Orienting to space

Not too long ago, I posted Orienting to stillness, orienting to motion, providing some options for people who are interested in exploring awareness. Today I want to share some experiences with orienting to space.

First, a little backtracking. Starting in 2010, I wrote here about the 12 states of attention (and also here), which I learned from Nelson Zink on his website Navaching (which also included instructions for night walking), which sadly he has taken down. Reading his book of stories The Structure of Delight is an experience I highly recommend. It’s like no other book you’ve encountered, and if you’re interested in acquiring wisdom from a bunch of interesting characters, you’ll enjoy it.

(If you don’t want to click the links about the 12 states, here’s a summary: We primarily use our visual, auditory, and kinesthetic senses. Our experience can be subdivided into narrow and broad. For instance, a broad auditory state would be listening to the whole orchestra playing, while a narrow auditory state would be singling out the oboe in the orchestra. These states can be further divided into external and internal. An external visual state is seeing your environment with your eyes, while an internal one is imagining or remembering something. The image below shows the 12 states.)

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Although I haven’t written about the 12 states in recent years, they are embedded in my world view. I value having flexibility in what I pay attention to, how I pay attention to it, and understanding what others may be experiencing. We have natural proclivities among these states that play a big role in the work and pastimes we choose, yet some of these realms can go unexplored for much of a person’s lifetime, which is a loss, in my opinion. From bean counters to visionaries, proofreaders to poets, there’s room for all at the table, and I would presume that part of the maturing process in a fully lived life would include expanding one’s experience of more of these states.

So for today’s topic, orienting to space, I’m going to refer to the 12 states, also drawing on my training in craniosacral biodynamics and yoga, for some kinesthetic experiences in meditation.

Here are some kinesthetic narrow experiences to try when sitting quietly, uninterrupted. These are both internal and external: you will feel sensations on your skin, You may also feel these sensations inside your body and extending into the field around you.

  • Bring your attention to the top of your head, your crown chakra. Keep your attention there, and you will at some point notice a sensation there. It may feel like  pressure, flickering, vibrating, warmth, air moving, or something else. If you don’t feel anything, stay with it. If you still don’t, come back again and again until you do.
  • Bring your attention thusly down to each chakra: third eye, throat, heart, solar plexus, umbilicus/sacrum, root. Spend some time at each chakra feeling the sensations there.
  • When you reach your root chakra, imagine/feel that energy descending into the earth.
  • Bring your attention back up your body, chakra by chakra. Yin moves down toward the earth, yang moves up toward heaven, and sometimes people find one direction easier than the other. What works best for you?
  • When you reach your crown chakra, imagine/feel it extending above you, stretching into the cosmos.
  • Sense this territory as a tube running from deep in the earth to outer space, penetrating your body vertically along your midline, with each chakra open like a jewel on a string. How does it feel to be connected to the earth and the cosmos with all your chakras open? Vibrant? Expanded? Enjoy the state.

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The next experiences are to spend time in Kinesthetic Internal awareness, both Broad and Narrow:

  • When sitting quietly, sooner or later your attention will be drawn to specific areas in your body experiencing discomfort, pain, tingling, energized, or a lack of sensation. Just notice and breathe. Make yourself as comfortable as you can. Be sure to notice which parts feel good!
  • Body awareness is a vast realm. Using your knowledge of anatomy and imagining/feeling, you can sense your body by system: skeletal, muscular/fascial, nervous, cardiovascular, digestive, craniosacral, etc. Go slowly and just notice. Pretend like you’re remote viewing into your own body. Does your body have anything to tell you?
  • You can also sense your body by region: head, neck, shoulders, arms, etc. You can sense it from your skin inwards and from your core outwards.
  • You can experience each of the three major containers, lower (pelvic), middle (chest), and upper (head).
  • You may notice a slow, rhythmic fluid tide moving up and down your body. This usually takes a while to experience. This is a manifestation of primary respiration in biodynamics, and giving it attention makes your system more coherent.
  • One of the great koans in my life has been “whole body awareness.” See if you can sense your entire body at once! Experimenting with how to do this is fruitful. You might experience complete embodiment, being completely at home and aware inside your skin. That would be KIB. If you extend this into the space around you, you are moving into KEB.

In the 12 states, the division between internal and external is your skin. Kinesthetic external sensing is the most neglected of the 12 states for nearly all of us humans! Now you’re noticing the interface between your skin and the space or field around you:

  • To move externally, sense your skin’s interface with your environment: air, clothing, furniture, floor, etc. Notice temperature, drafts, humidity, pressure, texture, gravity, and whatever else you can sense.
  • Your personal field may extend anywhere from inches to several feet away from your body. Can you sense an inch away from your skin? A foot? A yard? If you are close to another person or animal, can you sense their presence? Can you sense changes in density or vibration in the field around you? Does the field around you have anything to tell you?
  • Extend your awareness gradually out into the room you’re in, or if you’re outdoors, into a room-size bubble around you. Can you sense the walls, ceiling, floors, objects in the room? If outdoors, can you sense the presence of nearby trees?
  • Extend your awareness outside the room or bubble. Gradually expand your awareness toward the horizon, either what you can see visually or what you can imagine. Notice if there is a shift in how you experience yourself when imagining/feeling yourself at the center of a 360-degree circle of horizon. Do you feel more or less grounded? Can you sense a wind, a tide, a very slow rhythm? Another manifestation of primary respiration.
  • Keep extending your awareness more broadly toward our planet, solar system, galaxy, as far as you want to go.

The experience of living suspended in fields, personal and vast, is a huge paradigm shift for all of us.

Warning: This practice can lead to deeper body awareness, inner peace, and experiences of oneness and connection to others and the planet.

