feeling one’s way forward
Many of us wrestle with discerning best next steps. This dialogue below with my friend and meditation mentor Dan Emmons explores the difference between mentally trying to figure out what to do, and building the capacity to feel one’s way forward. It is based on an informal Skype conversation I had with him in 2011. I reconstructed his answers based on notes I jotted down during our call, as well as what I have learned from my conversations and meditations with him over the years. I’m posting this edited version of our exchange here, with his blessing.
Tesa – For years, I was struggling with the question of “what to do.’ I would constantly look at different options, wondering whether I should do this or that, trying to figure out the best next step, always hesitating, reconsidering, doubting that I had done the right thing. It was exhausting. After practicing body meditation regularly for the past three years, I’m noticing that the question of whether I should do this or that arises less frequently. I still feel confused or conflicted at times, but it’s no longer an ongoing experience. More and more of the time, I either feel drawn to do something or I don’t, and I don’t need to think about it as much as I used to. I am increasingly aware of whether or not I have energy to do something, like meeting with a particular person, or engaging in a particular activity, or moving forward with a particular project. And when I don’t feel the energy to do that thing, I am increasingly unable to trump that lack of energy and do it anyway. I am losing the ability to force myself to ‘do something’ simply because it sounds like a good idea or seems like the right thing to do. Could you comment on why this is happening?
Dan: Your relationship to whether you should do something or not is no longer just a mental issue, as in “I think this is a good idea” or “I don’t think this is a good idea.” Your mind is no longer operating separately from your body, feelings, and energy. When our mind operates in a disconnected way, we always have a million options. When thinking and feeling actually come together, and the way we feel becomes an integral part of how we think, we can no longer say “Ok, I don’t feel like doing this but it really seems like a good idea, so I am now going to trump my feelings in order to follow my mind.” When your mind, body and energy align with each other, you can only consider options for which you actually have energy and life force, and the illusion of choice actually disappears. You can only do that for which you have energy, and what you have energy to do pulls you strongly and clearly. That cannot happen until you have built the capacity to keep mind and body connected.
Tesa: Someone recently asked me how one knows for sure the difference between following one’s mind or will, and following energy and life force. How do you answer that kind of question?
Dan: You cannot give a simple answer, like “this is how you can tell” because the answer is an energetic answer, not a mental formula. It is an energetic answer that can either be felt or not, depending on one’s level of energetic literacy and development.The fact that someone is asking this question is a tell-tell sign that they are unable to feel energy clearly. And that is the case whenever our third chakra is tight. Anyone who is unclear about what to do or how to move forward is in that kind of situation. When the third chakra becomes relaxed, we can actually feel energy, and the difference between following energy or following our will becomes obvious. You cannot give people a meaningful answer to this question until their third chakra is relaxed, and when it is relaxed, their question disappears. So the short answer is that we can only really know the difference once we no longer need to ask ourselves that question!
When people are just beginning to learn how to connect with their own body and energy, it is common to wonder: “Is it my will or is it life prompting me?” When we are disconnected, it’s easy to think that we are in charge, and we are then plagued with trying to figure out how to use that power. We get overwhelmed and confused about what to do. When we are connected to our body and feelings, on the other hand, we feel prompted very strongly in particular ways, and in alignment with the whole of life. When our mind and feelings are connected, there is only ever one thing we can do in each moment, and we do it. What to do is always clear. Life becomes much easier. If it is not clear, it is because our energy compass is not yet strong enough.
Tesa: And how do we build energetic strength? by paying attention to our bodily sensations and feelings?
Dan: Yes, directing our attention inward on our inner felt experience is what builds life force in the second chakra (in the belly), which then allows the third chakra (around the diaphragm and solar plexus) to relax. Building strength and energy in the second chakra requires becoming increasingly aware of our self, by directing our awareness to the parts of us that are naturally drawing our attention, and then connecting with them by feeling them. This involves switching from willful ‘output’ mode to ‘receptive mode,’ learning to notice, feel and receive life force. Even if you have developed the ability to pay attention to your bodily sensations, you will still need to practice doing that for a certain amount of time until the 2nd chakra gets strong enough to support the third chakra to relax. This may take months, sometimes years, depending on age and past experiences.The older and tighter we have become, the longer it takes to unwind energetic kinks, and learn to befriend life rather than try to control it.
