Friday, September 28, 2012

Focus on the Body

A technique that many groups use to bring us into the present is a focus on body sensations.  This is often used in meditation and in grounding techniques to help us get "out of our minds and into our bodies".

First, let's look at what this accomplishes and why it works.  Our minds are often very busy dealing in concepts, theories, thoughts, opinions, and stories.  All of these things can be very vivid - we can sit and imagine we are having a conversation with our boss, and feel like we are actually there so vividly that we completely disconnect from the room in which we are sitting and imagining.

A focus on body sensation brings us back to the current moment because, unlike our stories about the world, our body sensations change from moment to moment; and the only way we can tell what we are currently feeling is to stop thinking and "listen".  That is the very attitude we need to be present.  The importance is not what our body is feeling, although that may carry useful information.  It is not critical to notice you have a tightness in your stomach, or a lightness in your head.  It *is* critical that we are able to switch from our minds to "listening" to the current moment, and attention to body sensations is simply a technique to aid us in that switch.  It may be much more critical, for example, to be noticing the body language and tone of voice of our boss when we are standing in front of him negotiating, than to notice our own body sensations.  The point is to be present, not just to notice body sensations.

When our purpose is to connect to others, the practice of focusing on body sensations is not a big aid.  If you are talking with someone you are trying to understand more, the goal of connection is not necessarily aided by you saying, "I notice that a tension is building in my chest as I talk to you."  In fact, it could be taken as an accusation by someone not understanding what you are doing.  The purpose of noticing body sensation is to privately make you more present, so that you can turn your focus on connection rather than on your internal process.

So a scenario might be this:  I find myself arguing with someone I want to be connecting with.  I look inside and notice that I am focused on concepts, on defending ego, on opinions and being right.  To break myself out of that space, I take a silent moment to notice my body sensations, breathing, and stance.  That causes me to let go of the grip of monkey chatter, and maybe give me some information about the physical and emotional state I am in.  Now that I am listening to what is actually present, instead of  my thoughts, I may notice we are both struggling with ego and trying to stay grounded.  The result may be that I suggest we stop for a minute, go outside, and walk around, or do something else to facilitate the goal of a deeper connection.  It is not about revealing my body awareness to the other person; it is about bringing myself into the present so that I can make better choices as to my words and actions.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Penn State Sexual Abuse Scandal

Just read an interesting article on BBC on Penn State dealing with the revelations of sexual abuse that had been going on for a long time, and resultant shock, firings, and riots. The last statement of the article said:

"It's hard to get through the process of becoming aware, but with awareness we're in the position to stop this sort of thing. The more we talk about it, the more it will come to an end."

This is precisely what we are doing in Awareness Practice. The process of becoming aware is difficult, not only because of the difficulty of developing new habits, but also because of our natural tendency to deny knowledge that is painful or shameful. With awareness, we now have new choices we can take other than the natural ones we would would have taken. The motivations causing us to go into denial become weaker because we learn to look at ourselves without judgment, which gives shame no place to root. Not that those decisions are easy, but now we have all the facts before us without the emotional factors being predominant.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Saturday's Classes

Saturday's classes was an experience of hope and thrill for me.  I went through the usual panic to have everything ready - nothing was perfect, but everything was good enough.  There were 8 who came, mostly new people, and we went through the basic practice, step by step, until everyone was on board with what we were trying to accomplish, and we talked more in a flow.  We talked about the flow of the current moment as it affected everyone of us - no theory, no argument, no opinions, no distractions from the present.  There is something about doing that that seems to open us up.  We start to look for what we detect in the moment, rather than what we think about it.  People discover emotions and share what they probably would not have expected to share in a class such as this.  People became more real.  Of course, this is my perspective - I don't know if everyone felt what I did.  But there were some tears, and I felt almost moved to tears myself at one point as I watched people letting down walls and trusting the safety of the space more.

For me, the classes are becoming an odd mixture of the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual, somehow all flowing from a point of focusing on the present and sharing our real-time feelings.

In the second class, we managed to cover two topics - stories and groundedness.  I felt like groundedness was too important a topic to leave out of a foundation class, and it managed to all fit into the time slot without feeling rushed.  I always feel like there is so much more I want to teach and share when the time is up.

