Forge recently partnered with Sommerville Johnston, Licensed Professional Counselor and Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, for our series “Resilience in Uncertain Times”. Our team chatted with Sommerville about her experience and practice and how mindfulness can be a great tool when receiving difficult news such as a cancer diagnosis. Keep reading below to learn more about Sommerville and don’t forget to join us on July 16th for a live session where she will be guiding us in short activities that help us drop into the present moment, gain greater awareness of our bodies, and learn what “safety” feels like on a physical level.
Forge: Tell us a little about yourself!
Sommerville Johnston: Where to start! I love to ask people to complete the sentence “I am” in as many ways as possible, so I’ll share a sampling of who I am… I am an adventurer, lover of the natural world, dog-mom, daughter, sister, and divorcee. I am from Birmingham originally. I am spiritual, I am into poetry and things that are difficult to put into words… and yet, I am a writer, a reader, a listener, a speaker, a laugher, and a crier. I am a therapist, yoga teacher, wilderness guide, retreat facilitator. I am a friend. I am here to walk with people through this messy humanity, and to embrace my own.
Forge: How did you become interested in mindfulness and helping individuals delve into their inner selves?
SJ: Like many people who are in the helping professions, the practices and modalities I use are from my own personal growth and journey of transformation. Even as a child I was always drawn to the magic of what happens when we move out of the commotion and everyday aspects of life and turn to the natural world, to the spiritual, and to the internal landscape. I learned about Mindfulness as a practice over 10 years ago, and it illuminated for me a way to enhance my experience of the here and now rather than get lost in my worry brain, or my planning future-oriented mindset. I continue to need practice, but I find that through mindfulness of my body’s experience of life I am creating a more expansive way of living than I previously knew possible. And of course, I want to share that!
Forge: How can a mindfulness practice help cancer survivors and their co-survivors to thrive after a recent or past diagnosis?
SJ: It is extremely disorienting to receive a diagnosis, or have an exam scheduled for the future that may result in a diagnosis returning. I use that word, disorienting, intentionally. Because rather than letting the diagnosis become permanently devastating, we can use mindfulness to acknowledge all of emotions that come with it, feel our disorientation, our worlds turning upside down, acknowledge the fear that comes, and then mindfully orient to the here and now, to the softness of this moment, to the art of living, sometimes with fear as a guest, but not living in a state of fear itself. Mindfulness may not change the facts of what is happening with the body, but it can change the way we live our lives, to find resources, to calm, to be present, to get more out of life, and to reduce stress…. Which may, in turn, have an impact on our body’s ability to fight the disease and to thrive physically as well.
Forge: What can we expect to learn from your live class on July 16th?
SJ: Anyone who joins the class will learn about the basic functions of the autonomic nervous system and the threat response, which can be a huge resource to getting past any shame you may feel about the way you think, feel, and act. This simple lesson can provide a huge “aha” and an opportunity to start listening to the messages of your body. I will lead the group in a few activities that can be practiced at home, or really anywhere, to calm the nervous system and orient to safety. And participants will also have a chance to ask questions and connect with other community members during what has been a stressful time. My intention is for participants to leave the class feeling grounded and more resourced in ways to tend to themselves in a practical daily way.
About Sommerville: Sommerville is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, wilderness guide, yoga instructor, and founder of Aspen Roots Collective. She is passionate about facilitating opportunities for individuals and groups to connect with the natural world, to explore their inner-landscapes, and to discover within themselves a strength and beauty more powerful than they previously knew. She has worked in the mental health field since 2010 and in the outdoors since 2000, incorporating curiosity, humor, deep compassion, and respect into her various roles. Sommerville enjoys exploring the trail, rock, and water of her home in the Southeast, as well as continuing to learn from new places and people around the world.