Day 9: Somatic Tracking To the amusement of most of my friends, I still use a flip phone. I can’t send or receive pictures, and emojis come through as little boxes. But the most interesting thing – for those of you who can remember back to 2005 – is that there’s a limited amount of storage space for text messages. Once I hit 200 texts, I need to “delete all,” or no more will come through. You can bet that I’ve never hit that 200-mark…no one wants to miss a text. When we’re incentivized to pay attention to something, we'll pay attention to it. You pay your bills on time to maintain good credit. You fill your car with gas so you don’t get stranded. You cut your hair regularly to keep it looking nice. But there’s one thing you probably neglect that is more important than anything else, and it’s at the heart of your pain. Attending to Your Internal State It feels wonderful just to be checked in on. It can make you feel cared about and attended to, and can remind you that you matter in this world. But many of us don’t check in on ourselves, and this subtle self-neglect can actually have many physical consequences. I’d like you to try something as you’re reading this: check in with what you’re feeling in your body right now. Are you aware of feeling any physical sensations? Possibly in your chest? Or your stomach? Or your throat? If so, how would you describe this sensation? Is it a tightness? A clenching? A fluttery feeling? Is it warm? Is it tingling? And as you check in, just notice, is this sensation pleasant or unpleasant? Is it widespread or is it in one specific area? You're just checking in. You don’t have to do anything with this sensation; you’re not trying to make it go away or move it. You’re just watching. And what do you notice happening as you pay attention to this sensation? Does it intensify? Does it subside? Does it expand or contract? Does it move to another part of your body? Does it stay the same? Whatever it does is okay, you’re just watching it; following it. You don’t have any ulterior motive, you’re just paying attention to this sensation in your body, with pure curiosity. You’re just an observer right now – paying attention, noticing what’s going on inside of you, and checking in. Congratulations. You just did three important things: you attended to your internal state, you treated yourself with love, and you gave your brain the message that it’s safe. Somatic Tracking You may have heard of Mindfulness. Many people associate it with meditation or eastern philosophy, but it’s actually a very simple idea. Jon Kabat-Zinn, who helped popularize Mindfulness in the West, defines it as "paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally." And that’s exactly what you were doing as you attended to your internal state. It’s not complicated, but it’s very powerful. The most effective way to communicate a message of safety to your brain is to mindfully attend to the physical sensations in your body. We call this Somatic Tracking. Neuroscientists have found that mindfully attending to our bodily sensations can actually shrink the "fight or flight" center of our brains. Furthermore, this practice enables us to have better control over our brains' processing of pain and emotions. Somatic Tracking is the most important component of overcoming neural pathway pain. When you attend to your physical sensations mindfully – without fear, without judgment, and without motive – not only are you communicating safety, you’re giving yourself the message that you deserve to be treated in a loving way. In the coming days, we'll discuss how to use Somatic Tracking to regulate your anxiety, reduce the fear around your pain, and help you feel your emotions. Attending to Yourself When I was a sophomore at UCLA, the Dalai Lama came to speak at our school. I was an economics major at the time, and had little interested in psychology, but it was only a block away from my dorm, so I went out of curiosity. Along with 17,000 others, I piled into in Pauley Pavilion to hear him speak. It was incredible. He talked about the barriers to self-love, the pursuit for inner peace, and the importance of disciplining the mind. At one point he spoke about meditation. “People I talk to in Beverly Hills,” he said, “meditate for only an hour a day…” And then he started laughing. “Only?” I thought. As I walked home that night, I had two thoughts- 1. What the hell am I doing majoring in economics? 2. The Dalai Lama has some seriously high expectations when it comes to meditation. It wasn’t until years later that I realized what he meant. If we attend to ourselves for only an hour a day, then we’re neglecting ourselves for the other 15. The goal isn’t to attend to yourself when your pain flares up or for a set amount of time, the goal is to attend to yourself on a moment-to-moment basis: while you’re talking, and while you’re driving, and while you’re typing an email, and while you’re reading this very sentence… Of course, unless you’re gunning for spiritual enlightenment, you’re not going to attend to yourself every moment. And that’s okay. But with practice, it can become more of a default setting, and you'll develop the neural pathways for mindfully attending to your internal state. All you need to do is check in, and pay attention.