Tesa: And until one has sufficient strength to just feel “what to do’ and discern ‘what wants to happen,’ what’s the best way to handle situations where we are confused about how to move forward, and spin our mental wheels trying to figure it out?
Dan: The first step is to recognize that we’re spinning, because that gives us the opportunity to invite the mind to switch from figuring-things-out mode toward paying-attention to sensations mode. It moves us out of a willful state into an attentive and receptive state. Every minute we spend directing our mind toward the parts of our energy body seeking our attention, and we feel these parts of ourselves, we are connecting with life force, and building energetic strength and a clearer navigational compass. Of course, this takes time, so in the meantime, you will need to make some kind of decision about whether or not to take that job, stay in that relationship, or handle some other question or challenge you are facing. It’s important to know however that the ‘problem’ we face and the discomfort we experience is caused by our energetic state. So, what we decide to do in the short-term is not as important as whether or not we use the challenge or crisis as an opportunity to build life force, which is what will ensure we don’t keep finding ourselves in similar situations again and again. Only greater levels of energy and life force will lastingly help transform the patterns we keep trying to ‘avoid’ or ‘get out of’’ only to find ourselves back in them in some new form. All our challenges are invitations to connect with those energetic parts of us that are tight, tense, painful, and requiring the healing power of our attention.
Tesa: That really changed the way I approach moments of confusion, cluelessness, or anxiety. When I feel confused or conflicted about what to do, I now direct my attention toward feeling the confusion or the tension, feeling my dissatisfaction with what is happening, feeling the tension between the different options I am thinking about, rather than trying to mentally force resolution before there is an energetic shift that allows organic resolution. More people seem to become increasingly aware of the power of attention when it comes to transforming the circumstances of our lives. We seem to be collectively building an understanding that our health, relationships, or money issues, will only shift when we invest time and attention connecting with ourselves, and feeling the energetic constrictions, areas of numbness or blindness, and coping behaviors in which we engage to avoid experiencing what we fear to feel. And yet, it still seems hard for most people to understand that this also applies to our larger collective challenges: climate change, poverty etc. Most change-makers I know are busy pursuing visions and strategies without considering the energetic requirements of the shifts they wish to see in the world.
Dan: When we first met, you were regularly getting involved in all kinds of social change projects without paying much attention to how that impacted your energy, and you eventually ran out of gas and experienced chronic fatigue. Now that you have spent three years rebuilding your life force, you have recovered your energy, but you are also discovering that you can no longer misuse it. People regularly bring projects to your attention, but you discover that you do not actually feel the energy to get involved in most of them, even when you find them interesting. The very idea of getting involved makes you feel exhausted.Why is that?Because there is a greater truth you can feel. As soon as you set up a system or a project in order to ‘make something happen,’ that project will start to require certain steps and actions to fulfill the intended outcome. That necessarily takes you away from staying in present moment awareness, connected to life force, and available to notice, feel and spontaneously act upon what is wanting to happen moment-to-moment. You have moved out of receptive mode where actions organically follow energetic impulses, and you have moved into willful mode when strategic actions require a forceful and depleting output of energy.
Tesa: Is it possible that a project could emerge organically, as a result of following each moment, rather than out of a planned strategy? It is possible that it could emerge step by step as a result of each of us following our energy moment to moment, rather than our following a pre-meditated plan? Is there a way to get out of the setup of creating strategies based on something we want to accomplish… which then traps us into following what is now required by some plan rather than following the new next moment? And could we then discover that what we had envisioned actually emerged, but did so on its own without our directing its happening? After all, you did create a blog at some point!
Dan: Yes, I did create a blog, but this was an energetic response, rather than a strategy prompted by a desire for an intended outcome. That blog was not a good idea I decided to implement because of some good reason. All of a sudden, this website felt necessary for my own development, and a friend showed up who offered to help with that, and it just happened. I didn’t know what would come out of it, and it did not matter. I just felt moved to post a daily message every day. That experience changed me and it helped me to grow in ways I could not have imagined or planned.