The passion of this topic is bringing up in me the old thrills of feeling like this might just be a catalyst for someone moving to a higher level in their life.  To be part of that catalyst brings some of the greatest satisfaction I have known.

A moment on the highway

I'm driving down an entrace ramp to get on to Rt. 66.  A slow truck is puttering along in front of me on the single lane ramp, and my mind starts its litany - "What an idiot!  Can't he drive a bit faster!  Get out of my way, will ya?  Geesh, why does this have to happen to me?", on and on.  I've heard myself say those things a million times, but now awareness keeps kicking in.  My mind responds, "You know, this has to do with you, not with him.  He's not doing anything wrong."  The words soon have me a bit sober - all the stories in my mind - he should go faster, he shouldn't even be here, it's a bad thing that he's slowing me down, it's a bad thing if I am delayed 10 seconds, even though I am in no hurry - all the stories are twisting reality once again, as they have since I began to think.

So what's the big deal, I ask myself.  It's only a moment on the highway.  But no escaping that way - part of my mind quickly answers back, you're living in anger that is not only necessary, but is based on lies, falsehoods produced in your brain.  You do this often. Is this the way you want to live?  This incident may be trivial, but what about your feelings about life, or people, or other things?  How much trust are you continuing to put into this thing that repeatedly lies to you and distorts the truth?  I start to think about how many years I hated myself until I finally noticed what I was doing - not that it's "bad" to hate myself (a lot of good *that* belief does), but that I have the belief because of lies I swallowed a long time ago, and because I never questioned the subsequent story.  The story, having not a shred of truth in it, lived with me for much of my life, unchallenged, unquestioned, creating much misery, because I was never really aware of it to even question if it were true.

So I look again, because I realize how important it is to me to know the truth about myself and the world around me.  It is true the truck driver is doing nothing wrong - do I want to live my life being angry and upset at things that are in reality perfectly okay?  Doesn't sound like a characteristic I would be proud of at the end of my life, looking back.  So what is the truth I am avoiding, why would I create such a crazy story as he is bad for driving slow?

I start to smile.  I've found something else in me to love.  This foolish story is what so many of us do.  This is what it is like to be human.  We struggle with our own crazy twists, because of the fears and desires within us.  The realization of how crazy it is to believe a story like this no longer brings shame, no longer creates a secondary story of how bad I am to create stories like this.  I smile at this ignorant, foolish part of myself.  It is a bit like a precious child throwing his food on the floor.  Yes, it's got to be cleaned up, and it's exasperating at times, but the child is still just as precious.  I look at myself with partial exasperation and partial love, and I feel the connection with all of humankind's struggle, and it's okay.

So I look at the story again.  What is the real truth?  I want to know what is really happening in front of me, and inside of me, *without* any interpretation or story. The truck's going slow.  Check.  I'm angry.  Check.  I was carrying a story, and until a second ago, was fully believing it.  Check.  The anger starts to fade, and reality starts to dawn.  Why, it's only a truck, not an evil person bent on ruining my day!  How silly of me - why on earth did I ever think that?  Why, I don't have to hurry - I've got plenty of time to get where I'm going!  How silly to be caught up thinking I always have to rush!  I start to let that in, start to relax, and suddenly I am noticing the trees along the highway.  I start to see the crisp blue skies.  It feels so good to break free of what I created.

I am amazed at how much of the time I seem to live with story glasses on.  It seems continuous sometimes.  The stories repeat so often.  But I'm learning that when something never changes or moves, it's probably dead. These stories have been identical as far back as I can remember.  They don't change.  I don't learn anything from them.   I'm following the orders of a dead man when I'm in story.  But when I stop to notice reality, what a difference!  Experience hits me flat in the face, and I realize I have been dreaming, not living.

I breathe and notice the sky again, and move on to my destination.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Just What Is "The Body"?

Many healing modalities today talk about the body - how emotions and memories can be connected to the body, how we sense many things through the body instead of the mind, how groundedness and intuition have more to do with body than with thought and theory.  The concept of being "in your body" or "out of your body" is very common, and in my mind very useful.

