Notes from the Embodiment Seminar: Week One
Matthew van der Giessen
20 April 2020
what would happen next for those disavowed places in yourself if they just experienced you being present to them.
The nine weeks of the Embodiment Project were built on practices that I slowly gleaned or distilled out of work with myself, in my clinical practice and with multiple workshops over the years. When I began to reflect on what were the essential practices that would sustain me for the rest of my life, the format of the nine weeks emerged. As I worked through the nine weeks I began to recognize, by how it felt in my body, how important it is as a repeating practice, and the importance of going back to the beginning again.
That’s what I’m inviting you to do with me over over the nine weeks. I’ve come to the realization that the more I think of the nine week process as sharing something which I am doing for myself, the more authentic I become in how I’m bringing it to share with others.
In the end it’s also a dialogue. I’m inviting you to bring what you’ve experimented with in each week, coming from a unique place in each of yourselves. We get to share with each other – “This is my journey and how does it interact with your journey, how do we inform each other out of that deep experience of ourselves and of each other?”
That’s the concept. Let’s now come to the the body part. I’m going to invite you to go inward, finding a place where you can settle into yourself while I introduce you to the teachings of Week One.
Week One starts with this simple idea which is to just notice yourself. Noticing yourself asks you to pay attention to the sensations by which you know you exist. Noticing yourself in this moment is a snapshot of your functioning. You are turning inward and in doing that you organize yourself to the “I am now paying attention to my body” place.
The Body Awareness Scan
Let’s start with wherever you are in contact with your world. Give yourself a chance to just be aware of where the sensations are that tell you you have contact with the physicality of your universe. Is there a place in your pelvis or the back of your thighs that calls to your attention? What is the quality of how you know that you have that contact? How present is it to you?
Most of your life the information that tells you how you are is quite colour-washed so that you have just a hint that tells you that something is there; you aren’t letting in the fullness of how it really is for you. Take a moment to notice the quality, the depth, how much you are able to let your awareness of that surface be there for you, knowing that it’s going to be somewhere on a gradient of accessibility. Just take note of the quality of it in this moment.
Just noticing yourself is a reflective experience. There’s less disruption than when introducing movement or other ways of sharpening your awareness. At this point you’re just noticing what’s there. Sometimes you may notice that there are natural shifts that happen simply from being present. For example you might be curious about how much you know that your breath is there. By bringing your attention to the fact of your breathing you might notice that it starts to make little shifts and adjustments, that there’s an interactive cycle which is enhanced a bit just by turning your attention to your breathing.
And as you do that you might be curious about where you notice your breathing. Is there a place in your chest, is there a place in your belly, a place through your nostrils or perhaps through the back of your throat? See if you can sense the quality of sensation that tells you that the places you notice your breath have a way of being there for you.
Sometimes there are restrictions and those restrictions have a particular sensory quality to them. You can breathe with the sensations that tell you of a restriction in your breathing; you can be present to with your breath. And as you do that you may notice there are subtle shifts and changes that happen, and that some things will stay the same. As you move through the landscape of your organism you start to get a sense of the things that seem to hold and don’t know how to shift even if you would like them to, and things that start to be curious about being paid attention to and that start to move.
When you bring your attention to how you know that your feet have contact with the floor perhaps you notice that your feet feel like they’re slightly floating above the floor; even that has a sensory field and a quality to it. You might notice that there’s a lightness or a weight in your feet or in your legs. Notice what it’s like to be present to that, to open your awareness, to admit that awareness to the landscape of your sense of self so that each part that you notice has a chance to join with the community of awarenesses that are slowly, like an awakening constellation, forming some shape within you. You might notice how your pelvis is meeting with that sense of the chair, that sense of the surfaces you’re sitting on and that sense of contact with your pelvis. Your pelvis might have its own sense of shape; that there’s an inner cavity which has a quality to it, a field of sensory beingness.
What is it like to just to be present to what is there and how your belly is there? How do you know that you have a belly and how does it know that there is a spine? What happens if you hold your awareness of those two, the sensations of belly and the sensations of spine, and are there ways in which they shift in their recognition of each other?
As you come to the sense of your ribcage notice how the ribcage is there. In what way does it take a space in your awareness? Where are the sensations that tell you about this part of your torso, from the lines where it starts at the lower edge where the attachments of the diaphragm come, the ways in which you may have some imagination or sense of the ribs, the way you may have some sense of the shoulder blades, and how perhaps the shoulder blades and the ribs might have some sense of knowing of each other, and of your collarbones. How do they find their place in this moment at the top of your ribcage?
Perhaps that gives you some context to explore the sense of how it is that your neck comes out from the ribcage. What is its positioning? What is the sensory feel that tells your neck how it’s organized in this moment? How much does your neck know that there are vertebrae coming up through it and does that shift its sense of itself?
Notice your head. How much are you aware of your jaw? What are the sensations that tell you of jaw, of the muscles that hold the jaw, the sense that maybe there is a joint somewhere just up by your earlobes? What is the way in which the facial bones, the cheek bones coming up to the nose have a sensory feel to them that gives you some feeding of your imagination, some connection between shape and sensation? What is the way in which your eyes sit in these sockets? How much do your eyes feel like they have a sense of place in the eye sockets? How much do they know that they are held in those little caves in the bone which are the home for the eyes? What’s it like for them to sense; is there some form for them?
