All of spiritual work is strengthening the nervous system.
—Cynthia Bourgeault at Valle Crucis Wisdom School, May 2016
The Welcome Practice (from the Centering Prayer community) provides a framework and suggested skills that opens us to endless opportunities for inner awakening. When coupled with the somatic knowledge exploding in the field of therapy (Focusing, Somatic Experiencing, Sensorimotor, CRM-Community Resilience Model) we have a powerful set of practices, movements and “body knowing” for strengthening our nervous system and expanding our Being.
The Welcome Practice teaches us about attachments and aversions, suggesting that maybe we don’t have as much “free will” as we think we do. It helps us observe when we are knocked out of our comfort zone.
—Somatic skills begin with the understanding that the activation we experience (when “our buttons get pushed”) are hard wired instincts that are biological in nature. Once we learn to notice and track our physiology, we can also make space for different responses.
The Welcome Practice invites us to notice and surrender the experience we are having that hooks our sense of threat around security, esteem or power. We can see when we are “clenched” (when our brain and heart get off track) and when we “allow” (the entraining of brain and heart).
—Somatic skills help us experience the wisdom of the body which both alarms us and regulates us. The skills allow us to trust and partner with our bodies to increase our “bandwidth” for pain and for love without staying engaged in the story.
The Welcome Practice begins with FOCUS and SINK IN, inviting us to deepen into the sensations in our bodies and to pay attention to what it feels like on the inside, staying present to what is, not changing anything. Every emotion can be felt as the energy of sensation.
—Somatic skills teach us how to track and notice sensation in our bodies, how to cultivate the language of sensation, how to ground in the present moment, and how to resource ourselves when overwhelmed physically or emotionally.
The Welcome Practice teaches us to WELCOME or be with what is happening, to have an inner attitude of hospitality. It invites us to allow and open to what is in this moment, now. It points us toward a window of opportunity where the cycle of the story, arousal and activation can be broken or released. We are staying present from a deep witnessing place, balancing and entraining with our nervous system.
—Somatic skills reminds us we are hard wired for compassion, both with ourselves and with others. The skills teach us ways to resource ourselves, self soothe, and regulate our physical responses so that we can be receptive to the higher vibrations of Wisdom and grace, the finer energies of Love. This impacts the field of our relationships and communities.
The Welcome Practice invites us to LET GO, but not too quickly, not before spending whatever amount of time is needed with focusing and welcoming. When we don’t hurry the process, this last stage is more organic, like a dissolving.
—Somatic skills build confidence in us, showing us how to “shift and stay”, literally move our attention back and forth between the edge of overwhelm and the ease that is in our body, waiting to resource us and help us allow our experience, no matter how long it goes on. Abiding in the midst of the storms. With this confidence, our nervous system sometimes releases, freeing blocked energy and we naturally take a deeper breath as we re-set.
“As your Being increases your receptivity to higher meaning increases. As your Being decreases, the old meanings return.” —Maurice Nicoll
Skills and Exercises
Tracking. Explore and notice sensation increasing your vocabulary of the felt sense of your body. Know the difference from the inside between upset and well- being.
Resourcing. Anything that elicits a sense of well-being, ease or peace, both internal and external. As you describe your resource, bring your attention to what is happening inside you. Just notice.
Grounding. Noticing sensations of support and safety in the present moment. Connect with the energy of the earth. Imagine roots growing out of your feet down into the earth. Imagine what a strong tree would feel like and look like. Move your arms like branches. Bring attention to your feet as you move your arms. Raise and harness the energy of the earth.
Body prayer. (For a video demonstration of one type of body prayer, which was taught and practiced at a Wisdom School with Cynthia, follow this link.)
Gesture exercise. Think of a self soothing gesture; make the gesture and notice what happens inside. Think of a gesture of confidence, make it and notice what happens inside. Think of a gesture of joy, make it and notice what happens inside.
Presence exercise. This is a simple tracking exercise done with a partner. Notice three sensations in your body and name them out loud as your partner witnesses, but does not respond. Your partner does the same thing. Go back and forth noticing the increasing sense of presence in the room until you both fall into Silence.
“Our cognitive brains are wired for complexity but transformation and inner awakening occurs in small incremental steps that involve the knowing located in our bodies and hearts, as well.” —Cynthia Bourgeault
This resource was created by Jeanine Siler Jones, integrating materials from Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening by Cynthia Bourgeault (pp 135-152), Internal Family Systems Theory, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Wisdom School retreat notes, retreat leadership shared with Ruth Hill, and somatic skills learned through the Community Resilience Model.
More on the Welcoming Practice:
Additional information on the Welcoming Practice, as well as short video of Cynthia Bourgeault teaching on “The Welcoming Practice and Waking Up” are available HERE.
Video of Body Prayer:
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