experiencing’, not ‘thinking’.
A Somatic Experiencing practitioner is trained to look for opportunities to facilitate ‘completion’. My therapist would have ‘picked up’– either unconsciously, by tuning into the resonance in her own body, or consciously paying attention to my language at a symbolic level – that the pattern I was experiencing had a flavour of ‘being unable to complete’.
I asked my therapist if we could experiment with reducing the pressure of her touch. When a client asks for less pressure or intensity, often it is a reliable indicator to the therapist to remove their hand completely, which mine did.
When I moved stuff out of the way, my system did it all by itself!
When my therapist took her hand away from my belly, that was enough for my system to find its way to co-regulation.
Noticing that my system was able to do that on its own felt amazing!
Even though it was only in the final ten minutes of the session, those few minutes helped my body connect to my deep need for restorative sleep. I had been having difficulty with my sleep routine, particularly with waking during the night and with sleeping through until morning. But that night, I slept soundly.
How did I know I had experienced co-regulation?
Was a decent night’s sleep my only clue? Did I experience other benefits?
I was certain I had experienced co-regulation because on my way home from my session, I could sense a palpable feeling of ‘love’ in my body. It was entirely different to loving another person or feeling loved by them. This felt like I was fully immersed in the warm waters of love.
That experience of co-regulation was not my first, but our bodies are designed to have multiple experiences of co-regulation and they need to create a somatic map to find its way back to it. After that map is drawn, and it has regular experiences of co-regulation, the body knows on a deep, visceral level that co-regulation is the healthiest thing that it can experience.
Now I have a visceral knowing (you might even call it, ‘experiential wisdom’) that co-regulating with another human being is the same feeling in my body as bathing in love.