Messages from Soma and Soul
With Bette J. Freedson
“I’m so exhausted!” Emily sighed as she slumped into the rocking chair. “The store is driving me crazy!”
Congenial and generally upbeat, Emily juggles complex roles as manager of a profitable men’s clothing franchise: engaging saleswoman, savvy boss and compassionate housemother for her “kids” as she calls her staff. Emily handles the pressures with genuine warmth and contagious wit. Despite changing business requirements and the kids’ idiosyncratic quirks, Emily remains surprisingly happy in her job, often affirming, “My job is fun. It makes me feel really good.”
Yet, on this vibrantly sunny summer day, something was different. The energy with which Emily entered the room was visibly and palpably low, as if a cloud had blocked the light that had been beaming through the window. With a wan twinkle at the edges of her usually lively eyes, Emily recounted the latest list of stressors involving inventory, customers and the kids.
“Monica’s going out on maternity, Mario’s shirking the sorting, and my district manager wants last year’s numbers! I need help, but no one’s responding to my ads. I’m working seventy hours a week! I can’t keep this up.”
Given that Emily typically copes capably through chaos and confusion, it seemed clear that helping her to recharge her resources was in order. But, how? I needed information from her and from my inner wisdom.
“You manage things pretty smoothly most of the time, Emily. What else is going on?”
“Oh gosh, the new inventory system has me boggled, and a couple of the kids have been goofing off; and well, there’s the stuff at home, too. But, I just thought of this, remember the time I ate too fast and passed out in the back room?”
“Yes, did that happen again?”
“Kinda.” She said, her eyebrows knitting together as she remembered her discomfort. “I wasn’t chewing right, and started to get lightheaded and sick to my stomach. I didn’t faint, but it got me worried. Maybe it’s just too heavy a load for me.”
“I think I understand. Stress is cumulative and unrelenting stress can feel heavy and can make you feel sick. However, sick feelings can be a signal. The somatic self is intelligent and intuitive. And your thinking that it’s too much is the cognitive interpretation of the somatic message. What do you think this means?
“Oh no, I can’t leave my job. My husband’s in recovery from his illness and can’t work now; everything’s on me— work and home! I’m not sure how to understand.”
“Leaving your job isn’t necessarily the solution; however, your imagination might be. The important thing is to pay attention to the somatic meaning. The healing capacity of the body is great, and your inner wisdom knows how to understand the message. Worrying isn’t the way to relieve the stress, but imaginative visualizing might help you, mentally and physically.”
At this point, I was getting an idea. I thought about A Woman’s Sacred Journey, Finding Your Soul’s Wisdom, Purpose and Path, the program I had just co-presented in June at Kripalu with Michele Tamaren.
In our presentation, Michele and I discussed two basic concepts of happiness according to the science of Positive Psychology. True happiness, we shared, is made up of the embodied experience of both meaning and pleasure, which can lead to a felt sense of authentic and vibrant aliveness. I thought that working with these concepts might have relevance to Emily’s low energy, her dim light and her somatic intuition.
“Emily,” I continued. “You find pleasure in making meaningful connections with your customers while helping them pick the right clothes. And clearly it means a lot to you to be there for the kids. However, currently you have distress in more than one area. In such circumstances the felt experience of stress can override positive emotions.”
“Getting back in touch with your uplifting emotions and bodily sensations can ease stress in the mind, in the body and in the soul. Since the motion of the rocking chair puts you into trance, perhaps you’d like to consider that as you rock, you can connect with the pleasure and meaning you derive from your job, and the positive emotions that keep you going.”
Nodding in agreement, Emily’s facial muscles relaxed as she took an easy breath, settling into the rhythmic motions of the chair. When I suggested that she call to mind a time when she felt delight in her work, Emily’s face began to brighten.
“The other day a special young man came in with his mother who immediately announced, ‘He hates shopping.’ Well, in minutes I had him talking about himself. We were laughing, he was trying things on and having a ball. His mother was delighted. ‘I’ve never seen him like this!’ she told me.”
“Laughter gets the endorphins going.” I affirmed. “That was good medicine for him, and it can be uplifting for you, too. What’s meaningful about this experience?”
“When they finished shopping, he said, ‘I really like you!’ He was happy, and I was too. ‘I like you too!’ I told him. It felt really good. That meant so much to me.”
“That is a lovely story. Now, I’d like you to absorb the pleasure of that experience. Anchor the sensations and the meaning somewhere in your body, knowing that you can access these positive emotions and feelings anytime.”
Rosy-cheeked and rocking, Emily replied, “I feel the good feeling everywhere, especially in my belly and my chest.”
“Now, allow these special positive feelings to be absorbed in every micro particle of your body, bringing light to your soul’s wisdom, connecting you to your purpose, and your energy. When you have just the right sense of aliveness, reorient back.”
Opening her eyes and smiling, Emily chuckled. “I had an epiphany. I’m going to spend less time being aggravated and more time enjoying the daily experiences of my work. I’m going to tell the kids to lighten up, to let go of the small stuff. I’m going to breathe, and take time eat. Like what happened with my special guy, people resonate with each other. If I’m feeling good, it will be contagious. I feel much less tired.” She said, the light shining in her eyes. “Now it’s time for me to get back to work.”
Bette J. Freedson, LCSW is a clinical social worker, certified group psychotherapist, and the author of Soul Mothers’ Wisdom: Seven Insights for the Single Mother. Bette’s specialties include stress management, parenting issues, recovery from trauma and the development of intuitive insight. She maintains a private practice in southern Maine with her husband, Ray Amidon, LMFT.