Attention is a physical thing. You’re standing in line, or sitting in your car, and for no apparent reason you suddenly turn to see someone staring at you. You perceived that person’s attention. It had a weight you could sense.
Attention is tangible: you can feel it.
Depending on the quality of that attention, it may have felt as soothing as a warm bath, as stimulating as a cup of coffee hitting your blood vessels, or intrusive and painful, a “cutting glance.”
Attention may even be healing. I like it when you pay attention to me. Give me your attention for a minute. You have craved someone else’s attention just as others have craved yours.
You can rely on one thing that can be the most soothing thing to your body: your own attention.
Yet starting to gather your attention can feel difficult or weird at first.
Initially, it may feel like tough going to gather up your awareness into the middle of your head, only because you’re not used to it and you’ve probably never been validated for doing it. As the last post explored, most of us have been conditioned to look outward for what matters, and to follow others’ agendas about what we should pay attention to.
Unless you’re a monk or a nun (and maybe even then), it’s a daring act to step back from the commotion and take the time to clear out your own overloaded head – and then to just rest there, start to notice your body’s responses to what you’ve been perceiving and doing, and finally, begin to zero in on the next steps you want to take in your life.
To do all this gives you back a lot of power and control. So it naturally sets off some alarms for you – and others. Relatively extreme fears or anxieties may pop up for you as you do something as simple as sit still in a chair for, at first, let’s say, five minutes. You may irrationally wonder if you’ll somehow be punished or isolated from the tribe. You may feel that you absolutely must bolt from the sofa and grab a diet soda. You’re used to thinking about your future, your car, your bank account, your spouse, your ex, your job, your parents, your kids, and now and then, world environmental catastrophe.
That’s what people have always told you is productive and worthwhile and what a good, nice person does. You must be a lazy, selfish jerk to just sit there for a few minutes and not do anything except to start to pay attention to yourself. Or you must be a weirdo to not have your eyes on a screen of some kind, or an electronic device in your hand.
Re-occupying your body.
What you’re starting to do here is a style of meditation, one that’s not “transcendental” but takes a different approach, based on bringing your awareness into the driver’s seat of your body. It’s important to start out doing it not by transcending or consciously placing your awareness above your body, but by re-owning and re-occupying your body. You’re not occupying Wall Street here, just your original physical home.
The extreme things that knock you out of your body most are illness, pain, and discomfort. Discomfort can occur for lots of different reasons; you might feel energetically attacked, or you might feel physically unsafe.
Generally, it goes against all your training, and perhaps your inclination, to deal with these factors by truly connecting yourself again with your body. Everyone else has taught you to manage pain by fleeing the body, energetically speaking. Let your spirit travel into a fantasy. Drink. Take a pill.
Actually, I have no problems with the moderate use of any of these strategies, and sometimes one does need to take a pain pill. But I prefer to have a choice about what strategy I want to use, and I want to use awareness tools in concert with other ones. I don’t want to have to be semi-unconscious in order to function.
Plus, spending more and more time out of the body creates a vicious cycle in which it becomes harder and harder to get in there and enjoy your space. If your awareness, your energy, aren’t filling and holding and enjoying your body, whose is? If your own energy presence is not occupying your body, a lot of other stuff starts to collect there: random data and stimulus from the day that your body encounters, feelings that you’ve had and taken on from others, and other energies build up unattended.
Like a foreclosed house where no one’s living, an ignored body can find itself with accrued grunge and spiritual squatters. So getting into the body is a way of kicking out a bunch of junk that’s crept into your physical space. That’s one definition of healing.
In any case, just on the principle of pure feistiness, I don’t want anything or anyone to dictate where my awareness and attention can or cannot be relative to my body. And I don’t want to be dictated by habit or culture to abandon my body just because some things are going on with it that I didn’t ask for or because that’s what everyone does.
Addressing what’s going on with me starts simply by placing my tangible attention in and on my lovely body, just as it is – fat, thin, tired, vigorous, gorgeous, ugly, strong, weak. Wherever and however it is. Mine.
Right now I’m patting myself on my thighs as I write this. Good body.
This time, with your awareness in the middle of your head, give your body some much-needed attention.
Once again, read the actions described below, then take a break from reading and do them. If you forget where you are, it’s fine to stop, open your eyes, and find the next thing to do in the list, then go back to the process. You don’t have to be perfect before, during, or after.
When you get used to this, you won’t need a list: you’ll just get into the center of your head pretty instantly.
-- Be aware of the wall across from you.
-- And now be aware of the walls on either side of you.
-- And then add to that awareness the ceiling and the floor below and above you. Be aware of all four walls around you. Notice any effect that has on your body.
-- Bring that awareness to your face, then to the top of your head.
-- Then be in the middle of your head. Literally. Be in the middle of your head. That's a point directly behind your eyes.
-- From the middle of your head, be aware of the distance to the top of your head.
-- Be aware of the distance between you and your face or your forehead.
-- And be aware of the distance between you and either side, left and right, of you.
-- Notice your hands, but be aware of the distance between you and your hands. Notice what your hands feel like from the middle of your head.
-- Now, as you’re in the middle of your head, be aware of the distance between you and your breath.
-- Here’s a fun part. Ask what in your body could use some attention from you? Please look at the body in your mind’s eye, with your eyes closed, and ask it where it needs your attention. Be specific.
-- Give your attention to that part of the body. Gently place your attention on that spot. Just notice it.
-- Go to the next spot. Just notice it. Breathe and exhale.
-- Find one more place in your body that needs your attention. Just put your awareness on it. Say hello to it.
-- Repeat as much as you’d like to right now. Or maybe you’re done.
-- Take a deep breath. Wiggle a little in your chair. Touch your face.
-- Stand up, stretch, and yawn.
Did that feel good?
If you want to further explore or relish the experience, create a spiritual mechanics notebook for you to write in about the experiences you’re having with these tools (the kind you can hold in your hands or your electronic version). Start an entry about what that exercise felt like to you. What happened?
What did you notice? Surprises, discomfort, comfort? Let yourself write a little.
This and the previous tool explored what it's all about to have your awareness in the center of your head. Pull it all together in the next post.
copyright © 2013 Lisa Bernstein