If you take a look at most people’s projects, they are trying to skip a step. They are trying to avoid feeling whatever it is that is motivating them to start or engage in that project in the first place. If people made time to tend to the part of them that pulled them to get involved in the first place, that project would often not be necessary. They are getting involved because they feel uncomfortable about something, and rather than feel that discomfort internally and letting that transform their energy, they are trying to remove it externally by trying to change circumstances, and produce a different outcome. What most needs attention is the part of us that we seek to avoid feeling. When we have tended to that, we are changed, and the world changes with us.
Tesa: Can you clarify why strategic actions to change the world are never as effective as paying attention to and feeling the problems our actions seek to fix?
Dan: The problems we experience in our lives and in the world (whether relationship issues or world hunger) stem from energetic weakness and disconnection, from our lack of capacity to feel ourselves, each other, the earth, and how life seeks to move and evolve through us. The issue is not whether or not to act and “do something,” but what actually prompts us to act. Most human beings’ actions are currently prompted by a desire to control the outer world as a way of coping with their lack of capacity to connect with their inner feelings and experience in relationship to the problem. Our actions are always an organic-by product of how we feel inside, and lack of inner connectedness will yield disconnected actions.
Tesa: So, if learning to connect with our bodies and sensations is the key, what would you say about a project that involves creating a website or training in order to help people build body and energy literacy?
Dan: On a mental level, this kind of website or training is a really good idea, and I actually wish it would come to be, because the more things like that out there, the better. But there are people who are creating websites and trainings all the time, and the big question is “why do they want to do this?” Usually, it is because something is bothering them out in the world and they want to do something about it. Getting involved in that project is helping them to cope with what is happening or not happening in the world. I would say that it is always better to learn to feel what is bothering us, so that our energy can shift, and the world is freed to change. It’s always more effective and direct to feel whatever is bothering us, rather than skipping that step and getting involved in something that is designed to fix it.
Tesa: This makes a lot of sense to me. I can look back at the last couple of years, and really tell the difference between situations when I was wondering whether to do something or how to do it, weighing pros and cons, and situations when I just found myself doing something naturally and effortlessly.
Dan: The latter cases are times when you were responding and following an inner prompting, not strategizing. If we cannot tell whether we are responding and following, or whether we are controlling or coping, that means that our third chakra is still weak and we need to go and build the second chakra by practicing feeling life force in our body.
People often say to me: “I really think that I should do this, but it does not feel right.” I respond: “that’s your position right now, and that will be a good thing for you to revisit in a few months as a measure of how you change, because as you pay attention to your internal sensations, and connect your mind and body, what you think you should do and what you feel moved to do will evolve.” I think that most people who get started on the path of body and energy literacy are experiencing some form of hidden trauma. We are all really suffering much more than we know. And when we don’t understand how tense and tight we are, we look for distractions to try to cope with our condition. Most people would rather find some big project to do rather than pay attention to their body and energy.
What a person thinks, says or experiences is always coming from the energy of the body. The energetic state of your own body determines everything: your viewpoint of life, your values, your opinions. Everything is coming from the energy that you are. It is determining everything that is going on within the mind. When the mind separates from that energy, and wants to run the show, we run into troubles. That’s the biggest problem with our current approach to solving the challenges of our times: the strategic mind is leading, and it is disconnected from life force.
We think the purpose of the mind is to negotiate life, to think or plan. We have learned to use it to control life. But its higher purpose is to notice and pay attention to what is already happening, so we can connect with life. The mind is crucial to evolution because it is aware of what exists. When our mind starts to pay attention to what we feel, then it connects with the essence of life itself. When the mind does not pay attention to what we feel, it separates and disconnects us from life force.
The condition of our body is what determines and constricts the state of our awareness in any moment, but our mind and awareness, if used to connect and feel the body, will evolve the condition of the body. If the mind and body are to become one, we need to start by recognizing that they are not. The mind and the body have been disconnected and the mind has been trying to run the show without considering our body and energy. Using our mind to pay attention to our body, feelings and energy is what brings about unity. We are lucky that the operations of the body are not dependent on our consciousness, but if we bring our consciousness to the events taking place in our body, we enable something important to happen. An embodied mind is a mind that is connected to the body and becoming aware of itself as a body. When we are purposefully aware of our sensations and feelings, the distinction between body and mind disappears. When that happens, following our mind or will, and following life and energy become one and the same.
