When I learned mindfulness meditation, there was a word that one of my teachers used to describe the experience of witnessing the chattering activity going on in your brain: waterfall.
I loved that they had a description for that moment when you discover the endless stream – or great rushing river – of thoughts and stories and judgments and worries and fantasies and hopes that passes through our minds!
In addition to our thoughts, which we experience as the inner talking of our mind, there is also the physical experience that the body is having.
Now, it should really come as no surprise to any of us that we are not simply walking, talking brains. We have entire bodies attached to us. These bodies are performing miraculous functions everyday, the kinds of things we learned about in biology class. Your body is an incredibly complex biological universe communicating and responding in relationship to the parts of itself and the external environment.
Through meditation, I learned to become aware not just of our loud-mouthed brains, but also of my quieter but equally dynamic body. I became aware of my bodily felt sense, as Eugene Gendlin, author of the seminal book Focusing, would describe it.
In our ordinary consciousness, we usually only become aware of the communication of our physical bodies in the extremes of pain or ecstasy, or if something stops working as we expect it. Outside of that, many of us ignore our bodies. (Or worse, we judge and shame them, but we’ll take that on in another blog post).
Unlike the chattering brain, the felt sense does not deceive, it simply responds. When you are caught up in listening to the stories of your chattering mind, you miss the authentic expression of your felt sense. The characteristic challenge of working with our chattering mind is discerning truth. Fortunately, the truth held by your body is a truth that you can learn to interpret.
The ability to discover the authentic truth expressed by your body’s felt sense is empathic intelligence.
If you haven’t been paying attention to your body during the normal operations of your day, now’s the time. The best way to learn to do this is by intentionally calling to mind strong emotions, and then holding that emotion for a few moments so that you may become aware of your body’s response to that emotion. Today’s practice is an excellent introduction.
Felt Sense Practice:
Like a meditation practice, the felt sense practice is best done during a time when you can sit and be uninterrupted for a few minutes.
You will be working with strong emotions, by which I mean any experience where you recognized your emotional response. It could by the feeling of joy when seeing someone you love, or the feeling of anger when you felt wronged. It could be the feeling of sadness, or the feeling of excitement.
Call to mind an experience when you felt a strong emotion. As you replay that experience in your mind, freeze or hold that experience long enough for you to locate where you feel it in your body. Try to describe actual locations and senses. Do you notice it in your belly or your chest, your shoulders or your neck? Does the sense radiate out, or does it feel constricted and tight?
After you have felt the emotion, breathe and release it. You may need to shake your body to let it go.
Choose another story, and another emotion to experience so that you learn how different emotional experiences are communicated through your felt sense.