However, having started life as a mathematician, I am uncomfortable with unclear definitions, and have had to think a lot about what people really meant when they used the word "body" in this new sense.  The following is how I have finally come to view it:

First, we are not talking about "the body" in the normal sense - fingers, toes, hair, gall bladder, red blood cells, white blood cells.  We are talking about sensations in the body.  Second, we are not talking about normal sensations - itches, tickles, pressure, heat, cold.  We are talking about certain sensations, usually vague, usually emanating from some location internal to the head or trunk that is not accessible through touch.  The concept of location also cannot be taken literally - there is no way of knowing of those sensations are being produced by the body or by the brain.  All we know is that it "feels" like it resides in the body.

I suspect that we are talking about what Gendlin brilliantly calls "felt sense":

Much of what a person knows has never been consciously thought or verbalized. Felt sense is the name Gendlin gave to the unclear, pre-verbal sense of 'something', as that something is experienced in the body. It is not the same as an emotion. This bodily felt 'something' may be an awareness of a situation or an old hurt, or of something that is 'coming' — perhaps an idea, or the next line of a poem, or the right line to draw next in completing a drawing. Crucial to the concept, as defined by Gendlin, is that it is unclear and vague; and it is always more than any attempt to express it verbally.

So we can know something, and know it very deeply, and yet have no words to adequately describe the whole of what we are feeling.  Not that we haven't found the right words yet; rather, the experience in its fullness is bigger and more complex than what logical concepts are capable of construing.

The very experience of being alive, of having a body of constant activity - blood pulsing, heart pumping, food digesting, lungs filling with air, cells splitting, must create an overall body sensation we have known since before birth, and which we are so used to that we rarely even notice it.  Yet when we are feeling "alive", when we lift our arms and breath deep, and feel that life is joyous, we can sense the feeling of life within us.  This is being in our body - to have a connection with that familiar sensation that we have known since the beginning.

Friday, September 30, 2011


I talked to a man the other day about politics, psychology, several other subjects.  He was astute.  His mind took into account details as he pieced together why he believed things were the way he saw them.  When I argued a point, he would immediately see any weakness in my argument and point it out.  I could get away with nothing, to my own delight.

But then he talked about issues he was having with his wife.  His entire presentation changed.  She was "stubborn", "unreasonable".  He just knew she was having an affair, or at least thinking of one.  She was out late one night, and when he asked her where she had been, she just said "shopping".  What a weak excuse, he said!  Obviously she was cheating!

In short, this brilliant mind, which carefully watched every point he made as well as the ones I made, was now believing rumors and fears in his own mind, with no real evidence to back anything up.  His words were judgmental, the meanings were imprecise, and most of all, he seemed extraordinarily sure of things without any real basis for his beliefs.

I was astonished.  I had seen this man go from a very intelligent, careful, precise state of mind to a state of thought worthy of an emotional adolescent  - blind prejudices, unthoughtout hypotheses, poorly constructed accusations, simplistic thinking.  And within a few minutes, we were back on another excellent intellectual subject, all his facilities on board again.

What happened?  Clearly, the subject of his wife was an emotional subject, and his emotional involvement probably caused a lot of the imprecise and slanted thinking.  But what astounded me most was that this man, carrying a high value for intellectual integrity, slipped into and out of this state of degraded thinking with no indication that he realized he had done so.

Actually, this is so common an experience that we rarely blink an eye.  We just say to ourselves, oh, he's got energy there, he's triggered, he's emotional, and by that, we excuse his irrational diatribe against his wife.

There are several things wrong with this picture.  First, why did an intelligent man not notice how off base and biased his thinking was for those few minutes?  It is as if some Dr. Jeckel and Mr. Hyde scene had just taken place - an alternate personality had taken over, and when it left, he seemed to have no sense his presentation had changed.

If people regularly went into some kind of emotional state that caused them to say, and potentially act, in ways that they might regret later, and did not realize that they were doing that, wouldn't that create havoc in the world?  But then there is already a lot of havoc in the world created by people carrying some strong emotion or conviction.  Could they also be unaware that they are in an altered state, one that they would be embarrassed by if they came out of it and looked objectively at how they had acted and spoken?