Learning to Embody our Visions
Most people only have a limited capacity to let go of their willfulness, and stand in the unknown, but as people build their ability to feel whatever comes up when they are not running the show, their capacity to follow rather than control life expands. Most visionary ideas, however great they are, are only ideas. They cannot happen in the physical world until we have built the energy required to support and sustain their realization. When someone shares a vision they have for themselves or the world, I say to them: “You are seeing what is possible, but instead of trying to make that vision happen, try to practice “receiving it” by feeling it in your body. This is what facilitates the internal energetic shifts needed for what you see to come into reality. Instead of using the vision as the goal toward which you work, you can use it as the criteria by which to measure your progress in building your energetic capacity. The picture of what you are seeing is what is wanting to happen, but what you need to do to make it happen is not what you think. You need to keep feeling what is happening in your body in relationship to what you see, so that what is truly wanting to emerge (which may turn out to be different from the present moment vision) can have the life force to do so.
Typically, as our body’s energy evolves, what we can see as possible will also evolve. Part of the problem with taking any vision literally is that we do not take into consideration that this vision is an expression of our energy body condition in the present moment, and if we get busy trying to make it happen, we interrupt the process of evolving our energy body condition by trapping ourselves at the level of the vision we saw, instead of using that vision to evolve our energy body by feeling what we are seeing, and letting that transform us.
Tesa: This was such a helpful distinction for me when you first introduced it. I used to think that I was supposed to look for ways to make my visions happen. It got me constantly busy, initially excited, but quickly depleted and disappointed. Now, when a vision comes, I am increasingly able to remember to let myself fully feel it and connect with it. I allow myself to ‘receive it into existence” and I can feel that it transforms me. It brings me energetic nourishment. It brings to awareness the parts of me that are not congruent with it. And then I watch new people and opportunities show up, and new things happen. And over time, some variation of the initial vision starts emerging in reality, without my having tried to bring it into existence, just having allowed myself to receive all the bits and pieces that led to it.
Dan: Whenever someone is talking about a problem they do not want to experience, or a dream or vision they want to fulfill, they usually do not realize that the problem will not go away, and the vision will not be realized, unless and until their own energy changes. If their energy does not change, they are always going to be “wanting this” or “not wanting that.” We need to build our energetic capacity to become free of certain challenges and receive new possibilities. This requires spending time ‘connecting’ with and feeling what comes up around what we don’t want and what we wish. We need to invest time in increasing our energy so that we can support a higher level of existence, individually and collectively. With increased energetic capacity, we start noticing that we take action in new ways. We are not acting “in order to” produce a pre-meditated outcome. We are acting as a spontaneous expression of how our energy impels us to be more of ourselves. We become less and less involved in pre-meditated action with the design to accomplish something. And we are finding that we are accomplishing a great deal more as a result. All the social behaviors we seek to change (corruption, violence etc.) have internal energetic causes and that is the only level where they will genuinely transform.
Tesa: What do you say to people who find themselves lacking energy to build their energy, those who are not drawn to spending time to connect to their body, or those who get turned off by the idea of spending any time feeling their frustration, anger, hopelessness etc. People often want to take the bull by the horns and engage with the issues they face in more dynamic ways, or else find some ways to get relief from these tensions through various actions or distractions. And the bigger question I’d like to ask you is: how do you know whether your lack of energy around doing something means (1) you need to build your life force so you get the energy to accomplish it OR (2) this is not what is wanting to happen, and you need to focus instead on what you do have the energy to do.
Dan: This problem is usually what keeps people in coping behavior instead of practicing building strength. When you are disconnected, and energetically weak, it’s harder to draw clear-cut conclusions about what to do based on whether you have energy for it, because you have energy for very few things except the coping behaviors that give you relief. When you are energetically weak, you may not have a lot of energy for the things that would help you get strong. That’s why so few people invest time in that process.
