I remember the first time my daughter cried from joy. It was a profound moment of self-awareness.
She was seven years old. She was watching The Last Unicorn – a animated movie about a unicorn who learns that she will soon be the last of her kind and tries to defeat the king who is destroying them all.
(Spoiler alert!) She thought the unicorn was going to die at the end of the film, but it didn’t. My daughter was so relieved and happy that she cried. She sat on the couch saying, “Oh Mommy, oh Mommy, I’m crying, I’m crying!” She was perplexed by this new expression of joy and relief that came through her tears. It was a spontaneous burst of emotion that came out of her experience of what Thomas Hanna called “Here-ness” – the first person, somatic experience that only she could have.
Thomas Hanna made the distinction between “Here-ness” (first person awareness) and “There-ness,” (third person awareness) some 30 years ago. The third person is an objective view of something from the outside looking in. It’s the perspective with which doctors view you as they look at your body. “You” are the charts, graphs, blood test results, or images on an MRI or X-ray. This is helpful when it comes to diagnosing a disease, yet it fails when seeking to understand why someone would have muscle pain, poor posture and other functional problems.
Most of us are encouraged to think about ourselves as a “body,” as if the body were separate from us, as an “it.” This thing called a body should be able to be fixed and shaped as well as look a certain way.
Here’s the catch: no one knows what it feels like to be you, no matter their credentials. If you look at someone in the objective sense, only they can sense or experience what is going on inside of them; you will be unable to appreciate what they are experiencing from their perspective. This is what is called the “somatic perspective.” We may live in a body, yet what happens in the body occurs from the inside out. Learning occurs from the inside out. Experience and wisdom is honed through one’s first person awareness (one’s “Here-ness”) as we learn, grow and change through life. This is the awareness that Hanna Somatic Educators teach their clients to reclaim.
It is through awareness and sensory motor learning that chronic pain, postural dysfunction and lack of control over one’s body can change for the long term. Self-acceptance, appreciation of one’s body and one’s Self, and, for many, more happiness flow from there.
As children we discovered how to walk through exploration, trial and error. We incorporated that learning into our internal process; we gained confidence. This process of sensory motor learning and internal monitoring, so immediate for children, is slowly “bleached away,” as Hanna put it, by society and its emphasis on third person objective thinking. The real stuff – the stuff of growth, strength, inspiration and real change, lies beneath – in our inner life.
Tapping into the “Here-ness” and letting it inform you can be strange, uncomfortable, and transformative, especially in a society that values youth, external looks and outside experts. You may find that things begin to change – that maybe even you begin to change. You may become stronger, more in control, more trusting and accepting of yourself.
When this occurs our experiences becomes richer and fuller. It is like returning to those moments of wonder as a child, when your joy overflows as you discover that the unicorn will indeed live on forever. These moments can inform us, improve our awareness of habits that no longer serve us or ways in which we run from ourselves. Try it – you’ll be amazed. And you may find yourself crying with joy when you least expect it.