Here's a practice that continually surprises me and offers me magnificent insight into myself and how I receive others. I'm calling it, "How are you?", because it answers that question in a very deep way and offers insights into how I can feel more more fully connected to those around me.
The other day I asked a friend and fellow yogi, Jeff Davis, in an email, how things were going and he responded not with the typical, "Fine," or "Great," or some such perfunctory and obscuring remark but rather with this: " The November light alters my moods, and the other day a phrase came to me about how I feel in my body and soul these days: The Moods of the Woods ~ shadowy and difficult to see far but always richly textured and mysterious." Wow. I really got a sense of what was happening for him and felt encouraged to share about some dark days I had had recently and how I was responding. It took our dialogue to a level I appreciate, one that is real and speaks to our common experience as humans on this earth. In order to dialogue like this however, deep listening must be going on. Being in touch with and feeling comfortable sharing about our inner stirrings is not much encouraged in our consumer culture. We often don't have or create the time for such exploration and sharing. These are things we each have to cultivate on our own and if we are lucky with the help of supportive friends.
One way to get in the habit of this is to ask yourself, "How are you?" or rephrased "How am I?" and then really listening for answers.
Source: Claudia Ricci Times Union
In a comfortable seated position or even laying on your back, take a minute or two to settle with attention to your breath. Feel the expansion and contraction of your lungs and stomach, pelvic girdle and shoulders, all the places affected by your breathing. Notice the cool dry air flowing in and the warm moist air flowing out, following its path. Become aware of the quality of your breath, shallow or deep, full or truncated, hurried or relaxed, without judgment. Don't try to do or change anything, just notice the flow of sensation and take it in. When you are ready, let your mind scan over your body for any sensations that are calling out to you. You may notice pain, tenseness, agitation, excitement, warmth, relaxed feelings, tingling, pulsation, itches or anything else. You may have difficulty coming into contact with your feelings, or you may not have a name for what you are sensing. It is all OK. Whatever seems most present to you, whatever is most captivating your attention, settle on it. That might be on something particular or the interplay of all of it. Let your mind rest gently on the area associated with this interesting perception. If the sensation shifts that is OK, continue to gently but clearly keep your mind focused on this area.
Here are some questions you may want to ask yourself to explore what message this area is sending to you.
What is this sensation trying to tell me?
What can I learn for this?
Is this a familiar sensation?
When and under what circumstances can I remember having this feeling before?
You may want to reach all the way back to the first time you experienced this or stay more recent, whatever feels productive.
Relax and follow silly ideas and ideas that "make sense". Just stay with the area(s) of sensation and interact interpretively. Relax and have fun. Your own truth will resonate when it arrives.
Once you have gotten the hang of it, this can be done anytime you have a few minutes to comfortably sit and watch your breathing and track the sensations in your body. A few nights ago, I had spent a short while, before leaving work, doing, the Chakra Balancing Pranayama and was feeling very open. On my way to shopping, I was able to drop in and note how I was feeling, as I drove. Working with what I learned gave me some insights and helped me to let go of something. And here's what continually flips me out. If I hadn't consciously decided to do this practice I never would have noticed what was happening in my body. It was going on but I was totally unaware of it. Shining the light of gently focused attention onto it illuminated some really interesting stuff.
Once I relaxed and settled and gently scanned my body the most prominent things I noticed were a tension in my shoulders and a burning in my chest that included the vague sense that I wanted to vomit since my lower throat muscles felt slightly clenched. Staying with the chest and throat area I realized this was not a familiar sensation for me but it reminded me of times when I had had heart burn from rich food or was sick.
As I settled with these feelings I remembered a call I had had just before I left the office from an angry customer. She had ordered a pair of pants that we were out of. We did not let her know right away, since we thought more might be arriving soon. Ten days had passed since she placed her order and she was very disappointed when she called me only to learn that we were out of the pants. She laced into me saying we had terrible company and should be ashamed and that she would never buy from us again. I had no good reply. I apologized and said I understood how she could be upset but really I was thinking, "Cmon, this is only a pair of pants, what are you so angry about? I don't deserve this." I felt constrained from saying that since I wanted to be a polite customer service person and got off the phone frustrated after assuring her I would refund her money.
As I continued to explore my feelings with this experience in mind, the burning and nausea seemed to me to be the bottled up anger I had about being treated harshly and the nausea was likely a result of me wanting to vomit out my difficult feelings and rip into this woman. Once having seen this I was able to do some self soothing, telling myself, I did nothing wrong. Every once in awhile I am going to disappoint someone. Holding the anger is only hurting myself; in a way, taking on her role of beating myself up. I recognized this was natural but not helpful. Bringing all this into consciousness helped the feelings to recede.
It wasn't until the next day, though, that I was relaxed and open enough to have an even deeper insight. This woman had ordered her pants for a retreat she was going on. I'm guessing she really wanted to look good when meeting her new companions and that it was important to her preparations to show up looking yoga sharp. Her anger was laden with her disappointment, social anxiety and fear and her need for acceptance and love. Now I really did feel badly for her. I still couldn't change the situation but I was sorry to be a part of what caused this suffering for her. Hopefully, the next time I am in a similar situation I will be able to be genuinely sympathetic, even in the face of an angry expression.
Under normal circumstances, I like to try to settle with the top two or even three sensations that come up. I like to thank the area of the body I have just explored for what it has offered me and then move on to the next one. Once I have opened up to all three areas of sensation, I like to linger and remind myself of all I have learned today and thank myself for taking the time to do this and thank my body for all it has shared.
This practice has lead to more surprises than I could ever have imagined. It is great way to open up to what is real for myself in the moment and see the way my body holds onto experiences that are long over. Sometimes the way I feel seems opposite to the way I am acting, like when I am acting angry when I am hurt, scared, or disappointed. It is a great way to go beneath the "big feelings" to what is going on underneath.
This morning I am glad to report I have an excited alive feeling at the top of my stomach and a tingly feeling in my fingers. I am happy and feeling creative and ready for action. There is also some pressure behind my eyes and my shoulders feel tired which I think is my fear that I will lose my upbeatness when I move into the work ahead of me today. Bringing this fear into consciousness, hopefully, will make it possible for me to try and not lose contact with my happy creative self as challenges emerge and I am confronted with negativity. Wish me luck!
After you try it, I'd love feedback on how it went. If you have any questions about the instructions, please let me know.
More great words from Jeff Davis and information about his creativity consulting can be found at his Tracking Wonder website.