Excerpt from a Skype conversation
For anyone who’d like to develop greater body and energy literacy, and cultivate embodied awareness, I recommend the practices and explorations in Full Body Presence by Suzanne Scurlock-Durana. You can also explore Befriending Life, the website where I document my own embodiment journey, and share a longer list of resources. Or you could start here, and…
- where you are busy strategizing, i.e. looking for ways to create or avoid a particular outcome
- where there is a tension between what you think you should accomplish and what you have energy to do
- where you feel energetically drawn to do certain things but hold back because you can’t see what would come out of that
- where you feel conflicted between different options, or confused about what to do
…what happens if you take one, five, or ten minutes, and direct your awareness inward to feel the inner sensations you are experiencing in relationship to the situations that are drawing your attention. See what happens if you switch from figuring-things-out-mode to connecting mode, and tune into the places where you feel tight, tense, or numb, so that the power of your attention can begin to free your energy and life force.
Questions or comments?
Please let me know!
When I was first invited to narrate out loud what came to awareness when directing my attention inward, I initially felt a lot of resistance about doing that. How could I possibly talk without undermining my capacity to “stay listening within” and feel and perceive the kind of subtler sensations I was able to experiencing when I went quiet? I was sure that talking would keep me in the mental activity of “outputting” words, rather than allowing me to drop into a more receptive mode, just sensing and feeling energy and sensations. I thought it would keep me too externally focused to go deep within, thereby defeating the whole point of meditating as far as I understood it back then. I tried to explain my concerns. My friend listened patiently and simply replied… “just please trust me on this one, and give me a chance to show you, so you can experience this for yourself!”
Being always up for an experiment, I gave it a try. And what I discovered within the arc of my first few “talking meditations” were these three things:
(1) The energetic power of speech. I first discovered that I could not talk and stay connected to my sensations unless I radically slowed down my speech. There needed to be a lot of spaciousness within and between my words, and regular pauses. But when I slowed down my speaking sufficiently to be able to continue tracking and feeling sensations as I was speaking, I started feeling that my words were becoming an extension of the feelings and sensations I was experiencing. It was as if my voice started ‘conducting’ the very energy I was feeling, instead of simply ‘reporting’ on it. Over time, I learned to discern the very palpable differences between the ‘disconnected voice’ and the ‘embodied voice”… in myself and in others. Listening to someone who is not connected to their body and speaks very fast (often with nervous energy) immediately translates into feelings of anxiety in my own body. Listening to someone who is connecting to their body and essence as they are speaking feels like a vibrational massage. It is often very relaxing and I can sometimes register feelings of pleasure in different parts of my body as I’m listening.
(2) The focusing power of speech. I also quickly noticed that the act of speaking kept my attention laser focused on the flow of sensations. I hardly ever lost awareness of what was happening, which was not the case in silent meditation where ‘checking out’ (losing conscious awareness of what comes to awareness) was a great deal more frequent. The act of talking somehow keeps the witness consciousness very alert at all time, and I find that this is true even when meditating with more than one person, where we are ‘sharing’ the talking time, with the consequence that each has a great deal less speaking time than when connecting one-on-one with someone who acts as a dedicated listener. It takes a great level of skill to remain in pure ‘listening mode’ without ever checking out, but if the opportunity to speak is always available (even if one only uses it occasionally), awareness remains more easily focused and alert. This alertness and ability to maintain focus allowed me to greatly deepen my level of perceptiveness compared to what it used to be as part of my silent practice. And as I started noticing more, I also felt the need to develop a new language (metaphors, vocabulary) to be able to name what I was now able to feel and notice happening inside.
