In my yoga asana (postural) practice, focusing on felt sense proved extremely helpful in locating blockages where breath and life force energy were previously unable to reach. By felt sense, I mean the subtle sensations I noticed when I focused my attention on a particular inner body part. At different times in my practice, the felt sensations were physical or emotional responses as well as intuitive thoughts or images. As an example, by patiently holding my awareness in my shoulder or hip joints, over time, I created space and strength where it previously had not existed. It really is true — where awareness goes, energy flows.
During the past several months, I expanded this felt sense experiment into my meditation practice. Directing awareness into one’s inner body experience can be challenging for beginner meditators because their concentration may not yet be finely attuned. The first time I tried this same practice on my inner heart space — the area just behind the centre of the breastbone — it felt as though my awareness kept running into a wall. By continually returning my awareness to my heart space and gently searching for an entry point, eventually it penetrated the sensed wall. What followed was a feeling of immense expansion within my heart and chest cavity. This expanded energy rippled throughout my entire body leaving me with a sense of lightness, relief and joy.
I share this story because inherent within are the true reasons I meditate — to know myself and to experience the freedom that comes with self-knowledge. As Sally Kempton writes in Meditation for the Love of It –
I wanted freedom, I realized. I wanted an end to the anxiety and craving and
fear that have created so much unnecessary suffering in my life. I wanted
meditation to take me beyond the neuroses, attachments, beliefs and fears
that still plagued my inner world.
Meditation, as a practice, brings us into a loving relationship with our inner wise self — that all-knowing part within referred to by some as pure awareness or consciousness. Frankly, I am enamoured with this practice that has taught me patience, tolerance and love by merely inwardly focusing my awareness. Discovering and experiencing such soulful companionship has also eradicated any sense of feeling alone or lonely. Creating an intimate relationship with myself is still the greatest adventure and love affair I have had the pleasure of experiencing. When I think of how many different layers exist in my body to be explored — skin, flesh, connective tissue, muscle, bone and organs — nurturing this intimate relationship is an adventure that could easily consume my lifetime.
An equally significant benefit from penetrating the many layers of the physical body with awareness is we learn where and how to heal ourselves from disease. Purification, from debilitating sensations, emotions and thoughts, releases the cyclical behaviour patterns that resulted in our lack of fulfillment and suffering.
Set fire to the self within by the practice of meditation. Shvetashvatara Upanishad
Here is my challenge to you. For your next meditation, choose a part of your body where you feel tension or pain. At the beginning of your meditation, do what you need to bring your breath and body into a relaxed harmony, and then focus your awareness on your chosen body part. If you have difficulty holding your attention there, imagine your awareness is a coloured mist that fills every corner of your body part. Use the mist to explore the body part fully, all the while noticing any sensations, emotions, images that emerge.
Don’t get caught up in analyzing what emerges, merely let it float in your mind as you continue to guide your awareness back to its investigation. If you are comfortable in your experience, stay with your exploration for the duration of the meditation as each body part also has many layers to know and understand. With each new meditation session, keep returning your awareness to this chosen body part. It has sometimes taken me months before I felt as though my understanding was complete. Feel free to share your experience on this blog page.
For more information on awareness and meditation, click here.