What is a SocialSoma? Let me start with some definitions. Social, well, that’s the easy part. Social, in the sense I am using it addresses the matrix of relationships that make up our lives, primarily I’ll focus on those relationships with other people. We need each other, we are made up out of our relationships. An isolated human being is a sorry thing. We are born, live, are defined by, and die within a living, breathing web of human relationships.
Soma, now soma is a bit more challenging. Soma is often taken to mean “body” but what exactly is a body? Thomas Hanna, the founder of Somatics, points out that our bodies have a Janus faced nature. They have both an outside and an inside aspect. From the outside, our bodies appear as objects – something we can dress, parade in front of the mirror or post on YouTube, or criticize (too fat, too thin, too short, too tall). Yet our soma also has a life as a “subject” – the “me” that lives inside this body and sees out through those particular brown or blue or green or grey eyes, the subject of the unfolding drama of “Me.” This “me” has goals, dreams, intentions, desires and I act on or with my world to try to achieve those ends. Hanna defines soma this way:
Soma is a Greek word that, from Hesiod onward, has meant “living body.” This living, self-sensing, internalized perception of oneself is radically different from the externalized perception of what we call a “body,” which could just as well be a human, a statue, a dummy, or a cadaver—from an objective viewpoint, these are all “bodies.” (Hanna, 1988, p. 20)
So, a SocialSoma is the living body in relationship with other living bodies, that is, human beings.
For me, Soma is something else as well. Soma describes the body•brain•world that is in contrast to the Brains R Us metaphor I discovered in my dissertation research, a metaphor that populates much of current neuroscience research and popular vernacular. In this blog, I hope to interweave both the practical and the theoretical in a way that expands your sense of what it means to be a human being. I will draw from current research in the emerging fields of social cognitive neuroscience, and from critics of that approach. I will tap into my own experiences of working within a very somatic-based practice of alignment and intention. I will interlace practical observations and my own experiences (and, I hope yours!) with more theoretical perspectives such as complexity, dynamical systems, social construction and phenomenology.
My hope is that we can together create an interesting and useful conversation and that from our dialogues a new metaphor will emerge that is as compelling and explanatory as Brains R Us or Man is a Machine or Mind is a Computer – metaphors that have dominated much of Western thought for the past few centuries. I hope that we will create an understanding of ourselves that weaves in our embodied, social nature, and allows us to influence the kinds of worlds our science is creating.
I’d like to end this first post with a metaphor I found useful in making sense of my changing understanding of what human beings are. I call this metaphor, The Violet.
I live in the Pacific Northwest on a lovely tree-filled patch of woods. Because of the trees, not much grows in the shade of my backyard. One plant that has been very successful – and I love them because they also have flowers – are woodland violets. For years I let the violets spread and without my realizing it, they had taken over the flowerbeds (and paths, and back woods, and…well you get the picture.) Eventually, I decided that in a few beds, I would like something other than violets, and I began to clear the violets from the bed. Pulling one violet would inevitably yank the roots of a neighboring violet or two or three. I sometimes jerked loose a whole tangled web of violets that resembled tangle of neurons or a SEED magazine illustration of the chaotic network-like structure of the internet. It gradually became clear to me that I did not have an infestation of violets in my backyard. No, I had A Violet living in my yard. Sure enough, any nub of a violet left in a flower-bed would regenerate and soon the whole network of violets would re-emerge. (This reminds me of human beings in another particular – any place one human being can survive, more are soon to follow.)
I began to reflect on the somatic-based practice of systemic constellation work that I do as part of my way of approaching the complex problems that human beings find themselves embroiled in when they live and work together over time. We are more like The Violet than we may think. Of course, social media researchers (and marketers) have seized on this awareness that we live in, and are made by, a web of relationships. My goal in writing this blog is to invite you to explore with me the implications of SocialSoma for the science we develop, for the organizations we create, for the families we live in, and for the social worlds we make together.