(3) The synergistic power of speech. I also learned that because ‘paying attention’ is the essence of meditation, and a very transformative force, what describing out loud one’s inner experience does is to enlist more attention power than is the case when one meditates inwardly. It literally gives visibility to one’s inner life in a way that is able to draw to it the attention of the other consciousnesses present. When I facilitate group meditations, I always instruct people to trust where their attention goes and not ‘force’ their attention to be directed to what others are saying, unless it is spontaneously drawn there. So, as we listen to each other, we trust that if our attention remains on our big toe, or the sense of pressure in our head, that is where it will best serve in that present moment. And conversely, if our attention gets drawn away from some visual we were receiving because someone else is mentioning a throbbing sensation in their hand, and we find ourselves going to it… then we also trust that. The key is to let our awareness move freely, while remaining actively aware of where it is going. But wherever our consciousnesses ends up getting most strongly pulled moment to moment, it is clear to me that things tend to move much faster when two or more are gathered, than when we meditate alone, and I believe it has to do with the synergistic power of attention (which cannot be leveraged in the same way if we meditate inwardly and do not share what we are noticing).
What I have found over time is that this practice of talking while meditating has literally been rewiring my whole being by teaching me how to connect my speech (and my mind) to my sensations (and my body), two things which had lived very separate lives until then.
Embodied Talking and Speaking Slowly
I often refer to the practice of talking while meditating as “embodied talk.” Recently, a very down-to-earth friend of mine suggested that I simply call this practice “speaking slowly,’ because, in his own words, if you speak slowly, all the rest follows.
I don’t actually think that this is accurate. ‘Embodied talking’ is not about slowness per se, and it is quite possible for someone to speak very slowly without being at all embodied. It all depends on where people’s consciousness is focused as they speak, whether they speak slowly or fast. If their awareness is not consciously resting in their body, there is no embodiment involved. Embodiment requires that a significant part of one’s consciousness be directed inward toward noticing one’s bodily sensations as we speak. My observation (and direct experience) is that it is very hard for people who are mentally-driven to notice their body when they are trying to keep up with the super fast flow of their thoughts. So much is going on in the mind in those moments that it takes all our attention. One could speak more slowly and still be all focused on one’s thoughts. It’s interesting to note that, because of the way we have been socialized in the West, the mere act of talking tends to disconnect many people from their body, which is why folks will often go totally silent if you ask them to tell you how they are feeling. Going silent is what most people need to do in order to feel or notice what is going on internally. Embodied talking is about learning to move beyond the polarity between ‘silent connectedness’ and ‘disconnected talk’ so we can connect our verbal expression and our sensations. Slowness is typically necessary to undergo this shift, but it is not a sufficient condition. We also need to direct our attention inward, in the body. Moreover, just like a beginning driver needs to initially drive more slowly to notice all the things that he / she will later notice automatically… learning to connect to one’s physical sensations and emotions usually requires speaking slowly at the beginning only. As one becomes accustomed to track physical sensations and emotions as an ongoing part of life, one is eventually able to resume a normal pace of speech and activity.
The overarching inquiry here is… what is the simplest and most useful way for us to learn to connect what we say with what we feel?
“Meditating while Talking”
I was once told this story. A novice monk rushes up to the Abbot at a Dominican monastery. “Father I have a dilemma,” exclaims the novice monk breathlessly. The Abbot beckons him to speak further. “I’m wondering is it okay to smoke while meditating,” says the monk. “Certainly not,” responds the Abbot tartly. “Well then,” says the monk, “is it okay to meditate while smoking?”
Speaking is usually a big no-no in most approaches to meditation, but few would take issue with being more mindful while speaking. Learning to pay attention within while talking is actually challenging. It requires paying attention to where our awareness goes and how that feels in the body, while we are talking. It requires that we develop bi-focal awareness, keeping part of one’s attention inward tracking and feeling what is drawing our attention somatically and inwardly while being externally engaged in conversations with other people, or eating, walking, playing, doing anything in the outer world. And yet, learning to do that is a key stepping stone to restoring our relationship to life, and ending centuries of dualism between our minds and our bodies. When our words work in partnership with, rather than separation from, our inner sensations, we reclaim our inner compass, which is what connects us to the whole of life, and brings us back into right relationship with it.
don’t rush into this day
Don’t rush into this day.
Let it reveal to you
what it wants to give you.
Come, sit here a while,
Close your eyes.
Feel your life force
Feel the beat of your heart
as your loyal compass.
Feel the earth beneath you,
longing to support you.
Drink each breath coming in
as the wind filling your wings.
And, then, open your eyes,
and feel the vastness of the sky
inviting you in.
