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What Does "Support" Even Mean?

"What's feeling supportive right now?"


This is one of the most common questions I ask in session with clients. I'll ask this when someone has named something challenging, when they're experiencing a wave of sensation or intensity, when there's a pause, a moment to ground, when words run out.


Reader, maybe take a pause here.

Take a breath.


Offer yourself just the possibility that there might be support, right here, right now.


Notice any sensation or image that is present in your body or imagination, somewhere on the spectrum of neutral to pleasurable.


Stay with one of those for one breath, two breaths, maybe three.


That right there. That's support.


So, what's feeling supportive right now?


I ask this because support precedes movement. In order for a wave to move through us, to get unstuck from a pattern, to take a step towards change, we must feel enough support. We know this from the body - anatomical physical support comes before the physical execution of a movement (check out Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen's work). Support is a necessity - so much so that our bodies have reinforcements, each support system has a support system. Each of our cells has two layers of support: an inner and outer membrane. Our bodies emerge, suspended in fluid, held by a sac, which is held by a uterus. The amniotic sac also has an inner and an outer layer, and fluid between these layers. One membrane faces inward for support, one membrane faces outward for protection. The outer layer assesses information, decides what can and can't come in. The inner layer moves what is ready to leave. Each receives from the other, each supports the other, each checks the others' choices, each offers protection from and connection to the environment (see: Susan Raffo's essay in Liberated to the Bone, At Least Two Layers of Support.)



When we practice finding our supports in any given moment, we develop our awareness of various layers of support, and increase our capacity to receive the available supports. This is why somatic work can be so powerful. Because support is always present, like a web that holds us and intricately connects us to everything.


This can be difficult to believe and feel in a world dominated by the story of scarcity. And for many of us, when we think of being supported, we retract. For some folks, the "support" that our caregivers and peers could offer didn't feel supportive. Or, their support was conditional so it didn't feel safe to receive. Or, their support was an attempt to fix us when we really just needed to be held. Or, they were genuinely supportive but we needed more support than they had to offer. But we are endlessly supported by the more-than-human. And in fact, tapping into support outside of the humans in our life can often teach us how to be in relationship more congruently.


Support looks different for everyone, and different forms of support may be more powerful during different circumstances. Sometimes we need many layers of support, and sometimes we only need a layer or two. Supports can be physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, energetic, and relational. Below, I'll share an incomplete list of my own supports and the supports that my clients and loved ones have named:


gravity, blankets, chairs, couches, floors, carpets, cups of tea or coffee, soil, plants, earth, water, fire, air, breath, imagery, imagination, movies, crying, laughing, drawing, writing, painting, sculpting, walking, running, biking, weight-lifting, dancing, learning, asking mentors, ancestors, spirits, sensation, the cosmos, friends, memories, lineages, trees, leaves, treasured objects, pets, colors, shapes, textures, patterns, video games, plant medicine, conversations, ritual, trance, cleaning, scents, tastes, sounds, music, clouds, the sun, the moon, archetypes, symbols, oracle or tarot cards, books...


Support can feel like being held. It can feel like being filled up and filled in. It can feel like strength, stability, flexibility, capacity. It can feel like glowing warmth or a cool breeze. It can feel like a lengthening along the spine. It can feel like a deep belly breath. It can feel like release and relief. It can feel subtle and expansive. Support can be an embodied experience, and it can be disembodied. Sometimes support needs to be called in with intentionality, slowness, and preparation. Sometimes support arrives unexpectedly. Support can be playful and fleeting. Support can be patient and steady.


So. Pause again.

Take a breath.


What if there might be more than enough support?


Notice the sensations or images that are somewhere on the spectrum of neutral to pleasurable.


Stay with one of those for one breath, two breaths, maybe three.


That right there. That's support.


Let yourself be held.

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