Christopher Sunyata and William Espinosa-Setchko on how (and why) to unlock your body’s natural, primal state of presence and awareness.
Co-written by Christopher Sunyata & William Espinosa-Setchko
You are walking through a park. A refreshing break from the crush of the city. Suddenly, the hairs on your arm stand on end, and a chill runs up your spine. You feel the presence of something behind you. Whatever it is feels too close. Your heart rate quickly surges and adrenaline flows into your blood to prepare you for action. As you turn your head you can see the large bear that has ambled out of the thick brush. You begin slowly moving backward poised to explode into motion depending upon what it does. The bear raises its nose into the air, takes a couple quick inhalations, and then quickly turns and runs back into the brush.
Your body knows things that your mind cannot. It knows things quickly and without thought. This instinctive “knowing” is experienced by us all. Sensory input and emotional feeling are perceived and felt by the visceral intelligence of the body. Because the body is doing the perceiving, your brain and conscious mind has difficulty explaining or describing in words what you “know” or “feel”. The past decades of medical research have helped explain this; specific neurological areas in the abdomen and chest process information and store memories.
The enteric nervous system lines your esophagus, stomach, small intestine and colon. It is often called the body’s second brain – this is where “gut feelings” come from. The heart also has it’s own intelligence separate from the brain. The heart can learn, remember, and act independently of the brain and it is central to how the amygdala, thalamus, and hypothalamus process perceptions and emotions. As humans, the ability to feel our surroundings, animals, and other people is just as important as the esteemed cognitive grey matter in your skull that invented tools, mathematics, and the internet.
Today, hours are spent interacting with computers, smart phones, and entertainment media. All these engage the mind through visual and auditory stimulation while largely ignoring the intelligence of the body. People become ill from sitting on chairs in front of computers for hours, ignoring the body that pleads for movement, fresh air, and sensory nourishment. Becoming accustomed to sedentary visual-oriented living, it is not surprising that for many people porn has replaced relationships and sex with real people. This is basic neuroscience: what gets used and exercised becomes stronger and what is not used becomes weaker and less developed. This historically recent preferential dependence upon what you see, hear and think shapes how people approach intimacy and relationships.
It’s not surprising then that the game of modern courtship and sexual attraction has reached new levels of visual standards and verbal sophistication. However, after the initial pickup or meeting – the most important sexual information is communicated through your body. Nonverbal body to body language becomes the essential ingredient for sexual chemistry to build and flourish. If you are disconnected from the primal sensory foundation of body to body communication then relationships suffer – not just in the realm of sexual attraction. Rich satisfying relationships can be elusive or will predictably decline over time if only fed by visual and verbal interplay. Despite evolution in intelligence you are at your core a mammal with rich sensory needs and abilities that reside below your neck.
Non-verbal communication happens all the time and is significant not only in intimate relationships. Whether in the workplace or at home parenting children, feeling and whole-body communication is what enables trust, heart-engaged collaboration and partnership. Actions driven only by the mind without listening and honoring the wisdom of heart and gut leads to people becoming part of the zombie horde. You know what these people look like: their eyes glued to a smartphone, disconnected and lost in thought, while the body language of those around these lost souls loudly pleads for connection and feeling.
Your heart and gut process felt information gathered from your whole body, not just your eyes and ears. Developing greater sensitivity and skill in accessing this bodily intelligence takes practice. One of the best ways to practice and develop your skills in this area is the same way your ancestors did – spending time in the wild. Your ability to feel and sense information is the natural evolutionary result of an unbroken chain of thousands of your ancestors being part of the wild outdoors. Most modern humans don’t realize how under-developed their innate abilities are in this area. These abilities are naturally part of your legacy, but they need to be reawakened first – then you can learn how to trust and use this information.
How do you go about developing these whole body perception skills? A great place to begin is with the very senses we have placed so much emphasis upon. Learning a different way of using your vision and hearing can help break the characteristic symptoms of attention deficit and mental hyperactivity that are pervasive in modern society. By relaxing the narrow focus in vision and hearing, a shift in perception becomes possible. Vigilant focus upon what is going on outside yourself is softened and broadened, enabling greater awareness and connection to what you are experiencing within your own body.