What’s it like to notice your ears as these cavities, these openings that spiral in to your head, and to think of each sound that comes as a sensory wave, and to feel ‘how are your ears’ with those sounds? Are the ways in which there is a tensing, a holding within them? Are there ways in which it feels like it can meet with those vibrational inputs? Where are the places where a sense of meeting happens that you notice through sensations, that tell you that there’s an interaction going on. So that just as you feel something more obvious like ‘how does my pelvis know the surfaces it’s sitting on,’ that even with your hearing you can notice where the sense of ear meets with the world input that comes in.
What’s it like to just be there with that, and then just as you expand your awareness a little bit and just notice, how you can tell the shape of your cranium? What are the sensations that tell you how your head comes up from the back of the neck and comes around until eventually it comes to the brow? How does that overarching sense of skull meet with those areas that you’ve previously explored – in the front of the jaw, the facial bones – so that as you take in all those different sensory awarenesses and open up your field a little bit, you might be aware of your head as a whole as it is to your awareness in this moment. Of how it finds itself in connection to the neck and how your neck then finds itself in some level of connection through the spine, through the torso, through the pelvis, through the legs and down to the feet, so that you have some sense of all of these different sensory fields that have slowly lit up, giving you a sense of how you are in this moment.
And if you add in your arms, the shoulder down to the elbow, from the elbow through the forearms, and from the forearms through the wrists and into the hands; through each finger and thumb. With all those points of awareness, can you feel the field of how you are in this moment and the quality of beingness that these fields of awareness give you?
Now the next part of a practice like this is to notice the transition to coming back to a world where your eyes might be a little bit more open, you might be taking in a little bit more of the external stimulus and notice how much that sense of you, as you experienced it through this little exercise, how much of that is there with you as you slowly open and transition to more eye open, to more outer world engagement.
What I’m going to encourage you to do as we go through the rest of our time together is to just do a check in every once in a while for how much you notice the quality of what is available to you at any particular moment that we are interacting, perhaps as a background awareness, as I’m speaking or as you are speaking. Every once in a while check in about this and feel whatever shifts for you in this moment.
What I’m going to suggest to you is that this practice, when you take it into the field of everyday life, becomes a very powerful snapshot of how you are in this moment. You may be sitting on the toilet, or you may be waking up first thing in the morning, or you may be sitting at a table and listening to a TV or a podcast. In any particular moment when you do a check-in of just noticing yourself, the snapshot that you’ll likely get is one which is very likely to be like a candid camera picture of yourself. You know the kind of where somebody catches you: you’ve got a grimace and you’re rubbing your nose or you’ve got yourself all twisted up into some shape.
These are the places where the challenge of this work turns into opportunity. One of the best ways I know of capturing the potential of this place is that it has a lot in common with the idea of truth and reconciliation.
Here is what I mean by that. If you catch a snapshot of how you are in this moment you’re likely going to notice a couple of things happening. One of them is that you will almost always have an impulse to fix yourself, to straighten up a bit, to shift what you’re doing, to take a bigger breath. I’m going to encourage you to stay present to how you are, however that is, and to be curious about exploring the sensations of that particular shape of yourself in this moment.
It’s a very very powerful practice because each of those times that you catch something, particularly things you don’t like: a foot that’s lifted onto the ball of the foot or turned into you chair and slumped. Whatever it is, you’re catching a truth of the organization of your being that is speaking from a very deep place within you. These are like the shadow places of ourselves. When we fix them we are saying that some part of myself is not acceptable.
The act of being present to yourself just as you are is a tremendous act of compassion. It becomes possible to say, “I see you and I see my reactions to you. I see how I don’t like that. That I want to fix that.” To be present to that place gives you a chance to see what would happen next for those disavowed places in yourself if they just experienced you being present to them. To name, to explore what’s it like to really allow the sensations of this place to be available to you, to be with that breathing that feels so restricted in those places.
Being present to the truth of what is allows space for change. Just as you may have noticed the shifts that happened as you were doing this seated practice, little shifts start to happen. In the act of being present new sensory information is available to those places that feel stuck and they start finding their own path to resolution. It will always be unique; a shift in posture wants to happen because it feels more comfortable, which may lead to a shift in breath.
You don’t know in any moment what the sequence is going to be like. There’s always the potential for curiosity and for starting to join with yourself. Each reorganization allows an exploration of what the next moment will hold for you. Each unfolding movement opens into the unfolding future, a place of reconciliation, where you are joining with yourself more, and that even if you forget minutes later, that every time you come back and check, the potential is always there for that door to open and what would want to happen next becomes available to you again.
Every single week in the Embodiment Project looks at an aspect of this central practice. The theme of each week allows you to understand this central practice a little more. The theme of a week may deepen your understanding of movement, of surfaces, of breath. Through that cross-pollination of the theme of each week with the central theme of this week, a deepening is available to you.
The Embodiment Project is an on line community that supports bringing body centred practices into everyday life. You can find out more about the Embodiment Project here.