Awareness, Relation, and Somatic Ecology

By virtue of reading this, I know one thing about you: you're an infinitely complex, living system.  I don't say this to flatter you, rather to put the rest of this piece into perspective.

And the natural world--your surroundings and space--is just as complex.  Our relationship with it is fluid, just as our relationships with others are.  With so many variables it's easy to get overwhelmed.  We're accustomed to linear models of causation, and the idea of complexity scares us.  

But an understanding of this fluidity and complexity opens us up to a world of possibility, richer in connection and more capable in our own skin.  A physical practice can help us navigate this murky unknown.  

Let's circle back to you.  

That's a good starting point.  As I mentioned you're an infinitely complex, living system.  You're a psychophysical organism (a spark of personality within a network of muscle, nerve, bone, and fluid), whose actions, emotions, and thoughts emerge from an interaction of trillions of cells' worth of electrochemical reactions.  

Strange to think of ourselves this way.  

If this sounds base, I hope you'll see this not as a way to reduce the beauty of the human experience, but as a way to highlight how in awe we ought to be with ourselves.

Too often we're led to view ourselves as a hunk of flesh to be trained or cut open.  Empiricism and Cartesian models of life lead us to separate mind and body into two separate entities.  It's much simpler to think that way, but it misses the big picture.  Mind and body are two aspects of the soma, the living body in its wholeness.  It's a sticky combination of emotion and physiology.  

A somatic approach to movement can help us get reacquainted with ourselves.  This is our home base after all.  It's our guts and tissues, our thoughts and perceptions.  It's our subjective experience of life.  As Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen once said,

When the one becomes aware of itself, there are two.

When we cultivate self-awareness through movement, we come up against the boundary of self and other.  We recognize that we don't live in a vacuum.  

If we want to relate well to our space and our peers, we need to begin here.  Awareness of your own sensations and perceptions is the critical starting point.  It's the lens we begin to filter all other information through.  What do you notice in your own body, here and now?  Where do you feel tension or pressure?  Where do you feel pain?  What subtle movements of the body stand out to you?

You don't live in a vacuum.

Once we cultivate this awareness, we can expand our awareness to the environment around us.  There's as much to explore out there as there is within our own selves and cells.  

We have a bi-directional relationship with our surroundings.  We shape our environment (we eat food, we chop wood, we remove mountain tops), and in turn it shapes us (flat floors lead to flat feet, the air we breathe fuels our cellular metabolism, the water we drink becomes our own fluids).  Hard as we try, we are intimately connected to our habitat.  

As we change it, it changes us...that's the heart of ecology.  

There's an ongoing exchange, and as this process evolves we end up changing ourselves as people by virtue of our environmental interactions.  Consider the simple example of taking a walk in the woods.  Of course it reduces stress, and as it does so, doesn't that change how we think and act?

How do you relate to your surroundings?

This spatial, environmental awareness is our next step.  How do we make our way through our world, and how do we carve and shape it?  In what ways do those interactions change us?  You are a part of nature, as it is a part of you.

And you aren't alone.

The next layer of complexity shows up when we meet the occasional other in our environment.  A spouse, a partner, a boss, a friend, a stranger in traffic.  They too are infinitely complex, navigating and carving their environment.  

And when you meet, there's a boundary of contact.  You shape each other and the space around you.  Consider how differently you act around a supervisor or your best friend.  The personalities we adopt are adaptive.  Whatever we are is relative to our broader context.

Use your self-awareness here.  How does your tone of voice change with different people?  What new tensions pop up in the body?  Are you fidgeting, ready to leave this interaction?  Can you literally stand your ground or roll with the punches?

This is our somatic ecology.

We're a system of systems, a self-aware and self-organizing miracle of emergence.  And it's all relative.  What we so often see as fixed truths or "the way things are" is simple a reflection of our limited perception.  It's all subject to change.

Movement--that sensorimotor conversation--is our earliest language, and it remains our clearest way of understanding this complex web.  It teaches us about ourselves, ourselves in space, and ourselves in relation to others,

This awareness is critical for ongoing development, and it's an evolving process of learning and discovery.  Awareness of ourselves changes based on our space and peers, just as we change them.  We are never isolated.  We are never static.  We exist within a somatic ecology.

Chandler StevensComment