Your ancestors used their whole visual field most of the time, as compared to how you use your eyes to hyperfocus for hours upon computer screens or smart phones. By actively engaging your peripheral vision and utilizing a soft-focus awareness, you can return to whole body perception. The ancient Hawaiians called this this way of seeing hakalau. Other indigenous people have similar practices. While this practice can be done indoors, there is a rejuvenating effect that occurs when you do this in nature, even if it is in a small urban park. This is a great way to rest the eyes after long hours of computer work.
Here is how to do this practice: pick a small spot to focus upon that is in front and above you that requires your field of vision to bump up against your eyebrows. Relax and let go of all effort. Begin with your breath. Inhale deep into your belly, and then fully exhale. Keeping your breath full yet without effort, empty your mind by letting go of all else except the small spot you are focusing upon. After three or more breaths, maintain focus on the single point and begin also expanding your awareness outward. Notice how your peripheral vision appears as a roughly elliptical visual field, bounded on top by your eyebrows. Breathe to release any tension in your eyes and bring your awareness more and more to the edges of your visual field where vision stops.
Notice the whole span of information your eyes let in. Bring more attention to your peripheral field and allow the center of your vision to fade and become empty. If things move into your visual field – be aware of them but do not focus upon them. See them as part of this larger field of visual information streaming uninterrupted into your consciousness. Now that you are in this relaxed state of seeing, you may rest and stay here for as long as you wish. This way of seeing is perceived by most people as very relaxing and sometimes ecstatic. When you lower your eyes, maintain this way of seeing. Keep your focus wide and open, look around by moving your head, not darting your eyes around. Walking while seeing in this manner is a form of meditation that can induce deep calm awareness.
Hearing can be enhanced in a similar fashion. A lot of modern living requires focusing on a specific sound stream and ignoring the background of other sounds. Often you are not aware of how you have to focus upon your phone conversation or music in your headphones in order tune out background sounds. This kind of auditory focusing can cause stress and tension. It is beneficial to exercise your hearing and auditory awareness in a manner like the hakalau practice. This can be done anywhere, but it will have the most benefit when done outside in nature.
Begin by closing your eyes and listening with your ears and feeling with your whole body. Listen to sounds close to you. You may hear the breeze buffeting in your ears and feel it on your skin. Become aware of the background drone of the city if you are in one, or the sounds of nature around you. Keeping your eyes closed, start listening for sounds close to your body and slowly move outward with your awareness. Feel into where each sound is spatially located. Notice how you feel in response to each sound. Some sounds may delight or please you. Other sounds may be grating or cause you to tighten up in response. Let the sounds wash over you – regardless of whether it affects your body positively or negatively. Feel the distance between you and the sound. Listen for animals, rustling vegetation, and voices. Who or what is making these sounds? Notice how your body naturally assesses sounds for threats: friend or foe. Keep pressing outward with your awareness – paying attention to ever more faint sounds from far off.
As a whole, the sound landscape is always changing; it is a dynamic field of interrelated energy. Feel this ever changing shimmer of sound – it has a texture of its own, a background chorus of different voices. This chorus is made up of living things combining with nature and the modern world. You are part of it and you add your own sounds to the chorus. Your breath is always adding a dynamic sound signature of your presence. Hear it. With eyes closed, feel into your feet. What can you learn about the surface that you are standing upon just by feel? Lightly move a foot, and the sound tells you more about the surface. Slowly open your eyes and perceive with fresh insight what you were sensing with your eyes closed. With your eyes open compare how close or far things are against what your hearing and feeling body told you. Begin walking with this increased sensitivity to sounds – aware of all in the spacious sound landscape around you but not focused upon any one thing.
For your ancestors, these highly sensitive ways of seeing and hearing ensured their survival and integrated them into the world in which they lived. Belonging to and being part of the larger world was enmeshed with sensory feeling and whole-body awareness. Their experience was the opposite of the loneliness and sense of separation many modern people feel. These ancient skills are more than just tools to ensure survival for the next day. They are ways of being that shape your consciousness, and allow you to tune into deeper realms beyond thought. Your sense of inner peace, your interactions with other people, and how you navigate sexual intimacy are all improved by deeper sensory awareness. Your body knows things that are incredibly valuable and needed in today’s world. Invest in yourself by getting in touch with your primal instincts that go beyond thought.
Originally published at MetaphysicalFitness.net