The Dance of Sensation & Story: PART I

Somatic & Intuitive Small Group Coaching Series
May 24, 2014
The Dance of Sensation & Story: PART II
July 14, 2014

Sensation and story are powerful tools–double edged tools–for healing and transformation.

Sensations are, on one hand, a direct path to our vitality. Body sensations include temperatures, such as hot or cool; movements, such as tingling, pulsing or streaming; and impressions of numbness, stillness, emptiness, pressure, contact, sharp-or-softness, thick-or-thinness.

Sensations also show up as body-moods or images. Since sensations speak directly to the hind brain, sensory awareness a key to shifting deeply embedded behavior patterns.

But sometimes sensations are overwhelming. We may mistrust or fear certain body sensations. We cannot use a tool if it’s “too hot” to pick up.

Stories are equally complex tools. We misuse story when we impose interpretations on our direct sensory experience. Sensation is neutral.

Let’s say we feel a fluttery feeling in our chest—pure sensation. If we respond by thinking “Oh, I must be scared,” we crystallize our experience into a story.

If we take this thought seriously and make “I am scared” into a real thing, suddenly we have a problem to solve. We interpret this “fear,” diagnose it, and try to fix it. We get caught up in the “I am scared” story and never get to know “fluttery.”

But when that fluttery sensation is too overwhelming to face, stories can be helpful. The right story can be just the anchor we need to stay with challenging sensations.

This principle of anchoring is valued in both spiritual and somatic traditions.  Meditation postures are designed to stabilize us so we can sustainably expand our consciousness.  Likewise, somatic containment practices support us to risk feeling and healing.

It’s a paradox: structure invites unwinding. Working with story and sensation is one way to tap into this interplay of holding and fluidity.

Sensation is all around us, but where do we find stories to work with?


If we make the time and space to listen deeply, our bodies will offer up stories as images, impressions, and memory. I have learned to trust these spontaneous stories. Body stories can hold intense sensations and emotions safely so we can witness them.


Our minds are built to concoct stories endlessly, so we might as well make use of the helpful ones. When choosing a story to work with, you can ask yourself, “What kind of story is this? Is it a scary story? Is it a reassuring story?”

Make sure the stories you tell yourself about your situation support where you want to be. Do you want to end up scared or discouraged? Or would you rather ground yourself so you can make good decisions? We need to choose our stories carefully.


In April, life presented me with a rich opportunity to dance with story and sensation. While riding my bike one afternoon, I got “doored.” The door of the car to my left suddenly opened, flinging me and my bike to the curb.

This trip through air was quickly followed by an ambulance ride and a six hour adventure at a trauma center that involved x-rays, tests, and encounters with over twenty-five hospital personnel.

I wore a collar for nine days, received daunting medical bills and faced physical pain and limitation. Next came visits to lawyers, physical therapists and more doctors. The practical and logistical concerns eventually settled into some predictable patterns and self-care routines.

Once my physical healing process was well underway, the difficult part of my healing journey began. Stories and sensations have been essential tools for navigating this journey safely.

If you would like to know how I used sensation and story to move through my “dark night,” read on.

*Warning* if you are a trauma survivor, what follows may trigger you. My hope is that it will inspire you.




It began with mysterious, scary sensations. Five weeks after my accident, I wrote in my journal:

Waking up is a heroic struggle with intolerable sensation. At first I don’t know how I’m feeling.  I just know I don’t like it.  As if sleep has torn away my defenses, I wake up skinless. My nerve endings shudder with exposure.

All kinds of overwhelming and unpleasant sensations terrorize my stomach, my muscles, the entire surface of my body. Being alive is unendurable bombardment.

The next day I wrote:

For the last five mornings I have been grappling with overwhelming panic and despair. Every morning I struggle to gasp, to move. This sense of paralysis and deathly doom is bigger than me—it engulfs my cells.

An inconsolable grief-tornado rips through my torso, twisting my intestines. My esophagus clenches from stomach to throat; I’m choking on terror.


At first, I had no idea what was going on. I couldn’t deal. I needed something to hold onto. After a few days of journal writing, crying and reflecting, I found a reassuring story. Or it found me. I told myself that I was “thawing out” from my accident and hospital experience.

I looked back and remembered that my head and body were immobilized for six hours. (I remembered that a paramedic aggressively pressured me to consent to a “precautionary” IV in my arm. His persistence caused me to have a panic attack). I had little control over my body, and never knew what the medical staff were going to do to me next.

In the peace and quiet of my home, my body and mind reminded me of how, in the middle of my panic attack, I decided I could not afford to “lose it.” I needed to advocate for myself and maintain some control over the situation. Somehow I shut my body down and quelled my panic.

This story reframed my alarming new sensations as a positive development: I was thawing out! I finally felt safe enough to feel what I dared not the night of my accident. As they say, “to feel is to heal.”

As I listened some more, my body told me how feeling trapped and at the mercy of medical staff that night echoed my childhood sexual abuse experiences. Now I could view my strong sensations as an opportunity to heal a deeper layer of my past.

Because I identify as a trauma healer, this story gave me extra courage to face my sensations. Anchored by this hopeful, compassionate story, I was able to start using somatic and spiritual tools to take care of myself.  I trusted that my symptoms would resolve over time.

Then I remembered my teachers telling me another trauma healing story, that true freedom is the ability to face and feel what we fear the most. If I can stand in my power and be intimate with the unbearable, I can do anything.

This familiar story also gave me courage. As it turned out, I needed all the bravery I could muster, as my unsettling sensations continued to show up every morning for weeks.

End of Part I. 

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