By Cheryl Whitelaw
Kind Power Coach and Facilitator
I have been pondering over the concept of embodied awareness – shining my light into crannies and corners, crawling around to find my way in. Today’s blog is the harvest of my curiosity.
First – some basics – what is it to have an experience?
In the direct experience of our bodies, we sense the world. Information is received through our senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste) and our mind-body processes the raw sensory data, creating perceptions of our direct experience. We filter these experiences, applying categories of meaning to create a more orderly, more relatable experience. (from our mind’s view – making sense of our senses). We have true experience – an authentic sensing of the cool mist from a waterfall, the roughness of a textured surface, that gurgle in our gut, that, depending on our perception, we might describe as “having butterflies” or feeling hungry.
So one part of embodied awareness is to be aware of what we sense. Matthew Budd and Larry Rothstein say, “Your body doesn’t lie. It is an exquisite instrument for discovering, experiencing and managing ‘your truth’ not ‘the truth’.” When your foot jiggles unceasingly, what is your body telling you about what is true for you? So listen to your body, listen to its truth. Your everyday superhero kind power: get curious about your experience. Test it out – what happens to my sensed experience when I breathe evenly? Tense my mouth and jaw? What do I sense when I intensify my experience? What happens to me? To how I perceive of the world outside?
We can make meaning of what we are aware of. Through our mind-body, sensation becomes perception. We link sensations to grids of meaning, to help us shape, to give meaning to our sensed world. The sensory experience of a tall, woody, green-leafed, bark-skinned pole becomes a tree, our understanding shaped and shaded by a grid of categories – the variety of trees (maple, beech), location in a forest or front yard, what we appreciate about trees – places of spiritual communion, to relax in nature; what we can use trees for – to build houses or fires. We can say that all of these associated meanings are true – each person has her or his own grids of meaning that matter. If we have both seen trees, can we assume that the trees I have seen are just the same as the trees you have seen? Maybe if we see them together. But, the grid of meaning behind each of our experiences influences our perceptions of the tree. Getting curious about how you understand your experience and meaning of trees and how I understand my experience and meaning of trees is one way we can help each other hold a more inclusive meanings for “tree”. So we can have true and unique experiences of “tree”.
A second everyday kind power practice is to reflect on our categories of meaning. Checking for the accuracy of our experience. Thich Nhat Hanh taught the Are-You-Sure? practice. In this contemplative practice you reflect on your views of yourself and the world and then pose yourself the question: Am I sure? Am I sure my direct experience means what I think it means? Adyashanti speaks of taking our identity our of our perception of our senses.
This can be a little bit tricky. It is a practice, a commitment to keep our grids of meaning open to new ideas, to feedback from others. To not only keep our lenses clear enough to see with but open enough to see widely, to see what we focus on in relation to its surround. We tend to close up our meaning-making boxes; we put an automatic filter on our experience. One way to check for accuracy of experience and meaning is to notice when “your truth lens” is coated with something.
The coating could be a judgment, the gap between an experience and its meaning filled with an interpretation. “It was rude when you left so quickly;” Language of interpretation tends to anchor a tether between our established grid of meaning and fresh experience. We pull the tether tight and presume the interpretation is the experience. We can coat our ‘truth’ with the language of dismissal – a kind of social camouflage that dismisses our experience. “I’m fine – I’m not angry.” Like wearing glasses, it is a good hygiene habit to take them off, check what is on our perceptual lenses, clean them up and take another look. Repeat as needed.
We can be quick to distance ourselves from our experience sometimes. Judging an experience opens up a space between me and you – even positive judgments move us away to appreciate something or someone over there. Interpretive language can distance experience through labeling – we grasp for control of the experience through its categorization. The language of dismissal returns us to a kind of isolation – we deny our experience, its impact, our vulnerability in having the experience. Jumping into judgment also creates a space between me and my own experience. Listen closely to the next time a friend describes an experience – does she tell the experience of the body? “I was so afraid, my knees locked – I could hardly take a step.” Does he talk in abstractions – “I was so afraid I just shut down.” It can be subtle to notice the difference – look for when someone uses an idea word (shut down) to represent an experience (feeling fear) rather than an experiential description (knees locked – hard to walk).
Awareness of your feelings, your judgments, and interpretations is important – one can even describe this as truth – but an internally validated truth. Keeping your embodied awareness lens clear means accepting that each feeling, judgment and interpretation includes within it a reflection of your past as it shows up in this moment. To live inclusively with embodied awareness, you accept, accurately, both the experience you sense (the fear) and the internal perceptions, judgments, and interpretations that you have – allowing both to co-exist. This is one facet of embodied awareness.
I want to end shining a light on how an inclusive engagement with your own experience – both sensed and perceived is part of living with kind power. Exercising curiosity for your direct experience, testing it, going with it. This kind power practice strengthens your muscles for accurately noticing the experience you are having. The second kind power practice includes perceptual hygiene, checking your filters and cleaning off judgments, interpretations and emotional triggers that cloud the “truth” of your experience. Both curiosity and perceptual hygiene bring you closer to a state of being balanced, open, expansive and effective. The way kind power works -the more you can return to a state of balance, openness, expansion – the more effective you will be in keeping an open and conscious pipeline between your direct experience and its perceived meaning. So what? Operating from a state of kind power, you are less likely to put your power into resisting your experience. You are less likely to get stuck on a mis-perception of an experience. You are more likely to learn from your direct experience and will have more power, more flexibility to adapt to your experience. That is one of the benefits of putting your everyday kind power to work.