(Composed 19 July 2019)
What does it mean to change “from the bottom up”?
I believe that the way we experience being alive starts at the cellular level and moves up through successive levels of higher organization – cells organized into tissues; tissues organized into organs and muscles; organs organized within coordinated systems; coordinated systems organized in increasing levels of complexity culminating in the individual. (And continuing into family systems, communities, ecosystems, planetary, even, likely, cosmological systems.) It’s all a matter of scale, with increasing coordination and cooperation at and between every level. Overall, we’re talking about super complex systems, here, of which we, as individuals and as a species, represent different layers of a nested hierarchy.
To me, changing from the bottom up implies planting the seeds for lasting change, fundamental change, change at the source that percolates up through the layers – from the physical up through the emotional and ultimately reflected in the cognitive experience of knowing, understanding, the ability to skillfully navigate and leverage the myriad of sensations that compose the experience of being alive.
The last century or so has brought an abundance of approaches to wellbeing and mental health, the vast majority of which focus on change from the “top down” – rooted in the belief that if we can verbally understand the dynamics at play within us, if we can dig down to the root cause of our suffering, verbally pick apart whatever it was that happened so we can compose a narrative that makes sense, then we will resolve whatever it is that is causing the recurring patterns and dynamics of our suffering, and that change will come. Fundamentally, the belief that with reason will come a change in feeling and sensation.[I’ve experienced that myself over the course of a lifetime of therapy – long, reasonable conversations]
When the integrity of the functioning and interactions within the soma, the body, are left out of those conversations, left out of the picture, if you will, the likelihood of lasting change is limited. When attention is paid to the physical and physiological elements and the ways they are interacting, it is a different story entirely. As the functioning at the level of the body and bodily systems comes into alignment, into sync, the higher order experiences of the emotions and cognitive can’t help but follow – they’re now resting on a coherent scaffolding. But if there is dysregulation within the bodily systems, it makes sense that the emotions and mental experiences will be fragmented.
How can we expect to be able to bring about reason when the underlying structure is fragmented and disregulated?