What do you really appreciate when you are in a conversation with someone else? Is it that they truly listened to what you were saying? Not just hearing your words, but thoughtfully, took in all of it, words, meaning, non-verbal cues, inflection of your voice, and so on. You may have felt heard, appreciated, validated, understood and safe. Now let's turn this around, where you do the listening? How does it feel to really listen to someone? Do you feel present, open, connected to that person, tuned in to all of the nuances of what is being said and not said?
How about a conversation with yourself? What does that mean for you? In this short blog on Listening, I'll try to make the case for bringing this skill towards our own awareness and why this is helpful in changing your pain.
You may be sitting or lying there in pain, and not really feeling anything else but your pain. When we are in constant and persistent pain, the alarm bells ringing all the time, our complete focus is on the alarm and then quieting it through whatever avenues we use. We don't hear the quieter places in our bodies. We don't pick up on the cues which may help us change our behavior (which is the purpose of pain). We don't trust our bodies because we become further and further away from really knowing what our bodies are telling us.
Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk,, M.D., a leading psychiatrist, author, researcher and educator on trauma, wrote a fascinating and knowledge-filled book, called The Body Keeps the Score. This book is filled with his own experiences with trauma and how the body holds this trauma and how we can change from accessing inner knowledge of it. Sensory self awareness, is a listening tool.
Being aware of our bodies lends itself to knowing the self. Antonio Damasio, chair of the psychology department at Harvard, described this self awareness as "the core of our self-awareness rests on the physical sensations that convey the inner states of the body." (1)
Why have a sensory self awareness practice? What are the benefits for someone in pain? A goal of trying to change your pain may be you being in charge of your pain or that you can change your relationship with your pain. The is called agency. You are in the driver's seat of your life. Being aware puts you in that seat. The more that you are aware of your sensory information from your body, the more that you can be in charge. Emotionally, it leads to less feelings of hopefulness and fear of moving.
You can also watch how sensations and feelings change in the body with awareness. Almost like a science experiment. Try this, notice that. Did it work? Yes, do again. No, try something else.
A further benefit to this awareness piece, is that the more that you are aware of your body including subtle sensations and you are changing behavior accordingly, trust is built in yourself and a sense of safety emerges. Our pain system only wants safety and when we feel safe those pain alarm systems are turned down.
I am calling all of this awareness, Listening In. For all of the same reasons that you feel safe, supported, heard, validated and so on, when someone truly listens to you, your own sensory self-awareness cultivates those same benefits. Try any one of our On-demand practices to feel this awareness in real time.
Van der Kolk, Bessel, M.D., The Body Keeps the Score, Penguin Books, 2014. Pg. 95.