By Marcee Murray King
Soma: Greek. An individual’s body as s/he perceives it from within.
As a SomaYoga Therapist, one of my deepest passions is exploring the soma and taking my private clients and students on a journey within.
I have been interested in exploring Reginald A. Ray’s work on Somatic Meditation for quite a while, so was quite excited when I was offered a chance to review his new book, Somatic Descent.
Somatic Meditation, from my understanding, is meditation focused upon going deeply into and sensing the body, making this the focus of a meditation practice. Somatic Descent seems to try to focus on going deeply into the body in a meditation practice, and then tuning into the messages that arise from the body.
It may have been helpful for me to have done some of Ray’s other Somatic Meditation work before embarking on this journey, as was touched upon in the book. Because I spend so much time working in my own Soma and helping others explore and access theirs I felt I had a pretty solid foundation.
Part One, The Language of the Body, opened me up to ideas I had never known before about Buddhism and tantra, introducing me to Vajrayana Buddhism—something I plan on studying further—which is the basis of Ray’s work. He says:
“For tantric (Vajrayana) Buddhism, the tradition in which I was trained, the ultimate enlightened wisdom is found in the body, in the knowingness of our total being in, the ultimate enlightened wisdom is found in the body, in the knowingness of our total being, in our full embodiment. This kind of knowingness is very different from the abstract, conceptual knowledge of our thinking mind. By journeying into the body, using specific meditation methods, we discover, paradoxically, that which is beyond our relative existence, ‘beyond birth and death.’ Seen from this standpoint, the wisdom of the body is not just one spiritual experience among many others; it is the ultimate experience or realization, including all others, capable of bring us to complete human fulfillment.”
I followed the suggested course of action, and did the audio practices from the beginning to the end before beginning Part 2, Explanation of the Practice. I really loved the 10 Point Practice and it pulled me in…I had to do it twice right away to stay”alert” as it pulled me so deeply within (yeah!), though I am still confused about what the “10 points” of this practice actually are.
The audio practices were a little frustrating for me because it seemed there were not enough pauses for me to have an embodied experience. I would have preferred less talking, including telling us what would come along in a later practice while doing a different practice or other details that didn’t seem necessary while trying to do be connected deeply in the Soma.
Visualizing connecting to the space 1000 feet below in the ground, connecting to the “primordial soma,” felt like it was taking me out of my body. For me, it was a bit chit-chatty, like he wasn’t working with a script and this interfered with me really connecting with the practices. That could be just me, and might be the perfect thing for someone else, making it easier for them to access the work.
As I dove into the book, I was expecting a written guide to doing the practices here in Part 2—a script—figuring if a person was deaf, for example, s/he would be able to read the book and try the practices without the audio. With my learning preferences, I knew reading the practice steps would make it much easier for me to access the audio material when I revisited the audio portion. Instead, there were explanations for the practices, some that were more clear than others.
The book, however, doesn’t stand alone in teaching one to do the Somatic Descent practice and using the audio recordings is required.
Part 3, Going Further on the Journey, was quite interesting; in particular, his two chapters on trauma. In my own experience, deep work in the Soma is one of the easiest ways for folks to be able to release trauma without having to go through talk therapy, and Ray addresses how Somatic Descent can access this healing, while pointing out that if it becomes too intense we may need to back off and use a different method.
Reading the book, I came to understand that the practices are supposed to help you develop a deeper knowledge about yourself and the world around you based upon how you sense your body feeling.
It is trying to get us to listen to the messages of our bodies, and to actually ask our bodies questions, awaiting for answers to arise.
“Somatic Descent can also be used in the most simple and mundane arenas of our lives. One of my favorite uses is in the grocer store. Say I am shopping for apples. I am standing in front of the apple boxes and there are about a dozen different varieties, and I am not sure which ones will be the freshest, the crispest, the most life-bringing for our family. I can stand in front of a particular variety and feel into my body, and register the somatic sense. And then I can do the same thing with the other likely candidates. And my body will tell me, ‘These are the best’….”
While I wish there were scripts in the book, and I wish the audio recordings were a bit more focused offering more silence, I will try the practices again, re-reading the individual explanations before trying his practice along with the audio recording.
I am grateful for the introduction to Vajrayana Buddhism, which I can’t wait to explore further, and look forward to trying the practices in his book, The Awakening Body.
Photo: Shambhala Publications
Editor: Dana Gornall
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