Our bodies are the grand guru, teacher, and student all in one. Better yet, this corporal being is with you all of the time. So, listening to whatever your touchy-feely instincts have to say to you is the natural way before latching onto too much outside of oneself. Experiential education is essentially what we’re all doing all of the time, whether we’re attentive, liking it, or not. During a brilliant TIY (Trauma-Informed Yoga) teacher training course taken to deepen my comprehension of my personal nervous system, Polyvagal theory, and strengthening the conversation with my own body, I was given homework to write an essay about a minor trauma during my life. I chose what first popped in my mind. Slightly against my usual blogging trend, I’m recounting it for impact referencing today. The beauty of somatically sourcing is how attuned we discover we may become with this shell that allows us all of this wild living.
After an initial exhilarating day rafting the Zambezi River we tucked into our individual tents scattered amongst the large rocks walls and sandy nooks for our first sleep under Zimbabwe stars. Filled with the happiness of successful accomplishment coupled with joyous adventuring, my social engagement status was completely calm mixed with peace. Exhausted from the hours of our paddling workout, the heavy rains downpour carried me fast to slumber.
Rising with the sun and silence was serene until I noticed the shadows dancing against my camper ceiling weren’t merely external leaves from a distance. A giant spider’s form the size of half of my hand became starkly recognizable to me. My speedy prayers it was on the exterior of the thin canvas fabric vanished as my eyes adjusted to make out its every yellow-and-black-spotted detail. For a blink it was pretty, but I’d guess it took me less than a second to deduce it was inside the tent with me, staring down from the corner bend nearest the only tightly-zippered exit available to me.
As Peter Levine’s book Waking the Tiger describes triune brain distinctions, my integral neo-cortex (rational) cognitive human thinking didn’t want to scream for help for fear of creating a dramatic scene. It’s ‘only’ a spider my inner voice teased me. Equally, I had no idea who might still be sleeping or how closely situated my fellow campers were to be able to hear me. However, a curious state of presence was soon lost within me as my arousal increased with the quickened pace of my heartbeat tracking the spider’s occasional movements. Levine shares about this ‘orienting response’ we may learn much from in many a wild animal from snake to impala.
For whatever (compassionate) reasoning, the hippie in me wasn’t inclined to squash this spider to death, despite its gargantuan means compared to the little ones we’re used to in America. Next, it appeared logical enough that I could simply flee and let the spider have the tent. My flip-flop from dismissing fight to welcoming flight is my personal pattern of sorting survival mechanisms long-held in all species. As Levine comments, “so primitive that they predate even the reptilian brain” our behaviors are orchestrated from primal origins. What I didn’t expect was drifting so readily to freeze.
My innate instinctive (reptilian) immobility response had taken over fearing the spider could bite and even kill me possibly. Whether perceived or real, traumas are involuntary. The spider wasn’t attacking me. Yet, my thoughts raced with extreme versions of reactive stories playing in my mind like movies. I forgot what our guides had educated us about regarding animals that might be unsafe. Everything felt out of sorts. I sensed all inches of my body’s skin surface crawling with creepy, tiny, tingling things. Even though it was entirely fabricated and certainly not happening presently, I panicked over the idea of being stuck alone with this spider indefinitely. Maybe I would die in this random African region?!
What woke me from my frozen slipping was hearing the rustling of my family member and his friends. I felt their closeness and wanted to careen back into my body. Just noticing their laughter brought me from this cocoon of pause. If I needed help I knew they were near enough to me. Investigating my listening lightened the freeze. With the sly effects of therapeutic presence, my breath I’d been holding seeped back into me. It was a riveting series of self-regulation tactics fostering myself fully back to freedom.
Flight with intention was my new modes operandi. Gaging the tent’s doorway zipper thoroughly, I estimated I could rush the zipper from its top all the way down in a couple of seconds. Then, yanking the two floor sections of canvas forcefully upward, I ought to be able to lift the bottom section of the buried tent enough to crawl through this altered opening. If I managed my maneuvers swiftly, I felt the spider wouldn’t have time to touch me. All of this relating occurring was partially based around this level of trust I believed in knowing people were nearby to rescue me.
I fled the tent without being bitten and no spider in tow. Tumbling up the rock cliff to grab a breakfast meal with coffee, I regaled our rafting guides with my traumatic release of laughter retelling my earlier scenario. As each new campmate walked into the eating realm, I retold the story with a few loving jokes and high-fives being given to me. One of our guides offered to help pack up my ‘spidey’ tent with me in order to clear the witchy symbolic energy I was calling it. This ‘spooky’ referencing centered me even more so into my total physical being since my doting dad nicknamed me ‘spook’ as a kid.
My social engagement restored recalling the stories my father would tell about me getting up from the bed as a toddler and finding a unique spot in our home to cuddle with the cat, lay by the warm fireplace hearth, or else for continued sleep. It would ‘spook’ my mom and him that I’d gone missing from my snoozing. Then, I would often spook them further as they hunted for me throughout the house, almost stepping on me. But, the beauty of the innocence had blossomed into a fondness over years of narrative hashing. Peter Levine’s healing trauma compliments the fact that we often have the resources we require to reset or resist troubling things, if we may focus instead upon our instinctive genius working in tandem with our emotions and thinking.
Anatomical dialogue is a superb skill naturally available for us all to cultivate.