Just One Thing - Feel Whole

When I look back on mistakes I’ve made—like dumping my anger on someone, making assumptions in haste, partying too much, losing my nerve, being afraid to speak from my heart—in all cases a part of me had taken over.

You know what I mean. The parts of us that have a partial view, are driven by one aim, clamp down on other parts, really want to have a particular experience or to eat/drink/smoke a particular molecule, yammer away critically, or hold onto resentments toward others.

The mega part—the big boss—is of course the inner executive, the decision-maker, and driver (some call it the ego) centered in neural circuits in the prefrontal cortex, behind your forehead.

This part is determined to a fault, running things top down, ignoring bottom-up signals of growing fatigue, irritability, burnout, and issues with others. It draws on and gets wrapped up in the sequential, action-planning, language processing parts of you that are based in regions in the left side of your brain. (The statements here about sides of the brain are reversed for about half of all left-handed people.) Meanwhile, the boss part shames, disowns, and suppresses other parts of you, especially those that are softer, more vulnerable, and younger.

But when you open to the whole of your experience, you have more information and can make better decisions. You perceive more fully, seeing the big picture, putting things in perspective. You free up energy that was spent pushing down your real feelings. You tune into your body, your heart. You’re less fixed or attached in your views. You recognize the good things in you and around you that you’d tuned out. You feel more supported, more protected. You take things less personally.

You feel at home in yourself.

Why?

Awareness is like a big stage upon which lots of sights, sounds, tastes, touches, smells, thoughts, feelings, memories, and wants pop up for a bit and then pass away. All this is in your consciousness, but mainly in the background. The spotlight of attention bounces around the stage, lighting up one thing after another.

In the practices that follow, you are going to widen the spotlight—the field of attention—to include more and more of the whole stage. This draws on networks on the sides of your brain, mainly on the right side, because it is specialized for holistic processing, for taking things as a whole, as a gestalt. By doing these little practices repeatedly when you have a moment of quiet, you will stimulate and therefore strengthen the neural networks that support feeling whole, so that you can sustain that sense of wholeness even when the oatmeal hits the fan.

Here we go.

For a dozen seconds or longer, be aware of all the sounds around you. Let them be what they are, lasting or changing. Disengage from inner verbal commentary about them; stay with the experience of sounds as a whole. Notice how this feels: probably more relaxed and at ease.

Soften your gaze and be aware of sights around you, the visual field as a whole. Explore lifting your gaze toward the horizon, which will tend to activate neural networks that process sights in a more global, I’m-integrated-with-the-whole-world way. (See James Austin’s book,Selfless Insight, for more on this.)

For a dozen seconds or longer, be aware of the sensations of breathing in the front of your chest, around your heart… aware of this area as a whole. Then be aware of your whole chest breathing, including the stomach, diaphragm, rib cage, and back. Take the whole chest as a single, unified gestalt, rather than attention skittering from one sensation in it to another.

Then broaden attention further to include the sensations of air moving down your throat… your hips and shoulders and head shifting slightly with each breath… sensations around your nose and upper lip… gradually taking the whole body as the unified object of attention… abiding as a whole body breathing. Notice how this feels; let the feeling of this sink in again and again so that you can come home to this way of being more easily in the future.

And you can take it a step further, with the sensations of breathing coming together with sounds and sights, these perceptions experienced as a single whole, all known together globally, nothing left out, breath after breath.

Resting in some sense of ease with yourself, try opening to the emotions you may have pushed away. Can you let them come up, and flow through you? Then try opening to longings you may have pushed away, opening to needs or vulnerabilities that have been silenced or set aside. Welcome these various emotions and longings into awareness. You don’t have to act upon them. In fact, by welcoming them you will make them feel more at home, so they will become less insistent or strident, and you will feel more at home in yourself.

With moments of practice that add up over time, you will feel more like a whole person, less fragmented and partial, less yanked this way and that by competing desires in your head. As this happens, you will feel more fed and fulfilled and thus less defended, less separated from others, less a part—and more connected, more entwined with the world as whole.

