I was away for two weeks at some trainings in B.C., in the middle of old growth forest with trails in the woods, a stream running through the property, lots of good people. I think what I learned the most was how to talk about my work without even mentioning the name of what I do (until people are ready for it). It’s so hard to describe what “embodied self-awareness” is; plus, many people who are aware in many ways think they are embodied when actually, they’re still in their heads. I learned a lot from talking with them.
I’d love it if you gave me feedback on what is clear and what is not about my conceptualization of layers of awareness.
It goes like this: when you’re just in your head, you think that who you are is what you think. You identify with your thoughts about things. Take away your thoughts, and what’s left? We’re so used to operating this way that even people who “know better” have to make an effort to switch to another way of relating to themselves.
I was having lunch with a pretty aware guy, a meditator, a spiritual quester, a doctor. I struggled to explain what I do. So I asked him to try my exercise. “Think about your arm,” I said. “What do you notice?” He reported facts about his arm-size, shape, strength, fatigue.
Next, I tried to get him to my second layer of awareness. “Now, feel your arm.” Immediately, he spoke about the pressure of the table against his elbow, the sensation of his sleeve against his upper arm, and so forth. But this doesn’t get to the third layer, what I call the so what? layer.
I was disappointed that I hadn’t figured out a way to connect with the inside of him. So I kept trying. “But what is the meaning of those sensations to you? Do they feel good? Bad?” No, the sensations were neutral. But for some people, this is the way to approach the third layer, where you actually respond to your experience. Maybe your discover you like or don’t like something.
“Does your arm want more or less of something? What kind of arm do you have? What is its character or personality? Can you feel it from the inside?”
Now this made him pause, and sense. And I know that’s what it takes to really feel your arm. You have to give it time. You have to let what comes from inside register with your brain. And the light-bulb moment happened. I saw his whole face change. I saw his eyes light up, his color deepen, a smile appear, and I felt in the presence of a deeper dimension of him than before. This was a pleasure to both of us.
“What did you ask me?” he said. “What was that word–character? Personality?”
For him, that’s what got him in touch with the inner knowing, the aliveness, the subjective experience of being himself in that moment. And it surprised him. I think what surprised both of us was the huge contrast between how we were together before and after that moment. After all, we had been speaking openly about things that mattered to us. But until truly getting to embodied self-awareness, there was no wonder, no feeling the joy of being alive and being oneself.
Three layers: First, what you think. Then, what your feel or sense. Then, what this means to you, from your body’s point of view. What is life like from the inside?
Try it with really core parts of your body–belly, heart. Life will look completely different. In my experience, my body is having a good time even when my mind is off worrying about things. Or sometimes, my body is in pain or experiencing fear or grief. When I land in it and in its experience, there is such a relief to be with the truth rather than with avoidance or shut-down. My body relaxes when I allow it to feel what it feels. I can feel life flow in it even when circumstances aren’t wonderful.
Hows is it for you?