One of my clients, Jen, had a bike accident earlier this summer. This is her story:
While riding my bike along a route I had taken many times before, I hit a rock with some speed and lost control. I don’t remember seeing much of anything other than bright light. But I sensed that there was traffic to my right and I knew that the parking lane to my left was clear of cars for street cleaning. It felt like my body and bike started to fall to the right and that I threw myself to the left to avoid falling into traffic.
A number of people stopped to help; one called 911 on my behalf. I was very fortunate and did not break any bones or sustain a concussion. My injuries were limited to bruising, abrasions, and a sprained index finger. My bicycle helmet was toast, but it had done its job. One of the witnesses was able to confirm that I had managed to change the trajectory of my fall.
During my lessons in the coming weeks, Ariel worked with me to recover from the trauma, and helped me to piece together more of what happened by working to unite the memories of my brain and body. It became clear to me that my body knew exactly what it needed to do to avoid a more serious outcome and acted accordingly. Although I couldn’t see with my eyes what was happening, my other senses were able to provide the information I needed.
Two weeks after the accident—after fixing my bike, purchasing a new helmet, and healing enough to wear a helmet—I rode that same route. As I prepared for my ride, I used some of the work I had done with Ariel. I thought of all the times I had ridden that route without incident and I gave myself permission to take the time to be present and to enjoy the ride. And, I asked my body to remember what it felt like during an enjoyable ride: relaxed and open. While on my bike, I continued to tap into those stored feelings of all the rides I had taken without incident. As I neared the block where the accident happened, I scanned the bike lane for debris, kept my body relaxed but observant, and coasted through. Another successful journey! I silently thanked my body.
Since the accident, I’ve had three trips along the same route without incident. I remain observant of my surroundings, but not fearful. I know that my body, literally, has my back and that all my senses will work together to towards self-preservation.
In his book Trauma and Memory, Peter Levine writes:
The will to persevere, this initiation or trial by fire, may be exactly what this sliver of brain tissue – the aMCC – seems to orchestrate. Indeed, it may be part of the core neural architecture facilitating triumph over adversity, the quintessential encounter of the human condition.
All living things are survivors. We are built to keep going forward until our last moments. But rather than just plodding along in survival mode, how can we move in the direction of thriving?
When we have unresolved trauma in our lives, it’s as though some part of us does not understand we survived. Even if the perceived threat has long passed, some part of us believes that we are still in danger, and our nervous system behaves as such. This affects everything from how we digest our food to how we interact with our friends and loved ones. It informs how we sense the world around us, and therefore how we move through it.
The ways we have become accustomed to paying attention and sensing our environments are what have gotten us through to this here and now. These habits are what make us the survivors that we are. However in the renegotiation of trauma we can learn a different way to engage our senses that spurs our nervous systems into regulation through the understanding that we are in fact safe now.
Try this out:
You can think the following phrases to yourself or say them out loud. Give yourself at least 2 minutes, really letting each phrase resonate through your system as though the words could move through you from head to toe.
I see with my whole self, near and far. I am safe. I am alive.
I hear with my whole self, near and far. I am safe. I am alive.
I smell with my whole self, near and far. I am safe. I am alive.
I taste with my whole self. I am safe. I am alive.
I feel all the points of contact my body is making with another surface. I am safe. I am alive.
I sense the world with my whole self. I am safe. I am alive.
This change in how we experience our environment, our “outer knowing”, directly affects our inner knowing, our intuition. We are constantly processing information through our senses that generates a kind of gestalt awareness. When we can recognize that this is happening all the time, we can consciously join the flow of it.
Once we awaken to our safeness and vitality through our senses, the part of our brains that rules our logic and reasoning can function more optimally allowing us to make more informed choices that arise out of this expanded awareness. Reason and intuition become one. This union is a hallmark of a resilient system endowed with the power to break old habits. We can then go forward into the unfamiliar territory of making new spontaneous choices that move us in a vital direction. All of the bumps on the road that we will inevitably encounter become proof of our propensity to thrive.
There’s nothing that we can see or hear that isn’t a manifestation of enlightened energy, that isn’t a doorway to a sacred world. -Pema Chodron