Scanning my body has become as natural and instinctive a practice for me as grounding and centering. All of these are important as they contribute to the WHOLESOMENESS of unifying the three aspects of our being. Let me explain for those who might not yet know.
Gurdjieff, for one, taught that a human being is a complex of three centers – the intellect, the emotions, and the physical body. Shamans, too, have realized that humans have more than one “soul” – the Sami, for example, say we have a spirit soul and a body soul. Yet there is something more that the Hawaiian Kahunas have seen. There is the physical, the heart, and the spirit. Sometimes it seems that the various traditions refer to the “mind of the heart” as the mind and not the intellect. Terms can be confusing, but if we examine ourselves, we can see the overlaps and understand. The intellect is not the “mind of the heart”, but relates more to memory and managing the care of the bodily systems… but I am getting off on a tangent. It is easiest perhaps by way of explanation to simply take the three aspects of our selves as Gurdjieff defined them – the intellect, the emotions, and the physical body.
What Gurdjieff taught was a method to unify these three aspects of our selves, and this is why he called his system the “Fourth Way” – because it was a way to unify the selves. Our three centers have very different characteristics. The mind likes to talk to itself, the emotions like to daydream, and the body likes to fidget. Gurdjieff said it was necessary to REMEMBER YOURSELF as a way to not lose or waste the energy so valuable to life. To “remember myself,” it becomes necessary to tune into myself, give inward attention to my presence and my process. I actually begin the practices of grounding and centering by scanning my body. This practice focuses and brings attention (intellect) to awareness (emotion) of the feeling of myself (sensation). This is a very important practice. It is the foundation of everything.
Begin by sitting quietly where you will not be disturbed. I have a corner of my home set aside for this practice, but it is not possible for everyone. Just find a corner or a time of day where you know you will not be disturbed by the kiddos or the spouse. Aim for a practice of about fifteen minutes. Settle yourself comfortably in a chair, feet on the floor, hands resting calmly on your lap. Breathe yourself into a calm place. Many practitioners recommend a pattern of 4:4:4:4 breathing – four counts on the in-breath, four counts hold, four counts on the out-breath, four counts hold, and begin the cycle again. Once you feel relaxed bring your attention to the sensation of your body. As your body begins to awaken to the feeling of sensation, you can begin to notice any areas that are tense. If so, consciously relax those areas.
If any thoughts arise, release them like clouds. If those thoughts are important they will return when they are needed. Your attention may feel divided between your breath and scanning the sensation of your body. This is okay. You are learning to pay attention to the continual processes ongoing in your body. You notice and allow. As you note areas of tension, do your best to relax those areas of your body. If you note areas of pain, you may be able to create an inner dialog with that body part and gain insight into the emotions behind it. I have noticed in myself, for example, that tensions with a boss can create a stiffness in my neck, or that rigid beliefs I am reluctant to let go of can manifest in a stiff knee. There is a reason for this, as feelings (emotions) are stored in the body. For those with chronic pain, I cannot speak directly to your experience, but I have found in myself that scanning my body and developing my capacity to dialog with it has helped me to better manage my sciatica.
When I first started this practice, my Gurdjieff teacher then – Ann Kelly – gave me a mantra that helped to focus the process. “I have a body.” This can be broken down into a feeling of “I” – then “have” – “a” – “body.” You might become aware that each word conveys a different experience, a different feeling sensation. “I” – myself (intellect); “have” – feeling of possessing (emotion); “a” – something unique and special to itself; “body” – this physical vehicle. These combine in the wholeness of myself.
That fifteen minutes a day became very special to me. It was a time of absolute peace, quiet, and presence. But as time passed and I grew more adept at what I was doing, I could claim that same sense of peace and unity of soul with a simple breath, a time out during any stressful activity. We all have this capacity to gift ourselves a minute or two here and there throughout our stressful days. Breathe, and on the in-breath collect yourself. Feel every stray thought, every spare emotion, coming back into the sense of presence that is your body. When you have collected yourself, “ground yourself” by feeling your connection to the Earth where you stand, an awareness of this place, this space in the world that you are now occupying.
Our bodies are very specialized vehicles for the the experiences of our spirit while we are in a physical life. Some of us may have been taught to belittle the body, to deny its needs, as a source of “sinfulness” – this is a by-product of old ideas held by Christianity. I prefer to debunk the lie. My body is a special tool that helps me to sense the life force energy and to attune my life with the Gods’ gifts in and of my life. A step higher than self is that which we can bring to be of service to others. This is not exclusive, though. Self care is just as important as times of being present to others. It requires a balance.
So to recapitulate, to bring attention to the sensation of my body is prerequisite to centering and grounding my energy. A wonderful metaphor for the practice is to be like a tree – rooted and crowned joined by a trunk. Become aware of yourself, center yourself, then ground yourself in the earth. From the Root attention can rise along the trunk to the Crown and back down again. Presence.