Practicing whole body awareness and receptiveness with one, two or three other friends was for a long time my favorite way of developing body literacy skills and energetic strength, but I eventually discovered that my relationship with life is like any other intimate relationships: it really requires one-on-one time! And the more I make time for it, the deeper and sweeter it becomes. Here are a few things I learned over the years about what worked for me:
- I found it helpful to earmark certain times for ‘tuning in’ but I was never successful with adopting a strict discipline, like trying to sit cross legged with my spine straight for 30 minutes in the morning or evening. It just did not feel particularly nourishing, nor adapted to my nomadic and spontaneous lifestyle. It felt like efforting, and I was already doing that enough in the rest of my life, so I eventually abandoned that approach. I discovered that tuning in did not have to be anything fancy or complicated. It just required taking a moment to notice my inner sensations, emotions and thoughts while sitting somewhere, taking a walk, or engaging in activities that are conducive to feeling what’s happening inside such as doing yoga, watching the clouds, walking outdoors, or waiting on line. My capacity for present moment awareness strengthened rapidly when I stopped trying to adopt a meditation posture or style, and just started noticing the settings in which tuning in came most naturally to me. That became my new starting point. I opted for lingering in bed for a few minutes each morning to greet life as it wakes and rises inside me. Over time, I developed more rituals and started ‘tuning in’ while taking a shower, going for walks in nature, eating alone, or doing restorative yoga at home.
- Tuning in is not always comfortable, especially when a particular situation brings up feelings and sensations that I have ignored or suppressed in the past. If I’m feeling upset, tense or reactive about something, and I am having a hard time allowing and staying with what I am experiencing, I will sometimes start to narrate out loud what I am noticing, as a way of focusing my awareness on my energy and sensations and avoid ‘checking out.’ I sometimes record what I am experiencing into my phone, because I have discovered that I can sustain my attentiveness to what is unfolding within much more easily when I have a witness to the process… even if it is not human! I just pretend that I’m talking to life, and I actually am. If I am feeling too distressed to proceed alone, I simply dial a friend with whom I can meditate through what is arising, not to discuss it or analyze what is happening, but to have a supportive witness as I unwind the energetic knots that are presenting themselves. When I practice silently in a social setting, like a bus or a restaurant, or a challenging conversation with someone else, I often narrate my sensations internally. If inner sensations are strong, narrating becomes unnecessary, and can actually distract from deeper connection. When my attention is organically pulled to what is happening within, I don’t need any support to stay there.
- Every second counts. I practice anywhere, anytime… for a minute or an hour… while I talk, listen, walk, eat… or greet someone in the street. I am a very big fan of one-minute meditations. They are pretty much always do-able, no matter what is happening… and they often bring so much relief, pleasure, and sense of connectedness, that they effortlessly turn into 2, 3, 5, 10, 30 minutes. I love this wonderful little video, called “one moment meditation,” by Martin Boronson. I recommend it to anyone who says they cannot find the time to meditate. I would love some day to create a new version of that video, where attention is not directed to any pre-determined focus (like the breath, or the heart), but simply ollows the natural flow of inner sensations moment-to-moment.
Those solo moments spent ‘tuning in” have become precious to me. They are fulfilling opportunities to unwind tensions that arise in the course of the day, to connect with life within and around me, and to restore and build my energy. If a ‘disturbance in the force’ arise during the day, it will typically dissolve or resolve through sustained attentiveness. I am really enjoying developing the capacity to maintain inner awareness more and more of the time, and I look forward to the day when I am able to do that effortlessly under most circumstances. But whenever I try to fast-forward that process, it only creates stress, so I have stopped trying to control my own journey toward greater presence. I am just allowing it to unfold in its own right rhythm, and timing.
a new life
You want to build a new life,
or a new world?
Then build your capacity
to pay attention
to your life force
Self-awareness is what frees and builds our energy
And how much energetic strength and freedom we embody,
is what determines our circumstances
If we practice
tracking our sensations
with focused attention,
we’ll get stronger and freer,
and our circumstances
will slowly but surely
shift for the better.
Bali, January 15, 2012
Inspired by Dan Emmons
& Sandy Misage