Notice how this feels, probably safer, more contented, and more loved and loving. Let it sink in again and again.

At home in wholeness.

Dr. Rick Hanson, Ph.D

when the walls are falling down, remember...

Yet again I am at a phase of profound changes, and while the walls are falling down around me and within me I feel a bizarre interplay of freedom and overwhelm.  How and what I practice, how and what I teach (and where and whom,) where I live, my priorities, the way I spend my time and think about myself, all of it seems to be under renovation, but I don't feel out of control.  And THAT is a profound shift from the past.

During times of big change and transition, consistency of practice can (and usually is) the first thing to be sacrificed.  There are, however, resources and reasons for prioritizing our self-care. I think that's pretty self-evident.  What may not be so clear, however, is WHY we lose our practice to begin with?  Well let me just speak for myself here: my practice hasn't been strong enough. My commitment to practice is and always has been strong, but what I was practicing wasn't strong enough to pull me out of my attachment to the chaos and the fatigue and the mental tail spin. Until recently. 

Over the course of the last five months I have been incorporating specific techniques into my dinacharya (daily routine) which have provided not only a stronger anchor for my practice, but much deeper embodiment and resilience.  Whether these techniques resonate or not for you is yours to discover, but if you're anything like me, why not give it a try, right?!

Breathe

As simple as it sounds, take a breath.  Becoming aware of the breath can immediately help you "relocate" to the present moment.  Then, after several intentional repetitions of breath you can reinforce your sense of stability (even if it's only at 50%) and gain clarity for making a powerful choice on your own behalf.  

Try this: sit or stand with even weight on both halves of the body (feet or sitting bones) and exhale with intention, even a little force.  Let the inhale happen.  Exhale intentionally again.  Sometimes I blow the air out of my mouth, but eventually you want to inhale/exhale through the nostrils.  Do this at least five times, or until you sense an evenness in the length of your inhale/exhale.  Relax your head and shoulders  (I usually wiggle my mouth around- tongue included!) and let yourself breathe for a full minute.  It is incredibly powerful to witness how capable we are of reestablishing balance and ease at the most basic level.  

Move

Generally, the nervous system responds to "threat" (upheaval, change, conflict, etc.) in one of three ways: fight, flight or freeze.  This is the animal in us attempting to survive.  In all instances, "stay alive" is the primary goal.  As humans, we have developed an intellectual capacity which allows us to override these instinctual responses, which makes it nice for saving face, but totally disastrous when it comes to dealing with stress.  Whatever the charge, it needs to be discharged, and the best way to do that is to move.  I HIGHLY encourage you to get out of any set sequencing or "cool" moves and just shake your ass.  Literally.  Shake, quiver, tremble, pulse, flail.  Your brain will thank you for it.  At some point in my practice I let my body move in whatever contorted, twisted way it pulls itself, often to discover that I am much more malleable than I thought.  I have a tremendous amount of space inside of me that traditional fitness and even yoga asana simply cannot touch.  It feels weird and even stupid if you think about it, so don't.  Just yawn with your every pore and let your animal out.

Express

Perhaps the most crucial part of this sequence is expression: saying, writing, painting or demonstrating how and what we feel, need, want, experience is the birthright of every human. We have needs, but so do animals and plants.  Humans need to externalize our internal awakening (even in private!) in order to come into right relationship with our environment.  If not, our emotional body gets suppressed.   The emotional body, as real and functional as the physical body, is more often vilified than praised in our culture, and the results speak for themselves (opiates, anyone?  alcohol?  how about television and junk food?)  I have a box full of art supplies, and while I don't fancy myself an artist, I have developed a deep passion for artistic expression.  Pastels, crayons, clay, pen, pencil, whatever your medium of choice, just start making stuff.  Let your emotional body "speak."

If these practices are of genuine interest to you, I encourage you to consider my eight week mentorship in the Fall.  Details can be found on my website under Mentorship.