I have pondered this for years, and have learned to watch my own mind acutely as well as others.  What I have discovered is that I go through the same cycles.  In a state carrying some emotion, I come up with convictions that I would normally not be sure of, and the convictions become absolute.  Not only do I not question them, I get angry at anyone else who does.  I go into a defensive state where I am believing that my thoughts are right, simply because they are my thoughts.  And while I am in that state, I find it next to impossible to be able to notice what I am doing from an objective point of view.  When I come out of that state, relax, calm down, and start to review how I felt and spoke, I often see that I truly was in an altered state, and that in that state I usually create more harm than good.

This has become a basic principle of Awareness Philosophy.  When a particularly strong emotion comes up for us - a fear, a desire, an excitement, an anger - our brain starts operating in a different way, giving us different conclusions and beliefs than we would have had if we were calm.  When a story crosses our mind that has potent emotional energy with it (like beliefs about abortion, politics, or a philosophy that bears on some traumatic event in our life), our mind turns simplistic, and it seems to us the answer is obvious, and there seems to be only one answer, and anyone who disagrees is seems morally decrepit to our eyes.  We become amazingly simplistic and stubborn, as a religious or political fanatic would.  Our ability to reason, look at the gray areas, fairly consider other points of view, is temporarily gone.  Others say of us, "Oh, don't talk about X with them - it's a big trigger, and they will go off, and there's no talking with them after that."

What is fundamental about this altered state is our unawareness of it.  Noticing that we are in the state tends to interrupt the state itself, because we sometimes can see how silly we are being, and become embarrassed at our own absoluteness.

The Awareness Practice we do helps me notice these altered states as they are happening, and often I find myself being able to stop, rethink, and switch to a more grounded state where I can be more accurate about what is actually happening inside of me.  The result is that I feel I am more in touch with reality, even when emotions come up - I can more easily discern between what is "my stuff" and what is real.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Three approaches to healing and life satisfaction

Awareness Philosophy combines three different approaches to life and thought that are often thought of as incompatible, and that often attract entirely different kinds of people.

The first I am going to call "the engineering approach".  Engineers, as I am using the word, are people who primarily relate to the world through cognitive thought.  They work hard to make sense out of things, to put things in logical order, to understand, to make things clear and remove them from the "gray area" of fogginess that makes it difficult to draw conclusions.  They watch out for logical inconsistencies, pursue anomalies, and are keen on intellectual integrity.  Despite all the jokes they bear, they are invaluable in helping us cope with the world and avoid pain.  The primary therapy that appeals to this type is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which is focused on correcting one's thoughts for better living.  In my mind, CBT include people such as David Burns ("Feeling Good"), Dr. Wayne Dwyer ("Change your thoughts, Change your Life"), and Byron Katie ("Loving What Is").

The second approach could be called "the feeling approach".  This includes people who process their feelings, try to work things out emotionally, look at their childhood and any trauma in their life to help them understand themselves as they are today.  They find talking about their feelings rich and deep, and tend to look at people in terms of what motivates them to do what they do.  Most regressive, analytic and emotional release therapies tends to fall in this camp.

The third approach I would call "the mindfulness approach".  Those who tend to gravitate towards mindfulness tend to see emotions and thoughts as not particularly condusive to living a life of acceptance and peace.  Most mindfulness approaches focus on being aware of what is, independent of the meaning we put to it or the emotions we carry about it.  Our interpretations of reality, or of what we experience, tends to take us away from the reality itself, and cause us to distort what is real to the point of creating illusions that harm ourselves and others.  Buddhism has often been a source of mindfulness thought, and modern writers such as Eckhart Tolle ("The Power of Now") fall into this line of thinking.

There tends to be a lot of prejudice between these three approaches.  Engineers are faulted for not having feelings or being fully human, not having heart, being too much in their heads, and sometimes being so caught up in theory they ignore the obvious.  The feeling approach has been criticised for just talking and never getting anything done, - for being off the wall, anti-scientific, woo-woo, or otherwise mentally challenged.  And the mindfulness approach has been criticized for ignoring the influence and positive effects of emotion and passion in our life, and becoming so non-attached that they do not get involved in the real world of human interaction.

Yet all three approaches have critical strengths and insights that we would all be very poorer without.  Awareness Philosophy encorporates these three approaches in order to come to life fully, using all our facilities and capabilities and wisdom to live lives that satisfy.