What is Somatic Imagination?

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Somatic Imagination is inspired by Jung’s Active Imagination, Peter Levine’s Somatic Experiencing, Melanie Klein’s writings about Phantasy, the contemplative practice of Authentic Movement, the Feldenkrais Method and Eugene Gendlin’s Focusing. It is a technique I use personally and often with clients, especially with my those in my Anger Management Group.

In essence, the practice involves fully engaging with a fantasy in an embodied way.

A man I’ll call Joseph comes to the Anger Group because he pushed his wife and she called the police. In Group Joseph is a mix of repentant and self-righteous.

“She’s lucky I didn’t do worse!” he says.

“If you could do anything, what would you want to do to her?” I ask.

“I could have pushed her down the stairs, instead of just in the hallway,” he says.

“Okay,” I say, “imagine you’re both standing at the top of the stairs. How far apart are you?”

“About arm’s length,” he says.

“And to push her, you would step forward slightly, or just push?” I ask.

“I would step forward.”

“With which foot?”

Joseph pauses, his eyes closed. “I’d step forward with my right foot,” he says.

“Okay, while sitting in your chair, imagine stepping forward with your right foot. Feel the shift of weight, then feel your arms as you extend them and slowly, frame by frame as if in slow-motion, make contact with her. Where would you touch her?”

“I’d grab her shoulders and push her down the stairs,” he says.

“So do it, slowly, in your imagination. Feel her shoulders in your hands. What is she wearing?”

“A green sweater.”

“Feel the green sweater around her shoulders underneath your hands. Feel the shifting weight, the muscles contracting as you push her. Feel each distinct part of pushing, as if it’s ten separate moments, and finally see her fall down the stairs.”

“Okay.”

“What happens now?”

“She’s down. She’s lying there.”

“Okay, just look at her and notice what you feel in your body.”

“I feel more relaxed. Now I feel kind of sad. I’m still angry at her, like why couldn’t she just listen to me? But not as angry as I was.”

“If you think of her now, what would you want to do to her?”

“Now I’d just grab her and shake her.”

“Okay, do that, slowly, as before.”

After several painstakingly slow rounds of this kind of work, eventually Joseph says, “I don’t want to do anything to her, I just feel sad. I wish things were different.”

This is Somatic Imagination. It allows energy that we all feel at times to move through our bodies and be released. Joseph isn’t cured, but he has a powerful tool for his aggressive urges. If he becomes adept at slowing down and really tuning into the sensations in his body as he moves through the fantasies, he’ll get in touch with something he rarely experiences: the fear, shame and grief that live beneath our rage.

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