This months post grew out of loss, the passing of a remarkable teacher, Bill Bowen, whom I had the good fortune to train with over the last five years. A master of integrative somatic based therapy, Bill was an inspiration to a large community of healers, friends, and loved ones, exemplifying a grounded, empathic, brilliant, spiritual and creatively expansive presence. Although terminally ill, he remained an inspiration throughout his last months, living with an open heart until his final breath.
On the first day of my first Psycho-Physical Therapy training, Bill instructed the group to stand and begin walking around the room while he prompted us to experience the importance of knowing where the focal point of our conscious lies as we perceive. I've included an adaptation of the experiential below for you to try. The exercise illustrates how we can make a conscious choice in each moment to perceive from our head, our heart, our gut, and on a more subtle level any other part of our being.
By now you may be wondering why this would be of value. Most of us know that our perception is influenced by our feelings, along with our upbringing, education, social conditioning, and life experience. We cannot change many of these factors and may not be able to change all of our problems or concerns, yet when we shift our perspective we shift the way we relate to them, and this shift can be incredibly transforming.
In this culture we predominantly perceive from our head as we have isolated and placed much value on a concept of brain residing only in the skull. Psychiatrist and author D. J. Siegel explains that in interpersonal neurobiology the term "brain" is "a shorthand reference for the neural mechanism of the whole of the energy and information flow that moves throughout the extensive interconnections of the body proper and the skull-based collection of cells in the head"; brain refers to the "embodied mechanism of the energy and information flow in the body."
Carrying a disproportionate amount of the energy in one's body too high makes it hard to allow the energy of emotions and experiences to flow naturally through the nervous system and energy body into resolution. A chaotic mind is often a sign that energy flow is not balanced in the body. Deep belly breathing and grounding (see my July 2015 post) are two ways to help offset this imbalance, another is in bringing awareness to where you are placing the focal point of your conscious.
With it's extensive sensory capacity and complex nervous system the heart has been designated the "heart brain". Much of the information flow into the human body is perceived by the heart prior to flowing to the brain (Buhner, 2004). With approximately 40,000 sensory neurons involved in relaying information to our brain, our heart sends more information to our brain than our brain sends to our heart. This information includes signals that influence perception, emotional experience, and higher mental processes.
The electromagnetic field generated from our heart can be measured several feet away from our body, and changes along with our emotions. We can pick up on the quality of others emotions and vice versa through this field. Learning to trust, listen to and respect what we feel with an open heart is one of life's greatest lessons. The heart truly is the center of our being.
To The Core
The abdomen houses a complex bidirectional gut-brain communication system that not only ensures gastrointestinal homeostasis, digestion, assimilation and elimination, but also influences affect, motivation, and higher cognitive functions. It is a major feeling center, the resonating chamber of our emotion, feelings, and passions (Bowen), the location of our intuitive "gut feelings". At times we might sense a rush of energy moving upward, a sinking feeling, a feeling of emptiness, or the unpleasant sensation of being punched in the gut.
As we swallow and assimilate reality, if unable to find release, to let go, feelings get locked in the belly. Intestinal difficulties are often related to stress or deeper layers of fear, guilt, and grief, feelings often intensified as the result of trauma. Balance in the abdomen gives rise to a healthy, positive, confident and empowered sense of self. Focusing on the area approximately one to two inches below our navel can help us connect to the core of our personal power, inner strength and emotional ground.
These three centers - brain, heart brain, and gut brain - have different wisdoms and experiences of life. They coincide with the dan tiens, the three primary energy centers from traditional Chinese medicine. They also correspond with three of the seven major chakras originating from Indian Hindu and Buddhist traditions.
An Exercise In Shifting Primary Awareness:
Begin by standing. Sway from side to side and front to back to find your center. Wiggle your toes then feel into the strength of your legs and spine supporting you.
Now walk around the room. Notice what your perception is like as you look around sensing and observing from your head. Take your time to slowly experience what sensations are present in your body, what emotions come into your awareness and what thoughts arise.
As you continue walking shift your perception to your heart. Again look around noticing, sensing and observing from your heart.
If you are having a difficult time distinguishing holding your focal point in your head then shifting to your heart, it may help to find an object in the room that is visually appealing such as a painting you're drawn to or something from nature. You can also visualize an adored pet or loved ones face. Notice what shifted as you changed your focal point.
If there is another person present whom you trust or have a connection with see how it feels to make eye contact. Try generating an accepting, soft, and spacious awareness toward whatever is occurring.
Continue walking around, now shifting your perception to your belly. Again taking your time to be mindful of what sensations, emotions, and thoughts are present as you connect with your core.
It might help to relax your belly and place your hands on your lower abdominal area as you direct your breath downward and sense into what is present for you.
Take some time to reflect on your experience. Did you notice a change in your perception with each shift of focal point? Can you describe how you recognized there was a shift? What was lost and what was gained with each?
“Awareness is what I perceive, the focal point is my consciousness.” - Bill Bowen
Bill explained, “when we have our focus in our head our vision tends to narrow, our energy tends to come up, breath will shorten, heart rate will speed up a little; none of these are bad, but they can come at the cost of other things.” Perception in our belly brings grounding with a primary focus on vitality and the satisfaction of self-centered desire. Of course thought and personal desire are essential parts of being healthy.
Perception in our heart brings empathy along with expansion allowing for a greater sense of connection and interaction with all life; "heart in its fullest sense is a relational phenomenon”.
We are used to carrying or being present to one state of consciousness or one state of awareness at a time. However, it is possible with practice to carry up to four or five. A good goal is to have at least two of the three focal points above in our awareness as often as possible, and to be checking in with all three as frequently as we can.
Bill taught the importance of having our focal point in our heart, with perception in the head and belly when sitting in resonance with clients. Perhaps you can think of times in your life when this practice might allow for more accepting spacious awareness and fulfilling connection.
With love, light and gratitude.