THE FELT SENSE OR HOW TO APPROACH MEDITATION
Meditation is a buzzword these days. It seems like everyone around is meditating and here is the latest great article out there on its benefits and value. And yes, given the recent news life calls upon us to be mindful and equanimous in the face of any changes. Here I’d like to share my approach to meditation, which might help you to try it or freshen up your routine if you have one.
“I discovered there is a whole inner theater of my sensations.”
The best thing I’ve ever liked about doing yoga is the feeling of how good it is to be in my body. Wait, in fact, how good it is to be my body! I often get this feeling in between poses, in relaxation ones and then after the practice. When I started meditating, it was quite challenging to follow the instructions and not to think about anything or to follow my breath all the time. Frankly, it was just too boring. But getting lost in my thoughts, playing out different scenarios in my head – all those had little to do with what meditation really means nor did it bring rest. So I found my middle path in following my body sensations. I just started doing the thing I liked most in yoga.
I discovered there is a whole inner theater of my sensations. For example, I close my eyes and notice that I feel restless, find it hard to sit quietly and become discouraged as I realize that I still need to go another 25 minutes. I then deliberately shift my focus from the thoughts buzzing in my head onto this particular sensation of restlessness, locate it in my body, put all my attention into it. As I do it the energy starts to change, it might turn into fear or sadness. And then after some time into calmness and warmth. Sometimes I am able to experience powerful emotions such as heartbreak, grief, anger as body experiences, without actually being heartbroken or angry.
Psychologists following psychodynamic approaches say that body holds our unconscious aspects. So I think in this way I’m able to tap into the unconscious and bring some of it to light. As I developed my practice I was able to connect my states in meditation with what was happening in my life. If I felt restless I was able to identify what provoked this state and deal with it in a conscious way.
Some time ago I came across a book by a contemporary psychologist Peter Levine called “Waking the Tiger: Healing the Trauma”. One of the key focuses of this book is something called ‘the felt sense’, the term coined by philosopher and psychologist Eugene Gendlin. Here is how he describes it: “A bodily awareness of a situation or person or event. An internal aura that encompasses everything you feel and know about any given subject at a given time – encompasses and communicates it to you all at once rather than detail by detail.”
I immediately recognized my process in meditation. I was amazed to learn that something I discovered experientially actually had been researched and even had a scientific term attached to it!
“Indeed, it taught me to experience my emotions and states as a river that does not stop changing and adapting. And it is profoundly healing, it lets you experience viscerally that “this too shall pass.”
The felt sense is hard to convey with words, it is “nuanced and ever-shifting”. I’m borrowing some of Levine’s words to describe it here: “…imagine, how much more you may fell than is expressed: looking at a mountain peak bathed in an alpine glow; seeing a blue summer sky dotted with soft white clouds; going to a ball game and dripping a mustard on your shirt; feeling the ocean spray as the surf crashes onto rock and cliff; touching an opening rose or a blade of grass topped with a drop of morning dew…”
Peter encourages mastery and use of one’s felt sense as a way to heal psychological trauma in one’s body. The whole point of his book is that traditional talk therapy is not enough when healing trauma as that experience is so deep it permeates one’s whole being. Traumatic events are so overwhelming the conscious mind cannot take hold of them, thus they are stripped out and stored in the body. So we need to engage our bodies to unravel trauma’s impact.
Personally, I think everybody can benefit from connecting to their felt sense as it is a way to process any strong emotions that left their imprints in your flesh. It’s another way to explore yourself, too. It helps me to reconnect with myself as I described it here.
As noted in the book, “…the felt sense is like a stream moving through an ever-changing landscape.” Indeed, it taught me to experience my emotions and states as a river that does not stop changing and adapting. And it is profoundly healing, it lets you experience viscerally that “this too shall pass.” It does bring a bit of melancholy at the same time.
If you want to explore your felt sense, Levine recommends some special exercises in his book. As an alternative, you can get in touch with it via yoga.
If you like you can go into the boat pose: lie on the mat on your belly. Then breathe in and lift your head, arms, and legs parallel to the floor, exhale into your lower back. After 5-10 rounds go out of the pose, turn your head on one side and close your eyes. As you relax on the floor follow your sensations: what do you sense in your feet and legs? Your hips and lower back? Your chest area and your neck? Notice the temperature of your limbs and torso. Is there any tingling anywhere? Can you feel any special energies? There’s no need to articulate or analyze it, just stay with those sensations observing and acknowledging them.
Here is an audio recording of the practice described above:
Let me know how it goes in the comments!