 

 

What is biodynamics?

Biodynamics is a western approach to wellness. Osteopath William Sutherland (1873-1954) began exploring the dynamics of the skull and its membranes and fluids, establishing the field of cranial osteopathy, from which craniosacral therapy and biodynamics evolved.

After years of sitting quietly with patients, listening to their body-mind systems, Sutherland and other cranial osteopaths became aware that something other than tissue manipulation was helping their patients heal from all kinds of conditions. They learned over time that the more they just listened and the less they tried to do, the more their patients’ inherent healing processes took over, returning their systems to healthier functioning. Over time they learned how to support and augment the healing process with their presence, attention, discernment, and intent.

This way of healing came to be called craniosacral biodynamics, biodynamic craniosacral therapy, or just biodynamics. As a separate modality from cranial osteopathy, it’s been in existence for nearly 40 years. Although biodynamics shares some elements with biomechanical craniosacral therapy, it focuses more on perceptual awareness of the fields in and around us.

Biodynamics resonates with Buddhist and Taoist beliefs about emptiness, form, transformation, compassion, and oneness.

Orienting to stillness, orienting to motion

I started this blog to document meditating every day in 2010. My blog posts got kind of boring and I ended up broadening the topic, but before the year ended, I had made some big decisions, changing my approaches to work and home that resulted in living a more authentic, self-realizing life.

Selling my house and quitting my job with no clear path ahead were not changes I would have undertaken had not my meditation practice compelled me to make them for my own well-being and trust that the Universe and my own capabilities would come through. There was uncertainty along the way, and luck, but I figured I could always rent a room and do temp jobs to support myself, and that gave me courage. (I rented a room and did a few temp jobs on my path!)

However, I really wanted more than that for myself: I wanted to own an affordable, paid-for home in Austin, Texas, and I wanted to do work that I really loved. And I got those things.  Meditation helped me understand that not living authentically was no longer possible for me, and I’m happy with those decisions.

Since then I’ve divorced my meditation practice from any religion. I’ve occasionally slacked off for weeks at a time, and I’ve meditated irregularly and half-heartedly. I have not worked with another teacher.

Instead, I have groped my untutored way around stillness and silence, acutely aware of my vata monkey-mind, wondering if I have a touch of ADHD (other family members do), and occasionally stumbling upon states of pervasive bliss, being literally held by a higher power, being breathed, feeling currents moving in and through me, and experiencing brief moments of exquisite clarity. All with no idea how to return to any of those states. The birds ate my bread crumbs!

In August 2016, I discovered the Insight Timer app (iOS) for recording my meditation practice sessions, and my desire to meditate every day grew. As of today, I’ve meditated 188 consecutive days since September 26. You gotta love an app that gives you a gold star for meditating 10 days in a row.

In January, I had a breakthrough in a body/energy work practice, Biodynamics, that I’ve been studying for four years now that is mostly perception, and this also renewed my commitment to meditation, especially for doing longer sits of an hour when my schedule allows.

Feeling more committed, I signed up for a 10-day vipassana retreat in August, which is a good month to be away from work in an air-conditioned room, meditating my ass off with a bunch of Hindus and some other English-speaking people. Vipassana has been on my bucket list for years, and it’s finally going to happen.

So my love for meditation has been rekindled. Most mornings I wake up and can’t wait to meditate.

Out of this scenario, I feel like I have some things to say that might be helpful to new meditators and stalled meditators and meditators looking for inspiration. Because meditation is such a nonverbal realm, I’d like to make an attempt to put some words to it and make some suggestions that you can take or leave as you please.

We can’t notice everything at the same time. (Or at least not until/unless we are way advanced, as far as I know now.) This bird calling draws our attention, there’s the hum of the refrigerator, the faint smell of honeysuckle, the sensations of my feet being hot, the impulse to take my shoes and socks off. Pause. A chakra opens, a stuck place in my body makes itself known, oh should I have said that?, I can taste the cheese I ate earlier, that was a really satisfying breath, what’s for dinner?

We filter information about our experience in bits, and at the beginning of a session, it often changes quickly, like a slideshow on fast-forward. It would be overwhelming to experience all that simultaneously, not to mention hard to appreciate.

We can use our natural filtering capability to develop skills in orienting, which means setting a direction for what you intend to notice. It helps slow the monkey-mind slideshow down considerably.

Two ways of orienting that you may come to value are orienting toward stillness and orienting toward motion.

In orienting to stillness, notice the pauses between your inhalations and exhalations, and between your exhalations and inhalations. Notice the gaps between your thoughts. Notice your mind at rest. Nothing happening, nothing to see here, just…emptiness.

Ironically, in stillness, you may notice all kinds of subtler experiences, such as energy dancing across your face or even the beginning of a thought.

The other polarity is orienting to motion, such as your breath, which you’ve tuned into many times. Notice more about it. What moves in your body when you inhale and when you exhale? Do you feel a sense of with your inhalations? Do your exhalations help you y? Put your experiences into your own words if you can.

What about your heart, beating in your chest? Can you feel it pumping away, keeping you alive? You have pulses located all over your body. Can you sense them?

There’s a more subtle, slower rhythm, the rhythm of cerebrospinal fluid expanding your cranial bones ever so slightly and then receding, which you might even feel all the way down your spine. And there are even more subtle rhythms that are perceptible.

Stillness and motion are not opposites. There’s a bit of stillness in motion, and a bit of motion in stillness. Developing your perceptions of motion augments your perceptions of stillness, and vice versa.

Notice what you notice each time you meditate, and know that your next session will offer you new gifts of perception. Play with it!

I hope these suggestions inspire you to experience more deeply the human being that you are. May you have breakthroughs!