Trusting the Body
Inner body sensing starts with the basic learning process of becoming familiar with inner body sensations, and trusting them. In our culture we appear to have a generic mistrust of the body. Inner body sensations in general are unwelcome (since they so often, apparently, give us “bad news”). Eugene Gendlin calls this work Focusing, and he calls its instrument “the felt sense”. I found a wonderful description of the importance of generic trust of the body in a piece by the Focusing teacher Ann Wieser Cornell, “Three Key Aspects of Focusing”. I have liberally, but not substantially, modified Ms. Cornell’s presentation in order to make it fit the language of inner body sensing.
“The bottom line” here, as we are wont to say sometimes, is that if you want to do ibs with maximum ease and success, it is useful to precede that exercise by diagnostic and training exercises in generic trust of the body.
1. Emotions vs. ibs.
If you’re operating purely with emotions, then fear is fear. It’s just fear, no more. But if you’re operating on the felt sense level, you can sense that this fear, the one you’re feeling right now, is different from the fear you felt yesterday.
As you stay with today’s fear, you get the feeling that if you sit with it long enough, you might even find out the real reason that it is there. As you pay attention to a felt sense, you discover that it is intricate. It has more to it. We have a vocabulary of emotions that we feel over and over again, but every felt sense is different.
Imagine being on the phone with someone you love who is far away, and you really miss that person, and you just found out in this phone call that you’re not going to be seeing them soon. You get off the phone, and you feel a heaviness in your chest, perhaps around the heart area.
Or let’s say you’re sitting in a room full of people and each person is going to take a turn to speak, and as the turn comes closer and closer to you, you feel a tightness in your stomach, like a spring winding tighter and tighter.
Or let’s say you’re taking a walk on a beautiful fresh morning, just after a rain, and you come over a hill, and there in the air in front of you is a perfect rainbow, both sides touching the ground, and as you stand there and gaze at it you feel your chest welling up with an expansive, flowing, warm feeling. These are all felt senses.
2. Trusting inner sensation.
After you are aware of an inner body sensation, you bring to it a special quality of attention: “interested curiosity.” You are open to sensing what is there but not yet in words. This takes time – it is not instant. So you have to have a willingness to take that time, to wait, at the edge of not-yet-knowing what this is. Slowly, you sense more.
This can be a bit like coming into a darkened room and sitting, and as your eyes get used to the lower light, you sense more there than you had before. You could also have come into that room and then rushed away again, not caring to sense anything there. It is the caring to, the interest, the wanting to get to know it, that brings the further knowing.
There is not a trying to change anything. There is no doing something to anything. In this sense, this process is very accepting. We accept that this felt sense is here, just as it is, right now. We are interested in how it is. We want to know it, just as it is. There is also trust that this felt sense will change in its own way. The world of inner sensing is never static.
A woman is Focusing, let’s say, on a heavy feeling in her chest which she feels is connected with a relationship with a friend. The Focuser recently left her job, and she has just discovered that the friend is applying for the position. She has been telling herself that this is not important, but the feeling of something wrong has persisted. Now she sits down to Focus. She brings awareness into the throat-chest-stomach area of her body and she soon discovers this heavy feeling which has been around all week. She says hello to it. She describes it freshly: “heavy… also tight… especially in the stomach and chest.” Then she sits with it to get to know it better. She is interested and curious. Notice how this interested and curious is the opposite of the telling herself that this is not important which she had been doing before. She waits, with this engaged accepting attention. She can feel that this part of her is angry. …… In a minute she begins to sense that this part of her is also sad. “Sad” surprises her; she didn’t expect sad. If she stays with the felt sense, more discoveries will come. The Focusing process is a series of steps of change, in which each one brings fresh insight, and a fresh body relief, an aha!
3. A theory of change.
One theory is that to have something change, you must make it change. You must do something to it. We can call this the Doing/Fixing way. The other way, which we can call the Being/Allowing way, recognizes that change and flow are the natural course of our bodily process. When something seems not to change, what it needs is attention and awareness, with an attitude of allowing it to be as it is, yet open to its next steps.
Our everyday lives are deeply permeated with the Doing/Fixing assumption. Cognitive therapy methods, for example, ask you to decide to change. The Being/Allowing philosophy turns around cognition-based expectations. It grasps “the wisdom of the body”. The felt sense knows what it needs to become next, as surely as a baby knows it needs warmth and comfort and food. As surely as a radish seed knows it will grow into a radish. We never have to tell our body what to become; we never have to make it change. We just need to provide the conditions which allow it to change.
[Adapted from The Radical Acceptance of Everything: Living a Focusing Life by Ann Weiser Cornell Berkeley, CA: Calluna Press, 2005.]