For December I have been reading an excellent book entitled Your Body Knows the Answer: Using Your Felt Sense to Solve Problems, Effect Change, and Liberate Creativity by David L Rome, and this work explores the idea of the Felt Sense. Beyond physical sensation, beyond the seemingly random instances of ‘gut feeling’ or ‘intuition,’ is the Felt Sense, a sense that can be honed and used to glean a greater understanding of the mind/body connection and our deep inner wisdom lying beyond conscious thought. It teaches us to more mindfully attend those sensations we are taught to ignore, and to sit with them in quiet communication to discover their greater meaning. I’m fascinated with this, and have created a challenge for myself in the month of December: I’m going to commit to using the Grounded Aware Presence as taught in the book, and to hold myself accountable I’m blogging about it. I’ve been posting daily on my Tumblr blog, and this post is the first weekly summary on the Kensho blog. I encourage those who are interested to check out the book, and if you’d like to participate with me you are welcome!
So the purpose of this challenge for me is several-fold. For one, I truly believe our emotions and bodily sensations are not separate things. What happens in the mind is manifest in the body, and vice versa. And so having exercises to help me explore this connection is a fun challenge. Second, this book is the first place I came across Grounded Aware Presence, and I just love it. It’s an easy, uncomplicated way to bring yourself to the present no matter what you’re doing, and I can see the benefit of having a strong GAP. And on a more personal note, I wanted to take this on because I have a history of pain and dysfunction in my body, and I know there is unresolved stuff there just waiting to be uncovered. I’m hoping to take a step closer to a new relationship with my body.
In this first week there is first a discussion of Grounded Aware Presence, and Friendly Attending. If these two things are the only usable items I take away from this challenge I’m happy. They are so simple and so effective. As I posted on Tumblr:
"I am so completely on board with it! Grounded Aware Presence is as easy as this: Sitting or standing, feel the earth, feel where you are in relationship with gravity. Snuggle in and feel connected, and say to yourself ‘grounded.’ Then close your eyes and let your awareness spread out around you. Notice the little sounds, the vibes, the scents and surroundings. Say to yourself ‘aware.’ Then place your hand on you heart. Feel your pulse, feel your breath, feel your heartbeat. That’s you in there. Say ‘present.’ And it feels like a good, calm, connected place.
Then you look inward. Not seeking exactly. It’s called friendly attending, and that’s just what it feels like. That great friend who wants only good for you and can sit with you and all of your feelings and not be swayed or turned off by any of it. And you look through these friendly, curious eyes to yourself and you ask ‘how are you?’ and really mean it. You really want to know, but you’re not pushy about it. And then you sit calmly and wait for an answer.
It occurs to me if I could do this all the time, well, things would be pretty great. And if I could show up like this for people in my work and in my life - how amazing that would be!"
And I have begun incorporating it into my meditation practice beyond these exercises, and have even begun using it while teaching. That’s been a marvelous exercise for me! To teach and be with someone from GAP and friendly attending is such a calming, liberating thing. It takes me away from my thoughts and worries, keeps me in the now, tuned in, and allows for intuition to play a larger role. I’ve begun to notice when my mind gets tight, when I’m thinking too much or trying too hard. And it helps me notice the same for my student.
But how has it related to me, personally, since it’s MY felt sense being examined? I don’t find it difficult at all to sit in friendly attending and notice sensations. The mindful nature of Pilates has accustomed me to investigate my body this way. But the idea that I’m going to ask what the story is about it and then wait for an answer – that’s new. And I’m not going to lie it makes me nervous, because already I’m honing in on felt sensations that directly relate to my childhood and years of physical pain due to illness. And those physical sensations have strong emotional ties. As I suspected, my body hasn’t forgotten about all that, and it’s still trying to make sense of it.
The most difficult part so far is to stay with the feeling, stay with friendly attending when the feeling gets uncomfortable. And it definitely has for me. I feel anxiety coming from these sensations. I experience panic, fear, defensiveness, and the almost overpowering desire to turn it off and turn away. But by staying with it, I’ve actually learned a thing or too, even these early exploratory exercises. If you ask, ‘how are you, really?’ and wait for an answer, your body will answer in interesting ways. The felt sense, when I can stay with it, has produced emotions, memories, even flashbacks. It’s like the physical record of past events. And then, if you get this far, it can distill down to a simpler emotion. And the one coming to the forefront in the last 2 days is fear. If I sit with any felt sense long enough, it seems to come down to fear.
And this makes sense to me. I continue to learn just how much I’ve learned to fear my body. It’s human nature to fear and avoid pain, and to me – for over a decade - my body was pain. And so I interacted with my body from a remote place, from distrust and fear. The pain was often more than I could bear, and I felt resigned to live in pain forever. Even now, though I'm enjoying great health, when I experience pain I recognize the sensation is greatly magnified by my fear - fear that this pain will be as punishing, as terrible, as unforgiving and unrelenting as my illness was.
So even after all these years, I’m still operating from distrust and fear. But rather than a nebulous feeling, I feel like I can see it clearly and know where it’s coming from. This feels like a big realization to me. It makes me feel empowered, as though to see it now so clearly is a meaningful step toward creating harmony between body and mind. I know all the Pilates and mindfulness work I’ve done have helped me to this place, but there’s more to do and I’m looking forward to doing it.